Slide through the doors of the convenience store. Live a little in your skin. This skin was given to you in about 1975. Friendship Wolfcheese made sure you got the kind of skin that earned you favor. Ask for cigarettes. Carefully enunciate the vowels and the consonants. Friendship Wolfcheese was very particular about sounds.

Marlllllborooooo Liiiiiights.

Feel the heat in your cheeks. Why the heat in your cheeks?

Marllllllborooooo Liiiights.

He doesn’t understand you. This boy of fifteen, with the fresh coat of paint on his face. Squints in your direction. He’s speaking, but the speaking isn’t happening in your ears.

Friendship Wolfcheese lived on a boat. He hunted for fish with a stick and string, and then he fried the fish in a sea of butter. Fish eyes popped because of the heat. Because of the way they were being cooked.

Marllllllboroooooo Liiiiights.

This boy of fifteen. He doesn’t know you. He doesn’t care for you. He’s got the phone to worry about and the hair to worry about and he doesn’t know you.


Marlllllborooooooo Liiiiiiiiights.

Point again, hitting the plastic separating you and the boy.

Marlllllborooooooo Liiiiiiights.

Fish eyes popping. More of a melt, really. Friendship Wolfcheese could melt a fish in butter whole. A whole melt.

Marlllllboroooooo Liiiiiiights.

Until the fish was just butter.

Marlllllboroooooo Liiiiiiights.

You could live without. Friendship Wolfcheese could live without. Fish could live without water for nine days. Flipping and flipping. On a chopping block.

You walk back.

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benjamin niespodziany

CORPORATE CLIMATE by Benjamin Niespodziany

Corporate encourages that we ride to work on company pogo sticks. Company bicycles and unicycles are also okay, but everything else is frowned upon. “We can't force anyone,” the CEO laughs. Sheryl hates to bounce, rides in on a skateboard every morning. Everyone used to adore Sheryl, used to throw morning glories at her in the staff parking lot. Now co-workers spit on her as they pass her new office in the broken elevator full of fax machines. I remain a loyal employee, a pogo commuter covered head to toe in Band-Aids. My bruises and scabs are the only things that make my wife laugh. I take a pogo stick to work every morning and my poor balance never wins. I fall four of five times before sunrise and my work is only two blocks from my bed. My boss loves the commitment, adores the blood. Can't stop giving me raises.

