October 15, 2012

Issue 7: October 2012


History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
~ James Joyce


Cotton Duck by Samantha Kymmell-Harvey
Two Surgeons by Ned Thimmayya
If a Portrait was Painted of Roger Williams Leaving Salem by Jack Carenza
What ifs are the purview of the charlatan by Jessica Willis
A House Divided by Gary B. Phillips
Shanghai 1937 by Shelly Bryant
A Long Flight of Stairs by Caleb True
The Cavalryman's Saber by C. R. Hodges
He Would Have Made a Great Rick by Grove Koger
That Day in Dealey Plaza, I Remember You Were Wearing Pink by Katherine Lynn Weldon
The Strange Fate of George Morris’ Brother’s Dirty Old Shoe by T. C. Powell
The Beauty of Wynona by D. Thomas Minton
An Indomitable Will: Hannibal Barca and the Start of a World War by Michael Shammas


The Class Harmonica by Dorothee E. Kocks
The Pilot by Jerold Richert

Questions, comments, or concerns may be e-mailed to the editor at markenberg[@]yahoo.com.

Cotton Duck


Cotton Duck
by Samantha Kymmell-Harvey

“Come on, Mary! No one’s gonna see,” I say, removing my apron. I pull my linen dress over my head then hang both on the dogwood branches. If my mama knew I was out here buck naked about to jump into the Jones Falls, she’d tan my hide.

“Eliza, you know I’m not gonna take my clothes off. What if Johnny sees me?” She folds her arms across her chest and cocks her chin up like she’s a proper lady.

She’s worried he’ll catch her naked before their wedding night, which isn’t until her daddy comes marching home with the rest of the Union soldiers. Johnny hasn’t asked his permission yet. I still can’t believe they’re getting married. Just a few years ago, the three of us were playmates. Then we traded childhood for wages at the cotton duck factory.

Mary stumbles as she descends the hill to the tree stump where I’m poised to jump in.

“You don’t look so good. You look pale,” I say.

She cracks a weak grin. “I’m always pale.”

“A swim would do you good.”

But she shakes her head. I haven’t been able to convince her yet this summer.

I jump.

The cool water extinguishes me; I wonder if I’ve left steam on the surface. I linger, letting the cool water wash my sticky sweat away. This August heat is like Hell come to Earth. Every lunch hour I thank God for the falls.

“Eliza,” Mary says when I resurface. She’s got a pile of dandelions she’s working into a braid. “Any news? Is your daddy coming home?”

I shake my head. “Last letter we got, he was marching toward Richmond. That was nearly eight months ago now.”

“But they say General Lee surrendered. That means they gotta be coming home soon, right?”

A signature doesn’t instantly end a war. But I don’t tell her that. She’s an optimist, and they’re rare these days.

Floating on my back, I close my eyes. It reminds me of the pond on our farm back north. After me, Mama, and Daddy finished the harvest, we’d always go for a swim. But then Daddy got this crazy idea that working in the factory would provide better, so he sold the farm and we moved to Woodberry. The name’s fooling. There are no woods. No berries, either. Only machinery.

The tinny scream of the whistle jolts us. I scramble ashore, hurrying to pull my clothes back on. If we’re late again, Mr. Brody will beat us for sure. Mary crawls up beside me. Her bony fingers nimbly braid my wet hair then she pins it into a bun. I hate my hair net, but Mary puts the snood on me anyway.

“Where’s your snood?” I notice she doesn’t have one.

She shrugs. “I left it on the kitchen table. But these braids are tight. I’ll be fine.”

We hear Johnny’s voice, sharp and sour, echo in the distance. “You take that back!”

Mary and I exchange glances. Our friend’s already on probation for his temper. Mr. Brody gave him a bloody nose last time he threw a punch on the job.

We both take off racing up the hill toward the path. Mary’s footsteps dissipate behind me, but I don’t slow. Something just beyond the trees cracks loudly, but it’s not my boots against fallen branches -- it’s Johnny’s fist against ribs.

“Stop it!” I sprint toward him. He’s sitting on top of Thomas, knees digging into his shoulders. Thomas holds his hands up to his face, deflecting Johnny’s blows.

“No one calls me a coward! Next time I’ll cut your tongue out!” Johnny punches him again.

“Hey!” I grab him by his shirt with all my strength. “You promised you weren’t gonna fight anymore.”

He pulls away from me, ripping the fabric right down his sleeve. With Johnny distracted, Thomas seizes the moment to shove him backwards, rear-end-first into the dusty red clay.

“Johnny!” Mary finally emerges from the forest, her face as white as that sail cloth we make. “I don’t believe you!”

He digs his heel into the ground. “He deserved it.”

“Oh quit your jawing.” Mary says, her eyes narrowing. Johnny clenches his teeth.

I kneel beside Thomas and take his arm to help him up, but he shakes me off. He wipes his bloodied mouth on his sleeve then stands on his own. I hand him his crutch. Though he came home last month with only one leg, he’s proud of his battle wound. He’s proud of his sharper tongue too, but if he keeps it up, Johnny’ll give him a wound he won’t be so proud of.

Johnny’s not as much a blowhard as everyone thinks. His row with Thomas started long before the factory work did. He lost his front teeth in a fist fight with Thomas the year before Fort Sumter. Then my daddy was called to war, and his daddy was too, then all of Johnny’s friends. But he was told to stay home -- turns out losing your front teeth means you can’t enlist. They’ve got a whole mess of defects they don’t accept. The Union Army doesn’t want damaged soldiers.

Mary clings to Johnny’s arm, steadying herself. He knits his eyebrows in a frown, glancing from her to me, then back to her. I link my arm around Mary’s, sandwiching her between us. “Let’s hope they won’t notice how late we are. Come on,” I say.

It’s four o’clock, boiling point inside the factory. My dress is soaked with sweat again. The humid air reeks of body odor, forcing me to breathe through my mouth. My fingers work the cotton thread onto the spoolers, then Mary feeds it onto the weaving frames. I glance up. Poor Mary’s starting to bend like a cattail, inching closer to the frames than she should. Her braids have come loose again. Wisps of her long blonde bangs dangle in front of her eyes like spider silk.

We know each other’s rhythms. Like a hellish dance, we spool from eight in the morning until eight at night. We didn’t always have to work twelve hours, but ever since the war started, Mr. Brody’s been keeping us longer. He keeps the little ones longer too. They’re the only ones whose fingers are slender enough to reach the clogs and untie the knots. And when another child ends up strangled by the knot she’s just undone, Mr. Brody gets a replacement. He always finds more skinny children.

“It’s so hot.” Mary wipes her bright red face on her apron. Her fingers shake so badly she can hardly get the thread onto the frames.

“Careful,” I say without looking away. It only takes one mistake.

A deep voice startles me. “Late again, Eliza.” It’s Mr. Brody. He pulls me away from the machine. “And you too, Mary.”

“I’m sorry, sir.” I keep my eyes down. “It won’t happen again.”

“You’re right it won’t happen again, you know why?” he says. “Because after today, Johnny’s done.”

Mary grits her teeth and bites her tongue. I touch her shoulder, hoping she won’t say something she’ll regret. They can’t both be unemployed. Mr. Brody turns and walks away. When I release Mary, she sinks to her knees.

“What’s wrong?” Her forehead feels ablaze.

“Water,” she whispers.

“Mr. Brody!” I shout. “She needs water. Please!”

He stretches Mary’s arm around his shoulder and lifts her to her feet. “Not on my clock. You should have drank water instead of cleaning up another one of your beau’s messes. You know he’ll never stop. Now get back to work before I fire you too.”

As he leaves us, I watch Mary teeter back to her station. She’s hardly standing straight. I look away, just for a split second, to get my spoolers running. That’s all it takes. I know when I hear her shriek. Helpless, I scream as the other workers hurry to shut everything down. By the time the machines all come to rest, it’s too late. Mary’s twisted in the loom, her blonde hair pulled tightly round the spoolers, shreds of calico dress snowing onto the factory floor.

* * *


* * *

When I come through the door, Mama’s waiting for me. Her eyes are red and swollen. She wraps me in her arms running her hands though my hair like she did when I was little.

“Thank God!” Her grip tightens. “When I heard a girl’d been killed today . . .” She loses composure, holding her hand over her mouth. Tears start fresh again. “They wouldn’t tell me. They wouldn’t even let me go see.”

Mr. Brody employs Mama in the upstairs office because she knows how to read and write. At least the room she works in has a fan. She can wear her hair how she likes.

I wipe my eyes on her sleeve. “Mary.” It’s all I can say.

Mama rocks me as if to soothe away my nightmare. I scream again and again, my ribs aching each time I gasp. Little bloody half-moons rise up on her arm where I’d been digging my nails in.

“Don’t make me go back there. I’ll die. Please, let’s just go back to our farm. We could leave tonight.” I choke out between sobs.

“I’m sorry, Eliza,” Mama says. “We’ll starve otherwise.”

I weakly wrestle her away and dash down the dark hallway to my bedroom. I slam the door. By the flame of my kerosene lamp, I fish the scissors from my sewing basket and cut my hair right down to my pale scalp.

I feel nothing. I lie on my bed staring at the shadows cast upon the ceiling by my flickering lamp. For a moment, I think I see Mary’s willowy silhouette. She’s watching me. “I’m so sorry,” I whisper, sitting up. The kerosene lamp dims then extinguishes. Mary’s gone.

I tiptoe past Mama’s bedroom and leave our apartment. Johnny’s family lives just below us. I crouch on the steps and tap on his window. Johnny knows my knock. It only takes him a moment to let me in.

