Disaster Insurance or Suicide

This selection is paired with Canto XIII of Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

If your tree is really a person
stuck in bark, lamenting
the lot, gazing over your little
house for one hundred years—if
your tree did something terrible
once upon a time, fell off
a roof, undid his pants in public,
misused the word no—God
knows what justice is, to be
trapped in one’s own body,
encased in wood—But I’m saying
if your tree is really a person
watch the way you cut
it down. What do you want
out of this? A new fence,
a place to bury the dog—let
that tree fall, dried out
like a corpse through your window,
burst the pipes, the wires, then
build a boat from the wreckage,
escape the flood as if foretold, tell
everyone you always knew the will—
how impartial it is
to wait, and then
to escape.

Sara Moore Wagner is the author of Hooked Through. Her poetry has appeared in Glass, Gulf Stream, Gigantic Sequins, Stirring, Reservoir, and Arsenic Lobster. She was a finalist for the Edna St Vincent Millay Prize.

That Day We Read No More

This selection is paired with Canto V of Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

A vengeful sheering Great Lakes wind,
uprooting trees, flinging roof shingles—
split stumps and flayed branches. A whole dangle
of modifiers. Infinitives finding
syntax amid the wreckage. I can almost
make out the spoken scrawl, part malignant rant,
and part avowal, part warning and part advance
directive. Yet what I hear most is boast

when winds subside: Love led me to betray,
and the agony that betrayal once begot
afflicts me now, like you, who’ll stay
to hear my tale. You, like me, who sought
to authorize illicit love—you’re doomed
like some obsessive-compulsive, forever caught

in the act of betrayal. Forever damned.
Give me details, I demand, hoping
our stories do not match. There’s no stopping,
she says—Francesca, mother, who charmed
Paolo with her quizzing glance. I asked
my would-be lover to admit out loud
with certain sighs he wanted me. He held
his breath long as he could. And then, unmasked,

indifference and restraint abandoned, distance
obliterated—we agreed to read
together the tale of Lancelot’s romance
with his King’s wife Guinevere, and the bed
in which they found delight. That pleasure is
now pain—in inverse proportion to the deed.

Leonard Kress has published in Missouri Review, Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, etc. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex, Thirteens, and Walk Like Bo Diddley.

I Can Do Nothing For the Woman In the Air-Conditioned Room

This selection is paired with Canto III of Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

Alighieri ma non troppo

So I twirl through revolving glass into the swelter of August, indoor chill burned off my skin before I reach the parking garage. The gate bar lifts, releasing me from the place where tiny whirlwinds of fear puff out from the mouths of the self-concerned. She can’t understand how she got here; it wasn’t fair, she looked out for herself—what else to be done?—and now trials of needles and scalpels, the bondage of bandage, a roommate who constantly coughs and gets the better bed.

Road work traffic—rows of glinting, asphalt fuming. My coffee in the cup holder has wept out all its ice. A wasp bumps the windshield, tormenting itself and me. (How did it get in?) Nervous Celtic flutes—news till you puke—god flag trucks—dance and sex and dance—and when I see the sign that points one way—the Oldies station snaps me back to high school:

The summer of Mom’s shabby temp rental, a tree of rotting plums, me in a room with an air mattress and gooseneck lamp reading Seventeen and all of The Lord of the Rings. My rubber flip-flops slap concrete as I walk to the drugstore in short-shorts to buy cheap eye make-up, chocolate chip cones. Just walk away, Renee, you won’t see me follow you back home.

The wasp staggers. I trap in it a napkin, guide the vibration out the window—it flies! A straight shot of lightning lands in the middle of the highway. One Mississippi, two Mississippi—rain! Wipers jump to clear. You’re not to blame…

Have I become Renee? I take the next exit. A field of tall corn—fat ears, brown tassels. In this downpour, the irrigation system pulses water in wide circles.

Sara Backer has published two chapbooks: Scavenger Hunt and Bicycle Lotus. Her writing has been honored with residency fellowships from the Norton Island and Djerassi programs.


