Archives

hannah stevens

CALL OF THE CIRCUS by Hannah Stevens

She didn’t know they were coming but she knew when they’d arrived. It was April and the weather was too good for the time of year.

She heard the noise on the breeze: the faint, twisted sound of faraway music from a tent. She was outside and sat on steps framed by wisteria. Purple flowers hung from the thin tangled limbs of the plant and the heavy, tapered bunches reminded her of grape vines. Her feet were pale and bare and the tops of them burned.

Every few minutes there was a lyric caught between the music in the air. Adel put on her shoes and began to walk towards the music. As a child she’d felt compelled to follow ice-cream vans and her mother had lost her more than once. It had never been the sweet things that drew her because they’d always hurt her teeth: it was the colour and noise that she’d had to chase.

The circus tent stood in the fields across the main road. It was tall and she could see the red top and stripes high above street signs and hedges. The sky above it was dark blue but faded to paler shades as it got closer to the earth. It hadn’t rained for weeks and the dust in the air turned orange in the falling sun.

Later, when Noah was home, she told him they would eat in the garden. It was Sunday and he’d been working overtime again. Outside, she’d already lit the barbeque and the coals were silver and hot. Coloured bowls of salad and rice were laid on the table and she’d chopped radishes in the shape of jagged flower heads.

‘We’re eating outside tonight,’ she said, ‘you just need to bring the wine and glasses.’ She handed him a cold, cloudy bottle from the fridge and watched as the condensation ran down its neck.

‘Oh,’ he said, ‘but what about the bugs: I’ll be bitten all over.’ He looked at her but she was already in the arch of the door.

‘There’s something in the cupboard for that,’ she said without turning her head. ‘I’ll see you outside.’

It was past ten now and though the garden was dark the sky still had patches of blue. It was as if day was waiting for something and wouldn’t leave.

‘Look at that,’ Adel said and pointed upwards.

‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘it reminds me of a toy I had as a child: it was like a jigsaw puzzle except it was made of wooden blocks. You flipped them over one way and it was a night scene. You flipped them the other and it was day. Sometimes I only turned half so it could be both at the same time. I always wanted it all, even then.’ He laughed.

‘That’s sweet,’ she said even though she didn’t mean it.

‘Maybe we’ll get something similar when we have children,’ he said and looked at her in that way he always did when he wanted something. She picked up the folded blanket beside her and pulled it across her legs.

She remembered the time she’d thought she was pregnant. It wasn’t that long ago and she remembered the sick feeling and how she couldn’t bear to do a test. Instead she’d looked up abortion clinics and how they did it. When Noah asked what made her restless at night she’d said it was work. Or maybe she was eating too late. It was probably just one of those things, you know how it is. In the end there’d been nothing to worry about after all. Either she’d miscounted the dates or nature had solved the problem for her.

‘Shall we go inside?’ he said. ‘I think I’ve been bitten. Plus we’ve both got early starts tomorrow and you look tired.’

She thought of the drive to work in the morning and reading the same street names as she passed them. She thought of the traffic crawling at its painful pace during rush hour and parents at school gates with purple circles beneath eyes they could barely keep open.

‘You go,’ she said, ‘I’m staying out a little bit longer.’

‘What about the cleaning up?’ he asked.

‘It can wait,’ she said. ‘Let’s be reckless.’ She picked up her glass then and swallowed the last of the wine.

‘Okay, just this once,’ he laughed and then he kissed her nose which felt cold now.

She waited until she heard the click of the door as it closed. Then she stood up and crossed the garden. The grass was cool and she could feel the material of her canvas shoes dampen as she walked. She stopped at the top of the driveway. A few seconds passed. There was still the sound of music but it was fainter now: maybe the circus had finished for the night. She hesitated for a moment and then stepped onto the pavement.

There were caravans lined up in neat rows behind the circus tent. In some she could see lights glowing from behind drawn curtains while others were in darkness. She wondered who was inside and if any of them were sleeping yet. There was noise coming from the circus tent and the music was louder there. She pushed aside the material that had been untied from its guy ropes and now hung across the entrance.

String lights were suspended from the ceiling and curled around supporting poles and ropes. They were shaped like lanterns and glowed red, yellow, green and blue. There were clowns in the centre of the tent and she watched as they stacked chairs and put props into boxes. Adel noticed a pile of empty beer bottles.

‘Are you okay?’ a clown in braces with bare feet asked.

‘Yes’, she said, ‘I was just having a look.’

‘Well the show’s over now, you missed it,’ said the clown, ‘but you can join us for a drink if you want.’ There was a gesture towards seats close to where Adel stood. She took a few steps and sat down. The clown offered her a bottle of beer and she leant forward to take it.

