Sunday, September 25, 2011

Issue Six, Volume Two

From the Desk of the Editor.
     Hello and greetings to another installment of Larks Fiction Magazine! Within Issue Six are tales of horror and the other worldly. So sit back and enjoy!

Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

The Prism
By Ron Koppelberger

The suffering interval, woven moments and measures of refined passage indulged the solemn weary impression of whole dust, desert tempest, designed by arid evolutions of wandering heat.
The prism was close present and ethereal in its custom. He honored the diamond shaped prism with a gob of spit. Dirt and dust rolled from its smooth surface as the spittle slid across its dull luster leaving tendrils of sparkling crystal. He seized the jewel and screamed. Clear as day and the steam broiling sands, he saw and screamed. The ballet was perfect and the ballast was in rhythm with the fluorescent fold, the mushroom cloud of dust and ash. He screamed and fell back, “God help me!!!!!………OH god!” he screamed. Intuitions of sacred sacrament were visible in the smokey array, fulfilling the fashion of a distant nightmare and an oath to move forward to the moment of silent desolation. “Oh god!” he gasped. Breathing in all consuming assumptions of blood and destiny he moaned, “Oh god…..the blood.” he whispered and collapsed in a heap of sweat and tears, “The blood……the blood!”
The prism rolled from his grasp into the tide of sand and time. He knew and he knew. The fight was his, he had a covenant now… blood and season. He refined his thoughts for a moment, holding, holding the fray, the guild of saffron deliverance and Eden’s promise. He had the indelible fortune and the lead in the drama, he comprehended clearly, like the jewel…….he would begin his journey with the setting sun, by cover of night and the silhouette of a ravens wings.

The End

About the Author:
Ron Koppelberger has been published in The Storyteller, Ceremony, Write On, Freshly Baked Fiction and Necrology Shorts. He recently won the People’s Choice Award for poetry In The Storyteller for a poem titled Secret Sash. His works have been featured from England to Australia, Canada, Thailand and India. He aspires to establish himself as a writer and poet.