This selection is paired with Canto I of Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

As I ran from the shadows of the other beasts, the third of their cohort came before me. A she-wolf, lean and burdened with the cravings of every unfortunate soul who’d traveled this path. Her snarl and her bared teeth inspired a fear so great that I forsook my mountain destination for the darkness nearby, hoping to hide from the gaze of the lupine huntress.

As I ran into the dark and lost my way in the wilderness, I saw a form not much unlike my own, and called out, “Good man, please aid me.”

“I was once a man,” my rescuer began. As he recounted his history and his deeds, he became recognizable to me, the cadence of his speech reflecting his celebrated prose. When he explained he’d lived in Rome under Augustus and reached “I was a poet,” he erased all doubt about who was speaking.

“You are the great Virgil,” I stated. “Who chronicled the flight from fallen Troy and fair Dido’s tragedy in the bosom of Carthage.”

The poet, or the faint shade that still held his form, nodded his acknowledgement. “I am who you say. It is my task now to convey you forward.”

“Then you will help me face that beast, so that I may return whence I came?”

“I am here to take you on a journey to another realm. For the beast you encountered allows no man along her path, but drove you here with purpose. Come.”

As we entered on the steep and savage path, the poet spoke of our surroundings. Though we passed a sign urging any who entered to abandon all hope, my curiosity bested my despair. Even the arrival of Charon and his eyes of ember seemed a singular thrill in its novelty.

“No good soul ever takes its passage here,” great Virgil warned as we took our river journey, yet I remained focused on our surroundings until the moment we plunged into darkness, falling like men with seizing sleep. When I stood erect on the brink of an abyss, the poet bade me follow him into the blind world.

Virgil’s lack of fear stayed my own, and we entered the first circle. The air filled with sighs from sorrow without torments, and the crowds held many multitudes of infants, women, and men.

When I queried as to the reason for their fate, Virgil explained that they had come in the time before. “They did not sin; and yet, though they have merits, that’s not enough, because they lacked baptism.” He continued as I examined this realm of limbo, incredulous. “For these defects, and for no other evil, we now are lost and punished just with this: we have no hope and yet we live in longing.”

“By ‘we,’ you suggest you count yourself among those punished thus?” I asked, and the Roman’s shade confirmed. Armed with that knowledge, I looked more closely at the crowds, and found I was no stranger to many of the figures moving all about us.

“Is that blinded man not Homer, the supreme storyteller of his age? Do I not see the bearded figure of Alexandria’s Euclid? And that greatest of inventors, Archimedes, who fell in Syracuse in Rome’s conquest of your dear Phoenicians?” Around them I found the finest minds of antiquity. Horace and Cicero and Plato. Men without whose ideas my modernity would be all the poorer, doubtless still mired in the darkest of ages.

“Please, we must continue,” Virgil implored. “We have many circles yet to view, and only I may lead you there in safety.”

I remained where I stood, glancing at the shades of Moses, Noah, Ruth, and the others left unharrowed, with no mercy granted even for the virtue of their own bloodlines.

“Then it was no action of yours that condemned you to this realm?” I asked my master. “Save the absence of a choice you could not have known to make?”

“Yes, but we have far more to see. We will view the true torments of the unjust, and you will see how minor is our punishment.”

“For what reason would I want to see this?” I queried. “For the beast that drove me here was fearful enough.”

“When we have finished, I promise you will journey to the realms of paradise, the finest fruit borne of mankind’s goodness.”

“Then this is not paradise? How comes that to pass?”

Virgil began to explain the promise of those realms to come, and their own congregations of great men and women wrapped in freedom from all suffering. When I remained obstinate, Virgil spoke of fair Beatrice, wrongly supposing I found him an inferior guide or wished to part his company.

“What could more be paradise than a realm full of our species’ brightest lights?” I implored. “Why would a simple soul like mine scoff at the chance to roam free among them? To converse with them as I have you, and glean all the knowledge they have to impart.”

