The Way Home

This selection is paired with Chapter 9 of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Get NonBinary Review #18 from Zoetic Press. 


What they don’t know is that first he was rat who was a vagabond, yes, but hid a softer side that enraptured a few. The most persistent: a water vole, too young, too naive. He would let slip a few words and she would slide into place before him. I saw you last night, your calligraphy is nice, isn’t it an awful day, I wish I was anywhere but here, and she would fan herself and giggle and smile. Funny, isn’t it, he gave no indication and yet she ripped out her heart and thrust it into his hands. C’est l’amour!

His mother, he did not give an indication of loving, nor his broodmates, nor his friends or the ones that wanted his heart. His love went all to the water. He had a small boat, and then a bigger one, and then he would go up and down the rivers and to the sea and disappear for weeks on end. She followed him to his boat on one summer morning and he let her watch, so long as she remained silent. She took his hand and offered to go with him, to anywhere, they could sail off the edge of the earth or catapult themselves to the moon and she’d hold tight to his hand with one of her own and cling to the mast with the other. The mast, the sails, they all rippled in the summer breeze and heat and yet his expression remained unwavering. He took his hand back from her, softly, gently, and turned away.

With a splash she had thrown herself overboard and in the murky water of the pool he could not see where she had went. So he threw himself over as well and groped for her in the mud, opened his eyes and mouth to the brackish water to scream out her name and search for the eyes that had always found him, he grabbed at the silt and made whirlpools in his panic and rage that she had done this to him, to herself, and in the end was forced to give up.

Not his fault, they all agreed. She had never been the most stable.

He threw away his old name and his old life and climbed into his boat and made his way down the channel. Her body rotted somewhere along these waters and he would find it, or perhaps he was chasing her soul, her hopes, he was chasing time and if he caught it he would pull it back until he could make her alive and make himself alone, without the voices that irritated him or the gale in the trees or the memories that took him from the water. He sailed down the river and to the sea and never caught his quarry and became an old man and no one ever knew him the better for it.


Maya Levine is from Chicago, IL and lives in Palo Alto, CA. She has been published twice with the Leyla Beban Short Story Contest. She will be published with the Eating Disorders Project and MoonPark Review. She enjoys The Wind in the Willows very much.

Water Rat Embarks

This selection is paired with Chapter 9 of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Get NonBinary Review #18 from Zoetic Press. 


Tawny, restless, undiminished
by passing years, he bids fare-

well to snug burrows, bristling
seas of oats, and oaken stumps

and funguses, the castles of his
childhood. Good-bye, red robin!

Farewell, field-mice, swallows,
stoats! A southern wind is rising.

Evensong is calling. Time to steal
aboard a steamer, Adriatic-bound.

O, Venice! This bedraggled Ocean
Rat will sun his whiskers in your

gardens, bunk in your cellars, hop
from gondola to gondola on time-

worn feet, and before he dies, splash
your Grand Canal across his inner eye.

 


Amy Karon’s poems have appeared in Eastern Iowa Review, Cricket, Half Mystic, Blanket Sea, Lagan Online, and Mystic Blue Review. She lives in San Jose.

Mole and Niece

This selection is paired with Chapter 6 of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Get NonBinary Review #18 from Zoetic Press. 


The sunshine streamed through the windows of the dining room at Toad Hall, casting delicate shadows over the table where Rat and Badger were finishing breakfast with their host. The Mole was not with them that morning, as he was preparing his home for company. His sister’s youngest child was coming to pay him a visit, and there were many things to do before he would be ready. His friends had offered to help, but Mole knew that the only one of the three who would be of any use in a hole was Badger, but rather than hurting anyone’s feelings, he declined all offers, with profuse thanks.

Nevertheless, the Rat was feeling some pangs of guilt, thinking about his friend working all alone, and it showed on his face. Toad, who had become much more perceptive, noticed.

“What’s eating you, old boy?” he asked kindly.

“Oh, just a little worried about Mole,” Rat confessed.

“He’ll be fine,” Badger said roughly as he polished off his hard-boiled egg. “If there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s keeping a good home.”

“I know,” said Rat. “But it’s not only that. Do you ever notice how much he’s done for us and asks so little in return? We’ve been neglecting him a little I fear. And…He hasn’t said as much, but I think his eyesight may be fading a little.”

“I’ve noticed that too,” admitted Badger. “I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. We should give Mole something to show we appreciate him, but that will also help him.”
They sat in silence for a while, mulling over what Mole could find useful. Suddenly, Toad burst into a smile and said, “I know the very thing!” The others pressed him to tell them what it was, but he waved them off.

“Let me take care of things. It’ll be my pleasure.”

*   *   *

A week or so later, Mole’s niece Tally had arrived and was settled in with her uncle. Mole brought her around to Toad Hall shortly thereafter, at Toad’s invitation. Tally was awestruck at the size of the house.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, uncle!” she gasped, clutching Mole’s paw.

“It is a bit grand, as is Mr Toad, but he’s a good animal, you’ll see.” Mole replied reassuringly.

Thankfully, Toad was out in the gardens, inspecting the growth on his perennials, so he was able to put Tally ease much more readily than in the drawing room.

“Let’s get a look at you, then,” said Toad, once introductions had been made.

Tally was a small creature for her age, but she had a neat, velvety black coat like her uncle’s, and an inquisitive air about her.

“Very good, very good!” said Toad, who was fond of all children. Badger privately thought it was because Toad was rather childish himself, but would only say so in private to Rat and Mole.

“What plans for your visit, then?” continued Toad, cocking an eye at Mole.

“Nothing in particular,” said Mole. “Tally’s going to be here for a while as my sister’s burrow is being fixed up. All her brothers and sisters have gone to other relatives to stay.”

