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About Copperfield

Since 2000, The Copperfield Review has been a leading market for short historical fiction. Copperfield was named one of the top sites for new writers by Writer's Digest and it is the winner of the Books and Authors Award for Literary Excellence. We publish short historical fiction as well as history-based nonfiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews.

To Be a Queen

Bess chewed a strand of grass, watching the white clouds as they drifted on a blue summer sky. Through her half-closed eyes, the sky seemed shimmering with heat. Pressed down by the weight of her long body, the grass beneath her formed a comfortable cushion. Were the clouds overhead as soft as the grass beneath me? She wanted to believe that, but life had long taught her to expect otherwise.

The tall grass hid her from view. At least, she hoped so. In the distance, she heard her mother called out her name. “Bess—where are you? Besssss,” —her voice strident, angry. She was probably searching for her in the nearby maze in the confines of the castle’s walls, not thinking Bess would venture farther. Why should she? Sheriff Hutton Castle was a place unknown to her mother, while Bess had spent her first days at the castle in exploration. It hadn’t taken her long to discover a way out of the castle to the meadow just outside its walls. It became a place to escape to—a place where she found a semblance of peace.

“Besssss –,” her mother called again in the distance. Bess blocked her ears. She didn’t want her mother to find her. Not yet. She needed time to be alone with her thoughts. She needed time to sort out her feelings. Feelings threatening to overwhelm her as she pondered about what these days could, and would, mean to her.

Her mother had no hesitation in bringing up the subject. It was one of the first things she had spoken of when she arrived mid-morning to the castle, saddle-worn and weary. Separated from her daughters for weeks, her mother had embraced not one of them. She just demanded to speak alone with Bess. In the solar, her mother, in one of her worst moods, had attacked her eldest daughter with questions. “Are you all prepared, Bess? Soon we will know the outcome of the battle.”

As if Bess wished to think of the outcome.

When her mother spoke of her uncle winning the battle and then broached again at the possibility of her uncle marrying Bess, she had enough. Bess bounded up and ran from the room.

She could have died from the shame, just like on the day when her beloved uncle, half mad with grief about the impending death of his wife, had denied out loud he had ever planned to marry his niece once his queen was dead.

Bess could barely think of that day without praying for the earth to swallow her up. Confused and heartsore, she had also realised that day her true feelings about her uncle. He was only twelve or so years her senior. He was kind, gentle, handsome. He played his lute and sang love songs to break hearts. His blue eyes were unforgettable.

Later, when she heard he had entered talks for her to marry Manuel, the heir to Portugal, she felt her prayers answered. Portugal would be the earth to swallow her up. She deserved far greater punishment than Portugal. She deserved exile forever from England for her sinful thoughts.

The summer breeze changed into a strong wind, blowing down the thick wall of grass around her. She curled up, trying to make her tall body small, fearing those looking for her would now see her from the castle. When the wind dropped again, she almost wept with relief. She wasn’t ready to be found—or to return to the castle and her mother’s badgering.

She wasn’t ready to return to her sisters’ questions—or to face poor Edmund and John’s anxiety. John, she knew, planned to escape if news came of Henry Tudor’s victory. Seventeen, he was still smarting from not being allowed to fight at his father’s side. He did not accept his presence would have just offered a target for the king’s enemies. Edmund was just a bewildered child. Still, he knew his close position to the crown left him somehow in danger if anything happened to the king. Bess had told them both they had nothing to fear. Henry Tudor would not seek their deaths. She would not let that happen. She refused to let that happen.

She prayed she was right to tell them so.

And what of my own brothers? If they’re alive, then what did that all mean for them?

Her mother’s behaviour always confused her—but more so in recent months. At court, her mother had resumed her usual practice of plotting by joining forces with Margaret Beaufort. That soon resulted in a command. Bess was told she would marry Margaret Beaufort’s son once he took the crown from her uncle.

Surely, that means Mother believes Edward and Dickon dead? But she did not seem grieving them. She returned to her uncle’s court with her daughters as if not troubled about the disappearance of her sons. She treated their absence as if it was but a trifle. Her mother gazed on the grieving king without fear, while continuing with her plots and plans. Bess rubbed her pounding temples. Her mother had even seeded the rumour about her uncle desiring Bess for his second wife.  

The fate of her brothers gave Bess nightmares. She believed them dead. It was the only reason she agreed to marry Henry Tudor. Not that her mother left her any choice in the matter.

She could not believe her uncle murdered them. He was a good man. She remembered the many times her father praised his brother’s loyalty. Her head pounded again. She had seen little of Edward in recent years. He had his own court at Ludlow Castle, where he learnt to rule. But Richard? Blonde, blue-eyed Dickon. The little boy she had first cradled as a newborn babe. Seven years his senior, she had cared for him with devotion. She smiled, remembering his wedding as a four-year-old to Anne, his five-year-old wife. He did not really understand what happened that day, but he enjoyed the feast, the new clothes and glittering jewels and even dancing with little Anne. How the court had buzzed with the echo of her father’s great amusement. Dickon always came to her first, if he desired comfort. She felt more his mother than their own mother was to any of them.

No, if she believed her brothers still lived, she could not marry Henry Tudor. She would far rather a Portuguese marriage. She would far rather exile from the country she loved, escaping from being a pawn in her mother’s plotting. Sometimes, she came close to hating her mother. If she did not hate her, she disliked her far more in these distressing days the father who had made her, and her siblings, bastards.

She had loved him, but that she could not forgive.

Bad enough, his desire for a life of pleasure had diminished him as king. She was only a child when she first realised her father’s many flaws—flaws which saw the kingdom plunged into civil war—and not just once. Even as a child, she knew of the countless deaths. There were so many weeping women at court.

Two times in Bess’s life, her mother had fled with her children to sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. The first time, her mother gave birth to Edward, her father’s longed-for heir. Her father was not there to welcome his son. He was still a sea away, across the channel, seeking to reclaim his kingdom. The second time… Bess witnessed her mother handing over Dickon to her uncle’s men. Bess believed him safe, but she had also promised herself she would die first before ever doing the same for any child of hers. Dickon was only nine. She would always remember his eyes turning to her—how scared he had been. How brave he had been. Not one tear did he shed. Every time she thought about it, her heart broke anew.

Now—her heart broke again, thinking that her marriage to Henry Tudor would mean the death of another person she loved.

Her uncle had been so burdened with sorrow when she had returned to court. His young son and heir dead, and now his beloved wife, he seemed sleepwalking through his days. She thought of the last time he had spoken to her and her sisters, when he told them he was sending them to this castle, far away from London, in North Yorkshire, a place he loved. “I pray to God, sending you all there will keep you safe. If the Tudor wins the throne, the distance will give him time enough to cool his blood and think of mercy, and not of more death.” He paused then. “Believe me, I have done my best to keep you all safe.” He looked to the window. Tears coursed down his pale cheeks. There were new lines scored into his still youthful face. Lines of pain, lines of grief. Lines of torment. “All of you,” he had repeated in a whisper, meeting Bess’s eyes.  

No—she refused to believe the lines belonged to guilt. She did not know the fates of her brothers, but she did not believe they came to ill at her uncle’s hands. She swallowed bile. It was far more likely their deaths were at other hands.

If I am to be Henry Tudor’s queen, what then? She breathed in sharply. But I would be England’s Queen. Even if I am a bastard, I have far greater right than him to the crown. Despite the heat, she shivered. She shook her head. If I am to be England’s queen, I will be England’s queen. Even if it means letting my husband believe he rules alone. I desire no more civil wars. I desire only good for England. I’m my mother’s daughter, but I have learnt well from her mistakes. I will not divide like my mother but unite. I will spend my life serving England. If my uncle wins, I will serve England as Portugal’s Queen.

If he loses…

She rubbed tears from her eyes and rose from the ground. She lifted her head like a queen ready to face her destiny.

If he loses, I will not let England lose too.


Wendy J. Dunn is an award-winning Australian author, playwright, and poet. Her first Tudor novels were two Anne Boleyn novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This? and The Light in the Labyrinth. Wendy’s most recent publications are two novels inspired by the life of Katherine of Aragon: her Falling Pomegranate Seeds duology: The Duty of Daughters (a finalist in the 2020 Chaucer award) and All Manner of Things (2021), silver medalist in Readers’ Favorite for historical personage, shortlisted for 2021 Chaucer Award, a Silver Medalist in The Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Award (Tudor and Stuart category), and a Gold Medal in the Historical Fiction Company awards for fiction set in England, Ireland, and Scotland. Wendy tutors in writing at the Swinburne University of Technology. She’s currently writing her first full-length Tudor biography, commissioned by Pen and Sword.

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The Providential Return of Squanto

December, 1619: the view from a distance of his home village Patuxet on Cape Cod Bay startled Squanto, a Wampanoag Indian: his people’s dome-shaped wetus roofed with bark were gone. White men dressed in clothes made of fabrics rather than skins, were framing a house that obviously to resemble others already finished: rectangular cottages with clapboard siding, pitched roofs. Squanto had seen houses like these in London suburbs.

He’d had been accustomed to speaking English with white associates in Cornhill, London, the past four years, and wanted to ask these English what had become of his people, but how he might be received by them being uncertain, he circumvented the village and started inland along the path to Nemasket, home of the Pokonokets. He could see over his shoulder, the sails of the ship that delivered him back to America were disappearing over the horizon. 

The group of Pokonoket women and children returning from the bay with lobsters he met contemplated his baggy linen pants, loose jacket, and floppy felt hat suspiciously.  The children pointed and laughed. Squanto identified himself as a Patuxet native, and learned from the women that his people had perished in a plague; and yes, the men building houses there now were English.

As he approached Nemasket, squash rattles and wowachs’ chants were audible.  These sounds, coupled with the variously costumed tribesmen milling about, suggested something out of the ordinary was afoot.

The women who had accompanied him into the village explained to locals that Squanto had come from England, and spoke English. He was introduced to the visiting chief of the Abenaki people, Samoset, who also spoke that language. The two traded stories of experiences  with the English. Samoset had learned their language as a boy while associating with them at a fishing camp on Monhegan Island in the Gulf of Maine.

Squanto had been with a group of Patuxets lured onto an English ship, ostensibly for trading, before being shipped with a load of dried fish to Malaga, Spain, and sold into slavery. He had served as gardener for a wealthy Moorish vintner two years before a Spanish friar assisted his escape to London. There he worked for the ship-maker Slany who hoped to found a colony at Newfoundland and found Squanto’s ability to communicate with the natives useful. After six years of service to Slany, Squanto expressed a desire to return to his people, and  Slany arranged for him to ship with Captain Dermer who was exploring the North American coastline.

Squanto learned From Samoset, that when the English arrived earlier that winter in their great canoe, the Nemasket chief Corbitant had ordered an attack on them. The musket fire that responded to the flurry of arrows shot into the English encampment put the Indians to flight, and since there had been a standoff between the two peoples.  

The to-do in Nemasket that Squanto had observed upon entering the village was the result of the regional grand sachem of the Wampanoags, Massasoit, having summoned a council of area chiefs to decide on a suitable collective response to the English presence. During these deliberations, there had been tension between the outlooks of the peace-loving chief Massasoit and the angry Corbitant, the latter convinced that the English arsenal included not only exploding firearms, but magic for spreading plague. Corbitant recalled the earlier depredations of the Spanish and believed the tribes should organize for an all-out attack on the new arrivals weakened at the moment by malnutrition and disease. Hoping for demonic assistance for putting the English to flight, Corbitant had, without informing Massasoit, invited area wowachs to the council.

Samoset’s knowledge of the English people, and his ability to speak their language, had made him a confidante and advisor to the peace-loving Massasoit who believed warring on the newcomers was unadvisable. An all-out offensive effort by the Indians, superior in numbers, could undoubtedly destroy the colony the English called Plymouth. However, there was every indication that immigration from abroad was going to continue, and in light of that Massasoit believed the Indians’ best interest would be to assist the English with the difficulties they were now experiencing, cultivate brotherhood.

Squanto’s ability to communicate in English would interest Massasoit, Samoset knew, and the two men were walking across the village to the weru where Massasoit was staying during the council, when they encountered Corbitant. Samoset introduced Squanto and mentioned his origins in Patuxet and his recent return from England. Corbitant looked at the Squanto’s getup suspiciously, voiced a perfunctory welcome, and went about his business.                                                  

Massasoit, an impressively large, strongly built man with an oiled face and scalp and a  deerskin wrapped around his shoulders, sat by the fire in his weru. Samoset described for him Squanto’s experience with the English, and their encounter with Corbitant just now.

