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How to submit to Literary Magazines

This article was originally written and published to Pigeon Review, a literary and art magazine.

This article is designed and written for new writers looking for publication, but it’s open to everyone. (My article for artists is on the way!) This article is also focused on fiction-based writing, not articles, book reviews, etc.

Finishing a short story is a fantastic moment, one filled with pride and a little trepidation, if you’re anything like me. Because now that it’s done, I want to share it with the world!

Here are a few steps to get you started with publishing.

Step 1: Regular Submission or Contest Submission?

When I finish a short story, my immediate thought is, “Yeah, that’s good enough to win a competition.” Because of this thought, I tend to hang onto my stories until I find the perfect competition.

I cannot tell you how highly I discourage this practice.

By hanging onto the stories, I don’t allow myself to fail (learn), or discover the niche that I might inhabit. Additionally, I won’t get published if I never submit, or only submit to competitions.

That all being said, if you have a piece of writing you think is absolutely phenomenal, something that is easily worth the three thousand dollar prize, and you’re okay with entry costs, let that story be your “competition entry” story.

Step 2: Finding the right publication

Assuming we’re talking about general publication, how do you find where to submit it?

Worry not! There are lists!

One of the more popular ones is Duotrope which has a cost associated with it, but not all cost money. I personally use pw.org (Poets and Writers) and Literarium. A quick google search will give you a plethora of lists on which literary magazines to submit to.

The smart thing to do is to read back copies of the magazine you want to submit to. This gives you an idea for the kind of writing they tend to publish. This also helps support the magazine if you buy the copies!

Of course, you may have spotted the small problem here. There are hundreds of literary magazines, and each of them wants you to [ideally] purchase a few back issues to read and get familiar with. Cost aside, the time needed is astonishing. I love reading. I read nightly. I read everything I can get my hands on. But hundreds of back copies across a hundred different literary journals is a huge time commitment.

I’m not urging you to not read back issues. But use your time wisely. If you’re writing hard sci-fi, then yes, give a look to some of the previously published work and see if there is any hard sci-fi. It’s probably best not to send a book review to a publication that doesn’t publish book reviews. If you’re an erotica writer, double check before you send! This all goes hand-in-hand with understanding the guidelines.

Step 3: Understanding the guidelines (and following them)

Most of the time, guidelines are quick and to the point, the dos and don’ts laid out simply. This is usually where the preferred wordcount is found, along with the genres that aren’t accepted. Sometimes, guidelines can get a little complicated with the terms, here’s a little help with three of the most common terms.

Simultaneous Submissions: This refers to sending the same story to multiple magazines. Look carefully at each magazine, some don’t like simultaneous submissions and prefer you only send your story to them. (On a personal note, I don’t like to submit to these places. Having one of my pieces tied up with one journal doesn’t make me too happy.)

Multiple Submissions: This refers to sending multiple stories to the same journal. Again, some journals encourage it, some don’t care either way, and some ask that you only send one at a time.

Reprints: Rarely, a journal will take previously published work, or “reprints.” This is more commonly seen in anthologies where they want to re-publish authors works. Normally, a journal will prefer previously unpublished work.

Before you send your work in, double-and-triple-check the guidelines.

Not following the guidelines is the easiest way to have your work ignored, unread, or unpublished.

Not following the guidelines is the easiest way to have your work ignored, unread, or unpublished. Most literary magazines get hundreds of submissions a month and if you don’t take the time to properly format your story, remove the indents, change the font, or do whatever it is they’re asking of you, there’s a good chance they won’t take the time to read your story. It also shows the literary magazine you aren’t serious about your time or theirs, and worse, it shows you aren’t serious about your work. Literary magazines don’t want to publish someone who doesn’t take the craft seriously, especially when the other people they publish clearly take the craft seriously.

Step 4: Know your rights

The worst thing that could happen, in theory, is you get published (yay!) and make a little money (yay!!) but accidently sell the exclusive rights to that story (no yay). Most magazines won’t attempt to outright strip you of your rights. It’s usually a bit of oversight on the part of the writer and a poorly placed “rights” section by the magazine. Still, as a writer, you’ll want to avoid this.

Luckily for you, in most countries in the world, a creator’s rights are fairly well protected, even if something were to happen. Let’s talk about what some of those rights are.

First: The right for the publisher to be the first to publish your piece. This is what Pigeon Review (the journal I wrote this article for) and most publications will ask for.

Serial: The right for the publication to publish your piece in a printed magazine.

Online: Same as serial, but for a publication to publish your piece online. Pigeon Review also asks for this.

Quick pause- Normally you will see two of the three above together, if not all three. Publications usually ask for “First Serial” or “First Online” or even “First Serial/Online” rights. They want to be the first to publish it, and they’re telling you where it will appear.

Territory (USA/Africa/World/etc.): Some publications will ask for territory-specific rights. This gives them the right to publish your work in either a specific country, continent, or the world. Even if an organization has multiple branches around the world, they can only publish in the places they were given the rights to. This becomes gray area when the subject of “previously published” comes up. If you have a piece published in North America and now you want to enter it in a British competition, but they don’t allow previously published work, reach out and see if they consider it “previously published” if it happened in a different territory.

One time: When the publication wants to publish your work once. If a publication wants to re-publish you work in an anthology, or a “best of” collection, they would have to ask for permission.

Archival: When a publication wants to store your work for reprinting later. This means they will have your work even if it doesn’t appear in print or on their website. Be careful when giving away this right as some publications take it to be exclusive rights. What are those?

Exclusive/non-exclusive: Exclusive rights are when you sign over the rights to a publisher that make the piece of work exclusive to them (think of a novel). Non-exclusive means you can then publish your work elsewhere after they’ve published it (what usually happens with short stories). Sometimes, a writer’s retreat or residency will ask for the exclusive rights to any work created there as a way of making money to keep the residency going.

Anthology: This is for when a publication wants to print or reprint your work in a collection, like a “best of.” Some writers will have their previously published work appear in anthologies since it loses “value” if it’s been published before.

Audio/Film: Self-explanatory, these are the rights to create an audiobook or film. Unless you’re selling a book to a movie studio, you probably won’t come across someone asking for film rights, but audio rights are more common. Some competitions (notably the Audible competition) ask for audio rights for your story.

By and large, when you sell the rights, even the exclusive rights to your work, you don’t sell the right for the publication to make money from it in other ways than publishing it. They can’t make merchandise, sell the film rights without your approval, or turn it into a Broadway play.

Further Tips

Cover Letters: Cover letters can be important when submitting a story or they can be completely unnecessary. Usually this comes down to the publication and how formal they are. When we get submissions at Pigeon Review, we get everything from personalized notes to generic letters to simply, “Editors, Here’s my story.”

As an editor of a publication, I can’t let a cover letter, no matter how well it’s written, be the deciding factor on whether or not to publish a story. I let the story be the only deciding factor. However, there are other publications out there that won’t read your story without a cover letter.

My advice? Have one ready, but only use it when required. It will save everyone time.

Keeping track of your submissions: I tend to make a spreadsheet of all my submissions. This includes the story I sent, the date I sent it, the amount I paid, and whether or not it was published (so I’ll have a list ready for any anthologies). Duotrope and Submittable have tools that are like this already, but I find it comforting to have one on my computer that I can access whenever I want that is laid out to my specifications. Of course, you can add a website link to where you submitted your tory, the name of the editor, and any other information (like a twitter handle) that you please, but I keep it simple.

Pigeon Review now open for submissions

Hey everyone!

I’m the fiction editor for an online art and writing publication called Pigeon Review. We are now open for submissions!

What are we looking for? Well, the full submissions guidelines are here. But, for a little idea, we want writing that flows from place to place. Stories that make us question whether it’s fiction or reality.

For art, we love the idea of finding beauty in the mundane, in the everyday, like a cluttered room or a intrepid plant. Art that tells a story, even if you think you’re the only one who might understand it.

If you have work like this, please send it our way, we’d love to see it!

www.pigeonreview.com

Is writing a real job?

Writing is a real job!

Just a little validation for everyone. If you’re like me, then you’ve heard, “Writing isn’t a real job.” something like two hundred and forty-three times in your life. On a certain level, it’s true. Writing is not often a financially stable way to move through life. However, that isn’t what I mean by writing is a real job.

Without disparaging anyone, or their works, writing demands time. It demands patience. I don’t say this in a way that’s meant to sound gatekeeping. In fact, I think everyone can and should write! Everyone has a unique voice, their own perspective, and it can be used to create a compelling story. But there are people who have a good idea, sit down to write (as they last did in college or high school) and are surprised when they can’t. Why?

Because writing is a real job.

