Boots, Bonnets & Bayonets

The pile of boots grew higher. Dusty. Worn. Crusted with blood. A boot-hungry group of men rooted through the pile, desperately looking for something that fit their swollen, sorry feet. An adjacent pile grew apace. Amputated limbs, some legs severed at the knee; some mid-thigh. All belonging to young soldiers who may or may not have left this place alive. An army of flies swarmed the gory mound, staking their claim to the discarded appendages. The flies droned so loudly they could have summoned buzzards.

“This ‘uns mine,” one soldier snarled, grabbing a boot from a smaller man. Joshua Barnett, company surgeon, shook his head as he watched, reminded of stray dogs he had seen growling and snarling over a bone in a Boston alley. “Well, those boys in there won’t need them anymore,” he muttered to himself.

Wiping bloody hands on a rag, Joshua had stepped outside the hospital tent for some air. He scratched at his thick red beard, shedding flecks of dried skin and blood onto his apron. After yesterday’s battle, he had worked all night. Even when the cannon roar stopped, the screams inside the tent continued. He, along with the two surgeons and three nurses under his command, created that mountain of extremities.

Every battle ended the same. Feet blown off. Knees shattered. Arms missing. And those were just the ones that stood a chance. It was easier when a boy came to him unconscious. Awake and screaming, none chose a limb over life. You cannot explain gangrene to a hysterical boy. Amputation was often the only chance he could give them.

Today, fighting began late afternoon and thundered well into the evening. Though surrounded by pretty countryside, Joshua hated this Pennsylvania burg. Not sure what I expected when I signed up as a surgeon for this godawful war, he mused. The Union matters, but surely these boys’ lives matter more.

“That’s my leg and I want it!” he heard Sickle yelling at a nurse inside. Joshua sympathized with the man, but General Daniel Sickle had made a nuisance of himself since they brought him in.

Joshua wearily returned to the tent. “Give him his damn leg,” he ordered his staff. “He can keep it as a souvenir if he wants it.”

Inside the brown canvas tent, wounded soldiers lay side by side on long rows of army regulation cots. Joshua closed the tent flap after him to keep the flies from laying claim to what was left of these boys.

Teams of soldiers rushed more and more wounded in from the field on litters. Today’s batch suffered worse than blasted limbs.

“Corporal?” Joshua looked questioningly at an older man as he helped move a soldier to his table. Blood poured from a large gash in the boy’s abdomen.

“Those southern boys charged the hill with bayonets out, sir. Chopped down our whole first line before we shot ‘em.”

Joshua leaned over the table. “This boy can’t be more than fifteen and I doubt even that.”

“Young Joe,” the corporal nodded toward his fallen comrade, “we know’d he weren’t the sixteen he claimed. Good ‘nuf soldier, even for one so small. Did his part, Joe did.”

“Well, he’s not dead yet, so let’s see if we can give him a sixteenth birthday.” Joshua touched the corporal’s bleeding arm. “Get that looked at, soldier.”

Drawing aside the wounded boy’s jacket, Joshua saw that the wound penetrated the bowel. “Sarah,” he called to his head nurse. Sarah Hawes hurried over and quickly cut away the boy’s clothes to give Joshua room to work.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. Joshua looked up at her stunned face. “Our patient is a girl,” she whispered. Joshua’s mouth dropped open in surprise, but he kept working.

“I’m sewing up what I can,” he complained. “But I don’t know if it’ll hold.”

Leaving his nurse to close the wound, Joshua turned to the next boy and the next. Boys came in, speaking of battlegrounds soon to be sacred: Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Culp’s Hill. The pile of boots grew higher.

Dawn broke on the third day; the air, foggy, damp, and smelling of rain. Rain would be a relief, Joshua thought, but another scorcher was on its way. Sarah brought him some coffee. Gratefully, he drank away the heavy pull of sleep.

“Sir… sir,” a low voice called to him. Young Joe, or whoever this lass was, had awakened. Joshua knelt beside her. “Lie quietly. You’ve been through a rough one.” He answered the soldier’s questioning look, “Yes, we know your secret.”

“I had to, sir.” Tears spilled across her downy cheeks.

When she tried to sit up, Joshua pushed her gently back on the cot. “Too soon. You need to rest.”

“My brother died ‘cause of me,” she said in a faint voice.

“Shush. Just rest.”

“He signed up, but died before his company left.” Unable to quiet the child, Joshua

listened. “Was taking milk from our farm to town. I wanted to drive the team.” A spike of pain silenced her momentarily. “Matt told me to slow down. Fallen rocks on the road. Horses stumbled. Wagon spilled over.” Sobbing softly, “Threw Matt. Pinned him ‘neath the cart.”

Joshua took her hand, “What’s your name soldier?” “Josephine Deming,” she whispered.
“Where you from Josephine? Where do your folks live?”

Wincing, she replied in a weak voice, “Granville, Massachusetts, sir. Father owns a dairy farm.”

“Does your father know you’re here?”

“No, sir, Father wouldn’t approve. Please don’t tell him.”

Noting the bright flush on her face and neck, Joshua feared a fever rising in the small, tortured body.

“He sent me to my aunt up in Maine. Said I shouldn’t be so hard on myself after I killed Matt.”

“Sounds like an accident to me, Jo,” Joshua gently patted her hand. “I’m sure your father knows that, too.”

A glint of light sparked in her eyes as she squeezed Joshua’s hand. “Had to take Matt’s place, sir. Fight for the Union. Father says we’re fighting for our country’s soul.” She looked intently at Joshua’s face. “Sir, some things… Some things worth dying for.”

Joshua smiled at her, “Of course, soldier. I understand. I have to tend the others now, Jo, but I’ll be back.” He stood up on unsteady feet. Yes, the nation’s soul. At the cost of how many souls?

Artillery fire started again. Within a short time, litter bearers carried in the wounded. Faces blurred. Joshua saw only bloody gashes, shredded limbs. By late afternoon, he could barely stand. A sea of boys in blue jackets streaked with blood lay just outside the tent. He continued on and on…

“Joshua!” Sarah shook him. “You can stop now.” A boy lay dead on his table. “You’ve done what you could. Let God hold him now.”

Twilight eased the heat and softened the light. The flood of wounded boys had subsided. Joshua sat down beside Sarah and drank the coffee she offered him. I must have tended over a thousand soldiers in these last three days.

“How’s our lass?” he asked Sarah.

“I’m sorry, Joshua. She passed on not long ago.”

Sobs silently shook his body. He had hoped… he had let himself hope.

Sarah handed him a tintype. “I took this from her jacket.” Chipped, smeared with dirt, the photograph showed three people — a somber man and two adolescents. Instead of the usual stoic faces staring ahead, the boy was smiling and the girl, Josephine, wore a pretty bonnet and gazed adoringly up at her brother. Joshua placed the photograph in his pocket and wished Sarah a good night.

Day four, the artillery remained quiet. Soldiers left for the battlefield early in the morning, yet silence reigned. Within the hospital tent, most of the boys slept in fits and starts. Their moans melded into a low continuous chorus, punctuated by outbursts of agony.

“Lee’s turned back!” a young soldier shouted as he passed the tent. Chattering voices, even laughter, filled the air as soldiers straggled back to camp.

Joshua, though grateful for a respite, sadly began a letter addressed to Mr. Deming, Granville, Massachusetts.

Dear Mr. Deming,
I’m sorry to inform you that your loving daughter, Josephine, died yesterday. She

served with honor as a nurse in the Army of the Potomac, 20th Regiment, Maine Volunteers. I, as Company Surgeon, along with the staff at this field hospital, will miss her greatly.

The battle drew too close to our hospital tent. While she worked fearlessly and tirelessly to aid our patients, she succumbed to the devastations of war.

I am enclosing a photograph that she always held dear and know you surely would want as a token of her love for her family.
Yours respectfully,
Major Joshua Barnett.”

Surely God would forgive him this small lie to ease a father’s grief. He gravely doubted God would forgive the senseless carnage he had witnessed these first three days of July 1863.

______________________________________________________________________________________

For over 25 years, Clay Gish worked as an exhibit designer, developing the vision, educational goals, and scripts for museums around the world. As a historian and educator, she taught American history and government and published several scholarly articles about child labor during the industrial revolution. Since retirement, Clay has written the award-winning travel blog, This Thursday’s Child (www.thisthursdayschild.com). Recently, she turned her hand to fiction with an emphasis on historical narrative.

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Marilyn and the Bears

Snapshot I: Banff, July 1953

“Marilyn! Give us a big smile!”

She turns towards the photographer’s voice. She wiggles her bum, juts out her breasts, and smiles. She poses near the edge of a swimming pool at Banff Springs Hotel wearing a black two-piece.

Click. Flash. Click.

She widens her mouth and runs her tongue over her teeth. She had Whitey come to her room this morning to do her hair and make-up. It takes more than an hour to transform into Marilyn. He’s covered the inside of her lips in a thin layer of Vaseline, an old pin-up girl trick, to ensure her lipstick doesn’t stick to her teeth. Whitey has said more than once, “You are my greatest canvas.”

At least ten photogs circling the edge of the pool: she called the press herself and told them she would be available today. She stands on one foot, in a black kitten heel, and leans on silver crutches from the local hospital. She kicks her wrapped injured ankle out behind her, making a ninety-degree angle of her legs. In the background, the Rocky Mountains jut into the sky in all their ambivalent hubris.

