A Short Story in Progress

My right hand picked up three sugar cubes and put them to my mouth. I had no desire to ingest three sugar cubes or any sugar cubes for that matter, but I also didn’t want to get into it with my right hand. The growth year hadn’t done him or me any favors. I opened up my mouth and used my tongue to push two sugar cubes toward my left cheek and one against my right and let them melt down.

“Water please,” I said.

Air dropped down a glass of water in front of me, which I grabbed quickly with my left hand.  My right hand had lost interest in the going-ons it appeared so I swirled the water around in my mouth and spit out the sugar that remained.

It was surveillance night.  Every Tuesday dusk to Wednesday dawn for the past five years, Yeats and I have been patrolling Lambda. The Outers liked the children in this region more than others and so that was where most of the snatchings happened.

Since the establishment of intense surveillance in 3001 we had reduced the number of stolen children from an average of 43 monthly down to just five every two months. 

“I hope you’re ready,” said Yeats.

I walked over to my communicator. Yeats  regular green eyes were flashing neon on the screen.


They always flash when he has to wait for me. I wasn’t late, but I wasn’t as early as he liked. He doesn’t understand that things happen, like your clothes not appearing when you expect them to.

I hit reply.

The Case of Makhan Singh’s Smelly Lunch by Joti Heir

A children’s book about self-confidence, friendship and standing up for yourself.

Chapter 1

Nobody Likes Ugly Mouse Sweaters

Makhan Singh stuck his head out of the front door to figure out how cold it was outside. A chilly wind thwacked his face. He tried to wiggle his nose, but it felt crispy and stiff. That could only mean one thing … it was nose-hair-freezing weather.

That also meant his mom was right—he would have to wear his very warm, but very ugly mustard-coloured sweater vest to school. Makhan was already worried about making new friends on his first day at his new school and wearing an ugly sweater with a mouse on it wasn’t going to help.

“Makhan, did you put on your sweater? Are you ready? Please come and eat your breakfast, it’s almost time to catch the bus,” Makhan’s mom called from the kitchen.

“Coming,” Makhan yelled as he ran up the stairs to throw on the sweater over his shirt. The mouse looked like it was laughing at him.

“Nobody likes ugly mouse sweaters. When my other sweaters get here, I’m never wearing you again, then we’ll see who’s laughing,” Makhan said to the mouse on his sweater.

Two piping hot paranthas glistening with butter and a bowl of yogurt sat on the kitchen table

waiting for him. His 3-year-old sister Parkash tore off a piece of her parantha and offered it to Makhan.

“Thank you, Parkash, look I’ve got my own right here,” he said to her.

She put the torn-off piece into her mouth and munched on it while grinning at him. Makhan thought she was so lucky. Kids in preschool were just tall babies, and babies played with everyone. It was going to be easy for Parkash to make friends.

“Look, Parkash, your brother is going to eat all his yogurt because it’s going to make him big and strong. You’re going to eat some too, aren’t you?” his mom said.

Parkash kept on grinning and eating her parantha without touching her yogurt.

Makhan loved yogurt and buttery paranthas, but today, they made him feel sad. That’s because after he finished eating his last bite, he’d have to take a bus to a school where he had no friends.

“This is a very ugly sweater, Mom, are you sure you didn’t pack any sweaters without mice on them?” Makhan grumbled.

“Makhan, I thought you loved your mouse sweaters, that’s why I packed them in our luggage. What happened?” she asked.

“I just don’t like them anymore, that’s all,” Makhan said.

“Well, the movers are delivering the rest of our things today, so maybe we can find you a no-mouse one to wear for tomorrow. Now, eat your parantha, please. Since it’s a special occasion, I made you a sweet one,” Makhan’s mom said with a wink.

Makhan thought starting grade three at a brand-new school in the middle of November was no kind of special occasion. If anything, he’d call it a scary occasion.

“Good moooorning,” Makhan’s dad sang as he walked into the kitchen.

“Are you kids excited about meeting new friends today?” he asked.

“It feels like there’s a circus in my stomach,” said Makhan.

