Flying the Coop

After the funeral, I ate most of a potato casserole. There were probably six in the fridge and this one had onions, which I didn’t like, but it was the easiest to reach. It had baked too long and the crust was sticking to the side of the glass dish, so I started in the middle, plunging my hand to the bottom and scooping. With each shoveled handful, I allowed the excess potato to cover the corners of my mouth and settle into my beard. I winced each time I crunched down on an onion. Maybe I would have covered myself in casserole and passed out, but a stern knock on the trailer door meant the apotheosis of my criminal career would be short-lived. I suppose I should have expected this much— what with chickens coming home and all that.

 

We are all projectors. Our bodies and our minds run on blood and air and magic, and we project. Heaven, Hell, love. Paradise lost, paradise regained, paradise island. A natural occurrence takes place and our need to believe—  our need to be justified—  turns the natural into the miraculous.

 

The Texas Miracle. Stab the earth and life oozes out. Bring in the trucks, the jobs, the revenue. Chew the roads, the ground, the resources. Pump it all. Drill everything. Project this as our success, our justification. It’s a rain dance. If we’re wet, we’re right.

 

During the miraculous days, I worked the derricks. Fear of heights need not apply. I also helped the drillers, where sweat and dirt covered even our shadows. Offsite, I spent some time in the bars and a few houses of ill repute, but mostly I played cards. One night my life was in the middle of the table when a third ace, studded with diamonds, put me in a bad place with worse people.

 

I owe for the drug, too. It started out of necessity, to stay awake during shifts. Then it was pleasure, during the monotony of the off weeks. I fought against it the first time or two—  the drug— as it crawled through my body like an insect, spilling out of my ears and eyes and fingertips. It weaved in and out of my ribs with every breath I took. Now it comforts me. Now I crave the way it feels, sliding down the back of my neck. I get scared it will fall out of my mouth, so I breathe through my nose. I need it.

 

The miracle died with the leaves last winter. We pumped down the price. By spring I was driving back home to East Texas on the cheapest tank of gas I’d bought in years. My job had vanished, but my debts had not. Even the pine curtain couldn’t stop them from following. The drug came, too. It was a fixture, now. We were one.

 

I approached Lufkin from below, wheeling my old truck through the facade of an economic renaissance. New roads, hotels, restaurants and shopping centers were stacked on top of one another at the city’s southern mouth— there to serve travelers heading up from Houston. I passed gated residences, trimmed trees and sidewalks that led to the country club. A community built for insurance salesman and politicians, not welders and factory workers. But it was all paper-mache. A projection. The economy that built the town—  the timber industry, the paper mill, the foundries—  was leaking and would soon sink. The effects were already being felt by those not living on streets named for the great golf courses of America. I saw the consequences for myself as I pulled onto the road where miracles didn’t happen.

 

A car honked. I couldn’t tell if I was driving too fast or too slow. I glanced at myself in the rearview. My eyes were splattered with red and pink veins that sprawled across my sclera like a network of tributaries. I wasn’t too far from the trailer, but the drug needed me. I pulled into the overgrown lot in front of the mill where my grandfather once operated a paper-making machine. I embraced the drug with such enthusiasm I thought both of us might suffocate. Die together. Instead, it saved me. It told me the plan, and I listened.

 

This time I knew I was speeding. I wanted to fly. Someone yelled “slow down.” Maybe it was a car I passed. Maybe it was my subconscious. Maybe it was God. I ignored them all. Slow down. Never. Not us—  the drug and I. Those chickenshit words may as well be the motto for this place. This place that produced me—  churned me out on an assembly line like thousands before me. It’s not my fault. It’s this place.

 

And her.

 

She didn’t look after me. She didn’t feed me, or check to make sure I did my homework. She didn’t care if I even went to school. He did whatever he wanted to her. To me. If we stood up together things could have been different, but she laid down inside bottles—  pills, booze, and this place. She let them all take what they wanted, just like him. But I’m stronger than her, now. I was raised by this place. I’m part of the humidity, part of the pines, part of the rust—  and chickens always come home to roost. Her life is worthless. You can’t fly inside a bottle, but you can die there. It’s a good plan, and I need the cash. I made the call to a tweaker-friend of a friend. He was willing. We’d split the life insurance money.

 

I don’t know how long I slept once the drug was done with me. It had tossed me, and my truck, into a ditch about a mile from the trailer. Not many folks came out this far, so maybe I had slept for a day, or two, or forever. Maybe someone turned off the projector and I didn’t exist anymore. My phone vibrated in my pocket.
 

I answer, therefore I exist.

 

I recognized the voice, but not the words. It was taken care of, but the terms had changed. He wanted more money. I told him that was impossible—  I owed people. I had to pay or I was a dead man. Not his problem. Okay, I said, I’ll figure something out. Was it clean? I ask him. Clean as murdering an old lady can be, he says.
 

I felt numb. I usually did when the drug was done with me. Guilt was sneaking into my veins and clogging my arteries. Sadness was eroding the lining of my esophagus. Anxiety and panic and pain dug into my belly-button, clawing their way through my stomach. I didn’t feel any of it, just numb.

 

There is no grand entrance leading across the grounds of my mobile estate. There are no gates or sidewalks. The road itself is the type that makes you believe you missed your turn, but it would be safer to keep driving than to stop and ask for directions. Creeks that feed the Angelina River cut across the landscape, but the generational poverty cuts harder. Out here, if you want to flush the toilet, you dig your own water line. Each small road turns into a smaller one, as each day turns into a lifetime for the folks who call this stretch of evergreen forest home.
 

I choked on the air in the trailer. It was thick with mold and rot and regret. Roaches scattered from one hiding place to the next with each step I took. There was no couch or television, which meant the only divide between the living room and the kitchen, was the ragged lip of flooring where the rough carpet ended and the cheap linoleum began. There was a bedroom in the back overrun with boxes and trash and the reasons I left. I turned the knob on the kitchen sink, but received no response. I sunk down onto my stomach and slept.

 

The funeral was two days after I woke up. The casket had to be closed, but the murder case had been busted wide open. I let the drug read the headlines with me. The voice from my phone belonged to the mugshot in the paper. There had been a struggle. DNA had been recovered, and matched. I had never seen her fight for anything, but of course she would fight now. Of course she would let me down when I needed her the most. She failed to have strength in life, and failed to be weak in death. If the deed-doer decided to tell the truth now, I’d have to fly to get away. But first, the funeral.

 

Funerals are our biggest projections. We work so hard to make death appear bright. A light at the end of a tunnel, shining glory of the afterlife, illumination of the soul and all that. Black suit, black dress, black glasses and black gloves—  anything we can do to make the living seem dark, so death will seem brighter. We work so hard because we are so afraid. But our fear does not change the truth. My mother is dead, and there is no light. There are only people dressed in black clothes. They aren’t crying for her, or for me. They are crying for themselves, because deep down they know the truth. No matter how dark their clothes are, or how dark their life seems, one day they’ll be dead too, and there will be no reprieve—  no light waiting on them. They don’t have wings like I do.
 

If I’m in prison, they’ll take the drug from me. I can’t be in prison.

 

You didn’t know my mother, why are you here. I ask.

 

“Just stopped by to pay my respects,” the detective looked at me, and she saw. The other people didn’t see. For two days they brought their casseroles and their cobblers, but they were blind.

 

“Well, looks like you’re paid up then,” I said. The drug needed me.

 

“And what about you?” the detective asked. “You all paid up, yet?”

 

She knows. The drug began screaming in my toenails and testicles. My pupils went in and out, back and forth.

 

“Speaking of which,” she continued. “That junkie we arrested for the killing told us one hell of a story. And I imagine we’ll be coming to see you real soon.”

 

The drug took me back to the trailer. I wasn’t hungry, but it told me to eat, to build up my strength. It ran its fingers through my hair and put its lips against my ear. It stroked me, and whispered. I’m not sure I was there anymore, or if it was only the drug. There was less work that way. I’d worked too hard, it told me. A clump of the casserole fell from my chin onto my groin and it felt good. I heard the knock, and their instructions. But their truths were not mine.
 

I chose to fly.
 

I entered the rest of the drug as the rest of it entered me. As my eyes rolled back, my wings flared out. As my body seized, my feathers sprouted. The transition wasn’t painful—  the drug had promised it wouldn’t be. As my heart stopped, I opened my beak and clucked. And by the time the officers busted through the door, I was already flying high above them—  above the pines that shelter destitution, above the paper-mache city of my past, and above the projections of a world filled with miracles.

 

 

 

James Wade lives in Austin, Texas, where he writes fiction for his wife and two dogs. His wife is encouraging, but the dogs remain unimpressed. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Skylark Review, Bartleby Snopes, After the Pause, Potluck Magazine, Through the Gaps, Yellow Chair Review, Typehouse Magazine, and The J.J. Outré Review. Visit him at www.jameswadewriter.com

FOUR: Sonya Vatomsky & Friends

Erasure of Nick Cave's "Do You Love Me?"

