Fiction
The Hole
By Jo Ellen Aragon
Eleanor first noticed the hole on a Monday. It was midnight on the dot when a black spot on the ceiling caught her eye. Dragging her wooden desk chair to the center of her studio apartment, she stood upon the seat of the chair and looked up at the hole. It was barely an inch wide. Curious, Eleanor stuck her right index finger into it. When she drew her finger out, it appeared as it always did. “Hm.”

By the time morning arrived, it was at least five inches wider. She also noticed that her favorite hair brush, gold-gilded with white bristles, was missing. Grabbing her desk chair again along with duct tape and a sheet of paper, she taped the paper over the hole. “There.”

Tuesday morning, the first thing that Eleanor noticed was that the paper over the hole was gone and the hole had grown five more inches, making it a total of eleven inches wide. She also noticed that the potted plant she kept on the small round dining table was gone. It had been a gift from her dad.

Eleanor, who had a degree in English from an Ivy League (but no work experience whatsoever), reported to work at ten. She was a secretary, or “administrative assistant,” as her boss liked to call her. It was the politically correct term, he said (as if she did something more than answering his calls and pouring his coffee).,She worked at a small company that made novelty toys and devices. 

Eleanor was checking her email on the computer at her desk when someone slipped a hat over her head.

“New prototype just came in. What do you think?” a voice asked as she turned around in her swivel chair. Oliver stood there in front of her, grinning like a mad man. She started to smile back but quickly stopped herself. Reaching up, she took the hat off her head, looked down, and investigated it.

“You do realize that beer can holder hard hats aren’t something new, right?” she said curtly, handing  the item back to him and re-adjusting the bobby pins that had been holding her bun in place.

“Yeah, but did you notice that it was painted pink? It’ll appeal to women,” he said with a smile. Eleanor huffed out a laugh.

“Cute,” she said, before turning around and looking at her screen. But Oliver persisted.

“You know it doesn’t just hold beer—”

“I know. It can hold cans of coke or any other type of soda can. Do you see where I’m going with this?” she looked up at him with a smirk.

“Fine, smart ass. Here.” He handed the hat to her.

“Thanks, Oliver, I’ll put it to good use,” she said wryly.

“You better,” he said with a grin before he walked back to his desk. She watched him forlornly. Damn ‘no office romances’ and damn this office, too. Eleanor didn’t want to admit it, but she was stuck at a dead end.

When Eleanor got home that evening, the hole had grown wider. It had only been eleven inches that morning and now it was at least two feet wide. She also noticed that her spinning globe was missing. The one that her mother bought her when she won the spelling bee in the fourth grade.  Perplexed and a little perturbed, she dragged her desk chair right under the hole and stood on it. The inside of the hole was pitch black as far as she could tell. There was no evidence of the ceiling above her, nothing. Just darkness. Tentatively, she raised her arm over her head and stuck her hand in. When she pulled it back out, her hand appeared normal. Eleanor sighed, got off the chair, and dragged it back to her desk.

By Friday morning, the hole had gotten so large it took up almost all of the ceiling, leaving only the edges visible. Many of Eleanor’s things had disappeared as well. One of the dining chairs, the large area rug in the middle of her apartment, and her coffee table, along with everything on top of it.

“Eleanor?”

She looked away from a small dent in her desk at work to find Oliver standing there in front of her. “You okay? You seem a little…”

“No, I’m not,” she replied honestly, with a sigh. “Is it something I can maybe help you with?” He asked. Good ol’ Oliver, she thought.

“Do you know anything about home repair?”

“Like what? Fixing toilets?”

“No, I mean there’s a hole in my ceiling and it keeps getting bigger.”

“Oh, well, my dad owns a hardware store back home so I know a thing or two.”

“Wanna come over to my apartment after work, then?” she asked nervously.

“Sure.”

Oliver looked up at the ceiling in disbelief. “Holy…”

“Yeah, I know.” Eleanor stared up at the ceiling (or lack thereof) as well. 

“How long has this been going on?”

“Since Monday. It kept getting bigger.”

“And you didn’t do anything about it?”

“Well, I taped paper over it, but the hole ate it up,” she replied.

“Oh.” Oliver began walking around the edge of her apartment, still looking up at the hole.

“Oliver?”

“What?” he asked as he looked over at her. She ran over to him and grabbed his hand. He was floating several inches off the ground, up towards the hole. She strained with effort trying to keep him tethered to the ground.

“O-Oliver!”

“It’s okay, Eleanor—” He began, gripping her hand with both of his as the lower half of his body rose up above his head.

She shook her head and gritted her teeth. “You’re going to disappear, too, if I let you go!”

“Then come with me.”

She looked at him in disbelief before looking at the hole above them. It was big and dark. It was scary.

“Please, Oliver—”

“Come with me, Eleanor.” There was a certain calmness to his voice like he knew all the answers.

Nodding a little, Eleanor let herself go.
 
Jo Ellen Aragon, a 23 year old Filipina writer, writes mostly flash fiction and short stories- though, she is currently working on a young adult novel. She graduated from California State University-Northridge in 2007 with a BA in English.
 
* * *
Prone
By Jon Beight
You in the prone position was the way I would always describe you.

Drunk and fallen in the yard, the dew soaking your clothes and dead grass stuck everywhere, and you expected me to brush you off. I did.

Spread across the couch, staring blankly at the television, and you expected me to wait on you, hand and foot. I did.

Passed out in the hallway, and you expected me to throw a blanket on you. I did.

Prostrate on the bathroom floor, sick to your stomach, and you expected me to clean up your mess. I did.

Lying on the hospital bed, pale, atrophied, grotesque, a victim of your own excess, and you expected me to sit there and weep. I did.

Now people are gathering to remember you and say good-bye, and you're prone once again. Your suit is pressed, your tie is perfectly knotted, your hair is neatly combed, and your face is clean shaven. You're looking like the handsome father I could only dream of when I was young, and you're expecting me to remember you as you look today.

Don’t worry, Daddy. I will.
Jon Beight lives and works in Western New York. He has been published in Red Fez, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Spilling Ink Review, First Stop Fiction, and other fine publications.
 
* * * 
Calliope: A Tale of Writerly Suffering
By Carly Berg
The story wasn’t happening. My muse was gone. Empty page, empty head. Empty rolled over and the story was dead. Empty dempty sat on a wall, had a great fall… “Calli! Where the hell are you?”

I opened my bedroom door. Calli’s cigarette smoke wafted out. Cosmetics and clothes (mine) littered the bed and what used to be my husband’s dresser until he ran off with a Baptist prude last spring.

“Calliope. I have been waiting at the computer for four hours!”

She sat at the dressing table, twirling my big pink pearls, which I didn’t say she could wear. She said, “Luncheon.”

I wanted to rip that ridiculous gold tiara off her head. The feathers, too.

She applied (my) red lipstick, admiring herself in the mirror, ignoring my murderous glare.

The story had to get done. I had bills to pay. Well, I had an inheritance, but I still felt like finishing my story. “So, that’s how you’re going to be today. I have to meet Linda for lunch.”

“I shall come along.”

I did not recall inviting her.

“Not that dreadful peasant buffet. Alexander the Great’s,” Callie said.

The story, the story. On the phone: “Linda? Is Alexander the Great’s all right instead?”

The waiting area was packed. Calli breezed past the hostess stand to an empty booth.

“Could you please wait to be seated?” the hostess called after her.

Callie slid into the booth and swooned dramatically, head down on the table, arms spread out. Restaurant staff gathered around the medical emergency. “Crackers,” she whispered. “Please.  And an iced ouzo. Two sugars.”

Linda stood there looking mad. She wasn’t the tolerant sort.

I came back from hiding out in the restroom. Callie and Linda sipped their drinks in the booth. Calli enjoyed a pillow behind her head and a blanket across her lap.

Giving up on finding something I recognized on the menu, I sipped my drink. I’d just have Callie’s salad, she never bothered with it. She ordered the lamb-stuffed grape leaves, pricey for lunch, but she wouldn’t be paying.

“So anyway,” Linda said, “Let me fill you in on the squabble you missed at writing group last night. Someone blubbered about her writer’s block and then the rest of them started whining too. Their motivations were gone, their muses were gone, blah, blah blah. I said it like it was. I said, ‘None of that nonsense exists. You’re all being lazy.’ Then, they all turned on me--”

“Peep!” Calli shrieked, eyes wide. “Peep! Peep! Peep!” 

She was a startled tropical bird, with the peacock plumage around her crown and her bright floral muumuu. When anyone annoyed Calli, she peeped in their face. She really was quite rude. I tried to stop laughing.

“Oh, just fuck off.” Linda tossed a twenty onto her napkin and flounced out.

“Are you happy now?” Calli usually made fun of all my friends and husbands (three). Jealous, I guess.

“Boring, boring poseur. She’ll never get published.  Why in the world do you put up with her, darling?” She ate Linda’s lunch as well as her own. “This moussaka is divine.”

“When we get home, I need your help. I have to fin—“

“Peep!”

Back at my apartment, Calli insisted on watching Dr. Phil, then two episodes of Hoarders.

I typed and deleted, then typed and deleted some more.

Next, she claimed she required a raspberry lemoni before she could help me.

I had to run to the store for the fresh berries. When I finally had her fancy cocktail prepared, she was gone.

I found her at the complex swimming pool, entertaining a suitor, swimming in her muumuu. She had the nerve to tell me to go fetch him a drink, too.

Dinner was leftover Pizza Hut.

She slipped out again after her second slice. No doubt for a night on the town with her new friend.  My dressy red sandals and matching evening bag were missing.

Type,delete. Type, delete.  I was getting nowhere.

“My poor darling. Falling asleep at your desk on a Saturday night. You should get back out there! Meet handsome men, have fun.”

“It’s two in the morning. I’m never going to finish this story.”

“Tsk-tsk, you worry too much. Make a pot of coffee and let me slip out of these dreadful shoes, and then we’ll see.”

Coffee in hand, Calli said, “It’s simple, darling. Let’s start with your day. Type out what you did today.”

    Empty page, empty head. Empty rolled over and the story was dead. Empty dempty sat

    on a wall, had a great fall… “Calli! Where the hell are you?” I opened my bedroom

    door, Calli’s cigarette smoke wafted out. Cosmetics, and clothes (mine) littered

    the bed and what used to be my husband’s dresser until he ran off with a Baptist prude last

    spring.  

  “Calliope. I have been waiting at the computer for three hours!”

    She sat at the dressing table, twirling my strand of big pink pearls I didn’t say she could

    wear. She said, “Luncheon.”

    I wanted to rip the ridiculous gold tiara off her head. The feathers, too...


Ah, my muse was back! Later, I wouldn’t believe I had written it. Of course, I hadn’t. My muse wrote. I only maneuvered my muse into writing. (“Only!” Ha!). 
 

   She applied (my) red lipstick, admiring herself in the mirror, ignoring my murderous

   glare.      

   The story had to get done. I had bills to pay. Well, I had an inheritance, but I still felt like

   finishing my story. “So, that’s how you’re going to be today. I have to meet Linda

   for lunch.” 

“Excuse me. Did you say you ‘wanted to rip the ridiculous gold tiara off my head?’”

“I’m sorry! I---“

“Peep!”

When Calliope peeps and I bang along on my desk with my head, the rhythm is nice. It’s the same rhythm I use when typing a story.

This is how a writer suffers for her art. And only the luckiest of us get a muse at all.
 
Carly Berg is a pen name who wonders why the other name is paraded about in public while she is kept to the side like a dirty little secret. Her stories appear in several dozen magazines and anthologies, including PANK, Word Riot, and Bartleby Snopes.
 
* * *
Look Again 
By Jennifer Chow​​​
Another town on this dusty road.  The dots on the map crawled like ants.  Michael pressed his thumb against the paper to pin them down.   She’d mentioned her hometown hovered near Route 66, but she hadn’t given him the name.   

The new place, Serendipity, greeted him with a chill that attacked his bones.  The sky wore the steel gray cloak that preceded a harsh rain.  Like the storm that had brought Valerie to him.  She’d stood under the room’s overhang, dripping.  He’d invited her inside the ceramics class out of pity and had met his destiny. 

She brought in an exotic mango fragrance with her as she entered.  Her hair shone pure gold, blinding him from the rain outside.  They molded the mug that day against the pottery wheel, the clay yielding to the union of their fingers. 

They lived together for three glorious months, sipping from that sea blue cup.  He hadn’t cared that she was homeless.  He upped his income with odd jobs, so she could stay in his matchbox apartment.  He deserted his own pottery-making, because he’d found a different passion in life. 

He never knew why Valerie left.  He came home to find her belongings gone, including the mug.  He sold his pieces, one by one, to fund a search.  In the beginning, he had looked for Valerie.  Now, with hope dwindling, he hunted for the elusive cup, a shard of her memory. 

It was easy to spot the second-hand store, the drab building sticking out among its modern, sleek companions.  He walked into Look Again, where a woman in a peasant blouse and a giant bohemian skirt greeted him.  “Can I help you?”

Michael raked one shaky hand over his salt-and-pepper hair as he surveyed the ceramics area.    He’d been forty to Valerie’s twenty when their relationship began, and his hair had been jet black.  “I’m looking for a mug,” he said.   “It’s a sea blue piece with two handles.  My girlfriend Valerie and I created it as a symbol of our everlasting connection.” 

A little girl peeked out from behind the woman’s skirt, and the scent of mango assaulted his nose.  “Where’s your girl friend?” she asked.

He crouched down.  “I didn’t see you there.”  The fruit scent grew stronger.  “How old are you?”

“Seven and three-quarters.”  

Seven.  Valerie left me seven years ago.  A flash of memory hit him.  A discarded positive pregnancy stick found in the trash the day she’d run off.   She’d been pregnant with their little boy—or girl.  He moved closer to the child.  Her features were wrong; she didn’t have Valerie’s oval face or her soft brown eyes, but the hair was the same.

The gold called out to him, and he tugged a single strand loose, cupping his hands around the blond wisp.  He walked out into the fierce November wind, where the ice breeze stole the golden thread away from his numb fingers.  
 
Jennifer Chow, an Asian-American writer, lives near Los Angeles. Her short fiction has appeared in IdeaGems Magazine. She also received finalist standing in Writer Advice’s Flash Prose Contest and an honorable mention in the Whispering Prairie Press Writers Contest. Fortune cookie wisdom meets her life on her blog.
* * *
Cold Calling
By Anne Goodwin
When the phone rings, Muriel removes her tortoiseshell reading-glasses and places them carefully, along with the Radio Times, on the occasional table.  She rubs her right hip to goad it into action and shuffles towards the telephone table in the hallway.

“Good morning.  Is that Mrs Archer?” 

“Yes?”

“My name is Simon.”  His voice is warm and soothing, like a bowl of chicken soup.  “I’m making a courtesy call from Alliance Soffits and Fascias.”

“A courtesy call, how nice,” says Muriel.  She has often remarked that there isn’t enough courtesy around these days.

“I’m glad you think so,” says Simon.  “I’m ringing to tell you we’re going to be in your area next week …”

“What a lovely accent,” says Muriel.  “Where are you from?”

Simon seems to hesitate.  “We’re not supposed …”

“I’m sorry.  You have to stick to your script, don’t you?”  Muriel eases herself into the tattered armchair beside the telephone table.  “Do carry on, dear.”

“We’re doing a special promotion.  Twenty-five percent reduction if you get the whole house done.” 

“That sounds nice,” says Muriel.  “I always like a bargain.  You have to watch the pennies, you know, when you’re on the pension.”

“I’m sure,” says Simon.

Muriel smiles.  The young man sounds so sympathetic.  Such a contrast to those scruffy teenagers who hang out in the precinct shouting abuse.  “I was wondering, are you in India, by any chance?  A lot of the call centres are in India, or so I’ve heard.”

“No, Mrs Archer, I’m in Croydon.”

“Croydon!  Well fancy that!  I used to live there when I was first married.”

“Really?”

Muriel nods at the black and white wedding photo beside the hallstand.  If she had one of those videophones she’s heard about, Simon would be able to see it too.  “Yes, indeed.  I could tell you an interesting fact about Croydon.”

The young man laughs.  “There’s nothing interesting about Croydon.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.  The very first supermarket was in Croydon.  Sainsbury’s.  1950.”

“Really?”  Simon doesn’t sound impressed.  Perhaps his mother does all the shopping.  Or his girlfriend.  “Anyway …”

“Anyway, here I am prattling away when you’ve got your script to work through.  You’d better get your skates on or you’ll have the supervisor on to you.  I wouldn’t want to get you into trouble.”

“We are allowed a bit of leeway.”

“That’s good.  All work and no play, you know.”

Simon clears his throat.  “So you might be interested?”

“In what, my dear?”

Muriel hears Simon sigh.  For a moment she’s afraid he’s going to hit the disconnect button.  But he recovers himself.  “In replacing your soffits and fascias.”

“Soffits and fascias?”  The words sound as delightful as a child in a bubble bath.

“You do know what they are?”

Muriel rubs her grumbling hip with her free hand.  “Of course, my dear.”

“They need replacing every few years,” says Simon.  “And the guttering.”

“Now you mention it, I did notice one of the gutters leaking in that heavy rain we had last week.  Although maybe you didn’t have it.  The weather’s probably different in Croydon.”

Simon seems reluctant to discuss the weather.  “So I can arrange for one of our surveyors to call round and give you an estimate?”

“Oh, I’m not sure about that, dear.”

“Just a quick survey while he’s in the area.  No obligation.  No hard sell.  But if you were interested in getting your gutters done, next week would be a good time.  There’s that twenty-five percent discount I mentioned.”

Muriel sighs.  “I’m sorry, Simon, I don’t mean to waste your time.  It’s just that my husband has always dealt with that kind of thing.”

“I’m sure we could arrange for the surveyor to call at a time that suits him.”

Muriel’s hand shoots up to her chest as she lets out a sob.  “I only wish you could.  You see, Bernard died exactly six weeks ago today.”

“I’m so sorry, Mrs Archer.”  Simon sounds genuinely concerned.  “I didn’t mean to upset you.  Maybe this wasn’t the best time for me to call.”

“Don’t go.”  She squeezes the receiver as if it were the young man’s hand.  “It’s so good to have someone to talk to.”

“Well, I …”

“People are so busy these days.  You can’t imagine how lonely I feel.”

“Yes, well …”

“It’s such a help to talk to someone who cares.  You’ve a lovely manner.  Your mother must be so proud.”

“Mrs Archer, I …”

“They say it’s supposed to get better in time, but I can’t see it.  Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t just end it all.  My life’s lost all meaning without Bernard.”

“Don’t do that,” says Simon, urgently.  “You must have lots to live for.”

“I shouldn’t tell you this,” Muriel whispers, “but I’ve been saving up the pills the doctor gave me …”

“Mrs Archer?”  Muriel is startled to hear a woman’s voice now at the end of the line.  “This is Lisa, Simon’s supervisor.  I’m very sorry to hear about your bereavement, but I don’t think we’re the people to help you.  Is there anyone I could contact for you?”

“There’s no one,” Muriel moans.

“Don’t you have any relatives?  Friends?  Children?”

Muriel sniffs.  “A daughter.  But what does she care?  Never comes round.  Won’t even let me see my grandchildren.  I might as well be dead.”

“There must be someone,” Lisa pleads.

Just then, Muriel hears the back door open.  “Well, Lisa, it was nice talking to you, but I’m going to have to go.”

“Are you sure?  You’re not going to do anything drastic?”

Muriel replaces the receiver just as Bernard steps into the hallway, holding up a bunch of carrots from the allotment.  “Hello, love,” he says.  “Who was on the phone?”

“Nobody special,” says Muriel, hauling herself up from the chair and ushering him back into the kitchen.  “Let’s put the kettle on and have a cup of tea.  And then we’d better be getting ready for Abigail’s play.  I’m so looking forward to it.”