“Don’t you worry, everyone’s going to think you’re the nicest, smartest boy in the world,” Makhan’s mom said as she hugged him.

Makhan tried to give her a smile, but the circus in Makhan’s stomach didn’t make it easy.

“I’ll drop Parkash off at preschool on my way to work,” his dad said while blowing and slurping on a cup of hot chai.

“Thank you, that’s perfect, then Makhan and I can finish up breakfast and have a nice walk to the bus stop,” Makhan’s mom said.

He felt like a baby having his mom walk him to the bus stop, but he also felt relieved that he wouldn’t have to stand at the stop by himself. At his old school in Toronto, he had a lot of friends to stand with. He even had three best friends.

“I packed you a yummy lunch. I hope it’s ok. Ask your teacher if I should change anything,” said his mom as they put on their shoes and headed to the bus stop.

Makhan wondered if sharing his lunch might help him make friends. His mom was a really good cook and his friends at his old school always loved swapping some lunch with him.

The school bus stop was on the street next to Makhan’s street. As Makhan and his mom turned the corner to walk down bus stop street, they saw a backpack go flying into the air.

“Give me back my backpack!” yelled a girl running toward the backpack with two long pink braids flying behind her.

Just then, a yellow school bus arrived. The circus monkeys in Makhan’s stomach started doing cartwheels.

“Have a good day at school, my most beautiful boy,” his mom yelled as he lined up to get on the bus.

“Haha, beautiful boy,” someone laughed.

“Look at that mouse,” yelled someone else.

Makhan felt his face get hot as he walked up the steps of the bus.

Silko Von Cylinder and the Spring Living Room Toss

Silko is an amazing character that does his best to make good choices like how to manage his anger.The third week of March is an exciting time in Shape Town. That’s when spring begins and it’s also when the living rooms go outside.

That’s why Silko Von Cylinder was having a hard time falling asleep on the third Saturday in March. The next day was Living Room Toss Day. You can click down on the book for a free preview of what happens next.

The Sweet Home Louse Short Story

Check Out the Excerpt to This Story by Joti Heir

Syan’s current first-tier accommodations were Aleksander, Shin Tzu and Zoobie. Zoobie’s parents were mad artists which gave him a thin layer of intrigue by association. The other two were a prairie drive. 

It was the first of August so she was staying at Aleksander’s place in East York. He worked out of his company’s Beijing office for the first two weeks of every month so he was pretty solid accommodations. Syan decided to get Chinese take-out for dinner. She didn’t like to use the kitchen too much, she knew she got sloppy after a few glasses of wine. 

Syan watched the new episode of The Bachelor, ate her Chinese, drowned in wine and went to sleep in the spare bedroom. The next day she met her old college friend Charlene for dinner. Charlene liked to discuss private things, it was annoying. Syan put up with it because she stayed at Charlene’s place when she was in between accommodations.

“How’s everything going? No word from the devils right?” she asked.

It’d been five years since she left her parent’s home and two years since they’d last tried to drag her back. She wasn’t sure if Charlene always asked about them because she cared or because she was a gossiping idiot. 


“Do you know where they are?”


“Maybe they’ve lost interest.”

“I guess so,” said Syan.

On the 16th of August, April she hung out at Zoobie’s, they were unofficially enjoying a warm bed once in a while. She couldn’t stay there for long periods since he never went anywhere.  Zoobie left for work at 6 the next morning, she hung around all day and then left for the bars just before he came home at 7. 

Syan knew everyone at the bars in Toronto so she could hang out with the staff until early morning. That was good when she couldn’t stay at her other accommodations and had to stay at Zoobie’s. Zoobie never had a schedule for too long so  He artisted when he wanted to and did regular-people work when he wanted to. Syan was thinking about replacing him due to his unpredictable accommodation status.

Syan waited outside of his house on a bench in the park across the street. She peered throught the leaves of the trees waiting for him to leave. It was 6 a.m., he should’ve been gone, but he wasn’t. Finally, at around 6;15 a.m., he meandered outside and did some stretches before hopping into his Romeo and taking off. When your parents pay for your existence, you can afford to meander.