The Estate Settled
By Heikki Hietala
I have no words for how wonderful it feels to ski across a frozen lake, with wide and long skis that carry you effortlessly on the soft mattress of snow. I was elated. The weather was perfect, there was no wind except the mild one whipped up by our movement. The Sun, low as it was due to its summer vacation in the tropics, still gave some semblance of warmth on our faces.
My companion on this trip was one Väinö Mustonen. He was older than me, quite a lot actually. He was a friend of my father’s. I could see it on his face too that he was as happy as I was to let the skis shuffle on the snow.
“Is it far still?” I asked.
Väinö paused and pointed forward with one pole. “Across this bay and over that little ridge, then about one more kilometre. In the summer you can drive up to that end of the lake and walk for about, umm, seven hundred meters – there’s a road of sorts. Or take a boat from the village right to the cottage.” He started skiing again.
I shrugged to get my backpack to sit better on my shoulders and followed him on. The Sun was so low, even though it was noon, it hid behind the low trees on the ridge ahead. Not a cloud was in sight. We soon reached the ridge and skied up it slanted, like a road in the Alps would slither its course. And then it paid us back with a nice slide to the other lake, and I could see my summer cottage on the opposite shore.
Half an hour later we had a small fire in front of the log cottage, and Väinö set up a rod for the coffee pot. “Let’s have a little lunch before we look inside. We shouldn’t use the stove or the fireplace; it’s been four years since they were used last and I want the fire inspection to take place before anyone lights a fire there.”
I agreed and bit into my sandwiches. Ham and cheese on rye. Add a whole boiled egg, or two, and coffee, and you’re a new man entirely. I scanned the surroundings. The people of old had a real vision for placing houses. From the front yard I could see the lake as wide as my eyes could take it, and the little slope that led to the lake was gentle enough to walk even if a little tipsy before sauna. Ah, the sauna. I’d have to build one, but Väinö told me permissions wouldn’t pose a problem in this little town.
“Four years you said, Väinö? How come it took so long to sell this? The place is perfect!”
“Well, the place is, but the estate isn’t. Auntie Elma was not the easiest person you could meet. She would always be promising this part of the estate to someone or another in the family, and there’s twelve of us in the estate. Sure, there was ample land to split twelve ways, and quite a lot of forest too, but you know how it goes. There’s always someone who will be against someone getting just this or that bit of land, and somehow a certain little nook of wood is vital to two people at the same time. What was funny, though, was that no one wanted this cottage. I mean, there’s seventeen hectares of land around it, and the lake is practically all yours.”
I was already hooked. On the seventeen glorious hectares at a bargain price, I could build a fantastic little resort here. Businessmen from all over the globe, exhausted after working hard to pull in profits, would compete for long weekend spots in my Executive Retreat. They could mingle with peers and create new business opportunities while bathing in the three saunas I’d build by the lakeside, before retreating to their log cabins equipped with fiber optic Internet connections. A little recreational gambling perhaps? Local beers on tap… the potential of the place was endless.
Väinö seemed to have something weighing on his heart still, as he pottered about casting glances at me. “The problem was, when Elma promised this place to every one of the members of the future estate, we simply couldn’t find out who was to inherit it in the end. Nothing was on paper, Aunt Elma had talked with every one of us, and now, looking back, it was her idea to sow mistrust in the estate. She was like that, you know… not the easiest person. In the end the best thing was to just sell it.”
None of this was my business of course. For me, this place looked like another good investment in my portfolio – cranky aunts didn’t really matter. Acquire, renovate, develop, enjoy, sell. “Yes, that’s the way it is,” I said, just to say something. I bit into my semi-frozen banana, which certainly is not the best winter snack, and looked on as Väinö cleared the steps of snow to get to the door.
“The key is under the flowerpot as it has been for almost a century,” he said, and turned the key in the creaky lock. The veranda was a late addition to the house itself, which was a solid log frame covered with slates of sorts. I made a mental note to lose all the outer covering when I’d finalized the purchase. The logs were simply marvellous, hand-carved behemoth trees built into a frame that would take another century with ease.
We went in. Väinö had a flashlight with a wide beam. “That’s the kitchen… over there’s the living room – of sorts – and there’s the two bedrooms upstairs.” The house was quite large even if it looked small from the outside. “And that’s the room where Elma had her handloom and the rugs she made.”
The house had been boarded up inside. A paint of nondescript, light color covered everything, and would exit through the door just as soon as my refurnishing team got in. We entered the living room, which still had its furniture. A quick glance told me there was nothing worth saving, apart from one large rustic table and the long benches on either side of it. In the corner was a rattan chair, well worn and still covered with a hideous shawl. I shivered for no reason.
“So… Elma lived here until she was taken to the Sunshine Home, right?” I asked with a fake cheery voice. I looked at a photo on top of the mantle of the fireplace. There was a woman in it, in her seventies or eighties. She belonged to that unfortunate group of people whose eyes do not smile even if the rest of the face tries to. Her grey eyes pierced mine. Väinö came over to me.
“No, this is where she lived until the end. Trust me, we tried to get her to move away, helping her live here was really a burden to us. She just would not budge when we pressed the issue. She just sat in her chair, smoked her pipe, and snapped out orders.”
Väinö swept the room with the bright flashlight, pointing out objects; a stuffed owl, reindeer horns used for hanging things, a painting by a nativist with all the colors faded and bleak under the flood of light. On one shelf there was a lonely, curved pipe – a full-bent billiard type. “That’s her pipe, by the way. She was a character. We’d get phone calls in the night, when she’d ask one of us nieces and nephews to pop in to do this and that, no matter what time of day. And then one day, it was a few days since the last call. I came here with my brother and we found her, in that rattan chair. I don’t think anyone’s sat there ever since.”
None of the items in the room were of the slightest interest to me. “I think I will strip the house of all the furniture and other stuff, and burn the lot in the back yard. I don’t really see myself in a rattan chair like that.  If you want the owl or the horns, or the hand loom, better pick them up before the bonfire begins. It will be a sight.” Väinö looked somewhat irritated but said nothing.
I had seen enough. I turned around and went out to the fire which was still going strong, and warmed my bum and my hands alternatively. Thinking to myself, I decided not to burn just the furniture and stuff - I’d torch the entire place as soon as the deal was signed and send in a battalion of construction workers to build my Resort. I smiled in the freezing air, and then I remembered my new toy.
I have a deal with my wife. When she goes shopping for clothes, I will be her chauffeur, if I get to spend time at Clas Ohlson. It’s the IKEA of gadgetry. I never came out empty-handed, but when wife came along with her designer bags, I would get away with murder. I had bought so many tools and widgets and whatchamacallits that my garage was overflowing, but last Saturday I bought an infrared scanner slash camera for detecting heat loss. I nearly wet my pants with enthusiasm when I found the tool and at twenty percent off list price too.
You see, my idea was to scan the house already at this stage and give the scans to my trusty carpenter friend, so he could design the insulation and whatnot already now. In my mind, I had decided to buy the property and could not wait to get going with it. So, with this ingenious device, I could get the thermal scan and a regular picture at one go. There was a toggle in the handle with which I could switch and view them.
I dug in my backpack for the device, pulled the battery from my breast pocket where I’d kept it warm, and inserted it. I flipped the switch, and the 4” display lit up. I pointed it at my hand, and got a psychedelic view of it in rainbow colors, appropriately with cooler regions at fingertips and the side of the palm. A cautious swipe close to the fire showed me the device could read high temperatures and show them with fiery red shades. The highest temperature was also given in numbers. I grinned. Technology is great.