Tally had let go of her uncle’s paw at last and was wandering along the garden path, looking at all of the sprouts and wondering what they could be. Mole and Toad watched her for a bit.

“You’ll stay for lunch of course?” asked Toad.

“My dear fellow, you’re too kind,” replied Mole, humbled as always by his friend’s generosity.

“Think nothing of it! Old Ratty and Badger will be along presently.”

* * *

It was pleasant and warm that day, so they launched on the veranda. Rat and Toad were doing their best to keep their excitement hidden and even Badger was more jovial than usual. At last the things were cleared away. Toad cleared his throat, and Rat and Badger’s ears perked up. Mole and Tally looked over, a little puzzled.

“My dear Mole,” began Toad, using his best oratorical tone. “We have had the pleasure of calling you our friend for many months now. You are an animal of the utmost integrity. You are loyal beyond measure. A pearl amongst moles.” Toad paused for breath and to wipe away a tear.

“Steady on,” said Mole, who was now rather alarmed.

Toad smiled gently at him and continued. “Our debts to you can never be repaid in full, dear friend. But we hope that you will accept this token of appreciation from us with as much goodwill as it is given.”

With that, Rat whisked out a small parcel and handed it to the stunned Mole with a flourish. Tally and Badger burst into wild applause as Mole slowly turned the parcel over in his paws.

“My dear, dear friends,” Mole said with some difficulty, “I am at a loss for words…”

“Don’t bother with a speech, old chap!” interrupted Rat with a grin. “Open the parcel!”

“Yes, yes! Open the parcel!” squeaked Tally with excitement.

“Very well!” said Mole, who untied the string and opened the wrapping paper. Inside was an oddly shaped container of a style Mole had never seen before. It was black and roundish, yet oblong as well, and it had a strap. It seemed to be made of black leather, and there was a brass latch keeping the lid closed. Mole flicked open the latch and inside was nestled a strange looking object. It was double-barreled with two sets of lenses, one set smaller than the other.

“What is it, uncle?” asked Tally in bewilderment.

“Field glasses!” exclaimed Toad in triumph. “You can use them to look at things at a distance. You just turn that little wheel and everything becomes clear.”

Mole took the field glasses out of the case and held them up to his eyes. “No, no!” said Toad a little impatiently, “It’s the other way around!”

“Oh, I see.” Mole meekly turned the glasses around. “Now, let’s… Oh!” He had found out how to work the focus and could now see Toad’s stable as if it were right in front of him rather than on the other side of the yard.

“I say, these are remarkable!” he exclaimed. “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Look, Tally!” He handed the field glasses to the little mole and showed her how to work them.

“I think you’ll find these jolly useful,” said the Rat, who was secretly dying to try them out himself. “You can see the whole Wide World with these.”

“The whole Wide World!” echoed Mole a little breathlessly.

* * *

Sometime later, Mole and Tally headed back to Mole End. Tally wore the field glasses over her shoulder while Mole carried a small stack of books borrowed from Toad’s Library. It included The Birds of Shakespeare, a pocket guide to the county, and an Atlas of Astronomy.

Both animals were rather overwhelmed by the generosity shown by their friends, and the further they walked, the more excited they became about their new treasure.

“Tally dear,” said Mole, “I think we ought to make a project out of these field glasses.”

“What’s a project, uncle?” asked Tally, who had skipped a little ways ahead.

“I mean a plan,” replied Mole. “A list of things we’d like to see. And we’d keep track of the things we do see in a notebook so that you’ll be able to take it home with you.”

“Oh, could we?” asked Tally, slowing down. She had never heard of such a thing and was quite taken with the idea.

“We’ll start tomorrow,” promised the Mole.

* * *

The next morning, Mole showed Tally how to make a quire by taking two sheets of paper folding them in half, then half, and then half again. He took a knife and cut the folds. He showed her the little book.

“Won’t it fall apart?” asked Tally anxiously.

“Ah-ha!” said Mole with a smile. He took a thick needle and some yarn and sewed a seam along the remaining fold, puncturing the paper very carefully. He then handed it to her his niece, along with a pencil.

“Now, let’s make our list,” said Mole.

“I don’t know how to write very well,” said Tally with some embarrassment.

“I’m sorry,” said Mole kindly. “I didn’t know, you tell me what to write, then, and we’ll begin there.”

Tally looked thoughtfully at the kitchen ceiling. “I would like to see some interesting birds.” Mole nodded and made a notation on the first page of the quire.

“I would like to climb the big hill and see the Wide World.” Another note was made.

“I would like to see a shooting star.” Mole grunted his approval. He was fond of stargazing, even if it had been more difficult to see the stars of late.

“And I would like to see people,” Tally concluded. Mole nearly dropped his pencil in surprise. “We animals don’t tend to mingle with people often unless we need to,” he said.

“I know,” said Tally serenely. “But I’ve never seen them before. They don’t come to where we live.”

“All right then,” said Mole indulgently as he added the final item on the list. “Right, I think that’s a fine start for the great Mole and Niece Expeditionary Company, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Oh, yes!” cried Tally. “When should we start?”

* * *

They started that very morning, with a trip to visit Rat out on the river. They told him of their plans, and Rat, being the adventurous sort, responded enthusiastically.

“If you ever need a first mate, I’m your rat!” he said. He offered to take them upstream that day, an invitation they gladly accepted.

They spent the remainder of the day exploring the marshlands, which were full of nesting birds. The explorers made great use of the field glasses. Tally, though she was not very good at writing, made some wobbly drawings of the reeds and the birds. She gave these to Rat as thanks for his help. He proudly pinned them to the kitchen wall above the mantle.

* * *

Every fine day was spent in a similar manner: Mole and Tally would pack up some supplies and head out for the day, returning in the dusk. They filled quire after quire with notes. Mole promised that he would bind them together when they were done. Rainy days were dedicated to the otherwise neglected housework and to planning the next few days’ adventures.

