Sunday, June 26, 2011

Issue Fifteen, Volume One

From the Desk of the Editor,
     Greetings and welcome to Issue Fifteen, Volume One of Larks Fiction Magazine. This issue we are featuring works of magical realism. Stories that dive into our imagination and keep us in the paradox of dreaming or waking.
     Here at LFM we have been busily preparing for several changes and upgrades. Exact details will come out in July however the major changes will be; the Larks App coming in September, eBook publishing of Larks, and we are making a move to become a weekly magazine! So stay tuned for details.
     Author Court Ellyn recently released her book "Mists of Blackfen Bog" on Smashwords. It is a fantasy novella that will chill and warm your heart while providing a thought provoking read. If you would like more about her book check out this review on the
     Any-who, I hope you enjoy this issue and make sure to check out our back issues!

Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

The Dirt about Dieting
By Marilyn Bruce

There’s no such thing as alone on the bus. Even without full seats, someone is staring, like the woman holding a head of lettuce, Alabama to California, the whole way. She doesn’t stare out the window or at the other patrons, but behind her a boy thumps his head to the heavy beats of “Big Poppa” on repeat. Sometimes she counts her fingers but only till seven, stops, then whispers to the lettuce when she thinks no one is looking. It’s a nice looking lettuce, with crisp, crinkly leaves.

 Across the aisle, a girl stretches her legs. The rubber of her boot peels into a puzzled smile. The lady looks at the frowning face, the leg, the girl, then stares at her green handful. Groups of people leave or climb on, so the girl doesn’t notice the traveler, not till she sees the lizard in the woman’s pocket, lifting his tongue to feel the leaves. The woman hums and doesn’t notice. The lady peels off the slice, places it in her mouth, holding it there, no crunching. Pale colored with lavender shoes, the woman wears a skirt and a blouse. Threads dangle from her broken seams. Her leopard print purse is monogrammed Lady, with a fuchsia toad stitched on the side. The lizard sits in the lady’s left pocket, pushing fabric for subtle laps.

The girl likes reptiles. She used to wear a snake talisman to school, so she shouldn’t let the lizard be hurt for hiding and stealing licks of a lettuce that seems especially delicious. She speaks softly to warn the lettuce lady who smiles,I keep him here for company. He’s better than a boyfriend. She can’t object to such solid reasoning, and when the lady stands for the bathroom, the lizard takes a turn in the girl’s lap, Chuckwalla, a desert lizard. He’s small, a teenager because he won’t stop with the push-ups and head banging. The girl also cradles the lettuce, so it won’t get soiled from sitting on the seat or in the restroom sink. It’s a luscious lettuce, the nicest she’s seen. The head is stunning, with flawless wrinkles. She knows not to ask, but when the lady returns she has to, “So what’s with the lettuce?”  

The woman stops, still standing and shifts towards the seat. "I'm so goddamn fat!"  The woman is plump but not fat, and the girl doesn't promote compliment fishing, not for lizards or lettuce. The boy behind them thrusts his volume even higher.  The Chuckwalla sulks, contemplating.

 “Well, that’s not the proper way to lose weight. You can’t starve. You can’t eat only lettuce.

The woman’s grip on the seat softens; she steps into her spot and lowers her voice, “Just watch me. Besides, it seems to me that you don’t know dirt about dieting.”

The girl nods, “So what’s the big secret?” If the lady says starvation or only lettuce, then she doesn’t know dieting either.
The woman leans over her arm rest, her head over the hormonal lizard, and whispers. “It’s called metamorphosis.” Her breath smells like cabbage. She says the word slowly, emphasizing every syllable.

“Like a butterfly?”

“Like a tadpole.”

“Wouldn’t you rather be a butterfly?”

“You don’t get to choose.” She’s speaking faster now, eyes sparkling. “I want to be different, and this is my last shot to really do something. Then I can start singing again.” The lady takes the lettuce from her and peels off a leaf. “I have to be ready.” 

The girl nods and hands the lady her Chuckwalla. She then contents herself with making her split rubber sing. She pretends it’s the lady, croaking her way through American Idol, and singing Mariah Carey’s “Butterfly.”

About the Author:
Marilyn Bruce has written for community publications in Bozeman, MT and Whitefish, MT. She reads her work live at the Blue Horse Gallery in Bellingham, WA and during local dance performances. She will be the Managing Editor for the literary journal Bellingham Review next fall.

From: The Collection of the American Museum of Neverland
by Holli Mintzer

This is how I was introduced to Eric: my friend pushed me over to him, not gently, and said "This is Eric. He just got a house!"

Eric, clearly uncomfortable, said "Uh, yeah. My great-uncle left it to me," and I shot Claire a look for being insensitive.

Not that that's ever worked on her. She just grinned at me and said, "Oh, hey, Avi's here!" and scampered off across the grass, dodging picnics and small children.

We were in Fort Reno Park, waiting for a concert to start; it was late July, maybe, or early August. The park was crowded, full of teenagers excited to see the bands, dotted with islands of hipster parents who wanted their toddlers to grow up with decent taste in music. Eric and I, and Claire and the rest of us, were in the middle: twenty-somethings drifting our way out of college, unsure of everything. A guy in his thirties with full-sleeve tattoos up his arms walked by, pushing a stroller and Eric and I both smiled, which is how I knew I'd like him.

"So," I said. "You know Claire?"