Can you expect someone with no construction experience to build stairs? Someone who has never sailed to sail? Other analogies and comparisons? No, right? So why do you expect anyone, yourself included, to be able to bang out a full novel from an idea without having practiced writing?

I’d be dumbfounded. Impressed, but dumbfounded. And it’s that expectation that kills the excitement in so many beginning writers. We’ve all read books, how hard would it be to emulate one?

Very.

Why?

You guessed it. Because writing is a job.

Taking this concept a step further, it’s up to you to treat it like a job. Put in time. Read everything you can get your hands on. Re-write a book you’ve just read. Read some more. And write. Write when you can. Write for an hour a day or a thousand words a day. Write when you don’t want to. And most importantly, write when you aren’t inspired.

If you wait to be inspired before writing, then you’ll never learn the necessary tools to become a writer. Your ideas and inspiration wasted.

If you can treat writing like a job, sit down and stare at a blank sheet of paper for an hour, write even when nothing comes to you, then your ideas and inspiration will flow from your fingertips.

How to return to writing after a break

Taking a break from writing is easy. Returning to writing afterwards is difficult. Like anything else that requires commitment, patience, and dedication, stepping away from writing can feel like sliding down some unseen totem pole (or up, since the best are at the bottom?).

How do you get back into it?

Easy.

Give yourself a break. A different kind of break.

If it’s only been a few weeks, or even a few months since you’ve started writing, you might not have forgotten much, if anything. But if it’s been months? Or even years? Then writing can seem like an impossible battle.

To start, you need to drop any judgement. Of course you’re writing will be rusty. THings will come across as wooden and lifeless. Scenes will lack the shine they previously had. Dialogue will seem like it’s been lifted straight from a 90’s sitcom. At least, this is how it’s been for me. The first thing I do is release all judgement. Sometimes I actually have to tell myself, out loud, there will be no judgement. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes I angrily delete entire pages, sometimes I rework a line over and over again before realizing it won’t fit. And sometimes it’s just laziness. I can’t think, can’t create, can’t put myself in my character’s shoes, so I just toss in something like, “And so the character leaves the store empty-handed, awkwardly waving at the cashier, hoping he isn’t accused of theft on his way out.” because it’s what happened to me earlier that day.

Think of an old car on a winter’s day, maybe a Ford Taurus from the late 90’s, and it doesn’t just start up. You have to wake up, go outside, start it up, go back inside to get dressed, throw on a pot of coffee, drink the coffee, use the bathroom, grab a jacket, then go back outside to where the trusty yet ancient Taurus is almost warm enough to drive. That’s how writing can be. Sometimes you just need to throw something down on a page and come back. Then add something else. Then another few words. Then maybe you go for a walk, maybe a drive, then you come back. I always find doing chores as a great way to turn my mind off to the writing. I find when it’s off, I think of new ideas and new ways to form sentences. When I have a new idea, I go rushing back to the computer, broom in hand.

Lastly, stress. Call me weak. Call me a no-good millennial. Or soft. Call me whatever the hell you want, but I find it nearly impossible to be creative while stressed. On a certain level, it’s physical. (Stop rolling your eyes, Dad.) Stress, on a physical level, is your body invoking the fight-or-flight response. And this is good. In most cases, it’s great. It gets stuff done. But it’s also destructive. Veins and arteries are literally shred by adrenaline passing through, the heart starts to fail, or skip beats. And when the body is stressed, it starts saying things like, “Digestion? You kidding? We don’t have energy for that. We don’t have energy to think, to sleep, to eat or digest, to breathe, and especially not to be creative. We need to move, and keep moving, and why are you stopping? I said move!” Whether we like it or not, we somehow came to the point in which we praise stress. Brag about it.

You got five hours of sleep? Bro, I got four.

You’re working a double today? Nah man, I’m hitting seventeen hours today. Making that money, know what I mean?

I once listened to a Q&A from an author talking about a book she had published, I think it was her fourth. In it, someone asked her about the work life and writing life balance.

The author told this person that when working on her first book she had a day job, two kids to raise on her own, and barely any time to write. And when she did write, it came out poorly. It was a giant, endless circle. Some time later, the man she had been seeing offered to cover the bills and rent for a bit if she wanted to focus on writing. So she did. She was able to finish her first novel in three months. Her second in less than a year. She chalked it up to being stress-free. Stress-free from everything.

I know it’s not possible to find a situation like that. But if you can find a way to remove stress, it will help immensely as you return to writing.

Using Movement or Conflict instead of a Plot

Even if you’ve never written a single word, at some point in your life someone has told you how important a plot is to a story. If you have nothing else, you need a plot.

For architect writers, the writer that meticulously plots out the story down to the very intricate detail, creating a plot is easy. It’s the first brick in a towering foundation.

For myself, maybe it’s because I can’t plot out a story for the life of me, maybe it’s because I’m a discovery writer, someone who likes to just sit down and write, I don’t have very good plots. In fact, I often forget about plots until it’s too late.

By and large, there are seven plots.

  • Overcoming the Monster/Enemy
  • Rags to Riches
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Voyage and Return
  • Rebirth
  • The Quest

Some writers will layer a very thin plot over what is essentially a character story. Others will use wooden, 2D characters to create a compelling and colorful plot.

In a short story, my main focus of writing, I’ve found the plot can be substituted by either movement or conflict.

Both of these can be physical or metaphorical, depending on the story you’re writing. Moving from point A to point B. Getting in a fight. Spiritually learning and bettering oneself. Emotional inner turmoil.

Because there often isn’t enough time or space to create an entire plot, simply using movement or conflict can work to your advantage. Maybe you can’t create an entire plot about overcoming the enemy, but a simple fistfight could replace that. A quest might not fit into a short story, but a story about running to the grocery store and someone or something encountered along the way could replicate it.

While writing short stories, I am always looking for ways to cut down on writing without sacrificing story, and these are two of the ways I’ve found.

 

 

Why it’s important to remove the ‘fluff’ writing

As an editor, I often tell my clients to add more to their story. Most of it are the “how” and “why”s of a story.

“How did they get from Point A to Point B?”

“Why did they go into that room without any reason?”

“Why are they spending hundreds of dollars in this scene when in the last scene they lamented having money troubles. Did they come into money? Are they bad with what little money they have? Were these two parts written at different times and need to be justified with each other?”

On the converse side of this is having too much information. There are a number of ways this can spell disaster in a story.

First, false leads. By providing too much information to your reader you are creating the expectation that the information will be important later. Your reader will now spend time trying to figure out how that information plays into the story, and they’ll feel the information was misleading if it doesn’t matter in the end (in the sense that the extra/unnecessary information you provided doesn’t change the story if it’s ultimately removed.

Second, fatigue. Writing, and by relation, reading, is a fine balance of growing more tired and countering that with excitement from the book. Having too much fluff in a book or story that isn’t pertinent to the story creates fatigue in the reader but doesn’t offer excitement as a cure.

Third, and last, it might give the impression of bad writing. Saying, writing, too much comes across as not knowing where to end the sentence or the story.

It’s far easier in a short story than a novel to remove unnecessary writing, things that change the story in no way whatsoever. In a novel, some writing that seems unnecessary on first glance can actually have color and flavor in it that builds the characters. It’s hard to know without having an editor or beta reader to look over your work and provide feedback.

Chapter 2 of We Fall and We Fly [Fantasy/New Adult Novel]

The train’s brakes jerked me awake. I took a second to remind myself of where I was headed. Looking out the window, I remembered. Germany. Checking the map on my phone I saw that we passed into the border half an hour ago.

“Huh. Not bad.” I muttered to myself. “Still time to sleep.” Before returning to sleep I looked at the other people around the table. The train’s plush seats were arranged in groups of four around tables, something far different from what I had seen in America.

“You sleep with your mouth open,” said a voice across from me. I looked up and saw the young woman who spoke to me. 

“Ah. That sounds about right. I can’t ever remember to close it once I fall asleep,” I said, smiling slightly.

She looked at me funny, and then decided what I said was a joke, and smiled.

“So you speak English?”

“Of course. I am American, after all,” she said, raising a pierced eyebrow.

“I know plenty of Americans who don’t speak English.” I countered, but didn’t know where to go from there.

She didn’t either, as it turned out. 

In hopes of keeping our conversation going, I reached out a hand and knocked over her bottle of water. “Shoot, sorry. I’m Gabriel.” I apologized and introduced myself all in one breath. Her water bottle hit the ground and the cap flew off, spilling what remained in her bottle on to the floor. 

“Nice to meet you, Gabriel. I’m Arianna.” The young woman, Arianna, shook my hand. “Don’t worry about the water, I wasn’t very thirsty anyway.” She joked. At least, I hoped it was a joke.

“Would you like to come have a drink with me anyway?” I asked.

She thought for a second before smiling. “You thought that was pretty smooth, didn’t you.”