It was hot in the tent: the heat was damp and humid and Adel tasted salt on her lips. The clowns were still wearing their makeup and she wondered if she would recognise any of them once they’d taken it off. The clown next to Adel had smudged some of the white paint across her face and flashes of peach were slashed across her forehead.

Someone turned up the music and then there was dancing.

‘Let’s dance,’ said the clown with the smudge. She held out her hand as if inviting Adel to a formal waltz. Adel laughed and stood up. The clown’s hand was cool in spite of the heat and she was surprised.

‘When are you leaving?’ Adel said.

‘Tomorrow,’ said the clown and raised an eyebrow. ‘In the morning when most people will still be asleep.’ Adel could feel her phone as it buzzed in her pocket. It was Noah but she didn’t answer. The clown’s shirt was undone now and there was a vest she could see through beneath. A giant blue bow was still tied across her throat and she touched it. It was soft between her fingertips.

‘Even after all these beers?’ Adel asked and lifted her empty bottle into the air.

‘Of course,’ said the clown and she pulled Adel closer. ‘Come with us.’

Read More »
bram riddlebarger

SOY by Bram Riddlebarger

It was when he started drinking the milkshakes that the trouble began. Before two weeks had passed he had ballooned up fifty pounds and was beating the pulp out of every motherfucker that came within an inch of his mind’s eye.

His power, he believed, came from his special method, patent pending, of milkshake making. It had to do with split-second timing between milk added and ice cream stirred, although quick wrist action was as necessary a factor as any. Of course, he didn’t use an electric blender. It was just pure spoon on glass like a junkie and his needle. He needed these milkshakes. They were his rebirth into the realm of the gods and he was their master.

In one sick instance of his depravity, he beat a skinny blond-haired boy to a bloody mess as he recited the current thirty-one flavors of Baskin-Robbins ice cream in 3/4 time: one flavor for every blow to the boy's ever-flattening blond melon. Then he went home for a vanilla milkshake. He needed simplicity in the wake of triumph.

Then, when all the cows died, he was ruined. There was just no room for soy in his life.

He cried about it sometimes, later, but mostly he just dwindled away.

Read More »

TIME TO MEET YOUR GOD by Chris Dankland

Mr. Coyote stuck his long down-curved nose through a crack in his apartment door. He pushed his head outside and looked left. He sniffed the stale apartment building hallway. He looked right. Nobody there. Thirty seconds later he left his posh 30th floor apartment holding a big bag of trash slung over his shoulder. He was wearing black gloves. Mr. Coyote calmly walked down the hall, opened the building trash chute, and dumped the bag of trash down the chute. He looked left. He sniffed the stale apartment building hallway. He looked right. And that, he thought, is the end of that.

Three hours ago, he’d been staring at a traveling collection of paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder. The paintings were showing at the MoMA. They were exquisite. His favorite was a painting called Venus, showing a petite naked woman holding a transparent veil. Her eyes were thin and cat-like. Her thin pink lips were dented in a narcotic grin. Mr. Coyote couldn’t help but get as hard as a rock as he stared at her perfect painted skin. The true sign of a masterpiece.

The painting was still superimposed over his brain as he walked out the museum doors into the hot summer air, heavy with the smell of street piss and exhaust. Under his breath he absentmindedly mumbled the lyrics to Mystic Stylez as he strolled down the sidewalk a long way. Mr. Coyote suddenly looked up. He stopped. A petite teenager in a red t-shirt and jeans was passed out on the street, half leaning on a park gate. She obviously homeless. A thin layer of grime had accumulated sweat coated her skin. Her emaciated body spelled out junkie. Mr. Coyote though she was gorgeous. He walked closer and looked down at her. Two braless nipples poked through her skimpy t-shirt. Her jeans hung off her sharp skeleton hips, showing a small white lip of panties around the edge. Her thin pink lips were dented in a narcotic grin. Mr. Coyote put his hands in his pockets and moved them around.

A minute later he pulled out a bottle of Oxycontin. He bent down and shook the girl’s shoulder, shaking the pill bottle. Hey, he said, shaking her. Hey there. Do you see?

The girl stirred and slowly opened her eyes. She must have been doped up to seventh heaven. Anyone else who had been woken up in that position would have bolted upright. But this girl nearly climbed into his arms. Her eyes slowly flickered to life like a newborn butterfly. The girl looked up at him. She moaned, her body full of sleep. Daddy? she mumbled. Is that you, daddy?

He held the pill bottle inches before her face and shook it. That seemed to wake her up a little. Holy shit, she said.

That’s right, said Mr. Coyote. Holiest thing in the city.

She slowly looked up at him with purring kitten eyes. What do you want? she asked.

I want you to follow me home, said Mr. Coyote. Understand?

She nodded. I’ll follow you home, Daddy. She stood up, stumbling a little. Her clothes sagged off her. She was halfway dead already. Lead the way, she said.