The great poet struggled to answer. “I was sent to save you from that great beast, and to show you these realms rarely seen by man. For I can no longer pass this knowledge to the living, and it is to you this task must fall.”

“No, for the beast that drove me here must have meant that I find you, no less than Juno brought your Aeneas to his mission. For it was not the lion nor the spotted beast that pursued me, but their lupine compatriot.

“Was it not a she-wolf that birthed the founders of your great city? Who suckled the brothers ere their eventual quarrel? Why would she decide my way if not for me to find one of Rome’s leading lights?”

Virgil continued to protest, but soon conceded to my argument. It was now he who followed me, as I moved among the crowd and began to seek the wisdom of those who formed it. Before long, I’d joined a dialog between Herodotus and Livy about the virtues of Rome, and found my intellectual curiosity sated as never before.

My abandoned hope returning as I contemplated the sheer numbers of great figures sharing their fate in this ambiguous circle, I turned to the poet and voiced my chosen lot. “Yes, I have decided it is here I will abide.”

Jeff Fleischer is the author of Votes of Confidence: A Young Person’s Guide to American Elections, Rockin’ the Boat: 50 Iconic Revolutionaries, and The Latest Craze: A Short History of Mass Hysterias.

Catching Inferno

This selection serves as an intro to Dante’s Inferno. Get NonBinary Review #19 from Zoetic Press. 

virtue signaling like a fire beneath a
lake of brimstone. have you ever seen
anything as reviled as the canopy of
trepidation that stretched up over her
liquid lap? languid as a cat in heat and
no less trumped up than a concubine,
it would laugh were there not such a
melancholia permeating the place. the
stink of the wretched. it’s as catching as
moth’s vein when you blink and the levers
peel back as if you never missed anything
at all.

touch me there. do you feel it? the quiver
quick as heat and no less as lovely? we met
where the rowan kissed the never-will and
then we met no more. I think of that at times
sometimes when you’re nearby and there’s
nothing left to think of but catastrophe. if
there was another mention she’d sick herself
but then again she never does. whisper and a
wrinkle and it all comes rushing back. touch
me down and wear again your white-capped
lover’s best.

two years on and still cutting teeth; still—
trying to bite to the edge to fill the bellies
that never sleep. two more in the cradle and
one in the bush and there’s a dozen more that
lost their lives on a battlefield with no name.
blood comes rushing to the knees and the arch.
touch the concrete of the pavement and there
clutters down the bricks. two shades in the song
of a circle. it was fated to be so ill managed.

you never miss a thing. blood capillaries set
to kill. once manipulated and two times as shy
she trembles and the road meets shale. erasmus
had a lover but she was never so skilled, that old
harpy of the heartstrings that never played luck so
well. he was captivating in the sack and you triple
wrung my heart, so have at it. pieces complex in
nature were never so divine as the first and won’t
outlast the second so we better buckle up.

do you hear me? do you hear me? do you hear
what I’m screaming when I tell you to turn it
down and tone it up and never speak to me again?
gnash your teeth to the fury and reckon with that
thing that eats your belly. Worm in system, a
digestive rigor mortis. Two more swallows and
we’ll be swallowed up by revenge. Blood spurt
eyes; a captivating loveliness. engorgement in
putrified remains, we bask. Nea hestia.

down with the leaders. make them bleed, then
tear it down again. false idols give way to true
give them someone to lead or they’ll find their
oblivion. cast back; too good to be true and a bit
less false, to believe him would be a frenzied flag
alibi spiked with rhetoric. tumble down the hill
till the catch stones break the mountain and make
it rumble. we’re copper cast on the line and a little
less weak. make me your believer.

strip it bloody and ride the burning sand to the
raw ache that leaves you awash in trembling.
she took the elevator to the third floor and never
came back, slipping into the darkness like she slid
into your skin; the nevermore. are you any less com-
plex without her heaving at your shoulder; whispering
anything to make you a little less shy. rip her down
and start anew. a fresh way tomorrow for a little less
due. tithing’s for the charity-less.

