Tuesday, August 21, 2018

"Grandfather’s Dream" by Jan Hurst-Nicholson (Short Story)

Genre:  Adventure

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Short Story:

South Africa

Sipho set out to fulfil his Grandfather’s dream, and in doing so learnt the power of imagination.

Careful of the precious bundle tucked under his arm, Sipho climbed out of the rattling bus and stepped down onto the rutted dirt road. It felt warm and welcoming beneath his bare feet. He stood for a few moments breathing in the familiar smells and watching the bus as it sped further into the mountains in a fast disappearing dust cloud.

He smiled to himself. His heart was glad. He was on his way home and he had done it. At last he had his Grandfather’s dream. Now his Grandfather would be well again.

He saw that the sun was at its highest, and there were still many hills to climb before he would reach his own kraal. If he was to be home before the sun went down he could not delay. But first he must check the bundle. He settled on a small rock, sending a dozing lizard scuttling into the long dry grass. Carefully, he unwrapped the tattered red shirt and inspected the bottle to make sure that none of the precious contents had escaped. Satisfied that all was well, he re-tied the shirt and set off.

At first the path was well worn and there were many people to greet. “Sawubona,” they called. “Hamba kahle. Go well.” He waved to the young herd boys tending the goats, and the girls gathering wood for fires.

When he neared the first kraal, he caught the tempting smell of chicken stew bubbling in an iron pot. “Woza, sidle nansi inkukhu,” they invited him. But Sipho could not be tempted to join them. “Ngiyabonga,” he said regretfully. He wanted to be home before the sun disappeared behind the tall fingers of uKhahlamba, the mountain they called the Barrier of Spears.

Over the next hill the path grew narrower and he passed tall fleshy aloes with their fiery orange flowers, and the prickly thorn trees. High in the sky, no more than a distant speck, an eagle soared.

In places, cattle cropped the patchy grass. “Weh, bafana,” he called to the herd boys who would soon be driving the animals back to the safety of the boma.

“Hello,” the boys returned the greeting. “Go well.”

Sipho’s own kraal was still far into the distance. But he would not allow his legs to tire, or his feet to grow sore, because he knew that in the bottle he held his Grandfather’s dream.

As the sun slowly slid towards uKhahlamba he picked his way over the smooth worn boulders and stones of the trickling river. The icy water sent a chill through his feet and he stopped for a few moments to wash the dust from his legs, and to cup his hands in the clear liquid to quench his thirst. Soon he had the bundle tucked under his arm again, and was heading up the final slope toward home.

When he neared the kraal he caught sight of the wispy smoke as it drifted lazily from the sweet-smelling wood fires. Cattle shuffled contentedly in the boma, and the scratching hens scattered at his approach.

Sipho hesitated for a moment before ducking into the cool interior of the darkened hut. In the small spear of sunlight from the hole in the roof where the smoke escaped, he saw his Grandfather resting on his sleeping mat.

Bowing his head respectfully, Sipho announced quietly, “Grandfather, I have brought it.”

The old man slowly awakened. Awkwardly, he propped his shrunken body on his elbow. Sipho began to untie the bundle. But the old man put out his hand to stop the boy.

“Let us go into the light where I can see better,” he said, struggling to his feet.

“Woza. Come,” said Sipho, placing his strong young arm around the shaky old man. He guided him to a low wooden stool, worn shiny with use outside the hut. He disappeared for a few moments before returning with a clay pot of foaming sorghum beer. He handed it to his grandfather. The shaky hands gripped the pot, and tipping it back, the old man took a long drink before settling down.

Sipho carefully untied the tattered shirt. Then he gently placed the bottle in the gnarled hands. As the aged, brown fingers wrapped around the jar, they reminded Sipho of old worn hide. When his grip was secure, the old man lifted the bottle to the sun and allowed its weakening rays to glint on the clear water.

“Look well, Grandfather, at the sand at the bottom of the jar,” urged Sipho. “It really is the sea I have brought you.”

The old man smiled, squinting in the fading light.

Sipho reached forward and unscrewed the cap. “Smell inside, Grandfather. Smell the sea.”

The old man brought the bottle to his nose and drew in a deep breath.

