A change of plans by Emaan Shahab

In a valley near the K-2, a mud-brick house stands lit up amongst the dim-lit houses around it. In the death of night, amid the scuffle of running feet, shouting men, and howling winds outside, the wails of a baby pierce through. The infant is quickly wrapped up to save it from the chill piercing through the house. Everything is done so fast, nobody has a chance to verify its sex. They are cutoff from all kinds of medical assistance, thus having no way of predicting the sex beforehand, other than through the guidance of the divine and corrupt, shrouded in holy cloths and called pirs. The mother of this child had visited one of these pirs, and been given full assurance that her first child would most definitely be a boy. The whole tiny town had celebrated this news, a boy bringing the hope of carrying the family name forward, caring for his parents and being the future bread-winner. A man among men. On this fortuitous night, everyone sat tight in their houses, praying for a healthy baby and for joy to the family. The infant will be celebrated as a boy that whole night.
After the news has spread, sweets distributed, and warm hugs exchanged, the tired mother and father of the infant lay down, their little baby in between them on the charpai, exhausted and happy. The night passes peacefully, well, as peaceful as it can get with a baby. In the morning, the chill of the night has passed, and although there is still a kind if crispness in the air, the sun shines brightly upon the valley. Well wishers gather around the infant’s house, singing their prayers from last night to the baby’s grandparents, parents, future non-existent in-laws and future non-existent wife. Meanwhile, the mother, humming happily, takes her new baby for its first bath, accompanied by its maternal grandmother. It is then that the truth is revealed. As the little hand-knitted wrap-around comes off, the new mother gets the shock of her life. Its not there! Where is it? Did it fall off? Turning the baby around, she looks around in confusion. In her panic, she screams for the grandmother, who is checking the temperature of the water. She comes out, wiping her hands on her kameez. The mother moves aside, revealing the bare baby, lain flat on the charpai, sucking its thumb and kicking its now free legs.
The grandmother runs out, ripping her hair, screaming, moaning, and gagging on sobs. The father, who was sitting with the men of the family, drinking cha, rushes to her as she collapses on the floor, mumbling something inaudible.
‘What is it? Is he okay? What happened? For god’s sake woman SPEAK CLEARLY!!’

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The silence lay heavy, almost oppressive in its weight - but not quite.

The last clubbers, the late night owls and those who propped up the bars of the evening gone, long since retired to the release of their beds.

No sound, no bodies stir, even the cats of Cambridge avenue have settled behind flaps or squeezed into safe corners behind weathered boards of garden sheds.

Only a few lights remain, those stalwart and silent yellow guardians of the hours no man or woman sees, the pavements and street corners cast stark in black shadow.

And now, the faintest hint, the promise of colour creeps into the air. Distant Spanish city and the rooftops of Oxford street thrown into sharp relief against the whisper of an indigo sky.

I walk down North Parade, feet following the scratched white lines on the middle of the road, the thrill of this most minor of trespassing coursing through my veins.

I am the king of the night, none can challenge my passage.

I stand by the railings, overlooking the silver flashes of the north sea. My hands grasp the cold metal, feeling it slowly warm beneath my fingers. Somewhere, not far away, the air must carry the scent of salt and brine. But here it’s still, holding the last vestiges of warm earth, grass and summer from the night before.

Slowly, silently, the blue is building, adding layer upon layer to that dark canvas above. It steadily trails from its pinnacle eastwards, towards the point where the ocean meets the sky.

A single thin line of yellow has appeared hovering above its edge, stretching from north to south. It is cut from the air, sharply drawn as if rent from the blue. The fresh horizon birthing a new thought.

Just below it, distinct from the yellow stands a bar of the richest and most vibrant red my eyes have ever seen. One can barely believe the world can hold the capacity to imagine such a depth of colour inside it. It burns with brilliance, captivating in its intensity.

They hold together, caught between the glistening sea and the still air. They grow in intensity, a silent crescendo, increasing, stretching, bursting with the colour they can no longer hold. It seems something must surely give, the colours spilling out across the water and dying the sand scarlet and gold if they hold but one moment more.

And then; the sun.

And all the wondering possibilities that the day may yet bring.