pander cross the gap, another stony divide. a
little more seduction and he’ll be yours. hell bent
like a flatter with a penchant for the grave. it was
boosted in lavender and the petal of a rose but you
didn’t know where the tide was looking when it
washed you away. crisp, quiet cuff of patrimony.
greys fleshed out in folds of falsifying alchemists.
trencher and a stale mate. one last pulse and we’ll
be through.

caina, caina; enemy they called her when they
couldn’t find other names to fit her crimes. bury
ice caps and find me in the trench where the loam
and the fence post meet to make it another hell.
he hurried when he heard me but it was too little
too late. she would have kept him wandering long
after dark if he hadn’t a hammer to the ice with a
breakneck speed. too little. too late.


calcified in hell fire, we were all burned up too late.

E.B. Johnson is an aspiring poet and author who hails from the American South. She is inspired by culture, history and all things weird, dark and wonderful.

Mr. Toad’s Funeral

This selection is paired with Chapter 12 of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Get NonBinary Review #18 from Zoetic Press. 

The mole didn’t care for funerals. Death, as a whole, disturbed him. It was too arbitrary, to his thinking, and far too final. He stood on the manicured lawn, listening to the whispers of the willows along the riverbank, staring up at the red brick edifice, and denouncing funerals in general.

Long months had passed since he’d visited Toad Hall, and he cursed those as well, as if the intervening days were each a dark mark on his character. To come too late in the end, to return not for a friendly visit, dinner, and a long evening’s conversation by the fireplace. This seemed the worst of it.

He’d come back to say goodbye.

Voices tittered on the spring air, the sound of Toad’s grandchildren playing on the grounds. While he lingered before the threshold, a trio of plump amphibian boys bounded around the corner of the main house. They wore no play clothes today but had been stuffed instead into well pressed jackets and ties that already came loose and dangly. One child held a wooden toy in his padded fingers. He swooped the flying machine through the air, making motor noises with wide, rubbery lips.

How Toad would have loved that sound.

Mole sighed and, smiling for the children, approached the entrance where a finely suited rabbit held the wide door open.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Mole.” The rabbit tilted his head in greeting, his voice somber and as grim as his expression.

“I suppose it is,” Mole said. “Fine weather at least.”

“They’re collecting coats in the hall, sir. The widow is in the parlor and…” He cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably in place. “The viewing, sir, is in the study.”

Mole’s throat turned dry as fall grasses. He jerked a nod and managed to choke out his thanks before stepping past the butler and moving on as quickly as his short legs could trundle. “The viewing.” He repeated it under his breath. “I suppose that’s the thing to be done.”

He shuffled into the grandiose hallway where, beneath a chandelier the size of ratty’s old boat, a group of field mice took his coat and hat. Voices murmured from the nearby rooms, and the mole followed them, not toward the study just yet, but in the general direction of the parlor. He drifted with the press of animals waiting to see Toad’s widow, and he made himself as small and unnoticeable as possible.

Somewhere in the throng he heard Badger’s deep voice rumbling, and though he longed for days of sitting beside the larger animal listening to his friends and enjoying their company, the mole made no move in that direction. In fact, he made no move at all of his own accord, instead letting the tide of animals direct him around the room and avoiding any communication at all aside from a nod or a sad smile as he passed each one.

The result of which was his, quite sudden, arrival in the widow Toad’s presence. She sat on a pile of velvet cushions, dressed in a gauzy black gown and surrounded by rabbits and various small mice who patted her about the arms and offered a steady stream of sympathetic smiles.

“Ah, Moley.” The toad woman’s bulbous eyes blinked slowly, one slightly after the other. “Dear friend, come and sit with me.”

Her voice burbled like a marsh in the summer’s heat. She patted a cushion to her right with knobby fingers studded with both warts and diamonds. Mole fixed a solemn expression, a bent and doleful look that fully matched his heart. He eased to the widow’s side and climbed as gracefully as possible beside her on the over-padded seat.

