Just as the conventionally attractive couple locks eyes, igniting a passion that burns with the fury of a thousand supernovas, “I’m a Believer” begins to play. / Cut to a long shot of the conventionally attractive couple skipping through an idyllic meadow, chuckling as they pursue a yellow butterfly. / Cut to the conventionally attractive woman massaging the man’s shoulders as he steps up to a carnival booth. / Cut to the conventionally attractive man ensnaring a bottle and bestowing a massive plush bear upon the woman. / Cut to a crane shot of the conventionally attractive couple breaking out in a meticulously choreographed dance routine in a public square, compelling onlookers to toss aside their belongings and join in. / Cut to the couple locking lips in the eye of a hurricane, too absorbed in one another to notice the debris swirling around them. / Cut to the conventionally attractive woman helping the man’s mother plant a row of tiger lilies in her garden. / Cut to the man toasting a beer with his father, who nods approvingly from his lawn chair. / Cut to a tracking shot of the conventionally attractive couple trailing a real estate agent through a cozy, cottage-style home. / Cut to the couple assuming the missionary position in their new bedroom. / Cut to the conventionally attractive man balanced atop a two-story ladder, hanging Christmas lights. The backing track skips as the conventionally attractive woman rocks the ladder, cackling maniacally. / Cut to a close-up of the man cautiously climbing down, pale-faced. / Cut to the conventionally attractive woman ambling into the man’s study. Even as she insistently kisses the back of his neck, he remains fixated on pinning a green butterfly. Zoom out and pan over his boundless menagerie—wings of magenta, indigo, chartreuse, fuchsia, etc.—trapped in eternal flight. / Cut to a reaction shot of the woman rolling her eyes and tossing a baby blue specimen to the floor. / Cut to the conventionally attractive couple holding hands atop a white tablecloth. The candlelight throws shadows into the woman’s cavernous eye sockets. / Cut to the man strolling to the bathroom, leaving his phone facedown on the table. / Cut to a closeup of the phone, faceup, as he returns to his seat. / Cut to the conventionally attractive couple locked in unremarkable coitus. / Cut to a Dutch angle shot of the conventionally attractive woman placing a box cutter in the man’s hand. Zoom in on her blissful expression as she guides the blade into the tender flesh of her ribcage. The backing vocals in “I’m a Believer” erupt into shrieks as a single drop of blood crashes onto their pristine, white bedsheets. / Cut to the conventionally attractive man gagging as his father carves the Thanksgiving turkey. Pan to the woman passed out, a pair of empty wine bottles before her. / Cut to a shadowy shot of the conventionally attractive man drawing the blinds of his study, plugging earbuds into his phone, and dipping his hand in Vaseline. / Cut to a low angle shot of the woman slamming her fist against the door, nostrils flaring. / Cut to a high angle shot of the man fumbling to wipe the Vaseline from his fingertips, frantic expression illuminated by his phone screen. / Cut to a Dutch angle shot of the conventionally attractive man, again, pressing the box cutter to the conventionally attractive woman’s ribcage. / Cut to a closeup of the woman grasping his trembling hand and hungrily forcing the blade deeper. A crimson rivulet oozes forth, gleaming in a flash of lightning. The backing track slows to half-speed, perverting the singer’s voice into a nightmarish baritone. / Cut to a closeup of the woman’s eyes rolling back into her skull like a euphoric junkie. Pan over the legion of purple scars, crisscrossing her abdomen. / Cut to the conventionally attractive man answering his phone and making a “whoa, slow down” hand gesture. / Cut to the man’s mother, on the other end of the line, breaking down into sobs. Zoom out over her garden, viciously choked out by the tiger lilies. Continue zooming out until the mother is a pixilated speck in a fiery orange jungle. / Cut to a long shot of the conventionally attractive man writing in the jaundiced glow of the moon. The wings of his specimens drench the room in mournful shadows. / Cut to a quick closeup of the phrases “something missing,” and “dying spark” penned in impeccable cursive. / Cut to a longer-lasting closeup of “what is broken is broken.” / Cut to the conventionally attractive woman slumbering in their bedroom. The man tiptoes into the shot. He sets the letter on her nightstand, looking her over. Her chest rises and falls in a delicate rhythm, expression lost in some blissful dreamscape. Grimacing, the man snatches the letter and tucks it back into his pocket. / Cut to a closeup of the woman shooting one eye open as he slinks out of the room. / Cut to the conventionally attractive man cinched in the woman’s embrace. Pan behind his back to reveal a pregnancy test clasped in the woman’s hand. / Cut to a nurse lathering gel on the woman’s stomach. Pan to the man and zoom in on his bloodless face, as the backing track’s vocals skip “I couldn’t leave her—I couldn’t leave her—I couldn’t leave her—” / Cut to the conventionally attractive man stumbling into the house late one night, visibly drunk. As he chucks leftovers into the microwave, he spots his office door ajar. / Cut to a high angle shot of the man collapsing to his knees. Pan over the man’s butterflies strewn across the office floor, mutilated beyond recognition. Keep panning to convey the sheer scale of the decimation—several carcasses have been decapitated, others de-winged, and a choice few stomped into a pulp. The man’s letter lies at the center of it all, ripped to shreds. “I’m a Believer” cuts off. / Now, in silence, cut to the man slamming his fists against the bathroom door. / Cut to the conventionally attractive woman slumped naked in the bathtub, legs spread. / Cut back to the man repeatedly throwing his shoulder into the door, until he collapses. / Cut to a closeup of the woman unraveling a coat hanger. / Cut back to a closeup of the man, unleashing an anguished shriek that causes the projector to sputter maniacally, machine-gunning an incomprehensible blur of frames. / Wait for a moment as white engulfs the screen—an immaculate, all-consuming white, like the first glimpse of daylight from the womb. / Pan across a wine-dark sea, catching faint glimmers of moonlight. / Continue panning until the beach comes into view. And then the crackling tongues of flame. / Zoom out slowly, deliberately over the flames. Give the viewer a sense of their breadth—their sprawling, football-field breadth. / Stop zooming when the conventionally attractive man and the conventionally attractive woman come into view on the left and right side of the flames, respectively. The woman’s stomach is flat. / Cut to a medium shot of the man, face contorted in a constipated grimace. Several other conventionally attractive couples line the frame behind him, doling out shoulder rubs, we’re-here-for-you’s, and other gestures of support. / Cut to a closeup of the woman, shot through the fire. Between red and orange undulations she can be seen gritting her teeth, the cords in her neck springing forth. A single tear trickles from her left eye as she charges forward. / Alternate between closeups of the conventionally attractive woman and man. In each of these shots, the woman grows more agonized, her shrieks of pain piercing the night like daggers, growing incrementally sharper. The man, meanwhile, becomes increasingly distraught, until the couples must band together and restrain him from dashing headlong into the flames. / Cut to a long shot of the conventionally attractive woman emerging before the conventionally attractive man, unscathed. The couples release the man from their grasp. He doesn’t say anything. He stares teary-eyed at the woman, nostrils oozing discharge, lower lip trembling like a child’s. The woman bows her head, awaiting his judgment. Let the shot marinate for several moments. / Pan across the faces of the crowd, each more spellbound than the last. / Cut back to that same long shot of the conventionally attractive man and woman. At last, the man rushes forward. The instant he embraces the woman, “I’m a Believer” comes crashing back through the speakers, undistorted, in a triumphant tidal wave. / Cut back to the crowd, hysterically applauding and hooting and whistling (with one man even pantomiming ass slapping). / Cut to a long shot of the sugary beach, the conquered flames, the jubilant crowd, the man hoisting the woman above his head and twirling her in a spasm of joy—capture it all. Hold that same long shot as fireworks crackle through the sky, their blue and yellow shrapnel cascading down in the shape of butterfly wings. / Roll the credits. / At the conclusion of the credits, cut back to the conventionally attractive man, still twirling the woman counterclockwise. / Zoom in on the woman’s back pocket, until a slender white tube comes into view. Draw into focus the words emblazoned on the tube: Lidocaine Topical Numbing Cream.