 

 

 

 

Sonya Vatomsky is a Moscow-­born, Seattle-­raised ghost. They are the author of Salt is for Curing (Sator Press) & My Heart in Aspic (Porkbelly Press) and a poetry editor atAnthropoid. Find them by saying their name five times in front of a bathroom mirror or atsonyavatomsky.tumblr.com

allison anne dabbles in all sorts of things, but spends an awful lot of time making mixed media art with the company of two fussy cats in minneapolis, minnesota. the products of such nonsense can be found at allisonanne.com & deardetective.com.

THREE: Sonya Vatomsky & Friends

Tenebrous

Short stories really stress me out;
I imagine myself inside the person who wrote them and
it’s so different – I can’t find gravity
or even a hand
or a foothold. Just now
someone from Bulgaria unfriended me on Facebook
which feels like rejection
from someone who should have held me close
because immigrating as a child
means I am a baby bird who bonds to anything
that smells remotely right. I am a forensic cosmonaut
detecting the goddamn smallest trace of dill
and making it seem larger
than anything actually relevant. It stresses me out,
my bad stomach and the tea for my bad stomach
and the caffeine and headaches chasing each other
across the night sky. I guess in the end we
both ran out of things to say
like two people who were sitting outside

as the sun went down
without anyone noticing.
 

 

Crane & Heron

All
winter
long
we
passed
our
need
back
and
forth
in
a
bottle;
it
was
strong
but
never
enough
for
two.

 

 

Sonya Vatomsky is a Moscow-­born, Seattle-­raised ghost. They are the author of Salt is for Curing (Sator Press) & My Heart in Aspic (Porkbelly Press) and a poetry editor atAnthropoid. Find them by saying their name five times in front of a bathroom mirror or atsonyavatomsky.tumblr.com

 

Colleen Louise Barry is an artist, teacher, and writer based in Seattle, WA. Her comics and poems appear or are forthcoming in jubilat, The Rumpus, The Tampa Review, H_NGM_N, and other places. A chapbook of drawings and poems, Sunburn / Freezer Burn, is available from smoking glue gun (2014). Another chapbook, The Glidden Poems, made out of paint sample swatches from Home Depot, is forthcoming from dancing girl press (2015). Colleen teaches art and writing at Hugo House and Seattle ReCreative. She is also the founding editor in chief of Mount Analogue. 

 

TWO: Sonya Vatomsky & Friends

Peristalsis

for jp

I
Over the winter one learns a lot, like
how to eat your own snakeskin and the smell
of nostalgia and how to not take it personally
when something happens
that is very personal.

II
I drew you out like an infection,
a burr, a splinter in the heel of our shared thirst;
that polyglot gluttony where I conjugate
as you decline
and the air bares its teeth to bite
the part of the night we don’t mind not remembering.

III
It is good to keep company
with alchemists, to spin the wool of adolescence
into amends for that last great chill,
when the salt was mistaken for sugar and
the whole damned thing went awry
because baking is a virtue. I can’t help but think

I am virtuous.

IV
My boots fill with mud, and my cup fills with wine,
and our eyes fill the other’s like a sea
reflected in a well
dug by soft, blister-free fingers. What
are you supposed to do when your friends die
before you’ve finished your drink? It’s enjoyable
to be alone,
but never without warning.

V
Send my regards to the void; we’ll meet up again
or we won’t and my guts will unclench
or they won’t and it’ll mean something then
(or it won’t)
and I’ll keep sucking on this life
‘til it loses all flavor.

 

 

 

 

Sonya Vatomsky is a Moscow-­born, Seattle-­raised ghost. They are the author of Salt is for Curing (Sator Press) & My Heart in Aspic (Porkbelly Press) and a poetry editor at Anthropoid. Find them by saying their name five times in front of a bathroom mirror or at sonyavatomsky.tumblr.com

J Paige Heinen lives in Bellingham, WA with her very fluffy cat, Sim. She enjoys taking long walks to look at the sky, and conversations about favorite childhood breakfast cereals. Sim's favorite cereal is turkey.

 

ONE: Sonya Vatomsky & Friends

Dead Woman Poem

 

There’s a dead woman in my house; we sit together, teacups raised
and gums stinging with licorice my father brings from Finland – there’s
no one else who likes the taste – listen: my dead woman’s fingers,
they go bluer in winter and when she holds mine (warm but wet with the
side-effects of one of my many prescriptions, those pink lozenges, our
joking precaution to keep me from how she is, like that’s how you don’t
get dead) and there’s a second when I totally forget there’s a difference

between us; then she’s off again about the ground, the earth, the dirt –
my dead woman talking with her hands, yelling out burial is a metaphor
and not even the right one, yelling out most would be fine with seafloor
blue going down, with a kind of breath holding, yelling out auto-aquatic
asphyxiation. And the thing is, I know there’s a difference but I don’t
always care. Give me peat bog, give me cheap soil, give me ashes –
or spontaneous combustion, even, because if you want a trace then
you don’t really mean it, says my dead woman with her bright dead
voice and our tea goes down her throat a big joyful thing, this spreading
out of warmth, this brief moment in which I can’t say
I really want to go anywhere.

 

 

 

 

Sonya Vatomsky is a Moscow-­born, Seattle-­raised ghost. They are the author of Salt is for Curing (Sator Press) & My Heart in Aspic (Porkbelly Press) and a poetry editor at Anthropoid. Find them by saying their name five times in front of a bathroom mirror or at sonyavatomsky.tumblr.com

 

Colleen Louise Barry is an artist, teacher, and writer based in Seattle, WA. Her comics and poems appear or are forthcoming in jubilat, The Rumpus, The Tampa Review, H_NGM_N, and other places. A chapbook of drawings and poems, Sunburn / Freezer Burn, is available from smoking glue gun (2014). Another chapbook, The Glidden Poems, made out of paint sample swatches from Home Depot, is forthcoming from dancing girl press (2015). Colleen teaches art and writing at Hugo House and Seattle ReCreative. She is also the founding editor in chief of Mount Analogue. 

Battleground State

United States, the present. Battleground states have become literal battlegrounds, and Donald Trump has gained a valuable stronghold in New Hampshire.

***

“General Trump, sir. We’ve pushed Jeb’s forces back to Nashua and have them sighted for artillery.”

Trump sniffed and examined his finger nails, admiring his cuticles. The cuticles of a winner.

“Fiah.”

Moments later, he felt the rumble of Howitzers and leaned back in his chair. “God, I love war,” he thought. He then settled in for a couple of reruns of Honey Boo Boo.

***

Seven kilometers away, Jeb sat in his bunker beneath the Southern New Hampshire Podiatry Clinic. “Gosh darn it!” he cried. Reports had come back that his fiercest and most loyal soldiers, Boy Scout Troop #247, had been decimated. Their archery badges were of no use to him now. He just hoped his popcorn order form had survived the blast. As the soft staccato rhythm of automatic fire in the distance reached his ears, Jeb took a sheet of computer paper and his favorite Milky Pen and began to write his final orders.

***

Donald chuckled as the obese child was exploited for his amusement. He was reaching for a cigar as he heard footsteps outside of his penthouse command tent.

“Knock, knock,” the voice called. His visitor ducked through the tent flap and carefully stepped over TRUMP-branded sandbags. She wore a North Face parka and Uggs, sniper rifle slung across her back. Trump stood and opened his arms in pleasant surprise.

“Sarah! You’re early!” Sarah Palin laughed and said, “Well you know me, dontcha Donald? You say ‘senseless slaughter’ and I come runnin’!”

The two embraced and Trump held her at arm’s length. “Well you look marvelous, just marvelous. Come, sit with me. How was your flight?”

“Well, we ran into a little flak over Iowa, but other than that it was a straight shot.”

“Excellent, great to hear. And don’t you worry about Iowa. I’ve got my people on it. Blackwater did a tremendous, tremendous job in Iraq. A little pricey, but I’ll just put it on Mexico’s tab.”

“Well, I think that’s just great, Don. If they keep bringing their drugs and domestic violence into our country, my son will be out of a hobby!”

“It’s a hard time for all of us,” Trump said wistfully, as he poured two glasses of Dom Perignon. “A toast,” he continued, handing Sarah a glass, “A toast to making American great again. “ Sarah gave an enthusiastic rebel yell and downed her glass, slamming her champagne flute back on the table.

Donald winced at his guest’s backwoods manners, but he’d worked with worse. He’d made deals against China, after all. He swallowed his pride and mentally prepared himself to treat a woman as an equal. She might be bleeding out of her “whatever," but he was out for blood, too, and this was no time to squander an asset.

“So, Sarah, sweetheart. You must be wondering why I asked you to come here.”

Palin rolled her eyes sheepishly, “Uhhh, no, hadn’t really thought about it.”

Donald exhaled through his nose and took a moment to think about how to explain the following concept as simply as possible. He straightened his tie and began, “Ok, I’ll get right to the point. Listen, this war has been fun, I’m having a good time, but, frankly, I just don’t have the time for it anymore. It’s tying up my capital. Now, my friends at Halliburton and Lockheed Martin have been very nice to us, very nice, but we need a decisive win. It’s what the American people want. They want the fourth quarter touchdown, and I’m gonna give it to ‘em.”

“Like DMX?!” Sarah squealed and gulped down her second hundred dollar glass of champagne.

Trump’s brow furrowed. “Yeah…sure. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that there are a lot of candidates out there. Ted Cruz, for example. Nice guy. Good friend of mine. Piece of shit. He needs to go. Now.”

