Fiction

BREAKING by Emily Rinkema

On the designated day for punishing mothers, those of us who got our applications in early enough show up, mothers in tow. Most look like they came willingly, walking ahead of their children, mostly daughters, but not mine. I had to sedate her to get her in the car.I paid for the deluxe package, which includes interrogation. The application allowed three questions. Two were easy: What really happened to the kitten I brought home in third grade? And, Why did you only let me shave my legs to my knees until I was sixteen? The third was harder to decide on, but I went with, How can Kant’s categorical imperative ever truly be a reliable guide to moral obligations if humans lack rational agency?I prop Mom up next to me to wait our turn for interrogation. She puts her head on my shoulder, but only because her neck won’t hold it up. I may have over sedated her. I take a granola bar out of my bag and Mom lifts her head enough to give me the look that says I can’t believe you’re eating again.The door opens after only a few minutes and a mother and daughter come out of the room. They have both been crying. The mother is missing a few teeth and a finger, has bruises on her neck, is soaking wet. For a moment, I wonder if I am overreacting, if maybe it’s not too late to cancel and take Mom home, but then I see her sit up straight, roll her shoulders. I can tell she is judging the other mother for being weak, for breaking. She gives me that smile that says she can’t believe I chose to wear these shoes in public and cracks her knuckles.
Fiction

LESS DEAD by Samir Sirk Morató

When asked, Dad says, Don’t worry about Ximena—she’s just a girl good at running away, but you find a shoebox of condoms, calling cards, Selena CDs, baby name lists, and blush palettes squashed between a bed leg and a wall, the last of Ximena in her whirlwind-emptied room, which reminds you of Diva Fridays:Come on, she’d say, I’ll teach you about eyeshadow, before putting her heavy handed brushstrokes on your lids, which made you miss Marco—who lived in her room before he too fled—all cropped shirts, eyeliner, and laughter mixed with hair oil and truancy.He had a box of condoms too.The animals look like them, you tell Mom. She doesn’t understand that squirrels are gnawing with baby teeth, raccoons developing pink palms, vultures singing raspy cumbia, your beagle watching you through Marco’s eyes rimmed in black skin; she sees only laundry, lunch boxes, and outlines.One Saturday, after you follow these animals into high weeds, burrs on your socks, Dad-tied pigtails on your head, you find the rotted lumps they’re eating: skin and bear paw people-fingers and maggots plated on shattered bones. It smells like basement.Your dad says it’s just deer. Leave it alone.Later, a woman calls you, asking if you’ve seen Ximena. She barely speaks English. You finger landline phone curls, safe and bored, before saying No.No have money to call again, she says, so please—Get more money then.You hang up.Many bad, fun runaways later, when police turn your boneyard into a poppy field of flags and shoot your animals for evidence, Mom weeps, vowing I didn’t know, while you tell yourself that you lied to be good, to be a girl missed, knowing you lied for no reason at all.
Fiction

THREE MICROS THAT TICK by Daniel Seifert

Yesterday came the decreeAnd today it comes into force. We must all fight like Plains Indians, from here on.That means cool your arrows. Your axe must sleep in the ground while you win prestige by counting coup: Curl yourself like a puff of wind. Inch your body to the enemy. Closer to his neck, where the soft hair curls against his pulse. Touch his body with your coup stick—you have won. Steal his horse if you want; beat the darkening air with your cries. But the battle is over now, if you want it. 

***

 Press playWe are the narrators in his head. The man who each night plugs us in his ear and listens to stories. Alchemised from the page by our mouths, paid by the hour.We’re in bright studios far away, but we know the man is in bed when he kisses our lips to his ears.Dark-time. Pillow. Moulded rubber in shells of skin. The marvellous intimacy of audio.And we have a burning question: why does he listen in the dark, when he falls asleep so fast? Like bathtub water pulled down narrow pipes? Oh, time made foam. And we have a theory: he likes the way we read from scripts, threading words to thick red scarves that press his horizontal skin. He likes the way murderers are always caught, in the end. He likes how he forgets what we said last night and how he can rewind to the good parts—just before the foam hits. 