“Yeah,” I admitted without pausing. “Did it work?”

“Why not?” Arianna stood up from her seat and started to walk down the train and towards the dining car before I had even had the chance to get out of my seat.

When I caught up to her, we walked in silence. We didn’t have that much of a choice. The tight walkways between the seats are just large enough for one person to walk through. And I didn’t want to speak to the back of my new friend’s head.

When we reached the dining car, I followed her to the bar.

“What can I get for you?” I asked Arianna.

She looked at me with a smirk. “Oh, how chivalrous.”

“Well, I was the one to invite you.”

She nodded her agreement. “Alright, Mr. Moneybags. I’ll tell you what. You buy the aperitivis and I’ll buy lunch.”

“And why’s that?” I asked, refusing to let someone pay for my invitation.

“Because I’m inviting you to lunch.” She gave a genuine smile.

“Touché.” Turning to the bartender I ordered a Campari and soda.

The bartender nodded once and turned to Arianna. “Do you have any young wine?” she asked.

“Of course.” The bartender said in a gentle German accent. “If you two will sit down I shall be out shortly.”

Arianna and I sat in one of the empty booths near the window, watching the countryside pass in the early afternoon light.

“What brings you to Germany, Gabriel?” she asked without waiting for the awkward silence to grow. “Or was it an assassination mission on my water bottle?”

“Cover’s blown!” I said, holding my hand to my ear. “I need an evac, ASAP!” I continued, starting to stand up. 

Arianna stared at me, waiting for my antics to be over. “Ya done now?” she asked after I got up from the able.

“You know, Arianna,” I began, sitting back down. “I don’t know if this will work between us. You don’t think I’m nearly as funny as I think I am.” I said, smiling.

“As long as you don’t give the people behind you a heart attack, I’ll consider warming up.”

“Is that before or after Hell freezes over?” I asked. Perhaps that wasn’t the smartest idea.

She looked at me for a brief pause, and then smiled. “Do you like to treat all your new friends like this, or just me?”

“Just the special ones.” I said.

The bartender came by with our drinks balanced on a tray, left them with two small dishes of snacks, and went back to the bar. Arianna pushed the chips towards me and kept the peanuts near her. Arianna and I clinked our glasses together and each took a sip. She from her yellow wine, and I from my bubbly red liquid.

“And what about you?” I asked. “What brings you to Germany?” 

“We didn’t finish talking about you.”

“Not entirely necessary,” I said, munching on a chip. 

“And what makes you so special that we don’t get to talk about you?” she asked.

“Wouldn’t want to rob you of your sanity with my boring life.”

“Try me,” she challenged.

“Fine. Let’s see. I’m twenty-two. Haven’t been to college. Worked after high school washing dishes and waiting tables on the other side of town from where I lived.”

“I bet you had to walk uphill both ways,” she joked.

“In the famous Savannah snowstorms.”

“I didn’t realize there were any.”

“Exactly. That’s what made it so difficult.” I smiled. “Anyway. I saved up a few thousand dollars and figured I would rather spend it in Europe rather than a week at college, or whatever four thousand dollars can get you these days.”

“About three days,” she said.

“Oh really?”

“Yeah. I’m in college now. But summer break in Europe and all.”

“Ah, of course. So is that what you do? You’re a college kid on vacation?”

“Oooh! You sound so scandalized!” She laughed. “It’s all scholarships for me. No rich parents or stripping on Friday nights.”

“I wouldn’t have held it against you, anyway,” I said, sipping from drink.

“To mimic someone I know, ‘Oh really?’” She asked.

“Ever heard the phrase, ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’?” I asked. “Well, it’s a lot like that with me. In Savannah there’s this rather well known art college. And to everyone outside Savannah that’s exactly what it is. But to the people who live in Savannah, it’s a place where a talentless fuck can pay fifty-thousand a year a get a piece of paper that says, ‘Congratulations. You’re an artist.’ I’ll even bet you that it’s written in Crayon with gold leaf around the edges. So it’s not that I dislike people who get their college paid for them by dutiful parents. I just don’t think money should equal a scholarship.”

“Yeah. No bitterness at all,” she said with a surprising gentleness. “Did you apply and get denied?”

“Nah. I just don’t like to see someone buying success.”

“God, who does?” She asked, and I think it was rhetorical so I didn’t answer.

We both paused while we had another sip. I can’t speak for her, but my drink wasn’t very strong. Unfortunately, it also wasn’t very big. I took smaller and smaller sips, stretching it out.

“How about this,” she began. “We have lunch and pretend we are on a train going through the picturesque countryside of Europe. And look at that!” She pointed out the window. “My imagination is so strong that it actually looks like we’re on a train through the countryside of Europe.”

“You know, it’s not attractive to think you’re funnier than you are.” I joked.

“Oh, then you should definitely talk to a friend of mine.”

“Are we friends now?” I asked.

“I should hope so. I’m buying you lunch, you know.”

“Speaking of, shall we order?” I asked, hailing the bartender. 

I asked him for a couple of menus. He left and returned a moment later with two menus printed on card stock.

“The roast looks good,” she said.

“I make it a rule to never eat meat on a mode of transportation.”

“Why’s that?”

“Ever seen Airplane? But it’s not just fish. I can’t stand the thought of any type of meat.”

“Scaredy-cat. I’m getting the roast.”

“Fine. Meat all around.”

The bartender returned a moment later and Arianna ordered the roast. I ordered the grilled chicken. It also happened to be the cheapest.

“Did you order that since it was the cheapest?” she asked, blowing my weak cover.

“Did you see those prices? Are they out of their minds charging sixteen euros for a plate of pasta?”

“You don’t really have that decorum that some people have, do you? The one where you don’t talk about the prices, especially when someone else is buying.”

“Can I ask you something?” I asked. “I promise, it’ll tie in.”

“Sure. Wait, let me guess. How much do I charge per night? Will I send you nudes? What’s my sign?” she guessed.

“Uh, no. Nope. If you want to tell me?” I answered all three. 

“Leo.”

“Go figure. But that’s not my question,” I said. “What do you think is the most important thing a parent can give a child?” I asked.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. No bullshit, no jokes.” 

“Tangible or intangible?” she clarified.

“Either.”

“Love,” she said. I paused, letting her take the option to change her answer if necessary. “Wait, no. Hope. If parents can give their kids hope, that is the greatest gift. Why?”

“Funny enough, my parents gave me both of your answers, despite being poor. Well, not poor exactly. Just artistic. Either way, my answer would be more tangible.”

“Would be? Don’t be passive with me.”

“Fine. Is.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I’ve been broke. And homeless twice, not including right now. Which, by the by, traveling is just a fancy word for ‘homeless is many countries.’”

“So you would prefer money? Or a house?” she asked in a simple way. It was not unkind, or blunt. It was just an honest question.

“Do you know what hope and love tastes like?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“It tastes like fuck all. Because you can’t eat it. Or drink it. It doesn’t fit over your head in the rain, and you can’t put it below you to sleep on.”

She thought about it for a second, and then responded. “I think you’re wrong. How come you’re here instead of still back home?” she asked. “What drove you to come to Europe instead of having a steady job with a few thousand dollars in savings? That’s not normal. In fact, out of every person I went to high school with, most of them wealthy, I’m the only one who went traveling. Not because I got lucky. But because I knew there was something more than college. It may not look like it, Gabriel, but everyone has their prison.”

“Oh, don’t worry. Mine fits right here.” I said, tapping between my chest. “But you might be right. So what do you think the purpose of me coming here was?”

“What do I look like, the Three Fates?” she asked. 

“Wow. You made that reference?”

“Sorry. Just got done reading the fable of Icarus.”

“Parable,” I corrected. “I mean, I think it’s a parable. Not that you’re wrong. Maybe we’re both right?” I asked, digging myself out of that hole. 

“Uh-huh.” she said, looking behind me. “Here we go!”

The bartender came to our booth, gave her the roast, then gave me the chicken. 

“Can we have a bottle of your house red?” Arianna asked the bartender.

“Certainly. The bartender took our dishes and glasses from the aperitivi and left.

“Who’s Mr. Moneybags now?” I asked.

“You’re in a strange position to be snarky,” she observed.

“Touché. Thank you for lunch.” I said more honestly. And in fact, the grilled chicken looked wonderful. It was grilled with sliced almonds and raisins, covered in a sauce that was spicy and North African tasting. The vegetables on the side were tossed in oil and roasted. 

I ate a mouthful of chicken and let out a deep sigh.

“That was bordering on a moan.”

“You don’t let me have any awkward moments to myself, do you?”

“Course not. I’m breaking down barriers.”

“I think you’re supposed to at least wait a week.”

“Says who?” she asked.

“Beats me. How’s the food?”