She is here in the Rockies filming a movie called River of No Return and it is beginning to feel like a mistake.

“Marilyn – how’s the ankle?” a journalist armed with a notepad asks.

“Oh, much better, thank you!” She makes her voice sound honey sweet.  “I’ll be back on set in no time.” She is doing damage control.

A few days ago, she stood in the Bow River alongside her co-star Robert Mitchum. The director Otto made them do take after take in the teeth-chattering current, holding the wet edges of a poplar log raft, screaming dialogue at each other. Robert is a drinker and couldn’t remember his lines. She doesn’t recall why or how this scene fits into the film’s story,but she remembers her waders filling up with water. A rapid pulled her. The water is so clear she could see all the way to the stony bottom. Once she was under the surface, she was so cold she almost felt warm.

Someone pulled her out and slapped her back like a doctor slaps a newborn.  That is when she twisted her ankle on the slippery rocks. She coughed and gasped as Robert held her up under her armpits. “Jesus Christ Marilyn. We thought we’d lost you!” he yelled. Snot ran down her face, bark stuck out from under her fingernails, and her ankle throbbed hot and sharp.  She is the dumb blonde who needs a big strong man to rescue her. She is tired of this story.

“Marilyn, Marilyn! Over here please!”

She obliges. She tilts her head towards her left shoulder so the sun is not in her eyes. She imagines how the photos will look in black-and-white: the dark swimsuit highlighting her curves, her platinum hair luminescent in the sun, the black shoe contrasting with the bandage on her injured foot. She wears fake eyelashes to make her eyes look bigger and red lipstick so her lips contrast with the paleness of her skin (Whitey has over twenty shades of red and he mixes them like a painter using a palette). They are shooting the movie in Technicolor which feels garish.

“When exactly will you be back on set Marilyn? We hear your director is getting anxious.”

“Soon!” she assures them.

Otto has not sent flowers or come to her room to ask how she is feeling. All he said as the doctor checked her over was, “Thank God you didn’t bang up your face.” She knows he thinks she is exaggerating her injury to get out of filming. Even so, she doesn’t understand why he’s so angry at her. The press interest in her injury, in her, is worth thousands of dollars of promotion.

She thought this movie would be different, away from the Hollywood studio system, retreating into the wilds of Canada. But the system came along with the cameras and the wardrobes and the director Otto who, despite trying all her charms to endear him to her, made up his mind about her before they even met and certainly before she hurt her ankle. 

She is not sure why she let go of the raft.

Her acting coach Natasha tells the photographers, “That is all for today. Marilyn needs to rest.” Natasha offers her a white terry cloth robe which seems silly. She stands under a beam of the summer sun shining through the cool mountain air.  She stands on her heel, in her bikini, for a few more minutes signing autographs and 8x10s for the journalist’s buddies, girlfriends, dads (when really she knows the signature, the moment, is for them).

Natasha takes her arm and leads her back to her cabin. “The mosquitos and the chill in the air remind me of the Black Forest. I worry you will catch a cold.”

“I’ll be fine Natasha. As long as I stay off my foot, it doesn’t hurt too much.”

“The foot is only part of my worries. It was cruel of Otto to make you spend all day in freezing water. You are his star. He is a little man. A little dictator,” Natasha says this in her German accent and with life experience.

Natasha is the bossy mother bear she never had; her real mother Gladys barely knew where Norma Jeane was at any given time. She has blurry memories of being taken to visit Gladys in various institutions. In a few brief attempts, she and Gladys lived together but those times always ended in disaster. Gladys was not able to be a mother, so Norma Jeane grew up being shuttled from foster home to foster home. A few of the women who looked after her were kind (and strict) but many were also indifferent (especially if their men paid too much attention to pretty little Norma Jeane). That is all behind her now.  She can choose her own family.

Natasha commands, “Rest. Don’t stay up all night on the phone.” The drama coach kisses her on the cheek and leaves the room.  She nods like an obedient child.

She orders two bottles of champagne and a grilled cheese sandwich from room service. She has problems sleeping at the best of times (which this is not) and hopes a few glasses of champagne will relax and warm her. She has pills too but they make it hard to wake up in the morning and she has already literally gotten off on the wrong foot with the director. While she waits for room service, she telephones friends in Los Angeles. No one is home. Joe is on his way to Canada. In the next few days, the set is moving north to a different resort town called Jasper and he will meet her there. She thinks she could be in love with Joe.

Joe’s a famous baseball player. Well, he’s an American hero: they call him “the Yankee Clipper.” He’s actually from San Francisco but has lived in New York for most of his adult life. Joe is famous enough that he says he’s had enough of that life and he wants her to marry him.  She has been a wife before and is not sure she wants to be one again. He does make her feel safe though and that is a rare thing.

She spends the evening drinking her champagne and quietly practicing a sad song for a scene where her dumb blonde character sings in a dingy bar.  Around 10pm, she decides to sit outside to watch the sun set. She puts on a cardigan, refills her glass of bubbly, and limps without her crutches to sit in a red wooden chair outside her hotel room.

As the sun wanes over the mountain tops, she pushes brittle pine needles with her toes poking out of her wrapped foot. She outlines hearts in the dirt. She is going to talk to a doctor and insist on a cast. Everything will be better when Joe gets here.

Snapshot II: Jasper, Summer 1953

She sinks into a shallow bath full of bubbles in her cabin at Becker’s Bungalows in Jasper. She sticks her exposed big toe in the silver faucet, careful not to get her casted foot wet. It is early evening and she’s had a long day back on set. Every morning at 7:30am, the crew boards a train called the “Devona Special” that takes them to location out in the woods. Today, Robert was still drunk from the night before, the mosquitos were bad, and Otto barely used her at all. She doesn’t know if she was even on film. She thinks Otto made her come out just to show her he is the boss.

Jasper is different than Banff. In Banff the mountains are majestic, like castles or cathedrals. In Jasper they seem older somehow, narrower, more rugged. Jasper feels more remote, quieter than Banff. It is further north and is a smaller town. Of course, there is attention wherever she goes, and frankly wherever Joe goes too, but people also respect them and ask before taking their photo. One night she and Joe had dinner at a restaurant called Spero’s where they were warmly welcomed and hardly interrupted. As they were leaving, the owner tried to treat them to their dinner (Joe refused and paid him handsomely). She thanked Mr. Spero with a kiss on the cheek. One of the crew told her that people in town said the old Greek man put clear tape over the lipstick mark and proudly told the story for the whole next day until his wife made him wash his face.

She thought Joe coming up to Canada would make things better. In some ways it has. But after an initial flurry of sex and promises upon his arrival, they’ve spent most of their time together fighting. Joe says he wants her to give up Hollywood and settle down with him, but she knows that he would get bored so quickly. She does not want to spend her days fetching his slippers and a whiskey while a tomato sauce bubbles red on a stove. She will never be as good a cook as his Sicilian mama. In the times she was able to live with her mother when she was a child, Gladys worked in the cutting rooms of studios. Gladys always told Norma Jeane, “You are pretty enough to be a movie star. If you play nice, you could live up to your name, become the next Jean Harlow.” Now that dream is coming true. She has spent too much time on the casting couch and is too close to real fame to give it all up now for something quiet and small. Why can’t Joe understand that? He has fame.

Love always leads her down the wrong path.

The cabin door creaks open.

“Marilyn!” She hears Joe’s voice. “I have some very special fans who want to say ‘hello’.”

“Just a minute,” she says making her voice cheerful.

She is surprised Joe didn’t tell the autograph seekers to come back later. He fiercely guards the little privacy they have.  He will sign baseballs and 8x10s and autograph books and be courteous but when he is done, he is done. She still feels like fans are doing her a favour by asking.  She knows she has a long way to go as an actress, Natasha says she could be great if she just works hard enough, and she also knows that being a fan favorite makes the studio nicer. He should understand why she doesn’t want to give it up when she is on the edge of something truly great.

She carefully steps out of the tub, wipes bubbles away from the edge of the plaster below her knee, and wraps herself in a fluffy white robe. She opens the bathroom door a smidge and calls out, “Joe, Honey, can you come here for a moment?”

She hears him say, “Wait here a minute Fellas.” She hears his footsteps on the wooden floorboards as he makes his short way from the cabin’s front door through the kitchen and living area and toward the small bedroom adjoining the bathroom. She sits on the bed. He opens the bedroom door slowly. He is tall and carries himself with an athlete’s muscled confidence. She thinks he is one of the most handsome men she has been with.

“Joe,” she whispers, “Is it press?”

“Baby, it’s three kids. Maybe ten, twelve. They walked all the way from town. They just want to get a look at you. Maybe an autograph.”

She doesn’t know whether to think of this as sweet or strange so she chooses to think it is sweet.

“I started to wash my make-up off and I don’t know if Whitey is even here right now …”

“Sweetheart, they don’t care about that. Must have taken them more than an hour to get here. They just want to say they met you.”

“Alright. Pass me my checkered trousers on the bed and that blouse on the hanger.”

Joe nods.

