Alvara’s father had always told her about the chest of gold coins buried within the sands of Selle island. He had intended it to be her inheritance one day. He had long since given up pirating but had kept a map to this last vestige of treasure that he promised to gift her come her twenty-first birthday. After his death, Alvara had not been able to find that map anywhere. She had lost both her beloved father and the promise of a future fortune that she’d dreamt about since she was a child.

Until one morning when she was walking through the fading night-time darkness along the solitary streets of Freywood harbour. Opposite the harbour, hidden in the alcoves of Dahlia Street stood The Dead Helm—a tavern bustling with travellers alongside villagers, mercenaries and the occasional guild meeting. Alvara worked there most mornings, heaping bowls with soup of stewed meat and vegetables. She plated the steaming piles of food and placed them on the stained wooden countertop and continued with the next batch of food. She heard of a docked pirate ship at the port and surveyed the room, a rowdy bunch of pirates sat at the centre of the room sculling tankards of beer.

She overheard a man wearing a long gold-threaded coat, she assumed he was the Captain, rambling to his crew. ‘It’s East of Selle. That’s where it’s buried, not West.’

‘Ay,’ The crew jeered.

She stopped ladling soup into bowls at the words of a foreign location. It was not so foreign to her. Selle’s coordinates were ingrained in her head.

Isn’t this the map father spoke of?

Alvara flung the ladle back into the steel pot and approached the congested table of pirates. She slapped the bowls down. There was a moment of startled silence at her intrusion, accusatory curses murmured from the crew.

Self-righteous pricks, she thought to herself.

The man who had been addressed just now as ‘Captain’ turned to his seatmate questioning the map’s presumed written clue.

Wandering and tumbling down the hills. The weeping willow sat still, she repeated in disbelief at the words spoken aloud. Father left it for me.

Alvara collected the empty tankards and returned to the kitchen, bumping into others on the way, ignoring their stares. She frantically placed the tankards amongst the organised chaos.

How did those low lives get my father’s map, Alvara wondered.

There was only one explanation, she decided as she buried herself away back in the kitchen. They murdered him. Alvara clutched a knife and buried it into the ingrained oak table.

She breathed in and out, not understanding the weight of her emotions. A grin curled on her face as she snatched the barman’s loose shirt, trousers and belt before she made her way out of the tavern.

She had a plan in mind.


Alvara scurried along the dockside in her loose attire, searching for the Captain’s vessel. She came upon a grand Brigantine ship, its beige sails billowing above its black hull. The vessel’s figurehead was a veiled skulled woman, a guiding eye for the men at sea.

Revenge of the Damned, she read on the ship’s side. Alvara continued and walked the gangplank onto the docked ship, surveying her surroundings.  She stood along the deck at the bow, a cool draught of air blew errant strands of her short onyx hair. The breeze howled in a low whistle. The ocean breathed, the surface rising and falling with rhythmic ease. The waves echo of the souls kept safe in its cradle of brine.

The only woman allowed on this ship is a dead one, Alvara threw her head back in frustration.

A commotion arose from the docks as the rest of the crew began trailing their way back onboard, the wooden floors creaked. Alvara winced. She reclined onto the beams and huffed.

‘A boy, Captain Warwick! Aboard our ship.’ Murmurs of confusion encompassed the crew as they saw a petite figure aboard their vessel.

Men were shoved to the side as the Captain ventured closer to Alvara. ‘What are you doing on my ship?’

‘To join your crew.’

‘You? A puny boy like yourself.’

 ‘I can pull my own weight,’ Alvara pushed off the beam, ‘I assure you, Capt’n.’

A man stood behind the Captain with the leather map grasped between his hands. Alvara viciously eyed it. Silence surrounded the deck in anticipation of his decision.

‘Fine boy! You can join. ‘If you slight me in any way,’ the Captain gesturing to the figurehead, ‘I’ll skull you like Old Ada over there.’ Captain nodded to the man by his side. ‘Fletcher here will tell you of your duties. Do you understand, boy?’

Alvara stared blankly at him. ‘Yes, sir!’ she mockingly asserted.

‘Captain, best be on our way to Selle now,’ Fletcher interjected, ‘You. Need to get you to work.’

Alvara’s mouth twitched at the Captain’s agitation. She hoped his head would soon get decapitated by a broken mast.

He wrenched his intense gaze off of her, turned to Fletcher and tore the map from his grasp. ‘Set the sails!’ he bellowed.

The crew flurried at the Captain’s instructions. Alvara stared at the leather bounded map clasped in the Captain’s hands soiled with dirt and remains of an early morning supper.

‘What’s your name? Or I’ll keep calling you boy,’ Fletcher interrupted Alvara’s thoughts.

