The suburbs of tiny Ixian County were unmade in the torrents and floods of 2003. After the waters had abated they left behind a highway exit, a handful of roads, and little else. Four towns’ worth of ruins and a farm, abandoned to bankruptcy years before, that had gone largely untouched. That was it. The ruined barn and the decomposing silos, now home to hundreds of bats that dined on the county’s grotesque moth population, mocked us all.

The mudslides, swore the relevant parties, were finished; the mudslides would never come again. Infrastructure was being built, they promised, at this very moment. Infrastructure would hold future mudslides at bay, and could perhaps even be yoked to some other sprawling plan, some sort of perpetual-motion device or industrial-strength divining rod. And so the municipalities of Ixian County were conjoined. Efforts to decipher this collage were heatedly debated. And so commenced the developments, the spirals, the roads that evoked cul-de-sacs but were something altogether different. This was our introduction into the future of our community; this was our introduction into some hallowed hole toward the mythic.

Call it the work of Glenn Detlof, the Robert Moses of Ixian County, if Robert Moses had been a recluse with mystical leanings who dressed like an aging Gram Parsons. Concentric rings, he said, and let the silence hang. He spoke about it all the time, at community meetings and news conferences and conversations both on and off the record with members of the local media. Periodically he raised the subject in formal interviews with certain publications dedicated to progressive and eccentric strains of urban planning and architecture.

Glenn Detlof looked at the received wisdom regarding how you built a neighborhood and a community and he chortled. Most people would say, housing development and housing development and housing development along a main road and along that main road you’d have your shops, your restaurants, your bars, your automotive dealerships, your magic shops, your pet stores, your trickery, your pizzerias, your bookstores, your adult bookstores, your florists, your vape shops, your other vape shops, your vape shops that first appeared to be something other than vape shops, your liquor stores, your toy stores, your furniture stores, your afterschool tutoring centers, and your institutes for distance learning.

Glenn Detlof said, no. Said, here’s what we do: we put those buildings at the center and we build the houses around them. So that’s why you find the burger franchise in among the homes and lawns of a neighborhood hundreds strong. That’s why the bait and tackle shop scalded into oblivion was reborn adjacent to two modest ranch houses in a tree-lined part of town. And that’s why several residents of the Millstone Acres neighborhood could walk to their local pharmacy and liquor store and puzzle shop. Why the age-restricted housing with the interstate humming in the distance was also adjacent to the local branch of a salad chain with a cult following.

We had a couple of reporters show up. We saw photographers waiting for the perfect day for a photo that would capture the arc and the full splendor of the sum total of the rebuilt community. Sometimes we’d see drones flying overhead on clear days to document the arrangement of buildings and greenery. It seemed great. It seemed wonderful. We didn’t see where it was all headed.

A reporter from Dwell asked a few of us if we ever headed to the point where the streets ended, after all the homes and businesses had ebbed away. And all of us asked shook our heads. Fewer of us began to wonder. True, we did hear strange sounds in the night. Some of us. Pursuit, perhaps. Or something prompt, in search of prey.

In retrospect, we’re all a little disappointed that no one said the word labyrinth when Glenn Detlof was around to hear the question. It really should have been obvious. I mean, have you seen a picture of Glenn Detlof? Picture Rasputin in a Nudie suit, and there you go. We should have been suspicious about Glenn Detlof’s designs on Ixian County, is all we’re saying. The man was, in retrospect, quite sinister.

Admittedly, even as we’d looked back on his body of work, there wasn’t much precedent for the work he did in Ixian County. He’d done master plans for a neighborhood that looked like a New Urbanist Tiki bar; he’d been involved in this floating city in northern Maine that no one could be sure was real. I mean, we saw photos, but they could have been faked. They could have been models. That one guy’s shirt could have been painted on. We didn’t know.

After it all went wrong, we spent a lot of time looking for the clues. The spiral designs were obvious. The branching nature of streets and paths. We lived in the suburbs; we had GPS to rely on. The seemingly random arrangement of streets was never unruly with mechanical voices guiding us. And the shops and the food establishments were all further in to the clusters than our homes. We would do our errands and get out. We never needed to proceed deeper in.

But that was the mistake, wasn’t it? Maybe we might have seen the things that served as warnings. Perhaps we’d have seen the watchtowers or the pits. Perhaps we’d have seen space for an oracle, steam still rising from the ground, awaiting someone to inhale the fumes and prophesy. Perhaps we’d have wondered just how the mudslides came; we’d have wondered if Glenn Detlof had been serving the whims of some old forgotten god and had made with some sort of ritual, some kind of summoning.