“Can you not smell it, Grandfather?”

The old man nodded. Sipho eagerly took the bottle from him. “See how it tastes, Grandfather,” he said, trickling a little of the water into the old man’s cupped hands. The old man pressed his tongue to the liquid.

“Does it not taste of salt, like I said it would?”

“It tastes as you said,” agreed the old man, chuckling.

Sipho fetched a spoon, and scooping out some of the sand, poured it into his Grandfather’s hand. “Feel it, Grandfather, it is finer even than the finest salt. When you step on it, it moves softly under your feet.”

The old man smiled at the earnestness of the young boy. But then he shook his head. “You have travelled far to bring me the sea, my son. But I have not yet seen it.”

Sipho fell back, disappointed. He did not understand. Had he not shown the bottle of seawater to his Grandfather? Had he not pointed out the fine grains of sand and the tiny pieces of shell from the creatures that lived in it?

He searched his Grandfather’s face for some meaning. Perhaps it was his eyes that seemed filled with smoke prevented him from seeing, or the little red pathways running around the faded brown centres, like the pathways that criss-crossed the valley. Was that why his grandfather could not see? But his Grandfather had seen the bottle and the water. Had he not held it up to the light?

Sipho pondered on this as he again looked at the bottle. And then all at once he knew what his Grandfather meant. He had seen the bottle of water, but he had not seen the sea.

“I will show you the sea, Grandfather,” he said, settling down on his haunches. He closed his eyes and sighed as he recalled the long journey he had undertaken.

He had set off the previous day well before the sun had risen. He had asked many people the way to the sea. Three times he had changed buses and taxis and it was already past midday when he’d had his first glimpse of the sea.

“Look. There it is,” the young woman sitting beside him had cried when the bus crested a hill. He’d glanced eagerly out of the window. But in the distance, where the sky touched the earth, he saw only a disappointing grey flatness, like the sky when the storm clouds gather.

But a little while later, when the sea was finally before him, Sipho’s eyes had grown round like an owl’s.

“The sea is as wide as the mountains, and beyond, Grandfather,” Sipho began, “as if the sky has fallen to the earth. It moves as the long grass when the wind runs through it.”

Sipho felt the remembered drumbeat of excitement in his chest. “And the colour is sometimes that of the sky, and sometimes that of the waving grass, and the distant forests when the sun has left them.”

The old man too, had closed his eyes. He rocked gently on the stool and let the words flow over him.

“The voice of the sea, Grandfather,” said the boy, “is the voice of the wind when it shouts across the mountains. It growls and grows more fierce until the sea bursts and froths like sorghum beer, and then it runs hissing and singing up the sand.”

Sipho recalled how he had lain awake almost the whole night listening to the powerful voice of the sea.

But now he was aware of his Grandfather. The old man coughed and a spasm shook him.

“Grandfather,” said the boy, his face full of concern.

“Go on, boy,” said the old man. “Tell me more.”

“The sand was hot, like the ashes of the fire before they finally die. The water had the warmth of the sun in it. At first, it pulled at my feet, as the goats tug on their tethers. But as I went deeper, it knocked me over and dragged me under, as if it were a creature with many arms. It had not the stillness of a deep rock pool. The sea tumbled me over and over, like the time I slipped and rolled down the hill. The water was in my eyes and my mouth and my nose. When I thought that my lungs could no longer bear it, the sea spat me out as if it were telling me, “This is my power, I challenge you.”

He turned to his Grandfather and saw that the old man was smiling and laughing quietly to himself. Had he too, seen Sipho spat out by the sea?

“When the sun has gone,” Sipho continued,” the sea grows as dark as the inside of the hut when the fire has died. But when the moon peeps through the clouds the sea is like the wet nose of the cattle.”

As he finished his story, Sipho watched for a sign from his Grandfather. The wrinkled face did not seem as troubled, and he could see a smile on the shrunken mouth.

They sat in silent thought while the sun gradually sank behind the spears of uKhahlamba . Finally the old man roused himself. “I am tired. Take me inside,” he told Sipho.

