The two women with blood sprinklers in their eyes stood at the railings and looked down at the water. It churned about like great whips of cream under a lazy spoon, throwing petulant fountains of oyster salt over the groynes. Foam bubbled at the shore when it came in with the morning tide and seagulls barked at the brooding ceiling of grey. The flags along the pier whipped against their poles with heavy slaps.

'The doughnuts are smaller than they used to be,' Poppy said. She brushed the sugar from her fingers and fished the pebble from her pocket, a souvenir from the night before. It felt dry between her forefinger and thumb, like the rub of a tongue against a brick wall. 'Oh, God. Betsy.'

A woman wearing a pink meringue for a dress was walking barefoot along the beach, lipstick-pink heels in one hand. One of the straps of her dress was halfway down her arm but the white sash was still tied over one shoulder. Her cheeks were purple pomegranates, clashing with the pink of her dress and the orange knit-bundle of her hair.

'God, I hope she didn't sleep on the beach,' Poppy said. 'Let's—'

'I can't face anyone yet,' Marie said.

A seagull came into landing on the dome behind them and war-cried, its gullet throbbing with undulating golf balls. The other gulls joined the chorus of laughing madness and swept low over the pier, looking for smash-and-grabs.

 'Listen, Marie, it happens all the time. No one's going to say anything. Dave probably did the same thing on his stag—'

Poppy's words dropped between them like ducks shot from the sky. Marie removed her elbows from the railings and followed the boardwalk out to sea. She watched her feet, heard their rhythmic clapping against the wood. She watched the zoetrope of water in the recesses between the boards, washing up against the iron pilings below. The rank rot of tequila still lined her throat and she tasted it on her tongue.

 'You're not thinking of telling him, are you?' Poppy asked.

Marie walked on, past the kiosks selling joyous Saturday rock and oversized rainbow dummies and fish and chips and crepes. She leaned up against the face-in-the-hole photo board and doubled over. Poppy opened the paper bag of doughnuts and held it out under Marie's mouth like a horse's feedbag, wincing as it filled up.

Marie straightened up and wiped the back of her hand across her lips. She looked at the picture on the board, of the bride and groom riding off together, their faces missing; through them she saw only the sea, bleak and rusted green, frothing all the way to France.

Continue Reading...

MARBLES by Bram Riddlebarger

"Sit down and take a load off," said Jack.

"We've been working like the queen's bees."

"Yeah," said Tommy.

He was tired.

"Which one did you go out on today, Tommy? I thought I saw that #4 sagging a little."

Jack wasn't joking.

Tommy was real fat.

He was tired, too.

"No," said Tommy. "I stayed on shore and flirted with that cute little Amy. The one with only one eye. Besides that, she's real cute."

"Are you shitting me?"

"Nope," said Tommy.

They drank warm beer out of brown bottles.

Jack couldn't believe this Tommy.

"Hitting on the ladies, huh?" said Jack.

"You know, I'd watch out for that one-eyed . . . "

But that was as far as Tommy would let Jack go.

He let Jack have it with some real dialogue.

"Now, hold on there, Jack," said Tommy.

"Just watch your mouth about the one-eyed women.

Amy seems okay."

"Okay?" said Jack.

"Have you lost your marbles? Or did this one-eyed Amy eat ‘em already?"

Jack was a mean-spirited man.

He had watched Amy switch around in the office at the building beside the water many times himself.

He had wondered what it would be like to be with a one-eyed woman.

Tommy said, "Yeah. She ate them."


"She ate them."


"She ate them."

Jack emptied his brown bottle of beer.

He looked at Tommy.

He squinted at Tommy with one eye closed.

And he knew that they weren't there anymore.

Poor guy, he thought.

No marbles.

Jack stood up to get another warm bottle of beer.

Tommy said,

“We both got something missing now."

Continue Reading...

SISTERS ARE NOT DOGS by Chelsea Houghton

My sister ran away when she was fifteen. She disagreed with my parents about something – she’d been a bad girl most likely, I don’t know, I was too young to be included. We’d never really got along. I was happy, it was quiet without her. No bitching or barking in the middle of the night. Always taking the best bits and leaving me with the scraps.

We didn’t hear from her for weeks. She’d been sleeping in friend’s rooms, once in a neighbour’s garage. She was fed and cared for from place to place, until her friend’s parents found they didn’t want a stray around.

We found her one night out the back of the liquor store, standing in the floodlights. We’d been searching for a long time, catching glimpses of a mirage of her brunette ponytail walking with some friends.

Then suddenly, there she was. Her hair was tangled and droopy and her oversized hoody made her frame look small as it hung over her jeans. She’d been sleeping among the pallets behind the skip in the carpark.

She emerged, hackles raised, poised for attack or escape. We moved slowly and calmly, finding a blanket to herd her towards the car. When you got up close you could see the swollen belly beneath the thick fabric.

She came, tail between her legs, sighing with her head submissively leaning against the car seat. It was that or impoundment. For months, we could hear her whimpering into the night.

Continue Reading...


Annabelle always answered her aunts accurately, as abruptly and authoritatively as an adolescent. Their ambitious attempts to addle gone awry, the astonished aunts acted aloof afterwards, averting avuncular attention.