“What’s that?” Väinö asked. I hadn’t noticed he’d come out, but he was standing by me. I explained how the thing worked, and showed him my infrared hand and the edges of the fire. He was duly impressed and scanned the frigid horizon, and right at that moment realized it wouldn’t work the way I wanted.
“Has this place been vacant for years now, Väinö? Like, years?”
“Yes, it hasn’t been used for four years.”
“Well, that means my device is useless. I won’t be able to see much of anything, as this works with temperature differences. If the house has been vacant that long, it’s all the same, ambient temperature and all I can see is the same color everywhere.”
“Ah, I see. If the house was warm, you could see cooler regions and tell where the heat was escaping?”
“Exactly.” I was really disappointed. I pointed the sensor at the house, and the display showed a frosty blue color for the entire wall. Then I pointed into the woods, and nothing changed – it was all at minus ten Centigrade.
I gave the device to Väinö who played with it for a while. “Hmm…” he said.
“Why does this thing show that window in a different color?”
I had a look. Surely he must have held his hand in front of the sensor or done something else wrong. But when I took the device and pointed it to the black window with tiny white ice flowers on it, there was a slight temperature gradient on the display, rather like quarter circle of nominally warmer color.
“I have no idea. Must be a calibration thing.” I pointed the sensor at the dimming sky to get a uniform reading, then pressed the CALIBRATE button. The thing went all red, then all blue and issued a faint bleep. The blue screen returned. I aimed the sensor again at the window, and the warmer area was still there, more pronounced if anything.
“No… it’s still there. Look, Väinö, did you leave the torch inside, pointing at the window? Or light a candle? Or a cigarette or something.” Väinö denied having done anything of the sort inside.
“At least you rolled a quick cigarette just now. I can still smell the tobacco. It’s just what my grandpa used to do, roll his own with Admiral’s Rough Cut.” I was quite sure by now that Väinö was leading me on, but his baffled look told me otherwise.
“Look, I’m a Camel man, but I haven’t smoked one all day.” As proof he offered a crumpled pack of the said brand from his breast pocket. But the whiff of smoke I felt wasn’t Camel.
“Well, maybe we should take a look in the house then.” We climbed the stairs and entered the cottage. I had a slightly nauseous feeling. Väinö held the flashlight and I pointed my IR camera wherever his light shone. I got the steady minus ten all over the place in the veranda, in the bedrooms, and the kitchen. Then we entered the living room.
I scanned the room clockwise from the doorway. Nothing happened on the screen as I aimed the sensor at the stuffed owl, at the reindeer horns, the bookshelf, and the naivistic painting. They were all at minus ten. But the rattan chair in the corner was not. It had a blob of pink on its seat at +10°. I could clearly see the seat’s form on the screen, even if the rest of the chair wasn’t visible.
I passed the chair and scanned the rest of the room, and to my astonishment, saw the screen go all blue again. Returning to the chair brought about a definite hue, not pink this time, but a pale red, much like a winter sunset would cause in the high clouds. My hair stood up in my neck.
 “What the hell is that thing doing?” Väinö asked as he pointed the flashlight at the chair. “Hey, it must be the lamp! I’ll switch it off.” Before I could say that it could not be the light, since the rest of the room was cold even if the light had been everywhere, he clicked the switch and the room went dark.
Acting on a hunch, I pointed the sensor at the bookshelf. There was a bright red spot on one shelf, and it looked like a fiery iris in a blue-grey eye on the display of my device. Väinö turned his lamp on again and pointed at the bookshelf, and we saw the bowl of the pipe releasing a steady stream of smoke. I was having less fun by the moment.
I moved the sensor and aimed squarely at the rattan chair. As we watched, the screen emitted more and more hues of red, getting more intensive by the moment. The digital display registered +15°, then +18°, then +25°. The formless red blob of the seat began to slide up onto the back of the chair and up the sides too. The armrests went from minus blues into the sickly pale reds too. I took a few steps and pointed the sensor at the armrest from an arm’s length, and was amazed to see the temperature hike well above 30°, 37° to be clear. I went back to the doorway but didn’t stop measuring.
Väinö was clearly having issues with his memories, because his hand trembled; he couldn’t keep the flashlight steady and the movement of the shadows on the walls made the stuffed owl look like it was taking off. I didn’t care for the bird, but instead I watched the temperature settle at 37° in the entire chair… just as if someone had sat in it and left just now.
But the temperature didn’t stay put for long. No, it started to rise. And as it rose, we could see a form appear in the chair. Initially it was just like a pair of legs, but the heat soon built itself into a pair of thighs, then a pelvic region, and on to a back. It was like watching someone being beamed up by Scotty, I remember thinking.
We could not see anything in the chair if we looked into it ourselves, or if I switched between the modes of infrared and regular light. But in IR, there definitely was something in the chair. It was just as if a human sat in it, we just couldn’t see her without the device.
And then the heat really went on. Even as I was about to suggest we pack it up and vacate the premises, and go talk to a shrink, the red took on a whole new hue.  A deep red one, a jump from 30° to 150° within a few seconds. And then on to 220°, which was about the same as I had measured from the fringe of the fire in the yard.
Väinö said, “I must be crazy but I can see something in the chair.”
I moved my gaze from the display, with its bright red human form now fully visible, and looked. What we saw in the chair was a wisp of smoke. A tiny but definite stream of white smoke emanated from the ugly shawl, right from the center of the seat. The display showed a definite area of +300° in the seat, and that was the limit of the thermometer. The hot spot was round, and it seemed to spread quite fast across the seat.
And then the flame erupted in the chair, lighting the dry shawl and proceeding into the chair as if we were following an educational video from the Fire Department. The chair was in flames within seconds. The shawl burned itself off the chair and fell on the floor, igniting the dust bunnies as it landed. The rattan chair was crackling with fire, and its strands popped off it with the bindings burning off. Sparks flew and we just stood there like two dummies watching the fireworks.
But when the curtains caught fire, Väinö ushered me out of the door. As I turned to flee, I swear I saw someone standing in front of the fiery remains of the rattan armchair, but that vision merely spurred me on. When we stood by the little fire on the yard, stuffing our possessions into our backpacks, we cast sideways glances at the house, by now properly ignited and roaring with flames. I was happy there was that hill down to the first lake, as it gave me considerable speed and put some distance between me and the conflagration that used to be my dream cottage.
The last I saw of the house was when we climbed that ridge between the lakes. We stood on top of it, panting considerably from skiing faster than ever for much longer than would be advisable. Seeing the roof collapse on the house, sending a final blossom of red cinders was unreal.
Now, I have a friend at the Met Office. He’s a spoilsport if there ever was one. Nothing is beyond his reasoning and explanations based on solid atmospheric physics. Yet I wonder what he would have made of the movement of the cinders. A layer of cooler air, he’d say, on top of a slightly warmer one, and an inversion boundary in between – that must have caused the cinders to spread out horizontally in all directions as they did, floating in the air and gleaming with an irate red hue, until they descended to glow on every branch of every tree and on all the snow-covered rocks.
Inversion layer, my ass, this message got to me loud and clear.
We left the scene behind and slid down the steep ridge onto the lake that carried us to the car. As the taller of us, I put the skis on top of the car. Väinö stuffed our backpacks into the trunk. We didn’t talk. Only when we saw the first streetlights along the road did I venture to say anything.
“I wonder if the estate will let me renege on the deal?”
Väinö looked out of the window at the trees whizzing by.
“I’m quite sure they will.”
The End

