My Stories

The Tale of the Negative X

posted Feb 26, 2016, 12:02 AM by Noa Shmueli   [ updated Feb 26, 2016, 10:52 PM ]

“Grandpa, tell me a story,” begged the little boy, toddling up to him with outstretched, pudgy arms. The old man reluctantly bent down from his worn chair and took the boy into his arms. Both the man and the armchair were old, and faded - so faded, in fact, that when the man shut his curiously bright eyes, nearly no one could distinguish man from chair. The man’s earthy smell had seeped deep into the folds of the armchair, marking it eternally. Man and chair seemed to have grown into each other, become each other - often, they both were still and silent, listening intently. For what, no one knew.


At the time, however, the old man was rubbing his eyes and nestling the boy as best he could between his bony frame. The boy’s eager eyes looked up trustingly. “Story!” He demanded. The old man searched his abyss of a mind for a suitable tale. He contemplated this for a minute or so while the boy looked on in growing frustration. “Sto-ry! Sto-ry! Sto-ry!” He chanted, and the old man finally consented to his wish. The story he remembered was old, ancient, yet the old man remembered; and after a moment’s hesitation, he began.


A long, long time ago, when my great-grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather was not yet conceived, and people believed in magic, a baby boy cried his way into the world. The proud mother held him up in trembling hands, swaddled in feathery blankets, and named him X. Yes, child, I know you think the name silly, but pray do not laugh - listen. At that time, all common children - ones who were not known to everyone - were named X, Y or Z. Only the king’s children could be named differently - and at that, only A, B or C - because they were known to all. The unspoken law: all unknowns must be X, Y or Z and knowns must be A, B or C. It was unspoken, but nobody thought to question it.


Our little screaming hero was a commoner - unknown, and unadvertised, born not-so-quietly in a little cottage just on the outskirts of town. Which town, you are asking, child, and rightly so for I have forgotten to tell you. The land’s name was, curiously, Equation.


The baby boy was so usual, so average that nobody noticed him. He was just another mouth to feed, another scraped knee to kiss. Nobody noticed anything out of the ordinary. How he cried when he was well-fed, and well-rested. How he brushed away his mother’s caresses and cuddles. How he refused to look in anybody’s eyes.


Until he began to talk. Then, it was as obvious as the sun rising in the east. The boy was never happy. When his mother made him a steaming, creamy soup, he pushed it away and said he wanted stew. After the mother had sighed and groaned as she ought, and cooked him a simmering, fresh vegetable stew, he scrunched up his angelic nose, tipped the plate onto the handsewn rug and stated he hated vegetables. As the long-suffering mother set a marvellous treacle pudding, gleaming with golden syrup, he yelled that he was not hungry and stomped away, leaving the mother to shed a few tears and tear out her graying hair in silent frustration.


As the boy grew up and changed, his nature did not, and the parents finally called for a doctor. The doctor hemmed and hawed under his bushy beard, inspected the child (from a respectable distance - the child had refused, of course, to take a bath) and left, still hemming and hawing. The desperate parents knew now that only one solution existed. The witch doctor.


The witch doctor lived even further from Equation, in a mud hut that was strung with beads and bones (of what, no one knew). As the weary trio trudged their way there, the witch doctor shimmered into existence, a mere 5 feet away.


Greetings, travellers. I know your ailment, and I have come all the way because I fear you will be disappointed. There is no cure.


The anguished mother was the first to speak up. “Pray tell us, wise doctor. What is wrong with him?” The witch doctor paused for so long, they thought he was asleep. At last, he spoke.


I am not certain, for I have not seen this in my lifetime. But… my grandfather told me of this, as I was just a little boy.


He took a deep breath, more rattled than anyone had ever seen. The old man’s eyes shone as bright as the witch doctor’s, and just as maniacally.


The boy, he is negative. And he will stay so until he crosses to the other side of Equation.


Then his eyes rolled back into the whites and the witch doctor was gone. The bewildered parents looked at each other, then at the child who was rolling around in the grime, evidently not enjoying himself.


“Well, then that’s that,” said the father. “Our little negative X will have to cross Equation, and it is not our duty to go with him for we have other children to take care of.” The mother countered fiercely. “That is not possible, and you know it. The way is many days’ hard travel, and he is but a boy. And…” she hesitated. “Nobody has crossed Equation before. No negatives.” The father smiled bitterly. “Then he will be the first,” he said.