“Ohmigod so good. Literally falling apart in my mouth.”

“Literally literally? Or figuratively literally.”

“Would you like to see?” she offered, beginning to open her mouth.

“I’ll take your word for it,” I smiled, laughing a bit. “Does this mean we’re going to start using the bathroom with the door open?” I asked.

“I think that can at least wait a week.” 

“Ah! So she has boundaries after all.”

She nodded, her mouth full. The bartender returned with a decanter of red wine and two glasses.  He set one glass in front of her, and one in front of me. 

“Who would care to taste it?” he asked, looking at me. I nodded towards her. “She’s the professional,” I smiled. The bartender smiled politely and poured just over two thimblefuls of wine into her glass. She picked the wine up, swirling it around in a circle, then held it up to the window, letting the light show through. With a smooth, yet quick, motion, she tossed back the sip.

I could see her mouth move, tasting the wine and swishing it through her teeth.

“Lovely.” 

The bartender filled her glass a third of the way up, and mine the same amount. He left after placing the decanter on the middle of the table. We both held up our glasses and clinked them together again. The wine smelled faintly of strawberries. I love that smell.

“What was all that?” I asked.

“What was what?”

I mimicked picking up a glass, swirling it, holding it up to the light and throwing it back into my throat. My swishing motions were admittedly far more exaggerated than hers.

“I was tasting it. For a waiter, you don’t know a lot about wine.”

“I was more curious in the ‘why’.”

“To impress.”

“Me or the bartender?”

“The bartender’s gay.”

I looked back over to the bartender. “What? No he isn’t.”

She shrugged, taking another bite of food. 

I took another bit of my chicken and turned back towards the bartender. I still couldn’t see it.

“How can you tell?” I asked.

“He uses maximum hold hair product instead of strong hold. His sleeves are half an inch too short and he uses cufflinks instead of buttons. His pants are a normal length but he pulls them up his natural waist instead of his hips, showing his socks.”

“What? Really?”

“No,” she said, reaching over to me. I thought she was going to grab me, but instead she just pushed my plate. “He left his number under your plate.”

“Oh. Oh!”

“Want me to call him back over so you two can talk?”

“No, I’m okay. I don’t really know how to turn him down.”

“Same way you would turn anyone else down.”

“I don’t turn people down,” I said.

“So you just climb into every old bed thrown your way?”

“Actually, this would be a first.” I admitted.

“Huh. Maybe you have some roguish American charm that works for him.”

“Or he thinks some of the sexuality you’re giving off is actually coming from me?”

“Is that why you asked me to drinks?”

“Nah, I just knew I would get a lunch out of it,” I deadpanned.

“Thank God, I always wanted someone who was as honest as he was shallow.”

“You hit the jackpot, babe,” I said in my best fifties accent, which was sort of a garbled English accent coming from me.

“Was that your Sean Connery impression? Because it was awful.”

“My fifties accent, actually.”

“Well, it’s awful either way,” she said, finishing off the food on her plate.

“Thank God,” I said, copying her. “I always wanted someone who was honest as she was brutal.”

“You hit the jackpot, babe.” She winked, and her fifties accent was far better than my own.

I laughed loudly, trying not to choke on the last of my own dish.

“Where did you come from, Arianna?” I asked, pushing aside my empty plate. “And if you say, ‘my parents’, I’ll accidentally pour this wine on you.”

“Damn. Fine. I came from here and there with a dash of something strange and a quick jig of something badass.”

“Badass, huh?”

“Badass.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you don’t think too highly of yourself.”

“Mhmm.” 

The bartender came by, and took the two empty plates. I tried to avoid eye contact, despite wanting to look. Calling him easy on the eyes was an understatement. 

“So, where do we go from here?” I asked.

“Depends. Where are you taking this train?”

“Berlin, maybe. Maybe I’ll buy a ticket to somewhere further south. I have hope after all. What about you?”

“Wiesbaden,” she said. 

“What’s there?” I asked. I had never heard of Wiesbaden.

“Wanna find out?” she invited me.

“Shouldn’t you buy me dinner before we go gallivanting around Europe?” I tossed out a gentle joke.

“Was lunch not enough? Jesus Christ, you poor people are all me, me, me.” 

“Not all of us. Just the ones who think they’re way funnier than they are.”

Arianna waved the bartender back over, and asked for the check. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll pay for the drinks and you buy me dinner.”

“Deal. I’m feeling Thai. Do they have Asian Thai in Wiesbaden?”

“Nice to meet you ‘feeling Thai’. I’m Arianna.” She smiled, and I felt a small flutter in my stomach. It could have been all of the wine that smelled like strawberries. Or it could have been her.

I looked her in the eyes. Well, eye, really. Her mass of curly hair had fallen over her right eye so I looked into her left. “Dad jokes? Oh boy, we’re gonna get along great.”

“One of my favorite. Both funny and PG rated,” she said, putting her card on the bill.

“Because you’re so PG rated,” I said somewhere between a question a statement.

“Of course not. That’s what makes me so fun.” 

It was still some time before we got up and went back to our seats across from each other near our bags. When the train pulled into Berlin, I followed her out and through the station. We each had one large backpack with us, but she managed to move more deftly through the crowd than I could manage. 

After a few apologies to the fellow travelers I knocked with my bag, we found a ticket kiosk.

“Wiesbaden?” I confirmed with Arianna.

“Wiesbaden,” she confirmed. 

We found two seats on the train next to each other.

Conversation can seem like a currency at times. You spend too much, you won’t have any left. Or, if you talk too much, there won’t be anything left to talk about. I may have been poor in life, but in conversation I was as wealthy as they came. My mother would always talk about the motor that ran my mouth. Somewhere between waiting for the train, and heading south on that train, I realized Arianna was built the same way. I can’t remember the exact second. It’s impossible, like remember the second you fell in love, or the day you fell out of love. 

“Hey.” Arianna tapped my forehead. “Anyone home?”

“Yup,” I said, sitting up straighter. “I just zoned out for a second.”

“Are you one of those people who zone out every ten seconds?”

“Gods above, no.” I reassured her.

“Good. Can’t stand having talking to myself whenever you decide to zone out.”

“I think it’s more like every seven seconds.” I finished honestly.

“You’re insufferable.”

“You have green eyes.” 

“What?”

“I dunno. I thought we were just saying what we found attractive about the other person.”

Arianna laughed, which is really what I was after the whole time. We might kid ourselves, but in the end I think we all just want the other person to laugh at our jokes. 

“And you find my green eyes attractive?”

“Well, it’s not blue, but I can work with it,” I joked.

The shadows were beginning to lengthen as we reached Frankfurt.

“One last train,” she said, running ahead through the afternoon commuters heading to the outskirts of the large German city.

I followed her closely behind, careful to keep my bag closer this time. We found yet another ticket kiosk, perfectly located nowhere near the train we needed to take. For the sake of time, she bought both of our tickets. 

“So does that mean I owe you two dinners?” I huffed, walking quickly behind her.

“Try not to keep count. You might go silly,” she said, with no hint of being out of breath.

We got on the local train seconds before the door closed. I followed her through the train, and when we didn’t find free seats we surrendered ourselves to leaning on the wall.

The sun was a deep orange and shadows draped themselves across slate rooftops as our train pulled into the station at Wiesbaden. I didn’t follow her this time, as we walked through the old part of town. We walked side by side on the cobblestones as we wound our way between the buildings. She stopped in front of a pensione

“We’re here,” she said, going inside.

We rented one room for a week. The innkeeper smiled as he handed us the key and wished us well, saying the city does wonders for a ‘young couple.’

“One room?” I asked Arianna.

“Would you like your own?” she asked.

“Not particularly,” I admitted.

“Good,” she smiled, and we walked into our room. As it turns out, our painfully small room.

“Huh. A twin bed,” I said, meaning nothing by the comment. 

“Too good for you? Prefer to be an honest backpacker and sleep on the floor, or outside on one of the benches.”

“It’s appealing. Especially that bench offer, but I think I’ll stick to the warm bed.” 

“Smart,” she smiled again and shut the door.

We spent a handful of minutes in the room. Getting acquainted with it only took one of those minutes. Most of the time was spent in the bathroom, with me relieving myself. The wine earlier did me no favors.

“Dammit, Gabriel.” Arianna knocked on the door. “How are you not done pissing?”

“Wine,” I answered. “Copious amount of wine. In a short window of time. Earlier, did you say that we do have an open-door bathroom policy?” I asked, fastening my pants around my waist and flushing the toilet. “I can’t remember.” I smiled, cracking the door.

“We can have whatever policy that doesn’t make us late to leaving.” She looked less than amused, which is to say, entirely and completely unamused. I still thought it was funny.

We left the pensione and walked without our bags for the first time that day.