We’d have wondered if we lived on a new sort of altar; we’d have wondered if we were meant to be the priests or the offering.

But that was still to come. Most nights we celebrated this new space. We embraced its freedom and its strange avenues and the artist who’d conceived of it. We didn’t wonder about the other things; we didn’t comprehend. We didn’t shudder in our beds, dreaming of pursuit. That was still to come.

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(Warning: spoilers)

We were looking for the room at Champagne Centre for the appointment, and I found a pin on the ground that has “I feel it all” written on it and an image of a woman smoking printed on it. I took it and put it in the left pocket of my pea coat and will probably keep it there. This quote resonates with me and also with the themes of the script and film.

Impurity, more exact, the myth of pureness is depicted through Mother’s character with physiology, vicarious causation of surroundings, and the creator of Mother himself, as when Woman subtly hints that she is young enough to be his daughter. Mother has no choice but to be directly affected, as she is the house and the house is her, and whatever happens to one also happens to the other. She becomes “tainted” as the disciples enter. Meanwhile, Man and Woman both contribute as Man/mankind is literally dying and Woman is menacing with her unruly behaviour and minimal appreciation of consequences.

Labour of care and emotions as compassion

Even though Mother is selfless, this emotional labour is not necessarily reciprocated, and instead is diminished by the human desires associated with selfishness and money. Mother is unable to really relate to the motifs of the Sons at the level of resentment they feel towards each other due to problems caused by these same weaknesses of human nature. Yet, it still pains her to watch what happens. Mother is humane, but not really a human like them or us.

Nobody else is as connected to the house as she is, and while there are moments that lead up to immense pain and suffering, she is not at fault for it. Mother, much like real mothers and women do, committed to sacrifices and experienced significant loss.

The current climate

Current events within the year proved hubris of our need to invade the natural environment for our own purposes; government allowance of creating more infrastructure and development of oil and gas rigs and excavation, digging into the earth, minimizing nature’s resources more and more, and scientific “progress” that has questionable or uncertain consequences. Biblical allegories as warnings, or else history will repeat itself, and now it is us having to face it if we don’t pay attention.

Reference is made to Mother also as the subservient role of housewives, girlfriends, or any woman that finds herself in this situation today at the expense of men and others that are dependent on them. The “m” is lowercase. The earth and humans are in a directly codependent relationship in reality, and it is just as portrayed by Aronofsky that at some points, it actually is that destructive and unnerving, although within the context of the script it seems as though it was taken a step too far.

When the house, or earth, suffers, we all suffer vicariously through what nature has to endure, and this is a negative feedback loop that is difficult to break. Not until complete chaos and death, does that cycle break, and after even the child of Mother dies also. In the midst of the destruction and war in their house, the symbolic notion of the tower being built and things taking shape, reflective of society’s structuralism, and that it has taken its place there even under such dire circumstances.

What remains, and always will, is the spirit of womanhood, or particularly motherhood, as a seemingly pure crystalloid energy that is able to withstand all of the damages. While this is empowering, it still feels fiction-based, and sidelined from feminism that is relatable or current. Mother had indeed been killed, mercilessly, not just suffered “an assault” as Lawrence stated, and for no cause but reprise or rebirth into a new beginning. Again, this is at the expense of Him, undeniably the main man and mastermind behind all that has happened in the first place.

The story begins with Him being almost indifferent and struggling to find purpose of himself, as a writer, husband, and himself, almost as if to suggest that of course, being Him, this isn’t necessary for Him. However, tables turn by the end, and the one in full command of Mother and her fate is Him, as power dynamics are consistently evident to not be on Mother’s side, everything from who they welcome into their home to if they have sex or not. It is even difficult for Him to deny his disciples what they wanted, and then to make them leave Him and Mother alone as their force violated Mother, their home, and even turned on each other, as allegorical to the backlash of human destruction as creation.

Ogling the piece as an entity apart from the film almost feels like looking at a secret process. This could be of my cherished experiences with original scripts; this one and the Alice in Wonderland (1983 playwright’s edition, one of my best possessions and was attained mysteriously). It brings something to the reader much different from a viewing experience. This was a glimpse into Aronofsky’s honest stream of consciousness, or as close as we will get to it. Photos from the scenes are embedded in the screenplay, including some of the most grueling moments. Surrounded by destruction, these characters all exude their own livelihood and creation. Even though the film is focused on Mother’s perspective, the story is just as much about her as it is about Him. The rebirth is equally theirs, as they both are forced to start anew.

