by: Bekah Ferguson
I SEE YOU (Science Fiction)
THE VIKING (Fantasy)
THE JAGUAR (Fable)
AN OPEN CASKET (Contemporary)
A short story by Bekah Ferguson.
The morning after Maggie and Evan moved into their clapboard home in the woods, they unpackaged a new 55-inch TV and set it up on the stand in the livingroom. The house, formerly a rental, had been sitting on the market empty for ten years. The real estate agent said some kind of a missing child or such, and no one wanted to live there, least of all the bereaved mother. But Maggie didn’t believe in ghosts and thus hadn’t minded. Instead, she and her husband jumped at the chance to buy their first home for a fraction of its worth.
After successfully connecting the TV to the Internet through a device she’d bought online, a little black box, Maggie went about unpacking books and figurines while Evan went upstairs to work; the occasional sound of his footsteps shuffling above reminding her of his presence. A faint blue light blinked in and out on the device—Bluetooth she supposed—though she hadn’t connected it to anything besides the TV.
After a few minutes a screensaver switched on, presumably from the device, and an image filled the screen, drawing her attention: A grainy photograph of a girl doll sitting in a green wheelbarrow, a cluster of wildflowers at its side, and overgrown shrubs in the background.
How quaint, she thought. And sucky quality too.
Retrieving the remote, Maggie fiddled around until she found the screensaver settings and picked out something else—a crisp, high quality mountain scene. She shut off the TV.
But seeing a wheelbarrow had reminded her of something.
“Evan,” she called up to her husband from the base of the staircase. “I forgot to ask, did the lawyer give you a key for the back shed?”
“No,” he called down, “didn’t have one. We’re going to have to break the lock.”
Later on that evening, after a busy day of unpacking, Maggie and Evan watched a couple of TV shows together before heading to bed. At one point they paused to make a snack and when they returned to the room, the screensaver was on. But it wasn’t the mountains anymore. The doll scene was back.
“What kind of crap picture is that?” Evan said with a laugh. “It’s blurry, like a phone picture blown up too big.”
“Yeah, odd, eh? Wasn’t me.” She picked up the remote and changed the picture back to the mountainscape. “It lets me change the picture no problem, but I can’t find the actual file to delete it. Must be some kind of manufacturer’s default setting . . . ”
“But if that’s the default, then why such low resolution?”
She shrugged and put their show back on.
The next morning she turned the TV on to view her favorite cooking program while preparing a grocery list, and forgot to turn it off when she went to the store. Evan had gone to work and wouldn’t be back until dinner. An overcast day, it was drizzling by the time she got home and the house seemed unusually dark for a summer afternoon. It took a few trips to unload the car but she soon had all the grocery bags piled together on the old-fashioned hardwood flooring in the sun room. Kicking off her sandals, she carried the first load inside and stopped in the hallway. Through the opening to her left, the TV screen illuminated the shadowy living room like a muted lamp might do.
Maggie set down the bags and approached it.
The wheelbarrow scene again.
Up until now she’d barely focused on the image, not caring enough to take in the specific details. This time she examined it intently, feeling a tad uneasy. She’d seen that type of doll before, come to think of it, years ago. Bangs, curly platinum hair, gray irises, dusty rose lips. What had its name been again? She couldn’t remember.
Returning to the sunroom, she retrieved her phone from her purse, and asked it a question.
“What was the name of the popular child’s doll that was recalled several years ago?”
“The doll’s name was Lola,” came a slightly robotic, female vocal response.
“Tell me more.”
“Lola was the Bluetooth-enabled doll directly implicated when four children went missing in the city of its initial distribution.” The city and manufacturer’s name were then mentioned. “The doll was believed to have been hacked and used for espionage by an unknown child abductor,” the robotic voice continued. “Neither the children nor the abductor were ever found. The doll was permanently recalled and its production halted indefinitely.”
Maggie walked back to the living room and stared at the TV.
