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.

As disoriented as he was, he quickly deduced two inexplicable things about himself. One, that he still retained all his own thoughts, perceptions, and memories, and two, that he’d also subsumed the mind and sensations of the piglet within whom he now resided. They shared, as it were, one mind. At least, on his end. The pig, lacking the frontal cortex of a Homo sapien, probably lacked the ability to share in this joint consciousness too; Howard could only assume that this symbiotic mind was known to him yet unknown to the pig.

He pondered his situation intensely for a only a few minutes, however, standing stolk still in a trance as other piglets fumbled around him, before he could no longer ignore the hollow burning in his throat—er, the piglet’s throat. Hunger. So he looked around for the first time, blinking, and immediately deduced his location.

The creep area of a farrowing crate.

Something else was burning too however, almost to the point of eclipsing his hunger. Both his behind and his crotch. Ooh. He need only glance around at the other piglets to know. They all had one-inch red-tipped stumps not yet healed from tail-dockings. And between his legs . . . Oh again. Castration. He remembered now. Remembered? Why these must be the piglet’s memories then. A shudder rippled through his body at the recollection: the slice of the scalpel, the tugging, pulling, cutting, all without anesthetic.

As the piglet’s eyelids drooped, Howard’s ability to concentrate faded, like a creeping vertigo. A sibling bumped into him and he fell over. Another walked over him, the pressure of one little trotter squeezing the air from his lungs for a half second. He struggled to get his footing again, and stood up. Refocusing, Howard found himself looking around for his—er, the piglet’s—mother.

There she was, lying on her side close by, separated from the piglets by bars. They could reach her udder through the gaps but would never be able to cuddle her. Surprised to find his desires so at one with the piglet’s, Howard fought for a place to nurse and drank with great gulps until full; vaguely aware in his periphery of a couple of detached, shivering runts. When he finished nursing, his instinct was to explore the enclosure and spend more time contemplating his peculiar situation. Instead he succumbed to sleepiness, drifting off into a milk-induced slumber.

When he awoke, he woke as one might do from a bad dream. With a sense of relief. Not as from a nightmare per se, but certainly from a dream perturbing in nature. Unpleasant, but not horrific. Yet as his vision came into focus, a sense of dread welled up within him, for all about were mounds of pink: to be precise, little pink bodies with frizzy fur. He was still a piglet.

The sow was standing up now, eating from a machine-fed trough. It released a specific portion of food and water for her daily. Howard knew this because Howard was a hog farmer. A third generation hog farmer. He also knew that the sow had just enough room to stand and lie down; turning around was impossible. Chewing on the bars was about the only thing she could do. And she would live her entire life this way, a truncated four or five years. He trotted over and peered up at her. She looked like a giant. His whole life he’d been looking down at pigs—this was the first time he’d ever been dwarfed by one. On her shoulder was an ulcer, one that appeared to be partially-healed in some areas and fresh in others. A chronic wound, no doubt. She likely had one on the other side too. He’d seen it many times throughout his career. A difficult problem to avoid in farrowing crates, but he’d learned to keep it out of mind.

But how could he be here, inside a piglet’s brain? His last memory was of being deathly ill in a hospital bed. Had he died and been reincarnated? No, that’s not how it worked; at least, he didn’t think that’s how it worked. Could it simply be a dream within a dream? He sure hoped for the latter, though what would he awake to if it was? The grim faces of his middle-aged son and daughter-in-law sitting next to his death bed? And then what. Ah yes, he remembered now. He’d signed papers promising the donation of his brain to science. He’d also bequeathed the farm to his eldest son only—not because of favoritism or birthright, but because his younger son was dead, and wouldn’t have wanted it anyway.

A couple of hazy weeks or so went by and Howard revisited these thoughts again and again throughout the days, in-between nursing and sleeping. Each time he awoke it was with a sense of long-suffering, calmly waiting for the dream within a dream to end. For despite the passage of time, he figured it was quite possible that he—the man—had only been asleep for a few hours. The mind was funny that way. But he had to admit that each time he awoke to the same plight he grew a little more discouraged, and a little more frightened.

