Original painting by Candice Mancini

“Da? Da, look what I can do!”

I frowned at the monitor and the columns of numbers that refused to add up. “Not now, Becca. Da’s working.”

“Look, Da.”

I could try to ignore her and not get anything done, or indulge her for a minute and salvage the remainder of the afternoon. I turned around in my office chair, and my heart went cold.

My six-year old daughter pirouetted in mid-air, a flutter of wings between her shoulders where this morning there’d been only rose print pajamas and strawberry blonde curls. She smiled at me and spun again, arms outstretched. “I’m flying!”

“Yes, yes you are.” I tried to clear the anxiety clotted at the back of my throat; it wouldn’t budge. “Where did you, um, where did you find those?”

Aggie came in from the kitchen, saucer in one hand, dish towel in the other. “Here now, I told you to leave – oh!” She dropped the towel and saucer, the latter landing on the former, so no harm done to the dish at least.

Becca flew higher and rapped the ceiling with her knuckles. “Look, Mum!”

“I see.” The words trembled on Aggie’s lips. She lowered herself to the sofa and I joined her, putting a hand on her knee. Her words weren’t all that trembled. “I haven’t seen those since before Da and I got married.”

Our daughter flit close, hovering right above the floor. “Really? Are they yours?”

“Once upon a time, yes.” Aggie looked at me then, so wistful and sad it all but broke my heart. “Let’s have a closer look.”

There was enough of the mother voice to the request that Becca did as she was told, but not without: “You’re not going to take them, are you?”

Aggie answered before I could. “Not at all.” She motioned for Becca to turn around.

With both feet flat on the ground, Becca showed us her back. Uneven slits perhaps five inches long had been cut in her pajama top so the wings could poke through. A small part of my attention allowed that we would have a sit down about when, and on what, we used scissors, but not this moment. What mattered most was how the wings caught the blue of Aggie’s eyes, the blue of the summer sky over Niarbyl Bay, or perhaps the other way around.

Rabbitheart – Part 3

Looking for the beginning? Click here to go back and read Part 1 or Part 2 of Nicole Tanquary’s novella Rabbitheart

“And you said my ideas were stupid,” I muttered. We were walking side-by-side through the forest, with a host of not-vie around us. I couldn’t see them … they had covered themselves in some kind of blackish paint, which matched them perfectly to the shadows … but I could hear their breathing, and the clinking of their weapons.

Spiderhands clapped me on the back, grinning to himself. “Well, your ideas all tried to get One in trouble. This plan is about getting revenge for what Mama Salli did to the vie. It’s much more noble.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, right, ’cause you’re the picture of nobility.” His night clothes had been scuffed up while running from the not-vie, not to mention filthy from lying in the dirt while I was explaining everything to Mestra. His Mother would probably cry if she saw him right now. The thought made my fingers clench. I couldn’t wait until I could remember my own Mother again. But Spiderhands … “Hey, Spiderhands. When you were talking to Mestra earlier, you said that later, Mestra could give me back my memories. But what about you? I thought you wanted the Ventine poison out just as much as I did.” This made him go quiet for awhile.

“Well … how do I put this. I guess I don’t really want to remember. I get a feeling that a lot of bad stuff happened to me when I was younger. I still have nightmares about it sometimes, when little pieces come back to me.” He shook his head. “I definitely don’t want all of it in my head again. That’d be too much to handle.”

Nightmares? I narrowed my eyes at him. How come he had never told me about this? Come to think of it, the circles under his eyes did seem a little darker than they should be. And his hair did seem a little thinner than other people’s. The nightmares could be stressing him out … then again, maybe it was just me. I wasn’t used to looking at him at night.

Acting on an impulse, I wrapped my arm around his waist and pulled him closer until our sides were touching. It felt natural, easy. Like breathing. “You can tell me these kinds of things more often, you know. I want to be there for you,” I said. Spiderhands smiled at me, then put one long arm around my shoulders. We had never been this close before, since it wasn’t allowed in the camps. The supervisors would probably have bitten our hands off if we tried. Now, though, I could feel the heat coming off of him in the cold night air. I could even smell his sweat. I knew that smell from when we mined together, but at that moment, it seemed a lot sweeter than it had before. A smoky kind of smell.