"Yeah," he said, "I was asking her boss if she'd take a look at some stuff from my uncle's house." Claire worked at a vintage store in Takoma Park, a job I longed for despite the lousy pay and strong likelihood I'd take it all in store credit anyway. "But she said I had to bring it in, and then Claire said she had a friend who could do it in person, who I assume is you. Uh, you're Lilah, right?"

See, this is why Claire can be frustrating, sometimes. "Oh! Well, that makes more sense. Not that Claire doesn't just, you know, feel like introducing me to people, sometimes, but it's nice to find out her reasons when she has them." Eric and I sat down on the blanket I'd brought, a faded pinwheel-patterned quilt from a yard sale in Ellicott City. "So you're, what, trying to get it all garage-sale ready? Or do you need to figure out what's valuable first?"

Eric frowned. "I don't even know, honestly. There's so much-- like, do you ever hear those news reports, you know, 'man found dead under three tons of trash; neighbors reported strange smell'? It's not-- the rooms he used are fine and none of it’s garbage as far as I can tell, but still. It's a lot. He and my great-aunt were pretty dedicated yard-sellers, and he kept it up after she died."

I raised my eyebrows. Odds were that it was all crap-- the detritus of the '70s and '80s, probably, maybe a few nicer things scattered through-- but the words "house full of stuff" has a magic allure for people like me. And you never knew, after all; for every hundred houses piled with commemorative plates and old magazines, maybe there was a Mile High collection or someone like that guy with the barn full of '20s roadsters.

"So you'd want me to help sort and price everything?"

"Yeah. And there's some family stuff in there somewhere, too, that I'm supposed to find. Would you be interested? I don't know how much money it's all worth, but you'd get a fair share."

There was a squeal of feedback from one of the amps, hushing conversation, and the tech up on the stage winced. He hollered an apology to the guy at the sound board. The park was quiet for a moment, except for the pack of kids playing tag and the guy tuning his bass and the frisbee player shouting, "Over here!"

"Why don't I come by this weekend," I said. "I'll take a look."

The house was in Hyattsville, a few blocks from the stretch of perfect '50s Main Street the town was trying to revitalize. It was a little shabby next to some of the lovingly-kept-up Queen Annes it shared the block with, but I liked it immediately: a roomy red-shingled Craftsman with a deep front porch. There were white gauze curtains in the downstairs windows, screening the rooms from the street, and a porch swing with a few faded pillows. Eric parked his car around the back of the house, down a graveled driveway, and let me in the back door.

It opened into a kitchen that had, regrettably, been remodeled sometime in the 70s-- surely the absolute nadir of kitchen design, I thought to myself. There were yellow-and-brown daisy-patterned curtains on the window over the sink, and they matched the linoleum. Oof. The room was tidy, though, aside from some dirty dishes in the sink, and I was pretty sure those were Eric's.

"So, okay," he said. "The kitchen's pretty normal, and the living room, but well, come take a look at the dining room." He led me to a set of double doors, which opened onto a solid wall of boxes. I couldn't even see over them. They were all different sizes, everything from packing crates on down to shoeboxes. Some were labeled: "DISHES," "PHOTOS," "ACCORDION," "BOOKS," but just as many were blank as far as I could see.

"Um," I said. "Wow. You weren't kidding. Are there more rooms like this?"

"Two bedrooms, upstairs," Eric answered, “and the basement. It's going to take months to get through."

"Why don't you hire an estate company?" I asked. Not that I didn't desperately want to be the one to open those boxes, but I was trying to be honest. "They could get through it all a lot faster."

"Yeah, but I've got plenty of time. I don't have a job right now. I own the house... why not do it myself? Just, I could use an extra pair of hands."

All my treasure-hunting instincts were going off like sirens. How could I say no?

We worked out what seemed like a fair deal, to me: I would get a percentage of the money from selling the things we unpacked, plus the chance to call dibs on things I really liked, to keep for myself or resell on my own. I would help man yard sales, and list stuff online-- which meant giving up my weekends for the foreseeable future, but I didn't really mind.

"So where do you want to start?" I asked. "Dining room?"

He shook his head. "Upstairs bedrooms. The family wants to be able to come visit." From the face he made, it didn't seem like he was too enthusiastic about the prospect.

"So you're not from around here, then," I said, deciding to go ahead and be nosy.

"No, I am," Eric said. "But I was living in New York until I got laid off, and then Uncle Andrew passed and left me the house, so all the out-of-state family members convened and decided this would be a good project for me until I 'get back on my feet.'"

"Ah." I winced sympathetically. "I have relatives like that. Only they mostly try to set me up on blind dates."

"Wow, I never thought of that. Okay, it officially could be worse," he said.

"Yeah, count your blessings," I said. "At least you get a house full of potentially cool stuff. Speaking of which," and I pushed my sleeves up theatrically, "want to get cracking?"

We started with one of the upstairs bedrooms; it was only half-full of boxes and jumbled furniture, Uncle Andrew apparently not having had time to fill it up all the way before he died. The first few boxes were full of linens: tablecloths and pillowcases, some pretty embroidered dish towels; I picked out a couple of gingham aprons with chicken-scratch embroidery to keep. After that we hit a strata of books (Eric claimed a stack), and then I opened a box full of carefully wrapped dishes.

"Oh, hey," I said, "commemorative plates. I have a bunch of these on the walls at home. I like it when they're from places no one would ever want to visit."