He sits by the hearth drinking whiskey and playing with cotton cord in the fire. He ignites it then passes his fingers through the flame like a sideshow magician. I curl up beside him and lean my head on his shoulder.

He jumps. “Eliza, what have you done?” He backs away, eyes wide.

My eyes feel raw and though I want to cry, I have no tears left. “Who would have braided my hair?”

Pressing his lips together, he settles up next to me once more and runs a hand over my smooth head. “Run away then. General Grant would never guess you’re a girl with that hair cut. At least you could fight.”

“His war’s not mine,” I say. “I just wanna go back home to the farm. What about you, Johnny? Will you run away?”

He doesn’t answer. I see the fire in the black of his pupils as he passes his finger through the flame once more. “There’s nothing left for me here now,” he says and he plunges the cord into the bucket of water. That’s four he’s burned.

“Nothing left for me either.”

* * *

I bathe in the falls alone. It’s been a week since I lost Mary. I imagine her braiding a dandelion crown for my hairless head. She’d have shaved her head too ‘cause that’s what best friends do. And I smile imagining the funeral we’d hold for our hair nets.

The whistle sounds.

Taking a deep breath, I plunge under the water. My muted ears can’t hear the whistle, the looms clapping, or ribs cracking. The cold current tempts me to give into its pull. I know I’m replaceable.

But my burning lungs force me to surface.


Johnny’s waving his arms at me, his tongue flicking the gap in the front of his mouth as he tries to pronounce my name. From the fresh black eye he’s sporting, I know he’s in one of his moods.

“Leave on time today. Don’t wait too long. You hear me, Eliza?” he says.

I nod. “I hear you.”

At eight I leave the factory with everybody else. When I get home, Mama’s got the fish kettle over the fire. Oysters again. I try to sneak past her to my room.

“Eliza, take some money out of the jar and go buy a can of kerosene.” Mama’s voice startles me. “I can’t believe we’re out again. You must think we’re rich. What are you using it all for?” She doesn’t look at me. She can’t stand to see what I’ve done to myself.

I don’t answer her. It’s better if she doesn’t know. I don’t bother to take money from the jar either, instead I open the closet. That’s where the empty potato sacks are.

Moments later, the apartment shakes and glass rains onto our building, tinkling against the slate roof. Mama runs to the window, oblivious to my packing. I see it too, though. Charcoal black smoke rises, blotting out the sky. The factory’s ablaze. Mama emits something like a stifled cry. I crouch by the door listening for his footsteps; my heart pounds like marching soldiers. There’s nothing more to do except wait.

* * *


* * *

Mama’s finally quiet. She sits by the window watching the firefighters crawl all over the factory like ants. My ears sharpen in the silence. I hear the steady rhythm of boots thudding against steps. Then the door clicks open. It’s Johnny, tracking ashy footprints across the floor. His face is freckled with soot. The air reeks of kerosene.

He takes a letter from his pocket and hands it to Mama. It has a fancy wax seal on it -- the Union’s seal. “They’re not coming home.”

She collapses, crumpling the letter between her fingers. I can’t hold back my tears. “Come on,” I say, taking her hand, but she twists out of my grasp. “We have to go now. It’s what Daddy would want.”

But it’s as if she can’t hear me. She rocks on the floor moaning.

I take Johnny’s hand instead and he looks at me with those wildfire eyes. He grits his gapped teeth. “You ready?”

I know I can’t look at Mama. She won’t go, but I will. I sling my sack onto my shoulder. “Yeah.”

At least this battle, we won.

* * *

Samantha Kymmell-Harvey is a French teacher and medievalist residing in Baltimore. Her fiction has appeared in Fantastique Unfettered and Underneath the Juniper Tree. She is a 2012 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Check out her blog at:http://samanthakymmell-harvey.blogspot.com/

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

I am often inspired by my travels. I like collecting folktales and fairy tales and I try to give them a new spin in my stories. “Cotton Duck” though was inspired by something I see just about every day. Old mills still line the Jones Falls in Baltimore City, only now they’ve been converted into swanky condos, craft workshops, and a farm-to-table restaurant. But you can still feel the ghosts of the past when you enter one of these renovated mills. I knew then that this was a story I absolutely had to tell.

Two Surgeons


Two Surgeons (1570)
by Ned Thimmayya

James awoke to the crackle of the hearth. He could see Felix stooping close to the floor in front of the flames. The bony chin and the handle snout barely poked out of the hood. He was killing cockroaches again.

As James stretched in bed, he watched Felix drive several of the insects off the wall using his rag-wrapped broomstick. These ones arrived on the floor alive, but on their backs. The legs carried on running over the empty air and the lobed heads ticked from side to side. James wondered whether they could see death approaching behind all their thrashing about. If they see it, he thought, what does it look like?

Sometimes Felix raised a booted foot and stomped upon these survivors. Other times he applied the broomstick.

James rose from his bed and submerged his face in a basin of water. He wanted to enter and leave the churchyard well before dawn. He liked to have a few hours of night to spare after a job.

Felix squeezed out the cockroach-laden rag in a pail of dirty water. He had most likely been awake for hours, brooding over manuals and treatises. James’ glance at the cluttered desk confirmed this.

“There will be fog in the churchyard tonight,” Felix told him. “It should be quite safe.”

James nodded while he surveyed London’s dark rooftops through his window. There was no looking forward to the task. There never was on his part.

* * *

The churchyard was suffocating that morning. It might have been due to the blinding fog. The gravestones protruded from moving walls of gray. The two students passed between the stones in single file. Above all the vapors, the black cross at the tip of the church’s steeple provided a landmark. Between them they carried two shovels, a pickaxe, iron wedges, and a sledgehammer. It was James’ turn to push the wheelbarrow. They usually tossed all the equipment in it, but tonight they were leery that someone concealed in the fog might be close enough to hear them. They couldn’t afford any rattling.

This time Felix had received direct instructions from the head physician. This body had to be intact—no broken necks, quartered limbs, or decapitations. The college had received too many of those from the city council as of late. No, what the head physician needed was a fresh cadaver unmarred by torture or execution. An anatomy of an intact corpse was rare. For Felix, this was their most important assignment so far; the body was their greatest prize.

All the glory associated with providing the specimen was something of little gratification to James. He was only trying to keep his scholarship. Felix was the one who went in for the heroic and risky. James thought that maybe it was because Felix had less to lose. He didn’t have a friend, a woman, a humor, or a care.

James caught the wheelbarrow on a fallen tombstone. He fought to free it while he watched Felix wind his way down the moving gray corridors with back bent and disregard for the struggle.

Then again, thought James, Felix always did pursue his duties as a student and apprentice with a messianic sense of importance. It was Felix’s sense of duty more than the poverty of his personality. At present his north star was that cross atop the black triangle of the steeple. It was all Felix slowed down for. He lifted his hooded head, found the cross among the thick fog, then clambered on, never breaking his habitual stoop.

They stopped at a mound of naked earth. James dropped back into the fog to guard the approach while Felix penetrated the soil with the edge of his shovel. He then drove it in deep using the flat of his boot.

The shape of a body eventually appeared. The corpse itself was hidden under dirty linen.

“It doesn’t even smell,” James whispered. “A bit eerie to disturb such a fresh grave, even more so because it’s unmarked.”

“Better to know the name and family of whom you’re digging up?” replied Felix irritably. “This is the north side of the churchyard. Only papists and sinners up here. This body could have been buried months ago or just last week. It can’t have been too long as the earth above is fairly fresh. But the gases might have been released already.”

James shrugged and dropped into the grave. At least they hadn’t had to break through a coffin. He could be grateful for that.

He raised the torso by hooking his forearms under the armpits, and after he passed the weight to Felix, who knelt at the grave’s edge, he moved to lift the legs. They thus exhumed the body.

Felix arranged a woolen blanket over the limp corpse. They quickly returned the dirt to the grave, stopping now and then to listen for a disturbance in the bored hum of the crickets. Slinging their tools over their shoulders using ropes, they toiled through the fog and broken ground until they came to the cart. It sat along a lonely sunken lane. The head physician had left this cart at their apartment earlier in the evening and they’d used it to carry their tools to the churchyard.

Felix pulled two planks off the cart until the ends of each rested on the ground and formed a ramp. James pushed the wheelbarrow up onto the cart. Felix climbed up behind the horses and took the reins while James, between furtive sideways glances, quietly fed the planks into a slot of space next to the wheelbarrow.

They passed across the countryside. The city remained quiet and dark when they rolled up to the cellar stairs behind the college. Descending the steps, they sought out the usual vault, and within this isolated chamber, behind a stack of casks, they deposited the body.

James set the horses to a casual tramp on the way back to the gate though he was eager to be rid of their tools and the cart. Once outside the college grounds, he stirred the horses to a trot. They cast fearful glances into each dark window they passed along the way home.

* * *

The first day of the anatomy was like any other anatomy of a less pristine corpse. The gallery of students shaped an arc halfway around the floor’s edge. Four surgeons shuffled around a table beneath a raised chair. In this chair, Master Bridgewick sat, never raising his eyebrows. He tapped a scepter against the toe of his boot while the surgeons prepared the corpse and tools.

In a gallery of seats below James, closer to this scene, Felix had his head down and his pen busy. An anatomy usually lasted four days and James had never seen Felix’s posture change during the duration. Behind Felix, students craned their necks and leaned backwards and forwards. No seat was quite good enough. Even in the very front, in Felix’s row, they all seemed to think there was something more to been seen than that which was in front of them—all except Felix.