Ace? That’ll do, she thought. ‘The name’s Ace.’

‘You’re the new Deckhand.’ Fletcher brought Alvara over to a bucket and mop. ‘Welcome aboard Ace,’ he pushed the mop into her chest, fixed his spectacles and left her with her duties.

Above, the clouds settled low and dark in the sky; a storm was making itself known.

Bloody four-eyed bastard. Alvara hauled the bucket, water splashing uncontrollably. She dipped the unruly mop into the bucket and got to swabbing the deck.


With rough waves ahead, the crew worked hard to rig the ship whilst Alvara was hard at work scrubbing the deck of dirt and build-up of salt. Her bones ached and creaked like the panelled floors she mopped.

‘Eh, boy over here. Over here,’ one of the riggers pointed to the front-left of the deck, ‘You missed a spot.’ He spat. The rest of the riggers laughed alongside him.

Useless, she kept swabbing the deck. Piece of shit. Up and down in a row. She tossed the bucket and strode to the rigging crew with the mop in hand. She tossed it in the air, caught it by the bottom and swept it under the offender’s legs.


She sneered. The crew stopped laughing, the rigger swore at her while the Captain watched from the upper deck. ‘Boy! Watch it.’

Alvara swivelled her smirk now a grimace. ‘I…’ Darkness engulfed Alvara, a storm of fury quelling her rebuttal.

‘Sails down. NOW.’

As they struggled against the gale, the gulls are tossed paper in a storm, flashes of white amongst the grey. Beneath them, the sea rises as great mountains, anger in the form of water, turbulent and unforgiving.

‘Ace! Continue swabbing,’ shouted Fletcher.

The crew began furling the sails, brine water crashed on the deck. The ship was rocking side to side like a baby’s cradle in the ocean’s palms. There was no end in sight. While the men around her ran around screaming orders or yelling desperate prayers, she found herself moving in slow motion. Not even a life-threatening storm could wrench her away from her revelation and grief, reliving the moment she had realised these men were her father’s murderers. She felt almost as hollowed out and hopeless as she had when she’d first come across her father’s cold body, so still and lifeless. Another wave crashed against the starboard side and sent another pirate crashing into her. Alvara managed to break their fall by bracing herself against the boat side railing. She was about to savagely rebuke the pirate when she noticed a golden coin dangling from his neck, hanging off a black thread. The shiny metal glinted in the moonlight. Her heart stuttered and she felt herself move headily past grief and into a mind-numbing rage. That was her father’s necklace. She remembered it as clearly as if it were yesterday.

She pounced forward, the pirate her prey as she clutched the necklace between her slender fingers, ‘Where did you get this?’ she hissed. She coiled the cord around his neck, restricting his airways, suffocating her prey every time he breathed. She straddled his slumped body on the ground, all his colour drained. She tore and draped the necklace around her own, fingers dragging against the engraved coin with her initials. The necklace reminded her of good memories amongst all the cruel ones she had.

They killed him. Alvara choked back her tears. Her bloodthirst was still unsated.

A hand clawed outside of the ship, another man dangled from the starboard side screaming for help. Alvara’s rage destroyed her from the inside, an inferno of emotions erupted as she dragged herself to the starboard in front of the screaming man. Her hot rage became a cold smoulder of suppressed anger. She plucked each of the man’s fingers off the railing—one, two, three…until he was engulfed by pacifying waves.

The ship battered and bruised from oncoming waves, the ocean poured countless tears at the feet of men onboard before calming at the arrival of nightfall. As the ship sailed on through the night, Alvara watched on in silence, her nails cutting into her palms, drawing scarlet blood from beneath. 


At dawn, the ship docked on the island of Selle with fewer men than they left with. Alvara trailed behind the Captain, the rest following behind, except for Fletcher who stayed on the ship.

‘Keep up the pace,’ the Captain said. He held the map tightly in his agitated state. The trek was long and his agitation grew with each failed attempt at locating the treasure.

Alvara and the entire crew followed through tangled roots and broken vines, winding their way through the jungle into an open space. The sun blinded Alvara as she stepped into patches of golden sand. The Captain procured a brass compass out from his coat. He located the East of Selle and trekked towards the awaited gold. Palms waved in the breeze as the crew strode between each massive tree. They came to a stop in front of boulders piled on top of each other, trickles of evergreen moss clinging to the crevices.

‘It says the treasure is here. Start digging.’ The Captain shut the compass and grunted in anticipation.

Alvara bounded over and started digging with the others.

Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! The crew dug with intensity, spades filling up with wet sediment, sand and rocks. Again, and again. A repetitive flow of digging continued, until, a sharp sound of metal slammed against a chest. Alvara looked on in shock. The Captain pushed through, tossed the map onto the ground and tugged the chest from below with the help of the crew. He grinned in glee as he unlatched the hook revealing gold coins, jewellery and a hardbound journal. Alvara’s eyes widened at the fortune. Her anger flared.