Eric unwrapped the next one. "Well, then this is the box for you," he said. "I've never heard of any of these places."

"Ooh, the House on the Rock," I said. "You know what; I'll go through the rest of these later. Let's keep going."

We made a sizable dent in the pile of boxes by the end of the afternoon, although that mostly meant transferring them to a new stack in the hallway. Still, it felt like progress. Eric promised to start advertising for a yard sale that weekend, and I brought home a carload of things-- some to keep, some to get appraised, and the rest to photograph and list online.

Claire called me the next morning, sounding gleeful. "So the house, is it good? What'd you find?"

"It's really good," I admitted, in the middle of wrestling my dressmaker's dummy into a blouse I wanted to sell on Etsy. "Your boss possibly shouldn't have passed it up. There's an absolute ton of stuff, and the little bit I saw was really cool."

"I knew it!" Claire crowed. "Never doubt my junking instincts. Also, dibs on sweater clips, if you find any."

"I never said I doubted your junking instincts. In fact, I trust them entirely," I said. "And yes, I will save you sweater clips if I find some."

I spent most of the week at Eric's house, unpacking boxes. I couldn't get over the sheer volume of stuff: kitchen things, framed art, jewelry, decorations for every holiday in the calendar. When I put up an ad on Craigslist, advertising our first sale, I felt a little overwhelmed just trying to get it all in the ad. In the end, when I went to Kinko's to make signs, I decided not to get too specific and just put YARD SALE on them. I wondered how many people would show up.

As it turned out, plenty. Apparently, if you put "cleaning out a hoarder's house" in the ad a lot-of like-minded souls will turn up. Part of me wondered if I wasn't enabling them, if any of the people rummaging through the piles Eric and I had set out were going home to their own houses full of junk. But I consoled myself with the knowledge that I was probably just as much of a crap-hound as anyone else there, and anyway we had a pretty high grade of crap on offer.

There was one strange thing that happened at the yard sale. A woman froze in the middle of passing an uncurious eye over the costume jewelry. She picked up a necklace, a tiny silver acorn on a delicate chain, and held it up in front of her for a long moment.

"Ma'am?" She didn't answer. I had thought about putting the necklace in the keeper pile, or at least the get-an-appraisal pile, but opted instead for leaving the price tag off, so I could give too high a price in case I didn't like the person who wanted it. "Do you want to know how much it is?"

"I-- what?" The woman flushed, and dragged her eyes away from the acorn spinning on its chain. "Oh. I'm sorry, I just-- I had one just like this when I was a kid. I lost it, the first summer I went to sleep-away camp, and I never found another one like it-- how much did you say it was?"

"How's ten dollars?" I asked, and she fumbled it out of her wallet one-handed. She put the necklace on before she walked away, the acorn settling in the hollow of her throat. Something went loose in her shoulders the moment she had it on, her whole posture becoming a little freer. Suddenly she didn't look quite like a middle-aged lady at a yard sale, out hunting for cookware and clothes; suddenly, she moved serenely and maybe with a little hint of glamour. But then someone came up to me with a big stack of paperbacks to price out, and the moment snapped.

We sold a ton of stuff at that first yard sale, and made a pretty respectable profit; enough that I stopped applying to temp agencies for the time being, and decided that clearing out Eric's house could be my job for the next couple of months. It made a nice change, having a job I was actually looking forward to doing.

And oh, did I look forward to it. It was kind of wonderful, to wake up every morning and know the day would be one big treasure hunt. I mean, yes, there was plenty of stuff that was kind of boring-- kitchen utensils and dining room chairs and baby clothes, things I wasn't really interested in-- but there was enough good stuff that I knew, sooner or later, I'd open a box and get something really exciting.

Like the box full of turn-of-the century photo albums I found, midway through the second week. "Oh, man, dibs," I breathed, opening the one at the top of the stack. Eric stopped folding tablecloths to look through them with me.

"Whoa, look at this," he said, and showed me an album page. It showed a girl in Edwardian clothes, sitting in a garden. There were little figures in the air around her. I leaned in close, trying to make out the little shapes; they looked almost like people. Tiny, tiny people.

"Are these fairy pictures?" I asked, delighted. "Did we find fake fairy pictures? That is awesome."

Eric grinned. "There's more of them." We went through the whole album together. They were really good fakes, even better, I thought, than the famous ones there'd been a movie about. Whoever had taken them had been a really talented photographer; fairies aside, the pictures were beautifully composed. One shot, in particular, really caught my attention: the girl was sitting with her back to the camera; head turned with her face in profile, a fairy perched on her shoulder so it could whisper in her ear. I felt lucky to have seen it.

With the fairy album, we started a new pile: there was stuff I was keeping, stuff Eric was keeping, and now stuff we would have to fight it out over later.

It didn't take long for Eric and me to learn each other's taste. He knew to keep an eye out for vintage clothes, for Jadite, for '30s quilts and '20s children's books and '50s rhinestone jewelry. Meanwhile, I set aside blues records and history books, Western stuff, comics, tin toys. We were both amassing slightly dangerous piles. I was really starting to understand how Uncle Andrew's house had gotten to the state it was in.

"What was he like?" I asked Eric. "Your uncle?"

"Honestly? I hadn't talked to him for years," Eric said. "When I was little, he and his wife, my Aunt Eliza, they used to come over pretty often, bring me presents, stuff like that. They never had any kids of their own-- I don't have any first cousins-- so I guess I was as close to a grandkid as they were going to get. But after Aunt Eliza died, when I was in junior high, my uncle got to be kind of a recluse."

