Archive for: March, 2015

Cold, Cold Heart by Mark Lewis

Mar 15 2015 Published by under The WiFiles

It was the pain of good times that Ian remembered as he held his wife Caitlyn’s cold hand. Their love had been strong, however prosaic their meeting and their lives together. Her grasp was weak, her smile faint, but she still managed a smile.

“You don’t have to do it,” Caitlyn said. Her voice was thin.

“You know I do,” Ian said. “What would be the point without you?”

Ian and Caitlyn had met online, on a faith-based matchmaking website. Their profiles correlated perfectly: wants and needs, income, hobbies, attitude to children. The first hesitant meeting in a Bath tea house brought no fireworks, no earthquake. They were two shy, lonely people who slowly found each other, slowly their lives became entwined, like loose wires behind a television, until they were so inseparable they made it formal and in their God’s sight, in a small service in the village church, they became Mr and Mrs Price.

“It’ll be okay won’t it,” Caitlyn said. “If we have faith.”

“I’m going to talk to Human Capital Partners, Caitlyn. The adviser was very helpful.”

“What does it cost?” She said. “Can we afford it?”

Ian could not tell her the true cost. She would not let him pay it.

“2I can afford it, I’m going to meet the adviser at his office. I’ll take out a loan that I can afford,” this was not entirely a lie. He grasped her hand tighter.

“I don’t trust them,” she said. “I’ve heard terrible things in the press.” So had Ian, but Human Capital Partners were the only hope. The NHS doctors had given Caitlyn only days to live without a kidney transplant, and at the current capacity even if a suitable donor was found, they would not be able to schedule an operation in time. No, Human Capital Partners it had to be.

“I love you,” Ian said.

Caitlyn grasped his hand tighter, and for a moment, just one moment he saw her old fire.

“Don’t sacrifice yourself,” she said.

But he would, if that’s what it took. That was Ian’s definition of love.

So, Ian said his goodbyes without crying, because he wanted Caitlyn to think he was coping. He walked through the not-quite clinically clean corridors of the hospital and started to breathe deeply when he reached the air outside.


It was a bright day with airy white clouds, in the village the clinic was set in. Ian drove down a pathway between houses. Ian’s car crunched down the long cobbled driveway, while the clinic’s dog barked an irate welcome. The clinic was a converted farmhouse and stables with large patio windows set in elegant grounds, weeping willows, lakes, set off with a plastic heron. The dog, a black Labrador, leapt up as Ian tried to get out of the car. Ian looked out at an immaculately-dressed man who was smiling. Ian got out of the car, dog jumping up and licking his trousers.

“He‘s a soppy old thing,” said the man, extending a hand.

“I’m Julian. We spoke on the phone.” The dog sniffed Ian’s feet. “Keynes!” Julian shouted at the dog. “Stay.”

Julian led Ian into the clinic, grinning with salesman’s teeth. They sat in an office with a large patio window looking out into the garden. A money plant exhaled compost flies. The dog looked in, a deflated rugby ball grasped between its teeth.

The adviser, Julian, sat too close. He wore a navy blue suit, with a pale tie and pressed white shirt. His cufflinks had the company logo of a stylised heart, with the initials HCP. His face was a mask of slick confidence, he was clean shaven, no, his whole head was clean shaven. Maybe all of him was, Ian thought with a shiver.

“How is Caitlyn?” Julian asked, his smile now turned down a shade from greeting to ‘concern with sympathy‘.

Ian looked away, studied the picture on the wall of Julian with the England Fightball Captain.

“It’s not looking good right now,” Ian said, his voice low.

“We’ll see what we can do to help,” Julian put a paternal hand on his shoulder. “You said she needs a kidney. An operation. It’s urgent.”

“Yes. Have you found a donor?”

Julian leaned back and studied Ian’s face. Then a smile spread over Julian’s face, the full force of his salesman smile. He brought out a glossy colour brochure full of smiling people being operated on by well-groomed beautiful surgeons of both sexes. He stopped at a grid of smiling faces.

“These are our kidney donors. Our specialists have matched up a donor who would be perfect.”

“How soon?” Ian snapped, in his eagerness.

“Well, we’ll have to allocate surgeon resource and theatre time. Plus, we’ll have to get the business authorised by our Compliance office. Three weeks. Much sooner than the NHS could offer.”

“Three weeks. That’s too long. She needs it now.”

“I’m sorry. Compliance just wouldn’t sign anything off in less than three weeks.”