Donald paused in disgust as Sarah took another slug, straight from the bottle. He shook his head and continued, “Although I do support traditional values, beating them the old fashioned way will take too long. I’m too smart for that. I’m the smartest candidate in this civil war. What I’m suggesting is that you and I go out and hunt them down. Each and every one. Now, Sarah, I understand that you’re a pretty good shot from a helicopter, took down a couple defenseless wolves a few years back, up in uhhh, where is it your from again?”

“Wasilla, Alaska!  My daddy was a –“

Trump cut her off. “Ok, ok. Alaska. I got it. So tell me honestly, you think you could hit Cruz from about a thousand meters.”

Sarah exploded in delight. “Sure can! You can bet Rubio’s high heeled boots on it! I mean, I don’t much care for the metric system, and I’m better on endangered animals, but I can do it. They call me Annie Oakley back home. Don’t really know why, though. I never wear Oakley’s…”

Donald interrupted her existential crisis, “Excellent. That’s just what I wanted to hear. Feel free to finish that bottle while I get my things. I’ll meet you at the big whirly bird machine.”

Sarah hopped to her feet with a quick salute. “Oh boy, Donny. We’re gonna have a real rootin’-tootin’ point n’ shootin’ good time!”

Mrs. Palin grabbed the bottle and pulled her feet up onto the supple leather couch. She hugged the bottle close to her chest and closed her eyes with a grateful sigh. How nice it felt to be useful. How nice it felt to be loved…


***

Jeb Bush sat back and proofread his letter. He made sure that he had crossed every T and smiley faced every I. Satisfied with his work, he rolled up the letter and tied it to the leg of his pigeon. It wasn’t a carrier pigeon. It had had no training, whatsoever, but Jeb remembered something his brother had said, “America, where wings take dream.” Something like that. Regardless, this was his only hope.

***

“You all set?” Trump had to yell over the helicopter blades spinning up.

“Yeah, it’s all good in the hood,” Sarah yelled back. As she struggled against the wind, Donald winced again. He rubbed his brow and engaged in another mental checklist to resist the urge to kick her out of the chopper after takeoff.  “It’s all good in the hood? Where did she get that from? 2008? Jesus…”

Sarah met Donald at the sliding door to the aircraft. Donald didn’t want any distractions once they were airborne, so he stopped her before entering. “You sure you have everything? Gun? Ammunition? Yeah? Do you have to go to the bathroom? No? You sure? Ok, let’s go.” He extended his arm to assist Mrs. Palin into the helicopter. “Ladies first.”

Sarah blushed. “Why, thank you, Donald! You’re such a gentleman. Anyone who says you’re a chauvinistic pig…well…they can just go to hell, am I right?” Sarah laughed and entered the chopper. Trump turned back to his base one last time and spoke tersely under his breath, “That’s the idea…”

They climbed aboard and Donald tapped the pilot on the shoulder. As they started to lift off, Donald felt a buzz in his jacket pocket. He looked at his phone and read the text.

Ivanka Trump 2:59 PM

netflix n chill?

It was an enticing offer, but he’d have to take her up on it later. This was business, and business always comes first. Donald turned his phone off and put it back in his pocket. They travelled in silence for a few minutes until the pilot came over the intercom in their headsets. “Sir, you may want to hold on, we’ll be flying through enemy territory soon.”

Donald looked the ground and balled his fists.

Kasich.

***

George H.W. Bush was enjoying his retirement from politics. An avid skydiver, he went on a birthday dive every year, even into his eighties. He tried to keep it to a minimum, (he wasn’t as young as he used to be), but living with Barbara Bush would make anyone want to jump out of a plane, so he would occasional sneak off for a little fun.

George opened the door to the DC-10 and prepared to jump. As he was unclipping from the overhead railing, a grey streak zoomed through his vision. He clipped back in and looked around. A pigeon wearily staggered to its feet, dazed from hitting the inside of the plane. Shocked, George knelt down and picked up the bird. “Hey, little fella. You ok? What are you doing way up here?” The bird offered its right leg, which had a roll of paper attached. George unfurled the scroll and read the letter.

 

Dad,

Sorry to bother you, but I’m in a real pickle this time. I’m pinned down in Nashua by Trump. We lost the Boy Scouts. I’m all alone. Trump’s men are searching the city for me and I’m surprised they haven’t found me yet. I told you the podiatry clinic was a good idea.

Anyway, if you could help me out of this, I’d really appreciate it. I know I’m no Dubya, and I never will be, but if you could get him out of all those DUI’s and businesses he ran into the ground, I’m hoping you can help me out of this one. If not, I understand that, too.

Love,

Jeb

P.S. – Tell Mom I said hello and I’ll call her tomorrow if I survive.

 

George held the letter shakily and tears welled in his eyes. Jeb was right, he wasn’t Dubya. He just wasn’t meant to be president. But he was a good boy, always was. George took out the lucky Milky Pen he always brought with him on jumps. He wanted to write back to his son, but knew this bird had to go to someone who could help. He wrote down coordinates and orders for the Secret Service to rescue Jeb. George thanked his lucky stars that Secret Service protection is afforded to former presidents.

George finished the commands and tied the letter back to the pigeon’s leg. He held the little bird and said, “I need you to get this to Camp David. Do you know where that is?” The pigeon gave an affirmative coo and almost seemed to salute with its wing. “Good. Your country and all birdkind are proud of you. Now, go!”

The pigeon nodded and took flight. It was immediately sucked into the propellers.

George was back to the drawing board. He called to the pilot, “Get in touch the Camp David! Jeb’s in trouble!” The pilot unmuted his headset and called back, “No can do, Mr. President. Communications are down. Looks like Trump is shooting down satellites.”

“Idiot,” George seethed. “Alright, change of plans. Set a course for New Hampshire.”

The pilot balked. “But, sir. It’s a war zone! And we don’t have enough fuel to get you back!”

George looked through the open door and watched the eastern horizon. “Just get us there, Captain. This is a one way flight for me.”
 

***
 

“Wowww, pretty!”

Sarah Palin pressed her nose to the glass of the helicopter’s cabin. All these bursts of light and loud booms. It was like the time Todd took her to see the fireworks when they first started dating. What a great day that was.  

“Don, aren’t these fireworks great? I remember when John and I were running together and – “

“Those aren’t fireworks, you moron,” Trump bellowed back, “They’re rockets! Rockets trying to kill us!”

Donald Trump couldn’t believe it. Although he had won 35% of the New Hampshire vote, some boring loser from Ohio had squeaked out 15% and secured second place. Kasich’s forces held Manchester International Airport and were covering his retreat to South Carolina. Trump did not see Kasich as a real threat and would come back for him later. In the meantime, they just needed to get through this barrage to close in on Cruz, whose supporters were being held back at the city limits.

He held the microphone in his helmet close to his lips and yelled to the pilot over the whirring blades above. “We need to get lower! I’ve got some intel from my people. I hire the best people. Did you know that? They confirmed that Cruz is commanding a tank from the front line. They say it has a massive burning cross on top. They suggested the same for me, but I’m actually a Scientologist. Don’t tell anybody. Actually, who cares, you’re a loser and no one would believe you anyway."

The pilot was a bit miffed by the insult, but was more concerned about the command. Things were looking pretty rough on the ground and he wasn’t sure he’d made the right choice in becoming a mercenary for Trump. He’d always wanted to be a veterinarian, but you know how life gets in the way sometimes.

The young man snapped from his regretful pondering as Sarah excitedly piped up from the back seat.

“I see him, I see him!” Sarah pointed down at the flaming crucifix. Over the past 150 years of American history, this symbol had become the Tapout t-shirt of hate. Ubiquitous, nefarious, and nauseating. Sarah loved it.

Trump raised a set of binoculars to his eyes for a closer look and smiled, giving Sarah a thumbs up and “hang loose” sign. “Yeah, that him,” Trump called back, “I can see him doing lame Simpsons impressions.” Donald was exactly right. Nobody really liked Ted Cruz, not even his own family, so he was taking full advantage of a captive audience to work on his Chief Wiggum voice.  Trump screamed to Sarah over the chopper blades and the din of battle below, “We’ll get in position. Wait for my mark to take the shot.”

***

“Sir, we’re approaching Manchester.”

George’s headset crackled with the pilot’s voice and he took a deep breath to steel himself and plan his next move. He threw open the sliding door of the plane’s cabin and surveyed the landscape. What lay before him was strife and destruction he hadn’t seen in person since his 1992 struggle with Ross Perot, ending in a loss to Bill Clinton. George shook his head in shame and tapped back into his microphone. “You can let me go over the airport.” Again, the pilot recoiled in shock. “The airport, sir,” he asked, “Isn’t that a little risky?”

“Risk,” Bush yelled back, indignantly, “Risk? I threw up on the Prime Minister of Japan! How’s that for risk? Just get me there and you can go home. This one’s on me.” The pilot silently nodded and reluctantly steered down towards the airfield.



***

Trump sat hunched in his chair, chin just above Palin’s shoulder, whispering in her ear. “Alright, Sarah, we’ve got him, now take the shot.”

“Okilly Dokilly, Trumperino!”