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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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CHANCES by Conor McNamara

I’ve been exchanging letters with an inmate at Downstate Correctional Facility, the friend of a friend. In my letters I talk about my work, the woods and the hours. Even though I scoff at Lena's "attracting happiness" theories, I encourage my friend's friend to "keep his head up" and I assure him that he is loved. I decided that when I got laid off, I would drive to Fishkill, New York and visit him. Leaving my cellphone and wallet in a drab locker room that smells like puke, I cross the metal detector. And then I'm in the visitors’ center at table 5-3, waiting. A young man plays dominoes with his mother. Another eats M&M's with his girlfriend. In a play area for parents, a laminated sign taped to a kiddie slide reminds inmates to "clean up after your children." My friend's friend doesn't know that I'm coming. I feel anxious, but not really in a bad way. I'm just unsure of where to rest my eyes. I've made money and I've pawned X-Box games. I've gone months without a decent meal and Pablo and I have made ourselves sick at the Brazilian steakhouse on Lehigh Street. I’ve brushed up against a lot of strange that eventually became comfortable. But rarely have I felt so out of place. Do I look at the correctional officers? Will my gaze interrupt the few minutes of peace a young couple gets to spend in each other’s company? Should I just stare at the floor? My friend's friend walks past me. Neither of us knows what the other looks like. The correctional officers point him in my direction. He’s tall and moves with athletic grace. He tells me about his job working in the prison's kitchen. His cellmate doesn't shower. I buy him a soda and some boneless wings from a vending machine. I microwave the wings. He doesn't have the freedom to do that. On the floor, red electrical tape indicates to the inmates where they can walk and where they can't. He tells me about his daughter and how she’s learning the alphabet. When he talks to her on the phone, he plays dumb, stumbling over the order of letters so that she can correct him. I know once I leave the prison, I'll be rushed back into the grittiness of my own life. Loneliness broken up by sports podcasts, strip malls, half-read collections of poetry in my glove box, and laughs with Pablo. But at table 5-3, I'm humbled and I can't escape the overwhelming reality that my life is as good as any. I rest my eyes on my friend's friend. I do my best to listen. Suddenly our time is interrupted by an alarm. Visiting hours are over. We shake hands and hug, and I'm shuffled out of the visitors’ center with crying loved ones and loved ones hardened by years of this routine.