“My,” His throat drew all the moisture from the air, clogging and forcing him to clear it sharply. “My deep condolences, Mrs. Toad. My heart is all but broken.”

“As is mine, dear Mole. Whatever shall we do without him?”

Mole lay one paw over the toad’s hand, and they shared a quiet moment amidst the bustle of mourners. A line had formed for the widow’s attention, but she leaned into Mole’s side and he had no desire to disturb her by moving. Instead, he let his eyes explore the parlor, taking in the new lamps that gave off just the right sort of warm yellow light, the framed diagram of a flying machine on the wall beside the bookshelf, and the haphazard pile of books on an end table.

That was the thing he loved most about Toad Hall. For all its grandeur and formality, it had a lived-in aura, a sense of constant activity and the weight of many memories clinging to it like cobwebs.

“I suppose he’s on a new sort of adventure.” The widow sighed and lifted her wide head from his shoulder. “He’d like that, I think. He was a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather, but I truly believe he missed the old days as much as he loved the new.”

“I’ve never seen Toad any happier than when he was here with his family,” Mole said. “Not truly happy.”

“Thank you, dear Mole.” She patted his hand and sighed again. “I only wish I’d been there at the last. The boys were with him, of course, but it just feels… unsettling a bit.”

“Of course it does. Only natural.”

“You mustn’t be a stranger, Mole. The children adore you.”

At this his chest tightened. He remembered an invitation last fall and the excuse he’d fabricated to avoid attending. Ratty had been back, of course, and that had made the thought of Toad Hall unbearable. Now, with the estate populated by grief and all the neighbors of the riverbank, Mole wished he’d been a stronger animal. He wished he’d come to visit at least once more, river rat or not.

Mrs. Otter and her daughter waited to pay their respects, and Mole smiled for them as he climbed down from the pillows. He pressed a brief kiss to the widow’s hand and shuffled from her presence with his guilt chasing him. To have heard Toad’s voice one last time… Yes, he understood exactly what she’d meant by unsettling.

And now the time had come to be a braver mole. He didn’t wish to visit the study at all, and yet, his mental record-keeping said he owed Toad his presence, that though he’d come late in the end, he had still come to see his friend and wish him well. And so he moved against the current washing toward Toad’s widow, darting between elbows and stepping cautiously over tails as he went. The mole found the hall again, and without giving himself the time to think it through and so back out of his convictions, he reached the study door and slipped inside.

Rat was there, of course. Another inevitable meeting.

The casket lay to the side of the room, candles lighting it at head and foot. The lamps had been set low, and shadows flickered over the Persian carpet, making scowling faces of the designs there. Ratty stood halfway across, heading out or in. Mole couldn’t say which, but when he spied his old friend, they both froze in midstream, living statues, another part of the elaborate decor.

“Moley.” Rat’s voice broke the silence first, thick and sweeping as his river love.

“Ratty.” Something sticky filled the mole’s throat. He choked on it once, and then spat it out as a confession, “Old friend.”

That fact, spoken aloud in the dim room, broke the spell that had settled like ice around them. The river rat stumbled across the distance, his arms spread wide. Mole met him a step in, a guarded step that allowed him to return the rat’s hug, but not to fully enjoy it.

“Dearest Mole.” Ratty smiled when he pulled back, but there were shadows in his eyes. Shadows that floated like the sea, that drove as deep a chasm between them as the Rat’s leaving had. No matter that he’d returned at last, that he’d set his life and his heart firmly back beside his river.

The Mole remembered the leaving, and that fear forged a distance between them. He might go again, it said. At any moment, he might go.

“How are you, Ratty?” He watched the rat’s eyes and saw distant waves dancing.

“Well, Moley. Very sad for our great loss, but well enough.”

It took the mole the space of three breaths to remember which loss he referred to. Even with the casket just there, the other pain seemed sharper. It cut across the space between them and forced the mole’s feet to carry him one short step to the side.

“Dreadful to think of,” Ratty continued. “Toad Hall without our Toad in residence.”

