Fiction

avee chaudhuri

I WAS MARRIED BY A GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST by Avee Chaudhuri

Lake Charles, Louisiana

Expressionist is probably not the right term, but Jannick Meisnner was a German male in his mid-30s. He claimed to be the German embassy’s cultural attaché at large. He was making a study of the Satsuma fruit and its impact on life in southwestern Louisiana.

My wife and I met him at a bar down the street from the university where she taught. This was right before we were married. My wife holds several fine arts degrees. She liked Jannick and we had him over for pulled pork sandwiches. He ate and drank lustily. In fact, he won me over by the amount of Satsuma rum he could drink in one sitting.

We probably saw Jannick every day in some capacity. We took him crabbing. He had us over for schnitzel. He would attend a reading with my wife. He and I would drive down to Vinton to go to the strip clubs. The three of us watched every Saints game together. On my wife’s 30th birthday she bet a hundred dollars on black at L’Auberge. Jannick was there to console us after she lost.

He counted cards and split his winnings. Jannick Meisnner was the prince of thieves.

A few weeks before the wedding Jannick offered to be our officiant. Why not? We did not belong to a church. So Jannick married us at the Trahan homestead down in Cameron Parish, in front of my father’s gun cabinet.

We had set up chairs for about 30 guests. Jannick’s speech was actually quite beautiful. It had my wife and my mother in tears. He even wrote our vows: Jenn, will you accept Glenn as a man bound by worldly limits, whose love for you is nevertheless boundless?

Then, after the vows, he asked if anyone objected to our union. He followed this with a joke about the guns in the cabinet not being for show. Nearly everyone laughed at this, except a tall, thin man in black denim I hadn’t noticed before. He stood up suddenly and began shouting at Jannick in German.

Priester, du machst keinen Edikt gegen das Erziehen und das Tragen von Kindern. Die Weltbevölkerung ist zu viel. Die Erde wird verbraucht sein. Unsere Flüsse trocknen aus. Du bist kein Mann Gottes! Sag ihnen, du musst ihnen sagen, dass sie nicht züchten können. Ihre Orgasmen werden ihre Kinder sein und sie werden Tausende von diesen vergänglichen Nachkommen genießen. Informiere sie über diesen neuen Bund. Diese neuen Kinder werden den Sternen zahlenmäßig überlegen sein. *

Jannick responded by taking off his jewelry and charging at his abuser. They started kicking and punching their way through the house, eventually spilling out into the back. They ended up in the turtle pen. A brief aside: my father once raised turtles to sell to the Chinese. Turtle meat is a delicacy in Mainland China. The man in black denim began throwing turtles at Jannick and bashing him with turtles. Jannick deflected the turtles with other turtles. He improvised a smart cuirass of turtles and a lance of turtle. Jannick took deadly aim at the man in black denim but before they could finish their sweet melee (the meat of the soft-shelled turtle is sweet, not savory), my father returned from inside with a shotgun. He fired a warning shot then leveled his shotgun at the skirmishers.

In all, thirty turtles died from massive internal trauma. The police arrested their murderers but were gracious enough to let Jannick sign the marriage certificate. Apparently Jannick and the man in denim were lovers and they spent the night in Cameron Jailhouse doing loverly things. Of course, we don’t mind. The marriage certificate is valid and Jannick reimbursed my father. It was in Deutsche Mark and I believe we came out ahead in the currency exchange.

*When you spiked my vanilla ice cream with the cheapest amaretto available, it gave me an upset stomach.

Read More »

PLANT REPLANT by Jon Berger

I smoked Bubba Kush with my cousin Will. He got it from a guy who grew hydroponics.  It was my first time smoking anything other than midgrade. Will had this evil clown hookah thing with hoses hanging out of its head. His friend Joe got so stoned the clown gave him a panic attack.

On the drive home I kept checking myself because it felt like I was pissing my pants and driving felt like a videogame. I got home and went to the bathroom to find out I was totally dry.

The next morning I’m driving back to my Grandmas still high and cozy, speeding down the bumpy road in my 98’ Bonneville with too many miles on it. Gridded up farm fields on all sides. These giant white windmills were being built in the middle of the fields to collect energy. Looking like Godzilla seagulls waving around lost with nothing to break.

Me and my cousin were working on repo houses in the city. This rich guy bought up a bunch of abandoned homes from the bank and hired us to fix them so he could flip them for a profit. I was supposed to be in school but I’d rather be making money.

I pulled into my Grandmas driveway. Will was sitting on the front porch, tying his shoes while smoking a cigarette. He’d been living with Grandma since his mom died of cancer. So like 4 years.

“We got a problem,” he said as I was walking up.

“What’s up?” I said.

“Grandma is fucking with my shit.”

He stood up and I followed him to the back yard where he was growing an 8 foot tall marijuana plant. It was sativa, his baby.

“Grandma has some of those windmill guys coming over to inspect the land next week. She’s pissed and says the plants gotta go.”

“Can’t we just cover it up or something?”

Will shrugged. “I don’t know. Grandma wants it gone. We’ll get like four grand for having the windmill on the property.”

“Four grand? That’s it?”

“Wind ain’t oil, bro.”

“Fuck, man. You serious?”

“I’m thinking we can replant it at that house we’re working on in Sanford,” he said exhaling smoke.

“Can we just harvest it now? I mean at least we’d get something out of it.”

“No, it’s too early, it’d be no good.” He grabbed a branch, “Look, these buds are all tiny and green still. Don’t even got sugar on ‘em.”

“You think replanting will work?”

“Shit if I know, but we gotta try. I’m not about to just throw it away.”

