Short

SARCASTIC MIND JAIL GOES TO A PARTY (W/ TRIPARTITE DENOUMENT) by Sebastian Castillo

“If anyone sees that he can live better on the gallows than at his own table, he would be very foolish not to go and hang himself.”

—Baruch Spinoza

for Kit Schluter

 

Another party, and the people who go to them.

My former boss, whom I distrust on a fundamental level, invited me to his retirement party held at his vacation home on the coast. He hadn’t used it since the summer. At first, when invited, I said no. I had to wash my hair that night. But later, as so often is the case, I said yes.

I was surprised, initially, by how many people attended the gathering. My distaste for him was not unique—most people in our office held our boss in contempt, and generally thought it unlikely that he would have people in his life outside of work. We were wrong. Our boss was a generous donor to his former university’s football program, and it seemed as if several generations of players and coaches were present, all thinking and talking about football, a sport for which I don’t care. Men would say, “Football?” to each other, and in response hear: “The football.”

We had reached a lull in the party. Perhaps only an hour had passed, and there was markedly less chatter than when I had first arrived. I spent most of my time eating tiny hotdogs and telling people I didn’t know anything about sports. They would smile sadly, as if I had told them I recently lost my calling in life, or that my dog had died.

A man named Joseph with broken teeth approached me. He said, “I want to show you a party trick that will make you never want to leave this place.” I told him I had very little to lose, and that a gain would be both unexpected and desirable at present. Joseph unzipped his skin, starting from a large copper zipper on his forehead, which I hadn’t noticed initially because of his wretched teeth. Underneath his skin was my dead mother. “See?” he said. I told him it was a tad too autobiographical, and somewhat puerile in nature.

“Oh?” he responded, “You think you’re capable of better tricks? Tricks that would lead the guests of this party to never depart—ever—from the place which they’re enjoying themselves so fully? So harmoniously? So effortlessly? Though, of course, there is quite a bit of effort. The cost of travel is getting pricier by the day. It’s hard to leave one’s room.”

“That’s true, but no,” I said, “It’s not that. I am capable of no tricks. I can barely tie my shoes in the morning. But a stunt as cheap and suburban as yours requires no respect on my behalf. You can take that up with the internet.”

Joseph’s first skin, dangling limply from his calves, was creating a puddle of brownish mucus on the floor. I could see it dripping towards the legs of the grand piano in the living room, which a football player had tinkered with earlier in the evening, admitting that he hadn’t played in quite a bit. He got through the first few chords of the Charlie Brown Christmas song (it was the season, after all), and meekly stopped on a bum note. One of his former coaches slapped him on the forehead and screamed at his wife to get them more treats.

The mucus had, at this stage, enveloped the entirety of the piano in its substance. Now the piano had transformed into my first boyhood crush, albeit in the shape of a piano. I believe her name was Yasmin, though I could be mistaken.

“This is really too much,” I said. “And I should get going.” It was true: I would be flying to Patagonia early the next day. I had been having dreams that I would soon die. The dreams were all different: sometimes an anvil would fall on my head from a high distance. Other times, I was inveigled into a terrorist plot which resulted in the destruction of the United States White House, and my body along with it. Either way—I feared death’s approach was coming, and coming soon. I drafted a list of things I wished to complete before my demise, and a trip to Patagonia was chief among them. The reason was simple: it was far away. I seldom want to leave my room. And so, a trip to Patagonia could only speak beneficently to my character, my belief in historical dialectics, and my hope that the human soul was, underneath it all, good.

My boss approached Joseph and me with a dumb smile. “A trip to Patagonia would prove nothing of the sort,” he said, and laughed haughtily. “My boy, it is true that you will die soon. At least that’s what my own dreams have told me. But to carry forth with this trip is simply ludicrous. You should spend your remaining days in the company of handsome women, like the one my piano has recently transformed into, and in excessive consumption of hard drugs, specifically cocaine. It shatters your heart, I hear, but that won’t matter much to you, will it.”

It was things like this that made me dislike him. What right had he to peer into my mind—sarcastic and witless as it was—and tell me what I should do? What I should think?

“Well, what do you want out of life, Sebastian?” Yasmin asked. The mucus dripped over the floor and approached me. “Really? You have such little time left.” Her kindness, even in that moment, was boundless. I had once purchased a pearl necklace—which I bought from a vendor on the beaches of Margarita—and given it to her, though we barely spoke. She accepted it without reproach, and continued our lifelong silence.

I breathed in deeply, tongued the remains of a hotdog stuck to my teeth. “It’s true that I am not doing well. I don’t know if I’ll ever be doing better,” I said. “And for that, I blame my mind jail. However, there are small changes I’d like to enact in my life. I should eat less hot dogs. I should drink alcohol only when an occasion calls for it, like today. I should get back on my medication, which I stopped taking because I disliked the idea that I had to take it to function in a standard fashion. Besides that, I look forward to the end of winter. When it is warmer out, things will be clearer to me. I will wake up and behave in such a way that I am crossing off the tasks on my list. I will walk to the park because it is a pleasant thing to do, and I won’t have planned it in advance. I’ll go to the park because I can, and want to. When I arrive, I won’t do anything but sit on a bench. Maybe I’ll smoke a cigarette, which I should stop doing, but I’ll allow it in this particular future, because it means that I am taking ownership of my pleasure. I will not feel suspicious toward the things which give me pleasure. I will drink a glass of water that I have placed on the kitchen table because I’d like that, not because it’s good for me. Afterward, I’ll move to a new city and go to the events held there. I’ll talk about things which are amiable, unpredictable, and filled with flowers that others will want to smell. I will want to smell them too, even though they are in my hand, not very far away from my nose.”

The room had stopped. Conversations of football were snuffed out like oxygen leaking from a candle’s flame.

“Puerile,” Joseph said, speaking with my mother’s mouth, though he was gathering up his first skin from the waist up, ready to re-zip, hopefully for good.

“Not likely to happen,” said my former boss. He was already on his cellphone.

“I’d have to agree with the boss man,” said Yasmin. “Too self-pitying. And I never did like you. Your mawkish gifts and ceaseless projections, etcetera.” She played a waltz with her teeth (those were the piano keys) and all in the room danced with vim: the people of football, my co-workers, my former boss, Joseph, even Yasmin herself.

Before I knew it, I was back home. It felt as if I had fallen asleep as soon as I opened my bedroom door. I had no dreams that night—which was a relief—and my bags were already packed. The rest of this story happened in three parts:

  1. In the morning, I hailed a cab to the airport. The driver asked me what I thought about the new song that was getting popular nowadays. “Puerile,” I said, “though, that’s not such a bad thing.” The driver spat out of his window. “That’s enough of your opinions for now. I was just trying to pass the time.” 

  2. At the airport, a TSA agent dumped the contents of my bag into a plastic bin: my laptop, some clothes, a few novels, a notebook. She examined each. I handed her my passport again. “Your name sounds like a weather man. Like the ones on TV.” I told her I had heard that before. “No need to get testy,” she said. 

  3. I boarded the plane, and after seating myself, the pilot greeted me. “Would you like to fly the plane today?” he asked. “I’m unfortunately lazy in temperament, somewhat suicidal.” I said that I would not, and that laziness was a virtue, depending on how one looked at it. People had written books about that. “That’s true,” he said. “Hey, this guy is funny,” he said, a little louder. “Hey everyone, check out the brains on this one,” emphasis on brains. He pantomimed a plane flying with his hand and then crashed it into the ocean, making a child’s sound with his mouth, thankfully his own. “Big brain man over there,” he said, walking back to the cockpit.
 

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NIGHTHAWK by Zach VandeZande

There’s a yellowy light. It’s not fluorescent. This is not the IHOP. It’s the other one. The local diner. Yellowed sign, yellowed menus, yellow, yellowy light.

_________

Nothing that happens here is important. Important is elsewhere is the point of a place like this. This place is meant for in-between.

_________

She is at the hostess station looking lost. Looking like a customer who doesn’t know if she should seat herself. The post-bar rush is over. A last-call-at-2am town in a last-call-at-2am state. But: it’s later than all that. There seems to be no one in the restaurant at all. Bacon grease on everything. Pancakes in the very air.

_________

There are some things a body can do, and some things a body cannot do. Some things stand inside the scope, and then some things stand outside the scope, with their mocking smile and wave, with their cannot. The sum of these two types of things together is called a person.

_________

She has always been an IHOP person, if that’s a type of person to be.

_________

A man stands up from the one working video poker machine in the corner. This man has a great quality to his hands, prominent knuckles, a meaty rectangular strength to them. There is a tattoo in the webbing between thumb and forefinger—a small cross, hastily done. He wears a maroon polo shirt with a black collar. His hands look capable of doing things to other things, of being here and then here and then here and it helps or it hurts. He waves her along, leading her to a booth by the window. She will not look at his face. She looks at his transitive hands.

_________

Notably, the drunks have all gone home for the night.

_________

To look at a face is to have a face looked at is to invite comment. She is still beautiful, despite it. She still radiates youth, she still accidentally looks at people in a way that captures their complete attention, despite it. Some things do not change as easily as all that. To say that one thing is the essence of a person is to be naïve. She is in many ways naïve.

_________

She sits at a table. She says “Coffee,” she says, “Water with no ice.” In the blackness of the window she can see herself say these things. The yellow light overhead casts her reflection in dingy ghost shapes. The table lacquer is coming up at one corner, the booth she is sitting in has a slight tear in the seat back. There is damp and ache coming from her breasts. The man leaves her with a menu, which she ignores.

_________

A prison doesn’t require a key, after all. What it requires is belief in a key.

_________

The waiter brings water and disappears again around the corner. Behind her, somewhere, coffee futzes and sputters. He doesn’t bother telling her it’s brewing. She imagines him on the other side of the wall, playing video poker. On slow nights, a waiter might spend more at the video poker machine than he earns. She thinks he cannot help it. His nametag is peeling, his name rolling back into itself. That it were so easy to disappear, just a furl, a rolling in and away, gone.

_________

She finds him, suddenly, boring, wants to stop imagining him. He rubs a dollar against the corner of the video poker, making the money presentable, making it good enough to be accepted by the waiting mouth of the machine. She cannot see it, but this is what he does.

_________

Sitting there, she becomes aware of her breathing. She breathes manually, and then she panics that she won’t be able to stop breathing manually, that her body will never take over again. How long could she last? How long would it be before that responsibility too became crushing and she let herself collapse gasping to the floor? Could she make it through a cup of coffee, through a meal? Could she make it to daybreak?

_________

Never went in for the girl stuff, aside from being deliberate in her beauty. A breath. She thinks of herself as an angular person. A breath. She is all hard edges when she can help it. A breath. Doesn’t brook bullshit from anyone. Sees it as strength. A breath. Was not this for a time. A breath. And now. A breath.