The shopkeepers were out in front of their shops sweeping, or dropping the rolling grates with swift and practiced movements. 

Orange lights, softer and shallower than the sun was earlier, emanated from the lampposts, guiding our way to the Holy Place. A Thai restaurant. 

“You come all the way to Europe to eat at a Thai resturant?” Arianna asked me, after we were seated at a small two-top near a tropical fish tank.

“Yup. I think it’s like leaving America and suddenly craving a hamburger. Or even better? Have you ever been to China? And when you get there, you start craving American Chinese food. God, that’s the worst.”

“You’ve been to China?” Arianna asked, sounding surprised since the first time I met her.

“Yup. Once. For a few months. Did you think I came to Europe first?”

“Why did you go to China first?”

Normally I would have given a blasé, one-off answer. Normally. But sitting with Arianna in a Thai restaurant in a small German town did not fall under the category of ‘Normal’ for a twenty-two year old with little outside experience.

“I was looking for something,” I answered. I wanted to sound cryptic and invite her further in to ask more questions. 

She obliged. “Looking for what?”

“The same thing I am going to look for in the Black Forest.” I paused, waiting for the build-up. “Magic.”

“What?” She was nonplussed. “Magic?” 

“Yup.”

“Like, abracadabra?”

“No.”

“You want to be Harry Potter, don’t you?”

“Nope.”

“You want to be like an elf from Lord of the Rings.” She stated, a smile starting to form.

“If that’s on the table, sure.”

“Like fairytales? You want to have fairytale magic?”

“Depends on the magic. Depends on the fairytale.”

“Huh.” She smiled. “Gabriel the Wizard.”

“I prefer Magician, if it makes a difference,” I said, waiting for the laugh to come. There was some form of ridicule that usually followed ‘I want to learn magic.’ From my experience, the emotional ridicule was often far worse.

“Can I be honest?” she asked.

I shrugged.

“It’s not the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. You know what I wanted to be growing up?” she asked me.

This time I responded. “A princess? A fairy-princess-pirate-mermaid?”

“Close! Actually, yeah, for a while when I was five. But later when I got older I wanted to be an astronaut.”

“So why aren’t you?” I asked.

“Seriously? Have you seen these hips?” she asked. It was true. If Arianna stood with her legs together, they looked like an upside down pear. Starting narrow at her ankles and getting wider at the hips.

I explained to her my analogy. 

“Do yourself a favor, Gabriel.”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t ever call a woman pear-shaped.”

“Okay.”

I didn’t tell her what I thought about the rest of her. Best left unsaid, I guessed.

Chapter 1 of We Fall and We Fly [A Novel]

When winter came to Paris, it dragged with it a sky full of clouds. Damp chill crawled along streets, eating through thick wool and thin cotton without discrimination. A week ago, snow raced through the skies, turning cars and trees into mysterious masses, a treasure for discovery.  On this particular morning winter sleeps in so the snow melts, the chill slinks away down into the sewer, and the clouds peek out from the edge of the horizon.

The rising sun casts its light across the rooftops forcing anything wet to shine. With every inhale the taste of warm possibilities rushes down throats. Putrid city smells like sewage and smog are nothing more than a debunked theory.

A fifty-euro bill floats down into a man’s can as he sits against a wall, clutching a cardboard sign, torn and bent around the edges. Two cats lie curled into each other atop a metal grate, lazing in the new sun above and the warm air from the metro below. A young girl yanks on her father’s hand, begging him to buy her a pastry before school. Today, the father relents, and he buys two so they can sit on a bench and talk about the little things that he so often missed. A couple, far above the street, make love to each other instead of fighting. 

Charles doesn’t see the world living around him. The morning sun shone too bright, so he pulls his cap lower. His sore feet remind him he’s been walking for hours, and his empty stomach recommends a café near the Pont des Arts.

The tables outside have two or three patrons each, all taking slow sips or long swallows of strong espresso. The beautiful day begs people to slow down and not rush off to wherever it is people must go on a Friday morning. Charles walks over to a table. The sole occupant is a dark-skinned man wearing an open wool coat and a skinny black tie. He is sprawled in his chair like a dog in the sun. 

“Uh, excusez-moi.” Charles interrupts what he hopes was not a morning nap. “May I…” he trails off, gesturing towards the open seat. His high-school French classes have not stuck with him through the years.

“Oh! Of course,” the man responds, looking up at him. Charles sits, surprised and a bit happy to hear the familiar American accent. 

“Thanks.” Charles offers a sincere smile, one of the few he has left.  The sun-warmed chair soothes his aching body as he takes the weight off his feet. Charles resists the urge to remove his shoes and massage his quickly swelling feet. 

“My pleasure. May I get you a drink? It’s early enough that the Italians won’t think less of you if you have a cappuccino.” The man is already hailing the waiter.

“Oh, no, no. You’ve been far too kind, as it is. Besides, I don’t think coffee on an empty stomach is such a smart idea,” Charles says.

“Nonsense. Let’s have a bite to eat, as well. Do you eat eggs?” The waiter arrives before Charles could respond, and his sitting companion orders in French. Charles misses most of what was said, but hears “cappuccino” mentioned. 

“I got a little spread for the table.” Before Charles has a chance to protest, the man holds up his hand. “I was about to eat anyhow, you just gave me another reason to.”

The man reaches his hand across the table. “They call me Gabriel.” 

“My pleasure,” Charles grips his hand. “I’m Charles.”

Careful to keep the silence at bay, Gabriel asks, “What brings you to Paris, Charles?”

“Not sure, truth be told. I came into a bit of money, wanted to see if this was the city I remembered.”

“Is it?”

Charles looks around, taking in the Vespa’s flying past, and the clamor of a busy morning. All along the river booksellers are opening their green plywood stalls, sweeping aside leaves, making half-hearted attempts to lure pedestrians in.

“I don’t know.” Charles says simply. “It’s like seeing an old friend from high school. You used to be close, thick as thieves, and now you both hesitantly reintroduce yourselves, not sure who the other person has become.”

“Well said,” Gabriel agrees, never taking his eyes off the tired man.

“Thanks,” Charles chuckles. “What about you?” he asks in return. 

“I went on a European trip once. Never finished it.” 

“Like a gap year?” Charles asks.

“Exactly like a gap year.”

Before Charles can ask any further questions, the waiter returns with a tray piled with food. He places the plates of pastries, eggs, fruit, and meat around the table, and finally, two cappuccinos, one in front of each man.

Merci,” Charles says.

Gabriel echoes him with a better accent.

The two men pause their talking while they each take a pastry and spread them with jam and butter. It’s a wordless dance, commonplace at nearly every table. The passing of food, the rearranging of plates, the prediction of what the other person might need, and to supply it before asked.

Across the street, a young girl chases a flock of pigeons as they take off and land only feet from where they were. They play that game a few times before the pigeons fly off for good. The girl looks up and waves as they leave, watching as the circled in some intricate dance, known only to pigeons and children.

“Why did you stop?” Charles asks, once he had a few bites. The food and coffee settled well in his stomach, making him relax even more.

“Pardon?” Gabriel looks up from his pain au raison.

“You said you never finished your European travels?”

“Ah, that.” Gabriel nods as he took a bite. “I suppose it was a mix of things,” he says, finishing his bite. 

Charles takes the lack of answers as a hint to not pry. “It’s always that way, isn’t it? Trying to find the moment it all changed.”

“And it’s over before you know,” Gabriel adds. “Looking back, I’ve found there was a moment it had all gone wrong. For certain, and without fail, everything had gone to Hell.”

“I can agree to that. In fact, I remember that moment well.”

“Oh?” Gabriel rasies an eyebrow.

Charles takes another sip of his coffee and bushes a few crumbs of croissant from his shirt.

“Eggplant parm,” Charles says, without preamble. “That’s when it went wrong.”

“I like to think I follow most things. In this case, I might have missed something.”

“Before I came here, before I came into that little bit of money, I made food at a private school. I was one of the lunch ladies. Lunch men? It was the most recent job in a long line of ‘how-do-I-make-ends-meet-this-week’ jobs. Before that I was moving furniture, tried some construction work, even tried my hand at pulling espressos. I’m too old for that. But a few weeks ago, I was working at a private school down South.” Charles pauses for a second, remembering where he is. “Not down south here, back in the States.”

Gabriel nods his understanding without speaking.

“My car would stall out in the parking lot just as I pulled in; I didn’t have money to fix the radiator. Each day it would be another meal to make with ingredients I couldn’t afford. Hotel trays of beef bourguignon, or mushrooms and trout. Whatever wasn’t eaten had to be tossed, as per some back ass-wards Health and Safety laws. I could never afford to make these at home, and instead I went to work just to throw them away. One day I was scraping out a hotel pan of eggplant parmesan, and it hit me. ‘How the hell did I end up here?’ I didn’t notice it all going to Hell, I only knew that I was there.”