The dirty linen with which James and Felix were familiar was pulled off the body in one hasty tug.

It was a woman in the early stages of decay. The face was green and the textures bloated so that her countenance was plump and bumpy. The body was less disfigured. The veins showed as a red net ensnaring the whole corpse. The hair remained only as dark wisps over a cracked and peeling scalp. James wished the decay had been speedier in its work. This wasn’t a corpse so far removed from life as to not recall it, but the pageant of veins and the hollow eyes led death’s victory march. The conquest was so fresh as to be more apparent, as if the body was still dying before his eyes. The decline was still advancing. There was much worse in store for her.

The surgeons cut a sure and steady pair of incisions. The first was a long cut from the breastbone down to the end of the abdomen. The second ran along the waist like a belt. After flipping the flesh back, one surgeon drew out the stomach, which dangled some intestinal tubing. Master Bridgewick rested his chin in a hand and stuck his elbow to an armrest while somewhat wearily reciting the Latin describing the anatomy.

And then James decided that the sight wasn’t so ghastly. Under the skin, all the corpses looked the same unless justice demanded the executioner break their necks or behead them, remove their entrails or cut them into four quarters. This corpse had evaded such judgment and such consequences. This corpse had been more fortunate than others.

James looked to his notebook, now conscious that his mind was wandering. He had to restrict himself to his studies for another half hour. James was much too far away to make effective sketches, but it didn’t matter because he’d copy from Felix later. Everyone in the back three rows would have to copy diagrams from someone. Right now he would simply record the lecture. Though he did his best to register every word parting Master Bridgewick’s lips, the significance of the day kept teasing him out of the lecture hall.

It was the first day of a four day autopsy on a body he had personally supplied to the college, and not just a mere body; it was a body with all four limbs and a neck that hadn’t been snapped or severed. Also, Alice was to arrive in London that very afternoon. Alice. It would probably be the last time she’d visit him while he was a student. He had but one year left of his seven year course.

* * *


* * *

She arrived on a ship. She had stayed in Reading for a few days to visit her aunt and uncle before continuing on to London. James felt a flurry of joy when he saw her speculative face appear above the gunwale, but this feeling deflated just as quickly when he could see that she was miserable.

Alice had been ill on the ship. The malady was not caused by the trip itself but rather bad cheese she’d eaten in Reading. Her aunt had warned her against ‘white meats’, but she’d wanted to go and eat somewhere other than her aunt and uncle’s manor. Their cooks were so staid and predictable. This was one reason she was very keen to move to London as soon as James began his practice. She didn’t think city culture was as confining to a young woman as the manorial life. James never understood her beliefs regarding this matter because it seemed to him that she was often unhappy when visiting London.

Having escorted Alice to her uncle’s house in Southwark, James returned to his apartment and began to shave in preparation for dinner. Felix was slumped over the desk as he always was during the afternoon hours, when he suddenly threw down his quill in such determined resolve that James loosened his shaving blade. It clattered against the shaving basin and fell to the floor, sticking in the oak after a brief rattle.

“What is it?” cried James.

“You and Alice should join me and my mistress tomorrow. We shall tour part of the city this side of the river.”

The idea that Felix had a mistress stunned James, yet he did not reveal his surprise for fear of offending.

He saw no reason that he and Alice shouldn’t accept the invitation, and he agreed to meet Felix and his mysterious woman the next day. Besides, he wasn’t going to be doing much studying in the next two days since Alice was in the city. He regretted failing to warn Felix that Alice was ill; he conceded to himself that she did not always offer her best side when she was not feeling well. Then again, perhaps by tomorrow the evil cheese would have exhausted its mischief and Alice would be in fine spirits.

* * *

The next day, they met Felix outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral. He insisted on standing in the middle of the street, and the people hurried past them expressing annoyance. Alice was not feeling better. She was sniffing, and she kept pulling her hat further down her forehead. Now and then she aimed a disapproving glance at Felix. James figured they most have appeared as a pathetic little party, with Alice in the doldrums and Felix wearing his notorious hat.

It epitomized his tasteless fashion. Aside from its cavernous proportions, there was a patch of wolf fur sewn on the crown. He couldn’t afford to buy a hat without a tear and thus he required some kind of patch, and it damn well wasn’t going to be plain leather. A garish brass pin hitched the brim to one side of the crown.

James admitted to himself that he was ashamed to appear in public with them that day; they were such a sorry lot. But his self-consciousness vanished when she appeared.

* * *

This Persephone skipped out of the preoccupied urban turmoil like a kiss of pure countryside born from the furrowed lips of rich, unspoiled earth. Her eyes blazed as comets in wise orbits. She wore no whitener and her face was the color of sun-blessed soil on a fine summer day. Though many precious stones sparkled out of her hair, the onlookers could not figure whether they were gems or diamonds. It did not matter; the stones excited little attention compared to the delicate curve of her nose tip and the precious arc of her chin. And yet her gown was that of any common place seamstress; it had simple bows tied above the shoulders and appeared to contain nothing more than course cotton. Its willow color did not complement her but rather basked in its wearer’s natural and generous beauty.

Despite her unconventional makeup and rather immodest stride, all the awkwardness of the situation belonged to Alice, Felix, and James. They were speechless—even Felix who had presumably shared the company of his mistress before. Each was consumed by his or her own singular reaction to the woman. They did not possess words equivalent to their thoughts, and yet they were untroubled by their own muteness. The face and eyes, the two gentle waves of her lips, possessed a depth so inviting that James thought that by merely standing near her one could keep dry in a rainstorm. She invited, received, and encouraged.

Alice, her hair deChristinated by her own most valuable jewels, released a long sigh. James didn’t know whether she reacted to Christina’s outlandish lack of whitener or her undeniable beauty.

At last Felix took her hand, kissed it, and formally introduced her to them. The gesture was laughable and pointless, like someone telling you the iron is hot after you’ve already scalded yourself.

Christina suggested that they climb to the top of the cathedral. After absorbing her unexpected initiative and Felix’s unexpected enthusiasm, James said it was an agreeable plan. Christina led the way as Felix happily swaggered behind her. Alice and James followed, each possessing a curious sense of trepidation.

Alice whispered that Christina was certainly beautiful but that she should have worn a doublet under her gown so that her chest and neck were not so exposed. James told Alice that the woman could have avoided becoming such a spectacle if she’d simply drawn her hair back. She would have looked just as beautiful that way.

But to himself, James couldn’t imagine her hair any other way but tossing freely on the breeze. He secretly looked forward to the top of St. Paul’s, where the wind would increase and the locks would dance with even less restraint.

Yet when Alice and James reached the roof, they were arrested by a horrifying sight.

Christina had leapt atop one edge of the buttress positioned over two hundred meters of air. She was examining some feature of the façade, irresponsive to the windy death lurking behind her.

James called for her to return to the roof but she seemed to pay no notice and instead turned to Felix. He seemed caught between awe and fear.

She beckoned for him to join her but he said no. She asked him again to come and see the view from the buttress. He again said no and replied, “I can always come back here again. Maybe next time I will see it more fitting to risk my life for the sake of a view.”

Unwilling to interfere, James watched them in fascination.

“You can never be sure of returning to any place,” she said. Felix nodded but did not budge.

Finally, she hopped back to the roof proper. Relieved, James and Alice leaned on each other. Felix glowed with admiration.

* * *


* * *

James pulled him back as the women reentered the stairwell. He demanded to know where this strange woman had come from. Felix told him such questions were unbecoming, but he was willing to forgive one such trespass on the part of a longtime academic colleague.

Christina had been cast out of a great kitchen in Yorkshire when her employer parceled out his estate. She’d come to seek a means in London. Felix met her up at Curtain Close while he was attending a play. He was standing towards the back of the yard, when his enjoyment of the play was interrupted by him noticing something peculiar towards the front of the audience. Up there at the foot of the stage, among the backs of many hats and heads, was Christina’s splendid face. Staring right at him and disregarding the performance behind her, seeming to recognize him, she raised a slender arm. They’d gotten along quite well after that.

James begged to know how she could have recognized Felix if he’d never met her before Curtain Close. And how could she afford the theatre if she’d come to London penniless?

Felix insisted the answers to these puzzles were of no consequence and if James had any more prying questions about his beloved then he would be met by a duel instead of a retort.

Dismayed, James let the matter rest, and they set off to see a minstrel perform in Smith Field.

* * *

They hired a coach and the whole way Christina took delight in pointing out the best features of the ride, familiar sites they had long ago let fade behind all the complications and problems they confronted in their daily lives.

When they arrived at Smith Field, all in good humor after the invigorating tour, Christina danced to the music of the minstrels’ shawms and sackbuts.

As the performers puffed into the instruments, she caught the attention of all the onlookers and they smiled at this unexpected wonder. Many soon felt very fortunate to have come to Smith Field that day. It was as though they had happened upon a legend and recognized the telling aura even before the myth was fully shaped. They were soon clapping along to encourage her, even Alice, who helped keep time between pushing a handkerchief to her nose. Others just stood and watched in a haze of adulation. Felix was one of them.

They went to another end of the lawn and saw a puppet show. The crowd stood in riven expectance, withholding all applause and appreciation while the ridiculous figures bobbed back and forth across a miniature stage. But when Scaramouche scuttled around aimlessly, Christina’s rollicking laughter seared the very air. As though her reaction released a compressed spring, everyone burst out. Christina continued laughing with them and it seemed to James that everyone watching the show was more festive after Christina had blessed the performance with her merry approval.

