Fiction

gene morgan

XBOX VIDEO GAME REVIEWS 2018 by Gene Morgan

Fortnite

Fortnite is a riot simulator for children. Characters lives are short like ours– the game is filled with moments to reflect upon hard choices, choices in the format of a fun cartoon-like murder game young boys love. Fortnite for Xbox is a perfect way to get killed over and over again and feel emotion as you grow old and work a job and come home to smoke weed from a battery, make vegan hot dogs, take kids to basketball practice, and fall asleep before making love. This game is an easy diversion in an otherwise asinine journey where you live and die just once. Five stars, I've never played it.

Monster Hunter: World

Monster Hunter: World is about harvesting flesh. The monsters you gut, you pull the meat from them, and you sell or trade that meat for a shield and maybe clothes. How many pelts are too many? You decide. Live with excess. Life is excellent. You have a cat and your cat brings you health. Cats fucking protect you. Cats live forever. You can give your cat a beautiful name, like Susan. Susan will fight for you. And when you're ass-deep in entrails, Susan's only worry is a monster planet filled with lush vegetation. In Susan's world species have not yet begun to die-out at the highest rate since the last great extinction. There is no end. For Susan, an excess of monsters seems like the only hell any player can thrive in– A hell where there's nothing left to do but hunt, so you dig deep inside yourself and flood the world with meat.

Cuphead

Blessed that the devil exists, two cups look to settle a debt. My daughter let me know a fish smokes in the background of this game. I'm not sure if it's a fish. I can't remember, My head hurts. I've never had another life, so I don't understand, I don't understand all of the accomplishments I'll never see, all of the unfinished projects I left alone in my inbox, all of the shoes I never wear, the way I smoked while I was looking after my children, like my mother. Cuphead is a visual achievement, and it's impossible to play. My life is slowly losing any focus on the past, and I can only hope the devil opens a casino near my home, a place where I can gamble for something worthwhile or, really anything I lost in childhood.

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rebekah morgan

DENTIST TRIP by Rebekah Morgan

I drink three nescafe coffees before i leave Iași for the rest of the weekend, heading north on the 10:49 CFR line.

Sometimes on Saturday mornings i halfway tumble my ass all the way down to the railway station in Gară from my bloc near the top of the huge hill in Copou. The rail station is one of the oldest ones in Romania with huge ceilings and big windows and lots of bright white pigeon shit for the floor. At christmas time they put up decorations and some blue and white lights that blink so fast they make you wanna jump on the tracks after a while. It’s dreamy though somehow.

The ladies who sell tickets have big soft faces like cookie dough  and an urgency in their eyes that fades as soon you can glance it. The ladies who sell tickets wear pressed blue shirts and navy slacks. The ladies who sell train tickets are the kind of ladies who have gold jewelry to wave all around their faces. They look proud and annoyed at the same time, but they manage to not be looking pretentious. This demeanor is a feat of some sort since they hold a bit of power over most of us or at least they control our fate in regards to catching trains.

I stand in line behind all the college kids going home for the weekend. I tell the doughey faced woman where i’m heading and hand her twenty lei. On the platform i smoke two Sobranie negru slims and drink another small nescafe from a machine by the tracks. The train roars in screeching its brakes at me and I hop the train and head towards a town not to far from the ukrainian border. It’s the town where the farmer i’m sleeping with lives with his goats and his mama and his cat. The train stinks like ass but is also precious and i love it. The lady carrying a small pink and white oddly calm looking pig barges past me and plops down a few rows in front of me with the little porker on her lap and a scarf wrapped tight around her head.

I stare out the big glass window for almost three hours as the remaining bits of winter pass by me. The hill sides wash down onto the floodplains that are now filled with the melted snow. The people who use horse carts can be seen from the train along the base of the hills and out in fields. The train creeps by an orthodox church and quite many people start crossing themselves. I always cross myself too but with just my finger shoved in my pocket scratching along the pocket liner. I do this just for something to do i guess since i only believe in god when i’m about to piss myself in public. I like secretly crossing myself a lot though. I don’t know what i’ll do when it starts getting warmer in the springtime and I won’t have my jacket to hide my new habit.

The train rolls on an on and i stare out the window at the landscape and the people and i stare out the window at all sorts of animals. I see a goat standing next to a duck like they are friends or maybe lovers and i say ‘wow’ out loud by accident. I open a little bag of paprika peanuts. The paprika peanuts are good and i eat them while listening to monks sing on the radio of my Nokia phone.

The queen of the train with the pig stands up as the train crosses into the town of Pașcani and hobbles off the train. A woman with a dog takes the place she was sitting and the train rolls on to Suceavă.  An hour passes quickly as i watch stacks of hay covered with tarps weighted down with plastic bottles and herds of sheep pass by my window. I see the huge smoke tower by the Iulius Mall slowly approaching in the distance and take my black leather backpack off of the baggage rail. I smear on a layer of bright cherry red chapstick before i shove a cigarette between my sticky lips and take my lighter out of my hoodie pocket.  I kick the train door open with my booted foot when it gets stuck and the cold air blasts me in the face as we pull into the Suceavă station. Spring is creeping in and in my head i think

‘it’s not as cold as it once was, but it’s as cold as it ever was’ set to the tune of that Toby Keith song and hop off the train.

I light my cigarette and glance around the station looking for Lucian. I turn around and he’s standing right in front of me. We say ‘salute’ and kiss each other on both cheeks then march arm in arm towards the number two bus parked across the street. Lucian is wearing an alpaca sweater.

I sit across from a small child making cat noises at his mother and he kicks me hard in the leg. His mother puts on the same chapstick as me and then i put more on myself a few minutes later and the mother checks her pocket for her chapstick as she watches me apply mine. The bus is filled with people and almost everyone has a hat on except me. Lucian is sitting across the aisle in his grey beanie with his cheek pressed against the window and i wonder if he has ever seen a shark.  I wonder if he knows female sharks can impregnate themselves if they don’t find a suitable mate. The child kicks me in the leg again as Lucian signals the next stop is ours.

I tell Lucian i’m excited to drink at a dentist office because i want to tell people that i was drinking at a dentist office. We arrive a bit early to Dr. Sorin’s office so we each smoke a cigarette on the green bench outside a vegetable market. I watch two street dogs walk by and then a third. The dogs seem old and tired and i feel glad for them that spring is coming soon. I buy some green olives from the old woman at the market and eat them with Lucian in the courtyard and smoke another cigarette. Dr. Sorin calls Lucian and i think about the romance involved in drinking in a dental office bathroom in the old Eastern Bloc.

