Offcourse Literary Journal
ISSN 1556-4975 

Five Short Pieces, by Charles Freeland.


Our Hybrid Nature


Axiom: the energy one expends in practicing arithmetic always equals or surpasses that expended in the pursuit of ducklings in their pen. You can't expect to figure out the one without taming the other. Though, of course, in this, as in so many situations defined by the witnesses who describe it, the reverse does not necessarily hold true. You can pick up the scattered bits of porcelain. You can stack them up together on a shelf. Nothing is going to make the object that wasn't an object before you set eyes on it turn back into what it was before. The universe just doesn't operate that way. And for good and proper reasons. Can you imagine being stuck in a place where the blueprint is always in reach of someone whose mind didn't form properly? Whose fingers are of no use for pointing? I'd rather be somewhere else, myself. Even if that person is tagging along. Even if he is saying things in his sleep that make such perfect and obvious sense, we are afraid to repeat them.



Through the Funeral Mountains on a Burro


Strange, how we assume the world will find its consolation without us. Like that hunchback Leopardi, convinced illusion is the only substantial thing. But where do we go when the illusion itself starts to unwind? Begins to seem as flimsy as a paper boat of the sort we used to float on the stream that passed behind the hog pens. The water foul and dark and making the banks unusually verdant. Unusual for that place, at any rate, and time, when sepia seemed to hang in the air itself and we thought in terms of flashback from one moment to the next. Never certain that we would be allowed to continue into the future by virtue of there being no real future to speak of. It was the sort of thing other people had because they could imagine it. They could form it in the mind and shape it the way you might shape a piece of granite. Even if you had no tools. Of course, the wear and tear on the fingers would be discouraging. The propellers too are in a perpetual state of disrepair. Flaking paint. Blades bent at an angle not efficient for propulsion. Still, the weather hasn't become so disagreeable the terns are tempted to begin their migration early. They construct their rookeries on floating mats of vegetation. And I ask the ranger why they have been scratching at the feathers on their heads recently. Why they seem intent on making the rest of us feel smarter than we actually are. He doesn't have an answer. But really, the only observation necessary is that our descendents won't care what we found once we got here. Just that we got here on time.



When You Want to Build and Prosper in This World


Eulalie thinks the trick lies in the admission that it is a trick. That what happens is not nearly as important as what could have happened, but didn't. The dropping of folding chairs from the rafters. The appearance of oddly-shaped doves. There are at least two million possible variations, each of which is determined by examining a handful of bones kept in a bag with certain letters stitched into its side. And the guidebook is not essential; you can still perform the procedure without it. But there is some information in the appendix that can prove invaluable, especially when the results are in dispute. When the man who stands to lose the most insists the interpretation should not be left up to just anyone. It should be gleaned from the heavens because that is where everything originates. His reasoning makes the others nauseous and they rewind their tape recorders in hopes of discovering exactly where he has repeated himself needlessly. And where he might have let drop the post office box where he receives his mail. Eulalie checks off each compliment on a sheet of paper that has them all listed ahead of time. Or at least those she was reasonably certain would crop up some time in the conversation. Those that ring out in the shuttle now like musical notes. If only she knew what to do with such things once they have settled to Earth again. Once they have abandoned their assault on the ears and feel their own oppressive weight for the first time, struggle against it momentarily and then accept the inevitable. Should you offer succor, or is that what the weak themselves do? Is there any discernible difference between one's instincts and one's inclinations if the latter are somehow beyond description, beyond even a simple mathematical formula?



Does Not Console or Respond


Where will they begin? And where will they just pretend to begin and then stop again suddenly without anyone's noticing? The hesitation will give your analyst fits of laughter. Like those that plague the people huddled together under a bridge. They encourage even the reticent to speak their minds with enough force to carry the voice halfway up the hill. And around the bend. Where it will die like a Persian soldier unsure of his location. And then the speed bumps. The allegories taking on the characteristics of straightforward declarative statements. And causing Eulalie nights when she isn't sure what she told Squid. And what he believes. And if there is a chance she might have let too much information escape. She puts the list in her pocket and checks, with her fingertips, at least once every twenty minutes or so, that it is still there. But theres no escaping the impression that the windows might have been contaminated. That the memories she retains of that evening are somehow more impressive than they should have been. Like receiving an honorary degree. The kind someone hangs about your neck, the kind with Latin inscriptions on it. And no one can be found to translate. Meanwhile, something skitters about in the kitchen. Pretending to be absorbed by the contents of the pantry. And when cornered, it emits a strange, small barking sound not unlike that produced by a vole. In times of grave danger. Or when the day just seems to stretch away into infinity.



Breughel with his Peasant

Squids umbrella hangs on the back of a womans chair; it is visible from the street through a window tinted so as to discourage such revelations. But it is there! Eulalie recognizes the colors, the bits of tin sticking out between the holes in the fabric. Each one of which she knows the story behind by heart. And if they are trying to conceal their presence, trying to act as if the aromas of the meal they are sharing are partly culpable, that they have been driven to their decisions by certain combinations of seared meat and ginger, she knows she is incapable of contradicting them. She has come to believe that absolutely anything anyone says is true. And why shouldn't I? she tells herself, as she saunters down the side street as confident as someone in a suit of armor. They are only saying what it has occurred to them to say for one reason or another. And that should be sufficient in itself. After all, it must be true somewhere. On the way home from visiting the former convent. With the villanelles still ringing in your ears. And the taste of oats clinging to the tongue like castaways to the sides of their yellow rafts.

Ah, if only she knew what to call this feeling of suitcases being unlatched at the center of her body. The exploring their recesses with little more than swollen fingers. And a penlight borrowed for this express purpose from a man who had no idea there was serious anthropological work underway. He had simply come to the neighborhood for a donut. And been halted in his tracks by the sound of people chanting in unison. As if trying to dislodge something unusually heavy. And then rolling it toward the street where some others were waiting to hoist it skyward on a crane.



Charles Freeland lives in Dayton, Ohio. His books, e-books and chapbooks include Through the Funeral Mountains on a Burro (forthcoming from Otoliths), Grubb (BlazeVOX books), Furiant, Not Polka (Moria), and The Case of the Danish King Halfdene (Mudlark). His website is The Fossil Record ( and his blog is Spring Cleaning in the Labyrinth of the Continuum (

His work has appeared in Offcourse Issue #36, Issue #35 and Issue #33


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