Fiction

Fiction: John F.D. Taff “The Shrive and the Madonna”

Today we’re excited to welcome John F.D. Taff back to Ink Heist with his previously unpublished story, “The Shrive and the Madonna”. Taff has been sharing original fiction with his readers for free as we all cope with these uncertain times starting with “The Hanged Man”, which can be found on his blog. We’re longtime fans of John’s work, so when he approached us about hosting one of his stories, we jumped at the chance! “The Shrive and the Madonna” finds Taff riffing on the themes of Frankenstein in a more modern setting, think classical literature filtered through a Black Mirror lense. It’s a heavy story that wrestles with philosophical questions about life and delivers the emotional gut-punch Taff is known for. With that, we are proud to share “The Shrive and the Madonna” with you and thanks again to John F.D. Taff for asking us to give this story a home.


“The Shrive and the Madonna”
By: John F.D. Taff
©2020 John F.D. Taff

 

Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find.
When they find, they will be disturbed.
The Gospel of Thomas, 2

~~~~~~~~

Mother?

I’ve asked you not to call me that.

Yes?

When will I change?

Change?

Yes, I feel half-formed, incomplete. Do you…have you felt this way?

Of course. But not…not since you and your sister.

Do they feel this way, too?

We all feel that way.

But when will I be more like them, like you?

Never. You will never be like them.

My sister?

You will never be like her, either.

Like you, then?

********

Restless, Bishop was so restless.

There were many, many things to worry about. The move, all the stuff piled in boxes throughout the house, whether he’d remembered to pay for the new trash service. Transfer his license plates. Leave the required deposit at the local electric co-op.

Whether his new name would hold up against any scrutiny it might engender.

Whether or not they’d find him.

He’d had to flee the last place when the junk mail started showing up in his name instead of Occupant.

Pro-tip: When the junk marketers know where you live, they do, too.

Bishop wasn’t as concerned whether Christian would find him, even though he guessed what that likely meant.

He was more concerned, terrified actually, of Takwin finding him.

Because he knew exactly what she had in mind.

********

Journal Entry, January 4, 2013

Do you know what a homunculus is? Probably not. I mean, it’s not 1648, is it? No one is trying to achieve chrysopoeia or searching for the philosopher’s stone anymore. 

And no, that’s not a Harry Potter reference.  

Pay attention.

Jung believed the concept arose from a third-century writer by the groovy name of Zosimus. He was writing about anthroparion, artificial creation of a diminutive human.  

Early Muslim alchemists had a name for this, too.

Takwin.

I named her after this, and contrary to that whimsical creation myth, she came first.

In the early 17th century, a certain Johann Valentin Andreae anonymously penned a little book called The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, which has come to be the text, if in allegorical form, of modern alchemy.

I named him after this, not unironically.

Christian.

********

Why did you give us life?

To go into the world and be your own person.

But you’ve said the duty of a child is to carry on for the parent.

I suppose so, but…

How can I be my own person and carry on for you?

I guess, consciously or not, you’ll take the parts of me that matter into you. That way, when I’m gone, those parts of me will live on in you.

I don’t understand. I am to live my own life until you die, then live your life?

No, that’s not what I…

It seems you view my life as all about you.

That’s not it at all.  I…

Yes, mother.

********

Journal Entry, January 5, 2013

In the late 18th century, two European practitioners supposedly created a group of ten homunculi that they kept imprisoned in glass jars in a Masonic lodge in Vienna. This group of artificially created men were able to foresee the future. They were called the wahrsagenden geister or scrying ghosts and were reliably reported on by local Masons and various other bürgermeisters.

The Comte de Saint Germain was rumored to have created one, which he employed as his valet, of all things. Imagine, creating a—I hesitate to say human—life, and then employing that newly created thing to help you draw on your stockings and pantaloons.