We go inside the dental office and posters cavities and root canals watch me as i pull two blue baggies over my shoes. Lucian pulls blue baggies over his shoes too and i tell him to take a picture of my baggied feet.

Dr. Sorin leads us back past two big dental chairs to a small bathroom attached to another smaller bathroom. We all cram into the bathrooms and light cigarettes while Dr.Sorin fixes three whiskey sodas. On the wall above the sink is a Jim Beam bar mat that says Nightology. Dr. Sorin puts the glasses with the whiskey on the shelf above the sink. We all take a glass and clinck them together while saying ‘Noroc’.

I watch myself drink the whiskey soda and smoke in the mirror. I look nice, i watch Lucian drink in the mirror and watch us be together and i hope i feel drunk soon. Lucian and Dr.Sorin make jokes and gossip. Dr. Sorin puts on Led Zeppelin real loud. We all agree Led Zeppelin is good and Dr.Sorin makes more drinks. I look in the other bathroom that is only for Dr.Sorin and there is a little wooden sign with a naked woman with her ass stuck up in the air. In romanian the sign says something like, ‘god made man and then he rested and on the next day god made woman and then no one ever rested’.

I stand between Dr.Sorin and Lucian. Dr. Sorin has lots of porn on his phone, i watch as he skims his messages for a meme to show us. I drink more whiskey and watch Lucian in the mirror. Dr. Sorin shows me a picture of a brunette with her legs spread with a piece of cake on a plate placed in front of her pussy. Dr. Sorin shows me a picture of a girl kissing a man's feet drawn in charcoal and he wheezes when he laughs. I switch places with Lucian and smoke another cigarette.  Dr. Sorin reaches across lucian with his phone and shows me a photo of a girl with two pussies. I say nice and Led Zeppelin says:

We come from the land of the ice and snow

From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow

The hammer of the gods

We'll drive our ships to new lands

To fight the horde, and sing and cry

Valhalla, I am coming!

I think about being an immigrant and how i’m lucky to even be here with some jackoff showing me his porn stash. Dr. Sorin pours more whiskey and soda and then looks at me and says “you could put a nice brand on Lucian’s arm with those hott tits” and i  say ‘yeah’ as i press my hott tits against Lucian’s arm. After that i shove both of them out of the bathroom into Dr.Sorins main office shouting at them in romanian that i have to take a piss. Then i piss and its great somehow.

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claire hopple

THIS IS GONNA BE GOOD by Claire Hopple

“Do you know where Bernie is?” a stranger asked the man as he was headed in to change.

“Not sure. I think I saw him in the parking lot a minute ago,” said the man, trying to be helpful to the stranger even though he was technically a stranger.

“Who’s Bernie?” the stranger then asked.

“I thought you were looking for Bernie. How can you be looking for him if you don’t know who he is?”

“Why can’t I be looking for someone I don’t know?”

The man had had enough. He went inside to change for his shift so he wouldn’t be late. Coming back out to the main room in full garb, he saw Bernie picking a bandaid off the plaque in the corner. It read: PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH, was engraved and everything, but was screwed into the wall high enough so that it was unclear what one wasn’t supposed to touch. The bandaid was covering the word “NOT” rather defiantly.

“I think that was someone from the Association,” said Bernie.

The bandaid was flapping at the edge of his middle finger, successfully dislodged from the plaque. Bernie peeked at the gauze portion to see if it was used before tossing it into the trash.

“The Association?”

“Yes, The Association for Living History Farm and Agricultural Museums. Those guys.”

The man didn’t know such an association existed, had just started this job a few months ago, but didn’t want to rankle Bernie even more by asking followup questions.

“This place is not in shape for visits from the Association. This could be bad. I don’t want to end up like the settlement. You know what happened to Todd at Jamestown.”

The man tried not to remember what happened to Todd at Jamestown. It was Bernie’s standard cautionary tale for when anything went wrong.

He knew what this was really about. Tourists would rather drive eight miles out of the way to visit the wildlife refuge than come here. There, exotic animals appeared unencumbered by civilization. Their labyrinthine pathways seemed especially natural and created a pleasant plume of dirt when you scuffed your feet along them.

The man visited once but didn’t want to go back. The animals looked mutinous and the humans hypnotic. He had found a cage marked “Horned Viper” that appeared empty and struggled not to apply any meaning to it. Push pop carapaces littered the paths. Maybe we should be handing out push pops, the man thought.

*

Power lines buzzed above him on his way to the coffee shop. The buzzing forced him to imagine what impulses were being carried across right then, directly over his head. He entered, ordered, found a nice table near the wall of windows at the front. Outside, a woman was telling a rather animated story to her friend on the bench up against the window. She was gesturing high enough to look like she was reaching to give the man a high five.

He unceremoniously gulped his to-go cup and waited. The sleeve on the cup kept slipping and he thought about the frustrating nature of gravity, but also wondered why the barista had given him a portable cup rather than a mug. Did she expect him to leave?

He was not leaving. He was meeting a manager or director of some sort from an in-home aide service.

The man’s father was not doing well. In fact, the man was pretty sure his father was gradually becoming a recluse. His father had mentioned something about conch shells, how he could hear the sound of muffled waves just as clearly from pressing a mug to his ear as he could from a shell found near the wave’s end. At the time, he figured his father was just lonely or perhaps becoming a poet. He thought about getting him a no-nonsense pet, something that didn’t require a lot of maintenance, like a turtle. But the pets that require the least amount of maintenance also seem to provide the least amount of comfort.

Plus, the turtle was sure to outlive his father. And what was the man ultimately going to do with a turtle once his father passed, especially one that he indirectly inherited from himself?

The man wasn’t sure about the in-home care thing since his father was in very good physical condition. He didn’t know if reclusive tendencies was a box you could check on a form. But mental health is just as important, he thought.

And people talk about nervous breakdowns but maybe it doesn’t have to be like that. If you lean into it, accept the madness creeping over you, maybe it can be a peaceful adjustment. Like slipping into warm bath water. Like the gradual murk clouding the waters in a turtle tank.

She was late.

Being a historical interpreter mostly meant advising visitors to hold on to the railing along the stairs. Telling kids as well as adults, “Everyone has to hold on. No one is above hanging on.”