_________

There’s an old joke, and it’s this: What’s the worst thing that can happen in a falling elevator? It stops. And what’s the best thing? It stops. Which isn’t funny, so maybe it’s not a joke. But it’s true.

_________

She tries to calm herself the way she was taught by her college roommate years ago: breathe out twice as long as you breathe in, count it out, name three things you love about being alive, realize that you are only your body, or realize that you are not just your body—she couldn’t remember which it was or if it was both—just ride the wave, live through this and then this and then this and guess what: now you’re living, present tense and actual. Now you’re now.

_________

It could be said fairly that every moment is life-changing, each insuck of air irrevocable. Thoughts like these are banal at every moment they aren’t.

_________

Three things she loves about being alive:

_________

The waiter reappears, passes her, returns with coffee. The presence of him forces her to be calm. She sits. She sips her coffee. It is surprisingly good. She expected something over-roasted, bile-sour, stale. Something that cried out for the little tub of cream in its basket on the table, sitting by the plastic tower of assorted jellies. There is a kind of betrayal in the robust flavor, in how good it feels to put the warmth into her body.

_________

From the video poker machine, bleeps and bloops move softly through the dining area.

_________

There is an absence of need in her that’s new, or worse, long-forgotten, the mark of an earlier version of herself pupating within her, ready to reemerge. She opens a tub of cream and dumps it in, then another. The coffee grays and whorls. It blooms. The way the black outside snugs up on the windows makes her feel as though she is attenuated to bigger truths lurking in the mundane. She wants things to be this still for her from now on.

_________

She might be connected to something new. A great heritage of loneliness. Nighthawk. That one Hemingway story she hated so much. Aaron made her read it in college, Aaron who got so upset when she didn’t care about all the nada, when she found it too cliché to be interesting. At the time she felt so sorry to hate the story. How often had she been sorry for her own opinion?

_________

She is not quite sure what it will be like, what she will do with so many empty hours, if it will ever feel as though this is what life is instead of feeling like, well, like what, exactly? Like she’s her own ghost, staying behind, carrying on.

_________

A body is still a vessel when it holds only itself. She learned this when the baby was born, and then somewhere she unlearned it, as the baby began to grow and occupy more space, kept finding more space to occupy than she knew was even there in her to occupy. It’s a thing she’d like to know again: how much space can fit in the vessel.

_________

She trembled and slipped back into breathless panic. She thought I fucking told you. She thought Do not think about the Pollywog. She thought She didn’t cry when you set her car seat down on pavement, when you hurried away. She thought She stayed right asleep that scary way the Pollywog would sleep, scary baby too-deep sleep.

_________

The waiter comes back around to see if she’s ready. She apologizes. She forgot about the menu in front of her. He looks over his shoulder to the kitchen and says it’s fine. She is overly apologetic. He says it’s okay, but she persists in performing the act of apology, fingers squirming at the menu.

_________

In some ways she will always be in that two-bedroom apartment, man and baby and her as ghost. She does not want to know this, but she does.

_________

The waiter lingers. The waiter notices the quaver of her and wants to help. He asks her where she’s from and she says, “Here.” He puts two fingers on the table. He says, “No, I mean your peoples.” And she is looking at him, fierce, reddened eyes. He’s from somewhere too, by the look of him. “Guatemala,” she says, “Libya.” He whistles and says, “That’s some mix.” Her shoulders tighten. She does not want to talk to a waiter about anything, least of all this. That a person can reach adulthood without knowing this kind of small talk is terrible, sticking your finger in another person’s nose.

_________

She does not want to be hard angles right now, but she is with the waiter. She wants to be a not. She thinks she might unwrap her fork from its napkin and jab his fingers off the table. He stands there, not letting her be a not, forcing her to be a person in a context that came from somewhere. It’s horrible. He’s horrible.

_________

An in-between is a place like any other. Everybody lives in the present, all the time. Horrible.

_________

She was not always this woman. She learned to be another woman with Aaron. Aaron saw different because Aaron wanted her to love him, wanted that plain, and that came with a desire to bend the will of her to his, get her, the organism, a little closer to her, the idea in his mind. She’s not that idea, though. Not that she blames him. She did it, too, though not so much with Aaron. Aaron was Aaron, without consequence. She did it with the Pollywog. She did it until she realized she couldn’t.

_________

With Aaron she saw she could be not unhappy. Which is nothing at all like happy.

_________

Three things she loves about being alive:

_________

The waiter stands there expectant and she asks him for a cigarette. He says no. They’re there in his pocket. She could reach for them. She could take what she wanted. She looks up at him. He says city ordnance. He says. She holds out her open palm.

_________

It’s possible to feel weightless, freed, awful. It’s possible to feel everything you know, all at once.

_________

Cigarette in hand, to lips. The waiter nervous. Something electric in the scratch of the lighter, in him bringing the flame to her. The waiter’s hands. Used to trouble, probably. In trouble. She can make him feel a way about her, about himself. She need only reach across with her free hand. She need only grab the nametag and peel it free, and what comes after comes after.

_________

Her biggest regret is that she knows she could become anything at all and didn’t, still might.

_________

She tells him she wants to drink coffee for a while. She tells him he can say he didn’t notice the cigarette, if anyone asks. He nods and leaves her alone, disappears into the kitchen.

_________

Three things she loves about being alive:

_________

For the pieces of this to fit together, there must reasonably be some measure by which she would consider herself whole. She was capable of things, once. She could read a baby like a tarot card, every burp a star aligned. She could bear the wailing. She could give herself away, all the way. She could be unmade and still be made. Simple enough things.

_________

She takes a deep drag on the cigarette and her lungs fuzz out. Somewhere a baby wakes in the cold. Somewhere a baby. Somewhere a loss without language. Somewhere a light going on at the precinct, a savior arriving, not the wanted one. Somewhere a vessel being made unwhole.

_________

But who has ever been whole. It’s there in the word itself. Whole, hole. Cruelty, homonym.

_________

Three things she loves about being alive:

_________

That coffee goes cold. That dawn comes on. That a different now is on the way.

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LEPIDOPTERA by Shelby Colburn

She told me she caught a moth in her throat. We sat in a roadhouse munching on fried pickles as snow fell past the window. She reached into her mouth with a finger and pulled her right cheek to the side like a hooked fish. I leaned closer to her face and peered down her mouth. There it was, a grey moth lodged in the opening of her throat. Its small wings fluttered behind her uvula and tonsils. She popped her finger away, closing the opening to the moth’s new home.

“It chose me,” Priv said as she attempted to clear her throat, “I felt it one day and there it was.”

She took her hand from under mine and picked up her glass of seltzer. She sipped a few gulps while I watched as the condensation formed moisture against the edges of her chipping maroon nail polish.

“I feel it against my neck if I press hard enough,” she said, “And it won’t tell me why it chose me,” Priv put down her drink and folded her arms against her chest, “It speaks to me. Tells me what it wants.”

I popped a pickle in my mouth letting the juice trail down my chin. Priv sucked a glob of ranch off her fingers. I wondered if the moth would spit the dressing down into the cavern of saliva and mucus. What if Priv displeased it—would it stretch out and choke the air from her trachea? My sadness formed a lump in my own throat.

Priv smiled and swallowed another pickle.

***

When the last traces of snow melted into the earth, I saw the effects of the insect spooning itself against Priv’s pharynx.

I was reading a book when I looked over and saw Priv staring at her lamp.

“The lights are magnificent,” she told me, “They look like life and death.”

I asked her what that meant, but she reached up and lifted the shade from the LED.  

“I see pixels and swirls of purples and pinks. Oranges are mating with yellows to create greens. There is black behind every surface mixed with scarlet.”

I reached over and turned off the light. Priv blinked her eyes and turned her head back to me. Her pupils were dilated enough to leave no white.

“Return them to me,” she said.

I pulled the string down, and she reached her hand towards the burning bulb.

***

When I saw her the next day, Priv was sitting on a stool slumped over her kitchen island. Bags hung below her eyes and the paint from her nails had been chewed off.

She was whispering and placing her index finger in her mouth. I watched as she chewed the tip of the nail with small nibbles. “Your fur scratches my throat,” she said quietly while tipping her head back. She hocked, but smiled as she rested her chin against the grain of the island.

I leaned down beside her and tilted my head to meet her blank gaze. She turned her neck slightly towards me, her pupils still large in her eyes. I asked her if she wanted to try and get rid of it. She chomped down hard on her nail and tore a crescent from her finger. With a gulp she sent it back to her throat.

“Why?” she said, “Jealous?”

A glint of spit dripped from her bottom lip.

***

When bulbs began to bloom, I watched as bandages replaced her fingers. Priv munched her nails down to the lunula. Her shirts and sweaters grew damp with drool while she sucked and nibbled at the edges of her sleeves.

“I don’t want to do that,” she whispered to herself one day, taking her sleeve away from her mouth. I stood back from her and she began laughing, “I don’t want to drink the flowers.”

I asked her what that meant, but Priv told me not to worry about it. “Moth things,” she said while sticking her sweater over her tongue.  

I tried taking the sleeve out of Priv’s mouth, but she pushed me away.

I didn’t want to smother her, so I let her be.

***

Two days later I found Priv examining her garden, her hands digging into the dirt to tear up her credenzas’ roots. I watched as she plucked the flowers from her garden and tilted the head of the plant to her lips, her tongue soaking up the morning dew that rested on the surface of the florets. She crushed the flower in her hands, looking up at me with a yellow-green moustache; her smirk tainted with a clear syrup falling down her chin.

***

In mid spring, when her garden was strewn with the corpses of tulips, hydrangeas, and camellias; Priv began to tear and gnaw her clothing. She plucked with her teeth the cotton and polyester blends that scooped around her neck. Lint caught between her incisors, so she flossed with loose strings from the leftovers of her rags.

“I can’t eat anything else,” she said, her eyes circled with faint black rims, “Nectar and lint…”

She walked over to her sink and ripped the curtains hanging over the window above. She tore at the sewn chickens and apples, ripping the cloth into samples that she could plop into her mouth. She swallowed and I could hear a buzzing form in her throat.

“I always hated mom’s curtains,” she said chewing. She clicked her tongue in her mouth, her eyes beginning to squint with thought. “I wonder what sweat tastes like?” she said turning to me, her teeth holding a brown Welcome sign in the gaps of her gums.

***

When the humidity of July drenched our bodies with salt, Priv began to lick her arms and hands, wiping the drops of moisture from her forehead. When she tried to lick me, I pushed her back, telling the moth to stop it.

“It’s not the moth anymore,” she said, her voice wild. She climbed up her stairs and left me alone by the entrance of her porch. The light hanging over her door frame had scratch marks.

***

That night I sat in my bed and felt the fan blowing warm summer air on my body. I was unable to fall asleep as the muggy heat held me down on my sheets.

As I scrolled through my feeds, Priv’s face popped up in front of me. I answered her call.

