Blanket Sea

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“Snowfall Sarcophagus” by AJ Cunder

I remember lying in the snow, trying to preserve each snowflake that landed gently on my nose, a soft, huge silence stretching through the forest. The cold blanket buried me, soon covering even the tips of my boots, sapping my strength as the towering trees collected white frosting. I should’ve left when I first heard the dragon growl—while I still had the power to return to the back porch where a bright light kept its vigil. But I didn’t want to leave my burrow. It seemed so peaceful among the trees, and I wanted to stay just a little while longer, escape the world for just another moment.

The indeterminate creak of a distant branch echoed hollowly through the woods, and I tried to lift my arms, to break free from the heavy, wet snow. I tried to say something, to call out to the animals fleeing to their warrens—perhaps they heard the dragon coming too—but the words froze in my throat. My vision blurred, and the trees leaned over me, bending toward the ground with jagged black fingers to secure the beast’s next victim as it prowled. Beads of sweat moistened my back, a dampness that clung to my skin like a reptile’s kiss. I blinked away the flakes on my eyelashes as the dragon’s growl grew louder, nearer, stronger. A tremor shot through my bones, tingling my spine as I struggled to break free, to escape the creature that had hunted me since infancy—ever since I was diagnosed with type I diabetes. Ever since the dragon’s blood began to burn through my veins.

Time stretched moments into hours while the chalky clouds disgorged themselves upon the ground. Would my dad come looking for me? Would he realize I wasn’t coming back? Would he think I just got lost in the woods, or would he suspect the dragon, even though he could never feel it coming like I could? My mind drifted beyond the smoky sky, floating away into the distant galaxies vast and strange no matter how hard I tried to focus. The dragon’s shadow loomed over me, its hot breath a poisonous cloud that filled the grove, seeping through my blood with each heartbeat, draining my energy. A ravenous hunger gurgled in my stomach, and I opened my mouth, eating the snow that fell into it, wondering if it would be my final meal.

Jay…

My dad’s voice, I imagined, drifting through the trees like a dream. I listened again, tried to raise my arm, to signal for help. Ignoring the dragon that stalked the woods rustling dead leaves and snapping brittle branches while it preyed upon me.

Jay.

Louder this time, puncturing the silence.

I tried to call out. Tried to summon my savior. Tried to get the attention of the trees so they’d point him in my direction. But whose side were they on, anyway?

Jay, time for dinner!

If only I could scream that I couldn’t move, that the snow trapped me in place—that the dragon lurked nearby with hungry eyes.

“Jay!”

If only he looked down, followed my scattered footsteps.

Here, I tried to say, my voice not even a mouse’s squeak. Here.

My breathing slowed. My pulse thumped in my ears. The reality of death gripped me as the dragon rumbled, my muscles weak as water, the snowfall deepening. I was too young to die. Not here. Not like this. Not in the clutches of the dragon.

“Jay? Come on, dinner’s ready!”

The crunch of snow, my neck cracking as I tried to look. The dragon hissed, refusing to let its meal go quietly.

“Jay! I’m not playing, it’s time to come inside.”

Right above me, his yellow parka bright against the gray.

Just look down. Just look down. I tried to drown out the dragon’s roar.

“Jay?” The snow absorbed his plaintive cries. He turned back, walked for a bit around the trees, passed so close I could’ve reached out and grabbed his pants if the dragon’s poison hadn’t paralyzed me. I shivered beneath the snowy blanket, sweat soaking through my clothes.

“Jay— There you are! Come on, get up. Did you not hear me calling you?” A hint of anger replaced the panic. “Jay?” He bent down and shook me, brushing the snow off my snowsuit. I blinked, letting him know I was still alive. The dragon hadn’t won yet. “Jay, what’s the matter?”

The slightest shake of my head, the last of my energy spent in that desperate motion.

“Are you okay? Do you feel low?” He scooped up my limp body, running back to the house as my head slumped against his shoulder. His hands shook as he sat me down at the kitchen table, the lamp above me like the dragon’s hot fire. The orange juice nearly spilled as he poured it into a glass and held it to my lips. Outside the kitchen window, the dragon bared its fangs as a dribble of juice spilled down my chin, shrieking as its quarry escaped.

My body screamed for more when I finished the glass—I needed more to dilute the dragon’s venom. The beast thrashed as my dad pricked my finger to check my blood sugar, wondering, maybe, if it might yet pierce me with its own sharp talons.

“Twenty-seven! Jay, how did you get so low? Dammit, next time drink some juice before going out! Or eat something.” He ran a hand through his hair. “What if you passed out? What if I couldn’t find you?”

Then the dragon would’ve slaughtered me, and the ice would have frozen my bones until spring, I thought, rolling my head against the chair’s backrest. The dragon flicked its forked tongue, its yellow eyes flashing as it reluctantly retreated to its woodland haunts, and the sky covered my body’s impression, leaving a slight dimple in the snow until the spring sun came and melted the sylvan tomb.

 

(This story first appeared in Breath & Shadow.)