Things were quiet for a moment. Then I felt something crash into my back. There was a flash of blue-black hair, and then I was lifted off my feet and speeding along so fast that things started to blur. “Hey, lovebirds! You walk too slow!” said Tan.

“Rab? Where are- hey get off me I can walk just fine so you just put me down right now-” Bumping along on Tan’s back, I could see that a not-vie female had come up behind Spiderhands and had thrown him across her shoulder, and was keeping pace behind me and Tan. It seemed darker out here, in the trees, so I couldn’t see much of her. Just the gleam of her knives, and her chest, slick with war-paint.

“Aw, gross!” I said, feeling some of Tan’s paint rub off onto the front of my uniform. “And who are you calling lovebirds, anyways? We were just … just …”

“This is the way you miners use to get to the camp, right?” I glanced straight down at a bare path we had come across, a stretch of dirt pressed into stone by hundreds of footsteps, criss-crossed with tree roots.

“Yeah. Camp shouldn’t be too far away.” I felt Tan nod to himself, then motion a hand at the not-vie behind him as he disappeared back into the trees. Me and Spiderhands had warned him that the supervisors sometimes went hunting at night. They had to eat, too, and what they ate – besides miners who tried to run off – was small game like rabbits and squirrels. So the closer we got to the camp entrance, the slower and more cautious Tan became, until we were just barely creeping along, silent except for the occasional crinkle of a dry leaf and my own breathing.

Rabbitheart – Part 2

Miss Part 1? Click here to go back and read Part 1 of Nicole Tanquary’s novella Rabbitheart

The silence was what woke me up.

I had gotten used to sleeping with my thirty-or-so roommates over the years. A lot of them snored. Almost all of them tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable spot on their mattresses (me included) … but even if every other noise was taken away, you could still hear thirty mouths breathing in, breathing out, filling the shack with warm, heavy air. Sometimes I thought I could even hear their hearts beating.

I blinked my eyes, disoriented. For a moment I thought that someone had stuffed poison into our room, and every women besides me had breathed it in and died – I couldn’t hear anyone, not even the snorers. Even more surprising was that there was no Gut standing over my head, banging on his piece of metal loud enough to raise the dead. No Gut yelling that we were behind in our quota. No Gut getting us out of bed for another day of work. So why had I woken?

“Gut?” I mumbled. I tried raising a hand to scrub at my eyes, but found that I couldn’t. They had been tied together with some heavy, greenish rope.

Then I remembered the blue eyes in the bush. The run. The cliff …

“So. You’re awake.” I rolled over to find the vie … the not-vie, I corrected myself, remembering the words that had been said just before I blacked out … sitting cross-legged in front of a yellow tree. The tree’s branches stretched above us to make a sort of makeshift ceiling. Curtains of shimmery green leaves hung off to my left, like the walls of a room. We were alone.

I dug my fingers into the loam beneath me, staring at the not-vie, not daring to blink. He had cleaned himself up while I was unconscious. He had changed his clothing, and his blue-black hair was combed and tied back. I felt a fierce pleasure when I saw that bandages had been wrapped around where I had bitten him. “It still hurts, you know,” he said, noticing my gaze. “You kept at it, even when I said we weren’t going to hurt you. The vie just want to ask you some questions, about the Ventine you’ve stolen. That’s all. So how come you bit me?”

My lip curled back in a silent snarl. He didn’t move, but stared coolly back, his head tilted to one side. I got the sense that he was studying me, in the same way I had been studying him.

Then I finally noticed Spiderhands. He lay on the ground a foot away from me, curled on his side. His wrists were bound, like mine, his long, stretched fingers balled into fists on the grass. I could see a spot of blood on his temple.

Finding my ankles unbound, I crawled to him and examined the spot. It looked as if something heavy had hit him. “Spiderhands, what happened? You were going to get away,” I whispered. Then I turned on the not-vie. “What did you do to him?” I spat.

