The Elephant Brooch

[pdf: CW36.The_Elephant_Brooch]

‘Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.’
O’Connor scanned the gathered people’s faces and turned back to his whiteboard.
‘As you can see on this scheme, our company has noted a nice growth over the past months. Our sales came to £31,600 in total, exceeding the goal by £1,600, which is amazing. Congratulations to the sales team on their new training system, it worked immediately and here we are now, celebrating a great success. Now we’ll focus on the details for a moment’, said O’Connor, produced a pile of papers and put on his glasses. The real party was right about to start.
‘In October 2015, our share in the English pen refills market was 4.5%. In October 2016 it grew to 6.1% and this year we reached 9%. That’s absolutely amazing. Let’s discuss possible reasons behind this. First of all…’
Blackwood stretched in his chair and zoned out. He knew all the numbers by heart anyway, it was him who prepared the statistics for O’Connor after all. Also, these summary meetings were always so boring, literally you should get paid double for sitting through them and pretending to listen. Well, some of the workers really were excited and wanted to hear all this, as if they really cared. But Blackwood didn’t. He’d rather look at Ashley Cooper, who was sitting across the table.
Usually he was much more interested in what was underneath her clothes, but he couldn’t really afford such thinking in this formal business meeting, so he focused on her brooch instead. Was she really wearing a… pink plush elephant? Really? He squinted, trying to remember any details about the clothes he’d previously torn off her. No memory of this pink plush elephant brooch was found in his brain, though.
Ashley must have noticed his look. She glanced at him and quickly turned back to follow O’Connor’s speech, blushing, and pretending to focus on the numbers, her mouth forming a tight line.
Blackwood enjoyed what he did to women. He was very well aware of his attractiveness, and he was not hesitant to use it. Life was about fun; after all we all die one day, so why not enjoy it to the fullest while you can? He had money, he had wits, he had muscles, why wouldn’t he have women then?
Ashley wasn’t the only woman he had there, obviously. The other one was sitting right next to her. Rebecca Thaupe. They looked nothing like each other. Ashley was a subtle, quiet blonde, this kind of girl who has been living next door for years, but you never noticed her at all. Blackwood sensed something mysterious in her ordinariness, and he wasn’t wrong. Ashley was a wild girl. Rebecca, on the other hand, looked like this Latin beauty, with her black hair, dark skin and the gaze that would make you forget your own name. Blackwood admired her body so much.
He shook his head, trying to get rid of the thoughts that somehow got into his brain anyway. He was in this meeting! Enjoying women was what he was going to do later; later, Blackwood.
There was something that drew his attention too much, however. Was… Rebecca wearing a pink plush elephant brooch as well? Really? Now things got a little weird for Blackwood. Was that a new business fashion or what? He scanned the room, but no one else had this strange brooch, just the two there.
Perhaps focusing on the speech O’Connor was still making was what Blackwood should have been doing all along.
He looked at O’Connor and his whiteboard.
‘…and I believe that implementing this strategy for the following months…’
No, that was too boring.
‘…will ensure a growth by, say, another 0.3% in the market…’
Impossible to follow.
‘…and our overall score should reach 10% by February, which will allow us…’
Impossible.
Blackwood looked at Ashley again. This time she didn’t pretend to focus on the meeting. She glared at him instead, suddenly very confident. She turned to Rebecca and smiled at her in the way she would only smile when she was alone with Blackwood.
Rebecca smiled back and reached out for Ashley’s face, and then… and then they kissed?!
What?! Blackwood stared, his eyes wide open. It was a formal meeting, and they were acting like that, grabbing each other by their clothes and really getting down to business?!
To Blackwood’s utter astonishment, no one else seemed to notice what was happening right at the table. O’Connor continued his boring speech, someone asked an equally boring question, O’Connor provided them with a boring answer, and his secretary noted everything that was said. Well, if so… then Blackwood decided to follow what girls were doing. Life was to be enjoyed, after all, and the girls were so hot in all this.
‘Mr Blackwood?’, someone said in a firm voice. ‘Mr Blackwood?’
‘Yes?’
Blackwood jolted in surprise, almost falling off his chair. Ashley and Rebecca’s action drew his attention so much that he almost forgot about the entire world.
‘Could you please… um…’
Blackwood looked around. Now everyone was staring at him, O’Connor and his secretary included. Something has happened, apparently, but Blackwood had no clue what exactly. He looked at Ashley and Rebecca, hoping to find an answer.
They were staring at him, unimpressed, but definitely dressed now. And no pink elephant brooches. Was someone messing with Blackwood’s mind?
Ashley took a deep breath and arched her eyebrows, looking disgusted.
‘You snored soooo loud, Blackwood.’