After several bird watching trips, Mole asked Tally if she’d seen enough interesting birds to check off that item on their list, but Tally shook her head. “Not yet, uncle,” she said. “I think there’s still plenty to see.”

As it turned out, within the week they were able to check off two items at once.

* * *

Mole and Niece had decided to tackle the big hill beyond Toad Hall. For the two small animals, it was as challenging as an Alpine track, taking them several hours to reach the top, before flinging themselves into the grass to catch their breath. This accomplished, it was time for their picnic lunch which they tackled with little regard for table manners. It was a perfect summer’s day, warm, yet not too hot. White puffy clouds hung in a perfect blue sky, resembling the flocks of sheep in the fields they could see beyond the reaches of the Wild Wood.

After lunch, Mole handed the field glasses to Tally and gave her the watch, while he pulled his hat over his face for a quick nap. There was a lovely, fragrant breeze that wuffled through their coats, and led Mole to fall into a doze.

Tally was perched on a small rock, looking at the Wide World through the field glasses. She had never been so high in her life, she felt almost as if she were a bird herself, the way the county spread before her in every direction. Toad Hall seems little more than a toy house, although thanks to the field glasses, Tally could see Mr Toad reading a newspaper on The Veranda.

Then her attention shifted to the Wild Wood. Uncle had taken her to visit Mr Badger twice so that she could see his magnificent home, one she secretly preferred to Mr Rat’s or Mr Toad’s because it reminded her of home. She chuckled as she thought of her brothers and sisters and what they would think of Tally the Explorer, founding member of the M & N Expeditionary Co.

A flock of geese flew by, distracting her. She watched them until they were out of sight, and then made an entry in the latest notebook, her writing having much improved over the past few weeks thanks to her uncle.

Then she focused on the sheep below. There was a dog too; keeping a close watch, but what caught Tally’s attention was the shepherd. Her first person! She squealed with excitement. He was too far away to get a close look at, even with the field glasses, but she watched him pull out a red kerchief and wipe his face with it before he headed back to the farmyard. Tally was beside herself with excitement, but she did not disturb her uncle, knowing that no grown-up enjoyed having a perfectly good nap disturbed by the younger set. She settled instead for drawing a picture of the shepherd in the notebook. As she was thus absorbed, a shadow passed overhead. Tally looked up with alarm. Could it be a hawk? Small animals like her tended to keep clear of birds of prey, and she and Uncle were out in the open here.

It was not a hawk. It was a long, hollow rectangle with paper wrapped around it at each end, leaving the middle bare. There was a string attached to each end and joined in the middle. The thing drifted a little further on the breeze and then settled down on the grass.

“Uncle! Uncle!” Tally shook Mole’s arm gently, but urgently.

“Hey, what?” asked Mole sleepily; he had been having a pleasant dream.

“Look!” Tally pointed to the thing.

“My word, a kite!” said Mole, as stunned by the sight before him as his niece. “I’ve heard of them but I’ve never seen one before.”

“What does it do?” asked Tally, who crept towards the kite to investigate more closely.

“Oh, people use them for experiments and things, or as toys. Given this one’s quite small, I suppose it’s a toy that got lost.”

“Oooo…” said Tally, who gently poked at the paper membrane and ran her paws over the frame. “What shall we do with it?”

“It’s rather large for a toy for us,” said Mole, thoughtfully, “But very few people come up here, so it’s not likely anyone will come for it, and it is only get ruined if we leave it here.”

“I know!” exclaimed Tally. “We’ll give it to Mr Badger.

“I don’t know that Old Badger would want a kite…” began Mole, but Tally was insistent.

It took some doing, but between the two animals, they managed to pick up the kite and carry it down the hill. Despite its size, it was quite light, though it had a tendency to buck in the breeze, so they kept a firm hold of it. They carefully made their way across the field and into the Wild Wood, causing quite a spectacle for every creature they passed. An escort of squirrels joined them and followed them right to Badger’s door, chittering and chattering amongst themselves about the strange sight.

Tally gently put down her end of the kite and rang the doorbell. Shortly thereafter, the door opened to reveal the Badger.

“What on earth?” he exclaimed at the site of the two explorers and their prize.

“We’ve brought you a kite!” Tally said with glee.

“Compliments of Mole and Niece Expeditionary Company,” added Mole, somewhat sheepishly.

“Well, I never!” said Badger, flabbergasted. He held the door open for them and waved them inside. “Come in and you can tell me all about it.” And so they did. Badger, though gruff as ever, was so pleased by the gift that he and Mole hung it up in the parlour right away, where, as Badger said, “It shall remind me of summer breezes year round.”

“That knocks two items off the list,” said Mole as they headed back to Mole End. “We climbed the big hill and saw the Wide World and you saw a person.”

“Yes…” said Tally slowly, “But I think I’d like to see more people before we cross that off, Uncle. I don’t think we’ll ever see a more interesting bird than that kite, though.”

Mole could not disagree with that statement, and so those two items were crossed off.

* * *

Summer wore on, and as they entered into August, M & N Expeditionary Co. turned their attention to stargazing. Reading through the Atlas of Astronomy that they had borrowed from Toad, they discovered that there would be prime shooting star conditions very soon. This particular venture caught Toad’s fancy, and so he invited everyone to Toad Hall for a viewing party.

One evening, they set up on the back lawn with Toad’s old telescope and the field glasses. Toad had provided refreshment as well as rugs in case the evening turned too cool for comfort. The lights of the house were darkened and dark lanterns placed all around. It was beautifully clear, with a full moon. A perfect night, everyone declared. Everyone took turns with the telescope in the field glasses, looking at the moon and the stars. Tally pointed out some of the Constellations to Toad, who decided to pull her leg a little.

