Karen Schauber ~ On the Outskirts

On the out­skirts, fol­low the path a ways; the var­ie­gat­ed cracks, ver­dant-grey and heliotrope, twist into a deep fis­sure, the open­ing still ahead. Pace your­self —one tiny step in front of the oth­er —before the pun­gent stink assaults you; you’ll know you are on the right track.

The door is a hinged mov­able bar­ri­er that allows ingress into and egress from the enclo­sure. The cre­at­ed open­ing in the wall, a por­tal. Push it, hard, it creaks and groans like vio­lin prac­tice; scratchy like when the bow is placed too close to the bridge. Cover your nose and mouth with your oth­er hand, the smell of car­rion, decay, rot­ting death, is in bloom, and over­whelms. Stop cough­ing, you will attract the Shoebill. It too over­whelms when aroused. Look down at your feet. Be afraid of black mam­ba snakes, the ones that coil and writhe and slith­er. They are all around you. Follow the widen­ing groove until the light dims through over­hang­ing branch­es. The canopy above is filled with trum­pet­ed song, Spotted Pardalote, Northern Flicker, Bushtit, and Dark-eyed Junco flit­ting from limb to nest, secret­ing notes; deaf­en­ing in the radi­ant hour.

You do not have much time, hours at most. The legs of the giant hunts­man spi­der, long com­pared to its stumpy body, twist for­ward in a crab-like fash­ion; it will guide you. Continue on past the grey-buff stat­ue, its whale-head, shoe-shaped beak is awe­some. Notice it does not move. If it does, let it pass. The Shoebill is pre­his­toric. It only wants to know you are here in good faith. Offer it a tid­bit of crack­er, hand­ful of seed. Do not make men­tion of nile mon­i­tor lizards, ser­pents, or baby croc­o­diles, you will only arouse its dark­er impulses.

Notice the mound of dung bee­tles, flesh flies and armoured car­niv­o­rous insects; the pro­ces­sion clam­our­ing toward the cen­tral phal­lus-like struc­ture, sur­round­ed by the spathe, a pleat­ed skirt-like cov­er­ing that is bright green on the out­side and deep maroon inside. The spadix has grown into a large club-like head of blood-red seeds. It is gar­gan­tu­an. Magnificent. Erotic. A sin­gle bloom the size of a small tree, stinky and putrid like rot­ting death, shoot­ing up ten feet in height. Its leaf struc­ture tow­er­ing to twen­ty feet tall and six­teen feet across. Behold—the Corpse flower. This is why you have come. Witness its majesty. It is over much too quickly.

Do not men­tion this place. It will be our secret —every sev­en years. Now go.


Karen Schauber’s work appears in fifty inter­na­tion­al lit­er­ary mag­a­zines, jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Bending Genres, Cabinet of Heed, Cease Cows, Ekphrastic Review, Fiction Southeast, New Flash Fiction Review, Spelk; and a ‘Best Microfiction’ nom­i­na­tion. The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings (Heritage House, 2019), her first editorial/curatorial flash fic­tion anthol­o­gy, achieved ‘Silver’ in 2020 in The Miramichi Reader’s ‘Very Best Book Award” for Short Fiction. Schauber curates Vancouver Flash Fiction, an online resource hub, and in her spare time is a sea­soned fam­i­ly ther­a­pist.