Chereze Salome Booysen – My True Story: Prose & Poetry

236 pages. Published by Novelty Fiction in August, 2023.



Denise Grootboom: Very good and interesting book.

Norma: The book is beautiful, but she is not finished yet.

Oom Tommy Gerwel: “My True Story” What a story to tell! A book to read. I was reading and thinking at the same time. I couldn’t stop. It was worth reading and need to be read it again. The message touched me so deeply, but one thing is clear: the authors was not born to go under, but to rise above all. Go well.

Abigail George: You show great promise as a writer. You write with a great depth and insight, imagination and skill, and you still have so many years ahead of you. Just think of what you are going to pack and unpack into little tiny words in your lifetime… God blessed you. God spoke through you. There is spirit and spirituality, sense and sensibility on these pages. There is prayer meeting redemption and sacrifice on these pages. The book is prophecy that will keep you captivated and spellbound from beginning to the middle of the book right up until the end. Thank you for sharing “your true story” with the world. God discovered you and planted this gem inside of you, this treasure of a book, and it is about to be launched worldwide.

Dalene Hitzeroth: This writer is powerful.

Joey Jansen: Good Afternoon. Firstly I would like to make use of this opportunity to thank our HEAVENLY FATHER for the grace he manifested upon your life for you to pen down your message in book form. I read the book and could easily relate to it. Meaning I come from a community where the saying was: “You will reap the fruits of your hard labour,” and that’s what I feel in reading the book. The language is easy to read and understand. I therefore will recommend that the book be made easily available in bookstores, libraries and so on. Congratulations, and I look forward to the next publication. I BLESS YOU.

Belinda: Very good words rhyme, beautiful, and there is a story through it al. Well done, girl!

Gabriella Van Der Walt: It was beautiful.

Tanya Havenga: This was amazing, Chereze!!!! A talent like yours should be litterely shared with the world. My husband even read some of it. It is so inspiring. Please never stop writing. You’re a true author at heart.

Danvor Andrews: It makes me happy to read your book, from the lows right up to the highs. Your way of explaining things makes me think a little further than what I could have imagined.

Freddie Robberts: Chereze Booysen’s “My True Story” is a captivating poem book that delves into the depths of human emotions and experiences. Through her eloquent verses, Booysen paints a vivid and relatable picture of life’s joys, sorrows, and everything in between. The poems are imbued with raw honesty and heartfelt vulnerability, which allows readers to connect with the author on a profound level.

Each poem in the collection is a window into Booysen’s soul, as she fearlessly explores themes of love, loss, resilience, and self-discovery. Her use of imagery and metaphor evokes powerful emotions, leaving a lasting impact on the reader’s mind. The language is both accessible and evocative, making it a delightful read for poetry enthusiasts of all levels.

“My True Story” is a true gem in contemporary poetry, and Chereze Booysen’s talent shines brightly throughout its pages. Whether you are a seasoned poetry lover or new to the genre, this collection will undoubtedly leave you moved, inspired, and yearning for more. A must-read for anyone seeking genuine and profound poetic expression.

Jemaine Moos: An Emotional Journey: A Review of “My True Story ” by Chereze Booysen

Chereze Booysen’s poetry is a testament to the power of emotions and human experiences. In her book, she uses words that not only captures the essence of her own journey but also invites readers to connect with their own emotions on a profound level.

One of the most striking aspects of Booysen’s poetry is its emotional depth. Her poetry resonates with raw feelings, allowing me to travel through different emotions. Her words have the unique ability to enable me to connect with her poetry on a personal level, drawing me into the experience of her difficulties, insecurities, happiness and growth as if they were my own.

The book serves as a portal through which our minds wander and drift back and forth through different phases of life, immersing us in the nostalgia of the past, while simultaneously drawing us into the hope of the future. Her poetry allows me to reflect on my own life’s journey, evoking memories and experiences that may have been buried deep inside me.

Throughout her book, Booysen takes the time to acknowledge and appreciate the people who have played significant roles in her life. Her gratitude shines through her words of the impact these individuals had on her personal growth and creative journey. Her acknowledgment reminds me of the importance of cherishing the relationships we encounter along our own paths.

In conclusion, Chereze Booysen’s poetry collection is a masterpiece of emotional exploration and profound reflection. The verses guide us through a range of feelings, allowing us to connect with her experiences while exploring our own. Her ability to make our minds wander through time and emotions is a testament to her poetic talent. This book is an invitation to embark on a personal journey, delving into the depths of the human experience and emerging with a newfound appreciation for the beauty of emotions.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Saadatu Ibrahim – Zahira


At the age of five, Zahira died.


* * *


‘‘Zahira, Zahira, open your eyes, my love.’’

His voice, like a morning bird, has become a frequent occurrence for her lately; he’s always had that kind of effect on her, it's like she’s possessed by his very being.

“You and I, we are one, there can't be one without the other,” he always said.

She drags her lids up against their will, praying to catch a glimpse of the face that has seared itself in her very being, only to see the familiar patterns of her walls.

She struggles to walk to the bathroom, her mind on the dream she was pulled out of, when she stumbles upon her luggage lurking by the door. She had forgotten. No wonder she is dreaming of him today. She is going back to Rowwa city, and there is no running from the myriad of memories that chased her away in the first place. After Hamida’s message, she knew the siren call of her former home will not be left unheard anymore.

She is going home, and is absolutely terrified.


* * *


From a young age, Zahira knew she was special. She was born on a Friday at midnight, and her mama had gotten two days to gaze on the fruit of her agonizing labor. Then she smiled and finally slept as she couldn’t since giving birth. She never woke up. Papa had never forgiven her for it, and the same went for the daughter she left behind. Zahira had never blamed him. She found it hard to forgive as well. She swore to love him as Mama wasn’t able to; even when the hatred in his eyes burned a path down her spine, she would love him always. At least, that’s what she thought. Hindsight, they say, is 20/20.

Adam Lambert’s song Ghost Town is playing on the stereo, “Now I know my heart is a ghost town’’ – how ironic, she thinks. She has often wondered how her driver, Daniel, always seemed to know the right songs to play. In the three years he’s been driving her, his songs have always matched her mood for the day. Coincidence maybe, but she has a firm belief that he may be psychic. For some reason, she doesn’t feel her spirit being lifted at all by the rhythm of the music, everything seems numb to her, soulless. She sets her head on the headrest, closing her eyes, expecting some closure, but the sudden darkness evokes past memories, memories she doesn’t want to accept as hers, her inner demons coming to light.


* * *


When she was a child, she wished people could see that she loved her papa just the way he was. She wouldn't show that kind of affection even to her grandmother Inna, the woman who raised her and the only person who saved her from his wrath every time.

At the age of 8, Papa almost sent her to Mama.

She remembers the scorching sound of her grandmother’s cries. She could faintly hear her papa’s voice, Inna was crying and pleading with him. It had been two days already, two days of being locked up in a small storage room, deprived of food and water. “It is all for the good of the family,” he had said. “If not punished, she'll end up loose and bring shame on her family.”

Zahira had always been given an hour for her visits to her friend Hamida’s house. Two days earlier, had she known how serious he was about her punishment, she would not have stuck around for that extra plate of delicious bottom pot jollof rice Hamida’s mother made, or made her way to the hillside to enjoy the serene view of her favorite place in town. She definitely would not have followed the allure of Alhaji Abu’s ripe mangoes swaying from their perch like a particularly succulent temptress.

He grabbed her right hand as she stepped into the compound. For a moment, her heart stopped, fear racing through her blood. Kidnapped in my own papa’s house, she thought. She had opened her mouth to let out her characteristic scream that never failed to have Inna teleporting to her when he hit the back of her head. “Shut up, you useless girl!” he growled. Papa, it's just Papa, she thought as she sagged back like a puppet with cut strings. Her heart was still pounding inside her head. For a moment, she relished the feel of him, strong and rigid against her back. It was like a hug. Then his wide palms descended on her, and she knew nothing but pain.

It was her nonstop screaming that brought Inna out of her room; but that day, even Inna could not save her from him. “You will not feed her or open this door without my permission,” he stated; and just as he said, it was done.

By dusk, all her tears had dried up. She dozed off wondering whether Inna had picked up her remaining mangoes that were left scattered on the ground.

After 48 hours, he finally decided to end her punishment, but only when Inna threatened to take her own life. “You might be heartless, but I am still the woman that gave birth to you, so let her out. If not, I die, and I will make sure you are cursed forever before I go!” Those words were what saved Zahira that day.

But she couldn’t hold on any longer. Before Inna came to her rescue, she was already on the verge of passing out. The door was finally opened, her grandmother rushing in. She could feel the old woman's shaking hands on her frail body, trying to pick her up. Her papa’s retreating figure was the last thing she saw before the world went blank.

After a week of Inna’s care and treatment, she finally recuperated and was able to stand on her feet again. That day she swore to never, ever make her papa cross again. Had she only known that it would anger him that much, she would have left Sani and Ali alone when they snatched her mangoes and ran. She learnt a valuable lesson that day, justice had come at a steep price.


* * *


“Move out of the way, child!” The driver's voice echoes and brings her back to reality.

The long journey has finally come to an end. Upon entering the city, she tells Daniel to take her to her favorite spot. The route to the hilltop has been engraved in her memory since the last time she stopped to say goodbye. With her assistance, they reach their destination in little time.

The view from up the hill never seizes to amaze her. Every time she feels like crumbling. The flowing stream below washes all her worries away, then suddenly she feels like everything is going to be alright.

She closes her eyes whilst enjoying the sensation that brushes against her body like a breeze. Everything feels nostalgic, the scent of fresh green grass, the cool breeze, and Tahir. She can see him calling out to her, his wide smile reaching her eyes, and can't help but smile as she makes her way to him. It is just like the game of tag they used to play; their hands were merely inches apart, and then he was gone. She never once caught him, always wound up being the prey.


Zahira had been 18 when he came into her life. She had always dreamt that one day, her prince in shining armor would come for her. What she got instead was not a prince but Tahir, the man who taught her the meaning of true love at a time when she didn’t even know what love was. He was not at all what she imagined the love of her life to be like. He was so much more, too good for her.

It was a Saturday evening, and she was on her way home from the hillside, as usual. There was no indication that her life was about to change.

“Excuse me, I desperately need your help,” the stranger said while looking at her with an apologetic smile on his face. “It seems I’ve been walking in circles these past thirty minutes.”

He needed her? She couldn’t help but smile. “It’s okay, where are you looking for? I can help you,” she replied.

Based upon his description, she directed him to the house she understood belonged to Alhaji Abu, their neighbor. The stranger turned out to be very talkative. In just a few minutes, he had told her almost everything about himself – his name, where he came from, the reason for his visit, and who he was visiting. It turned out that Alhaji Abu was his uncle.

He just kept on talking as if he didn't know when to stop, but she didn't want him to, she liked his voice. It was deep and melodious, so she just kept on smiling as he talked. But she also knew she had better get going, or she would end up being late.

The way he looked at her made her at loss for words.

“I need to go home now,” she said while looking down, not wanting their eyes to meet. She'd never seen anything like it, they where brown but almost golden, complementing his golden-brown skin. She had always been complimented for her fair skin, but looking at his skin color made her jealous. He looked perfect.

“What’s your name?” he finally asked her. She looked up and answered him, and he repeated after her, “Zahira!” Then he added, “Let me drop you off at home, as a way of showing my gratitude.”

She couldn’t let him drop her off, considering her papa was home. She knew better than that.

The same evening, she told her grandmother all about their meeting. Later, she tossed and turned in bed wishing she had at least gotten his name.

The next day, her wish came true. It was “Tahir Buratai,” as he was named. Apparently, after meeting his uncle, all he could talk about was the kind girl that had helped him out. His uncle had then told him that the girl was definitely Malam Isa’s daughter Zahira. Suddenly, he stood in front of Zahira’s house, waiting to see her again. He did not care for propriety or culture, just wanted to talk to her, to hear her laugh again.

He was deep in thoughts when Zahira came out. She didn't want to come outside when a boy came to tell her of the stranger's arrival, but her grandmother insisted she come and hear him out. Not that she didn't want to see him, it simply made her feel uncomfortable.

She didn't know what to say to him. His eyes rendered her speechless, which she dreaded. To anyone who knew her, speechless was not a word typically used to describe her in any way. She disliked the effect he was having upon her, it was all so new and unfamiliar. But as soon as she stepped outside and saw him, he smiled, and for a moment the world stopped.


Tahir lived in the city but would come by every week just to see Zahira, whom he doted and adored. These talks always happened while her father was out, and Tahir’s uncle did not interfere. She’d never had anyone treat her the way he did, but she came to terms with it eventually, and started believing that even she deserved to be loved. Tahir gradually changed her perception of love itself.

With the amount of time they spent outside her house, she would come to learn a lot of things about him. He had the perfect life with a perfect family. He was the only son; his father had been a university professor until he retired, his mother a head nurse at a major hospital. His father wanted him to take up a job at the university, but Tahir liked the business world better, so he had ended up running his own real estate agency. The most important thing she learned though was that he liked her, genuinely liked her. That was a scarier thought than she had anticipated. Love can be brutal, that much she knew – like her father's love for his deceased wife, or her own love for her father. Tahir's love was just as intense, but sweet.


* * *


At the age of 10, she had solved the mystery of her papa’s hatred. She didn’t want to believe it, but deep down she always knew. The way he saw it, she had taken the love of his life away from him. Zahira would recall the tales Inna used to tell her of the love Papa and Mama used to share, a love so beautiful that people still whispered about it when faced with Papa’s unsmiling appearance.

She was just like her mama, they said: feisty, bold, and beautiful. Those qualities made all the men in town chase after her mother, including Papa. She had ignored him at first, but he was persistent, proving that he would always be around even if she kept pushing him away.

Zahira learnt from her parents' relationship that love is unpredictable. Someone or something always comes in between, similar to the monster in the bedtime stories Inna used to tell her every night; a monster that tore anything in its path. She had come to believe that in her papa’s eyes, she was that monster, the despicable evil monster, the one who snatched Papa’s love from him.


* * *


At 20, she was a beautiful bride, ready to start a new life away from home. She thought she had found a love like Papa’s – someone to live for, to die for.

Even today, Zahira cannot remember what really happened in those last precious seconds. It all happened so fast; one moment he was there, the next he was gone. She couldn’t believe it, things weren’t suppose to happen that way; they were supposed to live happily ever after as husband and wife. No, she was not supposed to lose him like Papa did his wife. This time was supposed to be different.

They had been wed that day. Tahir came to take his bride away, just as her papa had instructed him to do. But she couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to her favorite spot, so they headed to the hillside. They looked exactly like a perfectly painted portrait of a happy couple, hands entwined, the wonderful view, and smiles that could last forever.

If only he hadn’t let go of her hand that day, he would still be with her.

“Where are you running off to?” Zahira asked. “Come back!”

“Come catch me if you can!” The sound of his laughter echoed all over, and he had his usual boyish grin on his face.

It was their wedding day, after all. Passion was overflowing, and no one would back down from a challenge. She was close to winning, merely inches away from victory. Then suddenly, the roles were reversed, he tried to grab on to her hand instead. “Don’t try to fool me, I will not let you win today!” she said, oblivious to what was happening. And just like that, the earth gave way, and Tahir was gone.


* * *


Heads turned as she stepped into the open courtyard of her childhood home. Whispers rose in a cacophony, falling with the sighs of her name.

“What is the cursed child doing here, hasn’t she done enough already?”

For those who didn’t know her story, curiosity would keep eating them up until they finally gave in. “Who is the girl?” they whispered.

If she was lucky, the responder would answer by naming her as the ‘daughter and granddaughter of the household.’ Otherwise, she would be known as the unlucky cursed child and husband killer, the unfortunate girl that became a widow the same day she became a bride.

It had been three days since Tahir’s demise, but a very small part of her was hoping that it was all a ruse, just a big ruse planned by her grandmother to get her back home. After the incident on her wedding day, she couldn’t stay at her house any longer. Her papa didn’t take her in. Even when Inna insisted, he never allowed it, and Zahira was left stranded. She thought she hated him, believed herself capable of that.

We’ve both lost. Let's mourn now, and let the weapons fall, Zahira thought. But her papa’s heart was like burned coal, he refused to listen.


* * *


Tahir's parents had been the only thing that kept her afloat afterwards. They had reached out to her and dragged her out of the well of grief and fear that she had buried herself into without having Inna to pull her up.

All she ever had to do was make one phone call, and they had Daniel come and pick her up. They gave her a room and everything she might ever need, without her having to ask for anything. The three of them mourned together, sang sad songs together, held hands, and sometimes laughed tearfully about what a wonderful young man Tahir had been. Jovial, playful, adventurous, interested in other people, and yes – talkative.

She has managed to hold out for approximately five years. She always keeps to herself, busy with schoolwork. She is only two years away from completing her residency, and people have taken to calling her Dr Zahira already. The only problem is that her achievements and all the kindness and affection in the world cannot fill the void from having lost her love.


* * *


It has been seven days since Inna’s death. Everything seemingly has gone back to normal, her papa treating her like she doesn’t exist. But one thing that stands out is that he never tells her to leave, so maybe he has started seeing the good in her.

​​ She awakes with a resolve, she is going to make everything right. She dresses up in her best clothes and makes her way to the hillside. Just as she expected, Tahir is waiting for her, but this time around she doesn’t let go of his hand; instead, they leave this world together hand in hand. It is just like killing two birds with one stone. In the end, everyone gets what they want.

This downfall has been going on since she was five. “I wish Zahira had died instead, I wish she had never been born,” said her papa while she was hiding under Inna’s dark and scary bed as a means to escape him after she had broken his phone.

She must have fallen asleep while hiding, but woke up lying on Inna’s bed. The next day, her grandmother asked whether Zahira overheard anything the previous night while hiding, and she answered no. Well, if the girl didn’t remember it, then it never happened. ​​ But it did happen! She died a long time ago, namely that night when she was killed by her papa.

At the age of 25, she has granted her papa his greatest wish: a life without his wife’s murderer.