Hollywood, CA, Paramount Guilds, 2017 Paramount Pictures Corporation.  Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky.

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CUCK by Eîlot Tuerie

I have had sex in a church with a girl who lied that she was under the age of consent. I have tied someone up and left them on my bed while I had sex with someone else. I have had sex with three different people at different times on the same day. I have had sex with someone whose eyes watered as she remained perfectly still on the floor of my girlfriend’s living room. I had sex with someone who hadn’t had sex in such a long time that she bled all over the dining room rug. I have cut off someone’s hair and used it to whip them until they bruised. I was arrested for interfering in an arrest and during my stay in the holding cell was solicited by a Mexican transsexual prostitute to whom I gladly gave my number; two weeks later, the charges were dropped, but the prostitute never called. At thirteen, I had sex for the first time; I got her pregnant. I have been responsible for at least one abortion each decade I have been sexually active. I have had sex with a woman who let me put out my cigarettes on her tits. I had sex with someone who came so many times her limbs went numb and she passed out. I have never done heroin. I have had simulated sex with the carcass of opossum. I have had sex in a cave with a girl my best friend wanted. I have never had sex with a Scientologist. At times, I feel impulsive: I have had sex with numerous people I just met. I had sex with my sister; we enjoyed ourselves very much but decided not to have sex again. I discovered The Joy of Sex and a vibrator in a drawer beside my mother’s bed. As far as sex is possible, at eight, I got involved with the girl next door; we’d pretend we were in a rocket ship leaving earth at the precise moment the planet was ending, then, at that moment, we had sex; or, she’d pretend she was walking home and I would attack her; her mother caught on and told us we weren’t permitted to play in the house; when we tried to have sex behind the chimney on the side of her house, an older boy saw us, ran over, and accused us of having sex; we never got together again. When I encounter an old man or an old woman, I wonder what their sex life was like when they were young. I have had sex in a closet only once. I have had sexual fantasies about my stepfather but not about my stepmother. I often have fantasies about having sex with the people with whom I work. I cannot have sex if the bed is making noise. The first time I was invited to a bondage party, I pierced the host six times across his perineum while he was fastened to a leather harness suspended from the ceiling, during the last piercing I had sex with his friend, a lesbian, bending her over his suspended body; when I finished, he threatened me, screaming obscenities in several languages; the following week, he visited me at work and asked if I would attend his next party. The last time my mother asked me, “What’s new?” I told her I had fisted a man, she hung up and never spoke to me again. I have had two sexually transmitted diseases: the first, from a nineteen-year-old Jewish girl in summer of 1997; the second, from a 40-something-year-old Korean woman in summer of 2012. I have had sex in a movie theater only once. I have had sex in the daytime in a public garden in Bakersfield. I have had sex in the toilet of a diner in Luang Prabang. I have had sex in a staircase during a citywide blackout. One of sexiest photographs of me in high school shows me wearing Krista Johnson’s cheerleader uniform at the junior- senior girls’ flag football game. After sex, I don’t know how to feel when a woman tells me she is glad I didn’t murder her. I had sex under a catamaran on Maui with a girl with a shaved head who had cancer. I sometimes wonder if Charles, the man who invited me to my first sex party, is dead by now; he had a diamond embedded between his front two teeth and claimed to have had sex with his son. I remember when I was a kid and the local teen pervert, who was maybe five years older than me, would give Kristen and I instructions to get into various sex positions with our clothes on. The desire to have sex with a non-human animal is not strong. What is it about having sex during a riot? I know an artist who meditates on his girlfriend’s vagina to sell paintings. I have had sex with more than one hundred women, I wonder if that’s a few or a lot. I have had sexual fantasies about being fucked by a man with severe burns on his face and body. I have had sexual fantasies about fucking a woman with leprosy. I have used a condom twice. I have masturbated in front of a man. I relate more with the women in porn videos than with the men; I am so attracted to women that I wish I were one. I knew a woman who smoked with her feet. I’m turned on by the taste of alcohol on a woman’s mouth. I have made-out with two people who were HIV+: a woman and a man; I don’t remember their names. I worked for a middle-aged woman confined to a couch; I cleaned her apartment once a week; I used to dust, vacuum, and wash all the rooms: kitchen, bathroom, living room, both bedrooms. Every other week I did laundry, yard work, and occasionally brought her groceries upstairs. In the garage, I used to sniff her underwear. Once, I used her underwear to come before putting them in the wash. Another time, before bringing her clean clothes up, I used her underwear again. My favorite part of a man’s body is his cock, when it’s hard. In the parking lot of the funeral home, I glimpsed my dead mother’s big toe as the funeral director carefully wheeled her upon a gurney into the vestibule. From my bedroom window, I called down to a woman wearing a short skirt who was limping; she came inside, we talked, and, seconds later, we kissed. I have had sex with an amputee. When a woman yawns, I imagine coming in her mouth. For a year, I collected the hair that I found on the bed pillows and bathroom floor of an older, Japanese woman I was seeing. On Coronado Street, in the hospital supply store windows, the mannequins wear nurse outfits with nylons that only go up to the middle of their thighs. Once, to entertain me as I paddled a canoe in a marsh, the woman I was seeing kept opening her legs. I sometimes wonder what happened to Ron, the short, portly, dirty old man who kept me company at the thrift store where I worked and who told me stories about the revolution in Portugal and his threesomes with nurses at the hospital where he worked; he read my palm once and stared at me horrified. Noticing my long hair hanging below my baseball helmet, a man asked my mother if I was a girl. I have gone to many gay bars but I have never gone home with a stranger after meeting them there. I once went home with a man who bought me a donut. I am being courted by a gay man I met on Facebook; I have not yet fantasized about giving him satisfaction. I have a fetish for acne but equally strong is my fetish for women who wear lots of makeup. I knew a girl whose feet would perspire whenever she got turned on. My grandfather later lived with his mistress, who’d become his second wife, and in their recreation room there was a psychedelic poster showing twelve nude couples, each one in a different sexual position, in line with the signs of the zodiac.