“That’s the queen on her throne,” Tally said.

“Looks like a “w” to me,” replied Toad. Tally agreed and pointed in another direction. “There’s the North Star and there’s the Bear.”

“Doesn’t look like a bear at all,” said Toad jovially. “More like a cooking pot.”

“Mr Toad!” Tally stamped her foot in frustration.

“Let’s make up our own patterns,” said Mole, ever the peacemaker, which they did for a while, deciding that this group of stars could be Otter, that other one could be the River, and so on.

Then they noticed the first shooting star, followed by another and another. All of the animals stood in silence, watching the bands of light streaking across the night sky while crickets sang around them.

“Lovely,” murmured Rat who had the field glasses. The others readily agreed, settling themselves in the chairs provided by Toad.

Some time passed, and the moon and stars moved across the heavens. Tally yawned, which caused Mole to say, “We must go.”

“Oh heavens, you can all spend the night here, old boy,” replied Toad. “No need to go all the way to Mole End tonight.”

“All right, but Tally really should…” began Mole, but he was quickly interrupted by a marvellous sight. A fireball streaked straight across the sky, so close that it seemed to be just about their heads. Rather than vanish though, it suddenly plummeted to the ground, landing near the edge of the Wild Wood.

“My word!” said Badger. Everyone else was speechless. “Tally, it seems you got your wish.”

“I wonder if there’s anything left?” mused Rat.

“It’s too dark to look tonight,” replied Badger, “But I believe I know where to look.”

They all agreed that nothing could top the fireball, and so they retired for the night, although truth be told, it was some time before any of them could fall asleep.

* * *

The next morning, after breakfast, Badger let them to the edge of the Wild Wood to see what they could find. The animals spread out in a line on the field in front of the woods, looking for anything unusual. It was Mole who found it, by nearly tripping over it. It was a small, lumpy rock about the size of a golf ball, but it looked very different from the sorts of rocks normally found in the field. It had a sheen to it and it was pockmarked.

“Look!” said Mole, holding it aloft.

“Well done!” cried Badger clapping him on the shoulder. Mole handed it to Tally who looked at it closely. “Uncle,” she said. “May we give it to Mr Toad?”

“My dear child!” Toad was, for once, at a loss for words.

“Whatever you wish, my dear,” Mole said encouragingly.

Tally handed the rock to Toad, who received it with a courtly bow. “I shall treasure it always,” said Toad, with reverence.

When they returned to Mole End that day, Mole and Tally crossed off the third item on their list.

* * *

Autumn arrived several weeks later, which meant that Tally’s family would soon come to collect her and take her home. One item remained on the list: Tally had yet to see enough people to satisfy her. They were sitting at the kitchen table working on the map featuring all of their adventures when Rat came to call. “Did you hear the news?” he asked. “I think I found a person for your list.”

“Oh?” asked Tally. She and Mole looked at Rat expectantly.

“How about a king?” asked Rat.

“A king?” Moe replied in disbelief.

“To be more specific, the King,” said Rat. “The word is that he’ll be visiting the county next week.”

“Oooo, I wonder if he’ll wear his crown and robes?” wondered Tally, whose eyes were shining in excitement.

“Not likely,” said Mole. “I imagine most Kings find such things bothersome these days.”

“Oh,” said Tally, a little deflated.

“Never fear,” said Rat, “He’ll still be worth a sight. I’ll keep an ear out for where he might be, and then we can go and take a look at him.”

“Really? Thank you, Mr Rat,” said Tally.

“It’s a pleasure,” Rat replied. “A cat may look at a king, so why not a water rat? Let’s not tell Toad though,” he cautioned.

“Why not?” asked Tally while Mole nodded his head in agreement.

“Mr Toad, while an excellent fellow, is apt to forget himself in the presence of royalty. He’d insist on being introduced to the King, whether the King wanted to meet him or not,” explained Mole. “Besides, these days, kings tend to travel by train or car, and we know how that can end up, eh, Ratty?”

Rat nodded solemnly and made a “poop poop” noise. And that was the end of that.

* * *

Several days later, Rat invited them for a trip down the River to the Village. “The King’s supposed to be passing through today,” he said. “We’ve got a decent shot of seeing him from the water if he passes over the bridge.”

It was a brilliant autumn afternoon, one of those days where the sky was a perfect dome of blue over a golden canopy of willows on the river banks. As they approached the village, the animals could hear the noise of the crowd that was lining the road and the old stone bridge that crossed the River. It was a greater number of people than any of them could imagine, and it put their instincts into a bit of a spin.

Rat rowed the boat to a little landing place nearby, where they made her fast and got out. They chose the shade of a large tree as their vantage point so that they could see and remain unseen. They didn’t have to wait for long. A cheer suddenly rose up in the crowd as a smart motor vehicle came along the road towards the bridge.

The hood of the car was up, making it difficult for the animals to see inside even with the field glasses so none of them could see the occupants. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, the machine was gone. The animals looked at each other in disappointment.

“Oh bother!” said Mole, while Tally sniffed back tears.

“Rotten luck,” said Rat, leading them back to his boat. They all boarded, and Rat rowed them back upstream. After a while, they paused for a picnic tea, possibly the last they’d have outside this year. They pulled the boat up on the riverbank as if it were a canoe, and settled themselves on the grass above.

Rat had just said, “Who needs a king anyhow?” while nibbling on a biscuit, and they had agreed when suddenly they heard an automobile come along the road about them. They dropped low in the grass and crept up the slope to see. It was the same vehicle that had crossed the bridge earlier! It came to a stop a little way down the road from them, but not so far that they needed the field glasses to see what would happen next.

“This will do nicely,” said a voice from the back of the car. The driver hopped out and opened the door for his passenger. Out stepped a man who was instantly recognizable by his profile. It was the King!

