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The Hedge Apple Is In Print!

The Hedge Apple Is In Print!

Hey, everyone! The wait is over, the Fall 2018 edition of the Hedge Apple is officially available on Amazon!

It’s been an awesome semester, and we are excited to share this amazing collection of work from a very talented group of contributors. In this edition of the Hedge Apple, you can expect to encounter top-of-line original pieces of art, fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

For anyone who contributed to the magazine, keep an eye on your mailbox; in the next several weeks a free contributor’s copy will be headed your way. Also, for anyone else looking to enjoy the Hedge Apple, follow the link to purchase a copy of your own!

Again, we can’t thank everyone enough for all of the support we have received this semester. Without our contributors and readers the Hedge Apple would not exist. Keep writing, everyone, and we look forward to reading and reviewing all of your creative work for the Spring semester!

The Green House By Brigitte Brkic

The Green House By Brigitte Brkic

The green house sat in perfect harmony with the sea, mountains, and pines behind it; seemingly at one with nature and untouched by the war in the former Yugoslavia.

Two years after the fighting had stopped the effects of war were fading, and preparations for a new tourist season along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia were well underway. Everywhere smells of fresh paint and newly planted flowers mingled as the residents hammered and sawed at repairs on land and water, scrubbing and power-washing away the neglect of the last five years. Even the Adriatic Sea seemed to take on a new clarity as it lapped against the old pebble shores and sprayed over jutting rocks as it had always done.

The day after our arrival, the first in six years, I took the sea path that follows in and out of coves, past small fishing villages, and comes to an abrupt end where Biokovo Mountain drops vertically into the sea. Though the war’s destruction had not reached the tiny resort town of Brela, it had suffered in its own way by the complete absence of tourists—its life force. The shells of houses under construction before the war now stood abandoned. From them, shrubbery and weeds leaned toward the sea, straining for sunlight. The path I followed was old and neglected, torn upward or caved in at every turn, depending on the angle of the waves that had pounded it each time a Jugo blew.

Stepping carefully, I rounded a corner and entered a sparsely populated cove. At the entrance the land jutted far out into the sea, and from the highest point a green house kept watch over the water on three of its sides. Behind the house, a cluster of pines sheltered it from the land. Unlike the box-like architecture typical of the multi-story, balconied houses built for years up and down the coast, the green house seemed to sprawl, its irregular roofs and eaves mirroring the rugged landscape. Doors opened to verandas at various levels and upstairs windows to individual balconies. But the most striking difference from the other houses was the soft green of the walls, merging perfectly with the pines and olive trees.

Each day of our two-week stay, I walked that same path. My husband joined me once, but he found the house unremarkable. During the second week our daughter, who had been doing forensic work on the mass graves in Bosnia, came to visit. Day by day on those ten-kilometer walks she spoke a little more of her work; of what she had seen and touched, the stories of the survivors who had kept vigil, watching every moment in their hope of finding some clue as to the fates of missing husbands, sons, and brothers. She spoke of her colleagues and how they had found ways of coping and supporting each other. We paused at the green house, but there was never anyone there.

“It was probably built by foreigners before the war,” she said. “And they’ve stayed away like all the other tourists. They probably have some local person take care of it, so it’s not neglected like those other houses.”

“No,” I disagreed. “Look at the new plantings. Someone has lavished care on this house and garden. Besides, the windows and doors are usually open.”

“Maybe the caretaker airing the place,” she laughed. “Mom, when I’m rich and famous, I’ll build a place like this for you.”

“Silly,” I said, nudging her with my elbow. But I was relieved to see her smile, a sign that she was setting aside the somber and obsessive images of her work.

The following year our son, having recently graduated college, came with us. I resumed my daily walks along the path. New houses were springing up, and some of the unfinished ones were completed. The green house stood out from the rest, unchanged but for cobblestones laid in concentric circles to form a patio around the base of the pine tree on the point. After a few days of lazing on the beach or watching the televised European soccer matches almost every day, my son was ready to walk with me. He spoke of his plans and dreams for the future. When we reached the green house, he took photos from all sides of it and of the view. His sister had told him of “Mom’s Green House.”

After that visit I returned each year in late summer and photographed the changing garden. Under the pine tree lounge chairs appeared, creating a shaded spot to sit and watch the sun sink into the sea between the islands. Mediterranean shrubbery covered more and more of the rocky ground as cypress trees grew slender and tall. Splashes of yellow flowers bloomed between the evergreens. Stone walls, steps, and paths terraced the ground from the house to the pine at the point. Bougainvillea spread purple blossoms to the balconies on one side. In my imagination I created an elderly British couple who had spent their lives far from home, in service to Queen and Empire, before retiring here and building their dream house.

Each year we returned; sometimes friends joined us, another year my son brought his new bride, and the next they came with his wife’s parents. Then our daughter came with her husband and their one-year-old son. Whoever came to visit walked with me at least once by the green house. The garden matured while the house remained unchanged, but I never saw the people who lived there.

Occasionally, in cafes or restaurants, I asked friendly waiters about the green house. They shook their heads in puzzlement—what green house? Sometimes I saw people working around their houses nearby, but it seemed rude to ask about their neighbor, and there were no cafes or shops in that cove to allow a casual query. Once I asked an architect who worked in the region, certain that he must have noticed the unusual design, but he shrugged and shook his head. He did not know of it.

Then, on a recent visit, earlier in the season than usual, I stopped to peer through the railing. When I looked up, I was startled to see a woman standing under a rose-covered archway watching me. She was pruning the roses and held her clippers about to snip.

I felt caught in the act of spying. She spoke to me in Croatian.

“Ne Hrvatska,” I said, shaking my head.

“French?” She was smiling.

“Pas beaucoup,” I said, showing a small opening between the tips of my thumb and forefinger. “Besser Deutsch or English?”

She laughed, and we agreed on English.

“I was admiring your garden,” I said, trying to explain my nosiness.

She nodded. “You’re early this year.”

I was thrown, wondering how she could know that we usually came in late summer. I decided that she meant it was early in the season for the garden.

“Yes, the flowers at this time of year are wonderful,” I said.

“May is my favorite time here—it’s the smell.” She looked more closely at me and said, “You usually come in September.”

I watched as she snipped at a dried rosebud. She was slim and of medium height, moving easily and gracefully. I could not decide if she was in her early forties, or late fifties, or somewhere in between. Her-light brown, medium-length hair was well cut and poked behind her ears. Lighter streaks around her face looked as if they had been bleached by the sun, although only her arms were tanned.

She turned back, smiling as if she knew I had been studying her. “Are you here alone this year?” she asked. “I’ve never seen you this early.”

“Just with my husband for the first week,” I said and hesitated before adding, “Then my daughter and her family will join us for the rest of our stay.”

“Has she had more children?”

I nodded, and as I told her that my daughter now had a three-year-old girl, I was thinking this was getting too weird. What more did this woman know about me?

She came forward and opened the gate that stood between us. “Why don’t you come in, so I can give you a tour.”

I hesitated, feeling as if I were being lured into her domain. I was being silly, I told myself as I walked into the garden. She was a good guide and gave me the history of each plant, bush, and tree.

“My husband—Denis—laid the stones that circle the pine tree. We chose this spot for the house because of that tree.”

“I admired the perfect way those stones were set,” I said, remembering the second year I had come by the house.

“I know you did,” she said. “And you had your son—I think it was your son—photograph it from every angle. The previous year your daughter was with you, but we had barely begun on the garden. They seemed very young then, your children, I mean.”