Bernard puts down the carrots on the worktop and turns to his wife.  With a grubby finger he wipes a tear from her cheek.  “What’s this?  Who’s upset you?”

Muriel stoops awkwardly to get the cups and saucers from the cupboard.  “Don’t fuss.  It’s nothing.”

“It was one of those call centers, wasn’t it?”  Bernard shakes his head.  “What game were you playing this time?  The grieving widow?  You’ll have the police after you one of these days.”

“It’s just a bit of fun,” says Muriel.  “It doesn’t harm anybody.  Why should I have to give up my amateur dramatics just because of an arthritic hip?  Our granddaughter isn’t the only one in this family with a theatrical bent.”

Anne Goodwin writes fiction, short and long, from flash to novels, and a blog that hovers somewhat closer to reality.  She loves fiction for the freedom to contradict herself and is scared of bios for fear of getting it wrong.  The portal to her writing world is through her website , or sneak a snapshot.
 
* * *
Finals Week
By Kip Hanson

Darius Fletcher woke from a dream of Elvis Presley in a leotard. Don’t be cruel, sang the

King of Rock and Roll. Lisa’s ringtone. The blue glow of the cable box said 3:55 AM. Why

was she calling?

Fletcher gently slid his arm from beneath the mass of blonde hair lying next to

him. Mary Beth was a light sleeper. He picked up his cell phone and padded out to the

living room.

“Hello?” Light from the Starbuck’s sign across the street filtered in through the

blinds, painting the apartment’s shag an ugly fluorescent green. It reminded him of St

Patrick’s day.

“Good morning, sleepy head.”

A dark chasm of dread open at the sound of her voice. “Lisa. What’s wrong?”

She was halfway across the country, at the University of Chicago. “Why are you calling?”

A sharp squeal of laughter. “Oh, no! Did I wake you? Gosh darn it, I forgot about

the time change thing again.”

“What’s wrong?” he repeated.

She emitted a huff of impatience at the question, like a miniature freight train.

The little engine that could. “Nothing’s wrong, Honey. It’s just that…well, I have some

good news, and I have a little bad news.”

“What is it?” He heard Mary Beth stirring in the bedroom, and he quickly

covered the mouthpiece.

“Nope, I’m not telling you, Darry. You have to guess.” She only called him Darry

when feeling playful, or planning some new way to screw up his life.

“Is it your finals?” he said. “Did you pass?” The hum of his electric toothbrush

came from the bathroom. He had to go shopping today. He might love Mary Beth, but

that didn’t mean sharing his toothbrush with her.

“No,” she said. “I mean, yes. I passed.”

Afraid he already knew the worst, he pressed on. “Then what is it?”

“Don’t get cranky, Darius.”

“I’m not. Just tell me what’s going on.”

Well, I talked to my guidance counselor. Since I have so many extra credits, he

said I can graduate a semester early. I’m coming home, darling! Isn’t that great news?”

Over the droning in his ears came the sound of Mary Beth gargling, followed by

the flush of the toilet. “So what’s the bad news?”

“The bad news is you have to clean your apartment, you messy boy. Daddy was

so anxious to see me, he had his secretary book a flight for today. I get in to LAX at

4:15.”

“That’s—” Fletcher noticed a tiny blot of color at the edge of the couch. He

tugged a pair of Mary Beth’s panties from between the tattered cushions. “That’s great

news.”

She rolled on. “After my parents pick me up, we’re coming straight over. I hope

you don’t mind.”

“What?” He’d promised Mary Beth to help pack this afternoon. She was moving

into his apartment—this apartment—in three days. “Why?” he asked.

“What do you mean, why? They’re taking us to dinner, so we can discuss the

wedding arrangements.”

“Oh—” Mary Beth stood in the hallway, wearing only a grin. She crooked a finger

at him as he sat stricken on the couch, his cell phone clutched like a gun against his ear.

“Darling, are you okay? You don’t sound very excited.”

“No, that’s not what I...it’s just that it’s all so sudden.”

“You are going to clean up your apartment before we get there, aren’t you? You

know how my mother is.”

Mary Beth stood him, hands on her hips. An Italian pizza chef leered up at

Fletcher from between her thighs; last night’s empty pizza box. For the first time, he

noticed that one of her breasts was smaller than the other.

Her eyes narrowed at the sound of Lisa’s voice. “I thought you told her—” she

hissed.

“Darry, are you listening to me?” Lisa’s voice took on the rich girl tone she got

when he watched baseball. Pay attention to me! She paused, suspicious now. “Is

someone there with you?”

“No!” he said. “No. It’s just the TV. Hold on a minute.” He covered the phone and

waved violently at Mary Beth. “Just give me a minute, would you?”

She glared down at him. “You’re an asshole,” she said, then stomped back to the

bedroom.

He’d dreaded this moment for weeks, had postponed it since the day he asked

Mary Beth to move in with him. He was breaking off the marriage with Miss High and

Mighty Lisa Richards, despite her family’s millions.

“Okay, I’m back. Listen, I have to tell you something.”

“Yes? What is it, Darry?”

“I’ve been thinking.”

“I’m all ears,” she crooned, playful again.

“I—” Fletcher found it difficult to breathe.

“Darry? Are you okay? You’re scaring me, honey.”

He tipped his head back on the couch. A cobweb dangled from the ceiling. A few

flies and bits of dirt hung suspended there. The sound of Mary Beth’s weeping came

down the hall. Fletcher steeled himself for the inevitable.

“Lisa...I’ve missed you. I’ll see you tonight.”

“I love you too, dear. I can’t wait to see you. Big hugs.”

Fletcher hung up the phone. Now what? In twelve hours, his high-school

sweetheart—the love of his life—would be at his door, with her arrogant, pricky parents

at her side.

“Mary Beth?” he called.

No answer. “Honey?”

From the bedroom came the thump of her overnight bag. “What do you want?”

“Is there—?” Fletcher took a deep breath. “Do you have room at your place for

my stuff?”
Kip Hanson lives in sunny Phoenix, where his wife makes him watch Poltergeist while insisting that clowns are not scary. You can find his work scattered about the Internet, at Foundling Review, Bartleby Snopes, Monkey Bicycle, Absinthe Revival, and a few other places, proving that a blind squirrel does occasionally find a nut. When not telling lies, he makes a few bucks by cobbling together boring manufacturing articles for technical magazines.
 
* * *
Hyenas 
By Richard Hartwell
The sun has baked the pan without rain for almost as many seasons as I have breathed.  I look back over the shoulder of my memory and cannot recall a time without the cracked and splintered earth beneath my feet.  Today has been little different than the caravan of all the other days that preceded it.  The day has been little different except we have fallen upon a tree.  Much as the ravenous hyena falls upon the dead and dying on the plain to replenish its own life, we rush the tree, circling in until all eight hands lay hold and stroke the trunk.

We have been on trek the last four days, carrying our own water in ostrich shells, eating the last of Mother’s dried meat and yams with termite paste.  The tree had loomed at us unexpectedly from within a shallow depression in the blank horizon.  The shimmer of heat waves has given way to the off green of leaves.

Its massive, vibrant branches, spackled with the shifting glints and winks and shadows caused by the setting sun, spread outward from the bole of the trunk.  The trunk thrusts up from deep within the largest crevice of the cracked and splitting pan.  It seems to stab into the moving lungs of the tree at an angle, like the final spear thrust of a good hunter.  The trunk is bent by the prevailing winds which always prowl at dusk and the leaves, green as termite larva, explode in the cloudless sky, now tinted blue, changing from the piercing glare of ivoried white from earlier in the day.

No words are exchanged between us.  Mother and Grandmother know this is where we will stop and stay, perhaps for many days, even without Grandfather giving his decision.  Even I know this is a place of water.  With water there is game.  And with game there will be the continuation of life for perhaps another season, or until the rains come back and slack the thirst of the earth itself; until the rains come back and slack the thirst of Grandmother’s hard life.  Grandmother is old and ill and the daily trek across the land has been particularly hard on her.  The tree is a signal that maybe not all of the land has given up or been given back to the sun.  Some of the land is still reserved for the life of the Kikuyus, for Grandfather, for Mother and me, and maybe for Grandmother too.

By nightfall Grandfather and I have built a hut of dead sticks and animal dung taken from beneath the tree.  Grandmother is too weak and mother is too large with child and so we bent the tradition of our people and we build the hut while mother starts the cooking fire and roasts yams.  Grandfather and I eat first and in silence.  Then Mother eats.  Grandmother falls deeply asleep as soon as she is comfortably assured that the hut is stout and mother has food cooking.  The night has turned bitterly cold, even though the eyes of the sky are not yet fully opened, when Grandfather decides to speak.

“It is said by some of the people that old Kikuyu women turn into hyenas at night.  They do this at the height of the full moon.  They roam the pan in packs.  They nose up the leftovers of the day and scold the moon as it rises.”

“Really, Grandfather?”  I ask, not knowing if this is really true or whether it is another of Grandfather’s great tales.

Mother has her own opinion.  “Quit filling the boy’s head with that same nonsense old man, you who can’t even hunt anymore!”  All this is punctuated without a smile.  It has been almost enough moons for the child to be born and both Grandfather and I know she is tired.

When he had started this lesson last time, last month, Grandmother had been even more angered than Mother is now.  Grandmother had scoffed and stomped away, her bare feet shuffling quickly across the hard-packed dirt of the hut and out the door.  That last time I had followed Grandmother.  I still have a clear vision of her raising puffy red clouds of fine dust as she stomped her way along the path in the village and over to her son’s hut.  The clouds had swirled into miniature dust devils by her rough passage.  But this time is different.  This time Grandmother doesn’t leave, but Mother.  This time I stay in the darkening hut with Grandfather.

He watches mother go again as he has each time she or Grandmother has left him in anger.  He says nothing.  He doesn’t smile or wink at me or purse his lips to blow and push her on her way faster as the old men sometimes do.  Even I can tell he has not begun the story with the purpose of sending his daughter-in-law on her way.  He seems more serious, more intense this time.  He seems about to speak again now that she has gone and I bend closer to hear him better.  I continue to fan him lightly with his ostrich feather.  Grandfather speaks slowly and quietly when he takes up his lesson again.

“What is a hyena, young one?”

“What do you mean, Grandfather?”

“I ask, ‘What is a hyena, young one?’”

I know he wants something more than just a description.  I feel that almost any answer I provide will be insufficient.  I hesitate, trying to wait out his meaning.

“Well young one?”

“Grandfather, a hyena is a scavenger.  It eats the leftovers of others.  It is too cowardly to hunt alone like the lioness or the leopard.  It travels in packs.  It’s smelly.  It looks funny.  It’s . . . it’s a . . . um, I guess that’s about it.”  All this I tell him as I have heard others tell me.  It is made of bits and pieces, scraps of conversations overheard.

“Well, not bad, but think for yourself.  Why is the hyena a tribe animal?  Why does it howl at the rising full moon?  What makes its yellow eyes shine like the embers of a cooking fire?  You have left out much.”

“Yes Grandfather.”

“Take your time young one.  Think.  The night is still early and the full moon and the hyenas are not yet out.”  Grandfather steals a quick look at grandmother, curled into a ball on the far side of the hut.

I puzzle on Grandfather’s questions for a long time.  He sits on his haunches with his eyes now closed, but I know he is not asleep.  Just as I am about to speak, he opens his eyes and is staring directly at me.

I take up my answer again.  “The hyena always stays with the pack.  It does not go off on its own.  The hyenas are smart and post lookouts.  They take food to the young cubs after the strong have eaten.”  Grandfather keeps nodding without interrupting.  He doesn’t correct me, so I gather strength as I speak.  “The hyenas yip to announce themselves when they enter the group.  They laugh and talk to one another in the pack and when they eat.  They only howl at the bright full moon, at its yellow presence hanging in the sky, when all the eyes of the dead are open.”

“Good, young one.  You have learned much since your father went hunting to the east.”

For a moment I am caught thinking backwards, then I ask, “Will . . . will he come back now Grandfather?  Can he find us since we left the village?”

“The village is dead.  Forget about the village.”  This is not said harshly, but merely as simple fact.  Grandfather continues, “He was always a good tracker.  He could find us, if . . .” The words hang in the air and Grandfather does not bother to finish.  He does not need to finish.  I know that other hunters have left the village on long treks before, not to return.  It is something our people have learned to accept.  Not everyone returns.

“Finish the lesson young one.  What makes the hyena’s yellow eyes shine like the embers of a cooking fire?”

I think for a moment and guess, “Perhaps there is a flame that burns inside its head.  Or maybe it is a reflection from the moon.”

“Good.  Closer,” says Grandfather quietly.  “Keep trying.”

With a growing awareness, I realize it must have something to do with the eyes of all the dead.  Even on nights when the moon is not full, on nights when the hyena does not howl at the moon but is content to yip at its fellows and chuckle; even on those nights the eyes of the hyena glow with gold intensity.  I hazard an idea with Grandfather, “Perhaps it is because he shares a secret with the dead in the sky who look down at night.”

Grandfather opens his eyes.  He looks at me and then at the far side of the hut.  He then looks back at me, locking his eyes with mine and nods his head.  “You are truly the son of a wise hunter and the son of the son of a once great warrior.  You have struggled out an important truth.”

I cannot help the small smile that creeps to my lips.  I sit up straighter.  I am not yet a wise hunter, but I am the son of one.  I am not yet a great warrior, but I am the grandson of one.

After a pause and another glance into the far darkness of the hut, Grandfather speaks again, “Go outside young one.  Send your mother to me.  Then look up to the vault above.  Look for the eyes of your father’s mother, for she has joined the others who trek the sky at night rather than the world by day.”

I do as Grandfather bids me.  I find Mother on the far side of the tree and tell her of Grandfather’s request.  She goes quietly, without a word to me.  There are times the Kikuyu do not need words for understanding.  There are times our eyes alone speak.  I do as Grandfather bids me.

I look up into the great darkness that is unknown but is peopled with all our ancestors.  The moon is rising above the flat horizon to the east.  The hyenas are beginning to howl.  Perhaps another old Kikuyu woman is joining them.  Perhaps they are sending grandmother on her way.  Perhaps she will see her son again.

I turn in the opposite direction, to where the sun went to rest.  Many eyes are covered by the gathering clouds.  Perhaps it will rain tomorrow.  Perhaps Mother’s child will come with the changing season.  The hyenas continue to howl at the full moon and laugh among themselves.  I return to the hut to help and to share this lesson with Grandfather.
Richard "Rick" Hartwell is a retired middle school English teacher living in Moreno Valley, California. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing poetry, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon.
* * *
The Lesson
By Jeremy Levine
Mrs. Bogen’s black four-inch heels were clomping against the sidewalk. She had a stack of ungraded papers under her arm, and cigarette between her lips. Memories of today’s unsuccessful classes tossed around in her brain, waiting to be drowned by the bottle of tequila she had waiting for her at home.  As she rounded a corner, she nearly stepped on an advertisement written on the ground, finely calligraphed in pink sidewalk chalk: Recorder Lessons: 50 cents.

There was a boy there, looking up at her with big, waiting eyes. She looked up and down the empty street, flicked her cigarette, and knelt down.

“What’s your name?”

“Michael.”

“Michael, how long have you been playing the recorder?”

“Three weeks!”

She laughed. “And you’re going to give me a lesson?”

Michael folded his arms. “If you pay fifty cents.”

She took off her sunglasses. “Alright, then.” 

She reached into her bag, extracted her wallet, and gave the kid two quarters.

He reached behind him and picked up his plastic Yamaha recorder and handed it to her.

“Now put it in your mouth.”

She eyed the crusty, saliva-covered mouthpiece with apprehension.

“I don’t know if I can do it.”

“Well, you’ll never know if you don’t try. That’s what my mom says.”

Repulsed, Mrs. Bogen slipped the recorder in her mouth.

“Now cover some holes.”

She placed her fingers over random holes.

“Now blow.”

She blew, and a harsh sound, like a train whistle, escaped the instrument.

Michael snatched the recorder away. “Uh, that was very good. See you next lesson.”

She furrowed her eyebrows, frustrated with the instructor’s lack of instruction. Mrs. Bogen left her inexperienced teacher and walked home. She tossed her stack of papers on the coffee table, poured herself a drink, and considered the first essay, an underwhelming analysis of the Spanish-American War. The whistling noise blaring in her head, she scrawled a note on the bottom: “That was very good. See you next lesson.”
Jeremy Levine is currently a sophomore at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he is the Editor-In-Chief of the student newspaper, The Scarlet.
 
* * *
A Late Night Call 
By Brady Mueller
Dude! I'm not gonna go back there. Just hold on a second, I'll be right back.

Fuck, I thought you might pick up.  Hey, Stacie. This is Dave. You might remember me from that party earlier. I was the guy with the joke about sexy giraffes that you loved and I had the stupid costume. I'm also a lot tipsier than I was.  I know that the whole phone number rule is supposed to count.  Don't call until, like, three days have passed or some shit.  But I want you to know, that I just got out of a long-term commitment and don't want to keep committing.  I also love her. Wait, I mean you. I mean, let's sex.  Fuck. I'm getting this all wrong.

I actually left the party, just now.  It was, like, whatever. You were the only chick in there that was above a six. That doesn't make me shallow, just a dick. Also, I thought it was a costume party and that's basically why I was dressed up like a homeless person.  I was supposed to be Pig-Pen from those comic strips... what were they called again?  Whatever, I don't care.  My head's all tumbly-wumbly. The drinks just kept coming.

Anyway, back to the sex, I am ready to go.  Cannon is ready to fire, and all you have to do is call me back.  Steve, you know Steve from accounting, tells me that you are a stuck-up whore, but that's exactly what I'm looking for.  Oh, I didn't mean that.  I was kidding about all that stuff before. I think you are a lovely human being that is only looking for a quickie.  Wait, that's me.  I'm looking for the quickie. It could be a longer thing, but I wouldn't care. I'm looking for a one-night stand sorta thing. 

I'm drunk. That's why I keep getting off track.  I think this is the first time in a long while that I actually have gotten this smashed.  I haven't thrown up yet, because I'm not that drunk.

Sorry, but I can't think straight.  I just want somebody, you know?  I'm sick of cuddling with my dog at night.  You should meet Tucker, he's a good boy.  Fuck, what if I become a dude cat-lady.  A dog-lady, shit, I mean a dog-man.  But not a mix of the two, like a hybrid thing.  I would just collect dogs. Look, I guess I'm calling because you seem like a girl that feels the same as I do. Whatever, I just thought that we had a connection. 

What?  Yeah, just a second Steve!  It's here now? 

Our cab is here and I gotta go. The offer still stands and if you want, I can be over at any time.  Like, now. Now would be good.  Just, call me sometime.  I love you.  I mean, shit... I'm sorry about that. Bye.
 
Brady Mueller is currently a student at Gustavus Adolphus College, studying fiction and theater. He loves to write, and hopes to give more of his voice to the world.
* * *
A Stubborn Watch
By Bren Roorda
Unlike a person, the watch was born in pieces. Its golden case was poured gently into a mold. Heat seeped into sand, leaving the final form behind. Gears were lovingly crafted by hand with repetitive caresses with the abrasive touch of a file. A precisely painted face was created as fine hairs left trails of the blackest ink. The spring was tightly and properly wound, boundless energy imbued in steel. When all the pieces were assembled by skillful hands, its first tick was akin to a heartbeat.

The watch was born a very long time ago. It does not know exactly when, no one bothers to tell a watch the time. Also unlike a person, the watch measures the length of its existence by the lives of those who carried it.

At first, the watch lived in a glass case bathed in the light of the sun. Faces would peek out from the other side and stare at it. Sometimes they would even pick up the watch. They would feel the weight of it, the smooth metal finish, and the twist of the knob. The watch would then be handed back to owner, who quickly wiped the evidence of their touch, and put it back behind glass. This did not bother watch, all the watch wanted to do was tick.