The two shivering runts continued to starve until one day a farmhand came and lifted them both out of the creep area by their hind legs. They were too weak to give much of a protest, not even a squeal. Howard and the piglet watched the man lumber off with them down the walkway flanked by endless farrowing crates, until he was no longer in sight. The piglet looked away, but Howard could still see the rest in his mind’s eye. In some back room of the building the piglet skulls would be dashed upon a concrete floor or wall—twice, even thrice, if the first time wasn’t enough. Or perhaps alternatively they’d be dropped into a sealed bucket of carbon dioxide where they’d asphyxiate. He’d used both methods himself.

And his youngest boy, Melvin, had despised him for it. Howard’s theory at the time had been that a young boy would grow desensitized to such things with enough exposure; simply get used to it. Just as he had and his grandfather and great-grandfather had, and every farmhand fresh out of high school had. His eldest son, Toby, too. But not Melvin.

The child just stood there near the open door of the soiled room, body rigid; blood spots dribbling down his rubber boots from the spray. His ten year old face looked anemic with shock, pupils dilated with strong emotion. It was if Howard had killed a puppy.

After that, Melvin became withdrawn—a shadow version of himself. Though he remained deferential to his father, where once his eyes had danced at the invitation to spend time together, he now made less than subtle efforts to get out of it. This pained Howard deeply, though he did hope in time that the boy would develop an understanding, and get over it. So he kept him busy with benign duties around the farm, despite the feeling like he was coddling the boy; and wondering all the while if he should have kept bringing him back to that room until the child could finally see the thing as normal and acceptable. But he couldn’t bring himself to repeat the scenario, couldn’t bear to see his son looking at him like that again. Besides, there were plenty of other farmhands who didn’t mind doing it, and there was Toby of course. Toby who at times even seemed to enjoy it.

Another week in the creep area passed by quickly—quickly because the piglet spent most of his time snoozing—and the time came to be transported to another building. Two farmhands lifted the piglets out of the creep area by their hind legs and dropped them into a wooden box on wheels. The screeching and pandemonium of all his siblings frightened the piglet—and with Howard along for the ride, pushed its way to the back of the enclosure, tiny heart palpitating.

Though Howard was as cognizant of his surroundings and circumstances as he had been as a man, while feeling everything viscerally and emotionally that the piglet felt as well, he lacked motor control of any sort. Where the piglet went, he went, and he did whatever the piglet wanted to do. But being mentally in-sync with the piglet’s body, he was very much in agreement with the animal’s choices; eager to eat when hungry and to sleep when tired. It had been a drowsy handful of weeks, which greatly limited his capacity to meditate on his perplexing situation. And this was the first time that he, rather, the piglet, had felt distinct fear.

It was scared. It didn’t know where it was going.

Page 1 of 4


An Open Casket

It seemed to me death was much like traveling to the moon…

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.”

“How come?”

“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 what?”

“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.



A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.


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.

I’d also heard a lot of talk lately about The Rapture and End Times. We were living in “the last days,” they said, and it was just a matter of time before the events in the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, would begin to unfold: one by one and in sequence. Once it started you could even write the prophecies down in a list form and check them off as they happened. Some of the prophecies had already “been fulfilled,” apparently. There was a verse about a fig tree blossoming and withering and that verse meant that Israel would someday become a nation. Well guess what, that had already come true in 1948. (I had the date memorized simply from hearing it spoken about so many times.) Other major events were still to come, like the Rise of the Antichrist and the Beast.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard about him (I took it for granted that the Antichrist was male) and thus pictured him as I always did: A tall sinister figure wearing a black cape or robe, facial features blurry (though his eyes were glaring) and distinctly human. Basically a mash-up of all the Disney villains I’d absorbed over the years. And because they always referred to him as “the rise of,” I tended to picture him a little hunched down and then rising up to full height. I knew it meant something about gaining power over the world but I didn’t know much about government systems yet and still tended to imagine ruling powers as being kings and queens and knights. As for the Beast, well he was to rise out of “the sea” specifically, so naturally that’s exactly what I pictured. A monstrous gorilla-like thing slowly coming up out of the ocean as if standing on a platform, beads of water rolling down his coarse fur, head tilted back and ready to roar. I knew this wasn’t correct though as the Beast was supposed to have several heads (a lion, an eagle, a man), hair like a woman, the tail of a scorpion, and the arms and claws of a bear. Or was it the Antichrist who looked like that?