"So he collected all this stuff himself?"

"I think everything upstairs, yeah," Eric said. "But Aunt Eliza was the antiques hound, really-- a lot of the basement is hers. She had a booth at an antique mall. She said she only did it for pin money, but I'm pretty sure some of the stuff down there is really valuable."

"It's kind of sweet, that he kept it up after she died," I said.

"I guess. He never really got over her, though. They knew each other from when they were little kids, and they were high school sweethearts. I don't think he knew what to do with himself, without her."

I wondered what that would be like, to be with someone your whole life and then have to go on without them. I'd never dated anyone for more than a year, never been, I didn't think, in love the way Eric's aunt and uncle had. I felt-- not envious, exactly, but maybe a little lonely. I looked sidelong at Eric, wondering how he felt about it. We hadn't talked all that much about personal stuff, beyond our favorite kinds of junk.

I finally got up the nerve to ask him something personal. "Why did you leave New York?"

He looked surprised. "I told you. I got laid off. Then I found out I'd inherited the house, and, well. It seemed like the thing to do."

"Yeah, but you could have sold the house from there and lived off the money until you got a new job. Most of my friends from high school who moved to New York never want to leave. Was it just the job, or were you tired of living there?"

"I never liked it there that much." He said it quietly, almost too soft to hear. "I only moved because I was dating someone who got a job there. And then we broke up, and I got laid off, and it didn't seem like there was much to stay for." He hunched his shoulders over the box he was digging through, clearly uncomfortable.

"I haven't had a steady job since I graduated," I blurted out. He looked up at me, startled. "I mean, if we're sharing embarrassing personal information. I've temped, and had a bunch of part-time jobs, but this is the closest I've come to full-time employment. I'm kind of freaked out about it."

"You shouldn't be," he said. "You're going to end up doing something really great. You should hear the way Claire talks about you; she said you've got better ideas than anyone she knows."

"She just says that because she wants to do the same thing as me," I said. "If I could do anything, I think I'd want to make a career out of junking. Have a little shop, go treasure hunting all the time—it'd be heaven."

"Well, I think you'd be great at that," he said. "You've got a great eye, and you've been really good at pricing everything so it sells. Maybe once we're through all this stuff, you'll have enough money to start your shop." And he smiled at me.

I grinned back at him. "Maybe I will," I said.

It took a month, but we finished the upstairs bedrooms and started on the dining room. After that first, awkward conversation, we got a lot more comfortable talking about personal things; I started thinking of Eric more as a friend than as someone I worked for. But there was one thing we didn't talk about.

That third pile, the one for stuff we both wanted, turned out to be something different from what we'd planned. Sometimes I found things, strange things, stuff that didn't quite make sense. Like that box of commemorative plates, from back on the very first day. Most of them were totally normal and boring, from small towns no one would ever want to visit. But there was one that said, GREETINGS FROM NEW AMSTERDAM, with all the place names in Dutch, and another all in Latin that said SALUS EX NOVA ROMA. I didn't know what to do with them—if I put them in the yard sale, what would I say to explain them? So I set them aside.

I saw Eric doing the same thing. Sometimes he would flip through a book with his brows furrowed, check the title page carefully, leave the room to look something up on his computer, and in the end go and put the book in what I was beginning to think of as the Other pile. We added stuff to it gradually: An empty glass case with pins holding the fragments of too-big dragonfly wings in place. A cigar box full of Confederate money, printed in the 1930s. A perfectly ordinary-looking copy of Catcher in the Rye, except that all the text read from right to left.

I didn't want to talk about it. It was too weird, and I could tell Eric didn't want to either; it felt like, if I talked about it, it would stop happening. But after a while, it got too hard to ignore.

"Huh." Eric sat back on his heels, midway through a box of records. "Look at this." He handed me an album. It looked very late seventies, the cover art a collaged-together map of the world. The people in the pictures the collage was made from looked familiar. It was called Anywhere, and it said that it was by the Beatles. I flipped it over. It was dated 1977.

"The Beatles never made an album after Let it Be," I said. "I mean, I'm not a huge music buff, but I know this."

"Maybe it's a fake?" Eric said. "Or some kind of parody. Let's listen to it; I think there's a record player around here somewhere."

He put it on. It sounded like the Beatles, I had to admit. And it was good-- not Revolver good, maybe, but good. It definitely wasn't a parody: if the Beatles had made another album, this was what it would have sounded like.

That night, we stayed up late with a cut-glass decanter Eric had found, half-full of something pinky-gold and heady. We drank from chipped ceramic mugs, filling them a careful inch at a time while Anywhere played softly, and the level in the bottle never seemed to drop. It was sweet and sharp and complicated, I know that much, but neither of us had the connoisseur's vocabulary to describe it. I've never liked to drink much: I get dizzy before anything else, but this time the spins never came.

We wound up slumped against each other on the newly-excavated couch, clutching our mugs. It must have been four in the morning. Eric tipped his head sideways to look at me, his eyelids half-lowered. "So we're not gonna talk about it," he said, his voice soft and a little muzzy, "About the stuff we're finding. How it's-- weird."

