Non-Seq Drippleday

  • Do you think the Pope likes chocolate or should the Kangaroo sit this one out?
  • If you use a toothbrush why would the buckle flap unhinged?
  • Sally dipped her finger and seventeen times three.
  • Beneath the rotting log there lived a mouse that found that balloons shouldn’t be trusted.
  • Barkley fell and barked his knees on the bark of a persimmon tree but solar-cells only provide twenty-one percent.
  • Mom yelled, “Honey!” so that Jupiter’s moon Europa has amoeba like creatures the size of whales.
  • “Checkmate” and the dishwasher fell off the cliff.


Shadow Shoals 1.2

~ 2 ~


K imagined that this island would provide little shelter. Over the decades, rising seas and yearly hurricanes had submerged what had once held a small settlement. Now, only ancient foundations, like jagged teeth, and the stumps of trees showed amongst the ocean grasses that overwhelmed the sea-swept island. The girl at K’s feet moaned as she watched the brighter shadow of the island slip by.

“There are other islands north of here. There’s dried deer meat wrapped in a bundle behind you; find it if you can. We have ten songs yet to travel.”

K felt the girl shift and squirm as the child wormed her thin arms into the mysterious heap against which she’d lain during the crossing.

“Just under the tarp, higher up.” Soon, the sound of fibrous venison being torn and the chaw of young jaws grinding at the meat came from the girl. Despite the headwind, the smoky aroma of meat freed from the bundle wafted forward and the two children in the bow begged for a share.

The boy crawled over the top of Kasmira’s packed belongings. “Jessa, I’s sorry you be back here with…”

“You three should call me K.” Kasmira said, her teacher’s voice sneaking out unexpectedly.

“Like’n the letter ‘K’?” the girl asked around a mouthful.

“Yes, the letter ‘K’. Do you have schooling?” Kasmira continued to dip, stroke and kick, the kick straightening out the nose of the canoe after each churn of her paddle. The lapping of midnight waves pat to the rhythm of lively music against the hull.

“Some,” replied the girl. Doling miserly, she’d handed a pair of venison strips to the boy who then inched cautiously back to the front. “Before the Newains came and beat the learners,” she said, a tinge of bitterness clipping her words.

This one seems stronger than she appears, thought Kasmira.

“Tell me of these Newains.”

The girl at K’s feet twisted between her knees presenting her shoulder towards K. “New Way people. I don’t like ‘em,” she said lifting the yellow square patch in the dim light of the stars. “They came, took our, I mean, took Aunt Sarah’s cows, and took our goats, too. Nita ‘n me, they’s was our goats. Then they banged the door, broke it too. They took us then.”

The girl’s voice must have carried, as the first girl, Nita, spoke back, clearly commanding the second. “Don’t tell that woman nothin’ more, Jessa.”

K let the conversation die. The second island appeared, its higher banks and trees rising from the darkness. It, too, had suffered inundation. A number of hang-tree oaks surprised K as their submerged trunks ghosted by; jutting above the water, their weathered branches scowled down at them, judging as they passed.

Curving around to the distant side of the island, K spotted a fresh beach, no doubt torn open by a recent storm, and headed toward it.  Fewer snags reached out from the depths here and she sped up her paddling to run the canoe into the sand. With a satisfyingly soft grind their forward motion came to a halt. She whispered to the children for stillness and silence. They listened for signs they’d been detected. None showed, so they disembarked. K spun the craft, end for end, and pulled it up to secure it. The tide had dropped a few feet and would continue that way until morning.

It wasn’t cold. It never really got cold anymore. But she knew the children’s small bodies would be chilled through, the girls’ doubly so. But a fire at this time of night, as late or early as it might be, risked too much.

“The three of you will have to bunch up with me tonight.” No one complained. Kasmira, well practiced at making camp, stood the children to the side while she cleared the higher beach, laid a wide tarp and all the blankets she owned alongside her own quilted bedding, old bones and ground beds soured the most amiable of sleepers. She let the girls strip, darkness their curtain, and gave each a spare shirt. The sand molded to their bodies as the four of them burrowed into the bedding, the boy to K’s left and the girls, entwined, to her right. Within a five-song the children’s breathing evened and slowed.

The woman pondered the day. Bury one and earn three for the trouble. But, she found that as hard as she wanted to frown at her predicament, the presence of the three warm innocents, dependent though they might be, lifted the corners of her mouth and crinkled her eyes. The night passed without further incident. Despite the hardness of the sand, K found that, in the morning, she’d had her best rest in years.

Reticent to rise from their nest, the group lounged while the sun rose two hands high. Kasmira coaxed the girls, Nita and Jessa, sisters and orphans, to tell her more of these New Way people.

“When we turn eighteen, they said we’d get a part, our part of the Way,” Nita said, after apparently deciding that K posed little threat to her and her sister.

“So you worked for them as slaves then. Worked at what?”

The two girls, both with straight dark hair, looked at each other. Jessa spoke up. “We sewed, and weaved, and tapped and twisted little tools on little shiny boxes. Some of the olders, we was all childrens, I think, they worked big tools on big boxes — some with wheels and some with snakey tubes.”

“An’ we all had dirt work, too. Diggin’ an’ scrapin’ at rows of greens,” Nita added.