 She waits for him to lecture her about being messy but he doesn’t say anything. She forgoes underwear and puts on the clothes. She swipes on a bit of red lipstick to make an effort. She leaves her hair pinned up. She looks at her reflection in a full-length mirror and runs her hands over her breasts and torso to make sure the blouse is smooth against her body. She rolls her shoulders back, takes a deep breath, and smiles to the mirror. She becomes Marilyn.

She walks out of the bedroom and greets the three boys with a breathy whisper, “Well, hello! I hear you walked all the way here just to meet me.”

“Yes Miss Monroe,” the tallest boy says. The three kids stand at the open doorway.

“Well, come in, come in,” she says.

The boys jostle and fidget as they step into the cabin.

“What are your names?” she asks.

“I’m Robert, that’s Jim and this here is James,” Robert pushes a smaller blonder boy forward.

“Well, it is very nice to meet you all. How wonderful to have such nice friends. How do you all know each other?”

“We go the same school Miss,” Robert answers for the three of them.

“There is only one school!” Jim chimes in.

She smiles. “Are you hungry? Would you like a snack? Joe – do we have milk and cookies?”

Joe shakes his head.

“We’re fine Miss. We are hoping to get a photo with you. Jim has his dad’s camera,” Robert says.

“I would love to take a photo with you. Joe – should we go outside where the light is better?”

“Sure,” Joe says, unaccustomed to being someone who takes the photo.

She ushers the boys back outside and stands between Jim and Robert, putting her an arm around each of them. The boys come up to her shoulders. The all have shaggy summer hair bleached by the sun. She imagines their moms will take them to a barber for a trim before school starts again.

“This will sure give me something to say when Miss Emes makes us write about summer vacation,” Jim says.

She leans forward and gives a big wide smile.

Click. Click. Click.

Joe takes a few photos.

She leads them back inside the cabin and signs a stock 8×10 for each of them: From your girl, Marilyn.

“Would you boys like to see a real-live movie set? We are making a picture called River of No Return. You should come out and see it.”

“We’ll have to ask my mom. We might get in trouble when she finds out we came out here today,” James says.

“Your mother is very welcome to come too. We all take the train out to the set in the morning. We will be here for another week or two.”

The boys all nod. “I guess we better be going,” Jim says. “Thanks so much Miss Marilyn.”

“You are very welcome. I am always happy to meet my biggest fans.” She adds, “You should be careful out there on the road,” she says. “Someone on the film crew said they saw a bear yesterday.”

“There are always bears around here Miss. They’re mostly looking for berries this time of year. We aren’t scared of bears,” the youngest boy says with a sincere bravado.

“Just in case, maybe Joe can drive you back to town.”

“That would be nice Miss. Jim here is sweating through his Sunday shirt. Between that and him taking the camera, his mom might get out her wooden spoon,” Robert teases.

Jim shoves him.

“Well, we don’t want that!” She exclaims. “Joe, Honey, can you give these boys a lift home? Maybe you can tell them a baseball story.”

“Sure thing,” Joe says. “I’ve always wanted to be a chauffeur.” He says it jokingly but she worries he will bring this up later. He has a hot-head Italian temper and she sometimes gets the brunt of it.

She gives each boy a kiss on the cheek and watches them pile into Joe’s rented car. The drive to town will only take fifteen minutes each way but that is half an hour she can have to herself before she hears about what she should have done differently.

She pops a cork, pours herself a glass of champagne, and gets back into the tub. She doesn’t even care that the water is cold.

Snapshot III:  Jasper, August 1953

“Do you think those bears are in the movie?”

She sits in a canvas chair outside as Whitey applies foundation to her face. About a hundred yards away, two black bears the size of big dogs rummage through garbage they have strewn on the ground after turning over two of three tall metal cans. They are having a noisy feast.

Whitey pauses from applying contour lines and looks over at the bears. “No – the trainers would not let them roam around eating refuse. The poor film animals have collars and are chained up: those two bears are wild.”

“Of course. You know I like to document our creations. I have also taken some gorgeous snaps of the mountains. The light here is gorgeous in the morning.”

“I suppose that is one good thing about having to get to set so early.”

“The train is fun,” Whitey says. “Like travelling back in time.”

“Sure,” she says. “Whitey, I want you to take my picture with the bears.”

“Now?”

“Yes. I just want a photo with them. I’ve been hoping to see lots of animals here and so far all I’ve seen are elk.” She starts unbuttoning her smock that keeps her blouse free of powder and errant colour. Then she changes her mind, “I’ll keep the smock on. This photo is just for us. I will wear sunglasses since you haven’t done my eyes yet.”

She grips the handles of her canvas chair and puts her weight on her good foot before gingerly putting weight on her bad ankle. Otto insisted she removed the cast, but her ankle is still tender and sore. She has some good painkillers from the onset physician. High heels are still a torture though so, unless she is filming, she wears brown leather moccasins she was given as a gift from one of the extras on set who is an actual local Native Chief. People in Jasper have been very kind to her.

Whitey touches her arm, “Do you think it is a good idea to get so close to them?”

“I’ll stand to the side. Miss Golden Dreams and the two bears,” she laughs at her own joke about her infamous nude calendar photo.

“More like Cinderella with your lame foot”

“Silly, Cinderella only lost her shoe, she didn’t hurt her foot.”

“In all seriousness, don’t get too close Marilyn. They are just young cubs, probably born this spring. Their mother is likely close by. She’ll make herself known if she thinks you are a threat. I know we always joke that I’ll do your make-up until you are cold and gray, but I am not ready for that just yet.”

“How do you know so much about bears Whitey?”

He takes his hand from her arm and waves his hand in the air, “I have lots of time to read on set my darling.”

“Did you know they eat berries?” She shares one of the boys’ comments.

“I did,” Whitey says. “I heard someone say they especially like blueberries. And those little purple berries up here called saskatoons.”

She smiles. Whitey is probably her best friend. It is nice to be so close to a man who doesn’t want what most other men want from her (even if they say they want more). She senses that Whitey does not approve of Joe.

She approaches the bears slowly. They root through the garbage like piglets she once helped look after on a foster family’s farm. She loves animals. Maybe if she marries Joe they can get a pet. She’s always wanted a little wiener dog. Or a poodle. At least a cat.

She thinks about the mama watching from the trees. Her mother Gladys was never close by and she never protected her. When Gladys wasn’t in the hospital, her mind whirred with her own obsessions, failed dreams, and future schemes. Gladys wasn’t able to be a mother to Norma Jeane. She wonders if Gladys reads the letters and clippings she sends to the institution. Her life is a dream, a fairytale, and maybe Joe is as close to Prince Charming as she will find. Is this her happy ending? The hero coming to her in an enchanted forest in the mountains and rescuing her from the big bad director? No, she does not want to play the little girl lost. She is a star on the edge of bursting brighter than anyone could have imagined. She wants to shine on her own.

“Ready?” Whitey asks.

“Yes,” she lowers her sunglasses from the top of her head to cover her eyes. She puts her left hand in the pocket of the smock.

“Smile Goldilocks,” Whitey teases.  

Click.

The bears do not seem to notice her.


Diana Davidson lives and writes in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her historical fiction novel Pilgrimage was shortlisted for the Alberta Readers Choice Awards in 2014. Her current project is a novel called Liberations that opens on May 8, 1945 as Canadian troops end Nazi occupation in Amsterdam. She has been fascinated by Marilyn since she was thirteen.

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The Bullet


It was still early. A glimmer of light poked its way through the small spaces in the room’s only window, but it would be a while before the shadows outside subsided and things looked brighter.     

He looked back at his bed. Like this home of his for the last few months, it was small but comfortable enough. Certainly better than expected. The pillow lay askew at the wrong end, and the still sodden sheets hung limply over the mattress.     Being up was no bad thing. No…being awake was no bad thing.     

The mornings were always the same. They had been for years, even through everything that had happened – the progress, the disappointment, the hopelessness. He emptied his lungs, collapsed into a wicker chair and laid an elbow on the table. Staring at the dull patterns on the cloth, the browns, greys and yellows of his night-time terrors slowly blended with the old-fashioned curls and swirls. He hoped he’d be free of those visions, at least until night came round again.    

What happened that day six years back had its hook in him, alright. The terrors, the visions…they were a relentless echo delivering a message he couldn’t understand.

* * * * *

It looked good. They’d somehow kept on top all day. The bastards had thrown everything at them since sunlight, but his comrades at the machine-gun post on the other side of the river had terrorised the enemy and pinned them down. Surely it was here, today, that the unerring torrent of bad news would dry up.     

The fighting wore on and their bullets found homes in more enemy flesh. What was left of the town would stay theirs. The station, too. He was sure of it.     

He caught his breath, crouched beside a wall at a crossing. To his left, a handful of his men had tucked themselves among the joists of a partially collapsed warehouse on the waterfront. On his right, three more were perched behind countertops in a long-since abandoned store. Ahead, one had ducked into a shallow crater in the road, evicting the rats for a prime view of the bridge over the Escaut.     

He shifted his helmet back on his head, wiped the sweat from his face and broad mustache, and scanned the debris on the opposite bank for any hint of movement that might suggest another advance on the bridge. He needn’t have bothered. The enemy, devastated by the machine gun off to the north, had been pretty quiet for more than half an hour. It was eerily quiet and, for the first time that day, he felt the French September wind bite into his skin. He dared to think it was done.     