“He didn’t seem overjoyed by Squanto’s presence.”

Massasoit smiled.  “He probably saw Squanto as an incarnation of Windigo—if not an English spy.”

“I’ve described to Squanto your conflict with Corbitant.”  

Massasoit held to the fire a splinter of wood that he used to light a long-stemmed pipe. He blew a puff skyward to honor the Great Father, and a second puff to the earth, acknowledging the Great Mother, then inhaled deeply smoke he blew out his nose. He handed the pipe to Squanto, who smoked briefly, then passed it on to Samoset.

Massasoit spoke in his Algonquin tongue: “I can understand the support for Corbitant’s position among certain of the chiefs. Peoples from across the Great Water have cheated us in trading. They’ve enslaved people. They’ve raped our women. They’ve killed Indians simply because they don’t like their looks.”

We’ve done the same to them,” Samoset observed.

Massasoit nodded agreement. “We’re as strange to them, as they are to us, so distrust is inevitable…Samoset, you have led me to believe that difficulties across the Great Water have brought these peoples here.”

Squanto nodded his agreement

“For them to have braved the dangers of the Great Water, those difficulties must have been very great They deserve our sympathy. They are human, not devils. Expressions of brotherhood on our part will be reciprocated.”

The pipe having gone the round again reached Massasoit, who paused in his remarks to relight it. “I heard recently from a diviner that a stranger would come from afar who would assist us in seeking peace with the English.” He smiled at Squanto. “Our land is very great. There are ample land and provisions for all.  With the assistance of you two English speakers, we will seek peaceful relations with the newcomers, and discuss our willingness to become the subjects of their powerful King James.”

“That will infuriate Corbitant and his allies,” Samoset observed.

“He will get over it, especially if King James assists us in subduing our enemies, the Narragansetts.”

* * * * *

Englishmen in a field beyond Plymouth village were shooting at targets on a sunny, unseasonably warm January afternoon, when the tall straight Indian with black hair hanging long at the back of his head, approached, alone and unarmed.

“Could you fellows spare a thirsty man a beer?” Samoset asked.

The English lowered their muskets. One of the Englishmen led Samoset into his house where his screaming wife fled out the back door with her two children.

Samoset, offered a seat in the rocking chair by the fireplace and plied with beer, bread, and cheese, described the plague that had decimated the Indians at their village Patuxet of which the white men, who had been puzzled by the remains of the village, had been unaware. Samoset answered his hosts’ questions about tribes in the vicinity and described a voyage he’d once made to London and back with English fishermen. Then he explained the will of the Wampanoag sachem Massasoit that there might be peaceful relations between the Indians and the English.

A few days later, Samoset returned to Plymouth with Squanto and arranged a meeting between Massasoit and the English representative Edward Winslow. The treaty agreed to at the meeting of the two leaders stipulated that when the English and the Wampanoag met for consultations in any matter, neither side would be armed; that expressions of hostility of any kind on either side would be punishable; and that if either side should be attacked by a third group, the other would come to its defense.

At a banquet celebrating the agreement, Massasoit announced that the English-speaking Squanto would reside with the newcomers to evaluate their needs which the Indians might supply, as well as to provide practical advice about local planting, hunting, fishing, and participation in the fur trade.

The English settlers, for their part, represented Squanto’s timely return to America as a “divine providence.” Squanto had the satisfaction of knowing that not only had he assisted in preventing war in which many would have died, but that his presence had increased the likelihood of future peaceful relations between the two races.

There was a disconcerting rumor that Corbitant and his followers were conspiring to ally with the Narragansetts to overthrow Massasoit, install Corbitant as the regional sachem, and attack the English; but if that were to occur, surely King James would lend a helping hand.


James Gallant was the winner of 2019 Schaffner Press Prize for music-in-literature for his story collection, La Leona and Other Guitar Stories, published in 2020. Fortnightly Review (UK) published a collection of his essays and short fiction, Verisimilitudes: Essays and Approximations. His first novel, The Big Bust at Tyrone’s Rooming House: a Novel of Atlanta, was published by Grace Paley’s small press, Glad Day Books.

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Writing Hotel Portofino by J.P. O’Connell

The story of an English family who moves to Italy to open a guesthouse, Hotel Portofino is set in the titular coastal town in 1926. People ask me: did I go there to research it? Sadly not. (Blame COVID – I do.) But there’s a lot you can find online nowadays – more maps and photos than any sane person could want – and even more you can read in places like London’s British Library, where I called up long-forgotten memoirs of Anglo-Italian life like Cecil Roberts’ Portal to Paradise (sample quote: ‘It has been said that Englishmen are born with two ineradicable loves – one for the England that breeds them, the other for the Italy that lures them’) and wincingly hilarious travel guides from the period. Without fail these depict Italians as noble yet easily corruptible simpletons who have nevertheless managed, more by accident than design, to produce some of the world’s finest art, literature, and cuisine. 

The interwar period, when wealthy Westerners discovered the pleasures of ‘abroad’, is remembered (or misremembered, depending on your viewpoint) as the Golden Age of Travel. Taking advantage of the latest technologies – planes, trains, and automobiles – they crisscrossed Europe in search of exclusive hotels and ravishing beauty spots. If you had the time and the money, you could go skiing in St Moritz then take the Blue Train from Paris down to the Côte d’Azur. From there you could drive along the coast to Monte Carlo for a spot of blackjack before crossing the border into la bella Italia… 

Italy was one of the most popular interwar destinations. The barrier island in the Venetian Lagoon known as the Venice Lido became a magnet for the fashion-conscious super-rich. But the Italian Riviera, a crescent-shaped strip of rugged Ligurian coastline studded with pastel-coloured towns, appealed to the prosperous middle classes who valued its quaintness, its beauty, and the restorative comforts of its warm yet fresh climate. 

Ever since the seventeenth century wealthy Brits had been stopping off in Italy on their Grand Tours. (Americans, too – see Mark Twain’s bestselling travel memoir Innocents Abroad.) For this reason there was something proprietorial about how comfortable they felt in the country and how readily they colonised certain Riviera towns, opening English libraries and ‘British Shops’ selling Gordon’s gin and Huntley & Palmer biscuits. 

Italy also had massive cultural snob value. The merest exposure to its wealth of paintings, frescoes, and historic buildings was held to be improving – an attitude roundly mocked by EM Forster in A Room With A View, published in 1908 and filmed to acclaim by Merchant Ivory in 1985. (Who can forget Judi Dench as writer Eleanor Lavish? ‘A smell! A true Florentine smell! Every city, let me teach you, has its own smell…’)  

Forster was fascinated by the ‘Italian temperament’ and English responses to it. Although they’re set some twenty years before Hotel Portofino, for research purposes I re-read both A Room With A View and the earlier Where Angels Fear to Tread, about a free-spirited English woman, Lilia, who defies her family by marrying the handsome young Italian man she met on holiday and remaining in Italy. 

The free spirit in Hotel Portofino is matriarch Bella. The daughter of a wealthy industrialist, she’s the driving force behind the hotel and channels her entrepreneurial zeal into forging a new life in Italy for her family. Her husband, Cecil, is an aristocrat (and a cad to boot) but like many of his kind in the 1920s he has no money. Which puts all the pressure on her. 

Their artist son Lucian was badly injured in the trenches. He spent his convalescence reading travel guides to remind himself that a better life might one day be possible. Because this was no longer a prospect anyone took for granted. ‘I do feel that during the war something in [England] got killed,’ wrote Forster on his return home from India in 1922. Many other writers and artists felt the same way, fleeing to Mediterranean countries whose beauty and climate seemed to stand for the opposite of combat. The title of the WW1 memoir Robert Graves wrote after moving to Majorca – Good-Bye to All That – says it all, really. 

For a historical novelist, reading novels from the period is the best research you can do, because above all you want your characters to feel real – and novels capture consciousness with a precision no other form can match. Elizabeth Bowen’s 1927 debut novel The Hotel, based on a holiday the Anglo-Irish writer took not far from Portofino, was incredibly helpful in this respect; also in more obvious ways to do with how things looked, what people wore and what the plumbing was like.

Just as useful, though, was a sequence of novels not published until the 1990s – Elizabeth Jane Howard’s bestselling Cazalet Chronicles, which follow the fortunes of a well-heeled English family from just before WW2 until the 1950s. Like Hotel Portofino, the Cazalet books are as much character- as plot-driven. Their use of viewpoint is very revealing, both about the gestalt of family life and the way the most compelling drama often derives from the natural friction between characters rather than the violent contortions of plot. 

So no, as it transpired I didn’t need to go to Italy to research Hotel Portofino. But in a COVID-free world would I have wanted to? 

Do you really need to ask?


J. P. O’Connell has worked as an editor and writer for a variety of newspapers and magazines including Time Out, The Guardian, The Times, and The Daily Telegraph. J. P. has also written several books, including a novel, a celebration of letter-writing, a spice encyclopedia, and, most recently, an analysis of David Bowie’s favorite books and the ways they influenced his music. J. P. lives in London.

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Gabriel by J. Thomas Brown

Gabriel was a blacksmith who read of Haitian revolt,
how Toussaint Louverture defeated white Europeans
and threw off the shackles and yoke
On the Isle of Saint-Domingue, gone were pin and loop 

In his mind he must have been baffled
by the words Thomas Jefferson wrote:
that all men are created equal,
yet he was counted but three fifths of a man

In Gabriel’s vision of enlightened revolution,
if someone posed an impediment to freedom,
they would be put to death. Only 
Frenchmen and Quakers could be spared.
But he never foresaw the matter of floods, 
betrayal, and a pardon two centuries late

Betrayers told how his anvil rang like a church bell
as he beat the iron with his hammer, 
forging pikes into spears, sickles into swords,
how he wore out bullet molds

He was tried by a court of five planters 
whose arrogant hearts filled with fear
When they saw how well slaves plotted
they knew they had underestimated the man

Gabriel gave no names and accepted the blame
but told of his careful plan:
capture the armory, take hostage Monroe,
to deliver from bondage his sisters and brothers
and spread rebellion through the land

He rode on the tumbrel alone, 
hands bound behind his back,
a West Coast African slave 
steeped with the blood of Oonis
and no last name of his own
From the gallows in Shockoe Bottom 
they hung him. Quietly standing 
without a word, he accepted the noose, 
then, soul let loose, 
flew away on the wings of the wind.

* * * * *

J. Thomas Brown lives in Richmond, Virginia with his wife and family. His short stories and poems have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Other published works include two historical fiction novels, a patremoir, and a short story collection.

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The Boston Doctor by Lisa Gordon

“Don’t look back,” Nels said.

The gravity in his voice, her only comfort. The train ride had been long and unrelenting. Crowding in against countless others, Millie hushed Thelma, their new baby girl, so often her voice turned to gravel in her throat. The smell, unbearable: humanity at its worst. The persistent grumble of the tracks beneath them, the constant bump and jostle, a new torture. The only color, for so long, the backs of their eyelids. 

“Almost there darling, almost there,” Nels whispered, over and over, his eyes squeezed fiercely shut, his full lips pressed in a hard line. Who was he speaking to, she wanted to ask: her? Or Thelma? But she did not, she could not. That question was born of insecurity, and insecurity bred fear. Nels had taught her that; had taught himself that. And there was time for neither in their new life. She tightened her grip on the blanketed bundle of their daughter, and tried to imagine it:


Nels had pointed to it on a map and told her it would be filled with bricks the color of persimmon and windows high in the starry sky. “All the medicine in the world is happening here,” he’d said. “And we’re going to be a part of it, yes, yes we are.”

She loved him for that, how he included her, as if she, too, were taking a scalpel to someone’s throat, or administering penicillin on the backs of dying tongues.

They arrived at Back Bay station to little splendor. The planks below her feet swelled with weight. Humidity clung to her skin like sweat. Immediately, the fashions affronted: swooping skirts, high-necked blouses, wide-brimmed hats. And the colors—oh! Colors Millie was not sure she knew the names of; colors of vegetables and fruits, perhaps, that didn’t grow on her family’s farm. Purples, greens, oranges bright as sunsets. 