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MEANING OF NIGHT by M. C. Zendejas

Dean never came around too much to start with, but after his dog died he stopped coming altogether. Claudia had just moved out, and there wasn’t anything to do anymore. I sat in front of the TV, flipping through channel after channel until I eventually hit static. The quiet became too much and I decided to go over and surprise Dean, but he told me no, that he wasn’t in the mood to see anyone. He said it through the closed door and I had to press my ear against its worn wood to hear him clearly. As I walked to my car I glanced back and saw him waving from behind the window, like he was trapped in there.

One night I was at a bar by myself. It was supposed to be me and my coworker, but she never showed up. She didn’t even answer my texts. I reread them until I got a headache from hating myself so much.

The fifth rum-and-coke of that night had just been dumped down my throat when I looked over and saw Dean sitting in the corner. His hat was off and to the side, and he stared down into the dark liquid swirling in his glass like it was a part of him.

He gave a small jolt and looked over when I touched his arm and slurred “Hey, Dean”. I forgot the name of what he was drinking, but it was strong and had no ice. I ordered myself two of them.

He asked what I was doing there alone. I made something up about my car being worked on down the road and asked him about his job. He was thinking of quitting. They weren’t paying him much of anything, and the hours were shit. I had to piece his answer together from the small bits I would catch as my unanswered text messages ran in a constant scroll at the back of my head.

I told him he should just quit if he was so tired of it. The music playing overhead swelled and the fuzzy tone of the guitars pulsated warmly around all of us. I saw a redhead smiling at me from across the room. Something about the way she looked at me made me forget about my coworker, and the texts, and Claudia. I told Dean I’d catch him later.

When the redhead and I finished we laid there silently, staring up at the ceiling. I couldn’t think of anything to say. It was a little after midnight, and her room was sunk in a deep navy blackness that wouldn’t let me see directly in front of me. I reached out somewhere into the dark, looking for her hand, but kept grasping the cold half of the sheets.

I made plans with Dean to have lunch the following Monday. Twenty minutes passed and I started thinking of earlier that day, when my coworker saw me wave at her and vanished into the filing room, and how I was left standing there. She’d been avoiding me ever since she stood me up. He rushed through the door, face red and hair undone, interrupting my thoughts.

“Sorry I’m late, I was walking my dog.” He saw the way I was looking at him and added “I got a new dog. Like a week ago.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and showed me pictures.

