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ÉCLAT FICTION

AN ONLINE FICTION ANTHOLOGY

EDITOR: Matthew Morgan - matthew@eclatfiction.com

www.eclatfiction.com | contact@eclatfiction.com

Copyright © Éclat Fiction 2012


CONTENTS

In Rectangles 9 Elliot Mayhew (1st place prize winner) Hotel des Balances 11 Kirk Nesset (2nd place prize winner) Foraging for Wild Mushrooms Jordan Philips (3rd place prize winner)

15

Guilty

Layla Mirmalek

Birds

18

Nathan Ouriach

23


Dave Clark Splat

The Mist David Hartley

27

30

Redemption

33

Dave Jones

The Village Doesn’t Know Me Yet

37

Fran Slater

The Longest Night Robert Arnott

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“Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being” David Foster Wallace


T

he man groped about in the pitch dark for a moment or two, straightening his flowing night clothes and sweeping back lank

hair from a lined face. He sniffed loud and grimaced. One hand lightly

touched the wall nearest him. Bony fingers traced the bumps of decaying paint and wallpaper as if they were Braille. “What stories?” he said aloud. The man’s fingers led him, creaking body and all, around four walls. He could see nothing in the blackness but kept his eyes wide open, scanning for any rogue beam. He paused every now and then, pressed his face ardently against the flaky surface of the wall, and scuffed his cheek up and down. A moment later, he was off again, trotting in rectangles, right hand touching the limits of his outer space. Much later, when the man was slowing, his body tired after hour after ritualistic hour of motion, a voice sounded beyond the confines of the room. The man stopped still. He cupped both his hands about ÉCLAT FICTION

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his right ear and leaned close to a familiar wall. There were two voices, the man discerned, and though they were too low and muffled to be completely intelligible, he was sure of the tone of the apparent colloquy. A male voice was angry and sharp, while a higher pitched feminine voice was soothing and musical. The man smiled, slipping down to a seated position at the foot of the wall, ears and hands always cupped, and listened, body tight to the partition. His heart raced. Never once did the man understand any word that was uttered by the two. More, he felt the exchange between them ebb and flow in each part of himself adhered to the wall. He smiled wide, bearing worn teeth, as lilting phrases danced through brick and plaster, while gruff expulsions brought tears tumbling from the man’s eyes. He even laughed. And then, after many hours of commotion, there was silence. The man waited patiently for eons, hands cupping ears, but finally struggled to his feet, nodded in the dark, and set off again, in rectangles.

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Hotel des Balances Kirk Nesset

F

or years you observe the great violinist. In Zurich, Basil, Milan and Berlin. You hear duets and duo sonatas, concertos, trios and quartets

for violin and guitar; the Cantabiles and La Campanella, and fiery Caprices, all twenty-four. The Duetto Amoroso levels you utterly. You sit

thunderstruck after, overwhelmed in your chair, as lamps brighten and murmuring listeners move out of doors. Tonight in Lucerne you pause by the house, or estate, where the man is regaled. As he’s regaled; as they are dining. You scan the cobbled courtyard and glowing façade, the park farther on with its lawn of grass and implacable hedge. And at precisely a quarter past six, after kaffe mit milch in the Mühlenplatz, you walk back to Hotel des Balances, which skirts the river, and willows and swans, the brow of snow-capped Pilatus, scintillatingly pink, presiding beyond. You learned violin yourself, of course, very young. And still play, in your way; burned early by beauty, you keep approaching the flame. ÉCLAT FICTION

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You scraped and saved for six months to stay where he stays; you saved and saved for these clothes that suggest you belong here. This is not idle adoration. You don’t tremble when he raises his bow, or swoon at crescendo. You are not mundane, or cliché. This is not about loving someone everyone loves. It’s about what and how much, at what cost, and why. The devil guides his hand, people say—no one could do what he does without aid. Dusk hangs on the picturesque bridge with its tower and flowers and treble clef swans. Dusk falls on Hotel des Balances. You wait in waistcoat and tails in the lobby, near the arched double doorway. At last the gilded carriage appears. The concierge bows, holds the door open; the master descends. The auburn hair windblown, cravat and frilled shirt exposed. The devil’s a goblin designed to scare children, and fishwives, and maids. You return to your room and count off minutes, not quite able to breathe. The devil’s no answer for the miracle you see when this man is on stage. The fingers blur, the eyes roll in the gaunt, wolfish head, steam rising from the enflamed violin. Up five flights of stairs and you’re on the top level. You glide past his room. At the end of the hall you turn, and return, to his door. You listen. ÉCLAT FICTION

