★ ‘Pond Water’ by Cavin Bryce

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Dale sat on the edge of a retention pond with a stained work shirt wrapped around his head, catching salty sweat before it dropped to his eyes. He had been there for eight hours and his pale body was mostly red, irritated by an angry Florida sun. The case of beer to his right was full. Dale’s checking account was nearly empty. His savings account never even existed.

Dale said, “I just don’t understand.”  And the heron he was speaking to didn’t understand either. It stared with beady eyes and raised one leg up like a flamingo but it wasn’t a flamingo. It was just a heron and Dale knew the difference.

“You’re nothing special,” Dale told the heron. But the heron didn’t pay any attention. It closed its eyes and continued to pose. The heron was glistening from water. Dale was glistening from sweat. The heron was little and blue. Dale was pudgy and pink. He had a yellow mustache that had been stained over the past twenty-eight years by cigarette smoke and coffee.

Dale crushed a Busch Lite can and tossed it in the pond. Across the way, two kids were casting cane poles. He imagined that eventually those two kids will cast their poles in the same spot he was sitting then, and they would see the metal of his beer cans twinkle beneath the murky surface of the shit water and think it was treasure– a silver doubloon or a discarded religious artifact from an ancient civilization. He thought about the treasures he had found perusing ponds and forests as a kid. He remembered how exciting it was to find stuff, to find treasures, and Dale thought about how it was all worthless because most everything is worthless but algae encrusted aluminum cans and bike chains and rusty Coke bottle caps are really really worthless. If energy is neither created nor destroyed then where does curiosity go when children grow up? Probably into the atmosphere.

“Is anything sacred?” Dale asked the heron but the heron didn’t hear him. It had stopped listening hours ago. The heron had lasted longer as a makeshift therapist than the bartender at the Silver Dollar Saloon. And the bartender had lasted longer than Dale’s neighbor, who lasted longer than the schizophrenic guy at the bus stop who always boasts that John Cusack is his brother-in-law. Some people think Dale is homeless but he’s not, he’s just kind of grimy. Kind of used. Beaten up. Rough. Life can do that sometimes.

The heron looked over, stretched its tiny blue wings, and cocked its neck upward towards the sky. “It’s not so bad,” the heron said.  And the heron motioned with his wing for Dale to crack open a beer for him. “I mean,” the heron paused to burp, tossed the can into some nearby reeds, “what’s even bothering you?” Dale opened two more beers.

“It’s just that nothing lasts. You know? I’m getting old. Everything is disappearing so quickly. I feel like it was yesterday that I was just turning twenty one. I don’t even get ID’d anymore, can you believe that?” The heron could believe that.

The kids that were fishing had circled around the small pond and now they were steering towards Dale, eyeing him suspiciously.

“You wanna fish?” he asked the heron. And the heron nodded, waded out into the water, and started pecking at minnows.

“Hey!” Dale called over to the kids. They must have been thirteen, maybe fourteen. They started backing away. “Don’t worry, don’t worry. I just want to borrow your pole. Just for a little bit.” The kids crept closer. They wore no shoes. They were dirty from head to toe. In these ways, the kids and Dale were the same. Dale traded them five warm beers in exchange for one of the poles and some worms, under the condition he leave the pole there when he was done so that the kids could retrieve it later in the evening.

“Thank you mister!” they both said. Dale hadn’t been called mister in a lifetime and it warmed his heart to see these kids being so respectful. “You two be safe now,” he said, and then he went back and had a seat next to the heron who had stopped pecking at minnows by then.

“That wasn’t very responsible of you,” the heron told him. And Dale said it was only five beers between two kids, how drunk could they get? “Lite beer, nonetheless,” he added. Dale and the heron watched the sun paint the wake of the pond with wisps gold. The occasional bass would stir up water in the center. Rings and rings and rings of water.

“Oh! That’s a big one.” Dale said.

“Sure is.”

There was a tug on the cane pole. Nothing drastic, just a light pull. Dale grinned and looked over to the heron. He started backing up further and further until the line was taut and a bluegill was flapping on the shore of the pond. The heron told Dale, “that isn’t how you’re supposed to use a cane pole, is it?” And Dale shrugged, held the tiny fish up to the sun. “Look at that,” he said, “just look at that.” The heron asked if he could eat it but Dale shook his head no. “Not this one, this is my fish.” He released the bluegill and it disappeared into algae and grime. Dale and the heron laid down on their backs, stretched out their limbs.

“This has been nice,” Dale said. The heron nodded in agreement.

“I wish it could last.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll be gone by tomorrow. Fly to whatever pond, the next stop. Just like everybody else. Always on the move.” And the heron nodded again, understanding.

“There will always be another heron,” the heron said, “or a crane. Not that I recommend cranes, their talkative bastards. And loud.”

“Sure, yeah. It won’t be the same though.”

“No, it won’t be the same. It might be worse. Might be better.” They both nodded, sipped their final bit of beer, and tossed the cans.

With that, the heron flew away. Dale watched it soar, slightly cocked to the left. “Good guy,” Dale said, shutting his eyes, “real good guy.”