***

 ColtYoung horse shimmering between the plain and sky. Blue falling to four-legged black, to land on dirty green.Old man who calls himself a cowboy. Walks to the horse thinking how can it still stand. Madyoung thing kicking in a red barn door and the door kicking back, snap. Just like that, a sentence passed.Old man touches young horse snout whispering blue-sky words. Speaking in fact to the mouth of a holster, the handle of his gun. And green just waiting.
Creative Nonfiction

WHAT THE BODY WOULD NOT HOLD by Liana Meffert

(Spring)We have to count several times to get the numbers right. There are so many. Superior right buttock, inferior left buttock, and flank, right temple, right chest, left lower leg, and thigh. And when the counts agree, we sit down to call his mother, who doesn't answer, but calls back several minutes later. Whether she believes us or not is beside the point; she hangs up. I hate this. Wouldn't you? We call the medical examiner and the organ donation center, who will in turn call her, and then she will begin to believe, or won't. There isn't a checkbox for grief we don't have time to summon. We move on: ten calls to five numbers that don't pick up and voicemails to call us back, soon. He's dead, he's dead, he's dead. Say it with me now. The heart will flop like a waterless fish in my hands, appendages dangle like fins, going nowhere. The lungs, when full, will balloon from their cage, their smooth surface shining like the back of a whale breaking the ocean surface. You will never forget this. I stop living in my body and become another's. The man crumpled beneath a 300-ton tractor whose heart we cajole for hours, with blood, electricity, and the weight of our own hands backed by whatever it is we have left. And when we had failed, or rather, the odds against us too great, we wear a family's thick suit of grief that chafes in the halls and leaves us breathless climbing stairs. I pass them with my lunch for a hunger that is no one's. I want to say, if I stopped eating every time someone died, I would never eat at all. My death, that is not my death, watches his son lean against a wall in the waiting room and finger the blinds while he calls more family. My death drinks orange juice, tastes the salt of a potato chip, then licks it clean. There is so much I lose track. I stop writing it down and that is my first error, though not my last. It feels like one long sleep, a feverish night, the sweat caked to the back of my old high school T-shirt where a Viking (our mascot) lays plastered to my chest, cracked from laundering and soaked in solidarity. I lose touch again, and again. Where am I? It is afternoon, then evening, then early morning again, and I am asleep, or awake, or going to sleep, or rising to meet the failing sun. The body lives on like a broken rearview window, glittering pieces stuck whole.  (Summer) A hot summer day in the deep end of a swimming pool. A canister of baby formula. The aqua blue settling in his lungs. Gaze of a dead man. The best way to deliver news is the same way we all want to die—quickly. The baby kicks its chubby legs from the car seat in the corner. The grandson in his swim trunks. I was thinking about how we put up walls to survive and now are squeezed between these four that echo heat like a black asphalt street. The stamp of a wet backside on the chair. Excuse yourself. Shut the door and let them scream a hot yowl of grief. It's not the mind that grief goes to first, but the body (like a single nerve grief traverses) that sinks to the floor. The baby screams. A weather barometer sensing tension in the room. No, it's not your fault, no. Say it again for the people in the back. No one moves to quiet the baby. In the corner in the car seat. I was thinking about the four walls that hold a body like water in a pool. The deep blue of a deep end. Another summer day. I never had a journal when I was kid. That's a lie, though; I had tons, having received multiple every birthday from the time I could write until I was fifteen and maybe a few scattered thereafter. I meant I never had a journal I wrote in. Maybe it had to do with the implication of the gift, that my thoughts could be written down and kept safe with a lock and plastic key I could dangle from a wrist or neck—whatever. I never wanted my thoughts to be safe in that way. Outside in the park a group of men are playing basketball, and when I can't discriminate between their yells to pass it here and hey man, you can't fucking block me like that, I cross the street to walk away. Somewhere between 14 holes in a body and a courtside argument under this quiet sun lies the truth, and on this particular Sunday afternoon, I realize I've lost the ability to discriminate between the two. A child tumbles down the slide, two friends (lovers?) sleep side by side on a picnic blanket with twin bags of produce at their feet. A dog barks at something, and the community garden flowers grow taller, droop over the fence like tired smiles, all of them. Eyes still find a summer day cross-legged on the linoleum floor where we drank beer not because there weren't tables, but because we needed something bigger. There were a lot of ideas back then, and they were fragile. We couldn’t let them fall or look too close.  (Fall) A patient is brought in for self-immolation and what has been billed as second-degree burns to his chest with third-degree encircling his neck. (In reality, the burns around his neck cut off just below his ears. These details matter quite a bit; a third-degree burn turns skin into a tourniquet of leather, like a noose around the neck). The man looks resigned in his tattered white Hanes T-shirt. He looks like a man who wanted to die and thought better of it ten seconds too late. He smells of my teenage summer nights. Bonfires on the shore and bad beer you drank just to prove you could be someone else. I was always someone else. The first to plunge into the pitch-black ocean, the white moon winking, cold as ever. "I'm fine," he says, when someone asks. He wants to be someone else. He shivers, his clothes damp with the water he used to put out the fire.My dreams flash big billboard messages, and I wake up wondering what I have missed. Annoyed that I’ve been