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No sound at all. He doesn’t rehearse, people say. At least not anywhere anyone might see, or might hear. Why kneel at the keyhole, then, and peer in? But kneel and peer in you do. Trembling, your heart shaking. Doubt and faith are so thick in you they run the show now. What do you see? The polished edge of a desk, a rectangular mirror. A bed. Part of the bed. And on the bed, the cased violin. You rise, listen, glance each way down the hall. And in the quicksilver balance, kneel again and look in. The master’s not well. He’s old, yes, and thin, wrecked by exhaustion and debt, and opiates, by the mercury they insist will stave off disease. And yet he looks so completely at ease, so himself, by the desk, so completely at home in his skin, he seems not of the earth, but a vision. The iron latch at your cheek has gone hot; the doorknob is humming. Below, in the dark, by the deck, water hurries over the boulders. A clank in the alley, and laughter. Down the hill from the newsvendor’s stall, papers come apart in the wind. The man opens the case, finally. He lifts the instrument out. Conscientiously, slowly. He holds it before him, as if in offering. Then sets it down gently, and breeches in boots, turns to the wall. To the mirror. And stands there. Transfixed, it would seem. Facing himself, facing whatever ÉCLAT FICTION

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it is there he sees: the devil, or God, or Pilatus, or angel of poison, or pox, that will kill him. Heat bleeds from the keyhole. Your eyebrow and lashes are singed, your dry eye blurs. You peer with the other. Unmoving he stands at the glass. Staring. Daring himself, you believe, to disappear fully, letting fear go, and care, and of course talent—daring himself, yes, and now, somehow, you, sensing you, turning—sensing that river of something you share, meeting him here, not the strut-and-fret shadow, your practiced misery and missing face and confetti of moths of your thinking, but this that remains as the world fades, and Byzantium burns, and Vienna, and ash sings to ash, and blades of grass pray by just being.

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S

he ran the last few paces in her seven-year-old shoes – ballet pumps maybe. Climbed the knot of roots and earth. Steps to that other place

or time. Perspiration ran into her smile. Sun crept through the forests’

autumn canopy. Her face glittered. The other woman, older, did not run. She walked to the knot of roots and earth. Put her hand on the tree’s lifelines that reached as high as her shoulder. For rest or the touch of memory I was not sure. Her face was also damp with sweat and she closed her eyes, but not because of exhaustion or the unseasonable warmth. A wind blew against the leaves. Both women wiped the cold sweat from their face with the edge of a thumb. “I’m the King of the Castle.” She stamped her seven-year-old shoes. “It feels so long ago since I used to play this with Rob and James.” ÉCLAT FICTION

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The other woman climbed to the perch that the bundle of roots offered over the area. Slow and with a slight grimace at the bending of knees. “I used to play the same game with Sian and David, when I was eight. The lake was clear then, less overgrown.” “It was still like that when I was young.” “And now I’m 51, and here again. Strange.” The younger woman paused for a moment and laughed. Jumped again in her seven-year-old shoes, compacting dead leaves into the mud. “I hope I can bring my children here and play the same games and bring you and dad like you brought gama and gamps.” The mother wiped sweat and sun from her face. “I hope you can too.” They were not trying to be sentimental, they were just talking and laughing like any mother and daughter. Only to an onlooker did it seem so beautiful. It was probably more the sun and the trees, the overgrown lake, the unseasonable warmth, than the words, which were just words anyone could say. Ducks like boldly painted woodcarvings came out of a half submerged tree imitating a bridge or shelter. First in a line they came, then scattered. They were the colours of no ducks I had ever seen. “Could we try and find the secret pond?” “We used to stumble on it, never find it.” “Gamps could find it.” ÉCLAT FICTION

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“He said he could. I think he was just better at stumbling.” “I remember I thought it was his secret, only his.” “It was. It is. Although I doubt he could find it now, or even stumble on it.” “Is he bad?” “Mum said he is. Yesterday he dressed for work, stood outside for an hour, waiting for a car from 1983 to collect him. He wears his cravat and waistcoat still, every day, as if he was still walking with us here.” And then she started to cry. And then they both started to cry. After several minutes the sun was hidden by a cloud and the forest turned quickly cold. With the edge of a thumb they wiped away tears and left. To find the pond or just to go home, back to the present. I would like to have said something comforting and strong. That there was dignity in a cravat and waistcoat, that there was meaning in a shared memory of a secret pond. We don’t talk about death much. I took my bag and left. It would be damp by the pond and there would be mushrooms growing nearby.

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T

here was a rasping at the door. Or was it a tap quietly dripping somewhere? I cocked my head to listen. The house was opaque with

not a sliver of light to penetrate the black. I stared into the darkness, listening. All I could hear was the sound of my breathing. I put my head back on to the pillow to resume sleep.