“Is there a news story regarding a child who lived in this house a decade ago?”
“Yes. A six year old girl named Penelope Clark was reported missing by her mother. The parents were ruled out as suspects and the child was later determined to be the first of the kidnapping victims. She is believed to be dead.”
Snatching up the remote from the coffee table, Maggie switched the screensaver back to the mountainscape, turned off the TV, and finished unpacking the groceries with a feverish pitch. More than once she glanced through the rain-spattered kitchen window where only the corner of the locked shed was visible in the backyard. She shuddered. No, the police would have scoured the entire property—a locked shed no deterrant.
By late afternoon the rain had let up, though it remained cloudy and cool. When Evan came home at suppertime, she told him what had happened to the previous tenants, and about the screensaver resetting itself.
“You’re reading way too much into it, hun—it’s just a coincidence, a default setting.”
“Can you find your bolt cutters tonight though, please? I know I know, it’s silly, but that shed is really creeping me out.”
Agreeing to help, if only to set her mind at ease, Evan finished eating and spent a half hour in the garage rummaging through unpacked boxes until he finally found the tool. She followed him out into the dank backyard, smacking or waving away each mosquito that honed in on her, and stood with arms crossed watching.
The windowless shed was somewhat secluded, backdropped by leafy trees and thorny undergrowth. Weeds and uncut grass grew up the wooden sides, and the shingled roof was curling in places.
“Probably empty,” Evan said with a grunt as he cut through the metal lock.
“Then why locked?”
He removed the two dismembered pieces and opened the door, peering into the dark interior.
“Nothing but a wheelbarrow,” he said.
“What!” She hurried to the opening as Evan stepped aside.
“It’s green,” she said, “like the picture.”
An overturned wheelbarrow was propped up against the wall in the right hand corner. A clump of something hung from a nail on the wall next to it and as her eyes adjusted, she realized it was a tied bouquet of dried flowers. The rest of the shed was indeed empty, including a single shelf.
By now the mosquitos were swarming and pricking but she no longer noticed. Taking the wheelbarrow by the handles, she stepped back and pulled it outside.
In the now revealed corner of the shed sat a Lola doll coated in cobwebs, eyes closed.
Page 1 of 2
An excerpt from the novel, “A White Rose,” by Bekah Ferguson.
A blindsided young man can suddenly see the Other.
An excerpt from “The Attic” by Bekah Ferguson & Rachel Xu.
Life’s a journey, as the cliché goes. Some of us remain on the same pathway our entire lives, while others reach a fork in the road and change course. That was me.
The first fork I encountered led me down a trail from regular conservatism (Baptist) to ultra-conservatism (a legalistic, Vineyard-like denomination). In other words, from stoic to charismatic, with much stricter rules. After a couple of bewildering years in this church I extricated myself and returned sober to mainstream Christianity; only to realize that what I’d experienced in the cult was just evangelicalism on steroids. The problematic base doctrines were still the same: no women in leadership, male headship (the husband has the final say), “eternal conscious torment hell” for the unsaved, and the exclusion of LGBT Christians.
A couple of years of church-hopping followed and my husband and I unwittingly landed in a conservative denomination that allows (and affirms!) the ordaining of women as pastors. Scandalous. 😉 This was a second fork in the road for me, challenging and changing my beliefs regarding gender roles, and we’ve been attending this church for more than a decade now. It is home. Suffice it to say, you might call me a left-leaning conservative, or simply a moderate. Labels don’t leave much room for nuance, however, and I hesitate to use them.
But all that aside, what I want to talk about specifically here is something I’ve observed through these experiences:
Every denomination (Catholic and Protestant alike) believes they are the only ones with the fullest truth, the fullest enlightenment. So, why is this a problem?
Continue reading The Vanity of Enlightenment
A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.