Mr. Coyote shook his head. You walk in front of me and I’ll tell you the way.

The girl grinned. But I’m so little, Daddy, I’m not gonna hurt you.

It doesn’t take much muscle to slip a knife into somebody’s kidney and make off with their pills, he said.

She laughed. Do you have a cigarette?

Sure, he said. What kind do you smoke.

I don’t care, whatever you got. I like Camel Lights.

Mr. Coyote put his hands in his pocket and moved them around. A minute later he pulled out a pack of Camel Lights.

Thank you, Daddy. She pulled a cigarette from the pack and he lit it for her. Where’d you get that big bottle from, hmm?

Mr. Coyote put the cigarette pack in his pocket, pulled his hand out again, and pointed. My apartment is that way, he said.

She took a long drag and turned around and started walking. A long silver river of smoke curved through the city air as she moved from one cracked cement square to another with Mr. Coyote close behind. They walked four blocks like that, and she hardly turned around to look at him. She could feel his gaze on her body. She knew that he was following her as much as she was following him. Her tiny skeleton ass was fastened to his black, flesh devouring pupils. She was going to get high, all right. And anything else she could get, too. She was young and confident and stupid.

Back at his apartment, Mr. Coyote had her get on her knees and open her mouth to receive the pills he doled out. He put the pills on her tongue like a priest giving out the sacraments. He sat down on his expensive sofa and waited for them to kick in. He played Mystic Stylez on the stereo.

Soon the girl was floating through the apartment like a helium balloon, swaying and bobbing in the air, taking off her clothes exactly like he told her.

Mr. Coyote narrowed his eyes and stared at her. He licked his lips and spoke. You’re one of my babies, aren’t you? I think I recognize you.

Yesssss, said the girl. She floated through the apartment like a plastic bag in the wind. You’re my daddy.

As the girl’s body grew lighter and more and more weightless, the apartment darkened and sunk. Although they were on the 30th floor, the apartment was sinking underground, down below the never-ending battlefield of bloody, twitching hearts. The apartment was sinking down into the trenches. Down into the bone fields we call earth.

A flash of realization struck Mr. Coyote’s face. You’re a child of mine, he said. He stood up, walked over to the girl, grabbed her hands, and pushed his face close. The girl was suddenly frightened. Yes, said Mr. Coyote. Yes. Yes, I’m sure of it.

Read More »

CARS THAT TREATED ME POORLY by Jennifer Greidus

These aren’t pictures of my cars. In fact, they may not even be pictures of the years of my cars. They are the color of my cars, the model, the make. The years, however, are a blur of heartbreak, manslaughter, and ice storms.

Volvo 66: My mother conceived her second child in this car. (Remember, not this car but a car such as this car.) There was a big scene and a miscarriage, which led to a complicated D&C, and then we had to have a memorial for the fetus. I am an only child.

Honda Accord: I drove this car to Kentucky, where I went to college. I drove it home 4 months later because I dropped out of college. I dropped out because they wanted me to swim, and I was scared of showing parts of my body in swimming class. The drive home was sad, too, because I had no music.

Lincoln Continental: I drove this car to Buffalo, NY. Or rather, I tried to. There was an ice storm. I think it was the 90s. I didn’t know that Bridge Freezes Before Road Surface was a serious thing. My friend was playing Madonna and singing to “True Blue” with her feet on the dashboard. I hit the side rail and then went down an embankment. The lawyer said “embankment,” but it was really more of a cliff. My friend went through the windshield.

Acura MDX: I took my grandma to the hospital in this car. She was cranky. She was also a woman who worried a lot about personal composure. She was unkind to me a lot. When we got to the hospital, she tripped on the space between the floor and the elevator. You know, that small gap, like 2 inches. I didn’t help her up right away. That was a conscious decision, not to help her up right away. On the way home in this car, she told me I looked fat.

Toyota Tacoma: I was raped in the backseat of this truck.

Read More »
sam pink

INTERVIEW WITH SAM PINK by Benjamin Scott

Sam Pink is the author of a dozen books, including Person, The No Hellos Diet, Hurt Others,  and Witch Piss.  I interviewed him about his latest book The Garbage Times/White Ibis, his paintings, and his time living in Florida.

BS: You lived in Chicago for a while but several years ago you moved to Florida. What sparked the move and why have you moved back to Chicago?

SP: I moved to Florida for the person I was dating. I moved back when we broke up.

BS: Sorry to hear about that. Does Chicago seem different? Where is the best place to eat in Chicago?

SP: Yes, it seems different, in that I view it differently but also that it is has slightly changed. The best place to eat is Arturo's on Western.

BS: You have a book coming out next month that contains two novellas: The Garbage Times/White Ibis. What are they about?