Sarah removed her glasses and set her face to the rifle’s eyepiece. Just as she settled in, she was distracted by something falling from just above the helicopter. A moment later came a thundering crash as the Plexiglas of the front windshield caved in. George H.W. Bush’s feet came sailing through the cockpit, striking the wannabe veterinarian in the face, knocking him out cold. George quickly slipped the pilot’s weapon free of its holster and spun the pistol upon the two passengers.

“Woah,” Donald yelped and jumped back in his seat.

Sarah was both startled and star struck. “M-Mr. President, it’s-it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“I wish I could say the same,” George growled, as he took the helicopter controls with his free hand. “Now, listen, I don’t want to hear a fucking word out of either of you until I’m done. You’ve both said more than enough. Understood?” They both nodded in agreement. “Good,” he continued, “Now, I’ve devoted my life to this country…and making money…but that’s not the issue here. My point is that I fought for my flag and I worked hard for my family, just like all of those people on the ground you’ve got pitted against each other.”

George took a moment to direct their attention to the battle raging below. He cleared his throat and went on, “We all know America isn’t perfect, probably never will be, but we’ve come a long way and I’ll be damned before I let either one of you nitwits burn it all down. You’re tearing us apart, and for what? Because you’re scared of someone who doesn’t speak, or look, or love the same way you do? That’s bullshit, and you know it.”

Trump reflected on his rhetoric and shrugged in reluctant acceptance. He felt safe to speak now, “Ok, George, you’ve made your point, now what do you want?”

“I want something from both of you,” he replied.

Sarah perked up at these words. A former president and a future president asking for favors on the same day? This really was shaping up to be a fun trip!

“Mrs. Palin, I’ve heard some absolutely vile shit from you over the years, and I was hoping to never hear your hateful screech ever again, but clearly you just won’t go away. What I want you to do is open a refuge for LGBT endangered species. Gay rhinos, lesbian polar bears, trans tree frogs, I don’t give a fuck. You round them all up like Noah and give them a nice place to live. Maybe you can try to be Christ-like, for once, not just Christian.”

“And you,” George snarled at Trump, “You fucking prick. I’ve been seeing your smug face for far too long, but I never thought it would come to this. This insane little show of yours is going to end today. You’re going to suspend your campaign and let Jeb go, right now. Furthermore, I hear you’re pretty fond of building walls. I’ve got a job for you. I know this nice little family, the Garcias, they could use some help with the retaining wall in their yard. That should get you started. On your way there you can pick up about a million gifts for Ramadan this year. I think that should do it.”

George paused to let the words sink in and gave his ultimatum. “Those are my demands, and if they are not met, I will jump from this helicopter and let you three crash. I’m not a murderer, at least not directly, and I think a fiery end to your hell-raising would be poetic justice.”

Donald began a slow clap and huffed in disbelief, “Bravo, George, bravo. That was a nice little sales pitch you made there, but I think you’re full of shit. I’m calling your bluff. We’re both rich men, we’ve got plenty to live for.”

“Oh, yeah,” George asked. “I’ve got arthritis, my wife’s a bitch, and the second season of Serial is a disappointment. What do I have to live for?”

Trump nodded and pursed his lips, “True. Good point.” He took a breath and weighed his options. Donald Trump was not a stupid man. An asshole, for sure, but not stupid. He rationalized this as just another bankruptcy and made his decision. “Ok, Mr. President. I accept your terms.” He reached for his phone and made the call.

***

Jeb Bush paced his bunker, saying the Rosary over a set of Mardi Gras beads he found in the basement. A million questions swirled through his mind. “Will I ever get out of here? Did the pigeon find Dad? What about my popcorn order? Do the Boy Scouts do refunds?” As he finished his hundredth lap around the room, a booming voice startled him, almost causing him to fall. It was the Voice of God, and He was calling to Jeb.

God cleared his throat.

“HEY. IT’S OVER. YOU’RE FIRED. GO HOME…OR WHATEVER…I DON’T REALLY CARE.”

Jeb fell to his knees and called back, “I have heard you, Lord, and if you wish to call me home at this moment, then…then I’m ready!” He bowed his head and got back to his Mardi Gras beads.

***

Fortunately for Jeb, this was not the Voice of God. It was the Voice of Trump.

Donald had Chromecasted a FaceTime message to the obnoxious video billboard he had erected over I93 in Derry. Fortunately for everyone else, they had heard it, too. The orders echoed through the snow covered valleys and rang from the White Mountains to the shore. Across the state, fighting quieted for the first time in weeks. As if mentally linked by kinship and struggle, all combatants through down their guns and rushed from their trenches, sprinting across frozen fields towards each other.

Fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, neighbors and strangers, all collided in tears and embrace, expressing their love and understanding for each other, swearing to never let this happen again. Once they had dried their eyes they came together to start a pickup baseball game in no man’s land, since every real American knew that soccer was gay.

***

Jeb knelt in his bunker, praying, when he heard the wail of rusty metal turning and knew he was caught. His last line of defense, the unlocked storm cellar door with a “No Parking” sign had finally been breached. He stood to face Death and heard a gruff male voice shout through the darkness, “Anybody in here?”

“I am,” Jeb declared, “I’m here, and I’m ready!” Jeb stepped forward, arms spread, eyes closed, awaiting the end. He felt a soft thud against his chest. Jeb was surprised. He though bullets would hurt more than this. What were all those refugees crying about?

“Better pick up your glove, bud. If you’re gonna play left field, you’ll need better hands than that.”

Jeb opened his eyes slowly and saw a worn looking young man, balanced on their cellar stairs. In addition to the pleasant surprise that he was still alive, he was even more shocked at the fact that someone wanted him to play. He took a moment to fix his glasses and shirt, before addressing the man. “Y-you want me,” he asked, guardedly, “You picked me for the team?”

The man answered as he started back up the stairs, “Well, yeah, I guess. You better get a move on, though. Once Ben Carson wakes up, he’ll be looking to take your position.”

Jeb was elated and bounded up the stairs to join the man. As they walked silently through the burning rubble of Nashua, Jeb worked up the nerve to ask the question he’d been mulling over for the past few minutes, “Say, uhh, I know this might sound stupid, but what happened to the whole, you know, civil war thing?”

“Oh, you mean all that,” the man replied, “Nah, that’s all over with now. Trump called it off, didn’t you hear? Apparently Papa Bush jumped out of plane into Trump’s helicopter and made him concede. Fucking crazy, right?”

Jeb faltered for a moment and felt the warmth of pride and love for his father grow in his chest.

“Besides,” the man added, “We’re just getting warmed up for South Carolina…”

 

Ryan Haver is a freelance self-deprecator. His work has been featured on his parents' refrigerator.

Two Poems


I Don't Know What To Call This Feeling             
   

the pretending, trying
to choose between the polka

dot dress or the graphic
t-shirt for Thanksgiving dinner back

at your mother’s. She knows
you by now, the division between Ken  

dolls and Barbies, or how you dyed your fingers
green by accident when you were sneaking

around in her food
coloring, stashed next to the flour on the top

shelf of the cupboard above the sink. She made you
soak your hands in a bucket

of soap with a white sock. You’ll learn
your lesson once the sock is green

too, just like your fingers, and the water
a galactic color, foaming at the lip. 

You stayed there ‘til you
pruned and your brown skin, 

phantom. You could blink
and make the color of your palms disappear, the pink 

now a white creased thing, dense as if  you could pull
away the layers and still find more hand 

to peel. You could have lied and said the food coloring
just fell from the shelf and spat 

unto your skin. Seems biblical
how it settles into a place

between your ribs like a cough, quiet
at first but then catches on, not different 

from when the girl at the bar gave you
her number and you thought

about your mother, what she would say
if she found out that you smiled  

like a boy
would have, and it made sense 

like a sock in a bucket, green
and abandoned after a blame.

 

 

 

 

Water For Cities
 

In which language does rain fall over tormented cities?
                                 
—Pablo Neruda
 

In New York, the sky drips in English, glazing
the buildings in its syllables, 
pronouncing words with each downpour. The J
train at Broadway and Myrtle is late again. 
I stand in the fog of tongues, little licks of breath, whispers
only half of my brain understands.

I remember my first kiss in an English rain, leaning
up against the neighbor’s red pickup truck, 
August heat washing over our teenage bodies, running
down my inner thigh, the bulge of his arm. I fell
into his weight and stayed, his mouth
moving towards mine, 
his lips, water, the taste of the faucet
in a cup, city pipes you weren’t supposed to drink from.

The rain has fallen in Spanish sometimes, 
in cities far away from here. Little tildes
and accent marks dropping to the ground
in the chants my grandmother would sing:
Parece que va a llover,
Y el cielo se está nublando—

her long nailed fingers raised to the sky
in celebration. She’d wink and hand me an umbrella, 
even though the sun was out. 
Her songs were always right. 
Parece que va a llover.
¡Ay mamá me estoy mojando!

There are sayings about Spain
and how rain falls on the plains, or la lluvia
en Sevilla es una maravilla. I used to know
this rain, how the Spanish kissed my bare chest, 
words at a time as it fell, the night
at the beach, my bathing suit top dangling
on my wrist. The weather spoke out something endearing, 
maybe it was guapa or chula, piropos from the sky, 
the air smelling of thunder and burned incense. 