“The poor widow.” Moley shuffled his feet. “The poor children.”

“Grandchildren too,” Ratty said. “Toad’s legacy.”

“She wasn’t there with him, at the end.”

They both nodded, though Mole suspected they followed separate trains of thought, different paths as was their lot in life it seemed. He sniffled, and the study door creaked as another mourner joined them. Rat and Mole strode to the casket together then, almost in step. They lowered their heads and gazed upon the vessel that held all that was left of dear old Toad.

Mole tried to imagine him inside it. The lid had not been opened, and the gleaming wood seemed too stark for Toad, far too serious. He was hit by the sudden urge to call out, to press his muzzle against the side of the thing and shout for Toad to call it off, to get up and join them and put this silliness that was death aside. A tear fell from his eye then, a single note of a sad melody that had played in his heart all morning.

Ratty placed a paw on his shoulder, warm and full of things they’d missed over the years, conversations they hadn’t had, evenings not spent together beside a fire.

“The widow wasn’t with him?” A gruff bass spoke behind them, announcing the other part of their tragic party.

“Afternoon, Badger,” Ratty said. His paw fell from the mole’s shoulder, and another spell faded.

“Ratty, Moley my boy. What was it you said about the widow?”

“She couldn’t be there at the last, she told me. The boys were with him though.” Moley blinked away fresh tears and turned from the horrible box.

“Not James or Jeremiah,” Badger said. “Just spoke with them, and they said they were called away at the end.”

“That leaves Virgil,” Ratty said. “Poor boy. Not the most stable of Toad’s sons. To be there for it, all alone.”

“Perhaps,” Badger said. He rubbed one massive paw across his jaw and nodded as if answering some unasked question. “If you’ll excuse me. Remain here, please. I’ll be right…”

Badger moved fast for a large animal. He’d reached the door and vanished through it before finishing his thought. The study fell silent again. One of the candles sputtered. Mole stuffed his paws in his trouser pockets and drifted to the side of the room. He hummed under his breath, a little tune that reminded him of summer days on the river. Days that were as dead as poor Toad, but that Ratty’s presence brought foremost to his thoughts.

He kept his feet moving, as if standing still would open a door to conversations he’d been avoiding for too long to start now. His paws drifted over the bookshelves, and his nearly invisible ears picked up the rat’s breathing, the soft way his pants whispered as he, too, walked to the edge of the room.

“Never imagined Toad as much of a reader,” Ratty said.

“Nor I.” The mole stopped at a narrow table set just along the wall. There a large volume had been lain, and tiny scraps of paper sprouted from between its pages like new leaves. “Someone’s reading, though. He ran a claw over the embossed title. “The New World of Flight.”

“Virgil’s hobby, I think.” Rat sniffed and his steps pattered in Mole’s direction. “And I saw one of the grandtoads with a toy or two.”

“As did I.” Mole shifted aside and let the Rat step in beside him. “Toad would have loved it, though. Flying.”

“In the old days.” Ratty’s paw found his shoulder again. The weight of it felt solid, stable, not prone to wandering off at any moment. “Moley…”

“I wonder.” Mole said it quickly and then forgot how he’d meant to finish the sentence.

The study door opened before he had to invent something, however, and Badger rejoined them. He huffed as he went, groaning between steps these days, and heaved the study door closed behind him. He leaned up against it to catch his breath.

“How’s Badger, then?” Ratty asked.

“Confounded.” Badger replied. “Virgil was not, as it turns out, with Toad at the end. He was sent from the room by Toad’s doctor.”

“Not Doctor Mann,” Rat said. “He told me last week Toad wouldn’t have him. Brought in his own fellow from beyond the wood.”

‘Exactly,” Badger said. “His own fellow.”

“Oh dear.” Rat’s paw lifted. He rubbed his fingers over his face and shook his head in a way that told Mole he’d missed something important. “You don’t think?”

“I do.”

“After all these years.” Ratty sighed and steepled his fingers under his chin. “That old devil.”