Sipho settled his Grandfather on the sleeping mat and then returned with the jar of seawater. He placed it at the old man’s head. In the darkened hut Sipho could barely see his Grandfather’s face, but he sensed a peace about him.

“Thank you, my boy,” said the old man quietly. “At last I have seen the sea.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

"I Dance with the Devil" by S. M. Daniels (Short Story)

Type of Short Story:  Short Story


I spun her around again, in time to that enchanting melody, or was it the most horrendous shriek that had ever cursed my ears? I never knew the chorus, nor understood the tune, but I danced. Yes, I danced like it was my last night on earth. Indeed, every night could be my last night alive if I failed to dance each moment of it away with this witch, for the life of my true love, my angel Kate, was in this foul Devil’s hands’. I gazed into the eyes of the woman with which I stepped in time so beautifully, and seeing my staring, she smiles back; ah, what a smile. Doubtless, it was the most enticing offer I had met with that day. And the offer was simple, “I am here, be mine and all will be well.” Oh, how my heart ached, the devilishly glorious angel with which I waltzed tempted me so every night, and every night it was harder than the last to refuse. If I accepted, this spawn of Satan’s offer, my fiancée would close her eyes for the last time, and be found dead in the morning. For this angel of death whom with I swayed so perfectly had power, yes she held the power of death in her perfectly shaped hands. Those hands- nay, those talons of the damned would command my love dead if I refused to dance with her every night for an eternity.

As I reminisced, I missed a step, treading on her perfect foot. She laughed at my mistake, and I realized how exhausted I was. How long had it been? I glanced at the clock behind her. Damn, it was still broken as it was every night. Always showing the same time; midnight. I suppose that was her favorite time, or perhaps she had read the Halloween stories of the day and decided that time fit her bill- so to speak.

“Tired?” She said, “Care for a rest? A brief slumber? Fall asleep, my love, and it will be over, and we can dance again in the morning.”

Though her voice was that of the sweetest honey, when I gazed into her eyes; there was no love. No, in those windows to her soul, if this creature even had one, lay lust; realization of the opportunity at hand. Returning her gaze, I stated with all the conviction I could muster,


She sighed. “Well, it’s dawn. Last chance to return home with me.”

I averted my gaze, I had made the mistake of meeting it when the offer came before, and it was unbearable to resist. “No,” I said simply. Her eyes flashed with fire-- not figuratively, her eyes suddenly became engulfed in flames as her fury overtook her, but as suddenly as it was there, the fire was gone, and in its stead, was the previously worn smile.

“Very well then, my love,” She said, “It is time.”

And with those words she drew me in for the parting kiss. I knew this was coming, but every night the pain still shook me. Her lips met mine, and instantly I felt all the pain there was. Not physical pain, but that which Jesus had felt on the cross. That of total abandonment, a complete neglect from whatever deity supposedly rules this universe. I’m sure I screamed as hard as I did every night; harder perhaps. When she finished, for it only lasted a moment, I sank to the floor shaking; my body glistening with sweat.

“There,” came her sickly-sweet voice, “You are free to go.”

I pulled myself from the floor, took one last look upon my hated captor, and left. As I walked out, I thought back to how my life had become such. It had started that fateful night in the ambulance…


The sound of sirens filled my ears, but at the same time I couldn’t hear it, seeing Kate there, some strange apparatus attached to her face, hooked up to a machine I didn’t recognize, blocked out all sound but the pumping of my agonized heart. We had been on a date, the most important date in any couple’s life; I had proposed just a dozen minutes prior, but in the elation of the moment, she fell as though death had taken her. A nearby man happened to be a doctor and performed some procedure that kept her alive until the paramedics arrived. What he did I can’t say. I was too busy making a fool of myself, calling her name, trying to reach her, I had to be held back by bystanders, so the doctor could work on Kate. My Kate. Laying there; dead.

As it turned out, when the paramedics arrived, she wasn’t dead. They speculated this and that, doubtless telling me what they would do to help her, save her, and I couldn’t recall a word of theirs’ if my life depended on it. All I knew was that I was losing my Kate, the child of God with whom I was meant to be with forever, and no one could tell me what it was that was stealing her away.

