peaking out of its chrysalis—
Persephone: The myths have it wrong. Hades didn’t trick me into eating his pomegranate. I tricked him. Power over death? A chance to save Teleus?
Persephone: Yes, Teleus. Great-grandson of Ares? Nothing like Ares, except if you’re threatening an innocent. Anyway, Hades was my way to save him. You’d be surprised how a few flowers can brighten up Tartaros. Fire, this. Ashes, that…
Homer: What did you do? How did you trick Hades?
Persephone: Hades hated Teleus, denying him loyal servants in Tartaros. Gosh. Well, anyway, when they grabbed me in the field, I screamed. I pouted. I even slapped Hades. Mother played her part well, even causing a famine over my loss.
Homer: Your mother, Demeter? Yes, those were hard times. I’m sure the audience remembers that famine and all the death that followed.
Persephone: One night, while Hades was playing with his dog, I snuck up on him, dressed in lingerie and carrying a pomegranate.
Homer: Ah, the pomegranate.
Persephone: So, Hades takes one look at me and drops the 3-ring chew toy—Cerberos loves fetching that toy. I tell him that I’ll eat it if he does one thing for me. I place his hands on the bottom of my slip. Predictably, he says he’ll do anything. The whole Underworld is mine if I’ll take that bite.
Persephone: Yes! And then I put him in a headlock. Me for Teleus. Call off the hit.
Homer: A headlock? What happened next? Did Hades call off the hit?
Persephone: It took a few hours of sexy Underworld jiujitsu, but he finally caved. And I ate that infamous seed, sealing our deal.
Homer: And Demeter went to Zeus to ask for your release.
Persephone: Yes. It’s not like Hades was going to admit that I beat him in combat. And now I can live topside with Teleus for 8 months a year while Hades sulks. I even get Cerberos every other weekend. He loves the park over on 8th. When Teleus enters Tartaros—hopefully not for a very long time—I’ll stay there longer. Maybe even embrace the whole Queen of the Dead thing. Who knows? I’m still young.
Homer: Yes, you are. Well, there it is, folks. You hear it from Channel 7 first!
a royal flush—
rewriting mine, too
Colleen M. Farrelly
Genesis, dusk . . .
With the sweet crunch still fresh in his mouth, Adam perceives a change. A cool breeze causes him to shudder. He sees traces of dirt packed into the cracks of his palm and feels like a golem, clay brought to life, raw form kneaded as bread into a shapely husk, and yet, forever dust, coming from dust and to dust returning . . .
After cryptology . . .
Anunnaki writes the shem, a name for God, on a scrap of papyrus and inserts the honied text into a golem’s mouth. Like Pinocchio coming to life, the golem speaks, “Aye,” turning into a man, almost. Then Anunnaki writes emet, truth, on his forehead, so he’ll never tell a lie and warns him, “I can cut the aleph from your inscription, creature, changing it from truth to death, emet to met.” But the golem only stares back with his sunken eyes, illiterate, uncomprehending . . .
WWII . . .
The Nazi scales the synagogue stairs, determined to find the golem, forged from clay from the Vltava River bank then awakened through rabbinical ritual—a golem who can raise the dead and become invisible. A bolshevist’s puppet, the Nazi thinks, teeth clenched, a demonic fiend who challenges the swastika, a murderous rapist who lost at love, hidden in the synagogue attic (a place no Nazi should trod alone).
He opens the door. He scans the darkness. He raises his knife, careful on his shiny black jackboots. When the golem springs from the shadows, monstrous as a gargoyle, the Nazi slashes at the inscription, scratching off the aleph, changing emet to met, truth to death. The Nazi turns to ash in the synagogue’s burning, but the golem escapes into the night, the crystalline, starry, starry night.
what a single spark
My eyes have turned to glass, beautiful things that can never see a full moon eclipsed by cloud like a pirate’s patch that censors blindness.
A parrot squawks at me, muttering the same phrase repeatedly, a reverie about poetry, words comprising a vast sea where sail the golden gods on glistening ships—Plunders, pillages, and rapes, songs sung to cinch the irony as bull whips crack with time across backs or boards, creaking with sea-sickness, decks slippery with vomited rum.