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In Korea everyone called my grandfather Pete because they didn’t know he was going to be a grandfather some day.

When my parents got married Pete punched me in the face. He wanted me to grow up tough.

My mom won’t forget the stories Pete told her about working radar in the belly of a battleship, seeing big green blips of terror appear and disappear. He told her they were bigger than the ship, by two or three times.

My mom says, ‘What could that have been?’

When there was a big green blip approaching on the radar Pete thought, ‘I’m dead.’ And when that big green blip disappeared Pete thought, ‘I’m not dead.’

When Pete was my grandfather he told me to never grab myself when I jump off a battleship. It’s the one sure thing he learned in the Navy.

He said, ‘It will rip your stuff right off.’

He asked me to paint his red weathervane like a confederate flag. I said, ‘I don’t feel like it.’ Then he died.

Pete’s battleship crossed the international date line in the Pacific Ocean every few weeks. He wrote in his diary, ‘There is no tomorrow.’

He wrote a poem about being the world’s loneliest soldier.

He wrote his girl Jen and asked if she was seeing any of the neighborhood men when he was out of town.

Jen was what people called my grandmother before they knew she was going to be a grandmother.

When Pete was in Japan he met a woman called Mitchi.

When he was in San Francisco he met a woman called Ilene.

When he was docked in Alaska he saw a seal carcass with blubber that moved like hair.

He wrote a story longhand about a girl who put a garden hose inside of herself before having sex with her brother. Then the girl had sex with her aunt. And then her brother and aunt at the same time. Pete bought a manual Underwood to type a second draft.

My grandfather lived in the hospital with cancer for a week. I sat in the backseat of my mom’s car and listened to Death Cab for Cutie on a portable CD player on the ride there.

When he died my grandmother gave me his old guitar. I learned to play Title and Registration and then gave up.

Pete played mandolin in a gospel band with his brother and sister. They even recorded a song for the radio once.

Then Pete joined the Navy.

Pete wrote in his diary, ‘Some days are Monday and other days are Tuesday.’

And, ‘Everything written is written in blood.’

When Marines from Busen left bags around the ship, Pete stole their guns and boots and sent them to his brother.

After kissing Ilene in San Francisco, Pete called Jen and asked, ‘Have you been faithful?’

And Jen said, ‘Yes.’

The next time he could afford a train to China Grove, they got married.

Pete wrote in his diary about their wedding night, ‘Four times.’

In Florida Pete and Jen took a canoe through the everglades. Alligators rocked their boat.

They had a kid and had a kid and had a kid and had a kid. One of them found Pete’s diary in a barn and wrote their name on a page that said, ‘Time passes faster at sea.’

Pete hid the diary until he died. His stomach turned into a garbage disposal and took him with it.

It was quick.

Jen lived forgetting until she forgot the final thing.

It was two days after my birthday. We celebrated with pulled pork and potato salad.

No one called her Jen.

No one cried about it.

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THE VAMPIRE BOYFRIEND by Jessica Drake-Thomas

I started ghost writing romance because it was under the table. I make good money, people are reading my work, and best of all, no one has to know where I am. These days, paranormal romance seems to be the big thing with humans. Specifically, Vampire Boyfriends. I don’t mind werewolves, aliens, or even dragon shifters. They’re all harmless enough. But I refuse to write about Vampire Boyfriends. When you live in the shadows, some things just hit too close to the truth. Anton Chekhov had a theory about guns in stories — if a gun is placed into a narrative, then it will go off, sooner or later. Like Chekhov's Gun, the Vampire Boyfriend has a timer, as well — once he’s in your life, it’s only a matter of time before the trigger is pulled and he loses control. He’s hardwired to desire you. Your blood sings to him, and he’d like you to believe that it is only he, and he alone, who desires you to the exclusion of all else. But what calls to him is his hunger. Do not be fooled. The way to the Vampire Boyfriend’s little dead heart is his stomach.