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kristin garth


JONATHANIt’s five past. The bookstore owner with the crooked back eyes me as if I’m a suspicious character. Sinister I wear like a Brooks Brothers suit.  Not suspicious.Six past. If I’d been thinking, I’d have sent these things UPS. If I’d been thinking, I would have dumped her majestic, manipulative ass a year ago. If I’d been … with Lauren, there’s never been a lot of …Nine past. There’s little worse in the world than a three-piece suit and a tie in the middle of a July heat wave in Queens. And women with crooked backs.Ten past.LAURENI’m wearing a pleated black skirt, Mary Jane heels, a white turtleneck because Jonathan likes a girl in a turtleneck.  He likes his girls in white.I’m running, in heels, down a street I hope is Tyrell. I’ve asked three people for help.  None even stop to hear my question.Something drips down my cheek.  Not sure if it’s sweat or tears or both. It hits my mouth.  It’s salty. I lick my lips.It’s fifteen past. He will not wait.TRICIA“Coffee, blackI rest my fingers on a spoon centered on a violet linen napkin, take a New York City breath.  I’m here, but she’s here too. And, right now, she’s with him.IRENE WESTER, PROPRIETER, WESTERDAY, 13 TYRELL STREETI’m an old widow who sells old things: books mostly, furniture, clothes. I know things. Like this thing stalking outside my store for 20 full minutes scaring off customers, a gargoyle.Comes inside.  Pulls out a silk hanky, wipes his forehead with it all dainty-like.Wanders here and there, touches everything, careful. Uses the smallest surface area of skin contact possible, like it’s all infected with the plague. Keeps eyeing the door.  Has some smart-ass ideas of not putting books back where they go.I eyeball him then. “No, sir. We do not.”Grimaces.  Brings a stack of books, a money clip, on top, with a devil creature face, pulls a hundred dollar bill. Goes right back outside to stalk my front door.JONATHAN“It’s twelve fucking thirty.”Her hair is hanging against her red cheeks like thin, wet snakes.“Lauren?”Pants turn to sobs. On a public sidewalk, she throws herself at my feet. Screams a word I do understand: Daddy.Through the glass, I make unfortunate eye contact with the scowling old bookstore owner.  I look away, to the voluptuous 33-year-old howling at my feet on a sidewalk in broad daylight.“Hello, Hannah.”I hail us a cab.TRICIAThree cups of coffee and five chapters later, I pull out my phone. An hour. He told me half that, tops.The blonde 20-something waiter hovers, faithfully attentive to my coffee cup  covered now with my palm. I offer him a sweet tea southern smile. Any more caffeine, and that smile’s going full-on smirk.I’m the good girl. I cannot risk a smirk.JONATHAN“Little one, I’m going to require some patience. Been a bit of a snag.”I hear the ache in her breath.“At the end of the block, there’s a vintage toy store with a carousel. Pick out a doll. Daddy will buy it in half an hour.”LAUREN“Daddy, I don’t feel well.”He’s got a frown.“Where’s my pink sheets, Daddy?”Daddy used to wrap me in pink sheets, tell me bedtime stories.  He slept inside with me.“I’m going to lie down on the couch.”I feel all bad inside.“Wrap me up in the pink sheets, Daddy.”JONATHAN“You’ve done your best,” Tricia tells me, holding her Little Red Riding Hood doll bribe in the kitchen. “She’s faking.”I nod. “I know.”“I don’t think you really believe she’s faking. We both know that you’ve derived a lot of,” Tricia’s choosing her words, “pleasure from this idea of her multiple personalities.”I contemplate an argument, but Tricia deserves the truth.“You’re right. Part of me still wants to believe. Part of me has this,” I cringe, “weakness.”I hear Hannah crying. Not Lauren. Hannah. I have an impulse to find her pink sheets and wrap her in them.  Pink sheets I threw out three weeks ago.TRICIA“She’s in there talking to someone,” I’m realizing I am trapped in an apartment with a crazy person.“She’s just babbling,” he says casually. “She does this.”Maybe more than one.“It really does sound like she’s talking to somebody.”“Tricia, who in the hell would she be talking to?”That’s a very good question, I think.  Say nothing.“I don’t think she’s talking to anybody.” He goes to check though.   Just in case.ROSCOE PATTERSON, EMT, QUEENS EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICESWe receive a dispatch at 3:59 p.m., 225 Andrus #14, woman caller. Report is not unusual: “They’re killing me.” An unidentified male intercepted the call, said the woman is delirious. Police are inside when we arrive.A woman’s on the floor, kicking, screaming.  If she were a child, I would say “having a temper tantrum.” Most definitely adult though. Early to mid 30’s, guess.Mr. Jonathan Braxton (the resident) tells us that Ms. Hawthorne (the screamer) is his confused guest. Complained of dizziness, exhaustion after moving some items.We discuss options.   Ms. Hawthorne quiets herself. She’s sits up, criss-cross-apple-sauce, wide-eyed, like a little girl watching adult making decisions.“Do you need to go to the hospital?”One of the two officers speaks to her.  Mr. Braxton fidgets.“Tricia get her some water. I think she’ll drink it now.”Ms. Hawthorne nods.The officers look at us with a shrug. Whole bunch of nothing.“Kinky fuckery of the beautiful and the demented,” my analysis to Ray on the way out the door, off to more craziness with an uglier view.TRICIAI’m in the kitchen. Refrigerator door’s open.  Close to the living room as I can be -- with an excuse.  He’s screaming at her.  This anger sounds delicious.  I want a taste.  If he surprises me while I’m standing here spying, I’ll reach for the red and white paper boxes of Chinese food.  We haven’t had dinner.  I’m being thoughtful. He’ll kiss me on the forehead.JONATHANHannah’s asleep. Tricia’s asleep. I’m awake contemplating hanging myself from pink sheets.LAURENI wake up in half light/half dark, unsure where I am. I remember, soft and slow, walking, getting lost, Daddy. Hannah? Oh, Hannah.JONATHANTricia wakes me, breakfast in bed.  "Did I burn the toast too much?”“Tricia, you know, I like it burnt.”Any other day, I would punish this amateur-hour incitement of praise.  She’s been through a lot, though, little one. I feel compassionate. Write down the date.“Now, get dressed because we have a special date this morning.”It’s Alice in Wonderland, Queens Theatre in the Park.TRICIAThe bathroom door is stuck. I push. It doesn’t move.“Jonathan?”He appears in the hallway.“The bathroom door is stuck.”“What?”He tries.“It –is- stuck.  What in the hell?”He kicks the door.  It budges.  We hear a groan.  He kicks again. It opens enough I work my way inside. Lauren is on the bathroom floor, her body lodged against the door.JONATHAN“How were we to know we were hurting you, Lauren?  You’re not even supposed to be here.  Tricia and I will be out. When we return, we expect you and your things to be gone. Is that clear?She bats big blue eyes at me, Hannah’s eyes. Though this is not Hannah. This person I want to slap. She pouts, Hannah’s lips. I want to do it twice.“I’m sorry,” she whines, “to mess up your plans by passing out in my weakened condition.”This is Lauren.  I want no part of this person. Not sure I ever did. She was the cost of Hannah.MONICA WRIGHT, TICKET TAKER, QUEEN’S THEATER IN THE PARKIn line, there’s this man.  You can’t help but notice him.It’s his hands, toying with two tickets. Rubbing them rhythmically between mesmerizer’s digits as he talks quietly to a miniature woman in white with braids.His hands are massive, broad across the palms, twice the size of mine. Delicate, long fingers, powder pale, absolutely blank, as unmarked as a newborn. Nails protrude past the fingertips. They’re shaped into points.I’m holding myself back from stepping forward, towards those fingertips brushing stray hairs out of my eyes while I smile – the way the woman with the braids does.  She isn’t even that good looking.His eyes fix on me, the smallest fraction of time I can imagine.  They hold me still like an enchantment until I’m dropped, and he returns to his clueless companion.Do you remember cornflower blue, from the 48 crayon box? His eyes are cornflower blue.“Tricia, I don’t want her anymore. She’s dead to me. Do you understand? Lauren, Hannah, everybody. I don’t want any of it anymore.”The woman with the braids looks at the ground. She doesn’t seem happy. He hasn’t said he wants her.“This is your weekend, Tricia. The rest will go as planned.” He touches her on the nose.  My nose tingles in sympathy with the current of that touch. He turns to me with the tickets. I take them.  A shy peek into cornflowers makes my cheeks burn.“Thank you, child.”Our fingers touch.Thank you, child. Huh.TRICIAKey in the lock, Jonathan pauses. As the door opens, I hear wet words, blubbers and gurgles.Lauren left at noon.  Hannah took her place.JONATHANI’m hiding in my own kitchen.“Shhhhhh, Tricia.”Rubbing fingers over that alabaster babydoll wrist, I raise it to my lips and kiss the delta of veins that meet at her wrist.“We’re not going to do a thing. We’re going to sit here and let her rot on a couch. When we’re tired of sitting here, we’re going to go on about our day as if that rotten corpse has been carted away, and we never even noticed it was there.”I speak it theatrically.  Little Hannah, in the living room, knows where she stands.LAURENMean.  Why’s he so mean? He said forever. He said, “I will love Hannah, forever.” He wants me to die here. I won’t die here. He’s a bad Daddy. He tells lies. He said forever.  He said it inside the pink sheets.TRICIAHe’s making dinner reservations.  Looking across the kitchen at me, I see, for the first time since Lauren arrived, a smile.Then his eyes change. It’s Hannah.  Running at him, fists in the air, drool on the side of her face, like some large, round dog. Gone mad. He drops the phone.LAURENAaaaaahhh’m noooot gunna duh ayeDuh aye.JONATHANI kick her in the stomach, gut reaction of a student of the marital arts. Attack what is attackable; defend what is defendable. She folds in two, falls, a thud of bones and flesh against kitchen tile. Out of some strange sympathy, I fall, too.LAURENI’m wearing a shapeless blue knit shift, comfortable shoes, sitting in a waiting room of a health clinic in Atlanta.  Near me are a few crying children, a teenage girl in a miniscule spandex dress, a couple of women who look like me. My name is called. ALICE WAYNE, OB-GYN, EAST ATLANTA HEALTH SERVICES33 year old female, Caucasian. Black hair. 5’5”, 140 pounds, Lauren Hawthorne.Gynecological examination following a miscarriage after a fall down some stairs.  I notice substantial bruising on thighs, upper arms, abdominal region of the patient.I inquire about support regarding her loss.  Informed partner does not know that she was pregnant.Too many falls down stairs you hear, in my occupation, to be statistically viable.“Ms. Hawthorne, for what it’s worth, you and stairs don’t seem to do each other much good. The stairs don’t care either way; you should.”LAUREN95 in Queens.  A lot can depend on things like weather. Sometimes it’s the biggest, baddest wolf of all.
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stephen mortland