In fact, James was very much enjoying the day’s activities when Alice began complaining about her stomach and requested that James escort her back to Southwark. Christina and Felix exhorted them to stay and then sadly waved them off when they refused.

Alice gazed out the coach window the entire ride back to the Thames. When James looked at her to say something, he saw the removed look in her eyes, and so he chose to hold his words.

* * *

The second day of the anatomy was difficult for James. He found it hopeless to attend to his notes. His mind was fraught with gnawing thoughts concerning Felix and his Christina. He supposed Alice’s poor health also hindered his concentration. Down in the lowest row of the gallery, Felix sat hunched over, pen busy, a beetle plotting mischief.

Using tongs, the surgeons unrolled the small intestine. They passed around the liver until it reached an examination pedestal right at the feet of Master Bridgewick. He sat on the throne and tilted his chin to take in the red lump. He droned on until James saw the tall windows of the hall grow dark, the stained-glass figures fading into the night of their own private world.

James replaced the anatomy with the image of Christina dancing in Smith Field. He forsook the bloated, violated creature before him for the bounce of rolling tresses and the sweet understanding of deep-set eyes. The Latin crumbled beneath her laughter as she strode closer and closer until her ringing laughter fully embraced his ears.

He leaned back and sighed. Below him, scarcely noticed by James, the surgeons were driving a saw across the corpse’s breast bone. The grinding sound hung just below the lonely laughter, and when James grew aware of the raspy undercurrent, it toed his spine and chilled his body.

* * *

Considering Alice’s condition during the previous day, Felix and Christina agreed to accompany James to Southwark instead of making Alice cross the river to join them. James intended for them to meet Alice at her uncle’s townhouse and then carry on to Bankside and perhaps see a bear-baiting.

He could scarcely keep up with Christina and Felix the whole way across the bridge because Felix was doing all he could to maintain Christina’s pace. She jumped from merchant to merchant and ruffled the shoppers perusing the wares. Whether a nobleman atop a carriage or a servant preoccupied by an errand, whether barring their teeth at her audacity or grinning at her stunning appearance, they all took notice.

Felix was one of the grinners, of course. James kept obliquely glancing at him, altogether uneasy at the visible transformation in his colleague’s bearing.

But he soon convinced himself it was only the suddenness of the shift that troubled him. It was a change for the better after all. As the three of them walked down the middle of the thoroughfare, he and Felix took to comparing the most spectacular baitings they’d attended. James said he’d once seen a dog rip the bear’s tongue right out of its mouth.

The mood soured when they realized Christina had become still and quiet. Her scattered forays to either side of the bridge in response to some fresh curiosity had transformed into an uneasy shuffle of soft, tentative steps. It was only when James traced the direction of her upward gaze did he begin to understand.

* * *

She was stuck upon the battlements of the Southwark gatehouse. Mounted on pikes, human heads rose above the turrets and stared at all those who passed below. The flies flew around their twisted gray tongues and ventured into the eye hollows where decay had delved tiny caves. Some wore mantles of tar that had crawled down to the ears.

The heads of these executed criminals worked a spell on Christina. It was startling to find an enchantress herself bewitched. She responded to none of her companions’ inquiries and remained morose until they passed beneath the bridge and had put the heads behind them.

* * *

They met Alice and she seemed to have recovered well from her ailments of the previous day. She and James shared some memories as the four of them took a carriage from her uncle’s townhouse to the recreations of Bankside. It seemed it was now Christina’s turn to become unwell.

Though not as despondent as when they passed beneath the severed heads, she was very pale and quiet for the remainder of the afternoon. Her cheeks had lost some of their earthy luster and at their centers they had dried up to the color of a dove. Yet she did not complain once, instead leaning on Felix and casting weary glances around her.

Alice was quiet beside James. He knew that her health had improved and that her restraint was now related to Christina’s mild affliction. She dared not appear too content while a friend was ill.

* * *

The bear baiting turned out to be a many-phased contest. Alice, James, and Felix all sat forward, nearly on their toes, ready to leap up when the tension broke. The dogs were swift, but the bear was massive. The dogs were never able to close with the bear. They nipped and lunged and dodged while the bear flailed and rolled its eyes.

At one point the assailants drew back some steps and seemed to reconsider whether it was all worth it. Then one nimble dog leapt up on the bear’s shoulder and tore out a crimson slab of flesh. This heartened the rest of the dogs. They resumed their leaping assault, and though some limped away with a whimper and a mangled ear, there was never a respite for the tiring bear.

One dog stumbled away from the carnage and found its way to the corner of the garden where the four friends sat. It fell down, convulsed in futile resurgence, and perished.

The bear’s resistance now eroded and the dogs began stripping its hide as fingers peel an orange. They’d catch a mouthful of its back or shoulder, and though the bear would toss the dog, the jaws remained clamped and would always take part of the bear with them. The black bear became a red bear. Its movements became labored. Its tongue lolled. After one last drunken spin of defiance, it toppled beneath a bloom of dust.

* * *

The audience exhaled a collective breath. An elated Alice turned to Christina’s seat but the bench was empty. She alerted the two men and Felix wasted no time in charging through the departing crowd in an effort to find the missing woman. James and Alice attempted to follow him but the jostling spectators came between them. James shouted for Felix to halt his rush against the tide of bodies but Felix paid him no heed, and so James left Alice at the entrance to the garden and jogged after him.

When James found him, Felix was outside the bear garden, under an archway spanning an empty lane. James spotted the pained countenance of Christina, and so he held back and let the two carry on their discourse without imposing himself. Though he ducked into a doorway, he could still make out their murmurs coming down the street.

He gathered by their words that Christina’s condition had plummeted during the bear baiting and she thought she could only find relief by leaving the garden. She apologized to Felix for her unsettled health. He swore before God and the Queen that his enjoyment of the day had not been impaired and that he would want nothing more than to spend each and every day with her whether or not she was feeling the least bit fatigued or ill. James heard a rustle and crooked his neck around the indentation of the doorway to see Felix step towards her, grab her hand, and pull her to him. He gave her a soft kiss on her lips, then let her hand fall back to her side—but her ring finger remained in Felix’s hand.

In a moment of denial, Felix held the detached finger and looked at it as if it wasn’t a finger and he couldn’t quite identify the object. His blankness turned to perplexity. Christina laughed in the way of gentle rain gliding through the lane and playing upon the cobblestones. Felix began to laugh.

James thrust himself back into the alcove and gagged, throwing a hand to his mouth in order to not emit a sound. No, his eyes could not have betrayed him. He let on nothing when the pair had finished their talk and he ambled out of his hiding spot as though just arriving. The pair exuded contentment and the three of them retraced their steps to locate Alice.

* * *

Later that evening, when James had finished his studies and stretched out in his bed to issue a thankful yawn, Felix explained the finger without provocation. Perhaps he realized that it could not be kept secret for long and he wanted to diffuse the inevitable shock.

When she was a child and her mother worked in a Yorkshire kitchen, Christina would often sit at the table beside the chopping block. Sometimes, during the long days, she fell asleep at this table while her mother and the other cooks bustled about. On one feast day, a frantic cook used the block even though Christina’s little hand was cast across its edge. His hasty blow severed her ring finger just above the middle joint.

The “finger” that Felix had pulled from her hand that afternoon was made of balsa wood stained to emulate the color of flesh. It had a simple hinge at the knuckle, and the wooden ring finger was attached to her intact middle finger by a looped thread so that she could form a fist and feign a complete hand.

James told Felix that this deformity was another reason to be cautious.

“That is one reason against a thousand reasons I should not be cautious,” Felix replied. Then, with spite, he added, “I should feel cheated if I were to court any other lady.”

“Even if her dowry is that of a cook’s daughter?”

“That is not so much a concern to me as my own family is well enough off.”

“It may not concern you, but it might concern your family.”

“And that it should not, and you either. Why at this time do you talk to me of something other than medicine?”

James withheld an answer.

“Why has this matter called forth your opinion?” asked Felix. “Why are you so sure that I should cast aside this woman who causes me great happiness—no, the most happiness?”

“I must put out the candles,” said James. He had no good answer, and Felix had made him feel sorry for wishing he had one. “Tomorrow morning the anatomy begins early.”

* * *

James’ attention switched to Felix when the lecture reached a phase he was uninterested in. He knew very little of Felix’s family or of Felix himself. His habits were apparent to James, but his thoughts concerning matters unrelated to medicine had long been concealed. James had never tested the secrecy, probably because he thought that there wasn’t much to be uncovered anyway.

Felix was a man who James supposed could go through life without marrying and become a crumpled hermit sealed up with his books and scarcely ever venturing beyond the walls of a university. Felix’s self-imposed seclusion wasn’t the only reason for James’ supposition; it owed more to the actual qualities of the unshapely body, charmless expressions, and lopsided glares.

Now Felix was in love, requited love with a woman, a woman who was—an absolute splendor.

Along the low tier of the gallery, James’s eyes fixed on the large round back and the dropped head. He wondered at how this man before him, the man who shuffled through life like he was anxious to be rid of it, was the same gregarious and dignified man who had escorted Christina on the sojourns of the previous two days.

Tomorrow Master Bridgewick would oversee the anatomy of the thorax. One more day and the anatomy of an intact adult cadaver would be complete. Their cadaver.

* * *


* * *

In the afternoon, Christina and Felix expressed a desire to leave the tumult of the city and see the countryside. Alice suggested a coach ride through the fields between Southwark and Lambeth. Everyone agreed that it was an excellent idea, and soon the four of them were in a coach trundling through the autumn pastures.

