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15/11/2018 / Harry Browne

Two pieces from the pen of Shea Walsh

Natural Causes Number One

Inter Galactic Tasting: 
Floating around in the Space Station
Can become quite banal
There is a lack of a sense of escapism
One inventive mind had a notion
To assemble a cellar
To store the recycled urine
Label it by nationality
Then sample each
To evaluate its different quality
From time to time the Astronauts
Would congregate in the cupola
Pass the samples around
These are some of the comments
That we found
American bright cheery
With a beefy aftertaste
Russian body bouquet
With undertones of borscht
Japan austere suggestions of sashimi
Overtones of teriyaki
Canadian syrupy
Having a maple indication
Kazakhstan meaty
With indications of mutton
Swedish serious Smorgasbord sensations
Brazil full bodied nice legs
Hints of steak and Mate
South Korea good nose
Notions of Kim chi
Belgium dry smokey
With a scent of beer and Brussels Sprouts
German potent hoppy Bratwursty structured
France fragrant bouquet
Suggestions of Goose Pate
Italy lively generous taste
Tones of espresso and
Pasta Bolognese with garlic paste
Spain Serrano Ham
Indications of olive oil
Suggestions of Sherry
This simple pastime seems
To keep the whole crew merry

©Shea Walsh 2018

PS This is the list of Nationalities that were
On the Space Station up until 2016
There may be further additions in the future

Natural Causes Number Two:
Owed to Regularity
To go or not to go!
That is the question
Whether it is nobler in the mind
To suffer the sorrow and strife
Of outrageous misfortune
Or to procure the curative potion
To diminish the heartache
The thousand un-natural yelps
Take arms anon! To heal the howls
To sleep not fret enduring the
Painful pangs of those impacted bowels
With a bare bodkin the fardels loose
No more to grunt and sweat
Under a weary life
To medicate and there’s the rub
With this in mind
Release!
In the name of action
Soft you now!
Go forth with an easy mind
And a rapid reaction
W. C. Shakes
Bodkin: A large blunt needle
Fardel: A bundle
©Shea Walsh 2018

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04/11/2018 / Harry Browne

Irish Prayer by Simone Sav

1

Stop and pray.
For the Irish sky to host the sun a little bit more often.
For the Titanic to be glued back in one piece
and miss that iceberg altogether the second time.
For Saint Patrick not to take a dislike to snakes.
For the Magdalene Laundries to use washing machines instead of female hands.
For the North and South to be nothing than cardinal points.
For Oscar Wilde and James Joyce to write beyond the grave.
For this island not to have two capitals.
For children not to be forbidden from learning in schools
unless a man in a robe sprinkled ordinary water on their infant heads.
For dancing to be compulsory during lunch breaks.
For the hard-working not to be worse off than the the poor living on benefits.
For IT companies to start coding in Irish.
For straight people to feel at home in The George.
For CEOs to undergo psychological assessment every two weeks.
For the An Post workers to dress as clowns during the dole-collecting days.
For the able-bodied beggars on Grafton Street to start handing out change to passers-by.
For betting addicts to open a museum dedicated to greyhounds.
For people to row to work.
For immigrants to receive ‘A Guide to Irish Banter’ upon arrival.

Stop and pray.
But do not hold your breath.

01/11/2018 / Harry Browne

Halloween Challenge

 

31/10/2018 / Harry Browne

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD by Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Stones

In the middle of the road there was a stone.

there was a stone in the middle of the road

there was a stone

in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Never should I forget this milestone
in the life of my wearied retinas.
Never should I forget that in the middle of the road
there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Translated by Heloisa Prieto

My thanks to the Executors Carlos  Drummond de Andrade’s estate.

30/10/2018 / Harry Browne

Wish Granted by Catriona Murphy.