Posted in Short stories | Leave a comment

Phoebe A. Xavier – Silver Lining



2458 Terran Standard Time

Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis Publik

Hospital Olympus City, IKP Sector, Mars


Dr. Beatrice Konevi approached the Mortal Care Ward with somber steps. She was in good shape for her forty-two years, though her gait and shoulders sagged with sadness. Her dark skin and sweeping mahogany hair contrasted sharply with icy blue eyes – orbs reflecting the artificial lighting of the long, low, white hallway.

The hospital had been constructed centuries ago, before the terraforming of the planet was complete, so it did not feature windows directly bordering on the developing atmosphere.

Rather, Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis was ensconced in a ten foot thick shell comprised of two layers of composite metal sandwiched on either side of a thirty billion cubic foot concave sea of water. The solid part of the radiation shield was a nano-rendered amalgamation of tin, antimony, tungsten, bismuth and lead. There was a single surface level entry point in the original construction, though eventually breathable atmosphere made underground access logistically possible and subway ingresses were built.

As a whole, the complex was a testament to early colonial Martian hardiness. Yet for all the hope the faculty managed to muster over time, an undercurrent of anxiety pervaded it like a colorless airborne pathogen.

Doctor Konevi, breathing the same air as everyone else in the hospital, plodded along. The tiny bit of news she had to share with her patient’s mother this morning was not very promising, and the situation was already dismal. Padding a train wreck with a silver lining – presenting the horrors of loved ones dying in torment as something less than a grating barrage of despondency – was a nuanced bullshitter skill she had not yet mastered as a physician, but you go through the motions:

Slake till you make.

You finish the work day.

Earn the bloody paycheck.

Save who you can. Eat your own food.

Defecate. Vomit. Sleep. Repeat.

Die on your own time.


She sighed as she entered the room. The only other audible sonic register was a low volume chorus of beeping life support systems assuring concerned parties, at least for now, that the various denizens of the Mortal Care Ward were still legally alive. With its symmetric rows, twelve-by-twelve, the large room was a bivouac base camp on the path to death partitioned into one hundred forty-four relatively small squares. Each square contained a bed, which in turn contained a patient.

Dr. Konevi surveilled the room, which had a ceiling lower than the hallway’s. Most of the care here was automated, and no other staff members were present.

Shuffling quietly past the visual cloak provided by the ghostfield that the Fuselage family was spending an extra 1700 credits a day to keep in place, Dr. Konevi saw the sad mother and her broken son once again. The forcefield could screen out anyone not authorized to be within his care space; but grudgingly mayhaps, Dr. Konevi was cleared to treat and appraise Tomp Fuselage.

It was growing to be a traumatic thing for her, however.

“Like stick a fork in it already, OK? He’s not just in a coma, ma’am. Mrs. Fuselage, he’s suffering from unwakable depths of Krienhoffer’s Syndrome and is showing brain activity that indicates he is also looping in Glacken’s Quandary. Virtual Reality Constriction is real. The particular badcase, niche affliction which your son has is horrific. So please, for fucksake, can we just pull the plug on the poor sod before it costs you another 18 million credits in medical bills you can’t afford?

“Please, ma’am? Please?!?”

She must have been staring with that look of disbelief mixed with bridled rage on her face long enough to disturb Mrs. Fuselage, who broke her surly trance state with a timid-yet-agitated greeting. “Dr. Konev... Konevi, are you alright?”

“Oh,” the doctor stammered. “Oh yes, I’m sorry Mrs. Fuselage, I have had a long day.”

Her long day was dwarfed by the visceral eternity that was eating this poor woman’s son. Krienhoffer’s Syndrome was one of the most exquisitely horrid maladies contracted exclusively through use of advanced human technology. Cancers of the distantly memorable Age of Information paled next to this 25th century bio-tech med concern. Fatal Radiation Saturation (FRS) would be a cool relief compared to the simmering agony Tomp Fuselage was stuck inside.

For it was mostly suspense and searing emotional pain he suffered from in his comatose state. He was beyond the realm of meaningful physical pain, Tomp was looped in Krienhoffer Space. She pushed the negativity out of her head and completed her Mortal Care Ward rounds.

On her way out of the room, she encountered one of her medtechs, an intern named Jona Aureliano, who was on his way in.

“Hello Dr. Konevi,” the young man greeted her. “Anything urgent to address in here today?”

She shook her head. “Hi Jona. Nothing urgent, just the usual diagnostic readings. Also, Mrs. Fuselage is here. Please don’t disturb her.”

“No ma’am.” He nodded, and they passed each other.


* * *


That night, Jona again found himself on the internet reading about Tomp’s condition, obsessing over the available data modern science had accrued on Krienhoffer’s. The glowing holosoft pages scrolled in front of his face slowly.


Krienhoffer’s Syndrome:


A physiologic/cyberneuro condition defined by a person's

consciousness being locked in, or prone to being stuck inside,

distressing loops in Virt space. The condition is understood to be

caused by immersion into grossly miscalibrated Virt, whether by

glitch or sabotage. Through testimony and analysis, it is known

to be a hellish torture wherein the anxiety of being trapped and

the simulated/insinuated pain create an escalating feedback loop

that forever maximize your psychological suffering.


Treatment has had limited success at best. Many victims of the

syndrome remain effectively vegetables until contractually

absolved of living; others only fall into the state occasionally at

first, but it is an escalating condition.


The increasing incidences of this tech-based misfortune has led

to a number of legislative initiatives that better prepare the

families of coders who work in capricious and theoretical Virt




Glacken’s Quandary:


A hypothetical paradox defined by hyper-serendipity that builds

into reality failure. It is presumed/projected to occur in Virt

circumstances wherein a person does not realize they are

trapped in the Virt but their subconsciousness is trying to alert

them to their condition. One resolution produced by the

fragmentation of sensation that the Quandary creates could be

waking from a Krienhoffer Loop, while the other could be a

reset of the same Loop.


Clinical assessment of over four thousand Krienhoffer’s victims

has shown a common, recurring incidence of Glacken’s

Quandary which exacerbates the primary condition. Further

studies show that the longer a person is afflicted with Glacken’s,

the more frequently the sensation leads to a reset of their

Krienhoffer loop rather than an awakening from it.


Contemporary physicians & SOLCorps Judges who have

overseen long-term Glacken’s patients locked in Krienhoffer

Loops advocate removal from life support as an ethical

response. While numerous courts have upheld this to be legal,

families of victims are often hesitant to pull the plug.


- SOLCorps Medical Database


Exiting the webspace that hosted the official, scientific consensus on the matter, Jona dug deeper. He came across a quote from one of the Solar System’s most elusive and infamous hackers.


“Call it a script. A written algo. Some wizard’s virus or hack. You’d be wrong, but if that helps you visualize it, then use those terms. Whatever you see it as, just know that Krienhoffer’s is consistent. It is real. It is a Virt math that has held up against a million human minds that didn’t know how to out-think it. Minds that eventually sunk into it forever – trapped in a VR dead end that is excruciating. I’ve watched it happen too many times to not speak out.”

-Tank Turing (attributed {bevəl})



“It's the unreasonableness of it that gets to me the most,” Jona Aureliano would say to his girlfriend, Marisol, on a holosoft call the next day.

“You’re still adjusting to our gravity,” she replied teasingly. It was a subtle attempt to change the subject, but she was correct to a degree.

Jona wasn’t fully attenuated to the planet just yet. The twenty-seven-year-old was born on Earth and had moved to Mars for his education. Jona was blessed to have come from an influential politically plugged in family, or he would have never secured the visa. Now, wasn't he lucky to have gotten off Earth, which was ravaged with radiation and disease? Travel from Earth was very restricted because of the virus, Umbra, an airborne mutation of Ebola with a 87% fatality rate among Earthlings. The affliction occurred elsewhere, in the Asteroid Belt and on the outer moon colonies, but not on such a prodigious scale.

“It's so pointless,” he complained further. “You should see his face, always frozen in a grim frown. The closer I look at various anecdotal cases, the more sickening it feels being the natural born optimist that I am.”

His experience on Mars had all occurred so far in the IKP Sector, Incorporated Kitsucom Protectorate, a corporate province overseen by interplanetary science and ballistics company Kitsucom. Through his education at MKU and his current internship at Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis Publik Hospital, he was earning citizenship on Mars in general, but that would only become available after graduation, which was two years off.

Jona was further disheartened by the fact that Mrs. Fuselage seemed to spend all of her waking hours next to her son. He saw how suffering is contagious even when the primary affliction isn’t. As often as he could, he began to bring her the fanciest food available in the hospital, or sweets that Marisol baked when she was in town.

Internship, empathy and cookies had brought him closer to this beleaguered family than anybody else around the hospital, and he well understood the basics by now.


In the actual accursed Krienhoffer Loop, Tomp was always stuck in the vicious Hell of it. That’s the way the glitch works. It pits you in a cyberspace that is infinitely and exponentially aimed at your phobias and triggers.

Tomp had been a good student albeit socially timid in school. He was also a gamer, ever eager to load up his consciousness into some Virt video game once his studies were done for the day. Being the only child his parents could afford, he felt blessed with constant emotional support where financial support sometimes lacked. His dad drove a recycling truck, and his mom worked part-time at a daycare center.

Ideally, they’d be a happy lower class family. He didn’t deserve his virtual torment, not in an ethical world. He had come unstuck from time and was evermore in a Krienhoffer Loop.

To be clear, Sagan Krienhoffer was not the person who invented the code that ate people’s awareness in a K-Loop, he just happened to be the one who got his name attached to it. The code's origins are not truly known, could be AI-generated. His tragic life as a digital cod kicker and widower paid off in immortalization of the name, mostly because of his dead wife, who got logged as the first confirmed case of the syndrome. Krienhoffer did put in a good deal of morose work to earn his footnote on the medical databases, however. He personally clocked & compiled enough of the data surrounding his wife’s unbound disintegration to make sense of her torturous final chapters, giving the syndrome a list of symptoms and a timeline of progression that would be used to classify it.

It had been occurring before her, just never got a name tag until then. Paired perfectly with her toe tag, refracted through a dark lens.

Most people wouldn’t know who she was, even amongst the victims of the condition and the neophytes in pursuit of conquering it. Tomp knew who she was, though; he’d done his homework like he always did. In fact, she was such a fixation of his that he used her name as a starting point he always reset to. His re-spawn thoughts in the stab-you-in-your-worst-fears Virt he had grown to see as his final home were always routed through thoughts of Adelaide Krienhoffer.

Common to the plurality of people who fall victim to the syndrome, Adelaide had been attempting to fight a phobia using Virt Immersion, or VI. She had almost drowned once, while in university. It had been a transformative event, the worst experience of her young life. It shattered her being in a way she’d never recover from. For years, the moment would resurface at the worst possible times, making her an anxiety-ridden mess at the mere mention of large bodies of water.

Years of conventional therapy had softened her to the idea of attempting a foray into reliving the conditions of her trauma in controlled, safer environs. Virt Immersion as a therapeutic practice was not new, nor widely practiced. More commonly, troublesome memories would be surgically removed. Adelaide had lost a loved one in the incident in which she’d nearly drowned, as her childhood friend Marisa was in the car with her. When the small automated vehicle short circuited and careened off the road into a man-made lake, the girls hugged each other, screaming in terror. The windshield cracked, and both their lungs filled with water. Adelaide woke in the hospital a few days later, but Marisa was not as lucky. Despite how harrowing the tragedy was, there was no way she was willing to deprive herself of that last devastating moment with her friend, so memory editing was not an option.

Inside monitored Virt, she would be presumably safe. Regrettably, marketing and consulting firms don’t prioritize safety, but quietly pay their way out of any damage they’ve done. The process read as a completely innocuous and therapeutic one when viewing the superficial skin that stretched across the bony face of the reporting & research on VI therapy, which made up the top 5% ranking on search engines at the time.

Up to that point, these firms had kept the lawsuits buried, and no one had yet correlated the symptoms shared between the various deaths and hospitalizations that VI clinics were being sued for. The Solar System is a vast space. In hindsight, there were glaring data points, but it took poor Sagan Krienhoffer and his cursed wife Adelaide’s sacrifice to shed scientific light on the spreading condition.

Even with their contribution and all the subsequent research that would churn up a broader understanding of the digital plague, there were still more questions than answers. No one really knew what the victims experienced once they sunk into that final permanent dormancy. For better or worse, no technology had plunged its litigation of metrics into the actual consciousness of a Glacken’s victim.

Most Krienhoffer patients passed on when the plug was pulled on them, but 0.047% of the victims that passed into the Glacken’s phase died naturally, impromptu.

There was no glimpse into that marginal set’s minds to offer any explanation for their particular exit from the K-Loop. It was a mysterious subset of escapees who somehow shorted out of the nightmare space either by accident or autonomy.

But to hear those last thoughts they had... to see the last things they saw. What would that mean for science and posterity?


Jona Aureliano wasn't too sure. He was very committed to his studies and his eventual ascension to becoming a doctor, but he was also a serious gamer inside the Virt. Marisol spent as much time on VI games as he did, actually that was how they met, and he had come to view their hobby as potential exposure to Krienhoffer’s.

Working under Dr. Konevi, he had learned about Krienhoffer’s Syndrome and Tomp Fuselage’s condition, which made him worry for the first time about a medical condition that might be even worse than Umbra. The vegetative and comatose patients he spent his days caring for didn’t usually depress him, but Tomp’s condition in particular threatened him with its mysterious and random onset and the enigma of its origins.

At least Umbra made sense: research and development in a bio-warfare division somewhere on Earth had weaponized an already virulent virus, making it easier to direct and spread. From there, it was a simple application of Murphy’s Law, and it spread across the globe in a few decades.


* * *


“Adelaide Krienhoffer. Textbook example of the Eternally Suffering. Aeterno tacitus pati.

That’s my mantra I chant under my breath upon reset. Sometimes, I’ll say it six thousand times before I move any other muscles, before I dare to even open my eyelids. It’s a soft murmur that gets drowned out by the howling winds that course around me on this virtual pinnacle, the highest attainable point in a CG rendering of the ancient city of New York.

On Earth. After World World II but before the third. A biplane trailing a Yankees banner flits off to my left flank below, and I ignore it this time, even though my neck ticks. That plane has jerked my attention towards it over seventy-eight thousand times. Every time I fell. I’d rather die than fall, and in this custom rendered meta- Hell, that’s a tandem ticket either way.

I’m on the Empire State Building. I’m always here. Like some Gothic, death-defying superhero, perched over the territory I’m supposed to protect. Only I’m fucking terrified of heights, and none of this is close to OK.

I knew what this was the moment it started happening to me. A lethal fear of heights. It was inside a video game, “Cloudstalkers X-Nein.” It’s a VR immersion game you play as part of a mercenary squad that specializes in aerial attacks. I was getting queasy from the simulated heights. It was far too real, and the balance wasn’t automated; so unless you had a background in gymnastics, you’d fall a lot.

When you fell, they wouldn’t put you through a full on groundsplatter, but they’d make you go through a quarter mile drop before you timed out, to drive home how high up you’d been – you could feel the sandbag punctuated, simulated gravity pulling you down, somersaulting your guts through a blender. It felt smothering to me.

I would get caught in rapid-fire loops of that pitfall while other players on my squad went about the mission, glitch free. It was a startling shipwreck-on-reef introduction to my paralyzing acrophobia. I simply was not wired to handle heights.

Heights kill me. Far too much.

But back while I was still IRL-alive and stupid, my mom talked me into trying the VI treatment because it was cheaper on her insurance than the memory wipe. So I went along with it. I don’t wanna tax anybody, especially not my mom and pop. We knew about Krienhoffer from a buncha online scares, but poor people don’t always get the best information.

You know, we can’t always afford to pay attention, monthly payments on the jumpcar or ​​ even for groceries subsidized by the city...

Not a splendiferously pretty picture, but still it’s mine.

So yeah, I went to Tactile Cerebral Laboratories to level up on my destruction, because of course.

Affordable healthcare alternatives, that’s what they call those places. Very affordable psychological maiming, just plug your skull full of fears right into this jack right here – and Presto! Get stuck in your first diagnosed twelve-hour Krienhoffer loop, clinging for sanity on a thousand story building’s roof.


That first time locked in the loop, I think I screamed every time I fell. I never held on for more than two minutes. My sweat always ruined my hands’ chances eventually. I held on for fucking fear of death, and got a harrowing plunge and startling reset instead.





















































































































































* * *


The day had come, Tomp was getting his upgrade. It was the best Dr. Konevi could do, and would suffice to absolve her of her own guilt even if it stood no chance of improving his condition in any way. At least, his family’s financial suffering would be lessened considerably. She’d arranged for Tomp to be brought under the hospital’s financial umbrella; the Fuselage family would accrue no additional debt.

Maybe there was no way to save the poor boy stuck in the machine, but she’d stopped the slow bleeding of credits that would have eventually bled them bankrupt – already, they must be hundreds of thousands of credits in debt. An additional clause stated that if Tomp died of natural causes while plugged in, the family would receive a forty million credit life insurance payout. 0.047% is such a small number, nearly naught.

She didn’t want to think about it much more than she wanted to contemplate the hell that Tomp remained relegated to.

“You sure he’s going to be OK in this new room? It seems like less space, even if it is his own private place now,” Mrs. Fuselage asked with concern, although she seemed to approve of the move overall.

“Yes Ma’am. Tomp will be fully monitored and attended to in this wing of the building,”

Dr. Konevi assured her. “Under the SOLCare coverage that he qualified for this year, he gets his own room and is on the route of a dedicated team of medtechs that monitor the Hamasaki Wing. Each room is personally checked upon 4 times daily. This really is a step up from where he’s been the last twelve years.”

Mrs. Fuselage’s face cinched up in a sad trembly pout, and she brought her knobby fist to her chin to itch a pain that could not be relieved. “Oh... okay.” She accepted that explanation for now.

Dr. Konevi looked at the depths of pain in the older woman’s eyes, and did her best not to wince at the grim reality that is existence. “I have to make rounds now Ma’am, but you are welcome to stay at any hour. Food can be brought to you from the café as well when the medtechs make their quarterly rounds. Everything is a bit better now Mrs. Fuselage, I promise you.”

“Thank you Dr. Konevi,” Mrs. Fuselage managed as she found her way into the comfortable seat next to her unmoving, ever frowning son. “I think I’ll sit with him a bit now, yes.”