Gabriel absorbs the story before speaking. “Do you mind if I ask how you got there?”

“Not at all,” Charles says, reaching into his pocket. He pulls out a plastic coin with “10” emblazoned on it. “Alcohol, mostly. But this,” he dropps the coin onto the table. “This is ten years sober.”

Charles looks down at the ground for a second, avoiding eye contact with Gabriel. “I don’t know how much good I’ve done in my life, or if I’ve really earned anything. But I earned this,” Charles looks up, his eyes red-rimmed. “I know I earned this coin.”

The two men allow the silence settle between them, like silt on the riverbed.

Gabriel speaks first, disturbing the silt. “I’m not sure if there is a judge at the end of all this,” he waves his arm around them. “But if there is one, I am sure they can attest to that.”

“Thanks,” Charles smiles, putting the coin back in his pocket. “I’ll be honest, I’m surprised you have me saying so much in such a short time.”

“Unfamiliarity can do that. It forces you to leave your comfort zone, to open up and make friends. Share experiences. Be a part of this narrative, just another facet of the same story.”

“Bit of a sad story, isn’t it?”

“Depends how you view it, Charles,” Gabriel says, using the other man’s name for the first time. “But I made a new friend today. I’d say this story is rather warm and exciting.”

“You remind me of someone.” Charles laughs, his eyes clearing up.

“Oh?” Gabriel smiles, “Who’s that?”

“My dear old dad,” Charles smiles back, though his voice was somewhat salty. “Only in part, though. No one should be entirely like him.”

Gabriel raises an eyebrow, but holds his tongue. It’s always impossible to comment on the relationship of a parent and child, and this is no exception. 

Charles seizes the opportunity to open up. “He was an alcoholic for as long as I can remember. One of the two things I inherited from him. Not that he was abusive, far from it. But he was… distant? He was around, but he acted almost as if we were in afterthought. Not in a bad way, in a…” Charles shakes his head. “I’m explaining this all wrong. Let me start again.”

Charles takes a sip of his coffee, and looks back up. 

“I never really knew my father,” Charles begins. “He was an enigma, powerful and vacant. Our mother raised my two sisters and I, mostly on her own. My father was around for the important parts, though. He gave me ‘The Talk,’” Charles makes air quotes with his fingers, “And I had my first beer with him. The important bits, for sure. But prior to my birth, and even during my first few years, I had no idea of who he was. He didn’t share too much about his own life. Too late now, he’s dead.”

Charles pauses and brings his coffee cup towards his mouth before stopping and setting it back on the table. “He could’ve been the poster boy for a functioning alcoholic. You always hear these stories about drunk parents coming home, beating their kids into a pulp, night after night. Never him; never my father. Back when I was a kid sharing a room with my sisters, my dad would come home at two, maybe three, in the morning. He would turn on the bedside light, sit on the bed, and start telling us stories.” The smile dips a bit. “But I never really knew him. The perfect enigma, all the lessons he wanted to teach us wrapped in stories. Just stories.” Charles gestures with his hand to show the stories tossed in the wind. 

“Stories?” Gabriel asks, breaking his silence. “I rather like stories.”  

Charles looks over. “Do you now?”

“Quite a bit. The whole reason I’m here is because of legends and tales whispered into my ear when I was young, reinforced by mysteries and stories when I got older. It set me on this journey. I didn’t know where I was going, and I still don’t, but I know it’s somewhere. And it’s because of the stories people told me. So yes, I love stories.” 

Charles nods and shrugs, “Fair enough. What if they seem more like legends?”

“Even better?”

“More of a rumor, really.”

“The truth is overrated, anyhow.”

“Without a shred of truth, to be sure.”

“Now that I can’t believe. Every rumor came from somewhere.” Gabriel shrugs. “Maybe not the water cooler rumors, or high-school mutterings, but rumors that are woven into the fabric of humanity. Those have truth.”

“Very well. My father told me this story once, when I was younger. I was maybe… fifteen? I remember it so well because he told me never to forget it. To treat it as a lesson. I’m not sure I ever did, and I don’t know if I ever will. But I loved it when I was younger. He called it the Reveler and the Shepherd.”

“Long ago, before the time of industry, two men walked the Earth. They would use gifts of magic as they traveled to the different corners of the ancient world, visiting cities in times of war and sickness. The Reveler would bring music and laughter to the humble hearths and lavish manors. The Shepherd stayed out of the spotlight, going from hospice to home, healing those he could, and helping whoever he couldn’t cure cross over. 

The Reveler could enchant people, entrance them with sound alone. He would arrive, lute in hand, and usher in all manner of boisterous music and high spirits. He would commandeer a plot of land or corner of the room and play. His fingers would sparkle over the strings, as he coaxed music into the warp and weft of a masterful tapestry of sound. Slowly, his crowd would grow. The travelers and their fiddles, the farmer’s kids with their pipes, each with their own voice to add. Soon food was brought, casks as well, and tables were laid out. The reveler danced in-between them, strumming all the while. The wealthy came down from their castles or manors high up on a hill, joining the festivities without prejudice. He was like that good friend or favorite uncle; you would only see him once every few years. Ah, but when he was there! Beer flowed forth from tapped casks, and music sprung from strung instruments straight into the hearts of worn out souls. The people of these lands, after years of exhaustion, felt renewed. They all danced with a reckless abandon found only in children, and children danced with them. For weeks afterwards they would speak of him, of the night the land was alight with fire and music. But gradually things returned to normal, as all things must. Prejudice returned. The wealthy extorted the poor, the travelers moved on, and the farmers returned to the soil. Memories of the Reveler faded, until people weren’t sure they actually danced with him. Some didn’t forget, and it was those who prayed to see him again.

“The Shepherd never saw the revelry. He left the healing of minds to the Reveler. When he went from town to town, he let his presence be known in other ways. Those who lost their sight found it, the ones suffering from infection saw it fade away, and fevers dissipated in the night. Children had twisted legs straightened, and eyesight corrected. Trees would bear more fruit while the crops would not mold in the rain nor whither in the heat. Cows produced more milk, and hives were found with more honey. People rejoiced, their prayers answered. Slowly, random mutterings and rumors were pieced together. When someone regained sight, or regrew a leg, a stranger was there. Passing through, never there longer than a night. A man dressed only in a white robe, carrying a staff. Then the rumors spread. They started in the quiet of the nights, only broken by the sound of a child whimpering and a mother praying. Praying to God to cure her child, and to a stranger who could do the same. Men at war would bring home stories of a man would could reattach legs, and heal the holes in the stomachs. They would murmur these stories around the light of a fireplace, wondering they had been touched by the Holy Spirit.

“It wasn’t long until the prayers to God ceased entirely. Instead they would pray for the Shepherd to come and heal their bodies. And the Shepherd would come, as he always had, but his shadow grew longer. What was once a battlefield of bodies to heal or guide to the Otherside became a monument to failure. He wore each loss as a chain that dragged behind him, but still he went. The Reveler went with him, to repair the minds of those who had lost them, and fill hearts with hope. Together, they helped the world come together.”

Gabriel doesn’t speak immediately; perhaps Charles will continue. But Charles isn’t looking at him, he’s looking across the river, his mind hundreds of miles away. 

“Is there an ending?” Gabriel asks at last.

“I asked my father the same thing. He told me that as long as those two men walked the Earth, their story could not end. He said we could only look at them and try to be as generous and as helpful as they are. When I was young, I thought I was The Reveler. No worries, no regrets. Only new places, new people, and new friends. But more and more each day I see myself as The Shepherd, weighed down with regret as the world tumbles around me, each loss beyond my power.” Charles sighs, no longer the smiling man he was an hour ago. 

The lines on his face deepen and his back begins to hunch again. Now he is just another person without a clear purpose.

The waiter comes back over, removing the used plates. Gabriel asks him for another two coffees and a bottle of water for the table. 

“Never too late, you know,” Gabriel offers, as the waiter leaves.

Charles’s eyes flicker and he looks to Gabriel. “Pardon?”

“The Reveler. Your story. It’s never too late to be the carefree one, to be the Reveler.”

“I think I’m a bit old,” Charles gives a smile that could only be described as rueful.

“I didn’t realize there was an age limit on making new friends, or going to new places,” Gabriel remarks carefully.

“Look at me!” Charles explodes. “I’m in Paris! Again! I came here to see if it was the city I remembered, and it isn’t. Worse than that, I can’t tell if it’s me that changed, or the city. What happened to this place? It used to be so vibrant! And so was I…” His eyes grow wet. “Look at me. A foolish old man who never learned from his mistakes.”