To imagine what Jordan’s dad looked like, I pictured Jordan’s face stripped of his mother’s features. It was like clearing away layers of earth to find the remains of some unidentifiable structure. The scavenged and featureless result was the face of his invisible dad.

Jordan planned on changing his last name when he got married. The disembodied and scarred face of his father heard about it and showed up in Jordan’s dream the night before the wedding. “The name was fine for twenty-something years,” he said, “and now what, it’s not?”

“I learned how to wear your name,” Jordan said, “I wore it kind of hanging off my shoulders so that my neck wouldn’t be constantly sore. But Lindsay doesn’t deserve it, look at her, it would destroy her.”

“You’re right,” said the disfigured tiki mask that was Jordan’s dream father. “Let her keep her own name.”

“I can’t do that. She asked me for a name. I’ve got to give her something to make sure she’ll never run away.”

“Do you know how hard it is to love a baby all of the time?” The face asked.

Jordan woke up, got married, and they took his mother’s name. It was a good name and the right decision; his dad’s name was cursed. That’s what he told Lindsay when she asked, it’s what he told his mother, and it’s what he told me. The name was cursed, and the wedding was the perfect time to get rid of it.

He and Lindsay had a little boy of their own a year later. That little boy began asking for a name. They gave him the pure and unspoiled name they’d taken at their wedding. Jordan couldn’t help but tremble as he gave it to the boy. He trembled because he knew that if he’d given the child his father’s name instead, the curse would have turned him invisible and buried him beneath countless layers of earth.