abandoned to my consciousness. Another catalyst with no plan. My bank accounts are sucked dry; I am 20 weeks pregnant, feeling the surreal swell of my abdomen like a bloated fruit. We are blowing up a circus tent. And anyway, in real life, a loaded pistol slips from the backside of a pocket for the second time this week, and if that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is.Time stands still, or rather, it slips through the slats of my fingers. I play with the digital numbers looming over the trauma bay. Crouch down and the 8 loses its horizontal hat, becoming a 4. Close one eye and the 18 becomes a 4. You can take minutes off a life like this. I miss the bakeries back home that shut their doors at 4 pm and run out of the best pastries before noon. They are adamant about the passage of time. Their darkened cafes and belly-up chairs pin me to the ground like a wild animal.I keep telling myself I have to stop running red lights. I will be a better person. I will be nice and smile. I will remember birthdays. I will forgive. I will forget. I won't relive or perseverate on others’ wrongdoings—or my own. I will live a better life. The one I always wanted. The one where I make small talk with the checkout person and learn the name of our mail carrier. I will learn my neighbor's names and remember more than just their dogs. Recycle. To do: Become a person who does not want for so much. A clean kitchen counter. Fresh pair of underwear. A day someone does not die.I fall in love with a man who drives his motorized wheelchair up the center of my street. Two lanes that should be one. No matter, the cars will wait. He has speakers tucked in the undercarriage of his throne that play perennial upbeat 80s music as he hums along and hands out well-wishes like candy. One for you, and you, and you. Sometimes he pulls his friend who gets around on a two-handed engine. The friend hangs on the back with just a few fingers, looking real casual, real cool. They bump to the music, grinning like they stole fun, and let the cars line up behind them, spotlit by headlights.    (Winter)Two buildings up from me, it starts with an asbestos inspection. Weeks later, a second sign appears for a new building permit. It's then I realize the windows have been dark for weeks and the children that played outside in the planter boxes haven't been out to play. Even while telling myself it's because of the rain. Counterevidence mounts. The weather spares the sun occasionally to glance mounds of discarded belongings in the alleyway that spill into the sidewalk. Playsets, a trowel, several pairs of jeans, an overturned ironing board projecting an X into the air, a yellow jumper, bloated white garbage bags: their contents poking through like a cartoon where a creature fights to get out. Overnight it snows, and the belongings are covered with a white sheet the way a body is when you can’t wish anymore. When a lung looks like snow packed in the chest it’s called a “complete whiteout.” A chest is quiet without air, a snowstorm silently brewing. The other lung is collapsed: air has become trapped between his lung and chest wall, and it is collecting, pushing his lung towards his heart, and preventing it from expanding when he breathes.I only see this image after he's been dead for some time. It's early morning and we have called Jennifer, the presumed daughter, whose voicemail is alarmingly cheery like she’s warding off people like me leaving messages like this. I'm glad I hang up when I do because another patient has started smoking in 26B, and security is moving slowly to escort her out as she screams and struggles. Nursing shift changes at 7 am, so the department is at maximum capacity with twice the nurses, half of them carrying warm mugs of coffee, and smelling of freshly washed hair or at least the essence of freshness that reminds me of the staleness on my tongue. They line up in parallel so she can be escorted through, and it's like a sort of sendoff, the woman struggling and yelling that she can walk herself out. Other things I forgot until now: how the patient in the bed in the hallway hiked her gown up to her knees with an air of calculated insouciance to urinate in the highly trafficked thoroughfare. Snow, heavy overnight. The wheelchair that goes by, leaving parallel tracks of urine as if to guide future travelers. Environmental Services—one of my favorite hospital euphemisms—called overhead and orange cones set around her bed like a minor traffic accident. The white spell of silence that hangs when the world holds its breath. How she sat back on the bed, her face indecipherable.  (           )  There's having a bad day, and then there's getting hit by an oncoming truck on your way to see your daughter, who is getting taken off life support. I pick out pieces of glass lodged into your bloodied scalp. The water meant to dislodge the pieces too fine to see drips into your eyes, and you let it run in rivulets down your face. There's I'm so sorry and there is silence, which this is. It's 2 am, and I've been in the hospital for nearly 24 hours. This isn't about me, but I don't know if the sun ever rose yesterday, if the moon became the promise of a waxing gibbous. I'm tethered only by nursing shift changes (always at 7) and the cafeteria, which opens and closes. The smell of brewed coffee from the adjacent cafe with mockingly limited hours, and the omnipresent aroma of Subway—the only 24-hour food option—not quite food, but not quite something else, that wafts inexplicably strongest around 3 am. The hospital is not unlike an airport in this way: it contorts time as you fumble to replace sky-dwelling anchors, pace the halls when it goes quiet, and finger an artificial bonsai with longing. It seems you are the only thing living here, and the connection is tenuous. I stitch up the open wounds still bleeding. You're not on life support, but that fact is far from a consolation prize. Several hours later, when you have moved up to the floor, a code comes overhead, and I run up three flights of stairs to find you silent again. I call your sister who is on her way to your daughter. The line goes quiet until she asks—no, wonders—aloud: "Should I turn around?" And finally, your body breaks. 
Fiction