As we reached the far side of the garden, I caught the heady scent of jasmine and looked around for its source.

“This way” she said, leading the way past a laurel bush. “It’s my latest and now favorite project. Whenever I feel low, I stand here just drinking in the perfume. It always works.”

She took my hand and pulled me under the bower of jasmine. The aroma made me think of the “Goblin Market”, the enchantment coming from flowers instead of forbidden fruits. I closed my eyes and breathed in the heady scent, trying to stamp it into my memory.

“It’s addictive,” she warned. “Please come back any time and enjoy it. It doesn’t last long. By the way, my name is Chantal.”

She held out her hand and I took it. “I’m Roberta but everyone calls me Robbie,” I said, shaking her hand and thanking her.

“I mean it,” she said. “Come back and I’ll make tea.”

I was elated by this unexpected meeting, and the rest of the day I thought of little else. Now it was not only the green house that fascinated me. Chantal had seemed a little lonely and sad to me, and I was certain her invitation to return was sincere. My fantasy of the elderly British couple was gone. I would go back the next day.

* * *

I timed my arrival for mid-morning, a good time for tea. Again, she was in the garden, pruning. Her smile welcomed me as soon as she saw me, and she put down her clippers and opened the gate. She directed me to one of the chairs under the pine tree, where a tray rested on a small table. Everything was ready for tea: porcelain cups and saucers, milk and sugar; only the teapot was missing.

“I’ll just boil the water, and tea will be ready in a minute,” she said as she climbed the steps to the house.

I chose the chair facing the water and stared into the distance. Chantal had read me correctly. Not only had she known I would come, she had known when; and had set out the tea set in preparation.

She returned minutes later with the teapot and a plate of wafers. As she poured the tea, she began to ask me questions.

“What brings you here year after year?”

“The beauty of the coast,” I answered simply.

She waited for me to continue.

“My husband is from this area and, as a child, spent his summers here,” I said. “We came here on our honeymoon, and I fell in love with it. Once we had children, we returned every few years, whenever we could afford it. Since the end of the war, we’ve come back every year, usually at the end of the season. Now that our children are grown, we are no longer limited to school holidays. But this year we came early so our daughter and her family could join us. She teaches so we’re working around her schedule.” I paused to catch my breath. “Now I want to hear about you.”

Chantal nodded and stared out over the sea. At last she began to speak.

“It’s a pretty simple story, really. My husband was born very near here, and his family owned much of this land. The few houses back then were built further up the mountain, around the church and cemetery. I met him while I was here on vacation. We were very young. He came to see me in Paris that winter and met my family. They have been in the fashion industry for three generations, and when my father saw we were serious about each other, he offered Denis a job in the firm. Denis has an artistic flair and soon established himself, very successfully, as a designer of cotton prints.”

She paused to pour more tea.

“We spent our summers here, staying with his family. My husband frequently returned to Paris, but he managed to teach our son to swim, sail, and fish whenever we were together. At the end of each summer, we all returned to Paris.” Again, she paused.

“What about this house?” I prompted, not wanting her to stop.

“We had talked about building for a long time and were ready to begin when the war broke out. We decided to postpone it until the fighting stopped. Once the house was finished, I started on the garden. That was when you saw it for the first time.”

She stood and began to assemble the cups on the tray.

“Is your husband here too?” I asked. “Does he also garden?”

“No, he’s too involved with the business. I have never been much interested in it, which was a great disappointment to my father—until my husband showed up. The garden has been my work. My husband comes in April to open the house and again in November to close it.”

She had picked up the tray and turned toward the house. I carried the teapot and followed behind her.

“What about your son? Does he still come?”

There was silence and I wondered whether she had heard me.

“Luka,” she said quietly and kept walking. “He’s dead.”

We had reached the veranda, and she placed the tray on the table before taking the teapot and cookies from me.

It was clear the visit was over, but I was still struggling for words. “I am so sorry”, I managed at last and wondered whether those would be the last ones between us.

“I know” she said, squeezing my hand. “Please, come back soon. I will be here. I have enjoyed our visit.”

* * *

For the next two days, I could not return and worried that Chantal would misunderstand. A friend of my husband’s had arrived unexpectedly, and we took him to see other towns along the coast. On the third morning my husband drove his friend to the airport in Split, and I set off for my walk along the sea path.

It was raining and too windy for an umbrella, so I wore my raincoat and pulled the hood well over my head. I hesitated at Chantal’s gate, for I was dripping, then I rang the bell anyway. Within seconds Chantal was running down the steps to open the gate. I was relieved to see her welcoming smile.

“Come in, you must be chilled,” she said, handing me a towel and slippers as she took my wet slicker and sneakers to the bathroom.

“It’s a good day for cocoa,” she said, heading for the kitchen. “Make yourself comfortable in the living room. It was so gloomy I lit a fire.”

In spite of the weather, the living room was filled with light. French doors across the width of the room led out to the central veranda and created a wall of light unopposed by the semi-sheer curtains, which were pulled all the way back. Books lined the side walls from floor to ceiling. The logs in the fireplace blazed and hissed from the damp, and the well-worn, overstuffed chairs and sofa beckoned. I chose a chair that looked out over the sea. Next to it a side table held a variety of photos in frames.

They depicted three or perhaps four generations of the family, several taken on the Adriatic coast. There was a much younger Chantal with a handsome young man I assumed to be Denis. Her fair hair and complexion contrasted sharply with his darker Mediterranean features. Several of the photos showed a boy, some taken of him in infancy, a few at various stages of his childhood, and some as a young adult. I picked up one showing him leaning well back over the side of a sailboat, turquoise water outlining his lean torso and broad shoulders. He was laughing at the camera as he countered the pitch of the sailboat. The wind whipped his dark hair, and the boat was obviously moving at high speed.

“That’s Luka,” Chantal said. I had not heard her enter the room. “Sailing was his passion. His father took him out on the sailboat as soon as he learned to swim.”

I set the frame back carefully. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”

“I keep the photos there to be looked at,” she said, handing me a mug of cocoa topped with a mound of froth.

Sipping it carefully, I considered the questions I could ask her. I was curious about so many things. We sat for a long time in silence, and I was the first to break it.

“Chantal, many people must have walked by your house and admired it, so why did you notice me especially? You seem to have even figured out the members of my family.” I hesitated, not wanting to sound suspicious. “How did you know when to look for me?”

She smiled, her eyes still watching the fire. At last she spoke. “That first time you stopped was the first time I had stayed in the house. Most of the construction had been completed that winter and spring, and I was alone with just enough furniture to get by. I had hoped to get a start on the garden, but I spent most of the time just looking out. It was a particularly low period for me. Denis would not come at all, and I had begun questioning why I had.”

“If this is too difficult…” I began.

“No, no,” she reassured me. “The way you looked at the house made me pull myself together and realize why I was here.”

“What way?” I asked. “I was admiring it.”

“It was more than admiration I saw in your face. I felt you understood the house. You looked at it from every angle and you kept coming back. Of course you didn’t know the story behind the house, but I could tell you connected with it.”

“Yes, I was attracted in a strange way,” I admitted.

“We had wanted to build for years,” she continued. “Once we started talking about it—Luka was about twelve—he became obsessed by it. He drew pictures of his dream house, always with green walls to blend with the pines and the sea. At first, they were childish fantasies; castle-like structures on the cliffs with the sea pounding below. But as he grew older, the drawings became more realistic, and a family friend, an architect, began to take an interest and make suggestions. Just as we were ready to start building, the war started.”