Dr. Konevi nodded, then left without further comment. Things were a bit a better, but she was sad all the same.


* * *


I got out of that first deep K-loop after twelve hours, which had for me in the Virt stretched to uncountable years of time-dilated panic attack and a fragmenting, abused mind. I couldn’t even talk for a few days. I never once played video games after that, didn’t dare to get on the net and port up into the Virt. I couldn’t muster the gusto to so much as leave my bedroom for almost a month. I just lay in bed and watched holosoft movies. I must have binged every teevee show that came out in the Solar System that summer.

My mom and pop didn’t pressure me to get back to school, or work, or even to go out and socialize. I think Mom always held a guilt about me since she took me to Tactile Cerebral, so they were content to let me quietly turn into a human bedsore if I was comfortable doing so. And I was, at first. Because I didn’t understand yet that staying off the web was not enough. I had full-blown Krienhoffer Syndrome, and that sets in no matter what you do once it’s begun.

It was after a little over a month of living in my bed, scared to move, that I sank into another Krienhoffer Loop without being online in any way. I spontaneously found myself back in the Virt space they had placed me in at the VI clinic, where you start hanging off the top floor of a mega skyscraper. No matter how strong my grip was, the metal rail would be lubed with my sweat in a minute and a half, and then not much longer till the drop.

I don’t know how long I was in there that time. I actually thought I’d stroked out in my bed and that I was really dead and in Hell. But when I woke up in Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis Publik Hospital, where they told me that Krienhoffer was for life and you couldn’t hide from it by playing Luddite. They wanted to plug me into a less jarring VI space. I would still enter K-loops randomly – that was never going to go away – but the new Virt space would allegedly be less abrasive then the Tactile Cerebral program my brain was currently resetting into.

So now I live on top of 20 West 34th Street, New York, New York, circa 500 years ago.

And I have to admit, Her Lady of Diagnosis does have a nicer VI space by far. This old New York Virt space was not originally coded for this specific use, it had actually been made for academic purposes in archaeological research. The year and the season would change randomly over long periods of immersion, but it was set in the span of years when the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world, from 1931 to 1970.

Weather patterns would also change. Human patterns. Bird patterns.

Six billion ways to die, and the Krienhoffer Syndrome had checked off ‘all of the above’ for me. The resolution was off the charts. This was real. I mean, if real was real, then this was too. Real horror, pitched against the truest blue sky; true and real, pealing my being to a bloody core one fall at a time.

I’m not perched up on the antenna, I re-spawn to this ludicrous platform that was built for disembarking from a dirigible. You know a zeppelin? Those ancient airships most famous for the one named the Hindenburg, which exploded and ended their popularity? Interesting fact, the unpredictable and volatile wind made it nearly impossible to dock up here. Me, on the other hand, whenever I’m not falling, I’m always docked here.

After what’s felt like centuries of simulated Hell, I’ve eventually reached for new definitions of comfort. Any relatability I can cling to.

I’d try to anchor to the flashes of silver-cutting veins of lightening around the tall cumulonimbus tufts which often lined this world of vertigo and panic. I could tell the lines of those clouds were beautiful, but my brain was not allowing me the peace of mind that caliber of beauty used to instill in me. In my prior life outside this Hell. Elation was blocked by a wall of the sheer terror the simulated circumstance drove into me.

I fucking hate heights. Sickening, till-I-puke-my-lungs-out heights.

I’ve actually vomited while falling off a skyscraper a thousand times. Nosediving into the flotsam of my own projectile bile, because I hadn’t made it to terminal velocity and the projection was lighter than the mass of my body. It’s even less fun than it sounds, stinging sinuses from puke pushing up my nostrils and into my eyes.

Then splattering death, usually before I hit the ground – intensely painful, but so instantaneous as to be negligible.

A paralyzed kicking in the womb of Nothing charged by the humming terror of reboot.

I’d never heard anything as thunderingly loud as Silence till I experienced the Void between death and life in Virt. And here. In this Glacken’s Krienhoffer mishmash of my own personal Gehenna. It’s a mindfuck too, everything here is. Sometimes, the passage through the underworld is a blink, your return to your fears is immediate.

And then you’re back, thinking how’re you gonna die this time?

Let’s see, highlights of my unending deaths include: a B-25 Mitchell bomber crashing into the building, a dozen times that the VI glitched to a construction phase of the building – I usually get impaled on iron girders then, rainstorms are a definite death sentence, that time I was attacked by Russian jets, a few times I was attacked by hawks, and the absurd number of times I fell asleep and tipped over the edge. I don’t even need sleep, I’m in a coma for fucksake.

Un-fucking-fortunately, I have to do this forever, eating the shit of this fate every few minutes into infinitude. And it’s a way fucking more forever forever than people think forever really is. Hate becomes this monumental whetstone that shears off the rage response.

I dull myself to all emotions. Slowly. Death after death. Impaled infinitely in my perfectly articulated, Escher-esque inferno of wind and falling. I’m not familiar with this feeling I have now.

This is new. Or restored.

I don’t care anymore. The fall doesn’t scare me. I’m gonna make this fun, I’m ready to fly. This time, I don’t fall, I jump.


* * *


Mrs. Fuselage was sitting with him when he passed away. She knew about the outrageous amount of money the family was set to inherit because of his unexpected passing, but that meant nothing to her. What mattered to her was that as he flatlined, Tomp was smiling. Finally, the VI had worked, he was truly free.


Posted in Short stories | Leave a comment

“Tucked Inn” by Nadine AuCoin – A review

"Tucked Inn" by Nadine AuCoin is a chilling novella that grips the reader with its suspenseful plot and evocative portrayal of a family known as ‘The Banishers’’ fighting against malevolent entities.

The story follows the eighteen-year-old Lucy, who for reasons unbeknownst to her is held hostage by Madame Dominique and her minions: the perverted Darko and Drake, the handsome Allister. As she settles in, she begins to experience strange occurrences that suggest a dark force is lurking, and the unraveling of her own superpowers, which ultimately aid in her fight against the evil Henry!

Perhaps the greatest strength of "Tucked Inn" is Nadine’s ability to create a vivid depiction of the characters. From Lucy’s heroic but yet naive fortitude, to Madame Dominique’s regality and even Henry's own fierce persistence, each character is fully fleshed out and believable.

One must also commend Nadine for her work’s sweet ability to keep the reader in a constant search for the truth. The pacing is perfectly calibrated, with moments of quiet reflection punctuated by sudden bursts of terror and confusion and sometimes even disgust. Her descriptions of the supernatural, which are instrumental in propelling the story forward, are vivid and unsettling, and the final confrontation between Lucy and the evil entity that is Henry, and every malice he represents, is truly harrowing.

Nadine AuCoin’s "Tucked Inn" is a gripping and well-crafted mystery novella that is sure to satisfy fans of the genre. With its vivid characters, skilled use of literary devices, and heart-stopping suspense, it is a testament to the power of well-crafted storytelling.

I would suggest it to anyone, except for my mother.



Reviewed by Lucille Sambo

Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Holden Williams – Absence of Grace





A soul adrift, lost at sea,

Yearning for a sense of grace,

But finds only discord and disarray,

In this world, so out of place.


Where once there was poise and elegance,

Now there's only crudeness and haste,

A world that's lost its sense of beauty,

And leaves the heart and soul disgraced.


Oh, how this troubled soul longs for,

The sight of a gentle touch,

A word of kindness, a thoughtful act,

To restore what's lost so much.


But in this world of chaos and noise,

Grace seems a distant dream,

And this troubled heart must find a way,

To weather life's turbulent stream.

Yet still the hope remains alive,

That someday grace will return,

And with it, peace and harmony,

And the heart's desire, finally earned.





“Save us, Grace. Please.” The young woman is paralyzed in a lucid nightmare, aware of her thoughts, coaxing herself to act upon them. She stands alone in front of her bathroom mirror, speaking to herself, desperate for a jolt. “C’mon Grace, you can do it.” Before it comes, she is consumed by her subconscious. Her surroundings recede in color dulling into a drab palate of grays. Black glossy tiles, embedded with silver flake, crumble into a floor of loose and grainy midnight beads. Charred, slender willow trees rumble from the earth, growing, towering above her. Her heart beats furiously, like the fluttering wings of an injured bird. Her feet sink deeper into the terrain, consumed by darkness. A moon lies beyond the trees, just crossing over the horizon, glowing blindingly, promising absolution. If only she could reach it. If she could navigate over the torn paper landscape ahead of her. Layers of rolling hills in diminishing shades of black that lie upon one another, like the scenery of a puppet show. She, the marionette, yearns to move but struggles to seize control.

Grace looks down upon a figure that is and is not hers. She is barely clothed in torn rags that clutch to her body. Her skin is pale and translucent, white as the surface of the moon. Upon her chest rests a blood red stone. A spirit, encased in a gold heart-shaped setting on the end of a thin chain, created from fired ruby glass and the ashes of her mother. It throbs with a scorching heat, searing her skin. If she could only lift her heavy feet from the swallowing land, she would be able to free herself from this living hallucination. Her frantic arms reach towards the horizon, but are beaten away by shadowy branches. She draws back fair hands and limbs covered in bloody crimson welts. The air smells moist, like an oncoming storm. A fog emerges, gentle at first. Thin clouds arise from behind the hills that double, then triple in heaviness. Menacingly, they approach, surrounding her in acrid smoke. The membranes of her nose become enraged, her lungs engorged. Deliberately being suffocated. Tears pool in her eyes. Salt burns dry corneas. The echo of her pounding heart thuds behind her ears like ancient war drums. With every slowing beat, each weakening pulse, her eyelids feel heavier, the scalding torment in her chest intensifying. Grace hears footsteps approaching from behind, small steps that crunch in the decaying earth. Short, rapid breaths are upon her.

The voice she hears is childish and soft, “I found you,” as is the touch along her bare thigh. Faith, the youngest of the two children Grace is nanny to, has ventured her way from the main house, through the backyard, into the guest home, and into Grace’s bathroom. Her touch is spell-breaking. The fog clears, color reemerges like a drop of watercolor on a fresh canvas, soaking each fiber. Her opulent ensuite bathroom returns: marble vanity, glass framed rain shower, glittering black tiles under her feet that make her feel like she is floating in space.

Faith pinches the loose band of skin around Grace’s stomach, the stubborn paunch she’s gained these months after her mother passed away. “Hey. Stop that. Get out of here, I’m not dressed!” Grace covers her bare breasts with one arm, a polite but trifling gesture. She has been Faith’s nanny since she was born, they share mother-daughter privacy privileges. Grace shoos away the tiny hand, mostly in jest, partly embarrassed, her cheeks flush with rushing blood and prickly heat. Grace is a huskier version of herself, padded with a thin layer of weight, armor she has donned as protection from the mourning onslaught. The ash-blonde, green-eyed cherub turns and tucks her diaper, pity pats back across the floor, barefoot, squeaking like a hungry baby bird.

Grace is positioned on her tiptoes, leaning against the vanity, her fine black hair tied up in a loose bun. Wisps of steam float by, her flesh is anointed by warm water, skin hydrous and plump, pale with a tinge of yellow like heavy cream. Her bare stomach rests against the edge of the marble counter. Grace pinches the lace waistband of her satin underwear a bit higher, providing herself a millimeter’s worth of relief. The bathroom is warm from her shower, the fixtures still cold from a winter’s night, though the sun is already hours over the horizon. She remembers applying eyelashes across her almond lids before drifting away, before the color drained from the room, just before her second heart started beating. Since her mother passed, Grace finds herself drifting between worlds more often, exploring her unconscious.

She bats her eyes open and closed, the carnivorous lashes stick in place, subdued but deadly. In the mirror, her eyes are brilliant. Hazel with metallic yellow rings. When the creature is stirred, her eyes change. The gold in her irises liquifies, melts and spreads, overtaking soft gray. Grace is unsatisfied with her reflection. Annoyed. She can see what the camera will capture if she is in the background of any candid photos. An unstill Grace, caught between two frames, blurred. It cannot be so active during a public event. The creature can only be seen by those it favors, but when it is hyperactive, modern technology can slightly unveil the unbelievable.

“Can you stop playing around. Go away. Go play with Faith!” she pleads. Obedient most times, and fond of the young child, it climbs out of the heart-shaped stone, and jaunts across the floor.







Grace follows two sets of footprints through frosty, dew-sodden grass to the main house. Her eyes and nose are ambushed by the acidic scents of citrus-scented cleaner and a fresh-cut lawn. A pungent effervescence. Both the gardeners and the party rental company have arrived earlier this morning. Grace maneuvers through an obstacled course of folding chairs and tables on her way to the rear of the home. She enters through the glass doors. With her chin down, she addresses the mother, “Good morning, Mrs. Marshall.” Karen Marshall is at the kitchen island, looking into the yard. She checks the hanging clock on the far wall before acknowledging Grace. Through a thin-lipped smile, she replies “Good morning.” She waves a free hand, like a conductor mid-concerto, instructing Grace to finish opening the folding glass doors that convert the patio into an extended living room.

Karen is in between sips of her coffee alternative, a blend of cacao, chai, and cordyceps. A concoction that she tries to convince anyone willing to listen tastes the same as coffee. Something Grace unwisely confided in Faith tastes “Ca-cawful.” They both eye the clear glass awkwardly. “I need you to clean up all the grass Faith tracked in before guests arrive.”

“Yes, Mrs. Marshall.” Grace finishes unfolding the patio doors, flushing the home with crisp biting air. After some time, she slides the dust mat with Faith’s toddler Crocs to the side of the cement landing.

“I told her not to go out there. Then I told her 'put those on.' She just doesn’t listen to me.”

Grace flexes an appeasing smile for Mrs. Marshall, though it scarcely shows through her flat and unremarkable features. She has a face like a porcelain geisha mask – smooth, unblemished, with a dull chalky glow and vacant of emotion. Her hair, freed from the morning bun, is long and shining, like filaments of black velvet. A panther’s coat to match her gilded eyes.

The Marshall household will celebrate Sarah’s eighth birthday today. She is five years older than Faith. Grace’s mother was the previous nanny until she became ill. Knowing Karen was pregnant again, Grace’s mother insisted on retiring. She could not bear to become attached to another child she would not live to see grow up. The Marshalls had been familiar with Grace since she was fourteen, the quiet daughter who followed behind her mother at Sarah’s parties, helping her clean up, munching on expensive catering. They welcomed the changing of the guardian.

“How are you doing Grace?” Mr. Marshall’s voice rails down the hallway and out the open doors, like an incoming train. He is the reason she wears makeup regularly, and eyelashes on special occasions. She is not attracted to him, and believes the opposite cannot be true, but she knows that he has an eye for polished standards. Poignant counsel from her mother. Mrs. Marshall is cinched up in a sports bra that exposes the upper half of her toned stomach and pants that complement her curves. She twirls a giddy pirouette when she hears the sound of her husband’s voice.

“Yay, you’re up! I’m going to the gym before the party.” Karen slides in front of him before he can enter the kitchen, runs a manicured nail along the inside of his thigh on to his stomach, and kisses him on the lips. Before leaving, she turns back, “The Grace, grass. Ugh. The grass. Grace.” Mr. Marshall and Grace share a muted laugh. Despite her Dysport paralyzed face, Karen’s annoyance prevails. Her glare moves from Grace to the guest house, a place she’s been eying since Grace’s mother passed. The perfect space for a home gym.

Karen resisted having Grace’s ill mother in the home, irrationally afraid to go near her as though she was covered in legions and boils. Mr. Marshall insisted that Grace’s mother stay on the property, benevolently selfish, assuring Grace would always be close. Now that her mother was gone, Grace could take the spare bedroom, a move Grace dreaded. At the park, with other live-in caretakers, she has heard whispers from damaged souls, warnings of what can happen in Beverly Hills homes, at parties, after parties. The forty feet of Kentucky Bluegrass between the guest house and theirs is crucial, for all of them.

“I’m OK,” Grace lies, running a fingertip along the pendant hanging from her neck. Mrs. Marshall takes notice as she exits, feeling possessive of the piece. Grace takes notice of her interest, quickly turning her eyes to the floor. The Marshalls paid one thousand dollars to have Grace’s mother cremated and another thousand to have the ashes formed into the stone. For them, an insignificant amount, worth each cent to not be bothered with a gap in childcare. For Grace, the only option to contain her mother. To keep the creature close, under her thumb. Grace edges by Mr. Marshall to gather a bottle of organic cleaning solvent and reusable rags from under the sink.

“That’s good to hear. We’re going to miss her today. This will be the first birthday party of the kids that Rose won’t be at.” Hearing her mother’s name catches Grace unprepared, like she is caught in rain under a clear sky.

What did Mr. Marshall miss more, her stout and sweet mother or the hand-wrapped, freshly fried egg rolls, dipped in chili sauce? Grace thought she could hear the saliva collecting in his mouth, washing over his incisors, slurring his words. Bending down to clean up Faith’s trail, she answers, “I know.” She thinks, What the fuck do I even say to that? She follows with, “I’m sorry” – her go-to response in binds of discomfort, a plea to be set free.

Mr. Marshall steps out from behind the island. Past his legs, Grace can see Faith in the hallway, dancing in a circle with her arms extended, “…we all fall down…” She collapses in a heap. The haunting eyes of a sallow black dwarf on its tiptoes peer over Faith’s blonde curls, longing to pass judgment on Mr. Marshall. Grace curtly shakes her head, but the creature scurries forward. In a blink, the dwarf is behind Mr. Marshall’s leg, dragging spindly fingers and sharp yellowed nails down his sweatpants, unraveling threads. Worry floods Grace’s senses, her skin burns, welts rise from the heat. Her mouth is sucked dry of any moisture. Mr. Marshall seems unbothered until Faith crashes into his other leg. He looks down smiling, cooing at his youngest child. The dwarf opens its mouth, revealing a cavernous black hole lined with shoddy shards of teeth, spotted brown gums, and a mottled tongue. Grace can hear it chittering, taking over her mind, talking over thoughts, prompting her. Through a mouth full of cotton, she manages a few withered words, “I’m so sorry, Mr. Marshall.”