Thelma bucked in Millie’s arms, silent, her eyes wild. 

“We’re here, baby girl, here we are!” Nels sang. His demeaner was back—another comfort she needed. He kissed Thelma’s cheeks with lips pursed big and swollen. “Boston here we are!” 

“Shushhh,” Millie hissed, gripping his arm. But inside, she soared. 

Nels pointed across the street. “There,” he said. 


“There!” Nels grinned, easy with the thrill of surprising her. “Our new apartment building.”

“An apartment!” Millie said. “Nels!” She nearly dropped Thelma. The building stood before them, of quality Millie couldn’t properly determine, but to her, it was wondrous.

“I promised,” Nels said, taking her by the elbow and leading her across the tracks.

He had promised. It hadn’t been her place to ask, but she had hoped; oh, how she had hoped! And now: an apartment of their very own. Their very own. It stood mightily, bricks upon bricks, just passed the station. Nels retrieved a key from his satchel, dangling it in front of her face, his smile enormous, infectious. The landlord, Nels said, had sent it two weeks ago. Gratitude and confusion—but how did he, when could he have—rushed to the surface of her cheeks. She kissed him, before remembering herself, then laughed, embarrassed.

Look at us, she thought, this new family, their new life. She couldn’t get over the new smell of rust mixed with dry air, or the new sound of the train hissing, the porters calling out in their glossy voices, or the elegance of the ladies, the swish of their dresses. How quickly she came back to earth, the earth where they didn’t belong.

Her Ma and Pa back home, her sisters and Uncle Rep: what would they say, if they saw her now?

The quarters were small and modest, but they were clean. A small mirror atop the mantle. An armchair in the corner, near the window. A straw bed, in the front room. A belly stove.

“We’ll need to buy everything else, in due time,” Nels explained. He set Thelma on the floor, shiny with wood polish. “My exams are next week. I expect to be employed soon thereafter.”

What Millie wanted to say, she knew she couldn’t. Was he certain the hospitals would hire him, here? Back in South Carolina, he’d gone to both local hospitals, dressed to the nines. He’d gone to many of the local physician practices, white and Black. He’d been turned away from every door. At first, his anger erupted like a rock thrown through glass. Then, it tempered, becoming more even, fueling his motivation. 

He took Millie’s cheeks in his hands. “I hope you are pleased, my darling,” he whispered. 

Millie squeezed the tears from her eyes, lest he see her cry. For he’d believe they were tears of joy. But once Nels left for the lay of the land, a strange sadness came over her—it had, perhaps, been there all along. He told Millie to rest, but she could not. From the window, she saw the wooden planks of the train platform, the steam hung in the air with a hot energy, the Boston skies grey and unwelcoming. People of the kind she knew nothing about on their merry ways, living their strange lives. Thelma fussing in her arms, her mouth a pink animal, wailing.

Millie watched her husband leave, thinking, when he came home, she’d have to find new ways to be a wife to him.

* * * * *

That first autumn, as the leaves fell and the sky stayed endlessly gray, Nels prepared for his licensing exam. Millie passed the time by taking walks with Thelma when she fussed. The accents were different in Boston. Clipped syllables, tight lips. She missed the sing-songyness of Southern talk, the rise and fall, how voices bloomed with vibrancy and anger, with gossip and laughter. She knew her accent marked her, but many other things did, too: the daughter of a former slave, she was also half white, a plantation owner’s daughter, but too dark to pass. She’d feared she’d never match the Bostonian poise, a poise Nels already seemed to embody.

Millie preferred to the parks in the Commons to the commotion of the streets. Thelma loved the lake between the trees best, marveling at the big white birds gliding in the water. Later, she learned what they were: swans. She, too, was stunned by their majesty and elegance. She preferred to stay there as long as she could, but there was much to do at home. Walking briskly, she tried shed the imposter feeling as if it was weight she could lose.

Nels was late. Millie had barely anything other than barley and peas for dinner, and he was expected with their Sunday roast. She fretted at the window, trying to quell her eager stomach by sucking on rosemary leaves. She longed for a drink and wished she could ask Nels to bring some home, but knew how unladylike that was. Finally, he arrived with a parcel wrapped in newspaper. 

“Today was grand,” he said, kissing her on the cheek. “I shadowed Dr. Worthy all day. He’s a fine man, indeed, and a finer doctor. He will help establish my practice.”

“That’s wonderful,” she said. She opened the parcel and was surprised to find a rack of lamb. 

“I thought you would like it.”

“Oh, but we can’t afford this!”

“It’s on loan-away from the butcher. I’ll pay back more next week.”

“But your boards aren’t for a few more weeks, and even then—”

“I’m going to be a doctor, Margaret. Here, in Boston. I am. And not a word of it again.”

Nels’ key had turned; he locked her door and was opening Thelma’s, instead, reaching for her to hold her high in the sky, his smile as wide as her squeals of joy.

“I can’t believe you’ll be educated as a Bostonian,” he murmured to her, burying his face in her neck.

She was envious of her own daughter, the very thing that sucked her dry of milk, of self. Envious of the life her daughter would lead. Envious of the love her husband showered her, copious, unbounded love. Her love for her daughter was love, yes. But it was rageful in its purity.

She opened the lamb, pressing her hands into its raw meat, realizing only then that she didn’t know how to cook it.

* * * * *

Millie went to bed but couldn’t sleep. She lay watching the candle burn out until Nels came barreling into the bedroom. He’d gone out with new comrades, at some saloon in Copley Square, drinking away money they still didn’t have. She pretended to be asleep, but whether or not he knew that, he didn’t let on.

“Millie-my-Margaret-my-lady-oh-my,” he sang. “I’ve got it, I’ve got just the thing, the very thing indeed, indeed indeed indeed!”

Millie couldn’t help but smile, though she kept it small and hidden in her face. Oh, how she did love seeing Nels like this, truly elated, walking on clouds, taking her along for the ride.

“The thing?” she said demurely.

He laid down in bed and kicked off his shoes with great labor—they toppled to the wooden floors Millie had cleaned hours earlier.

Sshhh,” she chided him. “Sometimes it’s as if you forget you’ve ever had a daughter at all!”

“Oh, gracious me!” he cried, extending his arms beyond his head and grinning ear to ear. “As if I’d ever forget the love of my very life.” He turned to her, his eyes bright and swimming.

Her skin sang, then quickly bristled, once she realized he’d not meant that she was the love of his life. At the same time, he caught his error, smart man that he was, even if drunk: “Second-in-standing, mind you.”

“What, is it Nels?” she said, impatient now. She was jealous of the fun he was having, the fire lit in his brain.

“The thing,” he said, “yes.” He closed his eyes and rested his hand on her forearm. The rich, dark smoothness of his skin shone keenly in the candlelight.

“A hospital!” he cried.

“A…hospital,” she said, not sure what he meant.

“My own, my very own.”

“Your—your own? Your own hospital.”

“Yes! Men have done it. A Negro man in Chicago. A Negro man in Georgia. Purchased small home dwellings and converted them into hospitals. Trained, Negro doctors. They’ve done it.”

 “But you’ve not yet—”

“It will be open to all patients. Anyone. Free of charge, if need be. And I will employ only Black physicians, and I will create a nurses’s training program for young Black women, they need careers too, we need—”

“Impressive, Nels. But—”

“My sweet dear. I have responsibility. To forge it for others. To create opportunities for others. To raise us up.”

“But Nels, you’ve not yet—”

“I will train them. I will give them jobs. He groaned, his body beginning to twitch. “Donations will function here. We need to find a church.” At that, he seemed to wake up, brightening. “Why haven’t you found us our church?”

She hadn’t known if Boston churches would be different from home. She hadn’t known how to find out. “I…I don’t know,” she whispered.

He turned then, deciding to sleep, and this was a small gift. Millie had not yet said her piece—he had not let her. They both knew that he hadn’t yet passed his boards. Nels knew that he would. Millie’s uncertainty extended deeper than that. She was quite sure he’d pass his boards, but his larger plans frightened her. Not that he couldn’t achieve them, but that she wouldn’t grow with him. Wouldn’t become the wife he’d need for such a life. That she wouldn’t know how. She couldn’t even find their church.

Tears came to her eyes. Luckily, they were only the beginnings of tears, tiny wells of water too timid to flow. She wiped them on the lace sleeve of her nightgown and began to undress her husband, who was snoring now, tumbling into dreams.

* * * * *

The house on East Springfield Street was unimpressive, but strong. And it was more than a house. A whole brick building of a thing—three, four floors from what Millie could tell.

Nels stood off to the side, watching her approach. “Well?” he said. Already impatient for her reply, though she’d just arrived.

Millie looked up and down. It was the same as the other rowhouses on the block, lined with early trees, forming a young canopy. “The street is quite lovely,” she said, turning her head back to the building.

“The loveliness of the street is a side thought, if at all. Have you focused your attention on what’s at the end of the block?”

Millie had not. Now she did. Beyond them lay the resplendent center pavilion of Boston City Hospital, its iron-domed pillared building just beyond view.

Nels reached into the bassinette and drew out his daughter, held her up, up, up. “Look!” he said. She made not a sound, but her smile disappeared into the sky. “That’s Daddy’s, yours and mine, it’s ours, baby girl!”

But it wasn’t.

“It rings, Millie. It rings!” he exclaimed, circling the baby in the air, pointing her toward the city hospital, up and down the street, the building that might become his.

Ever the questions! Was it proper to have the city hospital a block away? Where and how would the patients find them? How would they pay? Who would he hire? Could they afford it? What about supplies? Was the city ready for a black physician? Were they? She bit her tongue, reminded of Nels’ words: questions were born of insecurity, and insecurity bred fear.

But fearful, she was.

“So this will be just—”

“I will need somewhere to practice, Millie, in case they won’t take me.” He nudged his chin toward the hospital at the end of the block, its enormity looming. “I need somewhere to train others like me. I need to help us.”

Oh, her good husband. Her good, courageous husband. She needed to chew her own fear and spit it out. 

“You will, Nels. It could be—” Millie searched for words. “Revolutionary.”

At that word, he seemed to deflate. He sat down on the front steps and settled the baby in his lap, her arms and legs squirming, wanting more of him. Millie watched his face, seeing this doubt upon him like a new skin. She knew she needed to scrub him clean of it.

She went to him and placed her palms on the sides of his head. She looked him in the eye, square as she could, and in them she saw two Corneliuses: one, the young man she knew so long ago, the dreamer; and two, the grown up version of that young dreamer, smoothing out his dreams like untangling a knotted rope.

“You will not just be good. You will be excellent.”

He nodded back to the house. “If not I, someone else will do it,” he said. 

“Perhaps, though not as well.”

She thought of him as a little boy, hauling coal into the fire of the McCrossin’s home, his father out back chopping wood, his mother long dead; she thought of his tiny, capable hands, his brain, alive with fire, and how the couple admired him so much they paid for his schooling. They saw it in him, even then. (Sometimes, when she looked at Thelma, she thought: do I see that in her? Do I? And she thought: did anyone see it in me?) She thought of the letter from McCrossin that Nels kept in a cardboard file in his desk, next to the brass letter opener. 

It seems to be but yesterday when you as a little boy was studying your Spelling book and performing your House-hold duties at our Home; how well I recollect the day you started to school and again I say that it fills my heart with pride to see that my advise has been kept by you and you have distinguished yourself at school and won a higher place than ever, in my friend-ship, I trust and predict that you will able, as a man of the world, to distinguished yourself among man-kind and do good for the race to which you have been born, there-by setting a fair example to the countless millions of your people.

“No one is as skilled as you,” Millie said. 

“But they are, Millie. I’ve good training, of course. But medicine is medicine.”

“But medicine is not medicine. It is your touch, your manner, your temperance, that makes it so. Your confidence.”

He looked toward the building again, gripping her fingers. “Perhaps that is why they won’t follow my lead—” He turned Thelma toward him, cradling her in one arm, stroking her eyelids and nose with the light touch of a finger.

“No,” Millie said, shaking her head slowly, side to side. “That is exactly why they will.”

And, she wished she could add, exactly why I have, too.