The Vampire Boyfriend is the ultimate apex predator. His physical beauty is staggering — he reminds you of all of the greatest sculptures — every feature has been polished to perfection by immortality. He has it all — the face of an angel, the mane of a wild stallion, the six pack of the Gods, the bone structure of Khal Drogo. You can barely contain your desire for him, and it sparkles through your eyes, seeps out of your pores. It’s like perfume to him— almost primed to perfection. He’s studied all of the great romances. He was alive to see them for himself — Antony and Cleopatra, Tristan and Iseult, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. He is able to mimic the correct movements and brings out all of the trappings of the perfect romance—perfectly aged wines he bottled himself, bouquets of roses like blood splatter, his hand placed just so on your lower back. He makes you wait just long enough to move on to the next step, until your need for him is so great, it’s consuming you like wild fire. He’s had centuries to practice, and his timing is on point. He wants you to be intoxicated, so you miss the red flags. He wants to own you, to possess you, wholly. You are the queen of his heart, and he will tell you: you are his.

The Vampire Boyfriend, despite living in a world that contains feminism and women’s rights, has still retained his antiquated notion that the object of his affections requires around the clock protection. He will call it “old-fashioned.” He will call it “chivalry.” You will not have to lift a finger, pay for a thing, or worry about other males ogling you. He moves faster than physics can explain, he has more money than a dragon, and he can easily hold all weaker males in check. Despite your claims that you are a modern woman and wish to be treated as such, he will gnash his fangs and turn a deaf ear in your direction. He’s stuck in the Dark Ages, when women were thought of as property. When women existed only to please men. When women were too delicate to stand alone. Let’s call it what it is: defending his food source. He’s trying to put you in a box. Literally.

You’ll stay, despite your misgivings. Despite the little slips, here and there. You will always stay, because you believe in the façade that he has created. After all, he looks so human. And he cares for you, as if you are a garden. Heed this—Dead things cannot nurture. They can only support growth through rot. The Vampire Boyfriend is incapable of decomposition. He is like a stone. He’s just so good at playing the loving partner. You’ll stay, of course. You’ll stay despite the fact that time, for you, is running out.  

You’ll fight, naturally, because you’ll feel strangled by his over-attention. He’ll say that he’s trying to protect you. That he’s afraid of losing you. That the world is a dangerous place for humans. Chances are, he’ll be proven right because if one Vampire Boyfriend exists, then there are others who think and act just like him. Chances are, another Vampire Boyfriend will smell the combination of your blood mixed with desire, and come hunting. Or, perhaps, he has a long-standing grudge with your Vampire Boyfriend, as they do. Chances are, he’ll attack you, leaving your current Vampire Boyfriend the opportunity to become your hero.

You will become comforted by his attentions whilst you are healing after the attack from the rival vampire. Your Vampire Boyfriend will care for you in every way. He’ll blind you to his faults with his displays of goodness, snuggle you with his ice-cold arms. Stroke your hair with long-nailed fingers. He’ll make you forget everything — like his recent tantrum, your fight last week, that guy from the bar who he murdered for looking at you. He’ll whisper sweet things into your ear, nuzzle his ice-chunk nose over your carotid artery. He’s not really thinking about you, but the delicious river, oozing beneath your skin. How the scent of your blood seeps through the bandages. Now that he’s fought another vampire, he’s starving. Everything he says and does will lull you into a stupor, so that you will not fight back. He will make you forget everything, who you are, who you were, and the gaping wound of his tooth-filled mouth as he finally loses control.

There is a door that I could open, in order to tie this up with a neat bow. But I won’t, because he might be lurking on the other side, waiting to be invited back in. I have run too far for him to find me now. The scars where his teeth tore open my throat have not been smoothed away by time or immortality. But know this: a story about a man who wants to possess you isn’t a romantic story. It’s a story about a beautiful, cold monster and lengths he will go to satisfy his hunger.

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DAY JOB by Jon Conley

She was a big rottweiler who had had cancer for a time now. She was very big and sad and unable to move well so I went with Dr. Highmore to the house. I brought along a large contractor's garbage bag and I don't think I said anything the whole time. I never said a word in these situations though I had done this many times, been a pallbearer. Although, I would assist in assisted canicides before carrying the bodies away and I don't know that a pallbearer ever assists assisted homicides. Anyway, I’m not a shy person.

With the bag rolled up in my back pocket, I reached my left arm under her neck to put her in a headlock. I put my right arm over her shoulders like a good old pal and she did not care and I grabbed what I guess you would call her elbow, making a tight ring around it with my middle finger and thumb before twisting slightly to make the vein visible. She still did not care. The family cried along and stayed in the room until well after she was dead. I want to say that there was a candle burning but that would be very hopeful of memory. I waited and put my head down but inside I wondered when they were going to move. One of them would eventually take charge and usher the other out of the room to continue grieving somewhere else.

And when they finally did leave I lifted the now piss-soaked towel she lay on top of and I slid the garbage bag under the haunches. If a dog sat long enough that the piss soaked through the towel, the outside of the garbage bag would always get piss on it. And in the struggle to move the body around, the piss would end up on my scrubs, which was common enough for the job but bothered me still.

