Agnes Dei | Angele Ellis

Agnes Dei

by Angele Ellis


Agnes Dei

On our second date, he said he had a surprise for me. The maître d’ led us into an intimate dining room whose winking electric chandeliers made the cream damassin tablecloths almost too bright to bear.

A glass of white wine and an appetizer I recognized as a designer version of spanakopita, dusted with paprika and garnished with baby onions and rosemary, relaxed me into thinking that I belonged there. I forgot that my dress was striped cotton, my purse from a Mexican street stall, my necklace of variegated stone beads the handmade gift of a friend, and my flat sandals woven hemp and pleather.

Until the main course, set down by a tuxedoed waiter with a flourish: rack of lamb. A lamb—her poor thin ribs upended for display, each roasted bone wearing a papillote. So much like a human corpse, laid out in a ruffled blouse.

I’d told my date that I ate vegetarian—mostly—but I hadn’t stressed this habit. A first date seemed too soon for what was much more than politics or concern over the fate of the earth.

Now I was confronted by my earliest trauma.

My parents weren’t farmers, although we lived in a house on a few acres of land. We had a big garden bordered by berry bushes, and Mother made sauce and jam, and filled a locker freezer with vegetables we couldn’t eat in season. To be neighborly, to try to fit in, she would bring a basket with these things when there was a birth, an illness, or a death. She put flowered handwritten labels even on her white cardboard boxes of frozen goods.

I don’t remember which of the neighbors gave her Agnes.

Agnes, the sickly motherless black lamb my mother was too embarrassed to refuse. Agnes, who wouldn’t have survived if eight-year- old me hadn’t fed her with a bottle, cuddled her in a heated blanket, sung to her, brushed her soft curls. Agnes, who slept next to my bed, and then on a mattress in the old potting shed I cleaned out for her. Agnes—who would take grass and clover straight from my hands, but from no one else’s. She was more than my pet; she was my best friend.

Perhaps Mother would have let me keep Agnes if Daddy—who sold used cars—hadn’t had a few months of low commissions. (I pieced this together later, from arguments I overheard.) Daddy told me that he’d given Agnes to a petting zoo several towns away. She was getting too big for us, he said.

Daddy wasn’t thinking of Bobby Carney when he lied to me.

Bobby was the bully of my year, a fat boy perpetually growing out of his clothes, which were hand-me- downs and never clean. After I’d spoken in class about Agnes—I still have the lavishly crayoned picture I drew of us together—Bobby wouldn’t stop teasing me.

“Lambs ain’t pets, Susie. Even dogs ain’t pets.” He went on to tell me about watching his father shoot their hunting dog in the head “when Rex got too wore out to hunt or even to drag hisself around.”

I shiver when I think of the Carneys’ ramshackle farmhouse and barn, and the ragtag children who weren’t pets, either.

It was the day after Thanksgiving weekend when Bobby swaggered toward me, smacking his blubbery lips and boasting that instead of turkey, his family had eaten fresh roast lamb, as tender as anything you could get in this world.

“That lamb was damn sweet—as sweet as if it was raised by a girl, even a dumb girl who’d name it Agnes.”

The next thing I knew, I woke up in the nurse’s office. I’d fainted, sustaining two black eyes in the process.

I lied, too. I said that Bobby Carney had pushed me on the playground. Principals still paddled kids, then; I watched with satisfaction as Bobby got it good.

I never regretted that, never had any sympathy for Bobby and his ignorant family. There had been no merciful bullet for Agnes. I knew that they’d slit her throat, using her lifeblood to make puddings to suck into greedy mouths. I knew that the black lamb cuffs and collar that appeared on the droopy mud-brown coat Mrs. Carney wore to church were cut from the pelt I used to stroke, feeling Agnes’s heart beat faster with joy.

The damassin tablecloth looked like a shroud to my aching eyes. Across the table, my carnivore date was grinning at me. How greasy his lips were. Lips more blubbery than Bobby Carney’s. Lips that I’d planned to kiss.

For the second time in my life, I fainted.