The ambulance ride could have been five minutes, or it could have been a year. I was so numb to the passage of time, and my mind fixated upon one name, “Kate.” We arrived at the hospital, and I believe they tried to stop me from following her into her room, but one of the nurses took pity upon my pathetic mentality, and bade my stay whilst they dressed her in a gown, checked her vitals, and hooked her up to a machine that beeped. At some point I found myself in the hallway, slightly out of breath. I must have been pacing. I had no recollection of doing this, but I decided that must be what had happened. Just as this conclusion graced me, a doctor walked over, hesitantly.

“How is she?” I inquired, my voice hopeful, but at the same time not daring to hope.

“Not good, John. She has a hemorrhage. I would give her a few hours at the best. At the worst? She could fade at any moment.”

No. Not my Kate, she couldn’t be dying!

“Isn’t there anything you can do?” I asked, my voice cracking with emotion as tears streamed down my face.

“We’ve tried everything, it’s been almost two days since she came in. It’s a miracle she has lasted this long.”

Before I could open my mouth to speak a third time, the doctor interrupted, “Go be with her. You don’t have a lot of time left.”

Numbly I followed the order, walking into her room and sitting down next to her. I stared at the seemingly lifeless body on the bed in front of me, and thought how peaceful she looked laying there. Surely, there was nothing wrong with her! Of course, the doctors had made a mistake! See? Her breathing was steady, and though her heartbeat was weak, it was certainly present! Therefore, she was alive, and if she was alive. She would recover. Right?

“It won’t happen,” said a soft, but indifferent voice. “She isn’t going to get better. In fact, she’ll be gone within a few minutes.”

I looked up and saw a woman there, dressed head to toe in black.

“Who are you?” I asked, irritated I was being disturbed.

The woman laughed, “Nobody of consequence. Well, that’s not true actually, but you’ll never see me again, so what does it matter?”

Her response irked me more, and I pressed the button for the nurse, intending to have the nurse remove this annoying woman. The nurse jogged in promptly and gave me an inquisitive look. I gestured at the woman,

“Please help this lady find the room she’s looking for,” I said.

The nurse looked confusedly around, “What lady?” She inquired.

“The one right next to you,” I said, my impatience with both of them growing.

The nurse glanced around again, “Sir, there is no one here but you.”

I jabbed an aggravated finger at the woman, “Her!” I said raising my voice, “Tell her to leave!”

The nurse stepped back surprised, “Sir, I believe you need rest, is there anything I can get you to help you relax?”

I opened my mouth again, intending to give this jokester a tongue lashing, but then the lady spoke again.

“She can’t see me John, only you can.”

I was confused, what did she mean?

“Look,” said the lady, and with that she walked over to the nurse, then… walked right through her? I couldn’t believe my eyes! She had just walked through a human being.

“You see John, I’m not just a lady. I am death, and I have come to take the life of your fiancée, Kate.”

I was too stunned for words. When I found my voice, I thanked the nurse and asked if I could just have some privacy, apologizing for my earlier behavior. The still very confused nurse nodded graciously and left.

“What do you mean you’re death? Why are you visible to just me?”

“I am death, the ruler of all afterlife, responsible for making sure people who are old, die. As for being able to see me, I sometimes do that for amusement, it’s a dull job you know.”

I stared at her. What? She takes pleasure in this?

“How can you do this?” I demanded

“It’s my job, it’s not personal.” She replied. She looked from me to Kate, then back to me, and said,

“You really love her, don’t you?”

These words were spoken without a trace of emotion, but merely as a statement of fact.

“More than a demon like you could ever dream of understanding.” I growled, my teeth grinding at her audacity.

“There there,” she said reproachfully, “No need for that. I wasn’t always death you know. I used to be a naive mortal like yourself, and yes, I even found love when I was as you are. I know what it is and how it feels, I just simply no longer care.”

I knew I had to buy more time to think,

“Tell me about him,” I said quickly, “This love of yours. What was he like?”

Death sighed, “Not unlike yourself, actually. He was strong and brave, like you and willing to challenge anyone or anything that threatened to steal me from him. Our favorite thing to do as lovers was to dance, sometimes we would dance the entire night away. I loved him so dearly, so much so that when the time came that it was necessary, I made a fateful decision to save him.”