SP: The Garbage Times is about working at a bar in Chicago. White Ibis is about moving to Florida. They are also about a whole range of other things, both intended and unintended.

BS: Are you planning on doing any public readings? Or attending writer events/conferences?

SP: Yeah I have some readings set up, and hopefully more this year. I enjoy doing readings. I went to AWP this year as well.

BS: Your last book came out in 2014 you spent most of the past couple years painting while in Florida. How were the hurricanes?

SP: The hurricanes, where I was at, were very mild. I had an experience during one of them though. I went to my girlfriend's parents' house to hunker down because the news made it seem like the entire state was going to die. And as the time for the storm drew nearer, I had a panic attack (like heart racing and unable to stop thinking/calm down) consisting of envisioning the storm hitting, like visualizing the destruction of the wind, the walls of the house coming down and being pulled away by water, trying to save people, dying, etc., which continued to escalate in a way that was hard to endure, but then when I identified that there was a bad storm coming, and nowhere I could go, and that I'd have to try and survive and help the people around me survive as best I could, and that was just how it would be, I immediately became calm, and almost at the same time, the storm changed course and weakened and became nothing.

BS: How many paintings do you think you made?

SP: Including drawings, probably 200/250 or so.

BS: Do you plan on doing more?

SP: Yes, I just don't have a place to paint right now.

BS: Did you ever take any art classes in school?

SP: I took an art class in high school, which was basically like a crafts class/babysitting class.

BS: Why are art teachers quirky?

SP: Some spirits do different dances to get out.

BS: Where did you work while living in Florida?

SP: I was a dishwasher, a home remodeller, a medical warehouse employee, a machine operator, and an ice cream man. I interviewed to be a mortuary driver, but felt like the protocol of only sending me and not two people to pick up dead bodies was unreasonable.

BS: What is the worst/weirdest job you've ever had?

SP: (lights cigarette and looks off to side) Being me, dude.

BS: Are you working since you've moved back to Chicago?

SP: Not really, I'm looking for a job.

BS: How would you describe your books?  

SP: I wouldn't describe them. That's what the words inside are for. Plus I honestly think other people understand what the books are about better than me, based off what they've told me throughout the years.  

BS: Would you consider your books socially political as many of the characters/narrators are not out in front of society?

SP: Yes, in that you can interpret almost anything politically/socially. But no, in terms of any explicit ideas.

BS: Do you have a writing process? Do you make notes or have any habits? Does it take you a long time to write a book?

SP: Kind of. Usually I have a bunch of notes I've written down, or scenes I want to write, and then begin developing them. Usually takes a year to write a book.

BS: What inspired you to first start writing and painting?

SP: My spirit.

BS: While following your painting output I've  noticed they tended to get bigger and the patterns/colors would change. When painting do you just use whatever materials are around or do you seek out certain colors brush's medium etc? Do you still have paintings for sale?

SP: I used to, and sometimes still do, use whatever is around.  It helps to break patterns, and different tools do different things. But I have also gotten into purchasing art supplies, like specific colors, canvases, etc. I have two paintings for sale still.

BS: Do you work on one project (book/painting) at a time or do you jump between them?  Are many of your paintings related to the content of any of your books?

SP: Usually one at a time. My mind usually tells me when to switch. Like if I feel less enthused about writing, then I switch, and vice versa.  None of the paintings are directly related, but I have used them for book covers, etc., and also, I reference painting in White Ibis.

BS: Are there any authors that influenced your writing style?

SP: Yeah, but more in the way that they encourage me to 'tag in' and contribute, rather than giving me style points. I feel more influenced to 'do something' when encountering stuff that inspires me, rather than, 'I should do stuff like that.' Style is personality. Your personality is  your style. Even if you're writing about aliens, those are aliens from your personality.

BS: How do you feel about the current political climate in the USA and globally?

SP: Haha, man...

BS: Do you listen to podcasts? Which ones?

SP: No.

BS: How many cats do you have? What are there names?

SP: I have two, Benny and Dotty.

BS: Which authors/books do people need to read now?

SP: Oh man, too many to list and remember right now. I try to support as many of them as I can, with what ability I have. But there's a crop coming up that is kablooey. There are writers and painters and other people coming up right now that are doing a lot to make me excited. Don't worry about them just yet, they will announce when they're ready. One book people need to for sure read is Welfare by Steve Anwyll, coming out this fall from Tyrant Press. They have paid me nothing to say this.

BS: Why should people buy your book and where can they buy it?

PS: Because it will entertain them and maybe do other weird things with their mind and because I'm a sweetheart. They can order now through Soft Skull Press, or through various online and physical locations on may 1st when it comes out.

BS: Are you working on any future projects now?

SP: Yes, I'm working on a book of short stories that is pretty much done.  It's called The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories.