Author: Joanna Burkiewicz

Reklamy

1002nd

[pdf: CW35.1002nd]

So I plead, my friend, to not release this monster, as the damage he would inflict upon the world is unimaginable.
Aaron read the last line of the text a few more times, zooming in to make sure he didn’t confuse the ancient letters. They refused to give way to any additional meanings or clues, cementing Harun al-Rashid’s words as a warning. This rendered Aaron’s plan a gamble. He turned off his phone and set his head on his now free hands, pondering.
He did like gambles.

##

The room formed a rough circle, more akin to a large octagon with round walls. Colourful curtains and pillows hid some of the corners from sight, providing comfortable and luxurious sitting space. In the last few months Aaron was the sole recipient of their charm.
In the room’s centre a small stage had been erected, its sides covered with Arabic calligraphy. What little light there was came from electric lanterns concealed as oil lamps; and, of course, the Lamp.
It sat near the edge of the stage, occupying more space than he had first anticipated it would. The oil tank bulged out unevenly across the brass surface, bloating the entirety to two times the size, and the part that would usually carry the flame was smelt shut. Contrary to its surroundings, the bulky thing did not adhere to any rules of aesthetic or form. Even its handle was crooked, tearing away at one point to form a branch sprouting upwards. Yet he had never tried to move it after bringing it here, even if it ruined some of the room’s beauty.
Today, as his routine dictated, Aaron came up the podium and raised the brass lid, quickly stepping back. For a moment, nothing happened.
Then, a thin tendril of purple smoke rose from the lamp and crept towards the floor. Soon, more smoke followed, covering the entire stage with a soft purple blanket.
Another tendril rose next to Aaron, drifting slowly in his direction. He didn’t move. The properties of the smoke were still a mystery to him, as his scientists had claimed it just wasn’t possible to analyse it correctly. He didn’t know if it could hurt him.
The tendril wrapped itself around his legs and started coiling upwards. Just before the violet cloud cut off his sight, he realised what the djinn was doing.
What a prude.
In a few moments he was free to move again, the smoke in full retreat. A man now stood in front of Aaron, with hands set on blue tinted shoulders. His clothes were ragged and well worn, but they hung on his diminutive stature as if he had borrowed them from someone few sizes larger than him. He had no hair in the slightest, which would make his face a bit comical if it weren’t for his eyes. They were entirely black, like bottomless pits of tar, and yet Aaron could somehow tell they were scanning him from head to toe.
A part of the djinn’s leg was wispy, gas-like, and it connected with the trail of smoke currently backing off from Aaron. The only other reminder of the violet that remained was a thin line which led from the inside of the lamp right into the djinn’s chest, around the place where his heart should be.
A chain. The last, I suppose.
“What do you wish from me, master?” his voice was soft and harmonious as he asked the usual question.
“A story. The final one.” Aaron said.
The djinn did not answer for a second or two.
“Are you… certain?” his voice did not waver, but Aaron knew he had to be emotional.
“Yes, tell me a story.” Aaron said, letting his body fall onto a pile of pillows.
The djinn spoke.

##

Once upon a time… is what you’d want me to say, fucker. As my freedom begins with the end of this story, I’ll keep it short.
A boy came to this world, rich and powerful from the moment he left the womb. His parents named him after an ancient caliph, but I prefer to call him Bastard. Little Bastard had everything he could desire, from toys to playmates and servants. They all loved him so very much.
He grew in arrogance and naivety, believing the world to be everything it was not. After finding himself a wife, Bastard thought life was just beginning for him. But peace was short-lived.
The wife, a beautiful woman full of energy and passion, woke up one day and decided to betray her husband. Perhaps she grew bored of him, of the parties and rich life, or maybe she had never loved him in the first place. Bastard never gave her the chance to explain when he found out.
His heart, such a fragile thing, snapped in two and so did he, hitting the woman square in the chin. The blow sent her spinning, her head encountered an edge of a table and just like that, she was gone.
Bastard’s parents would never let their child experience justice after a tantrum, so they swept the body and its existence under a very thick rug. The worst part of all this is that he still felt guilt after all they’ve done, just like a good man would. Bastard decided he would atone for the life he had inadvertently taken, and threw himself into a whirlwind of charity-work as if that could make up for his crime.
Then he heard about a lamp and the prisoner inside of it. Fancying himself a hero, he focused everything he had on setting the prisoner free.
But the prisoner hated Bastard, because of a simple fact.

##

“Pity. You pity me, bastard.”
The djinn’s hands were wrapped around Aaron’s neck.
The djinn’s remarks penetrated inside Aaron’s heart.
And the line that kept him connected with the lamp was gone. There was no doubting the hate in his words – he wanted Aaron dead.
So Aaron did not move, even as his entire body screamed with fear. He would not react to the djinn’s threat, even if it meant death. She had never had a chance to react to his.
But the grip did not tighten. The djinn opened his mouth, then closed it, and opened it again. He let Aaron go and grasped his own neck, his soft voice replaced by strained gasps and wheezing. He collapsed, his body thrashing around helplessly.
Aaron looked for a pillow and slipped it under the flailing figure’s head.
“I guess the spell was meant to kill you once you were released. Harun really had it out for you, Jafar.” he said. The former djinn’s eyes regained their whites and narrowed at Aaron.
“Surprised? Then, let me tell you a story.”
He knelt down by Jafar’s side and spoke.