Chantal got up, stretched, and stoked the logs with the poker.

“So, this house is Luka’s design,” I said. “He’d have made an incredible architect.” The words were out before I registered how stupidly insensitive they were.

Chantal raised her hands dismissively and continued. “Luka was finishing medical school in Paris and volunteered for the army here. My husband was absolutely against it, but I understood his need to go.” Chantal paused, brushing a strand of hair behind one ear. “He was killed before the end of his first year. And my husband has never forgiven me.”

“How terrible,” was all I could manage in response.

“Yes, it was, and it still is.” Chantal swung her feet to the floor and leaned forward, her elbows propped on her knees. “Denis began a new life when he came to Paris after we met. The only connection he felt was to this little piece of land because of its beauty, but it could have been in any country in the world. He had no nationalistic feelings and avoided all discussions of politics. When Croatia declared independence, he approved, but that was the end of it as far as he was concerned. Luka, however, became passionate about the war. He began to study Croatian and read everything he could lay his hands on, not only the current news but also the history of the region. Denis, who had always refused to speak Croatian in our home, would not practice with him nor would he discuss any of the war with him. So, Luka talked to me.

“When he decided to volunteer, he told me but not his father. I did not try to dissuade him—I didn’t think I could—and I didn’t tell Denis until Luka had left. I did not want them to have a terrible row before they parted. Of course, I did not want Luka to go, but I was proud that he felt such a commitment—foolishly. I thought that with his medical knowledge, they would keep him busy in some field hospital well behind the lines. But this was not conventional warfare. Luka wrote to me of the atrocities on civilians. He could not believe human beings were capable of such actions. And I continued to be so proud of him.”

Chantal walked over to the bookshelf and rummaged between the books. From behind one particularly large tome, she extracted a packet of Gitanes.

“My great vice,” she said with a smile.

She pulled a cigarette from the pack, examined it before lighting it, drew in deeply, and exhaled slowly.

“He stepped on a landmine at the beginning of his eighth month there and died instantly, or so they say.”

I was shaking my head, and all I could think of saying was, “I am so sorry.”

Chantal looked at her watch, and I thought about leaving when she said, “It seems to have stopped raining. I’m going to take some flowers up to the cemetery today. If you would like to come with me, if you have time, I could show you. He—his remains are buried in the churchyard up there in the old village.”

She had already cut white roses and put them in a bucket of water before my arrival. Gathering them up, she wrapped the stems with a paper towel and we set off. A patch of blue sky appeared as we climbed the steep road between olive trees and grapevines growing on narrow terraces.

I had many questions, but I was too winded to speak. It was all I could do to keep up with her as we climbed ever higher. Several times I paused to look back at the view, which became more impressive with each stop as I tried to catch my breath.

“Take your time,” she said, smiling. “I do this every day. You get conditioned. When I’ve been away for a while, it takes me twice as long. Why don’t we sit here and rest a little?”

We had reached a bench and I flopped down gladly. The sun was shining now and had already dried the seat.

“It is beautiful here,” I said. “But don’t you find it lonely all by yourself?”

“No, when I’m here I feel closer to Luka. He loved it so.” She turned to me as she continued, “I was the one who got the house built. Denis wanted no part in it. I did it for Luka.”

I thought of her husband and tried to imagine him dealing with his son dying for a country that he had abandoned.

Chantal seemed to read my thoughts. “Denis comes here to see his family, and as I said, he opens and closes the house for me. But, without Luka, he takes no joy in it. Being here just reminds him of what we have lost.” She sighed deeply and added, “We all deal with these things differently. In Paris he keeps busy. People depend on him and it gives him the reason to keep going. Now, are you ready to go on? It’s just a little further.”

We continued to climb and at last, to my relief, the church came into sight as we passed small, ancient stone houses. I recognized the bell tower which I had seen from far away. It was a simple building of sun-bleached stone, surrounded by horse chestnut trees and a stone wall. Walking in the shade of those trees felt like entering a sanctuary from the turmoil of the world.        Chantal pointed toward steps leading to the seaward side of the churchyard. “The graves are this way.”

On the top step I stopped in wonder at the view that lay before me. We were standing on a ledge, the church behind us and the sea in front of us. At the outer edge the ground fell away sharply with only the rocks and pounding waves far below. The flat surface was covered with graves so close together, it was impossible to pass between them without stepping on them.

Chantal led the way to a grave at the far edge that looked out to the sea. She busied herself, replacing wilted roses with the fresh ones and sweeping debris from the stone. The outline of the green house was etched into the smooth marble face of the headstone. Chantal stood at my elbow and translated the simple words: Luka 1970 – 1992, Home and Remembered Always.

“Chantal, it’s beautiful—so peaceful,” I whispered.

“Yes, I feel he earned this spot.”

My eyes teared and I turned away, not wanting her to see. She squeezed my arm.

“It’s all right,” she said. “You know, I always wished for a second child, but it wouldn’t have made it any easier.”

We stood side by side in silence. Then she said, “I do have one consolation. I have a grandson.”

I looked at her in surprise and waited for her to say more.

“Luka had a girlfriend, Marie. She became pregnant just before he left for the war. Against her parents’ and my husband’s advice, she decided not to have an abortion. Luka never saw his son. She named the baby Luc.”

Chantal glanced at me and sat down on the edge of the grave, motioning me to join her.

“Denis did not want me to get involved. He said Marie was too young and needed to get on with her life. Except for occasional financial assistance, he would not allow himself to connect with the baby in any way because he thought it would hold Marie back—at least that was how he explained it. I understood his point. But Marie encouraged me to spend time with my grandson from the time he was born. She is a wonderful mother, and I believe she has appreciated having me in her son’s life. Two summers ago, Marie and Luc spent a week with me here. Last year he came for a month without Marie. As Luc grows older, Denis spends more time with him in Paris, especially when I’m away. I tried to get Denis to join us here, but he won’t. I think he’s afraid. Those days he and Luka spent together here were among the happiest in our lives.” Chantal stood up and brushed off her pants, staring out to sea. “Anyway, Luc is coming again next week,” she said, turning to me. “I have been trying to find a way to get Denis here at the same time. I think it would be good for both of them.”

“Maybe you could create some emergency that would bring him here,” I said.

She laughed. “Short of breaking a leg, I can’t think of anything.”

* * *

My daughter arrived the next day with her two children and kept me busy for the following week. The next time I went for my long walk, I stopped at the gate, looking for Chantal. Instead I saw a man on the veranda. He spotted me and came down the steps.

I was taken aback and blurted out, “I-I’m sorry, I was looking for Chantal.”

His smile was friendly and amused at my discomfort. “You must be Robbie,” he said, holding out his hand. “I’m Denis. Chantal told me you might stop by.”

“Is she all right?” I asked, wondering what had happened to her.

“Yes, she’s fine,” he reassured me. “She had to go back to Paris to take care of some urgent business.”

“Will she be back here this summer?” I asked.

“Yes, in two weeks to spend the last part of our grandson’s vacation with him. Luckily, I was able to get away and come here before Chantal left, otherwise he would have had to go back to Paris with her. Would you like me to pass along a message to Chantal?”

“Please tell her I look forward to seeing her when she returns,” I said, then added, “I hope you enjoy your stay.”

He nodded, smiling. “Thank you, I intend to.” He turned from the gate, paused, and met my eyes. “Chantal has enjoyed your visits. It’s been good for her to have someone to talk with. Well, good-bye.”