My father didn’t disappear.

Alvara’s hands tremored as she arose from the pit.

They killed him.

She grabbed a curved splintered rock as she approached the Captain from behind. ‘Do you know a W.H. Leighstone?’ she whispered. 

Before creeping up behind him and bashing the rock against his skull. He fell to the ground in pain, ‘You little shit.’ Warm blood trickled down his forehead.

‘You killed a man, Captain,’ she crouched down to be level with his gaze.

‘I’ve killed many men, boy,’ he croaked.

‘You killed my father. I’ll avenge him for it,’ she didn’t let him speak, ‘You got another thing wrong. I’m not a boy.’ She held him and impaled the rock down into his chest, repeatedly stabbing him in her rage, painting her face with his splattering blood.

The crew watched in horror at her wrathful vengeance. The Captain’s indistinguishable face was nothing but a battered carcass of flesh and bones. Alvara stood and faced the crew directly with blood dripping down her face, she grinned menacingly at them. She made her way back to the ship with the treasure in tow.

The Captain’s body was left to rot.

Ahrya Reddy is a poet and writer who is inspired by her culture and experience of being a South Asian woman of colour. She is passionate about exploring and celebrating queerness, mental health, and feminism within her writing. Outside of writing, Ahrya indulges in book-hoarding tendencies and excessive daydreaming.

Mama, Alix Rochaix

Mama, Mama,
oh Mama.
These are the words I will use
to begin your eulogy.

No longer forbidden to utter
the M-word.
Call me Cole, you decreed.
Like everybody else.

Nicole Elodie Lemaire.
That was you. And I was just one
of everybody else.

Only my lover could tell me
that when I writhed in the shadows of a dream one night,
I squeaked out the question,
Then louder, as if escaping a great
and weighty grief–


This ICU isn’t blinding white.
Someone has thought to paste a mural
of a cheerful coastal panorama
across the rear wall.
And there
is your smashed and intubated face,
superimposed upon it.

That once exquisite face.
One of your eyes gone, I’ve been told.
Sea-green iris
and all.
All of your perfect teeth
Apart from a jagged white fragment
a vestige, still visible
in the black blood cavern
of that once lovely mouth.

All this a swathe of bandage,
splash of disinfectant brown,
scramble of tubes,
pipes with square junctures.

Your spiralling hair shorn up
from the temple, a bolt
driven in…

Oh, Mama.

Monitors on your vital signs.
Just a reedy bip bip,
tiny beads of expanding,
then dying light.

I have been told again today,
to expect the worst.

You would have thought
this is the worst.

You often assured me,
sought to inform me, saying,
You don’t want that.
About whatever it was your street-smarts,
your wisdom,
would thrust aside.

I know
you would not want this.

Your much younger lover,
uninjured driver,
the last to ride with you, still so alive.
Still the livewire.

The last to hear your laughter.
He sits across from me, beyond the white cases over
your broken bones.

Stares at his phone and the ceiling.
He doesn’t say much.
I hadn’t heard his name before.
I won’t remember it.

After two days, when the questions are over,
he vanishes.

When they said that there were still signs
of brain life, I surprised them
by blurting out,
That’d be right!
A raised eyebrow.
A note scrawled.

While this brain life rails against the dimming of its light,
I know.
With my fingertips on your thready pulse,
this is no option for you,
as you were,
in the fullness and flush of your senses.
For me to be talking about teaching you,
to talk again.

I lean towards your unbandaged ear
and whisper,
Who could witness that?
Apart from the panorama and all
that keeps you hovering,
tethered by a fluorescent
filament of a heartbeat.
Or you, or what’s called your soul
as it levitates above me.

So I speak it,
into your still warm
so soft ear.

Let go.
In this rare lull in the bustle,
I look to the ceiling with a level eye, and tell you

with calm conviction,
that your best path does not begin
down here in this ICU.
Stitched, wired, plated together–

Not you,
Nicole Elodie Lemaire.


I am your daughter. And I am given
to flippant comments, emotional detachment.
Capable of commanding a fractured spectre of a mother
to let go of her life.
Not pretend
that your physical presence
is more valuable in near death, than it was to me
in your big bold life.

And if a hidden camera
and your hovering soul,
record all this,

So be it.

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Mornings with Doves, Judith Mendoza-White

When José María opened his eyes to the new morning, he knew this would not be an ordinary day. Apprehension tightened his eyelids as he snoozed the alarm, struggling to face the dim light of the early autumn sun and dismiss the irrational foreboding that kept him curled up under the blankets.