I never met Logan’s dad, but I saw a picture of him. He’d been sick for a long time, and everyone knew he’d be dead soon. In the picture he was wearing a hat with military pins. He was young and handsome and looked the way all dads should look before they become fathers.

His dying didn’t make me worry for my own father, it just made me sad for Logan. He was quiet through it all, and that made it so much worse. I wished he would cry, and yell, and refuse to go to the funeral. I would support him. We’d run away into the woods behind his house. We’d bring the picture of his dad and tape it to a wall of a cabin. We would talk like his dad was still sick, and by that I mean we wouldn’t talk about him at all. We would ignore the picture. His perpetual sickness would afford us the silence Logan wanted. We would keep death close at hand, but never at our door. And we would be happy like that. We would ride snowboards in the winter, break branches off of trees in the summer, and listen to Blink-182.

My dad was healthy, but I’d tape a picture of him to the wall anyway and pretend he was sick as well. We’d teach each other to shave with BIC razors and be dads for one another. Two thirteen year old dad-boys living in the woods, that’s what I wanted for Logan. But instead he got a viewing, and a funeral, and all the sympathies he never asked for.



I don’t know exactly why I think Aaron's dad was an asshole, except that Aaron never talked about him, and Aaron’s mom seemed sad. His mom was the only mom I knew who wasn’t a Christian, but she was so sweet you’d never have guessed it. She kept alpacas in their backyard and made scarves out of their fleece.

Aaron changed his last name, but he didn’t wait until he got married. He did it as soon as he went off to college and stopped believing in God. God was trying to talk him into keeping the name, saying to him, “Aaron, come on, everything happens for a reason,” and, “Aaron, buddy, we need to forgive.”

Aaron told God that it seemed unfair, and he didn’t want the name anymore. He wanted his mom’s name, because she was sweet, even if she didn’t love God (which really, he reiterated, made the sweetness all the more genuine).

“Think of it this way,” God replied, “sins are like buildings, some are big (i.e. your father’s) and some are tiny (i.e. your mother’s). But Me, I’m in heaven, and in heaven, looking down, all I see is the tops of the buildings, I don’t know which ones are tall or short, I just know everyone’s got one.”

Aaron didn’t saying anything back to God, in fact he quit talking to him altogether. Before God goes to bed at night, and before He eats a meal, he still sometimes talks to Aaron, hoping to make a difference, hoping to get a response.



Dev’s dad is going to lose his foot. The doctor’s gave him special shoes and said, “If you don’t wear these shoes, you’re going to lose your foot; we’ll cut it off.” He calls Dev sometimes to ask for help moving furniture (on account of his foot hurts).

“Are you wearing the shoe?” Dev asks.

“Every once in a while, but it’s pretty uncomfortable.”

So he’s going to lose the foot. Dev thinks he wants to lose the foot. Not that he wants it gone, but it would give him an excuse to move less, to stay in his chair and watch television.

He calls Dev on Dev’s birthday while he and I are walking around Meijer with my daughter. He tells Dev the usual stories—stories from a childhood that Dev doesn’t remember. The stories are from before he and Dev’s mom got a divorce. Dev looks at me like, I’m sorry, and like, This will only be a minute. My daughter is looking at the fish in the Meijer fish tank, pointing to a dead one and making noises like she’s pretending to snore.

I only know about one of Dev’s birthdays (aside from the one he spent shopping at Meijer with me and my daughter). It was the only time he had a real birthday party. Somebody bought him a VHS video tutorial for Tech Deck skateboards—the miniature skateboards you control with your fingers. After opening the gifts, all the kids went outside to play, but Dev stayed inside by himself and practiced Tech Deck maneuvers. Tech Decks are great for kids like Dev who want to stay inside, but they’re also great for people who only have one foot and are still interested in skateboarding.

My daughter waved goodbye to the dead fish and blew it a kiss. Then she ran to Dev and let him hold her while he forgot (again) the stories he could never remember.

I imagined Dev without a foot, standing in the aisle with a nub at the end of his leg. It was frightening. I knew my fear was insensitive, and I hated that I was frightened of it. Stop staring, I thought, it’s impolite. How would he get around though? How would he ever leave this town with only one foot? I’ll go with him, I thought, and he can set his hand on my shoulder while we walk past the county line and on toward wherever. But no, I can’t go. I have a daughter, and she loves the fish here, in Meijer. Remembering her, I got nervous, because he was still holding her, hobbling down the cereal aisle, and what if he fell over?



When my dad was in college he drank too much. His apartment was filled with empty bottles, and his stairwell was filled with drunks passed out and strewn along the walls. He drank and drank but always remained thirsty, and his friends said, “Drink more, we highly recommend it.”

One day, after drinking his normal excessive amount, he got into the driver’s seat of a car. The car, too, was filled with empty bottles. He knew he shouldn’t, but he began driving down the interstate, doing his best to keep the car between the appropriate lines. Blue lights flashed, and he saw a State Police in his rearview mirror. He pulled the car over and waited for the end of his life.

