Mr. Hirsh’s Greatest Achievement
Mr. Hirsh smiled as the tiny pulse of light touched his forehead and a wall of computers blinked on. They said it couldn’t be done. His concept was so simple: everyone had a unique brain. That made his brain scan device impossible to fool. Now, every door, safe, computer, vault, airplane, car, weapon, everything was secured by his device. All it took was a simple registration.
The world was safe again because of him.
Mr. Hirsh smiled at the baby the nurse was holding. The doctor had done a good job with his sperm and some biomedical engineering. They said it couldn’t be done. Now, with the birth of his son, his legacy would continue and the world would reap the benefits of another genius.
“It’s time,” he said.
The nurse handed him the baby, then left.
The baby giggled as Mr. Hirsh strode to his desk. He touched a glossy device the size of a thumbnail to the baby’s forehead. The little hands reached up as light flashed in an almost imperceptible ray of blue. The baby cooed. Mr. Hirsh smiled.
Then all the computers sounded the raucous alarm at the same time. A display flashed across the screens: Duplicate brain signature.
This was impossible. His brain scans were infallible because every brain was different. He glanced at his son, the culmination of his stupendous life. In an instant, Mr. Hirsh’s future faded into the possibility of shame and derision. If anyone found out, he’d be ruined. He’d be laughed at. He looked around the luxurious room, and then down at the baby.
The Red Barn
As a woman in a weathered raincoat and loose jeans walked past the curve in the road, a magnificent barn came into view. Its structure was grand and imposing against the turquoise sky. It was red, as most barns are. The roof was black with asphalt shingles. A wooden door rimmed in white led to a loft under the triangle forming the roof.
The woman sloughed along, observing the barn’s detail as she came closer. Some planks showed weathered paint and others were missing paint altogether. Weeds grew around the foundation. Rusted shovels leaned against a wall. The barn doors were open, the inside black like a toothless mouth mocking her.
The woman pushed her hands deeper into her pockets wondering who owned the barn and where they lived. She wondered if it was a family like her own. She wondered if this unknown family had a son whose heart had failed giving him a place in heaven, or if they knew the joy of having a healthy child.
Tears fell to her cheeks as she picked up a rock and threw it at the black mouth. Damn it all!
A golden hair collie ran out of the barn, barking. She froze, as running was pointless. There was nowhere to go; no place to hide; no safe haven to seek. She clutched the collar of her slicker hoping the dog wouldn’t bite.
The animal jumped on her, his front paws on her shoulders and his face inches from hers. She closed her eyes as she tried to push it away, preparing for the worst. The collie leaned in and licked her face.
The woman smiled as she rubbed his neck, enjoying feeling a happy life in her arms once more. “You’re a friendly one, aren’t you?”
The dog bounded back into the barn and the woman continued her walk, the shadow of a smile on her face.
(Reprinted from The Storyside)
By Ursula Wong
“Velume,” murmured Andre. “How can I live without you?” Even from the shadows where he lurked at the back of the room, Velume’s face glowed with an unworldly beauty. Lying in the coffin, her expression was sublime, as if she had learned a great truth by dying.
Figures dressed in black entered, stayed for a time, then left, their eyes piercing the dimness where Andre stood. Velume’s husband, that dog, slid to the floor near the coffin, melting into a pool of tears. Hands lifted him, carrying him past Andre toward the door.
“Why are you here?” asked a voice, its bearer disappearing before Andre could answer.
He was there because he heard her laugh in the rustle of the leaves. He was there because his heart paused each time she looked at him. He was there because he couldn’t be anywhere else.
He remembered waiting beside the giant shrub in front of Velume’s house, longing for a glimpse of her. She’d finally appeared. She’d gasped when he’d joined her. As they’d walked, Velume kept looking back. “I love you,” he’d said. She’d looked at him fearfully before turning abruptly into the street. Tires had squealed. Her body had made a dull thud as it collided with red metal.
Soon, she would be in the earth, separated from him once again, in a place where he couldn’t see her, couldn’t talk with her, and couldn’t tell her how sorry he was that he had caused her to step in front of that car.
As the last mourner left, Andre moved to the coffin. He pulled scissors from his pocket and clipped an inch of her hair.
Even Velume’s hands, folded neatly on her chest, were white like marble, perfect in death. Andre reached into his pocket for another tool and clipped again. He adjusted the lace of Velume’s sleeve. As he quickly walked through the doorway and into the street, he caressed the skin of Velume’s finger that would be with him forever; forever together.
By Ursula Wong
Teresa sat on the dock, stretching her toes into the water, trying to imagine herself as a teacher, a politician, a wife, a businesswoman, a . She had just graduated college, and the indecision of what to do next felt like a curse. She hadn’t been happy in weeks.