Everything was packed in under an hour. And so the boy set off. As he left the village, he did not look back. Ahead of him lay a dense, dark forest. And he walked. Curiously, he was silent, uncomplaining. Perhaps, he felt the aura of the woods, ominous with the unspoken threat of predators. Perhaps, he realized his negativity and decided to fight it. But probably, he did not complain because there was no one to complain to.


For many days, the boy traveled, and his food grew scarce, and his ribs began to show. The woods grew denser and denser, and the barbaric sounds of the forest echoed in the gloom. And yet he walked. Further and further into the forest, knowing that there must be an end to it.


After three moons had passed, his food was all gone, and he was forced to scavenge for wild berries and mushrooms that never filled his swollen belly. He was too afraid to try and capture the animals of the forest.


At last, it seemed that the forest was thinning. The boy walked, if you could call it a walk, that pathetic shuffle of misery. His eyes stayed on the ground, never looking up. A thin ray of sunlight pierced through a gap in the trees and fell upon his arched back, and the boy looked up and saw what he had not seen before.


A heavenly meadow spread out in front of him. Flowers of all colours grew there, and fruit trees. The boy ran in ecstasy towards the meadow, his hunger and fatigue forgotten. He filled his belly with the fruits, and found that one was enough to sate his appetite. As he rolled in the flowers, a buzzing bee stung him in fright but he did not mind. Finally, he fell into a fitful sleep. It seemed like hours had passed before he woke up, startled, his eyes squinting and adjusting to the bright sun after months of waking up in the dark forest. A few steps ahead of him was the fence of Equation. Oh, and what a fence! It consisted of two long, loooooong blocks of metal, one above the other. Curiously, a gap was between the two, like the creator had run out of metal. The fence stretched as far as the eye could see. It looked something like this:



The boy looked on in despair. Four months ago, he could have easily rolled through the gap, but now his belly, swollen from months of hunger, would not allow it. Defeated, he sank to the ground, and all the days of hard travel came back to him, and all the unslept nights, and the boy cried. Contorting his face and shuddering, pulling out the grass and tearing it into the tiniest pieces. His chest heaved and tears flowed like the ocean.


Finally, his mask of tears diminished and he leaned back against the fence. There was a sizzle and the air suddenly vibrated, like an electric shock, but there was no pain. Instead, it seemed, his belly had contracted and he stood a little taller. He reached out to the fence again, ignoring the little shot of pain that increased the longer he held the metal. He bit his lip and bore the pain, concentrating on his slowly diminishing frame. The pain increased and increased. The boy threw his head back and bit his lip in agony, but he held on. Finally, the pain was too much to bear, searing heat shooting up his fingers all the way to his arched back. He leaped away with a cry. His hand was red and scarred, all welted skin, but his stomach had gone down so much it was hard to believe it was his any more.


Cautiously, on all fours, the boy crawled up to the fence. He put one leg through, then the other. Then an arm and hand, then his scarred, deformed other. A finger brushed the fence and he cried out, panicking, and hit his head, bumping over to the other side. Once he hit the ground, something miraculous happened. His thoughts were erased, and all that was left was a pure white, like a baby’s. Then they returned, but changed. Nicer thoughts. Better thoughts. Positive thoughts. He had crossed Equation, and he had become positive from negative. And the boy knew, he had been cured.


The old man finished with a heavy breath, and turned to the little boy on his lap. “The end,” the man said, as was his custom. Then he noticed the rhythmic breaths of the child. He had fallen asleep. The man shook his head with a small smile, slowly removed the child from his knees. Then, he sat as he always did. He shut his eyes with a little contented sigh, and nobody could now distinguish between the old man and his chair.

Mr President

posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:39 AM by Noa Shmueli   [ updated Feb 26, 2016, 3:53 AM ]

Angus Hied felt his way into the plush chair gingerly, slipping into the dent where equally-uncomfortable guests had applied their considerable weight. “The next president, sir, you really must make a decision concerning the lawsuit! The press is all over the issue - everyone’s demanding a reaction, a decision of some sort.” Flustered, he glanced at the president’s chubby face, reflected unflatteringly in the polished depths of the lacquered coffee table. Hied leaned on his elbows. “..Mr President?”

The president’s voice rose irritably, his expression unchanged. “Let life run its course, Angus! It’s got me here so far, it’ll keep going even if I don’t make a goddamn decision!” He slammed his hand onto the corner of the table and winced in pain. Hied gritted his teeth. “Mr President, sir, I don’t want to tell you your jo--”

“Well then, don’t, goddamn it!”

“Just a friendly suggestion, sir. I’m sure I don’t know your job as much as you do.” The president seemed not to catch the satirical tone. Hied rose from his chair wearily. “Very good, sir. I will inform the press.”