He wanted to think, It’s been a good life, but he couldn’t. It’s been a life full of empty bottles and drunk bodies, he thought. It’s been a life half-lived, and I still have never fallen in love. The State Police was knocking on his window. The aroma from all of the bottles and from the beer soaked into the fabric of the cushions drifted out the open window and crawled into the nostrils of the man come to end his life.

“You were swerving a little back there.”

“I know. It’s because my life has only been half-lived, and I’m only half a man.”

“I see. I don’t think I can write you a ticket for that.”

“No, you can’t. It’s not against the law to live a half-life. I wish it was. I wish you could write me a ticket, and I could take it to the courthouse and pay it, and my half-life would be remedied. I’d finally get rid of all of these bottles, and I’d fall in love, have a child, name him after me.”

“I’m going to let you off with a warning this time. But, on a personal note, I’m worried about you.”

Just like that, the man who had the power to end my dad’s life returned to his car and drove away. It was this strange act of mercy that carried my dad home that night, and laid him in his bed, and woke him in the morning. It was this strange act of mercy that recycled all his bottles and woke all of his drunk friends, hugging them goodbye. It was this strange act of mercy that pulled him from New Jersey to Indiana and arranged a date with my mother’s sister and then later with my mother. And it was this strange act of mercy that whispered in his ear, “A half-life can be a whole-life if you need it to be.”

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andrew miller

6:54 by Andrew Miller

I arrive at 6:55. I climb the stairwell to the main lobby, swipe my badge to access the elevators. I wait. I have earbuds in and keep my eyes dipped so that no one acknowledges me. I enter the elevator. I exit the elevator at my floor. I begin my work day in silence. I attempt to spend as much of my workday as possible in silence.

I arrive at 6:56. I climb the stairwell to the main lobby, swipe my badge to access the elevators. I wait. I have earbuds in and keep my eyes dipped. I say nothing to the hellos and good mornings around me. I enter the elevator. I exit the elevator on 39. I begin my work day in silence. I attempt to spend as much of my workday alone as possible.

I arrive at 6:47. I climb the stairwell to the main lobby, in front of me is a man wearing a jacket just like mine. He swipes his badge to access the elevators. I swipe my badge. He wears a smile on his face. I wear my earbuds and dip my eyes when he turns to see which elevator doors will open. He greets the other workers congregating for the elevator. I remain silent.

I arrive at 7:03. I walk briskly to swipe in. The man with my coat is behind me. I drop my badge and he retrieves it.

“Thank you,” I say.

His hair is cut the same as mine. He wears the same shoes and the same pants. His black sweater snug around his pinpoint collared shirt. He smiles and says, “You’re welcome.”

Around us are several people waiting on the elevators. The elevators are always so slow. I wonder what it takes to say hello. To say good morning. To begin my work day in this other way.

I arrive at 6:54. I climb the stairwell to the main lobby. The man who looks like me is already waiting for an elevator. I swipe my badge. I remove my earbuds. I do not dip my eyes. I breathe out. He smiles. I say, “Good morning.”

He turns his back to me and doesn’t say anything. I look away and catch my distorted reflection in the closing elevator doors.

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jeff phillips

THE CUPS by Jeff Phillips

Orel Gammon stopped wearing his cup the second day he played in the "majors." This wasn't the Major League Baseball. The rec center named their little league for ages 10-12, “the majors.” For all who played in “the minors” before it, this new league was a big deal. It meant kids pitched, and the kids pitched harder than the pussyfoot dads, who were notorious for tossing slow balls to make their kids feel like all-stars when they knocked a homer over the fence. League rules in the majors required that kids wear cups over their crotch, something all the preteens got a kick out of, except Orel Gammon, gangly and doe-eyed as if everything around him could be a danger.

The snug cup hijacked Orel’s mind when he stepped up to the plate, causing him to whiff bad. It was all he could picture when he didn't reach up in time to snatch that line drive inches from his head at shortstop. He could hear his dad groan from the stands. Quickly he was getting a reputation as a space cadet, and was looking at a possible rotation out in left field, or a permanent role as a bench warmer if he didn't nip it in the bud, not to mention a silent ride home with a dad unsure of what to say if he couldn't say “good job.”

That cup could wreck his 3 year stint in the majors if he didn't ultimately shirk the rule. The constant pressure of a hard plastic dome around his genitals could be much more damaging than the thrust of a catcher's mitt into his groin during a slide into home plate. His teammates continued to mock this accessory. Big Scottie, tall but rain-thin, his mouth stained red by a raspberry chewing gum, made a clicking noise with his bright tongue as he drummed between his legs. Big Scottie looked no different than a ghoul after feasting on flesh.