The first person who took the watch was a woman. Her fingers were soft and her touch softer. She had a smile that illuminated the dingy little store and smelled faintly of lilacs.  The woman had the owner scratch what the watch assumed was words on the inside of its case. The watch was just happy for fresh air, right until it was placed inside a small dark box.

Not long after, the watch came to its second owner. He was overjoyed when he opened the box and found it inside. His hands were rougher and his eyes filled with mirth.  Holding the watch, he gave the woman smelling of lilacs a peck on the cheek. The watch spent several hours enjoying sunlight before being delicately set into a pocket.

Such a festive scene was not to be again. What the watch did witness was something far different. There a symphony of loud booms, small ones that cracked and popped, and others that rolled like thunder. The air was heavy with the odor of wet earth and blood.  The watch did not like this new place at all.

Sometimes the man with the mirthful eyes seemed to forget the watch was there. It stayed safely in his pocket, while the world around him was anything else. Other times, he clutched so tightly to the watch, as if his grip would protect his life from the shears of fate.

It did not.

The man lay in stunned silence, covered in mud and barbed wire. The watch sat quietly in his hand, mournful, but grateful that its own hands were continuing to move. What else mattered in the end?

The sun had passed across the sky once, before the watch had been found again. It was another man, dressed in a different uniform and speaking a strange language. He pried the piece of gold from cold fingers and hastily stuffed the watch into a pocket.

After a few more noisy battles, the watch traveled across a dark tempestuous sea. Life then became very routine for the watch. The scratchy uniform was traded for fine silk lined pockets. Booms were replaced with laughter. Memories of odorous fumes were overpowered by cigar smoke and high end liquor. 

One day, the watch was put back into a box. It was opened by a young man that looked a great deal like the one in the suit. The boy was gracious and subdued; the man smiled appropriately.

From what the watch understood, the boy decided that the time piece was good luck. To maintain a positive relationship with fortune, he held on to the watch constantly. Years went by with his hands in a pocket, fingers wrapped protectively around the watch. The watch witnessed as those fingers slowly became gnarled and withered. Yet their grip never wavered.

Decades later the watch found itself a room the smelt of chemicals and was glaringly white. There were no pockets to comfortably rest in, only the bony fingers to clutch. Oddly, there was a second, louder, ticking in the room. The watch felt superior in the knowledge that its tick was perfectly rhythmic and constant, unlike this newcomer.

People came and went, filling and emptying the room. Some cried, others spoke softly, a few even laughed with the man in the bed. The man remained still and held tight to the watch. One day when the second ticking had gotten slow and followed a strange beat, the man held the watch high and spoke. He whispered sagely of the unparalleled persistence of time. As silence grew in the room and the watch was again the sole sound, it could not help but agree.
Brenn Roorda is an aspiring writer from Iowa.
* * *
Cleaning Up 
By Wayne Scheer

When my sister and I cleaned out our mother's apartment after her death, we found our father's favorite red and gray long-sleeved shirt tucked between mom's blouses.   He had died almost two years earlier.

Pamela shook her head.  “That rag should have been the first thing to go.  It's one ugly mother of a shirt.” 

I took it from her.  “Dad wore it a lot towards the end.  It still smells like him.” 

“I wouldn't know,” she said  

Her eyes glistened.  “Smells so bad it's making my eyes water.”  Grabbing the shirt, she stuffed it into the large black plastic bag we were using for trash.  “There,” she said. “That's over with.”

All though growing up, in my father's eyes, Pamela could do no wrong.  “Princess Pam,” he'd call her.

My mother was the one to bring us back to reality.  “A princess would wash her more often.” 

When she graduated college and married a nice Jewish boy, my parents were ecstatic.  He was a male nurse, but he wore scrubs and that was close enough for dad.  “We have a medical man in the family,” he'd say.  Never failing to then remind  me of the C I got in high school biology.

Pam began law school and dad couldn't be more proud.   Even when she and Tommy began divorce proceedings, Dad supported her.

“He was jealous of you,” he declared during a family Thanksgiving dinner. 

“You got that right,” Pam said.

I sensed there was more to come.  I could tell by the way my mother looked at Pam, she did, too.

“I'm pregnant.”

“Tommy?” Mom asked.

“No,” Pam said.

“I knew it.  Will we meet your new--”

“I doubt it,” Pam interrupted.  She chose not to explain further.

Dad hugged her, saying whatever happened, he still loves her, and we tried small talking our way through dinner.  I thought it was Dad's best moment.

But his support for his princess ended when Pam gave birth to a beautiful black baby boy.  The more the baby's skin darkened, the more distant he grew.   When the family gathered for Jason's one month birthday, Dad called Pam's son a nigger.

Mom cherished her new role as grandmother. My new wife and I babysat our nephew so Pam could complete law school at night.  Dad refused to even visit.

Pam and I finished cleaning the apartment in silence.  With a sigh, she volunteered to throw out the overstuffed trash bag.
 
Wayne Scheer has published stories, poems and essays both in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories, published by Thumbscrews Press.  Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife.
* * *
For The Sanctity of Life 
By Frank Scozzari
The boat heaved upward, its bow crashing against another large swell, and the icy water from it splashed over the railing dousing Benjamin’s bare hand and the side of his pant leg. He looked up at the pilothouse. Inside was the shadow of the skipper, Dan Smith, a bearded young man wearing a baseball cap.

“Can you see them yet?” Benjamin shouted out.

The young skipper shook his head.

From the elevation of the poop deck, Smith could see the ice field ahead, stretching horizontally in both directions as far as eyes could see, and he could see the opening in it, where the ice-breaker had entered. A deep, black rift etched its way landward through blocks of snow and ice, toward the islands of the Magdalen, a small archipelago in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence where men came to hunt young harp seals.

It was fate, Benjamin thought.

He glanced down at the rifle in his hand. He could feel the wood stock snugly against his palm and the cold steel of the trigger against his finger.

His father had fought on the side of environmentalism, as did his grandfather before him – both men were committed to the preservation of land and sea, and to the animals and creatures living there. His grandfather had worked for the Reno Gazette-Journal and wrote editorials in an effort to stop the eradication of the Nevada mustang. But in the 1950s, a man’s work was more important then the conservation of a misfit animal, and his articles were eventually banned from publication, as was he. And his father, a mill worker for the Georgia-Pacific Corporation, took up the fight against the dumping of lethal by-products into the many streams and rivers of northern Oregon. He gathered signatures and petitioned national leaders, and was eventually fired for it. And he spent many long years unemployed in an occupation that was, at the time, the only one for a middle-aged mill worker in the Pacific Northwest. Two generations of men before him had taken up the pen for the cause of environmentalism. It was why, Benjamin knew, he now stood on the deck of a ship with a gun in his hand.

As they approached the ice field, Smith eased back on the throttle and brought the engines to a complete idle. He waited for the swells to subside and then throttled ahead into the channel at a slow speed. The mouth of this man-made waterway was more than thirty meters across, evidence of how many times it had been used to access the permanent snowfields beyond. Either side of the channel was lined in by four-foot walls of ice, out from which stretched large, diagonal cracks.

Benjamin kept his eyes keenly ahead as the ship inched its way upstream. As the channel narrowed, it became littered with chunks of floating ice, and he could hear them thunking off the bow. He glanced up at Smith frequently, checking for a sign, but Smith offered no signal yet. Beyond the channel, Smith could only see the sprawling white ice floes stretching out to the grey horizon.

***

Across the ice, perched at the top of his 55-foot, steel-hulled crabber was the old man Kalic, a burly fifty-something Canadian who had run a sealing company for twenty-five years now. From his high point, he watched his men perform their handiwork, that which they had performed in the same brutal, archaic manner for more than two decades straight.

           The whiteness of the ice, which stretched out below him, was stained red now with blood. And the redness formed the image of a tangled web, where many blood-lines led to a central hub, a heap of dead or dying seals; their carcasses dumped there after their pelts had been taken. The young seals were shot or bludgeon to death with hakapiks, a metal-hook-tipped club. Then they were dragged back to the ship, sometimes still conscious. It was a scene of butchery, only to be imagined in a dark dream or witnessed in a horror film.

But for Kalic and his boys, it was work, no different than a butcher in a meat shop or a lineman in a packing shed. It was the work of their fathers, and fore-fathers before them. And the animals, though charming in appearance, were nothing but dollars signs, and mortgage payments, and food on the plates of their children.

           “There!” he shouted, pointing a strong arm to a young seal scrambling away from the carnage. He looked down at a young man who was working the pelts with a knife below. “Cratton!” he shouted. “There! He is getting away!”

           The young man grabbed his hakapik, dashed after the young seal, and gaffed it repeatedly in the head until it stopped moving. Then he hooked it with the spike at the end of the hakapik and dragged it back to the ship, leaving another blood line in the snow. The seal lay there on the ice floe with blood running from its nose. It was still conscious and gasped for air. Not far away, the Sealer sharpened his knife blade, and as he began slicing its fur from its torso, the young seal began thrashing violently, and he thumped it in the head again with the hakapik until it stopped.

           In the distance over the rise of an ice berm, there were three other pups getting away. Kalic shouted to his men, directing them with the long point of his arm. One of the hunters scrambled up to the top of the berm with a rifle and cracked out three shots.

           “That’s some fine shooting there, Johnston!” Kalic shouted.

           In between directing traffic, Kalic eyed the channel east. They had been pestered in recent weeks by a small group of rebel activists who coined themselves The Abalone Alliance, predominantly because they had come from the West, the Pacific coast, where they had rallied to protect the abalone from the intrusive discharge of a nuclear power plant.

He did not see the ship at first, but heard the familiar sound of a ship’s diesel engine whispering across the ice floes. Then he saw the crown of its crow’s nest moving above the ice toward them. He entered the wheelhouse, and when he emerged, he had a shotgun in one hand, and several rock-salt filled shells in the other. He had grown tired of these young activists, and of their harassing tactics. They had plastered the local towns with anti-sealing posters, callously displaying the carnage and portraying them as butchers. They had posted videos on YouTube, and painted the words ‘Baby Killers’ in bright red on the side of his ship. And they had blocked the channel by dragging huge chunks of ice upstream and jamming them in the narrows, although Kalic’s double-hulled crabber made quick work of it. More recently they resorted to more irritating measures, using a loud speaker to insult their families and threaten to ram their ship against the steel-hull crabber.

For Kalic, the activists were more of a nuisance than a threat. But their activities interrupted work, and some of his men were bothered by it, and by the escalation of it. Each time, it seemed, the activists were ratcheting up their methods, becoming more hostile, and more desperate. And Kalic was determined to put and end to it.

He looked down at the rock-salt filled shells in his hand. He grunted out a deep-throated laugh as he loaded them into the shotgun. This will teach them!

It was their right, nevertheless, Kalic thought. It was the law of the land. It was Canadian law!

The annual seal hunt was a tradition that dated back several centuries. From before the time Columbus, on through the advent of commercial shipping, young harp seals were taken for their fur, meat and oil. Since the industry’s boom in the mid-fifties, new generations of Sealers lined-up each year, ready to take the catch. For some in isolated communities, it was the only livelihood; the only means of financial survival. The hunt was even sanctioned by the Department of Fisheries and supported by the government; although Kalic would be first to admit they did not always comply with Canada's animal welfare standards. But if not for him, there would be others, he knew. It was tradition, and commercially successful, and no greenhorn young activists from California were going to change that.

Benjamin’s mind was still on the rifle held in his hand as he looked forward into the narrowing channel.

‘It is a menace,’ he recalled his father saying. ‘Only to be used by men without reason.’

His father detested weapons of all types. They were the takers of life. That which was the greatest treasure of nature, Life, the most coveted of all things on earth, was to be respected and preserved above all costs. And yet the very weapon that his father detested was in fact the instrument that could sustain the sanctity of life here in the ice fields of the Saint Lawrence Gulf, Benjamin thought.

Benjamin imagined the horror he had seen, coming upon the ice where the Sealers had done their work, the bloodied carcasses of hundreds of young harp seals; the pitiful cries of the pups; the repeated thuds of clubs raining down on soft skulls; the Sealers' laughter echoing across the ice floes. Perhaps a weapon was a menace of irrational men, but it was the only tangible thing the hunters could understand.

“You must speak their language,” he said quietly, looking down at the rifle. If you are fighting irrational men of violence, then a menacing weapon is what one must use.

Nevertheless, Benjamin thought to himself, he did not intend to use the rifle to kill; only to fire warning shots over their heads. Of this, he was certain. The weapon he held in his hands would not be used to kill, but to squash the will in others to kill.

The ship’s engines backed off. Benjamin looked up at Smith, who nodded his head and motioned with his hand to get down. Benjamin did so, promptly, taking a position behind the solid steel lip of the bow. As the ship rounded one last bend, Benjamin could see the 55-foot crabber ahead. Up on the master deck, coming around the rail to his side of the ship, was Kalic with an object in his hand. It appeared to be a hakapik.

As they drifted closer, Smith reversed the engines, ceasing their forward momentum. The propellers went quiet and the two ships were finally positioned, a mere thirty yards apart.

From the master deck of the crabber, Kalic shouted out, “Get the hell out of here! Go back home to California!”

All the seal hunters, who were still busy working their pelts on the far side of the ship, stopped and turned their heads.

“Go home!” Kalic’s yelled again. His deep voice echoed across the ice floes.

Benjamin leveled his rifle, taking aim at a place in the sky just above Kalic’s head.

“You suck off,” he yelled back.

“Go away before I have to do something serious!”

You want something serious? Benjamin thought.

“We don’t want any trouble,” Kalic said. “We just want to get along with our work.”

In his mind, Benjamin saw the dead seals again, strewn across the white ice; the bodies of helpless youth slain without mercy. And sighting down the barrel, there at a place in the open sky just above the ship, he pulled the trigger.

The bullet zinged harmlessly over Kalic’s head

Smith looked on nervously from the poop deck.

“Bastards,” Kalic growled. Turning back, he looked in the direction where the bullet whiz past. Then he took two deliberate steps forward, fully against the rail, brought the stock of the shotgun securely against his shoulder, and pulled the trigger.

The shotgun bucked and the salt pellets shattered the glass in the pilothouse just in front of Smith’s face. Smith ducked down and to the side, behind the metal frame of the windshield.

Kalic grinned. Though he knew the rock salt would not cause serious injury, it would cause immense pain, and with this stinging message, he hoped to turn these young activists away.

He quickly aimed and pulled the trigger again. The second shot sent salt pellets scattering around the pilothouse, some of which hit Smith in his leg, tearing into his skin.

Smith dropped to the floor with a yelp, grasping his leg.

From below, Benjamin could hear all the action.

“You okay?” he yelled out. But there was no answer, only groaning, and when he looked up at the pilothouse, he could not see Smith, only the shattered glass of the pilot’s windshield.

Benjamin immediately lifted his rifle back over the bow’s bridge and took aim again, a more sincere aim this time with the barrel pointing directly at Kalic’s large frame. At the same time, Kalic swung his shotgun around toward the bow of their ship to where Benjamin had fired the original shot. Benjamin pulled the trigger first. Though the shot narrowly missed, it caused Kalic to readjust, and Benjamin pulled the trigger again. This time, the large, burly Kalic crumbled to the deck, grasping his chest in his hand.

Kalic’s shotgun discharged skyward. He fell backward and dropped harmlessly to the deck. Two hunters close to the ship leaped aboard and scrambled up the iron ladder. They found Kalic flat on his back halfway out the doorway of the wheelhouse. There was blood on his chest and his eyes were lifeless.

“You’ve killed him, you bastards!” one of the hunters yelled out.

The other picked up the shotgun and emptied the three remaining shells in the direction of their ship.

Benjamin lay flat in the bow, cuddled against the cold steel. He could hear the three shotgun blasts ricocheting on the upper deck. Then he heard another rifle ring out, a different sound, and heard the ping of a bullet careening off the metal near him.

“You Bastards! You killed him!”

Another shot rang out and another bullet dug deep into the metal hull of their ship. Then there were multiple shots, from both land and sea, pummeling the ship from all angels.

Up in the pilothouse, Smith pulled himself to his feet, limped over to the wheel, and dropped the gear-shift into reverse. Keeping his head low, he throttled it down. As the boat picked up momentum, jettisoning in reverse, he could hear it, and feel it, the stern slamming against the ice-walls of the channel. He could not swing the boat around without risking a further barrage of bullets. Nor did he have the advantage of sight. Using the bottom of the wheel, with head down, he had to steer it, the best that he could, trying to find open water.

At twenty yards, and forty yards, and sixty, the bullets whizzed past. At last, at a distance of one hundred yards where the channel widened sufficiently, Smith was able to swing the bow around. He pointed the ship straight out the channel and throttled it all the way down. A few more shots rang out from the Sealers, but eventually they were out of range and out of sight.

Benjamin remained flat on the foredeck, prone with the rifle beneath him. It was still clinched in his hands. He could feel himself breathing hard and shaking. The adrenaline rush from the whole thing was still peaking through his veins.

“Wow! That was something!” he heard Smith yell down from the bridge.

Benjamin turned and looked up at Smith. Behind the broken glass of the pilothouse, beneath the ball-cap, he could see his face smiling.

“I think you killed that old bastard,” Smith shouted.

Benjamin stood up, still holding the rifle in his hand. He looked down at it and realized his hand was trembling.

“Are you okay?” Smith asked.
    
“Yes,” Benjamin replied, not sure of it.

“I think he was shooting salt rock,” Smith said, looking down at the blood on his leg. “Did you hear what I said? I think you killed that old goat.”

Benjamin stared up at the pilothouse without answering. In all his life, he could not imagine himself killing someone. It was sacrilegious, contrary to the teachings of his father and grandfather. It was a betrayal of one’s beliefs; an outcome not part of the plan. He looked down at the rifle – the menacing instrument used by men without reason. The shaft was still warm from its discharge and a small white curl of smoke rose from the barrel. Although his grasp had unconsciously loosened, it felt uncomfortably comfortable in his hand. A chill passed over his body.

What have you done? he thought. How could you fire that shot?

“Yeah, I really think you got him,” Smith shouted down gleefully from the pilothouse. “I think you got him in the chest!”

Benjamin looked up, his restless brain quiet for a moment. It was a betrayal, all right; a betrayal of all that his father stood for.

As the ship made its way out the main channel into the open waters of the Gulf, Benjamin remained on the foredeck, feeling the rhythmic thumps of the swells against the bow. They thumped loudly, as did his heart. I have killed a man, he thought. He looked out across the Gulf to the southwest. The dim northern lights faded. He bowed his head and watched the dark water rushing toward the bow. It was fate, he thought, the fate of his fathers.
 
Frank Scozzari's fiction has previously appeared in various literary magazines, including The Kenyon Review, South Dakota Review, Folio, The Nassau Review, Roanoke Review, Pacific Review, Reed Magazine, Ellipsis Magazine, Sycamore Review, Eureka Literary Magazine, The MacGuffin, Foliate Oak, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Chrysalis Reader, and many others. 
 
* * *
Ordinary Magic
By Caryl Sills
In the spring of 1950, when I was eight years old, Zaideh Abe was up to “K” in the encyclopedia. If I had been behaving especially well—helpful to my mom and her mom, Bubbeh Bessie—he’d let me sit beside him on the couch, open the chosen volume, and take a turn reading out loud. If I stumbled over a big word, Zaideh helped me sound it out.   

I remember one rainy, dreary Sunday when we read about a magician named Harry Kellar, who was internationally famous at the end of the nineteenth century. The article mentioned his most popular stage illusions but gave only a few details about how he did them. It was little more than a list headed by his top acts: The Levitation of Princess Karnack, The Vanishing Lamp, The Floating Head. I thought the latter sounded like the silliest of his tricks and told Zaideh so.