I waved and continued my walk. On my return an hour later, I gazed up from the cove to the house, its windows open to the sea. Turning to look in that same direction, I saw a sailboat leave the quay. I thought I recognized Denis as one of the two people on board. He was calling directions to the other occupant, a teenage boy. The letters on the stern of the boat spelled Luka.

 

 

Brigitte was born in Germany, and after time spent in England and Austria, she moved to the United States. She has a Master’s in English Literature and lives outside of Washington D.C. with her family.

 

Themes for Fall 2018

Themes for Fall 2018

Hey there writers, readers, and lovers of literature! Hagerstown Community College’s literary magazine Hedge Apple has some exciting news. To broaden the scope of both our submissions and readership and to foster our participation in a much larger literary community, the Hedge Apple is no longer limited to accepting submissions from students and faculty of the college. We are now open for submissions from everyone! We, at the Hedge Apple, believe strongly in the power of the written word to connect and inspire humanity and are excited to begin a new chapter which includes innovative and different perspectives from across a larger geographic area. We look forward to receiving a larger volume of material with fresh outlooks and will continue to emphasize quality while remaining friendly and approachable to emerging writers.

But wait! That’s not all. Hedge Apple is also announcing some upcoming themed issues. We want to see what you lot of creative humans can do with the following themes (and honestly, we the editors want the fun and challenge of putting each issue together). The editors hope you will view them as gentle nudges to get those creative juices flowing, fingers clicking away at keyboards, pen scratching away on paper, or whatever else you do in your creative process. Perhaps, instead, you have a piece moldering at the bottom of a dusty drawer that somehow relates to one of our themes. In that case, dust it off and send it our way. The editors particularly enjoy reading pieces that have an original, outside of the box relationship to a theme. We challenge you to be bold and original!

And, as always, we’re accepting general submissions.

The Outdoor Issue

Our first theme for the fall issue of the Hedge Apple is our Outdoor theme. We want to hear about all of your outdoor experiences, from a quick walk in the woods to your month-long adventure hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. If you have a peaceful poem describing how being outside affects you, send it our way. If you have an impactful tale of a hunting or hiking excursion you went on, we want to read it. Poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction are all welcome. We will begin accepting outdoor submissions on September 1st, and the deadline for outdoor submissions will be September 25th.  Ultimately, we’re looking for creative pieces that reflect what the outdoors means to you.

The Horror Issue 

What’s the one thing everyone loves in October? A good fright, of course! For this issue, we want all your Halloween-related tales. We want your most spooky and scary, fearsome and frightening, horrifying and hair-raising pieces. Make us hold our breath, cringe, and best of all, scream! Send shivers down our spines and make our blood go cold. And get creative! We love feeling afraid. Just remember not to go too far. Our horror theme will be accepting submissions from now until October 25th.

The Personal Identity Issue

We’re all different, and that’s great! Our wonderful differences fuel our individuality and give us distinct personalities. We want to know what makes you different from all the rest. We want to hear your stories; how you came to understand that you were different, how you’ve accepted your difference, how the world reacts to you, or how you react to the world. Whatever it is, we want to know about you and the differences that make you unique. Send us your poetry and short stories on anything regarding your personal identity. We want to hear about you! We will be accepting these submissions from now until November 25th. If you wish to be considered for the print version of the Hedge Apple magazine, make sure you submit by November 10th.

Submission Guidelines:

Send your poetry, fiction, nonfiction, visual art, and videos to hedgeapple@hagerstowncc.edu with the subject line “Submission”. Please include a cover letter containing a brief bio and a word count; and, if you are writing for one of our themed issues, let us know in your cover letter. We do accept simultaneous submissions; however, please be courteous and notify us in your cover letter, and withdraw your story from consideration upon acceptance at another venue.

Changes to our Masthead: A Thanks and a Welcome!

Changes to our Masthead: A Thanks and a Welcome!

Happy September, everyone!

As we move into the Fall 2018 semester, I’d like to pause to appreciate our Spring/Summer editors and welcome our Fall editors.

I was blown away by the energy, vision, and wisdom of Johanna Bulley, Lynn Martin, and Michael Tucker this past Spring and Summer. The Hedge Apple has changed immensely during their editorial term as we:

  • moved from only accepting work from the HCC community to accepting work from around the world;
  • moved from traditional publishing to publishing and marketing on Amazon;
  • increased our social media presence by creating a Facebook page;
  • introduced special themed issues, one of which even included Spotify playlists;
  • represented the Hedge Apple at the Barrelhouse conference Conversations and Connections;
  • provided copies of the magazine to 40 contributors of prose, poetry, art, and creative nonfiction.

It was a pleasure to work with Johanna, Lynn, and Mike as they explored their aesthetics, communicated with writers and artists who submitted work, and pushed through boundaries that might have overwhelmed other editors.

I have a strong feeling that this is not the last the literary community will see of them, and I look forward to watching them write, publish, edit, and otherwise contribute to our shared community of letters. I want to thank them for their friendship and for the inspiration they have given me to go beyond the status quo, to dream big and then follow those dreams.

Stay tuned… as their last action as editors, Johanna, Lynn, and Mike will each nominate one of our published pieces for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. You can see their choices here sometime this week.

I’m also very excited to welcome Blake Garlock and Katelyn Hogue, our Fall 2018 editors. Blake and Katelyn come to us enthusiastic and anxious to read your work, and I can’t wait to see the new levels we will achieve as they take over the editorial reins this semester. You’ll hear from them soon with a brand-spanking-new list of three themed issues for this Fall.

Thanks to all our followers and contributors for your support this year. You mean a lot to us!

Amanda Miller

Faculty Advisor, Hedge Apple

 

Underwater Algebra By William Doreski

Underwater Algebra By William Doreski

When the lakes have frozen over,
equations smoke from the mud
and tickle the fancy of trout.

You didn’t know that algebra
occurs organically when leaf
debris rots on the bottoms

of lakes deep enough to care
about the future unevolved.
You didn’t know that fish, being

natural mathematicians, delve
into problems even atomic
computers belch out unsolved.

December’s brief afternoons flicker
as I tense my scrawny muscles
against sudden onset despair.

You ignore indulgent symptoms
by toting firewood to flatter
the cats cuddled at the woodstove

with tails entwined and twitching.
You ignore my assertion that deep
in the region’s lakes the fish

outthink us in primary colors
we rarely see in the winter
because our shadows occlude us.

Meanwhile the plaiting of distance
warps the dying sky by shaping
ecstasies too remote for us,

and the ice reflecting that pleasure
isn’t thick enough to support us
no matter how gently we step.


William Doreski’s work has appeared in various e and print journals and in several collections, most recently A Black River, A Dark Fall (Splash of Red, 2018).

“Out of the Country” by Karla Linn Merrifield

“Out of the Country” by Karla Linn Merrifield

No surprise, you agree to meet me at the pub
on Dundas after I arrive, short-notice,
on the last flight into Toronto before the storm
slams your city shut for the duration,
and well after your night class at the conservatory
on Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question,
his renowned Harvard lecture series, which always
makes you break out into the weepies.

