Terra by JC McKinley


JC McKinley

She fancied herself a desert girl. Born in America’s Sonora wilderness, surrounded by saguaro cactus. She fell in love with earth, not the planet with a capital E, but the rocks, minerals and, clays from which life springs forth. She did not feel the least bit surprised when she discovered her name, Terra, meant “Earth goddess” in an ancient language.
I met her later in life.
“What do you do?” I ask.
“I’m a Geologist,” she says.
“What does a Geologist do?”
Her golden eyes widen. Inside hollow pupils, a dust storm swirls. I see orange, yellow and lime-green vehicles, large as dinosaurs, clawing, tearing, and removing earth. With each acre stripped bare, the hollow inside her deepens. Leech fields miles long, leave chalky streaks down her soft, fleshy cheeks. Men with sly smiles demand Terra reveal the next vein, lode, and vug. I see she’s felt unhappy and used for a long time.
“They don’t love the earth,” she says through bitter tears.
“What if I told you, you could love the earth again?”
“I’d ask you to show me,” she replies.
I take her north. Past the temperamental Rockies. Beyond the gloom of the Pacific-Northwest to the last bastion of wilderness I know: Prince William Sound, Alaska. Not untouched by man, this place endures the elimination of its glaciers at the hand of climate change. Despite this, the land and sea have preserved their pristine nature. It is here I will show Terra how to love the earth again.
We travel in a small aluminum hull boat with an outboard motor into inlets, fjords and bays so calm, the movement of jellyfish underwater can be heard. We eat wild salmonberries, boil the rice from Chocolate Lilies, pull silver salmon from the water and feed their heads to bald eagles, tossing the severed parts high into the air. We watch Orcas hunt sea lions and spend half a day spying a baby humpback whale learning to jump with its mother. We examine granite beaches and shale outcroppings so intensely we almost miss giant brown bear prints in the soft mud.
On Knight Island, I show her remnants of a 30-year-old oil spill: crude oil resting black and thick and calm under gray granite rocks. A stain on the wild. We spend days upturning beach, revealing tar, taking samples, hands dirtied with foul-smelling soil until something inside her snaps. She stands, calm and firm.
“I’m ready to go home,” she says one cloudy, drizzling day.
I met her later in life.
“What do you do?” I ask.
“I’m a Conservationist,” she says.
“What does a Conservationist do?”
Her golden eyes widen. Inside flows the wisdom of a goddess. I see men with sly smiles, jailed, their strip-mining operations shut down, and government funding set aside for protection programs. Outside, her platinum cheeks pull ruby lips into a beaming quartz smile.
“They show you how to love all the earth.”




About the author: JC Mckinley lives in Colorado with his wife and 17-month-old daughter. He grew up in Alaska and loves how nature’s beauty enhances all our lives. His short stories have appeared on reflexfiction.com and are forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine.

Ten Things I Have Learned From Being a Troglodyte by Ruth Brandt

Ten Things I Have Learned From Being a Troglodyte

Ruth Brandt


  1. It’s dark when the sun goes down. Occasionally it’s dark when the sun is up, but when it’s down it’s impermeably black. The dark doesn’t stop me moving or humming.
  2. You can’t dry out a cave. The tail end of rain from a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand years ago swooshes subterranean slashes through the ground, and tra laa, a cave is formed. Water dribbles, stripes the defeated earth down the walls, constructs mineral pillars. Maybe you know all that, but this is my list of things I have learned – caves are wet.
  3. People are intrigued and frightened of the dark and damp where they can’t see the end, if indeed an end exists. They are intrigued and frightened of the tail-off of wet stone into a tiny stream. They are intrigued and frightened of bats, of invisible insects, of caves. 
  4. When I sit near the mouth of my cave and light a fire and sing, people join me, facing the landscape to watch swallows flit across treetops. They point out the new building to the left, the fishing lake on the right, the pub, the hospital. Only when they think I’m not looking do they steal a glance behind. 
  5. There is confusion about troglodytes. Are we creatures crawling from the modern-day primordial swamp? From heaven, here to show others the purposelessness of their worries? A holy halo? Shit on a boot? A marvel? This uncertainty engenders oodles of respect, it engenders repugnance. 
  6. The ground in a cave is hard. My back has bent to fit the crevasses in rocks. My collar bone curves round to my throat. My head hunches. I sleep well on the uneven floor. Give me a mattress and I would toss and turn.
  7. One man wanted me enough to come to me. He brought a sleeping bag and a bin liner to lay it on. He brought orange waterproof bags for his clothes. He brought a phone power bank and a wind-up torch, a warm chest and a gentle kiss. And the lust. Dear God, the lust! He brought it all.
  8. Now, here’s this thing – however much you love someone, however much you are prepared to live to their routines, rise to the clock instead of the light, eat regularly, drink boiled liquids, the cave dwelling thing is a show stopper. Full stop.
  9. When his back cricked out of shape he walked away, leaving his torch – not something he needed – a half-finished KitKat and a tin of tomato soup. He left his ‘I love you’ words drawn into the sediment.
  10. But he couldn’t remove the formative trickle at the back of the cave, or the way it shapes my body so I can embrace myself with my own shoulders. This last thing I have learned from being a troglodyte, no one can stop me humming in the dark.



About the author: Ruth Brandt’s short fiction has appeared in publications including Litro, the Bridport Prize Anthology 2018 and Neon. She won the Kingston University MFA Creative Writing Prize 2016 and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions. She lives in Surrey with her husband and has two sons.


The Five Stages of Hopelessness by Louise Mangos

The Five Stages of Hopelessness

Louise Mangos

Back in spring, my garden was fertile, rich with the hope of you. I pulled my fingers through your loamy soil, watching the first ecstatic caress shiver down your body. Your warmth worked its way into my skin. Longing to be a part of you. Lust.
From cupped palms we scattered seeds into the furrows, sewing a thousand promises to grow and multiply. We quenched the thirst of our earth with the waters of the summer rains. Falling into our eyes. Blind love.
Billowing cumulonimbus threatened the horizon. The hurricane gust of a violent hail storm bruised our flowers, tearing delicate petals from their stems. The chance for bearing fruit was lost. Barren.
My tears fell like lethal fat snowberries. Salt of the earth. The burnished leaves of autumn shadowed the golden bruises on my cheek. Broken.
I raked and tilled the earth, turning the putrid foliage back into the soil. I gouged into the soft flesh of overripe fruit hanging from invasive poisonous vines. Juices stung my open wounds. Anger.
Now the winter wind howls across the holes in my soul. The ground cracks with frosty neglect. The cold sleet of remorse scours my heart.
This iron earth. Now desolate and void.
I dig and dig and dig. Rupturing the roots. Burying my regrets.
Burying parts of you.
The biggest pieces that wouldn’t fit in the incinerator.
About the author: Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, placed on shortlists, and have been read out on BBC radio. You can connect with Louise on Facebook www.facebook.com/LouiseMangosBooks/, Twitter @LouiseMangos, and Instagram as louisemangos, or visit her website www.louisemangos.com where there are links to some of her short fiction. Louise lives on a Swiss Alp with her Kiwi husband and two sons.