Boastfully, I birthed a bright and bubbly baby. Belle behaved brilliantly and blossomed beautifully. The bairn boosted brainpower by borrowing books before bravely badgering bigger brothers; battling, besting then beleaguering Bobby and Billy.

The clever child collected certificates: creative calligrapher, crossword completer, chess champion. Certain with challenges but clumsy with chatter, companions cold-shouldered the classroom chief.

My darling’s dad was delighted his daughter devoured details. Daddy diarised daily, diligently depicting developments: dilemmas debated, doctrines deduced, dissertations debunked.

Elsewhere, emotions were elevated by the enraged ears and eyes of early equals. Envy evoked as their enthusiasm eloped. Even equitable elders were earnestly embarrassed.

Friendships faltered and feelings faded, but our family's faith was forever firm. Father felt fantastic forecasting future feats. He fuelled fate’s fires with fulfilling facts, fanned the flames with fables and fantasies.

The girl's genius grew and grew. Good at geography and glorious with grammar, she was guided to grand goals as she gathered golden grades.

He hurrahed, not hearing his heroine’s harboured hopes: her hunger for a hip hairstyle and a humble hobby. He had high hopes for Harvard, however she hankered for a horned horse and a happy home.

I was immensely impressed -- Ivy institution or not. I imparted infinite intelligence into an inspirational infant. Impossible? Inconceivable? Irrefutable.

Indecently, I idolised the incomparable intellectual; ignored the inferior imps.

My jealous juniors jostled for a jot of justness. Jovial and jolly, jesting and joking, their jubilance was jettisoned when my jewel journeyed into the joint. Their joy juxtaposed with jeering.

Kin gave no kindness nor kisses, only knuckles and knicks. The kid kept on, knowing that kudos knocks keenly for knack and knowhow, that knowledge is key.

Lessons in language and a love of libraries led to a learned and laudable lass. Not a lamentable lady who languidly loses her love of life; a listless life learnt from ladies who lunch, who laze, who leech -- not liberated, leading ladies.

My mother made me miss the modern movement: “Make meals and mend materials. Marry a mediocre man and make that man merry.” Mundane matters for madeup mannequins.

My method motivates: Memorise melodies, maintain morals, master the mind. Make men move mountains.

No numbing natter.

No novelty nuisances.

No nonsense.

Our offspring will be outstanding. One is outstanding: onwards to outdo and outlast. Others observe and obey; their optimal output is only okay. Ours outshines and outrivals, overachieves and overwhelms.

Predictably, us proud parents pushed the perfect protégé, pleased with praise prised from piggish pouts.

Pa, particularly, prioritised -- preferred, perhaps -- the prized progeny. Pushed the poor pair to the periphery.

Queued in a quiet quarantine, a questionable quagmire, a quantity of queries qualified for quick-tempered quibbles and quarrels.

Robert reacted rottenly and rallied relations to rebel. A revengeful ruse rose into a ruckus, a rough rumble as Robert raged and regretfully rushed.

The sister stumbled and slipped, spun and swirled, smacked and splatted. Screamed and screamed and screamed.

Small savages silently scurried.

She slowly stilled, sitting splayed by the stairs, saliva spilling into streams. Skin sliced, skeleton shattered, skull split.

Surgeons said she's safe but she should step slowly and skip school -- shirk strenuous science, stressful studies and simple sums.

"She's spasticated" shrieked a small scamp, sobbing sorrowfully into his sleeve.

Teachers toiled tirelessly, tutors tried tenaciously to train. They told the tricks of times tables and the tantalising tales of Tolkien and Twain. Then Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Tired and thwarted, terrible tantrums traipsed in.

Unnecessarily upbeat uncles ushered us in. Unfortunately, useless utterings were unable to undo the ugly and unwanted upheaval. The unkind universe usurped utopian understandings. University is unachieveable, as unlikely as an undergraduate unicorn.

Vindictive vengeance by vitriolic vigilantes vanquished the viable valedictorian. Vividly visualised victories vanish.

William whimpered -- "We... we wasn't... we weren't..." -- whispered what we all wanted: a world where we watched the weird and the wonderful, where we weren't wholly watching the wonderkid. A world with worth. William wishes well, but wishes won't work for our weakened warrior.

X-rays were explored by extra experts who explained the extent exceeded existing expectations.

As young as you are, you yawn. Yesterday's yardstick is youthful yore. You yap, yelp, yell. Your yokel yowls yet to yield. You yearn, yet you yawn.

Zonked and zombified. Zeal zapped and zest zithered. The zenith zoomed to zero, zipped to zilch.

Continue Reading...

VÉRTIGO by Salvatore Difalco

Juan rose to pee in pitch darkness, his eyes fluttering. He found the toilet, but peed all over the unraised seat, splashing his shins and toes. Catching jeweled glints of chrome and glass, his eyes oriented to the darkness.

Incomprehensible, his next move—he lurched right, toward the bathtub, and not left toward the door, which led to his bedroom. The shins, bright with urine, walloped the side of the bathtub and his body pitched forward. A reflexive extension of his arms kept him from face-planting the tub.

Swollen and contused, the left shin blazed to the touch. Juan screamed and walked to the kitchen where he found an ice-pack in the freezer. It was 3:15. Thoughts of returning to sleep made him grimace. He’d need a horse tranquilizer for that.