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The fortune telling machine was a Joker smiling, plastic piece of crap. Reflections danced off the exotic mustache man’s grin, as he invited one and all to feed him a 50 cent coin into his musty machine, with the promise the universe would be revealed.
I had this belief that when the fun fair closed and the cotton candy, whistling streamers and children’s delightful screams had faded into memory, he packed up for the night and climbed into some hole in the ground like a bunking leprechaun, and ate cereal in front of Nickelodeon.
As skeleton painted-faced gigglers floated past, waving flowers and singing Hispanic songs devoted to Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead),I steeled my mind on my one task. Ignoring the pungent scent of Copal incense, and hand-held pictures of deceased loved ones flailing about, I pulled out my mobile and read my e-mail.
Following the instructions I got from an Anonymous hacker by the name of ‘Zed’, I leaned into the glass case where the dummy smirked within, and I whispered the words, ‘Cura te ipsum’.
It’s head mechanically turned without me doing anything further, and I had a tickling feeling on the back of my neck that it’s flat, bland painted eyes were staring right at me, that was before something heavy deposited in the slot below it.
I tentatively picked up the package as if were a human limb, unsure of it’s authenticity, then decidedly shoved it inside my denim jacket, and left behind the fair’s cheery, festive ambiance to the undead.
And took a walk in an adjacent wood.
Nestled in the cover of the trees, the moonlight crept down through branches overhead, as if to ambush a person into wolf.
The stamped printing on the package read, ‘Second Life’.
Sucking in the cool air of the forest in what may be my last deep inhalation, I ripped open the package like a starving animal.
The innards unveiled a cookie, with the message, ‘Eat Me’.
I couldn’t help but draw the Alice in Wonderland comparison, but I followed the instructions regardless.
What happened next is difficult to recall.
But it was my own Judgement Day, where I exacted a purge, a cleanse of my own that not enough incense could sanitise.
When I mopped up the remains and the red had cleared from my vision, I was standing atop a cliff, listening to the crash of the ocean waves and watching distant fireworks explode over dark waters.
I tossed my blood-stained jacket over the ledge, watching it and my life flutter into the abyss.
Oil veins crept through my arms and legs now. A new substance was colonising my body but the adrenaline kick was so good that I didn’t care.
The howling laughter of the exotic fortune teller echoed on the fringes of my deformed mind. A fractured mind. The mind that was not mine anymore; another entity had entered and moulded with my own, so I became a freak to walk to the Earth.
The hysterical giggle followed me as I bled into the night like a despairing spirit, aching with a new hunger, and I merged with the darkness like dying light to sky.

29/10/2018 / Harry Browne

That Eyeless Thing It Lingers by Stephen Brady

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(The winning entry for The Inkslingers Best Halloween Story 2018)