We grabbed a five gallon bucket from the barn, put some water in it and started digging out the plant with shovels. We lifted it up the best we could, keeping the roots intact while lowering it into the bucket.

Will drove an S10 truck without a topper.

We laid the plant down in the bed of the truck and packed more dirt into the bucket. Marijuana leaves were poking out everywhere and the plant was hanging out over the tailgate. Will jammed the tailgate up and bent the top of the plant. We took a blue tarp and tied it down over the plant, tucking in all the branches. We stood back and looked. Will did this thing with his hands that Hollywood directors do to get their camera angles right or whatever. You could definitely tell we were hauling some type of vegetation.

We got into the truck and I grabbed the clipboard to roll a joint on the way. We stopped at the corner store to get energy drinks and cold cuts. It had a big gravel lot and the store used to be a big farm house. It was all white with newish siding and a black roof. The upstairs of the store was apartments.

Misty was working. She was friends with Will and would sell me beer on the weekends. She moved out here a couple years ago. She had weird line and dot tattoos she did herself without giving them much thought. Misty laughed her ass off when we showed her the weed tree under the tarp and then wished us good luck.

The Sanford house was on the other side of town. We drove through thick traffic, high as ever. I put on sunglasses and just sat back. A cop had a guy pulled over. A new Cadillac. Will laughed saying that’s why you don’t buy flashy cars. My stomach jumped to my chest as we drove past them. We were normal. I thought about how normal we must look, but maybe we were too normal. Will tapped his brakes, pulling over slightly, giving the cop standing on the side of the road more room. It felt like forever to get past him but he never gave us a look.

We pulled into the driveway of the house. It was a big two story house on a backroad. Not very old. Someone with money had built it. I had to paint over the height lines on the wall where the parents measured their kids growing. We only had half the roof shingled. The roof was peaked and we had to nail in 2-by-4s into it so we didn’t slip off.

There was a patch of woods in the back with some good shade. The soil was sandy. Not that farm field clay the plant grew in, but we didn’t have a choice.

We dug a hole and put the plant and dirt inside of the bucket into the sand hole in the woods. We gave it some water and got a ladder to cut some tree branches off so the plant would get more sun. Will didn’t think if it would help but like he kept saying, “we had to try.”

***

The leaves turned brown after two days. After a week it was dead. It just fell apart. Will said he could get more seeds from the same guy he bought his weed from. It just cost money, but we had work. He said it was a setback. He said these repo houses were good money. He said buying more seeds and not giving up on growing bud was like investing your money and yourself into something bigger.

***

Grandma got a windmill built on the farmland. She got her check from the energy people. Grandma and Will started saying how late at night the windmills were making this noise that you couldn’t really hear. I didn’t know what they were talking about until I was out there late one night. It kinda sounded like a low static but still plugged your ears with a deafening emptiness. You couldn’t hear the bugs or a passing car or anything. Everyone who had a windmill built on their land was complaining about it. The company who built the windmills wouldn’t do anything about it. Everyone started sleeping with earplugs in.

All windmills had a red blinking light on top of them. All the lights blinked at the same time. At night you could see all across the open sky, hundreds of floating lights blinking at once, going forever looking like laser stars that spied on everyone in their old farmhouses that didn’t really farm anymore.

***

Will installed electricity in the barn, so we could always have a fridge full of booze. He threw a party to celebrate the new electricity in the barn. He let me invite some of my high school friends.

It was late and everyone was fucked up off good weed and Boones Farms and cheap blue cans of beer with white mountains on them.

Joe had been doing cocaine. At around midnight went to his car and came back with an AK-47. He was drunk too and giggling with a red face. Will didn’t let Joe work with us because he said Joe was an idiot.

We all went out to the edge of the field and started shooting at the windmill. The bullets had tracers on them. So you could see where you were shooting by watching your bullets that looked like mini comets. The trick was to wait for the red windmill light to blink so you kinda knew where to aim. The gun was heavy and solid. All metal and wood, it kicked like crazy, the stock jabbing into my shoulder. The muzzle flash made me see spots and the sound of the gunshots made my ears ring. I pulled the trigger so fast that the gun started to kick up and I lost control of it, the tracer bullets flying up into space. Every time a bullet hit the windmill you could hear this sharp ping that echoed off it. Everyone cheered and drank when that happened.

I noticed Misty was standing back smoking a cigarette, watching all of us with her arms crossed.

I walked over to her. “Misty, you going to shoot the gun?” I said pointing with my beer hand at the new person shooting. I was pretty wasted, leaning as I pointed, still seeing blue, green and yellow spots from the muzzle flashes.

“No, I don’t do guns.”

“It’s just fun though.”

“I think you need a better approach.”

“Like what?”

“Like climb up there and spray paint a giant dick on it.”

I closed my left eye to see straight and said, “I like how you think, but how would I get up there and do that.”

Misty tossed her head back and laughed, showing all her teeth. She said it wasn’t a big deal and that she did her thesis in college on the social implications of erotic street art and that we would climb the windmill and graffiti a giant dick on it together.

Read More »
jason teal

EVERYONE TO BLAME by Jason Teal

In the past, when bodies turned up, or there were kidnappers, officers arrived on TV, badges glinting, to arrest the suspect. Marjorie is missing at the proctologist’s office, her job as office assistant. Maybe you are a suspect still.

Marjorie looked guilty. You remember that. You wish the phone receiver scalded her ear; you wish flames snaked across curled wallpaper like insects. You wish anything else happened, even if everything burned through and you had to start all over.