In the living room, he switched on a lamp, and sat on the sofa, propping his left foot on the coffee table edge, next to a crystal cigarette-box that had belonged to his mother. The only remaining memento of her, all else lost or sold. He pressed the ice-pack to his left shin. The cold shock made him wince but numbed the pain.

He continued icing for a time, then got up to make coffee.

As he drank the black brew by the balcony window overlooking the courtyard, something dark and bulky fell past his balcony—bizarre, as his unit was on the topmost floor of the eight-story tenement. He stepped out on the balcony to inspect.

In the darkness—the courtyard lights long ago stoned—grainy lumps and bulges dominated. A dog barked from a recess of the courtyard. The ringing acoustics obscured the dog’s location.

After bandaging his shins, Juan dressed, took the elevator down, and limped through the shabby lobby, with its dead banana trees and ruptured red couch, and exited the front doors.

The cool, excremental air reminded him that spring was near. A time of hope. Maybe things would improve. He hobbled across the broken concrete slabs and rutted grounds of the courtyard. An almost full moon loomed behind a screen of smog, bearing a bizarre resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock. A few trees planted last spring had not survived winter and stood against the graffitied buildings in skeletal silhouette.

Juan approached the area where an object falling from the roof or sky would have landed, in respect to his balcony: nothing but clumps of sod and stone garnished with garbage. An old-fashioned sewing machine, half-buried in earth and dog excrement, drew a second glance, but its presence there preceded the incident.

He looked up. Most units were dark, but a few glowed with lamplight or flickered with the cold blue of flat-screen televisions. He surveyed the area again and, seeing nothing untoward, decided to head back.

Then, in the charcoal disorient of shadows, he detected a flicker near a concrete bench. He gingerly stepped toward it on the uneven path. When he drew closer to the bench, he observed, with a start, a pale face floating beside it, the eyes darkly luminous—apparently disembodied.

No sound issued from the face, yet it seemed to be mouthing words, or at the very least drawing breaths. He moved closer. The head wasn’t disembodied; someone was buried to the neck. Did this person fall from the roof or the sky? And land so precisely as to be buried—and still alive—up to the neck? He walked closer to the small, round head, the black hair flattened on the skull, the inky eyes gazing nowhere.

“Hey,” he said, “are you okay?”

The face continued mouthing silent words or gulping air. The dilated pupils evidenced signs of shock.

“Miss? Sir? Buddy?” Nothing. Juan stepped closer for a better look.

When he saw a thin gold hoop in the left ear, he figured it was a woman, but upon reflection decided he could not draw that conclusion: some men wore earrings. He touched the dark hair. It felt normal, perhaps sticky from product. Provoking no reaction, he let his hand fall squarely on the scalp. It was warm.

“Yo,” he said, “how did you get in this predicament?”

The head twitched, almost in irritation at the pressure of Juan’s hand, but he held it firm. A survey of the balconies revealed no peepers, at least not so far as he could tell.

He fronted the head and bent down so that his nose came close to its nose.

“Why don’t tell me what’s going on and I’ll go get you help?”

The face opened and closed its mouth, the eyes throbbed darkly, but no words emerged. It was a woman, he determined, or a man with delicate face bones. He touched the cheek. Despite the mud streaks, it felt soft and warm. Now the eyes regarded him. Perhaps the senses, after suffering a terrible shock, were slowly regathering.

“Did you fall from the roof?” he asked. “Did someone throw you?” he asked before hearing a response.

The mouth moved, but the voice box must have been blocked.

“Okay, just nod. Did you fall?”

The head nodded.

“Did someone push you?”

Again, the head nodded.

“From the roof?”

Again, the head nodded.

Using a small end of two-by-four he found by the bench, Juan dug away some of the surrounding dirt, so tightly packed around the neck it proved difficult to turn over. Sturdy shovels or machinery were needed to clear enough dirt to free the victim.

“This is unusual,” Juan stated.

The head nodded.

These days so many things defied logic and credibility that you never knew where you stood. He bent and studied the face.

The mouth spat up dirt. Juan wiped the lips with the back of his hand. He stroked the cheek. How warm to the touch, that cheek—and soft. He smiled. Then, for reasons he could never explain, he opened his hand, drew back his arm, and slapped the face hard enough to rock the head back. The sound reverberated through the courtyard.

Juan jumped up and looked at his stinging hand as if it belonged to someone else.

“I’m so sorry I did that,” he said, horrified at himself.

The dark eyes moistened. Juan felt terrible. What was he thinking? He stroked the cheek he had slapped. The eyes shut, and the face leaned warmly into his hand.

Afraid he had crossed some line, he stood up, heart racing, and headed to his building. He took the elevator up to his flat and called 911.

“911. What is your emergency?”

“Someone’s buried up to their neck in my courtyard.”

“Did you say buried up to their neck?”

“I think she fell off the roof.”

“Have you been drinking, sir?”

“I have not been drinking.”

“How do you know she fell off the roof? Did you push her?”

“I didn’t push her. I’m not sure she fell off the roof—I’m not making this up.”

The dispatcher took the address and said paramedics would be there shortly.

“Sounds like she’s in some pickle.”

“Yeah,” Juan said looking at his hand, “it’s unusual.”