I tried to lift her with my knees and not my back. She was heavy and Dr. Highmore was built like a reed so I would do it alone. If you lift a body and can't keep her level, there are plenty of fluids beyond piss that would love to take the opportunity to slosh around in the bag. And depending on how well you tie her up, there could be leaks. But eventually I did put her in the van and back to the practice and into a freezer. In Cleveland I would have burned it myself and prepared the ashes but here someone came once a week to retrieve the frozen bodies.

For dinner that night I made spaghetti with a meat and tomato sauce and I washed all of the dishes instead of leaving them to soak until the morning. When I took out the garbage that night I was as scared as I always am taking out the garbage, imagining something or someone coming from behind me as I make my way back.

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DRIVING THROUGH by Bojana Stojcic

We drove through the city today. We didn’t stop. We just drove through. We didn’t want to get out of the truck and grabbed take-away coffee with ground cinnamon in a drive-thru shared by a coffee shop and a bank, which was super convenient so while sipping it we made some transfers and paid bills. In the meantime, it started to drizzle, which was a drag and one more reason not to leave the truck. Besides, we got hungry, and decided to order low-carb turkey club lettuce wraps to go at a drive-thru diner. While listening to the live traffic news, we watched cars creating a line and moving in one direction. After that, we dropped some Xmas cards in a drive-thru mailbox and had our car washed in a two-lane drive-thru car wash. We both find high-pressure water jets ideal for our truck as it looks all shiny and new without anyone touching it, which we hate. B.J. gulped down his food in a split second and pulled into a Sweet Inspirations drive-in for some yummy donuts.

Hiiiiii, the female voice shrieked enthusiastically. What can I get you, Sir?

I’d like two donuts with dark chocolate and coconut, replied B.J. leaning toward the mic.

Got it. Anything to drink, Sir?

Yes, a strawberry-flavored still water and a diet Coke, please.

We had to wait some since it was crowded at the pick-up window, which sucked.

Did you know, B.J. tried to cheer me up, they had an EOTF service in McDonald’s in the UK.

What’s EOTF?

Experience of the Future, obviously. The thing is, there’s a third window.

Third window? For real?

Yes, the person at the second window tells you to pull up to the third one if you have a larger order and have to wait longer than usual. Basically, this fast-forward window cuts down on wait times significantly.

That’s kewl.



Anyway, we didn’t wait too long after all. I was happy we chose a drive-in restaurant this time because it allows cars to park next to each other. We really enjoyed our dessert, watching other cars parking and driving by and the sky turning red. We couldn’t actually see the sunset because of the skyscrapers, but I bet it was amazing. I reminded B.J. of a drive-thru grocery store as our fridge’s chronically empty but we eventually had a change of heart, figuring we’d be better off without as we hadn’t perused Easy Breakfast Recipes yet. So we picked up something light for the following morning: a skinny high-protein Oreo milkshake for me and a peanut butter and jelly protein smoothie for him. B.J. said we mustn’t forget a drive-thru liquor store to buy some beer for later in the evening. It would have been a bummer if we had. We also stopped by a drive-thru pharmacy to get a lavender-based sleep remedy since we have both had trouble falling asleep lately.

Have we mentioned we met at a drive-in movie theater? No? Do you know we got married a couple of weeks later in Vegas? We so did, interestingly at a special drive-thru chapel. Those were the days.

As we’re growing old, we normally talk about death and such. When you die, I told B.J. the other day, I’ll go to the drive-thru funeral home to get your remains and scatter you all over our favorite drive-thru joints.

Don’t you sometimes wish there was a drive-thru hug station, B.J. uttered, melancholically staring into space on our way back home.

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WOODEN SKY by Max Halper

She has beautiful veins. Like stained glass, he thinks. But everything is stained glass when he’s this high. Everything is one big hallowed tableau. This is what church endeavors to be, he thinks, on his back. If church and heroin did a collaboration, he’d be the Pope of that shit. The Dope Pope. Pope-on-some-Dope. He watches her veins through lashy eyes. He watches the needle, erect, rapacious. The back of his brain whistles, like tea in another room. He has no memory of anyone ever making tea. He must’ve seen it in a movie. But it’s tea. Everybody knows what tea sounds like. He doesn’t need a movie to tell him. He was born with that shit. Her veins, like stained glass. Like milky light. Like milky tea. He’s so fucking high. He did a huge shot. He should tell her not to do such a huge shot. Like she would listen. And he really can’t speak. He really can’t move. But it doesn’t matter; where does he have to go? Go to work? Go to school? Go to church? She feeds the needle to her vein. Even supine, his eyes two hairline fractures, he can see she’s doing a huge shot. She’s got the belt really choked. There’s gonna be a lot of light on this one. It’s gonna hit her like a fist. Like a train. But she deserves it. She deserves the light, as much as she can get. All he wants is for her to be happy. All he wants is for everyone to be happy.

