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Time Has No Essence

Story by John Riley (Read author interview) June 20, 2016

Art by Mia Avramut


Death was not a serpent, but a measured rocking, a small boat in a larger boat’s wake. When the rocking stopped he was still there. He had been certain death was a process of vanishing. Now it had finished with him and he was still something. Death had not been impressive and he was surprised at how sad this made him. He stood alone on a vast plain. There were no ridges or mountains, only an expanse of brown earth as far as he could see. He had no food or water and knew it wasn’t necessary. Whatever he was to be was still trapped in his body but now his body needed no nourishment. As he began to walk his mind filled with images of roasted chicken on a platter surrounded by lightly roasted asparagus, rice spiced with a touch of olive oil, tall glasses of dark beer.

Dead Man

He was dead a thousand years, but was always a visitor. First there were no settlements and he was alone. When the trees grew on the plains, settlements began to appear on the horizon. The settlers would gather to welcome him as he approached. Make a home here, they would say. Stop your wanderings. He had hoped that in the last moments of life he would no longer view his existence as a series of disconnected visions, and the failure to do so followed him. He explained this while standing in the flicker of the torches the settlers held to light the passageways. Their eyes grew larger as he talked and when he felt their stares begin to cling to his words he stopped talking and walked on. At night alone he built his own fires and learned to think only of the dust that covered his boots and weighed on his eyelids. As the years continued he thought of nothing during the night and a new day would reappear and his death no longer concerned him. He began to stand taller and was not always alone in his travels.


After his resurrection the children began to play. They ran through the house with brooms between their legs. “I’m a bigger witch than you!” “I’m older and uglier and meaner!” On the street below his bedroom window, men and women waited with cameras and phones. His wife brought him food. His favorite foods were boiled potatoes floating in a puddle of butter, bread in long, soft loaves he could pull pieces from and roll into balls. Steaks flipped once and pies with thick crusts. He had a clipboard with a long list of unanswered questions he had written to himself. The mass of people below continued to swell as the day went on and the camera flashes were ceaseless. At dusk the children took out hundreds of silver balloons that seemed to multiply as they spread among the crowd. An agreement was reached to not release the balloons until morning. Near midnight the cameras stopped blinking. Tomorrow he would have something to say.

About the Author

John Riley has published poetry and fiction in Connotation Press, Metazen, Smokelong Quarterly, The Dead Mule, Fiction Daily, Thrice Fiction, Willows Wept Review, Blue Five Notebook, Centrifugal Eye, St. Anne’s Review, Sliver of Stone, and other anthologies and journals both online and in print. He is the founder and publisher of Morgan Reynolds, an educational publisher located in Greensboro, North Carolina.

About the Artist

Mia Avramut is a Romanian-American writer, artist, and physician, who worked in laboratories and autopsy rooms from Pittsburgh to San Francisco. Her artwork has recently appeared in Prick of the Spindle, saltfront, The Knicknackery, The Bookends Review Best of 2014 Anthology (cover), Up the Staircase Quarterly, Buffalo Almanack, Sliver of Stone, r.kv.r.y quarterly literary journal (featured artist), and Blue Fifth Review. She lives in Essen, Germany.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Two

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