* * * * *

He passed his medical licensing exam with flying colors. “Fireworks!” he said when he came home, his hands exploding in front of his face. “Fireworks!” As if saying the word made them appear. But, his eyes all lit up with stars and planets, his movements singeing with afterglow, she could almost smell the gun powder.

It seemed Thelma’s tiny arms reached for him before he’d entered her vision. He flew her on his back, zooming about, singing me oh me oh my. Thelma’s little giggles heaps of glee, dollops of creamed sugar fluffed on every other note, together their song becoming more familiar, yet more unpredictable, at once.

She wiped her hands on her apron. Back in the kitchen, Millie listened to the heady bubble of boiling water, the thud of the rolling pin on dense dough, until the sound of her own song became the only one she could hear. 


Lisa Gordon’s fiction has been published in Paper Darts, Storychord, Hypertext, and others. She is working on a novel about Cornelius Garland, a Black physician from Alabama who founded and operated the first and only Black hospital in Boston, from 1908-1928.

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The stars changed two days after their ship left Greenland, while Harald was at the tiller.

On a dark, clear, cold night, sea calm as glass, the stars suddenly and silently began to whirl and dance and rearrange themselves in bright streaks of white light. When they settled again, they were in patterns Harald did not recognize, and he knew they were now lost. The women and children were sleeping, but the men exchanged silent glances and whispers. They would not let their families know. There would be panic. Harald continued to hold a course that he hoped was still southwest, towards Vinland, and the new settlement of Leifsbudir. But the strange stars gave no clues, and he avoided looking at them.

Three days later, the mirror ship appeared.

Harald’s youngest boy was the first to see it, looming in and out of the heavy snow and crushing fog that enveloped them in the morning. The swell was rolling high, and their ship was spinning like a top in the salt and spray. At first, his family did not believe him. Children invent tales for reasons entirely their own. But as the fog slowly began to lift it could not be ignored. It was the smell that made it most real; the stench of death, and their own panic.

In the daylight, it was silvery grey, as though it were made of rain. It was always there, immediately to their south. When it became clear that young Olaf had been telling the truth, and the families had all rushed to the rail to see, it had been far off to the port side. But not so far that they couldn’t see the black-clad shapes, gathered on the starboard side of the mirror ship, mimicking and mocking their every move. Mikael hailed the other vessel, demanding they identify themselves. But there was no sound in return; only the roar and crash of the waves, and the howl of the ice-cold wind. For hours, the two ships sailed together. Harald experimented with veering away and veering towards the strange apparition, but it always doubled his movements and remained exactly where it had been before.
Karl left the crowd of watching women and children and sauntered across the deck to Harald at the tiller.

Karl left the crowd of watching women and children and sauntered across the deck to Harald at the tiller.

“They’re Draugr.” Lifeless, undead beings, of ill-omen and ill-fortune.

“Maybe. But if they stay where they are, they’re the least of our problems.”

“How much food do we have left.”

“Enough for another week. It’ll be pickled herring and nothing else by the end, though.”

“Good.” There was a silence.

“Do you have any idea where we are?” Karl asked quietly.

“No. By dead reckoning, I’d say we were east of Markland. But I have no idea.” He swallowed.

“Do they know?”

“No. They were asleep. I don’t think any of the women have noticed.”

“And the children?”

“Your Olaf is a sharp one. He may have spotted something.” Their eyes turned back to the apparition, bobbing silently on the swell beyond. “What do we do?”

“Nothing. There’s nothing we can do. We can’t turn back. We just keep sailing.” He dashed the spray from his eyes. “Your brother was lost in these seas last year, wasn’t he?”

“Yes. Or at least, that’s what Aalsund said when he came back from Vinland. Said their ship never arrived at Sálarhöfn.”

At night, it became worse. The ship glowed a sickly green, and they could see it clear as daylight marked out on the black of the sea and sky. When the snow faded and the seas began to calm after midnight, the men thought they could hear a keening that continued after the wind; a sombre, ghostly note. At night the smell of charnel houses and charred wood and clammy earth became more pungent; an alien stench beneath the tang of the salt air. The stars peeked out again through the clouds. They were of no help. The air was getting colder. Karl and Harald’s breath hung in misty clouds before them, as they shivered at the tiller in silence.

At dawn, the eerie glow faded, but the mirror ship was still there. Karl spoke in a low voice.

“Is it the curse? Did the old man’s evil follow us here?”

This was the first allusion to the reason they had left Greenland. To the feud with Red Erik, who refused to bow to the Christian God. Who ruled Greenland through dread, and the rights he claimed as the discoverer of the land. Who had expelled Harald and Karl and Thorfin and Mikael, and all their families, for daring to show their loyalty to his son Leif, who had tried and failed to persuade his father to abandon Odin, Thor, and the other gods. Who had cursed them, as their ship left Gardar, all the old Greenland families huddled on the cliffs behind him, his hands extended in malediction. They had hoped that in Vinland, they would be safe, among Christians. Now they did not know if they would see another living soul again.

“No. Something else is at work here. I can feel it.”

“Should we turn back?” Karl’s voice was calm.

“No. It’s too late now.” Harald’s hands flexed on the tiller. Karl nodded.

“I trust you.”

It grew colder. Icebergs, always present, began to crowd thick and fast on the horizon. Great looming mountains of blue and white, sailing majestically south. But what was south? Where were they headed now?

On the fifth day, they saw land.

Again, young Olaf was the first to see it. He ran the length of the ship from the prow to the stern, calling

“Land! Land!”

A sigh of relief rose from the women and children huddled in the centre of the ship. Harald’s wife Anna rose from the group and followed Olaf towards Harald, smiling broadly, her teeth gleaming in the sun.

“Jesus Christ be praised. I knew He would not abandon us.”

“Jesus Christ be praised,” Harald repeated, with a forced smile. Harald did not know how comfortable he felt with this new God, this interloper from the far desert. What business did He have on these seas? He held his peace for Anna’s sake, though.

“Do you recognize it?” She asked.

Harald squinted at the land, still so far away. As they grew nearer, he smiled.

“Yes. Yes!” He laughed with relief. “It is Helluland!”


“Yes! The land of flat stones. Two hundred leagues north of Markland! We are safe! We’ve crossed the sea.”

Anna’s pale blue eyes turned and squinted at the shore, now looming grey and imposing above them, all dead stone and dark lichen. Seabirds cawed and wheeled, desperately small, overhead.

“It looks a ghastly place.”

“It is, ” Harald agreed. He did not tell her the stories he had heard from other sailors in Gardar. That it was an alien, demon-haunted land. A harsh and unforgiving landscape, full of strange presences in the ice and snow. “We will not linger here. But we must find fresh water and see if we can kill some seals to replenish our stores. Then, thank God, we’ll be on our way south.” Harald did not tell Anna that his constant efforts to steer them south under the unfamiliar stars had somehow brought them north. Further north even than Greenland.

“Father, we found land!” Olaf was giddy with excitement. His shock of red hair waving frantically in the wind.

“Yes, we did, my boy! Welcome to Helluland.” He scooped the boy up in his arms, and the child giggled and squirmed.

“And the ship is gone!”

Harald looked south. And indeed, the mirror ship had vanished. He exhaled heavily, relief flooding through him.

The ship ran south (and Harald now recognized the coast, and knew it was south) for ten leagues along the rocky cliffs. They were monumental, titanic. Streaked with snow and capped with ice, with sea ice piled in jagged shards at their base, even in this high summer. No man could live on these terrible mountains. But the more Harald saw, the more he felt the tension and horror of the last few days stream away behind him. He knew where he was.

“Within a day we’ll come to Sálarhöfn. It is Aalsund’s trading post. He and his men barter with the Skraelings here.” It was hard, dangerous, but lucrative work, trading in these northern waters. The Skraelings, strange, copper-faced, small men dressed in furs and skins, would never stay, but they would bring strange wonders, narwhal tusks, whale oil, sealskins, and other bounties of these harsh, northern seas, and receive in return iron, and leather, and whatever other goods Aalsund and his men had managed to procure from Europe. Harald had never been to the trading port, but he had heard Aalsund speak of it often.

Sure enough, after they had run with the icy north wind all down that majestic, desolate coast, the cliffs gradually shortened and faded, and late that night, the sun barely dipping low in the summer sky, they passed the mouth of a fjord. Harald knew it by sight, and he steered the ship through the gates of the inlet, where the wind abruptly faded. They got out the oars and rowed the ship down the channel, the cliffs lowering on either side of them. After a half-hour or so, they saw the little hamlet of longhouses and barns and wharves in the distance.

As they got closer, they saw that they were ruins. Blackened, collapsed, and silent. No smoke rose from the charred remnants of the settlement. It had been dead for some time.

They beached their ship in silence, and slowly filed off onto the grey pebble beach. The stone walls of the longhouses were charred black, the sod roofs had buckled as the wooden beams beneath them had given way. Burnt corpses of sheep and chickens littered the ground. The air stank of ash, smoke, and burnt flesh. They had smelled it before. It was the smell that had followed the Mirror Ship. Karl was first to speak.

“What happened here?”

“I don’t know.”

The women and children stayed huddled by the ship. Karl, Harald, Mikael, and Thorfin drew their swords and advanced to explore the ruins. Anna followed them. Harald turned and gestured for her to say with the boats.

“I’m coming with you.”

“It isn’t safe.”

“I don’t care. I need to know.” Harald didn’t say a word, he just turned, and let her follow. He turned to Mikael. The young man was trembling, his lip quivering.

“He may not have been here.” Mikael’s brother Bjarni had sailed for Sálarhöfn the previous summer. He had not been heard from since.

“He was. I know it.” Mikael’s voice was cracking. Harald put his hand on his shoulder. It began to snow lightly.

“Search the rubble.”

The ashes of the buildings were long cold, but the snow had not yet fallen thick enough to bury them. Tendrils of powdery snow snaked over the ruins and across the ground in the cold breeze. Gusts pulled it into strange shapes and writhing snakes of white. Legs of cows and sheep were frozen in the air in horrible, gnarled positions. There was no sign of any of the human inhabitants. Until they came to the church.

The church appeared intact, but for the wooden cross hanging askew from a small steeple, one of its arms broken and dangling. But the roof was still standing, and the men could pass through the door into the dark space within.

The interior of the chapel was unburnt. The five or six rough-hewn wooden pews remained whole, covered in a thin dusting of snow. Pale evening light passed through the four small windows.

The bodies of the inhabitants of Sálarhöfn were piled before the altar of the church. Thirty men, women, and children sprawled on the flagged stone floor, arms and legs contorted, rictuses on their rotting, eyeless faces. They were sprawled in various attitudes towards the cross that still stood on the driftwood altar. No body bore a mark of violence.

Mikael ran forward and frantically began turning over the bodies, panting as his breath came faster and faster. At the fourth body, he let out a wail and sank to his knees. Harald walked forward and looked down at the sobbing young man, and the grinning corpse beneath him. It was Bjarni. His blond hair still visible above the green flesh of his collapsing face. Karl nudged Harald, and gestured to the space behind the altar, where the altarpiece once had been. It was gone. A pile of ashes and wooden remnants was all that remained of the elaborately carved reredos that Aalsund had brought all the way from distant Kiev. A word was scrawled messily in black ash on the wall behind where the wooden structure had once stood. The runes read:

Tornrakr. No one knew what it meant.

No one spoke. Then Anna ventured:

“They died seeking the protection of the Lord.”

“And the Lord did not provide it,” said Karl.

There was no sound, except for Mikael’s racking sobs. Thorfinn spoke.

“The wind is coming up. We should leave this place and leave it now.” He gestured with his sword to the door. “To the ship.”

The snow had intensified. It was howling through the ruins now in great eddies. The wind had risen, and the sky was darkening. Harald felt a chill seize him. It should not be getting this dark, or this cold. Not in summer. Not this far north. The darkness was unnatural. In the distance they heard a scream. Harald recognized Olaf’s young voice.

They ran back onto the beach and beheld their wives and children huddled in the centre of a cyclone of blowing snow. A solid wall of white, weaving and rising and falling above the ground. They struggled through the wind and eventually broke through the snowy curtain. Harald felt as though he had been plunged into ice water, as he broke through the barrier, and struggled to catch his breath. He found Olaf and clutched him close, smelling the boy’s hair, and feeling his warmth and his quivering body. He hugged him and tried to keep the fear and helplessness from overpowering him. He looked through the snow for his ship, and he saw that it was gone.