K reclined back onto the hard ground, her head propped up on her rolled jacket. The children had pulled away somewhat, but the shared heat kept them close. “You had schooling before the Newians showed up?”

“Yes’m, learner–”

“–Teacher,” K corrected.

“Teacher Briarson, she had eleven books, and three had stories, and she would read, and learn… teach us letters and writing. Numbers we learnt from Aunt Sarah.” Jessa looked away, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “Them were our goats, five of them. We milked ‘em, ‘n fed ‘em and made sour cheese. Ten fists of flour for one of our cheeses. Or two ten-eggs for one.”

“Twenty.” Kasmira gently wiped the tears from the girl’s cheek. The girl accepting the roughness of the woman’s touch.

“Twenty eggs, for one,” she amended.

The boy, restless, said, “I’m hungry,” from beneath the grey-green woolen blanket that he’d wound himself within.

“So?” K replied. “What are you going to do about it?”

“Oh, I’s know. I’s got nuts ‘n ‘taters in the boat. From a’tradin’,” he said grinning at K.

Freed from his bedding, Deus laced his boots, but before he could stand, the woman grabbed him and pulled him down next to her, as the loud thwack of someone striking ax to wood resounded from the island’s center.

“Shhh. We’ve got others here.”

The girl’s pulled up tight to her, but the boy tugged away.

“I go see who be choppin’ this early.”

Thinking to deny him, she stopped and reconsidered, having seen the look on his face, the pride of acting the man. “Deus right? Deus, quiet as a mouse, do you hear? Just a peek and then you scurry back to us.”

The boy nodded, his expression serious.

Deus put on his cloak and headed north up a slope and through a stand of tall white pines leading toward the noise of splitting wood, decades of fallen needles quieting his steps.

Kasmira doubted trouble awaited the child. She’d traveled this bay from top to bottom, nearly two-hundred miles, many times, meeting and trading with people who lived within the tidal basin. Rarely had she found the need to fear others. The prior day’s and night’s events, however, gave her pause.

“We’ll give him a few songs to get back,” she said to the girls who now stood, still dressed in K’s spare shirts. “I’m sorry, but until we know it’s safe, we’d better not start a fire. You two can stay wrapped in the bedding. I’ll fetch the boy’s cache of food.”

K returned with the sack and handed it to, hmm, she thought, I can’t tell them apart.

The girls, identical, or close enough, accepted the sack and frowned at the contents.

“You can wait,” said K before either could complain, “for your friend to return, hopefully with good news. Otherwise, cold taters and pignuts is what we have for now.”

Each took an egg-sized tuber and ate it silently. “Why are you so strong, for a girl?” asked the one, Jessa, K thought, identifying the girl’s subtle speech pattern.


“You picked me up last night, like I was nothin’. You, you are a girl, aren’t you?”

K laughed a burst of mild indignation. “I’m woman enough, where it counts anyway. I did hard work when I was young. And traveling and trading, on my own, it makes you strong.”

The scene from their small beach showed the stand of drowned trees that stood out a hundred steps, arrayed like a watery garden. To their right, they could see the island they’d passed two miles distant, the mound of its back covered with greens and browns. Straight out, ten miles or so to the east, the distant peninsula that tapered from the north shown like a long line of shorebirds, just a dark rim at the edge of sight.

“Tell me why you two needed rescue last night?”

Nita spoke up this time. The girl wore the blue plaid shirt. She seemed the leader of the two, K thought, but only because the other appeared to be the thoughtful one. “We ran away after we saw Master Franko kill Betha. We waited until the night, when all us yellows and reds were counted in the long houses and we snuck out the high window in the storeroom.”

Before K could delve deeper into their story the boy returned. Perhaps as proof he could move with stealth through the woods, he reappeared without a sound at the edge of their camp. “I think dem’s bad men up there. I seen one, and a lady, an’ heard another’n in the cabin.”

The girls startled as the boy spoke up. K had begun to worry at the boy’s absence and so witnessed him slip back into camp with her frequent glances up the slope.

“Why do you think them bad?” K asked, crouching to his level. She held out her hand and he took it.

But he soon dropped it. “I got close to see a cabin and some peoples. Da one man he, he was choppin’ and breakin’ wood, and a lady, her hair like sunlight, she tried to pick up the pieces but she kept droppin’ em and stumblin’. Ever’ time she did, da man laugh at her. Den he got mad or sumptin’ and he grabbed da lady and yanked her drawers down and started ruttin’ against her, she layin’ against da wood pile. She, she…”

K motioned for the girl in the green shirt, Jessa, to hand her the sack. K found a deep purple potato, the only one like it, and handed it to the boy, pulling him down to sit with them on the tarp.

He took a bite and continued. “She didn’ cry or nuthin’. The man pushed her away and grabbed the wood his self, and he yelled some words into the cabin and I heard another’n man call back. And den I sneaked away, real quiet.”

The four sat considering his story.

“Yes, they sound like bad men.”

“Can we kill ‘em?” Deus asked, expectantly.

“I can see why you might want to. Why I might want to. But killin’ men, we just don’t do such things. At least, we try not to. But we can help this woman. Do you think she’s sick, or weak?”

“I don’ know. When she turn my way, her face be like a sunrise, like a doe with eyes that look up to the sky.”

