Friday, June 30, 2023

"Tales of the Tel Aviv Ticket Inspector" - short story

"Tickets! Tickets for inspection!"

The grey-haired woman in the third row squirms in her seat, fumbles with her purse, and finally extracts her green Rav Kav bus card. Avshalom senses she's hiding something. His suspicions are confirmed when he presses her card to his handheld reader.

"You didn't pay," he tells her.

"What?" she asks in Russian.

"Rav Kav—empty," he replies in accented, imperfect Russian. This surprises her, he can see. She isn't expecting a religious, Sephardic, slightly overweight, somewhat disheveled ticket inspector to answer her in her native tongue. "Get off bus," he says.

"But I paid!" Her face reddens in embarrassment as she pushes past the commuters standing near the door. "I paid!" She steps down to the sidewalk. The door whooshes closed behind her and the bus pulls away from the stop.

Read the rest of the story on DoubleSpeak.

Photo by Bahnfrend and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Friday, June 23, 2023

"Forgiveness" - short story

The village was nestled in green foothills not far from the Greek border. Quaint wooden farmhouses and ramshackle barns. Cultivated fields of summer crops; fenced-off pastures spotted with dairy cows and goats. Grassy meadows bordered by colorful wildflowers. In the distance, snow-capped peaks below a cloudless blue sky. The Rhodope Mountains, scenic and bucolic, home to some of Bulgaria’s oldest citizens. One of them was waiting to see me.

“My grandfather is ninety-five-years old,” Anna reminded me as we drove south on the narrow highway. “He’s half blind, walks with a cane, and doesn’t hear very well, but he still has his wits about him. He rises at the crack of dawn to milk his cow and tends his vegetable garden in the afternoons. And he eats a lot of yoghurt,” she added with a laugh.

“I can’t believe I’m here, that I’ve flown all the way from Tel Aviv just to meet him.”

“He’s very eager to see you.” Anna continued to talk excitedly as she drove, but I remained mostly silent, keeping my eyes focused on the beautiful countryside.

I was looking forward to meeting him as well, but I had a growing feeling of trepidation ahead of my visit to his home. Why had I come to Bulgaria? Had I made a mistake? Was I on a wild goose chase that would make me a laughingstock when I returned to my office in a few days’ time? I shook my head, shocked at my impulsive decision to come.

Anna slowed down when we passed the sign announcing our arrival in Gela, the village that was our destination. A minute later, she parked the car. I got out, took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air, and followed her up a gravel path towards a wooden farmhouse that had seen better days. We took off our shoes outside the door and went inside.

It took several minutes for my eyes to fully acclimate to the dark interior. Outside it was a warm June day, but inside the farmhouse I shivered. The unlit fireplace at the side of an open kitchen made me wonder how warm the room was in winter. The Rhodopes were ski territory, I had learned. Visions of snow-covered slopes brought back memories of the ski trip I took with friends after finishing my compulsory service in the Israeli army.

“Sit here,” Anna said, pointing at a low bench near the dining room table. “My mother is probably shopping in Smolyan. I'll go see if my grandfather is awake.”

I sat down and looked around the rustic, homey room. Watercolor paintings of green landscapes hung on one wall; a window opened to real-life vistas of the same. All the furniture was wooden, apparently homemade. I rested my hands on a colorful embroidered tablecloth, kicked my backpack under the table, and fidgeted as I waited for Anna’s grandfather. All I knew was that he had something to give me, and I didn’t have a clue what it could be.

Read the rest of the story on The Writing Disorder.

Monday, June 12, 2023

"I Am Marco Polo's Brother" - short story

My name is Giuseppe Polo, son of Niccolò and Nicole Anna, born in the year of our Lord 1251 in the magnificent city of Venice. Magnificent, I say, not only because of my city's Gothic-style palaces and narrow canals winding through its districts like so many cobblestoned streets, but also because of the power and influence of the Republic of Venice. Our republic is prosperous, ruling many territories on the shores of the Aegean Sea and beyond.

I was but a boy of three, still weaning from my mother, when my illustrious father and uncle Maffeo set forth as traveling merchants on a mission to the East. They sought spices and silks, precious gems, and gold and silver utensils, anything that would benefit our family business, but I believe the true intention of their journey was something other than material wealth.

Read the rest of the story on Litro Magazine USA.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

"The Last Elephant" - short story

Sometime in the near future

Ethan has been looking forward to the school outing for weeks. Marking the dates on his calendar, a countdown running in his head. Two weeks to go. One more week. Four days. Two. Today!

Ethan is going to the zoo with his classmates at Lincoln Elementary. With Liam and Stevie, his best friends. They are as excited as he is. The zoo! And they will see the elephant!