Rural Illinois, 1987

I was driving alone on an old forest road, and it must have been the night before Hallowe’en.
It had been some time since I’d left the highway. And I’d fallen into that daze that comes on the solo driver, mesmerised by the dark and the drone of the engine and the smooth unwinding of the road. A meeting in Fall City had run way over time, and it must have been nigh on midnight. My only thought was for the sight of my front porch, and bed.
I almost didn’t see the hitchhiker.
He was standing at the roadside, his arm held limply out. When my headlights fell across him, he didn’t flinch. I’d passed him before really I registered the sight. And I decided, on a whim, to stop and pick him up.
As a rule I don’t stop for hitchhikers. You hear all kinds of stories. But it was so dark, and cold, and he was all alone. So I hit the brakes, and pulled in about fifty yards ahead.
But when I looked in the rearview mirror, the roadside was deserted. The hitcher was nowhere to be seen. It was like he’d never been there.
Then the back door popped open and he slid in.
“Thanks, man,” he said. “I didn’t think anybody was ever going to come.”
The man in the back seat was young, in his twenties I think. He was unkempt, with long hair and a scrub of beard. He was oddly dressed – he appeared to be wearing flared denim trousers, of the kind you only see on documentaries of the Nixon era. He wore some kind of wooden jewellery around his neck, and a greasy bandana.
“Bless your heart,” he said. “I mean that, buddy. Bless your heart for what you’ve done.”
Beneath all the hair, his skin was very pale. His face wore a vacant, shellshocked expression. He was staring out the window at the trees, not meeting my eyes.
“How long were you waiting there?” I asked.
“A long time, man. I don’t know for sure. Long, long time.” The way he spoke was kind of mechanical, as though his mind was elsewhere.
Well, I had to decide. I couldn’t very well throw him out of the car, having picked him up. It was a chill, windy night, and it could be tomorrow before another vehicle passed this way.
It looked like we were stuck with each other.
All around us, the ancient trees crowded over the road. Branches, like gnarled fingers, rattled in that October wind. And inside the car, the air had grown cold and still. Like water at the bottom of a lake.
“Where’s your stuff?” I asked him.
“Huh?”
“Your stuff. You must have a pack or something.”
“Naw, man.”
“You don’t have any stuff?”
“Lost it.”
“You lost it?”
“Yeah.”
“Where did you lose it?”
“In the woods.”
I turned around and clasped the wheel. Suddenly, I found I wasn’t so sure about all this.
The hitcher said, “Listen man, can we get going? I’d really like to get outa here.”
I eyed him in the rearview.
“Where, uh… where are you headed?”
“Wherever, man. Just get me outta these woods.”
That decided it. I’d take him to the next truckstop, and he could make a phonecall. Do whatever he needed to do. I’d have done my good deed, and I could go home.
“That sounds fine,” I said. “I’m a little edgy, is all. I don’t normally stop for hitchhikers.”
“Well I’m glad you did, man.”
“Alright. Let’s go.”
I pulled away and we headed on up the road.
Once we were moving, I started to feel a bit better. By the time we were back on the highway, I was feeling almost cheerful. It is good, I decided, to be a Samaritan. Good for your soul. I put on the radio, and nothing came out but static.
When I glanced in the rearview, he had turned around and was looking behind us.
“What’s the matter?” I said. “Somebody following you?”
“Naw. Just glad to be outta those woods, man.”
We drove on in silence for a while. I could hear him breathing in the back. Without the radio, the silence weighed heavy on the two of us. Eventually, I decided I would have to break it.
“How long were you in the woods?” I asked him.
He didn’t answer for a minute. I thought he’d might have nodded off. Then he said, “A looong time. I don’t really know, man. A long time.”
“What were you doing in there?”
“I was hiking.”
“Hiking?”
“Yeah. I’m an outdoorsman.”
“Hiking… alone?”
“Naw, man. There was four of us.” I expected him to add to that, but he didn’t.
“… Four of you?” I prompted.
“Yeah. My buddy Nathan and his chick, and some guy she goes to school with. Never saw the dude before.”
“And where are they now?”
“Couldn’t tell ya, man.” He yawned and stretched. “I don’t know what happened to ’em. I don’t guess I’ll see ’em again.”
I found that I was saying things now, without conscious thought. Drawing the conversation to a place that it would not see in the daylight.
“What happened to you all in there?”
“We got separated, man. We went off the trail and camped a couple nights. But then we couldn’t find the trail again. Then we had this big argument about it. It got to be this big hassle. Standing in the trees, middle of nowhere, four of us all yelling. So I said, ‘you know what, you guys are a bunch of assholes. I don’t need this.’ And I got my stuff and I went off on my own.” He was looking out the window at the darkness, and his voice had an air of hypnosis. “And I got lost. Like, real lost, you dig it? I tried to find the trail but I just got deeper in the woods. And it got dark, and I got scared. It was like, I was going in circles. And I thought to myself, ‘I’m gonna die out here.'”
As he spoke, I imagined I could see it, feel it – lost and alone, in the dark of the forest. Poor bastard. No wonder he seemed so shaken up.
“What happened then?” I asked.
“I was lost for three days. Three days, man. Just walking, going outta my mind. I ran out of food, then I ran out of water. It got to be night time again. I was in another part of the forest, where the trees are like ancient. Like nobody’d been there in a hundred years. And I thought, this is it. This is where I check out. I just quit, just put down my pack and lay down on the ground. I guess I must have slept for a while.
“And then I woke up, and it was the middle of the night. I don’t know what woke me up, must have been a sound or something. But I knew, you what I mean, I just knew that somebody else was there. So I stood up and looked around.” He stretched again, and I could hear his joints crack. He released a long, ragged yawn. “And that was when I met her.”
My hands were gripping the wheel like a life preserver. I was suddenly finding it difficult to speak. “Met…? Met who?”
He said, “A woman came out of the trees. She had no eyes and no mouth. She was wearin this real raggedy old dress, and she had long crazy hair. She came out of the trees and she moved toward me. She wasn’t walking, exactly. She didn’t have feet. She was kind of… floating above the ground. But I could see, when she got close, that she wasn’t human. No eyes, no mouth. Just skin and nostrils. She came up to me, and she put her hand around my throat.”
He raised his own hand, and clasped it around his neck. “Like this. She must have had real long fingers, ‘cos it was like they went the whole way around my neck and crossed over on the other side. The woman from the forest, she came up to me and she held me by the throat and I heard her voice, inside my head.”
The car was weaving on the white line. I was full of the clear and certain feeling that I had made a terrible mistake.
“What did she say? The woman in the woods?”
“She asked me if I wanted to live. If I wanted to go home again. I said, yes, I do. So she said she’d let me leave the forest, if I did what she told me to do.”
“… What did she tell you to do?”
His hand came from behind me and closed around my throat. It was not the hand of a human, for his fingers stretched the whole way around my neck and locked on the other side. I looked in the mirror again, and the face I saw had no eyes, no mouth, and black nostrils that curled right around the skull.
The lights went out. The car spun off the highway, through the barrier and smashed into a tree. I did not know, or care, about any of it.
Now I stand on the roadside, my arm stretched out. There is a lost and empty look on my face. I can hear an engine approach in the October night. I just know that someone is going to pick me up. Maybe it will be you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

21/10/2018 / Harry Browne

The Present by Simone Sav

I have a dilemma:
I set out to buy a present
for the person I hate the most.
And I don’t know what to get her.

What would she fancy, I wonder.
She likes mind games and corrosive slander
But I don’t think they sell these
In the local gift shop.

They say you can never go wrong with a bottle of expensive champagne,
Hmm! Perhaps she’d think I poisoned it,
And end up wasting perfectly aged bubbles
On cleaning greasy drains on its way down.

Those I asked for advice thought it was a joke
or madness. Generosity towards someone who has wronged you
Can easily be mistaken for lack of self-esteem
Or worse, for saintly hypocrisy.

Each year, we make a point of rewarding
Some of those who have shaped our lives.
But we reject or ignore those who made us better
By standing opposite us in hatred or contempt.

I set out to buy a present to my nemesis
And I found it tucked away in a small antique shop.
At first it didn’t call out to me until I looked closer
And saw the portrait of a strong woman.

I set out to buy a present and I did.
I got her a mirror.

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