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Flash Fiction by Ranbir Sidhu
  Music by Steve Kane
  Art by Serena Perrone
'Report' (c) 2005-2006 Serena Perrone
Report

Not the whole foot, perhaps, but only the toes. Or perhaps not only the toes but the whole foot. Perhaps the ankle, the shins, the knees wet. Perhaps more than the whole foot dips into the water.

Not the whole body, but the chest, sometimes the arms, or if the whole body then the whole body is gone, disappeared. It is a lost body, a dark shape under cold water, the shadow of a cloud.

And if not standing, then crouching, and if not crouching, then shivering, arms wrapped around oneself, water dripping onto the sand.

And if not the sound of a motorboat, it is the sound of a helicopter; and if not the latter, then the former. Not fading, not thinning the way a motor lost to distance does, but pushing up on itself, one sound beaching on the dune of the one ahead.

Not sun, or not sun any longer; or if sun, then a sun hidden, a total eclipse; and if not sun, then night, clouds covering the stars; and if not clouds, then one's eyes do not even bother to look up as one runs.

Not your own breath, running, the sound of footfalls on the sand, on the hard gravel, on the grass, on the pavement, on the grass. The sound of footfalls behind as one runs on the grass and the sound of footfalls on the gravel come ahead, close in, grow louder, the sound of one's footfalls on the gravel and the sound, behind, of feet on the sand.

And if not running, then falling, and the sound of feet no longer running, but walking on the gravel. The gravel that is now before one's eyes.

And if one does not know the voice, it is not the voice one hears, it is not your own voice; and if you know it, it is the voice you hear, it is not your own voice.

The voice is not the click of the release of the safety. You know the voice, you know your own voice. You know there are only a few seconds between the click of the release of the safety and the report of the barrel. If not the voice you recognize, then your own; if not those few seconds, then….

Judgement
'Judgement' (c) 2005-2006 Serena Perrone

They gather to drink coffee before setting to work. They argue over the footprints that appear in the sand surrounding the village. There is another set. They are always different. Some follow a straight line while others zigzag or form sinuous curves. Antoine points to Darren. Darren lifts up his feet. They are large, squarish feet. They drink their coffee in small, white cups. The footprints are different every day. Antoine shouts throughout town that it can be no one but Darren. He played tricks as a child. He came to the village an orphan. They resemble the feet of men, but also the feet of women. No one says for certain that they belong to a single individual, but no one says for certain otherwise. The track forms a circle, a spiral, a complex series of squares that move away from the village, an elaborate geometric form that attracts the attention of Biruni the astrologer. Roshni throws the grounds of her coffee at Antoine's feet. Biruni copies the geometric design of the footsteps on a great sheet of white paper and carries the paper into his room. Roshni says the pattern of the dried coffee grounds is one thing, Antoine claims it is another. There are the prints of shoes, boots, heels, flat-soled slippers. White smoke emerges from Biruni's window, and no one sees the astrologer again. The crescents of horseshoes follow those of the heavy feet of someone who limps. Monserrat finds Biruni's room empty. The window is open and on the wall are scratched intricate patterns and a handprint in blood. After they bury Darren, Antoine does not leave his room. The track of a foot alternating with that of a deep, round impression follows a circle and then moves away in a straight line. Aidan demands that Antoine should hang by the neck. No one talks. They all whisper, holding their heads close. Old Albertine remembers that Theocritus wore a wooden leg in the last days of his life. A single footprint appears. No prints lead to it and none lead away. It is the lone print of a naked foot. Aidan counts six toes. The villagers whisper that soon the cemetery will be empty.

'Tongues Lost' (c) 2005-2006 Serena Perrone
Tongues Lost

It is Yakimov who pilots the steamer down the wide river. The jungle is green and humid and when he wakes his skin is damp, encrusted with the moisture of a night spent pitching and jostling in the hammock. Crocodiles surface in muddy water and the shallow wake of the boat catches their snouts. Others lie on the banks and follow the boat with their eyes. The first mate Arslan, the only other person on board, cannot speak, having been stabbed in the neck in a Toulouse brothel. This he has told to Yakimov in a slow and deliberate sign language of his own devising. Now Arslan points and Yakimov follows his finger into walls of green rising from the edge of the river. There is the shape of a pig, a dazzling bird, a woman who stands naked, unmoving, her dark skin glinting in a rare shaft of light. Above them trees arch and their limbs meet in dense canopy enfolding the river. They carry a cargo of animals: cheetahs, a hippo, a dray horse, a one-humped camel, the last surviving aurochs, a fish with the face of a toad, a dodo, a green anteater, a pair of porbandars with hairy, wiry limbs, the bodies of large sheep, and whose features grow more human every day. Yakimov talks with the porbandars and calls the pair Lord Southampton and Princess Divertia. He transports the animals to a camp of German missionaries, a small sect who now speak only in a strange language of grunts and squawks and high shrill cries, though when Yakimov first met them they all spoke a clear and guttural German. They will kill and dismember the animals and spread the butchered carcasses throughout the jungle. Each month Yakimov carries a new pair of porbandars and listens more closely to the last words of Lord Southampton and the final whispers of Princess Divertia.