We’ll be two of a kind in simultaneous
spasms of grief, yours twenty-five years old,
mine only yesterday – twin points
in time dirtied with words incinerated,
smudged by the mute notes of ash.
We make believe like we did in high school.
Another dram later, an hour’s more drift
of snow below Ontario’s sleeping smokestacks,
you finger a piano that is our table, a first few bold notes;
I scribble a few quick lines, and our masters come alive.

in memoriam Phillip Levine


Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-
Residence, has had 600+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 12 books
to her credit, the newest of which is Bunchberries, More Poems of Canada, a sequel
toGodwit:  Poems of Canada (FootHills), which received the Eiseman Award for
Poetry. Forthcoming this fall is Psyche’s Scroll, a full-length poem, published by The Poetry
Box Selects. She is assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye. Visit her
blog, Vagabond Poe Redux, athttp://karlalinn.blogspot.com. Google her name to learn more;
Tweet @LinnMerrifiel;https://www.facebook.com/karlalinn.merrifield.

“Hopeful Now” by William Cass

“Hopeful Now” by William Cass

I was nearing the end of my last year in college and could be described at the time as deeply passionate, obsessed even, about my music.  I spent more time in the practice rooms in the basement of the performance center than anywhere else on campus. I was there again one bitterly cold Sunday evening during white-out conditions in what was supposed to be early spring.  I’d been at the piano in the room at the far end of the hallway for three hours and was struggling over an ending for my senior composition that I couldn’t get right. Out of exasperation, I began playing opening strains of famous pieces.  Perhaps it was my discouraged mood that led me to begin with the second movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata #2, using a tempo even slower than his staff notation. After I’d finished, I sat with my head down and shoulders slumped and blew out a long breath.  A moment later, the same strain at the identical tortured tempo came from the next room, then stopped abruptly at the exact point I had.

I sat up straight and frowned.  I’d passed all the open doorways in the hallway on my way in and they’d all been empty, not surprising with the weather.  I was used to being vaguely aware of other music being practiced elsewhere in those rooms while I was there and hadn’t heard a

note played since I’d arrived.  I sat in the stillness for a full minute or more, then launched into Beethoven’s Op.126 bagatelle.  I stopped again in the middle of a strain, then waited. Another moment passed before the same interlude came from the next room, but played with a precision and emotion that made a shiver pass over me.  It stopped again precisely where I had.

I listened more intently and could just make out the sound of the wind straining the glass entry door upstairs, but nothing more.  Suddenly, I entered into the “Se je chart mains” canon, this time much faster and louder than it was intended to be played, and halted arbitrarily between notes.  A handful of seconds later, the same piece echoed from the adjoining room, but with a yearning and quality I couldn’t possibly approach or hope to attain. Again, it stopped abruptly where I had, and then I heard the door to the room fly open and footsteps clatter down the hallway.

I jumped from the bench, stumbled to my knees, regained my footing, and pushed open my own door.  I was in time to see the back of a young woman in a long blue overcoat with auburn hair bouncing over its collar turn at the end of the hallway.  The side of her face became momentarily exposed as she started up the stairs, and I saw her glance my way with green eyes that sparkled and lips that held a crease of smile.  

I shouted, “Hey!”

But, she didn’t stop.  Instead, I heard her take the steps several at a time.  I ran down the hallway after her, but she’d disappeared at the top of the stairs when I got to them.  I clambered up as quickly as I could and burst onto the landing on top, only to find the door that led outside

yawning closed.  I shoved it open and hurried into the thundering storm of whiteness.  There was no sign of the woman and no indication where she might have gone in the night’s fury.  I stood there hugging myself long enough that the wind and snow had turned my cheeks numb before forcing myself back inside.

*           *           *           *           *

Eventually, I finished my senior composition, received Honors in the Major after playing it for my oral comps recital, and graduated.  During those final few months of school, I searched actively for the woman from that stormy night, but was unable to find her. Our department was a large one in an urban university with over ten thousand students, so it was no surprise that she remained unidentified to me.   When I was in the practice rooms afterwards, I often tried playing the opening strains from well-known compositions, but never heard another musical reply.

My father convinced me that relying on a career in musical performance was foolhardy, so I enrolled in a teacher’s credentialing program that started in September at a college in another city a couple hours away from my old one.  While I was there, I played in the university orchestra and continued composing pieces that were heard only by me. I auditioned for several larger community and musical theater orchestras, but didn’t get selected. That next spring, I was offered a full-time position at the high school where I’d done my student teaching, and took over the band and all other music-related classes there in the fall.  

Like most beginning teachers, my days and nights were consumed with work.  I felt lucky if I found a couple of hours on weekends for my own music. Auditioning further elsewhere became an afterthought.  But, I did begin dating another teacher at school shortly

before Halloween, and she and I had become serious enough that we invited one another to meet our families over Winter Break.

Her name was Dawn, and she’d begun teaching English there the year before I arrived.  She had a long tangle of brown curls and a manner that was both shy and removed that I found alluring.  Her smile was rare enough that it felt like a small victory when I could coax its arrival. She wrote poems and had published a few in literary magazines I’d never heard of, so we shared artistic interests, if not temperaments.  We accompanied one another to readings and recitals, but I could only marvel at the way she squeezed my hand as a poet’s words moved her, and I’m pretty sure she felt the same way when I did the same at a strain of music I found particularly beautiful.  But, we enjoyed simple things together – cooking meals, taking walks, watching old movies, keeping a jigsaw puzzle going on the coffee table in my living room. Of course, we also understood one another’s preoccupations with work and the long hours involved there, so had few expectations with each other, or disappointments either.  By early spring, she’d moved into my little rental house by the river, and a month later, we’d taken an abandoned puppy home from the animal shelter. We passed the shelter one Saturday during a walk, looked at each other, and then simply retraced our steps and went inside. Although we didn’t speak of it, there was an intentionality and shared responsibility involved that felt warm and significant and a little frightening.  He was a mutt and we named him Wags: a nod to Wagner, who was a writer in addition to being a composer.

Dawn often stayed late at school grading essays, so I began playing the piano again alone in the band room while waiting for her to be ready to go home.  Sometimes, she entered while I

was playing and I wouldn’t see her there until I’d stopped, when she’d smile and applaud heartily.  She’d usually get up in the mornings an hour or so before I did to write, and would often allow me to read pieces that she was ready to send out; I admired those I could understand, and always told her so, even about those I didn’t.

*           *           *           *           *

By October of my second year at school, the marching and pep bands I taught had improved to the point that they both had placed in several regional competitions.  I’d gained enough of a reputation in the area that I began taking on a few adult students for private lessons. At around the same time, one of the online journals that had published a couple of Dawn’s poems asked her to become an assistant editor, which she was proud of and could do remotely.  So, our lives become busier and more productive, I suppose, but it did mean less time together.

We kept Sunday mornings kind of sacred and unencumbered to be with each other.  If the weather cooperated, we usually began by taking Wags for a walk along the river.  During one of those in early December, Dawn surprised me by asking, “So, do you find giving private lessons satisfying?”

I glanced at her and shrugged.  I said, “Not particularly.”

“Then why don’t you use that time instead for your own music?”

“What, compose pieces that I write down and put in a drawer?  It’s not like your poetry that you can publish and share with other people.”

“Aren’t there ensembles or something you could join?  You know, like chamber music?”

“Those are string quartets.  No piano.”

We were quiet again while Wags sniffed at a tree in the light dusting of snow.  I looked at her face while she watched him; it had taken on that distant look, her mouth a small, straight mark.

After we resumed walking, she said, “I’ve been asked to take part in a reading.  One of the local journals where I had a poem appear.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thanks.”  She looked down at where Wags tugged her on his leash along the path.  “I’ve never actually read before except in a creative writing seminar, so this will be my first time in front of an audience.  I’m a little nervous.”