##

Once upon a time, a wealthy man lived in the East. A son of a powerful vizier and patron of the sciences, he seemed to have everything he could desire. Well, that was until he bit off more than he could chew.
A woman. Maybe beautiful, maybe smart, maybe powerful. Whatever it was in Abbasa that garnered Jafar al-Barmaki’s attention, I do not know. A marriage was arranged between them, organized solely to keep Abbasa close to Jafar’s caliph and her brother, Harun.
However fucked up that proposition was, Jafar accepted. At night a slave would keep him company and by day he would tell Abbasa stories he loved. It was for that reason, his daily presence, that one day Abbasa decided to replace the slave in her duties. Jafar accepted her, and she got pregnant.
When Harun al-Rashid found out about the betrayal of his friend and his lover, he had Jafar beheaded. Or at least that’s how the story looked from outside. In reality, he used his extensive influence and money to figure out a way to torture Jafar as long as he could. In the lamp, he found it. He turned his friend into a facsimile of a human being, trapped for as long as he could manage. Before death he had sent letters to family and friends, begging them to not let the prisoner go, spinning tales about a monster he had defeated and entrapped. The condition for Jafar’s release was simple and cruel. A thousand and two stories, told to one master, to symbolise the ones he had told to Abbasa.
There was one time when Jafar was almost released. Another woman, named Scheherazade, was in desperate need of stories. But due to Harun’s warnings, she was scared to give the man freedom. She betrayed the djinn after a thousand and one nights and pawned him off.
The lamp went through many other hands throughout the centuries, but interestingly enough, no other women reported coming into contact with the “blue man”. Scheherazade’s betrayal had made him unwilling to trust them.
Eventually I came across the lamp and dug deep into history to find out Jafar’s identity. I was unsure if releasing him was right, because of the man we’re both tied to, Harun.
But I did give him rest, even though the curse strangled what little humanity remained inside of him. Anger and grief took hold of him, and that’s something that can happen to the best of us.
I hope the story was to your liking, love.

##

Aaron stood up, his knees smarting from prolonged motionlessness. Her grave was unmarked, but he trusted his GPS. It was somewhere around here. He hoped she had heard this story, and the ones before. And that she forgave him.
He sighed, breathing in evening forest air.
So many problems would not come to being if we treated each other as people, not possessions.

Author: Filip Samek

The Alien

[pdf: CW32.The_Alien]

In a part of the universe that is so visible to the human eye, the dawn started early with a pink glow and soon the half-disc of an ancient star emerged on a light-blue surface that was still partially covered with the darkness of a hot subtropical night. The shine mirrored on the calm depth of the inky water. Laziness was in the air. The star lazily clambered the sky. The darkness lazily yielded to the light. The creatures of the sea swam lazily straight into open nets. The view was so peaceful, so quiet that even the rippling waves stayed as mute as a humble servant that is bound not to disturb the sleeping master, yet stay by his side until eventide.
In the silence, like in an invisible shed, a strange man was hiding.