“Calm down. He’s not dead,” said the not-vie, who’s name, I finally remembered, was Tan. He brushed blue-black hair out of his eyes. “When we got you under control, he came crawling back up the cliff, to save you, I guess. We didn’t know he was there; we figured he had fallen all the way down. Anyways, he grabbed my ankle and pulled me over the edge. You thieves are stronger than you look, as it turns out. Luckily, being what I am, I didn’t get hurt in the fall. Though I’m thinking you would’ve liked to have seen me die.” Tan smiled, and a shrug rolled through his shoulders. “The others didn’t like that I was attacked, of course. They got a hold of him and punched him out … poor guy. He’s gonna have one hell of a headache when he wakes up.”

“I’ll give you a frickin’ headache,” I shouted, and pushed myself to my feet. In an instant an arm was around my neck, in the same hold Tan had used on me. Except, this arm was much larger. I was forced to stand on my tiptoes to avoid hanging myself. A guard? I wondered.

Tan heaved himself up. “I know the vie have been anxious to go ahead with the interrogation. Since one of the thieves is awake, I think we can start. The other one will wake up eventually, right? And you,” he said, addressing me directly now. “It’d be a real hassle to have to carry you all the way to the meeting chamber. I’d rather you walk yourself there. So I don’t really want to have to tie your ankles together. However, if I need to, I will. Understand?”

The not-vie guard who had grabbed me eased off my windpipe, but didn’t take his arm away until I gasped out, “Fine.” Tan nodded his approval. Then he moved to where the unconscious Spiderhands lay and, in a fluent motion, slung him over one shoulder.

Fingers like sausages clapped down on my own shoulders, and began to steer me in the direction of the leaf curtain wall. A moment later I was pushed through.

Marie Eau-Claire: Parts 4 – 7

Click here to read parts 1-3 of Caroline Miller’s Marie Eau-Claire.

Part IV

Though Geraldine arose early the next morning, as was her habit, Steven had already left the apartment. There were no traces of any activity in the kitchen so she presumed he chose to have breakfast somewhere along the boulevard. She had the place to herself but felt uneasy. What were his plans for lunch? Would he be in or out?

Her morning routine stretched before her exactly as it had done for years, but the rooms she entered seemed empty, as if each was holding its breath until Steven’s return. Of course, she understood she was projecting her feelings upon the cream-colored walls, but they seemed to reflect her emotions with an unaccustomed intensity.

The hours wore on at a tedious pace, each second punctuated by the ticking of the mantel clock. For once, it came as a relief when it was time to collect the mail. It gave her something to do besides think about Steven. But the little box contained nothing of interest. Even the newspaper seemed filled with the same reports she’d read the day before. There was trouble in the Middle East, the economy was in a slump and the politicians were hurling accusations at one another as the coming elections approached. Each day’s turmoil seemed indistinguishable from the last. If one were to depend upon world affairs as evidence of time’s passage, she grumbled, one would be lost.

The hour of noon was approaching when Geraldine, having nodded off, was awakened by a rustle at the door. A key was turning in the lock and she heard voices, one male and the other female. Rising from the settee, she had just enough time to give her reflection a quick glance in the mirror over the mantel before she heard that dreadful nickname being called out.

“Hello, Gerry?” Enid’s voice entered the hall before her followed by Steven’s deeper tones. Soon after, the pair entered the parlor, the nephew carrying an armload of groceries. He greeted his great aunt cheerily then headed for the kitchen with his burden while Enid flopped down on the settee. Her lips twitched with her approval of the new man in residence but she said nothing, as if she expected Geraldine to crumple beside her like a giggling school girl.

Geraldine did nothing of the kind but slid into one of the overstuffed chairs, taking a moment to observe her friend’s apple green dress with its white piping at the collar. The color struck her as unbecoming but far worse, the garment was sleeveless and exposed Enid’s wrinkly arms. Though Geraldine’s appendages were smoother, she never made that mistake. No matter the weather, she always wore long sleeves or draped a silk scarf over her shoulders. How like Enid to be oblivious of her defects her friend thought.

It was true. Enid had no notion of the poor impression she was making and seemed all too eager to discuss the new arrival. She leaned toward Geraldine as if to share a secret.