But that night as Mom and Dad and my grandparents discussed Y2K, sitting on the living room couches sipping tea and finishing off servings of apple pie, I was more or less minding my own business while they talked. Reading an Archie comic mainly, but finding I was just staring at his freckled cartoon face while listening intently with a cocked ear. They spoke in excited yet solemn tones, leaning toward each other; each taking turns to add their own thoughts as to how it might all come to pass. The Christmas tree twinkled in a corner. It was Boxing Day and I was still enjoying the warm glow of the festivities of the day prior, the lingering scent of turkey, and my prized new toys and gifts stacked beside me on the armchair. I hugged my stuffed green turtle a little tighter in my lap.

If Y2K really was going to be a terrible disaster, would it all happen around me in the sense that I’d watch the burning piles of rubble from my windows and hear the people outside running around screaming and wailing—or would I be hurt too? Would we all die? Was it going to be the end of the world? Oh—but no because the Rapture. Yes, they were talking about that now, how Y2K might lead to the Rapture. I took some comfort in this: we were going to be safe because we were Christians. We were in; not out. The Christians were going to float up into the clouds and go into heaven behind the clouds, and we would be kept safe. We didn’t have to fear the Beast or the Antichrist because if we saw them rise to power before the Rapture, we were at least going to be magically whisked away at the halfway point, before too much damage was done. Then all of the really big suffering was going to happen to all the unbelievers left behind.

I thought about my cousin, Kasey. Her family were unbelievers, and didn’t go to church. My uncle was an “apostate,” Dad had said a few times, though I wasn’t sure what that meant. But at least Kasey would be safe in the Rapture, since she was a kid like me. Kids had an automatic ticket to heaven so long as they hadn’t yet reached the “age of accountability.” But what about my aunt and uncle, would they be left behind since they didn’t believe in Jesus?

The suspense increased over the days as New Year’s Eve drew closer. I felt like I was holding my breath. I didn’t stay up till midnight though, I was too young for that. So, I went to bed feeling nervous but holding tight my turtle whom I’d named Yertie after Dr. Seuss’ Yertel the Turtle. He was brand new, fur soft and silky. I nuzzled him with my nose and drifted off to sleep.

The next morning I awoke to sunshine and a Chickadee hopping on a thin branch outside my window; a distant crow cawing too. At first I felt relieved but then I panicked.

What if the Rapture had happened in the night and my whole family was gone and I’d been left behind all alone ‘cause Jesus had somehow forgotten me?

I jumped out of bed and raced out into the hallway calling out for my mom and brother, heart pounding in my chest.

“We’re right here, sweetie,” Mom said cheerfully, stepping out of the kitchen and waving. “Would you like some cereal for breakfast?”

I skidded to a stop and let out a rush of breath, blinking as though stunned. Then I grinned and relaxed. I was safe, we were safe, the world hadn’t ended after all.

The rest of the day went by without event and I soon forgot all about Y2K. But the yet to come End Times and the Disney Antichrist still loomed over my life like a storm cloud, casting an ever increasing shadow.


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.

Continue reading She Hadn’t Expected This


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.”

Continue reading I Was a Stranger


The Jaguar

A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.

In a rock den, deep within the Amazon basin, three panthera onca cubs were born.

The middle cub’s name was Amias and his little sightless world, though simple and soundless, was happy. For the first few weeks he did nothing but snuggle up against his brother, sister, and mother. She nursed and nurtured them all, nuzzling and licking their fur with great gentleness and care. Soon Amias began to see and hear. He learned that his mother’s name was Genoveva, his older brother was Eduardo, and 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.

A few months passed by and 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.

His fur was tawny, like a muted sunbeam, and evenly coated with spots as black as his sibling’s whole bodies.

Eduardo and Pabiola returned to the cleft in the rock and asked him to move into a patch of sunlight so they could see him better. When he did they confirmed that his whole body was indeed pale and spotted. They wondered if he was sick, or somehow less developed. Yet he could walk with sturdy steps just as surely as they could, and jump and leap too. He didn’t exactly feel ill but his heart fluttered in his chest now; tummy tight.

Mother won’t like that you’re different, they told him. You’d better hide it from her.

But how could he keep it a secret? Soon she would wean them and they would need to go outside together to drink from a stream. They’d all been anticipating the day. The moment she saw him in the sunlight for the first time, she’d know.