There was no third date.


Angele Ellis is author of Under the Kaufmann’s Clock (Six Gallery Press), a hybrid illustrated collection of flash fiction and poetry inspired by her adopted city of Pittsburgh, Spared (A Main Street Rag Editors’ Choice Chapbook), and Arab on Radar (Six Gallery), whose poems won her an Individual Artist Fellowship from the PA Council on the Arts. Her poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in over 60 publications–including American Book Review, Grey Sparrow, Italian Americana, Mizna, Prime Number, Rogue Agent, and Yew. Two of the following three things are true: Angele committed civil disobedience seven times, seriously dated a man 20 years her junior, and parachuted from an airplane to celebrate the release of her first poetry collection.


Between the Potatoes and the Flour by Warren Read (Issue #1)

Image credit: Thomas Gillaspy             *

Addie Ames picked up the blanket that had fallen around the feet of the old woman and refolded it, and draped it over her lap. “Mother Pearl,” she said, resting a hand on her shoulder, “you’re not helping things.”

“It’s the chickens,” the old woman insisted. “Always in a racket. That white banty worst of all.” Her words ran together like spilled cream. Around the both of them, men moved like shadows, young, old, big men, boys just waist high.

Addie leaned into her ear. “Hush you.”

“Hush yourself.”

From the night they’d been introduced under the racket of an angry hailstorm on a rusted tin roof, Addie knew the woman looked at her son’s new prospect with great disappointment. Addie had a history somewhere in her blood that showed on every bit of her flesh, a dash of milk spilled into a pot of coffee.

“You look a little redbone to me,” she’d said, her eyes rolling up at Addie like white stones against a mahogany bed.

Thomas squeezed Addie’s arm then, and Addie said simply, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mizz Ames.” She reached out a trembling hand and then the hail picked up, consuming the moment with what seemed like an unending, unnerving cacophony. 

It was in that same room on a thick July afternoon in 1928 that they married, and over the following decade Addie grew strong from shouldering it all, Pearl’s disapproving side-eyed glances and the whispers of final words spoken into her dark, leathered hand. For the sake of harmony and a husband who expected it of her, she had pretended none of it existed. But Pearl was old now, and had a mind that couldn’t be counted on to work the way it was supposed to anymore. And this night was very different from any other.

Thomas scuttled around the place, securing every blind and lock, the smell of his sweat filling each room he passed through. Addie rushed after him, whispering his name over and over because she didn’t know what else she should do. The boys stood stiff like soldiers at the top of the stairway, rifles angled toward the ceiling.

“I can’t see a thing! Someone switch on a light in here!” Mother Pearl was yelling now, and Addie had just enough time to take in her breath before Thomas stopped in his tracks and turned around.

“Goddamn it Addie,” he snapped. “Go and shut that woman up.” He would not curse his mother directly, but his wife would always suffice. “Otherwise the first bullet through this wall’s gonna go right into that chair.”

A slice of orange shone through the edge of the window, a bitter warning of the setting sun. Mother Pearl was in the back of the house now, in the pantry between the potatoes and the flour.

“Mama, you stay put and you stay quiet,” Thomas had ordered. His hands had gripped his mother’s knees as if he might lift her from her chair in one swoop. “You hear me?”

“I hear, Tommy, I hear.”

There were five of them now gathered in the upstairs bedroom: Thomas, Addie, their two boys Amos and Tom Jr., and old Ben. Hands rested against walls of crinkled, peeling paper, and the dim light streaming in from the windowsill lit a jumble of scuffed boots and shoes over a shiny wood floor.

“You still got a steady hand, Ben?” Thomas asked, resting his hand over his stepfather’s. “You think you can still hit a target?”

“Sure as hell.” There was a tremor in his voice, but that had been a part of him for some time now.  

Tom Jr. spoke up. “Am I gonna have to shoot a man, Papa?” he asked. He was not yet twelve, so the rifle laid across his arms like a fallen tree. The boy’s words came in chunks, halting, and weighed down by his own laboured breathing. “Do I shoot him like a deer, up by his head?”