GENDER BENDERS AND GENRE BLENDERS: Victoria Brooks and Jack Skelley in Conversation

Two freaky fiction writers chat. Jack Skelley, author of The Complete Fear of Kathy Acker (Semiotext(e), 2023) joins Victoria Brooks, author of Silicone God (Moist, 2023). Fear of Kathy Acker is a cult hit embraced by young readers. Skelley’s new book of stories is Myth Lab (Far West Press, 2024). Silicone God is a strange strain of post-human, science fiction/body horror by “Queer Mistress Wife Human” (Brooks’ Instagram name). Topic A: How horny writing may reach beyond tired categories of sexual and textual orientation.  Jack: I’ll kick it off! Victoria, I was first attracted to Silicone God for its boundary blurring. Your debut novel straddles genres, becoming larger than its many parts: It’s billed as “queer sci-fi” but also subsumes body horror, perhaps auto-fiction, and ventures into themes such as species evolution (which my new book Myth Lab does too!) At the same time, its (very horny!) narrative messes with the sexual orientation of its protagonist. In fact, the novel messes with the very concept of time and narrative. Can you encapsulate how and why you do this?Victoria: In terms of why, I don't think I can do otherwise. It's all a mess: me, bodies, sexual orientation and gender. Sex. Time. I tried to reflect this in Silicone God. But I always feel like I'm fighting between letting the mess in and keeping it out - deciding which false coherences I'll accept. Choosing genres and drawing straight lines is hard because mess is fucking fun. And when the mess is sex, it's horny! This, especially in the case of writing like ours that mixes genres, including auto-fiction, can leave the reader with questions about what's real and what isn't. My writing (my nonfiction work and my sci-fi) draws on aspects of my life, but I like to play with the reader. I want them to wonder. I think it's sexier to read a hot scene and think maybe it actually happened. Myth Lab also embraces the mess (or the blur) in such a beautifully wild and sexy way - I'd love to know more about why you're also drawn to this mode of writing. Jack: I get what you said about “deciding which false coherences I’ll accept,” because so many coherences are merely imposed norms. Including sexual norms, of course. Myth Lab goes crazy messing (as you say) with depictions of sexual orientations and genders. For example, it portrays booming transgender medical procedures as advancements in human evolution. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), silicone implants (breasts, butts and beyond), and “neurodivergent” approaches to sexual orientation are all celebrated in Myth Lab’s mish-mash mess. Rather than in traditional story form, it does this via mock-academic “theories,” and other genre perversions. I think Silicone God does a parallel thing. But in (mostly) narrative mode. Here’s a freaky paragraph from your book:My little suckers cupped her skin – the slimy hot and cold sensations sending her wild. I put one on her clit, and carefully engorged it with blood so much that it became a mini cock. She begged me to kiss it till she came.The sexy mess is so messy that the quaint term “bisexual” doesn’t begin to cover the book’s realms of trans-species sex. And trans-temporal sex! So let me confront you with the (admittedly reductive) question your readers have: How much of Silicone God is based in your personal experience?Victoria: I love how we converge on the point about transness: in Silicone God, there is a divine trans character (created by mushroom gods 3000 years in the future). Myth Lab's theories give me life, and more specifically give life to my drive to see sex on the page. Your text takes the form of so many dimensions of a sex life. We have the hallucinogenic poetic parts with lines like: “Where voice and vagina conflate, you’ll find kisses promise more illicit pleasures. The Other’s voice cajoles, seduces, instructs, creating the one hundred-letter word for thunder....” Then later, a switch to a more linear prose—one of my favourite parts is a short meditation on the erotics of gel nails—then to the tender: “How I yearn to hold and heal. How, upon cumming, I laugh uncontrollably. How, later or at any time, I weep at the most maudlin nonsense. A detergent commercial.”It also gives me joy to see your creative destruction of academic or philosophical authority over sex. I feel we have