“You must have dealt with urgent cases before. There must be a way.”

Julian sat back, studying Ian’s face and tapping his fingers, before speaking: “There is. You see, the criteria are much more relaxed for swaps. The legislation is strict for financial transactions, but if you were to agree to a swap and sign a waiver, then we could bypass a lot of the bloody red tape.”

“A swap? How would that work? Would you take my kidney?”

Julian laughed.

“Certainly not! You would just need to agree to assign your heart to us in the event of your death.”

“Assign? What do you mean?”

“It’s just like having a donor card and agreeing to leave your body to the medical establishment on your death, only you agree to leave your heart to us.”

“When I die?”

“It’s not like you’ll need it.”

“Would there be any possibility the company would, let us say, hasten my death?”

Julian laughed.

“What’s the catch?”

“How quickly did you say you need us to operate on Caitlyn?”

“The doctors, well, they say to be sure, 48 hours.”

“That would be very difficult. I’ll do what I can.”
The adviser, Julian, gave a fantastic performance. He called his assistant, then went next door. Ian could hear the tone, the level of sound, but not the specific words. Julian shouted at bureaucrats on the telephone, a pantomime of pulling out all the stops for his client, while Ian waited, looked at the pictures in the brochure of happy patients in gowns and relieved loved ones, back at the dog, then the rubber plant, waving a fly away.

At the end, Julian thanked the administrator on the other end of the line politely and put the phone down. Grimly, he brought out the brochure again and stared at Ian. Then his salesman smile spread over his face.

“I won’t bore you with the deals I’ve had to make. We can do it.”

“Thank you,” Ian’s eyes were drawn from the smile to a fly that flew near his face. “Sorry,” Ian added.

“No, it’s what we’re here for. Just one thing I need from you.”

“What’s that?”

Julian held out the paperwork: “Sign here.”

“What am I signing?”

Julian waved the thick brochure at him.

“It’s all here if you have time to read it all. But I can’t give our chaps the go-ahead until you sign.”

Ian signed. What the hell. Whatever he was signing away, Caitlyn was more important.


The operation and recovery went smoothly. That wasn’t strictly true. Ian waited during the operation. He was in the operating theatre, holding Caitlyn’s hand. The room was all bright lights and his head swam in terror. The staff were cheerful and sympathetic. They got through it; that was as much as could be said.


The dust had settled, as much as it was going to, in Ian and Caitlyn’s lives, and one fine drizzly Sunday afternoon they sat down to cups of tea and Ian read the Guardian while Caitlyn read a D H Lawrence collection. Caitlyn fixed Ian with that look, the one that meant trouble. Her jaw was set.

“What did it cost?” Caitlyn asked.

“What cost?” Ian said, not looking up from the paper, although he knew very well that she was probing his face for a reaction.

“You know what. Saving my life.” Her tone was serious. Ian looked up from the newspaper, but didn’t quite meet her eyes.

“I just took out a loan.”

Caitlyn’s mouth turned down in anger.

“What did you promise them? I’ve read about how they work. Tell me.”

Ian folded the newspaper and looked Caitlyn in the eyes.

“I agreed to donate my heart, when I die. That’s all.”

“That’s all?” Caitlyn looked away, and said quietly, “You won’t say that when they come for you.”

Ian’s face went red. “They won’t come for me. They can’t do that. It’s only after I die of natural causes.”

He wished he could sound more convincing, but he didn’t. Caitlyn didn’t reply, but she went back to her book, her eyes red. They avoided talking about the subject again, and during the time they spent in the vicinity of each other, they didn’t talk about the future. They lived together in a small house, each alone. Neither giving each other the comfort and assurance they needed, the love they had for each other withered on the vine, denied its nutrient.

They went on with their lives, Ian busy with his work translating Egyptian texts to English and Spanish, Caitlyn busy recuperating and maintaining an immaculate house. For Caitlyn’s part, she researched, never telling Ian, the laws and ethics governing pre-death organ assignment, and the cases Human Capital Partners had been involved in. The minutiae of the paperwork. Any loopholes, precedents, get-out clauses. The average statistical lifespan of debtors who had agreed to give an organ in future payment (statistically well below average). She knew they would come for him. He’d signed his life away and perhaps he didn’t even know it. Was he that naïve? She couldn’t ask. Caitlyn had also found there was a way he could get out of the deal. But the cost. The cost of doing so would be high and she knew he would not hear of it, if she told him.