My red-brick elementary school sat nestled against a forest on the edge of town, with a road in front and a soccer field on either side. Though we had swing sets and jungle gyms, many of the kids preferred playing in the woods, and we were allowed to do so as long as we kept the schoolyard in sight. But last Thursday night an accident took place on school property when no adults were around, and one of the students had gotten killed.
I don’t know how he died, the teachers were tight-lipped about it the next morning; I only knew it had happened in the woods. I overheard various theories from my classmates throughout the day, but I wasn’t sure which was the true one, if any. All I knew for sure was that he was there with a group of friends in the evening, took a risky dare, and now, somehow, was dead.
Mark Wilson was his name. I didn’t know him very well being two years older than me, but he was in my cousin, Kasey’s, grade eight class and I often saw him at recess too. One of those boys always tearing through the playground hollering and laughing and carrying on.
On Saturday evening my mom and aunt took me and Kasey to the funeral home for visitation, but we didn’t attend the funeral. I’d never been to a funeral home before. When I was five I went to my great-grandmother’s funeral at a church—a closed casket at the front—but I only remember fidgeting in my seat and wanting to run off and play. I didn’t feel any sadness or even understand what the casket was for until years afterward looking back on the memory. So, this was the first time I’d seen an open casket too. The room had dim lighting, thick carpet, and smelled of flowers. Lots of people were there, including many of the teachers from school, and a handful of schoolmates as well. The grown-ups were in little groups, speaking in hushed tones, and looking solemn. I held onto my mom’s hand and we went up to the casket once the area opened up.
It was really weird to see Mark like that. I guess I’d been expecting him to look like he was asleep, but instead he just looked like someone else, like a different person. I only glanced at his face for a few seconds however before looking away and fixating on his clasped hands instead. His fingers were rubbery like a doll’s.
“Mom,” I whispered on our way out to the parking lot, “why were his hands so strange looking, so white?”
We climbed into the car. “It’s because there’s no longer any blood flowing through them,” she said, starting the car. She’d been unusually quiet that day. I buckled my seatbelt and stared down at my own clasped hands, noticing how pink they were.
At school Monday morning Kasey found me at recess and we went to the woods where already a group of kids had gathered chattering, scurrying about, pointing, as they’d done on Friday as well. I stared at the ground, knowing it was the spot where they said his body had laid. It was just a bed of pine needles now but some of the kids were still searching for clues, any trace of what might have happened; looking delighted as though it were some great adventure.
I felt sick to my stomach and wandered away from the area, goosebumps rising on my arms as a cool breeze weaved in and out between tree trunks. Kasey followed me to a quieter area nearby and we sat down together on a log. One of the swing sets was still visible through the trees ahead of us; the blue sky peeking down through the canopy above. Children’s laughter lifted now and again, the occasional happy scream from a game of tag.
“I keep staring at his empty desk,” Kasey said, slowly tearing apart a green maple leaf, cropped brown hair hanging over her cheeks as she leaned forward. Her lips curled down in the corner as she snatched another leaf from a sapling.
“Mom says he’s in heaven now,” I offered, forcing a smile.
“Well I don’t believe in heaven.”
“Dad says it’s just a fantasy, something parents tell their kids to comfort them, and there’s no proof of it. No more proof than made up stories about alien abductions. Do you believe in aliens?”
I pictured little green creatures with skinny bodies, oversized heads, and bulging black eyes. “No.”
“There you go.”
I felt tension in my nose and realized it was all scrunched up. I wasn’t upset though, just uneasy.
“He says when you die, that’s it, gone forever. Worm food.”
“He said that to you!” I reached for a leaf and started tearing at it too, thinking of my uncle with great surprise.
“No, he didn’t say it to me, he said it to Mom. To me he just said ‘take comfort in the memory of Mark, even though he’s gone, he can still live on in your memories.’ Then he patted my shoulder and left the room. I think he’s really sad though. But you ever think about that, April?”