“Neil, the bins aren’t out yet, I told you to get that done last night. Get your fat arse out of bed and sort it out!”

A muffled shout in reply, then a slammed door and a few seconds later, the grumble of an unknown car engine starting nearby.

There is still a little time before I see Lucy and the kids. Two hours and fifty-one minutes to be exact. One hundred and seventy-one possible moments waiting to be experienced, should I care to look.

I let out a slow breath, then turn from the railing.

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It sits there all sleek, black and shiny. Completely different to starched white sheets. I see it as perfect, except where the cop got all frustrated crazy and kicked my passenger door, denting it and cracking the paintwork. The bloody boofhead bully. No, no, got to slide away smoother than that. The motherfucker. The mudderfuckin pig. That’s better.

Did that cop think it’d make me open my door, maybe slide down my dark tint window, get out and go quietly? Well, it didn’t. I just leaned forward and quickly tapped Trapp’s left shoulder three times and off we sped, V8 roar and squealing tyres, until I leant forward again and one shoulder tap to tell him to pull over, get out and take off the fake plates and put our real ones back on. Ten second job that. Two shoulder taps and we drove off all nice and normal.

See, I’m not always stuck in this bed. My EEG agrees.

You know, I said to Trapp, that cop must’ve recognised me.

Ja, ja, sure did, he answered, nodding his head.

Probably wanted to drag me out of the car, outa da car, and beat the shit outa me, I told Trapp. I got news for him though, it didn’t stop Mailer in Chicago, he still got that book out and it sure wouldn’t stop me no way, make me more determined that’s what, determined to get the truth out, to see what’s happening, to tell what’s happening, to be what’s happening. Yeah, be what’s happening. And if that means getting beat up by the mudderfucker, then that’s what it means. And I’ll tell it like it is.

I feel pretty good whenever I talk like that, Whoa! I feel good, you know with fire and passion, but it wears me out a bit. But like I said it makes me feel good, satisfied like, so I don’t mind it chewin up fuel and leavin me a bit burnt out. Everything gotta cost man and I don’t mind payin ma dues. So I took a good deep breath, closed my eyes and leant my head back against the cool black leather of my seat.

Before I fell asleep in the Caddy, Black Panther sliding through the streets, I listened to the beep beep machine we busted bodies and coma patients have. Well, not a machine, more a technical gadget even I don’t fully understand. Our beep beep gadget makes this beeping sound (D’oh!) all slow and rhythmical and usually so quiet you have to make an effort to hear it. But if the beep beep gadget senses danger it beeps louder and faster, and if the danger becomes a threat, a clear and present danger, it becomes one continuous loud, screeching beeeeeeeeeep. But sometimes it all happens so quickly, so unexpectedly, I don’t get a chance to do anything and coz I’m all helpless, like I can’t even move, it’s up to Trapp to do everything before the shit hits the fan.

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The conversation suddenly became too much, too small yet too great at the same time. How could the whole world rest on this, on this practically comical conversation? How could she make him understand, something so basic yet so monumental?

‘I’m telling you this, Terry, because you don’t want to know why it is that you should believe me. You don’t want to hear about the world that I left behind, if you can even call it that.’ Her desperation sank into every syllable, her eyes fluttering closed as she tried to repel the images that pulled at her mind. But she would never stop seeing it; the destruction. ‘You don’t want to believe that the entire world burns, how it feels like the sky is falling. You don’t want to know about how our world leaders, the people who are supposed to protect us, to lead us, instead ignored us and sought their own refuge. And you definitely don’t want to hear about the untold death count, how they simply stopped counting because nobody could bear to hear about any more.’

The enormity of her words sank into them both, neither wanting to dispel the silence that had settled around them. She felt her hands shaking, hearing the words that had taunted her, pulled at her until she could barely stand. But she could no longer live in her or anyone else’s insecurities, or deny the people she had left behind their last chance at asylum, at life.

She allowed herself to take in Terry’s face then, for the first time since she had entered this timeline. Her eyes clasped onto the unscarred cheeks, the burn-free arms. She felt her inwards collapse slightly, wishing she could take this version of Terry back with her. Maybe then she could forget his screams as his flesh singed under the flames, while she clamped her own mouth shut as she tried to peel the infected skin away.