Although their modern redbrick home was small, it was filled with enough books and visitors to avoid spending time meaningfully with each other. Even their bed was big enough so they could both sleep in it, alone.


So they continued, neither could reach out to the other, there was too much unspoken, leaving their love brittle. At the last, there was so little left to lose.

One Autumn day, as dead leaves swirled around the path leading to Ian and Caitlyn‘s house, they came. Julian McGuire stood smiling at the door, accompanied by a man in a sharp suit with a sharp-featured face, carrying a leather folio. Caitlyn answered the door, Ian was out the back, weeding.

“Mrs Price,” said Julian. “I hope you are well.” The sharp-featured man looked right past Caitlyn into the house.

Caitlyn gave Julian The Look.

“Who are you? What do you want?” She said, her tone hostile.

“Julian McGuire-“ he held out his hand, but Caitlyn did not take it. “Human Capital Partners. HCP. This is Francis Wells; he’s an independent Compliance Consultant. Here to keep me in line.” Julian laughed as if he was just there on a pleasant social call.

“You can tell me why you are here,” Caitlyn said. “Or you can leave now.”

Francis shot Julian a look. Julian nodded.

“We’d just like a word with your husband.”

“No,” Caitlyn said. “He isn’t home. I don’t know where he is.”

The sound of the patio door opening, and Ian walking in from the garden gave this the lie.

“Mr Price!” Julian called out. Ian walked to the door, but Caitlyn stood between him and Julian.

“I’ll handle this,” she said. “For God’s sake don’t go with them. They can’t legally come into the house uninvited, but if you step outside they can take you.”

Julian looked at Francis, who nodded.

“It’s okay,” Ian said. “I’ll talk to them.”

Julian smiled and reached out a hand to Ian, past Caitlyn. To Caitlyn’s dismay, Ian accepted the handshake and moved to the door, within the threshold.

“Ian, you did the right thing,” Julian said. “Your wife is looking so well. This is partly a courtesy visit; are you happy with the service HCP gave you – providing a life-saving operation to Mrs Price?”

“Yes,” Ian said. “Yes, thank you.”

“I’m very glad,” Julian said and a reassuring smile spread over his face. God, his teeth were frighteningly white.

“Mr Price, this is Francis Wells, he’s a Compliance Consultant. He’s here to keep me honest.” He laughed. Francis’s sharp features were unmoved.

“Cut the crap,” Caitlyn said, putting an arm between Ian and the door. Ian looked at her, with an expression of confusion. “Mr McGuire, what do you want with my husband?”

Francis looked at Julian. “If directly asked,” he said with a deep calm voice, “you have to disclose your full purpose.”

“We’re here to make a collection,” Julian said, with a smile. “I can reassure you that we would only collect at this time because a Platinum-grade client requires life-saving treatment.”

“Collect?” Ian asked.

“For God’s sake!” Caitlyn said, and started to shut the door. Julian held it open, still smiling. He was deceptively strong for a Suit.

“We need you to come with us, Mr Price.” Francis said.

“No,” said Caitlyn.

“This can’t be right,” Ian said. “Julian – you said there would be no collection until I… passed away.”

“That‘s right,” said Julian. “The organ will only be removed once you have passed away.”

“You bastards.” Ian said.

“You did agree to this, Mr Price. You signed the waiver. Francis?”

Francis reached into his portfolio and brought out a sheaf of papers. At the top was the signed agreement. “You signed to show you understood all of the terms, including the Principal Platinum override clause.”


“HCP reserves the right of early repayment, when the life of a platinum client is in danger. We never do this lightly, but our platinum clients are key members of society.”

“What is this?” Ian said.

“Leave now,” Caitlyn snapped to Julian and Francis. “Or I will call the police. You’re threatening my husband’s life.”

“I will call the police,” said Francis. “If you or Mr Price prevents us from recovering the property, the organ, that now belongs to Human Capital Partners. We have a court order.” He produced a stamped and signed piece of paper.

“I know this is distressing,” said Julian. “But this is the right thing to do. The client in question is a microsurgeon. That’s why the court agreed we could collect early. They weighed up his life and the impact his loss would have on society: lives would be lost. Possibly hundreds of lives within just a few years. Your translation work, though noble and intellectually fascinating… won’t save a single life. But the agreement you have made with us will. You’re a great man, Mr Price.”

“This is disgusting,” said Caitlyn. “We’ll fight this with everything at our disposal.”

“The decision has already been made,” Francis said.

“I’ll come with you,” Ian said. “Caitlyn- we’ll straighten this out.”

