Howard Reed’s Brain

A short story by Bekah Ferguson.

Howard Reed submitted the signed paperwork promising he’d donate his brain to science, and died six years later.

At the hospital where he passed away late one night, a Brain Bank employee arrived to collect and transport the organ to a nearby laboratory. But unbeknownst to family, it never arrived there. Instead, during transit, his brain was deliberately swapped with a John Doe’s. Thus, as far as everyone was concerned, Reed’s brain had gone just where it was supposed to go and where it would be sliced in half: one side to be frozen, and the other to be set in formaline for the purpose of autopsy. The identity of the donor would forever remain anonymous to the researchers who would only receive such tissue after their protocols were first approved by a Research Ethics Board. But Reed’s brain was not to be divided after all; nor was it anonymous. At least, not to the two scientists who bided their time awaiting his death, and had deliberately stolen it.

Inside their undercover laboratory—housed in the back corner of a private, sequestered hanger—they set to work. The equipment had long been prepped for the expected arrival and after a few switches were flipped here and a few keys punched there, machines and pumps were roused from their slumber. Industrial lighting flooded the corner area with artificial sunlight, above which black tarps had been draped to the floor in a tent-like fashion; blotting out the light. Any rare vehicle that might happen to drive by on the dirt road out front would see only the moonlit sketching of an abandoned building.

Cradled by latex-gloved hands, the brain was removed from its temperature-controlled traveling case and set down within a round glass container, not unlike an astronaut’s helmet. The body of the man had indeed perished but his brain was still very much alive. Micro-circulation was restored to the blood vessels with absolute precision from bags of artificial blood, and electrodes were inserted all over the organ. Attached tubing trailed away from both the brain and the container: down over the side of the lab counter, straight across the floor, and up into the sides of a tubular liquid-filled vat.

Through the oval windows of the vat a two hundred and eighty pound Sus domesticus pig floated in the greenish water; a myriad of internal cables gathering together where they’d been attached around the sides of the animal’s skull, connecting to the memory center of its brain. More measures were taken, a lid sealed into place encapsulating the human brain in its preservation chamber, and levels were checked on the various computer screens. Then the meticulously-planned upload commenced.

With the next few moments, the deceased Howard Reed awoke to find himself fully conscious inside the mind and body of a piglet.

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Mother’s Angel

A short story by Bekah Ferguson

“Ghosts are the superstitious nonsense of heathens, son,” Pa used to say, but I’d been haunted by one in the forest behind our homestead through much of my childhood.

I was about five years old the first time I saw it. A white entity moving deep within the trees at dusk. Then again one grey afternoon a couple of years later when I was mucking out the stable, and heard a crackle of movement on dead leaves. Gripping my shovel in front of me like a protective spear, I peered into the nearby treeline from whence the sound had come.

We lived in a forest in Upper Canada, trees furrowed and thick, undergrowth prolific and tangled. In some directions you could trail-blaze for days without encountering a single trading post or homestead. Yet there it was some fifty feet within and as tall as a man: a flash of white appearing for a second between tree trunks, disappearing behind others, and reappearing again as it seemed to float along. However, though I strained to see its contours, I could not piece together its form; and as soon as it was there, it was gone.

These apparitions occurred only once or twice a year and always in the same manner: at dusk or predawn, and only when I was working quietly by myself. The times when I helped my father chop wood and gather kindle from the forest, I always kept an eye out for it, but whether due to the reverberating splitting sounds, or the trampling of twigs beneath our boots, it never showed itself when I was with him.

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I See You

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 flatscreen 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. Some kind of misfortune took place, the real estate agent said, 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 on 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.”

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An Open Casket

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.

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The Appendage

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.

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Y2K

A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.

1999

Y2K was coming right after Christmas and either nothing was gonna happen or everything was gonna happen. At the strike of midnight, December 31st, computers and security systems might just instantly shut off causing airplanes to crash into one another, mass burglaries, blackouts, and car crashes, and in general, the wreaking of havoc.