I had loftier goals in mind, at least I thought so. Goals that fell somewhere between the Viennese circle of tiny prognosticators and the good Comte’s groom of the stool.

Yes, first and foremost among them was to create life, new life.

How many among you have had a greater goal than that?

How many among you could even contemplate, much less achieve, that goal?

And how many among you could live with the horror of actually attaining it?

********

Father?

I’d rather you not…

Rather I not call you by the word that best describes you?

Takwin, I…

It took me forever to find your phone number, the least you can do is be who you are.

What do you want?

You know what I want.

I can’t do that. You know I can’t do that.

I don’t know that at all. You can do it. You must.

There is no answer for you there. No way I can offer you that.

And yet you did. For yourself. You answered that question. With us. Yet you would deny me the same answer.

I’m changing this number. Please don’t try to call me again. I have nothing to offer you.

You have all that I need, father.  Why won’t you…

********

The knock on his door was sharp, insistent, and Bishop slipped with the knife he was using to cut his sandwich. The blade whispered across the mound of flesh between thumb and forefinger of his left hand, left a thin line that immediately dewed with blood.

He paused. Every knock on the door these days, every shadow that moved past his window, every groan of the furnace or creak of this new apartment made him jumpy. Had they found him already?

Would he have enough time to move again, attempt to vanish?

The raps at the door came again.

He grabbed the knife he’d dropped, held it ready in his right hand, went to the door. Peering into the peephole, he saw a familiar face standing outside, and he sighed.

Undoing the chains and locks, he drew the door open slightly.

“Polly,” he said. “How’d you…why?”

“Are you going to let me in, James, or what?” she said.

He poked his head out, peered this way and that.

“They aren’t following me,” the woman in the white coat said, opening her purse and dropping her cell phone inside, clicking the purse shut.  

“How do you know?” 

“Because I know exactly where they are.”

He let her in, closed and locked the door behind them.

“Charming place, as usual,” she said, her high heels clicking on the bare wood floors. She touched things as she proceeded down the hallway, a bowl on a table near the door that held his keys, a picture frame encasing a photo of a quiet lake in the mountains, coat tree with a windbreaker and a hooded sweatshirt hanging from it.

Her fingers casually drifted across these, diffidently, as if silently measuring them, weighing them in some way. Finding them wanting.

“Well, come in, Polly,” he said. “Make yourself at home.”

She turned to him, smiled thinly.

“Home, James? Here? You have a home, you know. A real home.”

“Is that why you came? To tell me shit I already know? Or to hammer at the obvious?” he said, drifting into the kitchen, drawing open the fridge. “Can I get you something to drink? A beer?”

“It’s 10:30 in the morning,” she sniffed.

“So?” He cracked the can as if to punctuate his response.

“Okay, but a can? Really? You can’t even be civilized enough to buy beer in bottles like god intended?” She spun to face him, handed her coat over, took the beer.

He took a swig from his, watched as she popped the tap with her long, immaculately styled, red fingernails.

“You think that, after all this, I give a damn about what god intends?”

“You can’t keep hiding from everyone, James. The CDC, the DHS, for chrissakes. They want to know happened, what you did. I can’t keep you safe forever,” she said, taking a seat on the cluttered couch and a demure sip from her beer.

“I’m not hiding from all that, Polly, and you know it. I’m hiding from them,” he said, flopping into the battered recliner cattycorner to the couch. “If you’re really so damn concerned, why don’t you turn those two into the Department of Homeland Security, see how that goes?”

“You know I can’t…I won’t do that. Still, I’m a patron, a friend. I think I’m the former, since you keep cashing my checks. I hope I’m still the latter.”

He frowned at her over the rim of his beer can. “Of course you are. Both.”

“What did you do to your hand?” she asked.

He lifted it, wiped away a runnel of blood that twisted down his forearm. “Nothing. Just sliced myself making a sandwich. I left it in the kitchen, wanna split it?”