“I’ll have to go take a look myself.” Kasmira weighed the boy’s age again. Maybe he’s more than seven, nine maybe. His words and composure, while telling this repulsive tale, made him appear older, despite his small stature. “If I can’t speak to the woman alone, we best move on to another place. There’s one more island north. But it’s a good distance.” She wore her jacket, boots and her woolen hat and left their small camp. When she was just inside the woods she appeared to vanish.

Within a hundred-strides, weaving through the trees, she spied the woman, sitting on a high flat stump, arms crossed, hugging herself. K saw the wood pile where the rape must have occurred, and the cabin, smoke billowing like a leaf fire from the chimney.

Within twenty steps Kasmira paused and waved to the woman who faced her. When no response came, she must be dazed by the attack, she gave a small whistle, like one to draw attention in a busy market.

The golden-haired woman spun her head from side to side, ranging in on the sound. “Who’s there?” she whispered loudly.

“I’m a friend.”

“You’d better leave. If the brothers catch you I can’t say what might happen.”

K was undeterred. “Do you need help?” Of course she needs help.

“You can’t help me. I’m useless, but for one thing.”

K stepped forward, the woman had avoided her gaze, looking to the tops of the trees. “I’m here,” K said, trying pull her away from her distant view.

“I can’t see you. I’ve been blind since I was twelve.”

Understanding bloomed on Kasmira’s face. “I’ll ask again, do you need my help?”

“Can you free a slave?”


The woman, narrowing in on K’s face by sound alone, blinked her jaybird blue eyes, their unnerving focus just over K’s shoulder, and explained.

“These brothers, Pratt’s their name, bought me a year ago. I was sold by my father after I got sick, when my eyes went dark. I’ve been sold over ‘n over ever since.”

“My god, how, where?”

“Brothels, in the South mostly. I would have run away, but how could I?”

K determined then and there to save the woman from her heinous plight. Slavery, like she believed the Newains were imposing on children like Nita and Jessa, and Betha, my Anna, she thought, violated every righteous bone in her body.

“Do you have belongings in the cabin, things you hold dear?”

“Can you fight these bastards? They won’t give me up, not for gold nor threat.”

So much death already. Kasmira’s mind returned to a previous age. A time when she herself had been forced to marry; forced to birth children she loved and lost; forced to kill their father, her husband, Joe, when he threatened their lives. She was sent to prison for three years, an ancient fetid prison, fouled by centuries of neglect and unspeakable use. And then finally released to a bright world where she learned business as a trade, politics as a passion, and love, she learned to love, later, much later.

But that first murder, the knife blade sliding up between her husband’s ribs, his hands around her throat, that murder prepared her to do, later on, much worse things, for much nobler reasons.

Killing these two rapists and slavers would taint her soul only a little.

“First, tell me your name,” Kasmira urged. “And then tell me, should these men die?”


“We’ll be staying a while, long enough to dry your clothing, long enough to cook a porridge,” K said as she returned to the children. She went to her canoe, still ladened with her mound of items; from it she withdrew a short, horn-bellied bow and a hardened leather case containing more than two dozen beautifully crafted arrows.

“What happened? Why–” Nita said for the three of them.

“–I’ll explain later.”

The children crowded around her as she dug through her pile of unusual items. Odd copper pots and tubes, glass bottles wrapped in packing, colorful bolts of cloth and a box containing chromed tools, the likes of which few had seen for generations. Beneath it all, raised on a bed of slats to keep out any shipped water, rested a set of trunks — full of books.

“Deus, can you manage a fire? Good. Girls, bundled there is a pot and my shovel. Fill the pot from this…” Behind the back seat of the canoe, K folded down a panel and inside was a metal cistern half full of fresh water. “When it rains next, we’ll be sure to collect water to refill our stores.”

The children all reacted to K’s use of the word “our.” They smiled at this, but concern washed over their faces as they watched the woman string the bow and select a handful of arrows from the case.


“I’ll be back. And I’ll be bringing the woman Deus saw earlier. Her name is Tove. She’s blind.”

Before she left, she reached just inside the gunnel of the canoe and retrieved a blunt knife as long as a child’s arm. This she tucked through her belt before looking at each child to reassure them. She turned and walked back up the slope.

The blind woman, Tove, sat just as K had left her. The brothers remained inside, drinking, Tove said, the cider they made from fruit collected from the apple and pear orchard that covered most of the island. The woman stood when she recognized the birdsong whistled by K. She beckoned at the sound for K to approach.

“They have not stirred from the cabin since earlier,” Tove confirmed.

“Then they will be needing to piss soon, if drinking is all they do.” Kasmira unslung the machete from her belt and handed it to Tove. “Hold this to your side, behind you as you stand to call them. If I cannot kill them both, and they attack you, swing with all your might, around and around. I will call when all is clear. Until then, any noise you hear, swing to kill.”

“I… They are big men. Josh Pratt is twice me, or more.” She took the long blade and held it as if toxic.

“They must not realize how dire is their predicament, until too late. Hold the blade lower and behind. That’s it.” K wondered about a rear door, but figured both would come out this side if trouble sounded. “Tove, you must get closer to the cabin. Draw them out. I’ll not let them hurt you again.”