The day was cool rather than cold, and a breeze was just restless enough to give life to Christina’s unbound hair. The tresses weaved around the dark interior of the coach like streams of lava over a pumice landscape, while the locks on the side of her head facing the window cast to the kindred warm colors of the countryside and disappeared when they overlapped the wheat, as if returning home. The ends inside the carriage tickled Felix’s face and he paid no mind at all.

Alice talked of her family in Reading and her aunt’s theatrical neighbor Ms. Cone. Yet she was not very engaged in her own story. She kept loosing the string of her thoughts; she often paused. James noticed these pauses came whenever she stole a glance at Felix and Christina’s side of the coach. It was easy for James to detect her preoccupation because he felt his own curiosity drawn again and again back to Christina.

All at once, Christina cried out that they had to stop and picnic. According to her, they had reached a perfect spot. Unimpressed, Alice glanced around and frowned. James pointed out that the immediate fields were cow pasture and sure to be unfit for picnicking. But Christina said she hadn’t meant the field. She sailed out of the carriage and gestured into a belt of trees dividing the present field and the next. They could only suppose a field lay on the other side because the green barrier was thick and they couldn’t see through to the open ground. The pasture they currently stood in sloped down to where the shrubbery began overtaking the grass. The grove was shimmering with glossy hawthorn leaves and shaggy with the seeds of ashes. It was a dense arrangement, and Alice protested immediately when Christina again suggested they move into the trees. James was about to reinforce his mistress’ disapproval, when Felix bounced out of the carriage and actually began making his way to the tree line.

“Let us lunch down by the water,” said Christina to all of them. “I can hear the brook. It sounds too pleasant to forsake, wouldn’t you agree?”

And it was then that James noticed the water’s plea. It was young and mournful, promising and fragile. And though it was typical of these wooded boundaries to hide a brook, he thought it was quite strange that he hadn’t noticed the sound before Christina had mentioned it.

Alice glowered at James while he sought concurrence for his wife’s refusal to hearken to the alluring call. But he was only trying to convince himself.

“Go there if you desire to,” he said. “Alice and I shall meet you back here.”

Felix and Christina pleaded with them to come, but James knew that Alice would not compromise, and he wished them a pleasant lunch.

While Christina and Felix picked their way through the underbrush, snapping twigs and catching their cuffs and ruffles, James and Alice arranged their lunch in the weedy corner of the pasture. Not far away, their driver sat in the carriage and lit a pipe. An old cow hobbled around to their corner of the pasture and boomed a greeting so close to Alice’s ear that she yelped. They coughed when the wind blew the road’s dust at them. Alice whispered that it was a terrible decision to stop there for picnic, but James was pondering the trail of Christina and Felix. And as Alice followed his gaze through the thickening greenery she came to think it was not as much a look of curiosity as it was a look of longing. James became aware of his wife’s scrutiny and met her stare. She refused to break the lock, and James, guessing her thoughts, set about slicing their mutton pie and hiding his face.

* * *

After the separate picnics, three separate picnics since Alice and James had said scarcely a word to each other through the duration, they carried on to the parish church. Christina and Felix waxed long regarding the beauty of the small gully in the belt of trees.

The brook they’d found formed a shallow pool before narrowing and resuming its course. Many stepping stones broke the surface and the two had raced across several times. They had found a family of ducks winding through the secluded water, and they had spotted a kingfisher watching over them from a low limb.

James thought it all sounded far more enjoyable than his own lunch, but he knew that no matter how they described the gully, Alice would never sway from her belief that the decision to stop was absurd.

* * *

They arrived at the parish church. Christina and Felix took a walk around the chapel while Alice and James crossed the road to seek out a soft patch to rest upon. The Thames hooked south just north of the parish church and it was a novelty for them to enjoy the wide river without all the urban confinement of London choking off its soothing qualities.

As James and Alice surveyed the water together, their silence became less of an unspoken displeasure and more of a soporific blessing. They fell asleep, and when James came to, scratching his head and situating himself in time and place, he saw that the undersides of the walnut leaves were catching a lime green. The sun was dipping. Alarmed at having lost track of time, he woke Alice and told her that they should prepare to return to the city. She was happy to remain lying on the soft bank while James located the others.

He had passed halfway around the chapel, moving towards the rear, when he heard the harpsichord notes fluttering from the front of the church. Retracing his steps, he found that the chapel door was a bit ajar. It was from here that the music came.

The sun seemed to be sinking ever so fast, the highlights under the leaves had departed and the colors of the riverside had become dull. The fleeing daylight caused James to pause, but he was still ignorant of the powers that kept his feet on the threshold and only permitted him to poke his head inside the doorway.

Torches lit the chapel. They were mounted in the iron holders attached to the columns running down the length of the nave. He followed their flickering vigil to the altar where he saw the lonely dance for the first time.

It was a country step but not one James had seen before. They seized their legs and each others; they wound their torsos around each other and seemed to sway more often than step. Though they kept time to the harpsichord’s song, they did not obey its command, instead complimenting it. Felix swam on in between her arms and rose up to take her cheeks in his hands and kiss her. They held this kiss for long time while the rest of their bodies remained engaged with the harpsichord. Then Christina leaned close to his ear and spoke.

When she was finished, Felix drew back and seemed to wrestle with her message. He was about to speak when the harpsichord ceased mid-measure and a lute began chirping a feisty jig. Then they bounced and clapped as though the whispered words had never been.

James pulled his gaze away when the lute replaced the harpsichord, and in one low transept of the church he found a short and bubble eyed man playing the instrument. He was so large-skulled it was as though he wore a helmet under his skin. He plucked the lute with such flare in the wrinkles of his forehead that he might never have had the opportunity to play these compositions until now. They were tavern melodies unfit for mass or even an empty chapel.

A hand dropped upon James shoulder and he drew his head out of the doorway. Alice was standing behind him with crossed arms and a slightly guilty tilt in her brow. She apologized for disturbing him, but she did want to get back to Southwark before it became very late. She asked James whether their two companions had now taken to making love on the altar. James told her not be scandalous. She told him that she wouldn’t be surprised by anything at that point. Hearing the music, she stood on her toes and leaned to either side of James with half-hearted interest.

Of all James’ possible actions at that single moment, that never-to-be-recovered position half-in and half-out of the festive little chapel, the last action he expected to take was lunging at his woman’s waist, embracing her, and then pulling her into the torch light of the church. It was wholly unforeseen that they should join hands and jig in front of the altar, beside Felix and Christina’s consummate patterns. They would kiss and caress without stopping their dance and without testing the other’s reception. Like they were somewhere else. Like this was the world they actually called home.

To the end of his life, James could never solve the mystery of how something so vivid turned out to be impossible in the end. Instead of pulling Alice into the church, he stepped back into the gloom of the encroaching evening, took his woman’s hand, and announced he would enter the chapel and end the sacrilegious dance. Alice thanked him for being sensible.

Felix and Christina were happy to accommodate them. The parish musician wished them a good night, and instead of returning his lute to its hidden drawer, he gave it to Christina as a tribute to her dancing, though had he chosen otherwise he could have honored any number of her other incomparable qualities.

* * *

The ride back to Southwark was quiet in the way when something is hanging in the air and blotting out any would be conversation. James did not know whether Alice felt it; she was tired and kept nodding off. Felix was preoccupied, and stared through the window and bit his thumb while sorting out his thoughts in the blue evening. After they were well away from the parish church, Christina took up the lute and played a meandering and dipping poem that made James forget about their lack of words. The silence shed its heaviness. Her skill was remarkable. If he hadn’t already known her for two days he would have been shocked at her capability.

* * *

That evening, Felix was about to put out the candles when he asked James whether Alice and he would join them for one more evening’s entertainment before Alice returned to Dorset.

“I suppose so,” said James. “With one day of the anatomy remaining, it will be fitting. A celebration.”

“I think a better reason is that Christina will not be joining us again after tomorrow,” said Felix. He’d spoken as though reciting notes in preparation for an examination.

“Why is that?” James replied, equally as didactic.

“She has to leave. And she won’t be coming back. She extends her gratitude for your and Alice’s company over the past three days but the circumstances demanding her departure are insurmountable.”

Insurmountable, thought James. He wondered whether that was the way Christina had described the circumstances when she had whispered to Felix in the chapel.

Felix sat down at the desk.

“But she insisted I thank you, you even more so than Alice. She was very grateful for both of us helping her to enjoy London. She said she could not have had such a merry time without us attending to her.”

“We were blessed by her company,” said James. His enormous degree of gratitude was unmeasured by his words, though his words were true.

* * *

The next day, the final day of the anatomy, the dissection of the unbroken neck excited the students more than any other topic. Yet the description of the rarely-intact spinal cord passed so swiftly into an examination of the brain that James slumped under the weight of anticlimax. The secret trek to the graveyard, all the shoveling and bumbling through the night, resulted in nothing more than a fifteen minute lecture.

He spent the remainder of the anatomy in quiet frustration, shooting glances down at Felix and wondering whether he felt the same disappointment or whether he was wholly preoccupied by Christina’s imminent departure.

The surgeons were now cutting open the extremities. James drifted among descriptions of the bicep, forearm, and wrist. The surgeons took up tiny blades and sliced down the center of each finger to the palm. There was then a disturbance among the surgeons. They scratched their beards and held up their hands.

Now James sat up and refocused his attention on the anatomy.

Master Bridgewick leaned from side to side, attempting to identify the distraction. The surgeons parted their ranks and looked up at the head physician as if for instruction. Hushed words passed between the surgeons nearest to the high chair. Now all the students were peering over each other’s shoulders to glimpse the cause of the surgeons’ consternation. At last Master Bridgewick announced: “Digitus Ligneus.” A wooden finger. A wooden finger!