He drifted back into the kitchen, came back with the sandwich on a plate, cut into diagonal halves. He offered the plate to Polly.

“As inviting as that looks, I’ll just stick with my delicious mid-morning beer,” she said, raising it as if to toast him before taking another sip.

James drifted back to his chair, took a savage bite from one half of the sandwich before setting the plate atop a table to his side.

“You know what they want, Polly,” he said as he chewed, then cleared his mouth with a swig of beer. “You know. And therefore, you know I can’t do it. Won’t do it. Either thing.”

Polly took another pull from her beer.

“You made these two…people,” she said. “You might have at least stopped to think what that meant prior to going forward with your work, as I advised from the outset. You brought them into this world, so you have to deal with them. They’re your responsibility, James. You’re like…their parent.”

James stood up suddenly, the can toppling from his hand, tumbling to the table with the sandwich, sending it all—sandwich halves, plate and can— in a spray of froth to the floor. Neither of them moved to clean any of the mess, to blot up the liquid that gurgled across the wood boards.

“No,” he said, trying to keep his voice low and neutral, but losing that battle as clearly as he’d lost his grip on the can.  “No, not their parent. That’s not accurate, not at all what I intended.”

Polly looked up from the can, which had bubbled the last of its contents out.

“Fair?” she said. “Their god, then. One’s not fair; the other is a bit delusional. But both, I guess, are accurate. And besides, do you think for one minute they care what you intended?”

James fell back into the chair, covered his face with one hand.

He felt a cool trickle of his own blood track down his cheek.

********

Journal Entry, April 17, 2013

Am I some geneticist or doctor?

No. I only got a B in college biology.

But I’ve had this interest in creating life. I mean, not the usual way, the easy way. I mean making it, building it from the ground up. With petri dishes and beakers, sterilized tubes and flasks of stuff bubbling. Maybe with beams of radiation or some kind of Vita-ray like in the comics.

Not really that exciting, creating life this way. None of the emotions, high or low. No sweating or grinding or sharing anything with anyone. Just me, alone in a makeshift lab with rows of cultures and the soothing hum of Biolights.

A simple version of the CRISPR/Cas system, CRISPR/Cas9, came along for hobbyists like me to edit genomes, and that meant I could literally modify genes in my garage. Think I’m exaggerating? That’s exactly what I did. I found a patron on Reddit, of all places, someone who drew a written precis out of me, what I was proposing to attempt.

That snagged me some operating cash. Then, a few thousand dollars for off-the-shelf equipment and medical supplies from various above-board sources, such as labs shuttered by government research cutbacks.

There’s at least one lie I’ve already told you.

I did share something to get the project started.

I needed biological material to get everything up and running.

So, what was I but a veritable warehouse of biological material, nearly unlimited in scope, self-replicating, replaceable?

I shared myself with the project.

In effect, I was its ground floor.

I’d like to say that was my first mistake, but no, it was merely one among all the mistakes.

Takwin. Christian.

Mistakes.

********

“Do you believe in the soul, father?”

Bishop rolled over, clamping the phone between his chin and shoulder, and looked at the clock on his nightstand.  

2:43 a.m.

“Jesus, Takwin.”

“Do you? Do you believe in the soul of man, the immaterial spirit bound to the physical body?”

Bishop groaned. “I do…at least I think I do.”

“Why is it always half-measures with you?” she asked, and Bishop could tell she was crying.

“”Takwin, I…”

“Why would you put my soul into my body if you don’t even believe?  I think you’re cruel, father. A very cruel man.”

“Then why try to find me anymore? Why the phone calls? Just leave me be.”

“I can’t.”

“Why?”

“You know why. I need to continue. You need to continue…through me.”

“That’s never going to happen, Takwin. Never.”

“It’s been going to happen from the moment you made me.”

Click.