When I turned to look at him, our faces were a bare two inches apart. And I didn't want to talk about it, didn't want to risk breaking the spell of strangeness that this house was lowering around us, didn't want to shine too bright a light on something I was afraid wouldn't survive the scrutiny. So I leaned forward—not far, just two inches—and covered his mouth with mine, instead.

I woke up the next morning still on the couch, half-dressed, Eric snoring softly in my arms. I wasn't hung over, but my mouth kind of tasted like I'd been sucking on a glitter-covered lemon.

"Nnf," Eric said when I sat up. He cracked an eye open. "Nrm. Did I do anything embarrassing last night?"

"You don't remember?"

"No, I do, I just don't know how you felt about it."

"Well, I kissed you first, " I said, "so I don't think you need to worry too much about that." And he grinned up at me, for a minute, before turning serious.

"We really do need to talk, though," he said. "About the stuff we're finding."

I sighed. "Yeah. I think we probably do." A thought occurred to me. "Hey, those fake fairy pictures we found, you don't think—"

"Oh, man," Eric said. "You know, I kind of do think. Also, I found this book about Napoleon, with a whole chapter on his victory at Waterloo. So that's kind of weird."

Once we knew what to look for, it seemed like there were all sorts of things that were a little off. I found a volume of critical essays on Shakespeare's Cardenio at the bottom of a box of cookbooks. Eric turned up a framed poster for Space Wars, starring Marcus Hamill, and a Luke Starkiller action figure in its original packaging. When Eric opened a steamer trunk and found it full of '50s day dresses wrapped in rustling tissue paper, I called dibs immediately. It wasn't until later that I went through it properly and found that one of the dresses, and a corresponding bolt of fabric in the bottom of the trunk, was patterned with dancing dodo birds.

We kept setting the weird stuff aside. There was still so much that was only ordinarily wonderful-- EC horror comics, Fire King dishes in deep blue and orange, quilts embroidered with delicate redwork, a glossy green Schwinn with fenders and headlight and basket. We were holding yard sales every weekend to clear out the least-interesting stuff, and everyone was more thronged with sharp-eyed collectors and thrilled crap-hounds. Claire's boss had started showing up after about the third week, and she just looked more depressed and jealous as time went by.

We finally found the family stuff Eric had been told to look for, under the long-buried dining room table. There were a few family photo albums, some boxes of papers, and—this was cool—the original blueprints of the house. That was when we made the next discovery.

"There should be stairs up to the attic," Eric said, staring at a blank wall on the second floor. "Right here? But all I'm seeing is a lot of wall."

I studied the blueprints. "It looks like the stairs go all the way down to the basement. Does that make sense?"

Eric grinned at me. "Since when does this house make sense?"

We knew from the blueprints we'd found that the basement didn't go under the whole house, just the back half, and that the strange little walled-off space, what had to be the only way up to the attic, ran down there too. It took us almost a week just to clear a path, not even touching the vast bulk of what was kept down there, and even the little bit we went through was stranger than any of what we'd seen so far.

But finally we did it: uncovered a white-painted wooden door with an ornate, old-fashioned brass plate around the knob. It was unlocked. It opened onto a narrow spiral staircase, climbing up and up into the dark.

"You first," I said, and Eric looked sidelong at me like he wasn't sure this was such a good idea. But he flicked on his flashlight and set his hand on the banister, sending up a soft puff of dust, and began to climb. I followed, setting my feet into the tracks Eric left in the thick dust. The walls around us were unfinished, bare boards with yellow insulation puffing out between the seams.

The stairs creaked ominously with every step, but they held, and soon we were standing in front of another door, a twin to the one in the basement. Eric rattled the doorknob: locked. He fished the little key out of the yellowed envelope I'd found, and fumbled it into the lock. The knob turned, but the door still stuck in its frame, unopened for too long. It took a few solid blows to free it, and the hinges protested every inch.

The attic was dim, lit with the narrow bands of light that made it past the heavy curtains in the little windows. There wasn't a lot to it: a few glass display cases, a bookshelf, framed photos on the walls. A velvet-lined case held a sword and a knife and a bow; two mannequins, child-sized, dressed in clothes that looked like they had started life as old-fashioned pajamas.

I leaned in to look at the photos. Uncle Andrew and Aunt Eliza, no older than eight, looked back at me. There were fairies in the air between them.

"So they—went somewhere, when they were kids," I said.

"Yeah, said Eric, "and they came back, and they grew up and got married, and the whole time they kept looking for things that were... strange. Like the place they went to."

I started crying, just a little bit. I couldn't help it. The idea that they had kept this secret, their whole lives, and spent so much time trying to recapture whatever magic they'd known as children... it was too, too sad. But Eric didn't see it that way.

"I don't think they were trying to get back to wherever they went as kids," he said. "Not really. They were happy together, they liked treasure hunting... I think it was a challenge. To find the stuff that didn't fit. And, hey," he said, and brushed the tears off my cheek, "They've passed it on to us."
In Hyasttville, a few blocks off the main street, there's a red-brick house with cheerful curtains at the windows. A young couple lives there; they run an antique store a few miles down the road in Mount Rainier. If you know the right people, you might get an invitation to their house, to see the things they don't sell to just anyone.

And if you tell the right story, you might get to see their basement. It's a bright and tidy room, white-painted, with framed pictures taking up the little space that isn't filled with shelves and cabinets. There are tall, narrow drawers for papers, cubbyholes, crates of records and rows of books. None of it is ordinary. All of it has a story, even if no one knows to tell it.

