Voices: Alina Susani, Chloe Shiffman

Flickering Lanterns
Alina Susani

Sometimes there is only one fear, sometimes many, sometimes they are a marching band of ghosts holding flickering lanterns moving slowly. They are a band of marching ghosts and a marching band of ghosts and some of them only carry their lanterns but others their instruments like the deep bassoon or the whistling flute or the echoing cymbals or the triangle. The triangle player trembles, his wispy fingers and hat’s feathers vibrating with his instrument. The tinny chimes do little to calm the space where his nerves once were. They play their instruments only for me, an endless tune, a haunting melody, a ringing in my ears. I feel their rhythm echo through me, as though my heartbeat is their metronome, as though I am part of their band. An uneasy reassurance. No intermissions in this show, this show on loop, though no melody is ever the same. I must listen always, in the shadows of my mind, in the secret shallows of sleep. 

One, two. One, two. 

They do not have an audience; no eyes on them save mine, watching the faint light of their lanterns, watching them wait patiently across a harbor, watching their barely tangible bodies march, watching them linger, loom, lurk, haunt. They flutter like their lights. The flames pass through their phantom forms, the faint breeze threatens to blow their candles out and their bodies away. 

One, two. One, two. 

The marching band gets loud, sometimes. The ghosts get too many. Their footsteps nearly drown out their own song. Their march gets loud but never seems to bring them anywhere. 

One, two. One, two. 

Their stoic, never-aging faces reveal nothing: not the discomfort of their repetitive motions, not the passing of time. Sounds of their marching and changes of their lights are the only evidence that they are not entirely motionless. The flickering lantern sputters out. 

One, two. One, two.

Wet Moss, Wet Stone, Cold Earth.
Chloe Shiffman

Paint chips fall to a rain that pounds hard and dark on the cemetery gate. The pieces land in piles, black Benjamin Moores with silky underbellies degraded to the slap-and-stick of fallen crud. It’s late October, and the Pinebrook Catholic Cemetery is feverish with autumn foliage, seasonal thunderstorms, and other evidence of equinox. Reddened leaves, waterlogged, plaster the grass. The air smells of wet moss, wet stone, cold earth. Branches of berry-laden English Yew thrash with the storm, pinballing between the iron bars.

The storm spits and brawls and throws itself around a wrinkled old woman kneeling in the mud outside the gate. Blind to the storm, she reaches through the bars to the branches, dipping her hand in and out of the cemetery’s domain. Her hair droops and sags. Her face droops and sags. Her skin itches under her purple neptune raincoat. When Delia peels back the sleeve to balm her arm in the rain, her elbow skin slides loosely on her bone. 

Despite her graying figure and the grayer weather, Delia’s cheeks blush with ruddy resolve. She eases the tender berries of English Yew from their stems. Her herbology degree taught her that these ‘berries’ are not really berries but poisonous seeds clothed in fleshy arils. Delia’s herbology degree also taught her autopsies rarely test for Taxine, the toxin lying latent in Yew seeds. The chill eats into her fingertips. Delia numbs her hands. She eases the skin from the seeds, pocketing only the sticky yellow pips. She wipes her pulpy hand on the grass before reaching for more. Delia has no patience for dead skin.

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