The train to Manhattan finally reaches the platform
and I sit nestled between strangers
and the squeak of their coats. Together
we are swallowed into the dark tunnels, 
where the rain has fallen
speechless, slight murmurs, or maybe it’s the sounds
of an unknown dialect, my ears
unable to recognize the water for the words.

 

 

 

 

Diannely Antigua is a Dominican-American poet and MFA candidate at NYU. Her work has been published and is forthcoming in several literary magazines, including the Offering, Parnassus, BOAAT PRESS, and Rust + Moth. Her favorite flavor of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is Chubby Hubby. She lives in Brooklyn with three poet roommates.

Things I Wish I Said to You

There are things I wish I said to you, that I probably told you once, or maybe three times—or maybe I didn’t say them, but should have—that I wish I could say one last time.

There are things I never thought I’d wish to say to you, that sometimes I may have thought, but that were only thoughts I pushed away, that I wish I could say out loud now more than ever.

It’s such a confusing feeling, really. Being taught your whole life that love and hate are opposites, but being unable to shake the feeling that they are synonymous, impossibly able to exist separately.  

I loved the way you’d squeeze my hand three times, signifying I love you, before falling asleep each night, and how when I’d squeeze back four times, you’d squeeze five, reminding me that if I went six, you’d go seven, because you always loved me more, always and forever.   

I hate you even though deep down I dream of you knocking on my door and deeper down realizing I shouldn’t answer and even deeper down knowing I always would.

I loved the way you’d always buy Starbursts for me, but you’d eat all of the red ones, because you knew I hated them; and the pink ones—my favorite—you’d always steal a handful, maybe two, and lie and say you didn’t because you thought I’d be mad but then apologize since you had the best of intentions but just couldn’t resist because they were also your favorite.  

I hate the way that you played me, that I let myself let you let me feel that it was my fault, that I bickered with you too much, that I was nagging, that I was simply a platform for you to perch while you caught your breath after coming into yourself, when in reality you couldn’t resist fucking the next person you clicked with simply because you weren’t sure you could remain with your first.   

I loved the way you’d leave notes for me; inside wallets, drawers, lunches, with sweet nothings for no reason just because, and the time you sent me flowers to work, saying thanks for the weekend, that it couldn’t have been better, that you wanted to go away every weekend, that we couldn’t be going any better.

I hate rolling over in bed searching through all the pillows for the you that isn’t there.

I loved the way your head would always tilt and nudge my shoulder, indicating that you wanted me to scratch your neck, your head, and you sort of purred like a cat with pleasure when I did, and that always made me smile.  

I hate that I don’t know anything about you, that I used to know everything about you, and now you could be in a different state, married with kids, with the same asshole you left me for, or you could be alone, ashamed of how you abandoned me, too scared to reach back out, and in the same city only a mile apart but stubbornness the reason you never find out that I’d actually forgive you.

I loved the way you’d blow up my phone, how I’d get off work and have four missed calls, fourteen text messages, all because you missed me and wanted me to come home so we could make tea, walk around the park as we exchanged our days, and eventually end up in the jacuzzi so you could kiss me at sunset.

I hate the way I cringe when I open lunch bags, still pretending there would actually be kind words inside.

I loved the way we carved our first pumpkins, how we cut too far, and the jack-o-lantern face fell in, but we scraped out the pumpkin seeds and baked them with Sriracha seasoning and watched Orange is the New Black and made a plan to try again next year, for there were many more pumpkins to carve, more traditions to create and mess up and fix the following years.

I hate the way I let your actions get under my skin, dictate my happiness, create the monster that would bang on your new bedroom door—the guest room door—despite its lock. And you’d scream for me to leave, to stop, that you’d leave if I didn’t stop and I didn’t stop, and you packed a bag, pushed me aside, let me beg for you to come back all the way down the stairs until you drove off to that boys house who made the screaming start while leaving me standing in the driveway, the rain.

I loved the way you used to call me boo bear in text messages followed by an emoji blowing a heart.

I hate the way I let you win, how you asked for space and I should have given you space, but instead I searched for the answers to the questions you made my mind conjure up yet you wouldn’t give them, space you’d space, give you space, but how the hell can I give you space when you sleep under the same sheets as me? And so I gave you the opposite of space, I screamed for you to find someone who would fuck better, I took the deodorant on the counter and flung it at your face, and yes I missed on purpose because I loved your face, but no I’m not sorry for the hole left in the wall, I’d do it again in a second, so fuck you.  

I loved the way you went camping on the beach with me even though it was 29 degrees and we only had a tiny heated blanked and a small fire and I burnt the soup I was making and we shivered all night, hungry and freezing, but you never let go of me, not once.

I hate the way that I’m sitting here writing this, as if you’ll always have a hold on me, even in my reflections, which are supposed to be therapeutic, but rather they end up haunted, repetitive, recycled to the point of insanity, and then I resist the urge to stalk you on social media but I don’t resist, and then again.

I loved the way you’d always get mad at me when I talked during a movie, asking questions that would eventually be answered in time if I would just be patient; but you always answered them anyway, after snapping at me, because you saw how much it bothered me not knowing these irrelevant things, but really I just liked talking to you, and then you’d pull me into your arms and kiss my forehead, placing your index finger on my lips, making me feel less guilty for interrupting the silence.

I hate the way you stopped squeezing my hand three times when I’d squeeze yours, that you couldn’t create a façade for the sake of my sanity. How I sat there frozen, a stone, unable to explain to you how this re-broke me, shattering my being into too many pieces to count.

I loved the way you made chocolate covered strawberries and popped champagne for me the day I got back from my first summer in Portugal, my body barely able to consume the treats for you wouldn’t let go of me, scared for me to ever leave again—the irony.

I hate the way that I can’t turn back time, that you won’t love me like you said, until the day I die.

I loved you, and I think I still do, even though I don’t know what that word means anymore.

I hate that in reflection, in remembering, love has gone to loved, for a shift in tense equates loss, and the loss of love equates hate, and for the hate I feel to be hated, something that only used to be felt, I’d need for you to knock on my door.

I hate that you may make me forever wait for that knock.

I hate even more that I may let myself wait for it.

 

Phillip Wenturine is a middle school English teacher, where his job description is to change the world, but in reality it's babysitting while on the endless struggle to end comma splices. He has published other short fiction and non-fiction in Aurora Magazine as well as self-published a multi-genre anthology that is taught at the University of North Florida. He is about to graduate with his MFA in creative writing from Eastern Kentucky University where his residencies took place in Lisbon, Portugal. Phillip enjoys a large goblet of sangria on the weekends, and the color orange makes him smile.

Things To Live By

     Ian was sixteen when he buried me. He openly cried. I can’t remember him ever crying, other than as a baby.    

    At the end of the service, Solomon, his grandfather, ushered Ian to a lonely corner of the cemetery. Ironically, Sol would be buried at that spot. 

    He faced Ian. Without warning, Sol slapped the left side of Ian’s face so hard that Ian spun around like a top. I was stunned. 

    Ian gingerly touched his face. Sol, with his right hand, cradled Ian’s chin. “Ian…look at me,” he said firmly, yet quietly in his now-faint Russian accent. He was six-three and stood ramrod straight. “Did that hurt?” 

    “Yes, Grand-pop Sol.”

    “So why didn’t you cry?”

    “Because I’ve taken hits to the face in fights and never cried.”

    “Then why did you cry in front of everyone?”

    “Because I just buried my father, for Christ’s sake. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to cry.” The boy had no fear speaking his mind.

    Sol gave a subdued smile. “Don’t ever do that again. Ever. Never let anyone know what you are really thinking or feeling, not even the people you believe you can trust. You never know when—not if—they will use it against you. If one hair on your head knows what you’re really thinking or feeling, pull it the fuck out.  Keep your own counsel. Your father did. That’s why he died with a full head of hair.” 

    “Does that include you, Grand-pop? People I trust who will turn on me?” 

    Sol dropped the smile. “Trust only that people will do and say what’s in their best interest. Always do what’s in yours, Ian. People are unpredictable. All people.” 

    It wouldn’t have been my way of teaching Ian a lesson, but it was effective; and Sol was right.

 

L.D. Zane served seven years in the Navy, which included a combat tour in Vietnam on river boats, and five years aboard nuclear-powered, Fast Attack submarines. At 65, his life is quieter now. He lives in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania, and is a member of The Bold Writers. His short stories have been published in, among others: Red Fez, Indiana Voice Journal, Remarkable Doorways Online Literary Magazine, The Writing Disorder, The Furious Gazelle, Slippery Elm, The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, Drunk Monkeys, and Pour Vida Zine. His website is: ldzaneauthor.com.

Three Poems


blind couple on the C train
 

I have a fondness for Spring Street,”
said the overweight blind woman.

That wine bar,”
remembered with so much joy I can taste the grapes myself,
watching her smile on the subway bench.

Oh yes,” the man towering over her agrees.

She nods. He nods. 
Their eyes glassy like dolls,
her dog sleeping in its harness
on the train’s vibrations.

I wonder if she knows how
her gold earrings catch the light
like a net.

