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๐—ช๐—ผ๐—ผ๐—ฑ ๐—ฆ๐—ฝ๐—ถ๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐˜

๐˜ฃ๐˜บ ๐˜™๐˜ฐ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ต ๐˜—๐˜ฐ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ



Aย thin branch whipped across my face. I stopped to cuss the pain out. I had gotten in a tangle when I went off the path. Jim said thatโ€™s what Iโ€™d have to do. โ€œLook near a cottonwood,โ€ heโ€™d said, โ€œoff the path, near water.โ€ Jim owned some of this land, the state some, and God knows who the rest. I had come across a broken-down fence, wooden slats and wire, twisted into the wild, dense undergrowth. I heard a tiny high whine and slapped a mosquito on my bare arm. Iโ€™d been eaten up in spite of the repellent. And in the heat, Iโ€™d left my shirt hanging on a branch, down to my undershirt, khaki shorts, hiking boots, and the misery all over my face. Thatโ€™s when I noticed my foot sinking into the earth. Iโ€™d reached the wetlands.


I reached out to hold onto what I thought was a thin tree while I extricated my foot, explaining my position to the muck in no uncertain terms. Once I realized I didnโ€™t know what held me up, I saw what I held was a broken branch, bare of bark, with a couple of knots in it. I was looking at it upside down, essentially, and because of that, I suppose, an odd configuration of the grainโ€”if thatโ€™s the correct wordโ€”seemed to change position, in a kind of swirl, making sense of what I saw: the face of an old man, the mouth open, the eyes filled with woe. At last, I had found one. Instinctively, I jumped back, releasing the branch.


Once I took a closer look, I wasnโ€™t certain I had gotten the face right the first time. I had my foot out, stomping on solid earth to get the mud off. Damned if I wasnโ€™t angry and elated at the same time. I thought I might cry or shit myself, to be brutally frank, but forced myself to take him in my hands. I swear I saw his eyes close. I screamed and released him but scrambled to pick him up again. I told him I was taking him home, and he did not seem to object. So, I broke him off and carried him out, and you will see him here. You may have difficulty at first but take a closer look. You will want to hold him, but I warn you, itโ€™s terrifying. โœฆ



ย 

Robert Popeย has published stories in many magazines and anthologies, and some of these have been gathered in two recent books from Dark Lane Books: Killers & Othersย (short stories) and Shutterbugย (flash fiction). Several stories first published in Granfalloonย were included in his 2022 book entitled, Not a Jot or a Tittle: Sixteen Stories by Robert Popeย (Dark Lane Books). His latest offering, Disappearing Thingsย was published in April.

Speculative fiction & POETRY ZINE
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