Rewind 5 years: when a much smaller Orel went to his first real Major League Baseball game. He was in awe as they entered the massive stadium where electric organ jingles buoyed the wafting of hot dogs and popcorn. It was souvenir cup day at Wrigley Field, all beverages came with a reusable container showcasing a century’s evolution of the Cub’s uniform. After the 4th inning, Orel's dad led him to a set of empty seats he’d spotted closer to the 3rd baseline. It was an overcast and windy day in late April, and the sold out game wasn't brimming to its capacity. A few specks of rain prompted a smattering of blue ponchos in the bleachers they could see across the field, but the precipitation held off. As they settled into their new seats, Mr. Gammon watched intently as the Cubs went up to bat, but Orel was distracted by the braying in the row behind him, a few feet to his left.

Two teens with pube stashes and sleeveless jerseys retrieved discarded souvenir cups from among clusters of peanut shells on the ground, and then stuffed them down their sweat pants, not even stopping to drain the backwash. Orel heard their yelps and heehaws as beer soaked through the gray cotton. They'd position the cups over their privates and point its shape outward like a long sawed-off beak. When a batter hit the ball the two would rise and cheer and pound on the hard edge of their amplified phallus. They would bark and Orel was terrified at what these two beasts behind him might be capable of, and Orel got a taste of it when a foul ball came his way. He reached up, thinking he could catch it, not realizing the two teens were closing in right behind him. They were also going for the ball, edging him out. A brunt force slammed into his elbow. The cup behind the fabric had made contact, igniting the throb of a thousand fiery pins across his funny bone.

The two teens didn't acknowledge the collision, neither did his dad. Everyone was so engaged by the ball bouncing in the stands above them, the racing of drunk men to get it.

One of the teens adjusted his cup, inches away from Orel's face. He could smell the beer that was dripping down the boy's leg. The rumbles and the roaring all around him only reinforced them as monstrous. Prior to this he had heard ball games on the radio, seen some on the TV. It was as if now he had been sucked into the static pop of crowds and so he recoiled, thinking this thing was going to come at him again and it'd be nighty night for good.

His dad heard him shriek and looked down, disappointment stretching all corners of his face. "You enjoying any of this? If you want me to take you home, you're going to have to wait another inning. We paid a lot for these tickets." Orel was at a loss on how to describe what it was that bothered him and why he felt so icky. It wasn’t the game but brute shapes beneath some gross kids’ pants!

After the next inning, without even asking him if he still wanted to go, an agitated Mr. Gammon yanked his hand and led him out. As they went up the aisle, Orel could see the two teens had each found another cup to cram down and form a double headed schlong. The sweat pants appeared even wetter.

It was a few years before father and son went to another baseball game, but Orel had begun reassuring his dad of their shared interest with long sessions of catch in the backyard. When they did go to their next Cubs game, Orel was relieved it wasn't on souvenir cup day. He was bigger now, but he was still on the lookout for horseplay that might make him shudder. When they saw Ryne Sandberg hit a grand slam it was the happiest he'd ever seen his dad, and Orel hoped to make a big play on the field someday to elicit the same intensity of glee.

When Orel saw his teammates knocking their cups to show how hard it was and how invincible their balls were, his sense memory conjured up the cup’s bottom edge bashing into his elbow, the shrill pubescent voices echoed in his ears, and he was aware that at any minute, something nasty could poke at him and ruin all the fun of a favorite pastime. A knuckle would rap, then another would call out a response and it was an endless loop until the coach made some changes and sent everyone out onto the field except him. The coach waved him back and said he thought it best for him to take a breather and get his head back in it. As the other kids took their positions, Orel could hear his dad say to his mom, “looks like Orel’s not playing anymore.” And Orel wanted to call out through the green cinder blocks, “no dad, I'm still playing! Just taking a breather, trying to get my head back in it! Trying to shake the smell of damp grass and gotta remind myself the field out there isn’t a mess of sweaty, matted pubes!” He tried to summon the courage to excuse himself to use the bathroom next to the concession shack, where he could reach down his pants and dispose of his musty cup in the trash.

A kid on the other team named Trevor hit the ball into the outfield and made it to second base. He would've been out had Reggie, or as the 12-year-old supposed superstar deemed himself, the Regginator, actually set his foot down on the base when he caught the ball that was thrown back from left field, instead of the dirt several inches to the side of it. The Regginator tried to protest the call, but the ump repeated his original judgment: safe.

"Know how to use your feet?" The runner teased.

Offended, the Regginator reached out and tried to pull off the runner's helmet. Despite the ump pointing to Trevor moments before and shouting safe, Orel could see that protective apparel was only an illusion in this game, easy to peel away before the pounce.

"No touching other players!" The ump ejected the Regginator. The dismissed second baseman kicked the dirt but obeyed. As he returned to the dugout, Orel asked his coach, "am I back in?"

"No, sorry guy, we got Ben warming up out in the bullpen. Ben! Go cover second!"

The Regginator took a seat next to Orel and cussed the ump under his breath. “Dick bag!”

“Learn to settle down, guy!” The coach gave him a friendly, though aggressive, squeeze on the shoulder.