 

 

 

 

 

Real Blood
 

The first time
I had sex
I was courageous & stupid.
I knew that
the devices inside me
were too fragile
to handle
the earthquake
in my body
that I translated
as love.
I tried to read
the veins across his neck,
knowing it was all
just real blood.
I swore there
was something divine
in the way
his eyes crossed.

 

 

 

 

 

Galaxy of Bees
 

I’d like to think
that after our mound of time together
there is contentment
in your thoughts of me.
Something subtle but constant
like the TV I muted most nights
after you’d pass out on the couch —
an eternal buzzing
like a galaxy of bees
searching for sweetness in this room.

 

 

 

 

 

Josh Page is a writer & publicist living in Brooklyn who spends far too much time on Instagram.

Family Is An Email With All Caps

I don’t know about extended family emails that seem harmless at first huff. One breath and the head balloons. Before the headache splits a skull which is separate. Whose aspirin is personal.

I don’t know about extended family emails with accompanying media. See attachment, a photo from a beach resort in Bali with an advertisement for 43 years of marriage underneath what resembles a belt. All the sand is white and the waves wander between turquoise and teal. Oh that’s such a nice beach. How lux. What a celebration. You two must be over the moon with happy-go-lucky. You look so relaxed, even though there isn’t a person in the photo attachment, really you look more relaxed than ever. The platitude is a native species we’re exporting everywhere Mastercard is accepted. The platitude is one big button we press to send.

I don’t know about extended family emails but Bali sounds great. Our waiter at the Japanese restaurant was from Bali. He’s been working here eight years to send money back to his wife and three sons. It takes eight months of money to buy a ticket to visit his family. He can’t afford to waste eight months. But he is happy to serve us today.

I don’t know about extended family emails when Hubcap tells the waiter his parents are in Bali. The waiter tries to sing happy birthday but a massive salmon-pink resort clogs his throat. Oh the beaches are beautiful in Bali. This must be a song from somewhere else.

I don’t know about extended family emails in which my in-laws advertise the benefits of longterm marriage. Looks nice but my mind goes back to the Duggars and how they’ve been married for so many years and photos where Michelle smiles, her lips a seam stitched across time. The stitch is pretty but not as pretty as some muzzles I’ve seen in Los Angeles with tiny pink rhinestones. I don’t know what years mean except silver and gold. The postcard is pretty but what are we celebrating except maybe a procession of steps taken through time at which point we blow confetti and birth new platitudes.

The thing about platitudes is that new ones look like old ones so you can’t tell which couple’s anniversary birthed which platitude. In profile they all look the same.

What I don’t know about extended family emails is how Duggars stick together on the same screens where dryer sheets promise to reduce static cling. Static sounds like stasis which is a lie we tell each other about electrons. A lie is not a platitude. A Duggar should not be the celebration of a marriage that fails to end.

I don’t know about extended family emails clinging like a choir of voices, clanging like a tower of bells. I don’t know about the chorus of birds in the park. I don’t know what comprises a song no one intended to sing. The tune is marital triumphalism but the lyrics look like an argument about kitchen paint, ochre or goldenrod. Once upon a time there was a flower but now we have extended family emails. A can of soda left open tastes flat by late afternoon.

 

 

 

Alina Stefanescu's Americanisms are hyphenated by Transylvanian blood. She lives in Tuscaloosa among four native species. You can find her fiction in current issues of PoemMemoirStory, Reservoir, Sandy River Review, and others. She still can't believe "White Tennis Shoes" won the Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award from New Delta Review this year. More online at www.alinastefanescu.com.

Three Poems


Billy Pilgrim Ponders  


One word pulsing in my throat, desolate  
red sand expelled   clay avalanche
I slide across the brow of a plateau on my belly
this plateau never ends  last week it was  
the opening lines to Slaughterhouse Five.
Unstuck Unstuck Unstuck in
time I will be bigger than this. I will take
one pill instead of two. Maybe it is better
to stay crawling. I can do this until I can  
find an edge to fling myself from and no
one will know until I’ve been flung.
I am crumbling in to powder, at work
it was eat. Kind of sick because I couldn’t. I
am finding small victories like being
able to type the word “attached” using only  
my left hand. How am I supposed to pick out
Taylor’s birthday present when I am made of
sand? I dig deeper with my knuckles to find a
labyrinth leading to a tomb—as you can
imagine this is where my heart would be but
Sam said I am incapable of love and Zack said I
am a flower, both wanting me to ruin
them in the same for their own sadistic pleasure. 
I want nothing to do with any of it. I am scraping across a
plateau I am redrawing the maps with sharp Edges. You
will not convince me that the Earth is round. I believe in a
horizon and a soft tether around my ankle. Backwards
bungee jumping in shackles is another
way to say gravity if you are as depressed as I am.  

 

 

 

 

 

A trumpet played into a smoky chimney


Is what I imagine when you laugh.
When we kiss I try not to think of our tongues under a microscope
Fat fuzzy slabs pulsing
Most people have abandoned this afternoon but the wine is open
and you’ve lost the cork so we have to finish it all.
 This is the closest we will come to commitment—
an upright bottle of moscato
leaving an indent in the grass.

 

 

 

 

 

My Friends Are Artists and I Am Grateful For Them
 

When it is safe—Kate has momentary lapses of genius
Whereas Will is full genius all the time Except
when he is drunk and all the Smart sloshing
inside him dumps over the edges tumbling
out orifices pattern as a pail of sand bumping
against the hip of a child
toddling up the beach.
and that’s what Will might have wanted.
Someone else to take his sloppy, not even
to create something of it, but to be held
in a delicate palm that isn’t riddled with
Wellbutrin until the sun bakes him into
oblivion.

 

 

 

 

Colby McAdams is a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut with a degree in English. Some of her recent work has been featured in The Rusty Toque, Four Ties Lit Review, and The Long River Review. Her hobbies include dominating the aux cord at parties and inviting her demons to dinner with a bottle of wine. You can also find her on Twitter @Coco_erin.

The Room

"Where the hell am I?"  Frank Jacobs asks as he awakes from a bed rubbing his eyes.  His head throbs as if arising from a crippling hangover.  His tired eyes strain, trying to see where he is in the unrelenting darkness.  I remember playing blackjack...having some beers...at Slots Casino…in Las Vegas, but…everything else is a blur.

His body ached as his hands groped around, feeling the walls and finds a light switch.  He turned it on, but no light comes on.  He finds a door handle and tries to open the door, but it is locked.  He reached into his jeans pocket looking for his cell phone and wallet and finds they are gone.    

 Reaching back for incisions, he remembers stories about people having their kidneys stolen and sold on the black market.  There are no stitches.  Suddenly, he's conscious of a door opening and a shuffling on the far side of the dismal room.

He crouched in a defensive stance, trying to be as quiet as possible.  He tries to estimate how extensive this room was, but it is impossible in his current position.

Beads of sweat drip down his face as he hears movement on the other side of the room.  He wants to call out, but remains cautious.  Perhaps someone else is in the same predicament as me.  There may be something dangerous on the other side of the room.

 He has never been blind before, but this feels like not having the gift of sight.  Without his sight, his other senses become acuter as he listens to what is out there. 

  The shuffling continues, hurriedly.  He moves backward hoping to escape the noise and movement.  He's thirsty and licks his lips.  His stomach growls.  

How long have I been trapped in this room?  It may have been for days, but he wasn’t sure.  He feels so lonely and abandoned as he looks into the deep chasms of blackness.  His body is drenched with sweat and his terror is mounting.  The eyes peer out of the black pools of darkness appearing to dance back and forth.  He screams.

  The lights in this cheerless room suddenly snap on surprising him.  Blinding white light enveloped the room as if it was the first light he had ever seen. 

 He staggers just trying to see what is ahead.  For a few moments it was painful to see.

  He suddenly feels a stabbing sensation from behind.  Razor like teeth sinks into his right leg, sending hot waves of pain coursing through his body.  He tries to stand but is being dragged.  His terrified eyes see that a tremendous gray wolf is pulling him.  The man is in shock and disbelief.  

He kicks at the wolf, hoping that it would release its death grip, but its hold on him is like a vise grip.  He slams his fist into the eye of the wolf and it releases, standing back in a menacing stance.  Its lips sneer back of its mouth, exposing its mouth full of knives like teeth.  Drips of saliva drip from the wolf's mouth as it prepares for an attack. 

 His legs wobbled and he staggered to his feet hoping to be able to defend himself, but the wolf doesn't give him any time to regroup.  The fearsome wolf is on top of the man lookingforward to take a chunk out of his sweaty neck.  He digs his hands into the thick hair of the wolf's head as he lies on the floor.  The wolf’s mouth snaps at him drawing closer to the man's jugular.  It growls with anger as it draws nearer.  His tired arms shake as he grows weaker.  I cannot take any more of this.  The wolf senses this and pushes further with its hind legs.

He uses every ounce of strength to twist the neck of the wolf.  The wolf struggles against this, snapping its jaws.  He continues the pressure, turning with everything he has left.  The wolf’s desperate paws scratch on him.  The wolf's neck continues to turn and he hears a boisterous crack from its neck.  The wolf whimpers and collapse.  He expects the wolf to get back up and continue its attack, but it lays there motionless.