“Stop apologizing. What are you sorry for?” The voice Grace hears is not that of Mr. Marshall. It is the stern scolding tones of her mother in Tagalog. Rose is speaking in her delightfully abrupt Filipino tongue, in an avalanche of additional syllables, heavily enunciating short vowels.

“I don’t know, Mom. I don’t remember. I’m sorry.”

“Ha! Again!” Rose affectionately taunts her daughter. She delivers a four-finger pop to the crown of Grace’s head.

Grace rubs the sting out of her scalp. She is transported from the tile kitchen floor to the cabin of their rusted tan Subaru. Above folded-down rear seats in the hull of the old station wagon, long wooden tables and brown metal chairs bounce and bang into one another. The two are driving home after a church function. Rose is here and there, lost in thought, concentrating on the road, then staring aimlessly. Grace forges an attempt to root out the cause. “Mom, what happened with Tita?” She holds her breath, unsure what her mother will say about her auntie.

“Hmm. Who?”

A chance for Grace to escape, yet she presses forward. Teen spirit. “Tita Ernestine. I saw you two after, while I was packing the car. You looked… mad.” A rare sight. Church gatherings were where Rose was herself. She applied powder and blush, had Grace dye and curl her hair, adorned her wrists and neck with trinkets, and slipped on her best bargain store dress. Glittery and shining. Rose fluttered between booths, linking them with her infectious laughter, dancing along a sparkling path. Her smile glowed warmer than the lanterns strung over the uneven, gouged blacktop.

The leather wrap on the steering wheel squeaked from her tightening grip. “She is not your Tita. She is a, uhhh, yung ano, uhhh …a bruha.”

“Oh!? OK.” Bruha, Grace’s cue to abort. In Filipino culture, the nomenclature of auntie and uncle is loosely assigned, shared as a sign of respect, not necessitating relation by blood, and for Auntie Ernestine, that relationship had been severed. Grace trained her stare forward and stretched for the radio, wishful that 70’s soft rock could temper the moment. Rose preempted the strike, reaching the knob first. Instead, she turned the volume down, hushing the low buoyant vocals of Karen Carpenter’s intro to We’ve Only Just Begun.

“Grasya,” Rose’s word for her, the Filipino word for blessing, “I did something tonight I shouldn’t have. I cursed that woman.” Rose’s eyes became glassy, reflecting the headlights of an oncoming car. “She is too much. Always taking more than she is supposed to, cutting the line, being late. And always I am the one apologizing for her, to her, sorry this, sorry that, you go first, I’ll wait. Ay!” Rose regurgitated a monologue she’d been rehearsing since they left the church, if not longer. The car veered left into the center of the road, tires bumped against raised pavement markers, the Subaru became alive with a thumping heart. The word cursed was like a detonation, like they had driven over a landmine. It vacuumed the breathable air from the cabin, deafened Grace’s senses, allowing only for the muffled, defeated words of Rose’s continued confession, and Richard Carpenter’s attempt to keep the mood light, harmonizing with his sister, “… so much of life aheeeead.” With a gentle hand, Grace eased the vehicle back into the lane.

“Tonight, I saw her kissing your Tito Paul.” Not for the first time, Auntie Ernestine attempted an invasion of another woman’s marriage, trumpeting a forward march, burning land, only to plunder, pillage, and leave lifeless bodies in her wake. “When I told her she needs to stop, she said I was crazy. I didn’t know what I was talking about.” Rose pried a hand away from the wheel to clear her tears. “She won’t stop being that way. I had to. It had to.” And with a final deflated breath, she accepted responsibility. “I couldn’t stop it.”


The cabin air soured, smelling of spoiled rice. The weight of the creature was like a small potted plant in Grace’s lap. It stared up at her with a neatly manicured beard, deep sallow red-rimmed eyes, aged charcoal skin, and a large tattered burgundy hat, hanging off the back off its round shiny head. It sat with its legs crossed, dressed in denim overalls, disappearing and reappearing with every street light that zipped by. It contended for Grace’s affection, flashing a new jocular grimace, pulled from its wiry lips, with each reemergence. Rose’s duende. A mythical creature born from the earth, passed on to her from her father, assigned with her protection. Grace jerked backwards, wanting to escape to the rear bench. The creature thinned its eyes, straightened its playful grin. Restrained and afraid, Grace pressed deep into her own seat. Yellow foam pushed forth from widening cracks.

“Ay! Stop that. Act normal.” Rose’s voice was sharp and cold and threatening, like icy air before a blizzard. Black dwarfs are playful creatures, fond of young children but temperamental. Capable of excruciating curses. Act Normal. Grace was reminded of fairy tales and anecdotes Rose had recited, stories she had dismissed as wild and fantastic. They came rushing back, a deliberate history written in her, by her mother, for this moment. Act Normal. Grace conjured a child’s curiosity to overcome reality, allowed deep historic, familial bonds to weave their way into a new generation. During the rest of the drive home, Grace developed a clingy fondness for the creature, poking it in the flaps of its belly, coaxing a hyena’s giggle from it. She adjusted and readjusted the hat, pulling it down over its eyes, playing peek-a-boo. She scratched its beard, strumming soft murmurs from its throat like a hollow instrument. ​​ 

Inside of their Glendale apartment, Grace and Rose huddled over a small table by the kitchen under dim fluorescent light. The creature had been seduced to sleep by a lullaby from Grace’s mother. “Does it speak?” Grace asked, wondering why she had not shared any words with the creature over the drive. No semblance of dialogue, only sounds – its high pitched and off beat, hers small and childlike.

“Only two words, Grasya. Pasensiya Na.” The creature was trusted to watch over Rose, to protect her, but living in a world absent of grace, where robust humans so willingly avoid generosity of spirit and action. They enraged the creature, encouraged it to evil. Entrusting upon itself the duty of justice, it became more concerned with retribution and punishment for those who abused Rose’s kindness. “Those words are a spell, a curse, born from tribal magic. A trick that it thinks spares us guilt. There are no words in our language that mean I’m sorry. Not like the Americans.” Rose sounded it out for Grace, pa-sen-si-ya na. “It means forget your anger. It thinks it is clever,” she finished with a dismissive eyebrow over a weary face.

Rose spoke them to Ernestine, the cursed words, in the church by the alter when she could no longer resist the creature’s influence. As the two argued, it frantically bounced about, on pillars, through the aisles, dishonoring signs of the cross. With each emblazoned word Ernestine spoke, it became giddier with anticipation. Hyperactive, excited to dissolve Rose of her empathy. It beratingly chirped in Rose’s ear like a herd of wrens, rattling an alarm. Blood swarmed over her heart, thick and viscous. Her fuse reached its end, the spark flickering away, the explosion loosed. “Ay! OK. OK. Grace is waiting,” she paused, harrowed by the creature, “Pasensiya-Na.”

As the final syllable slipped off of Rose’s lips, her eyelids thudded closed, her heart did not beat. In that blink of her eyes, lights dimmed, sound died in clay tiles, burgeoning flames of altar candles swirled and extinguished. The dwarf leapt merrily, skipping along the tops of the pews. After sufficiently celebrating its victory, it edged closer, taking a seat on Ernestine’s shoulder, an evil grin of ruddy teeth stretched across its face. It whispered an incantation only it could hear and inflicted its spell. Rose watched as a weight lifted from her and forced itself on to Ernestine, like a gust of choking smoke. Ernestine’s skin crystallized, tightening over her high-angled cheeks, becoming frail and colorless. Blue veins snaked their way across the fragile surface, like spidering cracks in thin glass. Her eyes became dull, muddy pools in an arbor of green eyeshadow. The roots of her hair grayed, spindling away from her scalp. Ernestine’s color returned, her eyes soft and accepting of Rose’s apology, unaware of the curse woven into place.

Throughout the night, Grace listened to Rose sob into her pillow, begging for forgiveness.




Uncontrollable, shuddering inhales. Loud bellowing cries. Repeated on end, over and over. Sarah is not the center of attention at the Marshall household, but she is the most fragile. When fruit punch spilled on her dress, it was as though a dog whistle sounded for the other four members of the family, even tiny Faith rushed to Sarah’s aid. The three adults lobbed solutions, all of which required Grace to come to her rescue.

In Sarah’s upstairs bedroom, Grace runs a hand up and down her back, calming her, kneading the knots from her throat. “I’ll get it out. Don’t worry. Everything is going to be OK,” Grace assures Sarah. “Just stay right here, I’ll take the dress and get it as good as new. I promise.” Grace lifts Sarah’s face in her hands, bringing their chins even. “Now, show me your beautiful eyes. Come on, it’s your birthday! You can’t cry on your birthday.” Sarah’s eyes are like bottled blue lightning. Grace leaves her with a faint mark of red lipstick on the girl's cheek.

On her way down, the doorbell rings. Karen flies by Grace upwards on the stairs, the pinching smell of salt and sweat trailing close behind. “Grace, that’s my sister. I still need to shower and get ready, could you let her in?” Karen Marshall requires a full face of makeup and a cocktail, maybe two, to stomach her sibling. Grace will make sure to ready a gin drink for her before she comes back up.

“Yes, Mrs. Marshall.”

“Oh my God! What happened?” Lisa Engel, Karen’s older sister by a year, is dressed in the highest of heels and a bright coral bodysuit, vacuum sealed to her newly, surgically enhanced body. She stands in the foyer, having let herself in. Her makeup is flawless, her undereye concealer applied heavily. She fails to acknowledge Grace as she snatches Sarah’s dress from her hands. “Are you going to be able to get this out before the party?”

“I’ll do my best. How are you, Mrs. Engel?” Lisa Engel is fresh off of a three-year marriage with a Netflix celebrity, and happy to explain what happened and how she is coping. Grace manages to snake the dress from her clutches and disappear in the other direction before the woman can get going. Exit stage left.

In the guest house, Grace sets Sarah’s size 8, sleeveless dress, stained bright red from neck to waist, on her comforter. From under her bed, she slides out a long, flat cardboard box. Inside, she retrieves a package folded in white tissue paper. She removes the price tag from an identical pink chiffon dress and switches the two, wrapping the stained one into the tissue and placing it back into the box. More poignant advice from Rose, “Sarah is clumsy, ah. Birthdays and recitals, especially. It is good to have a backup.” Thanks Mom.

“Oh my God!” Lisa’s voice is piercing. She is multiple decibels louder than any of the additional guests that have arrived, drawing a horde of unwanted attention towards Grace. “How did you even? This is why they never let you out of their sight.” She hurls an evil eye towards her own nanny on the couch, Katie, who is bouncing her one-year-old on her knee. Katie redirects the eye back at Grace with the addition of a nanny-to-nanny scowl. Grace, desperate to escape the crossfire, finishes squeezing a lime into a tall glass of Hendricks gin and tonic water, then hustles away with dress and drink in hand.

“You’re a life saver, Grace!” Mr. Marshall is coming down the stairs, his first appearance at the party, “Hugh, how are you buddy?” He cuts through the crowd, carving a path in the direction of Hugh Stavenow, his client. Also, Lisa Engel’s ex-husband. Also, Grace’s heartthrob. Grace, unsure if he’d been invited, now understands Lisa’s extreme body adjustments, the professional makeup job, and the bright, inappropriate outfit. Mr. Marshall apologizes to Lisa with an “it’s just business” shoulder shrug on his way through the living room. He takes a detour from his path to pour two Macallan 12 Sherry Oak bourbons. Neat.

Hugh Stavenow is the leading male actor in a critically acclaimed, moderately popular streamed television show. His first Emmy sits in the Marshall’s trophy case, a gift to the agent that started his career, after he won a second. Grace fought back a throbbing desire to return to the kitchen for a closer experience of him, to circle behind and sniff in his enchanting essence. She imagines he smells like he has been brewed from a cauldron of whiskey and gunpowder. On screen, his skin is rich and unblemished like full grain leather, tanned brown, the color of milk chocolate. Hugh acknowledges Mr. Marshall while making his way to his son to gather him from the nanny. He approaches her with outstretched arms and a convincing grin. The nanny looks to Lisa for instruction, awaiting orders. Lisa shrugs, clinks ice around an empty glass, and dismisses the annoyance, turning in the direction of the liquor cart.

Hugh picks up his son like it is his first time seeing him. He gazes up on him, his eyes wide, smile bright, taking in all the nuances of his baby face, the slight changes that have developed since the last time they’ve seen each other. The baby responds in kind, poking at Hugh’s elegant facial structure, running stubby fingers along bushy brows, hiccuping giggles. Hugh steadies his son on his forearm, wrapping him around his side. Grace admires from afar, picturing his stomach strained under his shirt. Eternally grateful for Under the Sun episodes, where obliging writers wrote shirtless scenes for Hugh. She knows his abs and obliques are like smooth stones in a rippling river. The rest of the day, Hugh bounces around the party engaged in boisterous conversation with every party-goer that desires a chance at his ear, his son on his hip for every word. ​​ 

“Grace, I need another drink.” Lisa’s heels are too tall to balance her new proportions any longer. She collapses into a folding chair and reaches down to unbuckle herself from the wobbly ride. “Fuck these shoes. And fuck him!” The rest of the guests are inside, gathered around a sprinkle-covered, strawberry birthday cake for Sarah. She is beaming in her spotless party dress and a tasteful tiara. On one side of the table are the adults, phones drawn, jockeying for position to get the perfect picture for their social media. Proof they were invited to Sarah Marshall’s birthday party. On the other side, Sarah is crowded by the few children still left in attendance, those whose parents have announced to Karen that they will be leaving soon, multiple times.

“Oh please, just stay a little longer. We are going to do the cake soon,” Karen begs, more intent on freshening cocktails than lighting candles. Off key, and off rhythm, the group finally begins to serenade Sarah. Some sing Faith’s name in place of Sarah’s.

Lisa asks again, “Grace, could you get me another drink. Now.”

“Oh, yes, Ms. Engel. Right away.” Grace puts down a heavy-duty trash bag brimming with plastic bottles, soda cans, paper plates, and sullied tablecloths. On her way in, she catches the tail end of the song and pauses long enough to finish singing it with the group, flashing Sarah a heart formed from her fingers. Sarah blows a kiss back and returns her attention to the cake and Faith, whose eyes have grown bigger than her head. Sarah slides a finger along the cream cheese frosting, and smears it across Faith’s nose. The two whirl together in the enchantment of sisterhood.

“He needs to sleep.” Barefoot Lisa and her social shuttlecock ex-husband have reached their inevitable collision. The two are out in front of the Marshall’s home, their argument loud enough for neighbors and stragglers at the party to hear. The Marshall’s home is large, but not large enough to keep the two separated, to deny their gravitational pull. Though the hour is not late, most of the guests have departed, all of the children are gone, and sleep is the only excuse Lisa can find to sensibly bring the Hugh Stavenow and Baby parade to an end.

Lisa is exasperated. “If I knew you were coming and you were going to be all over him, I would have given Katie the day off.” Katie, the nanny from the couch, stands within shouting distance by the curb, waiting for an Uber, the head of the baby tucked into her neck, her name purposefully spoken with enough emphasis to be included in their spat.

“Come off it, Lisa!” Hugh’s voice explodes through the unpopulated cul-de-sac, rattling off car windows. He is more animated than he has been at any point today. The combination of Lisa Engel and multiple fingers of bourbon have chipped away his model actor, publicist-approved persona. “You just hate seeing me with him. Let Katie go, I’ll bring my boy home.”

“You’re insane! You drank more than I did.” By her count, Hugh is at six drinks, not counting the one he is waving around. He carries himself like he’s only had a few, the benefit of a six-foot, muscular physique and a scotch-soaked liver.

“What, are you counting how many drinks I’ve had? We aren’t together anymore, Lisa. You can’t control every little thing I do.”  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ 

“Fuck, I hate you. You’re such a fucking phony. Why don’t you go home. No one wants you here.”

“Me? No one wants me here? I’ve talked to everyone in there, and they love me. I am Hugh Stavenow. You’re the one making everyone feel awkward. What are you even wearing?” In truth, Hugh has been stealing piggish glances at Lisa throughout the day, yearning for a moment alone with her. A moment unlike this. Perhaps a chance encounter of the two of them in a secluded bathroom. The physical attraction between the two is undeniable. Inappropriate yes, but undeniably delectable. He has imagined every inch of her, hungering for her. Each additional Macallan making him bolder, more dismissive of their tumultuous history, more aware of his carnal desire to conquer her again. Allowing his eyes to linger longer, so she can interpret them for their truth. Even now, he cannot help but stare.

Creeping tires over the empty street interrupt the hanging silence. A slow, burgundy Honda circles the neighborhood. It approaches hesitantly. The driver buzzes down his window. “Um, Lisa?”

Elated with the driver’s impeccable timing, Lisa leaves Hugh slack jawed, sensing his desire, dismissive of his voracious eyes. “Yes, I’m Lisa.” She spins off, switching her hips. “Come on Katie, we’re leaving now.” Hugh is left standing in the driveway, watching her walk away. Even without the high heels that prop her round curves into place, he finds himself mesmerized by her gait, spun up into a frenzy. Lisa has done what she always does. Hugh needs a moment. He slips back into the house and ducks into the downstairs bathroom by the entry way.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone was in here. I saw the light was on but the handle wasn’t locked.”




Grace is face to face with Hugh, shining star of Under the Sun, Stavenow. She cannot believe it. He is more handsome in person than he is retouched across her 42” television. He smells different than she imagined, cleaner, less rugged, like a pine forest, pure and bracing. His scent rushes over her. His eyes are penetrating, paralyzing. She is struck by the star into silence, desperate to get a word out. Say something Grace, she can hear herself think, but is unable to act.

Accustomed to the dominant role, familiar with this muted reaction to his presence, Hugh speaks first. “You’re Grace, right? Faith and Sarah’s nanny.” Grace looks up at his mouth, watching his lips as he continues to talk. His dark, glistening indigo lips as they rise and fall. His delicious mouth. “You’re probably in here for the same reason I am. I’m sorry all that happened out there. Lisa can be… a lot. I’m Hugh.” He places a soft hand on her elbow, jolting her enough to clear the blockage.

