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
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.
“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.
“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.
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.