The ominous feeling tightened the pit of his stomach into a knot while he stood in the shower, lathering his body with soap and water to wash away the vague sensation of discomfort and fear. The dream came back to him with the sudden sting of the after-shave lotion: a dark, uncanny dream, as real as the water running down the sink. A dream in which he, José María, knew he was dead.

During breakfast, he tuned in to loud music on the radio and chatted to his wife and daughter, who were getting ready for work and school and only contributed absent-minded answers to his incessant, unusual small talk.  Eventually, alone with his thoughts in the overcrowded suburban train, he was forced to face the idea. He knew this was the last day of his life. The feeling, which had started as a mere aftertaste of last night’s dream, had now become an absolute certainty.

He walked the first of the three blocks that separated the underground stop from the insurance company where he worked, but stopped before reaching the busy intersection ahead. It was stupid to continue plodding along the noisy downtown street as if this was yet another ordinary weekday, avoiding the hurried passers-by who elbowed their way past him, the offending odour from last night’s garbage bins climbing to his nostrils. Wasting the last day of his life in front of the paper-crowded desk, just like every weekday of the last twenty-five years, would be even more absurd.

Retracing his steps, he turned the corner and walked to the nearby park where he often ate his lunch on warm, sunny days like this.  In what felt like a split second he found himself sitting on a sunny park bench, a large pot of chocolate ice-cream on his lap. Half a dozen doves cooed and picked at the gravel around him. José María stared at the half-eaten ice-cream. He did not remember buying it; it might as well have materialised in his hands by magic. The eerie sensation increased. How did he even get to this park? It did not look at all like the one where he usually sat during lunch breaks away from the office.

This dream has been playing up with my head, he concluded. With a sigh of exasperation, he pushed the ice-cream carton away.

He felt unusually tired. Leaning back on the bench, he thought of his wife and daughter. If this was indeed the last day of his life, shouldn’t he be spending these last hours in their company? Cecilia was doing a Math test that morning; she had mentioned it during breakfast. He imagined her eagerly jotting down figures at the school desk, the unbecoming uniform creased, her thick brown hair tied back in the usual careless ponytail. He smiled at the vision, which appeared so vivid that his fingers moved as if he could reach his daughter’s worried frown. At this point his daughter looked up and smiled at him, as if she could feel his eyes on her.

The image soon faded, and José María stretched his legs under the warm autumn sun that bathed the park, empty and still at that early morning hour. With a start he realised someone else was sitting at the opposite side of the bench.

‘Rodríguez?’ José María gasped, ‘Rodríguez, from General Villegas High School?’

The newly arrived nodded and smiled. The world was indeed a small place; what with running into an old high school friend in a small hidden park, lost in the hustle of downtown Buenos Aires. He had not seen his classmate, or thought of him, since the day his family moved away from the small country town almost thirty years ago. As he went to say this out loud, Rodríguez opened his briefcase and took out a crumpled paper; a page torn out of a school copybook. It was an unusual briefcase; it reminded José María of the school bags they both used to take to class. Rodriguez pointed at the figures on the paper.

‘The Math exam, do you remember? We both failed, like your daughter Cecilia’.

Irritated, José María thought that Rodríguez could not possibly know his daughter’s name, even less the result of the test she’d be doing this very minute. He went to say this, but instead heard himself telling his old school friend about last night’s dream.

Rodriguez listened in silence and then replied in a calm, matter-of-fact tone: ‘We are brought up in the fear of death; that’s the problem. Yet it is nothing but another form of life. A crossing… A transition, that’s all.’

A white dove fluttered its wings over José María’s shoulders, distracting him from the conversation. He threw his arms up in the air to scare it away. When he turned to his school friend, he found that he had left without a word of goodbye.

Shaking his head at Rodriguez’s lack of manners, José María thought that since the bench was now empty, he might as well lie down for a while and enjoy the sun before starting the walk home; perhaps even put a hint of tan on his white-collar, middle-aged skin.

When he tried to lie down though, he found the park bench was no longer a bench but a narrow, uncomfortable bed. No, it was a stretcher, a hospital stretcher; and the doves around him had turned into men and women dressed in white who leaned over him, placed weird gadgets on his mouth and his bare chest.  His wife’s teary face flashed amongst the others; José María tried to call her name, but the words refused to leave his dry, sandy throat. Cecilia stormed in, still wearing the ugly dark-green uniform. She pushed her way through the figures clad in white that surrounded him, trying to reach him, her voice breaking into sobs.

‘Dad! Daddy!’

Her mother put her arms around Cecilia, pulled her away from the scene. A sudden pain, sharp as the tip of a knife, stabbed José María’s chest as the voices and the faces around him faded in the distance.