The door slammed behind him, and the president flinched. “Hied!” he reprimanded weakly, but sank further into his chair when the footsteps receded into uncomfortable silence.


The president cleared his throat. His eyes fell upon the telephone and he dialled quickly.

“Howdy, Nick old boy! How’re ya goin’ on?” Without a pause: “Yup, the press is blabbering on, old chap. What? No, you’re not backing them, that’s a good fella. What? You are?” A sigh. “All right, Nick. Nice talking to ya.” The president dropped the receiver. So much pressure to make a decision concerning that goddamn fellow Bridgestone. Goddamn lawyers. Goddamn press!


A game of tennis did nothing to improve the macabre mood that had settled over him. Well, it had until Marco (his personal bodyguard) informed him that due to ‘safety and security guidelines’ he was not allowed to leave the compound anymore. And what about those crocheting lessons he had been taking? Ah, not those either. Right.


It was a sleepless night for the president. His hand groped below the second pillow, searching for Martha as he had for two months now since that goddamn divorce. Still… she had never loved him. His money, that’s all. Not that there was a lot left of it. He had loved her! Truly. Not the love in the movies, where you buy roses and disappear in late nights because “forbidden love is the truest” or any baloney like that. Nothing like that… not even that butterfly feeling when he lay beside her, intoxicated by her scent. Was it love? Maybe. Affection, perhaps. The president pulled up his hairy legs and slammed his palm against the pillow. It split open, the flimsy thing, and feathers began raining upon him. He stretched back down and flopped the pillow on his head. “Goddamn it,” his muffled voice came out from underneath the feathers. No friends, no family, no Martha. Just… just goddamn it.


His nephew was plain bossy. “Sit down, Uncle.”

“It’s my office, Arnold.”

“Sit down.”

“Very well.” He sank into the swivel chair. “Next time, schedule an appointment.”

Arnold let out a sarcastic chuckle. “As if you’d ever approve it.”

“Get to the point, nephew.”

“Frankly, you’re not going to be elected for president next month. In fact, you're not even going to run for the post.”

The president narrowed his eyes. “Are you threatening me?”

“Oh, no.” Arnold forced a smile. “Simply stating a fact. A friend of mine - Bart J Gold; I see you know his name - is far more qualified, able, and..” His lips turned up. “..young.”

The president’s eyes flashed.

“Your record isn’t clear, Uncle. It’s full of dark secrets you really wouldn’t want the public to know.” He got up. “Think carefully before you proceed.”

“Blackmail!” the president muttered. “Goddamn blackmail!” He turned to Marco. “And what are you going to do about this?” Marco turned innocently. “About what, sir? I heard nothing.” As he turned back, the president heard the distinct ruffling of bills and a glimpse of green sticking out of the tailored suit pocket.


The apartment was just as big as his old refrigerator, the ex-president noted as he slipped the keys into his pocket, with a sense of satisfaction; and just as cold as the refrigerator as well. A draft blew through the window hatch just then, and the ex-president shivered in pleasure. The fresh air was so refreshing, so clean. Pity he couldn’t show his face again. Not after his pathetic rebellion against his nephew; running for president again didn’t seem like the best choice, now that he looked back on it. But oh well, life’s life, and it had got him so far - it’ll keep going even when he will never see the outside again.

Bubbles

posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:35 AM by Noa Shmueli   [ updated Feb 25, 2016, 4:38 AM ]

Mmlbrghmmgrglmmgrgl.


A single bubble rose up from the dark.


It popped.


The sound reverberated through the endless space, bouncing off walls that did not exist.


Mmlbrrrgrglgrgrrrl.


The being slowly came to life, a milky liquid dribbling out of his slit nostrils and swirling out in a spiraling, malevolent cloud. It dissipated in the musty air.


The being opened its eyes, its moonlike pupils dilating, piercing and glowing in the darkness. Its hands fumbled about the monstrously oversized head, the furry scales on the twisted fingers recoiling at the touch.


‘Too much… too much!’ It was barely more than a whisper, but it contained the whole world, spreading and hissing through the total night.


Haunted by its loneliness, the being raised its head to where no glittering moon hung.


However, it howled.


The thoughts in his head howled with him, and the being took comfort in that. Everything in the world was his, she realized. All his. Only hers. Animalistic instincts forced him to bare her teeth in glee. Snow, fire, destruction, excruciating death – in his hands. As the thoughts swirled in his head, she realized that he was constantly switching identity, everything about her. Was he an animal? Did she have a gender?


Emotions. Emotions. Emotions emotions emotions emotions emotions. Constantly changing. Exhausting it.