NEXT: EXCERPT FROM LIVEBLOG by Megan Boyle

Read More »

LILLY AND THE NINE-TOED WOMAN by Toom Bucksaw

Lilly brushed her teeth and saw another woman’s face in the mirror. She stared into her eyes and wished she could ask that woman where the fourth toe of her left foot had gone. Why hadn’t she taken better care of herself? Didn’t she know Lilly would need her toes someday? Lilly pulled her socks on and tried to forgive her.

In the big room Ellis was still sleeping on the floor with his head on the couch. The mechanical blinds on the window were creakily opening and shafts of sunlight were pooling on his face. Lilly didn’t let him sleep with her anymore because he came home late, but most importantly his drunken pratfalls into bed forced her to wake up and become accustomed to the weird way her sheets rested on a body that wasn’t her own once more before going back to sleep. He’d been more of a roommate than a boyfriend since the operation anyway.

Lilly crossed the big room and slid her card in her reward kiosk.

“Congratulations,” it said. “Thirty three point three repeating chips have been awarded to your account. Check back tomorrow at sunrise for fresh new chips. Tomorrow, the sun will rise at six thirty one A.M. Today’s temperature is fifty six degrees. Would you like a receipt?”

She couldn’t change the volume on this model, not that she cared to. Ellis stirred, like he did every morning; his breathing was shallower now and less rhythmic and she knew that she’d woken him up. Lilly was glad he had enough sense to play dead until she left. She allowed the kiosk printer to work loudly at a nine and a half inch receipt covered in full-color advertisements. The price of the ink was worth Ellis’s furrowed brow.

Lilly rode the mover to work and waded through that same gauntlet of obligated empathy and “if you need anything call me” eyes that had lined the path to her cubicle since the operation and showed no sign of abating. Her new photo I.D. still wasn’t scanning right at the check-in. She pulled out her old I.D. with her old face on it and the guard waved her through.

She was once the fastest typist in her department. The clacking of keys from her cubicle used to be the centerpiece of her floor; two years ago her secret santa had given her an extremely loud keyboard and when its keys rang out from her desk her coworkers were not annoyed but proud that they should share a floor with such an efficient worker. Now the nine-toed woman’s fat, dumb fingers had cost the company 1,325.638 chips in typos and clerical errors. She typed as quietly as she could so no one could hear how slowly she did it.

She typed so slowly that her mind wandered and filled the gaps between each keystroke. She thought mostly of when she was taller, thinner and whiter and of when Ellis slept beside her, and she pretended that he’d embrace her when she got home, pretended he’d be there at all.

The sun had set on the city when work got out and the mover was crammed with people. Rain pounded the street and drenched the commuters on this unenclosed section of the mover. Lilly stood under someone’s balcony out of the rain and swiped through the faces of the single men she shared this metropolis with. She’d been fielding these digital men for a little while now, about as long as Ellis had been sleeping in the big room, and to her disappointment she’d realized that as long as she shared rent with the only man she wanted and allowed him to eat from her refrigerator, she’d always want him.

Lately, there’d been one possible exception.

“You free tonight? Would love to finally meet,” Brandon messaged her. Her phone vibrated and with it her entire being. Brandon had started an acquaintance with her shortly after she’d made her profile, and he was the only one whose messages she watched for. He was everything she could have hoped for in a man she met through a chat box. He didn’t come on strong and most of all he didn’t tell her how much he “loved Mexican”. She’d been told the nine-toed woman was Bolivian, anyway.

She smiled at Brandon that night in the dim light of a mediterranean place Ellis had taken her once when he had had money. “Now that’s what I like to see,” he said. “Do it again.” She couldn’t help but smile again, and laugh as she hadn’t since the time when she’d had her own ten toes to walk on. “The way your lips curl when you smile.” He closed his eyes and did that kissing motion with his fingers she supposed French chefs did when they see a great soufflé .

She told Brandon about her job and how the nine-toed woman’s ten fat fingers had ruined her prestige. He laughed, but his laughter died quickly. He asked what else bothered her about her body. She told him about her missing fourth toe, and when he asked her what had happened to it she told him they didn’t tell her things like that. “Don’t you ever wonder?” he asked, his face wrinkling oddly in a charged confusion. The expression caught her off guard. She made an ambivalent expression that involved a shrug, raised eyebrows and a shake of the head and thought she saw some curious shade fall over him, but it was gone as soon as she noticed it.

Brandon ate and Lilly watched his jaws grind his food into paste. Handsome, handsomer than Ellis maybe. Ellis’s mind-life insurance certainly wouldn’t cover a body with such a strong chin, at least. A man could sell a chin like that and live pretty well. He was nice, perhaps overly so, but there are worse things to be, she thought, and you can’t buy nice the same way you can buy a better chin. She traced his eyes as he ate and when he went to the restroom she smiled only for herself, feeling her lips curl the way Brandon liked and for the first time finding herself liking it too.