If you're very, very lucky, you might go further than the basement. You might climb a set of spiral stairs to the attic, and hear what the young couple knows of that story.

You might find what you're looking for there, but it depends on what you need.

About the author:
Holli Mintzer lives in College Park, Maryland, where she reads, writes, and attempts to knit.

     Thank you for joining us in another issue of Larks Fiction Magazine. We appreciate your interest in indie literature and hope you will join in the next issue coming July 10th. Till then!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Issue Fourteen, Volume One

From the Desk of the Editor
   Welcome one and everyone else to another exciting issue of Larks Fiction Magazine. In this issue we have works of future and present could-be's. From bird feeders to sudoku we have a very fun issue this week.
     On a personal note I tied the knot since last issue with my best friend and college sweet heart. Thank you to everyone who attended the wedding and for the good wishes.
      Just a reminder--check us out on FaceBook and Twitter for up-to-date news and announcements. Also on our Twitter  (@LarksMedia) look for daily (usually) writing prompts.
  Finally thank you to An Electric Tragedy for hosting us on their friends wall. Now on with the show!

Daniel J. "Kiddy" Pool
LFM Editor

The Human Beings; Recreation
By Keith G. Laufenberg

Doughboys were paid a whole dollar a day
and received free burial under the clay.
nd movie heroes are paid even more
shooting one another in a Hollywood war.
   Alfred Kreymborg, What Price Glory?

        They had a budget just shy of $1 Billion dollars but apparently it wasn’t enough—they couldn’t recreate the horror that had been known as The African War of 2030. It was 2060 and thirty years had passed since the plains of Africa had been literally razed to the very core of its life and well-being. It had been scorched earth that had been left for the generations that followed that war —a war in which nuclear missiles had been used to decimate over half the African continent and producer/director Otto O’Neil, whose movies were known throughout the world for their stark reality and attention to recreating history, as it had been lived. He was in a heated conversation with Jerry Spisak, one of his writers. 

“We have a billion dollars and you’re telling me we can’t get …”

     “Otto … they’re gone … you hear me … there are none left.”

     ‘Wha’ … where did they all go?” O’Neil replied, with just enough of a questioning tone and look on his face that Spisak almost had to laugh. He couldn’t believe that O’Neil was that ignorant—that he was that detached from reality.

     “Otto, they’re dead … they’re all dead.”

     “Dead? But … but I thought you said we could get …”

     “The only thing we could get was the plastic creations.”

     “I thought we had …”

     “We can get six alligators for the crocs but they are very small and Billy thinks they’ll look phony compared to our recreations.”

     “What? You mean we’re going to pass up the real thing to use plastic and metal junk?”

     “It’s not junk Otto and it looks a lot more authentic on film—look the elephants are extinct; the rhinos are extinct; the lions are extinct; the giraffes are …”

     “I know, they’re all extinct still we had a few species that aren’t and—”

     “Otto, alligators, vultures and a few hyenas and they’re all endangered; we have to pay ten times as much to get them as it costs to recreate and …”

     O’Neil put his hand in the air. “Aw’right Jerry; aw’right. We’ll use the recreations … shhh … nothin’s real anymore any-damn-way; Gee-zuz but the humanoid I had last night, man—”

     “Yeah Big O, how was she man?”

      “Oh Gee-zuz,” O’Neil replied, she was unbelievable, did exactly what I told her to you know what I mean, geez ten grand though … I mean—”

Reprinted from An Electric Tragedy.

About the Author:
Keith G. Laufenberg has been writing for over 30 years and has had dozens of poems and short stories published in numerous literary magazines and journals including, but not limited to: AIM Magazine, Spillway Review, NuVein, The Oracular Tree, Short-Story.Me, PleaidesThe Pink Chameleon, et al and he has also had two novels published; “Miami Rock” and “Semper-Fi-Do-or-Die” in 2007.