It also meant trying to fuse history with the present to a horde of students on field trips and retirees finally able to travel. And they came to this vaguely colonial site to hear about farming practices and blacksmithing techniques while the jake brakes of semis shuddered on the overpass. A submissive, sonorous percussion giving into the slope.

The man had applied, desperate for a way out of a misleading corporate position. He had been told travel would take up around 25% of his time but it was actually closer to 40%. The man’s ears kept popping and clogging from elevation changes to the point where he could no longer hear what went on in the meetings, the ones the company thought were worth flying the man hundreds of miles to attend, 40% of the time.

He suspected he landed this job with absolutely no interpreting experience merely because he was a man. With no battle scenes to reenact and no weapons to wield, the staff was mostly made up of women. Guys thought the big show was in Williamsburg. But these women wielded plowshares and ironwork and could maintain the fields far better than he could.

Some of the reenactors used to be street performers and some thought they deserved to slough off the first few letters entirely, transforming purely into actors.

The only other male on staff was Ames, an aspiring magician, who practiced tricks when things were slow. The man wasn’t impressed with his tricks. They were sloppy and unrehearsed. And also because what doesn’t disappear? What doesn’t eventually dissolve on its own?

Ames fumbled through stunts. He muttered things like, “I’ll get the hang of it. It’s just muscle memory. Like learning guitar.” But he wasn’t improving. Ames would say things like “This is gonna be good,” and “Wait, we’re getting to the good part,” which totally diffused any possibility for goodness in the impending act.

Muscle memory isn’t always ideal, the man kept to himself. Isn’t it just practicing an action over and over until it’s automatic? So that if every action were purely muscle memory, your whole life would be forgotten before it’s even gotten? The man thought about all of this while he nodded to Ames, polished the spinning wheel display.

*

The man had come to expect two things from his father. First, he wasn’t going to let an aide swing by his home a few days a week. This was less of a suspicion and more of a reality, since his father had already kicked out the aide within the first hour. Second, his father wasn't going to go out into the world anymore, but he could let some of the more entertaining parts of the world in.

So he drove Ames out to the house, switching out his straw farmer hat for a tall black one. They parked next to his father’s overly reinforced mailbox. His father understood the importance of mail but also understood the power of baseball bats and midnight teenage angst.

He made Ames tuck his long hair into a skinny ponytail. Ames had that mangled look caused by hair that’d been dyed for decades, like split and dried firewood stacked indoors. Just like the man’s mother used to have.

A song played on the radio in the car but it didn’t sound right. After listening for a few seconds, the man realized what was off about it. This song had become such a popular choice for karaoke that the original now sounded like a remake. No squeals or squawks or jumbled lyrics. It stuck out precisely because it was performed so cleanly.

The man gave Ames an encouraging pat on the shoulder before shutting off the engine and opening the door.

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nathaniel duggan

IMITATION CRABMEAT by Nathaniel Duggan

Dad spends Christmas Eve on the beach killing green crabs, before he returns home to turn on all the holiday lights. The house flashes and dazzles like a landing strip. The sky, meanwhile, looks foreclosed.

“You should’ve seen the fuckers,” he tells me, pinching his fingers to imitate claws. “Some of them big as your face.”

He has no heat, furniture, or future, so we sit in lawn chairs in the living room, our breath glowing like neon. His expression is sour-smug: he is a man who knows his own expiration date. When he dies shortly thereafter—without complication—I bury him in the garden and discover the action figures he stole from me during my youth to prove important points. There they all are tucked an inch below the soil, dirt-clotted and tangled in rhododendron roots.

I crack a beer, plotting my next move.

I spend maybe a few too many years sitting alone in dark living rooms at 3AM.

People claim I approach them with slanted intentions. I am between jobs and lovers. I live as an alleyway, defined mostly by the clutter and the things I keep apart.

For the sake of staying busy, I steal my last friend’s wife. The friend himself cannot be reached for comment; he has long since scuttled off to some forgotten corner of Alaska. As for the wife, she drinks.

This works out pretty well until it doesn’t. We drink too much too early, spend most of our days passing out. Our lives live outside and without us, and we are perpetually slumped against the kitchen cabinets or else spread-eagled on the bathroom floor, piecing together where we last left off: usually the entangling business of her bra.

Sleep scrubs her skin as pale and thin as a bedsheet. Her eyes close into her face. She fades, recedes into the background of herself, until all that’s left is a mapped suggestion of a person, pure theory and postulation.

On the other hand I grow puffy, weighted with my somnolence. I develop certain unsociable tendencies, namely clamming and a technique of eating Chinese food by the fistful. By the time I notice her absence, she’s already gone.

What do you do with so much nothing? Me, I leave the clams to die in the basement. Whole pounds of them, just slowly dying. They make little screaming noises throughout the night, but it’s one of those things like lobsters: you’re not sure if they’re really screaming or if it’s just the water compressing inside their shells or whatever.

Lately the rum I drink has taken on the plastic tang of action figures.

Lately my heart is the size of a face.

Midsummer I set up Christmas lights. I drape the bannisters, hedges, drainpipes. The bulbs throb sickly, pulsate underfoot like crabs on the march. This accomplished, I stumble into the front yard, chug the last of my cocktail. The house swims in my vision, so lucid I can’t look at it straight on. For a while I feel that I am expecting the arrival of something, until I realize I am expecting to have finally arrived somewhere else.

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THE PASSENGER by Ted Prokash

Raymond pulled into a Love’s Travel Center somewhere in southern Indiana, shortly before dawn. Their routine for stops had been well established by now. Walter went inside to piss and buy snacks, while Raymond paid for and pumped the gas.

Raymond was STRESSED. He was rather high-anxiety to begin with… and the mission he and Walter were undertaking would have anybody nervous. But Raymond had been prepared for all that. The problem was the mission had gotten off on the wrong foot logistically. He had planned to have his car – a 2004 Subaru Outback with low millage – all freshly serviced for the trip. But he’d run into certain logistical stumbling blocks, circumstances beyond his control, etc. Now, here they were, somewhere in southern Indiana, overdue for an oil change and with 3,000 miles left to drive.

Raymond checked the oil, fretting. He decided to add a quart to be on the safe side.

“Fuck you doin’, man?” Walter inquired quite amicably, a bag of spicy pork rinds in one hand and a 20-oz Red Bull in the other.