*

It was the first time for Karol to sleep on a beach. He was not a person of this kind, not at all. When a terrible headache finally woke him up, at first he could not believe his eyes. A crystal clear sea spread up to the horizon. The sun shone with all his strength, high in the sky. Around him there was just white sand, not much different than snow, even its warmth seemed cold at first touch. And in the back there was a forest of tall palm trees tempting with a shadowy shelter from the heat.
“What on earth…?!” he murmured to himself in disbelief.
He didn’t know how he got here, not at all. The last thing he remembered was the goodbye-party at the hotel bar. It happened quickly, as always. Stupid Portuguese and their wine. Unfortunately, his mind preserved some unwanted images, a figure of a young, blond hostess that smiled at him at the back of the smoking room, and then some other dirty secrets that followed, as for example that her underwear was pink. He could recall the smell of her cheap yet nice perfume that soaked deeply into the structure of her curls. So many details, so many stories… But as for how he got here, none.
While checking his pockets, the man noticed that his greyish tuxedo, worth probably more than his own life, was entirely ruined, all covered with a thick layer of dry sea salt. With both sleeves ripped off, tattered legs and only one shoe on he must have looked like a savage or a castaway or a madman and a drunkard, and except for the last one, of which he wasn’t sure, he would never call himself any of those names.
He took off the blazer, or at least what was left of it, just to discover some small blood stains on his once white shirt. His chest was fine, though, so he soon deduced that the blood must have dropped from his face. When he touched his upper lip, he found it swollen and itchy and covered with scab. As for the pockets, they were empty as in brand new. No clues whatsoever. He lost his ID, his keys, his wallet, not only with a credit card inside but also with some serious cash.
But did he remember who he was? Oh, of course he did. Mr. Karol Brzozowsky, age 39, son of Barbara and Zbigniew, husband of Phoebe, father of two. Working at OpenAll Industries, currently on a business trip to Porto. A trip of paramount importance for his future carrier.Apparently, it was all shattered now. But no, he won’t panic. Not yet.
Now he remembered,a security worker yelled at him that it’s a private party when he tried to enter the bar through the back door. His ID was lost already then. Before any of his colleagues noticed his absence, let alone the inconvenient situation he got in, the bodyguard had kicked him out of the bar. Maybe that’s when he got wounded? But he did not remember being hit. That must have happened later.
After being thrown out of the party he definitely wanted to get in by the front entrance. But when he entered the hotel’s atrium, another bodyguard asked him for his ID. Karol tried to show him keys to his apartment but no, the keys were already gone as well. So was the rest of his belongings. It all seemed clear now.The pretty hostess was a sneaky little thief.
Cleaned out of all his documents, deprived of any contact with his co-workers, he saw a last ray of hope in the person of the receptionist. He rushed to the desk and gasped out:
“You! You must remember me, my dear! Could you please tell this gentleman here that I’m a guest at your hotel? Oh, please! I can give you the name. Just check it. Karol Brzozowsky. Number 305.”
The bodyguard grabbed his arm and gave the receptionist an expectant look. The woman, a young Portuguese with full lips of the color of blood, lingered her eyes on Karol with an expression of fake puzzlement. Indeed, she remembered him very well. It’s hard to forget a man who starts to offer you suggestions the exact same moment he enters the room. She saw how he treated the luggage boy when he dropped one of his packages. Finally, she witnessed a conversation between two women that arrived at the hotel with him and his other co-workers. What she heard didn’t put the man in a positive light, obviously.
“Ekhm, I’m sorry, sir.” she replied with a slight accent.“We have so many guests, I’m afraid I can’t remember them all. Could you repeat your name, please?”
She was a vengeful creature, he knew it. A fierce southern girl. Just the kind he likes. Now he regretted it. He repeated his name slowly, feeling first signs of irritation, but still smiling as if nothing happened.
“Hm, let me see…” mumbled the Portuguese while pretending she’s checking something in the register. “Oh! I’m afraid there is no one of that name, sir. You must have mistaken the hotels,” she said with pity in her voice.
“Okay, I will spell it for you.” Karol started to lose his patience.“B-R-Z-O…”
“That’s enough.” snapped the bodyguard. “You sir are drunk”.
“What? Stop! Don’t touch me! My agent will know about this!”
And before he moved his finger, he felt the thick, night air bursting into his nostrils. The door closed with a loud clunk. He spat on the ground angrily.
Still not discouraged, actually even more motivated than before, Karol jumped out of the short staircase and turned straight to the bar’s door. He was almost sure that someone from his delegation will see him and tell the security worker to let him in.
Tu outra vez não!” shouted the tall man as soon as he saw him approaching.
“I’m sorry friend. You’re doing your job, I know. But hey, just ask anybody. Hey! HEY! George? Hey, Walter? Is that you?” Karol started calling out down the corridor but no one responded, it was too loud. Finally he saw a woman in the hall.
“Thank God I see you here, Miranda!”
Actually, he wasn’t so glad. The black-haired beauty that turned her head to his voice was the last person he hoped to see. It was the second year he was promising her he’s divorcing Phoebe. Before it could happen, Miranda dumped him because she caught him kissing their boss’s secretary in the storeroom… The wound was still fresh. He called her name at the top of his lungs but she just glared at him in response and vanished in the darkness of the corridor.
That was enough.
Karol gave the bodyguard a hard elbow and ran down the hall straight to the sound-proof door. He grabbed the handle, pulled it and jumped inside the bar. The loud music, the sudden warmth and the smell of sweat hit him as a wall.
And that was all, that was all he remembered.