Ellis was gone when she led Brandon through the kitchen and into the big room, the front door sliding itself shut behind her. Some mechanism misfired as it always did during the locking routine and some metal clanged inside the door. The sound was loud enough to wake her up most mornings when Ellis came stumbling through, but tonight she hardly heard it.

She could already feel his hands on her. At dinner she’d looked over each of his fingers from tip to knuckle and couldn’t help but see the monetary value inherent to their beauty. She imagined herself like a greedy cartoon character, some oil tycoon or gold prospector, archaic dollar signs flickering in her eyes, wanting to feel that monetary value inside her, as if it would somehow increase her own.

The door to her bedroom malfunctioned and beeped at her. She leaned her back against the stubborn door and smiled through a sigh. Brandon caught up with her and her body, not anyone else’s, was pinned between the heat of Brandon and the deep space chill of the metal door and it was her body, not anyone else’s, that became increasingly exposed as the clothing she concealed it under fell to the floor piece by piece.

His fingers crept along her outline and they kissed under the flickering tubes in her ceiling. His touch made her feel expensive. He caressed the curves of her “budget” 700,000 chip body the way Ellis had caressed the body of the woman she’d been before. That woman seemed alien to her now. She’d feared that using another woman’s body to have sex would feel strange, wrong, or possibly like some twisted late-capitalist form of rape, but it was just the opposite. Feeling Brandon inside her, knowing he was there only because she was exactly who she was, made that body, finally, miraculously, her own.

When they finished, they laid against the couch Lilly usually found Ellis dangling off of in the morning and stared at the soft blinking lights on the reward kiosk across the room. Brandon talked more about the place he went on holidays, out west where the mover didn’t reach and you could even see stars if the moon was new. He showed her a picture on his phone of the perfect blue water you could rent a room beside. She pinched her fingers on the screen and enlarged the image to see a fisherman on the lake.

The utter solitude of that figure stirred something in her chest; she wanted immediately for Brandon to take her there, onto the water, where they could float on the waves of that blue mirror and be near no one but themselves. How little she knew about this man meant nothing to her. She knew enough. She knew that he was Brandon, that he wanted her, and that the fisherman was calling to her from across time.

She swiped the image aside and saw another much like it. This time the focus of the picture was on the snowcapped mountains that cut across the sky. Brandon reached for the phone, but she moved it away from his grasp.

She swiped again. A picnic blanket, with sandwiches on paper plates, spread across sand.

At first she didn’t notice it, but as her eyes crawled along the pixels that made up the enchanting image of rural bliss, they tripped over an object of singular Wrongness, a chaotic thing impinging upon the scene of rustic tranquility Lilly had never known. It was her own maimed foot.

Brandon snatched at the phone and ripped it out of her hand, muttering some curse under his breath. Her flesh dragged across the screen, sliding the photo and revealing a portrait of her own pudgy, olive face, her hair lightly tossed in the lake-blown breeze. She looked happy. She did a better job with her make-up than Lilly could.

She could only confront the face of the nine-toed woman for a moment before the screen went black and Brandon thrust the phone into his pocket. He stood shirtless putting on his belt. Lilly watched him from the floor, her reclaimed sense of self nothing but a foolish sex-fueled lark now in the tightening prison of Other flesh. “What was my name?” she asked.

Brandon pulled his shirt over his head and paused, his mouth hanging open. He shook his handsome head and started across the big room toward the door.

There was a pounding on the metal. “Lilly,” Ellis slurred from beyond it, “unlock this shit.”

Brandon opened the door using the terminal and Ellis tumbled through it, immediately falling onto the kitchen floor, not taking any note of the man in his way. The door slid shut and Brandon’s footsteps faded down the hall. Lilly lay naked on the big room floor, listening to Ellis breathe against the grubby kitchen tile and felt a shred of intimacy sharing the floor with him, however far away. She thought about the lake and her hair blowing in its wind as if it were a memory and looked around at the things that didn’t belong to her, the reward kiosk ready to distribute another woman’s chips, the refrigerator stocked with another woman’s food, another woman’s ex-lover sleeping in the dirt of another woman’s sloven apartment. Some cluster of cells in her wanted to run after Brandon and tell him it didn’t matter what her name was, that she would be whoever he wanted her to be, as long as he would have her, but she couldn’t be sure if those were another woman’s desires.

She let him disappear along the mover and stayed there somewhere inside the nine-toed woman, wondering if two halves made a whole.

Read More »
daniel handelman

HONOR SYSTEM by Daniel Handelman

"Maybe some people have both,” she said.

She was rolling up a joint. It had too much weed in it. The edges didn’t connect.