We need to find a way to cover you up, Eduardo suggested, to make you look more like us. They all agreed this was the only solution. But they didn’t know how it could be accomplished, since none of them had yet explored the territory. So for the next few days, whenever Genoveva was away hunting, they snuck out together and searched the areas around the den.

It wasn’t long before they found the wallow of a group of musk hogs.

The musk hogs were creatures with dainty hooves, tusked snouts, and bristly fur, and when the three cubs barged into their clearing, a foul-smelling musk filled the air as the hogs ran for cover. In their smelly wake was the mud puddle. Eduardo approached it first, testing the ground around it and dipping his paw into the water. He scooped up some clay from the bottom and coated one of his brother’s forelegs with the muck, letting out a whoop as he did. That’s it, he said, cover your whole body with clay. So Amias did. It wasn’t nearly as black as panther fur though, much more of a brown like the musk hogs, but it would have to do. Better than having these curious spots, he supposed.

Pabiola watched onward with a frown, but didn’t speak.

The mud dried as they made their way back to the cave and his limbs soon felt stiff. Bits of dirt crumbled off but enough remained intact to hide his fur. He was itchy all over by the time they were back inside the safe darkness of the den, as though zigzag beetles crawled up and down his skin. Despite being accustomed to the humidity of the rainforest, his body couldn’t breath under the coating of mud, nor could he lick his fur to cool down. But he tried his best to ignore it, languishing on the rock bed of the den and longing for relief.

The next day he snuck out for a new coating of clay while his mother was away. None of the cubs knew when their mother would finally take them outside with her and Amias didn’t want to risk being unprepared. But the day after that, he got caught in a rainfall on his way home, which washed all the dirt away. This filled him with dread as though he’d swallowed a stone; the clay disguise was not going to be enough. Nevertheless, he waited for the rain to cease, and returned to the wallow for another coat.

Up until now, Mother had been a safe bosom to him. The den being dark didn’t matter—just having her there, or soon to return with food, was all he needed. But now he had to sleep by himself rather than snuggling up to his siblings, for fear that his mother would sense the mud; and when he nursed, he stayed far from her face to avoid being groomed. This isolation and loss of nurture was a new experience for him, and the stone in his stomach grew heavier still. Now the darkness did matter: it pressed inward, threatening to engulf him entirely. He couldn’t even pounce around and play with his siblings anymore to pass the time—it would ruin his clay coating.

Then the much anticipated day finally arrived: Genoveva announced at dusk that it was time for them to learn how to drink from a stream.

His brother and sister left the den first and he reluctantly followed, hoping his costume was still intact. He trailed behind them, keeping within the cloak of fanning ferns and hanging vines. His mother’s round eyes, luminous like wet leaves, narrowed whenever she looked back and met his blinking gaze. His chest soon deflated. After a while, he avoided eye contact altogether.

When they reached the clearing, though shady and grey-cast in the setting sun, he could no longer hide behind his siblings. Genoveva stopped him short with a growl. Then, shoulders rolling, she moved around him with a penetrating gaze.

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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.

He crept up to the door in the dull lighting and rapped the door with restraint, knowing the residents might not open it if he pounded.

It opened a crack and a maiden peered out through the gap. Before she could scream, he reached in, grabbed her by the neck with both hands, and kicked the door inward with his foot as he yanked her outside. She flailed but soon went limp with unconsciousness. He dropped her to the ground, pulled the capacious hood of his cloak up over his head and went inside.

A fire burned in the center of room, benches topped with sheepskin and woolen blankets lining the walls. A young boy was retreating to a far corner, his eyes wide with evident fear.

Without removing his hood, Stian dropped on all fours and lunged at the boy, his clawed nails scattering ashes and dirt on the packed floor as he went. If he didn’t grab the child immediately, the boy would cry out, alerting the men folk to his peril.

In a split second he was upon him, one furry hand covering his mouth, the other gripping the child’s torso at his side as he stood up on his hind legs and carried him from the room.

Outside, the boy’s mother still lay in a heap in the grass though her chest rose and fell with sound breathing. She would soon come to. Shouts and barks sounded from the hillside, indicating the men were on their way back, so with a quick look to and fro, Stian left the village and entered the forest path, sprinkling some of the blood from the vial here and there. When he reached the boat, he held the boy at his side, pulling a scarf and a length of rope from the pocket of his tunic. He lost no time tying the scarf around the child’s mouth and the rope around his wrists. He then removed the boy’s overtunic, replacing it with one of his own from the boat, and again took the vial of blood from his pocket. With quick movements, he shredded the child’s tunic, emptied the remainder of the blood on it, and tossed it up on the outcrop. He then plunked the boy down on a crate in the center of the boat.