About the Author;
Heikki Hietala, a native Finn, learned to read at four but is still trying to learn to write. His novel, "Tulagi Hotel", was published in 2010. His flash piece "Lord Stanton's Horse" won the Flash 500 competition in September 2010. He is also a member of Year Zero Writers and the Book Shed writers' conclave.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Issue Five, Volume Two

From the Desk of the Editor, 
     Welcome to Issue Five, Volume Two of Larks Fiction Magazine! We want to apologize for the late update--we are still getting things moved into the new office. This week we are featuring two works of modern adventure!
     By the end of this week we should be getting more letters out to those of you wanting on replies. Until then enjoy the high flying antics of indie literature!
Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

The Air Artist
By Ralph Puglisi
On his way to the kiddy birthday party, he gets the notion to try making the balloon animals using only hot air balloons.  At the day’s event, it takes him four and a half hours to manipulate and complete the first folded figure.  By the time he finishes shaping his magnificent contortion of air and plastic and nylon into a pleated ‘mosquito’, all of the guests are long gone, the birthday kid is into his third straight hour of crying hysterics, and the mother is dialing 9-1-1 with a gun-slinging index finger…Dad says under his brandy-breath, “Ha!  Mosquito…Looks more like a boulder.”

His name is Sisyphus The Clown.  People call him Sissy for short—it’s the reason why he’s always carried a hyper-macho ‘I’ll show them’ attitude and an ultra-empowering ‘I’m a man’s man’ attitude.

Even though he’s chosen the profession of being a children’s-party-clown (stretching the limits, boundaries, and conventions) making silly balloon animals seems to be the aim and resolve of securing his manhood.  The means?  Making the contorted animals using only hot air balloons.  Even further, he soon decides to create the most difficult of shapes to form, by manhandling his props into dymaxion designs of energetic geometry, replicates M.C. Escher’s artwork, and then gets into Feynman Diagrams just for the heck of it.

Ultimately, he’s being misunderstood…Still, all people ever ‘see’ are boulders…

About the Author:
Ralph Puglisi is an amateur writer just recently sticking his big toe into the literary waters of the publishing world.  Puglisi has been published in Verbicide Magazine, Weirdyear Magazine, and soon, in Sein Und Werden.

