October Flash Contest Winner: Erin Vance!

A Half-Life

It was the landlord’s policy to do an inspection of his property every six months. He had been trying to contact his tenants for several weeks, but his phone calls, emails, and letters went unanswered. The occupants of the other apartments in the building were no help, either. They kept to themselves. One woman, in the apartment above his, a violinist, told him that she hadn’t seen the couple recently, but that she did hear a keening most nights, coming from the apartment. The landlord waited until the snow and ice melted to go to the apartment in person. His son had died after being impaled by an icicle that fell off the building’s roof- the reason he rented the apartment out, now. The landlord did not go outside in the winter months, if he could help it. It was lonely, yes, but he did not want to risk what the newspapers had dubbed “the Canadian Lobotomy.” He knocked on the apartment door. It was a ground level and had its own entrance. He shivered, standing right where his son had died. The landlord looked up at the eaves. He knocked again. No answer. The landlord began to knock harder, louder. A black shape slammed into the large window adjacent to the door. Its wings flapped against the window. The landlord could hear a low shrieking through the thin glass. He pulled out his keys. It was right on page three of the lease that no animals were allowed in the apartment. Full stop. As he turned the key and opened the door, the creature flew right into him, knocking him back with its weight. The landlord swore, lying on the ground now, watching the bird slowly ascend before landing in the elm outside the apartment building. Its wing knocked loose a lingering icicle, thin and ragged in the March sun. The bird continued to shriek, “Help! Help! Help! Help!” The crow’s feathers were mottled, unkempt. They did not resemble the oil-slick feathers of the birds he was used to seeing. The landlord stood up. Even from outside the apartment smelled of bird shit and metal. And a bit like a bottle depot. An awful hissing came from the kitchen. One of the radiators was covered in the animals’ excrement, which had eaten through the metal plating. Steam hissed, rising from the holes. Water spurted onto the floor. The landlord rushed over, closing the valve. “Hello?” He yelled into the apartment, “Is anyone here?” There was silence. And then a wailing came from the bedroom. It sounded like a woman sobbing. He walked across the apartment. All of the blinds were drawn. The landlord fumbled for the kitchen light switch. On the wall, where there had once been a pantry, hung eleven rabbits, skinned and rotting, their flesh sloughing off onto the hardwood. The landlord gagged and stumbled towards the bedroom. The door was ajar, but only just. Inside the landlord expected to find Mrs. Crawford, one of his tenants, emitting the high-pitched wailing. Instead there was only a crow, tucked neatly into the bed as if ready to go to sleep. The lamp on the bedside table was on. The crow wailed, burying its head into the pillows. The landlord stood in the doorway, unsure what to do next. He heard a something behind him, something rummaging around the den. He turned from the keening bird in the bed and closed the bedroom door. A crow stood on the couch in the small den. It thrust its beak at the television remote. The flat screen sprung to life. The landlord walked slowly into the den. The crow looked at him. The landlord felt like a child being silently berated by his schoolteacher. And that was the first time the crow spoke. “You don’t know your ass from your elbow, Mr. Linden. This place is a shit hole. I’m sure you see why we haven’t answered your calls. This shithole’s cursed or something.” After that, there was no keeping it quiet. The landlord was taken aback by the words, more so by the fact they were coming from a bird who was watching The Trailer Park Boys. Not knowing what else to do, he moved closer to the crow, “go grab a beer and I’ll explain.” In the fridge, the landlord found cases of cheap beer. He brought two cans into the den. “You fool, put it into a dish.” The landlord and the crow drank their beers, the other crow still crying in the bedroom. “She hasn’t adjusted as well as I have. She misses her mother.”

August Flash Contest Winner: Erin Vance!

Hello! About a month ago we started our monthly writing contests for our donors on Patreon and promised to post our top 3 picks on our blog–we only have 1 contest entry for this month, but it’s really good. The first contest has closed and the second is launching later today (bonus round: if you start donating before Wednesday you’ll get a hard-copy of antilang. no. 1 and get to participate in the writing contest!).