Raymond bristled underneath the hood, concentrating on pouring the oil through the little paper funnel. He was already getting tired of Walter’s lack of seriousness. “I’m trying to make sure we don’t break down somewhere in the fucking Appalachian Mountains, that’s what,” he said.

“Shit, man, I thought you had this whip all tightened up. Don’t freeze our here now,” Walter advised as he ducked inside the car.

It was damn cold, even 500 miles south of home.

*

Somewhere south of Louisville, Kentucky. Dawn breaking in the eastern sky. Walter had his phone plugged into the Subaru’s cigarette lighter, playing rap music at a moderate volume. The airwaves around these parts were dominated by country music, bible thumpers and right-wing firebrands. The Subaru was equipped with a CD player, but of course, the CDs themselves were all in landfills. Since Raymond mistrusted cell phone technology, Walter was in charge of the music – largely by default. Raymond would have preferred to drive in silence, not because he didn’t like the music, but because the demands of the mission made a constant clamor in his mind, requiring his constant diligent attention. “What are we listening to?” he asked.

“Lil B,” Walter said. Then, in response to Raymond’s honky silence, “Lil B the BasedGod. We can turn something else on if you want. I think I got some… Metallica on here… some Alice In Chains and shit.”

Raymond waved it off. “No, this is good. I just didn’t recognize it.” Walter offered him the bag of pork rinds. “No thanks.”

Walter picked out a choice piece of pig skin and halved it with a crunch that rang out over the down-low stylings of the BasedGod. Crunch, crunch. “There was some fucked up graffiti in that bathroom back there, man.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. There was the usual shit, you know, pictures of dicks, gay shit, so and so is a ho at this phone number. But there was some raw racist shit too, fucking swastikas. ‘Only good nigger’s a dead nigger’, ‘Hitler was right’, ‘Kill the Jews’…”

“Fucking Christ!” Raymond spat. “Fucking ignorant hicks. Like, I get that the Nazi imagery was a thing with the early punk bands and shit. The Stooges did it, a lot of those bands did, but the time for that shit is past.” Raymond shook his head. “That kind of shock value’s just not relevant anymore, man.”

The two drove on in a thoughtful silence.

*

Miami, Florida. Seventy five degrees in the dead of winter, the sunshine infusing everything like an extremely clean form of speed.

Raymond and Walter were ragged, strung out from the road. After 24 hours of hard driving, they’d finally pulled over under a tall palm tree on a quiet side street about a hundred and fifty feet from Iggy Pop’s door. Here they waited out the small hours of morning, watching for any sign of their mark. As the sun climbed in the sky, Walter started getting restless. “Man, I gotta get a coffee or something,” he said, stretching and rubbing his eyes.

“We can’t give up our position now,” Raymond said.

Walter was less than impressed. “Man, if anybody’s worried about us, they know we’re here already. I saw a little place a block back that way and a block back down the street we came in on. I’m going to take a walk. You want anything?”

Raymond grumbled under his breath. “Coffee,” he said.

Fine time for him to make a scene, Raymond thought. He screwed up his eyes and studied the house for any kind of movement. He hadn’t slept more than an hour in the last twenty four and he’d hardly eaten a thing, but Raymond was wired. They were so close now. If they pulled this off…

Raymond took a warm swig of water from a bottle he found under his seat.

This whole crazy plan was only a couple weeks old, but the impetus behind it had been brewing for longer than Raymond had been alive. The zeitgeist of popular despair, the American cultural train wreck, speeding toward a suicide soma solution… Iggy was one of the original reactionaries to this very thing, one of the first to test the merits of kamikaze art. Then, the suicide trip was rushed to crescendo by the digital revolution, you know, ‘watch out now ‘cause I’m using technology’… Raymond knew intrinsically that Iggy was someone who might be able to give him, if not answers, at least some perspective, some idea.

Then, the chance encounter with the record collector from Miami. Raymond was soliciting a first pressing of the first Stooges album. This cat happened to mention that – slap my ass and I’ll be damned – Iggy Pop lived a block from his home. He sees him quite regularly. That’s when Raymond had his thunderbolt revelation. It was like he was visited by an angel that said, “Go and seek Iggy out. In him you will find the truth.” He brought Walter along because – well, for one thing, Walter was easy company – but most of all, Walter was a gun person. He was always strapped. Touched by an angel or not, Raymond was still practical. The great Iggy Pop might need a little convincing as to the righteousness of his mission.

Walter returned from his coffee run. He climbed into the car, whistling to himself, making no attempt at all to be inconspicuous. The Subaru filled with the smell of deep fried something.

“What are those?” Raymond asked with a testy edge. The smell was doing a number on his voracious senses and his knotted gut.

“Oh, these? These croquettes. They’re delicious, man, have some.”

Raymond popped a croquette into his mouth. “That is good.” He noticed Walter had come back with just one small cup of coffee. “They run out of coffee?”

“Hmm? Oh, no man. This Cuban coffee. This enough for both of us.” Walter put the coffee on the dash and set out two plastic cups the size of thimbles. “See, how they make it is they pack the sugar in the bottom, then they put the coffee on top – and it’s strong coffee…” Walter paused mid-sentence. “Is that your boy right there?” he said, pointing casually.

Raymond looked up and, sure enough, there he was: the weird and wiry street-walking cheetah, in the flesh and a dark pair of sunglasses. Whether or not his heart was still full of napalm, was exactly what Raymond intended to find out.

Iggy crossed the street and walked right at the Subaru, coming up on the passenger side.

“He’s coming to your side, man, stop him!” Raymond panicked.

Walter leaned out of the window, still casual. “Hey, excuse me sir. Can we talk to you for a minute?”

Iggy peered inside the car, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear. “What’s up, brother?” That unmistakable snarl.

Raymond’s excitement bubbled over. He practically climbed on top of Walter. “Hey Iggy. We’d just like a few moments of your time. Just a few questions. Is there someplace we can go to talk?”

Iggy recoiled. “I’m sorry guys, I’m just trying to go down the street and get a cup of coffee, alright?”

“Well, we could come with you. I’ll buy you a cup…”

“Listen, you’re going to have to get a hold of my agent if you want an interview.” Iggy began to retreat.

That’s when Walter, in a motion that was lightning-quick yet somehow unhurried, pulled his 9-millimeter and pointed it square at the godfather of punk. “Tell you what man, why don’t you just get in the car. We’ll go for a ride and have a little talk. No problems.” Walter motioned toward the back seat. “Just get in the car.”

