From the Desk of the Editor,
Greetings and welcome to Issue Six, Volume Three of Larks Fiction Magazine! We are excited to offer three pieces today from up-and-coming authors of the best independent literature today.
In news the editing team and I are busily returning emails and getting caught up. We are through to October now! If you are worried we might have overlooked your piece feel free to write us and we will get back with you.
Writer Jerry Guarino has published an anthology of flash fiction on Amazon. Some of the collected short stories appeared here on Larks first. Check it out on Amazon, Smashwords, and hispersonal site.
If you have not checked out our first Smashwords edition of Larks Monthly Review take a quick gander here!
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy this issue.
Daniel J. Pool
By James Bambury
Ashley’s music made me feel like a failure. The weekend after I passed my grade 4 conservatory exam she summoned a flock of pigeons to the common yard of the townhouses with her autoharp.
The morning I learned to play Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue” she went outside with her washtub bass and chased away a thunderstorm.
I had just managed to play my first Chopin concerto when I heard a slide-whistle through the windows. Outside, a tiny sapling grew into a fully grown walnut tree.
I complained to my music teacher.
“Why do you make me work so hard when the music doesn’t do anything?”
He just stared at me. Afterwards, I went over to Ashley’s house after my music lesson. She sat outside playing the tambourine.
“I hate you.”
“I thought you liked music. You’re always having lessons.”
“But it doesn’t make a difference, does it?” I reached out and grabbed the side of her tambourine and tried to tug it from her hand. We pulled at either end of the tambourine and the instrument jangled. Notes and overtones rattled through the air, breaking windows and denting the siding of the nearby houses. Ashley fought back and the next burst of notes sent us spiraling into the air and over the rooftops. I looked across the sky and it was full of chords.
“Ashley, are we making music?”
“As a matter of fact, we are.”
About the Author;
James Bambury writes from Brampton, Ontario.
JUST AN ORDINARY OLD MULE
William J. White
Some years ago while traveling through Tennessee as a ‘frazzle-tack’ salesman, I stopped along a wide street to look over a yard sale that was attended to by a small wiry-looking individual wearing bleached-out bib overalls, and a red flannel shirt, and who had set up his tables beneath a large raggedy tent. While I browsed, he kept up a one-sided conversation about ‘good deals, great buys,’ and other honest-sounding transactions, to which I paid scant attention, because leaning against a scrubby and gnarled old tree, collecting its meager shade, was a very homely and offensive-looking mule. And as he stood there, munching on something dark and juicy, some of which was seeping from his mouth, ignorance moved me to pity, and I stepped close to give him a friendly pat…
“Don’t worry, Sir,” said the little old man, as he approached me, “He don’t bite, but he does sometimes…” Before he could say ‘spit,’ it was running warm and wet down my bare arm.
“Blasted darn mule!” The old man cried out, jerking a soiled-appearing rag from his hip pocket, and rushing over to clean me up. He wiped with one hand while offering me the other. “Sparks O’Dell, sir. Glad to meet you, and I’m sorry about my mule.” Looking at his animal, and shaking head slowly, he said, “I don’t usually give him his chaw before sundown…”
“You feed him tobacco?”
“Well, sir,” he explained, still dabbing at my arm, “I know I’ve started him on to a bad habit, but I had to reward him while I was teaching him to fetch sticks.”
Well, that was my introduction to a very colorful and later on, a dear friend, although I did find him to be remarkably adept at ‘truth adjusting’. He even convinced me that-that mule was a very gallant and clever animal; that he had worked so hard that day that he was just too tired to lay down, and that was the reason that he was leaning against the tree. Within the hour I had purchased many of the items laid out on his tables; leaving him my car keys so he could load up my car trunk–his suggestion– while I tried out the two-hundred-dollar mule for which I was to pay two hundred and fifty dollars as soon as I received the book ‘Twenty Marvelous Tricks You Can Teach Your Mule,‘ which would be mailed to me at a later date.