The call comes late at night, police knocking on your door. None of this seems real. No one has seen your boyfriend Simon for three days. Someone messed with his house, someone opened his mail, and last night, police found his truck, abandoned, with two slashed tires. Someone left dismembered doll parts in the truck bed. When you answer, you’re wearing one shoe, desperate for news. You’re lucky to wear one shoe considering you’re alive. Laying in the grass that night, the pieces don’t make sense: You lived with Marjorie and Simon’s dead and now you’re all covered in guilt. You survived.

This morning, the front door was open again. Put the chair back where it belongs. The kitchen smells like turpentine, scrubbed clean. So they found Simon, drowned and buried in the woods. You’re wanted for questioning. What’s the point of changing homes anymore?

“It’s not your fault,” said Marjorie. Remember she kept disappearing. They picked her up in Colorado once, heading west in a stolen RV. Simon had already been missing for weeks. Now there is a mini-series named for her (which is better than the independent movie from a few years before). Online forums dissect her memory. Here is one more reason: Marjorie was evicted previously for bogus claims of racket, records played too loud, high-pitched moaning and screaming. No one could guess what the song was supposed to be. Other applicants didn’t return your messages. In the interview Marjorie said, “I don’t even listen to music, like ever.” She was dressed typically in ripped blue jeans and a tie-die shirt, poor dreadlocks, wardrobe screaming Trustafarian.

Learn to trust yourself with time, purging Simon’s emails, little tokens planning love sprees, poems, inexpensive dates. Anyway: Marjorie stuck the note to your fridge, letters pasted together from magazines. The series didn’t capture her dark quiet. “I am dead tired,” you said one night unremarkably, but Marjorie stared at you too long, unconvinced, so you offered, “We can watch something else.” She made two cocktails, sweet mixes tasting like summer. You passed out hating work tomorrow, bingeing favorite cartoons and missing everyone from home. You didn’t tell anyone Simon still lived in town. Later, police think Marjorie picked up the phone, her voice springy like a used mattress. Your phone was in the kitchen. Remember—Marjorie helped you burn his photos a few days afterward. She kept a collection of old dolls.

You never go into her room.

At the morgue, you are shown the lobby. In here is cold tiles, old magazines stuck to each other. The room smells bad, and you can’t find a clock. It’s nowhere.

Read More »