Words tumble recklessly from Grace’s mouth. “Of course, I know who you are Mr. Stavenow. I can’t believe you know who I am. I’ve watched every season of Under the Sun. The first two twice. Right now, I’m on season three, episode four, the one where there’s a fire and you help put it out. I can’t wait to get to the next season. That’s my favorite. I don’t really like Carly though. I don’t’ think she’s right for you. She’s kind of a bitch! Don’t you think so? Oh my God, what am I saying? I don’t think I can stop talking, Mr. Stavenow. Oh! And your son. Oh my God, your son is so cute, and the way you two are with each other. It’s just, well, it’s so beautiful to watch.”

Mercifully, Hugh slides his touch up Grace’s elbow to her shoulder, calming her, quieting her. The kind, unexpected words thrown to him while he was drifting away in a sea of vulnerability are flattering. His cheeks redden through his brown skin. Grace is in shock. He is blushing because of her. Her heart is beating rapidly, the heart-shaped pendant warming, she can feel it stirring. No. Not now. I’m fine. The creature obeys, reluctantly. Hugh leans in closer to Grace. She can smell the sweet symphony of orange and bourbon barrels on his breath. His empty hand reaches back for the door handle and pulls it closed. Is he? He couldn’t be? Does he want to kiss her? His lips part slightly. His eyes fixate on hers, his deep boring eyes looking inside of her. No, through her. This cannot be. He could not possibly want her. It is all too overwhelming. The walls feel like they are closing in on Grace, but she cannot rebuke an attempt that is not really an attempt. It feels like the ground is shaking. If she is wrong, it will open up and swallow her forever.

His lips press into hers. Her head lilts backwards. Two oppositely charged entities slam into each other. Grace feels the sharp jarring sensation of electrocution. She feels limp, like a rag doll, out of control. No. This can’t happen. Her job, this family, Faith and Sarah. Everything will be at risk. Her hands rise up suddenly, and she slams two open palms into his chest. They melt into his muscle. He does not move. In the mirror behind her, her reflection shifts for an instant, vibrates.

“Woah Grace, what’s up with that? I saw the way you were looking at me today.” He moves his other hand up Grace’s thigh, around her waist and under her pants, sliding his heavy fingers under her satin underwear, pressing determined fingertips into her soft flesh. “Everything is OK.”

“Um, Mr. Stavenow, I don’t think we should do this.” The chittering begins in her ears, like shattered seashells washing up on a shore. An incessant noise she cannot silence, stealing her thoughts.

He continues to press his powerful frame against Grace, pinning her spine against the bathroom counter, trapping two vertebrates between the cold edge. The sharp pain paralyzes her. Hugh Stavenow has transformed from a performer into a predator, grown inches taller and wider, saliva drips from his lips on to her neck. His mouth smells sour, like rotten fruit. His breath is thick and muggy. Her eyes water, welling with tears of panic and irritation. Her heart beats faster, aggressively, strong. The noises in her head become louder, more obstructive.

“You said my son is cute, right? He is. Super cute – well, I mean he does look just like me.” His grotesque, monstrous head is positioned next to hers. His voice has changed. It is dark and garbled. Insidious. He forces the hot whispering sound into her ears. “Do you want one? I can give you one, just like I did for Katie.” Grace is horrified by the revelation. His pressure intensifies, his girth is unbearable, oppressive. His hands are like paws of a mauling animal, ferocious and smothering. She thinks of poor Katie. On the couch bouncing the child, the nanny-to-nanny look they shared, that Grace dismissed as venomous, but was meant as a warning, Katie recognizing Grace’s eyes for Hugh Stavenow, wishing her to stop. Katie handing her child to its father, standing by the Uber waiting to take her son home.

“Mr. Stavenow. Hugh. Please stop!” Grace is pushing as hard as she can, but it makes no difference. It feels like his hands have multiplied, there are hundreds of them attacking, feeling, probing. Her shoulders ache, he is too close for her to use her legs. She can feel his disgusting excitement pressed against her.

Grace relinquishes control. She has given him enough warnings. The rings of metallic yellow in her irises spark to life, concentric circles of amber that widen and band together. The color liquifies. Her gray eyes are consumed with a bubbling fluid. They are a radiant gold, brilliant and sparkling. The dwarf appears, bouncing around the small room, screaming wildly, ready for Grace to end this.

Hugh is shocked by what he sees in Grace’s eyes. He pauses enough for her to shift out from underneath him. He is still in the way, but a moment of clarity is roused. He dismisses the magic he’s witnessed, attempts to preserve his dignity. “Whatever, get the fuck out of here.”

A long-awaited exhale, trapped in Grace’s lungs, escapes, heavy enough to shift a mountain. She slithers by, pulls the door open enough for her to leave. Just before she does, Hugh manages some parting words. “You should consider yourself lucky. You poor, chink bitch. You’ll come around. Just like Katie did.” Grace thinks of poor Katie, trapped in a small space with this gargantuan, his convincing ways, wielding the power he has conjured from stardom.

Grace is enraged. She toes the edge of the cliff, closes her eyes, gives in, falls. She is relieved, freed of her empathy. In the mirror, Hugh watches the door close behind him. He turns on the water to wash his hands. Grace’s pale face emerges over his shoulder, appearing from nothing. Unbeknownst to Hugh, the dwarf sits on the other, large burgundy hat sitting forward, devious grin of ruddy teeth stretched under the brim, feet kicking giddily.

Under a soft breath, with a stunted Filipino accent, Grace delivers the coup de grace, “Pasensiya Na, Mr. Stavenow.”

The lights in the overhead fixture click off and on. There will not be any further seasons of Under the Sun starring Hugh Stavenow.



About the author

Holden Williams writes literary fiction with poetic undertones. His popular short story “A Woman’s First Day at the Convent” was published by Novelty Fiction as a Kindle e-book. His short story “Absence of Grace,” first published here at Novelty Fiction Gazette, was subsequently published as a Kindle e-book. Both titles are also available in PDF format via Novelty Fiction Book Club.


Posted in Short stories | Leave a comment

Maple Klockgether – Scientifically Imperfect

“Couldn’t you notice?” my friend’s mother innocently asked me after she sympathetically listened to my self-pitying tale of my failed experiments.

No, not at all,” was my honest reply.

If someone never needed to do anything, she would live a carefree life. An existence reflecting the natural inner balance given at birth and then nurtured through a harmonious, meaningful upbringing. Like a vintage car without scratches.

Most people need to work for a living. I am a well-seasoned scientist with more than 30 years of research work behind me. I have been feeling safe and sound, wrapped in a suitable layer of experience-driven confidence. But I was still shell shocked when I discovered a few months ago that my experiments were all messed up. The reason: my technician made a tiny error in his programming of my experimental protocols.

When someone is caught off-guard, her mind starts spinning in an attempt to make sense out the situation. It tries to draw a new map, a route for restoration of balance. Unfortunately, I had never noticed that error until one afternoon late last autumn. Since I am the director of my research projects, any errors made by my research team are ultimately my fault. Instead of seeing the problem, I was rather fascinated by a strange feature of my experimental results throughout last summer; this could be a new discovery that no one had noticed before!

Someone has claimed that perfectionism begins before birth, the quest to do right lies within our DNA. I do not necessarily subscribe to this theory. However, I was eager to check the characteristics of my results, including that strange feature, from numerous different angles to come up to a logical brain mechanism that explains my discovery. The painstaking effort eventually led to a finding of a skewness in directions of arm movements that participants made in my experiments. Umm, that’s strange: those directions are supposed to be evenly distributed. Then realization hit me. Oh, no! These skewed movement directions led to the strange feature of my results! No, no! But it was now all clear as black and white – these data were completely useless.

Philosophers – or was it songwriters? – have correctly pointed out that everything has its time and place, and that nothing ever goes to waste in the greater scheme of things. I rather like that thought, but must wonder how my data could ever fit into any food chain. Over three experiments, I tested more than one hundred fifty people. Each participant spent two to three hours for an experiment. It took more than a year to collect all data. I even paid an hourly fee for every participant. On top of that, a year’s worth of my salary and research assistants’ as well. Thinking of the manpower and resources poured into these experiments made me feel sick. What could I do? Nothing. Nothing at all.


Do not collect garbage!” my supervisor in my master course told me again and again 30 years ago. As I started walking into a science field with my baby steps, he was stressing the importance of collecting good, clean, useable data from every experiment.

Garbage is garbage no matter how much you collect it,” he continued.

That was so true… I was shaking my head as I threw away all my experimental data.

I wondered what was best: nothing or garbage. I had been puzzled by these data since I first saw them, but nonetheless excited to have them around. Until I realized they were garbage, that was. Letting them go sure wasn’t easy, but after initial feelings of emptiness and regret came a sense of relief. Supposedly, the data are still shaking their heads up there in the sky somewhere; I sure haven't forgotten about them. ​​ 


A fortnight ago when I visited my old friend in my hometown, I explained the failure of my experiments to her and her parents. I have known them well since my high school. Her parents used to run a ceramic shop, I recall. My friend and I often went upstairs at their home where her room was situated above the shop, and we talked for hours. Now my friend is running the shop, while her parents have retired. All three have been always supportive and curious to hear about my experiences as a scientist.

So, what is new?” is their usual opening question. They seem to find my scientific work exciting to follow. While drinking a cup of coffee after a hearty fish dinner with good wine, I explained to them about my recent setback in my work. After swallowing the bitterness of my messed-up experiments and slowly crawling back from the setback, I was now composed enough to candidly talk about my failed experiments. Although they had no scientific background, they easily understood the gravity of my failure. After keenly listening to my story, her practically minded mother asked me matter-of-factly, “Couldn’t you notice the error much earlier?”

As a ceramic shop keeper, she had keen eyes for imperfection in ceramics. She could, in a matter of seconds, detect even a slightest error in color or shape on coffee cups or dinner plates. It was unthinkable for her that I didn’t notice the error for such a long time.

No, not at all.” I bit my lip and looked away.

Indeed. Why couldn’t I? Her question lingered in my mind for some time.


If someone never needed to account for her prior actions, she could wake up with a smile on her face every morning, greeting the new day with unblemished optimism. She could stretch out her arms, sigh with contentment, and start singing a little in anticipation of breakfast. No matter what errors she might make that day, she could repeat the exact same thing the following morning. Like: “Hey, life, here I am!”

The participants of my failed experiment were clueless about my woes. They could sleep peacefully every night, assuming their strenuous effort had benefited mankind in one shape or form. The technicians had bigger fish to fry than worry about some project from the past, and the financiers of my research had pockets deep enough to take a hit. Everyone seemed at ease with one notable exception: me.

Fortunately, the answer to the lingering question came one evening last week as I went out for jogging after work. Jogging is my magic wand, a secret weapon for my survival in the science world. Answers to many of my scientific questions usually pop up while I am doing this. The steady locomotive movements seem to shake off the clutters in my head from a day’s work, gathering fragments of subconscious thoughts and connecting them together, then bringing answers up to the surface.

No, I couldn’t notice the error earlier. No way. This is because I am a scientist. Scientific work is always pioneering work. If we already knew a result, no one would need to do an experiment in the first place. We explore unknowns and discover things. That is the nature of our work. So, as long as an experiment is carried out correctly, its results are supposed to represent the truth of the matter. That is, in my field, the nature of how the brain works. Even when I started noticing a strange phenomenon in my experimental results, I still believed that it represented the true nature of brain function. That was why I kept looking for a logical mechanism that would explain the strange result. With such a mindset, there was no chance for me to have noticed the experimental error much earlier. I must say that I was even lucky to find it before it was too late. Otherwise, I would have messed up the history of science with my error finding its way into publications. I compare my experience to a boxer who is saved by the bell.


Setbacks may restore one's sense of proportions. As I think back on my career as a scientist, I have been always very lucky about my collaborators. Many of them had a wealth of experiences in their own scientific territories. They knew many pit holes of designing experiments. They generously gave me numerous pieces of advice. Now I am certain that their casual, innocent-sounding advice here and there was worth its weight in gold. Otherwise, imagine how much garbage I would have collected in vain over the last 30 years.


* * *


What is the benefit of your work to society?” my colleague’s father asked us challengingly when he visited his daughter in our laboratory one sunny afternoon.

It was the early 2000’s. I was working as a post-doctoral researcher at a US university. My colleague’s father was a plump retired medical doctor, full of vigor.

Have some chocolate. It’s very good.”

He thrusted a box of chocolate in front of my eyes. I was sharing an office with his daughter, also a post-doctoral fellow, and a male PhD student. We all enjoyed the sweet taste of delicate Belgian milk chocolate. Cheerful words were exchanged.

But the old man wasted no time before interrogating us about our work. “What is the purpose of your experiment?... Who did you test?... How many people?... What were your key findings?”

I started feeling like someone attending a job interview, but I earnestly answered his questions one by one. Then came a bombshell.

You just measure people’s movements and write papers. What does that do to help society?”

What a question! I gasped. My peaceful afternoon doing data analysis came to an abrupt end by this uninvited interrogator. With his shining eyes, I could see that his mood was in full swing upwards. He was obviously enjoying himself.

I then remembered what my colleague once told me. “Papa likes to provoke others in his conversation, but my brothers and I are so used to it.”  ​​​​ 

I could easily imagine his sense of superiority in this particular debate, because he had helped numerous people throughout his long career as a physician. On the contrary, what do we do? We measure people’s movements by doing experiments, analyze them, and write scientific papers. Based upon our findings, we discuss the underlying brain functions. That’s all. We proudly report, say, 200 milliseconds of difference between the duration of movements of young adults and that of older adults. The difference is just one fifth of a second.

I almost became apologetic as I explained the small differences that we were dealing with in our work. But I explained our scientific contributions as the best as I could.

“I know the difference is tiny, but it is a big deal for us. Our movements are controlled by the brain, which calculates and decides the best strategy of movements to perform everyday activities. Unless you carefully study someone’s movements, you don’t know how these movements are controlled. And if movements become suboptimal due to aging or disease, it is important of identify which part is being affected.”

But what’s the problem in being slow? It is natural for older people like me. I have the whole day. I may be a little bit slow, but I can easily make all my movements every day. No problem at all!”

His tone of voice told me that I was in trouble. He was clearly expressing his skepticism about the value of our work in basic science. I had to do something to defend our territory… OK, he was a physician. So I decided to try another line of my work related to neurological patients. This must penetrate through his stone head.

We also examine grasping movements of patients with a certain neurological disorder. Grasping is very important because we do it many, many times every day. For example, like picking up this piece of chocolate. The brain calculates the size of a piece of chocolate; and as we move our hand toward it, we open our fingers slightly wider than the chunk of chocolate. Then we grasp it as our hand reaches the chocolate. Such finger movements before grasping is called preshaping, which is controlled subconsciously. So, we don’t notice. But our brain is working hard to make precise finger movements, so that we don’t drop the chocolate.”

I demonstrated the preshaping and grasping movement, and explained the smooth coordination among the arm, hand, and fingers. Then I continued, “So, we measure how far these fingers are separated during preshaping. We can clearly see the size difference between healthy people and these patients.”

My speech and demonstration didn’t impress him at all, except giving him another ammunition to fire. “How much is the difference, say, for Parkinson’s disease patients?”

He asked drily. He was a retired physician after all. So, he knew that Parkinson’s disease is caused by a malfunction of the basal ganglia in the brain.

It is about one centimeter smaller for these patients than healthy people.”

Ha, one centimeter! So what? It is just less than an inch!” he said triumphantly, waving his hand in front of my eyes to show me a tiny gap that he made with his thumb and index finger.

Yes, it does matter,” I heard myself saying with a slightly high tone in my nervous voice, but I continued. “Our analysis identifies the features of how their movements are impaired. Such an identification would eventually help developing therapeutic intervention techniques. So, these patients can improve their movement capabilities in the future.”

Then he simply said, “When does that happen?”

“Well, I don’t know…” I was checkmated.


Soon afterwards, he left our office. As he was leaving, his face revealed the full satisfaction of having had a fun afternoon at my expense.

His chocolate was sweet enough, but his questions were way too bitter for my peaceful afternoon. After his departure, I just wanted to put a notice on our office door: “Chocolate only, please. Unsolicited questions are unwelcome.” But the afternoon incident lingered in my mind until that evening. Why did I have to feel foolish and uncomfortable with such discussions? After all, everything I said was true. So, what’s the problem?

Evening jogging brought me an answer to the source of my discomfort. All I said was true, but it was not the whole truth. The truth was that I really like my research. As simple as that. I have never tired of thinking about movements. Even as I was explaining things to him, I knew deep in my mind that it didn’t matter whether my research benefits society or not. I'd be happier if it does, but that is secondary for me. I will do my science as much as I can and for as long as I can. That was the only certainty I had at that point of my life as a scientist.


Basic science is a precarious thing. How our work benefits society, if at all, depends on how society will develop in the future. Indeed, good news landed on me a couple of years ago. A physiotherapist whom I met at a conference told me that physiotherapists nowadays teach stroke patients to make a preshaping of fingers to grasp an object. I knew that preshaping was first reported in late 1970’s, and frantic research activities of preshaping ensued in our field. It is still a popular topic even today. In recent years, the field of robotics is reaping the fruits of our hard-earned knowledge to develop the control system of robotic hands and arms. But it seems it took more than 40 years before preshaping became a part of an intervention technique. It finally and actually happened. That is simply great!


About the author

Maple Klockgether is a well-published neuroscientist and occasional essayist. Her essay “Science and Music” was published in Novelty Fiction’s second anthology and subsequently as a Kindle e-book. Her essay “Scientifically Imperfect,” first published here at Novelty Fiction Gazette, was subsequently published in Kindle e-book format. Both titles are also available in PDF format via Novelty Fiction Book Club.

Posted in Essays | Leave a comment

One Poem, One Inspirational Message by Don Beukes

Posted in Videos | Leave a comment

Olusola Akinwale – A Journey to Her Final Home

Edward trudged along the linoleum floor of the hospital corridor—past the familiar wailing of the bereaved, past sunken people propped up in wheelchairs, past a cleaner swabbing a mop over the floor, through the terminal reek that hung in the air. His heart clenched at the thought that he was no longer married to Marvy.

Death had ended his first marriage, too. Was this a curse or a coincidence? His eyes stung with held back tears.