“About dying.” A sidelong glance.“Everyone you love will one day die and just like that,”—she snapped her fingers—“you’ll never, ever see them again. Can you talk to a memory? Or hug it? No. It’s only your imagination—one sided. Of course you can guess what they might say to you in a conversation, pretend to talk to them and stuff, but it’s all just guessing. And even if you guess right what they’d probably say to you, it’s still not real.”
We fell into a gloomy silence then as Kasey scowled at the ground. I didn’t know what to say since I believed in heaven and felt certain Mark’s spirit was still alive somewhere; wherever heaven was. Only his body had been left behind.
Kasey reached down and fished for a rock amongst grassy forget-me-nots, finding one and whipping it against a tree trunk. It bounced off and disappeared from sight on the forest bed. “You can’t look into a person’s eyes in a memory either,” she said, “I’ve tried it. All you can see is them smiling in the past, like watching a home video, or them smiling at you like a puppet ‘cause you imagined them smiling. But they’re not smiling at you for real.” She picked one of the blue wildflowers, and it came up from the ground roots and all.
We made eye contact then, hers hazel and flashing; mine unblinking.
“One day I’ll be dead too,” she said, “and all the memories of the dead people in my head will also die with me. I don’t remember my great-great grandparents, do you?” A pointed look.
I shook my head and focused on a leaf in my own hand; twirling the stem between my thumb and index. Of course I didn’t remember them, they died before I was born. But I did hope to meet them someday. To me they lived in both the past and the future, at the same time somehow. In the past so far as photographs went, their clothing and hairstyles so strange in comparison to how people currently looked; and in the future as I imagined encountering them in the next life, being introduced, and getting to know them like I would any new person.
“Mom and Dad thought I was sleeping,” Kasey continued. “They didn’t know I was watching them through the stair railings, in the dark. You know that one spot I showed you, where you can see part of the living room and the TV, but they can’t see you? Yeah, there. That’s where I was when I heard Dad say the worm food thing. And then he started talking about the sun!”
I tossed the leaf away. “The sun? But what does the sun have to do with it?”
“He said one day a million years from now the sun’s gonna ‘burn out’ and the earth will be destroyed, and not a single trace of anything will be left. Then he said, oh yeah we comfort ourselves thinking we’re gonna ‘live on’ in memory, especially famous people like presidents, artists, and singers—and we’ve got museums with special things saved from the past, like art and mummies and Egyptians and arrowheads and stuff—but when the earth goes kaput, that’s it, done and done. Everything we ever worked for or cared about, all for nothing. He said, ‘some comfort.’ ”
“What did your mom say?”
“She said, ‘oh well, at least we’ll be dead and oblivious.’ ”
The school bell rang, signaling recess was over. We stood up and tramped through the woods back into the playground, the hot June sun tingling my arms as we stepped out of the tree cover. The sensation made me glance down at my right forearm. Fine blond hairs glinted around a scabby scrape that was halfway finished healing. Kasey called out to a friend crossing our path and ran off with her, leaving me alone.
I flicked my gaze upward at the sky as I walked and imagined being able to see through the blue expanse with x-ray vision to the place hiding behind it where only rockets could reach: where everything suddenly became jet black for infinity. Jet black but not empty. Full of the unknown, the unseen. I slowed my step, watching my fellow students stream into the open doors of the school ahead where they disappeared inside.
My mind hovered over the moon, which I could see vividly from many angles thanks to all the pictures and video clips I’d seen of the moon landings. It was as though I’d actually been there myself. I considered then how we’d only traveled to the moon so far, and rovers a little farther, like mars. Mars I could picture just as well as the moon, though I knew no humans had yet set foot on it. I also knew that there were other galaxies out there too. And suns even bigger than our own.
I reached the tarmac and waited for the line up at the door to diminish. It didn’t seem to me that this little planet could possibly be all there was to existence, holding no greater meaning or value. It seemed to me that death was much like traveling to the moon: it was as far as us humans had yet gone in our bodies. The rest of the galaxy and beyond was still a mystery. Not an unsolvable mystery though, but an infinite one, just like the universe. Those who potentially traveled to some world beyond after death simply weren’t able to return to tell us what they’d seen.