“I need more,” she said, her voice sounding desperate and dry.  

I buried my face in my pillow, my sweat seeping into the synthetic fibers.

“Can’t you do anything for me?” she said, her voice booming in my room.

I didn’t answer her.

“You never cared.” She hung up.

***

“I need more,” a voice said coming from my window. I opened my eyes and twisted my head from my pillow. I saw Priv’s blue glare gleam as a car passed on the street below. My window fan lulled beside her.

As I wiped dried tears from the corners of my eyes, I heard Priv whispering to herself:

“I need something I haven’t tasted before.”

She opened her mouth, releasing a red string. It floated above her head in the current from the fan.  

She inched closer to me, eyeing the sweat that was forming under my hairline. She lunged at me, pinning me down against the fabric of my sheets. Before I could scramble away, she locked my arms down with her knees and opened her mouth.

“Just a bite,” she said while licking the side of my face, her breath smelling of nectar and Nike. I tried struggling beneath her, but she engulfed me. All I felt was the strange sensation of wings batting against my consumed skin.

***

When I came to, green scales clutched the caves and crooks of my epidermis, and I was struggling to breathe in a suspended world of metamorphosis. I could hear Priv’s voice shake the cavern around me: Just pretend to like it.

I looked down at my body and saw that my limbs were forming branches of black with spikes of hair. How long have I been down here? I thought, disbelief running through my mind. I wasn’t dead. I wasn’t alive. What was I?

My eyesight was beginning to merge into millions of diamonds, and I felt my head sprout two antennae. My blonde hair fell from my scalp into the abyss below, followed by crumbs of tonsil stone. I brought my fingers to my disillusioned eyes and saw my red blood had turned yellow.

I looked around. I was twisted and snarled within a golden-brown cocoon just dangling below the rounded hood of Priv’s uvula.   

I’m not ready to swallow you, her voice echoed around me. She laughed, swinging my cocoon back and forth. You tasted so good.  I had to save you for later.

***

My fingers were beginning to form as one when I heard a voice in my ear begin to speak to me.

It’s almost over, it whispered. It didn’t come from Priv’s throat—the sound was too clear against the ringing of my ears. But the soft cadence of the voice died against the shuffling and scratching my cocoon made. As I searched for the sound, I found my diamond eyes locate the red reflection of gems hiding behind the scars of forgotten wisdom teeth.  

She doesn’t like to swallow, it said raising its voice, She wants to absorb us. The moth’s proboscis did not move with the words that formed in my head—we were connected by the tissue that held us above Priv’s throat.

What can I give her?

Everything I couldn’t.

***

You think changing will help her? Priv’s throat said undulating. It didn’t help you.

The moth crawled into the red glow that shown from Priv’s cheeks, the outside world just out of reach behind flesh and veins. The moth’s white fur clashed with large red eyes, its hair coaxed in bits of lint and sap. Its left side was torn with bite marks forming over ripped trunks of leftover legs and torn aileron. Yellow blood splashed up against the thorax.

She tried eating me but she liked the taste too much.

Priv laughed again.

The moth climbed over my cocoon and began nibbling the seams that kept me suspended.

Make the decision, its voice called to me as its front leg stepped on my ridged home.

My surroundings vibrated with my every shake.

I didn’t want to leave her. It said while snipping away at the branches that held me up above the gaping esophagus. Even when I turned, she didn’t release me.

The green scales of the cocoon tightened their grip on me with every utterance. They snarled at me and dug into my furry skin.

Do what I should have done.

Priv’s jaw began to move, clipping the moth against her back molar with a large clush. Her throat motioned in repeating rows that drew back pieces of the moth.

I’m done with you, Priv said.

With one last slash, the moth tore open my cocoon and looked at me with its red eyes. It opened its mouth and screamed at me.

Priv’s mouth opened and a bright light filtered in past her gums. As her tongue bashed the moth down into her body below, I leapt forward. Two orange and black wings opened from my shoulder blades.

I flapped out of Priv’s mouth. She chomped at me with a lunge, but I soared out the gap between my fan and window. Her ethereal cries echoed below me.

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D1NAH BREAKS THE SET LIST by Anna O’Brien

G1rl on the Road

If, and this is an astronomically huge if, D1nah makes it through this song without her throaty howl cracking during the third refrain, Fage the drummer owes her $27.39. This is the cost of a soy caramel latte plus interest compounded weekly, the frequency of every gig the band now plays. So far, the wager has been compounded eight times. Fage is confidant that she'll never have to pay up even if, on their five-hundredth gig twenty years from now, cynical, saggy, broken, and bionic, D1nah holds that "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh" in "G1rl on the Road" for its full ten bars because who says lattes will even exist then? Plus, D1nah's a push over.

The audience watches D1nah's lipstick #10 ruby red mouth open like a cave with ancestral winds gushing out, the power of all of the folk singers before and after squeezing her lungs like you would hold a dying child because there's nothing left to lose, and shit, she's done it, just now.

She actually held it.

Fage huffs.

The small crowd in this stuffy, dark, mildewed venue is going insane, arms up, their own mouths open in response, pulsing collectively like one giant vital organ, the band's own heart and soul supplying the nourishment needed to keep coming back. D1nah looks behind her shoulder, a joker's grin stretched beyond her cheeks – Christ, how does one smile encompass an entire room, she'll eat everyone alive – and her iron gaze spears Fage.

The drummer smirks back. D1nah's missed her lead into that extra bit they added to the end, the best part really, because it ties it all together. D1nah's fucked it up again. She's reliable in that way. It's sort of comforting.

Blue Jays and Biscuits

An artist who proclaims she'll never be a sell-out has never had the privilege of having the option. This is what D1nah has always said but this time, looking back at the band bathed in blue light, during an intimate interlude where Carla the guitarist has a solo and D1nah sort of stands there and moves her hips, she thinks they've already sold out on each other.

Fage the drummer is now gone, her replacement one of those sentient boxes, an amalgam of circuits and software that produces the perfect beat. It's – she's – not even a person much less a gender but the band covers the matte silver edges with femininity for comfort. It's fine – she's fine – but D1nah still isn't used to the visual amputation of the absent ten-set drum piece behind her, no chrome glare off the cymbals. There's more room to move around on the stage now even in the smallest of venues but D1nah's here to sing, not gyrate. Still, the crowd screams loudest when she swings that curved cradle that sits on top of her femurs and yes, she's sold out, she decides. Once and for all.

Throwing the mic down, she stalks off the stage. Of course she'll be back – she's gotta eat – but for this set, she's toast.

Rotten Egg

D1nah's performing tonight with something stuffed in the back pocket of her green jeans which is odd because she loathes being tied down on stage with objects. She's said before (to journalists, sure, so it's bound to be hyperbole) that really if it were a different time, a different place, she'd be on stage naked. What's double odd is it's an envelope containing a letter. D1nah, like the rest of the band, has no permanent residence and it's hard to believe she'd keep a post office box.

From this, it's clear someone wanted to find her.

It's exhausting being the front woman in a band. D1nah stares tonight at the audience and accidentally smudges her mascara. A local reporter will write as witness that she was crying on stage which is simply not true. Later, D1nah will smile and thank her many gods with their individual shrines that burn in the band's van and have scorched the shag carpet that these local journalists and rabid groupies from nowheresville are too focused on the stage and not on what's behind the curtain to dig and find out she was hatched from an egg, her real mother one of those giant birds from one of those labs and the back pocket letter tells D1nah her adoptive parents have died.

D1nah will burn the letter immediately after the set. The letter is dated eight months ago. All ties lost, she's been free floating and not even aware of it.

This is her biggest secret, bigger than the drugs and flare ups and occasional self-harm but it's all there for everyone to see if they paid enough attention to her art.

Ironic, then, that she's singing this song, "Rotten Egg." She gnaws a cold sore on the inside of her cheek and tastes her body's brine. She forgets the second verse and the band just has to continue on.

Fight the Homefront

On stage D1nah thinks: I am not your tree. She moves her feet so as not to root. A sidebar feature in a national magazine described the band as "willowy" and in an extended arboreal metaphor, referred to D1nah as "barking."

In a moment of vocal silence as the drumming box does the same solo at the same point in this song without the feeling of angst or breathlessness that Fage used to give it, D1nah realizes maybe "barking" was intended as more canine. As in bitch. As in –

There's a boo from the crowd.

Shit.

D1nah's missed her cue.

She flicks the audience off and sneers, tossing back heavy hair that makes her neck sweat, a quid pro quo. You want makeup? You get zits. You want hair? You get a greasy curtain.

You want it all?

You get nothing.

A train wreck due to a thousand tiny causes is still a train wreck.

Move Those Sticks (Legs)

D1nah's really hungry, famished she might say, depending on the audience. The whole band is gaunt, depleted. No one has a day job anymore. They play five nights, five towns a week.

They like to clink glasses "to art" in the dark when someone else is buying rounds. But eyes shift, grow wide, then narrow. Soon – how soon is anyone's guess – it will be every man, woman, xi, android, egg hatcher, diploid, and hyperbiome for themselves.

But until then, there are still the fans. And some have money and pay for tickets and merch. Yes, they want (demand) more: backstage passes turn into all night babysitting, exclusive interviews turn intrusive, social media expects (Jokingly? Hard to tell.) your relic social security number, your replacement barcode, your medical history, tattoo cover-ups, and rehab. You're just like us, they coo, but they want to peel you apart just to make sure.

But the band can't stop now. How could they? The band (the music) is everything. OK, the guitarist has been replaced three times and the drummer and now keyboardist are boxes but D1nah, the front woman, the headliner, the one they come to see, is rock solid (when medicated), a creative genius (when drunk and not depressed), is drop dead gorgeous (with shellacked makeup and two surgeries), kind (no, not anymore), a push-over (now she pushes back).

D1nah stands in front of the crowd, houselights low the way she told them. She can't recall her last full meal.

She almost wrote a song called "Beef Jerky" but the title would only get lost to vulgarities. The band is old, for an inclusive bunch. D1nah is proud of that, mostly. Somewhat. A bit.

There isn't even any satisfaction in the fact she lands her ten bar "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh" in that deep cut "G1rl on the Road." Hell, she gives twelve bars, then sixteen. Her lungs are massive, her diaphragm strong, her larynx unstoppable. She gives and gives and gives until her band mates look at each other behind her back, roll their eyes, shrug.

"Diva" is a word tossed around occasionally in the press like a rubber ball; it's fun to play with but you get bored quickly. The "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh" goes on so long the drumming box gets confused (a first in a line of malfunctions that tellingly doesn't end up in replacement) and begins the track for the next song. The keyboard box picks up the signal and off they go, leaving D1nah to howl alone.