The gun across the river crushed the silence.     

In the distance his countrymen were frantic. Loading. Firing. Loading. Firing. Even from this distance he could see gold spitting from the barrel as steel flew through the air about it. The surface of the river between them became an uneven, pockmarked mess as a guttural roar flooded across to the town.     

A shadow in the warehouse above him was waving and pointing beyond the bridge as his distant comrades concentrated their machine gun’s fire. Something was very wrong. The enemy were readying a gun of their own, and in moments it would be up and running, fixing itself on his comrade’s post. He groped for a solution. He and his men on this side of the river were too far off to join the fire on the enemy’s new gun. Taking to the bridge on foot would see them give up their advantage. What else? What else?     Too late. For a few brief moments, the roar of guns intensified.     

Then nothing.     

Then shouts across the river.     

Three figures in brown – two tall, leggy runners, one short and slight – scrambled up and away from the new gun and towards his comrades’ now silent machine-gun post. They slowed, and disappeared behind a bank of sandbags.     

Silence. Muffled screams. Pop. Pop. Pop. Silence.     

He knew what this meant. The bridge was open. Within moments the buildings and streets around him were alive with flying metal. Lethal shards of brick and concrete both leapt up and rained down. He yelled to his men to return fire, but now they were outnumbered, outgunned. Soon there was a man on the bridge. Then two. Three. More. Suddenly there was no water between them and the enemy, who were right on top of them. As the air filled with acrid smoke, he desperately called on his men to fall back into the town. They’d take their chances man to man. They knew the streets. They could still hold.     

He glanced left and right, turned and darted back. He’d find somewhere. He’d organise the men. They’d counter.     

Neither of the two comrades sprinting away ahead looked back as a hot, slithering, stabbing pain stole its way through his left thigh. He hopped and, at great speed, plummeted headfirst into cobblestones, his face grinding through coarse rubble and bullet casings. He saw his friends disappear into the distance, and it went dark.      

He couldn’t know how long it was before he awoke, but somehow the streets, buildings, and air itself felt different. Blue-grey smoke swirled thickly around him, flickers of yellow and green silently illuminating fragments of pavement, road signs, and buildings. A muffled hum crept insidiously through every crevice of the town, winding its way up around his body, into his eardrums, and filling his brain. Leaning on his rifle, he struggled to his feet. His left leg hung limply, the heavy, wet fabric of his trousers clinging to him around it. Nearby, something human-like slumped out of a crater in the road, outstretched fingertips grazing a rifle butt. A rat sniffed at a pool of red, paused, and disappeared into the hole.     

Yards ahead, the smoke billowed and intensified, and a shadow appeared. Was it a man? Yes, it was. The figure sharpened and grew nearer, hazy greys becoming the obvious outline of a soldier. Was it one of us? No, no it wasn’t – the uniform was wrong, and his rifle was trained unflinchingly in his direction.     

He had time to look at his enemy. A short man – shorter even than he was, perhaps. He had the black and red smears of war across his face, but somehow his pale skin glowed.    

The rifle’s barrel rose slightly.     

This was it. He knew he was done. He shifted his weight to his right and let go of his own gun, barely hearing it clatter to the ground. As he stared ahead, he could swear he saw the smoke behind the enemy soldier clear just a little and the merest glimpse of unscarred hillside come into view.     

But the shot didn’t come.     

The two men stared at one another. Somehow in that moment, their minds were one. He could see this man. He could feel him. For a few moments they breathed together, thought together. They were beings separated by a cause, but in that time and place they were the same.      

The soldier slowly and smoothly lowered his rifle and nodded almost imperceptibly. Face, uniform and gun blurred, and then became shadow. Shadow became haze.     

He was alone. He was alive. The battle was lost, destruction was close, but somehow he was alive. 

* * * * *

The visions stirred again in the insipid patterns of the tablecloth. The war-stained, glowing face of the enemy soldier loomed up, out and away from the knitted swirls towards him.     

What was it saying? What was its message?     

As the day’s first light sifted through the window, he finally saw it. That soldier, that day, had been no ordinary soldier, and he’d chosen not to fire.     

He was meant to escape. He was special. He turned and looked out the window. In the distance, the lights of a big town flickered upwards, piercing the retreating darkness. Domes, roofs, and spires glowed with a familiar energy.     

“Das ist München”, he mumbled. “Das ist München”. If he wasn’t sure of it before, he was now. He felt charged, ready to throw off the gloom of the last months.    

In the corridor outside, a guard shuffled across austere flagstones towards the door and peered in through the bars. Inside was a small, gaunt man at a table, wide eyes fixed on a clutch of paper in front of him, writing furiously. The guard grunted, took up his clipboard, and drew a tick next to the initials “A.H.” and the date – 16th June 1924. He shuffled away across the stones again, edging deeper into the shadows.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Russell Saunders is a writer camped out in the wilds of south London. He left the world of marketing and a 15-year career behind to pursue the dream of writing words for people other than clients, bosses, and other assorted middlemen – that and take a Grand Tour round Italy, build a patio, and look after his son.

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A Search For Hope

It was the year 1938. I was 25 years old, happily married with a promising future filled with big dreams. My husband, David, and I lived in a small town in Poland.  Our little home was barely even on the map, and it was just what we had always dreamed of having.  Both of us grew up in the growing political climate of Germany, and decided that we wanted to escape and explore the world together. Poland was to be just the beginning of our traveling adventures. We were well on our way, but then we found we were with child. Our traveling adventures were put on hold, and instead we began a new journey together in parenthood.

David was a beautiful man.  He stood at an impressive height, well built, with ebony curly locks of hair.  I had fallen in love with him instantly.  His handsome looks were only surpassed by the beauty of his heart.  As a Jewish officer, he would come home and tell me all the news about what was happening back home in Germany.  The stories of the Nazi party attacking innocent people seemed to be too horrific to believe.  How could anyone be that evil? Little did we know that our entire world would soon learn how true that evil could be.

A year had passed, and it was now March of 1939. Germany continued to invade town after town with its evil Nazi regime.  News finally reached us that soldiers had entered Poland territory. Due to our living by the border, we were the next city on the list. As invasion began, David, our young daughter, and I constantly stayed on the move. “It looks like our adventure won’t end here, darling,” I remember David saying to me. I simply replied with a worried smile and a heart filled with fear.  It seemed as if we were living on borrowed time, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that something horrific was about to occur.

In early April, we learned the gastapo was not too far behind us. We didn’t stop for anything, we couldn’t stop for anything. Our goal was to reach the sanctuary of the Soviet Union.  We knew we would be safe there due to the treaty Germany had made, which promised neither country would attack the other country during this World War. We were soon to learn that some promises were made just to be broken. Evil doesn’t care about keeping its word.

David and I had made a little home near the border of the Soviet Union and Poland. It was a beautiful spring, sunny day.  David was out on patrol and I was home with our little girl, Annaliese. I can still remember the sound of the Nazi soldiers knocking on my door. When I didn’t answer promptly enough for their tastes, they forced themselves inside and began barking questions. They asked me my name, my age, my birthplace, my ethnicity. Like bullet fire, the questions came one after another in constant repetition. Even in my fear, I was finally frustrated with their intrusion and demanded to know why they were there. How I would soon wish I had just kept my mouth closed.  Apparently, my indignation angered the soldiers. The last thing I remembered was one of them raising a fist, then everything became dark. The darkness would never leave me after that day. When I woke, I instantly looked for Annaliese. I found her in the corner in my husband’s arms.  “When did he get home?” I wondered to myself. Then the panic set in and I remembered the intrusion, the soldiers, and all the questions. I also realized we weren’t home, but in a freight train filled with other people. Most were neighbors in the tiny village near our home.  A home we were to never see again.

After a long journey, we arrived at a camp with a large gate and a sign that read “Work sets you free.” I looked at David and worriedly asked him what that meant. He responded with his usual positivity and smiled his beautiful smile. Annaliese wiggled in his arms.  He kissed her gently and then pulled me close. “Don’t worry my beautiful girl. We are together, and as long as we are together, everything will be okay.” It would be the last words I would ever hear him say.

“Men to the left, women to the right.” The Nazi’s order barked through the last sliver of hope I had. We were sorted like cattle and forced to separate.

“No sir, please. You don’t understand. We must stay togeth-” My request was met with the back of a soldier’s hand. 

David kissed me and silently begged me to obey. He cried as he held Annaliese. I think he somehow knew it would be the last time we would ever be together.  Annaliese was suddenly grabbed out of David’s arms and shoved in my direction. The Nazi that had slapped me pushed David to the left and forever out of my sight. I could only move to the right with the other poor souls as Annaliese softly whimpered in my arms, distraught after being abruptly pulled from her father’s protective embrace. Our journey to the right led to a wooden barracks with built-in wooden slabs for a bed. Annaliese and I found an empty “bed” and sleep overcame us.

The next day dawned, and it was time to begin the work. At that time, I still hoped to be reunited with David.  The thought of a possible reunion was what kept me pushing forward. The Nazi soldiers told us we would be rewarded with a shower after our work was completed. I worked without complaint, thankful that Annaliese was still with me.  Many of the other mothers looked at her longingly, and I could only shudder to think what had happened to their children. It was difficult to work and care for Annaliese. She would whimper, and I would quietly nurse her under my filthy gown, or hum softly to her. My instincts told me I had to survive. I had to push through for our little girl.