The sun was pole high and warmed the ground around the cabin. Spring growth had pushed young shoots up all around. Willow and birch saplings, growing from stumps that circled the plot, had tiny green leaves peeking out. The white pines that capped this end of the island, whispered their susurrations, while dragonflies investigated the open glade, their inspections going unnoticed by the blind woman standing at the east corner of the cabin.

“Jacob! I’ve fallen. I need your help.” Tove yelled at the squat dwelling.

When no response came, the woman yelled again.

Kasmira, her arrow nocked, her bow resting horizontal, watched as the slatted door of the cabin swung out and a tall, balding man stumbled out, letting the door hang open behind him. He was shirtless and filthy. His torso glistened from his alcohol induced sweat, suspenders held his floppy pants high around his waist. He walked out into the yard, not expecting the woman to be at the corner.

“Tove, where the hell are you?” He held his hand up to shade his eyes as he looked around.

K rounded the tree behind which she’d hid and clicked her tongue. The man spun at the sound and dropped his hand from his eyes as a Cherokee fashioned arrow buried itself up to the fletching just beneath his sternum. He grunted and tilted his head down to stare at the brown and white turkey feathers and fell onto his back, dead, the arrow snapping off behind him.

The second man appeared, stooped in the doorway. He was just as big as Isa had related. The thin liquor must not have addled his senses as much as his brother, for Josh Pratt’s first reaction was to grab the door and slam it shut.

Kasmira nocked another arrow, but the plan had twisted sideways.

“We’ll have to burn it down,” K said, coming to just out of swing range of the blind woman wielding the long knife. She told Tove to lower the blade, which she’d raised as soon as she’d heard the thwack of the arrow penetrating flesh. K held the woman’s elbow to guide her away from the cabin’s corner.

The pair stood out of harm’s way of any missiles or the rare possibility that the brother’s owned a working firearm. Such weapons existed, mostly the flintlock kind, but carbines, or pistols, which used cartridges, had vanished from use fifty years after the sunstorm broke the world; ammunition had become rarer than medicine. And no new manufacturer had taken up the process — for either; none that Kasmira knew of; and she’d traveled further than most.

“Josh Pratt! The citizens of Tidelock have decreed that you and your brother are in violation of civil law prohibiting slavery. Show yourself or face certain death.” Kasmira bluffed legalese, trying to determine how much a problem Josh Pratt presented. Whether he believed her or not, she heard a scuffle coming from behind the home, which turned out to be the actual front. She ran to the other side leaving Tove behind. There she noticed the orchard and the gravel road that split the island leading right to the cabin. A hundred strides down the road ran the big man, loping away.

K returned to Tove who had begun to feel her way around to the front. “What lay at the end of the road?” she asked, breathing hard.

“The brother’s have a boat, or they did. They brought me here in it. I don’t know its fate. I heard the one arrow. Did you kill Josh?”

“If Josh is the bigger one, then no. He’s running north on the wagon road.”

“If he gets to his boat, and sails to where they sell their cider, I won’t be safe ever again. Josh be as bitter as tannin tea. He won’t ever stop huntin’ me.”

Running was not something Kasmira did often enough to ease the thought of it. But she struck out after the brute, moving as fast as she could. The black haired man, running with boots on, a flapping shirt, overalls and, she thought, an ax in one hand, rounded a corner at the end of the orchard and when K approached the spot, she paused, cautious. Another hundred strides further on, she spotted the man attempting to push a heavy skiff down a skid of timbers made for easy launch.

When she got to the slip, the man was twenty yards adrift looking back at her.

“You kilt my brother. I seen it,” he screamed at her, his big voice booming in her ears. “I’ll be huntin’ you down. And that blind bitch, too. Ain’t no place you can hide from me after I get my boys.”

He was standing in the boat as it drifted further from shore. Kasmira nocked and loosed an arrow, which whizzed by, a mad but useless hornet. She nocked another while Josh gestured and cursed at her. She tried to slow her breathing, pushed out with her left arm, pulled back with her right and drew the arrow’s feathers beneath her nose. She lowered the tip of the rusted, but still sharp steel broadhead until it dipped below the man’s chest. Then, for every ten-yards distance she lifted the shot a hand’s breadth up the target.

Josh stood, his hands on hips to taunt her, and waited with a scowl while she drew and shot. The arrow buried itself in his left arm. He roared back at her in drunken hatred.

“Windage,” she said to herself. With her last arrow she held a foot above his head and the same to his right and let fly. The man stood as he had, his right hand trying to snap the arrow off at his bicep. Kasmira’s final arrow flew high, and caught the man in the throat. It tore through the right side, severing his carotid artery, and disappeared behind, into the green water of the bay. The big man collapsed into the bottom of the boat, his right hand switching to press at the rip in his neck, bright crimson blood streaming down his arm. K stood for a long song as the skiff drifted north with the tide and the wind. No motion showed above the gunnels. A hundred miles north the boat might come to rest in a marshy, reed-choked creek of the north bay. Raccoons, foxes and seagulls might find him and feed on his rotting flesh.

Or so Kasmira hoped.

Returned to the cabin, she related her exploits and the golden-haired woman sat stunned for a moment. First one and then dozens of tears streaked down from Tove’s unseeing eyes. She sobbed into her hands and Kasmira embraced her while the realization of freedom seeped into the woman’s understanding.