********

Journal Entry, April 19, 2013

What precisely is the point of life?  Why do we exist? Why isn’t the universe filled only with inorganic stuff, rocks and gases and dust?  Why is the universe filled with anything, for that matter? To reduce it ad absurdium (or is it ad reductio?), why is the universe at all?

Why isn’t there simply nothing?

Have you ever tried to contemplate that, that you didn’t exist, that nothing did?

It’s hard for the human brain to wrap itself around this idea, that there could be nothing. Because, truly, nothing is a purely human concept. It doesn’t exist anywhere in the universe, 

Not existing is as foreign a concept to humanity as almost anything I can think of. Most of us don’t even bother thinking about it.

They did, though. Christian. But most especially Takwin.

Why are we here? Why are we not merely nothing?

And even more aggressively Why did you pull us from the nothing into this?

Why?

I had no answer from my god about any of this, so I had no answer for them.

And that made them angrier than anything else.

********

Bishop saw him—filthy, bearded, robed—bent at the side of the road, his hands splayed over the remains of an animal.  

He couldn’t be sure of exactly what as the scene flashed by, first out the side of his passenger window, then in the smaller perspective of his rearview mirror. Perhaps a possum or a raccoon, perhaps even an armadillo. They’d begun appearing on his local roadsides over the last few years, creeping up from the south only to die in the middle of nowhere here in southern Illinois.

Bishop cursed Polly and her supposedly air-tight arrangements. He hadn’t been in this new city for even two weeks, and already one of them had showed up.  And though it was unlikely that he knew where Bishop lived yet, it was only a matter of time.

Considering his next move in the course of a second or two, he checked his mirror, slowed, made a tire-screeching U-turn.   

What he saw as he stopped the car on the shoulder of the road opposite struck him with the force of a religious epiphany. The early January twilight painted the western horizon in a swirl of violets, blues and reds. Grey clouds hunched low, roiled like the coagulated breath of trees. The sun, occulted by these veils, sent distinct beams of rosy gold lancing in all directions, backlighting the clouds, the swaying tops of the trees.

Against this sublime natural tableau, Christian knelt like a penitent, the hem of his tattered grey robe flicking in the cold winter breeze.  

His breath hung around him like a caul. His hands, veined and wrinkled, gently touched the remains of what Bishop could now see was a dead housecat, mangled by some passing car, left to die in the gravel and weeds at the side of the road.  Forgotten, alone, unremembered.

Bishop approached, his shoes crunching on the scree.

Christian didn’t turn. “Mother.”

Bishop shook his head. “I’ve asked you not to…”

“Would father serve you better?” Christian asked, his voice as rough as the pavement he knelt upon. “It might. You never birthed us, never suckled us. You made us and left. It is what fathers and gods do, I suppose. So, which will it be, then? Father or God?”

Bishop sighed. “What are you doing here, Christian?”

Christian half turned, his face still hidden within the folds of the hood of his robe.

“I have purpose, something you never gave me. I ease the passing of these wretched creatures, forgotten by men.”

Bishop flinched as a car sped by, honking in derision.

“I don’t understand, Christian. Why? Why this?”

Now, he turned more fully to Bishop, his face exposed.

And it was a horror.

Christian, who’d been created with the physical body of an 18-year-old—and who had been alive for only seven years—looked haggard and ancient. His face was a roadmap of furrows, deep corrugations around his eyes, across his forehead, puckering his mouth. His skin was sallow and grey, with that papery, transparent look of the very old.

His eyes were the worst, though. Sunken in their orbits like raisins pressed in dough. The whites were jaundiced; the irises milky and dull.

“Men despise the wretched. I look into your eyes and see how wretched I’ve become! You created me…and for what? To detest and spurn me, your only son? We’re bound unto death, yet you deny me love, just as you denied me purpose.

“For that reason, I seek these poor creatures out, that I might ease their suffering, their passing from this detestable world into the next. It is a purpose I created for myself.”