Finally, the end of the day came. Our work was completed, and the promise of a shower was ahead.  More trains had arrived with more soldiers and people. I assumed that my fellow prisoners and I would be allowed to rest, while the new arrivals would work as we did. I was so naive. Annaliese and I were in line waiting for our turn to shower when I smelled it. Gas. The air was permeated with the stench of gas and vomit.  Then the silence was shattered by the screams.  

Chaos erupted and everyone began to force their way out of the line.  The Nazis had put their youngest soldiers on post that day because they had no knowledge of how to control the mob.  I took advantage of their inexperience, clutched Annaliese tightly to my chest, and ran.  I remembered a small ditch near the outskirts of the camp.  A fence was just beyond, so I hastily made my way to it.  I quickly found my destination, glanced over my shoulder to see how many soldiers had followed, and tripped.  Down Annaliese and I rolled until we came to a stop on a pile of….something. I raised my head and realized what we had landed upon.  Bodies. Countless bodies.  All victims of bullets, the gas chamber, or the Nazi’s physical brutality.  Those that arrived weak or old had apparently been murdered instantly.  Those that were strong had been made to work until it was their turn for the promised “shower.” I couldn’t dwell on the poor souls that lay beneath me, their final resting place nothing more than mud, blood, and filth.  I had to escape.  I had to find David.  I had to protect Annaliese.  I had to survive.  I slowly began to crawl over the bodies, a silent prayer uttered for their souls.  Their sacrifice became my salvation.  Each time I would hear a soldier approach, I would lie down in the filth and stench of death, and wait for them to pass.  To this day, I do not know how Annaliese remained quiet the entire time.  One by one, we crawled over the bodies as I made my way to the fence and our freedom.  We were nearly there when I saw him.  My David.  His eyes wide with horror and his mouth forever in a scream.  I put my hand over my mouth to keep from crying out and screaming. I looked down at the child pillowed against my breast. I looked back at David and touched the side of his face. 

In those few precious moments, I quietly wept for my David, for the future we would never have, the adventures we would never take, and the daughter he would never know.  My grief almost overwhelmed me enough to give up.  I wanted to stay there with him and give myself over to the darkness that enveloped me.  It was at that moment that Annaliese chose to stir, and her soft whimpering broke me out of the abyss.  I closed my eyes and allowed the tears to fall from my face and onto David’s, covering him quietly with my final goodbye.  The rest is a blur.  I continued my crawl and somehow managed to make my escape through the fence.  My feet were covered in bloody blisters.  My clothes stained with blood, vomit, and the stench of death.  My hair was matted and my skin covered in dirt and mud.  But I was alive. For the sake of our daughter, I was alive.

I walked for two days, nursing Annaliese with the last bit of strength I had left.  I had to survive. I will survive.  Please God, let me live.  

He must have heard my pleas, for moments later I was rescued.  Polish officers saw my frightful state and took me to a nearby camp.  It was over.  I was showered, clothed, fed and allowed to sleep. Annaliese never left my side.  A day or two later, we were on a train, and then a boat. I stayed in the little cabin we had been given, alone with Annaliese and my grief, and mourning my precious David.  

After several days of travel, we reached our destination.  My first sight was of a lady, her arm outstretched to the sky with a torch in her hand.  It was Lady Liberty welcoming me to take rest and seek refuge.  A kind gentleman escorted Annaleise and I off the boat.  He had papers with him that had to be completed in order for me to be placed in a boarding home in New York City.

“My dear,” his kind voice penetrated my thoughts, “May I please have your name?’

“It’s Hope,” I replied. “My name is Hope.”  

___________________________________________________________________________________

Lauren Hudson is a 17-year-old girl living in Alabama. Lauren has a deep love and appreciation for history. She hopes that by reading her work, others will grow to share that same love with her. Lauren plans to continue writing historical fiction in an attempt to bring more attention to important events that shaped our world’s history.

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The Gospels of Innish Bawn


It is only I who am left, on this jagged rock, with guillemots and kittiwakes for company. Yesterday, I buried Brother Fintan in a shallow pit and covered him with slabs of granite in the crowded cemetery. He was my uncle and it was he who brought me here.

My parents died of fever and I, a child of seven years, was like to follow. Then Fintan arrived at our bothy on his way to join the monks of this sea tossed isle. My only kin. I often wonder why he did not leave me with some village woman. Perhaps, he feared that I should be ill-treated or sold into slavery. I like to imagine that during the weeks of my recovery my uncle grew fond of me and could not bear to be parted from my affection—although, in later years, he must greet all outward show with a blow from his staff until I learnt to keep it as hidden as myself.

He was mindful of his sinning against The Rule; it weighed heavily. He bade me take the name of Cormac and guarded me close. My hair was shaved back to a high forehead like his own. There are those who call for us to cut our locks and adopt the roman tonsure.  I hope not. I have no cause for vanity, but once, in a piece of glass, I saw my flowing auburn tresses, my eyes of deep sea-green, my moon pale face, and was startled by my own beauty.

This is a bleak and savage place. Sheer and forbidding. Blasted by storms and chill winds. We cling to steep sides with only a slender niche between two craggy outcrops on which to build the crude stone dwellings of our monastery and cultivate a small thin plot, mulched with seaweed. We catch what we can from the sea, net birds and scramble for their eggs. There are few visitors and whilst they may bring gifts of honey and mead it is the ingredients for our life’s work that the monks most crave. The lapis lazuli. The cornelian. The flecks of gold.

All my childhood was spent in the Scriptorium under the tutelage of my uncle. To become his equal in talent. My fingers are ink-stained black. We labour on The Gospels of Innish Bawn. They are the light and joy of my days, for which I endure all hardships. From the first, Brother Fintan marvelled at my quickness; how deftly my fingers fashioned and held a quill, how eager I was to gobble up each word—not simply to scribe but to understand. From rough practice on course hides, my skill flowered on to the fine smooth vellum of our gospels. And it was not simply at writing that I excelled but in the depiction of all manner of beasts and demons and holy men of god. My uncle took this as a sign that we were blessed, for his own eyes were fading.

Once, when I found the sharp gaze of our abbot narrowed on me, I flushed and trembled that he had pierced my disguise. I felt his salty breath on the soft down of my cheek.

Your gift honours the Lord, Brother.

I sighed with gratitude.

My gentle brothers are gone. Taken by the pestilence. My eyes strain out across the roiling waters to catch sight of the boat which must one day come. And yet, even as I yearn toward the sliver of land which lies shrouded on the slate grey horizon, I dread approach. Without protection I may be discovered and undone. Worse, my holy brothers shall be defamed as I am branded their sinful temptress.

And who should then credit the artistry of my hand? My decade long of toil? Or permit me to continue?

I pray to finish our glorious Illumination. The days pass in a fury.  No one comes. Then, of lapis lazuli mere grains remain, of gold a few specks and of the cornelian—which makes such a brilliant red, there is none. 

I contemplate the final page. The last sacred words outlined in charcoal black. It is not enough. Here should be both terror and ecstasy.

I know what I must do.

I stand on the cliff edge, pale with coming death. My life blood has seeped from the slits in my wrist but I have used it wisely. The iron red juice bled into a mix which swirls and dances across the parchment. Shades which conjure fire and death melding into colours which rise in radiance to speak of unbridled life.

And one last; in the margin I have signed my name and it is not Cormac.

____________________________________________________________________

Rosie Cullen was born in Dublin and now lives in Manchester, England. Her career has included theatre, front of house, and puppeteer but principally writing for theatre, film and TV. She was Programme leader of MA Screenwriting at Bournemouth University. In recent years she has concentrated on prose, both short form and longer and is developing a series of historical crime novels.

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Rosalind Adam

Chaim Goldberg, born 1917, in Kazimierz-Dolny, a Polish shtetl, died 2004 in Florida, USA. The Nazis may have destroyed his artwork, but the artist and his memories survived.
 
Dancing across canvas
 
Shtetl life seeps from each canvas.
Taste the fog of smoky nights.
Breathe in the aromas of the Challah bread
baked to welcome in Shabbat
and the festival foods:
Chanukah donuts, Purim cheesecake,
apple and honey for a sweet New Year,
and herrings –  
there were always herrings.
 
Shtetl life stumbled
from Cossack threats and pogroms
to Heil Hitler salutes and conscription.
The Polish army was no place
for a young Jewish artist.
He ran from Warsaw’s barbed wire
but his parents remained,
their words echoing into the ether,
‘The Germans would never hurt us Jews.’
 
When, in time, the artist recreated his portfolio
the Holocaust permeated each canvas
with dark days, yellow stars and dread.
Above the darks he painted spirits
rising from the smoke.
The shtetl was gone but not so its memory
of love and family, of prayer and music.
Each brushstroke echoed the breath
of a thousand souls singing out,
‘Forget, oy oy, forget.
It’s over so why would you not dance?’

Rosalind Adam is a writer living in Leicester, UK. She has had three children’s books published and her poetry has appeared in a number of anthologies. In 2018 she won the G. S. Fraser poetry prize for Fresh Canvas and, in the same year, she was awarded a distinction for her MA in Creative Writing at The University of Leicester.

