Steve Toase

Steve lives in North Yorkshire, England and occasionally Munich, Germany. His stories tend towards the unsettling and unreal, dealing with revenge, loss, faery, chess playing bears and ancient gods. His work has appeared in publications such as Jabberwocky Magazine, Sein und Werden, Cafe Irreal, streetcake magazine, Weaponizer and nthPosition. www.facebook.com/stevetoase1

Steve lives in North Yorkshire, England and occasionally Munich, Germany. His stories tend towards the unsettling and unreal, dealing with revenge, loss, faery, chess playing bears and ancient gods. His work has appeared in publications such as Jabberwocky Magazine, Sein und Werden, Cafe Irreal, streetcake magazine, Weaponizer and nthPosition. www.facebook.com/stevetoase1

The Delicacy of Laughter

After the faces appeared on the egg shells I could no longer bring myself to cook with them. In the dark they manifested like daguerreotypes, a little more visible each time I opened the fridge. I tried watching, but nothing happened. When I shut the door they developed on the shells. Sepia lips here, a strand of tears running down a cheek there. Ovoid Turin shrouds.

While I was away for the weekend I left them sealed in the cold and the dark. The masks colored themselves in.

Each was unique. All had red noses, but that was where any similarity ended. One was a bulbous snout of whiskey, another a dab of color on the tip of an upturned pixie nose. Triangles and lines bisected eyes. Lips outlined in black or red, stretched back to reveal crooked teeth.

I thought about leaving them where they were, nestled at the back of the fridge between juddering motor and slightly rotting veg, but they made a good talking point.

In an antique shop on the High Street I found an old wooden storage box, fine wire mesh for a door, and placed it in the middle of the dining table. I nestled each egg inside a chiseled out hollow, smoothed by generations of the unfertilized.

A few weeks later I threw a dinner party for some friends in the neighborhood. The eggs were a talking point, as I hoped they would be. After a few bottles of wine we got them out, giving them different voices. Squeaking words. Holding the shells up like puppets. Bryan played Entrance of the Gladiators, hitting the wrong notes on purpose.

Marie nipped back to her house and got some face painting make-up she used at kid’s parties. We decorated each other, copying the clown designs on the eggs. Upturned lips and rouged cheeks. Arched, black, eyebrows rising almost to our hairlines. Finished, and too drunk to clean our skin, we put the eggs back in their box, turning them inward so they didn’t look out into the darkened room.

In the morning all the eggs were turned, their clown designs facing forward. The door of the egg box hanging loose on broken hinges. Edges sticky with thick white foundation. Someone must have woken in the night and torn it loose. I straightened the fine metal plates. Tightened the small crosshead screws.

Turning the eggs back around to face inside the box, I latched them inside. They never stayed that way.

I’m not sure when the first one hatched. I hadn’t looked at them for a couple of days. On the floor I found a shatter of shell held together by thin, stained membrane. Albumin and glitter trailed across the carpet toward the skirting board. I tried to clean it up, but no amount of scrubbing would shift the mess.

Over the next week four more hatched, leaving the same trails of afterbirth across the room.

I heard them moving in the walls. Oversized shoes with toe-caps of cartilage scraped against the wires as they practiced their tumbling routines in the cavities. They didn’t emerge during daylight. On mornings I came downstairs to find birds strangled with strands of banana skin. Balloon animals made from mouse intestines with their inflated throats ripped out. Furniture stained with a powder that was a cross between rouge and brick dust.

Yesterday I found glitter trailed across my pillow, stuck to the cotton with some kind of organic glue that smelt of rendered fat. I tried the front door, but the key was snapped off in the lock. The telephone filled with stagnant water. I heard them laughing in the walls.

This morning I found the last egg broken, the hatchling no longer inside.

I hear them running behind the sofa. If I turn on the taps there’s only sawdust. All the food in the fridge is rotten. They keep singing me out of tune lullabies and I find juggling balls shaped from crushed plaster and bone.

They’re getting bolder. Soon they will start their skit. I dare not sleep.

The Broken Chair

With lengths of dried rosemary Helena tied the pieces of broken chair together into a frame. Splintered legs pointed out to sea. Crouching upon the water the storm dragged its fingers through the currents.

In the harbour fishing fleet boats were tied slack against the tide. Back and forth they echoed the breath of the salt. From her basket Helena took out nine jam jars. Their glass was scoured to opaque with handfuls of powdered bone. Each smelled of funeral bouquets, not that Helena noticed. All her senses had faded to worn paper lanterns long ago.

Pausing, she reached in her pocket for her dad’s photo. The young, proud, man bore as much resemblance to the old man, breathing his last in the now broken chair, as an acorn did to an oak. His sepia hands were clasped in front of him, unmarked. When they placed him in the ground his one remaining hand was scarred by fish bones and the crush of wet rope.

The storm came closer. A smoke-coloured wall spat at the reluctant sea. Into each jar Helena placed a single piece of fabric cut from her birthsheet. Taking a pin from her hat she pricked her left thumb and let a single drop fall into each jar. She watched the slow blood soak into frayed yellow cotton and nodded at the sky.

Through the wind Helena battled back to Bill’s cottage. Inside she placed the photo on a hearth cold for too many years. None of the fleet owned up to what happened to the insurance money. Closed as scales, and the law had no knife sharp enough to pry them apart. Instead an old man died mutilated, cold and broke, with no spirit left to pass over. Helena pulled another blanket around her shoulders and watched through thick glass. Driving rain reached the cliffs and shuddered them loose.

Helena woke early the next morning. Cup of tea in hand she walked to the broken wood frame. At the bottom of each jar sat a single knotted piece of fabric. In the distance the fleet set out from the embrace of the harbour. Engines tore across the dawn. She watched the boats make their way out to the fishing grounds. She waited while they set their nets. Recovering the first knot she whispered ‘Dad’ under her breath and undid the twist of fabric. As she reached into the next jar for the next knot the clouds above the fleet began to fatten and fill with the undead storm.