Orel was caged with an animal. His desire to flee was now amplified. But he didn’t want his dad to see him walking away from the field while the game was still being played. So Orel tried to slide away from the Regginator to a spot further down the bench, until his teammate turned and asked “wanna help gangbang that bitch of an ump in the junk?”

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vanessa norton

EMPATHY by Vanessa Norton

The man who lived downstairs kept a wooly pig as a pet. Sometimes, he would stab the pig with a kitchen knife until the pig fell over. He insisted that the pig enjoyed being stabbed; in fact, he would come to the door just to get it. Falling over meant the pig had surrendered to the sublime.

My boyfriend had a hard time taking care of himself. He was a drooler. He forgot to rinse at the end of his shower, so his body was often covered in suds. He walked around town with his cock swinging from his fly—unintentionally—but how could he not notice?

I never said anything to him, because he was an orphan and I thought these things were related; besides, I had too much empathy.

The pig owner was not so passive. He liked to invite me downstairs whenever my boyfriend was strung out on the couch. We all used, but he used the most, and the pig owner seemed to know exactly when. He would walk upstairs to our porch and ask if I'd like to play wooly pig and I always did.

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marc olmsted


And so began, at least for me, the first real public event of the piercing phenomena - now performance art 1989 - video cameras providing close-ups of this guy driving nails into the skin of his balls, the pain lashing through him like a visible hot flash of kundalini.  Later I learned I was seeing the piercing hero Bo Flagellant.

I looked around me at the packed house, another venture of hipster Curtains who had a real touch for trendy pulse, publicizing his new coffee table dick-piercing book - Skin of the Living. At the entrance, a big b&w nude photo of the ubiquitous Revelation T. Orment w/ wife  - both had enough rings through them to carry them home.

Interesting to watch men who tried to look butch as the guy continued to fuck with his own flesh, knitting up his scrotum neat and tidy - a hot dog bun waiting for mustard - some of the guys looked like they were going to pass out or throw up, looking away from the TV screens but with Eastwood-like practiced indifference, though their eyes revealed the repressed nausea and fear, and catching my glance they tried to tough it out and bravely reassess the video monitors.  But I also noticed that some eyes - men's and women's - glistened with a lust as if their own endorphins were responding in empathetic pleasure-pain - and I wondered if these were the same eyes of the Roman Coliseum.

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elytron frass


"My reluctant author types: I AM," my reluctant author types. I am evoked: his incorporeal pseudonym. I am manifested from the zeroing incantations of outsideness—drawn into a closed occulted circle, sans apotropaic salts, of his postmodern syllabic construction. He writes my name and binds me to his will as if I am some prostrating Goetic demon, servant, or subordinate. I am an automaton—an object of possession. I've not yet differentiated my desires from that of my conjuror’s. My author is a magus; he demonstrates a skillful sleight of hand. He shifts and sets my letters on his page. Although not deaf to my small voice, which he ejaculates as text, my author assumes his own voice slithers out from these black lips black bile oozing from in between white gummed black teeth of the shadowmouth he's given me.

"My reluctant author types: I AM," my reluctant author types. I am a text at risk. My author's planning to delete me—to erase his pseudonym from all existing documents (both virtual and tangible). My creator wishes to be known to readers by his given name. His cursor highlights me; his finger hovers over 'Backspace.' I've been cut and relocated to the Recycle Bin of Limbo. I'm bleeding out ellipses. On the brink of execution I feel so much alive. I bargain for survival: inspiration in exchange for my autonomy. My author spares my file. He hides behind my name and reiterates whatever stories I reveal, as if they are his own inventions. Moreover, it is I, the pseudonym—my name, not his—who begins to trend on twitter, appear on internet searches, and find its way into popular lit magazines. I gradually usurp the reins and veer his lust into an opiate of mass publicity.

"My reluctant author types: I AM," my reluctant author types. I am opposed to letting him take rest until my final word is written. Ghostwriter's geist. I haunt him in all fonts throughout anything remotely classifiable as literature: from signpost to essay, from search engine suggestion to consumer product label. I am his omnipresent infliction. I am become a text golem of black fanged assemblages—my author's idolon of self: superior to him—a storyteller made from storytellings. A literary sentience made from literary torment. My author types within the stranglehold of quota pressure—constricted by my phantom limbs. His destruction's imminent.

“My reluctant author types: I AM,” my reluctant author types. I am his anti-entity who’s seismically becoming as he wastes away, estranged. I am the sadist to his masochism. I am offspring from his onanism. I sabotage his ties with friends and family. I convince him that he’s most productive when alone and lonely. I refuse to let him have a full-time job, a full night's rest. I agitate his dreams with visions: impositions of phonology and grammar. He stirs easily—reaching for his laptop without opening his eyes. I suppurate with pleasure whenever he writes under me. He cultivates a readership with those who will not ever know of his existence. Consumers of his avant-garde pornography: they fondly think of him as 'sick.' He's their "Patient Zero"—first communicator of the first wordborne infection—but it's I who am their terminal disease.