He opened his eyes to Rodríguez’s soothing voice in his ears.

‘Nothing wrong with a good cry, my friend.’ Rodríguez’s hands were on his shoulders; an incorporeal, yet comforting gesture. ‘I used to cry my eyes out as well; at the beginning, that is. You miss them all so much, it’s only natural to see them in your dreams. You’ll get used to it soon enough, though. Sooner or later they’ll all cross the border and end up here, anyway. It’s only a matter of time. And time on this side, let me tell you, goes by real fast…’

Wiping away his tears, José María looked into Rodríguez’s eyes. They were the same eyes that used to smile at him in class, decades ago. It was then he realised he was staring at Rodríguez’s teenage face; smooth, unlined, unchanged.

Leaning back on the park bench, José María closed his eyes and allowed the white doves and the new knowledge to descend upon him. In this way he learned, while his eyes dried out and the last tears disappeared down his throat, that the dead dream too.

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Succour, Michael Moriarty

My front door shut behind me and I stomped down to my Commodore in the driveway. Ignition roaring, I swore under my breath. The world could burn.

I reversed out, changed gears and floored it along my tree-lined suburban street. It was 8 am.

Breaking hard, I swerved to the gutter. “Need music,” I muttered. Grabbing my phone, I scrolled through the albums. Nothing would contain the irrational fury seething inside. The image of shrouded Death destroying worlds pricked my attention. Blast beats and down-tuned guitars screamed from the speakers as I accelerated away.

Weeks of sleepless nights weighed darkly beneath my eyes. My unironed shirt stank of yesterday’s sweat. I was late for work. Exiting my suburb at high speed, I cut off a sedentary Camry.

Joining the main road, I gunned my family sedan up to eighty. Driven by death metal I wanted speed, but cops were about. Last thing I needed was a fine. What would I tell my wife?

Into a school zone I quickly decelerated to forty. Forget the fine, the last thing I needed was a child’s death on my hands. The thought of a crushed skull crashed through my head. “Too much,” I growled, quitting the death metal.

In the silence my anger rose. What a chaotic morning. No breakfast. No caffeine. No sense of perspective beyond my exhausted brain.

Past the school zone peak hour traffic backed up. I missed an orange light after the car in front broke early. “Learn to drive,” I yelled.

I had been up with my girl three times during the night. Her little screams were only silenced with milk.

“Fuck you!” I bellowed as a hatchback swerved through a roundabout and cut me off. My middle finger instinctually saluted the other driver. I followed the hatch, but it screeched to a halt, causing me to stop dead. Hatred flared through my blaring horn. The hatch sped off and I fired the engine to give chase.

Yet, something brought me pause. I relented and drove away. Who knows what might have happened if I hadn’t.

Traffic seethed around me. Trucks got in the way. Arseholes broke road rules. Every red light had my name on it.

Finally, near work, a traffic jam.

“What the hell?” I shouted, beeping. “Go! Go!”

Music! Electronica drone washed through the car, settling my brainwaves.

My baby girl swam into focus. I didn’t sign up for this. I’m too old to do this again.

The cars before me crawled along.

It was a surprise when my wife fell pregnant. I hadn’t considered it. Now, endless nights demolished my sanity. Stuck in the burbs, married with children, rushing to a soulless job, I wasted my life alongside a coterie of morons. “Priceless.”

Reaching the start of the traffic jam, I rolled through the intersection.

An ambulance, lights flashing.

Lifeless on the asphalt, a pedestrian.

Nearby, a small car, its bonnet crumpled.

I grimaced, suddenly sober. “It can always be worse.”

Shrouds Without Pockets, Julian Knight

‘Hello?’ I shout into the grey abyss around me for what is probably the hundredth time. ‘Can anyone hear me?’ I’ve been in this horrible place for what seemed like an eternity. I can’t honestly say how long I’d been here seeing as my watch hadn’t been there when I’d woken up. In fact when I’d woken up I’d had nothing but my clothes.

I’d walked, run, sprinted and even just sat down and waited in this place to try and make something happen, but so far I’d accomplished nothing.

I reached into my pant pocket to pull out my phone, but like the past ten times I found nothing there. I kept going to call my wife, Jean, and each time I found no phone.

Someone had stolen from me, that much was for sure. Then again, that was less of a problem given that they’d also stolen me. I was still in one piece though, I thought someone might have hurt me while I was out, but there wasn’t any sign anyone had so hopefully Jean and my daughter Abbey are okay as well.

I’m just standing here in an infinite grey void with no idea what I’m doing here. I’d simply woken up with no recollection of how I arrived or what I’m supposed to do. The last thing I could remember was getting in the car with Jean and Abbey.