Into the last song of the set list, a list so incredibly short these days because no one has an attention span longer than fifteen minutes, ten minutes for art, five minutes for art without sex hidden or promised somewhere in the folds, D1nah finishes her twenty bar hold on a singular note from a song she wrote ten years ago, her longest hold ever. She stands literally breathless and stares out at the crowd as her lungs grab air. Everyone is looking at her, really looking for once. She has their raw attention in the palm of her shaky hand. Her fingers curl over an invisible egg in a delicate clutch then she squeezes her fist closed. She picks up where she left off, jumping headfirst into the very last song like she always does. Like she always will.

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PEOPLE I WISH I WAS by Socrates Adams

ONE

He writes a song a day. He keeps a diary next to his bed and every night, without fail, using his guitar, he transcribes thoughts into the book. The tunes are repetitive folk melodies. They are circular, looping reminders of the pattern of his days, weeks, months.

He works as an actor. He attends read-throughs of scripts he likes. The projects he really loves rarely get off the ground. He is a dreamer and dreams of affecting the lives of other people.

He lives alone. He’s tried relationships but they don’t fit with the rest of his life. He hates compromise. Things are good with new lovers and he’s always excited and optimistic. But he knows from experience that he just can’t sync the rhythm of his life with anyone else’s. The beats are always imperfectly syncopated, the footsteps of two novice dancers, struggling to keep time.

He lives in a top floor flat in a trendy suburb of Manchester. From his window, he can see other houses, a corner shop, trees. Children walk up and down the road in the morning and the afternoon, dressed in dark grey suits, with bright green ties.

He plays guitar, he sings. He meets musician friends. They drink together, they talk. He has four good friends. They tease him about being too nice. He isn’t so quick when it comes to making sly comments about his friends. He always laughs when they make sly comments about him.

He wishes he had a dog. He’s almost bought one a few times, but never goes through with it. I’d kill it, he thinks. I wouldn’t exercise it enough. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are naturally timid. They tremble at the sight of other dogs. Some are so timid that they fear the sight of their own shadow.

His shadow sits behind him, watching him write, listening to him sing. His shadow scares him and keeps him safe. When he sleeps, his shadow is there, under his body, feeling him breathe, not letting him inhale too deep, keeping him strange and thin.

TWO

She goes for long walks. She enjoys her own thoughts. She doesn’t listen to music, podcasts, YouTube videos, the radio. She loves the nourishment that silence gives.

She lives somewhere in New York. I don’t know the city, so her life is less certain. She doesn’t earn much, so her flat can’t be that nice. Maybe it’s in the Bronx. That seems like a bad neighbourhood. The city is her canvas and she paints herself onto it daily.

She is an artist and a writer. Her work is confessional. People have made denigrating comments about her art in reviews. It’s self-indulgent, they say. She just takes selfies, they say. She’s tried other media, but always returns to photomontage coupled with surreal short fiction.

She drinks and when she does she becomes a liquid creature, oozing between places and moods. She is good-natured until she passes out. She still smokes, despite everything, and asks women for a light outside the bars she likes to visit. The bars are a smear of neon across her young life.

Things seem to happen to her. Muggings, small lottery wins, exciting commissions, falling into water, rows with friends, sex with friends, emails from mysterious people, chance meetings with other artists at the central library, rescuing kittens from cars, swirling love affairs, autumn.

She’s always ready with her phone and she catalogues it all, and then it’s permanent. People will look back on her life and say she truly lived. They will be jealous and I will be one of them.

THREE

What a family man, people say about him. He has two children and they are his angels. He makes them sandwiches and sets them up for each day. There is nothing sad about his life. It is an unbroken chain of happy links.

At night, while his children sleep, he watches pornography. His wife is dead. He imagines her watching with him, giving him her blessing. He confesses all his bad thoughts to her. She knows everything he does. She is inhumanly understanding, like a layer of thick, rich honey.

Sometimes I want to die, he thinks. I understand, his wife says to him, across the veil. I would never actually do it, he thinks, fingering the pack of pills. Of course not, my darling, she says.

He still has hobbies although his time is severely limited. He loves woodwork. Before she died, he’d spend hours in the shed, whittling. He made wooden figurines of literary characters for the children and she painted them.  They were a good team. Now though, because he’s alone, there is a certainty and purity to his actions that is tremendously liberating.

He is not a man, he is just a father. He knows how to do it because his dad did it to him. He phones his own dad sometimes, tells him only the good parts of his life. You’re coping well, says the older man. I am OK, says the younger man.

His favourite bird is the seagull. He loves their ugly cries, he feels comforted by their greed, and how reliably they argue with each other. All it takes is one dropped chip to see the birds fight to the death, blood and feathers flung across the pavement.

FOUR

Being twelve is easy, even if it’s painful, and I long to be almost any twelve-year-old child. Boy or girl, rich or poor, bright or not, in any school, with any teacher. I’d be happy with any parents, within reason.

The child goes to school because it has to. In the evening, it has dinner and does homework. Every night the same: some meat, vegetables, usually canned sweetcorn, a potato.

It collects football cards. It collects Pogs. It has friends it talks to. There’s a tree stump in the middle of the playground the kid sits on every break time. When the stump is wet, the child lays it waterproof coat down on the wood, keeping its bum dry.

The twelve-year-old child thinks big and the weekends are time it has the biggest thoughts. The stars, it thinks, my dad, it thinks, my mum, it thinks, the things I’ve done, it thinks, I wish I was younger, it thinks. The child is sentimental and looks through photographs of its parents’ wedding. I was there, in my mum’s tummy already, the child thinks. It knows this because its mum told it.

The child won’t grow up.

FIVE

He’s a house DJ in Birmingham. He sleeps with anyone who’ll have him. People come up to him while he’s playing songs and flirt. He flirts back and they talk about the music over the sound of the music.

I love music, he says.

He is a great lover. He spends a lot of time at the gym and while he’s there he thinks constantly about his sexual technique. He reads articles about sex in magazines and considers himself a great expert on sensuality.

He lives with his mother. He has a film projector. He watches action movies from the eighties on the uneven white wall of the living room. His mother never bothers him.

He works out, he trims his nails every other day, he drinks protein milk from an opaque plastic bottle. The plastic tube of the bottle is chunky. He chews the tube sometimes when he’s listening to music for the first time.

At night, he dreams of other people’s lives. Deserts, wide stretches of calm water, toothless grandparents.

SIX

She has an active social life. She is elderly, but in good health. She lives in one of the country’s premier retirement homes. There is a choice of three cooked meals for dinner every day. She has a string of romances with men and women at the home.

She has almost no memory. She experiences each moment with a sense of tireless wonder. She dances well, although she doesn’t remember how or when she learnt to.

She moves her weight from one foot to another, beckoning dashing men and charming ladies to spend time with her. Fat diamonds hang under her ears.

Sometimes, when she relaxes in a large, comfortable chair, her body sinks so deep into the cushions that she disappears. Her breath stops, her heart slows, her skin melts into the fibre and she extends her mind to the edges of the world.

SEVEN

He’s the most famous, successful person in the history of time. He is a singer, actor, writer, dancer, father, son, best friend, doctor, human rights lawyer, astronaut, president, prime minister, director, musician, mathematician, celebrity chef, rancher, champion pumpkin carver, example to everyone.

People ring him and ask for advice. He has twenty close friends with whom he maintains healthy, appropriate relationships. He is happily married. Everyone respects him.

The entire world is obsessed with him. People write glowing reviews of everything he does; bowel movements, sneezes, his great works, the way he turns on light switches.

His most treasured possession is a wooden Don Quixote figurine his first-born son bought for him on a school trip to Spain. He shows it to friends. He cries often, happily.

Dust and snow fall on him as he ages, refusing to give up his magnificence. He just won’t die. People form a prayer circle around him and together, in a deep, restful meditation powered by human thought, the secrets of matter, consciousness, and mortality are revealed in all their heart-breaking beauty.

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THE INENARRABLE HEAVINESS OF SEEMING by Will Bernardara Jr.

“Perception of a state is not the state.”

M. John Harrison

A teetering bulb of dread and dream referred to – sometimes, by some – as Wes Boolean walks into a hardware store, his/its synapses scintillating with composite images of saw-teeth and conceptions of disjoining girl-parts.

(Interjection: The “bulb” of the foregone ‘graph isn’t a floating sci-fi brain. It [the bulb] is impounded in the standard ossein case of a bipedal primate “person” = Wes Boolean.

Thing is, the lump of gray mind-goo is the person; i.e., the “person” is a pattern ejaculated out of cerebral media, and so it’s [awkwardly] precise to state that a glob of neurons, glia, and organic miscellany walks into the hardware store.

[Moreover, it’d be less accurate to say, e.g., “Wes Boolean walks into the hardware store.”])

The hardware store, Doblhofer’s Drills ‘N Whatnot, enfolds mallets and monkey wrenches and fitted blades and omnifarious screws nails bolts nuts within a brick tetragon architecturally emblematic of Main Street, USA.

Wes, substrate of vortextual feedback (a.k.a. a “person” [which, tantalizingly, tellingly, probably comes from the Greek prosopa, which means mask]), browses Doblhofer’s dust(insect waste, dirt, husks)-diffused aisles, its timeworn bins and mummified 3-D, with the mien of a mako roving for a soft belly.

person = mask

self = feedback pattern

Posted by Anonymous on September 18, 2002 at 11:41:19:

Special orders don't upset us, we have any special cuts of meat of Teri Salsbury that your hungry for.She is primce USDA grade A meat and we are selling choice cuts of her for $1.59 per pound.We have Chuk Roast of Teri SalsburyWe have Ham Hocks of Teri Salsbury

We have breast fillet's of Teri SalsburyWe have prime rib's of Teri SalsburyWe have cunt steak of Teri SalsburyWe have shoulder rounds of Teri Salsbury

Come and get it special orders don't upset us. 

(Interjection: Charles Crumb, artist R. Crumb’s older brother, never got around to reading Kant or Hegel.)

Perceptual impressions are notoriously, platitudinously labile… e.g., a building housing devices parts machines. For most, maybe, this is received sensorially as a structure that stores tools for, e.g., making a cabinet or fixing plumbing or crafting a lazy Susan. For some, like Wes, the same structure is interpreted as a den of murder implements for, e.g., slaking a bloodlust or hacking apart a lazy call girl named Susan.

Let A(x) be an arbitrary formula of the language of F with only one free variable. Then a sentence D can be mechanically constructed such that

F  D ↔ A(D).

It is a beautiful world.

Help you with somethin’?

Deo volente.

Pardon?

Nothing. Let’s see. I’m a burgeoning… Well. I need to, like, break something? And then uh… Well… Disassemble it?

Huh.

Yep.

  1. Right. Got it. So you’re lookin’ to do some demolition? For the home? And then some dismantling? For your house?

Close enough.

So this is home not commercial?

You know, rethinking it, I really just have one question.

Shoot.

Dismantling something… err… subsistent.