“No you won’t,” said Caitlyn, holding him back.

“I’m sorry,” Ian said. “You just make sure you’re okay. We could fight this in the courts and it would ruin us. They’ve sewn it all up. Get on with your life. Make yourself happy. Or this will have meant nothing.” Gently, but firmly he removed her hands from him, and went with the men, tears worrying at the corners of his eyes. Caitlyn raged, and shouted, but it changed nothing.


The police officer was apologetic, even sympathetic. He calmly explained to Caitlyn that although what Julian and Francis did was arguably unethical, it was legal. Their paperwork was in order. There was nothing she could do, she just had to accept that Julian was gone. She had the right to be present at the organ collection. She had the right to disposal of the remaining body, once the organ in question had been taken. There could be a full burial with any relevant religious rites.

It wouldn’t come to that, Caitlyn decided, despite the cost.


What hurt Ian most was that Caitlyn had not even come to see him one last time. She had declined her right to be with him during the collection. When they spoke on the telephone, she hadn’t explained. Neither had been able to talk articulately, through their hurt. Julian, smile now on a sympathetic setting had offered Ian the final meal of choice and a blessing from a minister of his choice. Ian had rejected both. He had no appetite, and his religious faith, once so strong had not survived this blow. Even so, he said a prayer to himself, as he faded away under anaesthetic, as darkness filled him.


Caitlyn phoned the ambulance, before applying the knife. She had already written the letter, using the precise wording required. The solicitor had checked and agreed it. The timing was crucial. If she survived, her instructions in the letter would be void. If she died too soon, the kidney would be useless, so again her instructions would be void. The painkillers weren’t enough. The pain was sharp and hot as the knife sliced into her skin. But this was right.


Julian was there when Ian came to under the bright lights, Julian was there. The salesman’s smile was gone. Francis stood at a distance. They were in the room with the money plant and compost flies. There were more of them now.

“You are free to go,” Julian said, his voice hollow.

“Free? How?”

“Mrs Price did the only thing that would render our deal null and void.”

“But what?”

“She returned the Capital. She died, leaving a letter expressly returning the kidney you purchased with the assignment of your heart to HCP.”


“She killed herself and gave us the kidney back,” Francis called over. “Our technicians checked it and the condition was satisfactory. So the agreement is null and void.”

“You mean- Oh my God.” Ian buried his head in his hands. His face melted into tears.

“She sacrificed herself for you,” said Julian. “Bloody-minded woman.”

“That’s Julian’s personal opinion, not mine or that of HCP,” Francis said. “You’re free to go. Of course there are the operation costs you are liable for but Mrs Price took care of that too. HCP receive her life assurance payment. It’s enough. We have no claim on you. You’re free.”

“I can’t just sit here and listen to this. Ian, if you walk away, a better man dies,” Julian said. “A man who could save many lives. It’s not too late. You can still gift your heart to him.” Julian pointed at Ian. “It’s the right thing to do. Your life hasn’t amounted to much, let’s be brutally honest.”

“Save the life of a man who tried to buy someone else’s heart. Who decided his life was more important than that of a stranger and paid you to carry out a murder on his behalf. No, whatever job he does, he’s not worth saving. Caitlyn’s sacrifice won’t be in vain. I’ll live, Julian. I’ll make this life worthwhile.” A fly came right up in his face. Ian caught it and squashed it.

Ian left, the dog barking at him, jumping up until he got in his car, which even now seemed cold and empty, and he drove, to his house which would be empty, with Caitlyn gone.


Julian watched Ian Price go, then turned to Francis.

“Is there really nothing we can do?”
Francis shook his head. “The contract is void. We can’t touch him. Mrs Price’s sacrifice saved him. Would anyone do that for you?”

“They won’t need to,” Julian said and laughed. “I wouldn’t get caught in one of our shitty contracts.”

Francis brought out a sheaf of papers contained in a clear plastic wallet.

“Mr McGuire. Our client can’t be allowed to die. He is too important.”

“Then what do we do? Is there another match?”

It wasn’t really a smile; just a slight curl of the lip but it was the closest to a smile Julian had seen on Francis.

“All Human Capital Partners are tested, as you know.”

“A formality at point of employment.”

“You signed the agreement. Clawback. In the event of an adviser losing a candidate for transplantation, they agree to serve as a back up, if compatible.”

“My God,” Julian got to his feet. “You wouldn’t. You bastard.” He spat, pointing a finger at Francis.

“You are compatible,” Francis said.