“YEEZUS IN FURS” EXCERPT by Shane Jesse Christmass

NINE CELEBRITIES WHO ARE HONESTLY LOW-KEY WITCHES. Cult Leader is vice chairman of a shady company. He exerts political influence. He commits securities fraud. Bomb crews scurry across the alien surface. Red lumps beneath my skin. Skateboarding to the awful motel. Car door slams as I watch morning cartoons. Dirty jeans purchased from thrift store. Smoke coming from a small paper packet. Burnt tyre beneath steel chassis. An invisible tether tied to small rockets. Cult Leader performs several skateboard tricks. Cult Leader talks about nakedness. Cult Leader brushes his dark hair. Cult Leader tells me about his secret pleasures, about his charming nudity, his exquisite curves and exuberant fleshiness. I have similar tan lines to the Cult Leader. Unconscious as I plug into the brain-computer interfaces. Technological actuators inspect anus. A steel belt around male genitals. Cult Leader has retractable wings. High-tech surgical gloves provide sense enhancements as the Cult Leader rubs them on my skin. Electrical properties in the projectile night. Cult members camp beneath Washington Bridge. Small talk from Manhattan to Washington. Close-range gunfire and faces on the front of fashion magazines. The icy undergrounds of Broadway. Subhuman cyborgs storm the bloodied jungle. The tongue of a piss whore. Biker guys with money clips. Cult Leader has a castration problem. Apartment block full of Hepatitis C. Night dissolves into amyl nitrate and excessive money. Disease and other strong scents on my fingers. Tongues stapled to bus seat. Photographer is now in the doctor’s care. Transsexual patients meet with prominent physicians. Large metropolitan areas are swallowed by technological gadgets. Hand gestures delivered by cybernetic systems. Translucent images across a magenta sphere. Fetish photographers infiltrate the cumulus planet talking about their fine art aesthetics and other gleeful perversions. Performance artists, prima donnas and British perverts are hauled before the Conservative government by an over-anxious police force. The lead actor details his complex sexual history. Photographers detail sex inside the hotel suites of San Francisco. My muscles soothed by the hot bath. Cult Leader wears a tracksuit. Bodies disappear beneath undersea debris. The body parts of migrant workers are found in the water supplies. Mutations and fatal wounds. Weapons hidden in the wild grass. Chain-link fence gleams in the late afternoon sun. Deep sleep on the forest floor. I wear a thin sweater under the grey-blue sky. Police siren in the sunlight. Blank paper inside the money box. Cult Leader’s laughter through the cigarette smoke. Nude men shatter windows. Erotic escapades performed by serious professional actors. Cult Leader concocts a banana cocktail. ESP from the arterial mud and tar pits. Pepsi-Cola immersed in my connective tissue. Whole body transplants performed on actual human beings. Toxins in digital form. Deforestation under a black gradient sky. Monochrome destruction. Fresh intrusions of sex and penetrating taboos. Sensibility meters and MTV-style production values. Phone-sex lines run by cybersex gurus. Sex for pleasure and sex for punishment. $2- $ 3.50/min. - lonely girls will pay up to $500 for your special services. Adults looking for an older woman. Cult Leader talks to various paraphiliacs and then reads the latest Sears catalogue. Water bottles in empty bunkers. Dead volcano at the end of a narrow path. Human arm disappears amongst experimental images. A tall figure in a silk cape with high cheekbones. Factory buildings marked with gunfire. High wire fence around the factory grounds. Fleshlights and wet clothes. A sensory richness and social fulfilment. Cult Leader eats maggots and chewing gum. He is aged in his mid-to-late 20s. Toilet bowls and car doors. Electronic skin for burn victims. Debridement therapy to provide sensation in my hands. A couple of hours. Gunshot rings out. Call girls made from a vague shape. A giant bowl of weed on a plastic lawn chair. Cult Leader sits in the squalid backyard talking on his cell phone. Heavy machine guns poke from red brick houses. Cult Leader anticipates a brutal ambush. Cult Leader wears a Wal-Mart t-shirt. Human voices at a wonderful party. Pharmacists and street kids play with sticky tape. Elevator doors creak into brilliant sunshine. Motionless acne on the misogynist’s skull. Red background on the hospital rooftop. Weird figures in the yellow night. A grotesque desire to wear animal garb. Diabolical fiends working for the police force. Moth-eaten gloves cover the carnal visual cortex. Heterosexual male chases tween sex. Cult Leader faces erroneous accusations. Fringe scientists adorned in sunglasses, ponytails and surrounded by arrogant people. Bartender handing out cool drugs. Satanic session conducted in a drunken manner. Sex maniac is an average nibbler. Sex in transcendent halls. Sharp knives used as props in pornographic material. White sunshine flickers over hospital rooftop. Moments later. NYC. A lit cigarette being smoked in slow motion. Ambulance siren behind glass windows. Latex gloves over San Francisco. Emotional problems discussed in the eye clinic. Dark mysteries on the computer network. Original Soundtrack of orgasm and initial experiments conducted on psychoactive drugs. Cult Leader conducts erotic yoga classes, but also discusses a monkish abstinence from all sensual indulgence. Mantras and eyewash. Dirty clothes drying after a monsoon. Slick hair and cigarettes. Psychiatrist struck by the car lights. Arctic air captured in a mushroom cloud. Nightclub evenings consumed by erotic performances. Slowly laughter fades and the vigorous bodies reapply their cancerous attachments. Proteins inserted into eardrum. Elastic ashtrays purchased from a retail electronics store. Copper pipes in the rear-view mirror. Discrete sounds and further sound rises. Smooth eyelids and slowly the Cult Leader’s fingers float. The flesh of a doll’s head. Leg bone over inch-thick carpet. Overstuffed bodies stuffed with banknotes. Head bones that contain cocaine. An apelike tumour that covers the whole city. Free cigarettes made from steam. Foodstuffs like huge pacifiers. Cult Leader sipping a vanilla milkshake in the back of a yellow cab. Water vapour on the window seat. Quiet voices behind the bathroom door. Macho facades in a homosexual loop. Sudden nausea from looking at the shop windows. Cult Leader engages in somatic sensations and slow motion sensuality. Transmissive diseases in the cannibal world. Trains in the rail yard. Blood throughout NYC. A nasty smear of shit in the toilet cubicle. Infectious fantasies played out by a sexual penetrator. Disease and social status. Erections and eye contact. The physical boundaries of the body. Electric current with a luminescent aura. Sensations ripple through endless orgasms. Cult Leader in silver high-heels. The early incarnations of human forms. Underworld guns abandoned on a mountain road. Rainy night in NYC. A high population with surplus children. Well-armed police talking in medieval languages. Barefoot labourers driving semi-submersible vessels. An electric butt plug on a small table in Guatemala. LED indicator lights and pulse output. Power control knobs and fine adjustments. Mechanisms and claws. Police wagon beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Dirt. Windblown. Refrigerators. Cardboard. Rotten. Wall Street Journal.

