|"Place of Renewal," watercolor by Viestarts Aistars
Annual Short Story Contest
MENTION─ Stephen Joseph
Jorro wades through sorrow-pocked Sri Lankan marshes,
his feet treading gingerly through piles of human suffering. Jorro carefully steps over human landmines in a thirty-year conflict.
He realizes too late that he and other civilians are being used as human shields. The ploy doesn’t work. The aerial
bombardment continues unabated, leaving moon craters in the apples of its intended targets.
Jorro becomes a refugee.
He finds himself in Mogadishu, Somalia. There he is horrified to see seven and eight year old girls forcibly held down to
have their vaginas mutilated. As the children writhe in pain and shriek in horror, Jorro is shocked to see people clapping
and celebrating the girls’ transition into womanhood. In those places, the locals call it a customary circumcision,
but in most other parts of the world, female genital mutilation (FGM) is known as child abuse.
Jorro is very afraid as
he walks the streets of Baghdad, Iraq. He watches every step, every person, every moving vehicle. Because he doesn’t
want to get blown up before he reaches his mother. Mother Earth.
Escapes to Mexico. Jorro
roams the mean streets of Tijuana in the middle of the night. In the back alleys, Jorro sees torsos separated from human heads.
It is the new terror tactic: beheadings by drug lords. Jorro stops to catch his breath. But he must move on. Because everyone
wants him dead.
Jorro wakes up. He is in
Los Angeles, California. But it’s not the city of angels anymore. It’s the City-at-Civil War, between the Bloods
and the Crips and new players, MS-13 and the Mexican Mafia. All jostling in the name of the New Religion—Narcotics.
Jorro cowers behind a dumpster
in fear. He doesn’t want to get shot. Somehow he has to reach home safely to his mother. Mother Earth.
Pants heavily. Runs wildly.
Laughs hysterically. Jorro goes inside a church in Toronto, Canada to pray, but is startled by the ‘pop’ ‘pop’
of gunfire. Flees for his life. Reaches a roadside café in Paris to catch his breath. There too ‘pop’ ‘pop’
‘pop’ ‘pop.’ Random mass killing is the mocha latte of the day.
Covered in human misery,
in tears, terrified out of his mind, Jorro finally reaches Mother Earth. Jorro tells his mother that he’s sorry. “Hate
has prevailed,” he wails. That he tried but couldn’t change a thing. That he wasn’t able to stop even one
person from hurting another. From killing one another.
Jorro looks behind him.
All he sees is. Annihilation. Conflagration. Degradation. Destruction. Destitution. Decimation. Devour-a-nation. Extermination.
Litigation. Mutilation. Suffocation. Terror proliferation. Tribulation. Human rights violation. Jorro has seen enough. Jorro
has had enough.
Mother Earth understands.
Comforts her son. Says, “you tried, everything will be ok.” Jorro offers a feeble smile. His mother wipes away
tears from his face. She lies down on the ground. Spreads her legs. Jorro covers his eyes, holds his breath and climbs in
between his mother’s thighs. Reattaches the umbilical cord. Jorro is back in the safety of his mother’s soothing
womb. Back into the reality of her splendid tomb.
Stephen Joseph is a published writer from Bangalore, India, where he
lives with his wife and two daughters. He placed 40th out of 17,056 entries in ten categories in the Writer’s Digest
77th Annual Writing Competition in the Mainstream/Literary Short Story Category. He placed as a Finalist twice, as a Semi-Finalist
and as Honorable Mention on Humorpress.com. He placed 5th in the Second Annual Amazing Story Fiction Contest and 2nd in the
Nonfiction Contest, both held on The Write Helper.com. He placed 17th out of an expected 4,000+ entries in the 4th Annual
Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards. His work also appears in this issue of The Smoking Poet on our Nonfiction page.
The Man in the Rabbit Fur Hat
By Kate Bowen
with the rabbit fur hat sat on the bench in the park staring blankly at all of the nothing in front of him. He had no reason
to sit on the bench, but there he remained because he feared he may be stuck to it. The bench was crimson red in color, but
the day before today, and the one before that, the bench had been brown.