Iggy took a step toward the Subaru, his palms turned up. He reached tentatively for the handle of the car door. But instead of opening the door he brought his hand down in a fast karate chop, knocking the 9-mm into Walter’s lap. He took off like a shot.

“Shit man!” Walter fumbled for the gun. Iggy was already sprinting down an alley.

Raymond opened his door. Then he shut it again. “What the fuck are you doing, man!? You pull your fucking piece?!”

“That old boy’s quicker than shit! You see that?”

Raymond fired up the Subaru and peeled off. He whipped a U-turn and took a left. They spotted Iggy running down a busy street. “Fuck!” Iggy ducked into a little shopping center, out of sight. “Fuck! What do we do?”

“Just keep driving, man,” Walter advised. Raymond tried to pull over and park, but they were caught in a heavy wave of traffic. “Ray, I aint gonna jump out this car and chase that motherfucker down, I don’t know about you. Just keep driving.”

Iggy was fucking gone.

*

Somewhere south of Atlanta, Georgia. Beating a mad retreat from Miami, from their failed mission. Panic and shame running 80 miles per hour. Walter was at the wheel. Raymond was next to him, not asleep, but practically catatonic with despair.

The flow of traffic started getting heavy. They were nearing the city. Walter flipped on the right turn signal and eased the Subaru into the far right lane. He veered onto an exit ramp.

“What are you doing? This is a weird place to pull off. Why don’t you get us past the city at least?”

“We gotta make a stop here.”

“This is a bad place, man. We need to put some miles between us and that… that fucking mess back there.” Raymond shook his head. “I still can’t believe you pulled your fucking gun.”

Walter wore that half-smile that never seemed to leave his face. He maintained the calm demeanor that seemed his permanent state. “You remember where I’m from, Raymond?”

Raymond squeezed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, shutting his eyes tightly. “Yeah… um, you’re from Georgia. Somewhere in Georgia.”

Walter smiled. “That’s right. Little hood outside of Atlanta called Park Heights. You know how I’m always so chill at work? How I just laugh when people be freakin’ out about their kid’s got a cold, or their transmission goes out or some shit? I’m just thinking how back in Park Heights you got to worry about gettin’ shot just walkin’ down the fucking street.”

“That’s fucked up,” Raymond admitted.

“Yup. Now Raymond, why do you think I agreed to drive all this way with you, looking for some old grandpa motherfucker used to sing in some rock band? I know you wanted me along for muscle, Ray, ‘cause I got a gun. I know that shit.” He put his hand on Raymond’s shoulder, chuckling.

“Dude, my whole family is here. All my old friends, my moms…”

Raymond was quiet for a while. He had never considered that they’d be driving right by Walter’s old stomping grounds. He watched the city filling in around them. “Can we get some food, at least?”

Walter put on a hurt expression. “Man we’re visiting my mom. She will cook for your ass. That’s called southern hospitality. You motherfuckers up in Wisconsin might not know about that shit.”

Walter guided the Subaru through a typical urban tableaux. Check cashing places, liquor stores, fried chicken stands. Folks hanging out on front stoops, sipping from bottles sheathed in brown paper bags, watching the traffic with long, bored looks.

“We’re gonna get you some soul food, Raymond.”

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THE NAVIGATOR by Kelby Losack

Because your friends are assholes, they toss us in the trunk in the sixty-nine position.

They duct-taped my ankle to the steel rod of my prosthetic leg. I don’t even know how to feel about that.

You think that twin telepathy shit is real?

Check, one, two.

Nod your head or something if you hear me.

How are we getting out of this alive?

One-two, one-two.

Fuck.

We’re going to die, huh?

Check, check, one, two.

If I had any memories of being in the womb with you, I think being curled up next to you in this cramped darkness would trigger some flashbacks. Nod your head if you feel me.

I can’t imagine where your friends might be taking us. This ride is bumpy as fuck, though. Remember learning how to drive? We couldn’t see where we were going then, either. Too small to see over the wheel, so we learned how to drive by the feel of the road. I was always careful not to keep the wheel too straight, swerving this way and that, like I’d learned from watching Mom. Always thought of her driving all over the road as her version of rocking us to sleep. It usually did the trick, except for when she’d slam on the brakes and laugh hysterically at some shit we weren’t privy to, reaching back with a hand that always shook, saying, “You okay back there, babies?”

Then there was the time she didn’t so much slam on the brakes as she did just let off the gas and sink into the driver’s seat, hands sliding to her lap, head bobbing against her shoulder in rhythm with the tall grass blades slapping the rearview mirror. I don’t remember if that was the first time we rock-paper-scissored for who would drive/who would navigate standing in the shotgun, but it wasn’t the last time, I know that.

Those times, when we took Mom by the underarms and ankles and sort of carried/sort of dragged her gently as we could into the backseat—thankful she didn’t weigh much more than the pitbull we had at the time—she always smelled like burning plastic, like when we’d use one of her lighters to pretend those little green soldiers had real flamethrowers. Same way she smelled when we found her the last time, slumped against her bedroom door, not waking up.

That first time we drove Mom’s car out of a ditch, it was you standing in the seat, telling me which way to turn as I steered blindly with my foot reaching down to the pedal, my chin ready to get smacked by the airbag if I fucked this up and crashed us into something. I was too scared to take us all the way home, so you told me where to turn into a gas station parking lot and that’s where we stayed until Mom woke up several hours later and she was so proud of us, she gave us some money and said, “Go inside and get you some candy, and bring Momma a pack of cigarettes,” but the clerk wouldn’t let us buy cigarettes, so we came out empty-handed and she said, “Fine, I’ll get it,” and she adjusted her hair and bra strap and checked her teeth in the mirror then staggered inside and when she came back out, she didn’t have any candy, but we didn’t say anything about it.

Check, check.

One-two, one-two.

Are you hearing any of this?

You know, come to think of it, you were always the one navigating, and I was always the blind driver.

That’s why I can’t blame you for any of this.

Your friends are going to kill us—probably tell us to run off into the woods and then shoot us in our backs—and yeah, it might be ‘cause I freaked out thinking the neighbor’s TV was a real police raid and went and flushed all the dope down the toilet, but this is your fault, too. I was just the one steering.

Still, I can’t blame you.