Kyiv -October 17

October 17, 2022

The air raid sirens rang around 6 a.m. at around 7, there was a blast and then what sounded like numerous gunshots. I saw numerous birds flying eastwards and then westwards. Then a silence. I sat on my bed and wondered what to do next. Then another round of gunshots, firecracrackers something in between the two and then a boom. I could see grey smoke rise into the air.

It is a strange experience to wake up to explosions in a city in which only the afternoon before you went for a long walk in a local park, visited the busy main street and shopped before coming home to cook a peaceful dinner before going to sleep. 

Those gunshot and firecracker sounds are apparently owned by kamikaze drones sent from somewhere in the south of Ukraine. That doesn’t really matter, I suppose. Just the reality of living in a city being attacked from afar by drones that can touch down anywhere is mind-boggling.

It is so mind-boggling that it doesn’t really set in, so you try to stick to your routine. It’s as though it’s all happening around you, but who it seems to be happening to most are people providing commentary from abroad. The people within the city mostly shelter and stay quiet. Analysts from far off countries shout supreme. It’s a very bizarre juxtaposition. 

The biggest difference between the attacks in the last week of February and now, is that people are not flooding out of Kyiv. This is how many countries in the world turn into generational victims of war. Slowly, it is no longer an escape plan, but an acceptance routine and a planted hatred that lasts decades and even centuries without there ever being a conclusion.

Just imagine waking up, and there is a giant crater in  your neighbourhood park from another country attacking yours. Do you just pick up yourself and try to go to another country or do you stay and endure or do you just lose your mind or do you become intent on a fixed goal of destroying the enemy.

All the while this is going on in the hearts and minds of the people just trying to live,for others it’s a game.. There are those that can help change it all that won’t change it all because it benefits them magnificently. This is true for Ukraine as well as many other destabilized countries around the world.

How Tattoos Are Helping Ukrainian Soldiers in the Middle of a War

Sergey was given a few hours leave from duty to get his tattoo. After weeks of war he lies down to get inked. Joti Heir/Kyiv
Sergey took leave from his commander of the Territorial Defense Unit of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to get a tattoo. Joti Heir/Kyiv

The tattoo needle is buzzing, Metallica is playing softly in the background, and Sergey, a soldier with Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces is at the other end of that needle, taking a few hours away from the defense lines to take care of another responsibility.

“It is my duty to remember this,” he says.

The ‘this’ is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in the early hours of February 24, and has left more than 6000 people dead or injured according to the UN.

We’re in the underground of a building in central Kyiv, the cavernous white room with 5 neatly arranged tattoo beds above which hang blindingly bright ring lights is giving secret laboratory ambiance. 

Sergey’s automatic rifle rests on the floor next to the bed he is laying on. Tattoo artist Volodymyr, his hair pulled back tight in a ponytail, is huddled over Sergey’s left arm. Sergey is getting a tattoo of a yellow and blue stick man holding a bat, chasing after a swastika in the colors of the Russian flag. 

The owner of the tattoo parlour, Maria, says she’s received 7 times more requests for patriotic tattoos in the past few weeks than in the 8 years they’ve been open.

Deborah Davidson, associate professor of sociology at York University, has conducted extensive research into tattoos and meaning. She says she’s not surprised Ukrainian soldiers are turning to tattoos.

“Tattoos are a way to externalize trauma grief and thereby come to terms with it. There is element of ritual also since they invite conversation about the experiences and loss,” she explains.

Volodymyr and Sergey in discussion. Joti Heir/Kyiv

Volodymyr has been a tattoo artist for 8 years, he’s heard many tattoo stories and says he’s heard one common theme behind why people choose to get a tattoo.

“It is something to provide emotional support for yourself,” he says.

“It helps you move forward and take the next step.”

A 2017 paper by Everett W. Painter, Therapeutic Aspects of Tattoo Acquisition: A Phenomenological Inquiry into the Connection Between Psychological Trauma and the Writing of Stories into Flesh, echoes Volodymyr’s observations.