‘Urgh.’ A moan escaped its lips. Guttural. Guttural, yet human.


It felt the moan reverberating around the universe. It waited for a single eternity, and the sound returned, hitting it full in the face.


The being sat up.


‘Ouchie,’ It said, sucked its finger, and collapsed.


When it rose again, it felt the change. The world had become warmer. The being was glad. Another millennium passed in the blink of an eye, then another, then another. It


started feeling slightly uncomfortable. Need cold, it thought, need cooollllddd.


On an impulse, it thought of cool water. Mmmm… cold, heavenly water. Pure, innocent.


Flooding over the earth. Killing, destroying, demolishing. How quickly its thoughts flooded the earth. How quickly it dismissed the deaths and the devastation, how quickly the power had gone to its head.


‘Be quiet,’ it told the thoughts in his head. And did not think of the eternally orphaned boy, living on the streets after a giant wave had flooded his hometown. Bemoaning his unlucky fate, ribs showing from the malnourished, stick-like chest.


Another flick of the finger – a fire raged across the dry summer grasses. A puny dog escaped and – was it by chance? – found the orphan boy.


The being didn’t notice, of course. It laughed in triumph, and shook its head, and an earthquake terrorized the earth. Buildings crashed in a terrible tumult of chaos, rubble,


shards of broken, jagged glass. A metal bar fell on the curled up boy, killing him in an excruciating instant.


The dog whined. It lay down and licked the boy until a balcony window fell upon it and all that was left was a puddle of bloody fur and a moist tongue.


The being raised its finger. A little smile played about its lips, the single-jointed digit ready to flood the whole earth.


Suddenly, a power far greater than its own overtook its will. The being resisted its force, staying up while the invisible power pushed it to its knees. There was a terrible snap, and the finger stayed suspended in midair, blood gushing out of the fresh stump.


Tears of helplessness and anger gushed out, waterfalls and oceans flooding over; it felt no joy.


Slowly,


slowly.


They dried.


It looked up.


The finger twitched.


Slowly,


slowly.


He picked it up and reattached it.


He looked to where the powerful aura came from.


Another curled up figure lay in the darkness.


Mmlbrghgrgllbrglg.


A bubble rose up from the dark, and popped.

Fall of the Oak

posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:34 AM by Noa Shmueli

There was a flutter of velvet red and licorice black as the robin swooped down from its perch, a solitary streak of colour against the dull acres of woods that stretched out further than an eagle’s eye could see; sloping hills behind sloping hills eternally behind sloping hills. The plumes of the robin’s feathery chest brushed the miniscule slate gray pebbles that littered the packed mud forest floor.


The she-robin seemed to smile as she chirped merrily to its offspring, dropping convulsing worms into eager upturned beaks that mirrored their mother’s as she leaned over their bobbing heads. As she fed each in turn, she dropped a small acorn into the earth.


The tree stretched its aching limbs, brittle after millennia of the hurricanes that frequented the valleys and destroyed the tops of the hills. Next to the ancient tree flourished a fresh sapling - merely a few weeks old. The veins of its new leaves were not wrinkled and it did not hunch in weary acceptance, as the rest of the forest did.


As the decades passed, the oak tree grew taller, towering over the woods majestically in its full green glory. Other trees looked up at its top in trepidation and their leaves rustled and whispered amongst themselves. Centuries had passed since the last lumberjack had left the monotone, beautyless forest, the shadows that mottled both prey and predator; the old generation of lumberjacks had passed on and now, the new generation could not find the crowded woods. But the forest knew that a burst of bright green would bring the hordes of woodcutters back - practically, the perish of the forest - and so it grew in silent dullness, as if a lazy housemaid had failed to brush off the last layer of dust.


And yet the tree grew, as the other trees looked on, growing more worried with every passing season. Its jagged leaves were now a distinct verdant colour, and its branches spread out, twisted and gnarled, mocking the others in their consternation. Finally, the eldest tree voiced the concerns of the others in his silent, wordless way, waving his branches about and tearing out clumps of willows in desperation; but all in vain. The oak tree looked on in amusement. Then he did what no tree, no beast, no forest would dare to do. A branch reached out, and its twisted shape tore off a shower of willow. There was utter silence. Then, a cacophony of voices, and chirping, and rustling of leaves, and clacking of branches together rose up in indignation and anger. Such was the volume that a dozen peaks away, the village of the lumberjacks stirred, and woke up in fright. The frightful clacking of the forest persisted. A quick gathering was held and without further ado, they marched off in the direction of the abominable sound, polishing their rusted axes and pulling on their stiff boots. Stomping their way up the mountains, and down into the valleys, they marched. Kicking at the shreds of yellow-grey dandelions, purplish passion flowers, they marched. For one day and one night they walked on, weary but determined, and at last - at long, long last - they saw the mountains of the forest. As they stamped on, the forest finally quieted down and the rhythm of their boots shuddered in the depths of the forest.