And if we could go back, I’d probably do it again, because without you, I’d be lost.

Nod your head if you can hear me.

Check, check, one, two.

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derick dupre

LITTLE CACKLES by Derick Dupre

A windy morning outside Denny’s in Carefree. Windshields and gas pumps ping with dust. Rosettes of yucca twitch and sway. Inside it sounds like a light rain passing through. A waitress saunters up to a table where three men sit. Her dirndl skirt swishes in time to the dust, and for a moment it seems like the only sound in the world. The three men are John Huston, Rich Little, and Orson Welles. She recognizes Little right away and fangirls out in front of the two older men.

Oh my god I knew it, it’s him, can I have an autograph Mr. Little? Make it out to Sue. No to Ralph.

Make it out to Ralph. Oh my god. Do Nixon. Do Bing.

Little smiles uneasily, accepting Sue’s pen, knowing that in a just world she should be asking for John’s or Orson’s hasty scrawl, not his, not that of one whose sole talent is sounding like other people. But what do other people know, anyway. The older men fidget on the leatherette. To Ralph, he writes aloud, best, wishes, always. Rich. Little slides the napkin to Sue.

Joan! It’s the man of a thousand voices! Sue shouts to a coworker. Oh my god. Do Jimmy Stewart.

Do Jack Benny. What are you doing in Carefree, Mr. Little?

Little, doing Johnny Cash, says, Well we thought we’d check up on the Carefree sundial. We were driving through and John here wanted to know the time, so I said, let’s make a stop in Carefree.

Johnny Cash! Joan get over here. Oh, we do have quite the sundial, don’t we, Sue says.

Joan saunters up and twitches a hip to the right, indicating Welles, and asks Little, So who’s your fat friend?

Welles, nosedeep in a menu, shifts his glance from Hot n Hearty to Lean n Low to Tempting Desserts.

Little, in a rare moment of speechlessness, slowly widens his eyes. Huston, not known for his whipcrack humor, clarifies: We actually don’t know this man. Wepicked him up on the highway and he seemed undernourished. We were planning to feed him and send him on his way.

Little cackles.

Huston just stares at the menu, forgetting whether or not Denny’s serves scotch. Welles squirms against the leatherette. Huh. I’m not surprised. I used to work up at the Denny’s up in Seligman. All kinds of freeloaders there. So, big boy, what’ll you have? Sue says.

Peaches, cottage cheese, hold the rye wafers, please, Welles says, as though delivering a line he’s waited his whole life to give. His order has the tone of a funeral toll. An atmospheric shift disrupts the dining room, in the way it will if somebody farts or breaks a glass. Other tables are silent. Meandering jowls now pause midchew. The dust outside is again the only sound in the world. After a few moments, Joan breaks the trance. I know that voice. I’ve heard that voice. Mr. Little, who’s this friend of yours?

Little, doing John Wayne, says, This man here is the bravest man I know. This man staged an entire war. This man is as good as any general, the great Orson Welles.

Duke! Joan squeals.

Orson Who? Sue says. Oh my god I can’t believe I’m taking Rich Little’s order. What is your order, Mr. Little?

Little does Cagney, delivering his order and snapping his fingers with immense menace. Jumbo Dennyburger, got it? Hold the lettuce, I don’t wanna see no lettuce at all. Cook it well-done - bravo, you got it? There better be extra ketchup, and a coffee.

Sue can hardly contain her squealing. Extra kitchup! Did you hear that Joan? Jimmy Cagney - she winks at Little - wants extra kitchup! Of course! Well-done!

Huston sighs and says, Is there any chance you have single malt.

We have all kinds of rich and creamy malts sir, yes.

Huston looks at Welles, indicating he’s run out of fucks to give. I’ll just have a coffee, please.

Two coffees all day. And what’ll your fat friend have to drink?

Welles fidgets and thinks of Oja, of her love and cunning, thinks by now she would’ve stabbed one of these women. He thinks of something rich and creamy. A hot tea, please, with a slice of lemon.

Another atmospheric disruption befalls the Denny’s in Carefree, Arizona. The dust sings. Joan says, I don’t know who that man is but he sure knows how to talk.

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juliet escoria

OUTTAKE FROM JULIET THE MANIAC by Juliet Escoria

We waited all evening for Nicole’s parents to leave, a cord of excitement running taut between the two of us. When their Land Rover finally pulled out of the driveway, we waited ten extra minutes, just in case her parents forgot something and came back. Only then did we take the rolled-up scarf from Nicole’s closet, a neat package containing a lighter and two perfectly rolled joints, the result of Nicole practicing with tobacco while me and my clumsy fingers sat and watched. We took the bundle and crawled out her bedroom window onto the roof.

We pressed ourselves against the building in case her neighbors could see, lit the first joint. The days were finally starting to get longer and even though it was almost eight there were still traces of light in the air, the sky that cobalt blue right before it turns black. We held the smoke in, the way we’d seen people do in movies. It made us cough. It made us feel cool.

We’d gotten the weed from the Ryans, the only other friends we had at the Christian school. Except “friends” wasn’t entirely accurate. The less cute Ryan, Ryan M, lived down the street from Nicole, so the three of us carpooled each morning. Ryan D was Ryan M’s best friend. We sat together at lunch, occasionally hung out voluntarily after school and on weekends. We liked the same music and swapped mixtapes. We smoked. We got sent out of class for talking, sometimes stayed in at lunch for detention.

That was the friend part. But the Ryans could be mean. They liked to call us “flat-tittied bitches.” They made fun of my acne and Nicole’s thick thighs. They asked us if we liked non-existent bands and if we said we weren’t sure but thought we did, they called us posers. I tried to brush it off – maybe they saw us as their little sisters – but in truth their comments made me cry. I never admitted it, not to Nicole, not to anyone, but it was hard to go into the bathroom and be confronted with the smattering of red bumps on my forehead that wouldn’t go away, and not hear their nasty voices telling me I was disgusting. Saying things like “Hey pimple girl,” the way they did when my skin was especially bad. It made me envision stabbing my pencil into their eyes, blood running squishy and their screams.

Also, they were always going on about all the weed they smoked. But I never saw them do it, never saw them stoned either. I’d never smoked pot before but I wanted to. Same with Nicole. But we had no idea where to get it. Partially we didn’t ask them to get us some because I wasn’t sure the Ryans were telling the truth, but mostly I was afraid they’d make fun of us.