“The way she writes the male,” she said. “She knows the male. But does the male know the female?”

She leaned back into the couch. They’d gone to a motel. There was no Americana, no plastic flamingoes. It was a motel with none of that. It wasn’t what she pictured.

“There must be a male who knows the female,” he said. “Out of seven billion people, it is possible there is a male who knows the female.”

“Maybe,” she said. She removed a pinch of weed and sprinkled it on the coffee table. The joint wrapped up nicely now. She licked the seam, then offered it to him.

He shook his head.

“Sure?” she said, holding it an inch higher.

They sat looking an old TV. She lit the joint.

“Are we fighting?” she said.

“No.”

“You can tell me if we are fighting.”

It was night. A thin slice of light came through the curtains, splitting apart a watercolor of a boat and churning sea.

“We are fighting,” he said.

She leaned forward a little off the couch, her head between her knees.

“Getting in bed,” she said.

She took off her boots and pants and fell onto the mattress, bouncing, the crunch of springs.

“Would you wear jewelry?” she said from the bed.

“Jewelry?” he said.

“I wear this,” she said, holding up her hand. “The ring you gave me. You’ve never worn jewelry?”

“I wore a Saint Christopher,” he said, thinking. “And pookah shells. That was middle school, the mid-nineties.”

“Not now? — in the late teens?”

“I have the shirt,” he said, looking down at it. He liked it. There was a shark on it.

“No,” she said. “Something significant.”

*

In the morning she was up and out of the room before he woke.

He went out onto the balcony. The sun was a weak glob.

He saw her approaching, her head bobbing, jogging. She came up the stairs and slid her keycard. She took off her running shorts and shirt, then got in the shower.

His neck hurt. He stretched out on the floor, flipped through channels.

*

They drove to a gas station. A bird pecked at an oily puddle. They bought a bottle of wine and poured it into a canteen.

On the highway they didn’t talk but could feel the tension loosening. They were starting to feel happy. Some thick film between them breaking apart. Palm trees swayed freely. Cars on the road seemed friendlier.

They drove and drove through less and less civilization. Fast food, names of DUI lawyers. Everything was sweating. The freeway became a two-lane highway. Dirt roads led off into woods marked by bunches of mailboxes.

*

They came to a fruit shack.

They walked down the aisle of bananas, mangos, guava.

Coconut, watermelon.

He picked up a mango and put it to his nose. “This one,” he said.

She took it and set it down at the register. She added a hand of bananas and a guava.

They looked around.

“Nobody’s here.”

At the register was a lock box with a slot in it, a list of fruit and their prices.

“It’s an honor system,” she said.

She took out some money from her bag. He went back to the car for quarters. They kept expecting someone to appear, to take their money, but no one did.

It was getting dark. The two-lane highway connected with a freeway, back to civilization, where they came to the brand of motel they’d stayed at the night before. The woman at the front desk looked similar to the other, and for a moment they felt like they’d gone in a circle.

“Can you recommend anything for dinner?” she asked the woman.

“Mall’s your best bet,” she said. “Just down the road.”

In the mall, she lost him on purpose. When she tapped his shoulder, he hadn’t known she’d gone.

*

Back at the motel she reached in her bag and took out a gift box.

“For you.”

He pulled apart the ribbon and slid off the top. There was a locket, a gold heart on a silver chain, and a ring with a blue stone.

“Do you like it?” she said.

He put on the ring. She helped him with the necklace, turned him around and kissed him, took his hand and put it under her shirt.

He had the thought that he was her. That he wanted to be wearing her lingerie.

Read More »

LUCK OF THE PLUG by Gregg Williard

The power strip could take nine plugs. Only four were being used. The floor lamp, table lamp, TV/DVD player and CD player were all off.  She pressed the off switch on the strip. The little light went out. She pulled out the plugs.  She went to the kitchen and got a roll of tinfoil. She tore off small pieces and tucked them into the outlets, deep enough to be hidden. She wiggled the plugs back into the outlets.  She used a butter knife to wedge tinfoil behind the power switch. Maybe when he turned the strip back on it would just trip the breakers and blow out the power. Piss him off real bad and give her a little head start.  If it killed him she’d be in the clear for good, but he’d never know she did it.  She pulled out the driveway and headed for the interstate, weighing either outcome with a smile.

Read More »
rebecca gransden

BABY WITH A FLAMETHROWER, CHEWING GUM ON A MOUNTAIN by Rebecca Gransden

Stay back!

I will melt your mugs with fire if you move an inch, you police cordon shitmorons.

Your pink stinks.

Especially you. Stares at squat policewoman centre left

I’ve filed my baby teeth into pointy baby fangs, and I will bite with my baby jaw if you try to stop me. The pitball in the alley showed me how to do it. I watched its eyes too, you know.