Now I was not only buying time, but was also curious and asked,

“What decision?”

Death smiled cruelly, “Ah my dear, man, I know you are trying desperately to stall me at my work. A brave effort, but in vain. I have my job, and I do it without exception.” She added, coldly.

With these icy words, she placed her hand over Kate’s heart, and a glowing essence began to rise from my love’s chest. I felt panic rising, “WAIT!!” I yelled.

Death hesitated, raised an eyebrow and cocked her head at me, “Yes?” she said, annoyed at the interruption.

“In all the stories, people meet death and they make bargains!” I said hastily, not thinking how absurd this sounded.

“A bargain…?”; she was confused.

“Yes!” I said, speaking rapidly, “Surely there’s something you want! Anything!”

Death threw back her head and released a laugh similar to that of a bat screeching.

“What could you, a mortal human, offer me, Death? An immortal being. I have everything I need provided for me!”

“Me.” I said, hesitantly.

Death’s laugh stopped as quickly as it hard started, and her cruel mirth was replaced with guarded curiosity.

“What?” She said.

“Me.” I said again, with more confidence this time seeing that I had her attention. “You said you had someone like me once that you loved, but to know he was like me, you would have to have watched me; to have been around me. You fell in love with me, didn’t you?”

I knew I was grasping at straws, but I had to think fast, I had to make it up as I went and pray to whichever deity might exist that I was right.

Death’s eyes widened slightly, and though now I saw a distant longing, she did not speak.

“I’ll do it,” I said, striking while the iron was hot, “you said you used to dance the night away with this man, I can do that with you—for you. I’ll come to you every night, and we can dance all night together, and in return for my companionship you will let my Kate live, that she and I can also be together.”

Death hesitated, suspicious.

“What makes you think I would take such an offer?”

“Can’t you just threaten to kill me or something?” I responded

“No no no,” said Death, “It doesn’t work like that. I take lives to keep a balance. Bringing her back would cause only a small disruption, but I could cover that up. However, taking a life where it wasn’t meant to be taken, that can’t be hidden. I can’t kill unless your time has come, that will disrupt the balance. No, this won’t work.”

“I haven’t even lost my Kate and I would give anything to bring her back. You lost your love, and it still torments you. Wouldn’t you give anything to dance with him again?”

Death looked at me, and again, she hesitated. After what seemed like an eternity she spoke.

“You would give anything?” she said.

“Anything!” I replied without hesitation, or thinking.

“Then this is how this will work. Every night, you will meet me at a church- any church. We will dance all night, and then in the morning I will kiss you and take a tiny piece of your soul. I will keep this piece, but also use it and give Kate life; one day at a time. Should you fail to keep your end of the bargain, she dies in your arms.”

I immediantly nodded, not taking time to process the implications of such a bargain.

“Deal,” I said, “anything for my Kate.”

Death nodded and produced an ancient parchment from thin air,

“Sign here,” she said, handing me the parchment and a black pen.

I took the pen and immediantly scrawled my name without reading the document. As I did so, I felt a stabbing pain over my heart, and looked down to see blood soaking through my shirt. I looked at Death, then opened my shirt, and saw a star had been carved into my flash right over my heart.

“There,” she smiled, “The deed is done.” With that she vanished, and I was alone with Kate again. Suddenly, Kate gasped and sat straight up, it was a miracle!

“Kate!” I cried, joyously, “you’re alive!”


And that brings me back to where I am now, forced to dance every night with Death itself for the life of my beloved. Every night I dance, and every night I lose a bit of my soul. I feel it’s affects more and more each time, as if I am wasting away, soon to become a soulless shell. But I keep going, knowing the alternative is to lose my heart.

As the years have gone by, I came to realize what had happened with Death and her first love. He had been injured, or fell fatally ill, and she must have struck a similar bargain with the being that was Death at the time, agreeing to give him pieces of her soul in exchange for her loves life, and in the end, she would take his place where there was no more soul to give; and now such is my fate.

Is it worth it? Is my soul worth the love if my life? To that I can only answer yes, yes, my Kate will be worth every moment that I Dance with the Devil.
Read story for free here.