“Our human bodies serve to anchor us to the physical world … Disruption or threats to this system may alter self-understanding in fundamental ways. For the bearer, tattoos provide a permanent, on the body, in the flesh marker. A marker that may be used for reflection, processing, and redefinition of life experience,” Painter writes.

While headlines, videos, memes, and pictures are splashed across news sites and social media of heroic Ukrainian soldiers defending their country in a David and Goliath moment, the unromantic truth is that war is death. Ukrainian soldiers have died and will die, those that do not die will forever hold physical and psychological scars.

Kyiv tattoo parlour. Joti Heir/Kyiv.

Among Ukrainian soldiers, there is word spreading that in Bucha, in what is now being called a massacre, Russian soldiers specifically targeted those sporting patriotic tattoos.

“A soldier from Volnovakha came in yesterday, his whole tank battalion was killed, only he survived. They took him as a prisoner of war,” Maria explains.

“He told us he heard the Russians say they made the people take off their shirts and if they had a Ukrainian tattoo they killed them.”

That soldier was brought to Kyiv for treatment after a POW exchange. He has healed now, Maria says. He came into the tattoo shop to get the Ukrainian trident tattooed on his neck. 

In the days leading up to the February 24 attack, Sergey says life was humming along, he works in construction and was out to nearby sites like Irpin and Gostomel.

“The night before [the invasion] I came home from work and me and my wife went to a family celebration, we came home very late,” he says.

In the morning his wife shook him awake, telling him Russia had attacked. 

“I was still tired, I didn’t believe it. It’s not a dream? It’s not a joke? I didn’t believe it was happening,” he said.

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When it finally sunk in, he got up, got ready, and left the house.

“I told my wife I’m going fishing, if I told her the truth, she wouldn’t let me go,” said Sergey.

The truth was he headed to military headquarters to find out what was going on and to get weapons and gear. He was already a Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) reservist. 

 Sergey eventually did have to tell his wife where he was of course. 

“She kept calling so I sent her a picture of myself in my uniform.”

Sergey says when they finally spoke she cried and asked him to come back alive.

“Everything changed for me in 2014, when I saw they were killing protesters,” he said referring to the Maidan Uprising that took place between 2013 and 2014 over the then government’s lean toward Russian partnership.

“I knew that when that happened, everything would be different in Ukraine,” he said. 

Sergey was a volunteer in Independence Square in Kyiv where Maidan protesters were camped out in 2014. Clashes between the protesters and police led to close to 100 deaths. After the pro-Russian government was ousted Sergey joined the Territorial Defense Unit, the reserves of the Ukrainian army.

Sergey covered up his old Soviet tattoo with a triedent and Cossack warrior. Joti Heir/Kyiv
Sergey covered up his old Soviet tattoo with a triedent and Cossack warrior. Joti Heir/Kyiv

That’s also when he had an old Soviet navy tattoo on his right bicep covered up with the Ukrainian trident and a Cossack protector tattoo. 

On the second night of the Russian invasion, Sergey says Russians were already in Kyiv shooting from buildings.

“A saboteur group [was sent] to check the defense and to show they made it to Kyiv. They wanted to put Russian flags on buildings,” said Sergey.

“We were able to shoot them out.”



On February 24, before sunrise, Maria received a call from her father.

He was in the southeast in Luhansk, near the Russian border, where the bombs fell first. He told her to get up and prepare documents for herself and her mother.

“It was early in the morning, it was dark. I went on Telegram and talked to anyone else who was awake. We tried to figure out what to do next,” she said.

Maria learned late last year from the city that her tattoo parlour sat in a designated bomb shelter. So what she had to do next was go to the tattoo parlour and prepare it to shelter civilians.

“We came here, we moved things so there could be places for people to sleep, but nobody came on the first night,” she said. 

She said they came the next night and were full every day after that. She said she would stay in the parlour with them all day and then return to her apartment in the evening to her elderly mother who refused to leave it.