It was one of the ugliest dogs I’d ever seen. Not the so-ugly-it’s-cute kind, either. Patches of fur had fallen off of it, exposing bright red skin beneath that looked like raw hamburger meat. What fur was left was matted together and matched the dull yellow of its teeth. I smiled and said “it’s really somethin’.”

Our booth was next to the window. A piece of sunlight fell through the leaves of a tree. It settled across groups of smiling people walking around outside. Some held hands, some wrapped their arms around each other. From behind the window, I felt how far away I was from all of them. Wanting to see pictures of anything besides that dog, I asked him how work had been. He told me he quit his job at the office. He said he was waiting tables at a hotel restaurant until he could save enough money to move to the beach.

“There’s a celebrity staying there right now. A movie star. I’m not allowed to say who, though.” I nodded and leaned forward and swore I wouldn’t tell anyone if he told me who it was. His head shook.

“I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you something even better.” I leaned back when I saw the way he was grinning.

He took his phone out again. Fearing he was going to pull up more pictures of the dog, I pretended to be distracted by something beyond the window. He shoved the phone in front of my face.

“Someone sold Justin Timberlake’s left-over French toast for $1,025.” I grabbed the phone and read the article. The French toast was from a breakfast interview he did in 2000. Dean explained he could easily get a hold of the celebrity’s left-over steak. I asked why a steak. He told me steak is usually more expensive than French toast, so obviously he’d be able to make more money.

Leaning back in the booth, looking over at him, it hit me that something was different about Dean. I couldn’t point to what it was, though. His haircut was the same, and he was wearing one of the three outfits he’d had on a constant loop since I first met him. Before I could figure it out, our conversation was interrupted by the waitress bringing the food to the table. My soup was cold but I didn’t say anything.

When I got home, my dog was curled up on the couch with his back facing me. It was so quiet.

“Wanna go for a walk?” He didn’t respond. I decided to google the name of the hotel Dean was working at. There was nothing else to do. I scrolled through images of enormous double-doors and ballrooms filled with intricately gilded cutlery and laughing faces stuffed into black tuxedos. At the top of the webpage is the motto, “Where dreams are reality”.

After I heard the rumors, I called Dean and asked if it was true. He hung up and blocked my number. I tried going by his house, but it was completely empty. He’d even taken his mangy dog with him. Yellow teeth and all. So, all I can tell you is what the actor said in an interview:

I was in Houston shooting for my newest project when

this waiter snatched my plate off the table. I wasn’t do-

ne with it, so I said ‘excuse me!’ but he pretended he di-

dnt hear me & kept walking. There was still a pretty big

piece of steak on that plate, so I got up to try & follow

‘em, but that’s when he started running.  The creep was try-

ing to steal my steak! It was the weirdest thing. My se-

curity finally got ‘em on the ground, & he was rolling

around with the steak clutched real tight in his hands, &

 he was saying ‘I NEED THIS STEAK! PLEASE! IT’S


 took ‘em away & he was bawling, saying he was sorry

& that he missed his dog, whatever that means. Weird

 guy. If you’re asking me, probably just another stalker

or something. You’d be surprised how many weirdos you

 run into as an actor. It’s just part of what makes it such

a brave career choice, ya know? Like being a soldier.

The interview goes on for a few more pages, but I can’t stomach it. Once I get to that part, I always fling the magazine away from myself. Its glossy cover makes a slight fluttering sound as it hits the floor.

Every now and then, I walk my dog. He just got through a flea treatment, so patches of his fur are missing. Sometimes we pass by Dean’s old house. Sometimes I just stand in front of it and look. No one else has moved in yet, and its colors are becoming more and more dull from the weather beating up on it.

I think about texting Claudia or asking my coworker to get drinks again as my eyes trace the worn shape of the house. The roof sinks towards the ground, and no curtains hide its bare walls. Dead leaves sweep across the brown lawn, whirling around in the voiceless wind before zigzagging towards the ground like bodies from a crashing plane.

We walk around town, looking at the laughing couples. The window isn’t there anymore, but I can’t help but feel so far away from them. From everyone.

I end up moving into the house. Tabloids calling Dean a stalker drove property prices so low they practically gave me the place. It’s easy to feel alone in its echoes, in nights so dark they seem endless until every morning, when a pale-blue creeps through the curtains, past the still-bare walls, and I stare up at the ceiling, waiting, grasping the cold half of the sheets.



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Five pairs of hands let me go on Monday morning. Only one pair was needed.