Pardon?

When cutting up something living or recently made dead –

Like a buck? There’s a Goose Peak outlet over in –

No, no. You have saws. Say for instance you wanted to dismember an antelope.

Dress it?

Sure.

Well.

Would you use an electric – like a buzzsaw or?

No.

Chainsaw?

Nothin’ like that. Hell. It’d fling bits of flesh and blood everygoddamnwhere. Christ.

Good! Good. See, this is the sort of wisdom I was angling for now.

A nice sharp knife and a hacksaw’s what you need.

Knife. Hacksaw.

Nothin’ electric. Christ, that’d make one helluva mess. The churning teeth you know would spit meat and blood back at ya.

Where’s the aisle with the hammers? I think I need to pick up a nice ball-peen hammer. In addition to.

For any statement A unprovable in a particular formal system F, there are, trivially, other formal systems in which A is provable (take A as an axiom). On the other hand, there is the extremely powerful standard axiom system of Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory (denoted as ZF, or, with the axiom of choice, ZFC), which is more than sufficient for the derivation of all ordinary mathematics. Now there are, by Gödel's first theorem, arithmetical truths that are not provable even in ZFC. Proving them would thus require a formal system that incorporates methods going beyond ZFC.

Wes plumbs the depths of the Internet. Tor Browser. Tails OS. Dark Web. He lurks electronically, fishing through the hidden digital murk for vile links and files containing repulsive material. He views heads shotgunned to gushing, sloppy fragments by ISIS weapons. He sees kittens suffocated and roommates dismembered. He watches as a feed reveals a child sadistically molested and abused in a bathtub.

And worse.

Posted by S.C on April 25, 2002 at 23:26:22:

I have frozen male members and human fat candles and soap my slave did a good job and I have a bit extra scraps to if you have a dog or like scraps. 

Posted by Joe Chef on March 22, 2002 at 22:36:11:

I need young female longpigs for live roasts, live butcher, or if you want you can be beheaded or hung before butcher, or how ever you want it, the choice is yours. Applicant requirements are:Be willing!!!!Be between Ages 16-40(the younger the better).Be Physically fit.Be free of communicable deseases.Be able to realize and accept their own fate.Be able to compleatly disappear with no trace except to false locations.Be willing!!!!!

The street appears skewed and, due to some actinic phenomenon of rabid complexity, the streetlights stain the curb and stores and road a preternatural pink, like watery blood or light through a glass of Robitussin DM.

Night in all its protoplasmic enigma.

Wes meanders along Thrill Cherry Rise, the road a clotted municipal gut of liquor stores laundromats bowling alleys tattoo parlors etc. He emphasizes and exaggerates the aimlessness of his gait, to fool the maggots.

It is always possible to pass, purely mechanically, from an expression to its code number, and from a number to the corresponding expression.

Maggots are ubiquitous, pole to pole. They’re basically the not-Wes, the squirming pointless – coils of distorted info convinced they’re “people.” Maggots operate motor vehicles and bake casseroles for church potlucks; maggots rent silent movies and jerk off to streaming Yhivy porn; they spend (unconsciously) most of their days and nights trying to not be maggots. They are thralls to impressions, illusion-addicts, thrashing dumbly in the liquid fray of sentience. Maggots are paradoxes gone kinetic. They are, most categorically, rapacious with a demand and need nature cannot sate.

But, Wes concludes, halting the introspective litany of maggoty definitions, coherence is hostile to vision. So fuck it, if not entirely at least in part.

For any 1-consistent axiomatizable formal system F there are Diophantine equations which have no solutions but cannot be proved in F to have no solutions.

Time shreds itself to quantal bits of chronofractals; inwardly, all becomes a bleeding echo chamber of languor. Life is spawned in delirium and promptly crushed inert by sheer lethargy.

Weltschmerz informs everything.

Murder stimulates.

Wes reads prodigiously, the moon’s bone-colored light glimmering in the sprawl of black sky. He focuses, letting the text sink into himself, the words of On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems amalgamating with Vasili Ivanovich Komaroff’s 33 victims. Slashed throats and bludgeoned craniums; for any set of axioms and inference rules proposed to encapsulate mathematics, either the system must be inconsistent, or there must in fact be some truths of mathematics which could not be deduced from them.

A surge of compulsion, a jolt to see something horrible; brainwave entrainment, the practice of entraining one's brainwaves to a desired frequency. The frequency of death, of maiming, of illusions and lies pouring out, of blood and gore. Wes sweeps the numbers book aside and searches the Net for war atrocities.

He watches Liberian kids in bootleg 2Pac T-shirts cut each other’s hearts out and devour them. He looks at streaming video of machete fights in the Dominican Republic. Rapists beaten with pipes and set on fire by villagers. Crush videos – high heels and fur and small animals squealing.

What differentiates Wes from the larvae: Wes allowed his mind to turn in on itself, utterly. Wes looks around and sees not “humans” but carbon-based snarls. The system of configuration had retroflexed somewhere in the phylogenic trajection. This “turning back” educed tangled webworks of repercussive data that believe they’re “selves” and “individuals” and “identities” and bipolar comptrollers and suicidegirls and Nabokovian novelists and dentists with erectile-dysfunction issues and Spinell-esque pederasts with suburban Oedipal complexes and Jews for Jesus and feminists with erotic cyborg fantasies and Abel Ferrara and Tom Jones and Alexis Dziena and Nixon and Wesley Snipes and Lord Byron and Michael Dudikoff and Shadoe Stevens and Tony Robbins and Ortho Stice and Isidore-Lucien Ducasse and Morarji Desai and Coffin Joe and your mom and Gorbachev and Robert Gordon Orr and Brinke Stevens and Levi-Strauss and this writer and Nicola Sacco and Maurice Sendak and Gilbert Gottfried and whoever owned Orlando’s Mystery Fun House and Zapffe and Russell Edson and Ariel Rebel and MC Ride and Osamu Shimomura and E. LaFave and Vigny and Andrei Tarkovsky and Peter Weller and Derrida and Xenophanes and Mussolini and Emile Zola and Eliphas Levi and Peter Scully and GG Allin and YOU.

Snarls, all.

Where A is a name of a sentence of the object language, and B its translation in the metalanguage. If the metalanguage is identical with the object language, or is an extension of the object language, B is simply A itself, and the T-equivalences are of the form:

True(A) ↔ A.

At the risk of coming off rhapsodic, I’ll say you looked like an inebriated angel stumbling along the sidewalk just now.

I’m not drunk.

No?

Bath salts. And gorilla glue. Or sour diesel. One of the two.

Sure.

I’m fraying. Eroding.

I’m Wes.

April. Not an angel, unfortunately.

Fortunate for me though. Accounts of encountering angels – ancient accounts – describe it as a terrifying experience. Sublimity’s close to horror, you know.

So what are you into?

Skeletons of DMT and GenX. Bacteriophage 0X174. And orthogonal shadows.

Ha. You’re funny.

In Rome around 1451 AD, a woman, according to more than one written record, was enthralled by a demon. Lilith. The succubus and queen of crib death. The story goes she woke up one morning and knew the demon was inside her. So she swaddled her baby and took it to a bridge, then she threw the infant over the edge into the canal. The instant she dropped the child, the spell broke. The demon fled. And this is what makes the story so horrific: the second she let go of her baby the possession ceased, and she screamed and wailed and killed herself later that same day. Opened her wrists. Have you ever felt possessed, April?

April Brighton has buttery black hair dyed blue in swaths. Her face is model-pretty and her body same. She looks like a garbage angel churned out by some grunge chic fabricator. She wears a Minor Threat T-shirt and a thrift-store skirt, combat boots and fishnets. She exhibits a lot of silver jewelry, rings, a platinum (fake) barbed-wire-necklace thing, and a pierced nostril, the silver stud so tiny it’s barely visible, just a pinhead twinkle in the skin there. April is easygoing and fun and relaxed. But April isn’t a human being. April is just noise adorned in fabric and metal. A maggot. And what Wes does to this thing that calls itself April is, he makes a mess of her/it using various tools bought from Doblhofer’s.  

Posted by charlotte on October 10, 2001 at 11:17:11:

I only just found this site, after being a regualar user of the IRC channel for ages.I love the format, I could be tempted to apply to be livestock myself, as long as I get to be live roasted 🙂Just wanted to post a post anyway XD

Looking for anyone that would literally like to cut my butt off for eating, I would also like to have my feet and legs cut off, I have always wanted to be eaten since I was a kid and now I'm ready, I'm 27 y.o, nice looking male,very clean d/d free, drk. blonde hair, green eyes, 6ft,200lbs. I would like to be gutted and have a spit put into my anus going through my mouth, I'm looking for serious replies only so no fantasies.I will send you a pix.of me when you respond, you can e-mail me at: keen_31@yahoo.com

Keith 

There exists y such that y is the Gödel number of a proof of the formula with Gödel number x, AND there does not exist z smaller than y such that z is the Gödel number of a proof the negation of the formula with Gödel number x.

More formally:

Prov*(x) =def y[PrfF(yx) z < yPrfF(zneg(x)))],

where PrfF(yx) is the more standard proof relation discussed earlier.

(Interjection: By the time Wes Boolean was five years old, he’d already displayed, chronically, two of the three behavioral characteristics outlined in the Macdonald triad. I.e., he set fires constantly and tortured small mammals purchased from pet stores. [Guinea pigs, mostly.] These behaviors were habitual compulsions lacking any sort of credo or rationalization.)

April had her shirt off – no bra – and just as she was about to remove her skirt Wes whacked her with the hammer. An awkward, glancing blow that stunned and shocked, blood slithering down her neck from the gash in her scalp – but nothing potentially fatal. April started screaming and Wes began screaming too, mimicking her, matching her volume. He struck her twice more with the hammer, this time with the claw end, and the second impact caused the split-and-curved side to break through skin and skull and lodge there, stuck in April’s forehead like a new and extreme piece of facial jewelry. Fascinated, Wes stumbled back and admired her: she was still alive and conscious, a hammer stuck in her forehead, some homemade unicorn, a brutal chimera, her shrieking now degraded into a kind of stutter-scream. Wes wished he had an endoscopic gyno-cam to film the wounds in slow-mo, rip off the zygomatic process to reveal the wonders inside: the symphony of neurological dissonance, landscapes of gum tissue and deep muscle geographies that would resemble something Other; optical deformation, maybe, enhanced by software-based filters or Rutt/Etra, that would show in April’s glitching gray matrices the hexagon atop Saturn, observed by ritual and satellite alike. Sharp force trauma to the temporal region: prevailing cartilage, scant bone, composed like a Bach translation of a brain-pogrom only visual, not orchestral.  

Wes tried to wrench the hammer loose from April’s head; her eyes had rolled back in their sockets and twitched repulsively. The hammer wouldn’t detach. Wes as not-Arthur, April’s head as the fabled stone.

