by Michael Schrimper
It was before dawn when the telephone rang. Michael listened to his father’s voice through the wall as he lay in bed. After a minute, it was quiet. Michael heard his father’s footfall come toward his door. The door opened and his father stood in the doorway. He turned on the lamp on the table by the door.
“Michael, I need you to get dressed.” He was wearing his boots.
“Dad?” Michael said, sitting up in bed.
“There’s work on Jasper Mountain this morning. I’ve got to be there soon.”
Michael dressed. His father had been taking him on his jobs since the lumber mill closed down. But this was the earliest. Normally Michael would spend the afternoon in a field as his father worked on a fence. He was too young to stay home alone. He looked into the kitchen and saw his father place two burlap sacks they used for kindling on the table. Then he laid down a saw. He rolled the burlap sacks toward him, enfolding the saw.
“Ready?” said his father.
They went outside to the pickup truck. The air was cool in the dark morning. It was near the end of spring but it felt like the last edge of winter and Michael hurried into the truck. Michael’s father leaned over and put the sacks with the saw enfolded beneath Michael’s feet. As they drove, the bundle made a rustling sound. His father had lined the sacks with plastic trash bags.
There had never been a job on Jasper Mountain before. People did not live there, Michael thought to himself. It was a very tall mountain.
They parked in a gravel lot off the highway next to a semi-trailer. Behind the trailer was the steep rock face. Michael looked up the dark gray cliff and could see ledges with pine trees. The pines looked black. They started up the trail. His father walked in front of him, with the saw and the burlap sacks. Michael watched the gray rock dust and his father’s boots and noticed his father sometimes looking back at him.
“Dad. Where are we going?”
“To the North pasture.”
After a minute Michael said, “Isn’t that the highest one?”
“What are you going to do?”
His father said, “I need my breath, Michael.”
They walked up the steep mountainside. The trail went uphill for what seemed a long time and then they came to the mist, a damp gray cloud on the mountain in the morning, and Michael reached out to make sure his father was still there. They climbed in silence in the mist.
Up ahead was a tall black cliff. When they reached the bottom of the cliff they walked a narrow, slanted trail. Michael kept a hand along the rock wall as he went. The wall ended and Michael’s father said, “Stay here.”
Everything past the cliff was mist.
“Sit here while I work.”
Michael sat on the rock. His father disappeared into the mist of the pasture.
Michael was unafraid. He told himself he was unafraid. He looked into the mist. He wished he could see more of the world around him.
A pale yellow light eventually arrived; first light, Michael thought. He wished for the sun to hurry up. He looked past the cliff and wondered what his father was doing in the pasture.
After a few minutes, he heard a clicking noise. The noise was very close. He turned and something moved by his cheek, his nose. The surprise made him lean back and he clamped his hands against the rock. The clicking continued. There was a movement by his face again. A dragonfly.
Michael watched the blue dragonfly make a circle in the mist. He stood up. He decided to follow the dragonfly. It moved through the air and away from the cliff. Michael followed it into the grass. The dragonfly zipped away into the gloomy pasture, and off he went after it.
The dragonfly disappeared in the mist. Michael was alone in the meadow. He wondered where his father was. The click had faded and Michael heard a different noise now: a grating sound in the distance, up the hill.
The mist moved and he saw the pasture, feeling relieved when he glimpsed the open hillside. It was a long green slope with big white rocks. It was beautiful. In the cloudiness he saw there must have been a hundred white boulders around him in the grass. He looked for his father, but the mist closed in again. He stopped moving. He decided to sit there, on a rock.
His hand and leg came away wet. He started, stood and looked down. A mass of white wool. The dead sheep’s eyes were like a snake’s—yellow with a black point, and they were staring. The sheep’s mouth was open. The smell of the dead animal and the wet wool hit him. He must have let out a cry because in a moment he saw his father coming toward him down the hill. Before his father reached him he looked at the sheep once more and saw its big horns; they were yellow and brown, curved into a coil.
“Dad?” Michael said.
His father took him by the shoulders, and began leading him toward the cliff.