He rang off. He took the elevator down to the lobby and was headed to the courtyard when he ran into the super, Mr. Greenwood, standing there with his right hand locked in an involuntary half-salute.

“Morning, Mr. Greenwood.”

“What are you doing here at this time?”

“Long story.”

Silver-haired Mr. Greenwood, mustachioed, fond of Tartan cardigans, suffered from early onset dementia. He rarely slept beyond 4 a.m. if he slept at all. His face evidenced the softening and slackening signs of gradual and irreversible stupefaction.

“I’m going to walk the dog,” he said.

Despite knowing Mr. Greenwood had no dog, Juan scoped the lobby.

“So what’re you doing here?” Mr. Greenwood said. “Up to no good?”

Juan balked. “What do you mean by that?”

Mr. Greenwood’s silver moustaches shook as he laughed. His right hand shook as well but remained raised as though in mid-salute.

“A girl’s buried up to her neck in the courtyard,” Juan said.

“Do tell,” Mr. Greenwood said.

“Dunno know how she got there.”

“Kids these days are animals.”

Smiling mirthlessly, Juan exited.

As sirens approached, he hastened his step. He wondered if someone had buried the woman to make a point. People do all kinds of crazy things to make points.

He walked to the bench, but when he looked for the buried woman, he discovered, to his chagrin, that she wasn’t there. Indeed, the hole where she’d been buried was filled in. He stood there glancing left and right. He’d been gone no longer than a few minutes.

When he stepped on the spot where the woman had been buried to her neck, the ground looked undisturbed. He glanced at the sky and its smog-dimmed Hitchcock moon and shuddered.

The sirens intensified. A dog barked. Juan’s eyes searched the courtyard, but shadows prevailed. Then, on the verge of tears, he saw something glinting in the ground. He stepped to the spot and kneeled.

He pulled a gold hoop out of the dirt, blew it clean, and held it in his palm. At that moment a flashlight beam shone in his eyes, blinding him.

“Put your hands where I can see them,” barked a voice behind the beam.

Juan raised his hands.

“Don’t fucking move,” said another voice.

Before Juan knew it, two uniformed police officers seized his arms. He demanded to know why they were manhandling him.

“Someone reported a prowler,” said the officer with the flashlight, beaming it at himself and casting a large ghoulish shadow against the tenement.

“I called 911,” Juan said. “There was a girl.”

“What girl?”

“She was buried—”

“You buried a girl?” said the other officer, tightening his grip.

“I didn’t bury her,” Juan protested. “I think she fell from the roof.”

Both officers looked at Juan.

“Where’s the girl now?” asked the officer with the flashlight.

Juan shrugged. Tears filled his eyes. He tried to exhibit the earring left behind to the officers, but they ignored him.

“Show us,” said the officer with the flashlight.

“What do you mean?” Juan said.

“Show us where the girl jumped off the roof,” said the other officer.

“Yes, take us up to the roof and show us.”

The officer with the flashlight led the way through the courtyard, the other officer close on Juan’s heels.

They passed Mr. Greenwood in the lobby.

“He’s no good,” Mr. Greenwood cackled. “He’s no good.”

“We need roof access.”

“Follow me,” Mr. Greenwood said. “And don’t mind Rexy, he don’t bite.”

The officers exchanged a glance but kept mum. They took the elevators up to the eighth floor and then walked through a door opening into a shaft with a set of metal stairs. Juan had always wondered what lay behind the door. The stairs led to the roof.

The four men stood on the roof with Alfred Hitchcock sizing them up.

The officer with the flashlight blazed it in Juan’s face. “Show us,” he said.

“But show you what?” Juan said.

Mr. Greenwood sat on a steel duct, right hand raised, whistling, as if for a dog.

“Well,” said the flash-lit officer, “if you don’t show us, maybe we’ll show you.”

“That’s a perfect idea,” said his colleague, grimacing. He removed his cap and jacket, and then slipped off his shoes and socks.

The officer with the flashlight followed suit.

Then, they faced each other in their shirts and trousers. They slapped each other on the shoulders. The officer with the flashlight turned and tossed it to Juan.

“Illuminate us,” he said.

Juan did as requested and shone the flashlight on them. They looked bloated and unhealthy. Then, the officers locked arms and in total silence leaped off the roof, down into the darkness of the courtyard.

Juan dropped the flashlight.

“Rexy,” Mr. Greenwood whispered. “Rexy. Bad dog. Bad dog.”

Continue Reading...

PUNKER by Kevin Bigley

Leslie stalked the stage with the palpable anxiety of a mountain lion locked in an exhibit. His shoulders were hunched, guitar still echoing the final chord from the previous song, his face bleeding rivers of perspiration. He slithered from end to end, fighting existential hysteria.

“Play ‘Ready to Go’!” cried a fan near the lip of the stage. “Come on, dude. Play it!”

Leslie ignored the fervent fan, wiping his damp forehead with his already drenched t-shirt. He sweat profusely, battling his intense flu-symptoms. He had a fever of one hundred and two degrees. His stomach flipped like a rabid circus chimp, gargling the indigestible street tacos and Budweiser. He looked out into the crowd of thirty-or-so punks with exhaustion and hatred. He was bored with them and he was bored with himself.