Frapp a tap tap. There it was again. This time I shot up from my pillow, sitting upright and trying to listen. At first all I could hear was the pounding of my heart and then -

‘Layla.’ I heard my name faintly from outside my front door. I glanced at my phone to see that the time was 2.10am. I felt chilled and churned at the same time. It was a man’s voice. A familiar voice; one I had not heard in 5 years, except in my head. He began to bang on the door. ‘LAYLA!! You fool, it’s me.’ ÉCLAT FICTION

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He was drunk. I could tell by his tone. The way the words he was tripping over sounded thick in his throat. I sat glued to the bed. Frozen while I digested what was happening, and what to do. ‘Layla let me in.’ I got up slowly at first and then walked with purpose, concern, confusion. What was he doing here? I hurriedly ran down the stairs. Suddenly the overriding emotion was concern. I was not surprised at myself. I threw the door open. He stood side on to me, with one hand supporting his weight against the doorframe. Something was wrong. ‘There she is. Can I come in?’ His eyes, smiling, darted all over my face. ‘Yes of course you can.’ I heard myself say. I walked into the living room and he followed me inside. The moon’s beam illuminated a corner of the room but I couldn’t see him properly. I switched the light on to reveal him. He had his back to me but I could see his sleeves were hanging low over his hands and they were blood soaked. ‘Gareth, what’s going on?’

‘What?’ He was giddy, light headed, and unable to answer me. ÉCLAT FICTION

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He walked away from me, lunging around the room, accidentally kicking things over. My spine turned to ice as he finally turned to face me. His face appeared to be mangled. The bottom of his mouth was drawn down as if it had been tied in a bow at the corner, making the rest of his face droop with it. A huge gash lined his neck; his eye was a slit, welded shut against black dried blood and now the blood was dripping from his concealed hands. I felt sick as I wondered what was underneath. I walked towards him, and he to me, in the same moment. He was still smiling like an idiot. I stood in front of him as he raised his arms up out of his sleeves to cup my face and as he did so he revealed his hands. At first I couldn’t comprehend what had happened to them. I think I was in shock. I saw a flash of red when he raised his hands to me. I thought this was his blood - perhaps where he had injured himself. But as they grazed me they felt soft like the flesh of peeled fruit. The blood was in a ring around his wrists. I could see sinew and muscle… His hands had been skinned. On his left hand three fingers were missing. The muscles and tendons were fully exposed and pouring with blood at the wrist. They resembled watermelon flesh and I could see the tip of bone -I felt my stomach drop inside itself. I began to shake. He was still reaching for me, completely unaware of my reaction, fixing his eyes ÉCLAT FICTION

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on me. ‘Gareth, what’s happened? We need to get you to a hospital now.’ I could barely speak as my throat had dried to a sandpaper finish. My heart felt as if it was trying to climb up my throat with every pounding beat. I tried to pour a glass of water but my fingers were shaking so much that I just tipped the glass over and then grabbed it back up and tried to suck down the drop of water that was left in there. I tried to string words together but choked on the horror and urgency of the situation. And suddenly I was consumed by an overwhelming feeling of love and concern. I didn’t love this man, not any more. Or so I kept telling myself. Maybe the love can come back on like the flick of a switch. Maybe it’s never really extinguished. I felt a hot burn of emotions. It dawned on me that he didn’t realise what was going on, or that he couldn’t articulate it. But more importantly, this wasn’t a drunken accident that he’d had; someone had done this to him. Maybe several people. Why had someone done something so awful to him? ‘We need to call an ambulance.’ ‘Hold me.’ He said, seeming lucid for one moment. I looked into his cobalt eyes, one of them looking sad and closed and the other holding my eyes as if they were tethered to his by a thread. I remember this look. It used to break my heart because I knew in that ÉCLAT FICTION

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moment that he loved me, but I also knew it was temporary. That he wouldn’t always look at me like that. While looking in his eyes my heart shattered to pieces. I reached around his blood soaked white shirt and pulled him into my body. He rested his head against mine and gripped me gently round the waist. I felt terrible. As I looked over his shoulder to the floor I could see the business card under my feet, squashing into the carpet. The faint telephone number, and a figure, were all that were still visible on the paper.