“Need to be certain.” Badger stepped quickly, rocking from side to side a little more than he used to. He strode across the study and took position near the head of the coffin. “With your assistance, Ratty. Mole here can do the looking.”

“What’s that?” Mole frowned and tried to sort it all out in his mind. “What am I looking for?”

“The body, I should think,” Rat said. He scrambled after Badger, moving to the opposite end of the coffin. They both placed paws at the edge of the lid. They both looked expectantly at him.

“Toad’s body?” Mole crept forward. The pleasant feeling that had tickled his stomach as soon as Ratty mentioned the old days twisted now into a familiar, off kilter feeling. “I’m not sure I want to see that.”

“Don’t worry,” Ratty said. “Just a quick peek, old friend.”

It was the old friend that moved his feet. Mole shuffled to the side of the casket, wishing he had something to hold onto, a pillow perhaps, or a walking stick like Badger carried. He pressed his paws together and stared at the shiny wood.


Badger might have been asking Ratty, but Mole nodded gravely. He steeled himself as his friends grunted, heaved against the coffin lid and raised it a half dozen inches. Mole squinted, peered in at the gleam of satin.

“A little more, please,” he said. “It’s too dark.”

“Oh just open it already,” Ratty huffed.

The lid parted, up and up, and Mole stared at the contents of Toad’s casket. He stared, and his mind tried to sort it all out. A single bottle of whiskey lay where Toad’s remains should have been. Three cut crystal tumblers had been arranged around it, each etched with a single letter.

“Horrible,” Mole said. He’d formulated an idea, and was almost certain he understood correctly. “Someone’s stolen the body.”

His friends let the lid rest against the wall and joined him. Badger lifted one of the glasses, turned it in the light and grunted. “He’s even had our initials put on. The fool.”

Sure enough the glasses bore an R, M, and B in lovely calligraphy.

“Shall I pour, old chaps?” Ratty lifted out he bottle and turned it in his paws. “Look at that label.”

“A flying machine.” Mole smiled, happy to be part of the conversation, but also concerned that they should possibly be looking for whoever had stolen Mr. Toad’s corpse away.”

“Saw the boys with them,” Badger said.

“And the book there,” Ratty added.

“There’s a diagram in the parlor,” Mole said proudly. “Toad would have loved it.”

Ratty popped the stopper on the whiskey and poured a measure into each of the glasses. He handed the one marked M to Mole, and they all lifted their drinks together. “To Toad,” Ratty said.

“To Toad.” Mole sniffed his glass and then decided to sip it very slowly.

“Should we tell them all? Maybe let the widow know?” Ratty tossed back his drink and cocked his head to the side.

“He’s liable to get himself killed for real before we find him,” Badger answered.


The rat’s smile brought back the tickle in Mole’s belly. He smiled, and then frowned. “Get himself killed for real?”

“Best to tell them after we’ve caught him,” Badger said. “You with us yet, Moley?”

“Toad hasn’t died… yet?” Mole pictured the flying toy, the diagram on the parlor wall. He glanced briefly toward The New World of Flight. “Oh no. Oh DEAR.”

“Yes,” said Badger.

“So it is,” added the rat.

They returned the bottle and their empty glasses to the casket before closing it tight upon the evidence. Badger huffed. Ratty placed a paw on Mole’s shoulder and then dropped it to his side. Mole sighed, fanning the warm feeling and letting it spread outward, shiny, like the old days.

Without imagining endings at all, he took the rat’s paw in his. He smiled, sniffed, and caught the telltale wafting of adventure on the wind. Moley imagined old Toad, out there somewhere in a flying machine, above them all, laughing at the world, and the willows, and the mourners gathering in Toad Hall.

He let loose the happiest of sighs and whispered, “So, when shall we leave?”

Frances Pauli writes speculative and anthropomorphic fiction. She has published more than twenty novels, numerous short stories, and ebooks. Her novella, The Earth Tigers has been nominated for both a Leo and a Coyotl award. She lives in Washington State with her family and far too many pets.

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.


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.