Julian pushed past him and headed for the office door. His way was blocked by two orderlies in scrubs. Francis stood up, and led the way to the operating theatre. Julian followed, struggling, sandwiched between the orderlies.


Bio: Mark has previously had work published in The British Fantasy Society Journal, Another 100 Horrors, seinundwerden, A Touch of Saccharine, Full Fathom Forty, Escape Velocity, Scheherazade, Estronomicon, The Nail, and others. He has also written and performed in pantomimes. He is still working on two novels. Mark is a member of the Clockhouse London Writers. More of Mark’s writing can be found at

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Soul by Doug Hawley

Mar 08 2015 Published by under The WiFiles

All of the following news articles appeared in the Daily Northwest News.

February 10, 2043 Copenhagen, Denmark. Using new detection equipment built by Nobel Prize winner in physics Magnus Albreck, Frank Smelling and the staff at the National Physics Laboratory has discovered electromagnetic waves previously detected nowhere in the universe. The wavelength of these newly discovered waves are shorter than any previously observed.

The discovery excited physicists around the world. At this time, the source of the waves is unknown and there has been no independent verification of Albreck’s and Smelling’s results. The practical use of the results is unknown at this time.

February 27, 2043 Copenhagen, Denmark. In a follow up to an earlier discovery, Magnus Albreck and associates at the Denmark National Physics Lab have identified the source of previously unrecorded electromagnetic waves originally discovered in late 2042. The waves originated from lab technician Helga Stein. Stein was in close proximity to measuring device, Extended EMW, when the waves first registered. Whenever no one was close to the Extended EMW, no S (for Stein) waves were recorded. Subsequent experiments recorded S waves for other laboratory personnel with slightly differing wave lengths and amplitudes.

March 1, 2043 Nashville, TN. Chester Ogilvie, leader of Baptist USA claims that Danish scientists have discovered the human soul. After years of religious and spiritual claims to a distinctly human soul as an unmeasured driving force in all humans, he sees the S waves discovered at the Denmark National Physics Lab in late 2042 as proof of the soul’s existence. “They have not found S waves anywhere but in humans, so I think that it is obvious that the human soul has finally been quantified. Those who have never taken religion seriously now have scientific proof that we uniquely have souls and are not just more atoms in a materialistic universe.”

Neither Magnus Albreck nor Frank Smelling of the Denmark Lab were immediately available for comment. Bhati Nempali of the Halide Institute of Chicago responded that “A new form of electromagnetic wave may have been discovered. The Danish Lab work has not been peer reviewed at this time. Whatever they discovered is just another physical phenomenon, not the basis for superstitious claptrap.”

March 3, 2043 Chicago. Professor Bhati Nempali of the Halide Institute of Chicago, who two days ago questioned the nature of S waves, and indirectly cast aspersion on religious leader Chester Ogilvie of Baptist USA in Nashville, TN, apologized saying “In my earlier remarks I did not intend to offend anyone of any religious belief.” Mr. Nempali’s contract with the Halide is up later this year and congressional hearings are scheduled next month on Federal research funding.

March 5, 2043 Interactive Listing – Today at 5PM on Channel IA4322: Daytona Brown will moderate a chat with guest experts on the S waves. Are they real? Do only people have them? Are they a manifestation of the soul? Are there any commercial applications?

Daytona Brown – Let me introduce the participants. We are honored to have the discoverer of S waves, Magnus Albreck, imminent theologian Chester Ogilvie, Jeremy Atkins of PETA, abortions rights supporter Sue Feldman and biologist and well-known atheist Roger Sawkins. Do you have opening statements?

Albreck – First, let me spread the credit around. The waves were discovered coming from Helga Stein, a very important colleague. Many at the Danish National Lab have worked on the equipment that did the recording. I’m just the first among equals. Second, we have lots of work to do before we can draw hard conclusions.

Ogilvie – I say it is not too early to draw conclusions. Do S waves come from coffee cans? Do they come from lab rats? No, I don’t think so. Despite some of the negatives I have heard, we have evidence of the human soul. Now, I’m not saying my particular brand of religion has all the answers, but I think that Professor Albreck’s work has proven that there is a spiritual plane of existence beyond the physical.

Feldman – Before anyone suggests that this in anyway invalidates abortion rights, let me remind everyone that some abortions may still be best for society and for women who are not prepared to give birth.

Atkins – If we have a spiritual existence, I think that we will find that our animal brothers are on the same plane and deserve the same respect that humans deserve. We need to test chimps, dogs, cats and other animals to see if they have S waves.