She shook her head. She couldn’t think about that now. She felt the enormity of the situation settle itself around her shoulders, feeling lifted by the memories of everyone she loved and everything that they had sacrificed in order for her to be here, in this moment. And to hell if she didn’t damn well fight for them.

‘Terry, I am your best friend. And we fight to save the world together, okay?’

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what Happened


I admit that I did hesitate before I left them. I did question whether it was the right thing to do. But they seemed alright. Kim looked like she knew what she doing. Yeah, she was in control. Joe was more drunk than her. Quite a lot more drunk actually. I’d seen him get through a 4-pack before we’d even left pres. She wasn’t exactly sober though either. Drinking straight from that little bottle of vodka she brought out. I couldn’t drink like that. Straight spirit makes me sick. Yeah, they were probably the drunkest people in our group. And some people do weird things after a few drinks don’t they?

It started at ours. We hosted pre-drinks. Just us lads. Then met up with the girls later. Joe was the first to get to ours actually. He seemed alright though. Only met him a few times - friend of my housemate. But he always seems chatty and sociable enough, good laugh really. One of those people that can just talk to anyone. So it didn’t seem unreasonable that she would be into him. He’d boasted about his luck with girls. And it’s true, whenever I saw him out he seemed to be dancing with a different one. Didn’t think he was much of a looker, not that I am either, but he’s got that typical scrawny beard thing going on and he’s not exactly thin. Must be his personality.

But yeah, so we met up with everyone at Spoons. It’s a classy spoons though to be fair, converted from an old cinema. It’s massive, with red carpets and a really high ceiling; gives cheap drinking an unexpected grandeur. Seemed to be about half the uni there, it was packed. I said hi to Kim - she’s on my course, one of those people that everyone wants to be friends with. Well, probably more than friends to be honest. I think it’s the hair. It’s long and looks like shiny chocolate; I actually want eat it. And her skin is perfect, or her make-up skills are just amazing, who knows? But who cares? She’s always nice enough, asks me how I’m doing and whatever, but I wouldn’t say we’re close. Always see her out though, with her housemates, with other coursemates, or just randomers. Proper party girl, which is cool. I can’t hack it much myself. One hangover a week is enough for me.

So yeah, we were all getting on well and stuff, getting nice and tipsy, then some of us headed to Instinct. Grim little club but it’s cheap so you can’t complain. Anyway it was me, my house, then of course Joe and one of his mates I think. Then Kim and a couple of her mates. By that point they were talking a lot. The two of them led the way, chatting and getting close and stuff. Everyone was whispering about them.

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This isn’t pain.

When someone says to me ‘I can’t imagine the pain you must feel’, I know it’s true, because if they could imagine it, if they knew what it was like, they would know that pain isn’t an adequate description. Pain is what you feel when you hit your thumb with a hammer. When you twist an ankle. When a relationship ends. When someone breaks your heart. And pain, even emotional pain, can be managed. Can be controlled. Can be overcome, lived with, blocked out. Pain can be described and diagnosed and understood. Can be medicated against. Pain and its causes can even, given time, be forgotten about.

So, no, this isn’t pain. This is … amputation. I am missing a piece. And it wasn’t removed surgically. It wasn’t a decision. This wasn’t some necessary medical procedure to prevent a rapidly spreading infection. No, this was a hatchet job. I was butchered. The piece was ripped from me, hacked off while my back was turned. And no opioid is going to help. Acupuncture won’t make it better. This cannot be massaged away. Its absence is impossible to forget, and no amount of time will reattach it.

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DEATH AND LOSS by Darcia Gonzalez Laucerica

A father broken down by the fact that his daughter is dying turns to dark ways to save her. His pain and frustration sends him to a train station in which he tries to understand things beyond his reasoning and where he boards a train in which is possible to establish a deal with the underworld.

Instead, he's forced to face the reality of how unstoppable death is, no matter what you do, including merging into the supernatural. He is also confronted with his past as a religious man and his mother’s still religious beliefs and outlook on how to support her daughter, who waits for him in a hospital bed and might not reach the end of the month in her condition.

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