Now I am sure that most people out there are familiar with the breed of mule called a ‘left-hand’ mule, which is more descriptive than the term ‘flop-sided’ mule, which is more commonly used. But it was at that time, news to me. It is, I later found out, a mule that has been bred to have its left legs shorter than those of the right side, for pulling a plow along furrows threading to the left on steep hillsides, so the mule, plow and all, does not slide into a canyon. If one’s furrows wind around clock-wise, they would, I am sure, require a ‘right-hand’ mule. I suppose one could have either a ‘left-hand’, or a ‘right-hand’ mule, and just teach it to plow backwards. Being that I’m a city dweller I wouldn’t know about such things. But it didn’t take me too long to notice that Spark’s old mule had a mental problem, because he kept veering to the left. No matter how much ‘geeing’ and ‘hawing’, and even pleading that I threw out to him, he continued on his course; taking me back to the yard -sale place, and almost delivering us to a crash-encounter with my own car speeding toward me. How considerate of the old man, I thought, delivering my car and its cargo right to me. And that made it even more difficult for me to explain to him that I had no use for a mule that couldn’t plow a straight line. He didn’t take it well… After a long hard look at me, I could see tears forming in his red-encircled eyes. “Mister, please buy my mule…”
“Mr. O’Dell, sir,” I replied, with a catch in my voice. “That animal was to be a gift to my brother for his farm, so his boys wouldn’t have to pull his plow. And he prides himself on his straight furrows…” I tried my best to avoid them sad old eyes, but when his chin started to quiver, I was at a complete loss as what to say, so I just said nothing. He turned and stumbled to my car, and unwrapping one of my treasures, he came back to me with the wrinkled paper. “You take him, sir, as a gift…trailer and all. Free of charge”
“Really, Mr. O’Dell,” I mumbled weakly. “What would I do with him, having a small yard like I do? And I’d be cleaning up his messes, all the time.”
While taking a short minute to bend his legs to a kneeling position, he explained to me that his mule would make me a fine companion, and that he was also housebroken. After laying the paper flat on the ground, and smoothing out the wrinkles, he extended his arm out to me.
“A little help, if you will, sir…”
Raising Mr.O’Dell to a standing position was like lifting an empty shirt and pants, but my mind didn’t stay with that thought because it was occupied with the mystery of the flattened newspaper.
“Look at that smile, sir,” he said, patting his animal on the side of its head. “Have you ever seen a prettier sight?”
“I don’t believe that I ever have, Mr. O’Dell” I replied, doing a little truth adjusting myself. The bristly snout actually was widened into what one might determine as a generous smile, but the two-inch long tobacco-stained teeth looked sort of… Well, if one has ever looked down into an un-flushed toilet, the picture I’m trying to draw should stay with them a long time. But what occurred next was something that will have lodged itself into my memory for as long as I have one brain cell left. Mr. O’Dell smiled up into those shiny black eyes, and that old mule started to align himself with the paper, and I was certain that he was going to read it to me. But no, he had other, more insidious plans in mind. He moved forward just enough to place his hind -quarters directly over last weeks’ news, and … surely I don’t need to make anymore pictures; except the one where old Sparks stepped over to pull gently on one long ear, causing the mule to wag his scruffy tail so rapidly, it looked like in no time at all, he would become air-borne.
“You know, mister, “Sparks said slowly between sniffles, turning his tear-wet face to me “The kids intend to put me in a nursing home. What is going to happen to my old friend here?”
Years ago, when I was the minister of a small church, I gave up preaching in favor of kissing women, but I’ve never been able to shake loose my inordinate feel for people’s heart-aches, and I saw this little old man in front of me with tears cascading down one cheek, and dried tobacco juice on the other, and I knew there was only one right thing to do…
So, these days, if any of my visitors need to seek solace in the ‘little’ room, they will have the option of either soft paper on a roll, or newspaper laid out on the floor.
About the Author;
William J. White graduated from high school in Cincinnati, Ohio, joined US Navy for four years during the Korean War, and worked for the City of Cincinnati until his retirement. He and his wife and built their own home in Monticello, close to Lake Cumberland.
He has been writing short stories since January of 2010. His stories "Dubious Gifts From The Magic Shop", "Don't Mess With Lilly” (7/10/11), and "WisdomSits On A Park Bench" were all published by Larks Fiction Magazine.