Not a moment did they waste, chopping down trees in their hundreds, a new terrifying rhythm of centuries-old trunks hitting the ground with paralysing power. The oak tree, at the very core of the forest, heard them, and immediately hit upon a plan - for it knew that its bright colours would certainly bring about its downfall; but if it merged with the forest’s dullness, there was a likelihood of escape. Sorrowfully, it shook off its dazzling leaves, stripped off its brilliant brown bark. As the lumberjacks gleefully carried back their bounty, it looked around.


More than half the forest was destroyed, birds fluttering in agony, their wings damaged by the trees’ fall, and their offspring killed. The red-breasted robin lay at the tree’s base. It had been crushed when the ancient tree fell.


Stumps that had once been living things, now just hypnotic concentric circles. And the oak tree cried, in its pulsing heart of wood. Day after day, the lumberjacks came, until there was near nothing left of the forest. The tree hid itself in the shadows, and made sure to strip off all its leaves, and rip off all of its bark, but even the shadows could not protect it from the hurricane that stormed the hill, just a moon after the lumberjacks left. With no leaves or bark left to protect or feed itself, the frail tree surrendered. As the next strike of lightning revealed the dark heavens, the oak tree fell.


Father

posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:33 AM by Noa Shmueli

As I woke up that morning, I could sense that everything was different, just like my father had told me - with that wistful look in his steady eyes. Birds seemed to chirp louder, more melodious and the younger children seemed mere dwarfs, scurrying along to escape their mothers’ sharp slaps and scoldings. I knew that turning eight - a real man now - brought on many more responsibilities and duties, yet I felt a deep gratitude and joy at making it this far.


Today, instead of joining the long line of women and children at the water hole, I skipped along the well-worn paths with my father. His whole body seemed to glow with anticipation, and there was a hungry - no, a starving - danger in his eyes I had never seen before. If I was expecting a breakthrough, a speech of some sort, I was disappointed. My father had always been silent yet warm towards me, and this characteristic shone through even more as we walked, him a mere but constant step ahead of me.


My bare foot arched around a sharp, slate-grey pebble and I cried out in pain, hopping around in agony. My father said not a word, but continued on his way, shooting me a disapproving glance, and I understood - being an adult also meant I could not show my emotions and pain.


As the days wore on and the flowers of the spring shriveled and cowered before the summer heat, our journey became arduous yet routine. Everything that was needed to be communicated was through actions - a slight incline of the head; a slouched shoulder; even a slight twitch of an eyebrow. I learned to read these unspoken signs, and imitate them.


Meanwhile, the heat only intensified. The suffocating air shimmered like the haze above a sweltering campfire - man and beast and ground parched and lustless, depressed trees shaking off their leaves in annoyance and seeking relief in a non-existent breeze. But we never rested. The forest awaited us.

Your Shadow

posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:32 AM by Noa Shmueli

You were always in my life, although you weren’t. Lurking in the black-and-white photos, where you and Maddie looked so happy together. You both are wearing sunglasses, and you were smiling, and you looked so handsome and young. But Maddie’s bitter tales tell another story completely, and I flip the page and see how in the next photos, you are not there but Maddie is, with a swollen belly. How you never replied to letters or answered the desperate voice mails. How you weren’t there for me as a father, when you should’ve been.


But that was years ago, and you are just a silhouette - a silky shadow that visits unsleeping nights. The wind is spiteful today, hissing through the hollow gaps between its biting teeth, flicking its tongues through stinging faces; this is what it must have felt like as your studded belt slipped out of its confining hoops and delivered blow after stinging blow, and pleasured in Maddie’s muffled screams. Muffled by your stinking socks, reeking of beer-and-peanuts, and the scent of another woman.


The stumbling way back is no less painful, as drops as huge as your ego splatter, as painful as your egotistical self hurt Maddie, caused the bruises on her arms that never fade, that make her wear those stifling long sleeved shirts … the permanent nicks on her cheeks. And the realization hits. She was my mother. My Mother.


Home, at last. The lights are switched off. An early moon shines through. It casts an unnatural light, and twisting shadows where one of our windows is shattered, broken glass. And an outline of your too-tight jeans, the massive belt. The stumpy legs that always were too straight, the broad shoulders; the defined, muscular chin. I look back quickly, nobody is there. Just your shadow.