He hated to make the call, but courtesy—or was it necessity?—demanded that he reach out to AY, who should call his father, Sanya. How he wished he was phoning Marvy herself, as he had every day, telling her about the deliveries to her stores or something else, before she’d entered the hospital.

Marvy had endured her marriage to Sanya for eight years before she’d mustered the courage to defy her family—who’d always implored her to persevere for her children’s sake—and free herself from his violence. Edward had met him only once, when he’d accompanied Marvy to the christening of AY’s child a year before. On that day, Sanya had smelled partly of weed and partly of schnapps. When Edward had congratulated the man, their hands barely grazed each other’s in a handshake.

People had sat at round, white tables under a big tent, and Sanya glided from one end to the other, beaming with a pride that made Edward envious. It made Edward wish it were for his grandchild’s christening that people had gathered to celebrate. But he would have to wait at least seven years or so for his two teenage daughters to reach the child-rearing stage of their lives.

AY had often been present at his mother’s bedside in the hospital. He would help her sit up and tuck pillows behind her back. When she vomited, he held a basin beneath her chin, and when she retched, he rubbed slow circles on her back and then wiped the spittle from her lips. Could a son have done less? He had two sisters who lived outside Lagos—the elder, Shikemi, was with her family in Port Harcourt; the younger, Mosun, was studying at the Federal University of Technology in Akure. Unlike his sisters, AY had been a constant in Marvy’s life ever since he’d been deported from Warsaw, visiting her regularly at their Festac Town apartment.

Whenever AY breezed into their home without as much as an acknowledgment of his stepfather, Edward had to excuse himself. It seemed an unspoken rule that the two wanted to talk without him, leaving him to suck in breath through clenched teeth. Sometimes, Marvy would take her son into the bedroom for their discussion, as if AY were the real husband, the husband on whose behalf Edward had been acting all the while. Edward knew it wasn’t because mother and son both lived in Lagos. It was because AY couldn’t get over the hurt of seeing another man being his mother’s husband—a man eleven years younger than her, at that. And it was also because AY depended on Marvy for his meal ticket.

AY’s conceit burned Edward’s stomach; he wanted nothing to do with his stepson. However, ever since Marvy had been admitted to the hospital for what was diagnosed as pancreas eruption, the fog of aloofness between Edward and AY had somewhat cleared. They’d found a common ground to dash through the small talk and share a hope of seeing her back on her feet.

Now Edward walked to the red-brick-paved parking lot. He felt sweat seep through the back of his shirt. It had always seemed like the hospital was another planet, with a different system of time that passed either too fast or too slow, depending on the complexity of what had brought him there. After leaving, a person either rejoiced in their life or walked back into the world with a burden that made life a darker place. The rose may have lost its bloom, the verdant field may have turned brown, the fountain may have dried up, the barn may have collapsed, or a favorite song may have lost its melody.

A mass of clouds clustered in the sky, snuffing out the light from the sun, bringing an early twilight. Edward’s phone felt heavy. He stood beside his Sienna—Marvy had bought it, really—and, with a trembling hand, dialed AY’s line. A car beside him inched out of the lot while he listened to the melody from his stepson’s phone.

Finally, AY answered. “Hello, Mr. Abioye.”

In the background, Edward could hear a comingling of noises—an orchestra of car horns, hawkers selling minerals, and the voice of a muezzin calling Muslims to the four-o’-clock prayer. ​​ 


Ever since Marvy had been admitted, Edward had no reason to call his stepson, not even on the night she had gasped for breath and was hooked up to oxygen. AY had been the one to call him, twice before he came over each day, to ask how his mother was faring. So Edward wasn’t surprised when his stepson said, in a sharp voice quivering with anxiety, “Mr. Abioye, is something wrong? Please don’t tell me it’s . . .”

“AY . . .” Edward’s voice tremored, his blood pulsing against his cheeks. “My wife is…” He choked on his words. “Your mother has passed away. I’m very sorry.” It was tough to pull those words through the tunnel of his throat.

“Oh my God. Oh my God!” AY cried above the noise, which seemed to have taken on a cruel decibel.

Edward couldn’t summon the words—the kind of balm he needed for his own wound—to console his stepson.

The note of the muezzin’s call dipped as though to allow AY’s wailing to be heard. He sniffed over the other line. “Where is she now?”

Edward bit his lower lip. He couldn’t bring himself to say that Marvy’s body had been deposited at the mortuary. They both fell into a miserable silence, more deafening to Edward than the cacophony in the street.

“I’ll call my father,” AY said. But the voice belonged to someone else. It was small and spread out slowly to fill the moment.

It was his issue to tell his father about his mother’s death. Edward wouldn’t ask for Sanya’s phone number or call him for any reason. They weren’t friends, not even now when Edward needed one. It appalled him that AY’s father hadn’t visited Marvy on her sickbed, not even once.

Edward got into the car, leaned back against the driver’s seat, and sucked in a horrified breath. He imagined AY sinking onto a bench, his head drooping like a wilted flower in the harmattan, processing the reality that he’d become motherless. For the first time, Edward conceded that he’d been jealous whenever AY had visited his mother at home. He’d been angry seeing his stepson leave the house with a check or a bundle of cash. There was no doubt that AY had flaunted the money to mock and tell him that he wasn’t capable of stopping him from obtaining from his mother. Once, his sex with Marvy after AY had visited had been rough and revengeful, and Marvy had slapped him and tried to push him away for hurting her.

The guilt of his anger and jealousy pushed on him. He released the wipers to clean off a gray film of dust that had blurred the windshield. He didn’t move. There was nowhere to go.

Marvy’s image, her eyes shut in death and her body on the gurney and covered with a white cloth, flashed before Edward. It came with a stab of pain that caused him to groan. He let his tears flow.


* * *


At 7:00 A.M. on the Friday of Marvy’s burial, Edward and his daughters, Damilola and Sade, together with AY, Shikemi and Mosun, got into the Sienna and drove to the mortuary. Edward wore a white caftan and matching trousers that had hung in his closet for the past year. AY was in a white Atiku fabric that had looked tailor-fit on previous occasions, but today the long-sleeved buba looked big on him and seemed to harbor a secret. Shikemi and Mosun wore matching newly sewn skirts and blouses of white lace, their faces coated with thick makeup that looked like cake frosting. It dazed Edward that while Marvy’s daughters had grieved to soreness and hiccupped profound sobs until their voices croaked, their minds could still process the idea of buying stylish new clothes. He sighed.

The morning had emerged with a trough of sunlight parting the sky. Later, the sun came out in bursts, emitting white-hot fire on Festac Town that would have made hell envious. Reaching the mortuary, they saw the idling hearse—a white Toyota Hiace with the red inscription “Adonai Services”—out front. The driver, a lean man with three vertical ethnic marks on each cheek, had boasted he would be there before seven. Mr. Sharp-Sharp granted the dead the honor of conveying them to their final home on time.

A few steps to the mortuary’s entrance, Shikemi and Mosun stopped dead in their tracks. Perhaps the bold placard above the doorpost—“WE WERE ONCE LIKE YOU. SOONER OR LATER, YOU WILL JOIN US”—stopped them. Three weeks had passed since Marvy’s death. In the first two days after her demise, grief was a viper biting Edward and spitting its venom into his soul. As more days passed, however, he got hold of the snake and defanged it. As he now entered the long room, with AY tagging behind, he felt the viper strike him again. Bodies were arrayed on a row of steel tables and even on the floor. The hair on the nape of his neck stood on end. Despite wearing a mask, he could still smell the embalming fluids that tainted the air. The reek grew sickening. But then, who could help feeling sick just being here? No one except the two attendants, who were used to the environment, their faces blank and flat like wooden sculptures.

As the attendants brought Marvy’s body to the dressing table, a shadow slipped over AY’s face. Something like a rush of water filled and inflated Edward’s head. He shut his eyes and swallowed hard. For the first time, he appreciated the luxury of grief he’d enjoyed when his first wife was buried. Gbemi’s family had arranged the removal of her remains from the mortuary to the cemetery. Marvy’s siblings, however, had shown indifference to the arrangements for her funeral. They’d accused Edward of marrying their sister for her money and milking her dry without considering their welfare. Therefore, he alone should bear the burden of her burial. AY carried a similar cynicism about Edward’s motives—the false notion that he was in control of his wife’s accounts.

Marvy had been a plump, curvy, light-skinned woman whose imposing statuesque presence made her the center of attention wherever she went. Even a sightless man would have sensed her basking in the stares she drew. But Edward’s throat clamped tight at the sight of her now, her shrunken body and darkened skin. It struck him that he hadn’t paid attention to Gbemi’s body in death, hadn’t noticed the deformation death might have done her. Perhaps, if he’d looked intently at her powdered face during the brief lying-in-state, he would have seen one or two distortions, but he hadn’t cared enough. A pang of guilt made him catch his breath.

Marvy, bedecked in a white, sequined dress, was carefully placed in a brown dome-shaped polished hardwood casket with gold stripe and pink velvet interior. Edward hadn’t thought twice about picking the dress as her final adornment. Among all her clothes, she’d adored it the most. She wore it to church—mostly on special Sundays—with her fair complexion glossed by her lavender body cream and set off by the fabric’s immaculate whiteness. Her spicy perfume, a beatific allure in itself, would enchant the bedroom.

On such Sundays, he could tell that she felt celestial, floating across the floor—making imperceptible the usual limp in her gait—as though God were about to take her, like Enoch, into heaven. Once, he’d wanted to tell her that she couldn’t ascend into the sky because the Bible didn’t record any woman who had. He held his tongue, however. The joke might sour her mood, which in turn could scar the house. As the church sang, worshippers dancing and waving their hands above their heads, she would fall to the glittering marble floor in ecstatic weeping and rolling. Her theatrics embarrassed Edward, but who was he to complain? When she got up, long after the worship had ended, her eyes red-rimmed, she’d grin at him, a mischievous smile that seemed to mock him for not experiencing God the way she just had. The perk of it all was that on those Sundays, he didn’t need to plead with her for sex—she’d offer it to him. And on those nights, he’d feel her girlishness, seeing her cry as she came—a sort of consolation and triumph for him.

Edward’s friends and other mourners had joined them for the procession to Badagry, the touristy coastal town where Marvy had been born and where the funeral would be held. Once the pallbearers dressed in aso oke had carried the casket into the hearse, Edward sat beside it as though he wanted to have a final conversation with Marvy. Green lacy curtains covered the windows that framed the whole length of the hearse. An air freshener hanging in a top corner bestowed the air with a floral scent. It reminded him of Obsession, the new perfume AY had spewed on Marvy’s body. He hadn’t let go of the opaque bottle afterward (even when the tallest of the attendants had reached for it), as though the body spray was his inheritance. He hadn’t been a perfume person, which made Edward wonder about his stepson’s sudden longing for Obsession.

The driver pulled away but halted before he reached the main gate, causing Edward to lurch forward a little. What could have made Mr. Sharp-Sharp stop? The door swung open, and AY climbed in. Sanya, reeking like schnapps, followed. Edward’s stomach clenched as he shifted uncomfortably in the seat. He hadn’t imagined Sanya would come to the mortuary, and none of his stepchildren had told him that their father would meet them here. Both father and son sat across from him, the casket lying between them. They shared bloodshot, hooded eyes—the father’s red from age-long boozing, the son’s from the grief he’d worn like agbada.

Sanya wore a colorful, floppy cap and a lavishly embroidered, sky-blue agbada that gave his wiry body an illusion of bigness. From the long chain on his neck dangled a fake diamond cross nestling on his chest. He crossed his legs and entwined his hands on his knees, revealing a silver bracelet on his right wrist and faded cocktail and skull rings on both middle fingers. How could he bejewel himself on a day like this? It seemed he’d come to do eye-service, saving himself from condemnations if he hadn’t appeared. After all, he hadn’t visited her at the hospital. He must have prevailed on his son to alight from the Sienna, where he’d rejoined his sisters, and come over to sit in the hearse.

Edward said, “Good morning,” and Sanya muttered the words back, as though to remind him that there was nothing good about the morning. It was the first time they’d all shared this proximity together. Edward would have done anything—gone without food for thirty days, traded his political science certificate from the University of Lagos—to avoid sharing space with these people, who were strangers but also familiar in such a burdensome way. Although he loathed Sanya now, he couldn’t order him to leave; he shouldn’t create a scene. But he could bang on the side of the hearse and make the driver stop to get out himself. When he gazed at the casket, Marvy seemed to say, “Would it be good of you to concede this last honor to my ex-husband?” in the clipped tone that always underlined her denouncing stare. ​​ 

As the hearse proceeded through the gate and into the road, Edward felt small and odd. AY was Marvy’s son. Sanya was his father. All of Marvy’s children were Sanya’s. It pained Edward that he didn’t have that kind of triangular connection with her. She hadn’t reached menopause when they’d met, but they’d decided it would be a marriage for companionship and not procreation. She’d raised the proposal and he’d concurred. Why wouldn’t he consent when he already had two daughters with Gbemi? Which woman in her late forties would want to be pregnant, anyway, unless she’d birthed no child at all? His only consolation now was that she’d borne his surname—Abioye—till death, which appeared in the press releases of her funeral, and should be enough to make Sanya mad.


Glorious Home Call

Marvy Pentho Abioye

April 11, 1965–January 14, 2022


The hearse halted. Edward lifted the curtain and peered out. A queue of cars from a gas station around Trade Fair had stretched into the road, which in turn pressed the vehicles into bumper-to-bumper intimacy. Fuel scarcity had struck the country again over the past week. People gathered around the fuel pumps, tearing into one another. A shirtless man clutching a machete hunted a limping man, who ran between the cars through the gridlock. A uniformed man poked a finger into the face of a towering woman. Once again, the country had turned its citizens against each other. At times like this, Marvy would never go to a gas station. It was Edward’s job to queue for fuel for Marvy’s two cars and the house generator. When he returned with the fuel, she would thank him in the matronly effusive voice a headmistress would use on a pupil who’d pleased her.

Mr. Sharp-Sharp switched on the ambulance’s klaxon, which howled like a coyote in a trap. A dissonance of car horns and chants that could rattle a baby in the womb rent the air, but the din wasn’t as disturbing as the menacing silence that hung between Edward and his unwanted companions. AY, who seemed fragile, nothing like the swaggering conceited young man Edward had known, sat slump-shouldered. In the days after his mother’s death, his words came out in a soft moan. It seemed he’d suffered mouth ulcers that made talking painful. When Edward had told him Marvy should be buried in her hometown, he’d simply stared ahead—perhaps at the image he’d created in front of him—and nodded in agreement.

The silence bloated like a balloon in Edward’s throat, which itched with the urge to prick it. AY gave a sharp sigh. His mouth moved; perhaps he wanted to utter something the ulcers prevented from flowing. He wiped his palms down his face. Sanya glanced at his son, then hung his head, tapping his feet on the floor. It was apparent something was on his mind; maybe something he wanted to confront Edward about. Was a showdown imminent—father and son versus him? What else could have made Sanya ride in the hearse with his son? ​​ 

“She shouldn’t have died,” AY said, finally, in the voice of someone rousing from sleep.

Edward felt a prickle of irritation in his gut. What nonsense was this boy spilling? Marvy hadn’t been given a choice between dying and living. If she had, would she have chosen the former? This boy had better defang his grief before it made him lose his bearings.

The hearse shuddered as if it were running out of gas, almost throwing them out of their seats. Edward had never seen or heard an ambulance break down on the road. He hadn’t for once seen any at a gas station, and he wondered, with a chuckle he didn’t mean to give, whether it was a taboo for an ambulance to drive into a gas station for a refill. The hearse picked up speed.

AY planted himself firmly on his seat again. “My mother wouldn’t have died if she hadn’t remarried.”

The words cracked the air. Edward looked from the casket to AY and then to Sanya, who pulled his lips into a sardonic, knowing grin. Edward clenched his teeth. How much had father and son discussed him? Had they seen him as their common enemy, who’d come to reap where he hadn’t sowed? What they didn’t know was that Marvy had wooed him. He’d been the dark-skinned, handsomely built man with neatly trimmed beard the street loved, the man they called “The Prof.” He’d swaggered about, the scent of his jasmine cologne mixing with the pomposity of one whose opinions on politics and global affairs others treated as sacred. Despite being a widower and a single father of two girls who wasn’t gainfully employed, who made ends meet betting on sports, women still flocked toward him. He didn’t have to spend a dime on them, and he’d dated more than a few before Marvy approached him.

Her supermarket, Marvy’s Place, had moved to his neighborhood around August, occupying the first and second floor of a three-story building. He’d patronized the store week in, week out with Damilola and Sade in tow. Marvy had been generous, giving them additional items as gifts: a packet of chocolate, a bowl of ice cream, a bottle of wine. Then, in December, she handed his daughters red chiffon frocks and matching pumps as Christmas gifts, which turned Edward’s tongue into an unmovable boulder. He hadn’t recovered from the shock when she shepherded him to her second-floor office adorned with a rainbow of ribbons and garlands and ablaze with candle tree lights. She may not have had a senior secondary school education, but the artworks in the cool, air-conditioned office—chrome-framed drawings on the walls, rose-painted antique vases, and Lucite sculptures on the mahogany shelf—exuded a cosmopolitan air. He’d wondered how she’d had an eye for such exquisite pieces. He later learned she’d been to Dubai and Milan several times to order goods for import.

She sat at her glass-topped desk while he sat across from her. “I understand how difficult it must have been for you to raise your daughters alone.” He confessed it hadn’t been easy since his wife had died four years before, then thanked her for her thoughtfulness. She held his gaze with softness in her brown eyes. His girls needed a mother figure in their lives, she added, especially when they were on the verge of puberty. Could he teach them about cramps and menses?

A smile threaded her plump lips. “I could be a mother to your lovely girls. I’m capable of being the mother they’ve been secretly hoping for,” she said in a measured, self-assured voice that made Edward’s cheeks radiate heat. “My daughters were once like them. I successfully navigated my daughters through their teenage years. I could do the same with Damilola and Sade.” A tone of ownership underscored her mention of their names. She’d been observing him for some time, she told him, and her heart had expanded to love him and his girls. Since she was single and he was too, they could all be a family. He dropped his gaze to the tiled floor, her words unfolding inside him.