“Good lord, Tommy, don’t talk like that.” Addie put a hand over her son’s mouth. “Sweet Jesus, help us all. Help us all.” Off in the distance, from the other side of the ash grove, a dog barked. The sound came again and again, an unintentional gift of warning that the men had left the road and were coming through the forest.

“You stay to the right of the windows and you keep your guns down,” Thomas said. He spoke in a low whisper, even though the men were still a good 200 yards off. “You’re gonna hear some yelling and then you’re likely gonna hear a shot.”

  “Will it be loud, Papa?” Amos had just turned nine the month before, and he’d handled a gun more times than most boys his age. Mostly rabbits, a few coons that had dared to come too close to the hen house. But he’d never gotten used to the noise and always talked of the ringing in his ears when it was done.

“You’ll hear the shot,” Thomas continued, “and if things go the way I hope they will, that’ll be it.”

“And if not?” Old Ben asked, even though the answer was plain.

There was a pause in the room then. Addie listened to her husband’s breathing next to her, deep and rhythmic.

“If there’s a second report,” Thomas said, “then you start shooting till you ain’t got a single bullet left on you.”

“Didn’t I tell you this would happen?” As quick as the words had left her mouth, Addie regretted not keeping hold of her tongue. Some women would have said it long ago, over and over, never giving a second thought to the consequences of their words. Some women would have done the same as Addie, plucked out the thorn that had been in her skin for so long. Those same women might have held up a hand then, to shield themselves from the one that would come to strike in return. But it wasn’t Thomas’s anger that Addie feared. It was the destruction of his spirit, his crumbling pride and confidence that would be her doing.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said calmly. “Then or now, what’s right is right.”

 There was a sharp cry from downstairs. The noise rolled up the stairs and settled heavy into the room. A collective sigh rose in the air, and Addie felt her own shoulders weigh down like lead.

Mother Pearl.


The street that ran along the front of Kat’s Mercantile had been a patchwork of potholes on that day. They were boot-deep, still full of water from the rainstorm the night before. Thomas and Addie parked the pickup at the end of the block and darted from shop to shop, moving among puddles like dancers in a waltz, his rough, calloused hand guiding her elbow with a grace that made her stomach lift.

Fifteen cents a dozen. The slate had been washed fresh that morning, the writing bold and white like aspen twigs. “Oh, Thomas look,” Addie had said. “Fifteen cents.” She held her fingers to her breast and counted off, whispering numbers in rapid fire. “Maybe the rain this week will give those hens the kick they need,” she whispered hopefully. “Get them laying again.” She took out a pad and pencil, and made a note.

The rest of the afternoon, Thomas spent and Addie earned, just like that. She added up the money they would get the following week from the eggs, butter and wool they would bring in, and Thomas counted off the items he would put on order—axle grease, kerosene, shells for his rifles, a new tube for the radio. Sell and buy.

It was between the mercantile and the feed store that they got separated and it was outside The Bluebird Tavern that Cyrus Tallow’s boy Sam stumbled into Addie’s path.  

“Well now, look who brought the sunshine with her this morning.” Sam Tallow had a face younger than his years, as if he was barely old enough to even set foot in The Bluebird, much less take a drink. He steadied himself with one hand against the door, and raked his tangled yellow hair with the other. “It’s been a long time, Addie Ames. Too long.” He sucked in a spot of air through pursed lips, then let it out in a low whistle. “I might say that you’re looking sweet enough to eat.”

“Mister Tallow.” Addie spoke simply, as though his words had dissolved in the space between them. She tipped her head slightly, and continued on her way.

“So formal.” Sam put a hand in front of her, and scanned the area around them. “Must be the man is around, you walking right past me like you don’t even know me.”

 “Have a nice day, Mister Tallow.” Addie’s jaw was set hard, and she let her shoulder brush boldly against his chest as she turned. She stepped from the sidewalk into the dirt, but Sam was quick, in spite of the liquor. There was a tangle of feet, and the hem of her cotton dress found itself in the tight grip of his hand. She was spun off balance, her body tumbling into his as the two of them fell backward, right into the last night’s rainwater.