Cavin Bryce is a twenty-one year old graduate from the University of Central Florida. He spends his time off sitting on the back porch, sipping sweet tea and watching his hound dog dig holes across a dilapidated yard. His work has been published in Hobart, CHEAP POP, OCCULUM, and elsewhere. He is also a first reader and book reviewer at Pidgeon Holes. He tweets at @cavinbryce

‘Through the Telescope Lens’ by Cavin Bryce

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Dear explorer of the far reaches,

If you’re finding this then something bizarre must have happened to you too. The truth is that I never did much on Earth. I don’t really do much here, either, but I don’t mind. You’re probably wondering where I am but I can’t tell you because I don’t know. I do, however, remember how I got here. Please, allow me to recount my plight.

I was eating a breakfast of buttered biscuits on my back porch when I noticed that the neighbor kid had left his telescope on the border between our lawns. Curious, I decided to take a peek through the magnifying lens. In that moment, as my eyes peered into the expansive nothingness of a dawning blue sky, my body evaporated.

It started with the rods in my eyes but quickly spread to my pupils, nostrils, and skeletal system. Every atom in my body had spontaneously refracted through the lens of the telescope and was then catapulted, by the force of inverted gravity, into the surrounding atmosphere.

Once I was up there I figured there was no way to get back down- on account that a strangeness like this only occurs once a day. Only one fellow can be the unluckiest man alive at a given time. That day, it seems, was my turn. Fields of cumulonimbus clouds sprawled in every direction and sunlight reflected off of the millions of microscopic water droplets, which generated colorful prisms. I saw, in those reflections, a rainbow of epiphany in natural form. In my idle state, while drifting through the eternity of our atmosphere, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to pursue a life of observing contingent absurdities (those similar to my own peculiar circumstance).

As I was contemplating how to locate these absurdities, and how to plot them in a logistical manner, a cavalcade of planes lulled into my line of sight. I imagined that those planes were entirely full of strange people, that they were going absolutely nowhere, and that these facts meant that they must be having an abnormal day too. In the back of my mind I plotted those passengers on my developing map of abnormalities. As the machines coasted lazily out of view, I wondered if anybody had yet noticed my absence.

I felt fairly uncomfortable in the sky– realizing then that I now belonged there.. Gravity leered and migrating waterfowl screeched as I intruded. Time oozed forward, losing its shape with every observation I made.

When my body finally entered the thermosphere it immediately bounced off an ancient carcass of a space shuttle into an obscure block of sleek, black machinery. Upon contact various probing mechanisms, such as thin metal rods and rusting clamps, erupted from the side of the cube and spiraled about. Tiny cameras also emerged from its innards to peer in my direction.

“Hey,” the thing said, its calm voice rumbling from deep inside its metallic body.

“Ah,” I responded. “A sentient cube!”

“Oh man, it’s been so long since I’ve talked to someone. How are you, man? What’s good with Earth?”

I pushed off its body in order to launch myself deeper into the void because I knew better than to trust artificial intelligence, I have seen the movies. The cube’s cameras never left me as I floated away. “Hey!” it screamed at me. “Let’s play cards or something!”

The view of Earth from space wasn’t as awe-inspiring as astronauts claim it to be. It looks just like the photographs you’ve seen; a simple blue and green ball coated in a thick mist of clouds. A more impressive sight is the sculpture of decommissioned technology that sticks to the outer layers of our planet’s gravitational pull. Great serpents composed of copper wire ensnared passing debris which have, over time, formed a sort of giant dream-catcher that encased the entire planet. As I tracked the sleek wires with my eyes I saw prayers, among other Earthly aspirations, getting tangled in the mess.

Further out, I floated by fusing galaxies, pirouetting comets, and decomposing planets. Celestial bodies challenged my perception of distance and size. Everything was minuscule. Everything was gigantic. Clouds of metallic, shining, gases seeped through space as droplets of ink might sink through a glass of water, with twisting tentacles of carbon and iron dancing around stars, getting slurped into neighboring dimensions. There was nothing to do but observe the obscurity of my isolation.

It could have been minutes, or days, but I eventually found myself spiraling into the center of the Milky Way. Gravity existed there as a chaotic rippling of great waves that crashed and receded with enough force to effectively puncture the fabric of space-time. My body flailed about and circled, ever closer, to the center of the black hole until I was finally dragged beneath its surface. I existed there, for the second time in my life, as unconscious particles- a type of human dust.

On the other side of the black hole I found that my body was reconstructed on solid ground, grass even, if you could believe it. Shortly after regaining consciousness I found a  telescope precariously placed next to a foldable lawn chair. When I peered through the lens I could see my house in perfect detail, down to the cracks in the front door. A car I didn’t recognize sat in my driveway. A small boy I had never seen before was playing in my yard. Life had continued in my absence.

I’ve been here tracking the strange things that happen across our galaxy for an unknown amount of time, if time even exists here. I can’t recall what I look like. Or my name. If you ever find yourself near the center of the Milky Way, drop in. Perhaps we can play cards.

Sincerely, your friend