Literally paralysed. Two lungs have stopped working. Not just because you’re there, oh no, but because your silhouette is carrying a thin gun. Very clearly, your shadow raises a finger and drags it across your neck.


Then the arms of your shadow reach out and grab me, but my legs are moving through the air while you swing me across to the wall. Then your shadow disappears.


And all that is left is your belt, the gun, and a stinking, rotten sock.

Wedding - Dylan Thomas Pastiche

posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:31 AM by Noa Shmueli

The glaring lights, in the flashing darkness, the reflections of the tuxedoed strangers that, apparently, were my family’s blood and flesh. The pencilled eyes that looked at the children, the raised eyebrow of ‘Whose kid is that?’ … the endless photographs, snapping at the victims with a flash. Then it was I, the helpless girl in a stiff dress, patterned with ridiculous rosebuds … and the bride is hugging me, and all around me I’m hearing crooning voices, ‘Look how good she is with children’ … ‘(and a sigh) maybe she will be a mother soon, as well!’, but I feel her manicured fingernails digging into my shivering spine and the sidelong whisper, ‘Okay, go! We don’t have all day for you’ And the groom is muttering because a third cousin once removed is wearing the same shirt. And there is the grown up smell of wine, and the spring-evening smell of allergy from the cut grass, and the sticky smell of alcoholic sweat … and I cannot but think that this is not a holy thing, but the priest at the altar does not seem concerned. Perhaps it is just my imagination.

The Story of A Boar

posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:30 AM by Noa Shmueli

The sun rises, orange and yellow, illuminating the endless mountains that stretch out further than the horizon. The forest wakes, along with the sun, birds singing as the sun rays make the green of the trees greener than ever. All along the mountains, creatures of the forest rise from their sleeping places and announce the coming of the day. The sun alights on a purple blotched caterpillar, climbing into the wrinkled veins of the wild leaves that populate the forest. Its legs skitter around as it slides along the leaf on a drop of morning dew. Its movements suddenly halt - freeze - and in a blink of the eye, it is gurgling down a boar’s throat.


The boar snuffles contentedly as it swallows the rest of the leaf. Its belly is just a little swollen and three miniature versions of it are playing follow-the-leader, bumping into their mother’s legs as the explore the world that is new to them. The she-boar nudges them and realizes she must scavenge further; neither her, nor her young ones have had enough to eat. She snuffles up another leaf, and lays yet another in front of her piglets. Ahead of her lies a treasure - a wild yam. The boar harrumphs and charges at it, not believing her luck. Her leg catches suddenly on a well-placed stick of bamboo, and a hook spins in from nowhere, buries itself deep into her fleshy foot. It takes her just a moment to realize she is doomed. Her three babies circle around her as she bellows in surprise and pain, and collapses to the ground.


A minute’s walk from there, at the base of the mountain, the old hunter walks. His veined hand trembles a bit and his feet scuffle against the parched ground. His eyes widen as he hears the she-boar’s desperate cry, and he quickens his pace.


With every kick, every struggle, the already unbearable pain intensifies and at last the boar is reduced to a quivering mass of fur and flesh and blood.


The old man’s pace breaks into a run.


The boar sees a figure advancing towards her. An enemy? Or a savior? She squeals at her young ones to scatter, a fretful mother till the end.


The man’s eyes alight upon the boar.


Their eyes make contact and the man slips out a blade, a small dagger. The boar is confused. A sharp thing - to kill her, or to free her bonds? As the man draws closer, she looks into his charcoal eyes. It looks… it looks as though a glint of pity is there, sympathy. Yes - she knows now that his man would never kill h--


The dagger does not miss its target.

The Bully

posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:28 AM by Noa Shmueli

The bully stood confidently, measuring his opponent with cool, steady eyes. 30 seconds? He thought to himself. Naw, this one’s a weakling. 20 seconds.

Twenty seconds, the bully calls out, and cracks his knuckles menacingly.

The regular commotion begins. Bets are placed, some confidently, some gingerly.

C’mon, Braw calls. He’s gonna beat him bad. You can’t lose! Grimy hands reach in again, place more bills on the asphalt floor. Braw scoops them up victoriously.

Ok, chaps, now who’s betting on the weakling? Braw sneers.

Silence.

Fine, who’s betting that the weakling will win in ten hours? Braw raises an eyebrow, mockingly.

Jeering laughs.

Ten days? Braw calls out in mock concern.