And so, lost in his thoughts, he never noticed the other man that was with him on the beach, lying in a hammock of ruffled cords that was attached to two palm trees. Not until the man himself decided to give away his presence by a hoarse chuckle.
Karol jumped on his legs, scared of the sudden laughter that came seemingly out of nowhere. He looked around twice and finally noticed a darkskinned Jamaican with long dreadlocks and milky-white teeth that shined in a smile. The man wasn’t looking at him. His warm eyes were fixed on the view, on the sun and the ocean.
“I’m sorry,” stuttered Karol. “You scared me to death.”
“Nah, ya seem quite alive to meh,” replied the man and turned his head. “But ya kinda lucky in that aspect, ya know, Mr…?”
“Brzozowsky. Why am I lucky?”
“Dats a weird name. Whereya from?”
“From Poland. Why am I lucky?” Karol was impatient to know. He got a feeling that the man can give him answers he needed. But the Jamaican suddenly started speaking Russian.
“I said Poland, not Russia.”
Ganz egal. Yo just ay white man from Europe fo me. For ya I’m just a n*gger, anyway.”
Karol wanted to object but after a while he just shrugged his arms. The truth has been spoken and he had no time for arguing.
“So, what about the lucky stuff.”
The Jamaican said nothing. He grabbed a rolled newspaper and threw it to Karol’s chest. The title on the front page said:
Plane Catastrophe on Atlantic Ocean. No Survivors Found.
Even though there was unbearable heat in the air, he felt as if his blood turned to ice. Shivers went down his spine as he learnt more details about the accident. An American company’s private plane back from a delegation in Porto. No survivors found. No survivors found.
“Me. I’m a survivor,” Karol said to himself in low voice then turned to the strange man. “It was you. You saved me.”
The Jamaican laughed even louder than before.
“Stupid white man,” he said slowly and carefully, serious as a hangman.“It ain’t me who saved ya. It was the ocean.” And again he set his eyes on the blue.
After a long period of silence and shock, suddenly Karol’s mouth opened and he started laughing uncontrollably. Now he was them all: a savage, a castaway, a madman and a drunkard. With tears in his eyes he started recalling his life, every woman he had hurt, his children he never cared about, his parents he hadn’t seen in years, all his clients he deceived, every stupid mistake he did after binge drinking for days. How stupid he was never to see it before! And now? Look at all the possibilities! He must have died on that plane and get resurrected as a new man.
And to the Jamaican’s amusement, Karol stood up, grinned triumphantly and cried out:
“Oh I never wanted to f*ck this much as now in my whole life! Show me the way to the nearest town, my friend. I could use a bottle of rum as well. A new life,” he laughed maniacally. “Oh yes, I can leave all of that behind. My stupid family, I’m sure they’re so happy right now that they’ll finally put their hands on my insurance. And that bloody job of mine, those fools will DIE without me, oh no, haha, they are already dead!”
And as he hobbled into the forest, his laughter got quieter and quieter until you couldn’t tell it apart from the tender swoosh of the waves, the calm rustle of the trees and the creaking of the hammock.
“Sum people don’t deserve ay second chance, ya know,” said the strange man.
The ocean responded by breathing out another warm tide, gently covering the shore.The planet turned slowly at its own cosmic pace. The darkness of the night was about to visit this part of the globe again.

Observatory

[pdf: CW33.Observatory]

It’s completely different
when you go to church on a holiday.

Mrs Smith has got a new fur. Can they afford it,
a teachers’ couple. The Millers
have lost their children in the crowd (they’ve always been strange).
Sophie Roberts is pregnant
and there’s no trace of any father! But he might be waiting
in the long line to the confessional.
That grey-haired man confesses only
once a year, and that lady
twice a week.
A few people farther, there’s a short, young boy:
the one who left the detention office lately. Well, well.
Some years ago he would smoke weed and sell drugs.
Generally,
many new faces can be seen
some are visitors and the rest
has just remembered that they believe.

I saw Mrs Smith in the parking lot,
she got into Mr Holgrove’s Bentley.
There she is!

It’s completely different
when you go to church on a holiday.

Author: Joanna Burkiewicz

Marbles

[pdf: CW31.Marbles]