Ice drove deep into James heart. He grabbed his chest. Next his eyes shot down to Felix. He could only see the back of the man’s head but the body was paralyzed, the hands somewhere in front of him beneath the study bench, out of James’ sight.

After the anatomy, as soon as Master Bridgewick had dismissed the lecture hall and disappeared to his private quarters, James bounded through the university halls to seek him out.

The head physician instructed him that he was to re-inter the body at his convenience.

“I believe,” suggested James, “that it will serve our practical concerns to burn this body rather than return it to its former grave. The churchyard need not be revisited and suspicions rekindled. There will be fewer tools and delicacies required.”

“Is she not a Christian, deserving to be returned to consecrated ground?”

“No, she is not, master. If I may—you may recall we removed the corpse from the north side of the churchyard. She’s unbaptised; that I am certain of.”

“Then let the corpse burn. The wagon sits behind the college.”

* * *

Not long after James departed Master Bridgewick’s quarters, Felix dashed in from the opposite direction, wild with an urgency that alarmed anyone he passed in the corridor. But Master Bridgewick was gone; the door to his quarters bolted. For a long time, Felix rapped his fists against the oak, but his only reward were tender sores across his dry knuckles.

* * *

And so James burned the corpse. He took it that very night out into the fields beyond the city walls and brought with him a cauldron and an ax. He chopped the body into pieces. Without ceremony, he scooped up the parts and cast them all into the iron pot. He poured oil back and forth over the heap of flesh. Setting it ablaze, he stepped back as his pulse relaxed and his heart thawed. He whispered prayers until the fire had dwindled to glowing embers.


* * *

Felix and James never discussed the anatomy or the corpse. James did not dare broach the subject since he had always been generally unacquainted with Felix’s personal matters. They had much difficult study ahead of them, and the distraction of those unnatural four days would have done little to aid their concentration. They carried on as they had before the anatomy, studying medicine another year until they had achieved their degrees. Felix became more like Felix than the original Felix. He acknowledged nothing but the tip of his pen. Though surrounded by men of like-minded scholarship, everything living passed before him as though shades, dead and phantasmal. He was uncouth and uncaring, and most came to think he was as worthless as the value he placed on others.

After completed his studies, James returned to Dorset to marry Alice and practice medicine. Felix melted into the tangled fabric of London. James once heard about him practicing in the East End but did not know precisely where he practiced or for how long, and soon Felix became little more to James than that pedantic and grim colleague from the past who had said little to anyone.

It seemed to James that Felix so often paid less attention to society than the cockroaches he used to kill each morning when James was sharing a room with him. The swat of his broomstick often served to wake James for his morning prayers. On occasion the creatures would wiggle their feet in the air after a glancing blow knocked them on their backs. It was a hopeless, hysterical flight from death. Yet as James watched Felix brush others from the walls, he noticed that some did not twitch. These floated to the floor with grace and patience.

* * *

Ned Thimmayya is a lawyer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has previously appeared in Slice Magazine, the Foundling Review, Up the Beanstalk, and the Brooklyn Journal of International Law. He has read his work at the Franklin Park Reading Series, the Renegade Reading Series, and Hallopalooza 2011. He grew up in the lovely town of Kinderhook, NY.

What do you think is the attraction of the historical fiction genre?

History, after all, is in and of itself the ultimate story. All fiction, whether due to the narrative's setting or the circumstances of the author, emerges from our species' history or notion of that history. I believe historical fiction is only distinguished as such by the fact it calls greater attention to its place on the historical timeline than other fiction. Therefore its appeal rests in those eras that readers and writers continue to find most compelling. Elizabethan England, World War II, Medieval Europe, Renaissance Italy, and the Roman Empire all come to mind as periods that continue to fascinate readers and writers of fiction in the Western hemisphere.

If a Portrait was Painted of Roger Williams...


If a Portrait was Painted of Roger Williams Leaving Salem 
by Jack Carenza

If a portrait was painted of Roger Williams leaving Salem,
Williams would be draped in a heavy gray traveling cloak;
snow to mid boot and still falling, adorning the cornered oak
with the cream-colored petals of the burgeoning pear. The trail

ahead, more accustomed to squirrels than sages,
broadens as it snakes its way from the city to forest, bending
river-like, glazed, a lustrous path from severe to tender.
Williams, huddled yet rigid, would face ahead, the raw

Southwest wind a guide, or tyrant, driving, uncompromising.
His eyes would fail to focus on the trail, trailing off to the coppice
instead, ahead was Rhode Island, ahead was his Providence.
His pallid complexion (due to illness) would be intensified

by the glare of the snow, and the city behind,
But it would not be a sickly pale—he would shine.

* * *

John (Jack) Carenza was born in Norwich, Connecticut in 1990. He is currently a creative writing student at The Florida State University. Jack is employed at the Mystic Seaport, in Mystic, Connecticut, the museum of America and the Sea.

What do you think is the most important part of a historical poem?

Historical fiction is successful when an author is comfortable and well researched about the particular subject, but not confined by fact. Aristotle says it best in his poetics; to be universal, the poet has the advantage over the historian because "one says what has happened, and the other says the kind of thing that would happen". Historical poetry becomes poignant when the poet can channel fact through his or her writer's eye.

What Ifs are the Purview of the Charlatan


What Ifs Are the Purview of the Charlatan
by Jessica Willis


He named his rifle Persephone after Susanna’s favorite fruit of myth. Later, the blood and teeth he saw on the field stubble reminded him of the seeds of that fruit.

He didn’t name his knife anything because the knife was an extension of him. The knife was kept sheathed at his hip or at the small of his back. When he wore it on his chest with the handle pointing down and to the left the other men looked at him but didn’t say anything. When he wore the knife this way he was telling the heavens that he was bored to tears and needed to return to the place of silent breathing and the enemy not six feet away unknowing he was there to take what was most precious.

The knife was numbingly sharp and could cut transparent layers of wood and grass and anything else. He loved Persephone but he loved himself more. Covered in dead leaves and lying like a boxed corpse or striding from the wood as an apparition he could gather anything: lives if he cared to, but most precious of all was information. He could travel on information, and some of the most powerful men in the army were starting to notice.

Early September the heavens rewarded him. He was given orders that would take him away from the cavalry and send him out alone, on foot. Any other kind of man, he thought, would have been frightened or at the very least insulted by these orders, which isolated him from all the others and probably guaranteed Susanna’s widowhood. This was the sort of mission that would bury another kind of man.

James Pike thought these were orders of the most fragrant variety.

He squeezed his eyes shut and saw Susanna’s shoulder and neck. The smell of June sun on a snarl of hot leaves. Boys kicking dirt on him because he was fifteen and not five feet tall. What was he fighting for. To spill the reeking pearly guts of every butternut within his reach.

He named his rifle Persephone for the girl who comes up from the sky blue mouth of death every March.


The man sat on the porch, legs crossed tight at the knee, arms folded tight against the chest. His eyes were closed and the corners of his thin mouth were turned down in a deep frown; Pike wasn’t sure if he was asleep, resting, or simply displeased.

It was a warm late October day but the man looked cold. Pike thought the man was Sherman but he couldn’t be sure. He had never seen a likeness of the general and he imagined Sherman as the type of leader who would be constantly surrounded by aides and always in motion. This man simply looked tired and old. His dark hair was thinning and seemed to have been cut by a dull knife. His chin and cheeks were stubbly. His blue coat was open at the throat, obscuring any stars or sign of rank that could prove to Pike that this was the Uncle Billy of legend. He was too far away and the man didn’t move.

Pike didn’t know what to do. He was exhausted to the point where he had to carefully balance upright in his boots and wobble in all directions at once so he wouldn’t collapse flat on his face. The past ten days he had spent in a canoe on the Tennessee, getting shot at by guerillas. Everything, including his cartridges, had gotten soaked at the bottom of the canoe. His stomach had stopped growling days ago. He wanted something to eat and he wanted praise. Something told him that General W.T. Sherman was not the man to give him such things.

Pike stroked his matted beard, shifted his weight slightly, and cleared his throat. “General Crook sends his compliments, sir,” he said. His voice was a croak and he couldn’t remember the last time he had spoken.

The man on the porch shifted his weight slightly, uncrossed his legs, and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. When he dropped his hand to his knee his dark eyes were open and fixed angrily on Pike.

“I did not hear your approach, sir,” the man said. He stood up, slowly slapped the dust off his trousers, and glared at Pike. “I cannot place your accent, sir, or your mixed dress. Are you here to help me or run me through?”

Pike dropped his gaze to his filthy coat, which did indeed look gray from the dust and dirt. His wide belt was cinched tight against his hunger; tied now, not buckled. The knife sheath, smeared with blood, was strapped to his breast. He took a deep breath.

“Are you Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, sir, commander of the fifteenth army corps?”

The man walked down the porch steps and stood close to Pike. “I am not, sir. Tell me, how did you get past my picket lines?”

“Can you direct me to General Sherman, sir?” Pike thought the man’s face looked ancient; it had been scrubbed clean like a high-ranking officer’s face, but the creases were filled with dirt. He knew that some men called Sherman a lunatic. He also knew that in the month Sherman had lost his young son to typhoid. Maybe he had gone mad.

“Where are you from, son?”

“I was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, sir. But I moved ar --”

“The birthplace of General Grant,” the man said. “I was born in Lancaster.”

“Sir, are you General Sherman?”