He hated playing in Sacramento. It called itself a capital like someone calls themselves an “Assistant Manager” at an Arby’s. It reeked of overcompensation, a city arguing with you, attempting to convince you that it was substantial. It was a half city, half cow-town that was easily driven through in under two minutes. The people were peculiar, but not enough to be interesting. Many of them had tinges of southern accents. What was that about? Why was the city fighting to be southern? Even so, you wouldn’t find the same edge here as you would find in a Memphis or New Orleans. No, Sacramento was a homogenized south. These people were as southern as Leslie was Irish. The Sacramento bars were always the same: honky-tonk vibes with elk horns on the walls, filled with accidental audience members who, as he began his sound check would perk up with curiosity. “Oh, is there music here tonight?” “Hey look, a live band!” “Cool, is this a cover band? Is it 80’s night?” Leslie would target these people, usually playing the most uptempo, abrasive song he had within his is catalogue. He’d lock eyes with them, watching as scowls flooded their faces when they realized they hated him. “Oh, maybe we should go,” they’d mouth to one another. He loved to watch them drift out the door.

“Mickey! Come on, Mickey,” the fan cried out to Leslie. “Come on, Mickey, you motherfucker. Play ‘Ready to Go.’ Play the T-Mobile song, Mickey!”

“Ready to Go” was originally a throwaway tune. It was immature, caveman punk. Three chords the whole way, two minutes in length. But somehow it had found its way onto a Grand Theft Auto soundtrack and garnered the attention of T-Mobile executives. Just like that, The Morons had their first and only hit (the term “hit” is used relatively, of course, as this is as close to a hit as an indie punk band could ever hope for). The fact that the song was a throwaway reinforced Leslie’s disdain for the chaos and injustice of the music industry. Nothing makes sense. He was chained to his vapid hit just as he was chained to his angst-ridden, alter-ego “Mickey Moron” of The Morons.

Presently, The Morons existed only in name. The original members, with the exception of Leslie, had all left. Matilda, his ex-girlfriend, had gone solo with great success playing power pop. Roger, the drummer, had left music altogether and was finishing up his associate’s degree. Leslie was the last spinning plate, and even he wanted to bring it crashing down. He had been experimenting with a new sound, a sound the gratuitously-pierced audience presently standing before him would despise. He was going for something slower, less fuzz-induced, with actual singing. Something Roky Erikson-esque. He always admired Roky, a reverb prophet who sang haunted tunes that were more American than Springsteen, with intricate picking, and nuanced lyrics about complex themes. Of course, Roky was no role model. He had been in this business for so long that he had nearly drank himself to death to the point of being unable to speak. The only working component left in his brain was the music part. He still toured, still sang, but couldn’t converse. Now going on thirty-three and still playing music for a living, Leslie was beginning to wonder if Roky’s cautionary tale would be his own.

“Play ‘Ready to Go,’ Mickey!” shouted the peevish fan. “Play it, motherfucker!”

Leslie sneered, smacking his lips as his mouth over-salivated. His stomach was beginning to bubble and boil, rejecting the beer and street food. He was pale, paler than normal. His jeans no longer fit. He pulled them up, trying to get them to a sticking point. He had grown a potbelly sometime after turning thirty. The fat cascaded over the front of his jeans and love-handles ballooned over the rear edges. His face was bloated and tired. He still had his long blonde hair, a tribute to Cobain. But these days, his hair resembled his fraying psyche: a delusional gun fighter who was outnumbered and outgunned, but had stubbornly convinced himself that he could still shoot his way out of anything.

He was staying with Katy, an old music friend he knew from their days of starting out. She lived in Sacramento with her husband Chris, a real estate agent. They had a lovely home and had just welcomed their second little girl. Katy used to be a punker, playing in a three-piece industrial hardcore band; she was lead vocals and bass. But her shaved head had been replaced by bangs, her piercings were now scars, and her tattoos were merely conversation pieces at block parties. She was nursing Leslie through his flu, providing him with homeopathic medicine, which was a huge help as he didn’t have health insurance. Chris was a nice guy, funny too. He and Katy had built a nice life, filled with picnics in the park, vacations to the coast, and a budding wine cellar. Leslie envied them.

“Ready! To! Go!” chanted the fan. “Ready! To! Go! Ready! To! Go!” Leslie stared into the crowd as if it were a placid surface of a still pond. His mind wandered.

He was wrought with the cliche musician crossroads of The New Stuff versus The Old Stuff. What do you play? Either you’re a dinosaur who can’t adapt, or you’re a fool who thinks his new shit is any good. He stared at the audience with festering acrimony. He’d heard stories of Dylan saying “fuck it” and turning his back to the audience as he played. Kim Gordon staying as still as possible so as to deprive them of even the slightest bit of “show business.” Cobain throwing his frail body into the drum-set, hell bent on destroying himself before he plays “Smells Like Teen Spirit” one more time.

As he sipped his beer, he suddenly felt light-headed and stumbled, almost falling on his face. He could feel the audience holding its collective breath. Camera phones floated into the air. They wanted to watch him fall apart. They wanted a show.