As a nine year old, I wasn’t sure what “wreaking” meant, or havoc for that matter, and for many years I actually thought the expression was “reeking” havoc: something smelly. But when I came to realize that the spelling was different, I figured “havoc” must be the mess or damage the wreaking caused; something very bad. I’d also heard the grown-ups talking about the pandemonium that would follow. I didn’t know what that was either but since it sounded like pantomime, I pictured a clown with black and white paint on his face as he tip-toed around, splaying his fingers and grinning with blood red lips.

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She Hadn’t Expected This

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.

A key.

“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.

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I Was a Stranger

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.”

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The Jaguar

A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.

Three panthera onca cubs were born in a rock den deep within the Amazon basin. Amias was the middle cub and his little sightless world, though simple and soundless, was a happy one. For the first few weeks he did nothing but snuggle up to his brother, sister, and mother. A mother who nursed and nurtured them all, nuzzling and licking their fur with great gentleness and care.

It wasn’t long before Amias began to see and hear. He learned that his mother’s name was Genoveva, his older brother was Eduardo, his little sister, Pabiola. Their den remained dark at all times, save for the green-tinted sunlight peeking through the cleft opening. Amias could only make out the contours of his siblings and an occasional glint in their eyes. His mother he knew to be sleek and black, however, for sometimes the sun glistened on the fur of her back when she exited the den.

After a few months had passed by, the cubs had learned to walk around without falling. Each dawn and dusk, while their mother was away hunting, the three siblings stayed put, dreaming about the mysterious outside world as the cacophony of birds and insects continually filled their eardrums. Eduardo was the boldest of the three, being the oldest by merit of birth order, and he often went to the cleft opening to stick his head out and look around, even though their mother had told them it wasn’t safe to do so. Amias contented himself with the information his brother imparted, being too timid to go near the opening himself. One day Pabiola joined Eduardo’s side, which was a great comfort to Amias, for she assured him that what Eduardo saw was what she too saw. Like their mother, they both had gleaming black fur, visible only when they stood in the entrance of the den.

Soon Eduardo and Pabiola wanted to do more than just stick their heads out. So, they stepped fully outside one morning, disappearing from view.

Amias’ heartbeat quickened and he slinked toward the opening, not wanting to be left behind. He summoned all his courage, took a deep breath, and stepped halfway out. His brother and sister weren’t far ahead yet, picking their way through ferns and bromeliads. He let out a yelp and they looked back at him, gasping in tandem when they did. At first he thought they were surprised because he’d been brave enough to try and follow, but their stares were so wide-eyed, he looked down at his paws to see what was the matter. When he did, his own breath caught in his throat.

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The Viking

The Belly of the Whale

A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.

The midnight sun hovered over the sea horizon like a glowing pumpkin.

Stian anchored his clinker-built sailboat out of sight from the mainland and jumped onto the rocky shore, scrambling up over the outcrop on all fours and keeping cover behind spruce trees and towering pines. It didn’t take long to reach the sleeping village through the forest: a fenced-in cluster of longhouses surrounded by fields, forest, and highlands. Smoke billowed from holes in the thatched roofs and spitz dogs with pointed ears and curled tails roamed about behind the fence, keeping guard. Stian passed the village and went toward the nearest sheep pen where the night watchman lay fast asleep in his covered bed box. A roaming spitz dog served as a second set of eyes and ears.

Keeping cover, Stian pulled a poisoned chunk of whale meat from his tunic and tossed it near the bed box. It didn’t take long for the dog to sniff it out and eat to his demise; he soon lay in a heap in the grass, the hairs on his stilled shoulders twitching in the breeze.

Stian approached the sheep pen with slow steps, careful to avoid any sounds that might alert the shepherd, and took a little lamb from the group; killing it with a seax dagger. In the green shelter of the woods, he gnawed on the lamb’s body enough to make a mess, and pulled a vial from a pocket in his woolen tunic, filling it with blood. Tossing the carcass out into the open, he went back to the fence surrounding the longhouses, and set the dogs to barking. He then retreated to the forest to wait, inhaling the metallic scent of blood on his chin.

The village came to life as men left their homes and gathered together with the dogs, heading for the fields where they soon found the mutilated lamb. Knowing they would suspect a wolf or a bear rather than a man and would search the woods, Stian scaled the fence and went straight for the longhouse he’d scoped out days before.

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