by Nick Kraft
It could have been love, or it might have been a scam. I let the Russian girl take my hand and lead me up to the ship. A massive net hung from a tall structure near the stern. A rust-stained stack loomed above us, lit from below. The gold hammer and sickle, on what had once been a broad red stripe, was faded but still just visible. I was about to leave Alaska for Russian Federation territory, but was a few beers past caring. Beneath the gangway, water came from the side of the ship, spurting in time with the chugging of a distant pump. The oily stench of dead fish was powerful. Salmon, even dead salmon, smelled almost sweet by comparison. Gulls lining the railing above our heads shuffled nervously, mumbling amongst themselves. I halted on the metal stairs.
Marina kept hold of my hand and jerked to a stop. She let go and stood near me, leaning against one of the thick cables supporting the gangway. A decrepit forklift and two flatbed trucks were parked next to hundreds of stacked crab pots on the dock below us. A few lights from downtown Kodiak were visible beyond the curved roofline of the Ocean Beauty cannery.
“What is wrong, Alexander? Do not be afraid.”
“I’m not scared. It’s just . . .” It’s just, I’m an idiot. “What is her name? Your ship?”
“He is called Izumrud.” Marina pronounced the name, “e-zoom-rude.” “You say Emerald in English.”
“It’s a nice name, but you mean ‘she,’ right?” I turned to face Marina. She was one step above me but still half a head shorter.
“We say ‘he’ for boats.” She ran a hand along the stubble on my cheek. “You are a handsome boy. Your eyes are so big and brown, and so sad.”
I grinned stupidly.
Marina slapped my cheek lightly, twice. “Will I give you the tour now?”
“Up we go.”
I’d only seen the last of Champion, a salmon boat, that afternoon. I had lived and worked on Champion for almost four months, but summer was ending and I’d earned enough to finish my degree. The guys from the crew had taken me to the Mecca Lounge to celebrate a good season, give me a send off, and commiserate about lost girlfriends. We’d told our favorite stories and I’d practically cried in my beer.
“The factory I will show you first, I think.”
I could have listened to this girl talk all night long. She made simple English sound exotic and sexy. She wasn’t beautiful, but she was pretty and getting prettier all the time. Marina wore no makeup and her sand-colored hair was in a ponytail. She had that Slavic east-meets-west look with high cheekbones, and slanted eyes the color of an iceberg’s heart. Her body was a mystery beneath an over-sized shirt and heavy canvas overalls. What I liked about her most was simple: She was female and she seemed to like me.
Marina grabbed the circular handle in the center of the door and gave it a practiced spin. She leaned back, pulling the heavy door open a crack. A big guy thundered down the stairs to our left, separated her from the handle, and pushed the door closed. He spoke Russian in a low flat monotone. Marina’s voice was higher than before, but she seemed unimpressed. The man stood tall in front of the door with his thick arms crossed. He wore a white nautical cap with an anchor emblem and a shiny black brim. His hair and beard were dark brown and he wore a pale turtleneck under a black leather jacket cut like a sports coat. He had the kind of size that made football coaches drool. I looked up at him and couldn’t help smiling. His getup said KGB wannabe at a yacht club function. He studied my face and his eyebrows slid into the bridge of his nose. Before I could do anything to prevent it, I was laughing and he was coming at me. He shoved me hard with both hands, and I went down.
I lay on the deck listening to Marina tearing KGB a new one in rapid-fire Russian. The poor guy tried to speak a few times, but didn’t have a chance. An entire summer in Alaska and I hadn’t seen one moose. Now I’d been run over by one. The deck coating was like coarse black sandpaper. I wasn’t hurt bad, but couldn’t find a good reason to get up. Marina had things well in hand, and it felt good to take a breather. It had been a long day.
Champion’s skipper had shown up at the Mecca. He told the guys they were heading to sea again at first light, and to get their lazy asses on board. He hadn’t said much to me. I’d been paid off and was no longer his problem. The celebration was over and I had nothing to do but drink and relive being dumped by voicemail. It felt like a week had passed, but Champion had only just returned to port that morning. We didn’t get cell service while fishing and the message had been four days old. Addicted to the hurt, I’d pressed buttons on my phone and listened one more time.
“Alex? This is Sarah. I hate voicemail. I wish we could talk, but it can’t wait. Oh, Alex, I waited for months, but I got really bored. It sucks being alone. You know I’m a faithful person, but things happen.” Sarah stopped to catch her breath. I heard her fingernails tapping the back of her cell phone. “I’ll just say it. I met someone else. He was here and you were far away. It started as just friends, but things changed. I didn’t want you to come home and . . . I’m so sorry. Goodbye, Alex.”
Marina had come into the bar alone and taken the stool next to mine. She had said hello and we’d made small talk. She’d been thrilled with the Russian I had picked up in college. I could only say three things: “Good day.” “My name is Alexander, what is your name?” and, “I’m going to the library.” She said my accent was really good. I bought rounds and tried to impress Marina by peeling bills from the wad I frequently took from my jeans pocket. She taught me some Russian swearwords, and I felt a little better. She invited me to see her ship and I felt a lot better.
“Sasha, you are injured?” Marina was kneeling beside me. Worry looked really good on her.
“Who’s Sasha?”
“In Russia, if your name is Alexander, we call you Sasha. It is less long and means we feel affection for you.” She smiled and kissed my cheek. “So I call you Sasha, yes?”
“Yes,” I said with enthusiasm. What a beautiful girl. I slowly pulled myself upright and leaned against the railing next to the open entry port that led onto the gangway. The back of my head was not bleeding but already had a bump. I ran fingers over my scraped left elbow through matching holes in my best black hoodie and my favorite plaid shirt. “But only you can call me Sasha.”
The KGB moose was gone.
“Who was that guy?” I ran a hand over my hoodie pocket, making sure my cell phone was still there. “And what was his problem?”