Rapturous thoughts and equations blitzed through Wes’s mind-stew: rend the “person,” the body that generates the “persona waves,” and by doing so rend the illusions – the noise of seeming cuts out for fucking good. The inenarrable heaviness of seeming.

For any consistent system F within which a certain amount of elementary arithmetic can be carried out, the consistency of F cannot be proved in F itself.

Do this enough times and you’ll transcend the status of maggot – maybe, perhaps, could be, right?

NON SERVIAM

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HUSK by James Nulick

I like them really young. She’s out there scraping the sidewalk like an old idiot. She’s going to wake them up and that would be bad, the young ones like their sleep. I feed off them during sleep. She’s old and she has old ideas and I honestly don’t know why I keep her on. Maybe because she knows my real age, though she’d never say. If Esmeralda were asked by the press about my age she’d say she was born in when she was born, that’s all.

###

My wiki page states I was born in 1968, but we both know that isn’t true. My manager set that up for me in 1996 – you start off with a lie in one magazine and it continues in another. We both know I was born in 1958. The old actresses used to lose ten years all the time, but that’s gotten more difficult now, high definition tells the truth. It flattens everything and cheapens it, even though the manufacturers’ claim the opposite. There is no magic in it anymore, only junkets and press and interviews and lonely hotel rooms where the boys aren’t with me. When I’m not near the boys, my skin starts changing, returns to its natural state. You’re changing again, Esmeralda says, a lighthouse reminding me of the inevitable. Shut up and act like I pay you, and she does, she returns to her old ways, but she is my constant companion and my watchdog. The press doesn’t get near me without first going through her. She has tighter access than my manager, who perhaps suspects but has no knowledge. The only ones who know for sure are the ones I sleep with, the dancers with forgettable Latin names. Maybe everything’s different this time, Esmeralda says. Shut up and get out of my face. Sometimes I’ll slap her if she gets too familiar. Puta, don’t forget where you come from.

###

I’m sixty now, my last boy before Carlos was twenty-four. I love it when they’re half my age or younger. Esmeralda finds them at dance clubs. They have to look the part, and she knows my part. Mexican, Cuban, Rican, keep them dark and young. You have new world tastes, Esmeralda jokes, too familiar. Shut up and keep in the dark, like I pay you. I need a new boy, so go out and find one, my skin hurts. Ay ay ay, she says. I should just leave here. If you leave you will die, I tell her, and she knows it’s true. I have a housekeeper but I keep her away from the master bedroom, and she’s not allowed to speak to the boys. I took her on after Esmeralda started complaining of lack of sleep. I never sleep, I told her. Yes but I don’t have your gift, she said, and it’s true. She’s an old fool and she looks it, though in truth she is younger than me, born the year Kennedy’s head exploded on television, pieces of him still on the bench seat as she was being delivered. Where were you when blah blah blah? Mi madre was pushing me into the world. You are mine and you always will be, you stupid old fool.

###    

My first album, You Know Me, was a crossover hit, and I earned a million dollars from it. I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about money after that. The record label exec was an old Jewish pedophile. We understood each other. You look different in the light, he said. So do you. He knew I knew him. How many Jacobs and Justins and Jasons had he made? In his office, so many years ago, he’d said I’d like to aim for the Latin audience. You’ve got the look for it. Looks are all I’ve got. Keep that attitude up and you’ll have all the boys you’ll ever need. I don’t need anything Lou – only your silence.    

###

I’m not sure when I learned I had the gift – maybe eleven or twelve. A boy from the neighborhood came to our ratty apartment after school, a friend of my brother. He came into the bedroom I shared with my younger sister, born in 1961. He sat beside me in a hand-me-down tiger striped t-shirt that smelled of an older brother. The shirt drooped off his neck, stretched over his head a thousand times. Your skull and your brother’s, housed in the same fabric. I bent over and bit him on the shoulder, my teeth puncturing his skin. He screamed like a girl and ran from the room. The feeling in my mouth was exquisite, as if I had been reborn. I looked in the mirror, beautiful and radiant, my behind already gathering attention from neighborhood boys, attention eventually converted into money, a singing and acting career. Callipygian, Lou’d once said, in his office, framed gold records reflecting my face. Lou titled my second album Hover to Zoom, I got the idea, well, nevermind. The Jews are good with words – they created the world, after all.  

###

When I was thirteen I brought a boy into my bedroom. My sister was at school, my parents not around. Show me, I told him, and he unbuckled his belt and dropped his pants, corduroy gathered round his ankles, his legs peach. I hooked my thumbs on the band of his briefs and grew younger as he collapsed onto the floor, his face a pinched walnut. What are you? Shut up, my hand over his throat, and he left the room, his pants pulled quickly over broomstick legs as he fled the apartment looking twenty years older. They never came back, never bothered learning my last name. It didn’t matter. I grew younger as they grew older, I signed contracts and they worked in hardware stores and 7-Eleven’s, claiming to not know me. But didn’t you… the timzy reporter asked. They would know me soon enough.

###      

My last boy was Carlos Moncebáez. Esmeralda found him decorating the wall at Boulevard. He was twenty-three. She lured him with three C-notes. He was relieved when I walked into the room. I know you, he said. You’ll be good for me, two plus three is five. Que? It’s alright, just shut up and look pretty. The press was harsh, who does she think she is, dating someone twenty-seven years younger than her? If they only knew. Men have arm candy, why can’t women? And he was strong, his legs pistons pushing his desire into me. He could maintain a forty-five degree angle for hours, so much so my skin slippage would create dark pools on the bed. He was advised to never turn on the lights during, due to my beliefs. Dumb and handsome, he always obliged – good for him. I kept him longer than usual because he was beautiful and didn’t talk, which the press find mysterious.

###

I don’t like being like this, he said, like I’m some young and dumb thing that follows you around everywhere, like I’m a puppy or something. Aren’t you happy? Aren’t you taken care of? Isn’t your allowance enough? Yes but a man has to be a man, baby, and I wanna try something different, Carlos said.      

###

The darkness of the house closed over them. Expensive cars on Sunset winked and flickered like rare jewels.

###

Come to bed, I told him, after Esmeralda turned off all the lights. I was growing bored with him, and my skin was hurting again. The pain was coming on, each new hour nearly unbearable. What was it you wanted to try, baby, I whispered to him, as a mother might whisper to her child. He took me into the bedroom, the green glow of an alarm clock illuminating the records on the wall, pressed gold reminding me who I am and who I was.   

###

Officer Javier Linares

One of the virtues of being old is knowing when to disappear. If you’re a pop star, even more so – the public doesn’t want to see its pop stars old, skeletal, and reminiscent of death. She dated a young man and then disappeared. Her wiki page claims she was born in 1968. We all thought she was fifty. That was the official story, anyway.

###

It had been three weeks since anyone had seen her, and the press was getting antsy. Maybe they’re living in Greece or somewhere, my partner said. Who cares? Stop complaining – I’ll go in. I pulled on a pair of black nitrile gloves. My partner stayed in the car. It was only a wellness check, after all.

###

There was a door key hidden on the sconce light, tucked between brass and stucco. She’d clawed her way out of the ghetto but still had ghetto ways. It was funny but I didn’t mind – she had a nice butt for her age.

###

Despite the air conditioning, the smell was overpowering. Lights were on, a microwave door left mysteriously open. I called out her name – Miss Romero? But there was no answer. I sensed there wasn’t any staff in the house. You get a feel for these things. I moved slowly down the hall, my gloves invisible, my weapon drawn. You get wrapped up in it, the fear. I am thin but my partner isn’t – he’s not a good runner. I laugh at his heavy breathing, running down an alley after a suspect. You’re gonna have a heart attack one of these days. Go to hell, he says. But those are the good days. Some days aren’t so good, days when you can’t figure people out, when you wonder if this one will finally be the death of you.

###

The bedroom door was partially cracked, yellow light illuminating the deep white carpet. The pile was peppered with black spots, the negative of white spots on an X-ray. Death. I wasn’t looking forward to it. I quickly toed the bedroom door open.        

###    

In the room, five or six mummified corpses, their teeth removed. Desiccation would make identification nearly impossible. I radioed my partner in the car. You’re not going to believe this. You want me in there? Yeah, I need you in here.   

###

There’s something under the comforter. Dave had his weapon drawn. I moved closer to the bed, my gloved fingers near the mound. Dave nodded. I quickly drew the comforter away. On the mattress lay a black mass, its wrists and feet bound by a ligature. Is it human? I can’t tell. Does it have teeth? The open mouth reminded me of the victims at Pompeii. I felt drawn to the darkness of it. There’s a ring on its finger. Let’s get the hell out of here, man. My face was partially reflected in the framed gold records on the wall. I recognized one of them. Damn, it’s her, man. As we moved back toward the hall a soft garbled voice came from the direction of the comforter. Wait, it said.

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A BIRDWATCHER’S JOURNAL by Alexander Perez

Snowy egret overhead. First sighting of spring. A circular flight performed for a mate hidden deep in dead river reeds. He drops out of sight. Nothing except gray sky.

(My script walks across the page like sandpiper prints in wet sand.)

A fisherman floats by in his canoe, through the thin ice floes. (Floating mosaic of ice, geometry of winter’s disrepair.) He’s spectacled, black bearded. Mid-thirties? Despite the cool morning, he takes off his blue flannel overshirt. Strong arms. He casts a shining lure.

A northern pike! The fisherman holds it up. I wave.

We see a female mallard appear out of the muddy bank of reeds and dive into the river. Seven ducklings follow behind. Small, downy bodies. They swim rings around their mother. I count seven, six. So hard to count! Playfully they dodge each other, making slight chirping sounds. Then one disappears underwater. I think it’s learned to dive. But it comes up injured, flapping. My god. The mallard and her remaining babies disappear quickly back into the reeds.

I call out “Help!” The fisherman scoops the injured duck into his net, right before a pike surfaces, then he paddles to me.

“It’s going to die,” he says. But I pick it up off the floor of the canoe with his shirt and examine it. I hold it gently like I would another man’s hand. (I recall those nights that winter I held my husband’s hand.)

“I could bring it to the shelter” I say.

“Don’t bother. Let me take care of it.”

Then I push him away. He almost falls, grabs and pulls me towards him. We’re locked in a sort of embrace. I look down at the duck and it’s dead.

“You’ve killed it.”

He takes it from me and walks back to the riverbank. He places it on the icy waves.

It floats on fledgling feathers. It will never fly.

A red-winged black bird bounds off a cat-o’-nine tails. Show off.

+

Yet, it had taken my husband how many hours to die. I will never forget the anonymous hospital room: worn linoleum, walls a faded aquamarine. A cooing pigeon on the window ledge.

Today I saw death’s mouth rising out of the dark. Death’s mouth swallowing all. Weightless feathers the color of mud. The fisherman holding me close. In between us, a tiny bird heart.

