Issue #76

Fall 2020

Upon Taking the Hermit's Vow

by Nicole Beck

The two cypress trees have friendly shadows. Their roots have been digging a passage into the basement for years, intent on breaking in. The moss that grows abundantly on the outer walls makes a spicy reddish-orange soup. My breath comes out as dark as smoke, without the smell. I gain an intimate understanding of the House. I know it as only I can, from the foundation. I know the space it occupies, exactly; I know the currents that run underneath, and how they lead to the sea.

Men who pay to have their futures told are easily disappointed, and chronically dissatisfied. They all seem to urinate on the same fencepost as they leave. Every day the lines on my palms shrink a little more. Some of the tiles have shifted on the roof, making a slight crack that drips when it rains.

In the basement I discover a black door. It is smooth-faced, without doorknob or keyhole. After running my hands over it, my tongue sticks to my teeth and my eyes fall out, replaced by two white eggs.

Nothing terrifies me as much as a human face approaching the threshold. What a mercy the house has no windows. I practice sitting in the hearth fire. I practice walking on the ceiling. In the basement, waves slosh around my ankles. I float atop them lighter than foam. The smell of saltwater gets into everything.

A relapse of desire at this point would be fatal. When the tree roots finally break through, I chop them off, peel them, and boil them for tea. At all times the door is aware.

I practice, unsure if I become better at expressing my silence. But I can hide within a cloud of my own breath. In the first year, I sometimes go out as far as the fence. Then the walls forbid me to stir without them, reminding me that no one goes abroad naked.

Time is the changing of the tide, and a bedroom with no possessions. The embers in the hearth mock the energy of speech, crackling their fire-words. I myself am becoming a dark word. It gathers in my lungs and throat, ready to advance. On top of the hill, evening settles, and pushes away morning when it tries to arrive.

Then, complaining of bad dreams, they climb the dirt path again and rattle the gate. When they offer me coins, I lead them down through the water (up to my thighs) and give them to the door.

Sleep is not for me any longer, but I do dream. I dream of that which is dreaming me. A gentle tentative fear. A deep voiceless tone. A persistent black rot. A single strand, thin as trust, stretched between us, thrumming.

Author Bio


Nicole Beck lives and writes in urban America. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, published by dancing girl press and Red Bird Chapbooks. Her flash fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cafe Irreal, Rue Scribe, Passengers, and Coffin Bell. She also contributes book reviews of science fiction and fantasy for Strange Horizons.