Fuck Sacramento, he thought. But at least it wasn’t Los Angeles. He hated playing in LA even more. Clubs that were CBGB wannabe’s with crowds of hipsters who were there to sponge up art. They stood with their arms folded in the back, slowly nodding as if they were members of an indie rock jury. They quietly formulated bullshit opinions and their own, personal Pitchfork ratings. They were too cool to mosh, too cool to show emotion, and too cool to interact with one another. And there was always a musician friend Leslie knew, someone doing much better than him. Someone who had successfully transformed, evolved, waiting for him by the bar. Afterwards they’d buy him a beer and give him an empty compliment, “What a show,” “Man, you guys really went for it,” “Super loud, dude.” But he knew what they thought. He was a thirty-three-year-old playing music he wrote when he was twenty-one. He was pathetic, and there was a tacit tone to make sure he knew that.

He paced with is beer, his band staring at him, waiting for his signal to continue. But Leslie would have none of it. He drank the rest of his Budweiser, gulping it down and virulently throwing the can into the audience. They cheered at his outburst. His gut was folding in on itself, queasy and disturbed. His senses were alert, taking too much in all at once. What if he just gave up? What if he just dropped his guitar and walked off the stage never to be heard from again? The myth of Mickey Moron would spread. Where is he now?

“Fuck you, Mickey!” cried the fan in front. “Play it, Mickey! Fuck you!”

All this time he thought he was the smart one. He thought he had it all figured out. He pursued the thing that he loved, got really good at it, shared it with the world, and made money. It was all so simple. He used to pity the people he knew from high school who became accountants, salesmen, teachers, etc. They had failed and he had succeeded because he had it all figured out. But as time passed he realized that he was the fool. He had convinced himself that he could make a living out of a hobby.

Heat rose in his intestines, a warning that something was on the rise. He closed his eyes and concentrated. He had to continue. He thought about the next song, the chord changes. He was a teenager trying to suppress a boner with desexualized thoughts. As his mind focused on the next song, he felt his nausea subside. He had thwarted it for the moment. He took a deep breath.

“The T-Mobile song, Mickey! Come on, dude! Play it!”

Out of nowhere, Leslie thumped power chords with ferocity. “Ready to Go” was music a monkey could play, but it was catchy as hell. The whole song is made up of three chords (A, C, and G). He started at A for four beats, then changed to C for another four, then G for three with a quick finishing beat at C, then back to A. As he came to life, so did the crowd. They began to jump, push, and jostle. He had infected them. The drums pounded their repetitive 1, 2, 1, 2, standard punk beat with heavy snare and kick drum. The fan that had badgered Leslie writhed with primal joy.

But instead of the opening verse, a stream of vomit erupted from Leslie’s maw. Tacos, beer, Katy’s homeopathic medicine, and other undigestible rubble spewed from Leslie’s oozing face and onto the truculent fan. The fan, shocked and disgusted, was too horrified to move. Once a tough-as-nails punk, he transformed into an humiliated child. Finally, his jaw trembling, he dropped his head and slinked away, heading for the bathroom.

The band slowly ground to a halt, looking at Leslie to make sure he wasn’t about to pass out. Leslie nodded and tossed them a thumbs up. He felt instantly better. He moved to his pedals and turned off his SuperFuzz, and instead shifted to a high-toned, reverb-heavy, tremolo SkySurfer pedal. He strummed an a-minor chord that resonated throughout the small, western-themed bar with the haunting sounds of neon beer signs, Roky Erickson, and the San Fernando Valley at midnight. He picked slowly, allowing the tones to paint every corner of the space. He smiled as he watched disappointment spread, spider-like, as it crawled across every punker’s face. He delicately unleashed his new sound and watched as bar patrons mouthed “Oh, maybe we should go.” They settled their tabs, and drifted into the night.

Continue Reading...


Pennies are spilling down my throat. I can feel the copper pieces smelting as they pass through my lungs, pooling at the bottom of my guts. Something cold and sharp is waiting there to greet them.

It takes some effort to peel my head off this hot pillow. I've never slept on a pillow this big before: it's as big as the bean bag I had back in my dorm room days. My cheeks are burning and a strange scent has hooked its fingers into my nostrils, like the way a cooling pie on a window sill can hoist cartoon hobos into the air. That smell must have shaken me awake: the smell of burning popcorn.

The light around me is liquid, flowing and congealing and dissolving into shapes. I see a gas dial, a key, a tree with a cherry at its heart. They disappear in the swirling light, replaced by stars and flickers of arrows. The click-click-click of a turn signal. And a familiar voice floating above it all: Ric Ocasek.

An unfamiliar voice, out of the frame, asks if I'm okay. I say no, of course not. I've mistaken Ric Ocasek for Benjamin Orr. This is his song, the best Cars song. I show the voice I know what I'm talking about by singing:

“Who’s gonna tell you when/it's too late.”

Orr is far ahead of this part of the song, but it feels wrong for me to not start at the beginning. I try to sing the next line but there are pennies in my mouth and that sharp coldness in my gut feels like it's spreading.

“Who’s gonna tell you things/aren't so great,” the invisible voice sings to me. A hand, soft and gentle on my shoulder.

I can't hear Orr anymore. All I hear is sirens and small metal wheels spinning and a door wrenching open and panicked voices and calm voices and a sound that throbs like the whole world is being squeezed and released squeezed and released and it's my heart I know it's my heart beating but it's in my ears now and that can't be right it doesn't belong there I don't belong here.

“Oh, you know you can't go on, thinkin’/nothing’s wrong.”