“You’ll do great.  Where is it?”

“At a bookstore…next Saturday evening.”  

“Shucks,” I said.  “My pep band has a competition then.”

“That’s okay.  I’d probably be more anxious if you were there, anyway.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”  She looked at me for the first time.  “I just would.”

*           *           *           *           *

After the first of the year, Dawn won a contest for one of her poems sponsored by a fairly well-known journal that paid her $500.  Our town’s newspaper found out about it and published an interview with her about her writing, which she tacked on the wall above her desk in the second bedroom we used as a study.  That led to her becoming a member of a new literary arts council formed by public libraries in four adjoining municipalities, and she began devoting lots of time helping organize council events like author visits, book signings, and young writers’ forums.  During that same period, I started playing basketball after school a few afternoons a week with some other teachers at school; we often grabbed a beer afterwards at a pub near the gym.  Our

schedules became such that by February, Dawn and I were driving to and from school in separate cars.  At home while she was gone, I watched a lot of YouTube videos of musical performances, sometimes binging on one after the other, while Wags sat on my lap and I scratched him behind the ears.

On an evening just before Spring Break, I came into the house after playing basketball and found Dawn sitting on the edge of the couch in her jacket with a small suitcase at her feet.  She looked up at me blankly and said, “This isn’t working.”

I felt my heart quicken.  I said, “I don’t understand.”

“We don’t share anything anymore.”  Her voice was flat and dull.

“We’ve just gotten busy doing our own things.  That can change.”

She shook her head, looked away, and said, “No.”

I squinted at the way she said it.  I was still sweating from the gym, and a cold shiver crawled up my back as I asked, “Is there someone else?”

She didn’t look my way.  A moment passed before she said, “That’s only part of it.  You and I haven’t been happy for a long time.”

“I’m happy.”

“Well, I’m not.”

She stood up, lifted the suitcase by its handle, and walked towards the door.  I reached for her, but she shrugged under my arm.

I said, “Don’t leave.  Please.”

But she opened the door, went through it, and closed it quietly behind her.  I heard her footsteps hurry down the walk, heard her car’s engine start, heard it crawl quietly down the driveway and then disappear up the street.  I stood staring at the depression in the sofa cushion where she’d been sitting, a numbness spreading through me. I felt as if I was falling, falling, falling in a well with no bottom.

*           *           *           *           *

Dawn wasn’t at school the next morning, and when I got home, all her things were gone.  She didn’t answer any of my calls or messages, and after several days, she’d shut down her cell phone and personal email accounts.  She didn’t return to work after the break either; one of her friends at school told me that she’d heard Dawn had moved to another state with a writer she’d met somewhere; a month or so after that, the same friend said she’d been told they’d gotten married.  The ache I felt was like an echo, deafening at first, then slowly receding.

Like it had to, I guess, life went on for me.  My walks with Wags became more frequent and longer.  I declined social invitations and dating opportunities.  Every now and then, I Googled Dawn’s name and found a new poem of hers in some online literary journal; they became more upbeat than I’d remembered them, breezier, lighter.  One was called, “Hopeful Now”; my heart clenched as I read it.

When summer vacation arrived, I brought a keyboard home from school, and used the extra free time to try composing again.  To say I was rusty was an understatement. My first few attempts were halting and dirge-like. But, eventually, a few pieces seemed promising enough that I went over to school to try them on the piano on the theater stage.  I thought the place was

empty, but when I finished, I heard someone in back clap slowly three times and saw our custodian there grinning at me, a broom leaning against the crook of his arm.  

“Great!” he called.  “Bravo!”

I gave him a sheepish wave and heard his footsteps go off across the linoleum into the foyer and ascend the stairs; the sound reminded me of the woman on that stormy night long ago.  The thought came quickly to me because I’d found myself dreaming of her recently, waking and sitting up suddenly in the darkness, the image of her so close and vivid I felt chagrined to have awoken.  When that happened, I tried lying back down quickly in the hopes of returning to the dream, but was never able to.

Over the long July 4th weekend, I returned to the city where I’d gone to college to visit a friend who’d found a job and settled there after we graduated.  I brought Wags with me, and took him on a walk across the deserted campus one morning. I passed my old dormitory, the wing of the library where I’d done most of my studying, and peered through the cafeteria windows at the table where I’d usually sat to eat.  I wandered over to the performance center, found the entry door open, and went downstairs to the practice rooms. No one else was there, and I took a seat at the piano in the room at the end of the hallway. I played the same three openings I had on that snowy evening, pausing after each one to listen to the silence that followed.  As I did, Wags looked up at me where he sat at my feet with his head cocked.

“I don’t know,” I told him.  “I have no idea what I’m doing either.”

When we left the room, I paused to look at the spot where the woman had turned and glanced at me before ascending the stairs.  I thought of her eyes, that hint of smile. An idea occurred to me out of nowhere, and I led Wags up the stairs outside.

We went inside the adjoining building, which housed the music department’s administrative offices, and I found the student bulletin board on the wall just inside the entrance where it had always been.  The same assortment of housing requests, job postings, textbook sales, and flyers advertising musical venues were tacked here and there across its surface. I sat on the floor beneath it, took a pad and pen out of my daypack, and wrote a description of the woman from that night.  I included her blue coat, auburn hair, green eyes, and exceptional piano talent. As near as I could, I estimated her height, weight, and age, as well as the date and description of that stormy evening. I asked anyone who knew her to contact me and ended with my name, cell phone number, and email address.  

I stood and looked up and down the long, empty hallway.  Then I tore the page off my pad, found a tack and spot on the bulletin board, and secured it there.  Wags studied me with the same cocked head.

I shrugged and told him, “What the hell do I have to lose?”

In early August, I finally scooped the last jigsaw puzzle that Dawn and I had worked on off the coffee table into its box; I couldn’t remember the last time either of us had touched it.  As I was closing the lid, my cell phone pinged and I glanced at its screen where it lay on the table. A text appeared from a number I didn’t recognize. It said: “You’re looking for me.”

I frowned and typed back: “Who is this?”

A moment later: “Performance center practice rooms.  Stormy night.”

My heart leapt, and I snatched the phone off the table.  I steadied my hands and typed: “I’d like to meet you.”

Another moment passed, then a new bubble swooped onto the screen that read: “Saturday night @ Jake’s, 8pm?”

I recognized the name of the bar and could picture it in a hip neighborhood on the opposite side of the city from my old college campus.  I typed: “I’ll be there.”

*           *           *           *           *

I changed my mind several times about wearing a sport coat before eventually leaving it at home and starting the drive that Saturday evening.  It was hot, humid, and I kept the air conditioner and classical music station on low. The stretch between my new and old cities was mostly farmland, long stretches of corn and wheat fields, tall with the approaching harvest.  I watched them nodding in the small breeze along with the dipping telephone lines in the distance and let my thoughts tumble over themselves. I thought about Dawn, her new life, and what had happened to us. I wondered about the woman from the practice rooms and how she’d filled the time that had passed since then.  I thought about the days ahead and how I’d fill those myself.  I’d just turned twenty-five and had spent my birthday alone.

Jake’s was down a little set of stairs, a long narrow room that was already dark against the gloaming outside when I entered.  There was only a dozen or so customers, and I found the

woman quickly once my eyes had adjusted to the dim light.  She was sitting alone at a table next to a small stage with a piano in its center and was fingering a glass of beer.  She raised those fingers to me, and I recognized her green eyes and smile. I took a breath, walked over, and extended a hand.  She took it, and we shook.