ENTRAILS & TUBES. No musical compositions. The back entrance to the Lenox Hill Hospital. Pipes on the ceiling, frosting snow bed in some other hemisphere. Overpass. Dirt. Windblown dust. You let it all pass. Your hair is unkempt. Unruly. Ridiculous. The sun rises over the tips of Brooklyn. You glisten. Under the Gowanus Expressway – hieroglyphics. Tactile worlds. Footmarks on the sidewalk. Steamboats at the bottom of the East River. Depressed cheekbones of a police officer. Infrawaves collide in the provisional world. Corridors of the Lenox Hill Hospital. Broken fingers in plaster. A nurse-in-charge sitting in the nurse-in-charge chair. You’re outside the hospital. Smog plumes over Queensbridge Houses. Oil-tankers run aground on Orchard Beach. Tobacco and barley pour from the tanker’s side. The Atlantic Ocean is in remiss, oily existence. A wine glass shatters. CIA torture, uncorrupted by mind, abolished worlds. Down in the corner of the pebbled glass, neat, small letters spell out your name. I gulp Spanish brandy. Breath expels. Hallucinations of children. Stink of sulphur and acne creams. Boiling oil is doused on a bowed dog, a hound. I gulp again. Hooded Iraqis in embers, whole body torture, rectal bleeding, bromine knuckles, cracked Murphy Drips, a metre of dead bees, pain. You turn left, sudden fears. Armoured vehicles to the right of soldiers. Smouldering houses with fire fighters strip off their clothes. Toiletries burnt by enormous ironing surfaces. You get close enough to see the pained expressions on their faces. NYC bombed back to Year Zero. Mouths open but no sound coming out. Canons adjusted. Canons erupting. Cacophony. Dust and bullshit. Parasites in the blood stream making the user immune to commit acts of treason. Panel beaters pound the steel body of the abandoned cars. Scrap metal, flint sparks, shattered glass. The vehicle is in flame. You drop your wine glass. You’re bored, depressed, stacked and tied up in twine. Movie poster torn on alley wall. Rain sodden. Half-snivelling songs come from the outside. Immense sunshine over cold fields. Car parks at the front entrance of a tenement. Dew drops emulsify under the girders of Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. Crypto-anarchists make settlements near Hell Gate. Orange headbands around their foreheads. Donut sellers on the forecourt of the United Nations. Concurrent damage caused by BGM-109 Tomahawks. You with a minty-fresh mouth. Enemy Identified Man. Jacket pocket rubs against you. You take your sunglasses off. Her gaze is ancient times. You struggle for breath. A bus, repeat, a bus. Soldiers hang out smoking Camels. A glimpse of their murderous results in the newspaper headlines. In a wood cabin. Warm bed this morning. You don’t use a tape measure. The voice of command, a paper bag full of prolapse. You get into the car. You burrow into the trees. After about forty minutes, you give up and head back to the subway. A new side part in my hair. You lay flat on the ground. You complete your work inside the company’s holiday villa. You read the instruction manual several times. There is more than one narrative in the instruction manual. You work beside vacuum gauges under hot sweat steam and pressure overhead. You are alone - once more - working. Track suits / brand name. Billboard’s advertising TV documentaries that outline the beauty and savagery of the human contribution. The process of strengthening and integrating CPU into plastic brain moulds. You slide into midnight. Crimson-stained. Emotional signs include sighs and deep breaths. The door opens. Take that money. Polluted lobsters with identification bracelets around pincers. You take a swig of synthetic water. Wife wields her hips over husband. The dawn on a projection screen. Nothing brings my attention to it. The sun rises. Xerox of a Xerox over Manhattan. Bubbling fat on my skin. Bright lights, loud music, young kids. Husband’s wife is a cardboard cut-out. She is the doorway. She turns the music off. She’s doused in blonde mechanisms. A torn genus of deadly moth. The wife lurks in the good values of degeneracy. You tear your clothes off, actions recorded in unpublished histogram. Unfamiliar people irritate. Jetsam falls away from a dead man. The dying art of breath. You disappear under your cotton dress. This nightmare of a giant man, his red mouth moves, disposing of him, let alone murdering him. You stare madly at me. Downtown in the South end of the city, a mist-hung gun whips up the mob. BWAP BWAP. You sob in the pale dawn. Someone else screams. The strange assignment of lace doused over wife. Dinner chairs burn in a Pizza Hut car park. You open the window. Drinks at four. Several minutes later, sweat forms on your brow. Constant unfolding elements. You notice the disgust. I press demands onto you. Vermouth in a trough. Television light projectiles in the night vibrant against your skin. Some talk about nurses. Faces gleam through the Manhattan haze. One old man altogether on bench in Washington Square. Fashion magazines tangled up. Old Spice and Pepsodent. I do hate you.OFFAL IN A BUCKET. Rib cages turn in serrated gristle. Cult Leader’s finger on the elevator button. Hospital hallway outside emergency room. Cult Leader closes her locker door. An elevator button. The elevator arrives. The doors open. A nurse pulls a chair from beneath a patient who is tied up. The nurse rifles through the patient’s suit jacket for a coffee cup. The nurse gnaws her teeth into cedar wood. Cult Leader takes a closer look at her. Ivory tusks hang from wooden-framed structures. Sick smell through the ventilators. The smell draws Cult Leader to this moment. The window. Out from the window, precipitation of the world. Sick rises from the valley. A tree. Cult Leader hears pharmacists, their families. Street kids inside rolls of sticky tape. Septic scars over Cult Leader’s chest. A yellow star on the charcoaled door of the landlord’s flat. Cult Leader gets onto a different path. The elevator doors open. Cult Leader looks around. She gets in. Her hand presses a button. Eighth floor. The doors of the lift wheeze. They expire. They stutter and then close. A handful of glue. The elevator creaks. The eighth floor. A petting zoo. Cult Leader exits, turns to her left, pushes through a door. The fire escape. Brilliant sunshine rushes in. A searing whiteness. Scores of locusts. Crows noisily fly around. Cunning-like. Cult Leader taps the side of her head. Motionless thoughts. Her neck is dry, flaky, plastic. Acne skin. Everything that’s apparent is usually impossible at hand. Meatheads on the motorway. Skull flags with red background. Contrary personalities irascible and dull. Sunshine. The hospital rooftop. Moth-eaten air. Carnal images in the visual cortex. Broken wrist. An orderly pushes Cult Leader off the hospital roof. A murder list. Chock-full inside Cult Leader’s brain. No leftovers. War stops war. The world stops instantly. The passing of End Times. Shit bubbles on concrete. Cult Leader’s body designed by bureaucrats. Cult Leader wades through pornographic material. Her mouth slavers. White sunshine flickers. CUT TO: EXT. HOSPITAL ROOFTOP - MOMENTS LATER. The skyline. NYC in the distance. The sun behind the NYC. Magnificent rays between gaps of the buildings. Cult Leader’s arms over the ledge of the rooftop. A lit cigarette between her fingers. People on the far side of the roof. Cult Leader ignores them. More drags from her cigarette. Cult Leader pauses, exhales, draws again, then flicks the cigarette from her fingers. The cigarette falls and spindles in slow motion. It hits the bitumen below. The cigarette sparks as it hits the ground. Cult Leader watches it the whole way down. Cult Leader looks up. One last look at NYC. Figures of three men go past the camera. Physical objects extend in space-time. Half-smoked joints. No joy inside the hospital. Glass windows, calmness, moonlight, ambulance sirens. Cult Leader slides off her chair. Slowly. She talks on the telephone. She pulls gloves from her coat. She works her hair in front of the mirror. An orderly punches her. Shadowboxing from behind. Cult Leader turns to the orderly. They discuss relativity and quantum mechanics. Cult Leader has no idea if it’s a dream. She enjoys her role.
Read More »
jonah solheim

RECUERDA, OR THE CALL OF THE COMMON NIGHTHAWK by Jonah Solheim

He stood with his shoulder in the doorway, arms crossed, and she glared back at him.  The linoleum of the kitchen cold under her bare feet.  Another disparity between them, another contention: his slippers kept him warm.  He sniffed, more to do something than out of a biological need, and turned his head away from her.  She folded her arms, too, a soft click in her head telling her she was mirroring him and not caring to fully acknowledge the thought.  