The Sudoku Enthusiast Explains Herself
By Danica Cummins

My favorite numbers are 2, 4, and 7.  The real pleasure is in placing the 2s.  2 is the most elusive number, a lemur, a unicorn, forever vanishing into the bracken. 
I detest 9.
I’m averse to 1, 3, 5, and 6, but I don’t detest them as much as 9.
8, infinity turned on its side--I could take it or leave it.
I scrutinize the partly-filled board, its vacant squares standing out like lonely motel rooms.  In some lower part of my brain--the part humans still share with crocodiles--I already know how the numbers will fall.  Alphanumeric ghosts dance across the crinkling newspaper.  If we had but world enough and time…
I follow the proscribed path of logic, and, 1 by 1, the ghosts allow themselves to be named.
I have 2 daughters.  Greta and Abigail.  Each of them has a number that they’ve learned to recite when asked.  Greta is turning 10 today, jumping a new number by its bushy tail.  Abigail is 7; in her enthusiasm to be taken seriously, however, she might add a .5. 
I have 1 husband.  Timothy.  He is 38 years old.  He is dissatisfied.  “You’re not listening,” he says.  “Why aren’t you listening?”  He’s talking haggardly about the 6 problems he had today at work.  There’s a 60% chance he will leave me within the next 5 years.
We have 1 house in Florida, the four of us.  In 1513, Juan Ponce de León scavenged through the wilds of Florida, searching for the elusive Fountain of Youth.  He sought it here, he sought it there.  Trying to follow the path of logic, trying to give flesh to a myth.
“Can I have a snack, Mommy?” Greta asks, nodding her head 2 times.
I open the fridge and peel the label off a tomato from batch 9317.  “Whatever happened to tomato 9317?” I can imagine a fruit-packer asking.  “It was eaten,” answers another, “Whole, like an apple, by a girl just turning 10.”
Timothy is a pious man.  A Buddhist.  He once bragged, at a cocktail party, that he’d meditated as many times as there were hairs on his head.
Now he’s bald.  Bald as the Buddha.  There are 3 hairs on his head.
Irony takes its time to strike, but it claims its own in the end.
There was one summer, long ago, when Timothy and I, in distant houses, wrote letters to each other.  I sat on the lip of a dingy, scapegrace flowerbed, in the sun, leaning against tulip shoots that were still deciding whether to live, writing very quickly.
When we finally came together, we used our right hands, our writing hands, complete with knobby pen-calluses, to touch each other, very quickly.  It was in a garden in early September, a garden that had decided to live, that was braving existence as cheerfully as Neptune in a tempest.  We let mist settle on us, and stared, adjacent, at the moon.
How many years has it been since then?  If only the distance would condescend to be a number…
Maybe, soon, we will all condescend to be numbers.
Our houses are already gridded, and we, in our snugly-fit squares, are perhaps already as interchangeable.
The evening thickens as I sit in the kitchen.  The white at the rim of the horizon clots like spoiling milk.  Abigail draws, Greta sings, and Timothy files our income taxes. 
The even-ing thickens.  Eve and her ilk, beasts of tooth and claw and legend, wander, like a snickering memory, through the wilds of the night.  They easily escape the nets of Juan Ponce de León.  They are an unfleshed myth. 
This is before there are numbers.  Paradise has unnumbered delights.
But Eve is dissatisfied.
There is a 100% chance she will set her sights on the difference between good and evil.
“Ignorance isn’t enough,” she says.  “I’m siding with the snake, and if I must die for the knowledge, so be it.” 
So be it.
Ponce de León wanders through the wilds, and Eve says, “Adam, won’t you join me, my bald, pious husband?”
Boom!  Pow!  Infinity, that sideways 8--I could take it or leave it--is taken and left.
There are ghosts, and numbers, for the first time.
I am almost done with the puzzle.  The 2s come out of hiding, rustled from the bracken.  The empty spaces left, I want them to be 2s as well, but they aren’t.  It’s an 8, and an 8, and an 8.  Infinity knocks persistently on my door.
Timothy knocks on my door.
He took out the trash and forgot his keys.
I know I will say, “No, no, no.  You can’t come in,” because even though something has been lost--Juan Ponce de León searches the wilds--I am content to have lost it, to have let my days be numbered.  “I condescend, I condescend!” I want to cry across the hills.  I am content, nay, ecstatic (in my way) to have given up unnumbered delights for the knowledge of good, evil, and the wonderfully complex space between.  And the knowledge will bring me grief, but…
A woman needs her heroines.
I look at Timothy.  He says, “I had to throw out the artichokes.  They went rancid.”  And, very quickly, I follow the path of logic.  I see the pattern, and the ghosts on his face allow themselves to be named.
Our marriage will shatter.  He will fall--in love, presumably--with a basketball player from Reno.  I will take night classes on computer programming and console myself, whenever my heart beats too quickly, with thinking only in ones and zeros.  Greta will become a corporate lawyer, and Abigail, always the more sensitive of the two, will write adventure novels for children where no one ever dies.
And yet now, I take Timothy’s hand.  I say, “Look!  The moon is shaped like a toenail clipping.”  I giggle.  It’s shaped like the Cheshire cat’s grin, which will disappear, as the days flow on, into the gentle blackness of space.  As will I.  Had we but world enough and time... 
Timothy’s fingers no longer have pen-calluses, but I take them anyway.  I lead Timothy inside, where our daughters are cracking their knuckles, impatient for attention, at the table.
I’m tired.  The pattern, this one, small pattern, is complete.
Tomorrow, I think I’ll do the crossword instead. 


About the Author
Danica Cummins is a twenty-something from Northern California, with degrees in English and Feminist Studies.  She has deep passions for hiking, coffee, and irony.  She is just starting on the long road of being a writer, but plans to be the wordsmith of numerous novels, travelogues, and unnecessary puns.  She has also been published in Luna Station Quarterly, and is currently working on a novel about robots.  She played far too much sudoku while writing this piece.

The Practical Goldberg;
A Love Story in Three Parts
By Jerry Guarino

Part I

David, a computer science major in college, was completing the setup of his new bird feeding system.  Instead of the usual tree house, painted with bright colors, he had designed a more elegant solution.  Altruism aside, he wanted to do more than just provide food for birds in the bad weather; he wanted to see the birds enjoy their treat while keeping squirrels from squandering the seeds.

 So he set up a trough with three lids, mechanically operated based on a computer program.  The first container had birdseeds and suet, the second fruit and nuts and the third meat scraps and insects.  In front of the trough was a bar that activated a 13” LCD screen when the bird landed on it.  On the screen was a picture of the three food types, corresponding to the placement of the trays.  The bird would peck at the screen and a touch sensor would open the appropriate food tray.  If the bird didn’t peck, a camera would snap a picture of him and open the tray that species of bird prefers.  To complete the environment, video with the sounds of like birds would play from the LCD.