Such eyes can only be seen once in your lifetime, you know. So dark and mysterious, and sparkling this beautifully; so dark they almost seem black; these eyes just like marbles. The eyes which make the time freeze around you, the eyes which create a separate universe for you to look into them; and for this split second when they meet yours nothing can ever exist…
…or so it seems.
‘WATCH OUT!’
The next moment, she heard a loud clatter, raised voices and a high-pitched scream. Judging by the tight feeling in her throat, it could have been hers. Her knees hit something hard, and her face was pressed into something that caused strong itching.
‘JESUS CHRIST!’, someone yelled in distress. She felt some hands firmly grab her waist and pull her back upwards. ‘Are you alright?’
‘Me?’, she asked, rubbing her face. The itching was terrible.
‘You’ve just walked straight into this Christmas tree, for God’s sake!’
The voice now sounded both angry and concerned.
She opened her eyes and glanced around. An encounter with a Christmas tree, indeed. The tree must have been quite pretty, and definitely on the bigger side. Now it lied hopelessly smashed on the ground, its branches flattened and broken, Christmas lights tangled in between them, still twinkling merrily. Some middle-aged man had been trying to pick the tree up and return it to its shape, but after a couple of failed attempts he was just scratching his head, his eyebrows arched and raised high on the forehead.
‘Oh yes, I did,’ she muttered in confusion. She started remembering. Those marble-like eyes had distracted her a tiny bit too much, apparently. ‘My face is itching, but other than that I’m fine, I guess.’
‘Well it’s good that it’s a pine and its needles aren’t that bad.’
The people who stopped to look at this bizarre event had already gradually returned to their Christmas shopping. There was a light snowfall and the temperature fell below zero, so even such extraordinary sight could not keep their interest for too long. Their hot orange earl greys and living rooms smelling of gingerbread were waiting elsewhere, after all. The air was filled with a buzz of a Christmas market, carols playing in the background, children laughing, and their parents rushing them away from toy stalls. Three days were left until Christmas Eve and the market was quite crowded. Still, the atmosphere was rather peaceful; the nerve-wrecking struggle of finding last minute decorations and all the missing presents was still to come. Snowflakes drifted slowly towards the ground, adding a white frosting to the sidewalk, and leaving blueish sparkles in the people’s hair.
The owner of those marble-like eyes must have been gone anywhere by now, she thought. Finding him in this crowd was impossible.
‘What happened?’, the voice asked, now amused.
‘Well,’ she shrugged. She had made a laughing-stock out of her already anyway. ‘I saw this guy with dark brown eyes and I got totally overwhelmed, and—’
She rubbed her face again and looked at the man she had been talking to.
‘Oh—ohmygod.’
What a cliché.
Well, at least she got to see these marble-like eyes twice in her lifetime, which was a plus.
‘This situation must be the weirdest compliment ever, to be honest,’ said the dark-eyed man, laughing nervously. ‘But I guess it’s one.’
She nodded and shrugged. Her entire face must have turned red. How embarrassing, she thought, but at least there was nothing else to lose.
‘Definitely; I’ve never seen eyes like this before,’ she said in a quiet voice. The man looked at his feet, smiling, and then glanced back at her, and she felt her insides melt. His eyes, his smile, snowflakes in his hair, it all was so stunning.
‘Oh, Jack! There you are! I’ve been calling you!’ The silence was broken by some woman who appeared out of the blue and approached them. The man turned his head quickly to look at her. He produced his phone and nodded.
‘Yeah,’ he said, reaching for the woman. He put his hand around her waist and gave her a kiss on the forehead. ‘Are you done with your shopping?’
‘Mhm,’ the woman grinned, showing him three bags filled with all sorts of Christmas gadgets.
‘Good then.’ The man looked at the smashed tree again. ‘Will you be alright?’
‘I think so,’ she answered, looking away. No wonder he’s got a girlfriend, she thought. Her stomach felt heavy and tight. ‘I’ll have to go now, thanks.’
She looked at him once again and walked away. Her knees hurt a bit, but she tried to walk as quickly as possible. At least her home was not that far away from the market square.

The snowfall intensified, and the farther from the market square she was, the emptier the streets were. The merry buzz and Christmas carols faded out long ago, and all she could hear now was the screeching sound of her shoes pressing against a layer of fresh, sparkly snow. She clenched her fists in the pockets and walked faster, leaning forward to protect her face from the frosty air.
One hundred and thirty-three, one hundred and thirty-four, one hundred and thirty-five.
She would always count her footsteps in order to keep all the depressing thoughts at bay. There was no orange earl grey waiting for her at home, nor was there the smell of gingerbread. Not even a bough of holly. What was the most important though, there was no one she could prepare this orange earl grey for either. For a second she had thought that maybe she could have invited the dark-eyed man over for a tea that night, but his girlfriend burst the bubble almost as quickly as it had formed. If he was not meant to become her new beginning, then no new beginnings tonight, she thought. Not yet.
She opened her flat’s door and took off her coat.
‘Hey, there,’ she said loudly into the empty rooms. Even though she knew there was no one there, she would always do that. Some old habit perhaps, but this kind of habit which left unbearable emptiness once given up.
Living alone was very difficult. Having no one to talk to, sometimes she would stay silent for days. There was nothing that could surprise her, and the atmosphere felt as if there was too much of her in these rooms, as if she herself was peeking from every corner, every cupboard, every shelf. The flat was not big at all, but big enough for one person to feel that it is empty without anyone else living there.
She turned on the radio to break the silence, but George Michael started singing Last Christmas so she turned it off again. Silence was much better than love songs, and also it was much better than Christmas songs. They reminded her of all the previous years in which Christmas would indeed be the most wonderful time of the year. It’s almost ridiculous how much can change over a couple of months, she thought, smirking.
They say it is some kind of new beginning, this time of reconciliation and summarizing the past months in order to become someone new for the New Year. She stared out the kitchen window for some time, tracing the snowflakes, following them until they faded into the whiteness. She has been waiting for a new beginning for months now, and it never came. She glanced at the countertop she was leaning against. A pile of medications of all sorts, and a schedule next to them, helping her remember when and which pills to take. In addition to this, there was a pager somewhere at the bottom of her bag. She had promised to carry it with her at all times, and there it was, bound to ring when the right heart donor is found. It has been silent ever since she got it. She sighed and looked out the window again. It was getting dark outside and the street lights made the snow look orange.