Her feet cold and his warm.  The way of things.

In the heat of a moment now lying dead between them he had called her a bitch.  This was the final vocalized word the apartment walls had heard in ten minutes.  The sting of the word was as if no one else had ever uttered it before, as if he had saved it just for her, specifically to hurt her. But he had not budged from where he’d said it, as if the curse had roots.

An art deco print hung behind him.  She had always hated it and would never tell him, not even if they made up this time.  It was amorphously daubed, apparently with a child’s finger paints; the variety of colors seemed schizophrenic without context.  The title, in tiny black print at the bottom, provided no such reprieve.  

Recuerda.  

Fine, she thought, glaring past him.  I can remember.  I can remember a great deal.

I can remember last fall, trucking your sorry ass to a movie theater thirty miles away to get tickets for some new “experience,” only to find out they sold out the day before, and we should really check the website first next time.

(In her memory she skips past the part where, on the way home, dejected and irritated, they stopped for hot apple cider at a local farmer’s market and did not fight again for another three months.)

I can remember listening to the Cocteau Twins in your basement and racing to see who could guess the lyrics first and you not telling me you had memorized their first three albums while you were in the hospital the first time.

(She also conveniently excises his second hospital stay, when they both discovered John Williams — the classical guitarist, not the composer.)

I can remember finding you in the bathroom, doubled over, hands pressed to your torso as if holding in your own entrails, puke in the tub and tears in your eyes.  I can remember that.

These memories and still others flashed and sizzled across her mind like finger-flung water on a hot pan.  His shoulder’s nearness to the jamb caused a phantom ache as if he’d been punched, but he would not move.  He saw her determined look.  His stomach cringed at its potency; a cancerous churning started somewhere deep.  He followed her gaze to the painting, a gift from his aunt —- the eccentric one, not the lesbian schoolteacher.  He glanced back at her and tore himself from place, to the painting, to take the thing off the wall.  After a pensive moment, staring at the brighter space on the sun-drenched wall (now embittered by an ink black night), he broke the frame across his knee.  Glass sprayed into the carpet, across the linoleum towards her bare feet.  He looked up at her.

Her lips pursed, but no words came up her throat to move them.  A silence as wide as the one between them now roared behind her forehead, immaculately conceived goldfish in a dark bowl.  She could feel right down to her chilly toes a vacancy of charity on her part, as if the need to communicate with him was far outweighed by her own need to hide her stale bemusement with their situation.  This need growing as the wordless moments fled their rage. They could stay here all night and nothing would change; this they both knew. Yes.  He could break every painting in the place and she still wouldn’t have anything to say to him. An impasse.

His hand, nicked by an errant piece of glass, ran over his face, leaving a thin red streak from chin to temple.  He blew air out through his mouth, as close to a response to her grim nothing as anything.  The broken frame slunk to the floor, making a lopsided triangle over his left slipper.  His stomach lurched again, and he dared to let his eyes pass hers.  Four icy and silent lighthouses, manned by apathetic keepers both struggling to become beacons of apology.

She knew the look, registered it with a small splashback of similar memories to reinforce it, and did her best to remain outwardly unconcerned.  But where his health was involved, she was not impassive.  Could not be.  In that arena she was positively verbose, normally.  The muscles in her foot made like they wanted to lift, but the larger ones above remained frozen, so she stood there on cold linoleum with a half-tensed foot for a moment or two before relaxing again.  Tiny diamonds on the yellow floor, winking.

The novelty clock by the refrigerator chimed ten: the call of a common nighthawk.  He moved suddenly, pushed past her as she listened to it, startling her back a few steps.  His hand — her favorite one, the left — closed around the dustpan and a small brush.  With his arm he gently pushed on her shins so he could sweep up his mess.  She let him.  When he moved to dump the pieces in the trash, she stepped into the hallway, feeling as though she were passing through the ghost of his shadow as she bent past the jamb.  Began making a small pile of shards in a cupped palm.

He made a sound in his throat — ut — like his throat got sealed off before a real word could come out.  He saw her bare feet.  She turned the corners of her mouth down and kept preening the carpet fibers, ignoring the shard she could feel poking into her heel.  She had a flash of a monkey in Borneo performing the same action to its mate, two other nonverbal life partners stuck in a rut.  His sweeping brought him close enough that she could smell his body, and she cursed herself for wanting it so suddenly.  Some intoxicant, having a form other than hers to explore.  If she closed her eyes and ran her fingertips across him in the dark, she could take herself to an alien land with an utterly indescribable landscape.  This land also lived behind her forehead, pebbly kitsch for the fishbowl.  She didn’t know how to tell him this, so she didn’t.  Thoughts banged against the frontal bone of her skull, dead on arrival.

She stood with her shoulder in the doorway.  Arms limp. He sighed again and put his hands on his hips.

Remember, he said, when this was easy?