After quickly adjusting the square-rigged sail and rudder, he unanchored the boat and sat down on a bench, taking hold of the oars and maneuvering the boat away from the shore. They were soon off, rowing toward the orange globe that hovered just above sea level. The men from the village might attempt to come after them on the sea once they discovered the child was missing, but he hoped the bloodied tunic would at the very least disorient and slow them. They would suspect the child was dead and hopefully waste time searching for his body in the woods; but if not, if they indeed thought him kidnapped, they hadn’t seen the boat, and wouldn’t know which direction Stian had set sail for. That is, so long as he could be out of sight by the time they reached the outcrop.

The boy’s expressive eyes, as dark as walnut, were as wide as when he’d first been captured, his skin chalky. But he made no attempt to speak or move, and sat solemnly beneath the sail. An hour of vigorous rowing later, when the shoreline was far out of sight and they were heading south, Stian let go of the oars and crept around the roped cargo to the center of the boat where the boy sat, about two meters or so away. He removed the scarf and untied his ankles. It no longer mattered if the child screamed—there was nowhere to escape.

“What’s your name?” he growled in Old Norse.

The boy blinked but said nothing.

Stian tramped back to his seat and reached into a nearby crate, pulling out a chunk of whale jerky and a loaf of bread. It was the last of the loaves he’d stolen after his body had been changed. Taking the seax dagger from his boot, he halved the jerky and offered it along with a section of bread to the boy, who caught each piece in his hands, set them down beside him, and made no move to eat. With a harrumph, Stian made short order of his own meal; tearing at the jerky like a savage and chugging from a waterskin as well. Once done, he wiped his hairy chin with a handkerchief and was half startled to see blood all over the handkerchief as he stuffed it back into his pocket—he should be used to that by now. The boy watched him with what seemed both curiosity and alarm, likely trying to discern his features beneath the shrouding of his hood. There was no hiding his grotesque hands.

“What’s your name?” Stian repeated in a low voice.

“It is Josva.”

“Eat,” he said, gesturing at the untouched food with an outstretched claw.

Josva’s eyes widened again but he did not move.

Stian held the child’s gaze for a long time, each surveying one another as water lapped the sides of the wooden boat and a breeze bathed their brows. He looked so tiny in the giant overtunic, not at all like a ten year old. His tawny hair hung straight to his chin.

“Can I see your face?” the child asked after a time, breaking the silence.

Stian hesitated, fingering the edge of his hood with a claw. He felt overheated keeping it on but didn’t want to be gawked at. After all, it was only because of his face that he’d abducted the boy in the first place. He could no longer trade on the coasts; his boat filled with valuable quarry he had no hope of selling.

“Here’s how it’s going to be, boy,” he said, leaving the bulky hood in place. “We’ll go from village to village, and make sales at market until all this is sold.” He made a sweeping gesture at the various crates cluttering the center of the boat. Crates filled with stolen wheat, wool, furs and pelts, honey, armor, and weapons. “After that . . . I’ll take you back to your family.” This was a lie but he needed the boy to cooperate. What he really intended was to eventually train the boy as a shipmate, the start of a new crew. That’s why he’d chosen him. An older boy would have been far too difficult to tame.

He lowered his voice to a growl: “But listen closely. If you dare to cross me, or try to escape, I’ll burn your entire village.”

Josva glanced around, a look of sorrow in his limpid eyes, but he said nothing. They were surrounded on all sides by Nile-green water; the sun darkened to an ember on the edge of the western horizon. Was the threat enough to keep the boy from running or yelling once they reached shore? Stian hoped fear was a sufficient rope for now.

Tears welled in the boy’s eyes and dropped to his lap when he blinked. He seemed so frail then, alabaster and innocent. A child missing his mother. Heat coursed through Stian’s veins, his breathing raspy as it picked up speed. With a roar he lunged at the boy and grabbed him by the shoulders, preparing to shake him for all his worth. “Man up,” he thundered, the hood slipping from his head. Cool air bathed the back of his neck and he let go. Grabbing an empty crate instead, he flung it out across the water with all his strength. It landed with a distant splash and bobbed on the surface.