We Who Love Death So Much
'We Who Love Death So Much' (c) 2005-2006 Serena Perrone

We always knew you love death as much as we do, she said. We always knew. The body of the dead lies on the sofa, his head resting as though asleep. You approach. You touch the skin. You touch the skin of the woman who says, We always knew. . . .You want to touch the skin of the man who died, the man you knew, but you touch the skin of the woman who always knew. There she is, hovering over the body, the body she loves, the body that is dead. You always knew you hated death, but always knew the opposite. You approach, you want to touch the body, but instead you touch the body of the woman who always claimed she knew but didn't tell until just now, didn't reveal until this moment how much she had known. There they are, hovering, floating in the air. They are floating above the body, smiling, so beautiful, like angels, they are glowing with a light, those who always knew. Even if you reached up, extending your arm to its farthest point you couldn't touch the body, let alone her, they wouldn't let you. Floating up there and they didn't tell you. There was no need, they say, what need in telling something all know. You loved death as much as they did. There it is. The body, resting under their gaze. The body that has died, been dying ever since it came under their care, their beautiful, beatific care. The way they touch the body. You would like so much to touch the body but you cannot reach. Not even standing on your tiptoes can you reach. They take such care of the dead, of the dead who come to them, of the dead who are already dead. Isn't this what they said. The way they come through the doors, some still walking, some in wheelchairs, some helped by friends, relatives. But once they are under their care, their shining, angelic care, the care of those who know they are dead, they are already dead. They love death so much they want it all the time. Shining, like a burning orb, they offer it to you, the knowledge. You can know too. But you cannot reach, however much you strain, you cannot reach. We always knew you couldn't reach, wouldn't make it up this high, we who love death so much.

'Maps of the Flood' (c) 2005-2006 Serena Perrone
Maps of the Flood

The pale-faced figure stumbles along. His skin is the color of the sand. Rouhilla calls him Alasdair, curses him, the good-for-nothing. He lies face down on the sand; a moan escapes his lips. The stretcher is made from bones found scattered along the way. Alasdair is tied to it so tightly he cannot move. Mahmud pulls. Alasdair whispers that the track veers away from the dune with the eagle's face. Rashid follows. Alasdair's eyes are closed. Rouhilla crouches by him, her ear to his mouth. His face is encrusted with sand. His heels cut trenches in the dunes. The path of a stream that was lost a thousand years ago: here the third son of Muhammed crossed. Rashid pulls. Rouhilla walks ahead and Mahmud's voice curses Alasdair. Rashid says, what does he know? They go by night. Alasdair whispers the names of the bones that make up his stretcher, the names of the animals they came from, the ages they lived in. They sit huddled and alone. Rouhilla finds the stream, the crossing, the tracks of scorpions that Alasdair promises will appear. The sun is high. The horizon offers no variation. Rashid sketches a face in the sand. His finger moves stiffly. The nail is broken. Scars cover the back of his hand. Mahmud's face is to the sun. Soon he is blind and staggering. A city grows on the horizon, its form shifting like a mirage. In the nights Rouhilla takes Mahmud's hand and leads him. Only as they approach does it seem to solidify, to stiffen. Spires rise into the sky. They are gold. The sun burns on them. Rashid looks away and when he looks back, all he sees are vague figures and the form of Mahmud walking quickly toward the city. They stumble among the empty alleys. The spires of gold are no longer visible. The walls are made from the bones of ancient animals. Alasdair sits and feels the bones with his hands. They are from before the flood, he cries out, and talks on, but Rashid is far away from him. The alleys spiral and curve. Somewhere Mahmud cries out. Somewhere Rouhilla curses. At night a storm rises. The walls shake and the bones that form them begin to crack. Rashid's hands crumble into sand and he follows the spiral of the storm as it takes him with it, obliterating the city, the footprints, the pair of trenches that lead to the horizon.

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