The crawlspace by Leanne Radojkovich

At Gran’s, the vast luminous sky made me feel as if there was nowhere to hide because even if Gran or Mum couldn’t see me behind a rock – God could.

During the day I rambled around paddocks looking for creatures so I didn’t feel so alone. I pushed over rocks and skinks squirted off. I hunted cicadas whose whir mysteriously stopped when I drew near. Once, a rabbit dance-hopped on a pocket of grass until a falcon’s shadow slipped across the ground and it froze.

That rabbit stillness stole through me when Mum and Dad argued. My heart would be bursting, but I’d appear composed on yet another crazy-angry drive from town to Gran’s. I didn’t realise how young they’d been, high school kids when I came along, cornered by Gran to do the right thing. When they yelled at one another at her house, she’d peel potatoes for tea without skipping a beat. I’d peel at her side, grateful for a job. After tea she’d sit at her special seat at the kitchen table, facing the front steps. I sat next to her overlooking a straggly mānuka that had grown backwards, almost flattened by wind whooshing across the cleared land. Gran chain-smoked Cameo Mild’s and we spent the evenings playing rounds of Scrabble and cards in silence, bar the click of tiles or whisking of cards. I’d look out the window between turns. I could have been gazing out the porthole of the spaceship in Lost in Space. The Robinson family had been marooned on a similar blank landscape.

Bored, during one especially long visit, I’d tried peeling a Barbie from a lump of wood. She ended up with stump-arms, bean-bag-body, and knob-legs – just like the Robinson family’s robot. I slipped into the sour crawlspace under the front steps where the earth was cool and soft as fur. Dug a hidey-hole with a spoon and left her there.
It wasn’t until I returned from overseas for Gran’s funeral, years later, that Mum told me about the baby. “That’s why she insisted your Dad and I make a go of it,” Mum said. “When she got pregnant at 14, her father had whacked her so hard she fell down the front steps and lost it. Buried it right there, later, to spite him.”

I remember sitting with Gran in the kitchen. Bunny grass grew through the mānuka and the morning sun made a Milky Way of their trembling tips.

Mum and Dad were in an uproar in the back room. He slammed the door on his way out – for the last time, although we didn’t know that then. There was just me and Gran pretending we didn’t hear his car roar down the driveway spitting gravel.

I told Gran about the ugly Barbie in the ground. Gran froze, then half-smiled when I told her I felt less lonely knowing she was there.


 

Leanne bio pic

 

Leanne Radojkovich’s début short story collection First fox was published by The Emma Press in 2017. In 2018 she won the Graeme Lay Short Story Competition and was a finalist in the Anton Chekhov Prize for Very Short Fiction. Most recently her stories have appeared in Landfall, takahē, and Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. She lives in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, but her flash fiction street art has travelled the world. Find her online at leanneradojkovich.com.

A Change in New Glarus, Wisconsin by Jan Elman Stout

Oskar and Cole were tweaking on meth when the shit went down. Oskar’s mom had organized a private search party, fully expecting we’d find them flanked by trouble. We hunted for the boys round-the-clock for two full days before giving up. Cole’s mom said, If they wanted to be found you’da found ‘em. We knew she didn’t give a damn but she had a point.

The boys emerged from the woods a day later, clear-eyed and hungry. When they were ready to talk they said the town was going to change, although they couldn’t say how. But they’d known it as soon as they reached the heart of the grove and spotted the amber fingers on the white birches lit up a cold neon green. Foxfire fungus, we said, full of ourselves.

We interviewed them separately and they both claimed that seconds after seeing the eerie glow a rust-colored light split the sky in two and it sucked them both in. They couldn’t say how they came back to us, only that the mushroom and green apple scented wind from the rotting birches foretold change.

We were skeptical; we knew those boys’ mischief. Cole’s mom clucked and said what
we’d all told ourselves, Those boys been doin’ too much crank.

We’d been asleep at the hour the boys swore the events had transpired. But we read that it hadn’t stormed that night. And the moonless sky had produced no heat lightning.

Now the town was on edge.

For weeks we watched both boys closely. We had to admit they seemed changed. The sores on their bodies cleared. They weren’t so pale. Their eyes weren’t moving a mile a minute. They smelled of fresh cut grass. Oskar’s mom cooked them schnitzel and sauerkraut and buttered noodles. They ate every morsel and asked for more.

Cole borrowed the community push mower and went door-to-door offering to trim our lawns for free. Oskar applied for a paper route and got the job. Every week around dawn we heard the thwack of the New Glarus Post Messenger Recorder hitting our front doors. Cole’s mom whispered, Wait a month or so, we’ll see.

We searched for signs the boys were taking drugs again but there were none. After six months they were still clean and hard-working. They weren’t doing meth or any drugs. But aside from their behavior, as far as we could tell, the town hadn’t changed.

A year after the boys emerged from the woods a gusty wind encircled the town, the air braided with the pungence of mushrooms and green apples. We followed its path and hiked ten miles northwest to Mount Hebron, where we stumbled upon an old water storage tank flipped on its side. A corroded section had crumpled and created an entrance. One at a time we climbed inside. We knew at once it was the boys’ refuge though to us it felt stifling.

Small plastic bags were strewn around the bottom. It stank of rust and sweet smoke. A
waterlogged H. P. Lovecraft poetry collection was open to the poem, “The Ancient Track.” Scrawled in permanent ink along one wall of the hideout were the words, Please make it stop.

We climbed from the tank without disturbing the contents. We didn’t know if the boys might return and we didn’t want them to learn we’d uncovered their lair; we wanted to protect them.

We followed the winged seeds of the rotting white birches as they were carried on the wind toward New Glarus. As we rested beneath the moonless sky we smelled the intensifying earthy, sweet air. And we’d wait, wondering what would happen to the boys when the town changed.


 

Jan_Elman_Stout

Jan Elman Stout writes short stories and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in Literary Orphans, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, 100 Word Story, and elsewhere. Her flash has been nominated for the Best Small Fictions anthology in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Jan is Submissions Editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. She is currently working on a flash collection. Jan can be reached on Twitter at @janelmanstout.