This place was an anomaly to me, just an infinite grey mist stretching out in all directions. I couldn’t even make out a distinct floor.

It wasn’t hot or cold either, or any temperature at all. In fact, I couldn’t feel anything in this place, not even the pressure of my feet upon the ground.

There were shapes out in the void. They could be people, they did seem to be moving, although I had no way of knowing for sure. No matter how hard I’d run, I hadn’t seemed to get any closer or further from them.

Or maybe all the shapes were a reflection of me. Maybe I’d been drugged and put here as part of an experiment.

I’d heard of places like this before. It’s an optical illusion that makes it look like you’re in empty space, but it’s really just a round room with mirrors and smoke that trick your mind into walking in circles.

That must be it, that’s the only explanation that makes sense. With this revelation in mind, I set my shoulders back and strode forward purposefully, hoping to run into the wall I knew was right there.

I walked for a minute.

Then two.

Then I started jogging for five.

And then as my heart started to beat faster and I realised this wasn’t working I screamed in anger, and started sprinting.

After a second I suddenly tripped on my own feet and collapsed forward.

I nearly screamed as I fell forward into the abyss, only to be stopped by whatever invisible floor allowed me to stand.

I rolled over and lay on the floor for a second, feeling my rage turn back to despair. This damned place was endless, what could I possibly do?

“I have to find them!” I said out loud, that’s what I could do. Being in the car with Jean and abbey was the last thing I remembered, so maybe they’re here too, in this void or in another room if it really was an illusion.

I stand up and start running, this time screaming; ‘Jean! Abbey! Are you here?’


‘Come on girls!’ I shouted, sitting in the leather seat of the car, ‘The shoe shop closes in an hour!’

I heard a distant giggle as a response and sighed, smiling slightly to myself as I saw them get out and close the front door behind them in the rear view mirror.

I closed my door, letting the cool AC in the car start to cool me down as Jean and Abbey walked down the drive towards the car.

I sat and watched the cars go past in front of us. We’d bought a house on a main road as that was the only house that we could afford when we got the happy news Abbey had gotten into a selective school nearby. That hadn’t stopped me being unhappy about being near a main road, though; it was so loud and dangerous.

The passenger and back door opened and slammed closed as they got into the car.

Before I could start driving, Jean laughed slightly to herself and reached over and undid the top button of my shirt.

‘We’re going to buy shoes, not a house, you can relax.’

I smiled at her, and felt my shoulders slump a little as they un-tensed. This move had really taken a lot out of me.

‘So, are we ready to go to buy some shoes for this new school?’ I asked as I put the car into gear and began to role forward.

‘I don’t want new shoes Dad,’ Abbey said sadly all of a sudden, ‘I want to wear my old school shoes, at my old school.’

‘I know Abbey, I know.’ Jean responded, as I saw an opening on the road, ‘But this school is going to be good!’

I heard a honk from the right as I pulled onto the road.

Before Abbey could respond I felt a sudden strong force hit me and slam me against the arm rest, and then nothing.


I was panting hard as I ran, my voice hoarse from all the shouting.

That flashback had seemed so real I had to supress a shiver as I felt the AC blow against my arms.

As I slowed to a walk my heart slowed and the fire in my veins subsided, leaving an empty feeling in my stomach.

So I’d been in a car accident. Whoever made this place must’ve taken me after that. No wonder I hadn’t seen their car, they probably meant to run into us.

Suddenly, I heard a gentle cough from behind me and my heart leapt into my throat.

I span as fast as I could and nearly jumped out of my skin.

There’s a thing standing in front of me.

The thing had arms, legs and a head, but beyond that it had no features, it was just made of mist. It was the strangest thing I’d ever seen.

I swallowed my first response, which was going to be a scream, and simply asked, ‘Hello?’ My hands were shaking. ‘Who are you?’

‘Greetings.’ It nodded at me. Its voice was eerie, echoing like it was talking right next to my ear, although I could clearly see the shape floating a metre away from me.

That was not the answer I expected. I also didn’t expect the British accent that came with it. We just stood there for a second; I guess it didn’t want to answer the second question.

‘Did you put me here and take my things?’ I asked suddenly, my most pressing questions coming to mind.

It laughed at me, ‘I know not who put you here, and as to your things…’ It trailed off, ‘Have you not heard before? Shrouds have no pockets. You have naught but your soul.’

‘Shrouds?’ I asked, confused. ‘Is that what you call someone in this experiment?’

Again the thing just laughed, this time turning away from me. It began walking away.

I started following, asking it more questions as I realized it was getting further away from me, my voice slowly turning to a shout as it moved away from me.

‘Wait! Please just tell me why I’m here, what do I need to do to get out? Where are my wife and daughter?’