Fat, like tunnels. A needle finds its stride in veins so fat. Everything about her is stride. Everything about her is fat. Beautiful, fat stride. Everything about her is church. “You’re fucking church, baby.” She bounces the needle on her fat veins. He wants to bounce on her fat veins. “You’re church,” but he’s not convinced words are coming out. He’s so fucking high. He did a huge shot. The whistling is abrading, like a bomb went off. Or maybe that’s only what happens in movies. He wouldn’t know. Movies are liars. Everything is liars. Everything except her. She’s church, and he’s the Pope. And together they’re the fucking Vatican. Together they consecrate the masses. She feeds the needle to her vein. It’s a hungry vein, fills its plate, doesn’t even say grace. The belt slides off her arm and her whole body rumples into a smaller body. Her head swoops and dangles. The bed sags as if someone else has climbed onto it. Gouache light bubbles around the fringes of the motel curtains. Everything is static. Everything about everything is one big hallowed tableau vivant.

They make her happy, and that’s all he wants. That’s all anyone wants. The bed feels fat, like stained glass he thinks. But he’s so fucking high. He did a huge shot. So much light on it. It’s completely the middle of the day, despite where the sun may be. He’s so far on his back he might as well be upside-down. He can barely see her through the jungle of eyelashes. She is a snarl of veins. A derelict church. That seething squeal is venting from her, a building crowded with children and fire. She hasn’t moved in a long time. But neither has he. Maybe she’s thinking the same thing about him. Thinking that… thinking that… what was he thinking? He’s so fucking high. He feels borne through a tunnel, pliant, prodigal. It furls him along the bed. There’s a smell, somewhere else. Dead flowers. Spoiled milk. But smells happen. It’s nobody’s fault. Nothing is anybody’s fault. Everything that happens happens to us. We are laic, we cannot read what’s written down. We just nod. We stand when You ask us. We repeat after You.  

Like estuaries from the sky. Estuaries seen from the sky. A smell like the mouth of a river, brine and blubber. Rounded, milkless glass. Something scuttles fitfully across the sandy bed, burrows, disappears. Oily seagulls charge into wind. The ocean is a silent maniac. There may have been someone else in the room, with too many shadows across their face. But they’ve gone. Now it’s just the two of them again. Him and her. Like it should be. Like it always has been. He is only himself when he is alone with her. This is who he actually is. Some people think they are only what other people think they are. But how can this be? How can you exist only in someone else’s mind? He’s so high. So fucked. He hasn’t moved in years. He might be growing moss and mushrooms, boarding mollusks. She is a fallen tree, half swallowed by the wet ground. They are ruins. A once great civilization. They used to roll heads down the temple stairs to their flock. Now they are barely discernable from the jungle itself. They used to be fat. Now they are rickety. They used to hear music. Now they hear only a shrill frequency, a dwindling pool of radiation. He feels a puissant kinship to the atrophy. It is beautiful. A beautiful return. If he didn’t know any better he’d say it is all a metaphor for death. But of course there are no metaphors for death. Only for being alive.   

Protuberant, proud. They stand when she asks. They repeat after her. He cannot see them because her arms and neck are buried in blankets, but he knows they are there. Wherever she goes, her veins follow. What would she look like if You removed everything except her veins, walked her around like that, made her try to live? Something gliding along the seafloor. Pliant, deracinated coral. He laughs. But it’s not funny. It’s wretched, a wretched image. “I’m sorry,” he breathes. He doesn’t want violence done to her, even in his mind. She’s had enough of that for a lifetime. For ten. He never means to think the things he thinks. How is even that out of his control? There is a knock at the door of the motel room. A muffled voice from outside. He sidles his dry eyes over. The chain-lock dangles free. Hadn’t he secured it when they’d first come in? He remembers doing so. When he was a kid he watched his older brother cut the eyes off a snail with a pair of Mickey Mouse scissors. The snail hadn’t bled. It hadn’t tried to get away. He’d asked his brother if it could feel pain. “Can you?” It was a good question. He still doesn’t know the answer for sure. He knows that she feels pain. He sees it in the ditches of her face. In the graying of her skin. He hears it when she speaks, when she cums, when blood whistles through the tunnels of her veins. He smells it wafting from her drowned flowers. Her spoiled milk. The door opens. Garish light gushes in, overloads the room with truth. The housekeeper stands half inside. Her eyes narrow. Her nose crinkles. For a moment all is still. A tableau of discovery. Then she recedes, closes the door, and the tawdry light deliquesces. He rolls his eyes back into place. She has not moved in a long time.