Sawkins – Let’s go back to what Professor Albreck said. It is too early to draw conclusions. Can we all just keep an open mind and go by what is proven rather than conjectured.

Brown – Hypothetically, let us say that S waves are exclusive to humans. What does that mean?

Ogilvie – Why, clearly we will have scientific proof that man is God’s crowning achievement and is uniquely suited for a heavenly paradise after death.

Feldman – It doesn’t change anything for me.

Albreck – From the point of view of physics, I don’t think that we are prepared to conclude anything.

Sawkins – I agree that we will not know exactly why only humans have S waves, if that is in fact correct, but I could suggest that it relates to some unique human feature. There are subtle, but real differences between the human brain and those of other animals.

Atkins – Regardless of the presence or absence of S waves in non-human animals, I think that all animals deserve our respect. In fact, if indeed we are different from our animal brother, that implies that we should show them the treatment that our greater consciousness allows us.

Brown – How has the discovery of S waves changed any of your opinions?

Sawkins – I am now open to the belief that humans are a unique form of animal.

Albreck – I am just amazed at the progress we are making in understanding ourselves and our universe. I did not think that this big a discovery would be made in my lifetime.

Ogilvie – A lot of people, including myself, have thought that science and religion were at odds. We now have a case where science is now clearly supporting religion.

Atkins – I now accept the possibility that humans may be unique, but it does not change in any way my opinion about the treatment of animals.

Feldman – The existence of S waves convinces me more than ever that we need to do research on the physical and emotional aspects of abortions and find ways to make most of them unnecessary. Much as we eliminated smoking, we have the technology to avoid unwanted pregnancies. I would much rather stop unwanted pregnancies than debate abortion.

Brown – Closing statements?

Ogilvie – I hope all of those who have rejected religion in their lives are now open to the real possibility that they were mistaken.

Atkins – Whether we are the equals or stewards of non-human animals, they deserve our respect and humane treatment.

Albreck – I think that we have just scratched the surface of S wave research, and I look forward to continued research and new revelations.

Sawkins – I hope that the physics research from the Danish National Physics Lab is married with biological research to fully explore the implications of S waves.

Brown – I think that this discussion has just started, but we are out of time. Perhaps we can reconvene in a year and talk about progress in the study of S waves. For now, I’d like to thank
all of the participants for a respectful and insightful panel on the beginning of a new era.

Author Bio

Doug Hawley lives in Lake Oswego Oregon with his editor Sharon and cat Kitzhaber. He is a former actuary who now writes (Potluck, Insert, Short Humour, Oblong, Hash to appear), hikes, snowshoes, and volunteers at a local bookstore and a local park. He was inspired/depressed/impressed by Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.


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The Cracks in Our Walls by Kyle Hemmings

Mar 01 2015 Published by under The WiFiles

Asa served her sister, Aoi, a warm bowl of soba noodles, chopped green onions on top, and a cup of sake. Across from table, a pet lizard looked out from its glass case, its bulging eyes taking in the world, perhaps becoming too big for it. Inside, there was also a miniature replica of a foxglove tree. Only when Aoi finished, did Asa make a bowl for herself. She always ate alone.

The sisters lived in the same apartment they once shared with their mother before she went missing without a trace. Although the mother pointed to several men in succession as their real father, all DNA tests came back negative. Asa always suspected that the mother had poisoned the men with some form of foxglove after each one denied his fatherhood. Asa and Aoi were born joined at the hip. Each claimed they shared each other’s thoughts before they grew apart.

It took several surgeries to unhinge the sisters. In a family album, hidden in the back, there was still a photograph of the two as babies, joined together, one laughing, the other, crying. When asked who took the photo, the mother said it came out of her body along with the girls. She said that a nurse had fainted. The sisters couldn’t tell if she was joking or in one of her mysterious moods.

When the sisters reached their twenties, it was Asa who was beautiful and snobbish, dating handsome college students from Tokyo or Kyoto, and Aoi who grew disenchanted, increasingly prone to bizarre visions and twisted logic.

The sisters went to the same school but hated different teachers. Sometimes they fell in love with the same one. They would make paper mache portraits of their “crush” and fight over him. Aoi, being the less aggressive and the more insecure, usually lost. Then Asa would tear up the paper mache cut-out and throw it in the air. She would laugh all the way home. Aoi would keep her head down, sobbing. She’d study the contours of her shadow as she walked and wondered if she could ever catch anything, anyone.