Someone's Got to Do It
By Christopher Krull
The discipline of psychology must have something to say for Howard Klein. Ray wouldn’t allow himself to think his expertise had nothing to offer. He sat in his Volvo, waiting to exit the office park that housed his practice – ‘Dr. Raymond Miller, Therapist.’ Ray rubbed his head which throbbed with an all day headache that had only allowed time to pass painfully, tick-by-tock, while he listened to his patients detail their troubles to him in hour-long increments.
The light turned green. Ray thought again of Howard and his depression over banal matters of human existence. Howard’s brain seemed like a chemical that reacted adversely when mixed with life on Earth. “How can I help that?” thought Ray, “We were all put here. Didn’t ask.”
“I ride the train home every day and the people look so sad. I get on the metal coffin moving underground and everyone just stares at each other. My heart races,” Howard had said in his session.
Panic attacks, possible agoraphobia, even claustrophobia perhaps. Ray had diagnosed them all. These were common enough disorders but with Howard, Klonipin didn’t help, neither did Celexa or Fluoxetine. Somewhere along the way, Howard had cut some neural pathways in his brain that now must be deep as Martian canyons. No synthetic patch could fill them.
“Why do you think you have this reaction to riding the subway?” Ray had inquired during their session after Ray’s lunch hour during which Ray had thrown up more than he got down.
For Howard, a clear answer existed. “One day those people will be rotting. They hustle on and off the train and try to look busy like it’s not going to happen. We could all die in the next second, worried about what to wear to work tomorrow.”
Ray touched a black dial on his car stereo to silence a screaming advertisement and devoted all of his remaining mental capacity to how a man such as Howard could come to be – someone 30 years old with a job, education and good health, so distraught over everyday happenings.
“The people stink from work and they’re all tired and some are eating. The food they eat goes in their bodies and gets broken down by chemical enzymes and that night or the next day, it will just be dull shit in a toilet in some decaying apartment with bad plumbing.”
Ray did not question Howard’s use of public transportation; the rush hour traffic Ray found himself in made him grip down hard on the steering wheel with conscious, forceful brooding. A woman in a red Camaro ducked into a small opening in front of Ray forcing him to brake abruptly.
“Bitch,” Ray said, staring forward, using his already sore jaw muscles to grind his molars.
Ray refocused on what to do with Howard, it seemed to him that normal things people do – eat, work, fret, buy things, bothered Howard in a way that could simply not be managed by traditional methods.
Maybe I could suggest he move to a smaller city or maybe attempt again to explore his existential needs, Ray thought. During their first session, Howard had offered the preamble: “I want to say before anything else that I know that I have complete freedom to decide, and complete responsibility for my decisions. And I don’t give a shit. People tell me about stupid shit that bothers them. You know what bothers me? Nothing.”
Traffic began to move. Ray grew more anxious to get home the closer he got. His hands began to shake as they had intermittently since he had woken up. He longed for his chair.
Ray exited the highway.
Maybe nothing bothered Howard per se, but he had emotions, anger being one.
“I used to date this girl who painted her walls a different color every month. She didn’t even own the place. She had this embroidered pillow that said ‘home is where the heart is,’ I couldn’t look at it. The saying’s so meaningless to me.”
Howard had shaken his head before concluding; “every day when she got home from work, she would ask how my day was.” Howard paused. “I hated her for it.”
Ray had retorted, “there’s certain things you cannot control, remember the saying: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
Howard had nodded, saying nothing in reply. His non-response made Ray feel like a capitalist, using such a clichéd, fast-food phrase, while charging Howard $110 an hour.
Ray pulled up to his house and exited the Volvo. The dim cavern of his family room greeted him upon unlocking the front door. He set his black leather bag down on the hardwood floor and went to the kitchen to make a whiskey. Ray released an “ahhh,” audible only to him and the yellow-off-white drywall as he sat back in his recliner and turned on the television.
Ray watched the news stories of the day and the advertisements that came between them. He drank his whiskey down and soon made another. His headache vanished and the shakes became no longer perceptible, only blips on a seismograph. Ray would wake tomorrow, again ready to help others with their problems.
Someone’s got to do it, thought Ray, his buzz coming about.
About the Author;
Christopher Krull labors as a graduate assistant in the Communication Department of Saint Louis University and slowly accumulates credits toward a Master of Arts degree. For what purpose, he is unsure. His work has also appeared in Eunoia Review.