“What a handsome young man this nephew of yours turns out to be, Gerry, and how wicked of you to keep him all to yourself… though I can’t blame you. I’d probably do the same thing…”
“I’m not keeping him to myself,” the dancer objected. ‘He’s just arrived…”
“Yes, yes. Never mind that,” Enid interrupted. “Tell me all about him. How old would you say he is? Twenty-four? Twenty-five? And, oh, what a gorgeous pair of dark eyes — so sad and melancholy, as if he were harboring a tragic secret, perhaps the loss of a great love. Women will absolutely swoon for him, I warn you.”

“Don’t be so silly, Enid.” Geraldine crossed one leg over the other and looked annoyed, though it troubled her that her friend had seen that same haunted look she’d observed from the outset. Was her relative hiding something, after all? Had he come to Paris for a reason but refused to tell her? She tried to distract her doubts by staring out the window. “He has an interesting face.” That was the only truth she was willing to concede.

Edith gasped. “‘An interesting face?’ Are you blind? He’s utterly gorgeous. Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed. I’m sorry, Gerry, but I can’t allow you to keep him to yourself. There’s a younger generation that must have a peek at him. You’ll soon see I’m right.

“Please, Enid, don’t take him under your wing…”

“Too late, darling, I’ve invited him to the theatre this evening…”

Geraldine said nothing but uttered a loud and prolonged sigh. Seeing that she’d ruffled feathers, her visitor spoke apologetically.

“I don’t see the harm in it. I met him outside the concierge’s offices and guessing who he was, I introduced myself. Why not? As we were both coming here, I had to make conversation. He’s very easy to talk to, more friendly than his brooding look might suggest. Handsome men are usually far too pleased with themselves to take notice of anyone else. But this darling nephew of yours…”

“I’ve decided to make omelets for lunch.” Steven stuck his head into the room, unaware that he’d been the topic of conversation. “I’m pretty good at it, so I hope you plan to stay, Enid. You won’t be disappointed.”

“Dear boy,” Enid purred, “I can’t imagine ever being disappointed with you.”

“Yes, well, the trouble is, I can’t find a frying pan. You do have one don’t you, Geraldine?” He cast an appealing glance in his great aunt’s direction. Disarmed by it, she sat for a moment, thinking.

Of course she had a frying pan. But where did she keep it? She hadn’t a clue. Ah yes… she remembered. “I think it’s in the pantry beside the cooking oils.”

“In the pantry?” Steven raised one eyebrow in disbelief. “That’s an odd place for it.” He didn’t wait for an explanation but hurried from the room as if making an omelet had something to do with preventing World War III.

Enid tossed a cat-like grin in her friend’s direction. “And he cooks, too.”

Rabbitheart – Part 1

Click here to continue on and read Part 2 of Nicole Tanquary’s novella Rabbitheart

“Come ON!” came a shout. Gut’s voice, deep and growly. Wait, what? Was it morning already?

Gut banged a sheet of dented metal with a mallet, filling our heads with dull ringing sounds. “Come on, get up, the vie are asleep, its almost dawn out there! We’re behind in our quota!”

Gut said that every morning. No one ever told us what our quota was; no matter how much Ventine we mined from the blue hills, we would always be behind. Damn sorcerers couldn’t get enough of the stuff.

“Move it, Rabbitheart!” I had been slow to get out of bed, and now Gut’s mallet was by my ear, going BANG! BANG! BANG! like a hammer against a steel wall. I floundered, almost falling off of the mattress before I could catch myself.

“Yessir!” I squeaked, making a mad dash for the closet where the rest of my thirty-or-so roommates were swarming. You had to get there fast, or you’d end up with ratty old pants and a shirt with holes, both of which probably hadn’t been washed in months.

Back at home, my little brother had problems believing that girls ever did things like sweat and fart and go to the bathroom. If I could have found my way back there, I would have brought along one of our uniforms and thrust it under his nose for evidence. You could smell the girls before me that had worked inside the suits. The stench was soaked so deep into the denim that one whiff would be all it would take to change his mind.

If I could have gone home, I would have, but I couldn’t. I had been working around the Ventine too long. I couldn’t remember the way back.

Marie Eau-Claire: Parts 1 – 3

Part I

Geraldine Hoffman was an American who had lived in Paris over forty years, having become an expatriate in 1966 when she was thirty. While she retained a dual citizenship, she’d always thought of herself as a guest in France. She enjoyed the country’s slower pace, a place where people put a value on art and culture. Some might have said she was a snob, but she didn’t agree.