“When I was little,” I explained, “I used to believe in magic, but now I know it’s all just trickery. That’s because my dad took me to a magic show where a lady in a box was sawed in half and put back together again, but she wasn’t hurt one bit. Dad said she was scrunched up in one end of the box, and that’s why she didn’t even get a scratch.” 

“Oh, my,” Zaideh Abe said, feigning horror, “I certainly agree that’s not real magic. “That’s only someone performing tricks for money. But I can assure you there’s real magic all around us, and even if you can’t see it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Can you see happiness, sadness, anger? No. But you can see the consequences—a smile, a tear, a frown. Remember when Bubbeh Bessie summoned Freileck? What else could that be but magic?”

Freileck was Jake Finklestein’s cat. I knew that when it went missing, the whole neighborhood searched. For two days, Jake sat on his front steps and cried while everyone else peered into cellars and garages or poked under porches and every bush in every yard. But no Freileck.

On the third day, Bubbeh Bessie got up from her afternoon nap and walked to Jake’s house. “Can you guess vhat I have in my apron pocket,” she asked little Jake in her slightly accented English that mispronounced “w’s.”  

Then she gently pulled out a tiny, furry thing who protested with a loud Meowww.  

“We searched every inch of everywhere for that cat,” Zaideh Abe told me now. “He wasn’t anywhere. So how come your bubbeh all of sudden found him?”

“Luck,” I said. “He was going home just as Bubbeh went outside.”

“Nonsense,” Zaideh said. “When Bubbeh Bessie saw how sad Jake was, she used her magic to summon Freileck home. Maybe no one saw her work her magic, but the result proves she did. I can tell you for sure that luck is one thing, but magic is quite another.”

“Stop filling her head with silly stories,” my bubbeh said as she came into the room from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. She was only five feet tall and as round as Zaideh Abe was thin and all angles, and she was always smiling.

She extended her hand to me. “It’s lunch time,” she said. “I made beet borscht and there’s black bread fresh out of the oven to smear with sveet butter.”

I hopped to my feet and was following her into the kitchen when she turned half-around towards Zaideh Abe. “If I could do magic,” she said softly, “I could have vhisked avay the family I left behind before those Nazi murderers… before….”  But Bubbeh Bessie didn’t finish her thought. Instead, she leaned down and kissed the top of my head. “No more sadness,” she said. “I’m here and you’re here and my foolish husband is here and ve’re all hungry. So let’s eat lunch.”  

One day, years later after Zaideh Abe had passed away and I was in high school, I joined my mother and aunt to watch Bubbeh Bessie make kuchen for the Yom Kippur break-fast. We took notes from the moment she began to knead the yeast dough to the final sprinkling of cinnamon sugar over the fat pastry rolls she’d stuffed with apples, coconut, raisins, and chopped nuts.

Bubbeh never measured anything, so we decided to watch her bake in order to quantify in standard measurements what a handful of this and a pinch of that was equal to. Her amazing desserts were our family’s legacy, and we wanted the recipes to live on as long as there was a sweet tooth to savor them.

That afternoon as the kuchen baked and a buttery, yeasty aroma filled Bubbeh’s kitchen, I had the sudden thought that maybe Bubbeh Bessie could do magic after all. Not the spectacular kind that rescues lost cats or whisks people across an ocean and out of danger, but the everyday kind of magic that transforms ordinary things like flour and eggs and apples into an almost otherworldly experience.

I know Zaideh Abe would agree.
 
Caryl Sills is a retired English professor who has turned her hand to fiction after many years of writing essays and literary criticism. Her short stories have been published in print and online, including First Edition, Mobius, Blue Lake Review, and Black Fox Literary Magazine, among others. I am currently working on a novel that explores the post-war politics, prejudices, fears, and optimism of American society in 1948.
* * *
Unwanted Developments
By Suzanne Sprague
Mona entered her third-grade classroom expecting to see her parents and her teacher, Miss Pleany. Instead, Mona found Todd seated at a desk, chubby hand grinding a pencil, eraser end down, across a slip of paper.

“Where’s everyone?” she asked.

“They had to go get you one, too,” Todd replied, flicking his gaze to a small mound of fabric on the edge of his desk.

“What’s that?” Mona asked.

“Shut up,” Todd muttered towards his scrubbing project.

Mona’s parents and teacher arrived before Mona had to think of anything more to say.     

“Sorry, we’re late,” said Miss Pleany. “I needed your Mom to help me with your size.”

Mona’s dad gave her a quick squeeze before strolling over to pat Todd on the shoulder.

“Mona,” Miss Pleany continued, “We thought that maybe Todd could borrow your dad, since he doesn’t have one of his own.”

Normally, Mona would be jealous, but Todd’s obvious misery made it okay.

“You are both here today because we need to discuss some apparel choices of a personal nature.”

Mona looked down at her Big Bird tee shirt. Nothing wrong that she could see.

Miss Pleany crouched at desk level in front of Todd. “Both of you need to start wearing bras. Mona, you are developing prematurely, and Todd, your excess weight is settling in your chest. You need to minimize the protrusions.”

Todd’s sniffled and pulled his arms up to his chest, as if to conceal the source of his humiliation.

“Todd, you will thank me later if you lose weight and still have taut mammary skin,” insisted Miss Pleany.

Mona’s mom helped Mona into hers while Mona’s dad assisted Todd. Afterwards, Mona was relieved that she couldn’t see Todd’s bra through his shirt. Maybe no one could see hers either.

Todd’s paper had slipped to the floor. Mona picked it up and read the faint, but still-legible, words. Somebody kill me. Handing it back to Todd, she said, “If anyone catches you in that bra, they probably will.” Todd nodded in defeated agreement.

Todd exited the classroom first. The hallway teemed with kids goofing off before sport activities and after-school programs. Todd’s wide legs propelled him into their midst. With unexpected fluidity, he pulled off his shirt, revealing the bra. “Get it over with,” he cried. “Just kill me.” A locker door banged, sounding like the gunshot Todd desired and punctuating the sudden unnatural stillness.

After a few moments of hesitation, a tall, wiry boy stepped forward. “Do you want to come play ball with us?” he asked, gaining nods of approval from the kids around him. “After a few days of it, I bet you won’t have to wear that thing anymore.”

Todd unscrunched his eyes, which had been squeezed shut since his disclosure. “Ok,” he said, and after struggling back into his shirt, he followed the athletic boy.

“Well, I never, in all my years,” said the teacher to Mona’s parents, clustered in the classroom doorway. “Sometimes they kill themselves. Sometimes they die in an alley. Sometimes they just disappear. I never considered acceptance by anyone as an option.”

Mona felt her own hidden bra, a lot happier now that she knew that acceptance wasn’t her only option either.
 
Suzanne J. Sprague, originally from Bad Axe, MI, is a full-time librarian and part-time author in Daytona Beach, FL, who occasionally reviews books for the Historical Novel Society. Suzanne holds degrees in literature and in library science.
* * *
Surf Reality 
By Matthew Taub
 (Lower East Side, April 1997)

Surf Reality’s House of Urban Savages certainly sounded like a fictitious venue Christina
invented from the depths of her creative mind, perhaps during an extended painting session--
simply convincing herself, Mark suspected, that the fascinating but long-winded title of a place
actually existed, instead of popping into her imagination. Brushing and splattering away for
hours on end opened the mental fault line where these types of fantasies became persuasive--
one could grow increasingly delusional in the artistic process, or so she had advised him. Mark’s
concerns were cemented when he saw no such “experimental theater” venue, or at least nothing
that looked the part from street level, as he loitered at Allen and Stanton in the Lower East Side,
waiting for his company to arrive.
   
Walking north from the Delancey Street station, at first Mark even thought he had gotten
off at the wrong stop entirely. Dominicans sat on stoops, puttering about, with little other street
activity whatsoever, and certainly none of the sort to convey the appurtenances that would
surround such a hallmark to the performing arts. But then, as the sun set, a flock of guitar-case
carrying musicians entered— invaded, really— strolling, gossiping, heading to various venues but
also imbuing the scene with an expressive inventiveness that made it plausible for Mark to believe
that he was indeed at the right location— and on the precipice, in fact, of a new, emerging scene. 
   
That magical feeling, a wellspring of innovative kinetic energy, filled Mark with a
hopefulness and excitement at the same time that it lent a sense of despair— that this was the
kind of place that, regrettably, would price itself out in a decade. The mags would call it “the
next SoHo,” or some other loathsome phrase, and they might as well hold the funeral shortly
thereafter. A trend was now in place, tiredly occurring with great repetition, the predictable
populations of artists followed by professionals on the move to yet another neighborhood, the
process occurring in endless perpetuity— every “new” location but a weigh station for all players
involved to escape each other, and perhaps only briefly, themselves.
   
Though Mark now felt comfortable he had arrived at the correct general
geographical region, he still wasn’t sure, based on the view from the intersection where he found
himself, that he had the right address. He almost made the mistake of approaching the nearby
bodega, to ask if he had the right street and number.

“Whoa! Hang back there cowboy!” Christina shrieked, grabbing Mark by the arm,
thankfully pulling him away at the last minute.

“There you are. This is the place? What’s going on?”

“This,” Christina gestured to the mock shop Mark nearly crossed the threshold of, “is just
a false-front— for a crack house. And downstairs is a brothel. Our scene is upstairs, on the
second floor. I’m glad I caught you! Didn’t you notice the ancient, dusty products in the firstfloor
window?!”

Mark smiled, amused by the onslaught of information. “Sorry, I’m not up to speed on
my drug-dealing and prostitution, um... radar.” 

   
Now that he had turned this metaphoric mental
device on, more sensations also came alive. The Allen Street Boys had been making deals in the
open air all along, Mark oblivious until that very moment. And the women who lingered
endlessly on the sidewalk median across the way didn’t just appear to be strung-out street walkers
approaching the sunset of their careers— they were the real thing.

“You’re an idiot.” She gestured towards the upstairs, “let’s go.”

   
While Mark similarly believed his retort possessed only a lackluster quality, he predicted a
reception of at least moderate amusement. Christina’s grim response now worried him. He had
believed— safely believed, or so he thought— they had both willingly taken the plunge to
purposefully remerge as friends.
   
The acts at Surf Reality could range greatly, Christina knowingly advised, taking comfort in
her role as self-appointed authority of all cultural comprehension. From sketch comedy to
performance art, “you’re really have to be ready for anything— are you up for it?” She asked
Mark as if there was a choice, as if each of them weren’t already occupying one of the
hodgepodge chairs in the audience, which varied from the hardened kitchen stock with metalwire
backing to the padded stackable more appropriately found in hotel conference rooms. From
where had this varied array of seating arrangements been collected? It wouldn’t surprise Mark if
a great majority had been stolen.
   
The show was soon underway. Mark and Christina were treated to a singer who performed
at children’s parties, now sarcastically trying his material out on an adult audience. An exprostitute
did a soliloquy about her former goings-on. A one-woman dramatic performance
drifted from ramblings in a seductive satin robe to a full-blown, salacious burlesque show. A man
in revealing, tight-fitting briefs and a tank-top that hugged the jelly fat of his abdomen poured
whip cream on various body parts, then slowly licked away the sources of nourishment in
complete silence. A host of more generic comedic acts (at least by comparison) also took place in
between.

“Awesome stuff! Really,” Mark offered while clapping effusively at the show’s conclusion.

“Thanks so much for bringing me to this— I had no idea!”

“Awesome,” Christina repeated, “you would say something like that.”

For Mark, it had now long felt like his meetings-up with Christina involved this sort of persistent denigration. The
circumstances for their comings together were often her possession of some highly-coveted
possibility for him to inadvertently join her on an “in” happening— and increasingly, the context
was that Mark was some interloper pest, someone decidedly not “in the know”— a half-friend she
begrudgingly brought along, seemingly out of obligation.
Discussing the performances over drinks at the nearby Luna Lounge, Mark hoped to keep
his increasing suspicions of the growing gap between them at a distance.

“So tell me more about all this great art you’ve been seeing,” Christina seemed to
inquired enthusiastically, but perhaps mockingly.

“Well, you know, all the greatest hits of the major museums,” Mark advised. “I’m sure
you know them well. What I’d like to know more about is what you’ve been working on.”

“Ugh. I can’t talk about my art like that. You just— wouldn’t understand.”

“What do you mean?”

“No, it’s fine. Go and enjoy the mass appeal art. That’s— acceptable. That’s what it’s
there for, people like you.”

Mark’s pained faced conveyed a look of incredulity.

“It’s just— if you’re not ‘in it,’ if you’re not creating and producing the real stuff on the
cutting edge, I can’t possibly bring you into it, or even up to speed on it.”

Mark always held a fleeting worry that Christina would be sucked into the artists’ crowd
cult. Even as far back as the protest days in Tompkins Square, she had rough edges that lent
themselves easily to a haughty outlook of artistic and cultural superiority. But now, Mark’s once
tepid anxiety about Christina’s demeanor was emerging into dire concern. Her more brash
tendencies had been further nurtured by the PRATT indoctrination apparatus. Not all art
students had to turn out this way, did they? With Christina, Mark thought, all along there had
been a softer, gentler side— a bruised, misunderstood, innocent child, rightfully protecting
herself with just enough of a false cloak of elitism. Mark was hoping that sweet, genuine girl
underneath— the girl he briefly knew so intimately— would ultimately win out. But as he
watched her change over time, and as he witnessed other friends age in a similar manner, Mark
realized that people often didn’t grow into adults as much as they hardened into some kind of
regrettable, permanent form— often haphazardly, unknowingly, or even against their will.

“I’m sorry,” Christina continued to confess, “You just couldn’t possibly understand or
appreciate the work we’re dong.”

“That’s rather presumptuous, isn’t it?” Mark struck back.

“Is it, though?”

“Yes, it is.” Mark found himself unable to hesitate any longer. “You’re talented, but it’s
outdone by how unbelievably pretentious you are. Your supposedly high-cultural taste is
completely undercut by... just, this— stunning amount of arrogance.”

Christina scoffed. “I think I’m just being truthful. I don’t presume to know certain things
about the law— if I asked you questions, I probably still wouldn’t understand even after you’d
explained it.”

“I don’t think that’s actually true. And anyway, the point is I’d actually try, without
talking down to you, or... thinking I’m somehow better than you. Jesus.”

“Well, you could still probably lecture me,” Christina retorted, “and point out how offbase
my questions were.”

“Except that I just wouldn’t do that. That I never would do that.”

Mark conveyed a look of disgust. What had become of his former lover? When they
parted later that evening, Mark was unsure whether he would ever convince himself to see her
again.
Matthew A. Taub is a writer and lawyer living in Brooklyn, NY. His work has previously appeared in Absinthe Revival and The Weekenders Magazine. He is currently working on his first novel, Death of a Dying City, a panorama of New York City's rapid gentrification and multiple ethnic enclaves through rotating character-driven vignettes, all of which are connected by an imperiled lawyer-protagonist.
* * *
We Are All Made of Stars
By Clay Waters
I was driving Ashley's car home. Dallas to El Paso is a ten-hour haul if you're doing nothing else, and I wasn't.

A red Honda Accord. Bought with her own money, or anyway not mine. She'd worked at the mall for two years, her friend said. Her key-chain held a little white rubber Schnauzer toy and only a couple of keys. Too young for more. Far too young.

Before starting I'd dipped my hand under the seat. A sandal. Lipstick. A grocery list, which I folded and put in my pocket. A cup-holder full of pennies. Deep under the seat among the oiled parts was tucked a light, fragile-feeling object wrapped in newspaper. I put it back.

The handling in the Honda was stiff and sludgy, as if it was resisting me. Automatically I went to shift the seat back and stopped, as if fearful of displacing her. The radio was set to classical music. Had she liked classical? I let the violins wash through the car.

Her diary sat in the passenger's seat. A version of her, riding by my side. A booby trap, that could only go off if I opened it. I would have to open it.

I knew I-20 intimately and adjusted unconsciously, the way your body shifts in sleep, to the speed traps, the stretches you could open up, where the four lanes became ten and back again. In a couple of hours the handling smoothed out; it became my car. I didn't stop. Stopping would mean reading. The violins blurred into dissonant piano, into full orchestra, back to violin, my burning bladder a chronic condition, beyond cure or caring. Penance.

The sun fell, the sky went black: A bright clear night for stars. Ursa Major. Ashley had been right. It doesn't look like a bear at all. Did the stars look different in Dallas? I had only been twice, once to drive her to school, the other time for a weekend visit where she couldn't do anything right.

What is wrong with me?

An exhausted noise humming below the violins drew my attention. I had neglected the vital thing: The gas gauge in the Accord was bottom right, not top left like in my truck, and it was dipped dangerously below the line.

Don't leave me here.

I lurched the car toward the bright green exit sign and curved sharply off I-20, bracing the diary so it didn't slide; immediately a blue and white poison snow-cone lit up in the rear-view mirror. I pulled over, still caught on the ramp, pulled out my license, her registration, straightening them for presentation. I blinked politely in the glare of the cop's flashlight.

"Sir, I notice you turned off when I came behind you. Can I ask why?"

"I didn't know you were back there, that's why."

A silent perusal of the offered material by flashlight, thorough enough to be insulting. "I see that this vehicle isn't registered in your name. Is Ashley your wife?"

"Ashley is not my wife."

Officer Friendly took the flashlight, looked over the backseat, checked the tags. Faintly from the main highway came the whirr of speeding cars and rigs. When he returned he had a pen. "I also see you're driving with an expired tag. Were you aware these tags had expired, sir?"

"It's not my car. It's my daughter's car."

"May I ask why you're driving your daughter's car?"

"This is bullshit."

The officer swelled up. "What was that, sir?" He put the pen away, perhaps considering an upgrade.

"You know I'm 49 and never been in a jail in all my life? Because I've always tried to be respectful. Or maybe I was just scared."

"This will be easier if you cooperate, sir." I thought of a white cell, bologna for lunch, and was surprised to discover I didn't care. "I'll ask you again. Why are you driving your daughter's car?"

"I am driving my daughter's car home from her funeral. What I will do after that I do not yet know but I shall certainly keep the authorities in the loop."

A pause. "Is that it. Well. I am awful sorry to hear that, sir."

"I'm sorry about a lot. You know I'm not a criminal. Any more questions you'd like to ask me, or am I free to keep minding my own business?"

He hadn't stepped off or stooped down, if anything had become more rigid. But now he looked like he wanted to take off the patrol cap and scratch his head. And now dammit I felt a little bad for him. Life pushes you against a wall and takes a photo and that's who you are. It was all a damn shame.

The cop pulled off after mumbling something about getting a new tag ("when you can get to it") and I sat there a while, the gas ticking away. I was two hours from the empty house. I must have sat there half an hour, not looking at the diary.

By the time I cranked up again the fuel was vapor. The only light up ahead revealed the bright orange gabled roof of what turned out to be a motor hotel.

I coasted to a stop in the parking lot under the one lamppost still leaking light and rounded up what Ashley had left behind. The thing in newspaper I dropped in a garbage can with a heavy lid.

I took a room on the second level. After a long piss I unhooked the toy dog from the key chain and placed it on the table along with the grocery list and the penny jar. The diary I laid softly on the bedside table. The air conditioner was dead so I threw open the door for a breeze and stood on the landing to take it in.

Those stars so serendipitously bunched together into constellations? Actually billions of miles apart. Only by chance do they line up to appear connected. Thinking of the gaps made me dizzy.

I went inside and propped myself up in bed. I would do it now, while my dread was just another odd shadow in my punch-drunk mind. I skimmed the tight cursive with wretched urgency for damnation or possible reprieve.