+

The night of my husband’s overdose, he’d played the Van Dyke. His fans sent flowers to the hospital. I took the white calla lilies, the small fragrant saxophones, home, and spread them out over the bed.

+

Nightmare: a flock of ducks, their webbed feet encased in ice, frozen in flight, squawk like a section of saxes out of tune.

+

I go to The Pink Triangle. Sit at the bar and order A Crazy Lady. The glittered twinks pay me no mind. The mustachioed hipsters in rolled-up jeans and suspenders strut by.

I imagine the dance floor is a lake covered in lily pads and lotus flowers. Hummingbirds and dragonflies flash. There in the middle the fisherman floats in his canoe. His pole extends out over the side. I dive down. Creatures rare, common, foolhardy swim in the lake. We’re all darting for the bait.

Then the vision dissolves and the dance floor forms just a single shadow that breaks apart and rejoins itself.

(The music stops, the lights go up, and I’m drunk.)

+

Nightmare: I fly over the river at night – hunting ground of the screech owl. Bones of mice crack in my bill. Moonlight bandages the bay. Then I’m submerged and grow fins that carry me deep. I drop down into the weeds to escape the hanging hooks. I watch the bottom of a canoe loom overhead. Surfacing suddenly, I lose oxygen. My gills harden into razor blades. Every move cuts.

+

I go to a psychiatrist. She puts me on antidepressants. Now I’m happy and miss my one companion, my migratory sadness.

+

Black-crowned night heron. He danced for me. In his mouth, he carried fresh reeds, an offering. When we made love, we were covered in black feathers. Nested in mist, singing, our notes learned to fly.

+

I imagine it differently: we take the duckling to the wildlife shelter. They fix its wing. We go back to his house. I tell him he is a hero. He pecks me on the cheek, clutches me.

+

How do I molt grief? A soft falling of feathers. Birdcalls. Pain mimicking the call of love, love mimicking pain.

I return to the Van Dyke one last time. A bass soloist beats the rhythm. The piano fights a familiar melody. Where’s the sax, the victim’s cry? It sits in the corner of my bedroom, silent.

+

A red-winged black bird bounds off a cat-o’-nine tails.

He comes back and says, “Take my hand.”

I hold the hand, the hand that held the bird that died, the bird that died in my hand, the hand that held the hand of him who died holding my hand.

I do not want to hold anymore hands that hold the dead.

So I let go.

+

Lake, river, ocean, inlet, estuary, bay. I am searching for the fisherman. I have my binoculars. I ask around. He’s spectacled with handsome black beard. Mid-thirties? Despite the cool morning, he takes off his blue flannel overshirt. Strong arms. He casts a shining lure.

+

My psychiatrist tells me to attend a grief group. I am too distracted to listen to the stories. Instead a middle-aged woman looks like an ostrich; a young man with mohawk, a red breasted merganser; a petite young girl, a zebra finch; a quiet elderly woman, a mute swan; the loud moderator, a Canada goose; me, a mockingbird.

+

Jazz composition for a dying husband: monitors beep, nurses buzz, bass of sobs.

+

Husband in the afterlife. First sighting of eternal winter. A broken flight performed for souls hovering like mist in these dead river reeds. He drops out of sight. Nothing except souls frozen in state.

(My script walks across the page like carvings on gravestone.)

A ferryman rows across a single flowing river. The river runs between walls built from a static mosaic of bones, a geometry of winter’s despair.

The ferryman’s angelic. Ageless. Despite the cold, his bare skin steams.  

He holds a pike for stabbing at the souls.

Appearing out of the reeds, angels dive into the river. Small, downy bodies. They swim rings around each other. Then one disappears underwater and doesn’t resurface. God!

I call out. The ferryman stabs at the water with his pike.

“It’s going to die,” I say. But it rises from the water impaled on the tip of the ferryman’s pike. I want to hold it gently like I would another man. (I recall those nights I held my husband.)

“I could bring it to shelter,” I say.  

He pushes me away. I almost fall but grab him and pull him towards me. We’re locked in a sort of embrace. I look down at the angel.

My husband floats on fledgling feathers. He never could fly.

A red-winged devil bounds off a cat-o’-nine tails.

+

Birds that haven’t flown. Fish that haven’t swam. I am writing to you. Nameless when you are born, your hollow wings may not carry weight, your bony scales not give you speed, however, when we, your divine predators, are extinct (as our element carries the judgment of unnatural laws), you may still be free.

+

(A story can retrace itself like the flightpath of a barn swallow.)

A fisherman paddles his canoe. He watches his line with iridescent green eyes framed by square, stainless steel glasses. He’s turned forty-four this summer, shaved his greying beard, but despite his age, some think he is still in his mid-thirties. (The paddling keeps him young!)

I sit in the stern with my binoculars and journal. I forget to watch for rare birds. Deep in my memory, a snowy egret flies overhead. He performs a circular flight in gray spring skies for a mate hidden deep in river reeds.

But I choose to remember, not that first day I saw the fisherman, but the second day, in grief group, a year later, when I saw him again.

He looked smaller, as if the moment his son died, that moment when a life story is shortened to a singular event, compressed his body down as well. And although I was glad to see him, I knew that his grief would become mine, as all our griefs in the group had been shared and our burdens divided.

“My son died in a boating accident,” he disclosed that first meeting. (I later learned that seventeen-year-old Slate Jr. had been drunk on the river with his friends that Memorial Day when it collided into another boat.)

After the meeting, Slate Sr. came up and said he recognized me from the spring incident the previous year.

“Birdie, I’m sorry for what happened…”

I laughed at the nickname.

“…Well, you know, I didn’t mean to crush the poor duck. It was an accident. And I want to make it up to you…”

So, while driving to dinner, we tried to agree on a restaurant, but because I don’t eat meat (I am a vegetarian) we decided to stop at Whole Foods, and, on the way, I showed him the animal shelter where I had wanted to bring the injured duck, and he laughed and said that I needed to forget that duck, or bring it up in grief group, which I thought was funny, so I kissed him,  and he had to stop so we could make out, even though were both starving, and afterwards, we skipped Whole Foods, and ended up eating cereal in bed.

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PARLIAMENT OF DRUNKARDS by Mbizo Chirasha

In previous years, the Mandozas hosted the New Years’ parties. They reared sheep and goats, and they invited the whole village to enjoy roast mutton. There was beer for the elders, but the young ones were relegated to raspberry and fizzy beverages. I learned about balloons and tissues at the Mandoza household. Mandoza himself was once our Father Christmas, until time burned his years into old age.

But to my surprise, the Mandoza homestead this New Year was quiet. It was as if somebody had poured a bucket of ice-water to wet the embers of life in their home. The silence indicated deep secrets behind those concrete walls. The magnetic ears of the village had failed to attract any news from the walled homestead, so no one knew what was happening.

Despite this, this new year boomed to life with cheap firecrackers, sparking the heavens open for blessings. The faint scent of Christmas had vanished, long since fading into the burning heat. The latest music vibrated the entire village. We enjoyed so many assorted meats, their tastes were all as one in our mouths. Fanta and Coca Cola drinks soaked our okra-hardened bellies. We ate English and drank American that day.

Our farting was American. We called it civilized farting.

We hummed Nigerian’s P-Square. We imitated and recited Pidgin. We did everything, said everything, and ate everything. We even sighed in Chinese, as Coke fizzled through our black, soot-tamed nostrils. Cousins from Egoli and our capital city had brought niceties. Such was the merriment. Everyone present was high-over-the-hills with excitement.

Yes, our joyful morning went by with its gossip-beat; the afternoon elapsed with sweet odors of roasted meat and sunset shadows, and then, the once-silent Mandoza took over our night by spewing gunshots, death threats, and insults.

Through the roasted-meat-oiled air, the moon peered over our land, and Mandoza’s wives--Ndaneta, was leading the pack, followed by Ndagura and a whole swarm of children behind them--dove into our merriment. The fearful intruders sardined themselves into the far end of our packed hut. Mandoza’s lips quivered as he glared at them. He refused to blink.

Merry-makers dumped their drinks. The jukebox screeched to silence. Cockroaches scrambled into their closet. Rats followed suit. Children screamed. Dancers packed themselves underneath dinner tables, and some lucky others ducked out behind the hijacker.

Mandoza cuddled his long gun with that devilish grin each of us knew so well. Our murmuring ceased. I heard nothing but the rippling of blood through my heart, although I knew the elders were wishing Mandoza bad omen. Mandoza fired another gunshot, the echo stirring birds from sleep.

The stampede aroused the headman from his sleep. His eyes were blind with sleep and heavy with hangover. He had been dead drunk an hour ago. Now, he lazily scrubbed the sleep off his face. Mandoza was the headman’s closest drinking mate. They were as close as dirt-water and fungi.

Mothers clutched their breasts, and young girls winced and wiped their tears with their armpits as Mandoza pointed a gun at the headman, who froze before tottering and falling softly as a cotton ball. Mandoza clobbered Ndaneta with the back of the gun. She barked like a wounded baboon as he crushed his clenched fist into her terrified face .A shower of blood sprayed from her mouth, and she fell--thud. The acrid stink of urine wafted under our noses.

Mandoza shoved his steel gumboot into Ndagura’s chest. His daughter waved a thunderous, blinding blow that shook pots and mugs around. It landed on his mouth. He stammered a mouthful of threats. His son gave him another surprising scissors-boot to Mandoza’s throat. He lost control, and the gun fell away from him. His eyes drooped, and he stumbled into the silent speakers with a bang.

What happened to cause all this violent commotion? The gossip buzzed around the room. Mandoza’s family had refused him to bring his third wife into the homestead. They had boycotted his New Year, his goat and sheep meat. They denied everything from special food to new dresses. He was infuriated and decided to kill all of them.

Now, the headman gained his strength and grabbed the gun from Mandoza’s daughter. “Chivara, you want to kill the whole village, vomit your anger?” He dragged him outside for some air.

The headman sent out messengers to bring Jokonia and Jokochwa, the headman’s advisers, and the elders would not sleep without answers. The village court gathered with the Mandozas and all interested villagers in attendance. The council of elders sipped from calabashes of sweet frothing brew (it was their custom).

Jokonia was the strictest of headman’s advisers, and now, he wiped splashes of sorghum off his mouth with the back of his hands before calling the court to order. He read from the Book of Rules and instructed Mandoza to rise. Mandoza fixed Satan’s gaze on him, but Jokonia refused to be cowed. Instead: “Speak! What got into your mind? Speak. The elders want to hear your side. Do not waste our time. The villagers are tired of your games.”

“Jokonia I cannot answer anything. You are a tired, corrupt--corr--corrupt--li--lizard.” He spat in Jokonia’s direction. The court rumbled with reluctant laughter. The headman shook his grey head.