“Jesus, Addie,” Sam laughed from beneath her. “Look what you did!”

“What I did?” She lifted herself from the ground and fanned the skirt of her dress outward. It was ruined, soiled beyond repair. As she stood there, Sam Tallow writhing at her feet, she imagined taking her heeled boot and mashing it into his sneering face. More than anything, she wanted to do just that, but she held her temper. As people poured from the doorways and filled the sidewalks, and passing cars slowed down to leer at them, faces laughing from behind windows, but most simply staring in anticipation, Addie held calm. The last thing she needed to do was risk her entire family over a silly cotton dress.

“Why don’t you take that thing off and I’ll bring it home with me,” Sam slurred. “I’ll have my girl clean it and drive it on out to your little shack.”

“It’s fine.” She stepped away from him, but his hand took hold of her ankle.

“Come on, now,” he mumbled. His boyish face wore a beard of mud from ear to chin. “I’ll take you in my car myself. You can soak in my mama’s tub.” He grinned, and tugged at her ankle. “I promise I won’t peek in at you.”

By the time Thomas came out of the feed store and saw his wife, damaged as she was, there really wasn’t anything that could have been done. It was the blood along the edge of her mouth that blinded him to any reason and consequence. It wasn’t but a few drops, but the red carried itself directly to Thomas and burned itself right into his stomach.

Addie met him halfway, pushed him back with her muddy hands. “It’s not worth it,” she begged. “It’s an old dress. He’s drunk, Thomas. Don’t make a bad thing terrible.”

But the blood took his ears from him, and he pushed her aside.

A single blow to the jaw was all it took. It was all it took to send the Tallow boy to the ground, and it was all it took to seal Thomas’s fate from that moment forward. Everything he had worked toward, everything he had earned, for himself and his family, was no more.

“Get on home, Thomas Ames,” came a voice from out front of the feed store. “Bad enough you hit a white boy, but you had to make it a Tallow.”


The two of them said not more than a few words on the long drive back to the farm. It was just after they crossed over Fire Creek Bridge that Thomas let loose.

“I’m fed up, Addie. Fed up with the whole damned thing.”

“But Thomas–”

“But nothing,” he spat. “Bunch of drunks and grifters, that’s what they are. Can’t farm for nothing. Anything that comes out of their land is from someone else’s work.” He gripped the steering wheel so hard Addie could see the knuckles through the skin. “Everyone here tiptoes around ‘em like they’re coiled snakes.”

Addie said nothing at first, letting the creaking of the truck fill the seconds until she could get her words together. “If you turn around right now,” she said carefully, “just go straight to the Tallow place and talk to the old man himself before—“

“The hell I will.” Thomas gunned the engine, and the truck fell into the swoop of the gully before lurching up the hill toward the turnoff to their farm. Addie’s stomach sank with the dip, and stayed there.

“You know what this means, then?” she said with a shrug of her shoulders. “They’ll be there by sundown.”

“Let them come.”


“There’s rats in here,” Mother Pearl mumbled, taking hold of Addie’s hand. “Shine a light. They’re coming into the pantry.”

“It’s the boys upstairs, Mother.” The shuffle of footsteps over their heads was frantic, back and forth, the occasional murmur dulled by floorboards and ceiling. Addie leaned in close to Mother Pearl, put her lips to her ear and sang softly.

I got peace like a river, I got peace like a river

I got peace like a river in my soul…

She let the words fall gently away, and the two of them hummed together for a time until Mother Pearl let go of Addie’s hand.

“You go on up there,” the old woman said calmly. “I’ll be good now. The rats are gone back to the barn.”

“Everything all right here?” It was old Ben, a silhouette of broad shoulders and downy hair in the pantry doorway. “You all right, Pearlie?”

“I’m fine, just spooked. Can’t be surprised, sticking me in this closet.” She was back to her usual self, now. Hands still and warm, her voice full of vinegar. “Go on now, both of you.”