“I am, but as of one hour ago, I am no longer in command of the Fifteenth Corps. Let you be the first soldier to congratulate me in person on my promotion to Commander of the Army of the Tennessee. The theater of war has become a safer place and the enemy will surrender by Christmas, by God.”

Pike pretended he didn’t understand the sarcasm. “Corporal James Pike, Fourth Ohio Cavalry, sir.” He saluted quickly, didn’t wait for a return salute, and reached into his bag for the two messages. He handed them to Sherman, who stared at him for a moment and then took the torn pieces of paper out of his hand.

Pike watched Sherman read the messages and waited to be dismissed. Or offered a place to sit and rest. Something to eat. When he realized the general was forthcoming with none of the above, he waited and studied the man’s face as he read. Pike knew what the messages said.

One was a telegraph from Grant which had been sent through by Crook. It was an order to drop all work on the railroad, cross the Tennessee River quickly, and head east toward Bridgeport. The other letter was in part a character reference from General Blair, who had written that Pike was a man deserving of the most complex and delicate missions.

“In conclusion: If you are reading this letter, General Sherman, you may regard the man standing before you as a truly gifted scout and ranger,” Sherman read aloud.
Pike bowed. Sherman cleared his throat.

“Your footfalls didn’t wake me and you avoided being detected by my picket lines. You paddled a canoe down the Tennessee River over Muscle Shoals with no ammunition and received not so much as a scratch on your person. Or at least no scratch that I can see. You’re a singular character, Pike. What can I do for you?”

“Give me something to eat, sir,” Pike said. “And then I will tell you what you can do for me.”



He had been offered a horse and a change of clothes. He accepted the former and declined the latter. Two nights into the march toward Elkton, Pike was summoned to Sherman’s tent.

Pike had the gift of silent movement and obviously he knew it. Although he didn’t know why he was so blessed. Most of his young life was spent shouting above the clamor of the newspaper pressroom while his father occupied the quiet corner office upstairs. He didn’t stay in the business long enough to become deaf.

He watched Sherman write at his desk. Pike was not five feet away from the general and yet the older man did not know he was there. Pike wasn’t surprised; a few months ago he lay under a broken bridge while what seemed to be Stuart’s entire cavalry made valuable plans inches from his nose.

Now Pike breathed low and deep, mouth closed, feeling his lungs expand effortlessly. His heartbeat slowed to a whale’s pace. By watching the movements of Sherman’s hand, Pike could decipher what he was writing: The child that bore my name, and in whose future I reposed with more confidence than I did in my own plan of life, now floats a mere corpse, seeking a grave in a distant land.

The man’s hand paused above the paper. He took a deep breath and started writing again. I ask no sympathy. On, on I must go, to meet a soldier’s fate.


Sherman carefully set aside his pen. “You did it again, Pike. Have you not announced yourself to my aide?” More humor than anger this time.

“I’m not certain where your aide is,” Pike replied. “Permission to enter.”

“Granted. Have a seat. And answer me this.”

“Yes sir.”

“Your accent.”


Sherman adjusted the lantern so he could see Pike’s face. For a moment both men were silent. “Permission to speak candidly, sir,” said Pike after a moment. Sherman nodded slightly.

“As I like to say sir, I don’t speak like an Ohio man because I am only from Ohio on my mother and father’s side. I always wanted to be someone different. So I trained myself to speak different. So I could keep myself company. Give me two seconds with anyone sir, and I can speak in their manner. Perfectly.” Sherman’s diary entry moved him and he considered telling him about Susanna’s accent. Then he thought better of it.

“What is your favorite accent?” Sherman asked.

“It’s not really an accent sir, but I enjoy speaking in the style of Chaucer.”

“Ah,” Sherman said. “Can you imitate all of the southern accents?”

“Rebel accents? Easily, sir.”

“I have been thinking of a mission for you, Corporal. There are many variables, but one thing is almost certain – you will fail. You will be captured and jailed, at best. You will be hanged, most likely.”

Pike’s smile was wide and avid. Sherman looked at this smile, confused for a moment, and then continued. “There are many … how do I put it? There are many ‘what ifs’”

“What ifs are the purview of the charlatan,” Pike replied.

Sherman considered this for a moment and then dropped his head back and laughed. A dry, one note ha.

“Thank you for that, Pike,” Sherman said, looking at him again. “I note that the more dangerous the mission, the more desirous you are of earning it.”

“It’s true. I want to do something bold, sir. I want to be a hero. I want to be remembered.”

“Are there heroes in this war, Pike? Will we be remembered? As the men we were?”


His orders were to burn the bridge crossing the Savannah River at Augusta in order to create confusion in Johnston’s army. Pike was to wait for news of Sherman’s mobilization toward Atlanta and then he would act.

Sherman had estimated that the odds were three to one that Pike would be caught. Pike thought his commander was being too generous. The odds were much worse and for that he was grateful.

Sherman wanted Pike to take a companion and disguise himself like a refugee from East Tennessee, work his way over the mountains into North Carolina, float down the river and burn the bridge.

He had refused to take a companion and so found himself alone on a raft in ragged butternut, lying on his back in the sodden summer heat, looking at the stars. Persephone was long gone and yet this was her time to be walking the Earth, was it not? Pike had time to wonder about the things he had lost in the past three years alone. Boots, horses, rifles. Teeth. Where were they now? What of Susanna and Frederick his hound. Would they know him. If he followed his orders properly he would be unrecognizable to the very end.

When the enemy called to him from the river bank he would sit up and holler back as someone else.

* * *


* * *

Jessica Willis is a high school teacher who lives in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

Ideas come when I'm running long distance. They also come when I read memoirs and design lesson plans.

A House Divided


A House Divided
by Gary B. Phillips

Ich gestehe! I confess!

I killed him. Though that word does not do the act justice, I assure you. It was a cold and calculated murder. I tell you this now because no court in the world would find me guilty.

He was in the study, sitting at his mahogany desk; a ledger spread out before him. The stresses of his life had creased his brow and thinned his hair and he looked much older than his twenty-nine years. I had watched him perform this secret ceremony for years, stealing their fortune one pfenning at a time.

He got up from the desk and paced to and from the window, glancing out though never noticing the garden walls that hid the streets and factories of Brandenburg. The yellow-leaved golden elms stood like silent guardians around the topiary garden. Goldflame honeysuckle vines crawled up the gardener's house and yearned for the sun behind the day's dead, grey sky.

My body ached from watching the man's wearisome ritual and I stretched and settled back into place as quietly as I could.

He stopped and turned his ear to the ceiling.

"Hello?" he asked.

Had he heard my bones creak? It didn't matter, I saw my chance. A loose stone provided the perfect weapon. One strong blow to the head felled the man and he crumpled to the polished floor. His blood pooled at my feet.

The constable and doctor came at once and examined the body, then the stone and the high ceiling with the hole that matched the broken piece.

"Casus fortuitous, an act of God," said the constable.

"Or a poor craftsman," said the doctor with a laugh too long for his own wit.

I smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. A damp wind blew through the hallway and Elisabeth pulled her shawl around her.

She stood outside the study with the maidservants and listened to the two men explain the circumstances of the man's death to the stoic master of the house and his grieving daughter. The servant girls wept as the body was taken away, but Elisabeth did not cry.

My first memory was of her. Elisabeth. She was alone in the quarters she shared with the servant girls, sitting at a white vanity. An ill-fitted camisole hung off her shoulders as she combed her long chestnut hair and hummed to herself. Her fox terrier hid under the vanity and nipped at her callused pink feet.

I was young then and watched her from that room. She did not know I was there. The other girls--Hungarian and Polish and Jewish--may have suspected me though they never voiced it to her, only exchanged nervous glances and hushed whispers as they polished furniture in the sitting room or changed sheets in the bedrooms. I watched Elisabeth dress and undress and read to the servant girls. It wasn't lust, not then, just the curiosity of a child.

Elisabeth did not mourn or fast after his death, instead she kept herself busy attending to the needs of the lady of the house while she grieved. Each night, after seeing the mistress to bed, Elisabeth returned to her own quarters, said a silent prayer and removed the rose cut garnet adorned necklace that she kept hidden under her garments during the day. She placed it gently under the base of the candle holder by her bed.

The night after the funeral, Elisabeth retired to her quarters with the girls. She had been offered her own room when she became the lady's maid, but chose to stay with the girls.

She read to them from a tattered book of poetry that the master had collected in his travels. She spoke the words to them in English first, taking great care to pronounce them, and then translating it to German.

And when I could no longer look, I blest his grace that gave and took, That laid my goods now in the dust, Yea, so it was, and so 'twas just.

After they were asleep she put the necklace on without hiding it, took the brass candle holder from her bedside and wandered the halls until she found herself in one of the home’s many hidden passageways. The array of gems around her neck sparkled in the flickering candlelight as she walked the corridor and entered the room where she used to meet her lover in secret.

"Why did it happen?" she said. "Why did you leave me?"

She cried there on the cold floor. I wanted to comfort her, to tell her I loved her, but I could not.

She seemed to age overnight. Her body was still young, but her countenance was vacant with care-worn lines where there had been none before.

My victim came to me that night, dried blood on his translucent head. He asked why I had killed him.

"When she loved you, you only loved yourself," I said.

He cursed my name and begged to see her.

As with the other spirits, he was not free to roam the hallways and displace the living. Not without my permission.

"In time, you will prove yourself useful and then I will grant your request," I said.

He wailed in distress, a sound that echoed through the halls and woke the living.