If it could move away from me it must know how to break the optical illusion in the room, if I could just stay with it maybe I could escape.

So I sprinted after it, even as it got further and further away, less distinct against the grey backdrop, until I realized it wasn’t discernible from the other shapes out in the void.

Out of breath I dropped to the floor.

‘I do have pockets, they just don’t have anything in them.’ I muttered under my breath, before breaking out laughing.

I laughed for a long time, although it slowly turned into a sob and then crying.

I had no idea what I was doing or even where I was.

I finally sighed and lay still.


I’d spent a lot of time on this floor.

Or at least I call it a floor. I’d felt very afraid and ill when I’d first woken up, floating in the void, I’d panicked and it’d taken me a while to get over the vertigo, and I still really didn’t like looking down.

If this is an experiment, maybe they’ll let me go if I refuse to participate.

If I just sit here and do nothing for even longer surely I’ll prove I won’t take part and they’ll let me out.

I’ll die eventually with no food or water and they can’t let that happen, I think.

I’ve probably been missing for hours now, let alone all the time I was unconscious. My mind turned to Jean and Abbey again.

I reached behind me to take out my wallet so that I could look at my picture of them.

As I put my hand in my back pocket I realized the stupidity of what I was doing. ‘No pockets, remember,’ I said to myself with a chuckle.

But I put my hand in my pocket anyway, and to my surprise, I found something. Instead of my wallet, I found only one thing.

A photo. Of my wife and daughter.

We’d had a professional photographer take it before we moved house. We’d gone down to a national park near our old house and all sat together, laughing and playing while the photographer stood back and took photos. There were a lot of good photos, things to put on the Christmas card we send out every year, but this one had been my favourite.

All three of us were rolling on the grass, me and Jean tickling Abbey as she tried to wriggle away. I felt a smile begin to form on my face. Even through the hard times, changing schools and moving houses we’d stuck together. And most importantly we could still smile together.

But then my smile started to fade and I came back to the grey abyss around me.

Why did I have this pictures and nothing else?

Were they here to taunt me? To threaten me?

In a fit of rage I stood up again and with the photo clutched in my hand I started walking again.

I was going to figure this place out, and most importantly, how to get out and find my wife and daughter.

As I took my first step everything went black.


Blood. Why could I taste blood? And the pain, all over my body. It was excruciating, like having every bone in my body break at the same time. I desperately hoped that’s not what had happened

Sirens where blaring somewhere nearby, or at least I think it was nearby. It could have been right next to me but my ears felt so muffled I couldn’t tell.

‘Quick, we’re losing him he needs a blood transfusion now!’ I heard a voice shout.

I tried to open my mouth to talk only to feel my mouth fill with the iron tang of even more blood.

I choked on it, and felt pain stab into my chest and stomach.

What was this, where was I?

I felt myself slipping again.

I heard a flat line beeping somewhere as it all went dark again, the shouting starting up again, but I couldn’t understand it anymore.


What the hell was that?!

Did I just die?

Or am I dead already and only just remembering it?

I realized I was collapsed face first on the floor, just staring down into the abyss.

I picked myself up and brushed myself off, even though there wasn’t dust in this place.

Whatever this place is. Purgatory? Hell?

Or did they drug me again and that was a delusion?

‘Oh!’ I heard a voice exclaim behind me in a rich British accent, ‘It’s you again.’

I turned slowly as I saw another shape, a shroud I guess, standing in front of me. It must be the same one, it had the same British accent and definitely seemed to recognise me, not that I’d be able to tell it from any other shape in this abyss.

‘I’m dead aren’t I?’ I asked, anger seeping into my voice, ‘That’s what you meant when you said shrouds don’t have pockets, that’s why I don’t have anything but my clothes.’

‘Yes, that’s the one. Welcome to what I guess must be Purgatory.’ It said with a small amount of humour, its arm like appendages raising and gesturing around ‘It took you a while to realize.’

My anger rose at that, but before I could shout at the shroud I realized there was no point, it was just some dead person too.

Suddenly something occurred to me, ‘Why do I remember the flat line? If I was dead how could I hear it?’

‘The soul only moves so fast, and it gets anchored to things, like your body, hence why many shades remember dying. Your soul still hasn’t let go, has it?’ it said gesturing to the photo

I’d forgotten about the photo, I must’ve kept clutching them when I passed out.

‘Why do I have this?’ I said staring at my closed fist. ‘I thought shrouds didn’t have pockets’

It laughed deeply at that, ‘You’re right, shrouds don’t have pockets, but our souls are not just us, they are also all the things we touch, and that memory must be a strong one for you to bring it with you here.’

I felt the numbness that had set in lift slightly, and my hand unclenched from around the photo and let me look at it again.