“I’ll stay here Mother,” Addie said. “In case one of those rats decides to poke his nose back in here.” Outside, the dogs had quieted their barking, and the faint twittering of the hens had reclaimed the dusk.

“Alright then.” Ben leaned into the pantry and fumbled his hand among the potatoes to get his balance. “You be sweet to Miss Addie,” he whispered to his wife. “Like I know you can be.” He kissed her on the cheek, and she reached up and touched his lips with her fingertips. They remained like this for the longest time, until a voice from upstairs turned Ben away, and Mother Pearl let him go with wave of her hand, and a weary sigh.

There was more shuffling above them, but if Mother Pearl noticed, she said nothing. Addie let her head fall back, and she drew in a deep breath. The air was thick and heavy with the smell of onions and dirt, and of Mother Pearl’s lavender soap. She listened hungrily for the deep roll of her husband’s voice, and for the light melody of her precious boys.

“I never cared for you much,” Mother Pearl said suddenly. Her voice was clear and articulate and Addie pulled back with a start. It wasn’t the sentiment, but the bluntness.

 “I know that, Mother Pearl.”

“It ain’t your fault though,” she went on. “I know you’re good people. A woman can’t help if she’s too pretty no more than if she’s ugly as sin. You carry the load that God gave you.”

“You thought I was pretty?” Addie strained her eyes, to try and make out the old woman’s face in the dim space.

“Oh yes. Too pretty. Too pretty for my boy.” She laughed softly. “When I saw you that first day in my kitchen—remember that day?”

“The hailstorm.”

“It was a hell of a storm. Nearly took the roof off of the house.”

“I remember.”

“I saw you there, and the first thing I thought was ‘Lord this girl’s gonna be trouble.’ ”

Addie squatted down next to her, rested her hand on the old woman’s arm and asked, “And why’s that, Mother?”

“A pretty woman draws the boys like flies and the girls like hornets,” she said. “Like that banty hen. Mean as all get out, stirring up the hen house so no chicken will lay. And that damned rooster won’t shut the hell up. It’s a pretty thing, but it brings out the ugly in everyone.”

“Including you, right?”

“I reckon so.”


“Sam Tallow!” Thomas’s  cry slammed the house like a thunderbolt. “I know you’re out there, you son of a bitch.  This is between us and us only. Step off my property and leave my family out of this.”

“Little late for that now, isn’t it?” Sam’s voice was tinny and desperate, like a boy standing up to his old man for the first time in his life.

“I know I got you wrong, though,” Mother Pearl said, her hand brushing her daughter-in-law’s sleeve.” My Tommy, he loves you so much he’d lay down his life. That’s something.”

The crack of a rifle shot broke the moment in half, and the two women sat in stone silence. Mother Pearl found Miss Addie’s wrist and she held on, gripped it tightly as if she might slide from the chair at any second.

The return shot came like an echo, and in the time that it took Addie to take in her next breath, a barrage of gunfire exploded in the air. Mother Pearl was yelling something, and even when Addie pulled her close, she couldn’t make out what she was saying.

Addie let her head drop to the old woman’s lap, let her lungs take in the heady scent of lavender and wool. The shots came in sets of three. Three here, three there. There would be a lull, then another set until at last the night fell silent.

The women allowed themselves a moment of stillness in the wake of such horror. Addie felt the violent pounding of her heart against her mother-in-law’s knees, and she listened to her own breathing grow ever shallower.

There was the dull sound of movement from upstairs, and the volley of voices from one person to another.

“You boys all right?”

“Yes, Pa.”

“There’s glass all over the floor.”  

From off the kitchen, across the yard, the hens were in a commotion.

“That damned banty,” Mother Pearl hissed.

Addie took in a deep breath and let it go, her body shaking in fits as she began to cry.