In the weeks following the funeral, the newspapers ran rife with speculation contrary to the official cause of death. A deadly affair! Heir to Richter wealth murdered by spurned wife after affair with maidservant. The town ate up every word, like a dog lapping its vomit up from the street.

The servants spoke of these rumors often, in hushed tones around Elisabeth, and never around the mistress.

Each night Elisabeth walked the path to the study and cried on the floor. When she did sleep it was restless, pervaded with nightmares. She told the girls of the dreams each morning as they prepared the table for breakfast; the dark creature that watched her from the shadows of the house.

"It's nothing but a dream, of course," she would tell them.

I saw the truth in her eyes.

* * *


* * *

Elisabeth's nightmares worsened as summer plodded to autumn and then winter. In her dreams the dark creature entered her room, rose up above her bed and whispered revelations that she did not remember in the morning.

The servant girls went to the mistress and pleaded with her. They told her that Elisabeth was afflicted with nightmares.

"Nonsense, she is keeping up with her duties," the mistress said, dismissing them back to their own chores.

The first snow of the year fell on a cold November evening. The servants gathered in the small common room to be together and warm by the fire. They reclined on the curved camelback sofa and sang hymns together. Elisabeth sat at the solitary desk, away from the warmth of the fire and wrote in her journal. Her pen scribbled along the page in great curves. After she finished, she wiped the pen clean on the small cloth under the ink reservoir, closed the journal and excused herself.

In her quarters she found the little brown bottle of laudanum. The label said it was from Baltimore and I wondered what wicked path it had traveled to arrive into her hands. I saw tears well up in her eyes and realized with horror that she knew exactly how it had come into her possession and what she would use it for. She closed her eyes and took a deep swig.

She winced from the bitter taste and stifled a cough in the crook of her arm. The wind howled outside and masked her sobs as she took another deep drink.

I did the one thing I could. I let out a guttural and unrecognizable moan that frightened the servant girls out of the common room and into their quarters. They found Elisabeth there, already unconscious.

Again, the spirit of my victim came to me.

"She's dying. I beg of you," he said, his incorporeal face twisted with grief.

I had murdered him. I owed him at least this much. I allowed him to go to her.

The doctor was called upon and arrived with haste. Every member of the house gathered to watch as he inserted a small rubber tube into her mouth. He fed it in and listened to her stomach. When was satisfied with the position of the tube, he had the girl with the driest eyes hold it as he poured a small amount of saline in. He then pressed his lips to the tube and siphoned it back out, repeating the process several times.

He monitored her through the morning and left late that afternoon with strict instructions to keep her hydrated.

She recovered slowly and her sleep no longer seemed troubled. While awake she read books of poetry to the delight of the maidservants. She laughed with them and smiled often.

Something had changed in her. I summoned my victim.

"What did you say to her that night?" I asked him.

"I saved her," he said.
"How?" I asked.

"I told her this was not a home worth dying in."

A fortnight later her health returned in full. She awoke early and kissed each of the girls as they slept, then she removed her necklace, placed it on the vanity and left.

* * *

Summers and winters passed and the world went to war. Revolution came and the monarchy crumbled. But the promise of the revolution failed and the golden age never came. Even the Richter family fortune dwindled. Elisabeth's contemporaries aged, had daughters and granddaughters of their own. Loyalty to the family kept the servants caring for the old home, though the family could seldom afford to pay their wages.

The servants spoke often of Elisabeth and each of the girls received letters from her. I have seen mountains larger than any country and a tower to rival them. I have traveled across deserts and seen ancient places. Beauty and love is in every place. Look for it there. I miss you all.

* * *

On a cloudless blue February morning Elisabeth returned home. The lines on her face were now valleys and canyons, a map of the places she had been.

She following the snow covered path past the wrought iron gate. Ivy covered walls flanked the estate's front door. The once proud face of the manor had crumbled with war and disrepair. When she reached the door she did not knock, simply opened it and walked in.

A small girl running through the corridor spotted Elisabeth in the foyer.

"Hello," the girl said.

"Hello, I'm Elisabeth."

The girl skipped into the foyer, the red gems on her necklace bouncing with each step.

"That's a beautiful necklace," said Elisabeth.

"My mum gave it to me."

"Is she here?"

"She's cleaning. Follow me."

Elisabeth did as she was told and followed the skipping girl down the hallway. She let the tips of her fingers brush against the cold stone as she walked. "I didn't know you could miss a home like this," she said to herself.

I smiled. My soul was warm and the fires burned brighter in their hearths. The master of the house was informed of her return and a small celebration was planned. The cooks prepared a feast.

That evening, they ate liver dumpling soup and roasted duck with red cabbage, and for desert, black forest gâteau. The whole of the house gathered; men, women, and children, servant and master alike, they all sat together. Music and glühwein and mirth flowed from the dining room.

After the children had been sent off to bed, Elisabeth told of the great plague spreading across the land. Man turned against man, neighbor against neighbor, and friend against friend. They took up uniforms with strange insignias and marched across the land.

"I have seen them kill," she said. "They will come here. And they will kill us."

"I will not allow it," said the master of the house.

"You will have no choice," Elisabeth said.

"Then we will hide them."

Elisabeth retired to the guest room early that night, weary from her travels. There were three small knocks at the door and when she opened it she found the young girl from the foyer on the other side. In her hands she held the garnet necklace. The girl held it out and placed the necklace in Elisabeth's hands.

"It's yours," the girl said. "Mum told me."

"Not anymore. It was from long ago and I no longer need it. Please keep it."

"Wear it for tonight. I want to see how it looks on you."

Elisabeth smiled and let her fingers slide across the red gems.

"Okay," Elisabeth said. She crouched to the little girl's level and pulled her hair aside. "I'll give it back in the morning. Will you put it on me?"

The little girl hooked the necklace around Elisabeth's neck. Elisabeth squeezed the girl's hands and kissed her forehead.

"Go back to bed, before your mother catches you," Elisabeth said.

That night, they came. I heard them first, a low rumble across the earth's crust. Then I saw them, over the high walls of the manor: They marched into town with great mechanical beasts at their side. Panzerkampfwagen.

Each home was searched. Gunfire and screams rose up from the streets and within the walls of neighboring houses.

Finally they came to the master's home. He opened the door and let the twin blue-eyed soldiers in. They did not greet him, but instead wandered the foyer and examined the photographs that hung on the walls.

"Are there Jews in this house?" one of them asked.

"No," said the master.

The master stood upright, defiant, as the soldiers pushed him aside and searched his home.

Elisabeth helped the mistress check that the women and children were well hidden.

"Now hide yourself," the mistress told her.

Elisabeth returned to the corridor near the study where her love had died. The door to the study was locked and had been for some time. Twin sets of footsteps echoed on the polished floor, louder with each step. I extinguished the lights in the hallway so that she was in darkness. She mouthed a silent thank you and pressed herself against the wall, in the darkest spot. The soldiers rounded the corner and stopped. They peered into the darkness, no more than six meters from her.

"Cigarette," one of the soldiers said.

They fumbled in the dark, rustled through coat pockets and flicked a lighter to life. A small flame rose in the darkness and lit a cigarette for each man. The red stones around Elisabeth's neck glimmered in the flame's flickering light and the lighter snapped shut. The world was silent for a moment and then Elisabeth heard the slow creak of leather as their pistols were drawn from their holsters.

Two shots rang out in the darkness.

Elisabeth's blood pooled at my feet.

It did not take the soldiers long to find the hidden men, women, and children. The family was labeled as traitors and led out to the dirty streets to be executed.


They stripped the curtains from my windows, exposing me to the world. My storehouse was pillaged and they drank my wines. My doors, my smile, became firewood to burn my body. They tore down my corridors and quarters, the wings that stretched between my spires. My iron cresting became the broken crown of a once great king. When they had their fill, they left my skeleton as a warning to others.

I hated them for what they had done, for their bloodlust, their heartlessness, their cowardice. They raped and stripped me, destroying my beauty and the companionship my walls had held for so many years. Worst of all, they had murdered my love.

And then the wind shuddered against my creaking remains, whispering, You killed hers first.

* * *

Gary B. Phillips lives and writes in Arizona with his wife, two daughters, and three cats. His short fiction has appeared in Stories in the Ether and Interstellar Fiction.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories? I don't consider myself a historical fiction writer, but I'm fascinated by the late 19th and early 20th century. I feel that time period is fertile ground for a wide range of interesting stories. For “A House Divided,” I had been watching a lot of BBC costume dramas (a not-so-guilty pleasure) and wanted to write something Gothic. One of the major tropes of Gothic fiction is the house or manor as a character. I immediately had an image of a servant girl sitting in her room, brushing her hair, unaware that she was being watched by the house. Rather than "if these walls could talk" I wondered, "What if these walls could fall in love?" The rest of the story wrote itself.

What inspires you to write and keep writing? Other writers. Any time I'm feeling down about my work or uninspired, I only need to talk to another writer. Good stories and movies also help recharge my creative batteries, along with weather and atmosphere. I write a lot of horror so a good dreary October day inspires me. (Unfortunately, I live in the desert so dreary days are few and far between.)

What do you think is the most important part of a historical fiction story? For me, it's all about location, both time and place. Historical fiction excels at taking the reading to a fantastic place as much as genre fiction does.

What do you think is the attraction of the historical fiction genre? My life is filled with and ruled by technology. I'm a software developer by trade so I never feel like I can really get away from it. Historical fiction allows me to escape.

What advice do you have for other historical fiction writers? Read about real people, places, and events and then fill your world with them. A single sentence with a real historical detail can bring your world to life.