She said, “You haven’t changed much.”

“You either.”  I sat down across from her.  The simple blue dress she wore was the same shade as her coat on that snowy evening.  I said, “I’m Tom.”

She gave a short nod and said, “Sylvia.”  The hint of smile was still there. “So, what’s this all about, Tom?  This query of yours on a bulletin board.”

I felt color creeping up my neck.  I said, “I’m not really sure.” I shrugged.  “That night has stayed with me, I guess. How you played.  Why you did.”

She took a turn to shrug.  “Well, that Chopin sonata you started was pretty woeful.  Sounded like you could use some encouragement.”

Her smile widened a bit, and I did my best to return it.  “That’s true. I was feeling a little down, frustrated.”

“Truth be told, I’d been listening for quite a while.  The piece you were working on, it was your own?”

I nodded.

“It was beautiful.  Really”

A tiny bubble of something opened in me: something good.

Sylvia said, “The finished version was even better.”

I felt my eyebrows knit.

“I was there for your senior recital.  Out in that dark audience. Has it been performed since?”

I swallowed and shook my head.

“That’s a shame.  And you’ve written others?”

“Plenty.”

“None performed?”

“No.”

“Well.”  I watched her take a sip of beer.  “Then that’s a shame, too.”

A waitress came up to our table and I ordered a draft beer, too.  Then Sylvia and I sat looking at each other until I asked, “Why did you run off that night?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  Enough said at the time, I guess.”

Our eyes held.  She wasn’t beautiful, but her combination of features was pleasing, lovely somehow, full of life.  Finally, I asked, “So what about you? Even hearing you play those few moments…well, it was exquisite.”

She shrugged again.  “I’m more interested in theory, actually.”  She took another sip from her glass. “The department at school there had started a degree program for music theory, and I’d just transferred into it shortly before that night.  I’m almost finished now.”

“Then what?”

“Still trying to figure that out.”

“You should be playing.  You should be heard.”

“Oh,” she said.  Her eyes took on that same sparkle from the snowy evening.  “That might be involved.”

The waitress brought my beer and set it on a coaster.  I lifted it, and we clinked glasses. “To your good fortune,” I said.

“Likewise,” she replied, and we both sipped.

The place had begun to fill up.  The few remaining tables had all been taken and most of the stools at the bar were occupied.  As a cone of dusty light blinked on over the piano, a quiet sort of murmur rose in the room, and I felt several glances turn our way.  Sylvia looked beyond my shoulder, and I watched her raise a hand and her smile broaden. Another woman walked up beside her, leaned down, and they kissed.  Then, they both turned to me, and Sylvia said, “This is Anne. With a ‘e’.”

I sat blinking, hesitated, then took Anne’s offered hand and shook it.  She was tall with short blonde hair; even dressed only in a green T-shirt and khakis, she was striking.  She sat down in the seat between us and placed her hand on top of the Sylvia’s. They exchanged quiet smiles, then looked at me.

“So,” Anne said.  “Are you staying for the set?”

I frowned.  “I’m not sure.”

“You don’t want to miss it.”  She studied her watch, then said to Sylvia, “You’re on.  Your fans await.”

Sylvia took another sip of beer, glanced again at me with those eyes, then stood up and climbed the two steps onto the stage.  She sat down on the piano bench, adjusted the microphone

on the stand at the piano’s side so it was near her mouth, and began playing random warm-up riffs.  As she did, her gaze became serious and the noise in the room grew silent. A moment later, she closed her eyes and began playing one of Mendelssohn’s softer “Songs Without Words”.  I shook my head slowly at the absolute beauty of it.

She played steadily, a wide variety of pieces: classical, jazz, old standards, even a few improvisational versions of popular ballads during which she sometimes hummed melody into the microphone.  Regardless of the type, I was astonished at her virtuosity, and the crowd’s reaction grew more robust after each song concluded. Sylvia kept her eyes squeezed shut while playing, and only opened them briefly to say a few words of introduction between pieces.  

At one point, Anne leaned towards me and asked what I thought.

“Unbelievable,” I said.

She nodded and I watched her for a few moments gaze at Sylvia while she played.  As she did, I saw a combination of emotions on her face: love, of course, but also joy and pride and contentment.  Eventually, I looked back at Sylvia’s bowed, swaying head and closed eyes as her fingers glided over the keyboard.

After about an hour, Sylvia told the crowd she would be taking a break after the next song.  Then she looked once at me, smiled, and began the piece I’d been composing in the practice room on that stormy night.  She played it perfectly, better than I ever had. I felt

something akin to what I’d seen on Anne’s face spread up through me as she continued.  I whispered, “Hopeful now.” I didn’t want her to stop. I whispered, “Thank you.”


William Cass has had over a hundred short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as decemberBriar Cliff ReviewJ Journal, and The Boiler.  Recently, he was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, received a Pushcart nomination, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal.  He lives in San Diego, California.

Hedge Apple Reception, TUES 11/14 @ 5:00

Hedge Apple Reception, TUES 11/14 @ 5:00

Please join us in the Student Center at 5:00 on Tuesday, 11/14 to celebrate the release of the printed 2017 Hedge Apple. The event is open to the public. Refreshments will be served and we’ll run a contest for best content and delivery at the open mic.

Hope to see you there!

Picture from the 2016 reception
Contest Winner: Turning Tail by Michael Tucker

Contest Winner: Turning Tail by Michael Tucker

She was the cutest hitchhiker he had ever had the good fortune to pick up. He glanced over at the soft figure sitting next to him, trying hard to hide the hungry gleam in his eyes. If they kept cruising down Highway 91 at this rate, they would be there in two hours. Soon enough, they would be dancing barefoot by the light of the moon with the rest of the tribe.  He had an extra ticket and Lunar Vibe was already shaping up to be the party of the summer. And now he had someone with whom to share the experience.  And damn, what a someone. What an amazing stroke of luck. Those soft, glistening eyes and full lips; that little girl, freckled nose and those luscious curves, all too apparent in perfectly fitted jeans.  And the total cherry on top was that this piece of perfection just happened to climb into a car with this schmuck, who knew he would remain a gentlemen despite the horny, hungry wolf clambering about in his head; that is unless of course, he was given an invitation to do otherwise.

His mind drifted to the legendary aphrodisiac he had in the glove box. He had bought it from the toothless, old lady peddling herbs at a rest stop a few nights ago. He could still hear her laughing as she told him that it would turn him into a real animal, my  boy. A real animal…

For now, it was just the two of them barreling down this crazy road to nowhere and hopefully into each other’s arms. They had the whole weekend in front of them and it was going to be super fucking epic. Maybe, just maybe she would climb into his tent later tonight. Maybe it would get just chilly enough for her to cuddle up close to him. And then, maybe….but he couldn’t think about that now.

One hundred miles left of driving and there would be just enough time to set up camp by lantern and then it would be time for a few cold ones and live music until sunrise. He couldn’t wait. Sweet anticipation ran up against the nag of a full bladder.  He really had to pee.  He turned the volume dial to the right; mellow ,psychedelic , noodly jams filled the car. Moonlight lit up the highway with its cold and indifferent light. He tried not to stare at her too much. He resisted the urge to put his hand on her thigh. Maybe later, when they would be settled comfortably in his tent…

She stared out the window, watching the shadows shift and morph on the rows of trees as they blurred by. She imagined the glowing eyes of night creatures staring back at her through the branches: creepy, hunting night creatures.   A huge moon blazed up ahead. Its light played tricks with her eyes.