 

AJ Cunder graduated from Seton Hall University with a Master’s in Creative Writing. His award-winning work appears in Permafrost Magazine and is forthcoming in The Lindenwood Review along with publications appearing or forthcoming in Breath & Shadow, Harpur Palate, The Laurel Review, and Flash Fiction Magazine, among others. He currently serves as a submissions reader for Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, works as a police officer, and volunteers with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation as a mentor, advocate, and motivational speaker. Find him on Twitter @aj_cunder or online at www.WrestlingTheDragon.com

Poetry by Natalie E. Illum

The perspective from below

Sharks attack their prey from underneath,
sometimes at speeds of up to 35 miles an hour.

At first you think why is there
a freight train underwater? And then
the ocean leaks red and you think
Oh.

The kitchen floor attacks its prey
with gravity. It snaps bone
just as easily as a mouth.
A table corner can be
razor sharp too.

If you hit the soft tissue
at the back of a skull
with 160 pounds of your own
body weight, it will gush too.

You know immediately.
You’ve endangered yourself.
Swam out too far in the middle
of your living room, without
the lifeguard of your cane.

You see red pool
on the linoleum. Oh.
Clutch skin, kick
sideways, crawl
to your cell phone
like a shoreline.

There’s no point in shouting Help!!
before your feet slip and the floor
becomes a thing capable
of drowning you.

The spectators left your beach, stopped
watching your brain fight and splash
years ago. Because the doctors insisted
that gash isn’t serious. This puncture
should heal on its own.

There’s no evil to punch
on the nose, unless you want to
beat yourself up.

No need for 600 surgical-grade
internal stitches and staples
to keep your fascia and form
intact; to create the jagged line
that keeps you

interesting. But their scars will be
fascinating and featured
in People Magazine, along with
that harrowing quote, the one

about the exact moment you thought
I’m going to die.

I fight with boring things:
concrete, granite, hardwood. I fear.
I have no flight response.

These type of attacks, they happen
to 1 in every 11.5 million people.
What are the odds that I’m my own
daily shark bite? What are the odds

that someone would believe
how terrified I am of dry land?

 

Trinity

I was raised under stained glass. On Sundays
the parish asked the Lord to heal my legs;
to give my parents a miracle. I tried to kneel
for them. I sang glory and Hosanna the loudest.

But I knew I’d never wake up walking.
So I never asked why me or what if? God
was busy with other things.
I was just one middle class disabled girl
with decent health insurance. But

when my best friend’s all-star body
started to paralyze itself nerve by nerve,
the doctors didn’t find any answers. But they
still ran enough tests to flatline her bank account.

When she woke up unable to crawl or swallow,
she kept trying to reach you. God
all she heard back was static.
You can multiply that noise
by 8 billion people praying
for answers.

God, do their voices ring so loud
in your head that you doubt
your own divine judgment? Turned
the Holy Trinity into Psychologist,
Neurologist, Physical Therapist

so we would all feel better? Did you create drugs
like Abilify to enable us to stand up without you?
Is it easier to hand out prescription after prescription?
Prescribe to us instead of listening?
It’s no wonder

we have turned pharmacies into churches.
Pray to the insurance companies for
a whole month’s worth of Holy Eucharist.
We break pills like bread into smaller and smaller
milligrams to make them last longer. So many
of them dissolve so easily

on the tongue. We need these blessed uppers
to carry us closer to Heaven, help us swallow pain
when we fall back down. God knows

how much it hurts to drop copays
into so many collection boxes.  He sees
how we read warning labels like

the new Gospel.

Be careful not to overdose. God
only has time to lay hands
on some of us.

 

 

Natalie E. Illum is a poet, disability activist, and singer living in Washington, DC. She is a 2017 Jenny McKean Moore Poetry Fellow, as well as a non-fiction editor forThe Deaf Poets Society Literary Journal. She is a founded board member of mothertongue, a women’s open mic that lasted 15 years. She competed on the National Poetry Slam circuit and is the 2013 Beltway Grand Slam Champion. Her work has appeared in various publications and on NPR’s Snap Judgement. Natalie has an MFA from American University and teaches workshops across the country. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @poetryrox.

“Notes for My Therapist – 1” by Feby Joseph

I could be wading
in the effervescent joy of a Mozart concerto
or the tranquil beauty of Monet’s lilies, but
it’s never far.
Perhaps the next room?

It could be even as far as the moon
but it will travel at uncharted speed
and explode like ripe mangoes in the mouth –
The golden rivulets running down
the chin to stain white clothes.

I only have a few hints of its arrival.
I can feel it under my skin – It starts to numb.
I am only given a few hunches.
This ominous déjà vu.
This déjà vu.

Déjà vu.

I could be wading
in joy… (yet)
I still wear white again.

 

 

Hailing from the beautiful South Indian coastal state of Kerala, Feby Joseph is a spiritual vagabond who is still trying to figure it all out. At present all his formal education has landed him a job in a desert – in finance – so he works with numbers while words waltz around in his head. Some of his recent poems have appeared on Café Dissensun, Oratoria, and EntropyMag.

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