“Why are they all dead?” He was thinking of the white humps he’d seen on the hillside, had mistaken for rocks.
The mist moved in sheets.
“It was a cold, wet spring,” his father said. After a minute he said, “It rained the whole time. Believe it or not, sheep can get pneumonia, too.”
Michael felt very cold. “What are you doing with them?” he asked. He saw his father’s jeans were spattered with dark stains.
After a minute his father said, “Their horns are very valuable.”
Michael sat beside his father in the truck. In the bed of the pickup, the burlap sacks clattered when they drove over a pothole.
“Can you feel anything after you die?”
“No. I don’t think so, Michael.”
“What about before you’re born?”
They were seated in the truck; Michael trying to remember things from before he was born. He tried to remember what he had seen and felt but could not remember anything. He looked at the trees against the cloud cover and saw the branches had little green buds on them.
“When I’m dead, will I remember this?”
“This truck. Anything. You?”
His father waited a minute and then said, “I don’t think so, Michael.”
Michael was quiet as they turned onto the gravel road. He was clutching the truck door handle. Maybe his father was only trying to scare him.
The truck continued down the road and he looked out the window, hoping that once he died he would remember his father, the earthen smell of animal carcass, and the little green buds that grew on the tree branches.
Michael Schrimper is author based in Indiana.
photo by Rennett Stowe
Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 15 year old photographer and artist who has won contests with National Geographic,The Woodland Trust, The World Photography Organisation, Winstons Wish, Papworth Trust, Mencap, Big Issue, Wrexham science , Fennel and Fern and and Nature’s Best Photography.She has had her photographs published in exhibitions and magazines across the world including the Guardian, RSPB Birds , RSPB Bird Life, Dot Dot Dash ,Alabama Coast , Alabama Seaport and NG Kids Magazine (the most popular kids magazine in the world). She was also the only person from the UK to have her work displayed in the National Geographic and Airbus run See The Bigger Picture global exhibition tour with the United Nations International Year Of Biodiversity 2010.Only visual artist published in the Taj Mahal Review June 2011. Youngest artist to be displayed in Charnwood Art’s Vision 09 Exhibition and New Mill’s Artlounge Dark Colours Exhibition.Youngest to be published in Grey Sparrow Press. Featured artist in Able Muse and the Taj Mahal Review.
by Jenelle Hayward
He was there with me six months after I left pews and pulpits when I sat on a cold seat in the
bathroom at a bar in philadelphia where grafﬁti covered walls and the dim light dangling made it
difﬁcult to read I found my face in the mirror in the stall in my body in my blood warm
with alcohol I could feel Him
Jenelle Hayward’s work has appeared in FourtyOunceBachelors, The Truth About Fact, Gordon College Global Education Journal, and Idiom. I am an experienced classroom teacher currently enrolled as a full-time graduate student at Mills College, pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing.
photo by srbyug
by Robin Lysne
Robin Heerens Lysne, M.A. is the author of three books of non-fiction and has been published in North American Review, Porcupine, Harvest from the Emerald Orchard and numerous anthologies. She is also an artist, having shown her work widely in the Midwest and East Coast. In her paid professional life she is a medium and Energy Medicine Practitioner and offers sessions through East/West Bookstore, in her office in Santa Cruz, and across the country by phone. She resides in the San Francisco Bay area and is currently enrolled in Mills College Creative Writing Program in poetry.
by A.J. Huffman
The line of my skin.
I know it’s crooked.
But it will have to do.
It is the only way in
to my mind.
And that’s cracked.
So take the journey
And be glad
for the trail.
You will need it.
To find your way.
Into tomorrow’s sun.
A.J. Huffman is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida. She has previously published four collections of poetry: The Difference Between Shadows and Stars, Carrying Yesterday, Cognitive Distortion, and . . . And Other Such Nonsense.. She has also published her work in national and international literary journals such as Avon Literary Intelligencer, Writer’s Gazette, and The Penwood Review. Find more about A.J. Huffman, including additional information and links to her work here.
photo by davynin