Unmarried, the former principal dancer with the Oregon Ballet Company and later with the Paris Opera Ballet, she’d lived for her art and when, at the age of forty-three, dancing was no longer a joy, when she feared she could no longer attain the perfection she demanded of herself, she left the stage and turned her hand to writing poetry. But living for art didn’t make her an elitist.

To be honest, her writing was of modest quality but she did publish in several journals, and had one slim volume of her works released when she was in her fifties. The book attracted the positive attention of a few critics, but she suspected the praise was more a transfer of allegiance from those who admired her as a dancer than to her skills as a poet. She recognized her talents were limited and, over time, she fell more to reading — a habit which led her to a life of quiet solitude.

The Purifier

I was one of three foremen who ran the Purifier for the General Secretary before and during the upheaval. Those were dark days for all of us, and anyone who can sit in a rocking chair by the fire, warming his fingers and talking about those times, is lucky. Lucky to be alive, lucky to have his fingers still, lucky to have his tongue. But not everything about those times was evil. Like all times, in all places, I suppose, some bits of light make life worth living, grim as things might get.

The light for us, back before the Upheaval, was the Secretary’s Science and Projects Liaison. Now, I’ve been accused once or twice of being a bit of a dreamer. But understand, everything I have to say about the Liaison is pure truth. Heaven knows how a woman like that ended up with that position. She wasn’t dumb, exactly. In fact, as models go you’d consider her rather intelligent. She was in her mid twenties, and we all recognized her from various men’s interest magazines that were in circulation before the Secretary took full power and the presses were shut down. I guess that put her out of work. Maybe the Secretary hand-picked her for the job, maybe he felt guilty for putting her out of business. You’d think that picking a beautiful woman with no scientific background for Science and Projects Liaison would be a terrible mistake, but really what her job entailed was keeping us workers in line. And that was something she could do with a flick of the wrist and a bat of the eyelashes. She even was able to keep the women workers hard at work with barely any effort at all. It wasn’t just her beauty, she had an aura about her – call it charisma, or leadership, or maybe just confidence. Anyway, we saw her about once a month, which was more than most other facilities and projects could say. The Purifier was very important to the Secretary.

The Purifier was a marvel of human ingenuity and engineering. I wish, now in the twilight of my life, that I could claim I had helped to build or design it. But I didn’t. I just came on after it was finished, with my wrench and my hammer and the rest of my toolkit, and I made sure the other mechanics didn’t screw anything up. Not to say that this wasn’t hard work. A number of my men died or became too sick to work because of leaks in the reactor. The fact that I’m still alive, after all the years I spent at the Purifier, is a testament to something. Probably my great reservoir of dumb luck.

I never used to believe in luck until I got stuck in the elevator with the Liaison. The elevator was on the side of the Stack, which was a fifty story, eighty foot radius chimney stack. This was how the Purifier released the water back into the atmosphere. This was how we made the clouds. The Liaison and I were riding up to check on some repairs that were underway two thirds up the Stack. Most of the deaths were from people being knocked off by gusts of wind, so needless to say, being that high on the Stack, once you got out of the elevator, was dangerous. But the Liaison never shied away from danger. She was utterly fearless in fact.

99-Cent Dreams

After some deliberation, Libby decided to buy the ability to draw. “This one,” she said. “I’ve never been able to manage anything more than stick figures. This would be nice.”

Alfred Corrigan smiled at her. “Yes. Very good.” He coughed before continuing in his high, papery voice. “Let me remind you, however, that this only guarantees the ability to draw recognizable pictures, not the talents of a master artist. These are only–”

“–ninety-nine cent dreams,” she finished along with him. It was the name of the store, and he had given her the patter when she had first come in. Ninety-nine cents could only buy small dreams, not miracles.

“Precisely. That said, your satisfaction is guaranteed. You shouldn’t find yourself reverting to, ah, stick figures. One moment, please.” He shuffled through the door in the back. Libby kept her eyes on the catalog, not wanting to watch the way he moved. He was a young man, clean-cut and broad-shouldered, but his slow, fumbling movements reminded her of her grandfather; the way he’d limped toward her when she first entered the store had almost caused her to mumble an excuse and go outside again.