“Would you prefer to learn from your mistakes in five years from now? Ten?” Gabriel asks, not unkindly. “There’s the famous saying, ‘The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today.’ And I think today is a great day for you to move on.”

Charles laughs, a grating sound. “Know a lot about moving on, do you?”

“More than I’d like to.” For the first time since meeting him, Charles truly sees him. His eyes are hard and sad. So sad. Charles knows the feeling of loss, having lost most of his family before he was thirty. He knows there is an anger sitting deep inside him and that strange sense of missing. He sees it in Gabriel, but he sees something more. Before he can put a finger on it, Gabriel’s eyes changed, and the stranger is once again the easy-going man in a wool coat.

“But this is not the time for that!” Gabriel exclaims as the waiter returns with more coffee, two glasses, and a bottle of water for the table. 

“What is it the time for, then?” Charles asks, not expecting an answer.

“It’s the time for friends. For sharing sweet memories of better times, of laughing at past mistakes and recounting lost love. It’s the time to live in this moment, this here and now. For what is life if not but a single moment, trapped in time? Nothing exists outside right now, where we sit, where we drink and spin yarns. Nothing from our past nor our present, it is only this.” Gabriel taps the table with his finger. “It’s now,” he says, pouring them each a glass of water. “Saluti,” he says, holding up his glass.

“The Italians consider it bad luck to toast with water,” Charles points out.

“They also think black pepper causes hemorrhoids. I leave old superstitions to the superstitious,” Gabriel counters. 

Charles shrugs. “Cheers.” He clinks his glass to Gabriel’s. “To now.”

They both take a sip. Charles pauses for a moment; feeling a rush pass through him, like stepping out of a cold shower, skin buzzing and humming. As the feeling fades, he sips again, but this time nothing happens. 

“Everything okay?” Gabriel asks.

“Yeah. I just…” Charles doesn’t want to say he felt something strange and endanger his new friendship. “Nothing, just a feeling.”

“A warm tingling feeling?” Comes the question.

“How’d you know?” Charles asks him.

“Just one of those things.” Gabriel shrugs. “Sometimes a toast inspires, and sometimes a word is more than a word.”

“And sometimes a stranger is more than a stranger,” Charles pokes gently.

“Sometimes.” Gabriel smiles back, his mouth wolfish. 

“What brings you here, Gabriel? You’ve heard my story, I have yet to hear yours.” 

“Oh, mine is no fun. No fun at all.” Gabriel shakes his head, smiling. 

Charles stares at a bookseller and customer haggling over the price of a small book. “Were you here yesterday?”

“In Paris?”

Charles nods.

Gabriel shakes his head. “Why do you ask?”

“Snow up to here.” Charles gestures with his hand to his mid-calf. “Absolutely frigid. Just miserable.”

Gabriel doesn’t answer.

Charles takes a sip of cappuccino and gazes around. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

The other man nods, sipping his own coffee. 

“Strangely so,” Charles says, his voice almost a whisper.

“Perhaps it’s fate.”

Charles smiled at the idea. “Oh, is that so?”

“Would you have been walking around is such treacherous weather? Would I, or anyone else, be sitting outside?” Gabriel gestures to the people seated around them. “The one spring day, in the dead of winter, drives the two of us together.”

“Where’s the water?” Charles asks, instead of replying.

“I would imagine it’s in front of you.” Gabriel points to the Seine that flowed just on the other side of the street in front of them.

“Not that water. From the snow. Easily five inches of snow, and now? Not a trace. Not a lingering snowdrift in the shade, nor a snowball under any eaves. Where’s the melted snow?”

“Where’s the water?” Gabriel echoes. “Must be one of life’s great mysteries.”

“I doubt that. Want to know the second thing my father left for me?”

“I’m sorry?” Gabriel asks, entirely lost at the change in conversation.

“I told you I inherited two things from my father, one was the drinking.”

“And the other?” Gabriel asks.

Charles digs around under his shirt for a brief second before pulling out a necklace. Hanging from it is an insignia of some sort. It could have been a Nordic rune, or an eye, or even a bird. If you squinted, it looked like pretty much anything. Like a cloud, it found shape in the eye of the beholder. XXX

“Do you know what this is?” Charles asks.

“I have a pretty good idea,” Gabriel murmurs. His eyes never leaves the pendant Charles holds.

“My sisters got everything else. The house, the money, the heirlooms and keepsakes. And I got this. Only this.” Charles holds it up, farther away from his chest. “What is it?” Whether on accident or purpose, Charles asks his question somewhere between a plea and demand.

“It’s an object of exclusivity.”

“Excluding what?”

Gabriel thinks for a moment, relaxing back in his chair. “People without the Mark of Aerie.”

“What’s that?” Charles asks.

“Do you know where you father got it?” Gabriel answers.

“Mom always said he’s had it as long as she can remember. Never took it off. One say, after he passed, it arrived in the mail. Came in a small wooden box. The letter inside said, ‘For Charles. Remember who you are. Walk proudly, speak kindly, love fiercely, and above all, live well. This is my last gift to you. Love, Dad.’” Charles’s eyes waters once again. Somewhere, deep inside him, the young boy without a father wishes he had an answer. Now, with Gabriel across the table, he knows more about the heirloom than he ever had. There is more than one, and it has a name. “What is it?” This time, the demand is gone.

“There are many answers to that question. To you, it is a way to remember your father. To me, it is a way to recognize friends. To others, it is a Mark gives them a feeling of inclusion by excluding the world around them. A way to fit in.”

“How does it help you recognize friends?”

“The same way the Ichthus does, or a certain colored bandana, or even an accent. A long time ago I found a group of people that shared the same ideas I had.” 

“Which were?”

“That there is more to this world. In some way, shape, or form, this world is not bound by the rules we have discovered.” Gabriel taps his head with a forefinger, over and over. “It was this feeling, this desire even, that there was more. I was disillusioned by how people interacted with the world around them, or with the people they called friends.” Gabriel stops tapping his head.

“When I was younger, I was angry. Always angry. And I refused to take responsibility for anything I did, but I knew I was refusing to do so, and it made me angrier. I wanted to be someone. Someone powerful, yes, but more than that, I wanted to be someone different. I was scared there wasn’t any different. That we weren’t any different from one another. That we followed the same drone-like life decade after decade. And I wanted to change that. I wanted to be someone and do something.

“I wanted to summit mountains, swim in stormy seas, and travel the world with only a single pair of clothes and a toothbrush. To sail around Tierra del Fuego, traverse the Sierra and the Gobi, meditate in a small temple and sing songs in large ones. 

“Maybe I didn’t actually want to, but I just wanted to have that option. As I grew up, I read every book I could get my hands on. I began to fall in love with the world between the pages. I wanted to see it all: from the bazaars of Morocco to the soulless city of Shanghai, from the back roads of America, to the heart of Africa. I wanted to sleep in caves with herders, and lose myself in the silence of nature. I had an idea of how life should be lived.”

“And have you lived it?” Charles asks, putting the pendant back around his neck. “Have you seen those mountaintops and ocean crests?”

“There was love,” Gabriel responds. “And loss. A betrayal, and an alliance. There were indefatigable enemies, but more than that, there were redoubtable friends. And there was this.” Gabriel pulls back the sleeve of his coat, showing a bracelet. On the bracelet hands the same insignia Charles wears around his neck. 

“You do know what it is?” Charles nearly yells. 

“I do. I know where your father made it, and I’ve been there myself. In fact, you and I would probably have met before now if not for your fathers desire for privacy.

“I’m getting ahead of myself. I will tell you where that comes from,” Gabriel points at Charles’s neck. “But it is a long story. Are you sure you’re ready for it?” 

Charles smiles, and deep inside him the boy smiles as well. For years Charles knew his father was gone, but across the table from him sits something so concrete he feels reconnected again. “Look!” Charles exclaims. “The day is beautiful, the sun is warm, and the chair is comfortable. Every so often a beautiful woman walks by and smiles, and that is far too rare for me. So, yes, I am ready.”

“Fantastic! As a matter of ease, feel free to interrupt me. If you need further clarification, or if I’m giving too much information. I may ramble a bit as it feels as if my story happened years ago.”

“And did it?”

“Yes, six.”

Charles stares at Gabriel, finally starting to put a finger on what was bothering him before. “Gabriel, how old are you?”

“Ohh, I don’t know.” Gabriel releases a deep sigh. “Maybe twenty-six? Twenty-eight? I’ve lost track.”

The mental arithmetic doesn’t take long. “Goddamn. Twenty-six?”

“I feel older than I look,” Gabriel offers as a consolation.

“Don’t sell yourself short, you look older than you are,” Charles jokes. “Kidding aside, I thought you were at least in your thirties.”