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I

follow the mother’s finger and, for the first time, see the sea behind the beach huts of Eastbourne. Through seats of the train I see their

gloved hands clasp one another’s. I close L’Etranger and continue to

listen. I can’t see their faces. ‘At one point,’ the woman said, ‘this all used to be different.’ The son said nothing as the images move out of sight. Outside, unrecognizable birds fly and I look at my book: ‘And I, too, felt ready to start life all over again,’ I pull my jacket collar over my neck and consider Helena. The night before I broke up with Helena, her body contorted alongside me. I couldn’t sleep because of the seagulls outside. As I held her I remembered my father teaching me how to hold a bouquet of lilacs when I was seven. I thought about how I had never bought her flowers and how my father would not do what I was going to do. I tried to list all the details of the room, of her parents house and of the time we visited Brussels and what our room looked like there. Her old room ÉCLAT FICTION

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at her parent’s had purple walls but have been painted white, or crème, I can’t picture them. All these details had left me and I pulled my arm from under the weight of her neck and, unfurling, faced the wall. The other side of the bed was cold but I felt more comfortable in this new space. It had happened in the morning. The seagulls had gone. I had taken my clothes into the bathroom to change, leaving Helena her empty room to choose what to wear. I had returned to the room with her alone in leggings and three dresses covering her lap. “I couldn’t choose what to wear for you,” she had said whilst folding her knees over her naked chest. “Whatever you choose will be fine.” “Really?” I continued to stare over the houses from outside her window. The density of the clouds brought them closer to the window and it was impossible to see in the distance. Helena and I put our shoes on together like we had done before and had left the house. My hands were cold and I didn’t know what to do with them. The rhythm of our steps was out of sync as she walked a moment behind me. In a charity shop window I saw the Lempicka portrait, the one with the green dress. I remembered Helena buying The Great Gatsby from a small shop last June and it had the portrait on ÉCLAT FICTION

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the cover. A woman from inside the shop that looked like my mother made contact with my eyes and I looked back. She said something to me whilst pointing at Helena but I couldn’t hear so I carried on walking. Helena offered me her umbrella but I pulled my collar up and shook my head. I remember the look on her face being unrecognizable. It was raining and the beach was empty and seemed as large as the ocean succeeding it. I laid the rain mac on the ground and offered to help Helena sit down but she placed her hands down her back and below her thighs to straighten her dress herself and sat down. Before I sat down I looked at the old pier that had burnt into the sea. ‘Did I ever tell you what a murmuration is?’ she said into my feet. I shook my head and looked into her face. ‘It is when a collection of starlings synchronize their flight and float, twist, turn and collapse into the sky. Then they divide and leave for wherever is next.’ Helena looked at the second pier as its light turned on for the evening. Birds flew in the air but there was no choreography. ‘No-one will ever be like you,’ she said, as she turned and looked at me – placing a light kiss onto my cheek. As a wave fell onto the pebbles in front I remembered an afternoon two years ago. Outside it was warm and we could feel it in the kitchen and on our bodies. It would have been summer. I mentioned her burning easily and she pushed me but we fell back into each other with both of ÉCLAT FICTION

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our arms fitting around one another, mine around her neck with hers in the curve of my lower back. Her head rested on my chest and her toes sat above mine. I kissed her forehead and said the coffee is ready but she held tightly as if she had learned something for the first time. I continue with my book. Pretending to read I begin imagining the little boy and whether he will remember this train journey. I continue this with the mother. She had aged gracefully, with her petit face, blonde hair and pale complexion. I felt sadness for her. The boy dropped his gloves on the floor and I pick them up. They look small in my hands. ‘Are you okay?’ the woman said, looking into my face. Somewhere inside, my head, my bones, I feel a sensation moving through me. A hole grows in my stomach and I put my hand to my head to feel the pounding feeling inside wading through my body. Collapsing into the nearest seat I look past the woman towards the sky outside. The sea is the same as the sky. The woman offers me some water but I decline, I follow the little boy’s sight and his mouth begins to move. ‘What’s that bird, Mummy?’ I see the mum rise to look toward the bird and I lean forward, touching the boy on the shoulder. ‘It is a Red Kite,’ I begin with the old sensation leaving me, the color returning to my face. ‘Notice the way it seems to fly without direction; the wings stretched but not moving, as if allowing itself to fall.’ ÉCLAT FICTION

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I

f I were to jump that would be it. No-one could stop me. Three second’s shock and awe, then splat! Just like dad. Only his was pills. Dad didn’t

go splat. Look over there, you say, unaware of my plans. You can see Devon

you say only I don’t, as I’m not looking. I’m looking down, below me, at the sharp rocks, which grin manic-toothed back at me. Is that a ship you ask me, only I don’t respond, ‘cause I don’t care if it’s a ship or not. I think it is a ship, you continue, look can you see it, there’s a wisp of smoke on the horizon. I look but don’t see smoke. I must be looking in the wrong place, or for the wrong thing. We say nothing for a while, and I study the spikiness of the rocks, trying to work out which slither would kill me if I were to land on them. If I didn’t want to die then I guess I’d be scared, as it’s such a long way to fall. I don’t think I’ve ever been this high up before, and the wind ÉCLAT FICTION