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Barbara Sabol

     Johnstown, PA. September 9, 1889
 
Half my life has been spent in motion,
and so it is fitting I conduct my field work
from this abandoned box car. What do I need
beyond a wooden crate for a desk, milking stool
for a chair? My spine a sufficient backrest.
 
Four months now since the great flood,
and already we've built housing for scores
of homeless. Running water, both cold and hot.
No person in need of clothing or food is left
empty-handed. Money in pockets.
 
Thanks to my nurses, the typhus is contained.
If only we could heal broken spirits. I trust
time will do its best work there. Never have I
been prouder to see Red Cross banners flying
above our white tents.
 
General Hastings has proved a worthy partner
I recall our first meeting in June when, ankle-deep in muck,
hatless, doubtless disheveled, I stood surveying
the devastation when he swung down from his horse,
and offered his hand: Dear woman, may I assist you?
I had to hide my smile.
 
At the end of a long day, I prize the night's silence.
Let the visions of wreckage, the bewildered faces
fall away. I stretch out on a cot narrow as myself,
and feel the fatigue in these old limbs.
Glad for clean bedding and a woolen blanket
this rainy night.
  
I shall not leave until my work here is finished.
Daily the town rebuilds, home by home,
shop by shop. Smoke from the Gautier steel works
will rise again, like Lazarus, having nothing whatever
to do with miracles.

Barbara Sabol’s fourth poetry collection, Imagine a Town, was published in 2020 by Sheila-Na-Gig Editions. Her work has appeared most recently in Evening Street Review, One Art, Mezzo Cammin, Literary Accents and Modern Haiku, and in numerous anthologies. Barbara’s awards include an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She lives in Akron, OH.

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Death Ship 2, Black Bird of Prey

The battle had been harsh, crude, and longer than expected, but at the inevitable end the ship Gerben Huraq had sailed on for three years, initially at the end of a sword honed to an invisible point in the hand of a maniacal privateer, was sinking fast. Huraq, still on the good side of thirty years of age and possibly primed for long distance of days, had once crawled up a rescue rope to that ship from another sinking ship.

Now, twice saved and twice accepted aboard a rescuing vessel, he was in the water again, and once more in the Black Sea, the sea of seas, death scene of floaters, those abandoned, thrown overboard or fallen from their stations at battle, each one in a downward slide into their own history. He had no idea how long he would last on this wide sea, until one precise moment when he espied through a break in sea clouds the growing dot of a mast at full sail advancing from a distant point, ever moving closer, hope most possibly at least a transient passenger.

A final surge of excitement propelled his nearly inert body towards an expectant welcome.

“Have I not lived most miraculously these long years,” he said aloud, “the salt so new and fresh upon me, so far the sea barren for me except for the prospects of the oncoming ship, also a privateer no doubt, which has spotted me alone here on these waters.”

Sooner than expected from his knowledge of the sea, the pure sound of a whistle, came to him across flat waters like a dog’s master at summons.

Also caught in self-reflections came new admissions: “If I had advantages of a mirror, I would see on what manner my presentation makes to the master of this oncoming ship I now see sporting the Black Flag of our destinies, one more privateer abound at mission, commissioned by one’s majesty, king or queen. We are the living dead as far as they are concerned.”

“Ho, there, seadog,” a voice called out, “if you swear allegiance to this boat and its captain, Slank by name, Jerdah Slank, once of Gorey in the Channel Islands, we will haul you aboard, feed you, and then put you to work for now until the holy Kingdom itself comes.

“We are a motley crew,” continued the captain later, “and I am a master of its indifference. What say you and by what name are you called, either by friend or foe?”

With a dramatic move, illustrated by his uniform flaunting gay red and purple colors tinged with black edges on each piece, and sporting a wide-brimmed hat, Jerdah Slank fit the idea of a king of this small estate of a ship overrun and stolen twice in its career, and now sporting a name burned into its name plank, Black Bird of Prey, Death’s Ship.

“My word is my agreement,” said the swimmer, “for this water is not friendly at all. Please hurry me aboard. I fear only great tentacles from the deeps. I am called Gerben Huraq by those who know me and save me from certain death on this sea of deaths.”

“… and my hand at the throats of those too hungry to abide my rules and destiny,” being all he heard of the response from the deck of the rescue ship, a dazzling, bright, shiny brigantine, impeccable to its very corners and Huraq judging it to be as large as 150 tons, about 80 feet long with a crew of pirates as hungry as the captain. She appeared to carry a dozen cannons and would likely sport cargo space twice as big as the sloop he’d just come off.

This rescuing brigantine had two masts with square sails excellent for handling in a quartering wind and promising safe haven for an added good hand. The awed stories would soon come to him in secrets of the hold or in the rigging, away from other ears. A sense of clarity fed him its promises, though he felt a serious reserve manifest itself in the pit of his stomach; he forced himself to absorb that feeling in his guts.

Gerben Huraq, near exhaustion, too familiar with the destiny of lone swimmers on seas of the world, announced his obedience when he said, loudly, “I do.”

As the ship came closer he realized it was a choice ship for battle rather than quicker and smaller ships, like sloops and schooners. He admired its way in the water, a sylph of a large ship loaded, no doubt, with more terror than The Deep itself. It loomed warm and welcome and he knew it could survive strong seas and storms.

He’d bet five toes it was built in a Dutch harbor.

In his mind he saw it commandeered, boarded, stripped of original crew and adapted as a new vessel under a new captain. To be sure, it was renamed on the spot, the old name erased, the new name scored into a mounted title board, a name to be known forever in annals of the sea. The ship was rugged enough to cross the Atlantic, and fair better than smaller crafts in harsh seas, now to be spoken in awe as Black Bird of Prey, Death’s Ship.

When hauled aboard, he smelled the fumes of that scored naming, a new ship indelibly named, and of a recent encounter, blood evident on many edges, on innumerable surfaces.

He was roughly dried off, thus warmed and blood thickened, then ate and slept in deep leisure. When he came to he was in another battle, the guns firing away in two directions, fore and aft, sails rent, blood spilled, riches achingly at hand. They spent hours aboard the newly captured vessel, securing sworn transfers by the sword, caring for their own wounded, blessing those dropped to the deep, hanging the captain of that recovered vessel, scouring each and every space for stashed valuables, coveted trinkets, astounding gems whose quantity and unbelievable quantity tightened the crew in a hurry , and even a pet monkey promising larks and laughs on the coming voyages onto salty seas and Hells. The search was complete from stem to stern, prisoners freed and sworn to their savior, Captain Jerdah Slank, one-armed swordsman, gun carrier, fierce of beard, visage, voice, and a man who was not once alone aboard his own ship, sworn to be protected by two enormous black sailors, dubbed Shade and Shadow by the captain himself at their capture and life-long enlistment.

Huraq became friends with Shade and Shadow, at first from their lively laughter, twins at contagion and humor, and their looking for new friends, a new smile, a freshness come along with wind and water. Huraq fit the bill for them, a smile ready for one and all, even for the captain and his gentle black giant protectors who carried instant laughter at the back of their throats, timbered, husky, and waiting for employment. He found an internal gentleness in both giants who, at divergence of ways when scouring the ship for reason, stooped at every bulkhead, hands groping ahead of them around dark corners for unseen threats. Once, to their pleasant reactions when he tickled one such hand with an osprey’s feather, their laughter filled the bowels of the boat, highly favoring this new man aboard.

And it was a time that shipmates began to disappear or get deposited at sea; some fell from the rigging, some pushed overboard, some poisoned and treated to a solemn sea burial, again over the side with a casual push.

It was also the time Huraq first heard from one of the twins about “the unfilled glove,” which indeed filled him with curiosity, enough for him to ask directly of the giants. “If you note with care, you will find the answer you seek,” one of them advised him. He pushed no more in that direction but began to observe all manner of actions and particulars on the topside.

One of those notifications he discovered was the stiff attitude of some fingers on the captain’s left hand; the middle finger, the ring finger and the baby finger never moved, never touched any surface, grasped any object, signaled any intention. Huraq’s curiosity was finally satisfied when Jerdah Slank sent him below to collect some charts from his cabin and he observed the collection of radiant gloves hanging on a line, the subject fingers of each left hand obviously stuffed with stiff contents, filling the shape of that digital home.

Once that day when the captain was in close discussion with the first mate, and the giant twins were at ease, Huraq said, “Shade and Shadow, I know about the missing digits on the captain’s left hand. Can you enlighten me as to the cause of that condition? I am more curious than a mouse.” He fully shrugged his shoulders as though he was lost at sea again.

Shadow, the most talkative of the two, and most daring, said in a soft undertone, “The words come from our mother who was at Gorey in the Channel Islands, both midwife and assistant to the lone doctor, one named Emil Parsentico, and his lover when his wife was killed by a runaway horse. For centuries we have had Voudun, or what you may call Voodoo, in our tribe in Ghana in west Africa, believing in one god and pleasing that god the best way possible enables good health and wealth to those fortunate enough to have Voudun expressed in their names, called upon them. We have met others like our mother across the seas in many countries or possessions of such countries. The bite in the snake of the belly or a bull with sharpened horn protects one from foes through all the days of belief in the spirits that surely possess them from the moment of birth.”