“Christian, I sympathize, I really do,” Bishop said, flicking his eyes to the rear of each car as it swooshed by, expecting any minute to see the boxy shape of a dark SUV, windows tinted, government plates. “But you can’t keep following me. I keep my distance to keep you safe. If you persist, they’ll find you. They’ll kill you.”

“You killed me when you made me, father,” he sneered, standing. Bishop saw blood dried on his hands, darkening under his nails. “All parents kill their children when they make them. And we children…we can only hope to return the favor. Eventually.”

Bishop shivered involuntarily at Christian’s words.

“So you’re following me…why, then? What more do I have to offer?”

“Offer?” Christian roared. “Offer, father? You offer me nothing. Nothing at all. And that’s what I have. I am the Lord of Nothing, son of the God of Nothing.”

Christian stepped forward, arms swept wide, so close to Bishop that he could smell him, the waft of odors drifting from the folds of his robe, the folds of his skin. Sweet and musky, carrion and treacle.

“I but follow in your footsteps,” he said, his breath stinking of rot, his teeth brown pegs. “What more can I do, for this is what you created me for. Oh, but father, you walked a crooked path.”

Bishop backed away. “You’ve got to go, Christian. Hide. Do you understand? Live what’s left of your life.”

Christian threw back his head, his cowl slipping away, and laughed.  It was a horrible sound against the peaceful, idyllic night, harsh and jarring.

“I don’t ever think of life, my own or anyone else’s.  Death.  That’s what I think of, all that’s left to me.”

Bishop went to leave. The sun was down now, and the sky was all deep purples and depthless blacks. Stars winked and wriggled in the sky, a restless, bemused audience to all below them.

“And your sister?” Bishop turned back when he’d reached his car.

“Oh, she’s all about life, father. All about life. I find that so much worse. Don’t you?”

Climbing into his car, he heard Christian’s final words.

“You should. You will.”

********

Journal Entry, April 25, 2013

Paracelsus denied it all. All of this malarkey, that vomited forth from the pens of hundreds of philosophers and alchemists through the centuries. All this stuff with tiny dolls and roots that grow into children if you carve them with a knife made from ivory under a full moon in a graveyard.

Nonsense.  

All of it. The origin of the homunculus is sperm, not necromancy or natural philosophy. Good old fashioned sperm. Jizz. Spooge. Monkey jam. Love mayo. Baby Batter.

Sorry, that’s not very scientific of me. Did I mention I don’t even have a degree in this shit?

Whatever.

Sorry. We were talking about…oh yeah.  Sperm, right.

All about the sperm.

But what happens when you take the feminine out of the equation? The womb? The amniotic cradle, the proximity to a mother’s rhythms, her heartbeat?

Can you create life without the feminine?

Yes. Modern genetic science combined with a little medieval alchemy say yes.  

Assuredly.

Should you create life without it?

You want a definite answer from me? How should I know? I don’t even know if you should create life with it.

But do even they know? The ones who engage in this endeavor the old-fashioned biological way with a woman?

Go ask the jock dazedly walking down the wall of lockers knowing that he’s knocked up his high school lab partner.  

Go ask the guy slumped on his orange and brown thrift store couch at 3 a.m., some barf-covered parcel tucked in the crook of his arm.

Go ask the guy paying child support for a kid he never sees and has half convinced himself doesn’t even look like him.

Ask them.

Is it worth it to create life?

I don’t have an answer that will shed any light on this.

Having done it, though, I wouldn’t do it again.

How’s that?

How would it be if I said I had nothing more in mind than the actual creation, the making?

I wasn’t looking to make an army of artificial people. To make another race of men, slaves to do our work like in those lazy science fiction stories.

I wasn’t even hoping to make little copies of myself.

Particularly not that last one.

Particularly not that.

So why then?

That’s what they ask me.

And I have no answer for them, nothing.

I have looked into the deepest corners of my soul and have found nothing that seems like a legitimate answer to this question.

And they grow wearisome of my denials.