“There now,” Mother Pearl whispered. “It’s all over, dear.” She combed her fingers through Addie’s soft mane of hair, letting it fall loosely in her lap, the combed it once again. “It’s just a racket, nothing worse than a big hailstorm,” she cooed. “Remember that? It was nothing to cry about then, and it’s nothing now.” She bent over in her chair, as far over as her old body would let her, and she smoothed the hair from Addie’s face.

I got peace like a river, I got peace like a river…

She sang so softly, like a brand-new mother shepherding her baby to sleep against her bosom.

I got peace like a river in my soul…

WARREN READ is the author of a memoir, “The Lyncher in Me” (2008, Borealis Books) and his fiction has appeared in Hot Metal Bridge, Mud Season Review, Sliver of Stone, Inklette, and Switchback Magazines. In addition, he has had two short plays directed for the stage by Tony winner Dinah Manoff. In 2015 he received his MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.

THOMAS GILLASPY is a northern California photographer with an interest in urban minimalism. His photography has been featured in a number of magazines including the literary journals: Compose, DMQ Review and Citron Review. Further information about his work is available at his website.


















The Man On The Stairs

by Michael Chin

Photo credit: Lewis Dakin


Do you remember the smell of burnt bacon? You used to say the smoke stung your eyes, so you stayed as far from the kitchen as you could in the morning. You said you couldn’t see right for hours once it had sunk into your corneas.

Do you remember the morning of the storm? The low roll into a clap of thunder?
​Of course you do.

You played a horribly flat version of “Fur Elise,” all out of rhythm, all because you were desperate for our stepfather to let you quit your piano lessons (you were far better than you ever let on). Figuring out the chord progressions to Bruce Springsteen songs by ear and sneaking them in amidst the classical music.

​I remember “Atlantic City.” Your wordless take on the refrain, everything dies, that’s a fact. Maybe everything that dies someday comes back.

I had no breakfast to cook in the kitchen. No piano practice. I ran between the kitchen and your music downstairs. I ran to my knapsack to check that I’d remembered everything, fearful of my teacher, Mrs. Furman, who would strike me if I forgot my homework. It was you who’d warned me that you saw her do it when you were a third grader.

We walked up the stairs together. We didn’t turn on the lights, although it was so dark. I stumbled at the foot of the stairs and you walked straight into me and the both of us fell over. You cursed at me. You usually did, even then.

I remember the flash of lightning. I remember man on the stairs.

His face was paper white and he had long black hair that spiked out at sharp angles. We both screamed in those seconds when we looked up at him. While you were still getting up, I looked up into his eyes. I’d always imagined the deepest reaches of the ocean might look like that– a place where light couldn’t reach, or where serrated rock and slippery membranes clotted to form a hideous leviathan. It was a moment when we both understood the sensation of death, and there was not one fragment of peace in it.

I might have thought that this was all imagination. Perhaps there was no man at all, and I had just experienced a trick of light. But you saw him, too. We clutched each other’s arms. You dug your nails into me. I shook.

Another flash of lighting. No one there.

Then a crashing sound from upstairs. I already knew it was the kitchen. You took my hand and we climbed the stairs. I felt a chill seize me as we climbed past the space where the man had been.

We found our stepfather on his back. A hand lay over his chest. You told me to call 911 while you turned off the stove, and bacon grease sprayed up from the frying pan to burn your forearm.

Mom told us he’d had a stroke and that there was nothing we could have done. She reassured us it was all the bacon and stress from work that had caught up to him, but I remembered his goose-pimpled flesh when we found him. My step-father’s eyes had been open wide, mouth frozen hard in a slack-jawed grimace. Not surprise, or even pain. Scared to death.

We didn’t tell her about the man on the stairs. We never talked about it. Maybe you’ve forgotten about the man from all those years ago.

I need to remind you.

I need to remind you because I saw him tonight, during another storm on another staircase. I was on a bleary-eyed two a.m. walk up to my one bedroom after a lonely evening at the bar. A flash of lighting, again. This time, it was longer. Brighter.

And he was gone. I’m writing because I’m not sure I’ll make it through the night. If I do, I’ll wake to an ambulance or police siren. That old Mr. Chester upstairs is gone, as is the single mother across the hall. God forbid one of her children becomes a victim.
The authorities will claim that natural causes is to blame.