Elsewhere silence locks like a peg leg, stuck in nocturnal quicksand—Jungle muddle livid as God with snakes.
on a stone tablet
dark sheets of hail
a whorl of smoke
the stench of skunk
in lightning spell craft . . .
fingers his magic bone—
The list and scythe are only a myth, and, though my given name is Reaper-1, my friends call me “Steve.” It’s less formal and more relatable, which is everything in this business.
Animals are the most accepting of my visit, particularly the reptiles. When I pick up the ball pythons, I simply tell them that they are going to a place that never runs out of mice, and they curl up in my arms with a contented smile and flick of the tongue.
It’s not a good career fit for everyone, though. New reapers are produced every so often to replace their predecessors. There’s a lot of burnout in the first months on the job, and everyone has their own soft spots. Mathieu quit on the spot after Dachau, and my last trainee, Shawn, quit the first week after gathering several thousand frogs who succumbed to chytrid.
My first case under Andrei (who insisted on being called “Reaper-13”) was in a small Russian village before Catherine the Great’s reign. The cottage floor was dirt—and cold—when we arrived for the little waif in the corner. Her blonde mops of curls covered bright green eyes, and she sucked the fingers in her mouth as if they were little breadsticks. She shivered under her patched shirt, shrinking from us. Nishka was her name. Little Nishka, followed by Alexei that spring (TB) and their mother in fall (TB).
spring snow on the roof—
drip, drip, drip, sizzle
The clients that always tug at my cloak-strings are the iguanas. Loyal and affectionate when they get to know you, iguanas really are simple folk—peeking around a bush, nibbling on a patch of “Mr. Grass” or a serendipitous freshly-planted hibiscus flow, or diving from their sun-drenched perch to the deep clue canal at the sight of a shadow. Of course, they’ll head-bob anything within 20 yards—minus me.
The year of 2010, rumors of snow circulated through the greater Kendall area faster than coffee in a Keurig. The iguanas were particularly hard-hit, ashen footballs falling like missed passes from their perches in the trees to the streets below only to be stepped on by a linebacker named Ford or Toyota. Many did miss the passing cars and revived in the sunlight, but I picked up several stragglers.
Their ashen hue revived to a healthy green when I stood next to them. They usually cocked their head to the right and to the left and back again before leaping into my arms with a glimmer in their eyes and a faint song on the lips.
tummy so happy filled
with lychees and warmth
It’s not always mass casualties in this business. There’s a lot of one-offs, typically the mundane stuff—accidents, disease, predations—but also more of the weird than one might expect—asphyxiation by orange slice, heart attack while pleasuring one’s self, a case of the bends, even a seagull who downed a ghost pepper off the dock and drank himself to death on seawater. Lizards, spiders, squid, and mice are frequent fliers, and amphibians are becoming routine these days.
A common misconception is that if a creature sees me, he’s a goner. It’s a myth that we are the ones who cause death. We simply appear in cases where death is probable and disappear after the case resolves itself. Some people—and animals, in particular—sense when I’m there. Blood running cold. A chill down the spine. Even a moment of breathlessness or an unseen shadow. Ever seen a jumpy gazelle or spooked horse?
Some people avoid death or prepare for a loved one’s death by heeding those signs. A twin sister feeling the chill surrounding her sister 1500 miles away. A Liberian nurse filled with dread when Patient 0 arrives and puts on her gloves, urging others to do the same. It’s a particularly common phenomenon amongst infantrymen. I remember a case in Ramadi—2007—where a young sergeant saved his unit from an IED and rooftop sniper in wait by heeding my heeding my warning.
So, the next time you see your neighborhood reaper, don’t panic; talk to us. Heed our warnings. We don’t want to carry you off any more than you want us to, and we’ll give you ample warning of the approaching danger. And, if you happen to make it, you can always thank us with freshly-baked cookies.
behind house in twilight—
Colleen M. Farrelly
the sins of man
beaten out of him
This morning, like every morning, returning home to a cold empty flat along the cinder packed towpath, under lichen covered bridges and across frictionless rancid-black footboards from one side of the lock to the other and back again, holding tightly to the gate rails to prevent slipping into the cut and being pulled down with the swell and through the paddle into the chamber to almost certain death.
I passed a young man wearing a red raincoat, speaking as if to Himself in a timbre that told me His adolescence had been drawn out, and I thought, that thought, that one, that one day He will be dead, and what will be left of Him will simply be graffiti in the minds of the ones, if there were any, who had loved Him.
In His name, Amen.