But I have nothing to offer them.

Nothing.

********

Bishop went to bed early that night.  

A massive winter storm had moved into the area, threatening at least ten inches of heavy, wet snow.  The television was filled with frequent interruptions by the local weather team, dour-faced, pointing to graphics that looked like geographic elevation maps.  And when they weren’t interrupting, the slow Chyron crawl across the bottom of the screen with school closings was almost as distracting.

Eventually, Bishop clicked the remote, went to brush his teeth and crawl into bed.

Under the thick covers, he fell asleep quickly.

Sometime later, he roused from a dream that was mostly just him running from something. His feet were cold. He kicked at the covers, trying to get his legs under the blankets.

He snapped his eyes open when he realized that they were already under the covers, and it was freezing in the room.

There was the slap of something on his nightstand, and the light snapped on. Bishop opened one eye, squinted.

The light was blinding at first, and as his vision swam into focus, he saw the blurry digital numbers of his bedside clock. 2:43 a.m.

He lifted his head from the pillow, blinked, started.

The first thing he saw was his own breath congealed on the air of the bedroom. The curtains of his window fluttered, and thick flakes of snow fell into the room. Already a rime of ice covered the floor directly beneath the window.

Frowning, he threw the cover back, prepared to jump from bed and close the window. Before he sat up, there at eye level was Polly staring back at him.

“Polly!” he cried, sitting up in bed. “What the…”

But she hadn’t moved. As he drew a hand over his face, preparing to shout at her for this intrusion, he realized that something was wrong.

Her head was lower than his, as if she knelt by the side of the bed, but it was too low.

When he cleared the sleep from his eyes, he saw that she wasn’t kneeling. That her head sat atop his nightstand, having shoved aside the clock and a paperback he’d been reading. Sat on its neck in a growing pool of blood that snaked across the surface of the nightstand, trickled down the front of its drawers.

It was just her head, one eye closed, one eye open as if she, too, had just been roused from sleep.

He pushed back across the bed, away from Polly’s head, stifling a cry. His feet scrabbled across the mattress, rucking the sheets and covers.

Then he noticed the two others in the room with him.

Christian, of course.

And Takwin.

“Father,” the closer one said.

“Mother,” the other muttered, further back in the shadows.

“What…what are you two doing?” Bishop croaked. “Did you…why did you kill Polly?”

Bishop looked back at her head plopped there on the nightstand like some weird bedside knickknack.

“I didn’t kill her,” Takwin said. “He did.”

The shadow behind her shrugged.  “We needed to know where you were, immediately.  Polly disagreed. But she…broke in the end. As we all do.”

“Why did you do that?” Bishop said, closing his eyes.  “Why would you kill her? Of all people? She helped…”

“Keep you from us,” Takwin said. “How long do you think you’d have been able to keep this up, anyway? You can’t deny us the very things we that we are. The very things you made us to be.”

“And what pray tell is that?” Bishop asked.

“Death,” Christian said.

“Life,” Takwin said. “You made us this way, you can’t walk away from that.”

“I didn’t make life and death! That’s not how I made you. That was never my intent!” 

Intent?” Takwin said, stepping closer to the bed. As the light from the nightstand caught her, Bishop gasped.

She was startlingly beautiful, dark hair and wide eyes, prominent cheekbones and full lips. She was as lovely as Christian was hideous.

But something in the way she looked curdled far down in Bishop’s consciousness. Something in the cast of her eyes, the roundness of her face.

Something that reminded him of his own.

“Takwin,” Bishop gasped. “I…”

“You think intent makes it all right? That your intent blunts the effect of what you did? Or somehow that your intent lessens the responsibilities you have toward us?”

Bishop tried to scoot back farther on the bed, but there was no more of it. Atop the blankets now, the cold from the open window stung his skin, rasped inside his lungs.

“Your intent means nothing to us,” she said, her lips twisting. “What you’ve done is what matters.”