The cyclone of snow grew stronger, and the darkness became complete. Harald could feel his hands and feet going numb as the temperature plunged. He looked up, and instead of the stars there was a great undulating curtain of light, stretched across the entire sky. But it was not the familiar green he had seen so many times before. It was blood red.

As the wind grew stronger, he began to see faces in the snow around him. Horrible faces. Faces of animals, faces of men. Howling, snarling faces, malevolent and mocking. Wolves, eagles, bears, foxes, seals, dolphins, whales, and fell men, deformed and monstrous. The human faces were laughing, smiles of jagged, cruel teeth leering at them. A chanting began, low and insistent, guttural and droning. He grew colder and colder. The screams of the women and children faded away. He saw Karl and Thorfinn lash at the faces in the snow with their swords, and saw the swords snatched from their gasps. He saw Mikael run screaming into the snow curtain, immediately lost from sight beyond the maelstrom. He saw Anna’s hands locked together in useless prayer. He saw Karl fall to his knees and saw a laughing, dreadful face loom over his friend. His vision started to fade to black, and the last thing he saw, before his eyes closed, was the face of a bear with gnashing teeth, and a mocking gleam in his eye.

The maelstrom faded away, and the bodies lay on the beach for a day and a night. When night fell on the second day, the bodies rose. They were much as they had been. Except they did not speak. And their eyes were black as coal. They stared around them with blank faces. A ship sailed into the harbour. It glowed a sickly green. The sail bore Harald’s sigil, reversed, a black sail where there once had been a white.

They boarded the mirror ship in silence. The men took up the oars, and they rowed the ship to the mouth of the fjord. When they caught the wind, they stowed the oars and sailed the ship east. Or what had once been east. Or whatever direction lay beyond the shores of Helluland.

Atop the cliffs, in the grim polar night, a small knot of short, copper-faced men and women looked down upon the departing ship. Their skin coats were pale, and the hoods they wore over their heads were trimmed with fox fur. One man, taller than the rest, stepped forward to the edge of the cliff, watching the ship begin to glow green.

As they watched the ship, infinitely small all those hundreds of feet below them, a glowing green speck upon a black ocean, they saw an immense shape move beneath the water. It was larger than the largest whale and faster than the fleetest seal, and it rolled and spun beneath the surface of the water without disturbing it in the slightest. It glowed the same pale green as the ship. Swirling and coiling upon itself like a school of glowing mackerel, it gradually turned a face towards the surface, rising beneath the distant craft. It was the face of a woman, blank of expression, empty eyes framed by grey hair, face cold as grey stone. The face lingered there, its lips beneath the ship, for a few moments, and then sank bank into the depths. In the blink of an eye, and in a flash of grey-green movement of uncanny speed, the massive thing was gone.


Nicholas Pullen is a gay Canadian writer, whose story ‘Famous Blue’ came third in the Toronto Star short story contest, and whose work has also appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic. A graduate of Oxford and McGill, he knows the names, locations, depths, and stories of every shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

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Flying With William

As the sun went down, I snuffed out the candle and bedded the bairns on the floor, their plaids wrapped round and round. Little Maria was demanding more milk, but the cow had not yet recovered from the winter, and there was no more, so I gave her a cup of ale I’d hidden behind the chest and a dram to the other two, as well. Immediately, the three bairns fell fast asleep. I banked the peat on the fire, peeled off some hay from the bale, threw it over the byre for the animals, and spread the extra plaids on the mat in the corner. And then my husband Hugh Gilbert, who had been watching me in silence, grabbed me and pulled me down.

I submitted, as always. And as always, Hugh was fast and rough. This time, I felt some pleasure as I thought of Thomas the Rhymer, the man in green, and my body delighted as the warmth of Thomas came into me.

Hugh began to snore. I closed my eyes, and my body went still. Would I see him? Thomas, as full of sunshine and light as Hugh Gilbert was consumed in sullen darkness.

Would tonight be the night? Slowly, slowly, the familiar feeling came. My body became stiff, and now I was above it, with body beneath me. It was not my body now, but a stiff wooden thing: a broom, a besom, a twig tied with branches and straw. The besom would lie in the bed. And if Hugh awakened before I returned, he would think this piece of wood and straw to be his wife.

Now I was outside the hut, and here was Thomas, his clothing all white this time, his long yellow beard and hair wild and fiery. “Are you ready, my lady?” His eyes glittered like sunlight on water. Beside him hovered a slight and vigorous spirit all in red, a tiny figure with long red hair. The Red Reiver: my own sprite. I knew him in my heart and mind and soul. He was, in fact, a part of me, in me and beside me, a spirit to protect me in my sojourns into this other world. 

“I am ready, Thomas.”

Thomas lifted his chest and looked down at me. “But lady, my name be William.” 

I stepped back. “William?” I stepped further back to the door, or what passed for a door, that hole in the mud wall.

“Aye,” he roared, standing taller and taller. “Thomas be the king of the Fairies, but I am greater and grander.”

I had thought to meet with Thomas the Rhymer, he who lives with the fairies and courts the fairy queen with his silver harp. I lowered my head and peered at him through my lashes. “And why should I go with you?” I demanded. Was there something here to bargain for?

 “I can give you power.”

I felt the Red Reiver spritely and close. He nodded vigorously and hopped up and down. “Power? I have the power. I know the power of the sea, and the crow and the hare, the plants to heal, the charms and the cures.”

“Ah.” He looked down from his great height with the merriest of smiles, his face aglow with light and honey. “But with me, you will fly. You will eat and drink your fill, you will learn to spite your enemies. You’ll be invisible; you will be able to strike and kill who you will.” His smile was a fiery glint. “All this and more.”

 I had hoped for Thomas, but perhaps this William was greater. I could journey with him, and have all manner of power. I could spite my enemies.

 “Come,” beckoned William, fast astride his black stallion.

And now I saw that my own white steed awaited. I sprang upon the horse as quick as lightning, calling, “Horse and hattock, ho! Ho and away!” And now I was aloft, and my body alive, every part, with the flight and the thrill and the speed. I was no longer hungry, and pain was unheard of, unknown, unimagined. My body was light—light as air. And now I was large, so great that I was part of everything, and everything a part of me. “Horse and hattock, ho!” I called again, and we flew through the night, over farmtown and field, over dunes and machair and mountains.

I could swoop without effort, and even through clouds, see all below. We soared, almost to the Cairngorms, over Ben Rinnes, its mountaintop painted white with snow. Now fading and misting, now clearing, but yes: a dingle, a fire, a camp. Men and horses, stomping and shouting and bucking. 

“No time to stop,” William called, and on we went, above the mountains and west, all the way to Darnaway Castle. In through the chimney and into the Great Hall, the seat of the Earl of Moray, the grandest hall in all of Morayshire and perhaps all of Scotland. 

Here were noblemen and ladies in the finest of dress, gowns in silks and velvets, diamonds in their hair and on their fingers. They stood in the dusky hall in torchlight and candlelight, their satin and jewels glittering in the shadows. With glances and whispers, they stared at me. “Who is she?”

No longer the ragged peasant, one who was ignored and dismissed, now I was seen—and not only seen, but honored. The noble people looked at me in awe. I was their queen. I wore a shimmering gown of diaphanous silver, the most dazzling one of all. The people bowed to me, and I felt my power. Here was Elspeth Nychie, whom William called “Bessie Bold;” and now Lilias Dunlop, “Able and Stout.” Here were Bessie Wilson and so many others from the farm town, all dressed as fine ladies, though none as fine as Isobel the Cunning Woman.

The room flickered and thrilled with the presence of William: lusty William, so full of secret delight that when he passed and touched me with the softest graze, I warmed and quivered to my very root. This was a feeling Hugh Gilbert could never cause, let alone imagine. 

William had transformed again. He was now clad all in black. A long black doublet, black breeches and boots, his hair and beard and eyes…all black. We were in the kitchen now, and he opened his arms and waved his hands over everything. “Eat! Drink!” I didn’t stop to wonder why he had transformed again, this time from light to dark. I was hungry, and I ate.

Meats and breads, cheeses, cakes, and fruits on delicate plates, and wine in crystal glasses. We feasted until we were full and could eat no more.  We laughed and danced to the pipes and sang until dawn had nearly come, right there in the castle kitchen. 

In an instant, a flash of the eye, we were back on our steeds and flying. Through the sky and back to my bed I flew, a woman of power. I, who knew words and rhymes, the thread and straw and clay, the fruit of the corn, the sheaves of rye, and knew what use to make of them. And now I knew more…so much more.


This is an excerpt from Nancy Kilgore’s recently published novel, Bitter Magic (Sunbury Press, 2021.) The novel is inspired by the 1662 witchcraft trial of Isobel Gowdie in Auldearn, Scotland. Nancy is the author of two other novels, Sea Level (RCWMS, 2012) and Wild Mountain (Green Writers Press, 2017). Nancy has received the Vermont Writers Prize, a Pushcart Prize nomination, and a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year award.

hair. The Red Reiver: my own sprite. I knew him in my heart and mind and soul. He was, in fact, a part of me, in me and beside me, a spirit to protect me in my sojourns into this other world. “I am ready, Thomas.”Thomas lifted his chest and looked down at me. “But lady, my name be William.” I stepped back. “William?” I stepped further back to the door, or what passed for a door, that hole in the mud wall. “Aye,” he roared, standing taller and taller. “Thomas be the king of the Fairies, but I am greater and grander.” I had thought to meet with Thomas the Rhymer, he who lives with the fairies and courts the fairy queen with his silver harp. I lowered my head and peered at him through my lashes. “And why should I go with you?” I demanded. Was there something here to bargain for? “I can give you power.” I felt the Red Reiver spritely and close. He nodded vigorously and hopped up and down. “Power? I have the power. I know the power of the sea, and the crow and the hare, the plants to heal, the charms and the cures.” “Ah.” He looked down from his great height with the merriest of smiles, his face aglow with light and honey. “But with me, you will fly. You will eat and drink your fill, you will learn to spite your enemies. You’ll be invisible; you will be able to strike and kill who you will.” His smile was a fiery glint. “All this and more.” I had hoped for Thomas, but perhaps this William was greater. I could journey with him, and have all manner of power. I could spite my enemies. “Come,” beckoned William, fast astride his black stallion. And now I saw that my own white steed awaited. I sprang upon the horse as quick as lightning, calling, “Horse and hattock, ho! Ho and away!” And now I was aloft, and my body alive, every part, with the flight and the thrill and the speed. I was no longer hungry, and pain was unheard of, unknown, unimagined. My body was light—light as air. And now I was large, so great that I was part of everything, and everything a part of me. “Horse and hattock, ho!” I called again, and we flew through the night, over farmtown and field, over dunes and machair and mountains. I could swoop without effort, and even through clouds, see all below. We soared, almost to the Cairngorms, over Ben Rinnes, its mountaintop painted white with snow. Now fading and misting, now clearing, but yes: a dingle, a fire, a camp. Men and horses, stomping and shouting and bucking. “No time to stop,” William called, and on we went, above the mountains and west, all the way to Darnaway Castle. In through the chimney and into the Great Hall, the seat of the Earl of Moray, the grandest hall in all of Morayshire and perhaps all of Scotland. Here were noblemen and ladies in the finest of dress, gowns in silks and velvets, diamonds in their hair and on their fingers. They stood in the dusky hall in torchlight and candlelight, their satin and jewels glittering in the shadows. With glances and whispers, they stared at me. “Who is she?” No longer the ragged peasant, one who was ignored and dismissed, now I was seen—and not only seen, but honored. The noble people looked at me in awe. I was their queen. I wore a shimmering gown of diaphanous silver, the most dazzling one of all. The people bowed to me, and I felt my power. Here was Elspeth Nychie, whom William called “Bessie Bold;” and now Lilias Dunlop, “Able and Stout.” Here were Bessie Wilson and so many others from the farmtown, all dressed as fine ladies, though none as fine as Isobel the Cunning Woman.The room flickered and thrilled with the presence of William: lusty William, so full of secret delight that when he passed and touched me with the softest graze, I warmed and quivered to my very root. This was a feeling Hugh Gilbert could never cause, let alone imagine. William had transformed again. He was now clad all in black. A long black doublet, black breeches and boots, his hair and beard and eyes…all black. We were in the kitchen now, and he opened his arms and waved his hands over everything. “Eat! Drink!” I didn’t stop to wonder why he had transformed again, this time from light to dark. I was hungry, and I ate. Meats and breads, cheeses, cakes, and fruits on delicate plates, and wine in crystal glasses. We feasted until we were full and could eat no more. We laughed and danced to the pipes and sang until dawn had nearly come, right there in the castle kitchen. In an instant, a flash of the eye, we were back on our steeds and flying. Through the sky and back to my bed I flew, a woman of power. I, who knew words and rhymes, the thread and straw and clay, the fruit of the corn, the sheaves of rye, and knew what use to make of them. And now I knew more…so much more.

