[Fiction] Leap

Weight of Mountains Sally Ann Colwell

Watercolor “The Weight of Mountains” by Sally Ann Conwell

The final thrust is the one which leaves you reeling.

It’s a long run-up to the line: eyes set, shoulders squared, back straight but not so straight you spoil the spring that coils electrically around your spine. Breathe in and you can feel it suck the tension from your limbs and hoard that fire for itself, ratcheting in not tighter but stronger until its pastel slinky surface hardens into taut sprung steel. Breathe out and you can hear the hammer of your heart squeeze blood along its causeways until it throbs with the anticipation. Your spine is the pillar of courage and movement.

I took ballet when I was younger – maybe four, or five – dressed in the plain black ballet shoes and featureless white top of a young man struggling to follow along in an activity he barely understood. Very little of my time spent then in dance remains to me; but I recall leaning sweatily over a wooden bar beside the wall and kicking my leg enthusiastically back up into the air.

Presumably, this exercise was intended to convert my wimpy little calves into the rippling muscled flesh-mounds shared by dancers, Tour de France cyclists, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in that movie where he plays an obscenely oiled Conan. Perhaps the transformation to smooth-chested barbarian might have even worked if I’d stuck around, but I was out of there long before the kicks and pliés could work their magic, and I wouldn’t touch dance again for decades.

In my time-muddied mind’s eye, those ballet classroom walls were always lined with faceless rows of parents judging silently, arbiters of extra-curricular achievement. This part I know is fiction because my own parents were far too supportive to ever so much as frown at an aborted saute or fumbled step-change to the fifth position. Any parent who could be proud of a thirteenth-place Sunset Lanes bowling trophy wouldn’t scoff at mere balletic missteps.

But there’s another part to that imagined recollection, one I hope desperately is true. In my memory, the young Sam dances like the child in the picture, heedless of the world outside but immersed in its color. I can see him spring and leap around – not graceful by any means, god no, stumbling like an idiot – but starting to come to grips with the joy to be had in running and dancing when everyone and no one is watching. In my more unreasonably optimistic imaginings, he’s already questioning the roles he’s fed and daring to dream of being hoisted aloft in silken slippers before the crowd.

His spine is straight: that crucial spring coiled tightly, arms thrust to the side for balance, dreams and fears and desperate motion stored as elastic potential. He stands tall beneath a rapidly descending future and the crushing weight of mountains.

Over two decades later, I have misplaced his secret of standing tall alone. My shoulders are hunched and rounded; often I am blind to the vivid colors that surround me, distracted by details. When I dance now, the cold and inflexible brass pole running from ceiling to floor becomes my spine. I caress it with my thighs, rub my body along its length and cling to it for the support my own worn-out and rusty bones cannot provide. I twist and gyrate to crude pop rhythms, dragging my limp body across the floor. I scowl at my stiff hips.

Still, there are moments where my spine remembers. The first ragged breath at the end of a routine sends a lick of fire shivering through its disused coils. There are days where I walk alone in public and the burning glares of others sink beneath my skin and feed the furnace smoldering deep within.

It’s been a long and lifeless hibernation, but when I slap my palm onto the pole and lean back, I am sure that I will learn to support myself once more. The effortless courage of my youth left an impression that learning to ride a bike never did, and my spine retains it. Slowly, beneath the weight of mountains, I will stand tall once more.


[Rainy day flashfic] Small and technical horror


Image remodelled by sinbawii on Deviantart

This story is based upon a dream described to me on Twitter. And Sam – one of the small tiles is indeed named Smegmantha, as discussed.

Somehow, the worst part is the clicking. Tiny white tiles clack in mindless modularity and they are everywhere. I run through corridors that only resolve themselves when I draw near, clattering into existence as tiles rush to fill structural voids. It’s as if they ran out of materials constructing this place and left self-assembling tiles to make up the lack. An architect’s plans ebb and flow in my wake.

There are others trapped in this place, just as I am. Sometimes I can see a surprising distance ahead when the architecture allows, a vast white empty space stretching on without end. On these occasions I will sit or catch my breath against a wall – hairline fractures scarring the surface in perfect tessellation – and gaze out upon the inchoate domain I inhabit. Always in the distance tiles ripple in concert as they pursue another poor unfortunate locked in a quest to escape.

And behind? I no longer look behind. Not anymore.

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[Audio review] Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express

A moustache sharp enough to cut through the ice to the heart of any mystery

Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express is an energetic and lighthearted adaptation of Agatha Christie’s deviously clever mystery.

This review contains audio from the VCR Clue game, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Firesign Theatre, and The Polar Express.

[Fiction/crime] Nut smugglers

Image property of Blue Sky Studios [Ice Age franchise]

Snow crunched under Red’s tires as she flicked on her indicator, sweeping right into the wide parking lot of the Natural Nuts Packaging Co. The little Invader Zim Gir figurine anchored to the dashboard wobbled furiously in protest at the maneuver.