“At the risk of sounding contrite, along my journey I met young monsters and old gods; sometimes I had trouble telling the difference, and sometimes it didn’t matter. In short, I don’t think age weighs as heavily as experience. And I have that by the bucketful.”

Charles laughs and shakes his head. “Are you going to start?”

Gabriel smiles, and laughs with him. Leaning back in his chair, Gabriel adopts the same pose Charles saw him in when he first arrived at the café; sprawled in his chair like a dog, his eyes closed and his face turned towards the sun.

“Where should I begin?”

How can we learn to live in the moment?

While still traveling the world

Living in the moment is damn-near impossible. At some point, while growing up, we all forgot how to enjoy the moment we’re in. We start looking forward to the future, start imagining all the ‘what-if’s and ‘what will be’s, and forget to enjoy what we’re doing. 

Do you play a sport? Instrument? Video game? Do you cook? Do you have a pet, like a dog or cat, that you enjoy cuddling? These are just some of the easiest examples of living in the moment. Time where nothing else matters outside of what is happening in that very second—not the future, or the past.

Before traveling, it can seem like every moment abroad will be like that. Every moment will be doused in color and life, imprinting itself on your mind forever.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In my experience, it’s rarely the case. Traveling is a long series of micro-decisions. Are you hungry? Do your feet hurt? What time does the bus arrive? Should we go left or right? Answering these one way can make you end up in front of the Eiffel Tower, or waffling between two restaurants that both sell falafel. Because of all these little decisions, desperate trying to think a move ahead, you might not always remember where you ate, or what you saw, but sometimes, you will remember standing in a Subway and watching your travel partner play peek-a-boo with a kid who just couldn’t look away.

When Darcy and I travel, we tend to plan out the next month, or at the very least, the next two weeks. Flights, lodging, busses, trains, etc. Everything is done at least two weeks in advance. Of course, this means nothing once we actually hit the road. One missed bus, or train, and the plan falls apart, we find ourselves taking a train to an airport an hour after our flight left, and we regret leaving home in the first place. So we begin to adapt. Take in new information and create new decisions, again and again, with no chance for ‘living in the moment.’ Or so it seems. But these are the perfect chances to live in the moment. There are moments in these hectic dashes through airports and countries, moments where we can pause and ask ourselves, “Where am I?” 

If you can capture those moments, and enjoy them as they happen, without thought for what came before or what will come after, you will never regret your decision to leave home.

Lost in Thought

James stared out the car window, drawing shapes on the condensation collecting inside.

“Doin’ okay there, sport?” his father, in the driver’s seat next to him, asked. He liked to call James “sport” or “pal.” Even “kiddo.” It didn’t matter that James was twenty-seven and had lived alone for the better part of ten years.

“Yeah, Dad. Doing okay,” James said, hovering between sarcasm and honesty.

“Wanna talk about it?” his dad offered.

James focused on the fish he was drawing, adding squiggles for water and sharp angles for scales.

“Yeah. No. Not now, at least.”

His father nodded, understanding. Flicking the directional downwards, James’s father made a right turn. A horn blared from behind their car.

“Where are we going?” James looked up from his window masterpiece.

“Remember when you and I would go out for the afternoon and run by Checkers on the way home? And your mom never found out because I wouldn’t let us leave until you finished everything? Hah! She would’ve been pissed to see a milkshake cup in the trash.” His father smiled a half-smile. 

“And you want to go again now?” James questioned him.

“Yes,” his father answered, pulling into and parking in an empty parking lot.

James opened his door and stood up, stretching. Looking at the sky, he squinted. It always seemed to rain on the day funerals were held. Never a tree-snapping thunderstorm, but a dreary pitter-patter of rain.

They walked up to the order window and stood in the bright white light of the food display board.

“Number seven with a vanilla milkshake?” James’s father asked, smiling slightly as if it were an old joke. 

“C’mon Dad, you know I’m vegan now.”

“That’s right.” His dad turned to the order window and waited patiently for a server to come. He didn’t wait long.

“Welcome to Checkers, what do you want?” The lady asked, after opening the window.

“One number seven with a chocolate milkshake,” James’s father ordered.

“One number seven with a chocolate milkshake. Will that be all?” the lady asked.

James’s father looked to James, and James waved away his chance to order. 

“That’ll be all, then.” James’s father handed over his card. After a few beats, she handed it back with a receipt. 

“Your food will be out shortly,” she said, and closed the window.

James and his father stood in silence under the awning, watching as cars did their stop-and-go dance through the drive-thru. 

Finally, the window opened and a young man with acne pushed the food towards them, closing the window without a word. 

“Should we sit out here?” James’s father asked.

“It’s raining,” James pointed out.

“They have umbrellas,” his father responded.

“And this is an eight-hundred dollar jacket.” James flicked his lapels.

His father shrugged and stood there with his white paper food bag getting increasingly more transparent. 

James shook his head and walked back to the car with his father in tow.

Once they were situated comfortably inside, James’s father opened his paper bag and reached down, pulling out a fry.

“Are you going to eat here? In the parking lot?” James questioned him, despite the fact he was cleary eating in the parking lot.

“We don’t get to talk anymore, kiddo. I think we should talk,” his father replied, ignoring James’s question. 

“Fine. What do you want to talk about?” James asked.

“Am I wrong in thinking that we used to be close?” James’s father asked.

James paused, then sighed. “No, Dad. Before I moved out, we were close.”

“Then what happened between us? Because for the life of me, I can’t figure out what it was,” James’s father asked, putting the bag of food on the dashboard. 

“Can I ask you a question?” James changed the topic.

“Sure, pal.”

“When did you stop loving my mom?”

James’s father looked at James with a face that bordered the line between shock and curiosity. “What makes you say I stopped loving her?”

“Dad?” James asked.

“Yeah?”

“Can you not treat me like a child? Believe it or not, I did grow up somewhere between turning fifteen and turning twenty-five.”

“Fair enough, James. You want this to be a man-to-man talk?”

“No. I want it to be a father-to-son talk.”

James’s father turned away, nodding a few times. “I have never stopped loving your mother. However, you’re right in a way. We were no longer in love with each other.”

“How?” James asked. “People don’t just fall out of love.”

“Don’t they? People fall in love pretty easily. Sometimes it only takes a few minutes or the cost of a drink. Sometimes it’s a more drawn-out affair. But in the end, falling in love usually happens suddenly, and without any warning.”

“So you just fell out of love with Mom?”

James’s father rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “We were moving in different directions. It sounds like such a joke, doesn’t it?” James’s father smiled at James but James didn’t return the gesture. There were tears in James’s eyes.

“It happened years ago.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” James asked.

“You were stressed enough,” James’s father answered simply.

“And you guys didn’t get a divorce? Go your separate ways, or whatever?”

“We couldn’t. We just found out she was sick.”

“And now she’s dead. Is that why you didn’t cry at the funeral? Because you’re finally free?”

“Is that what you think?” James’s father snapped. “You think I’m happy that I just buried your mother?”

“Well, you don’t seem too beaten up at the fact.” James tried to lash out but he started to realize he just took a step in the wrong direction.

“How old are you, James? Twenty-seven?” his father asked, all traces of patience gone. “What do you know of the world? Do you know the last time I heard from you before I called you a week ago telling you that your mother died? A year ago. You called me to ask for money, money that your mother needed.”

“Then why even give it to me?” James interrupted. “If Mom needed it so badly, why would you lend me the money?”

“Your mother wanted me to. She believed in what you were doing, even if I didn’t.”

“And now you blame me for it?”

“Jesus Christ! Do you ever listen? I have never once blamed you for asking for money. And after everything your mother did for you, you didn’t even visit. Not once that I can remember.”

“I know you don’t, Dad.” James sounded defeated.

“So where were you when she would spit and swear because she knew her sentences didn’t make sense? Where were you to help her bathe, and to dress her?” James’s father spat out every word. “And where were you when she forgot where she was? Or who I was?” he whispered. “Where were you?” 

“I’m sorry, Dad,” James said.

“Me too, James. Me too.” James’s father took a deep breath. “You know, she was looking for you at the end. She asked for her little Jamison. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth. She thought you were in the kitchen. Or the living room. That you just stepped out. At the end, I think she knew. I think she knew you were gone.”

James’s father opened the car door and walked over to the trashcan, without bothering to hunch over to protect himself from the rain. With a contemptuous toss, he threw away his number seven (minus one fry) and chocolate milkshake. 

James sat in the car, wiping away the fish and water. They would go back to their home in Mastic Beach, and James would go upstairs to bed. And when he woke up, his father would be at the kitchen table crying over his youngest son who didn’t live there anymore. And James would tell him, “I live upstairs Dad. I moved back in two years ago to take care of you and mom.”

And when the day after tomorrow came, he would repeat it all over again.