Strangely, he starts hearing many hands clapping.  The clapping one would hear at the end of a play or some performance.  He looks around in confusion trying to find the source of the praise.  He finds it on the other side of the humongous room above a window in a control room.  There are several people in the control room wearing night vision goggles.

The room is similar to a warehouse with high ceilings and wide walls.  Massive crates are scattered in different corners of the room.  This room is larger than I thought.  How long has this happened?  Where am I?  I have to get out of this vile place.  He realizes he has immediate dangers in front of him.  

“You have done well, Mr. Jacobs," a man said while taking off his goggles.  “Or should I call you Frank?”

“What's wrong with you people?"  Frank cries out in anger.  "What's going on here?"

    "We like to compare ourselves to a modern-day Roman Coliseum.  This is the next level of underground entertainment.  We do a lot of research before we find the next combatant.  You are twenty-five, single, athletic and you came here by yourself so nobody will be looking for you right away.  Everyone bet on the wolf except me so it looks like I'm going to get a nice payday at twenty to one odds," the man explained.  "The drugs we gave you should be wearing off now and your memory should be coming back.  You should remember the young woman we sent to you at the bar.  She is very persuasive.”

    “I vaguely remember," Frank says, rubbing his hands through his face. 

    “Yes, she's great at deception, he says, smiling down at Frank.  "No one ever expects anything when a hot brunette sits next to you and it's too late.”

    “How many people have you killed?”  Since I won, release me.  I promise I won't tell anyone.  No one would believe me anyway."

    “Oh, that's a good question.  I've lost track myself.  I’m afraid we can’t let you go.  You were our best contestant.  It is time to up the odds.”

  But before Frank can say anything else, the lights go off, plummeting him back in the darkness.

A door opens again.  He hears more shuffling coming from the other side of the room.  Three pairs of yellow eyes are coming towards him.  

“No, not again!”  Frank screams as he looks for an exit in the darkness.

“Place your bets and let the games begin,” says someone in the control room.

 

 

 

 

Jim Keane is a fiction writer with a BA in English from Mount Saint Mary College.  He's attended several fiction/creative classes. He lives with his family in Westchester, New York.

The Metzes

 

It was my father’s idea. In a letter he suggested I visit our relatives in the village of Lembach. He wrote that the village is in the Vosges Mountains of France. He said they would be happy to see me. It would be a good experience. I had the street address in my pocket.

Finding my way around the mountains proved to be a challenge. It was becoming dark and foggy as well. I knew I was near the village. A few kilometers back I had seen the sign “Lembach.” Yet, I started having visions of being obliged to sleep in my small Peugeot rental. Running short on options, I saw a well-kept road off to the right. I drove up the road, but damn it, it ended near a farm house. I was embarrassed as I started to think I was on private property. Turning around, I spotted a man standing behind the house. His back was to me and he had a cigarette in his hand. Thinking he could perhaps help, I exited the car and walked over to him. My guess was that he was a German speaker but I spoke in French nevertheless.

“Excuse me, sir. Sorry to bother you. I am looking for the town of Lembach, but I am having trouble finding the right road.”

He was slow to turn around, occupied with his cigarette.

“Oh, yes. You are not far from Lembach.”

The man looked at me curiously and took a drag on his cigarette. Letting out smoke he added, “But, the roads from here to Lembach are difficult to follow. Especially at night.”

I didn’t know what to say, trying to decide on a course of action. I must have blinked my eyes a few times, perhaps displaying hesitation and confusion.

“You are American, I believe?”

“Yes. I had business in Switzerland, but I came here to look-up relatives. According to my father they live in Lembach.”

“Interesting. We rarely see Americans around here.”

He stamped on his cigarette butt. I figured the man wished to return to his house. It was time for me to depart.

“Thank you sir. I’ll give it another try.”

He extended his hand.

“My name is Henri Metz.”

The handshake was firm but the hand was soft.

“Pleased to meet you, sir. My name is John Gerhart. As you say, Jean Gerhart.”

“You have a problem. It is going to be difficult finding Lembach at night and with the fog settling in. We often have fog at this altitude.”

“I suppose I should have started earlier. I misjudged the time to drive here.”

“Mr. Gerhart, have you eaten this evening?”

“Why, no. I was hoping to find an inn where I might eat and stay for the evening.”

“We are having chicken tonight. You are welcome to join us. We can talk more about the road to Lembach. Your auto is fine where you parked it. Nobody will bother it up here.”

“Thank you, Mr. Metz. That is very kind of you.”

I followed Mr. Metz into his house. It was surprisingly large, made of stone and apparently very old. The windows were fitted with functioning shutters. We went into the kitchen where two women were busy preparing supper. It smelled delicious.

“Ladies, we have a guest tonight. An American traveler.”

Mr. Metz introduced me first to the older woman, “Miss Sabine Metz.”

“Good evening, sir.”

Mr. Metz said Sabine was his niece and the second woman, “Hélène,” his daughter. Hélène extended her hand, smiled and, in the European manner, nodded slightly.

I guessed Sabine was in her 40’s. Hélène in her mid-30’s, roughly my age. Both were svelte and attractive.

Mr. Metz led me into an ante room where he put his hand on a bottle of wine.

“How about an aperitif? Perhaps a Dubonnet?”

“That would be fine. Thank you.”

Mr. Metz handed me a glass of Dubonnet.

“You might know. The American Army passed through here during the war. This was my grandfather’s house at the time. According to all reports there was fierce fighting around here. During the heat of one battle the family huddled in the wine cellar under the house. The Germans were retreating reluctantly to the east and putting up a good fight as they went. Eventually they had to retreat across the Rhine. Poor fellows. Most were in their mid-teens, mere children. Grandfather put up some 50 American soldiers in this house for a period. He said it was bitter cold. The soldiers were very polite and well behaved. We owe much to the American army.”

After two Dubonnets, Sabine came in to announce supper was ready. At the table Hélène sat to my right and Sabine on my left, near the kitchen door. Mr. Metz explained the language situation as, he said, it might seem strange to people from out of the Alsace region.

“Sabine comes from a family that speaks only German and her French is limited. Hélène learned her French in school where German is no longer taught. She speaks French better than German. If she reads a book it will be in French. I speak both French and German equally well. My ancestors were German speakers for thousands of years. But I was obliged to learn French after the war because of my business needs are here in France.”

The wine had given me a good appetite and I ate my fill. Perhaps more than what would have been polite. When Mr. Metz was busy with his knife and fork, Hélène cast side glances in my direction. Sometimes she hesitated for an embarrassing period. Once a foot lightly touched my right foot, but it might have accidental.

After supper Mr. Metz guided me back to the ante room where, without asking, he poured two cognacs. The evening was growing late and outside the fog was growing worse. Mr. Metz and I chatted for a time about the war and, in general, the people of Alsace. He was an interesting man and well informed on a range of topics. When the cognac was gone he stood.

“Mr. Gerhart, it’s growing late. You would have trouble on the roads with all the fog. Why don’t you stay with us tonight. We have ample rooms upstairs.”

The invitation from Mr. Metz came as a surprise, but certainly a welcomed one. Mostly because of all of the wine and Cognac, I did not look forward to struggling with the roads on a dark and foggy night in an unfamiliar mountainous region.

“Why, thank you, sir. I appreciate your generosity.”

“Not at all.”

I retrieved my suitcase from the rental. When I returned to the house Hélène met me inside the door. She told me, “I will show you to your room. It’s up the stairs.”

She led me to a spacious bedroom that was off a wide hallway.

“The WC is at the end of the hall. You can’t miss it.”

Pointing to a window over my shoulder she told me, “That window is opened slightly to catch the western air. You may wish to close it if the room becomes too chilly.”

I turned to look at the western window. At that instant she walked behind me going to the doorway. I felt a finger drag across my backside.

“Good evening, Mr. Gerhart.”

There was a small light in the room so I climbed in bed and started reading a chapter of John Grisham’s, “Gray Mountain.” Growing drowsy I gave up reading and turned the light off. The room was totally dark. Soon I was dreaming. I found the Gerharts in Lembach. A gorgeous and busty peasant woman in a flimsy dress met me at the door. She said there was nobody home and she was exceedingly happy to meet an American cousin. How wonderful. She led me to their living room, and shortly she brought in a bottle of an Alsatian wine. Soon the wine had its affect. We were talking about America when, for no apparent reason, she came over to me. She said, “Excuse me,” and reached behind me to straighten a toile. A firm breast pressed against my forehead. Holding a toile in her hand she stood in front of me, breathing heavily. I took her hand and she led me to a bedroom. As we were bouncing around in bed I heard the front door open. Over her shoulder I saw a large man standing in the doorway holding a pitchfork in his hand. Suddenly, I awoke with a shock. My heart was racing and I was gasping for air. I noticed I was ready for love making. What a disappointment.

After I gathered myself together, I realized my bladder was full and I needed to visit the WC. I couldn’t see a thing so I felt for the wall and then moved along until I came to the door. Opening it I realized there was a dim light at the end of the hall. After returning to the bedroom I fell asleep again. But the dream did not resume.