Without further adieu, Erin Vance’s “Happy Hour”

After she let the rhubarb rot with its roots still anchored in the garden, Aoife filled the prescription. The pharmacist’s ivory coat was stiff like rawhide. He handed her the medication. Aoife plodded home along the dirt road, breathing the dust until her chest felt tight and her head spun. Meclizine hydrochloride. Take two tablets at onset of vertigo symptoms. If dizziness and nausea persists, take one tablet each hour, not exceeding thirteen in a period of twenty-four hours. Do not operate heavy machinery or drink alcohol while taking this medication.

Aoife swallowed hard and coaxed saliva to the front of her mouth. The medication was fetid, chalky. The tablets stuck to the sides of her tongue, began to dissolve as she choked them down her throat. Aoife rounded the corner to the house she shared with her mother, to the porch, to the overgrown garden, the decrepit oasis where the mosquitos were still leeching the blood from her mother’s hands. Aoife’s mother sat on the porch in a pink housedress, a gin and tonic in one hand, the other lingering over a jar of Arbequina Gourmet Stuffed Olives. Aoife’s mother had a proclivity for the anchovy stuffed ones. Aoife liked them because the image of the goddess Mnemosyne was transposed onto the label in faux-gold leaf. Aoife kissed her mother’s forehead, the white hair soft like feather grass. She dropped the paper bag from the pharmacy on a table and went inside to mix herself a drink. Three o’clock meant gin and olives. It was three forty-five. Just enough time to have two or three gins before four o’clock ushered in vodka and soda crackers.

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Aoife settled in a plastic chair next to her mother and flung her dirty sandals off the porch. The two women sat in a dry sort of silence, the air around them astringent, smelling slightly of formaldehyde or insulation. Aoife refilled her glass, and her mother’s. Her hands were clammy from the condensation. A pigeon impaled itself on a metal spike, upon which had previously hosted a citronella candle until it melted off in the sun. The macabre interlude prompted Aoife to bring the vodka onto the porch. She sucked on unsalted soda crackers, her head spinning again. She wondered if she should take more of the medication. She popped two tablets into her mouth. They were lost in the wet sludge of crackers and vodka and saliva. The pigeon twitched. It let out a sound that was half-squawk, half-scream, a multi-lingual death growl. It was only three feet away from where Aoife and her mother sat. Aoife sucked on a cube of sugar, filtering vodka through the cube as it dissolved. The bird whirled around on the stake, like a child swinging a hoop around on a stick. It made Aoife dizzy. It wasn’t really whirling. It couldn’t be. She wondered if she should take more of the medication.

Aoife stood to refill her mother’s glass. Her feet were wet. They’d been damp for a long time. She picked up the crystal glass and it splashed onto her hand, stinging where she chewed the skin away from her nail beds. The astringent vapours coated her body. Aoife felt unclean. She turned to the pigeon on the stake. Flies were swarming it. They formed a big, black cloud. Aoife cried out and they were gone. The pigeon was gone, too. Not even its bones remained.

Aoife wondered if her mother had also seen the bird, had also seen it whirl and disappear. Her mother was silent. Aoife sat. The plastic chair dragged against the wood with her weight. Aoife closed her eyes against the spinning afternoon. When she opened them, the sun had set. Out of the corner of her eye the porch light bounced off of the pink fibres of her mother’s housedress. She wondered if she was an amnesiac and brought the drink, still stiff in her hand to her lips. The liquid was warm. Her mouth buzzed with fruit flies. Aoife wretched. She flung herself onto the ground. She writhed, spitting and gagging, tearing at her lips, scraping her cheeks and tongue with her jagged nails. Her head was full of bugs. Aoife ran screaming, straight into the stake. It caught her in the neck. A pigeon cooed in the distance. She gasped, but did not struggle. She fell and closed her eyes, clutching the wound, and went to sleep.

Her mother did not stir.