The way of things today

You walk in, a mirrored straight razor dripping blood in one hand, a flipped-clip hand grenade in the other, and you ask the room, “Who dies next?”

You hand her a bouquet and whisper, “I’ve hidden a wasps’ nest in this, enjoy.”

You ice-pick the tire of a cop car waiting at a traffic light, look her in the eye and mouth, “DO-YOU-LIKE-PANCAKES?”

You refused to turn your phone’s radio off during take-off. And when you’re air born shout this fact to the entire plane while simultaneously stripping to your boxers and canary yellow socks.

You swipe a co-worker’s phone and post to their facebook page, “the president must die.” The phone dings before you replace it, someone has replied, “The president of what?” And you spastically reply, “The president of EVERYTHING!”

You buy a bag of marshmallows and eat them in the store, stuffing your mouth and talking like Marlon Brando, shooting people with your finger, “pow, pow… pow.”

You sharpie a poster and walk out onto the highway: “1000 points!”

Without edge, no story stands a chance. Which sucks, because, many stories are more than the gore and bizarre and ripping, electric current that shocks us these days like a drug slapped and stabbed into our forearm.

Shadow Shoals 1.1

I’m starting a new novel.

Shadow Shoals. It takes place in the same era as my Blue Across the Sea novel (~230 years from today, after a pair of coronal mass ejections destroy earth’s technological civilization).

It’s about an older woman, who fishes and wanders, philosophizing to herself and to orphans who feel drawn to her. Yes, I realize this is a strange plot tagline, but it’s also about loyalty, kindness, Stoicism, death and the exposure and disassembly of avaricious capitalism.


Shadow Shoals

By Dave Cline

November 2017

Part I

~ 1 ~

The smell of corruption drifted through the canebrake. She’d grown familiar with the odor, water-rotted flesh, while still afloat, smelled almost sweet, burned beet-sugar sweet. But once snagged in the cane, or beached by low tide, a dead body’s scent took on the telltale malodor of decay.

The woman, her woolen hat pulled down snug, fetched the crude shovel from her canoe and trod the game trail upwind, homing in on the corpse. She thought about yesterday’s body, a large man missing both feet, his belly swollen from days of gassing. “I hope this one’s smaller,” she said aloud, her breath mingling with the morning tule fog rising from the river.

Using the shovel’s handle as a lead she wove her way through the tall water grass, startling mud ducks that skittered away like ugly toys. The ground was solid, too sandy for clams, but good for flounder when the tide returned. This close to the water her boot prints vanished within seconds of her passing. She pulled her coat tighter as the wind from the bay, a few miles distant, sent the fog and the putrid scent streaming into her face.

A dab of yellow peaked through the green-grey curtain of tall cane. When she turned down the last stiff wall of grass, the small body of a child, face down in a few inches of brackish water, tugged at the threads binding the woman’s soul, unraveling them bit by bit.

The girl, nine or ten, filthy blonde hair entangled with eelgrass and insects trying to find a place to dine, was dressed in the common clothes of the time; rough woolen smock, canvas pants, shoeless, but with one sock of dark purple still clutching her right foot. The yellow came from a square of material stitched onto the upper arm of her shroud, like a brand, or perhaps the insignia for a workcamp.

“You look like an Anna,” K said as she gently turned the body onto her back. The water had cleansed the girl’s face, but crustaceans had already begun eating their meal around her lips and eyes. K shooed away a dozen fiddler crabs, their lopsided claws lifting in protest. She removed the yellow patch, tucking it into her pocket.

The woman wrapped a ragged sheet of stiff cloth around the girl, looped a rope around the bundle and began to drag the body up to a clear part of the shore where she could bend to lift the girl. The woman, sadness pulling at her face, carried the child up into the forest that covered this arm of land that jutted out towards the bay. The rich sandy loam yielded easily to her shovel and soon a shallow grave enfolded the frail body of ‘Anna’.

A red-headed woodpecker pounded at a hickory tree, and grey squirrels shuffled through the leaves of last autumn. K refilled the grave and tamped it down with the back of the shovel. She knew a dedicated predator could disinter the body, so she searched higher up the slope for a few large rocks she could place upon it. The woodpecker stopped tapping and K heard the unmistakable sound of a thump against the hull of her canoe echo through the forest.

“Sorry, Anna, I have to go. You didn’t deserve such a fate. But your suffering, in this undone world, is over,” K said over her shoulder as she abandoned her stony consecration of the girl’s final resting place and marched off at a steady pace upriver to secure her possessions.

“Too heavy for ya?” K stood at the edge of her camp chuckling as a bedraggled boy tugged and pushed at her canoe attempting to drag it into the water.

She’d slowed to a hunter’s walk as, through the tight trees, she identified the would be thief. At the sound of her voice he jerked upright, and seeking escape, declined a swim and tried to dash past her at arm’s length. She nabbed his cowl bringing him up short. He then twisted and tried to bite at the wrist that held him.

“Whoa their snapper. You ain’t got much sense, but I’ll give you one for effort and one for orneriness.” At the end of his hooded cloak, a black wool thing that took its color more from mud than tint, the boy squirmed and grimaced up into the face of the vagabond woman.