One day we were sitting around Ryan M’s room after school, video games because we had nothing better to do, and once again they wouldn’t shut up about how they’d gotten so high that weekend, drawing out the vowels the way the skateboarders did in the skate videos we sometimes watched. Finally I got to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore so I just came right out and asked where they got it.

They were quiet for a moment, and I thought they were trying to think of some sick burns. But then Ryan D said, “None of your business,” at the same time Ryan M said, “From my brother.”

Then they called us dumb little babies for never having smoked pot.

“Fuck you,” Nicole said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Fuck you.” I was so sick of their shit, of them acting like they were so much better than us when they were two stupid junior high boys, with no facial hair and skinny chests. “You’re fucking lying anyway.”

“Let’s bounce,” Nicole said.

“Good idea.”

So we left. We went back to her house and watched TV.

The next day at school, they acted like nothing had happened. At lunch, they came and sat with us and were nice, asking us what we were doing that weekend and did we want to record Ryan D’s new Descendants album. Nicole and I just looked at them. Yesterday we had agreed we were sick of them. This niceness was fucking everything up. And then Ryan M said if we really wanted pot, he could get us some from his brother. We pretended it wasn’t a big deal, that we didn’t care either way, but I could tell by the look in Nicole’s eyes and the flutter in my chest that we were excited.

After we smoked the joints and felt nothing, and waited half an hour just in case, we took the rest of the “weed” and compared it to the herb jars in the kitchen. Just as we thought. It was oregano.

We should have known the weed was bunk when they didn’t try to smoke it with us. We should have known the weed was bunk when Ryan D said that sometimes you had to smoke weed a couple times before you got high. But we didn’t know any better, had no idea what weed was supposed to look like other than a dried green plant. And a dried green plant is what they sold us.

So we made a plan. On Wednesdays, Ryan M didn’t carpool home because he had tutoring. His older brother had baseball practice every day. His mother didn’t get home until at least 4. We didn’t know his dad’s work schedule but we figured it was a dad work schedule, and he wouldn’t be home until 5 or 6.

We told Nicole’s mom we were going to buy ice cream. The door to Ryan M’s garage was unlocked, just like usual, tools perfectly lined up on the wall by their hooks. From there we walked into the house, and then up the stairs to his room. I kept thinking someone would catch us, his brother home sick or the cleaning lady, but then I remembered what dickheads they were, the twenty dollars they’d stolen from us, and I told myself the house was empty and it was fine and he deserved everything we’d planned for him.

We opened the door to his room. There was underwear on the floor, dingy white boxers, and the bed was unmade, but otherwise it looked the same as it always did. Posters on the wall of hot chicks and Kelly Slater. A wall of CDs, a big TV, a big stereo.

We’d bought a can of sardines a few days earlier at the grocery store. I popped it open, the metal lid flicking the nasty oil onto my hand. We put the fish where we figured he wouldn’t look, grabbing them by their slimy tails. In the heating vent on the floor. Underneath the bed. I went into his closet, and Nicole boosted me up while I hid one on the top shelf, behind a plastic bin of baseball cards. His bookshelf only held old schoolbooks – a Latin dictionary, the textbook from Pre-algebra 1, To Kill a Mockingbird – so I pulled them out half an inch and tucked one behind. We put two behind his stereo.

Nicole went to put one in his desk drawer, but when she slid it open, she found a big rusty hunting knife. I wanted to keep it, but Nicole said she wanted it too. We stood there, trying to figure out who got to keep it. But I started thinking about Ryan M’s stupid face, his cocky smile, the fact that he seemed completely unaware he was an idiot with dirty boxers on his floor. And I took the knife and stabbed it into the desk, which looked expensive and heavy, pretending I was stabbing him. Stab stab stab. It felt so good. I imagined his screams.

Nicole laughed. The knife made neat little gashes, splitting the thick waxed coating of the desk. She took it from my hand, stabbed again. The wood splintered this time. Then I stabbed it, a whole bunch of times, hard, like I was trying to kill it. Like I was trying to get deep at the bones. Nicole did the same, yelping this time like a warrior. I was laughing. She was laughing. We were two maniacal bitches, and the Ryans would be sorry they fucked with us. I took the knife and stabbed it in the desk one final time, deep enough that it stood up straight on its own. Then we changed his radio from the rock station to a Spanish one, turned the volume up, so loud the bass crackled in the speakers, and then turned it off so the next time he went to play it, it would scare the shit out of him.

We left his house, skipping and laughing our way back to Nicole’s, throwing the empty can of sardines in the gutter. My heart beat fast in a way that wasn’t fear. It was beating fast with power, a warrior drum that kept me strong. It was the heartbeat of a maniacal bitch. I kept imagining Ryan M’s face when he walked in and saw the knife, when he turned on the stereo, when the fish started to rot.

I hoped it made him afraid.

I hoped it made him feel small.

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michael mungiello

A BOLD NEW KIND OF STORY by Michael Mungiello

Something new…

Something new…

I need to do something new…

Something new…

Something new…

I need to do something new…

It will be new…

It will come now…

Somehow…

Somewhere…

I know…

It will start on the next page…

One time I was reading important books…

It was very important that I read them…

They addressed concerns…of the people…of the elites…history…art…religion…politics…

I was interested in those things…

People I admired were interested in those things…

So I read in pursuit of these people’s interest…

In the hopes that one day…a book would be written…about me…by all those I admired…

When we are young we believe such things…

We feel born to be admired…

Books feel like they can go on forever…and we can keep riding the train…along with these writers, their writing, their voices, their faces waiting for us at the station of arrival…

I was on a train…

I saw a sign…a train sign…

A sign for the train…

To tell it what was coming…

How fast to go…

How far away it was from somewhere…

What it was leaving behind…

I don’t know…

It was in another language…

I was travelling by train, to see a woman I was in love with…

No I wasn’t…

I was there to visit my Dad…

He was on a business trip…

I was abroad…

But I was reading a book about a love affair…

And I thought to myself…

My, what splendor…

The romance…

What it must be like to be young and travel in a train in Europe to the woman you love, whose role in your life is…mysterious…