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is so strong I might get blown down anyway, whatever I decide to do. Something, maybe the wind, makes me shiver, even though I’ve got a thick coat on, and I back away slightly, though I’m still within jumping distance if I want to. It can’t be a bad place, I think to myself, wherever it is you go when you die, ‘cause my dad went there. And dad only ever went to really cool places, like the football, or the races and the pub, the rugby, once he even went to Ireland, which is where Guinness comes from. It stands to reason, if dad only ever went to cool places, well wherever he’s gone forever it must be really great. I wonder if the ship is going to Devon you say. I say nothing, I don’t care. Gone to Devon you wonder, while I wonder, whether dad has gone to heaven. A very bad rhyme that, heaven and Devon, but it is what I’m thinking. ‘Cause heaven has never seemed a very cool place to me, far too holy and boring, full of nuns and priests, I can’t believe he’d have gone there. Unless he’s gone to hang out with Jesus, he sounds cool I guess. I look again at the rocks below, jagged and sharp like the broken bottle you told me to avoid on the footpath climbing up. Yes I could jump, there’s nothing to stop me, you’re standing away from me and I’d be flying through the air before you so much as noticed I’d moved. I could fly, very briefly, let the wind take me, fly like a bird. But only briefly. Then splat! ÉCLAT FICTION

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Oh for goodness sake you say and start crying. I don’t know what to say, or do, I’ve never seen you cry before. Not proper crying. I can’t understand what’s made you cry. Is it the ship? Or do you know that I’m thinking of jumping. How could you know, I’ve not said anything. When I’m older, all grown up and left school, that’s if I don’t jump of course, maybe I’ll understand why you’re crying now, and not when dad died, which was when I cried. But all I can do is watch you. You say nothing more until long after you’ve cried yourself dry and your eyes are all red and blotchy. When I’m older I’ll understand, and I’ll write this scene for the whole world to see, in my book, the one that’ll make me famous. And I’ll write down your every word, in quotation marks, to make them stand out, and then maybe it’ll be clear why you’re crying. Until then all I can do is hold your hand, which I’m really too big to do now. We both just stand there, forever, looking at the sea, until a wind makes us both shiver and, still saying nothing, we turn and walk back, both taking care to avoid the broken glass on the path. I forgot to jump, I realise half way down, but don’t really mind. I can always come back another day.

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I

’ve hidden in the gap between the garage and the house, finding out how cold it really gets at night. Even in gloves my hands are numb; I try

to warm them by squeezing the torch tightly. Across from me the front door - still, locked and bolted against the cold. Above that my window

where I usually sit; yesterday and the day before and the day before and the day before, eyes on the street, ears primed on the door. My Dad will leave before the sun gets up, before the mist descends, as quiet as he can so as not to wake me. But I’m always up. Peeking through the curtains I will watch him open the gate, cross the road and stride down Alvern Avenue, never looking back, never looking up and I never see his morning face. And every time, in the same spot, where Avenue meets Alvern Place, he stops and stoops and ties his lace; and then the mist descends. It falls off rooftops, wraps round houses, blurs the lights and covers the cars, trickles into roads, filling them in, and up along the Avenue to where my dad is stooped and grabs him, holds him and eats him whole, from head to foot and will not spit him out until ÉCLAT FICTION

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. . . until the cat wakes up. Kit the cat leaves at the same time as Dad, darts away – will follow and report back later, with the mist still clinging to his fur in tiny drops of water. A brave cat, a strong cat; he talks to me through whisker twitch and tail switch and by softly butting his head against my arm. He says; ‘I saw his hat on a bench’ or ‘I saw his briefcase in the park’ and ‘I saw his footsteps in the grass.’ Did you see my Dad, I’ll ask, and he’ll stretch, yawn, lick his lips and that means; ‘It was too misty. I saw his hat, I saw his case, I saw his footsteps in the grass. Don’t worry lad, he’ll be back.’ Then he tucks into a slumber curl while I watch through windows, drawing faces in the fogs I breathe upon the glass. And when Kit wakes, I count to ten, and Dad appears, safe again and Kit trills a purred miaow, curves his back and stretches out; ‘What did I say?’ he seems to say, and I smile. And the front door opens. And the case comes down. And the hat comes off. And the door clicks shut. Mum gets up and kisses him, nods to me, nods to Kit and says; ‘You were mist.’ And Dad says; ‘Was I?’ And Mum says ‘Yes.’ And I say ‘Yes.’ And Kit just purrs. ÉCLAT FICTION

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And Dad says ‘Well now I’m back.’ ... But last night Kit died. Dad stayed home and the mist did not fall. And now he’s got to go again, and so must I. The mist is hungry, but I must try.