It was now toward midnight. He stood up in haste and waved Ndaneta to stand in the box. She dragged herself from her seat, wiping a rivulet of blood off her face. She made a disturbing loud grunt; she was in deep pain. “Baba want to kill us because we refused his new wife. The new lover is young and is a relative. It’s a taboo. Myself and Mainini, we are enough for him.” She heaved defiantly. The packed court let out another collective, muffled laugh. Ndaneta sat, wiping away a storm of tears.

Ndagura and the children also testified, and the village women wept bitterly. Mandoza shouted more delusional threats. He cursed his wives’ mothers, their cats, their poverty, and their donkeys.

Jokochwa, the self-anointed adviser-in-chief, known confidante of the headman, and staunch drunkard yawned thrice before whispering into the headman’s ear. Jokochwa, who drank everything he could get his lips around--crank, malt whiskies, skokian, traditional brew--and had an insatiable craving for meat and cheap gossip, clapped his hands and pulled a cough from the pit of his tobacco-ridden chest. His dirt-coated teeth were only upstaged by his three missing fingers, lost long ago in a robbery tussle.

He stood up to give the final judgment. With a groan, the villagers lost their spirit for a fair call. Jokochwa folded his torn sleeves, as if he wanted to fight; yes, he was good at dampening people’s hopes. The headman made a drunken grin before he nodded to signal agreement.

“Mandoza, for disturbing the celebration and wielding a hunting gun, you are charged with breaking the peace of happy villagers. You must pay five bottles of Chateau Brandy, three gallons of skokian, and three goats tonight, now. The council needs to enjoy and celebrate the remain hours of New Year--” Jokowchwa grinned-- “and your new bride.”

The crowd waited patiently for more in anticipation of further punishment, but to no avail. “Ndaneta, Ndagura, and your puppies, you have two days to pack your belongings and leave the village. We do not keep witches and killers. You can’t go against the head of the family. Mandoza has the right to marry more women as long as he wants.” He cleared his throat, and with that, the court was adjourned.  

Although the grannies of the village beat their chests in disbelief, it came to pass that Mandoza later married his concubine. The village enjoyed meat and beer, and soon after that, he reclaimed the title of Father Christmas.

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NILSSON SCHMILSSON by Anthony Sabourin

I was outside on my street watching an apartment building on fire. I was watching it with the people who lived in that building, the people who’d left it. At three floors, it wasn’t a big apartment building, but it was a big fire. It was crackling, and flames were shooting out of windows and smoke was filling the night sky.

I looked at everybody. It was nighttime when the fire started, and so you could see these snapshots of how people were living inside their homes. A couple wore rumpled office clothes paired with sweatpants, caught between two routines. There was a guy in a misbuttoned janitor outfit. There was a family with four little kids, crying in mismatched pyjamas. The parents looked lifeless and hollowed out, leaning against each other like dead trees. There was even a guy who looked like Harry Nilsson on the cover of Nilsson Schmilsson, standing lost and gently wasted in a bathrobe. Instead of a hash pipe he was holding this big lamp.

That was the other thing too; people had brought all this stuff with them. But it’s hard to figure out what’s important when you are trying to not die in a fire. Like honey grab that toaster, we need to get out of this fucking building on fire. And then you’re in this rushed procession, everyone wanting to move fast but there’s so many of them that they can only move slow, this urgent slowness, bodies pushed out of hallways like toothpaste, and you’re holding a toaster. Or you grab a box of shit you never unpacked from when you moved in. Or your daughter’s favourite stuffed toy but it’s the wrong one, and now she’s crying on the street and her memories are covered in flames. Outside we were huddled together, we could all feel the warmth.

Finally we heard sirens. A fire truck honked at us because we were all standing in the street and firefighters started to get off and we moved to the crabgrass of the lawns of the row of houses across the street from the building. There was one house where the shutters were drawn though, and it looked like nobody was home. That house was my house. These people were on the street because the building they lived in was on fire. I was here because I wanted to breathe in a new kind of smoke. I was inhaling their lives. The family pictures, the drawers of junk mail, the jars of small change, the piles of unfolded clean laundry, the unworn jewelry passed down from mom, the overdue bills and lost TV remotes, the blankets, the books, the old vcrs, the stuff, all of it smoke rings floating skyward. These people didn’t know that instead of living they’d been gathering kindling.

Another firetruck and a couple of ambulances came, and I got to watch people at work. Some firefighters were spraying the building with water while other firefighters were going into the building. I didn’t know what was happening but it looked coordinated. It made me think about how when you are a firefighter nobody knows when you are doing a bad job. Like there are people who are bad at their jobs everywhere, so there must have been people who were bad at fighting fire. Firefighters with dull axes and weak muscles, firefighters who got lost on the way to a fire, firefighters who dropped old ladies onto the floor like they were heavy groceries - all heroes. As long as you were showing up to the fire, you were doing pretty good.  As long as you do did some baseline firefighting shit, low expectations were their own reward.

I had to pay attention now because a quiet came over the crowd. A lull accompanied by craning necks. I looked with them and I saw it; I saw a life being saved.

The front doors of the apartment were being opened, and there was a firefighter cradling a man in his underpants. The man was almost hairless, heavy - his body a series of soft, round shapes folding in on each other. His skin was reddened, splotchy. It looked like the firefighter was carrying a newborn baby, the man was that helpless, and for all of his size he was being carried with such ease and tenderness.

The man was crying, and he was talking to the firefighter. “Please let me die,” he said. “Please let me die.” His sadness was baby-like too. It was pure and unsullied. “Please,” he said. “I want to go back in there, please. Please.” And the man did not protest further as the firefighter carried him to the paramedics, who strapped him down into a gurney. We all watched this.

I had never seen a life saved before!

We stayed to see what would happen next, but in the end the fire just died. The firefighters were turning away people who wanted to go back, and the crowd dispersed, formless - in the end just more smoke, only I no longer wanted to inhale. Watching that man’s life being saved was akin to saving it myself. I felt a fullness. I walked and walked, directionless, heroic in my wandering.

The streets were broken up by dogshit on neighbours’ lawns, by gum dotting the sidewalk, by shards of broken glass, unclaimed garbage, the smell of marijuana from backyards and balconies. There were signs for missing pets - Charlie and Waldo and Blackie, which was the name of a black cat, which was questionable. The sounds of porch conversations and laughter, of hazy bass reverberating through houses, the sounds of nothing, of my footsteps, of crickets. I felt infused with a sense of community.

There was a lawn of knee-high weeds, overgrown from neglect. I saw a letter on the door of this house, and I walked up to the door and read “JANET ITS YOUR NEIGHBOURS PLEASE CUT YOUR GRASS,” and Janet, you wonder, you holy ghost, I hope you never change. Please let me die? And miss Janet cut the lawn?

It was funny how often you could see into the houses. Most windows were closed off, but there were so many left uncurtained, unshuttered, wide open. The green snatches of plants, or of bookshelves, or of unadulterated, unchanged 1970s decor. Of giant flatscreen televisions, shooting out images of big faces mouthing words at each other, of news anchors commenting on the moving pictures in the box adjacent to them, of tiny men playing baseball, of netflix menus.  There was also the shock of people - an old man moving in his kitchen, a man and woman putting food into their open mouths, of a woman adjusting a stereo, adjusting a bra. All obstructed, cut off, edited to fit the aspect ratio of windows; the 16:9 of living spaces beamed outwards. Pause - that couple asleep on their couch, crashed and leaning against each other under the glow of a screen paused on the option to “Continue watching.” I stood and thought to myself about how even dog shit left on someone’s lawn was life. Even broken beer bottles on the street came from living. From drinking that beer and making the earth your garbage. I checked my phone, saw angry messages, looked up and saw that the sleeping heads were now awake and looking at me.

Cut to curtains closed ineptly, a man opening the door, coming fast and saying “What the fuck’s your problem?”

I tried to talk about how full of life everything was. How even Janet was trying her best, or not, but it didn’t matter as long as she was still here. I couldn’t think of how to start, so I asked if he heard about the fire. “Fuck you!” he told me. He looked like he was going to punch me so I ran down the street.

I was sweaty and out of breath when I got to a park entrance. I was lost, but I had my phone so I wasn’t really lost. An unused playground gave way to an unused soccer field, and a path cut through the field, leading to a small forested area that was dwarfed by three apartment complexes. The trees swayed, emasculated, and I walked towards them.

It felt nice to not know where I was.

The forest was lit erratically by my phone flashlight. There was a man-made structure, a long sloping tree branch used as the spine for kind of tee-pee made of found branches. I looked inside and there was nothing. I swatted at mosquitoes and thought about living in here. Thought about being a caveman. Watching fire and living in the dirt. Scrawling madness onto walls. There was a crackling of branches and a flash of red, a soft thumping noise, a cardinal twitching on the ground.

The wing was bent obtuse, wrong, and there was more red than just plumage.

The bird was making noises and I was the only one around to hear its song. I didn’t know if it was dying or what. The bird was flapping on the ground but it couldn’t get up. It stopped and was still. I bent down to look at it. “I can save you,” I said.

I held it in my hands and for a moment it did not stir. It was so light. The red in my hands was almost weightless - almost nothing.

I started to get up and what was in my hands bucked and thrashed. The bird started to pick at me and bite, and I dropped it on the ground. It lay there hurt and screaming. I could see now that there was a lot of blood. If the bird was dying I didn’t know if this was a list of grievances or a confession or a final wish. I tried to pick it up again and it bit at me. It hopped on the ground and fell for a final time.

Its squawking died out, finally, and I was able to hold it in my hands once more.

If the bird was dying I didn’t know what to do.

In the dirt of the wooden structure, I dug a tiny hole.

After that I walked home. The shutters were still closed. I slid my key into the lock and opened the door. I turned on the hallway light and my wife appeared by the stairs. She was wearing an old sweatshirt, baggy and stained. She smelled like sleep and milk. Her upper lip was tight and the lines around her mouth formed a sad shape, and she wanted so badly to shout, but she knew she could not. She had to whisper. She had to whisper that I was a lazy husband and a bad father, and where was I, what right did I have to be such a disappointment. This was anger without catharsis. You can slam the curtains shut, but it’s just fluttering air. Her eyes looked so hurt. So tired. So sad. I couldn’t focus on her words anymore, the harsh sibilants that couldn’t rise to the level of a shout. And even though she was careful, there was a crying from upstairs and I was saved. My wife looked at me a final time and floated back up the stairs.

I grabbed a beer from the fridge and drank it in front of the television as sports highlights played in a loop at low volume. The television flickered and when I woke up no light crept through the shutters. I put the bottle on the kitchen counter and I crept up the stairs like a fugitive. Upstairs I opened our daughter’s bedroom door and looked down at our sleeping baby. I picked her up and rocked her in my arms.

I am saving you, I thought.

Please let me die.

I am saving you.

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