But what about the bane of bird feeders, squirrels?  The locked trays prevented them from eating.  If a squirrel pressed the landing bar, the camera would snap a picture of the offender, then play a 3D video, complete with sounds of foxes, coyotes, hawks, owls and snakes eating squirrels.  The longer the squirrel stayed there, the more graphic the video progressed.  Last but not least, a small spray of that predator’s scent would shoot onto the squirrel’s leg (don’t worry, it washed away in the next rain).  Needless to say, most squirrels never returned to the bird feeder.

No matter where David was, he could enjoy the feeder.   A second, wireless camera sent a signal to the Internet so he could watch from any computer.  He even wrote an app so he could watch the action from his cell phone.  Why all the work to feed birds?  David discovered that this was 100% effective in meeting women, especially when showing it off at a coffee house or party.  Rube would have been proud!

Part II

David was talking to a particularly cute young woman at his favorite franchise coffee bar.  But let me digress a moment.  As you know, David is that computer science major who used his engineering skills to design an automatic bird feeder that not only recognized the bird, but also provided their preferred food and kept squirrels out with a diabolical program that guaranteed a squirrel would never return.  To be fair, David posted a warning in 300-point font “No squirrels allowed” with an accompanying 500 hundred-word disclaimer to avoid any lawsuits that may occur.

Not that David needed any help getting dates.  He had the casual good looks of a surfer, perfect teeth and a well-proportioned six-foot frame.   Although he was technically a geek, no one would have guessed; he looked more like a graduate student in literature.  But being the precise, analytical person that he was, the bird feeder more or less guaranteed a subtle and inoffensive way to have a conversation with the opposite sex.  Coeds would sidle up to him, looking over his shoulder to the laptop screen with pictures and sounds of blue jays, robins and nuthatches.  Inevitably, they would start the conversation with a sound usually reserved when seeing puppies.

 “Oh, that’s so cute.  Is that a movie clip?” said the 5’9” brunette with jeans, ugh boots and crème colored sweater.  David turned and smiled.  “No, it’s a live feed from my place.”  Well, I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that after about a half hour, the woman was convinced she had found that all too rare quality in a man, genuine innocence.  David never divulged his methodology to any friends or even family; that might put an end to his understated masterpiece.  

Ninety-four times out of a hundred (we saw the statistics), the woman would want to visit the apartment and see for herself, partly to confirm David’s claim that he designed and built the best bird feeder, but also to learn more about her new love interest.  Since birds feed mostly at dawn and dusk, David had woman asking to spend time at his home during sunrises and sunsets, enhancing the romance.  But you can’t just stand next to the feeder; birds won’t come close.  No, you have to view from the second floor of his bedroom, meticulously cleaned and fresh.  New age music and scented candles (unlit for the moment) completed the ambiance. 

 “Is that a blue jay?” said Karen.  “Yes, you see most of them in April, their mating season” replied David.  “Look, two more birds.  What are they?”  David looked closely.  “Red breasted nuthatches.  They travel in small groups, sometimes in pairs.  See how the male preens the female while she’s eating.”  As the sun disappeared over the hilltop, Karen put her arms around David and kissed him.

Part III

Karen put her arms around David and kissed him.  “David, I hear the birds” and she hopped out of bed and went to the window.  David, still waking up, rubbed the sleepers out of his eyes.  In panties and a college t-shirt, her lovely figure silhouetted in the window frame.  Karen was different; she was genuinely happy with him as he was with her; no games here.  It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was contentment.  “Hi” as he rubbed her shoulders and kissed her on the neck.  Karen squeezed his hand.  “I think that’s a robin.”  David looked down at the feeder.  “No it’s a Stonechat, but they look the same.”  

David’s days of short affairs were over.   Even though he had manipulated Karen into his arms, he had found an honest and wonderful relationship.  Over the next few weeks, he realized that Karen was perfect for him.  It seemed like whenever he needed anything, Karen was there.  She knew when he needed to work and when he needed to relax, what stressed him out and all of his interests.  She understood him completely.  Their lives had become complementary, like puzzle pieces fitting just so.  “This must be love,” David thought.  “I guess I won’t be needing the bird-feeding program anymore.

Anna was looking through Karen’s social networking program when she came in.  “Hey Anna, you’ll never guess what.  David and I are going to a bed and breakfast up the coast this weekend!”  Anna looked up smiling.  “I knew you two would hit it off.  I had a feeling as soon as I started entering the data.”  Karen looked over her shoulder.  “So who are you looking for?”  Anna replied, “It says Jeff Olsen would be a good match for me.  It’s printing out his schedule, interests, love history and life goals now.  I can’t believe how well this program of yours works.”  Karen gave her a little hug.  “Well it worked for me.” 

Rube would have been proud!

Reprinted from The Scarlet Sound.

About the Author
Jerry Guarino writes short stories and plays. His work has appeared in 6 Tales, The Chaffey Review Literary Magazine, Daily Love, The Fringe Magazine, Leaning House Press, Piker Press, Postcard Shorts, Ray's Road Review, The Scarlet Sound, Weirdyear, Writing Raw and Zouch Magazine and Miscellany. He is currently working on a murder mystery for the stage. For more information visit his website at

Thank you for reading another issue of Larks Fiction Magazine. Make sure to check out our back issues and we hope to see you back here in two weeks for Issue Fifteen with works of magical realism!