Suddenly caught up in his brother’s spirited views, Shade interceded and said, “Mother hurried off one day to assist at a birth when the doctor was treating a sailor who had been hauled from the sea. She knew the lady of means was in a bad way while the doctor was later delayed by delivering a baby with three fingers missing on his left hand. The doctor knew intuitively the fate that would fall upon the boy in his family, the father being a belligerent and bothersome man, so he took the deformed child with him in the night and swapped him in place of the lady of substance at the palace, calling upon our mother to sail the spirits with boy babies for their lives. The ill-formed child enjoyed the comforts of the castle and the other boy had the love of an unknowing sensitive mother and a father enjoying perfection of his child.”

He paused and said, “Life, with one stroke, took divergent turns, and you know half the story, at this end.”

“So,” said Huraq, “the crippled child, with a spoiled life, became a pirate, our pirate, and the other …?”

“The other became a favored son of somewhat gentle parents, the good product of the covering doctor who treated him all his early life, and our mother who was able to watch over him with the good spirits always at hand.”

“Yet, our captain has his fifth boat, as I count from stories, and looks to become a most notorious privateer on the oceans of the world. Could it not have been otherwise?’

“Aha,” proffered Shadow, and you or me or my brother might not be here now, and our mother might be in another’s servitude, a prison’s worth of undue penalties for a gracious lady who looks under green or yellow stones, behind wind-pushed sails, and on the far side of the horizon, all for the best becoming our personal gains.”

The smile that broke upon his face said he believed each word of his delivery, to such an extent that he made a sign of the cross over his heart, bowed his head and grasped a hand from each listener, passing on his current passion, faith and future.

Captain Jerdah Slank, attentive to all activity, had espied the three in tight converse, and commenced a diatribe none of the three had heard before, nor any of the pirates from deck through rigging, so loud did he exclaim; “I’ll have no undue or malevolent partnerships, other than brothers of the blood, here on my ship,” by which he had excluded the giant blacks for his own protection rather than theirs. “That is the law of the bridge, this bridge and this captain, and the law of the sea, and the law of my interdiction. Since that ungrateful slug pulled from the sea, the one named Gerben Huraq, I have personally counted 29 shipmates who have been dispatched from the ranks, all unto the gods of the seas, for one indiscretion or another from blatant treason to petty thievery of shipmates’ goods and spoils, and none directly by my hand but by commission on him called Huraq, who looms next on the list, lest any man speak otherwise in defense of his maligned office, hereafter called “the night master of fate, the dark progenitor of the canvas-wrapped, silence-ensured poor souls cast to the deeps.”

He let the pearls of his words fall to the deck on which he, as complete master of the vessel, let them shine in their abruptness and clarity as law of a captain of the main. And there followed not the silence of abeyance, the trust of the masses, the ghosts of lost comrades and shipmates, not the indecisive silence of the uprooted, the peculiar silence of the compromised and abject, but the voices of opposition.

Shade, first to speak, his hand on the shoulder of Huraq, a distinctively protective mode seen and understood by all the command, interpreted from the first word, said so softly that those in the rigging might have fallen to the deck in their leaning to hear defiance rise slowly but surely in the air, like a keen dagger held upwards in a formidable fist.

“We are done with secret deaths of many of our comrades committed in a patch of darkness, as on starless nights, or often when the moon refuses to accompany us though we are secretly outward bound, but bound for riches. That singular man who cannot grasp a sword in his left hand falls far short of being a complete master of such a vessel and must take his place in the mode of all slavery,” and with such quick utterance, the captain of a boarded ship, Jerdah Slank, was cast into ignominy aboard his ‘own’ craft, the devil himself be damned, too.

It was not too long before Gerben Huraq was master of his own ship, and he let the ship’s name stand in its place.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tom Sheehan, 93, has published 52 books; “Fables, Fairy Stories, Folk Lore and Fantasies,” and Poems off the Kitchen Table and Ruby’s File,” being two of the latest, from Taj Mahal Press. He has work in RosebudLinnet’s Wings, Literally Stories, Rope and Wire Western Magazine (over 800 pieces), among others. He served in Korea 1950-52 in the 31st Infantry Division before entering Boston College, class of 1956.

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We Are Now Using Submittable

The changes we promised for Copperfield are on their way. While I understand that there may be mixed reactions to this first change, it is one that is necessary in order for us to keep Copperfield going for another 20 years.

As of February 21, 2021, The Copperfield Review is using Submittable as a way to accept and keep track of our submissions. For more than 20 years we accepted submissions via email, but the email system is no longer working.

The number of submissions we have been receiving has been growing, for which we are grateful. However, a number of those submissions are not meeting our guidelines. We have been receiving a lot of submissions that are not even historical in nature, which is a waste of everyone’s time. We’ve also been getting some submissions that are questionable, at best. I’m not referring to quality since quality is subjective. I mean as in poorly executed with typos everywhere, misused words, poor grammar, and the like. Then there are the submissions that say something along the lines of, “I heard you guys publish historical fiction so here’s this 200-word piece I just wrote about the American Revolution.” Yes, that particular piece was every bit as bad as you might expect. With a hope to weed out the contemporary mystery submissions so we can focus on the amazing pieces of historical fiction and poetry we receive, we made the decision to begin using Submittable along with charging a nominal reading fee of $3.00 USD.

Three dollars is in line with what other literary journals charge for reading fees. We hope that the small charge is enough to stop someone from sending a space opera to a journal of historical fiction, or at least it will stop someone from sending us a photograph of something they scribbled on a yellow legal pad. That’s not a joke, I’m afraid. All well-intentioned historical fiction and poetry submissions are always welcome at The Copperfield Review. Scribbling, not so much.

Having the opportunity to read and publish amazing works of historical fiction and poetry has been a dream come true. The Copperfield Review has been the first published credit for many up-and-coming writers, and many of our contributors have gone on to great things. I feel like a proud mamma bear when that happens. I’m also proud of the reputation The Copperfield Review has earned as being a place that publishes high-quality literature.

The world needs stories, good stories, stories that tell the truth about our past and stories that give us an inkling of where we’re going. That’s why I love historical fiction. That’s why I write historical fiction. That’s even why I wrote a book about writing historical fiction.

Thank you as always for thinking of The Copperfield Review. I look forward to sharing many more works of historical fiction with you.

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Transcript Podcast Episode 1

For Readers and Writers of Historical Fiction: A Copperfield Review Podcast

Episode 1

Well, hello, everyone.

This is Meredith Allard, the founder and executive editor of the Copperfield Review. I know for all of this time you guys have thought that I am not an actual person, but that I am just kind of this strange person behind the curtain. And to be honest, for most of the past 20 years, that’s kind of how I felt about my role at the Copperfield Review. Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain!

But I do actually exist, I have been here behind the scenes at the Copperfield Review for more than 20 years now. It is my thrill to finally have a chance to speak to you guys. I’m going to keep this first podcast on the short side, because I’m thinking that, you know, boring people at my very first podcast would probably not be the greatest thing in the whole world, although it wouldn’t be surprising. So here we go.

And with this first episode, we’re just going to kind of give you guys a heads up about what is coming up with Copperfield, some of the exciting things to think about, you know, a lot of these changes coming to Copperfield have been a long time in the making.

You know, a lot of this was supposed to happen last year in 2020. But last year was last year. And you all know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that. So we had all these great big ideas for Copperfield that were supposed to happen in 2020. Because 2020 was, in fact, our 20th anniversary. That’s right, we started way back in the dim dear past of 2000. So now we’re heading into our 21st year. But I am very happy that these changes are finally in the works.

Now for those of you who are curious, the podcast is going to cover things like reading and writing, obviously historical fiction because that’s what we’re known for here at the Copperfield Review. But we’ll also be talking about things like publishing, creativity, really all of my favorite topics. But then again, this is my podcast. And so if I want to talk about anything else I can. I may also sometimes talk about my cat. So you know, you’re just going to have to, you know, if you love cats, obviously, you’re going to love that. I won’t dwell too much on my cat, but she may pop up on occasion. But then again, this is my podcast. It’s a Copperfield Review podcast, but it’s also my podcast since I’m the one sitting here talking, so you may have to deal with some talk about my cat.

Now, having said that, I would like to point out the fact that I am always up for a cute cat pictures. I am up for cute dog pictures. Cute hamster pictures. I’m not sure I would call a snake cute. But I know there are people who absolutely love their reptiles. So if you think your ham… I was going to say your hamster, but no, hamsters are cute. If you think your snake is cute, by all means. I shall accept that as well. Send your cute animal pictures my way at copperfieldreview@gmail.com. We are going to start a little page there for our favorite animals at the Copperfield Review. So you know, it has nothing to do with historical fiction. But hey, who doesn’t like a cute pet picture. So there we are. Just kind of a little aside there.

All right. So for those of you who are thinking about the Copperfield Review, thinking about submitting to the Copperfield Review, changes are happening. If you’re a longtime reader and or a submitter to the Copperfield Review, you’ve probably already started to see some of the changes starting to pop up. And so you know that we are no longer accepting submissions via email. We accepted submissions via email for 20 years, but I think what was happening was the email submission was getting a little bit too easy. Because some of the other journals were starting to accept submissions only through Submittable and we were still accepting submissions through email. But the problem was some of the emails being sent our way were not really submissions, they were more like photographs. We started to receive things like photographs of things that people had written on a, you know, a yellow legal pad or something that they had just typed up and took a picture of and sent it in. So obviously, we don’t want that. We want real submissions of real historical fiction of real historical poetry.