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I

sensed the darkness increasing in him and knew it would soon be pivotal. He was a man that cared but his heart had been destroyed

so many times by brokenness that it had grown a thick crust. Yet deep inside, his soul still sparked. Would his tiny speck of light be able to break through the crust or would the cancerous darkness win? I had to try. His casual meeting a year ago with the native elder was more than a chance encounter. They easily became spiritual brothers and the elder proved to be a fine and knowledgeable teacher. After months of preparatory instruction from the elder, the man reached this campsite two days ago to finally complete his quest. The Indian had primed the man well and ignited his desire to be restored. Yet the man arrived wire tight and flinty. Would his soul open or would his mind simply snap closed? As he set up camp, the outside world melted away. As the full moon rose, he made tea from the plastic baggy contents sent by his guide. It

smelled like wet dirt and tasted like burnt bark and moss. His shuddering ÉCLAT FICTION

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grimace as he drank made me laugh but he soon relaxed, fell asleep and dreamed magical dreams. At morning, he rose and stood naked at the shore facing the sun. Arms uplifted, he inhaled the bracing air and sang. I knew the song. It continued long enough to overcome his self-awareness and once in this ethereal state, small fissures cracked open on his encrusted heart. This was good. Chanting still, he waded into the lake, pausing only as dangling genitals met icy ripples, until waist deep, his song ended. He then stooped and took a rock from the lakebed. He lifted it up, felt its weight then heaved it ashore. He repeated this over and over as the old native had taught. He saw these regrets made a considerable, weighty pile. Next he waded deeper until the lake closed over his head and he sank cross-legged to the bottom. He was determined to stay under as long as possible. The flinty crust flaked steadily away until lungs bursting; he exploded to the surface and gasped clear, celestial breath. Chest and soul now burning, he trudged ashore, exhausted. Dropping onto the large rock at the head of a stone circle constructed yesterday he sat facing the forest. Head in hands, he said, “This is all bullshit.” Yet when his pulse slowed, he studied each tree, bush and rock; each animal, bird and insect in view. They seemed different … like they were kin! He felt his heart beat in sync with all of creation. He was almost ready. The tea was gently steaming so he dipped a cup. He drank the ÉCLAT FICTION

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earthy liquid wondering if this shit was the Indian’s joke. Grinning, he returned to the rock and faced the gently lapping lake. Behind him birds spoke. Trees whispered. In English? His eyes dimmed as consciousness slipped away and the container slumped to the sand. Finally … we would become one and dance across the universe. Time ceased to exist. Yet his essence, confused by the lightness or perhaps held by the shadow, refused to mingle. I pursued him and enfolded him but the darkness was too great still. I presented him with all knowledge but his mind rejected me. He had to be rekindled. I raised him high, into the face of all light. It incinerated the darkness instantly and we melted into each other. I smiled as we danced and all knowledge was shared. The true meaning of life in his realm of space and time was fully understood. Its simplicity was exhilarating. We laughed and danced. Then like black ash on virgin snow, a dash of doubt settled. In that doubt was the final truth that only an enlightened soul could implement when embodied. Our beautiful dance would end too soon. Part of our oneness would slip through time to revivify the prostrate hull on the beach. As consciousness welled, the man stirred then woke. He rose to his knees and shook the haze from his head. “That damned tea!” he thought, then stood and stretched. He became aware of increasing heat. He was aflame and it was roasting his being. Panicked, he looked at his hands for ÉCLAT FICTION

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flames, but there were none. Sweating rivers he wanted nothing more than to dash into the lake - but was paralysed. When the heat subsided a breeze wafted over him. He could now move; it was astonishingly painless and easy. He sighed in relief. Dusk was creeping and he wound his way to a limestone outcrop rising like a pulpit above the lake, mounted it and watched as innumerable points of heavenly light blinked on. The silent silver orb smiled and beamed across the rippling water. The bent pines swayed and whispered, “Haaaaaaaaaaa.” He was one with the Universe. He leaned back and howled. I laughed. We were successful. He clambered from the rock and rolled into his sleeping bag. As he dozed off, he murmured to the bush beside him, “Good night my friend.” and was sure he heard, “Good night, brother” in return. When morning broke he scrambled from his bedroll. There was one remaining ritual. He went to the rock pile; took each rock, invested it with a particular regret and launched it back into the lake. Stone by stone his guilt disappeared. I nodded in pleasure that he had accepted forgiveness. He was now freed to pass it on. He quickly struck camp, loaded the canoe and pushed off, eager for what lay ahead. I followed as he crossed the lake then portaged to the landing for the final leg of his journey. I watched from there as he launched from the stony shore. It was all good. I laughed and rejoiced. ÉCLAT FICTION

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T

hree weeks in the new place and it still doesn’t feel like home. I know nobody in this village, and nobody knows me. The one-bedroom

house is so different to where I lived before, so much smaller, quieter.