Beside him came the sharp intake of breath.

Page 1 of 3



Garrin Meme

A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.

A fast-moving cloud passed in front of the moon.

Garrin crept forward through wet brush, lying low as he made his way toward the looming factory building where two fifteen year old boys, using smartphones as flashlights, had just disappeared through an entrance door hanging off its hinges. Their crunching footfalls soon faded, swallowed up by the stridulation of crickets. Before entering the same door, Garrin looked over his shoulder first, and peered in through a broken window pane next to the door. The corridor beyond was empty, save for bits and pieces of debris, so he went inside, careful not to kick or scuff any litter, or to step on any loose tile. Though his steps could be loud as thunder if so chosen, tonight they were light as snow.

Many doors flanked the left side of the hall, but muddy footprints made a straight path to the farthest one. Garrin closed the gap with swift strides and stood with his back against the wall next to the door.

He listened.

In the room beyond, the boys conversed in undertones, laughing at times. He guessed them to be about a hundred feet away.

Before entering, he looked through the door window and scanned the area. It was a large room, the ceiling some three floors above, and two parallel rows of windows on the far wall overlooked a forest crowding up against it; industrious branches growing through the fragmented panes here and there. Silver beams shone through the windows along the left side of the room, suffusing the contours of ancient equipment and myriad trash, along with tables and conveyor belts whose surfaces had collected dirt, dead insects, and chunks of machinery for many years. Moss and rain water filled the cracks in the slanted cement floors; peeling paint hung in strips from the walls.

Garrin ducked down and entered the room without a sound.

The air was dank; bitter with the scent of soil and vegetation. Residual rain water dripped from a window ledge nearby onto a pipeline. Little by little he inched his way closer to the boys, who were in a far corner poking at things and rooting through refuse. When he reached a close proximity, he remained hunched and still beside an overturned table, listening to their conversation.

“Think this place is haunted?”

“Uh, yeah, that’s why we’re here.”

A laugh. “No, but seriously.”

Garrin peered out from the shadows, getting a clearer visual of the teens.

One boy, whom he knew to be Landon, sat on the bottom step of a metal staircase. The other, Hunter, stood close by, examining the screen of his phone. “I was here last week with Justin and we saw something,” he went on. “I swear it. But I dropped my phone and whatever I saw was gone by the time I could look again.” He cussed at the memory. “We waited forever but it didn’t come back.”

Landon draped his bare forearms over his jean-clad knees and leaned forward, suddenly sombre. “Ghosts aren’t real, man.”

Hunter glared down at him in the near darkness, the outlines of their faces made visible only by the light of their phones. “Look, I’ve studied this stuff . . . I mean, there’s so much proof out there, and I wanna see things for myself . . . wanna try an’ get a pic. Came here in the spring too, on that ghost walk—the one your parents wouldn’t let you come on—remember?” His tone lowered to one of disappointment. “But it wasn’t dark enough for anything to happen.”

“But you saw something last week?”

“Yeah, a tall moving shadow along that ramp up there at the top of the stairs. Saw it with my own eyes.”

Landon looked over his shoulder up into the gloom as Hunter held out his phone toward him, gesturing at the screen. “Look, here’s a famous picture of a spectre—called The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.”

Taking the proffered phone, Landon examined the black and white photo on the screen featuring a misty veiled figure moving down a staircase. He laughed. “That’s so obviously fake.”

“It’s not! I’m telling you, ‘double-exposure’ is always the excuse made by those who don’t believe—and I’m not buying it. It’s real.” He looked around, oblivious to Garrin, who was careful to remain in the slant of shadows. “One of these days I’m going to prove it with a photo of my own.”

Handing back the phone, Landon stood up from the stair and moved next to his friend. Together they peered up the barely discernible staircase as Hunter once again used his phone as a flashlight. The beam enabled them to see only a short distance ahead, but the metal stairs looked sturdy and intact enough; at least from this vantage point.

“What’s up there?” Landon asked.

“Offices and stuff. Hey—don’t you Christians believe in angels?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess. Why?”

Hunter let out a loud laugh but said nothing more. Landon rubbed the back of his neck in a self-conscious manner, as though embarrassed by the implication.