My supervisor did a lot of the talking, though the other four men in the room would chime in at intervals to finish his sentences. There was no pattern to their interruptions.

Poor head for numbers. Ledgers carious with miscalculations. Antisocial personality, unfit for the camaraderie of professional life. These were their words, their nasal Ivy League voices shared like a common uniform, their faces scrubbed and shaved waxy under the lights, their ties and suspenders, their matching socks.

I sat in front of them feeling like wadded-up paper, my feet planted on the white floor. I didn't want to cross my legs because my trousers were too short and my socks didn't match.

Later I would pass a man whose dog was sniffing around in the bushes. All I could see of the dog was his tail, his lead wrapped twice around his owner's firm wrist. This man looked like his socks matched.

I don't know what it's like to be that kind of person. I am done putting on such airs.

There was a pattern to their interruptions. I just couldn't see it.

They allowed me to collect my things before I was shown out. I knew the way, but I wasn't the one being shown. The rest of the accounting chamber stared down the hall after me, their shoulders bent, eyes narrow and dry under their green visors and behind their bifocals.

Five days earlier, I'd passed the rummage shop near my apartment and saw a chipped plaster replica of an Easter Island head staring out from the piles of rusted mechanical parts and wormy furniture and children's toys. I asked the proprietor how much the giant head cost. He told me. I asked who would pay so much for it. He told me he only sold what he was given. I walked away.

My supervisor did not say I was “fired.” He said, with help from the others, that I had been “let go,” which is worse. Being fired suggests a trajectory that will end somewhere. I will land somewhere. Being let go is just falling falling falling and slick stone walls on all sides and no light.

I left the office and turned left where I normally turn right. I passed rows of houses with stone porches and dark lamps in the windows. The grass and trees were green, burnt yellow in patches by the sun. The trees bent towards the sunlight and their branches drooped into the street. One house's small yard had been stamped raw, down to the dirt. Hopscotch squares had been drawn on the sidewalk.

My father used to say that a man's hardest fight was between himself and the mirror.

As I was being let go, my supervisor asked me if I had anything to say. I stared past him and the others at the stack of ledgers, their leather covers bruised by my fingerprints. I knew they'd been marked up by the senior accountants. Pens scratching in the margins and red ink welling up in loops of inscrutable cursive.

My mother used to say that what you will not do is what I will do. She drowned when I was nineteen. Nets dragged her out of the ocean, onto the boat where my father and I stood. She was smiling.

Two days earlier, I'd passed the rummage shop near my apartment and saw a dented suit of armor for sale. It was wedged between two brass outhouse fixtures, probably to keep it from toppling over. I asked the proprietor how much the armor cost. He told me. I asked who would pay so much for it. He told me he only sold what he was given. I walked away and wondered why the proprietor would sell it at all, why he wouldn't disassemble it and keep one of the arms for himself.

When my window is open and the weather is mild, I can hear the drone of crickets and birds, and the distant, funereal tones of church bells on the hour and half-hour.

My landlady hates me. She is a Christian.

Today, I passed by the rummage shop near my apartment. Twice. The first time, the proprietor wasn't sitting out front in his rocking chair. The chair was empty except for a note: Back in five minutes. There was an oversized cannon for sale. Someone had painted it like a barber's pole. I left.

I returned ten minutes later and the proprietor was there, rocking and smoking. I asked him how much the cannon cost. He told me. I asked who would pay so much for it. He told me he only sold what he was given.

When I was nine, I stepped on a fish-hook and the wound never healed properly. I think I have been slowly leaking over time, depleted by every step I take. Perhaps this is why I am a bachelor, a shelf waiting to be stocked.

I bought the cannon on credit and the proprietor offered to drive it back to my apartment for me. I rode beside it in the back of proprietor's steam-junker, trying to decide if it would fit in my building's freight elevator. I ended up leaving the cannon in the grassy lot behind my building.

Sometimes I dream of swimming towards a dim, vanishing shore, salty and sunblind, my mouth full of seaweed.

The cannon is a deceit. The fuse is a rope that, when pulled, deploys a springboard inside the barrel. Maybe there is no cannon. No window. No building. No street. No landlady. No me.

It rained overnight. The cannon's gullet stayed dry and cool.

Before the rain came, I sat on my windowsill with my legs and bare feet dangling down. I swung them back and forth, my heels knocking against the bricks. My back was turned to my degree in mathematics, crooked in the frame my father bought for it, and by proxy for me. I imagined water just below my toes, even though I live on the fifth floor of my building and everyone below me would have drowned.