And finally, nothing of family. A police raid of a party, a few hours in lock-up. I burned with bootless anger. "Don't forget the mustard!" twice, an inside joke that would never get explained. Ashley's skittering over the pages. Some of the A's curlicued into elaborate flowers with big smiling heads. Her work schedule for this week. Plans. We all make plans.

I laid my head down, and the universe fell in.

Through the singularity I emerged un-weighted, floating above the bed, through the open door. The sky was gleaming, milky with stars. I rocked my head back to see more and found I already could, the grand panorama effortlessly visible as I rose through white mist. But I recognized nothing. Had the constellations not come together yet? Had they long fallen apart? So what was I then? What was anyone?

I startled upright in bed, slapping at my tingling arms.

What is this world?

I bolted out onto the landing. The car was under the lamp, just where it had stopped. It was empty. It was just a car. It was the stars that had changed, a little.
 
Clay Waters has had short stories published in The Santa Barbara Review, Liquid Ohio, Abyss & Apex, and Three-Lobe Burning Eye.
* * *
Mysterious Ways 
By Laura Winton 
Roger couldn't remember exactly when God had started talking to him.  It seemed to him that the conversation had been constant ever since he could remember.  He would lie on his back in the grass and look up at the clouds as if they were the eyes of the Old Man himself.  At five, in his youthful naiveté, he would believe that white and dark clouds were God and the Devil, arguing it out over something or other.  Roger would root for God's little white clouds the way baseball fans rooted for their home team.

By age eight, Roger was instructing his peers in religious matters.   Since his parents were not church-going people themselves, he held Sunday school classes in his backyard until the other kids in the neighborhood grew tired of his proselytizing and went home to watch cartoons.

Eloise couldn't tell you exactly when God sought her out, either.  At first, it was a little nudge of conscience.  A quiet, albeit annoying, little nag.  "Yeah yeah, ok," Eloise would mutter and shuffle off out of temptation's way, whether it be a dollar lying on a table or a nasty comment she was dying to make to someone.

Then the talking became louder and more frequent--as if God were lonely.  As if God wanted her opinion on things.  She once had a teacher who said that God loved to argue, as evidenced by Abraham's defense of Sodom and Gomorra.  "Well," Abe would begin, "what if there are only 20 good people.  Will you destroy those 20 because of everyone else?" and God would respond "Ok, if you find 20 good people, I will spare them all."  Then Abraham would up the ante.  "What if there are only 10?"  God would sigh and say "Ok, then I will spare those 10". And then Abraham would say "What if there are only 5?"  And so on.

Well, Eloise could certainly attest to that.  Oh boy, did the Big Guy love to argue!  Anything at all.  Politics.  Ethics.  Football.  Sex.

Sex was a particular bone of contention for Eloise.  In her younger days, His fanatical insistence on chastity had ruined more than a few of her dates.  Eloise and God would start arguing about sex, and she'd go stomping down the street, her jaw clenched, hands made into fists, arms swinging, taking large, purposeful strides, telling God how full of shit He was.

Yes, God's chattering at Eloise had become so strong and so constant that she couldn't focus on anything else.  She remembered quotes from the Bible saying "I am a jealous God" and boy, they weren't kidding!  God talked so loud she could no longer hear her boss, her coworkers, her husband, or her children. 

Eventually, Eloise lost her job.  The constant chattering coming from behind her cubicle was too distracting to her coworkers.  Not to mention her utter lack of productivity. And she kept accidentally typing God's name on all her memos and letters, which her boss was constantly having to explain away.  Her family put her in a hospital for a while, but eventually, funds ran out and the doctors had to admit that they were no match for the heavenly harangue, and so they sent her home.

Even with noise in her head, Eloise could see the effect this was having on her family.  So eventually she left.  She left behind a note that He'd helped her to write.  It had all of the old standards.  "You'll be better off, without seeing me like this everyday, your crazy old Mom fighting with God all the time."  The truth may set you free, but it was no day at the beach.  She made sure He knew that, too.  She was none too pleased with this turn that her life was taking.  But, there was not much she could do about it.  He kept reassuring her.  "Take up your cross and follow me," He would say.

That bugged the crap out of her.  It seemed to her that He was always quoting out of the Bible.  At least, as well as she could remember it.  It had been a while.  She kept admonishing Him to "get some fresher material, will ya?  I've heard that one already."  Geesh!  It was like a comedian who kept telling the same joke over and over again.

All Roger had ever wanted, from the time he was a small child, was to do God's work.  He would feel envious when he read the story of God's dove descending on the young man Jesus, declaring "This is my son, in whom I am well pleased."  Roger wanted that kind of public acknowledgment.

As Roger grew up, he read every book he could get his hands on about religion.  He set up a reading schedule for getting through the whole Bible--which he had done twice by the time he was 14.  His path was clear. 

Years later, though, something started to change.  Roger went to the seminary and had been at the top of his class.  His knowledge of scripture and his ability to make sense of things was keen.  He had become a minister and he and his wife and children were the proverbial pillars of their small community. 

But the voice grew louder and more demanding.  Roger was too comfortable.  He was preaching to the converted--or those who were as converted as they were going to get.  It seemed as if God were asking Roger, "What have you done for me lately?"

Roger was angry.  He had devoted his entire life to God.  What should he do differently?  For the first time ever, he questioned God and his own path.  In doubt and frustration, he opened his Bible, almost daring God to tell him what to do.  And on the page he turned to, there was the answer.  "Take up your cross and follow me."

Roger struggled to understand this message.  He thought he had already taken up the cross, but the voice seemed to deny him.  The nagging continued.  Day and night.  Through dinner, through Roger's sermons, delivered to the well-meaning members of his congregation, the fidgety children and the adults who would check their watches to remind him when he had gone on a little too long.  The voice became louder and more insistent than ever.  TAKE UP YOUR CROSS, ROGER, AND FOLLOW ME.

And so it happened that Roger decided to take a short sabbatical from his church.  He packed a small suitcase, and went to the city to preach the Good News in the streets.  At first he was afraid.  He had always lived in small towns, and had heard horror stories about big cities.  Would it be obvious that he didn't belong there?  Would anyone listen?  Worse yet, would he be arrested, mugged, beaten up?  What if he couldn't think of anything to say?  Street preachers were hardly encouraged in this day and age.  It wasn't exactly taught in his seminary.  He had never been prepared for anything like this.  Roger looked up to the sky and took a deep breath. "This was your idea."  He set down his briefcase, pulled out his Bible, and started to read out loud.

Today's discussion had become quite contentious, with Eloise shouting "So, you're telling me that I should cut off my hand rather than masturbate?  I thought my body was supposed to be a temple!"  "What're you lookin' at?" she demanded of disconcerted passersby.  "I'm trying to have a discussion with God here.  YOU MIND?"

At a nearby corner, Eloise heard a horrendous din.  Some man was standing on a corner, shouting.  She couldn't make out what it was, so loud was her own internal conversation.  In fact, she couldn't make out anything at all, just a bunch of screaming inside and outside of her head.  She felt the tension building, the blood coming up into her face as she stormed up to the corner where the man was standing, put her hands over her ears, looked up to the sky and screamed, "EVERYBODY SHUT THE HELL UP."

And then it was quiet.

Eloise looked up into Roger's face.  "What are you going on about over here?"

"Preaching God's word, like He told me to, Ma'am."

Eloise shook her head.  "Where does He find the time?  I guess He really is everywhere."  She peered back up at Roger.  "Hope you got some fresher material."

"Only material there is, Ma'am.  The Bible."

"Bah."  Eloise threw her hand behind her and walked away.

"God bless you, Sister," Roger called out after her.  Roger smiled and went back to his sermon.

As time went on, Eloise and Roger frequently crossed paths.  Some days Eloise would stop to argue with Roger, as it seemed to her that the two of them were getting some conflicting messages into their respective crania.  Some days, the sound of his voice, clashing with the cacophony in her head, would fill her with such anxiety that she would have to hurry off down some other street to get away.

Roger felt surprisingly good.  None of his worst fears had been borne out.  Most people were pretty friendly to him and a few people even stopped to chat from time to time.  And there was crazy Eloise to keep things lively.  She, too, was one of God's children, a very special one, it seemed to Roger, even if she did have some pretty odd ideas.  On occasion, he even bought her lunch so they could continue their conversations.  Of course, her end was always dotted with a side conversation, including bits like "Do you mind?  I'm trying to talk here."  She would frequently complain that God finished all her sentences.  She seemed an unlikely Bride of Christ, but who was Roger to judge?  Their lunches gave the Salvation Army folks a welcome break.  Eloise usually spent her time in line at the soup kitchen correcting some Captain or Major on the finer points of God's word.

Roger returned to his church, but continued to drive into the city everyday for a few hours.  And every night he brought home fascinating stories for his family about life in the city, and particularly about Eloise.  His sermons were crisper now and more colorful as he led his congregation into worlds that they did not normally visit, worlds where God spoke quite a different language and certainly moved in ways stranger than they were accustomed to.

Friday was one more day like that for Roger.  He walked up to the corner, as he had done every day, set his briefcase down, and pulled out his Bible, shouting to the people who were all rushing to get to work on time.

"The love of money is the root of all evil" he called out in a loud, clear voice.   "Slow down and get your lives straight.  The last days are here. Take time out to listen to God's voice.  The Lord is calling on you to take up the cross and follow Him."

Eloise, too, was out this morning, as she was every day, bright and early.  She would rather sleep in, of course, but God and the homeless shelter kept slightly earlier hours, a fact which she continually took up with both, but which neither were willing to give in on.  This particular morning, God was noisier than he'd ever been.  Not only was He chatting with Eloise, but he was having some side conversation with his angels, like someone who was yelling at their kids while they were on the phone with someone else.

Even the city seemed particularly noisy to Eloise today.  More cars honking honking and people pushing her forward down the sidewalks, tall men in suits striding, it seemed, right over her, as if they would just step on her if she did not duck and the exhaust from the buses filling up her lungs and people with pierced tongues and black lipstick frowning at her as she made her way through the city's thicket and the whole time God yelling at His kids and chattering in the background.

As the crowd moved Eloise involuntarily forward, she heard a familiar voice, loud above the million other assaults on her neurotransmitters.  The blood rushed into Eloise's head, pounding her eardrums, her heart beating faster and faster and finally she broke from the crowd and saw Roger standing in front of her, but Eloise did not recognize Roger as her friend and theological debate partner.   All she noticed was the noise coming from his corner as he belted out his daily sermon.  In one swift movement she picked up a large rock and lunged.

It all happened so fast Roger didn't know how to respond.  "Eloise.  Stop!"  He screamed as the rock hit against his head over and over.  This small woman was much stronger than he had realized.  "Eloise, Eloise, don't!"  he repeated.  "EVERYONE. . ." Eloise gasped as she pounded on Roger with the large stone in her hand "SHUT . . .  THE . . HELL  . . .UP!"

And then it was quiet.

A small circle formed around them.  A few people had pulled Eloise off of Roger, as he lay on the sidewalk, his head bloody and bruised.  Eloise broke away from her captors and looked down at Roger.  He was breathing shallowly.  The ambulance sirens could already be heard, getting louder and closer.

Eloise looked shaken for a moment.  Then Roger began to stir and it seemed that he was ok.  "Bah."  Eloise said as bystanders attended to Roger.  She brushed her hand behind her and shuffled off into the crowd, looking up and muttering, "See what you made me do?"
 
Laura Winton is a poet and theatre artist, who sometimes also writes prose, including short stories. Her work has been published in the US and the UK over the past 25 years and she herself published the journal Karawane: Or, the Temporary Death of the Bruistist, a journal devoted to experimental writers who also perform their work. She also published at one time the Hairy-Legged Man-Hating Feminist Gazette, which she assumes needs no further explanation.
* * *
Turf
By Wolfgang Wright​

               At first glance Norman thought it was an ad for marijuana, which was why it caught his attention, because who sells illegal substances in the classifieds?  But the rest was even stranger:  "Grass for sale:  2ft. from Shea '69, yr. of Miracle Mets."  Also listed were the price ($200), a phone number, and who to ask for:  Billy.  A scam.  It had to be.  Someone trying to dupe a few collection-crazy sports fans into purchasing sod he'd cut from his own backyard.  Still, at lunch, he said to a coworker, "Didn't your father own a nursery?"

           "Still does," said the coworker, a beefy brunette with a limp.

           "So he might know about grasses then, like how to tell their age?"

           "Age?  No.  It's not like trees, with rings you can add up.  What's this about?"

           "Nothing.  That my piece or yours?"

                                                                                          *   *   *

            Norman called the number anyway, when the office was sufficiently busy so no one would hear.  It rang six times before a man's voice finally answered.

           "Yeah?"

           "Hello, I'm looking for Billy."

           "You got him, Mac."

           "Yes, I'm calling about your ad, the one in—"

           "For the motorcycle or the grass?"

           "The…the grass."

              "It ain't pot I'm selling," Billy said.  "You understand it ain't pot."

               "I'm not interested in pot, sir.  I'm interested in what you're selling.  I'd like to know more about it."

           "It's like the ad says.  Two feet of turf from Shea."

           "Square feet?"

           "No, rectangular.  You're a Mets fan, right?  I ain't selling to anyone who ain't a Mets fan."

           "My father.  He used to live out there.  It's for him."  He nodded to one of the partners passing his desk.  "Let me ask you this.  How are you…authenticating this turf for potential buyers?"

           "Authenticating?  Oh, you mean how am I proving it's the real deal.”

           "Correct."

           "Listen, I'm kind of busy right now.  Why don't you swing by my place tomorrow and I'll let you have a look at the goods, okay, Mac?"

                                                                               *   *   *

                "Two hundred dollars?"  His wife was at the mirror, undoing her earrings.  He had already undressed and was lying naked on the bed, waiting for her to join him.  "How do you even know it's what he says it is?"

           "He says he's got proof."

           "What kind of proof?"

           "I don't know.  Ticket stubs maybe.  He'll show me tomorrow."

           "Tomorrow?  You're going over there?"

           "Couldn't hurt to have a look.  Why?"

           His wife shrugged.  "It just seems like a lot for something your father may not want.  I've never even heard him mention the Mets before, or baseball for that matter.  I thought he liked football.  Isn't that how you hurt your shoulder?"

           "No, I—he'll like it, okay?  He has to.  The Mets were all he used to talk about until I was born."

           "Until you were born?  What does your birth have to do with it?"

           "Nothing.  I just want to get him something he'll appreciate for once."

           His wife unzipped her dress and let it fall.  She came over and lay down next to him, entangling her fingers in a tuft of hair on his chest.  "I get that.  But two hundred dollars?  What are your sisters getting him?"

           "I don't know.  I just want to have a look.  That's all."

           "That's fine, I just don't want you getting your hopes up.  Your father is who he is, and one gift's not going to change his opinion of you, as erroneous as that opinion may be."  She kissed him and crawled on top.  "Now let's forget about it.  Time for sex."

                                                                                        *   *   *

              It was in fact rectangular.  Two feet long and one foot wide.  Billy even brought out a yardstick and measured it, as if the dimensions might be a sticking point.

           "Go ahead, Mac, run your fingers through it.  Now how's that feel?"

            "How come you grow it in here?"

            "It's a sunroom, it's perfect.  Like a greenery in here."

            "Greenhouse."

              "That's it, Mac.  I knew green was in there somewhere.  Speaking of which, you got the scratch?"

             "There's still the matter of how you're authenticating—"

           "Way ahead of you, Mac," and Billy ducked into the house.  Quickly, Norman scanned the backyard for signs of corruption.  But the lawn out there was a different species altogether, with a different texture and a different hue of green.  Behind it there was a garden, well tended with peas and corn and what looked like pumpkins.

           "Son of a—" Billy said upon his return.

           "What?"

           "I forgot to have you take off your shoes.  The wife's adamant about her carpet.  Ah, screw it, you're already in," and he handed over a yellowed newspaper, pointing to a picture on the front of the sports section.  "That's my pops.  Good looking fella, ain't he?"

           Norman looked up.  "You're father went to the game?"

           "Tore out the first chunk.  Least that's how he told it.  But the grass is legit."

           "Sounds like it has some sentimental value for you.  How come you're selling it?"

           "The wife's sick of watering anything that don't produce food.  You've seen the garden."

           "Yes, I see."

             "Besides, I'm in to apparel now.  Got my eyes on a Josh Hamilton jock strap.  Something the matter, Mac?"

           "No, it's…my father, he was supposed to go to the game too."

           "Yeah?  What happened?"

           "My mother went in to labor."

                                                                              *   *   *

               Without telling him, Norman's sisters had pooled their money together and bought their father a hot tub for his hip.  And trunks, to discourage him from using it in the nude.  In light of this, Norman's present seemed even weirder.

           "You bought him grass?" the first sister said.

           "No, it's memorabilia."

           "What's he supposed to do with it?" the second sister said.

           "You know, appreciate it."

           "But it's grass," the third sister said.

           "Dad?  What do you think?"

           But his father said nothing.  He was too busy weeping.
Wolfgang Wright is a novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter from North Dakota. He also stocks groceries.
* * *
Swiftly He Rode 
By Nolan Yard

          Dalton had not slept for days it seemed. He had shut his eyes mere minutes in a twenty-four hour period.  He spurred his horse forward in the evening fog thick enough to make an owl squint. The horse he now rode was full of new life, as he had changed rides at a stable thirty miles back. The ostler recommended he rest. Dalton did not hear him.

           His mind was on one thing - to get his cousin back. She had been taken into the woods by masked men and held for ransom. The scoundrels did not want money. They wanted Dalton's uncle to turn himself in to British authorities. Loyalist agents. Cowards.

           His eyelids felt like anchors and his body a weighted sack. As the chill night air stirred the trees along the mud-ridden road, so too did Dalton's restless body sway. The thick mist swooped down from the surrounding woods and his horse slowed from gallop to quick trot. He thought about kicking his boots into the beast's sides, but his body did not respond. He slowly lurched forward and drifted into sleep, his head nestled against the horse's mane.

           "Sir," he felt himself being shaken. "Mr. O'Connor! You must awake, sir. Your uncle...he's waiting to speak with you." Out of a disoriented haze Dalton could make out his uncle's servant and the silhouette of the opulent two-story abode behind him.

                                                                                                     ***

          

           He stepped into his uncle, Piers's study. There he sat by the fireplace, a bible opened upside down in his lap. Dalton always knew Piers as a stern man, an outspoken defender of principle, and he was not surprised when his uncle was chosen as one of the leading delegates of his colony to the Second Continental Congress. But on this night he looked feeble and haggard, the lines on his face further accentuated by a poignant expression that failed to leave his visage upon hearing the news that his sole daughter was taken hostage.   

           "She is our only flower," he said, his eyes turned from his nephew. "We could not bear it...not getting her back. Your aunt has been weary all day. She finally has gone to bed, having slept little last night." He continued to stare off, appearing to look beyond the dying embers of the fireplace.

           "Uncle, I will do my utmost to return Celia to our family."

           The rheumy eyes turned to face him. "I know you will, lad." And after gently clearing his throat, "I trust Washington was loathe to part with you?"

           "On the contrary, uncle. When he heard of the circumstances and witnessed my distress, he bade me Godspeed. He even offered the assistance of my fellow colleagues, but my understanding was that recovering Celia requires covert methods."

           "Indeed, lad. Our servant, William, was how we found out where she'd be taken. He was in the carriage when the ruffians stopped the coach. They killed Henry, our poor driver, when he tried to resist with his pistols. They threatened William with his life, and he did not resist when they snatched our Celia and rode off with her." He paused and took a sip of brandy from the side table. "By the grace of God, William overheard one of the riders say 'Eastburgh' - a name, as you know, of a town practically in possession of a portion of King George's army and the Loyalist regiments, since they are camped close by."

           "I shall have no trouble reaching Connecticut by afternoon tomorrow, uncle. That note they sent you - to turn yourself in for the release of your daughter - you can burn it along with those logs." Dalton pointed towards the warm, glowing light. "I will find her."