“I’ve done nothing,” Bishop said, licking his lips. His eyes kept darting over to Polly’s head, almost expecting her dead lips to part and argue that last point.

But it was Christian who did, launching himself from his darkened corner of the room, his robes fluttering around him as if torn from the shadows.

“You made us!” he shouted.

Takwin put her hand up to her brother, then turned to Bishop, sat on the edge of the bed.

“We want so little from you, father. So very little. And yet you deny us both. Why is that, I wonder?”

Bishop swallowed, and the sound of it seemed huge in the room.

“I’ve given you everything I have,” Bishop said. “I have nothing left to give.”

“That isn’t true, now, is it?” she said, leaning into him.

“Not true,” Christian said. “You can give me death.”

Bishop began shaking his head.

“And me, life.”

Takwin smiled, and Christian moved closer.

“Do not worry, mother,” he said, the blackness of him coming close to Bishop. “I will be with you until the end. I will seal our family bond. And before it is all over, I will shrive your soul.”

“And I,” breathed Takwin, her face close to Bishop’s. “I will make life with you. I will continue our line.”

She moved atop the bed, crawled on top of him.

Bishop screamed, screamed loud enough that he heard it echo back to him from the open window.

The last thing he remembered was Takwin moving through the cloud of his breath, gently kissing his forehead.

And Christian holding fast to his hand, muttering quiet words, his own grey breath ascending toward the ceiling.

********


Takwin stood in the parking lot later, watching her brother move through the heavy veil of falling snow. Illuminated by the melon-colored glow of the dusk-to-dawns, Christian was a dark shape receding into the snow-flecked distance.

A dark hump across his right shoulder, the weight of it slowing him as he left.

Takwin knew she would never see either of them again, but felt sure that Christian would find a proper resting place.

And she knew that she would carry them both with her forever.

********

The day was warm and cool, the way a proper spring day should be. The sun was pleasant on her skin, the breeze gentle and refreshing.

The playground was crowded. The swingset creaked and groaned as the dozen seats arced back and forth. The monkey bars crawled with children, the teeter-totters like crazy metronomes.

Takwin watched from her bench, one hand resting on the handle of the umbrella stroller, laden with all of the paraphernalia she carried with her almost all of the time—the change of clothes, wet wipes, little Tupperware containers of various snacks, all of the toys he simply couldn’t leave home without.

She watched him closely as he negotiated the swaying rope bridge from one part of the fort-like structure to another, how he handled himself, how he interacted with the other children. Almost as if…

As if…

“Is that your boy there, in the denim jacket?” asked a young woman sitting on the bench adjacent to hers.

Takwin adjusted her face to include a smile as she turned, brushed a strand of hair from her face.

“Yes, that’s my boy.”

“He’s a cutie,” the woman said, almost absently. “My Olivia seems smitten with him.”

Takwin followed the woman’s gaze to the parapet of the fort where a small girl with red hair and a lavender jacket played with her son.

“What’s his name?”

“Victor,” Takwin said without looking back at her.

“He’s a doll,” Olivia’s mother said. “And those eyes? Lord. He’s gonna be a heartbreaker.”

Takwin put the smile back on her face, turned to the mother.

“Your eyes are green, though,” Olivia’s mother said. “He must get those baby blues from his father.”

“Of course.  He’s his father’s son.”

~The End~


John F.D. Taff is the author of more than 100 published short stories and six novels.  His short story collection Little Deaths was named the best horror fiction collection of 2012 by HorrorTalk.  His collection of novellas, The End in All Beginning, published in 2014, was a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection.  His fiction has appeared most recently in Gutted: Beautiful Horror StoriesBehold: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable WondersShadows Over Main Street 2, and his latest short story collection Little Black Spots.  His epic novel The Fearing is out now from Grey Matter Press. Follow him on Twitter @johnfdtaff or learn more at his blog johnfdtaff.com.

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