“Gosh, he looks just like the coins and stamps!” whispered Rat, who pulled a farthing out of his pocket and looked at it for comparison.

Tally had the field glasses and was using them to examine the King’s features. “He has funny looking whiskers,” she said to herself, referring to the King’s beard and moustache. “And he’s so old! But his eyes are so blue!”

The King and his driver were clad in long coats covering their suits. They’d both been wearing goggles, but these were now perched on their soft caps. The car itself was a magnificent machine: deep red with a black hood and brass fixtures, including a horn resembling a serpent. Mole whistled under his breath in admiration. “A very good thing old Toad isn’t with us,” he thought.

The King walked around a few paces as if to stretch his legs. “Lovely spot, eh, Simpkins?” he asked his driver.

“Charming, your Majesty,” replied Simpkins, who had clearly been hired for his driving abilities rather than his conversational skill.

The King stripped off his gloves and lit a cigarette. Simpkins held out his hand for the match, which the King dropped into his glove once the ember had faded. Simpkins put it in a little tin he carried in his pocket.

The King smoked in silence. He had few opportunities such as these, so he liked to enjoy them when he could. He listened to the breeze in the trees and watched the River make its way past with no regard for anybody. The animals crouched low, unnoticed and watching. It was tranquil, peaceful.

But the magic moment passed all too soon. The King finished his cigarette, depositing it in Simpkins’ little tin with a sigh.

“We’d better head back, your Majesty.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said the King with another sigh as he put on his gloves again. “Pity.”

“Yes, your Majesty.”

The two men put their goggles back on. The King resumed his seat in the back, and Simpkins turned the crank to get the motor running before getting behind the wheel. Then they were gone in a cloud of dust once more.

“Well!” said Mole. “Well done, Ratty! I don’t think that we could have done any better.”

“A happy coincidence!” protested Rat, not willing to take credit for good timing. He turned to Tally and said, “Let me show you something, give me your notebook and a pencil.” Tally pulled them out and handed them over. Rat opened the notebook to the last page, put the farthing behind it and rubbed the pencil across the paper until an image appeared: it was the King!

“Bravo! said Mole, as Tally giggled. “I should never have thought of that.”

“Now you have a souvenir of today,” said Rat. “You can keep the farthing too, of course.”

“Now the list is complete!” crowed Tally as they headed back to the boat for the trip home.

That night, Mole and Tally checked the final item off the list and marked the place on the map where they saw the King.

* * *

The next day, as they were binding of all the notebooks together, a field mouse dropped by with a message that one of Tally’s older brothers would be there the next day to take Tally home. After cleaning up from the bookbinding, Mole took Tally around to say her farewells to Badger, Toad, and Rat. She clung tearfully to each of them, and they returned her embraces in kind, for they were as fond of Tally as if she were their own kin.

The next morning, Mole helped Tally to pack her things, and then they waited for Morg to arrive at Mole End. They didn’t have long to wait, as the young mole arrived right on schedule. His uncle invited him to lunch, not wanting to say goodbye just yet, and Morg gladly accepted.

As they ate, Tally told her older brother about the adventures she and Mole had had during her stay. Morg had trouble believing some of the things she described but saw silent mods from his uncle, so he knew it was true.

At last, it came time for Tally and Morg to head on their way. Mole escorted them to the surface to see them off. After they went out of sight, he let out a big sigh, and went back down into Mole End, which seemed rather empty now that he was once again the sole occupant. But once he came across the field glasses and the map, he broke into a big smile. “What a jolly time we had!” he said to himself. “We saw the whole Wide World. Time for me to retire from exploring and get ready for winter.” He picked up the field glasses and the map and gently put them on a shelf, before going to make some tea.

THE END


Jessica Allyson is a new author, with work featured in an anthology published by the Writing Prompts Group on Facebook, and on Story a Day.org’s StoryFest. She is based in Ottawa, Canada, where she lives with her husband and their cat, who is their most vocal critic.

Badger’s Bell Collection

This selection is paired with Chapter 4 of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Get NonBinary Review #18 from Zoetic Press. 


If you looked past the glow
of his night kitchen and into his bedroom
you would have noticed them.

He does not keep them behind glass
since a bell without any danger
of ringing is just a thimble.

He has arranged them alternating
biggish and smallish, a wall of undulating
cheer shining even in shadow. Go, look.

If you remarked on the precarious
narrowness of his bell shelf, he would say
he salvaged it and made do,

but really he relishes that this
configuration is just fussy enough
for the most harmonious chaos,

Like me, Badger might say,
though he wouldn’t now as he is
a most private badger who saves

his secrets for under the bells.
He adds new confidants one by one.
He dusts them and becomes a choir.

It takes all sorts to make a world he said
but who’s to say you can’t have favorites?
If you asked him, you would learn

the best of all the sorts
is the small twinkle-drama
tucked just out of frame.


Jenna Jaco is a technical writer from Texas working in visual programming and the internet of things. Her work has most recently appeared in What Fresh Witch is This? and Sweet Tree Review.

The Mouse in Chapter Two

This selection is paired with Chapter 2 of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Get NonBinary Review #18 from Zoetic Press. 


Mouse was his name. The boy who would commit
Suicide by laying his head upon
A rail track. He didn’t even get his
Own grave in the end. His father shares it
And the world comes to see where Kenneth Graham
Is buried. On top of his dead son. It’s

Horrible, really. Broken carts and Mole
Standing in for not wanting to see all
The horrors that real grown up life contains,
(but it’s always there anyway), while droll
Gypsy caravans and river banks call
Attention to idyllic quests. The train

Reminds us of Mouse, of course, and the fact
That these stories were for him. But we don’t
Care to dwell on that for long, there is Rat
And Toad and motor cars set to distract
Us from the melancholy so we won’t
Think of Mouse, no, we won’t think of Mouse, that

Would be all wrong. He’s not in the book, he’s
Just who the book was for, his father wrote
It for him, to him, about him, on him
Really in the end. Quite literally. These
Things never sit well with fate. Gods take note.
They rewrote the book when they made the film.