           "You have served your country well, having thwarted England's devious plans to rid our colonies of delegates and generals alike. I have full confidence in you, Dalton. The enemy will come to regret the victimizing of young women belonging to our family."

                                                                                                 ***

           Dalton got his much needed rest. After a hearty breakfast prepared by his uncle's servants, he talked with William about his experience. The two spoke in another room so as not to disturb his aunt and uncle's morning meal and further their agony. William told him much of the same account his uncle had described. There were three heavily armed kidnappers who had attacked the coach. Evidently they expected some resistance, but they only had to contend with the unfortunate driver, Henry.

           The next bit of news was that the group was all dressed in civilian clothes, corroborating Dalton's theory that they were either redcoat agents, Loyalist collaborators, or both. Whatever the case, Dalton was ready to free them of their newest acquisition.

           Dalton remained stoically strong as he bade farewell to his aunt and uncle. The tears in their eyes only fueled his determination. He rode for miles towards the heart of Connecticut colony, well rested and callous to his steed's rhythmic gallop.

           It was a damp, dreary day, the land thick with fog. He rode past scattered farms with great red and brown barns and small homespun dwellings. Passing thick forests, he could make out the craggy slopes of the high ground. He saw dark spaces between the jagged rocks, hideouts for any manner of creature – from badger to panther, or even the Indian.

           Hours of riding felt like mere minutes to him. He reminisced of the times he spent looking after Celia. The hide and seek on the estate. The horseback riding with her and her friends. The afternoon journeys through the symphonic woods. His memories only served to make him curse the anonymous agents who took her away.

                                                                                                    ***

            Eastburgh appeared out of a bend in the road, surrounded by trees on both sides. Puffs of smoke rose from the chimneys on opposite sides of the thoroughfare. It was a small town, mainly of shopkeepers and farmers. There were few men still around. The young had left to join Washington's army, and the elderly stayed behind to toast the volunteers' courage in the taverns.

           After housing his horse in the town stable, it was to one of these taverns Dalton went. As he stepped inside, he immediately smelled the tobacco smoke of pipes and those who puffed the rolled leaf in the Spanish style. The place was filled with old farmers adorned in torn, shabby coats and tricorns with patches and holes.

           Many of the customers casted uneasy glances towards him. A division of the British army had passed through, and the townsfolk had kept their ideals quiet. Even now they were wary of any newcomer who may be an agent of the crown.

           Dalton stepped up to the bar table and ordered a pint of ale. He spoke to the tavern-keeper and found out that the British army had passed through less than a fortnight. He talked little, for he did not know whose prying ears resided in the surrounding rooms. Casting a quick glance opposite of the bar, Dalton made out no young, rugged types suited to kidnapping his cousin.

           He did find an open table between a cluster of others, which were occupied by gray-haired farmers with withered faces. He past the time in conversation with a few of these characters, and by the time he had nearly finished his second draught, a pair of ominous men dressed in dark, mud-stained clothes stepped in from the darkening evening.

Both were very large in stature, one more portly than the other, but just as intimidating as his partner. The larger of the two had a thick beard and wore a dirtied tricorn, while his less robust companion showed a large scar on his cheek and a hatless head with unclean, overgrown dark hair. A few of the drinking denizens turned heads in their direction, only to quickly reverse the decision. These were men who had made it known that their privacy be undisturbed.

           Dalton leaned and talked with the simple farmers, so as to appear that he had no interest in the newcomers. As he talked, he did not shy his eye away from them – for he knew that these men had to do with Celia’s capture. He took his time finishing the last sips of his second drink – a good three quarters of an hour. By then, the two had become somewhat besotted with the contents of their mugs. The scarred one had attempted discord with a few who sat at an opposite table. The talk was political – and mostly one sided.

           “Make no mistake,” the ruffian spoke boisterously. “The crown has made numerous attempts to reconcile the colonies’ petty grievances. But the unruly, spoiled child scorns his own mother’s help.” Spit flew from his pungent mouth. His companion smirked, showing rampantly discolored enamels.

           The recipient of the brunt of his speech merely nodded, so as if to give the impression that he was, at the least, partially listening to the drunken chat. The gesture meant nothing to the rogue, for he grabbed the fragile arm of the old man and shook it violently.

           “Ah so you agree with me?” he said, his grip hard. “You shriveled toad!” He looked around at the starring faces. “All of you would lie, for fear that my friend and I would beat your heads in like that last...discontent.” Mouths remained closed.

           The drunkard let go of his elder and laughed aloud and was soon joined by his compatriot. They both turned from the annoyed onlookers, quickly finished their ales, and exited the smoke filled tavern.

           Dalton paid and tipped the barman, close behind the kidnappers. Stepping into what was now the cold chill of night, he could make out the hot air of horse breath as the two men rode their mounts out of the nearby stable.

                                                                                                           ***

            It did not take him long to catch up with their pace down the country road that lead to a path in the woods. He stayed a few hundred feet behind, his horse keeping a steady but quiet stride. All he could think of was Celia. Was she given enough food and water? Anything to warm her from the chill night and inclement weather? Was she confined in a dark, pinched space? These thoughts grumbled in Dalton’s mind, and poked at him like a bloodletting needle.

           They were now on the forest trail, which was less of a trail and more of a makeshift path littered with brambles and bushes and interrupted with tall pines and birches. The three riders slowed their gallop, and Dalton was forced to stay further back, for his horse could not help but crunch leaves and twigs beneath its heavy hooves. The occasional owl and nightbird screeched in conjunction with the howling wind.

           Dalton slowed his horse to a stop as he watched those he followed descend a slight rise to where the terrain dropped. Large stones dotted the ground and he could see that they headed for a large hollow. It appeared to be an entrance to a series of caverns, which happened to be adjacent to a large rustling brook, with a heavy flow that angled down with the dip of the land. At the opening to the rock outcrop was another horse tied to a nearby oak trunk.

           As the riders stepped down from their mounts, another man came into view from the rocky opening. There was conversation but Dalton could not make out what they were saying. The two riders had brought food from the town, evidently purchased prior to their drunken escapade earlier that evening. Their movements were obscured by the darkness, but fortunately the moon was full enough to keep the night somewhat illuminated.

           Having tied his horse to tree a hundred feet back, Dalton now inched closer down the declining ground, careful not to disturb any leaves or branches for fear of being heard. He had to find someway to get inside the cave without alerting the kidnappers. Likely, these were trained soldiers dressed in civilian clothes, so as to hide their affiliation with his majesty’s troops.

           He could dispatch one at a time with the butt end of his tomahawk, keeping quiet all the while. There could be complications, as he may not be able to get to one guard without another knowing. He would have to wait till they were all weary with sleep. One would be put on night watch, but he doubted the man would not be snoring himself.

           Dalton moved away from the dark clothed men and the mouth of the cave. With the help of moonlight, he could make out the shapes of large boulders that led to the steady stream. There had to be some type of mineral springs beneath the ground and flowing water. Thousands of years and pressure from hot gases jutted limestone and similar rocks up from the depths below. As Dalton crossed the stream – managing to use small stones that prevented his boots from dampening – he could make out another dip in the terrain. Hoping it to be another entrance to the hollow, Dalton descended closer to a cluster of great rocks with dark spaces in between.

           He did not see anyone around, nor were there any horses or supplies set out. Moving carefully around the protruding stones, he stepped up to a gaping black opening. Instinctively and with great quickness he pulled the tomahawk from his side belt. There was the sense that something lurked in the darkness between the rocks – a sense he had come to know at a young age, living among the natives in the deep forests. Men were not the only dangers prevalent in the depths of the wilderness.

           Backing up slowly, he made out the penetrating yellow eyes of something near the mouth of the hollow. Then followed the whiskers and thick jaws of a great cat. Emerging from the dark, the thing locked its eyes on him, never turning its head. Dalton cursed himself for his ill luck. He could tell the creature had not fed in a while, and that he was its targeted meal.

           Dalton struggled to move back up the slope, slipping in the dirt and fallen foliage. He kept his grip tight on the tomahawk in hand, using his free arm to hoist himself up and steady his balance. The great cat moved stealthily after him, biding its time when it would crouch and strike.

           He slipped again, his feet sliding beneath him and landing on his back. The cat moved quicker, beginning its half crouch movement. He could hear voices from the other side of the slope where the kidnappers were. Had they heard him? Whatever the case, he needed to focus on the issue at hand. Steadying himself, he stood on his feet, continuing to back away. Meanwhile, his hunter inched closer by the second, mere feet from him.

           He could see its large, muscular form, now seeping low to the ground in anticipation for attack. Its tale whipped in a flash and a low guttural growl filled the quiet night. Dalton sprinted to the top of the rise, reaching steady ground. The cat leaped for him. He darted to the left, avoiding its shredding claws as they swiped. It swooped around a tree and he could see the eyes gleam once more as it made its way back to him.

           In the moonlight, the creature looked like a stalking phantom ready to unleash death on its prey. Dalton tightened his grip on the tomahawk and dagger he pulled from his boot. He continued to back away from it to give himself more time to react. In a split-second, it was in the air leaping at him. The sheer force of the impact forced him to lose balance and hit the hard ground. Jagged canines and a crunching maw went for his jugular.

           Dalton put up his left arm, barely fending off the bite. As he blocked the attack, he tried to angle the knife to puncture one of its eyes, but the cat’s weight pushed him back. He could start to feel its razor nails tear through his clothes and seep into his indefensible skin. He tried to maneuver out from under the beast, but it seemed to trap him like a colossal anvil. He lay on his right side, attempting to slide away from its grasp.

           Somehow he was able to flatten his back and free his right arm. He quickly flung his tomahawk into the side of the great cat, and it let out a shrill cry of pain while releasing the tight grip of its claws. Dalton was up on his feet, his weapons held tight. The cat limped after him, hissing in agitation and anger. It sprang for him again. This time Dalton was ready.

           He swung the bloodied axe blade, striking the creature in the side of the neck, and in the same instant made powerful jabs with the dagger into its heart. Another cry filled the night, this time the cry of death. The cat fell limp to Dalton’s side, convulsed, then let out its lengthened last breath. Blood dripped from minor gashes, but otherwise Dalton remained unscathed.

                                                                                                       ***

           He inspected his cuts which, fortunately, were not deep and bled little. Stepping over the feline’s lifeless body, Dalton moved swiftly to the crevices at the opposite side of the cave’s mouth. Loose rocks and pebbles caused him to slide from time to time. He managed to make little noise, finding an opening that led underground.

           The echo of rushing water filled his ears as darkness enveloped him. He made his way blindly into the cave, gripping his tomahawk in case any other creature of the night should be on the prowl. The way was uneven and clumpy, a mixture of sediment and rock concocted by centuries of subterranean water flow and erosion. Just as the lack of light began making movement difficult between the jutting cavern walls and boulders, Dalton noticed a feint illuminated space to his left.

           Moving towards the luminescence, he discerned the flowing water getting louder. Turning a corner of jagged limestone, there came in view a swiftly moving underground stream made visible by numerous openings above – cracks in the craggy sediment of the cave that gave way to rays of a full summer moon. The wide open cave ceiling gave it a cathedral-like aura, the tall spires of cavern rock and limestone sediment resembling the pipes of the gargantuan German organs Dalton had heard of from his hymn playing uncle.

           For a moment, Dalton stood in awe of the sublimity of the scene, when in the distance he made out glowing shadows. He knew this to be a different kind of light – that of a fire or torch. It was coming from across the stream as it lead down through the swirl of caverns and natural pools carved out through the centuries. As his eyes followed the waterway down, he made out a blocked passage where the rock and solidified sediment created a wall over the stream. Dalton would have to submerge himself to get through to where the firelight was coming from, for there was no other way for him to maneuver to that side of the caverns.

           He knew not how long he would have to dip his head below water, nor if there were openings in the rock large enough for his body to fit through. What he did know was that he had no choice. He needed to get to Celia and get her home. The thought of her being mistreated, malnourished and utterly alone tore at his heart like a cannonball through a battle flag. Taking off his coat, he made his way to where the stream bubbled and flowed beneath the rugged rock.

           He jumped in and was immediately swept underneath the above obstruction. His shirt caught on a protruding stone as he was submerged. A sense of urgency came over him as there were no air pockets, only narrow uneven rock touching the water. He managed to tear his clothing free and soon flowed into an opening closer to the glowing, manmade light.

           Raising his head above the water, he pulled himself out of the current along the edge of the cavern walls. Around a corner to his right, he could hear voices near the firelight. He inched his way closer, knife and tomahawk in hand. The light was feint enough to help mask his approach, and he was able to peak his head in the direction of the kidnappers. There were two of them talking by the low fire. And there was Celia.

           She lay asleep to her captors’ left, her dress shabby and filth-ridden. He could not see her face, but he knew his cousin by her golden hair. Dalton knew he would have to wait till the two men were asleep before he made his move. He kept his weapons close.

                                                                                                          ***

           The fire was almost out. No more talking. Rushing water mingled with the nasally sound of men in slumber. Dalton moved in. The cavern floor was uneven and he was weary, but undeterred. His foot slid noisily. A voice spoke – it was soon muffled by the blunt end of a tomahawk connecting with skull. With one dispatched, he turned to the other kidnapper who was now awake. He yelled a name and for aid.

           Dalton saw him searching for his flintlock pistol, but it was dark and he reached the man before he could fire. He raised his tomahawk as a club the second time. This time his opponent caught his arm, and both struggled in front of the dying embers of the fire-pit. Moonlight seeping in from cracks above cast silhouettes of the two grappling bodies on the cavern walls. Dalton heard the startling exclamation of his cousin.

           The kidnapper had loosened Dalton’s hold of his knife and it fell to the bedrock. He now lay on the ground, his enemy on top of him, stopping the hand carrying the axe blade. An iron grip squeezed Dalton’s throat. He felt feeble – the long hours of riding, tracking, and wrestling with a great cat had sapped his strength. He moved his hand along the ground and it began to burn. He let out a cry of pain as he released the cloud of hot ash in into the face of the man choking him. Now the kidnapper cried out. Dalton was free, using his tomahawk as a club. His enemy was soon unconscious.

           In the darkness, he told Celia who he was. She was quickly in his arms trembling, then backing away. Dalton turned. Through a passageway to his left, Dalton saw another figure. The third kidnapper on guard. The one whose name was called by his compatriot moments before. Dalton whirled to the cavern floor as a pistol shot off, the bullet flying harmlessly over his head and ricocheting deep into the reverberating cavern. His opportunity missed, the last guard took off down the opposite end of the passageway. Dalton did not pursue, for the man had an advantageous head start and would most likely not be returning.

           Cautiously, Dalton led Celia to the entrance of the caves. The third guard had indeed fled. The two of them rode off on Dalton’s horse in the direction of the American encampment a few miles west of that of the British. Exhausted and with no stamina to move on, they made camp in the middle of the night.

          

                                                                                                              ***

Dalton had dozed only for an hour or so. He realized his error in not moving out sooner. The grey dawn had arrived and so did the sound of pursuing hoof beats. The guard that ran off must have notified fellow redcoats of the two who had escaped the caverns. Dalton could hear the cavalry troopers in the distance, stealthily searching the woods for their camp.

He awoke Celia and, not having time to haul the weight of his supply bag, grabbed the two loaded pistols inside. They were soon at full gallop reaching the end of the forest tree line. Dalton could hear the alerted troopers in pursuit – their shouts and gunshots. Trees splintered feet around their lowered heads as they rode for the American camp.

They made the clearing and rode hard across the open farmland, barely half a mile from the encampment. Celia was in front, Dalton’s body acting as a shield from whizzing musket balls. Tall white tents began to come into view. Dalton shouted towards the emptying lodgings to garner attention. Blue-coated soldiers and drab-clothed riflemen scrambled for their muskets as the scene unfolded before them.

Dalton looked back and could see a red-coated officer in full pursuit. He heard a close pop, then was hit. He flew off the horse and hit the ground, his world wobbling and fading into nothing.

                                                                                                       ***

           He awoke in a soft bed in the early evening. A cool, refreshing breeze hit his face as it flapped the canvas at the entrance to the tent. Looking over, he noticed a familiar face.

           “Mr. Hamilton,” Dalton said whimsically, despite his condition.

“Good to have you back, sir,” his friend replied. “Celia is quite alright. She visited you earlier, but you were still concussed. You were lucky. The ball passed through your shoulder before you managed to knock yourself unconscious by falling off your horse. It took two Pennsylvania riflemen to drag you into camp.”

           “King George almost got me.”

           “That he did. Fortunately, those mounted dragoons thought better of taking on an entire American camp packed full of some of our finest regiments.”

           “Why are you here? Are you not indispensible to Washington?” Dalton said as he inspected the bandages covering his right shoulder.

           “I believe it is you he cannot do without.” Hamilton handed him a sealed note. “He needs your inquisitive skills regarding the bickering between the northern generals. There is suspicion that a British agent is spreading false rumors and making the commanders’ close aides disappear. And this has been occurring on the eave of a planned British invasion from Canada. Naturally, he wants you up there to investigate. After a few days of recovery, of course.”

           Dalton nodded. He would see Celia home, and soon be off. He wondered what was brewing in the army camped in northern New York colony. Whatever the case, he would follow the orders of his commander-in-chief.
 
Nolan Yard enjoys writing historical fiction.
* * *
Creative Nonfiction
 
The Question of Pigs
By Sara Whitestone
Like most little girls, I loved Wilbur the Pig in the book, Charlotte's Web and cried when I read of his victory over slaughter. But even then, at eight years old, my mind was asking questions. Are humans different from animals? If so, how? The power that fictitious pig had over me was a human one. Wilbur could speak. He had a mind and emotions just like mine. To me, Wilbur had become a person.

But was he? In reality, are pigs or goats or chickens or dogs people? Or is there a fundamental difference between humans and animals?

My son, who is studying philosophy (and, incidentally, whose favorite food is bacon), proposes an answer to that question in this way: plants have bodies, animals combine bodies and spirits, but only humans inhabit the triad of body, spirit, and soul.

While we may debate farming practices and their environmental impacts, humans don't question our need to eat plants. After all, we can't even chew rocks. But perhaps a deeper answer for our guilt-free vegetarian consumption lies in our view of what plants are. While George Washington Carver spent hours talking to flowers, most of us don't find conversation with plants relationally satisfying. Animals, however, have bodies that are more similar to ours—with eyes to see and ears to hear—so we feel more closely aligned to them. But when we add to that the concept of the spirit—that hard-to-define entity that gives animals personality and the almost-human characteristics of happiness and pain—it is that emotional tie that fuels our concern.

But what wolf pack, in a pre-hunt council, discusses the ethics of killing a baby moose? Or what hawk, in his dive toward earth, feels sorry for the rabbit below? The very fact that we as humans ask questions about right and wrong, and that we compassionately agonize over our answers, proves our souls' vitality. It is our three-chord strand of body, spirit, and soul that sets us above the rest of nature, but it is also this gift that requires us to wrestle with our responsibilities toward nature—to care for in it ways that sustain and replenish it—as only we, as humans, can.

In one way or another there will always be death in order to sustain life. Do we command the robins outside our windows to stop eating mosquitoes? We might implore our cats to forswear hunting mice, but will they listen? If we can’t impose our moral doubts onto animals, then we also should be careful not to project our human feelings into them. If I swat a fly, will the rest of the swarm accuse me of murder? That idea, like so many others, is a purely human one.

If we reject that animals are lesser beings than people, then all of us, morally, must become vegan. But if I accept that I am, with all other humans, a steward of nature, then I will view both plants and animals as having purpose--some for cultivated beauty, others for food, some as pets, and others as majestically wild. Because it's healthy for my body, I choose to eat mostly fruits and vegetables. But then, occasionally, when my son comes home from graduate school, I can pull the meat out of the freezer that I bought from my organic farming friend and wake the house to the aroma of sizzling bacon.