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April’s Winds

Propped against the inside sideboard, William’s wheat-colored body moved with the wagon as it rambled up the dirt drive. Fortunately, it was too early for dust; spring was just barely in the air. Winter had been long and still hadn’t fully yielded. Defiantly, though, grass was greening, leafy fingerlings were rising from the ground, and bushes and branches were blushing shades of green or brown or white or fuschia. 

The motion of the wagon, combined with the clodding, rhythmic clip of the shoe-hooved horses, threatened to pull William back into sleep. But the March-like gusts, in concert with the jerking of the wagon navigating the ruts in the road, made any thought of a nap fleeting. 

So instead, William focused on the immediate need: warmth. He pulled the collar of his woolen suit jacket up and the brim of his chocolate brown, soft-felt fedora down, covering his eyes. William tilted his head towards his chest and watched his exhales hang in the air and make shifting, vaporous shapes. He crossed his arms and tucked his hands under the armpits of his jacket as the wagon slowly approached the confines of the shady farmyard, guarded by its five large pines.

The wagon jerked again and William realized they were now free from its shady expanse. The sun’s warmth grew in him slowly, the way the coal stove’s warmth grew in the kitchen on winter mornings. He relaxed and his eyes wandered down his lanky legs to survey his spit-polished black shoes. He recalled the hole in the sole of the one on the right, which he had carefully insulated with newspaper. William made a mental tick to watch how he exited the wagon; as they got closer to the church, he wouldn’t want others to notice. His eyes then took in his trouser legs. The fabric was becoming so worn that the creases barely held at the knees. There wasn’t much he could do about the shoes or the weariness of his brown woolen suit, though. New shoes, new suit – those were only wishes for now. 

Those wishes turned William’s thoughts to the local men’s clothing store and he felt the stirrings of a chilling mental wind. What sense did it make for any black man to select an item of clothing and watch a white man try it on, only imagining how it would look on himself? In 1917?  I would rather pay to ride the train to St. Louis and spend my cash where at least I’ll be treated like a man, thought William.

A man. The internal winds increased, circling those two words. The winds picked up questions, directing and driving them. Was he really a man? If so, what kind of man was he? What was he doing here? What was next for him? How could he be 25 and educated and have made so little progress towards his future? Who would have thought that he would be a cook recently, a position he was hardly disappointed to leave when Mrs. Madison said she didn’t have enough customers to keep him on at the diner?

William sighed. He knew there were few jobs for Negro men in Columbia at all.  This was true even though he read in the local newspaper of the growing demand for exports from America for the Great War. Even some of Missouri’s own industries were prospering. The state was contributing mules and munitions, among other goods, to fulfill military contracts. But here he was, with all of his education and potential, full of the strength of youth, fighting furiously against a cold, numbing winter season of life. 

William tried to shake himself free from his frosty mental gusts. He tilted his head and peered to his right, taking in the image of his two younger brothers. They were grown men now too – Charles and John. Although they were both employed – Charles at the barber’s and John at the auto repair shop – their suits were only slightly better than his own. But they had steady work. Through his still half-open lids William surveyed their faces and tried not to think that his situation was in any way tied to color. Either of them, with their wavy-straight brown hair and fair skin, could pass for white. William’s own dark complexion and coarse, brown-black locks made him the fly in their home’s buttermilk.

Poppa’s clicking sound, a signal to the horses, brought William back to the present. The wagon slowed to a stop and he hopped down from the back of the wagon, remembering the hole in the sole of his shoe and avoiding revealing it as he exited.  Meanwhile, Poppa, in his black suit with starched white shirt and black tie, was already helping Momma from the buckboard and onto the walkway. 

Here they were, at St. Paul A.M.E. William looked up at the large, Gothic and Romanesque two-story red brick edifice, a testament to the commitment of the local colored people to plan for, gather resources, and execute the construction of their own church. And now they had properly maintained it for more than 50 years of life! To William and those in the community, it represented accomplishment and provided security. 

Standing before it, the five adjusted themselves gently before joining the others who were entering. Momma checked for her sons behind her, then proudly took Poppa’s extended arm and smiled as she climbed the stairs to the large, heavy oak doors. She reminded William of a mother hen with her chicks, and he could not help but give a slight smile himself as he watched her nearly float up the concrete steps in her patent black opera pumps. Her deep blue woolen suit fit attractively her just-ample frame (both her weight and the suit an assurance to everyone that her husband was a good provider). A lacy, white jabot graced her neck, highlighting the buttercream color of her mulatto skin. Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a bun; tendrils curled near her full face; and her white teardrop hat, with its milk-colored silk flowers, feathers, and netting, was tilted perfectly. White gloves, which fit snugly on her plump hands, completed the outfit. She was stunningly elegant; for a woman whose mother was a slave, she had made out all right. 

William followed the rest of “Momma’s men,” as she liked to lovingly refer to them, through the doors. As they entered, William spied Mrs. Harrison. Petite, wafer-thin, chocolate-colored, and in her mid-40s, William noticed how smart she looked in her tan suit. She nodded at the family, then invited them to enter the sanctuary with her white-gloved left hand. 

As they did, William was overwhelmed with a dizzying floral scent. “Hydrangeas,” mother whispered, nodding towards the plants on the windowsills as they took their usual pew near the middle of the sanctuary. Her comment made William smile again: not only did Momma pride herself on having a flower garden that was the envy of the town’s people whether black or white, but she thrived in flurry and busyness. Her current focus had been leading the decorating committee, but Momma was most often the lead whatever she was involved in, whether at church or in the community.

The organist played “The Old Rugged Cross” softly as the pews continued to fill. William glanced around and gave a head nod to some of his former classmates. Several were married now, some to a woman or two he had serious affections for himself in the past. No sooner did his thoughts rest there, though, than the mental winds returned. He braced himself against what he knew would now be his mind’s gale-force blast. William longed to be married and on his way in life. Although as handsome and smart as any, he was convinced he had nothing to offer. That thought caused a numbing cold to accompany the winds. His friends were on their way in life. And I’m nowhere, thought William.

But maybe, just maybe. After all, there was the Good Friday announcement made by President Wilson: the US would formally enter the war. William’s mental winds changed direction: was it insanity to think of war as a way out? Like the rest of the country, William read the sobering and terrifying stories of the battles and unimaginable losses of life. He had to admit that he was apprehensive, but his longing for change and the prospect of adventure overshadowed it. He was weary of this space he occupied – tired of the aimlessness and not feeling like a man. The thought of danger ignited something in him and gave him a place to focus and spend his energy, and his fear, and his longings. 

Danger and the war had certainly been the topics at the barbershop the day before. The crowd of pre-Easter patrons debated whether President Wilson would invite Negroes to contribute to the war effort at all. The mix of men, from every station in life, agreed that once “separate but equal” became the law some 20 years earlier it had continued to eat through the hopes of the Negro for true equality – hopes ignited by the fires of the Civil War and the promise of Reconstruction.  

Mr. Harvey, the shop’s owner, reminded the customers how hopeful they all had been when former President Taft took office. Yet Taft said that enforcing Jim Crow laws was an acceptable way to ensure that only the black males up to the task could vote. “And I told ya’ll President Wilson wasn’t goin’ to be no different,” he said slowly and loudly, peering over his glasses at the men in the shop and pausing for effect between clips. They agreed. President Wilson, in spite of all of his talk, made sure that Negroes remained second-class citizens by requiring segregation in federal facilities at work and lunch to “keep down friction between the races,” and “allow for a smoother functioning government,” William read in news reports.

The topic of whether Negroes would be enlisted had spilled into conversation in the farmhouse that morning, too.  “Ain’t that somethin’,” Poppa had complained as the family consumed Momma’s Easter Sunday morning breakfast of biscuits, eggs, and bacon. “In spite of all of the contributions of Negro soldiers to this country!” he exclaimed. Respect, that was what the country owed them, he continued between sips of black coffee. 

The four knew Poppa’s contention was tied to his Virginia-born grandfather, Fredrick, who served the Union forces with the permission of his Missouri slave mistress. A forward-thinking woman, she allowed her former charges to earn land in exchange for labor when the war ended, which was how Poppa, a mulatto like his mother, came to own their farmstead.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” continued Momma. “President Wilson goin’ along with those white folks who won’t treat Negro men like men. He should be ashamed!” Poppa nodded his head, agreeing with her comment.  

“Him and those scoundrels who demonize black men, like those promotin’ that Birth of a Nation!Poppa exclaimed. “Shameful!”

William roused himself from these remembrances to find himself the object of his mother’s stare. Embarrassed, he forced a smile at her and, in order not to worry her further, willed himself fully out of his mental squall and gave Reverend Johnson his full attention. Tall, dark, and in his mid-40s with salt and pepper hair, Reverend Johnson’s mannerisms were intentional and measured for impact. White-robed in honor of Easter, he was now behind the pulpit, motioning to the congregation to stand and join the choir in singing the final chorus. William stood and joined in:

“So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross…

‘til my trophies at last I lay down.

I will cling to the old rugged cross…

and exchange it someday for a crown.”

The church organ’s reverberations faded, and the harmony of voices evaporated. Reverend Johnson’s deep, melodic voice then rose and filled the space. “Now, it’s time for the Apostle’s Creed,” he announced, and they began to repeat in unison:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord ….

William glanced around the congregation; the church was full now. Consistent with the expectations of an Easter Sunday in a Protestant church, every pew was packed and people were dressed in their best. Men wore crisp, clean shirts and suspendered pants or suits; women were in starched blouses and skirts, or dresses, or suits as well. And there were hats.  Men removed them at the door, but both men and women had straw hats; some men also sported fedoras. A few women were in ornate feathered, netted and beaded chapeaus. 

William responded “amen” with the congregation and took his seat. As the service continued, his mind relaxed. He was grateful to have the outer world, and his own thoughts, closed to him for now. After all, how could anyone’s mind wander when there were the children? Singing now, their cherub-like voices floated in the air. Most were squirrely and visibly uncomfortable in crisp clothes and too-big shoes, but a few treated the attention like a spring shower and blossomed. 

It was the singing of the adult choir, though, that moved the congregation; by the time they finished their selections, the Spirit was high. The pew row of deacons declared resounding “amen”s. Church mothers (the more elder women) and deaconesses, who were seated just behind the deacons and dressed in all white, were now deployed around the church, fanning various women who were moaning and crying in response to the Spirit’s moving. William even heard Mrs. Johnson, the Reverend’s wife, shouting “Praise Jesus!”

When Reverend Johnson returned to the wooden pulpit, he belted out “Oh, glory!” as the church continued its boisterous responses. Then the organist guided them, slowing the tempo and the volume until emotions ebbed.  

With the church quiet now except for the occasional sound of a baby, Reverend Johnson began. “Today our Scripture text is I Corinthians 15, verses 1-5. Please stand,” he said, and began to read:

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

“Amen,” called Reverend Johnson. “Amen,” responded the congregation as they took their seat.

Reverend Johnson continued. “From this text I take the subject, ‘It Isn’t Over.’”

William heard a few more “amen”s from around the church as the Reverend continued. “The story of the last week of Jesus’ time on earth, and His perfect fulfillment of God’s calling on His life with His resurrection from the dead for our sins, is a tale that never grows old, wouldn’t you agree? We begin with such texts as Matthew Chapter 21 and Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And while in Jerusalem, Christ makes himself about His Father’s work,” he continued. “Jesus casts out the vile money changers from the temple. He continues to teach and answer the questions of the Pharisees. He performs more miracles of healing and makes more pronouncements of forgiveness. But then come false accusers, a meeting with Pilate, a crucifixion, and a Good Friday death.”