Juleigh Howard-Hobson’s poetry has appeared in Able Muse, The Lyric, Star*Line, Fairy Magazine, Polu Texni,The Alabama Literary Review, Caduceus, Weaving The Terrain (Dos Gatos), Poem Revised (Marion Street), The Nancy Drew Anthology (Silver Birch), “The Literary Whip” (Zoetic Press podcast) and many other venues. She has been nominated for “The Best of the Net” and The Pushcart Prize (twice), and is currently nominated for a Rhysling Award. She has always been fascinated by the horrible story behind this particularly beloved book.

Dear Megaparsec

This selection is paired with Chapter 1 of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Get NonBinary Review #17 from Zoetic Press. 


I reread A Wrinkle in Time once every few years. Sometimes, I reach for it every year. There are times in my life that I need its refuge more than others.

When I first read it, I was 12 years old. I’d never met my father, and my mother spent most of her time locked behind her bedroom door with a bottle in hand. Alone in my room, I read voraciously. Fantasy was my mainstay. Before I discovered A Wrinkle In Time, dogeared copies of The Last Unicorn and The Neverending Story lived next to my bed. I was in need of a magical world, a place where lost people could become found.

Meg Murry was the kind of protagonist I desperately needed to meet, although I didn’t know it. I had unruly hair the mousiest shade of brown, glasses with thick lenses, and a body shaped like a barrel; all bulging lines. When I looked around me, I saw glamour everywhere: on MTV, on the cover of Seventeen, in the precisely drawn angles of my mother’s lipliner. I already felt bad when I looked in the mirror, even though I didn’t understand why yet.

Meg wasn’t glamorous either. But she was smart and brave and determined. She had a father-shaped hole, just like me. And so I loved her.

There’s so much vulnerability in the people that live in these pages. Meg’s mother fears her husband will never come back. Charles Wallace is too otherworldly to fit in. Even Mrs. Whatsit, Who and Which are both powerful and bumbling. Etched into each character, I saw a promise that being different was okay, and feeling alone wouldn’t last forever. And perhaps there were others like me, if I only dared to look.

I had no others like me when I met Meg, Charles and Calvin, which is perhaps why I lost myself in this story time and time again. I spent long hours thinking about the tesseract, and whether or not space and time could truly fold (I still believe it can). Each time I read the book, I don’t think of it as fiction. To this day, when I reread it, I imagine it happening somewhere in the universe.

Even though Camazotz frightened me, I was willing to follow my friends into its darkness. If my own father had been there, at least I’d have known where he was, that there was something I could do. But I didn’t know. So I tucked myself into the stardust as Meg, Charles and Calvin tessered from one galaxy to the next. I sought their friendship, their company.

If the Black Thing is the cold darkness of the story, Aunt Beast is the anchor of warmth. Near the end, she tells Meg, “Good helps us, the stars help us, perhaps what you would call light helps us, love helps us.” At first, I didn’t understand what she meant. Even so, I sensed they were important words, so I wrote them down in my diary. As I grew older, I started to understand. These words went far beyond the book in my hands, weaving their tremendous power through every life. Especially mine.
When I had no way to find my dad, I cheered for Meg as she chased hers. I felt her anger and her frustration, her impatience and her sorrow. I felt his absence with her, because her father was a small part of mine, as all fathers are a part of each other.

My search for my own father hasn’t ended yet. If that pilgrimage had started when I was an adult, I might have given up by now. Meg taught me not to. Kids imagine solutions to their problems in ways adults could never dream of, and so I imagine my journey as a child does. Maybe I’ll shoot across space and find him waiting in the next galaxy. Maybe he can sense me, the same way I have always sensed him. Maybe I’ll dare to reach out, and find I’m already holding his hand.

 


Colette Bennett is a journalist with ten years of experience in storytelling and a particular passion for fantastical worlds. She has published at a wide variety of web outlets, including CNN, HLN, The Daily Dot, Colourlovers, Engadget, Kotaku and Joystiq. Her work has also been featured in Norwegian print magazine AftenPolten Innsikt. She’s currently at work on her first novel.

Ix Chel

This selection is paired with Chapter 11 of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Get NonBinary Review #17 from Zoetic Press. 


Or were you the rabbit?
Forgotten from the Moon
but remembered by Aunt Beast
to soothe the frightened child
grown wise before her time.
Nothing smells better than her fur.
No one can replace a mother.
But when one has no loving mother,
no understanding aunt, well, I
was that child who desperately
wanted tentacles, a tesseract,
anything that would bring me to you,
Aunt Beast. So for Meg
you cleverly disguised yourself
as an alien, knowing that Goddess
would not be allowed in such a book,
on science and modern ways.
Some of us knew better.
Some of us are still waiting
for Aunt Beast.


Denise Dumars read A Wrinkle In Time shortly after the book was first published. It has always been one of her favorite SF novels. Denise writes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, an helms Rev. Dee’s Apothecary, a New Orleans-Style Botanica online.

A Wrinkle

This selection is paired with Chapter 1 of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Get NonBinary Review #17 from Zoetic Press. 


I still have it, almost forty years later. The pages are brittle and the cover is torn, so all it says is A Wrinkle, leaving In Time lost to when the cover cracked from too much love. It has my sister’s name written on the first page, but this book was just one of hundreds from her childhood. It could never mean to her what it meant to me.