No wife. No kids. Not even a television until I get my act together and get a job. More than the house, it’s the village that’s unfamiliar. The outside world. After years away, they drop me here, in a village that doesn’t know me at all. For a weekend away, this place would be perfect. The old mills, the country pub with the thatched roof, and the bookshop with the maze-like shelves that never end. But living here, it seems like an extension of where I’ve just been. They knew I’d spend most of my time inside; watch the town through the window. A bigger cell, but a quieter one all the same. ÉCLAT FICTION

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I make sure to go out once a day though. A walk by the jagged cliff faces, where they say a young man fell recently, pierced a lung with a rib. I look for evidence of the fall, but all I see is bracken, rhubarb, nettles. On the days without drizzle, like today, I’ll take a book to the park and sit on the benches. If it’s busy, even better. One thing that I’ve easily regained since I got out is my love for the laughter of children, my enjoyment of their songs and their endless energy. The games they play. Today there’s only me in the park. Me and my book of European short stories translated into English. Stories of fatal-rides on Venetian gondolas, life-changing encounters in Parisian-galleries. None of them about silent villages in England’s midlands, where everybody speaks to you when you pass in the street and the shop workers call you ‘duck’ or ‘love’ every time you make a purchase. A metallic tapping noise pulls me out of the story I’m reading, away from the fate of a girl lost in Bulgarian woods. There’s a young hand reaching through the park gate, trying to undo the bolt, until a larger hand completes the task. The gate swings open. A mother in her twenties, a son around ten, a daughter not much younger. I doubt the two children see me as they run to the roundabout, but I notice them, their noise so welcome where before the only sound had been the wind in the trees. The mum sees me. She looks and frowns. I know that one of two things is going through her head. I hope it’s the ÉCLAT FICTION

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harmless one: that everyone knows everyone in this village and yet she doesn’t recognise me. I hope that’s all it is. I try to get back into my story, but I have never been able to read when distracted, and the family have moved to the swings just in front of my bench. The little girl is wearing a white flowing dress that already has grass stains on the front. As her brother pushes her swing she shouts to go higher and the mother stands by the side watching and smiling. It’s hard for me not to do the same. The mother’s half concealed glances have opened a hole in my stomach, but I stay calm and pretend to read. She’s walking over. By the bench she stops, flicks her dark fringe out of her eyes. “Hello,” I say, closing my book. “Hi,” she says. When she smiles at me, only one corner of her mouth lifts up. “I’m Karen.” “William,” I say; a name I’m still getting used to. “Pleased to meet you.” “Do I know you?” she asks. I hope she doesn’t. “I doubt it. I’m new in town. Just moved in by the old bookshop.” She’s staring at me as if I should have more to say. “Lovely place.” “I must have seen you around,” she says, and when she takes a seat on the next bench I know I’m safe. “How are you finding it?” ÉCLAT FICTION

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In the city where I used to live you would never get a young woman coming up and speaking to a stranger. I must look harmless to her. Worn out and frail as I am. “It’s quiet,” I say. “I think I like that.” She tells me about the history of the town, the best places to travel to by bus, the nicest restaurants in the nearest towns. Things I know already, but it’s nice to hear her voice. The kids come over, asking for money for ice-cream. “Say hello to William,” says Karen. The boy raises a hand but keeps his eyes aimed at the floor. The girl must be still too young for such bashfulness. “Hello William,” she says, climbing onto the bench and sitting as close to me as she can. She takes the book from my lap and looks at the front cover. “Do you like ice-cream?” “Lily,” says Karen. “Don’t be rude. Get down and give the man his book back.” “It’s ok,” I say. “I don’t see my children anymore.” Karen looks at me with a small smile, this time using all of her lips. She checks her watch. “I best get ice-cream and get home,” she says. I smile and nod. “You should come around some time. The kids like you. It must be lonely up there.” As they walk to gate, only the little girl looks back. She waves her ÉCLAT FICTION

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own strange little wave. More like a one-handed clap. I copy her. When I get home I take a bottle of red from the wine rack and pour a glass. I drink the first in just two swallows so I have to pour a second. In the front room, I sit on the sofa and stare at the space where the television will be when I can afford one. They don’t know me in this village yet. What will it be like when they do?