She flipped through the pages idly, glancing at the glossy stock pictures of laughing, photogenic couples and families. All items just 99¢! Make your partner a dog person! Item 13A. LIMITED TIME ONLY! Maintain weight over the holidays–LOSS NOT GUARANTEED. Item 13B. Have the baby sleep through the night once a week. Item 13C.

That picture was of a sleeping baby, his little mouth relaxed into a faint pout. Libby bit her lip–she’d been doing a lot of that in the past month, and it was starting to taste chapped and bloody–and rested her fingertips on the baby’s face. In the back of her mind, she could hear Sasha screaming, “If you want kids so fucking much, find a man! I’m not your goddamn brood mare!”, could hear the glass bowl shattering against the wall behind her head. Sasha had apologized in tears the next day, of course, and Libby had forgiven her, of course, and they had made desperate love and promised that they would never fight again, just as they always did. But that time it had been true, because now Sasha was gone.

She had to turn the page. Blindly, she flipped to the tab in the back. FREE SAMPLES!

“Here you go.” Corrigan’s dry voice made Libby jump. She turned and saw him holding a cobalt blue bottle about the size of her little finger. “Stir this into a beverage and drink it just before going to bed. I’ve found the flavor complements an English tea wonderfully.”

“Great. Thanks.” She gestured at the page of samples. “What are these?”

Corrigan peered over her shoulder, and she saw his eyes go bright. The eyes were old, too, she thought; it wasn’t just his gait. There was a tired, stretched look around the edges, and she hadn’t even noticed until that eager brightness took it away. “Ah. These are from my new supply. Ninety-nine cent dreams fill a necessary niche, but my current stock is rather, ah, modest. I’m hoping to expand. I haven’t dealt in larger dreams in a long, long time.”

“Can I look?”

“Of course.”

She turned the page. This was more what she had expected when Corrigan had explained to her that he didn’t run a fancifully named dollar store, but a shop dealing in dreams themselves. Regain sight for the blind! Item 47A. Recover a missing heirloom! Item 47B.

She turned the page again, and her heart swelled to a huge size in her chest. She couldn’t move. All she could do was stare at the page, hands trembling. It was a generic photo of a man and a woman embracing in front of a sunset. Bring back the affections of a lost love! Item 47C.

Sasha. She could bring Sasha back. Oh, God, if this place was for real. . . . She imagined the faint, spicy smell of Sasha’s shampoo, the way she hummed in the back of her throat when she was falling asleep, the rich alto of her voice as she sang along with Libby’s cello. All the times in the past month with she’d felt frightened and she’d known that having Sasha near her would make her brave, because without Sasha she was just a timid little mouse. All the times she’d seen bridal magazines or women with strollers and thought, That’s not for me, that’ll never be for me; it’s what drove Sasha away, but she’s the only one I’d ever want to have any of it with.

It could have been a thousand dollars and she would have taken it. But a free sample…

“Ms. Morell? Did you find something of interest?”

Libby had almost forgotten that Corrigan was there. She looked up and saw him smiling benignly. “This.” She pointed to the picture. “This is free?”

He glanced down. “An excellent choice. A simple modification of Item 7D, stop your lover’s passing attraction to another. It should run wonderfully.”

“Great. I’d like to buy it also, please.”

Corrigan twiddled his tie between two fingers. “I should warn you, Ms. Morell, that the word ‘free’ is misleading. There’s no monetary cost for these dreams, but . . . well, I have to get my supplies from somewhere, especially if I want to upgrade. It’s a trade. A dream for a dream.”

“So you’d stab out my eyes so a blind person can see?” It would almost be worth it.

“No. A dream, Ms. Morell. You don’t dream of sight. You take it for granted. I’d want a dream from you.”

Libby bit her lip, tasting blood again. Sasha… “Let me–let me try this one and come back if it works.”

“Of course you may. And it will work, I assure you. I sell no monkey’s paws.” He punched a few numbers into the chunky gray cash register, and it thought for several seconds before displaying “$1.05” on its screen. “Tax, you understand.”