Yeah…

Hey…

Give me a break…

I was young…

Books made an impression on me…

But this sign distracted me from this book…

Which I thought meant so much to me…

And which I thought would continue to mean very much to me my entire life…

But I looked up from the book…

To contemplate a line I’d read in it…

To look out the window and think…

Oh, wow…

What a good line…

So true to life and my heart…

Look, the landscape…

It almost reflects what that line means…to me…

But I saw the sign…

And the font…was so much bigger…

And I thought to myself, That…

That contains more meaning…

Than anything I’ve ever seen before…

I couldn’t read it…but it was telling me something…

Not just me…but the whole train…

The letters were so big that even people who couldn’t read would be interested…

The letters were so big…God would be interested…

This…

This was something new…

This was something I would never forget…

I forgot the exact letters…

But I have never forgotten the sign…

The feeling…

To perceive something I knew was important but also knew nothing about…

I have tried all my life to capture that feeling once again…

I had the feeling that I could recapture this feeling by…

By…

By…

Doing something new…

Getting back there…

But how…

Become…rich…

No…

Become…good…

No…

Become…strong…

No…

Become…pure…

No, haha…

I could do it one way and one way only…

By writing a book of my own…

To make my own letters…

My own signs…

Charting the course of my own voyage…

That was the ticket…

But how could I write a book…I had nothing to say…no argument…no expertise…no polemic…no religion…no politics…no art…only the desire for people to never forget something that didn’t mean anything to them, beyond being unforgettable…

But that still had something to do with Dad…

With love…

With journeys…

Was that enough to make a book for… with…towards…against…

Well…

Well…

Well…

I don’t know…

But then I thought…

Well…

Well…

Well…

If I just…make the font…really big…then…

Then the book will write itself…

All I need to do is provide the…elementary materials…

A narrator…(me)…

A setting…(Europe)…

A character…(my dad)…

A plot…(the quest to recapture a feeling)…

A point of view…(mine, the correct one)…

A theme…(literarture)…

And it’s all there…

And everyone will root for my demise…

The end of the book…

The return back to life…

Which you didn’t like while you were there…

But now that it’s been interrupted…by this story about me and my Dad…and my imaginary lover…and Europe…

Now that you’ve come this far…

You’re back in your life…and you can regard your life…the same way you would home…after a trip…the pleasure of return…

Thank you for reading this…

It is a mystery, is it not…

The ways we deserve each other…

How we see each other across the tracks…

Books are like trains…books are like tickets…books are like stations…

But reading is boring…

We just do it for…some other reason…

 

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lanny durbin

LIBERTY KID by Lanny Durbin

I saw the kid's face when he got hit by the car. He was standing there on the sidewalk with a blank look and then the car jumped the curb. Just nailed him. The blank look stayed on his face when he flew through air, stared right at me. Like he meant to do it. A party trick.

He was wearing a statue of liberty costume, which, for a short moment, made the visual a little funny. He stood out in front of the Liberty Tax building a few nights a week, one of those preying fast tax return spots in the same lot as the grocery store I work in. He stole a pack of smokes out of my car one night I'm pretty sure, but he was just a kid, seventeen at max. I wished it was the regular guy standing there that day, the day shift statue. That guy danced and waved at the passing cars like he really cared. Either he would have seen the car coming and been vigilant enough to dodge it or he would've been the one to get creamed. Both seemed like better outcomes. The kid was just there for a couple extra bucks—he wore the foam green hat and matching frock with no pride and stared at his cell phone. Lady Liberty's lost disappointment of a son. The hat caught the wind and drifted away when he careened over the hood of the Nissan. It looked like he was doing a killer move on an invisible skateboard.

The EMTs showed up, cops showed up, blinking lights and stoic professionalism. They set out orange cones, scraped the kid up off the asphalt. I watched them work quickly. I stocked shelves most of the day. I opened the store and counted the till. I dealt with the customers, took the trash out, locked up the store at 9 PM. I watched the EMTs take the kid away and thought that I could probably do that. A little training and I’d be alright, but then someone would need to be here to receive the produce delivery, so I’ll leave the rescue work to guys with nothing else to do.

The officer was terse when taking my statement, like, this dipshit in his work uniform better give me a straight answer. I thought, hey man, we both wear uniforms. Yours is dark blue, mine's orange and white creamsicle. We both have our names on our shirt pockets, but hey, mine's only safety pinned—they stitched yours right into the fabric. Officer Ottman. You’re locked into the force, like a blood oath. I could take my name tag off right now and disappear to a new life. I can stock shelves anywhere. A valuable skill set.

Maybe I don't know how to hold a pistol or book a perp at the station but I do know when the frozen goods delivery is coming, what'll be on it, where to stock it. You don't have to deal with Ms. Henderson when I tell her the Amy's Chile Relleno meal was out of stock, she'll have to wait until Friday. Your stern bullying wouldn't work on her—she requires a more delicate approach. I'd like to see you be the shift supervisor in this goddamn place. I'd love to see it.

They towed the woman’s Nissan away while she gave her statement. She was crying, inconsolable. Was on her cell phone and bam, jumped the curb. She probably killed a teenager but she did get to read that Facebook notification. I recognized her from the store. She came in to buy slivered almonds, which reminded me that the bulk order was due in by noon and all this police business was holding me up.

The next morning, the regular Statue of Liberty guy was out on the curb, inches from where the kid was nailed. The guy danced and waved like a real dipshit. I went out and asked him if he’d heard about the kid.

“Yeah,” he said. “Heard he broke his legs and ruptured his spleen or something.”

“So he’ll live, huh?”

“Sounds like it.”

“Can’t you live about the same without your spleen?” I asked. “I think I read somewhere your liver just takes over for it.”

“Heck if I know,” dancing statue said with a big dopey grin. “Hey, I’ve got to cover his shifts until he gets back, so hopefully one can live without a spleen. I should get back to work now.”

I walked back inside to the office in the backroom and googled spleens. I thought about the kid without a spleen. I read that you sure can live just about the same without one; you could just become more susceptible to infection. I thought, hey, that’s not so bad, considering. Plus, working in the vitamin section here at the store, I’ve picked up a few things about nutrition. The kid would want to cut back on dairy fats, for starters. I decided that, if I saw him again, I’d offer the kid a job on the spot, here at the grocery store. Your life was rarely on the line in here, Nissans rarely careened into you in here.

I knew that Officer Ottman wasn’t going to help the kid get back on his feet. Offer the kid a badge? Yeah right. He didn’t really know anything about protecting and serving his community. I’d love to see Officer Ottman try to run this store. I’d love it.

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