And I can be thankful even to that fanciful pig, Wilbur, who, by confronting me with questions, served a purpose in my life after all.
Sara Whitestone is a writer, photographer, and teacher. In exchange for instruction in English, her international students introduce her to the mysteries of the world. Whitestone works have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Prime Numbers Magazine, Winchester Life, The Piedmont Virginian, Summerset Review, North Carolina Literary Review, BootsnAll, Wilderness House Literary Review, and many others. Whitestone discovers writing through travel, and her current work-in-progress is a literary thriller set in Europe that is inspired by true events. 
* * *
Poetry
 
Poems by Joshua Berida
Left Behind
We used to lie on a bed of grass beneath the dark auroras.
The stars whisper to us in their tiny, innocent voices.
Telling us names of constellations,
Orion, The Big Dipper, Cancer, Andromeda.
Their ancient counterparts whose names
we no longer understand.
Gravity,
with its soft hands firmly keeping us close,
near the bent knees of the heavens.
We enjoy the ordered chaos that the stars
present to us.
The laughter of the crescent moon,
The smile of the dark skies.
You have grown fond of the heavens,
its newness and empty beginnings,
astound you.
You felt the flapping of the wings of the wind
The secret gardens, the intricate language of birds.
You now speak a language I no longer understand.
Meanwhile
I,
remain flightless.
Grounded.
A metaphor with birds for wings.
Remind me what it’s like to say a prayer,
tell me what it’s like to be a bird.
 
The City 
The story seems to start at the end of each funeral.
The last whispers and faint hellos.
Each spoken word is like pollen of fond memories.
I walk closer, hesitantly
at the casket laid down
on a pedestal.
There is something about that box,
carefully chosen, measured,
chiseled,
and painted.
It is assuring to know that you stopped moving
so I could tell you with my presence,
and not with my lips,
that there is something
beyond the summit
in the green mountains of Mt. Batulao.
Your shell is the only thing that stands between me
and a hazy mirror.
Quite frankly, I understand now.
Your broken English interspersed with
Filipino words that I can vaguely comprehend.
The creases on your brow seemed to fade,
creating a knowing look on your face,
childlike,
that I haven't seen in a long time.
 
Sunset
The sun set on Manila Bay,
like she always said.
She would recount the stories
of how the red sky reminded her
of a dream she had the night before.
Of how her father picked her up
at school when she was in the sixth grade.
And when her mother decided to patch and paint
the tattered walls, when her younger brother died.
Those were her kind of stories,
vague,
but very vivid.
No details. No names.
Anonymous.
That's how she wanted it.
Distance kept her free,
above the clouds
and away from pain.
She recounted, with great alacrity,
the time she realized that the Manila sun set
was an illusion made by pollution.
There is nothing there but dark clouds
from exhaust pipes and factories,
she would say.
I covered her eyes with my hands,
stood as close as I can get.
I felt her eyelashes on my palms,
like ants biting on my skin.
Her skin went from warm to cold
on the tips of my fingers.
I wanted to tell her something about the sunset,
I wanted her to illuminate the fragments of the past,
and revive the remnants of the present,
but no words came to my mouth.
I wanted her to feel something
familiar, childlike.
My hands slipped from the cliff-like bridge of her nose,
free falling into the jagged rocks of my empty pockets.
I slumped back on the bench and looked up at the reddish sky.
Its magic waning, its luster rusted on the edge of the copper clouds.
What's the matter David? Is there something wrong?
That was the first time she called me by that name since we met.
I smiled and gave her a knowing look.
Nothing really.
Its been a while.
How long has it been since we met? I asked.
Ever since I can remember, she said.
I smiled,
Let's go Teresa.
The sun set behind us,
and with it the shadows that hung over our heads.
 
Monster
He wanted to know what lurked in the shadows,
something mother was so afraid to reveal.
He often asked his mother
"Mother who was in there in the shadows?"
"Someone I used to love,"
she would often reply.
"Why would you keep someone you used to love
in the shadows?" he would often ask.
"One day you will understand my love,"
she would often reply.
As a child, he once remembered a man
with furry arms and dark eyes,
carry him through the kitchen
and out into the lawn.
The sound of his familiar voice,
the booming sound and low rumble,
it was laughter.
Then he was gone,
with no trace but a faint smell,
and a trail of shadows.
Broken bottles, blood stained sheets,
and wounded hands hid behind
his mother's smile.
"Where is he? Where is that man?" the boy asked his mother one last time.
His mother folded his clothes, like she always does.
"There he is...There he is in the shadows," she said.
She opened the closet, its darkness hugged her.
"Why won't you let him out?"
She put the folded clothes in the closet.
One on top of another, neatly folded and brushed.
"I turned him that way...I asked him to be someone else."
She went downstairs and washed the dishes.
A faint whisper was dangled by the wind,
knocked on the glass, and peered through the windows.
Plates clanged. Glasses were put down.
There was a wiping of sweat, a drying of wet lips.
His mother turned the faucet,
a drop of water turned into a deluge.
"Then you can turn him back!" the boy exclaimed.
His mother turned and held him by the hand,
the two went back upstairs into the bedroom.
The mother knelt by the closet, and took the boy by the hand.
She opened the closet slowly, its dark peering eyes entered the room.
The plain clothes, the checkered ties, and black pants
stood still in front of them.
"Let me tell you a story of a man I once knew," his mother said.
 
Joshua Berida lives and writes in the Philippines. He sidelines as an adventurer looking for some place to wander in, and masquerades as a writer to create new worlds. He writes down his wanderings in The Wandering Juan.
* * *
Poems by Aaron Brand
Bill's Tavern Pastoral

Outside, I saw
in all of its dumpy, serene glory,
Cheney, WA. Through the window
of Bill's Tavern an orange sun
smudges my evening, September
in a new place. A dust storm
wraps the sky in blur blankets
when I sense, somehow, the electric
boiling inside myself, nerves shifty
in the dust and brown décor. Turgid
sky of lukewarm milk
and gray lint: pink fists of cloud
struggle in the turmoil, slug it out
about space and time.

Below, yellow and mute, shorn hills
still glow like paper lanterns
cradling the core of earth:
elbows and arcing back,
belly forms all
jostle to define the planned patches
of rolling farmland.

The bar looks out
on stout grain silos, silent
as Protestant church pews between prayers.
A railroad sneaks by
as if with that last watery Rainier
tipped back for good
we're going to be out of here
soon, ready to roll along the iron lines, spin
our wheels of boxcar dreams. I long
for graffiti of the heart, and as I sip
a virtual moonscape rubs against the language
of horizons. I want to shut up
about past lives and hear the jazz of tractors.

But it's here inside the hurricane prose

of the bar that I can still listen
as the tavern talks
around me. I'm going to roll,
she chirps. Snake eyes and sixes
for jukebox money. Her man speaks
of how Hindus do it that way.
And overheard: Lock them all up, out of sight
and then, Just one more for tonight…
I hear the cue ball is more certain
than Patsy Cline on matters of true love,
so I smoke a third Lucky Strike.
If that were my daughter,
I'd kill him, says Jim in town
from Alaska, sawdust and grease in his beard, and maybe
I would, too, though not tonight.

Desert of Indirection
Your pickup stalls in Leaves of Grass, the clutch
like a bad line break. You hoof it to shelter,
a roadside ditch. Weeds and winds tell you
to smoke up Lucky Strikes, then breathe in
the explosion of stars. Get up, you say
to yourself, be the unrolling of words
out of a fishnet stocking.
The Ford in the mint fields -- blossoms
leaning into the wind, bringing knees
to lonely places: light of
the first page. Turn to
passing cars with night
inside the gaze of each passenger:
sweatshirts zipped up
like cocoons. The lake
of your smile.
Thoughts worn out
like old fishing line, tense
and ready to snap.

Bad Safari
Here, help me remove
the poacher's arrow.
Wound me, I heal.
Increasingly fragmented
in this territory,
this functional wild.

An orphan, I miss
too much.
Life's a mixture
of what's human
with cracked coconuts. Me?

Still shy and angry
about losing
dreamlike scenes:
a mud bath and blankets
of night, elephant beds
near Nairobi,
starlight simplicity.
Wild counterparts
and memories, traumas
in South Africa.
Small radios
perch in the arms
of precocious kids,
establishing position
in their mammalian brains.
 
Aaron Brand's poetry has appeared in StringTown, Mad Swirl, Nebo: A Literary Journal and Firebush: Journal of Poetry. A graduate of the M.F.A. program at Eastern Washington University, he is an arts and entertainment features reporter at the Texarkana Gazette newspaper in Texarkana, Texas.
 
* * *
Poems by Graeme Brasher
The Time It Takes
My ceiling is a white universe,
The spherical lamp-shade
A world suspended in the firmament:
Contours highlighted, a sprinkling of dust;
The air-conditioning unit
Is a vast starship probing its past.
All are white with clinical perfection.
No stars are visible, no sun;
Only in silence they orbit
The bed I am on.
I wonder suddenly at the space I comprise.
Yet I am sure the inhabitants
Are too preoccupied to notice 
This gargantuan figure down here:
They must be far too busy calculating
The light years to Mars

Then Sing
“I grow flowers in my garden. What do you grow?”
“Thorns of spite.”
“How do you grow them?”
“With all my might.”
“So the swans do not swim here?”
“No more. They nest
And then flee.”
“I have not been to the estuary
This year. What goes there?”
"The fiddler swallows air and lays
Along the meniscus of the
Swollen sea and seems
To sing of the dusk and
The ocean’s skin.”
“What do we learn?”
“Nothing. Unless you have gills.”
“I have wings.”
“Then sing.”
 
Graeme Brasher is an Australian teacher of English, Theory of Knowledge and Chinese at an international school in Hong Kong. He writes sporadically for the sheer pleasure of words and sounds and in pursuit of clarity about issues and experiences that vex or inspire him.
 
* * *

Poems by Heather Cadenhead
What Birds Don't Know
When I found a dead bluebird in the backyard
yesterday morning, I cried. I thought of my baby
napping inside and examined our Chinese sumac
for a nest, something left behind.

Soft fall, the hum of broken bones:
the sound of a bird determined to rise.

I gathered towels from the line
as the skies darkened to signal
a storm. It is fearsome to be alone
with something dead.

When I saw one dark blue line on the test,
I cried. I'd been certain I was this time.
Instead the process begins again.

Blind faith: the way we mix flour, eggs, and sugar
with the expectation that it will result in cake.

I read once that an egg always hatches
at dawn, every bird born hungry.


The Quiet Pain
We've been trying since February. Now it is autumn
and you've begun to try for baby number two. A month went by,
nothing. And you began to write infertility poems.
A few weeks later, I discover the truth: You are pregnant again.

What the reddest hue of morning reveals: the foal born overnight,
nursing at its mother's body. What the black-ink sky delivered.

When you are full, you do not understand emptiness.
The tremor of dawn in October: transparent, cold
as the dewy gourd on your front stoop, the gradual aging.
You understand it like you understand the moon, observing
but never setting foot on it. You have never spoken your name
in that hollow space and heard it echo back.

The snap of scissors cutting squares of fabric for a quilt,
the quiet pain of creating, beginning.
Heather Cadenhead resides with her husband and son in Franklin, Tennessee. Her work has appeared in Ruminate, Relief, Birmingham Arts Journal, Blue Earth Review, Valley Voices, and other journals. She is the author of two chapbooks, Inventory of Sleeping Things (Maverick Duck Press, 2010) and The Education of a Girl (Maverick Duck Press, 2011). Previously, Heather worked in the publishing industry.
 
* * *
The Armageddon Opportunist
Spenser Davis

The city fell apart when I was busy selling Kleenex
or, rather, attending a conference where they taught us how to sell.
I first saw the footage on the TV in my hotel suite
While slipping on flip-flops for the company's Caribbean Bash.
On the flight back home, the attendant asked
If I had family in the city, if they were all okay.
I told her they were fine, that the kids were with their grandma –
I don't have kids, Mom's been gone – but she bought the story.
The taxi driver took me as far as he could
but finally had to drop me at the edge of the barricade.
I tipped him, grabbed my travel bag, and stepped out
onto the street where the relief workers were waving us back.
Streets cracked and severed, concrete jutting upward –
The quake had no regard for the price of the homes.
Off to my left, there was what used to be a swing set
tipped over on a dog house, its resident inside.
My house, I couldn't see it, but I pictured it. Dang.
The roof of the garage collapsed on my cars –
The newly-installed windows, now just glass on the floor–
The pool, if not destroyed, full of garbage and dirt –
A woman down the street screamed that she couldn't find her baby.
She was crying.
I got a thought, unzipped my bag.
As a police officer led the woman to the curb
I pulled out the boxes of Kleenex.
This is the perfect time to sell.
Spenser Davis is both an actor and playwright currently living in Chicago, where he has taken part in over thirty-five productions with theater companies across Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa. On the writing front, his plays have been produced across North America, (most recently in Canada). In Chicago , his work has been featured in venues such as the American Theater Company, the Chicago Dramatists, and The Second City. His short play Minimalistic Men was named one of “The Best Ten-Minute Plays of 2012” by New York's Smith & Kraus. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor's in Creative Writing. He currently serves as the Literary Manager for both production companies: Hobo Junction Productions and Broken Nose Theater.
* * *
Poems by Robert Demaree
Cedar Trees
Christmas night:
A potato-casserole weariness
Settles in upon the land.
We are ankle-deep in tissue,
Love and Lego,
Lists of who gave what to whom,
And I am wondering what became
Of those cedar trees
We would cut and trim Christmases ago,
Holiday trips to my mother’s home,
The Yankee cousin who didn’t like grits.
Cedars gave way to
Scotch pines, then to
Fraser firs that fill a room.

Outside our door at Golden Pines
Two cedars now grow wider and taller
Even as I grow shorter.
They wear strings of white lights
That do not reach as high
As they once did.
They consider this
A better use of their time,
Unmindful of the sacrifices
Of their forebears.
 
Confederations
South Carolina:
Cross, marchers, a nation’s flag:
Times not forgotten.

Virginia:
Park Service industries,
Proprietary
Patrician blood.

Louisiana:
Architecture triumphing
Over conscience.

North Carolina:
Quakers, German pietists
Should have hung in there.

Florida:
Hard to believe
They really cared.

Other candidates:
Kentucky, West Virginia:
Their choices admired.
 
Robert Demaree is the author of four collections of poems, including Fathers and Teachers (2007) and Mileposts (2009), both published by Beech River Books. The winner of the 2007 Conway, N.H., Library Poetry Award, he is a retired school administrator with ties to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, where he lives four months of the year. He has had over 600 poems published or accepted by 130 periodicals, including Cold Mountain Review, Foliate Oak, Red Wheelbarrow, Homestead Review and Paris/Atlantic, and in four anthologies. He lives in Burlington, N.C. and Wolfeboro, N.H. 
 
* * *
Kept for Good
By Pamela Hammond

A chest of drawers
stood in the bedroom
where my mother
lay dying.
In drawer-darkness,
fabrics set with deep folds
one layer on another,
arranged to fit
into five rows
just so for years.
Kept for good,
she said.
Cottons, linens, ginghams
mixed with cedar-chip sachets
never shook out in crisp air,
never fashioned by her needle
and thread. Tucked away
like her dreams.

Pamela Hammond received her BA from UCLA and an MA in art, then continued teaching part-time at the college level. About ten years later, she created Eye International. Pamela quickly learned that she prefers writing over publishing and spent the next decade as a Los Angeles-based critic for ARTnews while serving as director of publications and public affairs at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Assisi, Forge, and two chapbooks, Clearing (2011) and Encounters (2012).
* * *
Homecoming
By William Haynes

The Greyhound dropped me
about a mile back on Georgia State Route 50
because they don’t travel these county roads.
It was another two miles
until I reached the long dirt driveway
leading to my family home.
A quarter mile down that drive
sat a white Victorian Greek Revival with pillars
and a large shaded front porch.
But even from that distance
I could tell it was Bessie,
our long-time maid who raised me,
running toward me leaving a trail of dust
between the grand boulevard of oaks.
It was as if she was running in slow motion,
but as she got closer I could see her smile
and the tears on her cheeks.
Then this sixty year old daughter of slaves,
said welcome home Mr. Johnny
and jumped into my arms
making me drop my suitcase to catch her.
I’ll always wonder why my mother,
like a lavender rose pressed in a book,
stayed up on the front porch in a rocking chair,
sipping her iced tea
on the day I returned home
from the great war.
William Ogden Haynes is a poet and author of short fiction from Alabama who was born in Michigan and grew up a military brat. His book of poetry entitled Points of Interest appeared in 2012. He has published nearly forty poems and short stories in literary journals and his work has been anthologized multiple times. In a prior life he taught speech-language pathology at Auburn University and authored six major professional textbooks.
 
* * *
Poems by Isabel Brome Gaddis
Fellow Traveler
It is at the moment when I am watching
my cat’s tiny haunches shift from side to side,
as she lines up a jump
from the footboard of my bed
to the top shelf of my closet,
while my brain is observing
that her coat is the brown of a UPS truck,
with an undercoat of UPS uniform,
and that while UPS trucks,
and uniforms,
are ugly,
her coat is very beautiful
(which just shows you how important texture is);
it is at that moment that I realize
she has lived on another planet too,
and that is why she misjudges her jumps.
Because she’s only been here a few years,
and she hasn’t quite got the gravity figured out.
That’s when I recognize the bond between us,
like hearing someone speak English in a restaurant in Malta,
or seeing someone from your cruise ship while wandering in Puerto Vallarta,
or hearing a New Jersey accent at a winery in California.
We recognize that we’re here now, but we’re not all the way here,
because we’re still partly there,
in New Jersey,
or on the cruise ship,
or back on our home planet,
and while it’s very nice here,
maybe,
sometimes,
we still get a little homesick.

Putting Two Feet in Front of the Others
My dog braces his front legs.
He does not want to go forward.
I should understand.
This is my posture every morning
and often into the afternoon.
Forward
is full of unclaimed troubles.
I am not done exploring the past.
In spite of the mess,
it’s safer there.
My father,
shaking with malaria,
hiding in the jungle,
will make it out,
will live another thirty years.
My great-grandmother, leaving college
because the barn burned down back home,
will see her three daughters through college and beyond.
I know this is just a sliver of the truth.
I pull too hard on the leash
and send my dog lurching forward on wooden legs.

Isabel Brome Gaddis graduated from MIT and worked as a geophysicist at Shell, then as a writer at Microsoft. She holds four certificates in embroidery and design from City and Guilds of London. Her work was featured or is forthcoming in decomP, Forge, Grey Sparrow, New Ohio Review, and OnTheBus.
 
* * *
Enough
By Anthony J. Langford​

Sometimes I just feel tired
Tired of having to work
Tired of boredom
Though I’m never without something to do
Tired of living in the moment
If only we could replay
The good stuff
And fast forward
Through the murky times.

Tired of having to pretend
Smile and nod
When you’d rather do anything else.
Tired of wanting
Eternally wanting
Tired of so much bullshit
I’d just wish it
And they
Would stop.

Yet for every bullshitter
There’s a sucker who’ll listen.
Tired of TV and the internet
Crap coffee
And having to cut my hair.

Tired of listening to my voice
Particularly inside my head
Tired of my own quirks
Tired of being predictable
Maybe I’ll do something totally stupid
Out of character
For no purpose
Other than the obvious…

Tired of needing money
Tired of spending it
Tired of having to prove myself
Over and over
By the time they get it
They’re gone
Or I am.

And forced to start over again.

Again.

Tired of days rushing by
Tired of looking over my shoulder
Waiting for that cloaked bastard
Just wish I knew how many days
Until He arrives
In case you ask
I’m sure it’s not a She
It’s more a twisted side of Me
Waiting to spring up
And do me wrong.
That’s tiring.