“If’n I don’t come home, pa will come huntin’ for me. N’ he be big as bar!” the boy snarled.

K figured the rascal to be about seven, too young for thieving and too young to be allowed out alone. “Your daddy eh? Big as a bear? Well, I could use me a new skin tarp for the comin’ rains, a big bear would do nicely.” She released him and he stumbled back tripping over her bedroll to land with a flump. He flipped over, and sprinted away rustling like a badger through the leaves. “You’ve got to learn quiet when you travel,” she called after him.

Turning back to her canoe, she smiled appreciatively at the distance the boy had moved the laden craft. She dragged it back up and went about getting a small cooking fire going. She’d smelled the girl’s body first thing and, once noticed, the thought of it had continued relentless until found and buried. The same had occurred for the other few dozen she’d committed to the earth since last summer. So many, in fact, that she actively sought them out, storing extra crude tarps for the task. The dying towns up river were the source of the bodies. At one point, a hundred years after the collapse, the towns had begun to prosper. Now something else must be tearing them apart, she thought.

Kasmira cooked fresh catfish fillets over glowing coals and sipped at pine needle tea. She still possessed some number of tubers, turnips and starchy potatoes, which she roasted in hot sand beneath the fire. The catfish she’d pulled from a trot line set the night before. The mono-filament fishing line she lovingly cared for had come from a trade she’d made some years ago with a fellow three rivers north.  He’d known that such stuff was rare, and easily degraded over time if left exposed to the elements. Hers she rewound and hid from sunlight, when she could.

She ate the fish and left the tubers to continue to cook, but let the fire die while she went to collect any hickory nuts the squirrels and weevils had not already eaten. K found a big shagbark hickory tree and began to use a bent stem branch to clear the leaves. She placed the nuts, hull and all, into a sack at her waist. Intentionally, she made her way back to the grave of Anna.

She found a dozen large stones, which she piled in a pyramid atop the black moist soil. Sitting above it, gazing beyond the grave to glimpses of the river, she began to remove the bur from the nuts, discarding the shells bearing tiny holes.

“Anna, have you ever tasted a raw hickory nut, I wonder?” Using a flat rock and a fist-sized stone, K tapped to split the good nuts, eating every other sweet kernel, saving the rest. She sat and shelled a double fist full of nuts, talking to the grave, posing impossible questions.

Eventually, she brushed off the casings from her tough canvas jacket, the haphazard stains from field-dressed fish and small game lent an unintended camouflage pattern to its olive color. Her centuries old military issue pants were similarly mottled. Were she to lay back into the leaves beneath the early spring sky, leafless hardwoods filtering the light, she might be mistaken for a dark, lichen-covered boulder. She’d obtained her clothing from a similar trade as she had the fishing line; an age old quonset hut, hidden in the woods, guarded by a lone family and a pack of black-tan dogs, sold her the set, they said, unpacked from sealed trunks abandoned and forgotten for two hundred and twenty years. The “Before” dates on the parcels proved their point.

“The Before” was what the family, as well as those on most of the East Coast of the continent (if not the world), referred to when they spoke of the period from which such things originated. Since that time, no newly made ‘manufactured’ stuffs could be found. Geologists, in the eons to come, might look upon the soils of this era and quantify the end of man-made materials as an iridium-like line etched in the strata: “This is when we see the end of technological civilization.”

K let herself snooze for a moment, oddly comforted by the company of the dead child. Her senses never dimmed, however, and she heard the crinkle of light steps approach her from above. They stopped twenty paces distant. If the owner of the footfalls wished it, he could have had her life at the end of a well-placed arrow. K calculated, with an ever uncanny awareness, that the owner merely sought a few of her nuts.

“You saw the spot I foraged. Go. Fill this sack and I’ll show you the tricks of teasing out the meat from a pignut hickory.”

Still lounging on her back, she tossed a spare sack, wadded into a ball, toward the source of the rustling. She remained staring at the blue sky, listening while the secretive creature crept forward to retrieve the bag.

The creature, the boy, she reckoned, scampered off through the leaves and she waited. The sun warmed her in her nest above the grave and she removed her wool cap and rubbed her short-cropped silvered hair to free the matted sensation from her scalp.

An arrowed V of geese flew over, a lone gander honking to keep the morale. The glimpse of a crimson cardinal flashed by like a fire-alarm and the comical throaty gobble of a tom turkey, further out on the peninsula, rattled up through the forest. Half a hand of sun passed while Kasmira waited for the boy to return. Then, she recognized his leaf-kicking strut long before she could see him.

He carried the sack, full to overflowing, and, as if knowing she presented no threat, walked up and sat right next to her, touching her, with the sack between his legs.

Her eyes widened at this brazen, innocent act of communal acceptance. “Took your time,” she said, in defense against his assumed familiarity.

He looked at her, his head tilted. “But?” he said, patting the sack.

“Where’s your pa?” she asked. When he looked down she was quick to temper the moment. “Nevermind,” she said.

She selected a nut from his cache, peeled the hull, made to examine it and spied a tiny hole near the pointed end, which she indicated to the boy, tossing it over her shoulder in disdain. She then selected another; this one she found sound. She took her pestle rock and knocked it against the nut she’d placed on her anvil-stone until she  heard the dull sound of a crack.