A robin landed on the ground a meter ahead of me and hopped about, nipping at invisible worms. I met its beady black eye for a half second. Then it flew away.
An excerpt from “The Attic” by Bekah Ferguson & Rachel Xu.
A mist swirled around the trio and a swamp stretched out ahead of them. Dead trees reached upward from the murk at odd angles, casting spindly shadows over the oily surface. Floating weeds shifted positions as gaseous bubbles rose to the surface and burst around them.
Ian turned toward Varkis, who stood with hairy gray arms crossed over his chest and feet spread wide. “What do you think?” The last thing he wanted to do was enter the swamp, but Kurik had given him no other choice.
“I’m thinking it wasn’t a smart idea to come with you guys after all,” the dog-man replied.
“Come on. Seriously.”
“Who said I wasn’t being serious?”
Lily stood nearby, one hand on her hip as she squinted up at the dusky sky.
Ian ran a hand down his face and took a deep breath, nearly choking on the stench of the water. “Well, . . . let’s get this over with then.” He stepped into the cold goop, weed-muck sucking at his foot. Another step forward and he sunk down, slimy vegetation and dank water swirling about his knees. “Come on guys,” he glanced over his shoulder. “We have to get to the Jubaka Tree and out of this swamp before nightfall or we won’t live to see morning.”
Varkis harrumphed. “This swamp gets deep fast, you do realize. We’re going to have to swim a lot of the way and it’s going to be freezing.”
“I know.” He met eyes with Lily in an apologetic glance. She looked frightened now. “We’ll take breaks as needed and warm up afterwards.”
“Does anything, uh, dangerous, live in this swamp?” she asked.
“Not that I know of.”
It was a lie.
There was something lurking in the swamp; something that had started out quite small but had been growing for many years since.
An excerpt from the novel, “A White Rose,” by Bekah Ferguson.
Dakota Reilly hadn’t really noticed Ryan Hill when he first started showing up for her father’s poker games, but one night she’d bumped into him in the kitchen when she went to grab a soda.
Most of her dad’s friends were older, middle age, but this guy was much younger; like one of those hotties from Beverly Hills, 90210. She’d seen him from a distance before; he lived down the road in an old farmhouse.
Having thus seen him up close for the first time, she was star-eyed. From then on, she made a point of going to the kitchen for a glass of water or soda whenever she saw him head in that direction. She also stopped wearing shorts to bed with her over-sized T-shirt. She didn’t really know what she was doing, but she’d seen this in movies before and understood that long bare legs were sexy.
After one month of obsessing over him, daydreaming about him constantly and writing his name on every page of her diary, he asked her how old she was. For a moment she panicked, fearing he would think her a stupid kid, and blurted out that she was seventeen. His pleased grin indicated that he actually believed her and she almost giggled with excitement when he nicked her chin with his knuckle and gave her a wink.
The first time he kissed her took her breath away—she’d never been kissed before. It happened two weeks later in front of the kitchen fridge. The poker game had been going on for a couple hours already in the living room and they were well out of view of anyone who might happen to glance toward the closed-off kitchen. With one deft movement, Ryan pulled her against him and kissed her lips—hard and fast.
Before she could say a word or open her eyes, he slipped something cold and metal into her hands.
“Come see me tonight, baby,” he whispered, brushing his lips against her earlobe. “You know where I live.” He pulled away and moved to leave the kitchen, a sly grin on his face. “Three a.m., sweets. . . . Don’t disappoint me.” He left the room with a wink that turned her knees to jelly.
A blindsided young man can suddenly see the Other.
A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.
He knelt down next to the fireplace, stoking the coals and adding another piece of wood to the pile. A Christmas tree twinkled beside a wingback chair, and in the adjoining room, pillar candles burned atop the dining table. Two plates were set with a cloth napkin, Christmas cracker, and crystal glasses. The trimmings sat ready on the stovetop, the turkey nearly done.