Tired of fake smiles
And artificial lines
And selfish fucks
Thinking we don’t see their ambition.
I’m weary of ignorance
And children disguised as adults
And now I think I’m tired
of writing this poem
Thank God for booze.
Anthony J. Langford lives in Sydney Australia. He writes stories, poetry and makes video poems. Some of his recent publications include Ink, Sweat & Tears, Mused, Citizens for Decent Literature, Crack the Spine and Eunoia Review. He works in television and has made short films, some of which have screened internationally. His novella, Bottomless River is out now through Ginninderra Press. A poetry collection, Caged without Walls, will be released in 2013.
* * *
The Watcher
By Jennifer MacBain-Stephens
today’s adventure and tantrum time:
winter coats catapult themselves
down horn hill bypassing security
like gum drops getting smaller
melting in bath water by mistake
racing to a slow finish surrounded by play time’s bars

cheeks fall prey to
perfect red circles
due to fallen hoods
the view from the top of the hill:
fleeting and fleeing

one chose not to participate
instead, thrusting the plastic red dish
solo, rider-less
down the small mountain

an amazed smile
emerged on his little face
watching the red ramp waiver and float
and crash down to blanketed earth
I wanted in on this secret- a mystery and pleasure
only he could feel
and he did it again and again
 
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens is an emerging poet who was recently published in Issue #10 of Superstition Review and has poems forthcoming in Emerge Literary Journal and Red Savina Review. She has also written three YA non-fiction books and currently lives in Iowa City, IA and works at a journal.
* * *
Irene O'Garden
Bad Fish
The pain it gave me gave you pain.
Roaring eighty miles an hour
over country roads. Exploded
vacation. Head to dash, clutch
my gut like a writhing fetus.
Close to labor as we’ll ever get.
Scatter parking gravel, huddled
to nurse and merciful shot. “Bad fish.”
We breathe and leave and twenty minutes
later you 911 a hospital as on a grass divider
again I roll in pain, helpless to help you

in yours. Five unrelieved hours.
Insurance-baffled, malpractice-defended
emergency room. Test after test.
No merciful shot. I twice ascend
from pain that night, looking down
on is that my body who are they.
You thunder my name, jerk me back.
“Help me, help me,” I whimper
again and again, torture
to you, but my sole comfort.
Somehow morning. Chilly doctor
shrugs, “Virus, maybe.” Bad fish bound
us in fear and sweat and threat, the nightmare night
we learned we cannot take away each other’s pain.
 
Canoeing 
A canoe is a bad place
to fight we found out
early in our marriage
one long day on the Everglady waterways.

Our combined canoe experience
could have fit through the paddle-handle hole
but the moment we shove off
we are two experts. How to hold
the paddle, how to paddle when,
when to lean which way: certainties
opposed as stem and stern.

The romance of lovers
in loinclothy wilderness
rubs off like sunscreen in the sun.

The long boat horizontals down the flow,
past the other couple, embarrassing us both.
“That’s okay, you’ll get the hang of it!”
meant to comfort, irritates like grit.

“It’s not my fault,” the inner mutter.
Still, we’re being cordial with each other.
“Why not use your paddle like a rudder?”
The civil negative reply nettles
like a cinder in the eye.

We reach for deeper breaths. Aggravation
clots our throats like mangrove roots.
We chafe in hot silence.

The red stream widens,
quickens to rapids,
we quicken panic, paddle
cross-purposes, sidewinding
into bank branches, scrape
our faces, circle in the eddies,
stuck, stuck, stuck.

Anger raw as popping blisters.
No stomping off to different
rooms. The people with advice
have paddled off to Mexico by now.

Two furies with one awful thought:
Have I made a horrible mistake?
Linked my life with someone so
intractable and obstinate,
they cannot see when I am right?

Since that day, we’ve found
the paddling matters less
than the scenery, the scenery
matters less than the company.
All our fights take place
in a canoe. All our pleasures, too.
 
Cinnamon Rolls
Soft warm Florida morning.
Drive for cinnamon rolls,
homemade by wintering Mennonites
in calico, bonnets, beards and brimhats.
Order at the counter in the white
shack, stand back. Fifty people,

waiting as they bake. Lush aroma.
In the gentle oven of the crowd, warming
with anticipation, in the pan of family:
mother, sister, sister’s son, (seeping
through the crowd like syrup)
you and I at once and wordless

turn and hold each other.
Your touch as yeast to me--
I open I expand I rise.
Soft selves joined and separate,
like two rolls baked together:
ordinary, fragrant, fulfilling.
 
Diamond District
You gave me, when we got engaged,
a ring of baby sapphires round a baby
diamond. A violet of gems. What came
over me? Bridal magazines? Lifelong sparkle
of my mother’s solitaire? I’d never cared
about a diamond ring, but now the icon
blinded. Discontent with sapphires and myself
for saying nothing would sneer forever
on this finger, so I feared. Begin marriage

honestly. I asked you to take it back.
Pick a single diamond. Its imagined dazzle
obscured your hurting face, hid your shame
returning what so glowingly you’d chosen.
(The American mistake, prizing symbols
over what they symbolize.) In the district,
we bought the diamond ring on the Monopoly
board from a man with a flesh-curdling twitch.

When your sapphire eyes sparkled joy tears
at our wedding, my ringfinger sizzled regret.
Although you never said a thing, each day
I saw the scar I gave you on my hand.
I apologized from time to time, making you return
that sapphire ring. One day, stupefying clemency.
Alone in a Bermuda shop, I gasp. Its perfect replica.
Later on the Moongate threshold, I present it to you.
Tears faceted your sapphire eyes again. Shortly
afterwards, to our great relief, my diamond ring--
prongs bent, stone cracked—was stolen.
 
Mosaics
“Go off,” I said. “Go heal.
Don’t tell me where you’re going
or when you’ll be back.
I’ll see you when I see you.”

This you loved. You left.
I spent my busy weeks alone,
wondered where in the world
you went, Germany maybe,

gone to your roots, I mused,
paging through my books. “Greece,”
you said when you returned,
radiant, telling of temples,

and cultural roots, a visit
to an island with my name,
and, oh, yes, mosaics.
“Mosaics!” I cried, and I ran

for my book. “I’ve been studying
them for the last couple days!”
A bookmark stuck where the finest
were. “My favorites,” I showed you.

You drew a sharp breath
and your palm struck your chest.
“I was in this church two days ago.”

When we forget the mortar
that holds the image so, we never
know the knowing that we know.
 
Irene O'Garden's writing has found its way to the Off-Broadway stage (Women On Fire, Samuel French), into hardcover (Fat Girl, Harper) into prizewinning children’s books and into many literary journals and anthologies. She won a 2012 Pushcart Prize for her essay “Glad To Be Human.”
* * *
Poems by Lisa Pellegrini                                                                                                                                                                    
Weekend Getaway
The pink porcelain sink in the bathroom
was the sky when the sun was setting,
before purple seeped in and took center stage.
The creak in Nonno and Nonna’s bedroom cot
lulled me to sleep as it mingled with the fan’s hum.
The window display of the religious articles shop
was speckled with the wings of dead flies,
limbs of fallen angels strewn from above.
The wise men were coated with dust
that passed for soiled snow.
The bells hanging over the doorway jingled
as customers let in slaps of December,
like rusty wind chimes that lamented for
days passed but not forgotten.
Nonno chased away a moon-faced matron
who tried to snatch a fifty from the register,
sputtering Italian curses in broken English.
Queenie the yellow Lab plopped by his chair
while we watched television at night,
paws straight out and pressed together, sphinx style.
Nonno sighed and sucked in a laugh.

                        
Beach Days
The ice cream man lugged a mini freezer
on his shoulder with just a tattered canvas strap
to keep it from hitting the sand.
Sun-soaked grains crept in between
his soles and nubuck sandals,
like ants seeking adventures in forbidden places.
Red and blue rocket popsicles were my favorite,
giving me energy for an adventure of my own.
My bare feet smacked against the shore,
leaving footprints like hands whacking dough.
The pitter-patter sounded like my cat lapping milk.
I giggled as I imagined her scuttling backward
at the sight of a jelly fish in the foamy swirls.
I dug my fingers in the clay that was sand,
pulling out an egg-shaped crab.
Its rotating legs tickled my palms,
begging me to save it from boredom.
Its family stranded it among giant land dwellers.

Nightfall
Night plays games like a lover,
slipping beneath cool layers,
tapping places inside underbellies
that we never knew existed.
It spends each day plotting its
seduction, needing somewhere
to dump its jealousy and jubilance.
We long to awake tomorrow and
tell our story, knowing that no one
will believe a word of it.
Night laughs with sinful glee.
It always gets what it desires.
We writhe in frustration,
yearning for light’s blinding comfort,
but unwilling to bid farewell to
the moon’s curves and curiosity.
Night is a demon of grace,
a new puzzle to solve with each sunset.
Each constellation is a question,
each planet an answer, and the moon
plays both ends against the middle.

Little Boy With a Suitcase
That February morning,
you exhaled clouds of breath
like a dragon sitting atop
the slain enemy while
you vomited those words
in intermittent chunks.
Sometimes viper air,
neighbors’ driveways,
and the heady shade of
dogwood branches
are the only prizes--
even if paradise lasts
but a few minutes.
The blue savior used to
peek out beneath the
foot of your bed like an
inanimate voyeur
or lash-covered eyes
never gazed upon
or faded denims with a
fist-sized hole in both knees,
a seeing-eye dog
whose vision met death
years before he would.
 
Lisa Pellegrini resides in Warrington, PA. Her poetry has appeared in Zouch Magazine, Downer Magazine, The Rainbow Rose, and Misfits' Miscellany. She has forthcoming work appearing in Eunoia Review, Bolts of Silk, The Lascaux Review, The Rusty Nail, and other publications.
* * *
Poems by Richard King Perkins II

Copaiba Eternus
Her children were birthed
directly from her vena cava.
Sometimes she felt as if
she alone had created her babies.
In blurs of motion
they grew up around her
while she stood still, unchanging,
like the copaiba tree
shielding the back of the house.
In midsummer, the stream dried up
and the last of the children had gone.
Minds large with knowledge,
they sought challenges
only the educated could have time for.
A week later, she found
the copaiba tree uprooted in the yard.
She took it as a sign of nothing.
Stoic, practical,
the old tree became firewood
and she began to age like newspaper
until the new babies arrived
in her children’s arms.
The old songs sparkled again
and she delighted in second motherhood,
barely changing,
until a great wind swept her away
and carried her though a tunnel
that had been inside her always.

Shoebox Depths
Every now and then
I slip into your twisted panty of home 
uninvited, subliminally witnessed,
sleep in the charcoal of your oven,
finger the crumbling grate of your cheese.
It is my lone ability, this power of absolute grey, 
given to the bitterly lame, 
stolen intermittently by glove-handed dilettanti.
I rub the bristles of your toothbrush over my eyelids,
vanish the purr from your restless cat
juggle the humming circus of your sex toys
set your entire world slightly askew
just because I can.
In the bright define of solarity
you will see me, but not notice
that you’ve spilled a little coffee on my head
as you blindly throw a few coins
into my familiar shoebox depths
 
Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He has a wife, Vickie and a daughter, Sage. His work has appeared in hundreds of publications including Prime Mincer, Sheepshead Review, Sierra Nevada Review, Fox Cry, Prairie Winds and The Red Cedar Review.
* * *
Into the West
By Robert Rothman

Each day near dusk I see them flying into
  the west, a flock of birds of six or eight
  that individually peel off and make
  sweeping circles, but always return to the
  tight V-formation. Silhouetted against
  the dying light, their moving wings become
  more indistinct until all I can see
  are dots of dark, and then they’re gone. I’d like
  to know where they fly and why. Beyond the hills
  is sea. There is no place to rest. Not even
  the swiftest bird can keep pace with the sun.
  One day, and soon, I’ll go out on a boat
  alone and sail into that dark and see.

Robert Rothman lives in Northern California, near extensive trails and open space, with the Pacific Ocean over the hill. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Alembic, Cold Mountain Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Front Range Review, Grey Sparrow, The Griffin, Mary: A Journal of New Writing, Pank Magazine, RiverSedge, and the Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry. 
 
* * *
Poems by Jacob Valadez
run away wheel
pitter patter, pink matter,
can you hear the hamster breathe?
pretty lights up resuscitation’s reach
tunnel’s end beyond reasoning up
throw god shaped lightning bolts control-
ed by a rodent spinning out of sight.

pity stares past sight,
look, pay attention, hamster matter-
s aren’t about control,
but correcting the way you breathe
and blank and bring up
how Reich sounds three things away from reach.

hamsters race along sulci reach-
ing down into depths, sight-
ing scopes to clean up
rainbows of red and red matter
that chokes, rainbow roots breathe
for you. what lies? control.

you have black holes in you that control
singular processes like when you reach
deep in your lungs for air, breathe
in singularities hamsters see under a microscope’s sight
so they can tell how the dark matters.
so please hurry up.

hipster hamsters know what’s up,
but up can be down if the control
room gets messed up, what’s the matter
with death riding bengal tigers that reach
for food that’s not a sight
unseen in a neuronal ocean that can breathe.

hello house. hello hal. just breathe
pops, read something to keep up
the spirits bought in a paper bag sight-
ed by cops dressed as hamsters who control-
s how now? brown cows reach
for golden status to be false matter.

vital is breathe you while mind in kept, matter
that hamsters own your to up sanity for try a, reach
than perfect more sight no knows control

small birds
i am sitting at the top of a building in the rain
there is always the now if the then was kept forgotten
the cold salt
a small bird wakes in the nest
eyes open
i like his skin too cool
the small bird cries out on the edge of the nest as the wind whips around
my heart is pattering and he sees it
i am he and he is i
it patters in time with the rain
harder and harder like the ground the bird hits
i lose them to rain down on him and he feels their sound
the pattering heart holds me still and devours me
the shadow deafens him to the birds song
the skin too cool reaches me and I am fed
i am the bird
i am the man
now i can lie like the birds and their young
Jacob Valadez is an aspiring writer from California. He currently attends UC San Diego, located in La Jolla, CA, where he is studying as an undergraduate. Mr Valadez enjoys working with form and conceptual poetry, while also not being constrained by either.
* * *
Body Image
By Kelley White
If you’re overweight you’re a victim, you’re obviously being oppressed.
~Anonymous

Dear thin girl in my evening class:
I danced once.  Really.
5'4", 109 lbs. and I thought I was fat.
Hated my thighs.  Called myself “Thunder.”
Did.  Counted calories.  Counted again.
Ate nothing for breakfast, lunch, or in
public.  See what happened to me?
Be afraid.  No. Forgive yourself now.
You’re beautiful.  All of you.  Pimples.
Plump spots. Muscles. Smooth brown skin.
All of you.  All of you.  And me? Me
too. Me too. Me too. Too. Too. 
Kelley White has been widely published since 2000 in journals including Exquisite Corpse, Friends Journal, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Rattle, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and in a number of chapbooks and full-length collections, most recently Toxic Environment from Boston Poet Press, Two Birds in Flame, poems related to the Shaker Community at Canterbury, NH, from Beech River Books, and “In Memory of the Body Donors,” Covert Press. She has received several honors, including a 2008 grant for poetry from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
* * *
Poems by Matthew Williams
From Here
From here, in what could be
described as reality wound
twice around ridiculousness,
I stand guard to ensure that
the stillness is not disrupted;

making certain the ponds are
ripple-free and that the stars,
often ensnared in sedentary
wisps of chimney-siphoned
smoke, remain stationary.

On the occasions when I leave
my post to patrol the area
it is hard not to fall under
the tutelage of tranquility,
become a pupil of plateaus:

a student of the statuesque.
It is in these moments of learning
the stoic scenery divulges all
its secrets— too bad I’m such
a slow learner; always moving.
 
Thought
I cannot recall whether the
thought came to me while in
this speakeasy or that cabaret--
whether I was hammering
harpsichord keys,
giving liquor-crammed credenzas
shakedowns,
or mainlining metronomes
to maintain my pulse’s rhythm.

Nor can I confirm the time of day
such a thing rose to my attention.
Perhaps it was around noon;
when forests are festooned in fire,
when brightness is merely
protocol--
Then again, it could have occurred
around dusk: conceived within
heightened shadows…
 
Poem
While your sepulcher was
slovenly stuffed with taxidermal dirt
I looked up to see a hawk
toting clouds in its talons; dragging sky
behind it wherever it went,
saving a stratus as a wispy souvenir.

You are gone but you’ve
been here whether I have noticed or
not; camouflaged as the
crackling in a campfire, disguised as
daylight— Like a hawk
carrying clouds, I have carried you.

Unfinished Painting
The town was an unfinished painting with its seaside cottages lacking roofs,
skyline left blank, and shriveled-orchid sidewalks not yet dry.

Many doggy paddled through debris; soused in steely stalks and
stringent smells, searching for the outlines of drowned relatives.

It was a mystery as to when the brush, chocked-full of productive paint,
would be reapplied to mop up the emptiness and finish what it started.
Matthew Williams recently took a two month tour of many European countries. During that time he wrote a small but strong collection of poems. He currently resides in western New York State and recently received a BA in psychology.
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Artwork by Kev Anderson
Kev Anderson is a Chicago-based Artist, illustrator and comic creator. He works primarily with inks and watercolors with occasional touches of digital color and effects. His main influences range from Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Schiele, to Frank Miller, Tim Sale and Jaime Hernandez. His greatest passion is to tell stories through imagery.
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Serenity by Andrew Davis
Andrew Davis is a full-time college student who majors in Criminal Justice. He is a brother of Tau Kappa Epsilon and enjoys being with friends and family and enjoys capturing those moments with photography.
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Artwork by Otha “Vakseen” Davis III 
 
Otha “Vakseen” Davis III has had a month and a half solo exhibition at the Emerging Art Scene Gallery in Atlanta; and showcased his art at Los Angeles’ Noho Art Gallery, Norbertellen Gallery, Stay Gallery, The Key Club, Media Temple Studios, The Alexandria Hotel, M. Bird Salon, The Holding Co. Studios, Opulen Studios and the Rochester Art House, amongst others. His work has also been featured in Artnois Magazine, Cactus Heart Literary Magazine, Barely South Review, Penduline Press Magazine and Snax Magazine, to name a few. 
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Painting, Ocean Front, Vases, Stairwell, Mantel, Rest Area
By Martin Kiel
Martin Kiel, since retirement, has revisited his interest in literature, particularly poetry, and has participated actively in poetry writer’s workshops and local writer’s groups. He also enjoys painting, wood and stone carving, astronomy, and camping with his family in their small motor-home.Erik Hansen provided the photos of Marty Kiel's paintings.
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Water Fairy, Executioner, Nereid of the Fire Mountain, Haunted Mirror
By Richard Ong
 
Richard Ong's painted artwork, stories, poetry and photos have appeared in several issues of bewilderingstories.com, yesterdaysmagazette.com and The Blotter Magazine. One of these stories has been republished in print as part of an anthology titled, “Toys Remembered.” (compiled and edited by Madonna Dries Christensen).
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Photography by Brandon Meyers
Brandon Meyers is the co-author of the novels Dead and Moaning in Las Vegas, The Missing Link, and The Sensationally Absurd Life and Times of Slim Dyson. He is also the co-author of the popular humor web-comic A Beer for the Shower.
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Overflow, Perpendicularity, The Goal
By Louis Staeble
Louis Staeble lives in Bowling Green, Ohio. He has had photographs appear in Trigger, Camera Obscura, This Literary Magazine, OVS and The Fine Line. His "Industrial Strength Nation" was a part of the 93rd Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, The Toledo Museum of Art. A few of his pictures are available on Etsy.
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