How long had she been running and where would it all end? Three weeks of going from town to town and she was already exhausted. She felt like prey running for her life in some kind of ridiculously drawn out chase scene from some goddamned National Geographic documentary. The kind where she covered her eyes to avoid seeing  what was going to happen to the poor gazelle in the next  frame. She just knew that it was going to be red and bloody and would inevitably involve a shot of the small animal, its eyes dead  and glazed over as the lion ate its flesh. She knew full well that no one ever walks away from

Big Johnny when she had stolen the money from him. Nobody ever makes a fool of Big Johnny and lives to talk about it, but she had made it this far. And the camera was not going to be cutting to a shot of that fat bastard licking his chops anytime soon. Not if she could help it. She was not on the menu.

He stomped on the gas. 85mph and things were beginning to get desperate. Pressing needs and animal instincts. Major bladder discomfort. He was hungry, ravenous in fact. And dog tired of being in the car. There was no sign of civilization. They hadn’t seen a vehicle in at least an hour. Just a huge moon and a sky full of stars. Miles bled into miles of empty, open road. Finally, just up ahead there was a gas station. He pulled into the empty Exxon parking lot.

“Need anything?”

“No thanks man. I’m good.” She leaned back in her seat.

“You sure?  Be back in a jiffy.”

She watched his red hoodie disappear through the front doors and into the harsh, fluorescent lighting of the mini mart. Bats dove and devoured insects under giant pole lights as the moon bore silent witness. The eerie zaps of bugs being fried by merciless, ultraviolet lanterns punctuated the midnight silence with a surreal rhythm. She took a deep breath, made sure he was totally out of sight and began to rifle through the glove box. She checked to make sure the small handgun was still tucked safely in the waistband of her jeans, hoping  she wouldn’t have to use it. She didn’t want to have to do this – not to him. He seemed like a nice enough dude, but the rules of survival said otherwise. Out of money. Out of luck. Out of options. Business is business. There had to be some cash or valuables here somewhere.  No dice. Just an empty wallet, a few cd’s, and an old wrinkled envelope. On the front of the envelope, the following words were printed on a yellowed  label:

BRING OUT YOUR INNER BEAST

with

WEREWOLF ROOT / SPREADING DOGBANE

for the

SEXIEST TRIP & MOST UNTAMED NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE

 

Inside the envelope was a small amount of plant matter, dried, shriveled and twisted. Well, this was intriguing. She was certainly no stranger to plant-fueled, psychonautic adventures, and there was something oddly appealing about this root. It felt strangely pleasant in her hands just like the  subliminally pleasant vibrations she felt when she knew she had chosen the right crystal in one of the New Age shops she frequented. Curiously enough, she could hear a disembodied voice in her head speaking in the raspy tones of an apparently ancient crone, “Go on dear, try me. Try me and your life will never be the same again . What do you have to lose? No more running from town to town. No more living in fear and dread. It’ll make you feel like a real animal… “

She held the root in her hand for a moment.  ‘Da fuck kind of Alice in Wonderland shit is this?  A trippy, talking root? Yeah, right. Next thing you know I’ll be shrinking and growing and meeting Cheshire Cats and smoking weed with giant caterpillars. The gnarled old plant buzzed warmly in her palm.  Startled to see his red hoodie already halfway back to the car, she slammed the glove box shut.

On impulse, she put the dried up old root in her mouth. And besides, she wouldn’t mind too terribly if things got wild, after all he was pretty cute. His hand was on the car door.

“Granola bar?” he asked as he got in.

“No thanks, man.” She chewed on the dry root, looking sheepish and trying to act as if her mouth wasn’t full of this vile and bitter and ancient root, this something with a wretched  taste. She sure hoped it would live up to the pitch on the yellowed label.

He drove off, chewing on a granola bar and enjoying the absence of pressure on his bladder. Coyotes laughed and cackled in the distance. His most pressing physical needs having been attended to, it was time to set the tone for later: mood music, sexy, hard and dark, stay awake all night music. The melodic angst of Nine Inch Nails would do nicely. Industrial beats, broken fragments of lost piano melodies and icy synths filled the car. The speakers throbbed with the dirty electro-pulse of “Closer.”

He was sure he could talk her into sharing some of the root with him later, and maybe things would get more than a little bit crazy. They were both lost in the song…

Suddenly, her mind drifted to flashes of a long forgotten nightmare.  She would often dream that she was running through a forest  in a body that was too powerful to be her own while looking though fierce, alien eyes and giving chase to some helpless animal which she would run down. She would then taste its flesh, warm, raw, and bloody: a vegetarian’s nightmare. This macabre memory ended abruptly when she felt a searing pain deep within her skull. There was no warning. Were the effects of the root she had eaten kicking in already? If so, this was going to be a wild ride. Her senses were scrambled. Dizziness. Intense waves of nausea. She was going to be sick. Piercing blindness. The bones in her face were breaking, changing form and size, bending into impossible shapes. She couldn’t keep still. Make it stop make it stop. This couldn’t be happening; this couldn’t be real. The veins in her neck bulged into ropes. She couldn’t breathe. Make it stop make it stop. Her fingernails tore through the ends of her fingers, becoming claws. Hot, burning pain everywhere.  She screamed. Her human voice was gone. She looked through eyes that were ruthless and inhuman, eyes that hunted for prey. Her teeth tore through her gums and became razor-like daggers, tools that were perfect for the shredding, tearing, and eating of flesh. Taste of her own  blood. Lust for more blood.  She howled and inhaled the scent of warm and living meat. Tender flesh of a human. He smelled delicious. Wiry grey and black hairs pushed through her pores and covered her once human skin. Meat of a young male.  Her mouth watered. Her spine stretched; then popped. What painful and shatteringly cruel alchemy of flesh and bone was this? Powerful hunger surged through every fiber of her being. Her shoulders burst into haunches.

He screamed and jerked the wheel. The car skidded off the interstate and came to a sudden, steaming  stop in a ditch. His body made it out of the car on instinct. Holy Fuck. The smell of hot, rank breath. Flash of big white teeth. Disorienting  footfalls. He ran and ran and ran for his life. Into the woods, he ran, heart pounding. His sympathetic nervous system kicked into overdrive. Rustling. Panting. Howl of night creatures. Stab of a side stitch. He wove in and out of the trees, trying desperately to remain in the shadows. He was a tender gazelle trying to escape the teeth of the lion. His two legs were no match for the four legged, hungry beast.

She ran him down beside a birch tree, knocking him to the ground with a single swipe of the claw.  She ripped out his throat and exposed the red and shining purple meat. His flesh was wet, hot and tender, just like it had been in her dream. He simultaneously felt the tortuous pleasure and searing pain of being eaten alive. Total overwhelm.  The savagery of nature.  The ultimate trip. Flood of endorphins and the world went black forever.

——————————————————————————————————–

She awoke the next morning, shivering, naked and sore with bruises and scrapes. The early light came down in shafts through the trees. The morning silence was broken only by the chatter of birds. She remembered nothing. Her head was pounding, hungover. Had he been a total douchebag -creep who had drugged her and then took advantage of her while she was unconscious?

They never found what little was left of him. Strange white flowers sprang from the spot beside the birch tree where nature eventually absorbed his remains. The moon began to wane in its cycle and somewhere far away, an old lady herbalist laughed and laughed.