She pried apart the shell extracting a golden nugget which she popped into her mouth.

He looked hungry and anxious, his dark brown hair a wide nest on top of his head. He jumped up and went looking for tools. He started to remove the stones from the grave and she quickly rebuked him.

“No. Leave those. They are sacred now. A girl sleeps there. Leave her and go find another set. Or, here…” She lifted her own rock tools and set them near his sack of hickory nuts. “Use these.”

He returned and she watched as he quickly mastered the simple task, eating every untainted kernel he could find. His teeth, she realized, appeared whiter and sturdier than her own. And his eyes were distinctly grey — an odd color, one she couldn’t recall ever seeing before. When he withdrew a moldy seed and ate it, quickly spitting it out, she laughed, startling him.

“There’s good ones and bad ones. Stay away from the bad ones. They’re nothing but trouble.”

Satisfied he’d acquired a useful skill, she rose and returned to her camp, leaving him tap, tap cracking and eating his fill.


The tubers raked from the warm sand, K smoothed the firepit and arranged another grid of thick branch pieces, pressing them into the sand. These would reduce to embers long after the flames from the main fire burned down. She dare not let firelight linger into the night.

With two hands until sunset, K began her nightly ritual of setting a trot line. The tide had returned and the far end of the canoe floated free. She retrieved one of her precious spools of line and anchored the end fast to a strong stake in the sand. Her camp was up a shallow bank from the river with a wide opening in the cane grass that allowed her an arm-spread view of the river and the far shore a quarter mile away.

Sliding her pride and joy, an aluminum canoe that was haphazardly decorated with now impossible to find green and brown paint, into the water she began to unspool the line behind her as she let the boat drift out toward the center of the river. As she slipped by the mouth of her small cove, she made sure no others were traveling within her sight. Isolation in such times, she’d found, was key to survival.

Fishhooks were a problem. She owned a half dozen rare steel versions. These she attached with arm-long leaders. She threaded dried fish fins onto these hooks and let them sink into the drab water behind her. She reserved her handmade bone hooks, which also worked, but less efficiently, for later in the season. K knew springtime meant starvation for many villages along the coast. Winter stores were exhausted. Animal migrations to the north had barely begun. Summer runs of fish were months away. Smoked game, mostly channel catfish, gave her barter power up river. Food meant leverage.

“Too many bodies,” K said to herself as the end of her line came up, a hundred yards from shore. She looped the line around the neck of a leather pouch filled with sand and released it over the side. Slack tide let the handmade sand anchor descend directly below her. Straightening her posture she dipped her hand-carved paddle and returned to the shore, eyeing up and down the open water, leery of interlopers.

She debated whether to avoid this river’s towns and head out to the bay and then farther north. “If they’re done killin’ each other… I’ll give them a few more days.”

She beached the canoe and spotted the nest-haired boy squatting at K’s small pile of roasted potatoes and turnips. He stood as she approached, his clumsy, too-large boots, serving as pedestals to his small frame. None of the tubers had gone missing. The spare sack she’d tossed him, sat full, showing the small bulges of hulled nuts; indication of an industrious afternoon.

“You here to trade?” she asked, bending to light the fire. She’d left it unlit, but ready; smoke in the afternoons drew unwanted attention. Fires at twilight allowed the grey billows to blend with the sky, but with enough daylight to hide the small blaze.

“I sorry on your boat.” The boy’s grey eyes looked straight into her own.

She nodded up at him, her single stroke of flint against the back of her steel knife threw a bright spark that caught in the leaves and twigs she’d prepared.

“Half your sack for half the ‘tatoes,” she proposed. The crinkle of a smile teased at her eyes as she watched the boy work at the deal. He tipped his head a bit, and then with more vigor. She could see him eyeing the pile with obvious envy. Why hadn’t he just stolen the pile… she wondered, but she had her suspicions.

“My sack sits there by my bed.” She pointed, and the transaction was complete.

He carefully selected his portion of the tubers; the smallest joining his nuts in what was now his sack. The largest one he palmed and consumed with relish: biting, analyzing and rotating the white-fleshed potato. She handed him a spare tin cup filled with lukewarm tea.

She examined him closely now. The cloak he wore resembled the weave and color of that of the dead girl. Even the socks he wore, visible above the boot tops and below his canvas pants, bore the purple coloration.

She pulled the yellow patch from her pocket.

“You seen one like this?”

His demeanor changed instantly; a coin flip from casual observation to furtive wariness.

“Take your ease. This not be mine nor of me in any way. It came from the dead girl–”

“Anna,” he whispered.

“Ah, so you heard me, did ya?” She returned the square to her pocket. “Anna, yes. You have a notion what this means?”

The potato gone, he sat, his food sack held close, and sipped his tea, nodding to her question.

She waited patiently while he worked at his words.

“‘Ligion house, dark men and loud talk. They, they beat chile’s like me, we don’ do wa te wan.”

“And Anna, did you know her?” No, of course you didn’t. I named her Anna.

He shrugged. “Know other’n, with’n ta yella’ mark. Men, dey got plenty chile’s ta do ‘deir work.” He gestured at K’s pocket while explaining.