I will crawl inside the barrel. I will pull the rope. I cannot pull the rope. Someone else will pull the rope. Being fired suggests a trajectory that will end somewhere. I will land somewhere. I live on the wind now.

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BURL by Drew Buxton

Tori put her hand over my mouth and pointed. I never could hide my excitement. She stood off the bed real slow and tiptoed to our bedroom door but stepped on this one creaky spot in the carpet, and you could hear Joselyn scurry back to her room.

She’d been eavesdropping on us since she could pick up what we were saying. Back when I was still working for the logging company, she overheard us talking about sending her to kindergarten for advanced kids. She got up from behind the kitchen cabinets and said no way. She had to be with everybody else, said it would be better for her socializing or something.

I got out the baggie of crank I’d picked up that afternoon and cut up some on the nightstand. We waited her out and did bumps and followed the storm on TV. We could just hear it coming in from the west, and it would stay on top of Six Rivers for another hour at least. Rain meant coverage. It meant the rangers wouldn’t be out.

Tori opened our door and crept down the hallway to the kids’ room. She came back and gave a thumbs-up. “She’s snoring, and I can hear the baby breathing too.”

I turned up the volume on the TV. “I found the biggest boulder,” I said. Boulder was code for burl even though Joselyn knew our code words. Curly swirling burl. “The gnarliest swirls you’ve ever seen. Worth 25, 30k easy,” I said, and Tori rubbed her hands together and giggled. Burl was the most beautiful fungus.

When the thunder got close we put on the sweats we kept in the bottom drawer of the dresser. We snuck to the front door and waited for a boom to turn the knob, and we waited for another to start the engine of the old-body Chevy pickup. The four-wheeler was already loaded in the bed.

I went 75 the whole way, and the heavy north Cali rain came down hard, and the wipers fought to keep up. The truck was maroon with beige trim, and the cops could spot us easy in the daytime and would pull us over just for driving west of Redding. I’d already been busted once.

For the most part Six Rivers National Forest wasn’t fenced in. It was just too big, and there were only a handful of rangers to look out for. They were smart though. Joselyn’d giggled in court when my lawyer blamed it on the drugs. She knew burl was the addiction and made me take the crank. You can’t go out there at night during a thunderstorm without a boost. They gave me probation and rehab, and on the way home Joselyn telling me how lucky I’d gotten, rubbing my baldhead and making fun of my cheap Goodwill suit.

It was still pouring when we got to the forest, and the road was empty. I had a spot I’d cleared just inside the woods where I could pull the Chevy in and be out of sight. Signs of bears were everywhere if you were dumb enough to look down or to the side—bear shit, claw marks on trees. Black bears and grizzlies.

We flew down the game trail on the four-wheeler, and Tori clung to me with the chainsaw bouncing across her back in its case. Burls, curls, swirls. The tires barely kept a grip on the mud, and the headlamps only let you see a few yards ahead in the soaked dark, but I knew the trail.

Our tree was wide as the Chevy was long and must’ve been over 1000-years-old. I showed Tori where I’d hacked at the burl with an ax to see the insides. It was beautiful with dark chocolate swirls in the pale wood, and we couldn’t wait to see the rest. I was a surgeon with the chainsaw, and soon I had all the burl growth off the base of the tree. This one could’ve made five or six gorgeous coffee tables or fancy doors, 25 Lexus steering wheels.

Redwood is like a dirty old treasure chest. It’s grey and ugly on the outside like firewood, but then you cut it open. Burl’s what got me fired from the logging company because I kept sneaking off looking for it. Joselyn had been hiding in the pantry when I told Tori. She came out and asked me how I could be so irresponsible.

“Goddamnit, the goddamn pantry? What’re you doing?” I said.

“Checking the nutrition facts of the food you’ve been giving the baby,” she said. “This obsession with burl is destroying this family.” She was tall for her age and could hold eye contact forever. She said she was worried about how it was affecting the baby’s development and future. “I do my best, but I’m only nine. He needs parents. I’m tired of changing his shitty diapers. Also the electric bill is super overdue.” She knew about the burl in the attic and under our bed and said if we didn’t stop she’d have to call CPS or tell the cops. I’d go straight to jail. That day we promised to never touch the stuff again, but how could she expect us to work for $15-an-hour when we could make thousands in one big find. Really it was for her future and the baby’s future.