“Maybe if the first man she married hadn’t abused her,” Edward said now, “she wouldn’t have been Marvy Abioye.”

Sanya’s blackened, chapped lips lost their smug smile. “Do you have to drag me into it?” His voice had a nasal cast his son shared. He jerked a thumb toward AY. “Why don’t you face him?”

“Tell me how I’ve dragged you into it? Have I mentioned anyone’s name?”

“Isn’t your meaning clear enough?”

Edward’s jaw tightened. He would dish out subtle affront for subtle affront with equal animosity as far as Sanya and his son could go. It pleased him to see his reply had jabbed AY back into silence—a poked centipede provoked into curling into itself. The traffic had loosened up, and now the hearse cruised down the fresh asphalt of the Badagry Expressway, its siren still blaring.

AY’s look grew remote, as if he was recalling something hurtful. “Edward isn’t wrong.” He eyed his father with misgivings. “I grew up watching you make her a punching bag, seeing her nose broken and lips bruised and face swollen. When I heard her cries, even as a six-year-old boy, I shivered, wondering what she’d done to deserve the beatings.”

Sanya’s brows dipped low. Hadn’t the boy confronted his father about the violence before now? Edward considered telling him that it was too late to raise the issue, but then, Marvy’s blood might as well still be crusted under Sanya’s fingernails for the damage he’d done. Those yesteryears felt like yesterdays. She’d been eighteen, about to finish her hairdressing apprenticeship, when she met Sanya, who was nine years her senior. He would start and end his day binging on gin; he would beat her and yell at her over trivial issues. But she’d ignored his bad behavior—she’d told Edward when he’d visited her house the first time, her hands clasped on her dining table—because he gave her money every day for food. The sixth time he’d pummeled her—complaining she’d added too much salt to his stew—she left his house. When he showed up at her guardian’s house two weeks later to seek forgiveness—terming his action as devil’s orchestration, which he’d overcome—she’d found that she’d conceived. The pregnancy cemented her marriage to him. Two months after she’d given birth to AY, the abuse resumed. The year Mosun turned five, Sanya broke Marvy’s femur. She had her leg wrapped in a cast and hung on a bed at an orthopedic clinic. By the time she left the hospital, she’d had enough of him and had to leave to live.

Marvy’s voice had carried rough edges, which bespoke unvarnished horrors as she narrated her ordeals. Edward had imagined the pain of the brutality still coagulated deep in her soul. He’d felt pity for her more than he’d ever felt for anyone else. It was at that point—when he was too emotional to eat the rice and spinach fish stew she’d served him—that he tucked his chair in deeper against the lip of the table. He reached for her hands, and she stroked his fingers. The furrows on her brow disappeared, and a smile brightened her face. She touched his hand to her cheek. His daughters had already fallen in love with Marvy. When he told them she’d proposed to be their new mom, they leaped from their seats and danced round the house. ​​ 

“I don’t think you ever apologized to her,” AY grumbled. “Not even once.”

“I wasn’t as bad as you painted me.” Sanya leaned his head against the window. “Your mother was problematic as well.”

Edward shot him a piercing look. What nonsense was he spewing?

“You say that because she’s no more alive,” AY barked, finally overcoming his ulcers. Sanya quivered. “Because she can no longer defend herself. Look at her”—he gestured toward the casket—“she isn’t useful for us anymore. Do you know what she meant to me, to—?”

“Your mother,” Sanya said.

“To Shikemi and Mosun?” AY scowled. “To her grandchildren? She meant much more to me than you’ve ever been.”

AY couldn’t have exalted Marvy more. Since his deportation from abroad four years before—after ten years of crossing from one border to another with nothing to show for his sojourn—Marvy had found herself paying his rent and supporting his family. It had sickened Edward to overhear Marvy on the phone condemning AY for being a spendthrift. Once, she’d berated him for wasting three hundred thousand naira. Another time, it had been five hundred thousand. She hadn’t told Edward she’d given her son such substantial amounts, which left a knot in his throat. But the little tumor had grown malignant the night he’d eavesdropped on a mother-son discussion and heard AY whine he suspected Edward had hardened Marvy’s heart against him.

“I don’t want to be a man who beats his wife,” AY said to his father. “I can’t be you.”

Sanya’s head flopped as if he were slumbering. When the mortuary attendants had washed Marvy’s body, an amoeba-like scar on her shoulder blade from Sanya’s beating had stared back at Edward. The image assailed him right now. Perhaps he would grab Sanya’s chain and twist it around his neck. But then he considered the animal not worthy of his attack.

“I can’t be you,” AY repeated.

Sanya jerked up his head. “Would you stop insulting me? You can’t be me, fine. But what have you made out of your life? You were a fugitive in Europe for ten years.” He held out ten fingers at his son. “You came back home empty-handed. You took a wife you couldn’t care for, had a child you couldn’t afford to buy Pampers for. You depended on Marvy for everything—”

“She was my mother,” AY said. “My pillar of support.”

“That’s why you crumbled the pillar with your financial recklessness like an accursed child. Or do you think no one was aware of how you wasted the hundreds of thousands of naira she gave you on many occasions?” Sanya glanced at Edward as though wanting him to validate his claims. Edward averted his gaze.

“When I was your age, I wasn’t living off my mother,” Sanya continued.

AY’s mouth curled into a sneer. “But you could shamelessly return to my mother who you traumatized to solicit for money.”

“We still had a connection,” Sanya said. “I’m the father of the three children she birthed in this world—something no one can take away. I commend myself for the feat.” He darted a mischievous grin at Edward. “Is anything wrong with seeking help from the mother of my children?”

Edward’s stomach hardened as though it were lined with concrete. He wanted to hit this foul he-goat for mocking his childless marriage to Marvy. For bragging as if nothing trumped the fathering of her children. He unclenched his fist. A thought sneaked up on him, as if to compound Sanya’s scorn: When Marvy was lowered into her grave, the children Sanya had boasted of as his achievements would perform the dust-to-dust rite before him. The thought seared Edward’s chest, and he cursed whoever had decreed the tradition.

“Nothing was wrong until you defaulted in paying back the loans.” AY’s voice had risen. “Until you told her lies to avoid repayment.”

Sanya pulled off his agbada and unfastened the buttons of his sweat-darkened buba.

“Because she refused to loan you another three hundred thousand naira before she fell sick,” AY continued, “you didn’t visit her at the hospital.”

Sanya wiped his brow with the agbada. “You think that was the reason I didn’t come to the hospital?”

“I don’t have ears to listen to your excuses.”

“I did call her then, didn’t I?” Sanya said.

AY hissed, flapping his hand at his father. Sanya’s eyes sank deep into his face. He opened his mouth, closed it, and hung his head. Sanya’s humiliation spurred a warm glow in Edward’s heart, and he felt briefly triumphant. But then it hurt to realize that he’d been more on the periphery of Marvy’s life than he’d known. She’d given Sanya several loans he wasn’t aware of, whereas her son was. She’d compartmentalized the triangular connection and locked it with a key she’d given him no chance to access. What else had she done that he didn’t know about? How many loans to how many people now rendered irredeemable? A spigot of rage opened inside him. The anger frothed from his stomach, worked a path through his gut and up to his chest.  ​​​​ 

“You didn’t have any excuse,” Edward said in a condescending tone meant to bite Sanya. “It’s a shame you didn’t visit her even once. If you didn’t consider any other thing, you should’ve at least considered the kindness she’d shown you—the loans she gave you which you aren’t going to repay.”

“How dare you insult me, fraudulent husband?” Sanya snapped. His eyes narrowed to slits. “He who judges others must be clean. Are you clean? Do you think no one knows of your house at Isashi?”

The words came like fiery darts, piercing Edward and disorientating him. AY turned a stunned face at him. Edward felt weightless and disembodied, as though he were hovering in the air, watching Sanya uncovering the secret of some other person.

“Do you think no one knows that you robbed Marvy to build it? You must be delusional to think Marvy didn’t know of the shady deals you carried out as the manager of her stores.”

Sanya stared hard at him, daring him to counter the revelation. But Edward had no shield to defend himself against the darts. His face burned. The damp patches under his armpits grew larger, and his undershirt was sticky with sweat. He might as well have been in a furnace. He pulled off his buba and folded it on his lap. Sanya cackled, the shoulder-shaking but dry laugh of someone who’d outwitted his enemy. Edward’s tongue grew arid.

How had Marvy found out about the two-story house? Edward had been the manager of Marvy’s Place and its two branches. His monthly salary was a little over what he would have earned in another store. He hadn’t intended to skim from her until the second time he’d overheard Marvy rebuke AY for wasting the five hundred thousand naira she’d given him. It galled him to work for Marvy, while her useless son strutted in every month to collect sums of money four times what he was paid. Besides, she’d never granted any of his own requests for money.

“What do you want to do with it?” she’d ask. “I take care of the expenses incurred by your daughters. Have I ever bothered you to foot any bills in this house? Why do you lack contentment?” Those words, spoken in a quiet but arrogant tone, stung him.  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ 

He’d connived with suppliers to overbill the stores. Then he and the vendors split the difference between the inflated price and the actual price seventy-thirty. He’d run this arrangement for two years before the construction of the Isashi two-story building commenced. As the carpenters roofed the house, he assured himself that he wasn’t a crook or an unfaithful manager and husband. The house was also Marvy’s. When construction was finished, he would tell her one night, perhaps on the eve of her birthday, that he had a surprise for her. Then he’d drive her to the house. He’d have added her to the title—sworn to a court affidavit—to make the documents bear her name. Mr. and Mrs. Edward and Marvy Abioye. He’d received the first rents, yet he hadn’t told her anything before she fell sick and died.

The ensuing guilt had been a flame blistering his heart. How could he quench the fire and be at peace with himself? As reparation, he’d bought her the imported gold-striped casket—so expensive at five hundred thousand naira—that had drawn stares as the pallbearers carried Marvy’s body to the hearse. He’d arranged that the inside of her grave be tiled and the outside be built of the finest of marbles. She’d be happy to have a final home as elegant and prominent as her physique.

But here he was feeling the peace stagger and fall—the peace he thought he’d restored buying the imported casket and arranging the marble-finished grave which anticipated elegance he now saw as vain—and he was helpless to yank it up. He queried the righteousness of his grief. If grief were a burnt offering, would his and that of these two men be acceptable when they’d drained Marvy before she died? They all sunk into a separate silence that had humiliation as the common denominator. Hadn’t they successfully ripped off the shrouds of each other’s swaddled scams and lies?

A hard clot grew inside Edward. Had any of his collaborator vendors gone to Marvy and snitched on him? Perhaps Gbenguse, whom he’d denied a five-percent increase. He would deal with the bespectacled idiot when the funeral was over. The hearse had driven past Agbara, Ilogbo and Comforter, and was cruising on Mowo Road. The trip was faster than he’d expected. Within the next fifteen minutes, they would be in Marvy’s family home. The blaring klaxon must have freed the road for Mr. Sharp-Sharp, who sped past a couple of vehicles.

Tears streamed from AY’s eyes. Sanya fiddled with his ring, sliding it up and down his knuckle. It could have been Edward too, twisting his own ring to distract himself. But his ring had faded eight months after his wedding, just like Marvy’s, and he’d thrown it away. Marvy had accused the jewelry merchant who’d sold them the rings of scamming them. Later, she’d bought a new one, which she’d used till she died.

It unnerved him to realize now that Marvy had changed to a different woman after his ring had lost its luster. When they’d been newly married, he’d felt sheltered in the suite of her affection and joys. She’d carried him along in all her endeavors. Then she began to treat him like a character with a cameo in her life—someone whose opinions didn’t matter. She stopped him from holding her hand in public as though they’d become Hasidic. When he voiced out his concern, she said, with a glimpse of exasperation in her eyes, that it was his imagination, that he was wrong.

She’d been a wonderful stepmother to his daughters, pampering them the way Gbemi mightn’t have, going into their bedroom every night for what she’d called “girls-only talk.” When he’d eavesdropped on them and heard Marvy tell the girls not to allow any man to abuse them, he’d felt she was seeking revenge on him for the trauma of her days with Sanya. In his first marriage, he’d been the alpha and omega of the home. Gbemi had deferred to him and apologized profusely even when he’d been at fault. In his second marriage, however, he’d succumbed to Marvy’s wills. The voice she’d lost in her first marriage, she’d regained in her second, which turned out to be the wrinkle in the fabric of their home. She’d had the iron to smoothen it. But she hadn’t—for her ego.

A riotous blend of emotions convulsed through Edward: the guilt of his fraud, the anger of losing his manly voice, and the embarrassment of being a doormat in Marvy’s house. The weight of it all pressed down on him. He cast misted eyes on the casket.

“Mommy Marvy, I’m sorry,” he said under breath, calling her the way church members had addressed her, as if that would be enough as propitiation for her.

The casket blurred. Not wanting the men to see his tears, he peered out the window.


* * *


The hearse glided down the Marina Road and past the old Akran Palace. It slowed to a stop in front of a cherubim and seraphim church, and mourners—mostly women—crowded round it and picked up wailing from where the klaxon had stopped. A symphony of drums and trumpets hectored the air. The trumpeters announced, “Mama has gone to her heavenly home.” A funeral wasn’t complete without their performance; they must play to let the world know that a wonderful mother or father had gone to meet their Creator.

Edward slipped into his buba. As he rose, a spike of pain shot through his back. His breath tightened in his throat, and he flopped back down on his seat.

Sanya leaned toward him. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ll be fine.” The last thing he wanted was help from these men.

AY and Sanya climbed out. The pallbearers climbed in and carried the casket out. The drumming and trumpeting grew louder. Edward stood again, pushing his palm against his back. At the door, Sanya held out his hand as though he knew Edward’s legs couldn’t bear his weight. Edward hesitated. But when another arrow of pain hit him, he accepted Sanya’s hand. Climbing down, he rested his weight on Sanya, who guided him to a chair under a fruitless mango tree luxuriant with green leaves. Damilola approached them, her features creased. Edward waved off his daughter. He would be fine.

The houses on the street overlooked the lagoon. Speedboats rumbled as they arrived and left the jetty. Marvy had been popular on the beach, selling pap and stew to picnickers before she’d moved to Lagos at fifteen to learn hairdressing. The pallbearers bore the casket on their shoulders as they danced toward Marvy’s family home, the mourners following. Sanya left to join the horde. Canopies and white chairs had been set out on the sandy yard of the house, where a short funeral service would be held.

Two days before, Edward had met with Reverend Kojah again to finalize preparations. Marvy would be laid to rest at Badagry cemetery—a stretch of earth with crusted hardpan, surrounded by a low fence with an iron gate dotted with rust. When he’d inspected Marvy’s vault, he was stunned to find that it didn’t look even six feet deep. “That’s the depth of graves these days,” said the chief workman, who’d been coordinating two other laborers to tile the inside of the grave. The concrete tombs that had sunk into the earth and broken headstones screamed of neglect from the deceased’s families. Edward’s throat clogged. He wasn’t different from any of the deceased’s families. He hadn’t visited Gbemi’s grave since she was buried. Might it not have sunk into the earth, too?

He closed his eyes now, trying to visualize his first wife’s grave, and was shamed to realize he couldn’t picture the spot where she’d been buried. The sap of guilt soured his tongue. His lips trembled as he saw two caskets side by side, Gbemi’s white and Marvy’s brown. His tear-filled eyes snapped open at the sound of feet shuffling toward him. Damilola had brought him a bottle of water. He drank it and washed his face, then thanked his daughter. ​​ 

“The reverends were asking for you,” she said.

“You may go.” He tightened his grasp on the empty bottle as though he wanted to crush it. “I’ll join them shortly.”

She strode back to the house. He couldn’t help marveling at how many of Marvy’s mannerisms his daughter had adopted—the modulation of her voice, the shrapnel gesture of her hands as she spoke, the way she unloaded complaints as if unpacking a suitcase, the unflinching stare she gave, the arching of her eyebrows. Wasn’t it surreal that a woman could reincarnate even when she hadn’t died? ​​ 

A voice boomed “Shout hallelujah” on the speakers. The wind blew at him, carrying the smell of wet leaves that reminded him of Marvy’s marinated African spinach that she’d made a delicious fish stew he wouldn’t have again. He went to meet her for the last time. ■


About the author

Olusola Akinwale grew up in Ibadan, Nigeria. His works have appeared in the Hamilton Stone Review, Silk Road Review, Prole, Western Post, the Monarch Review, the Cardiff Review and elsewhere. He was a winner of two national essay contests in Nigeria and a finalist for the 2017 Galtellì Literary Prize in Sardinia, Italy. An alumnus of the Fidelity Bank Creative Writing workshop, he can be tracked on

Posted in Short stories | 1 Comment

The Immigrant Catfish – Introduction video

Posted in Videos | Leave a comment

Zamo Gina – The House of the Land




Of all my many, many treacherous voyages and journeys across ravenous seas and dark oceans, seldom have I come across a destination as broken and dilapidated as this.

It was hardly a year ago when I received the kindest of invitations from Mr. Boyle to attend a gathering taking place at this house. I had paid the land a visit once or twice prior to that, each time on Mr. Boyle’s behest. On what would be my fourth visit, however, Mr. Boyle had not reached out to me. In fact, the retired statesman and myself hadn’t spoken for the better part of three months – a fact that had me perturbed. No, this time I felt a strange sensation gravitate me towards it. Indeed, it was an unexplainable force of power, strength, and sheer will that compelled me to visit The House of the Land once again.

When I arrived there, a rather peculiar-looking fellow – Heinz Van Muller, as was etched into the name tag he wore upon his left breast – greeted me at the front gates, mere moments after I stepped out from my horse-drawn carriage. He stood by the gates, as if longing for my return.

Taking off his top hat in a sign of respect, Heinz looped one arm around one of my own, before ushering me through the large steel gates that swung gently to the left and to the right. The pair of us walked together upon the tarred stretch leading to the mansion of a house – crushing any loose rubble beneath the weight of our bodies. Heinz, in his remarkably feminine voice, informed me of the many joys I was bound to find during my stay here. He bragged about the flowing streams that ran not far from where we currently treaded, as well as the brightly lit sun that never failed to shine its glory down upon the land. He spoke to me as if I were a stranger here; which, to him, I was.