About a month into the war she said she started receiving phone calls from people wanting to come in to get a patriotic tattoo. While the bomb shelter continued to run, they decided to partially open the tattoo parlour for a few hours in the day. Volodymyr is one of 3 tattoo artists Maria asked to come in a few times a week to help. 

Volodymyr working on the swastika portion of the tattoo. Joti Heir/Kyiv


Volodymyr has returned to work very, very angry.

“Russia hates our people, for a long time this has been going on. My grandparents lived through the famine in 1932,” he said and then apologized for getting too worked up.

He’s referring to the Holodomor famine in the 1930s that killed millions of Ukrainians, his birthplace Uman where his grandparents lived was particularly hard hit. The famine is largely believed to be man-made and has been linked to Soviet-era policies under Joseph Stalin that some say were designed to exterminate the Ukrainian people.

On the morning of February 24, he got a frantic call from his sister in Uman, telling him to get up, telling him that Russia had attacked. He said he watched the news trying to figure out what to do next. 

“I’m not sure why, but just two days before, I packed all my documents into a bag,” says Volodymyr. 

He ended up heading to the tattoo parlour and helped Maria ready it for civilian shelter. While the parlour is returning to some semblance of service it remains a bomb shelter and for that reason can’t be named.

While tattoos can provide some sort of outlet for Sergey and other soldiers, the very immediate concern is one of staying alive and uninjured. The weapons and billions of dollars being pledged to help Ukraine win the war, two months into the war, cannot delete physical and psychological trauma. War money is of little help to broken hearts and broken lives. 

Since the war began, Sergey has been living with a team of soldiers in and around Kyiv. He won’t say how many soldiers or where. All he will share is their latest spot has a lot of bats and that the food being provided is good.

Volodymyr is now wrapping Sergey’s arm up in cling film. They both look pleased with the result. Sergey says he plans to come back for another tattoo on his right forearm when he can get permission to leave from his commander.

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Ukrainians Stand Alone While Russians Attack Kyiv

Just 6 days ago kids were playing in the park in Kyiv, and now everyone is underground in the dark hoping their water and food doesn’t run out. Ukraine does not have the military capacity to defend itself, while the countries of the West do, but no one is coming to help.

Close to half a million of people have fled the country, but the country’s population is 44 million. The 43.5 million are now losing their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers.

I met Daria at the Kyiv train station sitting with her daughter, she is in shock. Below is what she had to say.

Daria is one of millions wondering why no one is helping them while they have the capacity to do so. Kids are helping make Molotov cocktails so they can throw them at the coming Russians, while Western giants have the force and ability of a billion Molotov cocktails in their pockets.

There have been two explosions within the past hour In Kyiv. A giant convoy is on the way to the city while the perimeter is guarded by the military and citizens who have just been given a gun within the past five days. Is the world going to sit back and just let this happen?

In Kyiv

Today, I walked about in the streets, people are shopping, dining and living life. It can seem shocking as governments and news agencies are declaring that war is imminent and yet people are not panicking. However, what can they do?

People, of course, must carry on with their days. They cannot all leave their homes, lives, families, places of work and jump ship. Imagine that in your own home city or country, news outlets are telling you that you should get ready for bombings and tanks upending your life. But it’s your home. Where else are you going to go?

It’s clear that what happens to your city and country is in the hands of people far, far away. They have concerns you can’t do anything about. In fact, some of their concerns and wants you don’t even understand.

So what do you do, you shop for your grandma’s birthday on the weekend. You continue to plan your wedding, you work on your thesis, you do your homework, you make dinner. You do what you can do, and what you have control over.

Spending Life

Each day, hour, minute, second is the spending money given to us at birth. We can exchange it for anything we want.

Yesterday, I was reviewing my day at the end of it and could not account for 5 hours. Not account for meaning, that I didn’t do anything specific for that amount of time in the day. Sure, I know I looked at things online, had a snack, contemplated like and the like but there was nothing specifically that I accomplished or experienced or even enjoyed.

That’s the same as being given $240 to spend for the day and just losing $500.