Once the sisters went out to a nightclub and danced together. Two men, whose first names were the same, tried to pick them up. In a rare moment, Asa was protective of Aoi, and tried to get between Aoi and the stranger, a burly man with thick dark hair. She rebuffed the advances of the other man, who reminded her of one too many computer nerds, always memerizing pick-up lines from a self-help book. But Aoi insisted to go home with the other. There was a twinkle in her eyes.

When Aoi returned home the next morning, she told Asa that she had laughed so loud while she experienced her first orgasm that his tiny room shook, In fact, a ceramic bird might have fallen and shattered. She wasn’t sure. “And he was so scared that he ran naked into the street carrying just his shoes.”

Asa sat up in bed, her eyes following Aoi as she giddily sang the wrong words to a popular love song as she sashayed out of the room.

Aoi, who as a child, loved exploring the rooms of the apartment, later fell in love with a fisherman from one of the tiny islands to the east. She even had mother sew her a wedding dress from scratch. It fit her so well, was so perfect, that it almost had a life of its own. It seemed to breathe. It would make Aoi breathless.

But Asa, always envious and spiteful of everyone who might have more than her, stole Aoi’s fiancé. She said it wasn’t her doing; it was his. Men can’t fight their desires. They spend so much energy on denying them, that they become exhausted and helpless in these kinds of situations.
Aoi stood for a long time, staring at the wall behind the sofa her sister sat upon, browsing a women’s fashion magazine. Her lips parted, forming something between a scowl and a smile. All she could hear was the crinkling of pages and fisherman’s words that there was no one as special as her.
Aoi withdrew from everything, cried for days and weeks. Around this time, she revealed to both mother and sister that she had noticed “cracks in the walls big enough to fit through.” It was on the other side, she said, that she saw a whole world, perhaps derived from this one, or maybe the other way around. There, she had met her real father, a lizard king who sat on a throne, who granted favors to those kind to him, respectful of the desert, of the heat, of night or of sun, of water, and most importantly, the cracks in the ordinary world that everyone either ignored or denied.
Whenever Aoi spoke of this “other” world, there were noticeable gaps in her speech. It was if someone else was speaking through her.
To keep her grounded, Asa reminded Aoi to run errands for mother, that they needed buttermilk four and rice. Aoi obeyed and cooked, but everything came out bland, tasteless.

One day, Asa announced over dinner that she had sent the suitor away. He was really below her station anyway, she said, as if she lived on top of the world. Aoi looked up then continued to eat her mountain vegetables as if it didn’t matter at all. That night, she pressed her face into her pillow and imagined smothering herself. This life of hers, or the life she wanted, she concluded, was never meant to be. She had a dream that night of the fisherman drowning. She would not save him. After it was lifted by men on police boats, his body was bloated and blanched white, She did feel then, a stab of pain and remorse.

In the weeks that followed, Aoi spent more time alone, exploring undiscovered cracks and where they led to. She told Asa of the conversations she had with the lizard king and how he wanted her to be his wife. She said she needed that wedding dress back. Asa told her to watch the simmering herring and enough of this nonsense. What’s done is done, she said, as she whisked some eggs for a cake. Mother sat stone-faced, lifeless hands on her thighs, on a mat in another room.

The apartment became tense to live in. Mother and Aoi lived in their own separate worlds and often, didn’t answer Asa’s questions or requests, or said they couldn’t “hear her.” After many flare-ups and confrontations, the mother, at Asa’s promping, committed Aoi to a mental institution. While there, Aoi, glassy-eyed and constantly smiling, warned the mother that if she did not allow her to marry the lizard king, there would be dire consequences for her. She told her that she, the mother, might fall through the wrong crack and there will be no one to catch her.

Over the years, Aoi was in and out of institutions. She was given bouts of unsuccessful electro-shock treatments, subjected to hours of therapy sessions and group meetings. There were all kinds of different colored pills and pills to counteract the effects of the others. Often, she complained how Asa brought chocolate that was already melted, or was too hard to bite into, or that Asa brought her bitter strawberries that made her screw up her face. And when she bit into them, she could taste the hatred, hatred meant for her, the acidic juice running down her lips, ruining her skin. She thought of the lizard king and how they would both glow peacefully in the night.
When not visiting, Asa stayed home to care for the mother who was becoming progressively forgetful and despondent.

Aoi returned home with a promise that she would be a better daughter and sister. But she still couldn’t stop thinking about the cracks in the walls. She avoided herself in mirrors. They made her feel ugly.