Baby arcs flamethrower flame overhead making an infernal rainbow against a starry ink sky

My burping today is toxic gas, regurgitated from last night, from the barrels of radioactive waste I found at the back of the supermarket. Yes, I guzzled them. I’m a baby! I’m a chubby flesh house of tantrum and mayhem! I will have my barrels to feast upon, my chemical dummy to furiously suck, my substitute nipple of chaos and disaster! Bring them to me or I will burn you until it’s not funny anymore.

Police officer uses megaphone to address baby but baby cannot hear due to whooshing of flamethrower going berserk

Nom, nom, nom. Just thinking of it now gets me going. Green sludge of my dreams. Every second without it is a nightmare! I will unleash fury of the like your tiny minds cannot comprehend if I’m deprived any longer. Where is my waste? Get me my barrels, you incompetent inverted dick whistlers!

The police line retreats and huddles in a circle, deliberating

Baby goose-steps along the mountain path, the city at night displayed below

One of the officers breaks free from the circle and screams through the megaphone Stop doing that, it constitutes a form of hate speech”

You are going to make a point? Now?

Baby’s eyes glow with red rage

I’m a freewheeling baby without a care in the world, strutting the land on which I was born. I’m brand new and that’s a fact, and this, this? is how you react? You can’t swallow the freedom, can’t stand my show. You’re a baby too, didn’t you know?

The megaphone says Stop rhyming. I find it offensive”

Couplets, smuplets. You let me be, or I’ll fry every one of ye. See this fire, see this flame, I see the whites of eyes resplendent tonight, in my firelight.

Baby shoots a bolt of flame like a waterfall

Wanna be crispy? Wanna be a delight! Roast you up on a spit, fry your innards, cook your fingers, that barbecue aroma so sweatily lingers, onions and oil stench from your skin, endlessly turning. What a sight, what a smell, my fangs gnash in chomps of glee, in this future, that will be, surely. Now get me my barrels before hell is raised, and you, my stinky chums, are glazed.

Fuck off”

I’m getting ready to go turbo, up to the max. I’ve been pumping iron while weeping, in preparation for this day. There’s nothing you can surprise me with.

The circle disbands and a hefty police officer steps from her parting colleagues, a bazooka on her shoulder

Holy shit! Don’t bazooka me. Overkill! I’m just a baby! Baby cries Mother!

A man in a casual suit sidles up to bazooka woman, calmly takes the megaphone from the other officer and says My name is Mike Oldfield. Would you like us to contact your mother for you?”

Still crying No. I don’t want her to see me like this. Because I’d kill her. I’d pyre her just like the rest of you. Snot cries of disgust Get that patronising negotiator away from me. Give me a stake and I’ll burn you black on it. Yum.

The man slinks off, leaving bazooka policewoman to confirm her readiness with a wide load-bearing leg stance

You’re nearing your end, the end of you, flamed by an infant with an addiction to goo. What a travesty, a glorious way to expire, I’ll give you a way to be remembered, I know you care a lot about that, with your badges and accolades and slaps on the back. You drew the line of duty, and perished, what fun. Do you want me to disembowel you to add symbolic weight to your desisting? Hail me with bazooka! Split my entrails to bits, let’s see my flesh fly over this cretinous city, to the earth, a zit.

The officer picks up the megaphone and says For the record, why are you doing this?”

I’m bored. And your face hurts my eyes with its disinterest. I’m chewing this gum I’ve collected since I was born. When I slapped my way out of the afterbirth I had become conscious on, across a concrete wetted with the fluids of my birth, I lifted the umbilical, which had nearly strangled me, from my blue neck and took some breaths filled with ammonia and rot. I left my mother’s carcass to the back alley predators and crawled away shaking and weak. On my way to finding my feet the path was decorated with gum of many colours, smells, and, I discovered, tastes. Soon I was using my baby energies to claw the flattened gum away from the street, until I had a precious ball made from each piece squished together, a chewy gobstopper linking me to humanity, all those mouths turning the gum against their tongues, biting down with their teeth, infusing with their saliva and cells. Now I have them, I can taste them, every one of them. So give me my barrels! That slime is the only thing I’ve eaten that takes the taste away. Cleanse my palate, you rancid harbingers of nothing!

Flamethrower roars

Die, die, die! This infant malcontent will atomic bomb your soul in a booming eruption of fire vomit. I can hear your molecules praying. Squeal as you kneel, fucksters!

Bazooka whooshes from inside ball of hellfire and screaming

And misses

Not even a comeuppance!

Bazooka hits the hillside behind baby and shakes the mountain

The officers continue to die and moan

With my flamethrower ablaze I shall hit the city.

Baby waddles towards the twinkling city lights, thrusting the spewing head of flame forwards

Read More »