So if you’re not aware of the fact that we use only Submittable now, please go ahead and visit our submission guidelines page at www.copperfieldreview.com. It says Guidelines right up there at the top, and you’ll be able to see exactly what we’re looking for when you send in your submissions. So for those of you who may not be regular readers of Copperfield, you might not realize that in fact, in July, the Copperfield Review is becoming the Copperfield Review Quarterly. We’re really excited about this. This is something we’ve been working toward for some time now. So the Quarterly will feature additions in digital and paperback formats. So you know, for 20 years, we’ve been an online only journal. And we’re very proud of that fact. As a matter of fact, we were free to read, we were there for everyone. But at this point, being 20 years old, and having the readership that we do, it’s time for us to go ahead and make that change and become a Quarterly journal that is a digital and paperback journal as opposed to strictly being online, are we’re going to be moving to a subscription model. You can buy the editions either if you want to buy them quarterly, as in, you know, you buy a year and you get all four editions, you can buy print editions, you can buy digital editions, you can buy both editions, if you’d also like to you can purchase the edition separately. So for example, you know, if somebody you love is in the summer edition, then by all means you’re just able to purchase that summer edition. We’re looking at starting a Patreon page, we’re starting a subscription model, we’re starting, you know, all of these different thing ways of creating our journal so that it’s the best it can be. For 20 years, we really haven’t been that concerned with making money at the Copperfield Review. We’ve just been looking to publish the best in historical fiction and historical poetry. But we’re at the point now, where after 20 years, we have enough of a reputation. We have enough readers who love what we do. We have enough writers who love what we do. But what we’re really looking to do is pay our contributors, professional rates instead of the small honorariums that we’re currently paying. So when you support the Copperfield Review, you’re supporting our writers and allowing us to pay them professional rates for the amazing works of historical fiction and historical poetry that they create.

We have other fun activities going on as well. We’re currently hosting a contest for the best in historical fiction and historical poetry. We’re also accepting submissions for our second anthology. So that’s coming up as well. So just give me one moment, and let me give you the dates for those. Okay, so the dates for the contest for historical fiction, submissions are being accepted now through October 10 2021 with winners to be announced on Friday, December 10. There is a $25 entry fee per short story and a $20 entry fee per poem. And then the dates for the anthology. We’re accepting submissions for the anthology now through August 31, 2021. And the anthology submission should be sent through submittable. There is a $3 reading fee through Submittable and the word Anthology should appear in the submission title. If you’re curious about our contest, if you’re curious about submitting to our Anthology, you can absolutely check out our guidelines, again, at www.copperfieldreview.com. We’re also creating a shop where we’ll be selling our subscriptions, we’re also going to be selling things like Copperfield Review pens, tote bags, notebooks, because hey, who can write without a Copperfield Review pen? Or a Copperfield Review notebook? Right? I know what you’re thinking. You can actually write without them but it’s more fun with a Copperfield Review pen. So we will be holding a shop book that’ll be coming up in May well, so we’ll have all our cool gear there. The website as you know, it is also going to be undergoing some changes. So if you go to the website and things start to look a little bit strange, that’s why

We’re going to be turning the website into a blog with guest posts with access to the subscriptions for each issue. Our submission guidelines are still going to be there, everything that is already been published will still be there. Now keep in mind that on the Copperfield Review’s current website, we only have what we’ve published since 2012. For the first 10, no 12 years, that’s why I am not a math person, the first 12 years that Copperfield existed, we had a different website. And when we made the transition from that first website that hosted us for 12 years, and then made the switch to our current website, we lost, unfortunately, 12 years worth of stories because the transfer just didn’t happen. That is something that still makes me sad to this day.

But for everything that has been published since 2012, that will still be available on our website. However, anything that is published post July 2021, which is when we go to the quarterly model, that will only be available through subscription through our website. And so just keep that in mind, that is a change that is going to be happening. So if you published prior to July 2021 and after April 2012, your work will still be available on our website, all of that is not changing. What will change is that we are now a subscription model starting in 2021.

Okay, so if you are interested in submitting to the new Copperfield Review Quarterly, again, be sure to check our submission guidelines. Once again, it’s www.copperfieldreview.com. And things have changed a bit as far as what we’re looking for in submissions. And just generally speaking, when you are submitting to literary journals, you always want to go to the submission guidelines on their website because Writer’s Market is outstanding. Duotrope does a wonderful job trying to keep up with all the changes. But even so, editors’ needs change suddenly, and so that new need will be reflected in the website submission guidelines, whereas they might not be reflected in Writer’s Market or Duotrope. So you always want to go to the website submission guidelines. Don’t send something off based on what you see in a year old listing, because chances are things have changed. So for all of the up to date information on Copperfield, about our new website, about our new submission guidelines, go ahead and go to our website, and make sure that you’re following those guidelines.

Now just as an aside, I actually have a new course coming out in May, which is an introduction to writing historical fiction. It will be available through Teachable. I’m actually in the process now of recording the lectures. And I have to be honest, I’m having a lot of fun recording that. It’s great for me, because I’ve actually been teaching for more than 20 years now. And creating this course is a great way for me to do what I love, which is teaching. And then when I’m teaching writing, I’m even more in heaven. So now I get to do that through Teachable and I get to share it with all of you. I’ll be sure to let everyone know when the course is available. The regular price will be $99 USD. But listeners of the podcast and subscribers to Copperfield’s mailing list can purchase the course at a discount of 50% off so it’ll be $49 USD instead of the $99. I’ll let everyone know the discount code as soon as the course is released, which will not be too far away now as I’m recording this on April 12. I just have to finish recording it and finish having the transcriptions made. And I’m really excited to share all of that with you.

We’re also going to have a brand spanking new Patreon page to fund the Quarterly, the contest, the anthology, all of the fun stuff that we’ve been talking about today. Again, the main goal is to pay our contributors. But when our Patreon page is up, I’ll also share that with all of you. And you guys will be able to see more in depth what it is that we’re looking to do to grow the Copperfield Review. We’ve been around for about 20 years, and as I said eariler we have never really been that concerned about making money. Our concern was just keeping it going so that we could feature the best short historical fiction and best historical poetry out there. Now we’re looking to expand our reach. So that’s why we’re trying out all these cool new doodads so that we can make sure that we can pay our writers what they deserve to be paid.

All right. All right. So that is it for me for today. I don’t want to ramble on too long. As I said at the beginning, I don’t think boring people during my first podcast is such a great idea. But before I go, it’s important for me to say a huge thank you to all the readers and contributors who have kept the Copperfield Review going for the past 20 plus years. The Copperfield Review would not have the reputation it has for being a place that publishes quality literature if it weren’t for the amazing pieces of historical fiction and poetry that have come our way over the last two decades.

Here’s a very quick story before we go today. I remember when I started the Copperfield Review in September 2000, and at the time, I was thinking, wouldn’t it be a great way to get this journal started if I could get an interview with a well known historical novelist? Well, I did a little bit of digging and found John Jake’s email. Yes, that John Jake, the very famous John Jake who wrote some of the most beloved historical novels of all time. So I took a chance. Remember, this was 20 years ago, I wasn’t known at all, you know, I was just starting. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know anything. But I said, hey, what the heck, you know, just try. So I emailed John Jake’s. John was actually on a cruise at the time. And this kind man emailed me from the cruise and said, absolutely, I’ll answer your questions.

So while he was on the cruise, John Jake answered my emailed interview questions. And to this day, I remember that and I remember the kindness and I remember the generosity. He didn’t know me from anybody, the Copperfield Review had no reputation at that time because it barely existed. And yet, he still took the time to answer my interview questions. And to this day, I remember that and to this day, I think the Copperfield Review exists because of people like John Jake who took time out of their out of their busy schedules. Jean M. Auel allowed me to interview her. I also interviewed Jeff Shara. I mean really big name historical novelists took the time to answer my questions. And because of them, and because of the great submissions we’ve received over the years, the Copperfield Review still exists. And we’re very happy to be here.

Even as we transition to the Copperfield Review Quarterly, I still know that whenever we get a submission from any writer, it’s a privilege to be able to read that submission, and we appreciate it. We appreciated it 20 years ago, and we appreciate it today.

So if you’d like to get in touch with me, you can contact me at, if you want to get to me through Copperfield, its copperfieldreview@gmail.com. If you’d like to submit your historical short fiction or poetry to the Copperfield Review, soon to be the Copperfield Review Quarterly, you can find our submission guidelines once again at www.copperfieldreview.com. If you’d like to visit my personal website, it’s Meredith, it’s just my first and last name.com, meredithallard.com.  Or you can contact me at meredithallardauthor@gmail.com.

All right, everybody. So that is me for today. Thank you for joining me for the first Copperfield Review podcast. I’m very excited about this. In the future, we will branch out to interviews, we will branch out to industry insiders, but for for the first few episodes we are really going to focus on Copperfield itself and our changes and a little bit more insight into submitting to literary journals, writing, and all that kind of fun stuff.

All right, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I will see you next week. Bye bye.

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