Reverend Johnson paused; William gratefully hung on every word. 

“Now, I want to tarry here for a moment and ask us to consider the Resurrection story and its application to our current condition, the condition of the Negro, at this time in our history,” he said. “My children, I do not commit the blasphemy of suggesting that the Negro race replace that of Christ in this story, but I rather propose that we can find hope as we consider His story in light of our predicament in America.

“Because here is our Lord, perfect in every way, yet He is constantly examined for the purpose of finding fault,” said Reverend Johnson. “My brothers and sisters, is this not the case with our race as well? Although we are not perfect – no people are – during the one-half century we have been out of the cotton fields we have accomplished much. 

“We have learned to write and read though often forbidden,” he continued. “Why even in our own Missouri it became illegal for even free blacks to receive an education. Yet we have produced accomplished authors and poets, doctors and lawyers. 

“Sadder yet, we were even forbidden to preach God’s word in some places! But praise God, we now boldly proclaim His mysteries across our great state!” said Johnson. At that, “amen”s rolled and hands clapped throughout the sanctuary. Reverend Johnson paused until these subsided, then continued. “And make no mistake about it, we have also proven ourselves on the battlefield. We fought alongside the Father of our country, helped secure our own freedom in the Civil War, and we continue to excel in military conflicts.

“’Yes,’ you will say, ‘but to what avail?’” said the Reverend, wiping his mouth with his white handkerchief and peering at his written text. “Do not many white men continue to treat us like second-class citizens? Even as our President announced a mere two days ago, on Good Friday, our country’s commitment to entering the Great War and defending democracy, wasn’t a disparaging shadow cast upon the Black race because no clear inclusion of his ability to contribute was pronounced?” 

Reverend Johnson’s voice rose, “I know my brothers and sisters – we fear that even after all we have accomplished in this foreign land to which we were brought, that we are still considered incapable in almost every arena. As a result, daily we suffer a type of death.

“But take heart my little flock,” he continued, lowering his voice dramatically. “Let’s return to our text. We know that Christ’s story doesn’t end with the conflict and abuse, or even His death.” 

Reverend Johnson retold the story of the plot against Christ instigated by those who wanted to maintain power, “in the same way that many in power in our country want to kill both the body and spirit of our race,” he said. “Some would bury us, the way that they buried Christ! But we know what happened next!”

At this, the swell of “amen”s, “yes”es and “hallelujah”s filled the church. 

“On that Resurrection Sunday, He got up!” exclaimed Reverend Johnson. “And brothers and sisters, we must get up too!” Shouts from the congregation grew louder.

“We know our God is with the lowly, and with the His help, we will have the victory!” Reverend Johnson proclaimed. At that, members of the congregation jumped to their feet and the sanctuary erupted again in praise. Although William didn’t move, he noticed that his cold, mental winds were not just forgotten, but gone. Strength was returning to his tired, wind-tossed mind and soul. And in his spirit he felt – he knew – the Good Friday announcement by the President, and a war, were the key to the end of his winter. 

The organist began playing again, and William rose with the congregation and joined in the chorus of the closing hymn with renewed hope:

Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes
He arose a Victor from the dark domain
And He lives forever with His saints to reign
He arose! (He arose)
He arose! (He arose)
Hallelujah! Christ arose!


Rollins has been a professional communications, science, and research writer. She has also been a freelance newspaper and magazine feature writer and has authored two children’s books under a modified pen name. Rollins is exploring the early part of the 20th century to understand her family’s roots.

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Independence Day, 1921

It was a quiet Florida morning.  We had been putting up bunting the day before and talking about the Dunedin Fourth of July Parade that was this morning and suddenly the letter came and there I was thinking about Dr. Rivers and Craiglockhart.  It was like that when I got the telegram about my father.  I was in England in 1915 and we had been working on improving the mount for the Lewis gun on the Coastal Motor Boat. It was a normal day when we were planning to go out to the pub later and then the private came with the telegram that said my father had died and my mother asking me to come home.  That was seven years ago and I get things mixed up.  Not the facts, but something like Rivers dying would come along and then I would think of my father, then of the salient, then I would wonder how long I had been sitting there.  Much better now than it used to be when I would lose an hour before I knew I’d lost it and the feeling would stay for a day or two or three.  Now it had to be something big, like Rivers dying and I know to ride it out. Still I was thinking about Dad and the soldiers at the salient and how Rivers had helped me to get hold of that.

I thought of it this morning as I rode in the open car wearing my Royal Naval Air Service uniform and the DSC and Croix de Guerre that Rivers convinced me to accept.  Then some ass leaned towards the car and asked why I wasn’t wearing an American uniform & Sheriff Young pushed him back and I wished Dr. Rivers were there for me to talk to after, but he wouldn’t be there anymore.

I don’t think I would have done the damn parade if not for Sheriff Young asking.  They had some soldiers from the Army (from St. Petersburg and Clearwater and all around) and behind them a few Telephone Girls in their uniforms holding a banner to say who they were.  Somewhere further behind us, ten or fifteen Negro soldiers marched in the parade and the Negroes from Clearwater would cheer when they passed.  The white soldiers wore their uniforms and marched on foot in front of us except for the young guy who sat next to me who’d lost half of his face at Belleau Wood or so they said.  Seemed like every American soldier fought at Belleau Wood but mostly those were Marines but it didn’t matter where you got it or if you made it through without getting it.  I tried to talk with him but he had to turn his head to see me and hear me and I would have just moved to his other side but they wanted his good side towards the parade people and the side with the fake face towards me.  I should have walked but I knew I’d make maybe a mile and my hip and knee would hurt and I’d have to sit down or ask for help and this way I could ride and take care of the corporal who kept calling me Lieutenant Wilson, which sounded odd because all the Brits called me Leftenant and that’s how I got used to the word.  I asked him about what they said about Belleau Wood and he said

“Hell, no.  I got clobbered coming up to the line somewhere near Fontenoy . . . “

 “—south of Arras, isn’t it?”

“I think so.  South of Amiens, St. Quentin. Near Soissons.  They took me to hospital in Amiens.  We’d come through there earlier.”

“I flew mostly north of there in early seventeen,” I said.

“I was there in July eighteen.  That’s where I got it.”  He pointed to his face.  If you didn’t look carefully at it, you couldn’t tell it was fake.  “You?”  he pointed to my cane.

“Oh, over Plouvain, best as I can figure it.  We’d had a patrol behind the lines near Arras and a DIII jumped me.”  He looked at me quizzically with his good eye and tilted his head.  “An Albatros,” I said.  “The DIII was new then and I didn’t expect him.”

“Ah,” he said.

“What did you do?”

“I was a machine gunner with a bunch of Italians from New York. It took me two months to understand what they were saying but they were nice enough fellows once you got used to how they ‘tawked.’”  He was trying to scratch up and under the fake face.

“It itches?”

“Yeah. Especially when I sweat.”

“Where’d you get it?  I saw some of the Brits and the Poilu with stuff like that.”  He looked at me with his good eye for a second, the glass eye staring at me from behind the glasses that held the whole contraption on.

“They had me in an American hospital over there but a French doctor and a woman came one day and fitted it.  She came every day for a couple of weeks.  She was the one who made sure it fit and then painted it to match my skin and chose the glass eye so the color matched my good one.  See?”  He faced me and pointed to each eye and they were a good match.  Ahead, the high school band played a marching arrangement of “Over There.”  The corporal and I looked at each other.  He smiled with his half a face.  I smiled because he was the only one there who had an idea what I had gone through.  In spite of missing half his face, though, he seemed ready to smile, to joke.  He seemed to have completely avoided the wind-up.  To look at me, though, you’d think I had come through unscathed.  I wore my cap, uniform with the pilot’s wings and my two medals.  I had received two proposals from local girls during the times I had to wear the uniform.  At 29, I seemed a good catch, or at least looked like something they wanted to believe about the world.  The corporal was probably a much more balanced fellow and was only twenty or so.   But they turned their faces from him when they saw us together.  Wouldn’t even talk with him when he addressed them directly in his slightly slurred voice, but I heard them say once they’d got out of earshot “oh, that poor, poor boy.  Can you imagine living with such a, a,  . . . deformity!”  And yet they talked to me as if I were the one who came home whole.

At the end of the parade, we were escorted out of the car and into the church event room.  They served coffee and lemonade.  When the Negro soldiers tried to come in, someone escorted them around to the back where a table was set for them.  The mayor and the old men came around and shook our hands.  Two of them were from the War Between the States.  One wore a grey kepi and a grey uniform shirt.

“Love’s 4th Cav.,” he said from behind a broad grey mustache.  “We were at Little Round Top.  Welcome home, young man.” 

“Thank you, Sir.”  The corporal saluted him and the old man saluted back. 

“No need for that, young man.  I’m a soldier like you,” he said and I knew he was hinting at my wings and my rank.  I nodded at him and the other old man and they walked off, the Confederate soldier leaning on his cane to support a stiff right leg.  His friend stared at the flag for a moment until the Confederate pulled his sleeve and they moved on.  We must have been at that reception for another four hours.  I hoped that the Telephone Girls would come in but they must have gone on after the parade.  We ate lemon bars and drank iced tea.  We had barbeque.  The newspaper boy took pictures of us in front of the flag with the old men.  The mayor shook our hands.  The two girls we saw in the parade came around again.  One was a tall blonde in a floating sundress and pretty blue eyes.  The other, a brunette, was shorter and brown-eyed and wore a floral dress.

“So,” said the blonde, running her hand up and down my lapel, “how many Germans did you shoot down, Lieutenant Wilson?”  She was looking at the name tag on my chest.  I’ll bet you’re a hero—what do they call it, Alice?—an ace?”

“You know, I don’t remember,” I said.  “Corporal, the young lady wants to know how many Huns I’ve killed.”  The corporal just smiled with half his face.  “I’ll bet you have some stories to tell, corporal.”  He half-smiled again.

“I can tell you about seeing the Champs-Elysees and the Eiffel Tower, and how it is to be strolling through Paris as the sun goes down over the Seine and the cafes come alive with couples drinking wine and people playing music.”  He was half-slurring many of his words, but the man was a poet, a romantic, and the women began to shift their gazes to him.  “I spent hours with the Cezannes and Monets.  One night, on leave, I danced with three different French girls.  I was a sight in my American uniform!”

“This uniform right here?” the brunette said and rested her hand on his sleeve.

“No, they had to replace it after I was wounded.  Anyway—the four of us spent the rest of the night in the clubs and cafes, me not speaking any French and them speaking barely any English!  We greeted the morning with a bottle of wine on the banks of the Seine.  Later that day, I got shipped to the front.”

“Oh, to be in Paris!” the blonde said. “Clubs and cafes and dancing all night!”

“And the Eiffel Tower and all the lights!” the brunette said.  “What did you say you did in the war, honey?”

“I was a machine gunner,” the corporal said. 

“Not in the cavalry on horses?”

“We didn’t do that sort of thing much.  A Hotchkiss will make a mess of a cavalryman!”  He said that mostly to me. I gave a small grin.  I thought of what my Vickers had done to German infantry.  The French soldiers I saved likely had a Hotchkiss.  The brunette, Alice, said under her breath, “kiss!” and nudged the blonde, who giggled.  Someone on the piano began to play “Pretty Baby” and the blonde took my cane and leaned it against the wall and pulled me to the area they’d cleared for dancing. 

“I have a bad leg, you know.”

“You leave that to me, honey,” she said.  “I took a class in high school so I could be a nurse assistant.  You just lean on me.” We swayed gently on the floor.  Alice stood awkwardly next to the corporal until he led her to the floor.  They danced close, his good cheek next to hers, then he began to move her gracefully, his feet light, his hands holding hers up.

“You’re quite the dancer, corporal!” I called as they came near. 

“When I get the chance!” he called as he spun by me and the blonde.  She leaned in close to my ear.

“We should go to a place I know.  Up in Sutherland.  You game?”

I nodded and soon the four of us were knocking on the door of a big house in Sutherland and the blonde told the person at the door “hummingbird” and they let us in.  Inside, a big radio was playing and people were drinking beer and whiskey.

“Wouldn’t you heroes prefer a drink while we dance?”