One evening, after Aoi spat out her evening meds, she tried to convince Asa to follow her into one of the “cracks,” or as she like to call them, “the tears in our fabric.” Asa refused, but when she was asleep, Aoi whispered in her ear, and in a twilight state, she followed Aoi. Deep past the crack, Asa saw the wedding dress mother once made for Aoi. It was floating through air, over tree branches. At times, it eclipsed the sun. It had a life of its own. When Asa began to run, Aoi caught her and said “I’m marrying the lizard king. He wants me. He loves me for myself.”

After other trips beyond the crack, Aoi began to look younger. Her complexion became smoother, her breasts like large ripe fruit. Asa grew winkled with lines around her eyes and mouth. Her legs turned shriveled with broken networks of veins showing. She no longer whisked through every chore. She trudged and labored. She complained of all kinds of pain.

Aoi said to her, “You can give me away at the wedding since mother disappeared. The lizard king has appointed you my good sister, my protector beyond the crack that leads into the deluded world of failure and suffocation and constant ache.”

Aoi and Asa made regular trips to visit the lizard king and the world he ruled over. Soon the two grew comfortable in either world, since they knew which one they really belonged to. Both knew they were not meant for the world of bitter strawberries, chocolate that did not taste like chocolate.

The sisters found a kind of peace they had only known when they were joined at the hip. They sometimes took that old photograph of themselves at birth and smiled and giggled over it. Sometimes they cried when they confessed they had not done enough for mother, another victim of a world one could only pay homage to, but cannot live there. Earth could be colder than Mars said Aoi, as she offered her sister a golden apple. Aoi smiled as she looked into her sister’s eyes and said, “No, it doesn’t have a worm inside it. It’s perfect in itself.”

One night, Aoi slept and awoke from a dream where a voice was calling her from a distance. Aoi looked everywhere, in the fields, over the streams and ponds, over the jagged lines of colored rocks. She could see nothing.

She slipped out of bed to make herself some tea. Asa followed her into the kitchen.

“What’s wrong?” asked Asa, “couldn’t sleep?”

Aoi shrugged. Ask Asa if she wanted some tea.

“Why not. I’m up now.”

Aoi turned her head from wall to wall. She slowly stepped out of the kitchen. Asa followed her.
A shadow loomed on each wall. It slithered, or stood upright. It waved to the sisters. Its back was slightly hunched.

The sisters huddled. Asa said she was going to grab a knife, There must be a thief in the house.

Aoi grabbed her wrist and said No. It was no thief.

“How do you know?” asked Asa. “What else could it be? Do you want to be killed or beaten without a fight?”

Aoi stared into her sister’s eyes, then crouched low and followed the shadow into every room. Asa followed behind.

“Do you think it was that fisherman who I once sent away?’ said Asa.

Aoi turned around, looked up at her sister’s face.

“Why? Why would it be him after so long? He’s probably married, I’m sure.”

The shadow stood still, crouched down too, as if imitating the two women.

Aoi whispered in her sister’s ear.

“How is it that we can see this shadow so clearly with such dim lights or no lights at all?”

Asa’s eyes roved from her sister’s face to the shadow moving from wall to wall. At one point, it faced them and seemed it would walk out of the wall and directly towards them.

“Do you know who it is?” asked Asa.

“Look at how it waves to us. Look at the curve in its back.”

Asa studied the shadow. Her eyes widened. Her jaw dropped slightly.

“It’s mother,” said Aoi. “She’s not lost after all. She’s here in some way. She’s here with us.”

“Perhaps,” said Asa.

“I wonder if she can hear us.”

Aoi waved to the shadow. It waved back and walked from wall to wall, towards mother’s old bedroom. The women followed. In the bedroom, the shadow disappeared.

“We will see her again,” said Aoi.

“I hope so,” said Asa, “I miss her so.”

The women held hands and went to pour tea.

Later that afternoon, they sat in the dining area, facing each other.

“Would you like more udon?” asked Asa of her sister sitting at the table.

“Yes, and you must join me. It’s too much for one.”

Asa bit her lip, pondered it as if something ineffable. She finally agreed. Aoi doled out generous portions into her sister’s bowl.

The lizard behind its glass case blinked its enormous eyes. Once. Then twice. Then three times.

Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Your Impossible Voice, Night Train, Toad, Matchbox and elsewhere. His latest ebook is Father Dunne’s School for Wayward Boys at He blogs at

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