a similar drive in our writing to understand something, or grasp at a truth about sex (that maybe exists beyond our own words) and do something wild with it. To your question: it's hard to distinguish where I stop, and Silicone God begins. Even the scenes taking place in a future dimension called Time ruled by mushroom gods. Now, if the question is rather: Are there scenes that are written directly from experience? Yes. My book gives dramatic color to my thinking around the mistress archetype, and I have been a mistress many times. So some of the tougher scenes (and some of the hot ones) are direct from experience. So I've paired the very real, with the outright unreal. I wonder why. Does Myth Lab have a theory? Does it do the same?Jack: Yes, Silicone God’s trans divinity from the future comports with (one of) the central hypotheses in Myth Lab: That technology, an extension of language, is exponentially speeding human evolution. And this includes a new universe of sexual mutations. I sort-of summarize that in this line from the Myth Lab “theory” titled “Rendezvous with God-MILF”: “If DNA is evolution’s hardware, language is its software, and dirty talk does most of the coding.” Many of these ideas derive from Terence McKenna, the psychedelic shaman who postulated that pre-human evolution was jump-started by a metaphysical intervention from psilocybin mushrooms. So there’s another connection between your novel and my stories! Magic fungi! Towards the end of Silicone God, the narrator has this bizarre epiphany:When I first saw the Sea of Time, I thought it looked like heaven. It was a heaving mirror, the same color as the violet sunset  and the silica under my feet. Massive cock-shaped mushrooms poked up among the dunes….Setting aside the phallic symbolism of mushrooms, Let me ask you this: You’ve already acknowledged having been a multiple mistress. Do you also have experience with magic mushrooms? Or what is the source of your mushroom god imagery?Victoria: We've coincided with mushrooms: magic! I'm excited that you mention one of my favorite scenes in Silicone God. I have certainly had my fair share of psychedelic experiences, but the source of the imagery is rather the evolution and physicality of mushrooms themselves. I find it extraordinary that their mycelium underground networks have helped trees secretly communicate; even flirt with one another. And as a queer person who believes fiercely in activism, I adore this. Perhaps it's even brought together our books! I'm also interested in the analogy of the mycelium and the mistress, and how she becomes a mode/body of communication between wives (or indeed between wives and husbands, and with other mistresses). That's where I was going with the scene you mention: the mirror sea (made of mistresses) nourishes the mycelium which is the network connecting the mushroom fruit bodies. I feel like we could keep on talking about this (and our mycelium line of communication will certainly continue) but perhaps we can wrap things up here with my question to you about imagery in general. I feel like our approaches to imagery are similar, although in Myth Lab I was struck by how skillfully you managed to evoke so many hallucinogenic scenes. This, for many reasons, is one of my favorites: “It suggests that James Joyce’s mistress ululates her uvula. It flutters with ovulations in the ‘Linguaverse,’ as you might call it. The ultimate sex worker, this super uterus is formed by subtracting her slave names from her pet names, and hiero-symbols in doublewide quasar waterways.” I'm curious about the experiences and/or processes that have resulted in such poetic alchemy? Jack: These “theories” are intertextual: They are inspired by what I’m reading and hearing. I quote from other books, and each story ends with a list of sources. I blend them with personal compulsions to arrive at a third place: linguistically based with lots of dumb puns and pop-culture references. This is my go-to high/low synthesis. Myth Lab mixes everything from Kim Kardashian and TikTok to C.G. Jung and Noam Chomsky. Plus a bunch of mythology, romance and sex, including sex-worker material. It’s fun to write, and – one hopes! – to read.

by Benjamin Niespodziany

Perfect bound | 100 pages
Paperback | Die-cut matte cover | 6×6″

Read a page before sleep and thou shalt dream insanely.

–Alex van Warmerdam
Director of Palme d’Or nominated film ‘Borgman’