I don't know if I'm singing those lines or if it’s Benjamin or the hand on my shoulder. All I know is that I love this song. I love this song so goddamn much. And I hope I’ll get to hear it again soon.

Continue Reading...

TO BE OR NOT TO BEFUDDLE by Brad Baumgartner

Drowned out, like an ant’s ear drums (having not yet “ears to hear” in order to “listen and understand”), as it sits, uncertainly, on a twig placed atop the crevice between a washing machine and a dryer, is our consciousness of Consciousness. The twig is also a razor’s edge, on which the ant balances itself, and in which lurks the seed of the failure of gravity. On one side of the razor’s edge the ant enacts faith upon its future, knowing in full measure that it will not fall if it maintains (via will) the clarity of balance. On the other side of this razor’s edge, however, sits the unknown permeability of caprice, the strange undoing of the twig by the unevent of the opposite of sound, a gone-poof where the ant’s lack of ear drums has nothing at all to do with anything.

This caprice lets loose the will’s nonsensical parody of itself and asks skeptical questions of it pertaining to hidden biological functions, hereditariness, what happens inside a vessel of blood, etc. This nothing at all to do with anything is actually a something, but a sum-Thing that does not require one’s active thinking of it to be anything. Is this something then a nothing? And could it not also be said to be the wyrd relationship an individual might, quite unsuspectingly, that is, ignorantly, have with oneself, as one peers into the tilted mirror of being to see something so bewildering that the experience of this being-fuddled becomes a comico-frightening endeavor, one which promises nullity but secretly vows erasure?

Ultimately, one must balance oneself on this twig, but in such a way as to simultaneously remove the twig’s being-as-precept, to exhort the blurring of the gap between oneself and the world and of the crevice’s acosmic blurring of world and world. Blurring the gap dispels the incisive derision of identity, of the plugging up of the ineffable, of the fear of falling. Make not love with the succubus that indicts and invites the mirror of being’s reflection, but rather with the one that calls it into question.

If one would only realize that one is always already the deaf ant…. that our ear drums resign us to a certain mode of consciousness in which fear itself is the ultimate, illusive sound….


The elders in the community often spoke of an old dreadlocked sage who was brought into prison. He never said a word to anyone. But one night, as the sage slept deeply in his room, a guard heard these words being whispered from the sage’s unmoving mouth:

“I know a room, a room you cannot enter. I know this room from the inside-out. It took me a long time to find my way into it, and now that I’m there, I wish not to leave. It is so cozy; at once intimate, comfortable, and yet large enough to fill a universe. But just as you see this room from the outside-in, not yet able to walk in, I have a restraint as well. I cannot open the door to the outside. That door must be opened by one who has found the key. Until then, I will keep the windows clean, so that an onlooker’s gaze can view the inside of this beautiful room. At this time of year, the windows will surely be dirtied by sandstorms. But they must. What else can a window be other than itself, an eternal passageway that, like Janus, looks inward and outward at the same time, beckoning the senses to become what they were meant to be, instruments of divinity.”

The guard continued his service until one day, long after the old sage had passed away, he earned his retirement papers. The people in his community were surprised when he opened up a small shop fixing windows. It is said that he charged no one for his services.


As a young man, the old dreadlocked sage once came across an unsightly Thing in the woods. The Thing whispered to him:

“Have you ever known that all of your words are completely useless if you cannot attribute to them the non-experience of a divinity so vast that its own incommunicability becomes its manner of suspension (of dis-belief), where the love of its lostness and the lostness of its love combine to form one ubiquitous, auto-flagellating Word, the Word, the One to which your lofty unborn gaze draws itself. This cataclysm of utility marks your dereliction from the divine, that ontological slaughterhouse in which you place your trust, confining you to the horizon where cosmic thought is banished by your own reptilian nature.

Think about this, and then swiftly forget it: non-thinking is the only way out of this reprehensible hologram of yourself. The world is purely world until it becomes other than itself, just as you are merely you until you are other than yourself, which is to say, not you and not-not you, but rather what is you when the is is not. You are dwarfed by your own incomprehensibility. Step outside, which is really inside, and then reverse the outside to be inside and the inside to be outside. This Outside-Inside is the negativity of the All, and once you reverse the reversal you may be granted entrance into the eternal darkness that is your shimmering light.”

The old man never told the Thing that he was in fact deaf, and just nodded. Though one day, many years later, after many trials and tribulations, he watched himself (as if from atop a hill) pass his younger self on the street. The man stared, bewildered. His younger self winked, mutely mouthed hello to him, and walked off into the sun-lit city. At that moment, the old man heard and understood exactly what the Thing had told him.

Continue Reading...

THE RESCUE by William Falo

The sirens wail and I howl along with them. My human sleeps. I lick his face and feel coldness. Why doesn’t he get up? I bark and lick. He doesn’t pet me. Something is wrong. My tail hangs low and I whimper. I spin in circles, but not happy ones.

The door is banged open and two men come in with a bed on wheels. I stand in front of my owner and growl.

“It’s okay.” One says while the other one grabs me. I am small. He puts me in another room and shuts the door, but I stick my nose in at the last second and it doesn’t shut tight. They wheel my owner out and I follow onto the street. The truck drives away with sirens and lights flashing.