Gulls flew up singing their cul-cul-cul song as a woman came down the dock, looking scruffy in old sneakers, jeans, and a faded denim shirt. Her gray hair was loosely piled on top of her head. “Hello,” she said.
Teresa smiled and nodded, hoping the woman would keep on walking and let her get back to worrying about the rest of her life.
“I’ve lived in Gloucester for a long time,” said the woman.
Teresa suppressed a moan. This is going to take forever.
“My husband died a few months ago.” The woman brushed away a tear.
Teresa shifted uncomfortably, but motioned the woman to sit down.
She said her name was Mary, and she talked about running barefoot through the village in Sicily where she was born, taking the first steps of love with a man who would become her companion for the next 60 years, and then settling in Gloucester, where her husband had relatives. She spoke of the little darlings who were her children, for she had been a teacher.
“You knew you wanted to be all those things?”
“It was an arranged marriage. I didn’t have a say. As for teaching, it was the only job I could get up here at the time.” Mary looked out over the sea. “I had to learn to love many things in my life. You’re lucky to have choices. I always wanted to be an artist, but never had the chance.”
Teresa smiled. Maybe she was lucky.
Jen crossed the floor and put another piece of wood into the pot belly stove that radiated warmth and the feeling of comfort. Uncle Alex had lived a long life in the old house with its rafters that smelled like time itself. He had never owned a TV or even a radio. He had even cooked his meals in a cast iron skillet on that stove.
She turned back to the job of sorting his papers. Uncle Alex had stored everything in boxes. Jen opened one and pulled out cancelled checks, a pile of old family photographs, and a discarded sock. In the bottom lay an envelope with her name on it. The note inside read simply, Be nice to Christopher.
She had wanted him to move in with her during those last years, but he had refused, saying he’d miss his friend Christopher too much. Jen had never met Christopher and didn’t know how to contact him, so she had been the only mourner at Uncle Alex’s funeral. She wondered why Uncle Alex had felt the need to tell her to be nice to his friend. She wished she knew how to get in touch.
She missed Uncle Alex with his stories and laughter that had filled every crevasse. She hummed a few bars of an old ditty she had learned in grade school so she wouldn’t feel so lonely.
Someone was singing with her.
“Who’s there?” she called as she picked up the scissors and clutched them in her hand as a weapon. She sprang to her feet.
Uncle Alex had always said there was a ghost in the house. He hadn’t told her it could sing. Who else but Uncle Alex would have a singing ghost. Jen chuckled at the thought.
She hummed a few more bars. No voice joined her this time, and oddly, she felt disappointed. The house seemed colder and lonelier; somehow emptier. Uncle Alex had lived alone there, but had often mentioned how he had never felt lonely. Then, Jen knew why.
“Will you join me, Christopher?” said Jen.
She hummed some more, and there was the voice again. Jen smiled. It was good to have company.
The Yellow Butterfly
In the dim light of a room that smelled of disinfectant, a priest I didn’t know murmured a prayer, his hand covering the yellow rosary beads entwined around Mom’s fingers. Her lifetime of prayer shouldn’t have led to this. Her diligence on sore knees should have stopped the inevitable from happening. But it hadn’t.
He asked if I needed anything. I shook my head.
“She was a lovely woman,” he said.
“You get sick and you die. That’s all there is. Faith is a waste. Prayer is for fools.”
I went to the window, raised the shades, and opened the sash. A yellow butterfly hovered over the ledge, just out of reach. When I stepped back, it flew inside.
I forgot my anger as I watched it circle the room and land on the rosary beads. Yellow had been Mom’s favorite color.
“I don’t believe in God or coincidence, but I’m beginning to believe in butterflies.”
“It’s a start,” said the priest.
Amber Wolf got a facelift! Available now, on Amazon.
By Ursula Wong
Betty opened the door. “Get out of here!”
As soon as Stanley stepped over the threshold and onto the front porch, she slammed the door shut. She waited, counting the seconds. “Twenty-one, twenty-two.” It was a rough neighborhood and he wasn’t supposed to wait this long. Perhaps he was planning something more than their usual make-up-sex. She felt a tingle run up her spine. Oh how she loved that man. She opened the door and peeked out.
No one was there. Leaving the door ajar, she walked down the steps, half-expecting him to jump out from behind the bushes. What was he planning?
“Stanley, are you there?” She curled her toes. This is going to be good.
The wind stirred the leaves, but Stanley didn’t answer.
She went around the side of the house and even looked in the backyard. Her elusive lover had vanished. Had he run out for some whipped cream?
Annoyed, Betty stomped back inside. Two can play this game. Who does he think he is making me wait? As she walked down the hallway, an arm grabbed her around the waist.
This is it! Sex with a burglar. “Oh Stanley,” she cooed.
A gloved hand covered her mouth. Her eyes filled with the look of terror. This isn’t Stanley.