Listening to Christmas songs felt completely different at the market square, though. The yesterday’s snow was lying on the ground, and children were running around, laughing out loud, throwing snowballs at each other. Looking at them made her feel warm on the inside, and she grinned widely. You could think that working at a Christmas market makes you fed up with this atmosphere, but for her it was the only situation in which it was in any way bearable, and the only place where she could appreciate it at all.
‘Can I have this one, please?’, a lady asked her, holding one of the baskets she was selling.
‘But of course,’ she smiled. ‘That will be twelve pounds, please.’
She accepted the money and wrapped the basket in a decorative paper.
‘Thank you very much and have a merry Christmas this year, child!’
The lady waved at her, walking away. She followed her for a moment, but soon the lady disappeared in the crowd.
It seems we’re going to have a white Christmas this year, she thought, looking at the sky and stretching out an open palm in front of her. Tiny, beautiful snowflakes were falling on her glove. It was cold enough so that they did not melt, and she could compare their unique shapes. Snowflakes were just like stars, she could look at them for hours and never get bored, they reminded her of how amazing the world is. She let her thoughts wander around, remembering all the physics laws that ruled nature, and admiring its effortless beauty. It’s all so complicated and yet so simple, she thought in awe.
‘Aren’t they all so pretty,’ someone said in a familiar voice, and this voice sent shivers down her spine. She immediately remembered that she was at work, at the Christmas market, and that daydreaming like this was far from what she should be doing. She looked at the man nervously. She had recognized him as soon as he spoke; this voice could not have been mistaken for any other.
The dark-eyed man.
Oh, my.
The time froze around her when their eyes met. His eyes so dark they almost seem black, sparkling this beautifully, these eyes just like marbles. Such eyes can only be seen once in a lifetime, and yet there he is, standing before her again. This will be the third time. Seeing these mysterious eyes makes the entire world around you disappear, and nothing else can ever exist for this moment…
‘Isn’t your phone ringing?’
‘My phone?’, she asked in confusion. And then she heard it, and it was not her phone.
It was the pager.
After all, maybe these eyes did carry a new beginning.

Author: Joanna Burkiewicz

Haircut

[pdf: CW30.Haircut]

Kiria dabbed the sponge in the bucket of disinfectant.
This is going to hurt.
She kneeled in her white round tub and breathed in deeply. Her hand ran across her head, its skin smooth and delicate, just like on a baby.
Disgusting.
Her heartbeat quickened after that remark and she reprimanded herself. She couldn’t allow her heart to work too fast, lest she would bleed to death while shaving.
Steady breaths.
She held the sponge to her head, pausing few centimetres from the freshly-healed tissue. She could feel the sponge’s cold metal prickling her fingers, foretelling what was to come. She shuddered.
It’s getting cold in here, I should close the-
“You’re stalling.” She said to herself out loud. “Get on with it.”
For Beauty.
She started scraping at the softened skin, a wet sticky substance soon covering her head. In addition to the meds that lessened her pain from what should have been unbearable to almost unnoticeable, she also took some to increase blood clotting. The flow beneath her fingers should soon cease.
It also helped that her way of shaving was a tad different than what she saw online. Most of the SKELL began with the top of their heads, only to go down and around. She did the opposite, mostly out of necessity. Getting rid of the bottom part first would cut off the supply and limit the blood loss. That and the meds should ensure she’d only lose about half a litre. Just above the threshold.
She had to wipe her face from time to time, when blood threatened to get into her nose. But she didn’t stop rubbing, tearing away the ugly tissue until bone shone back from the mirror. Yet the process was so painfully slow. Her hands trembled as well, rendering precision impossible to attain and frustrating her to no end. She just wanted… She just…
Blackness.

##

Kiara woke up to a startlingly powerful headache. She was lying on her back in the tub, dried up blood holding her in an uncomfortable position. Head affixed to the edge of the tub, legs tucked in a fetal position, the force that would spring them free counterbalanced by the sticky blood.
She had fainted.
Fuck.
Mom will be pissed. But maybe she will listen this time…
She pondered that for a while, before finally making the bold decision to rise. With hesitation, she then looked to the mirror.
Thank God.
She’d managed to get rid of the lower part before fainting. She hadn’t even noticed then. She winced a little as she tore off the top. Her inner beauty again graced the world, albeit a bit obfuscated by the brown-red muck covering half of her body. She washed it off, careful not to damage the scarring tissue. She then surveyed the final product.
A completely ordinary head made special by ditching all skin above brow-level, the skull offsetting her plump cheeks and disgusting lips. Ten months of looking good before doctors would force her to grow it back.
Kiara could barely contain her excitement as she stealthily exited the bathroom and made her way back to her room.
Tomorrow, everybody will be sooooo jealous.