“He is Maslov, second mate. He dislikes Americans, but he is no problem.” said Marina. She hauled on the circular handle again. “The rules say we are not allowed to bring persons onboard. But, really, it is okay.”
Marina and I pulled the door open, revealing a large room full of machinery and conveyors. She stepped into the threshold. I joined her and breathed in fragrances of rotting fish, bleach, and machine oil. Several Babushka ladies in rubber overalls and headscarves were moving stacks of plastic trays to places near the conveyor belts. Walk-in freezers lined the aft-most wall.
“Why are they working so late?”
“They hurry to prepare. We fish again very soon.”
Marina shouted a greeting, and waved. A particularly spherical woman jerked her chin in our direction.
“A friend of yours?”
“They are not my friends. I have not any friends on the boat. I am the marine biologist. The ladies are workers, the officers are my colleagues, and the other men are sailors and fishers.”
“Fishermen,” I said, smiling at her. “You don’t have a special man-friend onboard, do you?”
“You are my fisher-man friend, no?” Marina moved to one of many stations lining the nearest conveyor. “Here the ladies clean the sea-life, before it is frozen.”
“Do you mean fish?”
“We catch many things. If the sea-life has a head, it is removed.” She switched on a motorized six-inch metal cone with screw threads. Marina lowered a pretend headless fish onto the spinning cone and moved it up and down. From the look of concentration on her face, she had no idea what how suggestive her demonstration was. She shouted above the whirring noise. “This mechanism withdraws all organs.”
“Very impressive.” My yelled words were nearly drowned out by the sound of the sea-life evisceration machine winding down after Marina switched it off. “If you’re the scientist, what do you study?”
“I study all the catch,” she said with a fetching shrug of the shoulders. “I examine everything, it is frozen, and we take it home to become food.”
I knew all about it. These trawlers scooped up everything in their path. They didn’t have to follow rules, like the salmon seiner I’d worked on all summer. Fish and Game told American fisherman where to fish, when, and for how long. Champion’s skipper had told us repeatedly that Russian trawlers still carried electronic gear for spying while they fished. They put biologists on the crews so they could call the ships research vessels. Izumrud was only in port because her-his sister-brother ship had been detained by the Coast Guard for fishing inside the twelve-mile limit. I knew all about it, and didn’t like it, but had already found forgiveness in my heart for Marina.
“I could use a drink,” I said, rubbing the knot on the back of my head. My buzz was wearing thin and I was sure other parts of the ship smelled better than this place. “Thanks for the demonstration.”
“Of course.” Marina led me out the way we’d come and sealed the watertight door. “We have excellent vodka. You will come to the officer’s quarters. They are beneath the bridge.”
The air at the rail smelled sweet now compared to the funk inside the factory.
“Come. We must be silent. Maslov was very angry and has probably gotten his gun.”
“His gun? You didn’t mention a gun.”
“It is fine. It is only a very little gun and I have not seen him shoot in maybe three years.”
“Marina, I don’t like guns.” I made a move for the gangway. “Come with me. I have a room reserved at the airport motel.”
“Sasha, you are frightened of Maslov’s small pistol.” Marina took my face in her calloused hands and kissed me on the lips. She smiled at me like I was an adorable puppy and kept hold of my face.
My buzz was back.
“We’ll grab a taxi and be there in ten minutes,” I said without much force.
“Sasha, I cannot go from the ship now. We depart soon.” She kissed me urgently. Her tongue was like velvet and she tasted spicy. Marina let her lips linger on mine, then released my face, and led me forward. “Come. Step softly and it will be okay.”
We moved along the portside of the ship, passed two orange-topped lifeboats hanging on davits, and reached the superstructure without seeing anyone. Marina opened the hatch and closed it behind us, securing it with only one of the eight handles that would seal it in heavy seas. The hallway we entered was stuffy and warm, and smelled of boiled cabbage and ham. Guitar music, singing, and boisterous laughter came from an open doorway about halfway down the hall. Marina slipped off her shoes, and pushed them among the rubber boots clustered beneath several sets of foul weather gear hanging from hooks. I obeyed her hand signals and did likewise. We passed a few closed doors and approached the opening. Marina stopped at the edge of the doorway and listened. She gave me a quick kiss on the lips, gestured for me to stay put, and strode confidently into the room. She was met with cheers and cat calls. Marina’s high brisk voice was answered by an authoritative baritone.
I leaned against the bulkhead, feeling exposed, wondering how big Mazlov’s gun really was, and how soon the trawler would be leaving port. If only Sarah could see me now. She had always pushed me to be more adventurous and I’d almost always played it safe. Salmon fishing was the most dangerous thing I’d ever done, but it was all about the money. It was the only way I knew to make enough in one summer to finish my degree. Sarah did things like sky-diving, bungee-jumping, and swimming with sharks. She was so adventurous that she’d broken up with me three times before to chase other men. She’d always come back to me and I’d always let her. I’d never been great with women and people told me Sarah was a catch.
Marina’s conversation with the deep voice had ended. Flamenco-style riffs came from the guitar and a strong clear voice sang a few lines. I saw a shadow. A man appeared from the doorway. I turned to face him, bracing myself for pain. He was bald and the black hair he had was short-cropped and flecked with silver. The deep lines around his eyes and mouth reminded me of the cowboys in cigarette ads.
“Alexander,” said the deep voice. He offered his hand and I shook it. His smile and the warmth in his small dark eyes felt like a reward. “I’m Pavel. Come in.”
“Pavel speaks English best of all the crew,” said Marina.