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The Longest night Robert Arnott

Q

uentin felt thirsty. He asked Ally if there was any soda left in her can, but she shook her head. It was beginning to get light: the oaks

and the maple were standing out, darker than the sky again. “What happens now?” Ally asked her brother, looking up at him. Her hair was messy, and her dungarees had gotten damp. “Something must have happened,” Quentin replied, but without knowing quite why he said it. He felt disappointed not so much because of the lack of surprises or

weird events during the night; more because he had let down his sister. Mom would be pretty mad. Dad would be back home from his Denver business trip by the end of the day. Quentin felt his stomach go heavy with the realisation that Mom might be awake in the house, and looking for them. What if she had seen they were missing and phoned dad? ÉCLAT FICTION

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Leaning against the tree, Ally was still engrossed with the prospect of some sort of action taking place at any moment, although there had been a complete lack of it, and time was nearly up. At 3.30 in the morning she had cried and hugged Quentin because she had got scared, but he was brave, and the wind that had chilled her hadn’t lasted too long. “It’s five thirty,” she stated, having pushed the little knob on her Lisa Simpson watch that made the light come on. “I figure we should maybe go inside now,” suggested Quentin. He was nine. “It’s not quite light yet,” she said. “That means it’s not day.” “I guess.” Quentin wasn’t going to argue. He had seen nothing. He now firmly believed that the night-time was kind of overrated, and that they shouldn’t repeat the experience. Their heads were both spinning in a way that neither of them recognised. Even if the stuff he had heard in the playground had been contradictory, it had seemed worth investigating. What did Ally believe? The same, he guessed. “We should maybe wait another half an hour. Then it’ll actually be light and night’ll be over.” “Okay,” said Quentin, feeling deeply tired and wondering what in the world his little sister must think of him. He hadn’t promised her that something would happen, but she must have got the impression from the way he had talked to her that he really believed there would be ÉCLAT FICTION

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something to see, something that was always going on out there in the dark, maybe every night, shielded from them in their sleep. So said the playground. Ally was only six. With the slowly spreading light, there was more and more to look at, and the two blond, mussed-up heads did some more scrutinising of the yard, the trees, the garage and all around. There was no noise. The RV was easy to pick out now, sitting on the drive, all its surfaces covered in big drips left over from the shower (and thank goodness it had only been a brief shower). Only ten more minutes went by before Ally suggested it really was time to go indoors. Quentin wasn’t going to argue. He watched his sister rub her eyes and yawn. Yesterday, as part of the planning, they had talked several times about stepping across the porch and closing the doors real quiet, so they did that, without any need to remind each other. They padded up the carpeted stairs. They passed the door to the rumpus room, then Mom and Dad’s room. There was a light showing underneath the door. Quentin carried on walking to his bedroom. Ally stayed still. They waved to each other. Quentin went to his bed, leaving the door half open. Ally felt her hair: it was a little wet. She decided to go to the bathroom. ÉCLAT FICTION

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She had a pee and washed her hands. Then she used the white towel to dry her hair as much as she could. Mom had put her PJs under her top pillow, as usual, and Ally put them on quickly. She wondered if Mom was awake. And her tummy was sore all of a sudden. She needed to tell Mom. She slowly opened the door to her parents’ bedroom. “Mom?” Her 34-year-old mother was sitting up in bed, only her crossed legs covered by the sheets. She had nothing on, and there were goosebumps all over her breasts and shoulders. Four big red candles that Ally had never seen before were standing on the dresser, all burning. A picture of a man was up on the wall. It looked like Dad, wearing something like a big, white bathrobe. But Ally wasn’t really sure. Mom was staring, just staring at the picture. And she was making a murmuring noise and her lips were moving. “Mom.” She didn’t answer. “Mom, can you hear me?” Ally went into Quentin’s room. He had left the bedside light on. He must have fallen asleep real fast. “Quentin.” His eyebrows twitched. “Quentin, wake up. Quent.” He murmured. He moved his head from side to side. “Ally?” he said. ÉCLAT FICTION

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“Quentin.” “What time is it now?” “Just after six o’clock.” “Are you okay? What’s up?” “I saw it.” “What?” Quentin sat up and rubbed his face. His sister looked deadly serious. “Well, what was it? Have you been back outside?” “No.” Ally looked down at the floor for a few seconds and stared blankly. Then she looked back into the eyes of her brother. “It was here in the house all the time.”

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Éclat Fiction - Issue 1