The House of The Land was a great, majestic house to say the least. Built by hard-working, determined, and talented hands over centuries, the house stood proudly in glorious grandeur. Outward, it’s appearance stood tall in the face of many who tried to find fault in it during last year’s daytime gala. Oh, I still remember Pascal pointing out the roof’s slope, claiming its angle wasn’t steep enough to let rain flow over; only for Mr. Boyle to quote, verbatim, the calculations he had done to the contrary. Doctor Lycoudi, the esteemed botanist, remarked that the vines growing at the base of the house would uproot the structure, and so Mr. Boyle lifted the vines to show they grew upon a bed of impenetrable concrete. I shall forever recall Mr. Boyle’s words: “Even if one were to spend a decade analysing The House of the Land from head-to-toe, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a single imperfection.”

Soon, Heinz and I scaled the short flight of marble stairs that led us to a pair of strong wooden doors that guarded the house. With his white-gloved-hands, he pushed open the doors, allowing us in. Quicker than lightning, I was hit with a truly unforgettable odour – one which haunts me even to this day. The smell of burning gasoline mixed with charred bone marrow, with a hint of freshly mined sulphur, threatened to exhume any and all meals I had previously eaten since my inception into this world. For the sake of my host’s dignity, however, I compressed all feelings of nausea deep down back into my soul.

Heinz, undeterred by the smell, continued onwards, dragging me with him towards a set a finely vanished stairs. These stairs were one of two stairways that curved with the bulging walls on either side of the room, converging to form a large balcony a good three metres above ground-level. We trotted between the two stairways, avoiding what would otherwise have been a climb that, for someone of my health, would’ve been akin to scaling Mount Everest.

As we walked along, I distinctly remember inquiring about the house’s owner, Mr. Boyle, expressing to Heinz my deep worry. Heinz immediately stopped and stared. His entrancing gaze pierced the very nature of my being, forcing me to stare deep into his moss-green eyes. The pair of us stood in an emotionless state, neither one of us capable of speaking. Finally, he spoke a few words: “Shall we continue?” His smile was eerie and unwarranted. Wishing to remove myself from this perverse entanglement, I obliged, and our proceeding path led us to a narrow corridor, capable only of fitting us both.

Through this corridor we went, passing many open-doored rooms that stood equidistant on either side of the corridor, regular intervals apart as we walked. On each door head was a name. Heinz was proud to explain each room and share its history, which was evidently important to him. With each passing room on either side, he told about the great it had done, and how proud he was of the accomplishments that have only been made in that specific room. Each piece of history he explained was old news to me however. The greatness of Pascal and his discovery of the relationship between the force applied to a surface and it’s cross-sectional area was a season I shall forever remember. The tireless efforts of Gay-Lussac led us to the Ideal Gas equation we use today, one I was very proud to aide in. The door head with Doctor Lycoudi ingrained on it reminded me of the joint discovery into the relationship between plants and fungi she and Mr. Boyle made.

I had to personally correct Heinz when he claimed Doctor Lycoudi did this in the absence of Mr. Boyle. In total, we passed six rooms before arriving to a pair that were both closed shut, and whose door heads, I remember, had been scratched out. Notably still, the stench that had threatened to terminate my subscription to this world grew ever stronger. When I enquired on the two rooms however, Heinz replied with a response so defensive it boarded on the edge of ludicrous: “We don’t talk about that.” Sensing the hostile rattle in his suddenly deepened voice, I chose to leave the matter at that, and allow Heinz to proceed with the tour as he saw fit.

At the corridor’s end was a truly magnificent balcony, one whose beauty I pay homage to today. Together we stood. With our arms uncoiled, we rested them on the top of the thin mahogany beams that ran around in a semicircle, supported by many more beams cut from the Swietenia mahagani tree.

As my eyes scoured the vast expanse of the plains that stretched for kilometres ahead, my mind was at ease and my heart at peace, as my mind conjured memories of standing there alongside Mr. Boyle and the others just one year prior. The air here was much cleaner, which was a great refresher, and allowed me to submit to The House of the Land’s majesty. Heinz, ever the enthusiast, unwittingly interrupted my séance and directed my attention to a site some five hundred metres in front of us. It was a large body of water which Heinz claimed quenches the thirst of exotic birds, wildebeest, gazelles, elephants, hydrophytes, and even some humans. Upon questioning him on the black hue the water had, Heinz rebutted, accusing my eyes of playing tricks on me. However, for the life of me, I cannot recall the water ever looking quite so ominous.

Succeeding the sightseeing was a walk with Heinz back downstairs, this time to enjoy a warm, home-cooked meal he had the help – which was neither seen nor heard – prepare for the pair of us. I graciously accepted his offer when he gestured to me to have a seat on one of the rickety, old wooden chairs, sitting across from his equally tethered seating. Ignoring this – and the torn tablecloth – I smiled at the sight of the meal being brought before me. Such feelings were quickly displaced by their antonyms. While I could bypass the grime of the table, I could not get past the roughness of the ceramic plate and rusting silverware. Nor could I accept in my own mind the grit of the food presented to me, which has left granules of the undesirable lodged between my molars to this very day. Despite my discontent, I continued as if all was well, and welcomed an unexpected side effect of this meal… the smell filled my nostrils no more. ​​ 

After what one can hardly describe as a pleasant stay, Heinz escorted me towards the large wooden doors, and opened them, taking a step to the clean outdoors. Before exiting, I looked to the top of the two doors, where I expected to find a square-framed portrait of Mr. Boyle, Gay-Lussac, Pascal, Doctor Lycoudi and myself. While my weary eyes saw the same portrait, it was not the same as it used to be. Each of the aforementioned persons had their faces scratched out like, presumably by an enraged child. All except my own.

Out through the large doors I went to join Heinz, landing us back onto the rubble of the tar-way. We walked towards the gates, where my horse-drawn carriage remained, unharmed and untampered. Heinz listed the many wonders he would show me if ever I were to return to The House of The Land, including walking on the plains, and possibly visiting the upper level of the building. Before I entered my carriage, he leaned over, and asked for my name. “Rose,” I replied, “Gerald Rose.”


After having absconded from that area for several months now, I do wonder just what Heinz did with that information, or what he still plans to do with it.

Therefore, I am left with a terrible unease as I write what vivid details I can scrape together in the form of written dialect. Pinpointing just what about my visit there has me this unnerved is a task beyond my aging abilities. Perhaps it was the black water. Perhaps it was the bizarre china. Perhaps it was the closed rooms. Perhaps it was Heinz Van Muller himself. Perhaps I will have to pay The House of the Land another visit if I am to find out. Perhaps, instead, I should make contact with Gay-Lussac, whom I have not heard from since the gathering.





On my latest visit to The House of the Land, I recall Gustav, the coachman, telling me: “Should you receive an offer of dessert, it will be the time to leave.” I did not reply, but sat there on the backseat chewing on what he had just said. “I'm not supposed to warn you,” the man added, “but my conscience demands I do so.”

I thought the coachman was merely trying to insulate himself against having to wait for me too long. I had hired him for the day, and maybe he was looking forward to go home to his wife and children. Today, I dearly wish I could speak with him again. I'd be willing to pay a pretty penny for his insights.

The village is dull and quiet. I am glad to be sitting at the tavern in the company of two respected men. Both, it is my understanding, have been regular visitors for some years. Father Wright came to pray with Mr. Boyle from time to time, more frequently when the statesman found himself in doubt over some international crisis. Doctor Lucas has confirmed that he did what he could to dull Mr. Boyle's horrific pain from lung cancer. He was unsuccessful in his attempts to persuade Mr. Boyle to seek proper care in a hospital or – at the very end – in a hospice.

“Dr. Lucas, what is your impression of Mr. Heinz?” I ask.

“Strange fellow, actually,” the youthful doctor replies. “In some ways, he has what I would call a typical north-European temperament.”

I ask him to explain, and so he does.

“Reserved at first, but once you get him going, he becomes like an open book and doesn't know when to stop. He brags about his accomplishments, shifts to moaning.”

“Funny you should mention it,” Father Wright injects. “I've never talked with the fellow, but Mr. Boyle did say that his new manager tended to swing between highs and lows within minutes of each other.”

“I see. Dr. Lucas, would you mind saying what he complained about in your presence?”

“Not at all. Imagine him going in his high-pitched voice. Heinz complained that he didn't get many visitors to The House of the Land and, considering he had only worked there for four months, he hadn’t seen many at all. However, he did recall receiving a visitor a few months earlier who reminded him of one of Mr. Boyle’s former associates. The visitor's frame was taller than his own, but not of giant proportions. His shoulders were broad but not excessively so. The visitor spoke slowly, almost melodically. Based off of pictures Heinz had seen, he would swear the two men were identical.”

Without thinking, I knock on the table twice, unable to articulate what I want to ask. My sense of discomfort is growing. The two men look at me with surprise, but I wave dismissively.

“This next part I recall almost word by word,” the doctor continues. “He told me as follows: Just as they were approaching his carriage, Heinz asked the visitor his name. Why, he had to of course! The answer the visitor gave, well it wasn’t at all what Heinz was thinking: 'Rose. Gerald Rose,' ​​ the gentleman said. Gerald Rose? Really? Heinz remembered asking himself as soon as the carriage rode away. Certainly that couldn’t be the case…”

Heinz immediately went back into the mansion. Heading up the grand stairs of The House of the Land – or as he likes to call it, The Boyle Mansion – he landed himself on the balcony that overlook the entrance.

Heinz somewhat arrogantly said that the balcony isn’t nearly as impressive as people make it out to be. He still remembered the first guest he hosted, Mr. Gay-Lussac, who bragged to Mr. Boyle about how incredible the whole layout was. He complimented everything from the vanished wooden railings to the grand chandelier that hung from the ceiling. He even bent down to smell the carpet, which he exclaimed smelled 'Most exquisite!'

“Heinz had been told Mr. Gay-Lussac is always this eccentric and excitable.”

“Is or was,” I say. “Has anybody seen him alive recently? He has not responded to any of my letters or telegrams.”

“I have no idea,” the doctor says. “I guess that is one of the reasons we are here.”

I nod.

“Me neither,” the priest says.

Along the balcony Mr. Heinz had gone until he reached its east end. In that place, there was a landscape group photograph of Mr. Boyle and his associates. Mr. Boyle always had Heinz lay it out there and clean its frame every so often.

“The photograph was of the faceless bodies of Mr. Boyle, Mr. Gay-Lussac, Mr. Pascal and Miss Lycoudi,” Dr. Lucas adds. “The only body whose face was still present was that of the supposed Gerald Rose he had just seen. Naturally, he grew more suspicious and more weary of this man. He returned the photograph with great care, and retreated to the center of the balcony, where he stood and stared straight ahead. There, right in front of him, was a portrait similar to the photograph he had picked up just moments prior. Just like before, it was only the face of this Gerald Rose that remained untampered with.”

I am having goose bumps right now. I do not like where this seems to be going.

“Please, Dr. Lucas, if at all possible, can you tell me what he told you next?”

“He said that if this man was not whom he claimed to be, he may have missed his biggest opportunity for vengeance yet.”

“Let me grant him another,” I say.

My companions look at me intently.

“Mr. Hyde, are you certain?”

“As certain as I will ever be. He must be as afraid of me as I am of him, if not more.”


The ride back to the House of the Land serves as a reminder of its desolate location. Gustav brings the three of us across narrow roads with few signs of civilization apart from some railroad tracks and a few shattered farmhouses. The property is self-sustainable with its large, fertile lands and diverse animal life, and no person of authority has any interest in going out there. Mr. Boyle was famous for his open-door mentality, and Mr. Heinz appears to follow in his footsteps.

“Gustav, I've been meaning to ask you something. I took your advice, didn't stay for dessert, but why did you feel the need to warn me against doing so?”

“The others overstayed their welcome,” he replies. “I saw Mr. Heinz walk them down to the pond somewhere between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. None of them ever came back.”

“Who were they, Gustav?”

“Two men and one woman.”

“I believe I know who they were,” I reply.


Finally, it is reckoning time. Heinz will greet me with a handshake and fake smile, which will stiffen when he sees my two companions. While he and I have a chat, Dr. Lucas and Father Wright will attend to the kitchen help, servants, and any children there may be on property. I have described my last visit in some detail, and the two men appear to be preparing themselves for the worst.

“I have elected to speak with you under four eyes out of respect, Mr. Heinz. Your secrets are safe with me, I can assure you. But I need you to be truthful with me, because I have this power to make life miserable for you. If you hurt me in any way, your days on this property will be numbered. I've made the arrangements to see to that.”

“Well, sir, I was about to say: Please have a seat!”

“I'd rather stand if you don't mind. Moreover, I'd rather not come ​​ inside with you.”

“We'll make it brief. What do you wish to speak with me about?”

“Please continue where you left off with Dr. Lucas about your reaction to my previous visit.”

“Where was I?”

“You had found some photos that included me. The other faces had been cut out.”

He grins. “Right! With haste, I made my way down the winding staircase, and onto the entrance again. I paced to the passageway that Mr. Boyle revered so much. Oh, how I miss him so. He gave me more than a job… he gave me a livelihood. He gave me… a purpose. After the lung cancer got to him, I gave him a proper burial, I did. I even buried his body in the pond out on the range, just as he requested; and I did so without anyone’s help. Digging a grave out of the bed of a pond is a laborious task I hope never to repeat for as long as I live.”

He is being truthful so far. “Please go on.”

“Certainly. I sent out letters to each of Mr. Boyle’s associates, notifying them of his passing. Yet, not one of them turned up on the day of the funeral, and none of them wrote back.”

“That is a lie! I never received anything.”

“Yours may have gotten lost in the mail. Anyway, standing by Mr. Gay-Lussac’s door, I was reminded how fondly Mr. Boyle would speak of him. He considered him his protégé, his student, the man who was to continue his work after he died. He paid for Gay-Lussac’s tuition, and funded his studies afterwards, yet the young man couldn’t be bothered to pay tribute to Mr. Boyle.”

“So you killed him?”

“We'll get to that in a moment. Mr. Pascal was Mr. Boyle’s senior, and often tutored him on most things science. Mr. Boyle spoke of how patient Pascal would be with him, never once getting mad or upset when he would make mistakes. He would often remark how if Mr. Pascal were a general, everyone would sign up because he would be the nicest general there ever was. Yet, even he was too proud to attend the wake of our beloved Mr. Boyle.”

“So you killed him as well?”

“Like I said, in a moment. Miss Lycoudi, the botanist, was the most disappointing in my eyes, for she was Mr. Boyle’s one and only love interest.”

“You were in love with Mr. Boyle?”

He blushes, looks down, then pulls himself together and sends me a bright boyish smile.

“He loved Miss Lycoudi so much. Not a day would go by without him commenting on one of her many wonderful features. 'Oh, she’s so gorgeous, Heinz. She has the finest taste in fashion.' 'Oh Heinz, she wrote to me again, I cannot wait to read her letters!' 'Oh Heinz, her penmanship writes sonnets better than those of Francesco Petraca.' Goodness, how he loved her. Despite all that, despite all their alleged correspondence, even she shied away from the funeral. Outrageous, I say!”

“So you killed her?”

“We'll discuss that in a moment.”

“Maybe something about you made them reluctant to come here. Ever thought about that possibility?”

“It has crossed my mind,” he admits. “Although I cannot imagine what it might be.”

“And the fourth associate?”

“Indeed. Then there was Mr. Hyde. Yes, yes… Mr. Hyde! Not Gerald Rose, but Mr. Hyde! Mr. Boyle’s closest associate and most trusted confidante. Had he not professed his love for Miss Lycoudi, I would’ve thought he fancied Mr. Hyde. He spoke of Mr. Hyde with such reverence, you would think he practically worshipped the man. He said it was Mr. Hyde who encouraged him to build The House of the Land, upon which the pair of them could form a team of scientists who would revolutionize the planet. It was Mr. Hyde who initially financed construction of The House of the Land. It was Mr. Hyde for whom Mr. Boyle cried out in his last moments. It was Mr. Hyde who did not show up at the funeral.”

“As I stand before you, I'm telling you I never received any invitation. The three others presumably didn't either. Why? Because there was no funeral! No body to be buried! You had seen to that, hadn't you?

Heinz shakes his head slowly. “No funeral, I regret to say. Mr. Boyle wanted it that way. He wanted simply to vanish without a trace, the wonderful unpretentious man.”

“My three colleagues came together to see you. I'm sure they wondered why you were still residing here. They demanded that you pack up and leave?”

“Not after I showed them the will, they didn't. It all belongs to me, anyway.”

“Then why did you kill them?”

He shrugged. “They said they had done some homework and found out I have a history, if you get my meaning, of becoming an heir to wealthy men I've only known briefly. I have this charm, believe me. Unfortunately, they didn't see it that way. They threatened me to go, tried bribing me into leaving. I offered them dessert, took them down to the pond to show them his so-called grave. I got myself behind them and shot them one by one with the loaded gun I keep down there at all times, just in case. Since I am incapable of synthesizing my own batch of hydrofluoric acid, obtaining enough of it has been the result of one minor miracle after the other. I think I’m out of minor miracles, and out of space for dumping waste as toxic as that. I know Mr. Boyle wouldn’t approve of my methods, but I believe that his associates, all four of you, betrayed him. Justice must be served!”

I look him straight in the eye. “Speaking of which: I have something of direct interest to you, Mr. Heinz,” I say. “My lien against The House of the Land trumps Mr. Boyle's last and final will any day. He owed me a large sum of money at the time of his death, and I will have you evicted within weeks. You may soon find yourself behind bars or in a mental asylum, where you belong.”

He looks at me with disbelief. “Show me the lien!” he barks.

“I don't have to,” I say calmly. “Go fetch the property records inside Mr. Boyle's study, and you'll see it for yourself. Naturally, it is a matter of public record.”

Since meeting me the last time around, Heinz was unable or unwilling to track me down. I hadn't stopped by for a visit either. He probably thought it was better that way.


Posted in Short stories | Leave a comment