The room was crowded and humid. A counter on the back wall was stacked with dirty dishes, and I could see a kitchen through the wide service window. On a sideboard stood a brass samovar, a coffee urn, glasses, mugs, and a bowl holding a bottle buried in ice. A young blond man with a weak mustache sat at a built-in table filling five shot glasses from a sweating bottle with a red and white label. One of the few loose chairs was occupied by the guitar player, who had wild brown hair and wore a colorful striped shirt with a wide collar. He was strumming the guitar and humming with his eyes closed.
“We drink,” said Pavel, handing glasses around.
The guitarist stopped playing, moved himself closer to the table without getting up, and accepted his drink.
Nostrovia,” they all shouted, and the vodka went down.
Nostrovia,” I said, my voice sounding feeble all on its own. I willed my face not to grimace as the cold liquor scorched my throat.
The Russians slammed their glasses down on the table. I was only a beat behind. Blondy poured again.
“You are welcome in our mess.” Pavel took a seat at the table and gestured to the blond man, who was lighting a cigarette. “Alexander, meet Vadim, our third mate.”
Vadim nodded to me, removed the cigarette from his mouth, and picked a piece of tobacco from his tongue with dirty fingernails.
I nodded and smiled.
“The musician is Oleg,” said Pavel. He spoke quietly to Oleg in Russian. “He is also the ship’s navigator.”
Oleg lowered the guitar, a six-string acoustic, to his hip and played a brief rock solo. He nodded to me and biting his lower lip, revealed a big gap between his front teeth.
“Right on, Oleg,” I said, rocking my head in time with the music.
“Marina you know already, I think,” said Pavel. He shook a cigarette from the pack on the table and leaned toward Vadim who lit it for him.
Marina came to my side, hooked her arm through mine, and bounced on the balls of her feet.
I slipped my arm around her waist and kissed her behind the ear.
The three Russian men cheered loudly and laughed.
Marina, her cheeks now bright red, reached for a shot glass. Vadim pushed glasses toward me and Oleg.
Nostrovia,” we all yelled, and slammed our glasses down.
We did this one more time, opened another bottle, and drank three or four more shots. The vodka no longer tasted like rubbing alcohol, and my throat felt numb. Marina’s hand had burrowed beneath my shirt and was slowly stroking the small of my back. My buzz was back in force.
After one more drink, I cracked my shot glass and everyone laughed when it fell into pieces. Oleg brought me another. One more shot all around and two empty bottles stood on the table. It was really warm. Pavel spoke with authority and Vadim left the room. My ears were burning. Oleg played and sang something slow and sad. Pavel smoked.
Marina led me down the hallway by my wrist. The lights made trapezoids on the walls. The walls were metal, puke green, and their undulating surface fascinated me. The fake wood floor tile squares were slick under my socks. I slipped, but steadied myself on one of the trapezoids. I started laughing. I wasn’t sure if I was laughing only inside my head, or out loud, or both. My voice echoed in my pounding ears.
“Sasha, you are not drunk from so little vodka?”
Such a pretty girl talking to me. She dug in the pockets of her huge overalls. She turned the key, pulled me inside the dim room, and spun around to lock the door. I wrapped my arms around her and rested my chin on her shoulder. Her hair smelled fishy, but nice. She turned and pushed me backward. My hoodie and shirt went over my head and fell to the floor with a clunk. Something hit the back of my legs and I fell backward onto the bed, Marina’s bed.
“Hi, Marina,” I said, happy to see her.
“Hello, Sasha.” Marina looked happy to see me too. She let one suspender strap drop from her shoulder, then the other. The enormous overalls slid to the ground. She pulled the tent-like shirt over her head, revealing a slender waist and perky breasts cradled in lavender lace. Black tights hugged the curves of her hips and clung to her slim muscular legs. What a beautiful girl. She fell along my thighs and began kissing my stomach.
“Why do you wear those giant clothes?” I said, twitching as she dragged her lower lip up to my sternum.
“It is necessary. I am the only young woman on the boat. It is better that they do not see how I really am.” Marina pulled herself higher on my body. She kissed me, her tongue swirling around mine. I held her behind the neck with both hands and we kissed for a long time. The only sounds were our nose-breathing, and the loud ticking of an old fashioned alarm clock somewhere in the room. Marina slipped her legs to the sides and lifted her torso, bringing our bodies together in just the right places. I slid my hands up her thighs, past her hips and took hold of her magnificent keister. Marina giggled and squirmed and stuck her tongue in my ear. What a gorgeous girl.
“It is very lonely for me on the boat,” she said. Marina sat upright and slowly rocked her hips back and forth. Her eyelids drooped, closed, and opened again at half mast. “But it is so not lonely tonight.”
We found each other’s mouths and we moved against one another rhythmically. We kissed until we couldn’t breathe. I somehow understood everything she said into my ear, and said things I’d never dared say, into hers. I twisted and used my legs to flip Marina onto her back, with me on top, and our gyrations gathered speed. She groaned and latched onto my lower lip with her teeth and tugged. It hurt, but it was a good hurt. My breathing was fast and noisy. She let go and cocked her head.
It took me several seconds to identify the noise as a sensation outside of our bodies. It was like the clock’s ticks had widened and deepened into loud thumps. Marina wriggled from under me. I collapsed and rolled onto my back. She was near the door speaking Russian to a familiar male voice on the other side. There were three more loud knocks and yelled commands. It was Maslov. Marina responded with a flurry of words, but her tone was different than before. She was practically begging. Maslov’s heavy footsteps went down the hall. Marina turned back to me chewing on her own lower lip. We heard the hatch down the hallway close and four angry metallic snicks as Maslov secured it.
“Does he have his gun?” I sat up. The cabin spun clockwise and slowly came to a stop.
“He is going to bring the captain. The captain has a key that may open all the doors. We must hurry.” Marina bent and began sorting through the pile of clothes.