Despite his broken English, she nodded in understanding as she’d had considerable practice deciphering such speech from disparate peoples along the coast.

He looked ready to ask her a question, but she quickly shushed him down. A clunk from a wooden oar against a boat hull echoed across the darkened water. Someone was rowing downstream toward their location. The pair of them listened attentively and heard voices tossed from the boat to shore, and other voices responded from the woods just west of Kasmira’s encampment.

“You bring trouble with you?” she asked harshly, not expecting a reply.

“No miss, no, I, I…”

She chuckled at his words. Miss? Me? Not for years. Decades.

“They’ll be using dogs. We need to set out quick.” K rose, kicking sand over the fire. It snuffed out with a sigh of steam. She grabbed her bedroll and odds and ends she’d encamped with: the shovel, a set of tarps, some cooking gear; and wrapped it all quietly in one of the tarps. This she stowed in the forward part of the canoe. The boy stood, a frightened look on his face. “You come with me.” She then bent and lifted him by the armpits, his hand clasped tightly onto the neck of his food sack. She strode heavy over to her boat and lowered him into the front. “No noise, mind those nuts and your clunk-boots.”

He took her meaning and lowered himself further into the bow, collapsing like a mouse crawling into a hole.

She hove the stern of the weighted canoe, skurring it along the sand into the water. She looked longingly at the trot line stake, knowing she’d probably never see it, and her line, again.

With practiced grace she stepped into the boat and paused, listening for sounds of discovery. When no shouts barked across the water, she slipped her paddle alongside and canted the long sleek boat to the left along the reeds.

Dip, stroke, kick. She repeated the smooth motion moving the boat like a drifting cypress snag. She estimated they’d gone a hundred strokes, maybe a quarter mile when the baying of a pair of hounds broke in on the pensive night. She boosted her speed and power now, shooting the craft at speed, the tide ebbing with them.

At a point she figured to be two thirds the way to the mouth of the bay she let the vessel glide. They remained a stone’s throw from the shore. The cane grew thicker here, and the peninsula tapered flat, but hardwood and some sand-loving pine still stood dark against the lighter sky to the north.

In her pause she heard splashing and child speech, girls arguing about the cold.

“They must be huntin’ these girls, not you.” She bit at her lip in consideration, but only for a moment before angling the prow of the canoe straight at the sounds of struggle.

When they’d gotten to within ten yards or so of the apparent argument, the wedge of the boat easily parting the reeds, the boy popped his head up from his nook.

“Nita! Jessa! It be me, Deus. Deus! You’s ‘member, ‘tink-a-tink, da dink-a-dink’.”

“Boy! We have no room!” K gruffly announced.

“Why’d you come ‘dis way ‘den?”

“Shit!” Kasmira said, trapped in the boy’s obvious logic. “How big are these girls?”

“Deus? Dues! What are you doin’ out here?” one of the girls asked, incredulous.

“Dem dogs gonna fine’ you,” Deus replied.

K drove the canoe deeper into the tall reeds, the darkness filling all their eyes, only the starlight above showed which way was up.

“The two of you will have to ride with me. With us.”

“Who’s that?” the other girl asked, her voice wavering.

“Tonight I’m your savior. I’ve got the boy here. And it looks like we’re escaping from some bad people. Are you coming aboard or shall I leave you to swim to the islands?”

The boat rocked as the first girl hauled herself in next to the boy.

“There’s no room up here for me,” the last one said, timidly.

K drew one more stroke forward and could see the outline of the other girl standing waist deep in the water, with a yellow square emblazoned on the arm of her cloak, visible despite the dark. K reached over and lifted the lithe girl, setting her at her feet, leaning against the bundle of gear that filled the entire middle of the canoe.

“Sit there and stay silent while I back us out of this snarl.”

The canoe pulled away easily from the divot it made in the reeds. The woman pivoted the nose of the boat and paddled strongly for several minutes, finally rounding the nose of the peninsula.

When she’d spoken the word ‘islands’ a thought came to mind. The channel islands would provide isolation from the dogs on land. And the night appeared calm enough for the journey.

“We’re going to be heading out into the big water for some time. Get comfortable, but stay as quiet as you can. I think we’re safe now. But bad men don’t like to lose.”

K listened to the two in the bow as they began to chatter like squirrels. The girl at her feet began to weep. Exhaustion and release from anxiety, K thought.

They reached the first of the low islands two hours later.

Warming up

“Wha’cha doin’?”

“Warming up.”

“You mean like exercise or breathin’ or something?”

“No, more like musical patterns.”

“Oh, like scales n’ such.”

“Yeah, like scales of some coelacanth dredged up from the depths of an ocean trench near Madagascar, its body thrown to the deck of a Somali trawler and kicked about as the freak it must appear. Scales like those of a Galapagos sea iguana scraped by the crude scalpel wielded by Charles Darwin himself. Scales like those of the insidious dragon that lurks beneath your town, crawling now, through the old coal mining tunnels, sniffing out the breaths of children. Scales like those of Justice as she cries to see the plight of her peoples, those with all and those with none and she sobs great silent, wracking sobs knowing that only catastrophe can possibly right the wrongs, rebalance her tins, her hanging, lopsided plates of righteousness.”

“Oh, those scales.”

“Yeah, those scales.”