Read More »
jim ruland

RECOMMENCE by Jim Ruland

Carol is calling from Los Angeles. She wants to know how the cat piece is going. The cat piece isn’t going is how it’s going. I write for a golf magazine. Not the magazine per se, but the blog. A golf blog. I hate everything about it. Its obsession with swing mechanics. Its upper crust entitlement. I even hate the way it sounds. Golf blog. It reminds me of the noise that escaped from my brother-in-law the time he got a piece of $6 gristle stuck in his windpipe and almost died. When the waiter delivered his filet mignon he’d cut it into pieces and calculated the price of each bite. Damn right I’m eating the gristle. This is a $6 piece of gristle. And they say there’s no justice in this world. Carol wants a cat piece for the golf blog because “cats are Internet.” I don’t even know how to parse that sentence, yet I know exactly what she means. I’m the fashion writer, which means I have to find a way to bring golf and fashion and cats together in a way that will make golfers want to click on every hyperlink and banner ad on the page. Welcome to my $6 gristle. I can hear voices in the background, the gently mocking commands of Vietnamese aestheticians, which means Carol’s at the salon getting her putting surface waxed. Carol makes verbs out of the names of websites and signs off. The combination of golf + fashion + cats sends me to sites where the word “catwalk” is prominently positioned. One of them links me back to one of my own pieces. I chop up some off-brand Xanax and try my luck with videos and end up in a wormhole of cats imbued with powers that nature never intended. Fighting cats. Flying cats. Magic cats scorching mice with laser beams shooting out of their eyes. Then: pay dirt. A kitten on a putting green playing with a golf ball. Adorable. Ovary melting even. The kitten bats the ball around and then pounces on it. The ball squirts away and the ritual recommences over and over again until the dimpled sphere rolls toward the hole with dreadful finality and disappears in the cup. Camera closes in on the kitten with its WTF? Face before pulling back on a golf clapping foursome, every one of them dressed to the nines. I hit refresh a couple hundred times and wake up to the sound of the phone. It’s Carol. She wants to know how the cat piece is coming. I look at the screen and a video plays of little girl burying a shoebox in the ground sing-saying, Bye-bye, Fluffy. Bye-bye, Fluffy. Bye-bye, Fluffy. Goodbye.

Read More »
simon graham

GAME THEORY by Simon Graham

For a time I dated a girl who was also an orphan. It was really great at first, us being orphans together. We had no responsibilities or allegiances, and we had plenty of money.

Sarah and I used our money to play games. I liked games because they stopped me thinking about doing what I had done prior to dating Sarah, which was putting my body against hot surfaces. I had done this because it made me stop thinking about being an orphan and because there are very few fun games to play on your own.

Sarah liked games as well. She didn’t have a problem with burning herself, but she did have a problem with depriving herself. That was what she called it. She said, I like playing games because when I’m playing them I forget that I’m meant to be depriving myself.

I have a theory that all orphans like games.

One game Sarah and I played was called Cat. Sarah came up with it. In this game, Sarah moved first, and her first move was buying a cat. My first move was telling Sarah that I’m allergic to cats.

Sarah’s second move was insisting the cat sleep with us in the bed. My second move was getting hives all over my body, even my genitals.

Sarah’s next move was naming the cat after a serial killer from the 1980’s.

She was an orphan, Sarah said.

My response was refusing to use the name because it was in bad taste. I called her Cat instead.

Sarah’s next move was yelling at me.

How is A_____ not an appropriate name? She yelled after Cat brought home a decapitated bird.

The next day I placed an anonymous tip with the real estate that there was a cat in Unit 3.

The real estate slipped a letter under our door. It read: You have two weeks to rid the apartment of all pets or, as per Section 45c of the code, you will be evicted.

I thought this was such a good move, but Sarah had a brilliant counter up her sleeve. Her move was telling me that Cat had become part of the family and so we had no choice but to move apartments. The reason this was a game-winning move was because it led the game of Cat into the new game of Moving, and this was the ideal – for there to never be a gap of time in between games, no gap of time in which I would think of hot surfaces or in which Sarah would think, I better make up for the past month of not depriving myself by depriving myself twice as much as I normally would.  

~

A few months later Sarah and I played a game called Guidance. The idea of this game was that Sarah and I would both pay to receive guidance from someone who gave it for a living.

Guidance came about because one morning after not sleeping all night Sarah said, I think we need serious help.

We can’t just play games forever, she said, and I will deprive myself if we are not playing games, and maybe even if we are.

At the time we were playing a game called Drugs. The end of the Moving game had led us to meeting our new neighbours. They were playing the Drugs game and so taught us how to play it too.

It was a good game at first. Like, really good. But it had become a bad game. It was repetitive and demanded so much of us. It seemed like there would be no winner to the game, no end.

We just need a new game, I said to Sarah. I get it. This Drugs game is getting old.

Let’s go to a therapist, Sarah said.

I said, That doesn’t sound very fun. That sounds like the opposite of fun.

It’s not supposed to be fun, she said. It’s not a game.

I said, How about we compromise by turning us getting guidance into a game?

I’m not sure, Sarah said at first, but after a day she came around because she knew that compromise is integral to all relationships, and also because part of Sarah was scared of what would happen should she stop playing games.

For Guidance, Sarah filled a hat full of names of people in our town who gave guidance for a living. There was a rabbi, a pastor, an analyst, a psychic, a yogi, et cetera. Sarah picked out a priest. I picked out a clairvoyant.

I had no idea what a clairvoyant actually did and so I thought, Guidance is a fun game, full of surprise and intrigue.

But I was very disappointed by Guidance. Let me tell you why.

First of all, the clairvoyant’s eyebrows didn’t move and she made me pay upfront.