“Don’t worry, little guy,” Red said. “Just need to hitch up the load and then it’s smooth sailing from here on out.” The robot’s oversized head continued to nod in what she liked to think was agreement.

Red chewed her lip, squinting in the faint pre-dawn light at the loading bays ahead. Three monstrous warehouses loomed against the twilit sky, untethered semi-trailers arrayed before them like boats at a land-locked wharf. She brought her cab to a stop, engine idling. Shouldn’t there be someone here to meet her?

On cue, a figure hurried out from a squat office at the edge of the warehouses, one arm raised oddly. After a moment, Red realized they were shading their eyes against the blinding glare of her high-beams, so she cut the engine and climbed out to meet them. The person kicking through the ankle-deep snow towards her was a bespectacled man in a blue tuque. A bushy brown mustache nestled above his mouth like a slug.

“Ho, there!” he called, waving. “Where are you from? There aren’t any shipments scheduled till six, not for -” he consulted a tablet with an ungloved hand – “An hour, or so.” Red frowned.

“Didn’t you get the updated paperwork?” she asked. The man paused.

“Updated paperwork?”

“I’m here for the Bellevue shipment. Broker should’ve faxed the job through again yesterday.” The man shook his head, ice crystals flaking from his mustache.

“The Bellevue job? Pickup’s not till nine. You’re four hours early!”

“There has to be some mistake. It’s the same job, anyway. Load ready to go?”

“Yes, but…” He noticed Red shivering, huffing on her hands in an effort to prevent them going numb. Why’d she leave her dang coat in the cab? “Look, it’s freezing out here, lady. Come to the office where it’s warm and we’ll sort this whole thing out.”

“Thanks,” Red managed, hugging herself. She couldn’t retrieve her coat now without looking like an idiot, so she trudged along behind the shipping supervisor, cursing internally.

The office was cozy. A cup of coffee sat cooling on a table beside a half-eaten sandwich, little wisps of steam curling up into the air. The man sat down, beckoning Red to do the same.

“So what’s the story, then? The Bellevue shipment’s on the books for nine today, and now you’re here claiming it before dawn. Suppose you tell me just what’s going on?” Red drummed her fingers on the table impatiently.

“It was originally nine, but a couple days ago the broker called me saying the receiver needed the schedule bumped forward, so the new pickup was at five. I thought they would’ve informed you by now.” The man clicked his tongue, checked his tablet again, then wandered over to a stack of papers and leafed through them.

“Here we are,” he said, sitting down and sliding a document over to Red. “This is all I’ve got. FND Express from the Sacramento plant to Nutopia in Bellevue, Washington.” She picked up the manifest and scanned it.

“Yeah, this is the one. So are we good?” The man sighed, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but it’s all too irregular. I can’t let the load go like this without confirmation from above, and my manager’s still chasing Z’s. About an hour either way’s as far as I can push it.”

“Seriously? You’d rather I hang around for three hours than shift the load a little early? Come on. Neither of us wants that. I’m here now. What say we get this done? Less headache for you later.” The man grimaced, glancing at the document and back to her. He reached a decision.

“Fine. Sign here, please.”

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[Poetry] cheshire

cheshire cat

pupation in its many forms
comes not just once
in life

swaddled in, by stages,
our innocence dread anxiety
we morph
spurting caustic fluid from our pores

insect evolution unexplained

sometimes we bloom greyscale
in gentle shades of nothing
extraneous gradations mark passing of
our time

others blossom crimson
sword directed outwards
damocles subverted
and held against our foes
staving off our fears with bigot’s rage

bitter/sweet is rainbow birth
roy biv’s candescent burst
as flavor-rich as bertie’s beans

a vivid sheen so double-edged
that angry popes and postal votes
leave stamps upon your soul
identity discussed behind closed doors

did they ever care to know?

strangers grin and ogle
pluck bits like jacarandas
trample on your self-esteem

till all that’s left of you
are cheshire teeth

[Poetry] interregnum II

Holy Roman Empire

in dithmarschen
the danish men
got lost among the marshes

but they weren’t the only ones

these uncouth peasants would lure in ships
fat north sea cogs
on trading trips and then
and then
sunder them in brackish pools

cart away their cargo
plunder off their planks
steal stores and stockfish

brave peasants march from dithmarschen
that squabbled-over swamp


you do what you can to survive
on the fringes of denmark

there’s not much
a peasant can do
on the fringes of denmark

when faced with the hansa and all
fell princes of denmark

[Poetry] interregnum I

Holy Roman Empire

it’s been a while since
we had a king

this was a republic, once
lombard leagues arrayed
verse overweening emperors

in avignon
the pope lives on
a treasured guest of normans

these institutions made us what we are
charters guide
our civic pride
relentless slide to oligarchy

our boot-bound towns never cared
for much

they say otto won
at lichtenfeld
but the reichskammergericht lies empty