There is unrestrained mean laughter at that.

The weakling looks nervous, fidgets. He’s still in his semi-defensive pose, crouched down but frail and helpless.

Braw raises the makeshift whistle (rather, two rough fingers) to his lips, signaling the start of the fight.

The timer, stolen from the school storage, begins to tick, seconds racing away as the bully corners the weakling.

A punch to the face. The weakling flips over and tears begin to flow, mingling with the blood and snot that drip from his flattened nose. His eyes already start to blacken and his four rabbit-like front teeth have nearly fallen out.

The timer shows seventeen seconds.

Whoops of joy and excitement engulf Braw. Ten dollar bills fly in all directions.

The bully wipes his nose with his sleeve, then turns to face Braw.

New record? The bully asks.

Braw shakes his head remorsefully. Nope, ya needed to be six seconds quicker, I’m ‘fraid, boss.

The bully cuffs Braw’s ears in rage.

Braw’s face contorts in indignation but then relaxes resignedly.

Yessir, guv’nor. Ya beat the record.

He beat the record, chaps! Braw calls out and sighs.

The bully roars in victory, and several people walk up and hand in bills in disappointment.

The bully rolls up his sleeves in anticipation.

Who’s up now? He drawls, smiling crookedly.

A silence settles on the crowd, an ominous, eerie silence. A silence so silent it was louder than any sound.

The bully smirks. Ok, then, I’ll just have to pick.

Three people make their escape, the rest are rounded up in a trice.

The bully looks around again, then points at a little boy, only up to the bully’s shoulders. Incidentally, the boy is the weakest and smallest of all. Jonathan, he’s called.

Everyone else breathes a sigh of relief as the boy whimpers.

How about… you? The bully says.

Someone else makes way for themselves through the crowd. A girl. Tall, sandy-haired, calm.

How about… no? She asks, but it is not a question.

The newcomer is not strong, but determined. There is no trace of fear in her hazel eyes, only pity and firm assurance.

Aha! The bully smirks. Jonathan has a girlfriend.

The girl says not a word but continues advancing. A step away from the bully, she stops and crouches down.

Start the fight, she commands, her eyes playing over the open-mouthed crowd.

Start the fight, she repeats.

Braw comes to his senses.

All right, everyone! Who’s betting on this round?

People surge in again, throwing in their money, the familiar routine beginning again.

Anyone betting on the girl? Braw pronounces in distaste.

After a few painful moments, Jonathan steps up and puts twenty dollars into Braw’s hand.

She’s not my girlfriend, he says shortly.

Braw shrugs dismissively, raises his two pinkies to his mouth and whistles.

Unexpectedly, the girl straightens up, turns to the crowd.

Everyone looks at her in astonishment.

Do you like this bully? She asks softly, yet everyone can hear her.

Do you like him? She says again. I’m no match for him. I mean it. I have never fought before. I’m doing this because I want justice. I want to stand up for myself and for others. I’m not a coward, that just stands by and watches people bully others. If there are only cowards in here, I’m going to lose. Has anyone else the courage?

Jonathan steps in next to her, willing as ever. His soulmate, Freddy, follows him hesitantly. No one else steps up.

The girl shoots a look of contempt at the crowd, and turns back to look at the bully.

Braw whistles again. The four fighters advance towards each other, the bully still calm and composed. He takes back his fist, ready for an almighty punch. It is not aimed at Jonathan, nor at Freddy.

Time seems to stop, everybody holding their breaths in horror and anticipation.

Suddenly, the silence shatters. The robotic melody of Big Ben pierces the air.

The teacher walks out of the classroom.

Everyone back in! Break’s over!

Happiness

posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:26 AM by Noa Shmueli

I watch her.  She sits hunched over her smooth wooden desk, pen in hand like a brave warrior wielding their weapon. Her ink-stained hands scramble over the yellowed paper, swiftly creating neat, curved letters, as if by magic. She sinks deeper and deeper into her imagined world. Silhouettes shimmer in and out of existence, occasionally looming closer as she pores over the gradually disintegrating notebook, the pages that have been filled are curled and dog-eared.


Suddenly, a tap on my shoulder. I jerk back, look backwards. Phoebe is looking at me, snatching looks at the classroom door hurriedly. “Leona... you know, we should go out now. Gale says nobody’s allowed to stay in when it’s break time.”


Gale is the queen bee of Bell Pacific High. She walks around with her freckled nose in the air, sneering at anyone that sticks out. And if stick out was a name, it would be Jessamyn's.