I gave the bartender some money and the corporal and I had a beer.  The girls were already drinking gin like they had done this a dozen times before.  We danced, we drank.  Sometime after midnight, the four of us ventured out onto a patio behind the house under a full moon.  The blonde snuggled herself under my arm.  She kissed me and I kissed her back, drew her to me by putting my hand on the narrow part of her waist.  Over her shoulder, I could see the corporal slow dancing with the brunette to a Paul Whiteman tune.  “Stairway to Paradise,” I think.  The song was bouncing along and they were moving half as fast, as if they were hearing a different song.

Then, everything went bad.  He leaned in to kiss her.  She closed her eyes and her hand went up to his face, only to find the fake side of his face.  The prosthesis came off, hanging by the glasses that held it on.  Beneath was the collapsed eye socket, the scarred place that used to be a cheekbone before the shell had struck him.  At first, four glasses of gin and tonic gone, the brunette seemed to recoil more from embarrassment than anything, but then she saw the scars and the hollowed-out crater of his face and her own face twisted into disgust.

“Oh!” she cried out.

“It’s okay,” the corporal said, trying to calm her.

“Oh, you’re—“ she struggled to put what she was seeing into words, “you’re a, a—“  he put the prosthesis back and she reached out to touch it, then recoiled as if she’d touched a poisonous snake.  “Just monstrous!” she said, and staggered back.  She put her hands over her face and cried and pointed—“Monster!”  Perhaps she wouldn’t have said that if she were sober.  Maybe I wouldn’t have said anything if I had been sober, but I disentangled myself from the blonde and was between them before I knew what I was doing.  I pushed her down into a wicker chaise lounge.

“Heartless fucking bitch!” I said. Then the blonde was pulling at me and hitting me on the back and brunette was crying and soon the corporal and I were escorted out the back door of the house by two large men wearing automatics and an older man told them “we don’t want to be seen roughing up veterans on the 4th of July, but make sure they don’t come back.”  One of the big men handed me my cane and I thought for a moment of hitting him with it.  But I was just feeling tired.

The corporal and I walked south towards Dunedin.

“You can stay with me tonight and head back to St. Petersburg in the morning.  Fucking bitches.”  The guy gets his face blown off, then dances like Arthur Murray crossed with Bojangles Robinson and this bitch calls him a monster.  Fuck them.  “Fuck them,” I said.  “Fuck them.”

“Your leg okay?” the corporal asked.  I was limping.

“Yeah.  I’m just tired.  We’ll rest in a little while.  I’m sorry about those bitches.  Sorry about all of that.  We shouldn’t have gone out.  We shouldn’t have expected anyone to understand anything.”  Poor guy all busted up and they have to treat him like a freak.  Like they treated me when they found out what Craiglockhart was. Fuckers.  Patriotic assholes.

“You can’t let it bother you,” the corporal said.


“You can’t, Rusty.  They don’t know shit and they’re scared.  Not of my face or your leg, but of what they get a hint of from seeing missing legs and arms and minds.  They want to believe in the heroes and aces and uniforms and medals, but they don’t want to believe there’s a world that can do this.”  He pointed to his face, now without the prosthetic.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I guess you’re right. But it’s hard to live around them every day when they act like Fanny Bryce is the only thing that means anything.”

“Me,” the corporal said, “I feel sorry for them.”  He scratched the face that had been blown away.  “For them, they worry about ‘what if the world was to be evil? What if people could really be that bad?’  But we know how things are so we can enjoy a drink, a fine moon, a walk home with a friend.”

“You’re pretty goddamned smart for a corporal,” I said.  He laughed a little.  We sat on a big stone that overlooked St. Joseph Sound.  I stretched out my bad leg. 


A Fulbright fellow (Albania, 2011) and Pushcart nominee, Gregory Byrd’s poetry and prose have appeared widely, recently in Baltimore Review, Apalachee Review, and Puerto del Sol. “Independence Day, 1921” is from the World War I novel manuscript Where Shadow Meets Water, about a pilot from Florida. A second novel from the same period, Long Train Home to Scarborough, concerns a young woman reporter. Greg’s recent poetry chapbook, The Name of the God Who Speaks, won the Robert Phillips Prize from Texas Review Press. Greg teaches writing and humanities at St. Petersburg College in Clearwater. Visit Gregory online at

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An Interview With Kathleen Parrish

Kathleen Parrish retired from a career in nuclear engineering to revise and publish a manuscript written by her uncle, Herman Willis Logan, and pursue a second career as a writer of science fiction and fantasy. Instead, she’s now working on two historical fiction sequels to Second Son. Southern Woman explores the competing demands of family and career on a young woman determined to have it all. Southern Soldier captures the anger, bitterness, and struggle for redemption of a young soldier whose service in the Vietnam War leaves him broken and disabled.

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Kathleen Parrish: I began writing at Kansas State University while pursuing a degree in nuclear engineering. Narrative writing was a humanities elective, and I needed one, so I signed up. Professor Russell Laman, the author of Manifest Destiny, taught the course. Russ limited his class to 15 students, and I was the last student to make his final cut. Russ kept the class size small, so he could work with us individually. I took his class four times, twice for college credit and twice for the sheer joy of it. My writing was inspired by books by Robert Heinlein, Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and J.R.R. Tolkien, especially Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

After graduation, I took an engineering position at Black & Veatch Consulting Engineers but continued writing science fiction and fantasy as time permitted. My husband and I eventually moved to a two-acre mini-ranch in Arizona, so I could work at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Over time, my engineering career became more demanding. I moved up to section leader, then to senior consulting engineer. More responsibility meant longer hours and more stress. I loved the work, but the hours and the commute took their toll. We had two young sons, two horses, two dogs, and a small flock of chickens to care for. There were years I had no time for anything that wasn’t job- or family-related, and I put my writing dreams aside.

I never thought of writing historical fiction until 2012, when my mother asked me to look at a manuscript her brother, my Uncle Willis, had written back in the ’60s. Then she asked if I would be willing to revise and get it published someday. The manuscript that eventually became Second Son was 610 pages. My uncle’s editors at Carlton Press wanted it cut to 320 pages, a massive undertaking back when most writing was still done on manual typewriters. Mom was gentle in her request but very persistent. I finally read the manuscript and realized a powerful, captivating story lay buried in the faded, xeroxed pages.   

M.A.: What is your latest novel about? How would you describe it to potential readers?

K.P.: Second Son tells the story of Towanna Whitaker, a sharecropper’s son trapped in the cotton fields of 1938 Mississippi. Towanna’s dream of getting an education so he can “be somebody” is threatened by the demands of the harvest, daunting poverty, and a cruel betrayal when his ma abandons the family. When he gives up his education to take care of the house and care for his baby sister, ugly rumors spread through the town that he must be queer. Bullied and ostracized, Towanna finds solace in the friendship of Kathy, a shy, local girl, but their fledgling love is threatened when he’s drafted into the army and deployed to Europe during WW2. Trained as a combat medic, Towanna must face death, loss, and his deepest fears if he’s to survive the war and find his way home.
Second Son captures the lives of beautifully flawed characters struggling to survive in a pivotal time in American history, and embodies a realism and accuracy that historical fiction fans will find compelling. Uncle Willis poured his heart into this depiction of a life much like his own: a sharecropper’s son struggling under the poverty of the Great Depression; dealing with bullying, abandonment, and betrayal; giving up his education to take on adult responsibilities at fifteen, only to be taken from his family by the demands of World War II.

M.A.: What makes this book different?

K.P.: Second Son captures the realism and wonder of a young man’s coming of age in a time and culture that did not protect or prepare children for the demands of adulthood. Intimate and deeply personal, Second  Son immerses the reader in the wonder of becoming sexually aware, the heartbreak of being abandoned, the terror of realizing how fragile life can be, and the saving grace of faith that can carry us through the darkest times. When the manuscript was initially written, it would have been classified as contemporary military fiction, Southern fiction, or family saga.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

K.P.: While in college, I submitted one of my SF short stories to Galaxy, Science Fiction and Fantasy, and finally to Analog magazine. In each case, the story made it to the senior editor, who sat on it for several weeks before ultimately rejecting the story. Instead of pink rejection slips, I received personal letters from Ed Ferman at Fantasy and Science Fiction and Ben Bova at Analog. Both said the story didn’t quite fit their needs, but they’d like to see more of my work.

I finally took Hunters of Iquo back to Russ Laman, who invited me to do a private reading for him and his wife. Halfway through the reading, he chuckled and asked me for the word count. That’s when I found out that a 25,000-word novella by a first-time writer simply didn’t fit the fiction magazine business model. I could cut the story to 8,000 words and resubmit it as a short story or expand it to 60,000 and market it as a novel. I set the story aside, but I’d learned a vital lesson about publishing. Know your market.

With Second Son, I considered self-publishing but decided to try traditional publishing once I had the manuscript under 100,000 words. I queried sixty-seven agents before submitting to Touchpoint Press, a regional publisher known for their Southern fiction. They accepted Second Son, and our agreement gives them a first look at the sequel, Southern Woman, which follows Towanna and his wife, Kathy, into the next chapter of their lives.

M.A.: What are the joys/challenges of writing historical fiction for you?

K.P.: Writing historical fiction lets me connect the past to the present and better understand the traditions and values that flow from one generation to the next. It also gives me an intimate sense of continuity and a connection with the people who came before me. I never realized I was rooted in second-generation sharecropper stock and that my uncle, mother, and aunt had picked cotton by hand and grown up in a house with no plumbing or electricity until I delved into the manuscript and started asking questions.

The challenges of writing historical fiction are very different from those of speculative fiction. Unlike creating science fiction or fantasy, I can’t simply invent the world in which the story occurs. I have to be true to the past. Historical accuracy is vital, right down to the sniper rifle Towanna uses to shoot down a German fighter plane or when cotton harvesting machinery first became available to small farmers in Mississippi.

M.A.: What is the research process like for you?

K.P.: I tend to go a little overboard. My process is heavily influenced by the accuracy required in my engineering work. People, places, technology, and events have to be woven into a seamless whole. Facts need to be checked and rechecked. A lot of credit goes to my critique partners, some of whom served in Korea or WW2 or whose own writing taught them hard-won lessons on research they’ve shared with others.

M.A.: Do you travel for research? If so, what role does travel play in your writing process?

K.P.: Yes, I love to travel. My husband and I made a road trip in 2019 that took us through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. This allowed me to research the people and places that make up the framework of Second Son, as well as the planned sequels, Southern Woman and Southern Soldier. I collected reference books, photographs, and personal stories along the way. The librarians at the Indianola Public Library let me browse their copy of Fevers, Floods, and Faith: A History of Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1844-1976. It’s long out of print and wasn’t allowed out of the library, but I was able to locate and purchase a copy through eBay.

Books, websites, blogs, and movies are all excellent sources of historical information. Traveling allows me to experience the settings and the culture I’m trying to portray.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

K.P.: Stephanie Storey, author of Oil and Marble, and Raphael, Painter in Rome, writes historical fiction with passion and accuracy. Stephanie brings the Renaissance alive and sweeps the reader into the lives of the luminaries of the day—Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael. I met her at a writer’s conference in 2019, and she gave me an encouraging, one-on-one critique of the first three pages of Second Son.

Rick Adelmann, author of the MG&M Detective Agency Mysteries. Rick takes his readers into the jazz age and Hollywood’s golden age as if he lived it. A retired history major, Rick is an amazing fact-checker and critique partner, and I’m fortunate to know him.

Lois McMasters Bujold, author of The Vorkosigan and Chalion Series. Her protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan, became something of a hero for me when I was battling depression. Her writing is clear and concise, her characters real, beautifully flawed, and very human.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

K.P.: Find a compelling subject, historical event, or era that you can connect to and study it for a while. Find a story that needs telling with fictional or historical characters who have wants, needs, and passions that will help drive your story forward. Rough out your plot and map how it intersects the historical events or era you’ve chosen. Then sit back and think: do I really want to do this? If it’s a yes, start writing. Find a critique group you can work with. All the best!

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

K.P.: I’d like to connect with them. I’m still building my author’s platform, and right now my website is being overhauled, but readers can find me on:

My website:

Facebook:    Kathleen Parrish, Writer | Facebook

Twitter:       Kathleen Parrish (@Kathlee49346780) / Twitter

Instagram:    Kathleen Renee Parrish (@kcparrish2) • Instagram photos and videos

LinkedIn: Kathleen Parrish | LinkedIn

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