Garrin scanned the upper floor where several derelict offices stood hidden in the pitch beyond a palely suffused ramp some thirty feet above ground level. Hunter began mounting the stairs, while Landon switched on his own flashlight app and followed suit with steps much more tentative than his friend’s.

Hunter’s voice dropped to a whisper. “We need to keep quiet from now on if we expect to see anything.”

“But where,”—Landon lowered his voice to a hush—“where are we going?”

“There’s an office up here, I saw it in the daylight and know which one it is. It’s where the spectre is said to dwell.”

“Why would a ghost ‘dwell’ in an office?”

“They say he worked here and died in a freak accident a couple weeks before the factory closed down. Now shut up and keep quiet.”

This end of the factory was so shrouded, the boys looked like floating flashlight beams moving upward. With a sudden instinct, Garrin glanced back toward the distant entry door where moonlit contours were much more visible.

A murky figure moved along the wall toward him like a mist and vanished behind some machinery.

Seconds later it reappeared, moving right past Garrin, who remained crouched and hidden, before it disappeared into the pitch beneath the raised offices.

Taking a risk, Garrin dashed from his hiding place to the stairs and took them two at a time without a single sound, until he was only ten feet behind the boys who were now halfway across the ramp.

Here decades of rain water had severely rusted the metal and the boys were taking careful steps around compromised grating while holding onto the ramp railing for support. The flashlight beams were too weak to reach the office in question, which was still some fifty feet ahead, and they paused at each grimy window and door to determine where they were. From here one could see full across the factory to the other side where the moon was perched high in the sky beyond the rows of windows, going in and out of focus as clouds passed by.

Without warning, the wings of a startled pigeon fluttered past Garrin’s face as it took off for another perch high in the rafters. At the sound of flapping, both boys whipped around just as Garrin sidestepped their flashlight beams.

Their faces illuminated by the phones, Landon’s eyes were wide with evident fright while Hunter’s sparked first with excitement, then annoyance. “Just a bird,” he said with an exhale. “Come on.” They turned around and resumed their course.

A drawn-out creak sounded in the distance, as though a door had opened.

Both boys froze.

Garrin took advantage of their hesitation and visually examined the integrity of the flooring up ahead while also scanning for the murky figure who had vanished on the lower floor. The thing could be anywhere by now, possibly waiting for them in the far office. And what was it doing here anyway? Instinct told him he had to find out fast.

The smell of mildew and bird droppings was especially strong up here; the metal office fronts copper and bronze wherever the blue paint had peeled away. There were no sounds but the occasional coo of a pigeon, the pluck pluck of dripping water, and the murmur of crickets outside. Hunter raised his flashlight beam high, trying to see farther ahead. The nearest door was closed, and the boys moved forward with wary steps and shallow breathing. Garrin remained as close behind them as possible without detection. They passed this office and soon reached the next; its door closed as well.

“We’re almost there,” Hunter whispered. “I bet you anything the door is open.”

The final office came into view as Hunter’s breath caught in his throat with a rasp.

The door was indeed wide open.

He fumbled with his phone, switching to the camera app while Landon’s flashlight beam, positioned on the door, wavered just a fraction.

If only Garrin could get in front of them somehow without being spotted. He had to delay them.

“Let’s get out of here,” Landon murmured. “We’re being idiots.”

“Hush—” Hunter stepped forward, camera raised. “We heard that door open . . . he’s here.”

Garrin examined the rubble beside him and snatched up a crushed soda can. Without even the sound of air moving beneath his arm, he flung the can far out over the railing. It clunked and ricocheted off several protrusions before scraping across the ground and settling into silence.

Hunter let out an expletive and Landon jerked up his phone in a futile attempt to see what had made the noise down below. As they leaned over the railing, Garrin moved behind and around them with no more noise than a leaf sailing on the wind; and entered the office.

Though the room was black as tar, an even darker shadow stood behind the desk.

Page 1 of 2


The Egg-Bird-Egg Sequence and Bill Nye the Science Guy

Recently the well-known, Bill Nye the Science Guy, posted a Youtube video entitled, “Bill Nye: Why Creationism is Inappropriate for Children.” It has received 4.6 million views and counting. The jist of the video is that Creationists make for incompetent scientists and that we do our children a grave disservice by teaching them Intelligent Design.
Continue reading The Egg-Bird-Egg Sequence and Bill Nye the Science Guy