Despite the bruises. Because of the bruises. It was the first thing he noticed about her. A girl who wore her bruises on the outside. On her arms and legs. On her neck and on her back. Purple and yellow and brown. A garden of woe. She was barely hanging on when he met her. The earth whirled with such ferocity, strove to cast her into space. She clung to roots, wheedled herself beneath roots and down into the soil and buried herself in the dark there. It was not lavish, but it was safe. He understood that she could never come out. But she was light deprived, anemic. So he brought the light to her, and he burrowed into the dirt with her, and they’ve been there ever since. Together they ride out the furious, bucking planet. Together they are rooted in place. He finds he is awake enough to roll over. The bed whistles beneath him, as if to get his attention. Light gathers around the periphery of the curtains like an infection. He does his best not to jostle the bed. She needs her rest, as much as she can get. If it were possible he would let her sleep forever. But of course everyone wakes up eventually. There is only one cigarette. He’ll leave it for her. She’ll need it more than he does. And she’ll be hungry. Maybe he’ll walk to the Gulf and get some snacks. A fresh pack of cigarettes. That will make her happy. All he wants is for her to be happy. She is his church. She is the sky. He touches her bruised, milky skin. It is cold and dry. She did a huge shot. He never means to think the things he thinks. Sometimes it’s like his thoughts come from somewhere else, from someone else. Hurry and get her food. Cross the interstate. It might take awhile. Be back before she wakes, so that she doesn’t, for a second, think he abandoned her.  

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LOOK WHERE WE’RE GOING by Anna Vangala Jones

Nina had informed him of the unplanned pregnancy that morning, as casually as she was now asking him to admire her appearance. She spun away from enjoying her reflection in the mirror to face him. She spread her arms and twitched her hips. “How do I look?"

Amol observed his light haired, light eyed girlfriend, dressed in an Indian sari and covered in ostentatious gold jewelry, with a mixture of pride and amusement. She looked wonderful and yet wrong at the same time. Like an excited young girl playing dress up. So precious but not real.

"You look amazing." He sat down on the bed they shared most nights in his modestly sized Manhattan apartment. Nina described the color on the walls as a drab and dependable gray, without being asked. The blanket on the bed was black and Nina's sari in front of him was an electric blend of pinks, yellows, and greens.

"Your sister taught me how to drape and pin the sari last week. I did okay?"

He smiled. "Better than some Indian women I know."

"Give me a break." She returned to the mirror, putting the final touches on her appearance and applying a ruby red to her pale lips.

He stood up to find sandals to complement his long beige kurta. They were headed to his cousin's Hindu wedding in Connecticut. Nina tossed her lipstick onto the bed. Irritated, he picked it up and walked over to the vanity to return it to its place.

"We should get on the road now. Don't want to be late."

Amol knew he was kidding himself. With Nina coming along, of course they’d be late. Amol’s mother, with her quiet dignity and grace, believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that loud, cursing, irresponsible Nina was nothing but a fling. Something Amol had to get out of his system.

Amol’s mother knew her meticulous son needed someone who would drop her clothes in the laundry hamper in the evening. Not step out of her pants and skirts, leaving them discarded on the floor like some kind of helpful chalk outline to aid him in tracing her last steps. He needed someone who would understand and respect their Hindu customs and beliefs. Not try them on like a costume when it suited her. Someone he could actually take to temple and family gatherings, with no sense of dread that he was teetering on the edge, about to make one wrong move and plummet. The girl didn’t have to be brown, his mother insisted. She just couldn’t be Nina.

Amol, even as he rebelled for the first time and resisted his mother, wondered if she was right. The baby made it all so much more troubling somehow. What if this unpredictable life of his was simply a precursor to the one yet to happen?

Thanks to Nina, he'd found himself on a flight to Greece in only their third week of dating because she was just really into her new Mediterranean cookbook and wanted to see the birthplace of it all. It was at her insistence that they woke up in the dead of night once to go ride their bikes through a pitch black Central Park in the winter. Amol could still remember how the cold had seized every muscle of his body, until they screamed and ached, and then the exhilarating release when the wind whistling in his ears and the crunch of the white frost beneath his wheels made him laugh. Without Nina, he would have ordered takeout from the little Greek hole in the wall down the street or just exercised on the bike machine at his gym under the warm, comfortable glow of a heater.  

He tried to picture the steady, reliable partner he hadn’t met yet, but she had no face. And yet a part of him still wanted her. Was waiting for her. Assumed they’d find each other someday. Then Nina’s chatter in the car paused.

"You're too quiet. What’s wrong?"

Amol was surprised Nina noticed.

"It’s the baby."

“I knew it.” She was trying to catch his eye, he could tell, but he avoided her penetrating gaze. The road stretching long and unknown in front of him was all he could see.

“I have to look where I’m going.” He felt her pressing up against his arm as he drove on without turning to face her, the gold chain of her elaborate, chunky necklace leaving an uncomfortable indent in his skin through his thin sleeve.

"We can do this,” she said.

"I—I don't want to.”

The next few moments felt gaping and cold. The gray seatbelt cut into his flesh. Darkness had fallen. They were almost at the wedding venue.

"I wasn't expecting this.” He released the steering wheel, hot from his tight grip and cold from his sweat, and reached out to rest his hand on her knee. The fabric of her sari felt scratchy and thick to his touch.

She shifted her knee so that his hand dropped to her seat.