We each did a bump and dragged the slabs onto the tarp. Try moving around burl without a little boost. We rambled about the swirls: 50k, 75k they had to be worth. It was three in the morning, and the storm had passed and we had to get out of there. The load was too much for the four-wheeler though. “Please, God!” Tori screamed into the sky, and I held her hands to calm her down. We’d stash some in the woods for later. We did a bump and moved two slabs behind a tree.

We got everything loaded in the truck bed and stripped off our muddy sweats and tossed them behind some bushes and drove back toward Redding in our underwear.

We had a storage unit just outside Redding, and the place was always totally empty at that time of night. There was almost no room left in our unit, and there was nothing in it but burl. Slabs stacked to the ceiling, a room full of gold. We spent 30 minutes wading through it and pushing everything to the back as tight as we could to make room. Tori cut up her knees but kept helping. We figured there was half-a-million dollars in that room easy, but the trouble was finding the right buyer, someone who would pay what it was really worth. Every burl is a unique abstract painting, and it seemed ridiculous to even try to put a price on it. I told Tori not to look at one for too long so she wouldn’t get attached. We would hold onto them until the right time.

We got back to the house at about 4:30, and it was still dark out. We pushed the truck doors halfway shut and took our time going inside. Once we got to the bedroom safe, we kept on about the swirls. “We gotta get back soon before someone finds those slabs,” Tori said, drying her hair with a towel.

“Yeah, hopefully it rains again tonight. There’s a good chance it will,” I said. “I’ll start looking for the right buyers. Just poke around and feel them out at first.”

“Exactly. Don’t show our cards too early. That’s been our problem!” Tori said. “You go in with a small sample and let them commit to a price-per-pound, and that’s when I’ll pull up with a truckload.”

“I almost think we should start our own wholesale business, sell direct to furniture manufacturers,” I said. “That way we keep all the profit.” We couldn’t stay sitting on the bed. We were spun still, off the find and the crank and the cold rain, and we forgot our code words.

There was a knock, but Joselyn didn’t wait to come in. She was totally awake, and her face demanded an explanation.

“We did a few bumps, okay? Is that a crime?” I said.

“Yes, it is actually.”

“What are you doing up?” Tori asked.

“I have a math test tomorrow, or today, I should say, and I need to review.” She came over to the bed, and Tori pulled the comforter up to her chin, but she yanked at it.

“I’m not wearing anything, honey,” Tori said.

“You’re wearing a bra. I can see the strap,” she said and felt the wet fabric.

“I just got out of the shower and didn’t dry off good.”

Joselyn put her hands on her hips, and a while went by where we couldn’t look back at her. “Big find today? Hmm? Think you’re being subtle when you pull up in the Chevy?”

We cocked our eyebrows. The truck was loud for sure. We should’ve parked a block away and pushed it. Joselyn rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders until Tori cracked and giggled, and it made me laugh too. Joselyn looked too mad to know what to say.

“Calm down, honey,” I said. “It’s only until I can find another job.”

“Shut up. You’re lucky I haven’t already called your probation officer.”

I thought she was bluffing, but she said, “4567320,” and I started crying. I didn’t have the number memorized, but that sounded right. “6578456,” she said. “You know what that is?”

I shook my head and Tori didn’t know either. She was crying now too, and she buried her face in my chest.

“It’s CPS, and don’t think I won’t call them.”

“What’s she trying to do to us?” Tori cried. “Our baby wants to destroy us!”

“Please,” Joselyn said and then broke it down. She told us she wasn’t going to school that morning to take her test. Tori would write her a letter saying she was home sick. We would take all the burl into town and take the first offer no matter what. She’d come with us. We would pay the bills with the money.

“I want a real breakfast this morning. Bacon, eggs, and toast...and I want to go to McDonald’s twice a week from now on…”

She kept on with the demands. She wanted to see San Francisco. We nodded our heads at each one, but I could only keep focused for so long, and we couldn’t make ourselves cry anymore. Joselyn didn’t know about the storage unit. I could tell Tori was fading too. I bet she was thinking about the chocolate swirls on the slabs we left at Six Rivers. Joselyn didn’t know about those either or all the rest of the burl still out there.

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

Monster Hunter: World

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


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

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DENTIST TRIP by Rebekah Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We come from the land of the ice and snow

From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow

The hammer of the gods

We'll drive our ships to new lands

To fight the horde, and sing and cry

Valhalla, I am coming!

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

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