The man in the rabbit fur hat could feel the seat of his pants sticking slightly to the fresh layer of paint,
which hadn’t had much time to dry.
The man knew he had the physical strength to overpower the crimson red layer and unstick the seat of his pants;
however, he feared the result of such an action. His pants may be plagued with a crimson stain for all to see, or he might
be accused of rolling in rosebushes, and he didn’t want that.
After weighing his options, he concluded that he also did not want to become the man in the rabbit fur hat with
the crimson red bench stuck to the seat of his pants. The man decided to remain seated and wait until the sun had set, when
he could make his way home unseen.
Nightfall soon arrived. The man in the rabbit fur hat was unsure if the red streaks would be noticed under the
light of the full moon, or if he should wait for the clouds in the distance to arrive and mask the light. The light was just
enough that he could see a small movement on the pavement around his feet. Closer inspection revealed a shiny black beetle
with only one wing. Since its weight was unevenly distributed, due to whatever horrific experience it must have recently endured,
it was forced to walk with a sideways shuffle on only two legs, with the other two in the air. This wasn’t so bad since
we walk on two legs quite frequently—in fact, almost always. But we have only two legs. Perhaps if the man in the rabbit
fur hat had lost an arm and a leg on the same side he would better understand the beetle.
As the man rose from the bench, the clouds began to roll towards the moon, threatening the little light on which
the man was relying to find his path. His sole headlight became fully masked at the moment he took his first step. Instead
of stepping down to the secure feeling of pavement under his shoe, he heard a faint crunch, as if he had stepped on a peanut
shell. He knew what happened but continued to walk in his rabbit fur hat, carrying home with him his condition’s only
witness on the bottom of his shoe.
Kate Bowen started
writing stories shortly after learning how to pick up a pen. She has completed fiction and creative writing courses at Ryerson
University and George Brown College, and was first published by Wired Writers. Her work explores everything from surrealism,
to experimenting with different themes and narratives. Kate is currently working as a copywriter at digital advertising agency
Teehan+Lax in downtown Toronto, and possesses an insatiable passion for writing fiction on the side.
e-Mail About the Mathematics of Life
by Richard Spuler
My Dear Friend:
I am sorry that I’ve left you waiting so long for a reply. For a couple of
weeks or so things have actually been going much better for me. It’s not easy, and often confusing, to fight depression
with medication, but it seems that my psychiatrist has hit on—for the time being—an effective combination. I’ll
admit that I’m a little behind with my work, but otherwise I can now look at the future with a degree of optimism.
I’m very sorry to hear of your father’s health problems,
and of the stress that you are experiencing as a result. I went through something similar with my father, and even more so
with my mother, and I understand how difficult it is and can appreciate the ordeal you are going through.
It would be helpful if you could confide in someone from you immediate,
or rather “at hand,” circle of friends. Bulgaria is so far away. But writing is also a form of speaking, and for
this reason it causes me even more pain that I didn’t respond earlier.
I’m afraid that the mathematics of life, as you called it,
cannot be explained mathematically. Or if it can, then it must be a form of quantum mathematics. Sometimes there are so many
avenues available to us that you can’t track down one that is “logical.” All I know is that there is a place
beyond fear, so please hang in there. If it can be of any consolation to you, you should know that you are in my thoughts.
I’ll not only keep all my fingers crossed for you, as you asked, I’ll keep all of them crossed, and some toes
in addition. What that will add up to, I can’t be sure. That’s just the way it is with the mathematics of life.
Richard Spuler’s poems have appeared in the following anthologies, journals, and poetry magazines:
The Album of International Poetry, American
Poetry Anthology, Descant, Fragments,
The Rose’s Hope, Voices International,
Alura, Ublue, and are forthcoming in
New Mirage Quarterly and Miranda. He
is currently working a collection of short stories and poetry (Memorabilia and Other
Assorted Forgettables). For nearly 20 years he has served as Senior Lecturer in German at Rice University in Houston,
Texas. He enjoys music and reading.