“Listen up everybody,” Mrs. Gibson says to her students when they arrive. She introduces them to one of the zoo’s employees.

“My name is Jackson, but you can call me Jack. Our zoo is a member of Animals Consolidated, the leading zoo management company in America,” he explains. “Our zoos have the most wonderful creatures. You’ll see some of these special animals today. Are you ready to get started?”

Jack leads them along the pathway to the center of the zoo grounds. Past the tropical bird hall, past the reptile pavilion. Past the pond where cranes, herons, and geese flap their wings and dip their beaks. Up a slight hill.

“This is the lions’ cage,” Jack says, pointing through the bars.

“Where are the lions?” Liam asks.

“The lions aren’t here right now,” Jack tells the schoolchildren. “They’re on loan to another zoo. There are so few lions left that we share them.”

Ethan is impatient. He hasn’t come to see lions. Or tigers. Or any other wild animal. He has come to see the elephant. He walks away from the group and approaches the biggest enclosure of all. And there he is.

Ollie—that’s the elephant’s name. In the distance, Ollie is feeding on greenery, raising his long, gray trunk, piling the food into his mouth. Lowering it playfully for another mouthful.

Ollie looks up, his white tusks sparkling in the morning sunlight. He lumbers forward, across the pen in slow motion, toward the boy. A huge, bobbing head. One leg lifting heavily and stamping down, another leg following it. Gray, wrinkled skin shaking back and forth. Tail wagging, slapping at flies. A gigantic, magnificent creature approaching.

“Wow!” Ethan shouts. The elephant draws near.

The other schoolchildren join Ethan at the guardrails, watching the bull elephant swaying until it comes to a halt a few feet away from where they’re standing.

“Step back,” Mrs. Gibson cautions them. “Let’s wait for Jack’s explanation.”

“Ollie goes from one zoo to another, so that as many people as possible can see him,” Jack begins.

“I heard he’s the only one,” Ethan says.

“Yes, he’s the only one. The only one left. As you may know, there were once hundreds of thousands of elephants. They roamed freely on the savannas of Africa, in the rain forests of Asia. But we drove them to extinction. Loss of habitat. Poaching. Illegal ivory trade. There are many reasons, none of them acceptable.”

Jack points to the animal in the enclosure. “Ollie is the very last elephant. We raised him in captivity, but elephants do not do well in captivity. All other members of his breed died off, leaving only him. When Ollie dies, there won’t be any elephants left,” Jack tells the children.

While his classmates move on to the bear enclosure, Ethan remains in place. Ollie stares at him with sorrowful eyes. All alone. The only one left of his species.

Ethan notices something on the elephant’s face, just below an enormous flappy ear. A whitish area, set against the gray. It looks like—yes, it’s a star! A five-pointed star, a birthmark on Ollie’s hide.

“Amazing!” he says aloud.

He takes one last look at the elephant and runs to join his classmates.


Thirty years later


Ethan has been looking forward to this assignment for some time. This is the kind of project he’s good at. Every article he writes is a challenge, but he has no doubt the piece he’s working on will be just what his editor asked for.

He parks and hurries to the building’s entrance. A security guard checks his name against the morning’s expected arrivals. Ethan puts down his laptop case and walks through the metal detector.

“Mr. Matheson is expecting you,” the guard informs him.

“Welcome to Animals Revisited,” Matheson says, shaking Ethan’s hand. “You’re the science reporter, right? I’ve read some of your articles. Quite good.”

“I specialize in stories about scientific research.”

“You’ve certainly come to the right place for that.”

“I’m here to learn,” Ethan says. “Can I record our conversation?”

“Sure, everything I tell you is on the record. Animals Revisited is a research lab exploring ways to bring back extinct species. We sequence their genomes, edit DNA of a close living relative to match it. Then we endeavor to make an embryo with the revised genome and implant it in a surrogate mother.”

“And, you succeeded?”

“You’re aware of the repeated failures with mammoths. That’s because we never had viable tissue to work with. Not so with elephants, which went extinct barely three decades ago. We perfected the process and achieved the desired results. We successfully brought the elephant back to life!”

Matheson leads Ethan to the lab’s nursery and brings him to a small cage. An animal crib and inside, a newborn elephant.

Ethan snaps pictures and writes down his first impressions of the infant pachyderm. He walks around the cage, observing the gray calf from all sides. Not yet steady on its feet. Thin strands of black hair. Wide curious eyes. Just under one of the creature’s flappy ears, he spots a whitish area. A noticeable birthmark on its textured wrinkled skin. A shape with five points. A star.

“Amazing!” he says.

# # #

Originally published on Written Tales.