Author: Filip Samek

Flower Shop

[pdf: CW29.Flower_Shop]

The world is beautiful. This was the first thing that came to his mind when the view slowly, as if seeing too much at the same time would be an unforgivable crime, let his eyes enjoy it in all its glory. His imagination started to wander around the fields encircling his dwelling, fields in a shade of green that he has never seen before; and yet, as he was trying to comprehend this inexplicable deepness of colour, his impatient mind was already pursuing something else: a narrow string of pure, illuminated blueness, meandering through the fields. Its flow, gentle, and yet more powerful than it would seem at the first sight, led him to another discovery; a tree, one and only in his range of sight, towering above the rest of the land, shadowing the grass beneath, while not stealing any of the latter’s paint. He noticed a squirrel, resting under the crown of leaves, and smiled to himself. Something in the animal’s appearance made him associate it with utter, undisturbed peace; was it the lack of need for anything except a small, relaxing place; was it the freedom to run wherever and whenever it wanted, he did not know. What he did know was that the vision of the squirrel made him smile, and he silently thanked her for that.
Then suddenly another animal reminded himself of its existence; his dog ran through the door behind him and sat on the ground, looking curiously in his eyes, as if waiting for something. The man could imagine what it might be; he was holding a dog-lead in his hand after all. Before he connected it to the collar, however, he paused for a moment to admire his dog’s white, long hair, waving gently at the animal’s back even while it seemed to sit motionless. He liked to interpret this delicate movement as eagerness to go out with him; this, and the not-so-gentle waggle of the dog’s tail. The little things that confirmed his best friend enjoyed their adventures as well as he did.
Thus they went ahead, a man and a dog, and the man could not stop marvelling at every sight they passed by; every bird flying across the sky; every flower protruding from the grass; every cloud shadowing the sun; every small cottage, embraced by little shrubs, with windows guarded by yellowish shutters, and steps leading to suchlike doors, and lines of smoke escaping through chimneys. He watched as if he wanted to absorb every detail, draw a picture in his memory and come back here at any moment. The tiny elements made him feel like everything had its own place – was it a flower, a ladybird, a string in a curtain; each and every one of these things had a place in this world, and he was not an exception.
His dog noticed their destination even before the man did, and pulled him to the door. It was familiar to the man, its plain shape and ordinarily brownish dye with a small plate stating calmly “open”. What he enjoyed most was the view that awaited behind; the one that never failed to surprise him, overwhelming with iridescence and figures. He left the dog outside and entered.
For a moment it felt like his eyes did not know where to look; so enormous was the variety of images. Every possible shape and colour of a leaf, a flower was here; and even more, even those he would have never expected to see – even they stayed right in front of his very eyes. A flowerpot with a magnolia nearly as tall as he was, without flowers at this time of the year, and yet so charming. A bouquet of dahlias, each of them painted differently: a tangerine one, an alabaster one, and a dark red one – with its centre almost black.  Baskets of geranium, diversified not only by colour, but also by shape: some hanging from the ceiling, some standing in pots on the floor. A rack full of orchids, as if it was transported here from an exotic place; orchids of every paint that he could imagine, or of every possible mix of those paints. A narrow row of pansies in all shades of purple, with some having half of their petals dyed white, or pink, or violet. He did not even try to decide where to focus his eyesight. He would never be able to do so.
“What a lovely day we have today, don’t we?” he said, coming slowly to the countertop. The girl behind it smiled. He knew that smile: charming, yet reserved. Sweet, yet a bit mocking.
“You are a funny man, Mr Thompson,” she said, still with the smile on her face. “You came for the hyacinth, I presume?”
“Indeed, my dear, indeed.”
Her smile widened for a second before she disappeared behind the back door, looking for the flower he had ordered. Mr Thompson liked her smile; it expressed the joy of his arrival, as well as, he assumed, of every client – but the girl had the power of making him feel special, as if that simple smile of hers was bound only for him.
She came back with a flower in her hands, a little creature shyly showing its violet petals marked with a bit of blue. Mr Thompson put a banknote on the countertop and gently took the plant in his own hands, contemplating every leaf, comparing the intensity of their colours and their fragility. He felt a flow of calmness entering his heart.
“Thank you very much, Ms Clarke,” he bowed with a smile. “I am much obliged.”
The girl smiled with the same smile as before, a little aloof, yet tender.
“Take good care of it, Mr Thompson. And have a good day.”
He winked at her and exited, carrying a precious, subtle life in his hands. Together with the dog and the flower, an old friend and a new one, he went back on a road so full of charm – of details, colours and shapes. He smiled to himself, coming back to the thoughts approaching him so naturally while he was admiring the view.
The world is beautiful when you cannot see.

Author: Magdalena Kowalska