Sometime in the middle of the night, perhaps early morning, I was awakened by creaking floor boards in the hallway. At first I was unsure that I was actually awake. Perhaps, I thought, I was still dreaming. There was a light tapping on the door and then the door opened slowly. In seconds the blurry outline of a woman was framed in the door. Closing the door behind her, she found her way to the bed and climbed under the sheets with me. I made room and slowly eased my arms around her waist. I tried to kiss her but she did not want to exchange kisses. It was my impression Hélène was intent on getting down to business. She had no panties beneath the pajamas, so that was no problem. I tried to move above her, but that was also not her preference. She intended to be on top, so to speak, in command of the arrangement. That was fine with me. Afterward she kissed me several times. She stayed a few minutes and then tiptoed to the door. She had no trouble finding the door in the pitch darkness. I still could not see anything. The blurry image disappeared through the doorway and the door closed quietly.

In the morning I awoke to the smell of coffee. After washing and dressing I packed my things. Downstairs I found Mr. Metz in the dining room reading a book.

“Good morning, Mr. Gerhart.”

“Good morning, sir.”

“I see the fog has dissipated. You should have no trouble today finding the Gerharts in Lembach. Sabine is making breakfast. It should be ready in a few minutes. Please have a seat.”

“Will Hélène be joining us for breakfast?”

“Hélène? No, she will not be home until later this morning. She works the evening shift at the hospital in Wissembourg. She departed shortly after supper last evening. Her cousin, who also works there, drives.”

I took a seat across from Mr. Mertz. Thoughts were going around in my head. Sabine brought the eggs, sausage, and a baguette. When she returned to the kitchen I could not avoid noticing how her tight, satiny dress accentuated her firm and lovely-shaped ass.

Sabine joined us for breakfast. She didn’t say a word. After coffee I stood while declaring it was time for me to be on my way.

“Thank you, Mrs. Metz and Mr. Metz for your hospitality. You have been very generous.”

Mr. Metz stood and took hold of my briefcase.

“I’ll walk you to your auto.”

Sabine showed me a smile.

At the Peugeot Mr. Metz placed my suitcase in the trunk. Standing beside the vehicle, he handed me the map he had made.

“Here, I am certain you can follow my directions to Lembach. You should be there in 20 minutes time.”

I slipped the paper into my pocket and moved behind the steering wheel.

“Thank you, again, Mr. Metz, for everything.”

He looked at me, hesitating.

“One other thing.”

“Yes?”

He paused for a time while looking me straight in the eye.

“I hope you enjoyed your stay?”

I tried to find the right words.

“More than I would have ever expected.”

“I’m pleased. Have a pleasant trip. Be sure to visit us again if you are in the vicinity.”

After the Metzes I drove directly to Switzerland and returned to business. I decided that perhaps on a future trip I will try again for Lembach.

 

 

 

 

Joseph E. Fleckenstein has published over 27 pieces. You check out at his website here

Bathtime Disintegration


We are in the small bathtub. My back is contorted into a C-­shape against the bathtub and my legs are splayed into a diamond, with my heels touching, and your whole body is within that diamond, and your skin, which usually looks translucent in its off­whiteness and its hints of light pink, seems darker, its pigment yellowed from the low lighting and rouged from the heat of the steaming water. I notice that the circumference of your skull looks very large from my angle above, as I am kissing the first wisps of hair growing on the back of your head, which is too massive to be forever supported by your tiny neck, and which I am propping up with the fingertips of my left hand, gently, in order to prevent you from an otherwise certain death from drowning, while my right hand squeezes a soapy sponge over it. And as I squeeze the soapy sponge over you again I am surprised that this is new, that I have only sat with you in this small bathtub an even smaller number of times, and for the first time I feel connected to my ancestors, that long line of some men and many women with their own sponges, and soap, and bathtubs, or lakes, or nothing, and I feel a responsibility to the future, and I am finally convinced that indeed I will die, because if it is possible for me to create a life then I most certainly am a mammal. And as your tiny fingers pinch my thigh, and as I reposition your little body on my naked lap, I remember that I was afraid. I was afraid that my fear of harming you would make it impossible for our bodies to ever be close: that the water would surely destroy the activity in your brain from a failure in your lungs, just as my skin and my hair and my organs floating in the water would damage some other part of your brain, just differently. And as we sit together, a warm pink mass half submerged in water, with four ears made from the same shaped cartilage, and four azure eyes ringed with the same navy, even thinking words like “my” and “yours” and “me” and “you” becomes for now a violation, because with my body I protect yours, and over your body I hold a temporary ownership, and I know that one day when I open a bathroom door without knocking, or kiss you too warmly in front of your friends, you will see my assumption of intimacy as a violation of its own, but right now that seems as impossible to me as the possibility that I ever inhabited my own mother’s body, or ever felt comfort in my own father’s hair, and skin, and warmth, and smell, and organs. And when your body is fully clean, and the lavender scent of the soap has filled the bathroom, after I ring out the sponge and washcloth, I sit back against the wall of the small bathtub, and I put my hands in your armpits, and I slowly push you away from my chest toward the tap, and with your swimming instinct your arms stab at the water and your legs kick like a frog, and for three strokes or four you glide on the surface, and I am barely holding your chest, and I am proud like a father, and with a giggle you stroke once more, and as your fingers come almost in touch with the other wall of the small bathtub, I watch your neck crumble under the weight of your skull, and I hear the sucking sounds of your mouth just below the surface of the steaming water, and I pull your body out of the water and turn it toward me so you can feel comfort, and your bottom lip is quivering, and you cough many times while you look at me with terror, and in a moment your lungs are clear and again you can breathe, and the terror in your eyes becomes a clear look of betrayal, as you empty the air in your lungs and replace the lavender in the room with the echos of your screams.

 

 

 

 

Bryan Woods is a computer programmer from Brooklyn, New York, who is slowly working on a collection of personal essays. Recently he has been thinking about the ways things disintegrate

The Pact

Bobby and Harry made a pact one morning whilst under the stairs. They were silent almost always except for when they were alone, together, beneath the stairs. Their silence, though quite unusual, was deliberate. The youngest boy of the house was the only one who could see them. This is why, despite Bobby and Harry’s greatest efforts, the youngest boy of the house vowed never to go under the stairs. He could hear their muffled voices from anywhere in the house without ever caring about what was spoken. Because they never spoke anywhere other than beneath the stairs, they would write the youngest boy of the house letters or perform post-rock instrumentals. When they were bored they tidied his room. Not once did they outright ask him to join them beneath the stairs, but they often turned out all the lights in the house, creating total darkness, except for an inviting glow emanating from beneath the stairs. The darkness would sometimes go on for days; not even daylight could penetrate it. But the youngest boy of the house refused the lure of the light every time. The youngest boy of the house was also the oldest boy of the house. He was the only boy. There were no girls either. The youngest boy of the house, Bobby and Harry were the only ones occupying the house. Bobby and Harry had each other. The youngest boy of the house had nobody except for Bobby and Harry. He did not want them they were just there.

 

Daniel Ian writes things and sometimes these things make everything seem less scary. You can find them in London, UK, pushing equipment around a hospital.

 

 

 

Four Poems


lumber
 

let it crash / drive down and cut / the rain made the rust /
drip stuck into the great / oak and left to defy time / when
will it fall / when will the ground carry the stroke / the
hatchet in a sapling coffin / an old tree felled in a week
point / and yell / timber! watching for the bellow of the
earth / the most complete response to / a poem is cutting
out the axe / let the rain wash away / the sap will stick /
the blood and rust and dirt / the drain of letting go.

 

 

 

 

 

BLOCKBUSTER MOVIE ABOUT KISSING YOU IN THREE ACTS
      after dalton day
 

ACT 1
 i look at you, you look at me, we look away, ad infinitum until
we are motion sick from turning. every time we turn, the
smallest chirp escapes. the birds in me can hear the birds in
you.
ACT 2
 hummingbirds burst from my lungs and my stomach.
hummingbirds burst from your lungs and your stomach. where
there should be blood there is confetti. the hummingbirds fill
the air with their drowning wings. the birds begin to fly south.
ACT 3
 the birds will not cease their ritual: their bursting and their
fleeing. you catch a bird of mine. all of a sudden there are no
more birds. the confetti shrivels away and patches up your
chest and my chest. somewhere, in the south, a lawn has been
overcome by hummingbirds. it begins to snow.

 

 

 

 

 

JUST BEING ALIVE AND SHIT


the winter hour reigns plains and forest
synchronously sinking in each step

it’s really all—just a matter of leverage,
or of carrying your momentum, or
sipping your tea with reverence
in solitude basking in the comfort.

i spent a lot of time this winter / through
drags and through snow / feeling that rush of
frost / growing on my bones / shaking
crystals loose

just enough to help the feeling

 

 

 

 

 

poem
 

go lick your own wounds!
the world is still feeling for
a coniferous forest
square in the center of a repeating
pattern, a repeating, itself repeating
repeating
                             r        repeating
repeating         e
                             p       repeating
repeating          e
                              a       repeating
repeating           t
with the rhythm of a quilt
stitched to the sky
and the clouds evaporated
into a thicker sort of breath

 

 

 

 

Jack Bachmann is just having fun being alive. He is on Twitter @yaboi_sasquatch.