Don’t tell me I’m crazy. Don’t say I’m scared of stairs or storms. I’d rather hear back nothing at all.

Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and writes and teaches in Corvallis, Oregon. He won the 2014 Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for Fiction from the University of New Orleans and has previously published fiction and poetry in over twenty journals, including Bayou Magazine, The Rappahannock Review, and The Pacific Review. Find him online here and on Twitter @miketchin.

The Merchant’s Wares

by Shawn Cowling

Kaia had spent her whole life under a thatched roof in a town barely worthy of being called a town. Where most towns had electricity and a few motor carriages darting about the streets, her community was a collection of homes surrounded by endless fields of corn and barley. Her place of birth was decades away from similar extravagance.

Every evening just before slumber, she would gaze out her window and sigh. The stars shone on a world full of opportunity, and she had the regular opportunity to push chickens out of the house. There must be more out there; more to see, more to do, and more to experience than what was in her tiny town.

“Perhaps tomorrow,” she would say before closing her eyes.

Kaia dreamt of the wonders she hoped would fill her real life. For years, her ritual was simply that: a mantra of hope without realization. She had nearly given up on any one tomorrow being more special than the next.

An unforgettable tomorrow began like so many others. A simple horse led a cart carrying a busker yelling of wares both rare and essential. Kaia had heard the speech before- all peddlers used the same lines- but meeting someone new was the rarest and most essential thing in the world, so she spoke with each merchant that ventured into town. The cart was plain, and the horse old. The merchant’s hair was tied above her head and looked as weathered as the gloves covering her hands, but the road and work had not stolen her smile. The merchant grinned ear to ear as she met a new face.

“Good morn’, young miss,” the merchant started. “You have a look of wonder about you. A brain bigger than your town, I see.”

The merchant hopped off the cart, walked to the back and rummaged through her wares. Only Kaia had approached the cart. The other villagers around at this hour made tried to avoid the merchant.

“Oh, yes. I dare say this is the perfect item for you.” The merchant stepped around the cart and smiled at Kaia. “Your way out.”

“A window frame?” Kaia said.

She examined the square wooden frame, ornately carved with flowers and symbols she didn’t recognize. An eye had been carved into the sun-bathed cherry wood at what appeared to be the top of the frame.

“Simple enough. But looks are not defining features, as you understand. This frame is made from wood gathered at the foot of a volcano, blessed by the mightiest gods of the region and carved with the runes of a civilization lost to history- but not to us. The eye can reveal many things. What do you think a window reveals? You will see everything your heart desires through this window. If you take it, the world is but a glance away.”

The merchant’s pacing hypnotized Kaia. She moved with a grace and poise that made her enchanting to listen to and watch. Kaia pondered the frame and wondered if she should sacrifice her saved coins on something so frivolous.

“How much do you want for it?” she asked with noticeable hesitation.

“For you? A dreamer, and a seeker of wonder? This item is yours, at no charge,” the merchant said.

Kaia’s smile matched the merchant’s.

“Go!” the merchant urged her.

Kaia ran home, clutching the window frame to her chest and dreaming of what spectacle awaited her. She entered her house, scooted a chicken outside with her foot and raced up to her bedroom. Kaia placed the frame against a wall and stared into the eye, waiting for something to happen. And waited. And waited.

“Silver-tongued merchant. At least she didn’t charge,” Kaia whispered.

She had given up hope of anything fantastical happening and turned to leave her room. The room rattled as she approached the door. She gasped; the window frame glowed an emerald green, and the space inside it moved. Kaia saw the world she so desperately wanted to live in. She walked to the window frame and stared, wide eyed, at the scene.

I wonder, she thought, Can I touch it?

Kaia put her hand through the frame.


Shawn Cowling writes shorts stories and genre fiction for fun and corporate training manuals for pay.  When not writing, he’s chasing around his two young sons and making bad puns.  You can find him online at his blog, or on Facebook.