Second of all, the clairvoyant’s first move was too bold. Games are meant to start subtle and then escalate. Her move was staring into my eyes for a long time. Like twenty minutes, or maybe even longer.

The clairvoyant then played more moves, it apparently being okay in Guidance for one person to just play as many moves as they like while the other player sits in silence and watches.

Most of the clairvoyant’s moves involved saying things about me that could apply to anyone.

She said, for example, that our galaxy is in a spiritual period known as Kali Yuga.

She said, It is a time marked by evil and impurities.

I said, That sounds about right.

She said, I think you’re feeling these energies in a very acute way.

I said, Well sure, who isn’t?

She said, Times of destruction can lead to true freedom.

I asked, Is that what the next game will be? Freedom?

She said, Our time has run out.

Guidance is a very strange game, I thought on the way home from the clairvoyant. I didn’t understand why people found it so fun. I didn’t understand why so many people had been playing it for thousands of years. I knew I had only been playing the game for one day, but I couldn’t help feel like there weren’t enough rules.

At home, I asked Sarah whether she was enjoying Guidance, she having seen her priest that day as well.

Sarah said, I like Guidance. It is a fun game.

I said, It seems like anyone can play Guidance. It seems like some people have been playing it forever and are still not very good at it but think they are.

Sarah said, The priest told me I should stop playing all other games and just play Guidance. He said my next move in Guidance should be getting sober.

I said, It’s not a game if someone else decides your moves for you.

Sarah said, Maybe Guidance isn’t a game.

~

I didn’t like where Guidance was headed. I wanted to play a different game, but I knew that this is not how games work. A game had to end on its own, or turn into another game, the way Cat turned into Moving and Moving into Drugs and Drugs into Guidance.

Sarah went again to the church to play Guidance with the priest. She came back and said I was wrong, there were rules to Guidance, and then she handed me a tome of rules, rules that seemed to be irrelevant not just to the game but to our place and time.

It was an awful game, this Guidance. There was either no rules or too many. But I was in a real pickle because I wanted to spend time with Sarah and yet she all she was doing with her time was playing Guidance.

I did some thinking and came up with five options:

  1. Suck it up and play Guidance with Sarah (Boring).
  2. Think about hot surfaces again (Terrifying, not an option).
  3. Play Guidance with someone else (Boring and also likely to make me feel very sad as not with Sarah, leading then to 2. Terrifying, not an option).
  4.  Playing a different game with someone else (Maybe not boring but still likely to make me feel very sad as not with Sarah, leading then to 2. Terrifying, not an option).
  5. Find a game to play by myself (See 4.).

I nonetheless tried 4. and 5. to ensure they did in fact lead to 2.

I went to the neighbors’ house and asked what they were doing. They said they were playing Drugs. I said, Do you mind if I join?

They said, Not at all.

So I played Drugs with them for a while, until they both played the move of passing out.

Then I played the game of Drugs with myself for a while. For whatever reason, I hadn’t realised until that moment that Drugs was a game you could play on your own. How good it would have been to play Drugs before I met Sarah?

It was a lot of fun, playing Drugs on my own. I thought, I can do this. I can play this game forever. But then, no. Not forever. For one night. Or maybe two. I tried two. After the second night I realised that people don’t play Drugs by themselves because it quickly stops being a game. It becomes like hot surfaces and depriving yourself in that you need to play a new game in order to stop thinking about it.

It was then I told Sarah that I was having a really hard time. I said, I keep thinking about hot surfaces, Sarah. I need to play a game.

So Sarah said, Well come down and play Guidance with the priest and I tomorrow.

I thought about my options. About hot surfaces. About the importance of us being orphans together. I looked at Cat and then turned to Sarah and said, Guidance sounds like a great idea.

~

So that’s how Sarah and I came to play Guidance for seven years.

It was a long time to be playing the same game. It was boring for the most part. There were no real surprises anymore, us having both memorised the rules, the moves, the strategies.

Sometimes I wanted to play Drugs again. Or Moving. Or even Cat (Cat died). But mainly Drugs. Each time I thought this, Sarah would remind me that Drugs is only fun for a day or two and I would nod and say, Yes, Sarah. You’re right.

Sarah was fine with Guidance being boring because she thought the next game would be Paradise. She said it’s a small sacrifice to play this boring game when the next will be so much fun.

We can play Paradise with our parents, she said. Imagine that. Can you just imagine?

I imagined. Sarah and I spent hours lying in bed together, imagining. Sometimes I would joke that the game we were playing should be called Imagine not Guidance, but Sarah would look at me very sternly and say, That is the kind of thinking that will stop us from playing Paradise.

It makes me sad to think about Sarah saying this now. Mainly because she was wrong. The next game was not Paradise. After the car accident, Guidance definitely ended, but the next game, the game I’m playing right now, has no Sarah and no parents. It can’t be Paradise.

I’m not sure what to call this game. Maybe Floating. Maybe Void. Whatever it’s called, it’s an okay game. There is no Sarah and no parents but there are no hot surfaces either. There is nothing, which now that I think about it means the clairvoyant was the closest to being right. I feel free. Completely free.

That’s a good name. Free.

Read More »
hannah stevens

CALL OF THE CIRCUS by Hannah Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What about the cleaning up?’ he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone turned up the music and then there was dancing.

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

‘When are you leaving?’ Adel said.

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

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

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

Read More »
bram riddlebarger

SOY by Bram Riddlebarger

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

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

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

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

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

Read More »

TIME TO MEET YOUR GOD by Chris Dankland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She laughed. Do you have a cigarette?

Sure, he said. What kind do you smoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More »