Mama read it in my bedroom to all three of us over the summer, but Meg had already read it, of course, and Johnny was little and didn’t pay attention. Meg loved it because there was a character not just with her name but her nickname: Meg, not Maggie or Margie or Pearl (from the Greek word for pearl, Mama, ever the professor of linguistics, informed us). I loved the name as much if not more because I worshipped my sister in the way that only a little sister of a slightly older, and in my eyes, much cooler, sister can. She taught herself to read at three and here I was, eight, and I was mostly illiterate. My mother was teaching me but with dyslexia it is a slow, painful process and I hadn’t moved past books with one or two sentences a page on them at this point. But I lived in a house of readers and I loved stories – hearing them, telling them, dreaming them.

Meg and Charles Wallace seemed both so much and so little like us. Our parents were eccentric professors who nobody seemed to understand too – but ours were old and not beautiful and studied linguistics, not the science of the universe. We were forever being whisked away to strange places like Camazotoz except it was England or Holland and we weren’t with Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who or Mrs. Which (“Witch, Mama? Like in The Wizard of Oz?” “No, Judasha. which, like which cereal do you want. Now listen…”) but with hired nannies, taking us to see Big Ben or the canals of Amsterdam while our parents went to conferences to speak Linguistics, a language we didn’t know and secretly hated.

That summer that Mama read us A Wrinkle in Time was the last summer she was healthy. In the fall, she would get diagnosed with breast cancer and then she would die a few years later.

And later, as I longed for her, I pretended she was like Meg and Charles Wallace’s father, being held captive on another planet and somehow we could save her. Many boys played the part of Calvin O’Keefe to my Meg Murray, and we would battle IT, the force holding my mother. And the evil conformity of IT seemed all too real in the early 80s on Long Island where conformity was the name of the game.

Almost cruelly, shortly after Mama died, reading came to me, a gift to replace her love. I reread A Wrinkle in Time over and over, trying to figure out how I could tesser home with my mother, how I could wrinkle the fabric of time and space, and have all that I dreamed of – a whole family, even if they weren’t beautiful and even if I found linguistics deadly boring and even if we had to visit Big Ben a thousand more times with a thousand more nannies, it would be worth it to have Mama again.


Judy Ryan Hall is a writer and itinerant teacher of writing who has lived in such far flung places as Iceland, Sudan, Germany and New Jersey. Her MFA is from William Paterson University. She has been published in Brevity, Split Lip Magazine, The Blueshift Journal and many other places. Judy is also a fiction reader for Literary Orphans. Her as yet unpublished novel, Max Runs, listed in the Mslexia Competition. She has a blog on Facebook called Voluptuous Mermaid, so titled because of her love of being in water.

 

C8 : A Tessellation of Faces, Wings, and other Obscure Things

This selection is paired with several chapters of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Get NonBinary Review #17 from Zoetic Press. 


She smiles, she sighs,
she steals the neighbor’s sheets
wrinkled beyond
a woman’s worth,
a star’s exhalation
spread out to dry
October dreams
of Which and What and Why
winged poetry
shadows, rainbows
bleached and starched and pressed—
a Schläfli script.

Yet still it storms,
time and space disrupted,
seams split and hemmed,
even stitches,
controlled symmetry sought,
found reflected
facing reason,
defining perfection:
model subjects
surrendering
in synch, a metronome,
relative mass.

The first sphere sings
heavenly guardians
shining stars bright,
supernovas
collapsed and on the wing
to tip the scales,
push back the dark,
the death bat defeated,
reclaimed by life
tended, reborn
under a midwife’s touch
stalking the moon.

Still we battle
the shadow of evil,
mundane torture
devices stamped,
process manufactured,
replicated,
an infinite
tessellation of birds,
reptiles and beasts—
patterned design,
an Escheresque study
of humankind.

NOTES:
This piece is framed on the structure of a tesseract: “There are four cubes, six squares, and four edges meeting at every vertex. All in all, it consists of 8 cubes, 24 squares, 32 edges, and 16 vertices.” This poem is written with a syllabic structure of 4-6-4, repeating 16 times, and each stanza features four repetitions of the 4-6-4 syllables. The title references C8, which is another name for a tesseract.

The first stanza, references the opening scenes in A Wrinkle in Time and the three supernatural Ws: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. Other references tucked into this stanza include the month the story takes place (October), Mrs. Who’s theft of Mrs. Buncombe’s sheets, the fact that all of the Mrs. Ws were once stars, Mrs. Whatsit’s transformation into the winged creature, and the Schläfli symbol (The tesseract can be constructed in a number of ways. As a regular polytope with three cubes folded together around every edge, it has Schläfli symbol {4,3,3} with hyperoctahedral symmetry of order 384.)

The second stanza references the storms (both metaphorical and physical) that occur within the confines of the novel as well as Mr. Murray’s disastrous attempts to tesser, the horrifying synchronicity of the inhabitants of Camazotz, and of course Einstein’s theory of relativity (E = mc2) which he postulates that time and space are relative.

The third stanza explores the mythic influences in A Wrinkle in Time, in particular the references to the planets: Uriel (an angel in Christian mythology), Camazotz (Mayan for death bat), and Ixchel (the 16th-century name of the aged jaguar goddess of midwifery and medicine in ancient Mayan culture). The fourth stanza brings in modern elements and connections to the mundane. I hope you enjoy it.


Carina Bissett is a writer, poet, and educator working primarily in the fields of speculative fiction and interstitial art. Her short fiction and poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies including Hath No Fury, Mythic Delirium, NonBinary Review, Timeless Tales, and The Horror ‘Zine. Her work has been nominated for several awards and she was the recipient of the 2016 HWA Scholarship. Links to herwork can be found at http://carinabissett.com.

A Fracture in Fate

This selection is paired with Chapter 2 of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Get NonBinary Review #17 from Zoetic Press. 