She tossed my shirt into my lap. It was still tangled with the hoodie and both were inside out. I got my arms into the sleeves but could not find a hole for my head. I struggled for a minute before realizing I could take it off and start over.
“Stop moving,” said Marina, her voice maternal and irritated. She yanked the fabric a few times and my head popped out. Marina was back in her fat fisherwoman outfit.
The air felt cool and fresh. Marina was lovely with her knit brow and one hand on her cheek. I pulled her to me and nuzzled her chest.
“Stop it, Sasha.” She broke free of my grasp and pulled me to my feet. “We must get out.”
The deck vibrated beneath my feet and a deep rumbling came from far below. I looked down, as though I might see the source of the noise through the deck. I saw a blinking green light and I picked up my phone. I saw from her eyes that the sound meant something to Marina. I was confused until I made out the distinctive clattering of diesel exhaust from the two stacks astern.
“You have to get from the boat,” said Marina. She pushed me into the hall, and locked the door.
As we passed the mess, I saw it was still open but the room was dark. The boys must have finally had enough and gone to bed. Marina pulled me by the hand. We were going to make it. It was a short run past the lifeboats, down the gangway, and back to the land of the free. There was a sharp noise and I ran into the back of Marina. We slid to a stop on our socks, about ten feet from the hatch. A second handle snapped into the open position.
I was pulling Marina now, running in the opposite direction. The darkened mess was still hot and reeking of cabbage. We crowded together under the table while two sets of boots clomped past on the way to Marina’s cabin. My heart pounded, resonating with the deck’s vibrations beneath my hands. From the hallway, Maslov’s monotonous flow was cut short by the captain’s growl. A key ring jangled.
My phone buzzed loudly against my stomach. The whites of Marina’s eyes were clearly visible in the dim light. I pulled the phone from my hoodie pocket, pressing every button I could find. The screen lit and illuminated Marina’s horrified face.
“Hello?” said Sarah. Her voice sounded a little nasal but was loud and clear.
I pressed the phone to my ear.
“Hi, Sarah,” I whispered. “I can’t talk right now.”
“Alex? This is Sarah. Are you there? Hello?” She had been crying.
“Sarah . . .”
“Alex. We should talk. About my message, I made a mistake and . . .”
“I can’t talk to you right now.”
“Why are you whispering? Where are you?”
I found the End button, pressed it, and jammed the phone back into my pocket. Marina and I looked each other in the eyes while we listened. There was nothing from the hallway.
“Ah,” said the captain. The keys jangled again and the cabin door opened.
By the time the sounds of footsteps entering Marina’s cabin reached us, we were up and running. At the end of the hallway, the hatch was open. We were sprinting past the second lifeboat before we heard Maslov’s shout and his boots hammering the deck. I would leap down the gangway two steps at a time and disappear among the crab pots. Gun or no gun, he would never find me. But the gangway was gone.
The gulls took off with squeaking feathers and loud shrieks. By the time we realized it, we were well past the now-closed entry port. I saw my execution, Maslov’s pistol bucking against the back of my head, and my limp body flopping over the side.
Marina continued further aft, and I followed.
“Here,” she yelled. A heavy line was secured to a cleat below and vanished over the side.
I leapt onto the railing and threw my legs over, holding onto the thick rope with both hands and trying to grip it with my feet. Marina kissed the palm of her right hand, slapped it on the top of my head, and ran toward the stern.
I began descending hand over hand, but my socks slipped and I accelerated down the rope. My fingers and palms were on fire and I braced myself for impact. Instead of smashing into the wood of the pier, I bounced. I was sitting on the dock boards in front of the big orange and black buoy that had broken my fall. Used as a fender, the buoy was squeezed between the ship and the dock. I got to my feet and looked at the burns on my hands. They hurt like hell, but it was good to be in America again.
Maslov came to a stop at the rail above me, shouting and gesturing at me. I flipped him the bird, turned and ran, not stopping until I was behind the bulk of the old forklift. Panting, I sat with my back to a wheel and listened to several familiar Russian curse words echo from the cannery’s corrugated wall. My nose and ears tingled with cold and my hands throbbed with heat. The glow of the early Alaska dawn was already in the sky. I peeked past the forklift’s pedals and gearshift lever and saw Maslov pointing in my direction. I ducked down again. I’d seen nothing in his hand, but best play it safe. Mazlov’s shouts stopped abruptly when he was joined by the captain. Izumrud’s skipper was far smaller than Maslov, but the old man was clearly in charge. I stole another look. The grey-haired figure snatched a small black object from Maslov’s hand, went to the side, and dropped it between the ship and the dock.
I stayed out of sight and listened. The sound of a serious ass-chewing was evidently the same in any language. I heard the shouts of men, ropes being cast off, and Izumrud’s engines throttling up. Stepping from behind the forklift, I saw the trawler turn toward the harbor mouth with the huge net hanging like a shroud. A large dark figure coiled a rope in the stern. On the deck above, a small bulky shape stood alone. It was a beautiful girl, safe in her colossal clothing. We stood looking at each other across Izumrud’s confused wake, then she turned and walked from view.
The phone buzzed against my stomach. It vibrated again and I fished it from my pocket.
“Alex? This is Sarah. What is up with you?” Sarah’s voice was unsteady and I heard her sniffle.
“Hello, Sarah.”
“Did you hang up on me, before?”
I cleared my throat.
“Yes,” I said. “I did.”
I pressed End, slipped the phone into my pocket, and watched the trawler clear the breakwater and head for the open sea.

The End.

About the author:
     Nick Kraft lives in Flagstaff, Arizona where he owns a web design company.  He was born in Kodiak, Alaska and grew up in Santa Barbara, California.  Nick recently received his M.A. in English-Creative Writing from Northern Arizona University.

 Thank you for reading this installment of Larks Fiction Magazine. Make sure and come back next week for  works of supernatural horror and adventure.