‘Does that mean I can find them?’ I asked looking back up at the shroud, ‘If I’m anchored to them?’

‘I don’t know, they might not even be here, they might’ve moved on, or maybe they survived whatever sent you here.’ It said in a tone which made it sound like it was shrugging, even if I couldn’t see the movement.

‘Wait, move on? Move on to where?’

‘Heaven I assume.’ It responded. ‘I don’t think this is all there is to the afterlife, that would be most boring.’

‘How do I get out of here?’ I asked, my hand clenching around the photo again

‘How should I know?’ it chuckled ‘I wouldn’t be here if I knew, I’m just a shroud like you. Some people do leave though, though it takes a wiser man than me to do it.’

‘Well I’ll do it,’ I said stamping one foot on the invisible ground. ‘I’ll get out of here, and I’ll find my wife and daughter, or wait for them wherever I end up.’

He laughed fully at that, his form shimmering and moving with the sound, ‘Maybe you will do it then, maybe determination is the key.’

‘Maybe we’ll see each other again?’ I asked, ‘Here or somewhere else’

‘Not likely I’m afraid, this is the first time I’ve met the same shroud twice. Maybe in the next world though. I wish you luck with finding your wife and child.’ It said

‘Thank you, good luck to you to.’ With that said I turned and strode away, leaving the other shroud behind.

This wasn’t an angry walk, or a despondent walk, this time I walked with purpose

I gripped the photo in my hand tightly as I walked. I was dead. Admittedly that wasn’t great. But there was hope that I could get out of here, either to meet Jean and Abbey in what would hopefully be a better world, or to wait for them.


Download a pdf of ‘Shrouds Without Pockets’

Life As We Know It, Elsa Lilienfeld

 Life As We Know It, a collection of poems


7 September 2013


Forgive us children

for we know not what we do.

It has been three years

since our last confession.


Snaking across cracks in the tarmac,

up three steps, past the bag hooks

lining brick walls outside classrooms,

past high windows barring the world.


Past the first double door

into the assembly room.

A door guard, bespectacled and

graciously condescending,

grants access to the long table.

A name is checked and

papers handed over.


Democracy, first-world style:

This is the farce

to bring the nation out to play.

Compelled participation, pointless

if on one day in a thousand.

The real players not on the ballot.


We’ve seen democracy elsewhere

and fear the barbarism;

opposition candidates and

sealed ballot boxes

sequestered in shallow graves.

Dawn raids and road blocks

keep the living from voting,

whilst legions rise

from the dead like Lazarus.


We park on clipped verges,

queue in safe corridors,

to cast our empty votes,

then meet up for a latte.


Back home, the back pat done,

we rid ourselves of public germs

in matching basins, his and hers,

and rinse away

the crimson stain of apathy.


The lives we end,

we do not see on tally boards.

The deaths we sanction

are not real to us; the blood not red.
The anguish not visible,

broadcast in tunnel vision

on our expansive plasma screens.


Don’t look!

We warn our children

when another revolution

flickers unannounced

across a tennis-white wall.

We plan their future,

their reactions.


they braille their way

to the cartoon channel.





Silver-webbed suspension bridge

spans plenty of nothing and plenty of me.


My father worked here – a road builder to this day.

A bright young engineer in wide trouser legs,

drawing complex arches.

Planning for the future.


When we were little he told us:

The man who designed this killed himself right here.

Since then all bridges spill

silent tumbling bodies

free-falling in stop motion.


Here’s my father as a student, as I never knew him.

1945, yet more than safe, from the horror abroad.

Carefree and smiling on the steps of the residence.

Young men in rugby shorts squint and smoke and laugh.


The one on the left died in 1980.

His second wife locked him out;

phoned his children: Come get your dad.

No joke, my dad said – we didn’t laugh.


My father’s best friend, carefree. That’s him,

sprawled on his back blowing smoke rings.

He windsurfed, travelled the world.

The last time I saw him, in his eighties,

he still laughed just like that.


My father became serious, did well for himself.

He never came to concerts. My winning song:

Tu m’echappes toujours. You always escape me.

No joke – I didn’t laugh.


Yesterday I gave him

a picture book on bridges.

Silver-haired body tumbles,

free-falling in stop motion –

leaves nothing for me.





Turned myself inside out

searched the seams for

loose threads of






no ticket stubs to

Beethoven’s ninth

no waxy gum wrappers

peddling humour

no man-size tissues

for tears of joy

not even a paper clip

to bend into a heart


no scraps of paper

boasting conquests

no Lotto ticket

bearing hope

no tubes of chapstick

oozing promise

no safety pins

as this is all but safe


just emptiness


a pushchair

without infant

not even a lamb

to offer in your place.


Download a pdf of Life As We Know It: A Collection of Poems