My small sore legs can’t keep up and I am lost. I lose the smell and can’t find him. My tail hangs low and my legs hurt. I find home. A woman there says words that sound bad. I recognize two of them.

“I’m sorry.” She picks me up and takes me to a building with a lot of cages. Barks fill the air.

I whimper. “Sorry,” she says again.

She is gone. Another person puts me in a cage. It is cold, but there is water and I drink for a long time. A blanket in a corner is not a bed. Tiredness overcomes fear and I sleep on it. My owners face fills my dreams and I whimper through the night.

People come and bring food. Once in a while, a kind hand is extended and I lick it.

The cage has an outdoor opening and the sun is shinning, but I stay inside on the blanket.

My hearing and seeing are not like they once were, but I see people come inside. Some pet me, some read the papers on the cage, while others shake their heads.

Days go by. Dogs that I recognize from smell vanish. Others leave on a leash with people, some are led toward the back of the building and never return. I whimper.

My bones are sore and a chill is inside me. I can’t live much longer.

The coldest day that I ever knew feels like it could be my last. The door opens and someone walks toward me with a crate. They smile. I know when someone is happy, but are they kind.

They stop and reach out a hand. “You’re a good girl.” The woman opens the door.

I back away, but she is quick and scoops me up in her arms.

“We’re taking you out of here.”

Inside a crate, I whimper and my legs start to shake. I can’t stop them.

A hand occasionally reaches in and rubs my ears. It’s not enough to take my fear away. I remember the dogs who vanished.

Before long, I am inside a house. A woman opens the crate and lets me out. I shiver, but the house is warm. There are other people here too. Some have uniforms on and others stand by themselves. The woman picks me up and brings me over to one of them.

His hands shake and he doesn’t try to pet me.

“Jake,” she says. “It’s okay. This dog has been through a lot. Her owner died and she was left at a shelter.”



He reaches out his shaking hand and rubs my ear. “She’s not too bad for a dog.” He gives a slight smile.

Another man came up and pets me too. He has only one arm, before long I was in the lap of a man in a chair with wheels.

“Anna. Thank you.” He says to the woman who brought me here.

She takes me to a woman who stayed away from all the others. Her dark hair covers her eyes and she doesn’t look at me.

“Emma, I have a dog here.”


“I know you used to like them.”

Emma looks at me. She isn’t happy. I sniff toward her and smell blood. A line of recent cuts covers her arms and I try to lick them, but she pulls away.

“Take him away,” Emma says.

“She was living in a shelter alone for a long time. Her owner died. They were going to euthanize her soon.”

“You saved her?”



“Because someone needed to and I’m going to bring her here every day.”

“A therapy dog? Will I be able to take her home?”

“Maybe, but first I got to teach her.”

Emma reached out and I was put in her arms. She rubs her hands through my fur. Tears fell down and she wouldn’t let go of me for a long time.

“Will you bring him back tomorrow?” Emma hands me back.

“Yes. I promise.”

“I’ll be here.”

“Great.” Anna walks out with me in her arms.

“You made a great impression tonight. This place is for people suffering from all kind of mental disorders including PTSD and depression. Someone told me Emma was suicidal and we got her in here. She was abused and refused to talk to anyone before, but I knew she had a dog once. I hoped.” Anna stops and wipes her eyes. “I think she will look forward to seeing you tomorrow. You may rescue her.”

She drives to her house. Inside, I lay down in a soft bed.

“Tomorrow I start training you to be a therapy dog.”

Before she finishes talking, my eyes close and I see my owner’s face and feel his hand going through my fur. I hear him speaking.

“You’re safe now. You’re a good girl.”

When I open my eyes, he is not there, but I notice that my fur is ruffled. I close my eyes and drift back to sleep. I am safe now.

Continue Reading...


Katie just wants to rip it out. A length of string, some fortitude or, even better, a burly man in uniform, a marine or naval officer would do. Clearly, it was the eye tooth on the upper right side of her mouth that was the trouble. Why shouldn’t a stranger pull it out? How much better would a dentist be than some twine, a golf cart and a driver with a heavy foot?

She sips her iced coffee through a straw whose tip has been stained by her lipstick. She knows she wears too much but “they” say men like it thick. And today isn’t one of those days that finds in her in the mood to tell “them” to fuck off. For the last half hour, she’s been working on some young guy who’s looking to spend some of his father’s money. She’s tried to get him to see the wisdom in buying a place rather than renting one. He’s got a red crew cut, an unusually ruddy complexion and ‘Stacey’ tattooed in cursive on the side of his hand. Whoever did the job didn’t know how to do an S properly in cursive. It lacks the top loop. This bothers Katie almost as much as her tooth.

The kid leans further forward as she talks about the condos still available in the building. This guy’s no marine but she thinks about asking him for help. A great investment of his time.

She cannot be sure by the way that he is looking at her if he is listening to what she is saying. Opening her bag, she places some papers before him to show him things in print that she has already said. Katie would feel better if his eyes were elsewhere.

She furtively checks the buttons on her blouse, as though his pale blue eyes might’ve slipped one loose through sheer effort. But of course he hasn’t. Of course, he can’t help her like that either. She touches her tooth through her lip. Well, her eyes ask him with finality, are we done here?

Continue Reading...