There are no dark and stormy nights in Pasadena, or so it seems. My window looks out on a cultured rose garden and a grassy knoll encircled by a brick walkway on which the sun is always shining, especially during high tea, which is quite the thing here, unexpectedly. Somehow I had in my mind that all Southern California was beaches and palm trees and boulevards crowded with long-haired musicians, not this parade of women dressed to the nines for afternoon outings. Then again, this is not the type of hotel in which I usually stay, but Polly insisted that I deserved the royal treatment. Having a daughter as one’s oldest child is proving to be a remarkable lesson in female solidarity, as Mother told me often in her later years. Of course, Father was more attentive than most husbands, perhaps because he never took Mother for granted after their long separation, when he was imprisoned behind The Black Thing. That is something Calvin and I have never experienced, an extended time apart. He has always just been there for most of my teenage and adult life.

I mean, it is difficult not to fall in love with a boy when you have traveled with him across the galaxies, when he has braved your adolescent worst, when he has probed the headspace of every member of your immediate family and made up his mind that he belongs with you and them. I never really questioned whether he and I would end up together, and what would have happened if I had? Whenever I have any feelings of doubt or negativity or apprehension, Calvin does that thing that Charles Wallace does by instinct and that they are both now helping the researchers to study. Mirror-touch synesthesia, they call it. Except that Calvin and Charles Wallace mostly use their skills not in reference to bodily pain but to the chinks of armor in people’s minds. Sometimes I wonder how Calvin and I would be if we tried to put words to our feelings and talked things out instead of just kything.
It was actually Charles Wallace who got the ball rolling about my doctorate. He mentioned the idea to his namesake Charles, who shrewdly brought it up to his older sister Polly, who began calling me every weekend. Mother, you must do it before you get too old, she would say. You’re not doing anything now, and Rosy is nearly in college. And you promised Grand.
I did promise Mother. We were sitting in the solarium by the indoor pool on one of our rare visits back home when she said, My dear, there is something to be said for a higher degree. It is just a formality, but it would be so easy for you and something of your own.

After all, I’m not out to win the Nobel Prize, I said somewhat tartly, and Mother sighed. She was still beautiful with her snowy white hair and high cheekbones but seemed even smaller than the last time I had seen her. I felt badly and reached out and took her hand, and we sat there for a long while before she roused herself and said, Just promise me. And though I was in my forties and already a mother of eight, I said, Yes, Mother.

After Polly got it in her head that I was going back to school, she started making even more calls around to various universities. I had a feeling she was liberal about name-dropping her father and her uncles, which is probably why I got a letter from Harvey Mudd inviting me to meet with the dean of the mathematics department. Across the letterhead was a scribbled note saying, Mrs. O’Keefe, we would love to host you for a visit. I showed the letter to Calvin, and he raised his eyebrows and we looked at each other for a few minutes. Finally, he said, April would be a good time to go.

So Polly booked the flight and the hotel and even thought to hire a car, which had not even crossed my mind, and in fact I kept thinking it might have been easier just to stay on campus. But I had a lovely and encouraging phone conversation with the Canon Tallis just before I left. When Cal walked me to the gate, I looked at him and tried to signal my concern about Rosy staying out late at parties and getting her college applications done on time. I think he got the drift.

Dean Matthews looks younger than I expected. He has photographs of his two children on his desk. He told me he was somewhat of a child prodigy, though nowhere near the degree that he’d heard Charles Wallace had been, and he was well into his second doctorate by his late thirties, when he had a late revelation about being behind about the adult things that truly matter in life. He ended up marrying a childhood friend who also happened to be a professor nearby, though things ultimately didn’t work out, but they were friendly and his children were still in the area, and they had dinner together every week.

That was about two hours into our meeting, when I had already explained to him my thoughts on Riemannian manifolds as a possible thesis, and he apologized and said he had not meant to delve into such personal matters. Mrs. O’Keefe, I have sincerely enjoyed every minute speaking with you, he said, and we shook hands. Please call me Meg, I said, and he laughed and admitted that he had read in an interview with Father somewhere how he had called me Meglet when I was young and to be honest he had been calling me that inside his head the whole time we were talking. I was already halfway down the hall when he came jogging up and said, Meg, this is highly unusual, but I wondered if you might want to talk a bit more over dinner, as it would be a chance to break away a bit from this stifling academic setting.

I thought it over. I said, I think I might like that, and he smiled and said he would take care of all the plans and to please just meet him in the hotel lobby.

I walked away with a sort of thrill in my stomach until I got back to my room and then felt suddenly faint with guilt. I paced around for a good half-hour, then I went down to the bar and ordered a glass of cabernet sauvignon and thought about what I would be doing if I was on Benne Seed Island on the normal schedule. There would be Rosy, getting ready for a night out after hastily finishing her homework, and another quiet dinner with Calvin during which we would not say much — as we have not needed to for a long while now — but instead he would be sensing my thoughts, and I would be sensing his, this boy who kissed me goodbye when I was ready to face IT, who held me when the Echthroi first appeared by the stargazing rock, whose mother I have traveled across time with and back. The man to whom I have dedicated myself, not simply with my heart’s devotion, but with all the cells of my mind, which he has always acknowledged while simultaneously pursuing his own ambitions, as well as being so loving and generous and intelligent and kind, as everyone always says.

Around the corner of the bar, I could see Dean Matthews approaching while straightening his jacket and tie. I got up and said, Hello, Dean Matthews. He said, Please, Meg, call me Joshua. I think we are going to be good friends, that is, if you choose to stay and accept a place here. He kept my hands in his and bent his heads slightly towards mine. I couldn’t quite look in him in the face, but I inclined my head and told him I had already made up my mind.

 


SMJ Lee is a Los Angeles native and attorney. Her work has appeared in The Common, The Atticus Review, and FORTH Magazine.