Other girls dance in discos, go to late night karaokes - meanwhile, Jessamyn writes stories late into the night, crossing out and rewriting. Other girls flirt, winking ostentatiously and wearing outrageously short mini-skirts - she prefers to ignore the pompous fellows who stride around, flexing their puny muscles. Other moms make cookies and Jell-O; her mother cuts up home-grown carrots when anyone comes to visit - a rare occurrence.


Jessamyn is the typical outcast. She wears long, floppy pants and long-sleeved, stifling shirts. Her limbs are too long, her face is too thin. In her free time, she day-dreams. Sometimes, when Gale is in a bad mood, she takes to calling Jessamyn The Siamese Twin - a cruel label that stuck because Jessamyn has slanted black eyes, unlike the wide blue eyes that the other girls possess. Her grades are just below average though, making her words than the typical bullied nerd.


Jessamyn works hard to try and fit in. She tries to hang out with us, the popular crowd, but her personality simply doesn’t fit.


Meanwhile, Phoebe ushers me through the door, and we walk up behind Gale. She is walking slowly, with Bruce’s muscled arm around her, the rest of her admiring followers talking incessantly.


I watch Jessamyn sidle along. It’s obvious that she’s hoping to God Gale is in a good mood and doesn’t decide to pick on her. Gale and her followers are now stalking around the football field, flirting with the jockeys who stopped their game and came over. Ten minutes pass. I see Jessamyn is still pressed against the wall. She looks terrified.


Jessamyn looks at her bulky fake gold watch. The bell will ring any minute now. She sighs in relief, and starts backing slowly towards the class. She obviously thinks Gale has forgotten about her. Don’t be funny, I think, gritting my teeth. Sure enough, Gale appears after an instant, walking slowly, deliberately. Her eyes narrow slightly. I can see her pleasure at Jessamyn’s obvious anguish. Gale approaches her slowly. Like a tiger that is assured of its prey. Jessamyn is cornered, her back straining against the solid white wall.


“So, the Siamese Twin, I see,” Gale’s sneering voice pierces the air, sending shivers down my bones. Her followers laugh cruelly, as if on cue, but my lips, for once, do not curve in a spiteful smile. I feel Jessamyn looking at me imploringly, I feel my hands are clammy.


“I wonder what she’s up to today.” Gale says to us, not looking back. She continues to look at Jessamyn steadily, measuring her under her impossibly long, sandy eyelashes.


“What’s this, I see?” She slips Jessamyn’s pad out of her pocket, Jessamyn’s scribblings horribly out of place under Gale’s manicured fingernails. Time freezes. Everyone is holding their breaths, waiting for Gale’s next move. She hands the pad back to Jessamyn, and everyone relaxes with relief - and disappointment. Then I stiffen again. “Today,” Gale announces calmly, “Jessamyn will be showing us how to burn a pad of paper until it is reduced to ashes.”


I stare at her in horror. Jessamyn is hugging the pad closer, tucking it between her arms. Gale advances slowly, and a matchbox appears on her satin white palm. Jessamyn hesitates, but takes it, her fingers shaking.


I know she has been working on her stories for seven years now. It will be gone in a millionth of that time. In an instant. Jessamyn strikes the match, its heat searing the tips of her fingers, crackling maliciously. For three years now, Jessamyn has bowed low to Gale, obeying every command. She has been bullied constantly, her life gradually becoming a total wreck.


I look up against my will. The match continues to burn, the flame progressing a few centimetres. Unconsciously, Jessamyn takes the pad out. Every detail is being etched in my mind, every expression, every tightening of Jessamyn’s mouth in an attempt to hold back her tears. Suddenly, a change comes over me. I see how pathetic this situation is, one human reducing another to tears. I faintly remember reading that my name, Leona, means lioness in Latin.


I don’t feel like a lioness now. As the thought passes through my mind, a surge of adrenaline rushes through my veins. I walk forward, as if in a trance, and yank the match out of Jessamyn’s fingers. I throw it on the asphalt, grind it down with the heel of my sneaker. I don’t care that I’ll lose my social status, I don’t care I’ll be an outcast. Risky, it’s true, but I don’t care. I don’t have a care in the world.


The match is glowing red. I stomp on it again, then face up to Gale. She looks pale. Very pale. Her prim rosebud lips show up fiercely against her wan skin. She takes a few steps back, then stumbles and runs towards the class. I stand there unbelievingly. Slowly, her followers melt away. I’m alone with Jessamyn. A divine smile gradually spreads across Jessamyn’s face, warming her features. We walk together in silence. As we approach the class, the bell rings. She looks at me again. “Thank you,” she whispers.

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