But she wasn’t going to be there—she was never going to be there again.
“I wanted to tell you this in person,” she explained over voicemail, “but I just can’t bear to look into your eyes when I say it.”
He’d missed her call earlier while out walking the dog. There was a pause in the recording here and goosebumps rose on his skin as though the blizzard outside was still swirling around him.
“The thing is, Emerson,” she went on, “I can’t marry you. I wish I didn’t have to hurt you like this but I canceled my flight this morning and I’m not going to be moving to your province. I’ve unpacked all my bags.”
Let’s talk about the art of validation. To validate is so much more than active listening. It’s not just repeating back to someone what they have said, it’s taking the time to try to understand another person’s perspective – even when you disagree – especially when you disagree. It is temporarily putting yourself in their shoes and saying, “I would probably feel the same way if I were you,” or “I see why you’d feel that way under the circumstances.”
Think of good therapists, for example. They don’t argue or give unsolicited advice: instead they walk alongside a client, listening and validating. After a client has finished articulating their feelings to this non-judgmental listener, ideally they’re able to come up with their own solution to the problem. When it comes to friends and family, however, finding someone who’ll be a non-judgmental listener can be difficult, no matter how close we are. When someone interrupts us to argue or give unwanted advice, it feels like we aren’t being heard and we aren’t being allowed to express our true feelings. We end up debating in self-defense, or simply shutting down. In the frustration that comes from longing to be understood, we find ourselves stuck in feedback loops: sharing our view again and again in the hopes that they’ll finally get it. Ongoing invalidation can be greatly damaging to a relationship. We’ve all experienced being misunderstood, and therefore know how hurtful it is.
What’s more, it’s human nature to take a contrary view whenever we feel backed into a corner and put on the defensive.
They say we don’t remember anything really prior to the age of three.
No doubt there are innumerable emotional memories from infancy, but in my case my earliest visual memory was the dedication of my infant sister: I was exactly three. It’s funny how the brain works though. I used to pore over my mother’s photo albums as a child, collecting all the images of those photographs – mental photographs of photographs – and arranging them chronologically in my mind. I can go back in time and enter the room of a home in which my relatives are compiled and see myself as an infant cradled in someone’s arms or sitting on someone’s lap. I can look around at the furniture and the faces and hairdos and fashion, can even hear some of their voices and laughter (which I’ve taken from later memories and projected backward into these ones), and those moments in time are stored with the first person memories that began in the preschool years. But they’re not firsthand memories – they’re only memories of photographs.
The mind’s eye is a fascinating thing. Did the generations before me do the same thing with black and white photos, removing the grays in their mind and filling it all in with color, making that the superimposed memory instead of sepia? And before photography, did they take the stories about their toddler years, told them by relatives, and store them chronologically, as imagined, with their firsthand experiences just as I did with photographs? Probably. Indeed, even the stories my parents and grandparents told me about their own childhoods, teen and adult years, are stored chronologically in my memory as well, as though I really saw and heard those things happen with my own two eyes and two ears. Does everyone do this or is it the writer’s nature in me, the way I build scenes in my mind and freely wander through them exploring? But how accurate are those images? When I see my father as a boy, stooping with surprise to pick up a human skull in the overgrown grass of a field in India, freckle-faced, brown hair slicked to one side, and a button down shirt tucked into his jeans, does that fabricated video reel look anything like the literal experience my father had? Either way, it’s the same story, regardless of the color of his shirt. Could I tell you what species of trees were backdropping the field or where exactly in India it took place? No, I don’t even know what trees grow in India, besides the rubber tree. But I nevertheless see his story like a memory. There are tangled trees and wheat-like grasses, a dry cracked skull in the palm of his hand. No doubt it’s an amalgamation of all the images of fields and skulls I’ve ever seen in my life. But somehow I feel like I was there.