He turned back to the road in time to see the deer, a light brown blur, dart out in front of the car. He jerked the wheel with both hands and his eyes widened as the world spun into a dizzying shock of colors in the heavy darkness.

Once his brain started whirring again and sensation surged through his body, Amol became aware that he was alive. Nina’s hand touched his face.

“We’re alright,” she said. “We’re okay. So is the deer.”

Amol rolled the window down. He felt the pressure in his head and lungs lessen as the cold air rushed in and he laughed. The sound circled him and Nina both, banding them together tighter and tighter, until they could hardly breathe. Her teeth scraped his cheekbone as her kisses attacked him, hungry and wanting. He closed his eyes and listened. All he could hear was the violent beating of their three hearts.

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NAKED STEW by Michael Graves

Today is Saturday, another date with my kitchen floor. While Gram’s famous hot dog stew simmers, I admire the double-mopped laminate that has already been host to four veteran potlucks.     

Kurt’s pickup bleats, turning into the driveway. Spears of oak and birch fill the sagging bed. Kurt sees me at the screen door and side grins, his cauliflower ears pink from the chill.

“Floors are dry,” I holler.

He almost tumbles from the cab. “You sure? Want me to drive around the block a few times like last week?”

“Just don’t get shit all over. Please? You’re covered in sawdust.”

Kurt thumps the hood, smirking wildly. “Jesus, Henry! What do you want me to do?” He hops up on the porch.

I smell schnapps, gasoline. I smell Kurt’s smoke-drenched hair.

“Don’t fuck my house up,” I say, eye-smiling.

He stamps off his boots. Wood flecks ping about. He strips his sweatshirt and his under shirt. A pale yellow spotlight of dust quickly surrounds him.

“Ms. May will call the police again,” I say.

Scrap has even nested in Kurt’s crooked trail of navel hair. He unzips his jeans and wrestles them down.

“What are you…?”

“If I take everything off, I can’t make a mess.” He steps from the puddle of denim.

“Unbelievable. Punk." I say and smirk.

With a rude boy grin, Kurt strips off his boxer shorts, faded tan lines agleam. He knocks on the prosthetic arm he calls Bixby. “What about this old bad boy? Want him off too?”

Ms. May’s drapes part. “Get inside,” I say, coughing from my laughter.


When preparing Gram’s hot dog stew, I become steeped in the fixings. Onion, celery, and basil stitch into my flesh for days.

I pass Kurt the thawed bread heels. After chugging a glass of milk, he arches over a large bowl. He slurps and gobbles the brew of discount links.

“I hope you don’t catch cold,” I say.

Kurt glances down at his bare cock. He snickers.

“How was the wood haul?” I say.

“Not bad. Jessie’s chainsaw shit the bed by eleven. That blew. Filled up all our trucks though. I’ll get one more load if it kills me.”

“Channel five said a nor’easter might be on the way.”

“They don’t know shit.” He crushes two heels and begins to smear them with crumb-speckled margarine. “I’m gonna pack our porch, Henry. Biggest wood pile you’ve ever seen. Keep us warm all winter.”

I stare at Kurt’s new eagle tattoo, scabbing on his chest.

“This tastes great,” he tells me. “Best batch, I’d say.”

My entire face crinkles. Immediately, I’m huffing. “I followed her recipe. It should be the same.”

Kurt mimics my sigh in jest. “Yours tastes different.”

“It shouldn’t.”

Shrugging, he says, “But it does. Better maybe. It’s so good, it’s giving me a chub.” Kurt begins to swill the stew loudly, defiantly. He grins, a potato chunk clinging to his lip.

I swat the air.

He says, “Hey…how ‘bout you take off your clothes too? Shouldn’t have to be naked all by my myself.”


Cars stream by, chugging toward Sunday services. Some tap their horns, and we wave with Irish coffee smiles.

Clad in cowhide gloves, I stack wood, row after row, tidy and flush. I hear a pop and then scuffing behind the pile. “What the fuck?”  

Kurt bends down and aims his cell phone flashlight into the rear gaps. He kicks the heap thrice. An opossum thrusts out its pointed white face. It lunges. It hisses.

“Jesus Christ!” I vault backwards and drop a wedge of oak.

Kurt cackles, his breath prancing in the frosty air. “I can see a family of ‘em.”

“Don’t get bit.”

“They don’t bite, Henry.”

“Yeah, they do,” I say. “They have teeth, right?”          

“She’s just protecting her babies. Anyway, when opossums get really, like really scared, they play dead.”     

I shed my gloves. “That fucker will attack me. Like when I’m taking out the trash.”

Kurt shakes his head. He points to the opposite side of the porch. “Let's put the wood over there instead. Move the boot trays, the shovels. I’ll get a tarp or some shit.”

I grind my slipper into the cold slate. “Can’t we scare them away?”

“Naw.” His face softens. “We’ll leave ‘em. They’re just tryin’ to set up shop. Same boat as us.”

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