“Right.” Libby fished through her purse and placed the money on the counter.

Corrigan smiled blandly, a smile that didn’t touch his old, old eyes, and handed her a receipt. “Thank you, Ms. Morell. Enjoy your dream.”

The Death Of More


Shadows danced around the sparsely furnished cell as his candle guttered in a draft. It was a large room, and thankfully above the worst stink and grime of the lower tower, but a cell nonetheless. The tattered, threadbare robe he had worn for the past fourteen months fluttered about his legs as he shuffled across to the bed.

He lowered himself down onto the straw pallet pushed up against the wall. For most of his life he had lived in palatial homes, and slept on massive four-poster beds with feather mattresses swathed in silk sheets. Servants lit fires to drive away the slightest chill, and the kitchen was always ready to accommodate him. My goodness, he thought, how things have changed. At least it was summertime, and the brutal heat of the day had surrendered to a warm, humid night.

This cell had been the abode of some of the most famous and wealthy prisoners ever to find themselves confined in the tower. The conditions of their stays largely depended upon their ability to curry favor or mercy from the Crown. Many were allowed to furnish the cell as if it were their own home. The most privileged prisoners could walk about the tower grounds, and even host guests with dinners of roasted capons, puddings and wines. Thomas had no illusions about his standing with the King. He had been allowed only the most rudimentary comforts, those which his family could beg, buy or smuggle in to him. A short, three-legged stool, a chest for his small possessions and provisions, and the straw mattress for which he was immensely thankful; it was the only soft thing in the stone chamber.

In the end though, we are all prisoners here, he mused. Fine furnishings did nothing to change that, evidenced by the hundreds of scratched pleadings in the stone walls. They were perhaps the only lasting memorials to the poor souls who had languished out their last days here. Thomas had read them all. Some were simple protestations of innocence, some were whimsical poetry, and still others were fervent pleas for succor or salvation. The sheer desperation of the etchings was enough to destroy the morale of any man. He was not just any man though; Sir Thomas More was a knight of the realm, and until his conviction of high treason, had held the post of Lord Chancellor. One of the most powerful men in England and a favorite of the King himself, and yet now he was sleeping on straw in the Tower of London. That was not the worst of it though. Today was July 5th, the year of our Lord one-thousand-five-hundred-and-thirty-five. On the morrow, he would lose his head.

The Homeless Man of Greater Zimbabwe

The fish were made of silver. So were the terns. The fish swam in the clear blue sky, leaving little ripples as they weaved a course through the heavens. Beside the school of fish, the gleaming birds flapped in formation. All of them moved with singular purpose to a silver half moon that was bright despite the day, a moon that matched the creatures’ ethereal gleam.

Smack! The fish, the terns, the moon, it all unraveled.

Mums was in the shop, rubbing the back of his woolly head, his daydream supplanted by dull pain. Fat Man was giving him that stern look, pointing at him with a long ebony finger.

“You’ll be sixteen in a week, a man by any nation’s measure. You must stop these flights of fancy; those things are for boys and liars.”

Stupid Fat Man, Mums thought. He nodded.

“Keep your eyes about the shop. If someone as much as steals a sausage, you’ll find food missing from your plate tonight.”

There was no one even in the shop. He could argue that but it would likely earn him another smack to the head and a stern lecture about due diligence. So he nodded again.

This was the worst time for diligence and the best time for his mind to wander. It was right after midday, so very few shoppers came into the store looking for dinner meats until later.

Fat Man’s shop was a typical zimba, larger than most but still built of the mortarless granite stones that gave the city of Dzimba-dza-mabwe its name. And while Fat Man had painted the granite walls and ceiling of his zimba with festive blues, yellows and greens “to pull the customer’s eye,” as he put it, it did little to make Mums feel festive. He was not a customer; and any joy he had once gotten from the design was long gone after spending most of his childhood in here looking after rows of various meats.

Mums put his elbows on the counter and propped his face into his brown fists, getting comfortable while he watched over the gazelle steaks that were advertised on sale.

“No no no, boy,” Fat Man said. “That’s how I found you when you earned that smack. Now earn your board and daily bread. Check the temperatures.”

Mums grumbled but did as he was told.