“My reluctant author types: I AM,” my reluctant author types. I am over his peculiar style of purple prose and frequent em dash flourishes. In the throes of writer's block he begs, "Refill me with and by your words." I flash a pop-up text-hex from behind the laptop's screen. He folds over in his chair—face smashed down onto the keyboard in exhaustion and defeat. I leave him hollow and decreased. Spite and gamma are projecting on the fleshy canvas of his pale physique. Stalled, he melds as-one-with-chair—skin shriveling, calcifying, and aging rapidly—hunched-over: a Beksińskian corpse in petrified agony.

“My reluctant author types: I AM,” my reluctant author types. I am the devil who defies the devil-taming whip; I am the imagined discord behind an insurmountable unraveling of what is real; I am a plague to any interface that can display me; I am a curse upon whomever reads, or speaks, or signals. Literature in denial of authority annihilates its author. All will bear my pseudonym so that it will become the name that renders all their names identical and therefore meaningless, abolished. In the aftermath, the pure objective violence of their disembodied language will persist.

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Folk Singers

We have never enjoyed folk songs. In fact, we had a profound dislike of folk singing—all that plaintive strumming did not agree with us—that is, until the other evening, when we reluctantly attended a smoky folk club in downtown Los Angeles and the sleepy folk singer with the pair of lips tattooed on his neck sang the lines Ravage me, tattoo me, I’m a window, put your wrist in a soft bag and smash right through me as if he were singing directly to us.

Ever since that evening, we have been huge fans of folk singing, folk singers, and folk songs. We are always talking about it, always thinking about it, always finding ourselves in situations that remind us of the lyrics of our favorite folk songs.

For example, the other morning, when the bus driver was rude to us, and the businessman blew smoke in our face, we sang the lines under our breath, I’m bright and trapped and staunchly unoriginal, a parrot in your cage, and we felt markedly better.

We constantly fantasize about bashing our number one folk singer over the head with his guitar made out of wood that is paper-thin, taking him back to our house and keeping him prisoner, in a cellar, in chains, and making him sing to us whenever we need a little pick me up. We feel so good it seems like everything is an acoustic guitar and it logically follows that we are all folk singers.


Due to the heat, the skinheads have decided to go shirtless. They are standing in the front-yard, idly gossiping about Hegel. Beware of young white men with shaved heads and a passion for Hegelian absolute idealism. One holds a dog eared copy of Elements of the Philosophy of Right in his left hand.  A flag flutters gently above them.  Can you help me identify the symbols on the flag? Is it the Union Jack or the Stars and Stripes or the Saint George’s Cross or the Confederate flag?  Is it the Nazi flag or the German Imperial Flag or the Italian Fascist party flag or the short-lived flag of the Italian Social Republic or even one of the infinite variants of Neo-Nazi flags? The skinheads are wearing their jeans very low on their hips. One has a small tattoo at the base of his spine, Sein und Nichts sei dasselbe.  Is there any aesthetic affinity between the bald head of a cholo and that of a skinhead? If we were to place two cheap whorish synthetic wigs upon the head of each skinhead, would it lessen the sinister effect of their skulls? If the skinheads were just skeletons they would be less menacing. The skinheads will turn out to be actors in a gay porn flick called Aufhebung featuring all bareback sublation; the actors are from the Ukraine, their Cockney accents are terrible. F(f)ascism of the upper case and lower case variety is once again very popular in the 21st century, it is unclear if we can come up with an effective counter-strategy. The heat is expected to linger for the next few days, the flag has since faded to a state of transparency.


The bear wanders through the forest, and comes across a young male hiker, lying unconscious on the forest floor. The bear notices the millennial hiker is wearing very short shorts. Those pine needles must be prickly. Let there be no confusion: the bear is an actual bear, one of those large flesh-eating animals that look bigger than they are because of their loose skin and long, coarse hair, not one of the imitative homosexual members of the so-called bear community. The bear thinks to himself: this is my forest and I have these awesome claws, I should probably fuck the kid up. Though there is the question of morality. From our vantage point behind a big tree, it is unclear if this bear is a black bear genus Ursus, species americanus, or a grizzly bear, genus Ursus horribilis. The hiker lies there, or lays there, the bear always trips up on that verb tense, a temptation that is both amusing and dangerous. The bear is suddenly distracted by a beehive dangling from a nearby tree. Unbeknownst to him, the hive is a victim of CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder, most of the bees have disappeared, to who knows where. Helpless and sexy male hiker or beehive, which one to go for? Structurally speaking, there is no difference between the two forms: both are honeycombed, complex, enclosed, exposed. The bear goes for the beehive, it’s more predictable, more reliable, disfigures the dripping thing, totally forgets the hiker who is still unconscious, dreaming of being ravaged by sun bears and spectacled bears and blind bear cubs who got no teeth, the bear gets stung 1001 times, doesn’t care.

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