Epiphany Magazine - epiphmag.com                               Issue 19
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Maui Holcomb    Joseph Giordano    Christopher T. Werkman   Peter Black    Adam Hoss   

Lisa M. Palin    Hollis Whitlock    Bob Williams   Julia Hones    John N. Miller  

Kathleen Brewin Lewis    Jo Wharton Heath  Terry Wall   




God's Waiting Room

By

Joseph Giordano


    
     
     
      "You're not getting married." Peter started to speak, but Laurel raised her hand. "No. I don't want to hear any more about it."
      Peter shrunk in the armchair. He pursed his lips together like a child denied dessert. He looked at his hands: wrinkled like crepe paper. Peter's voice rose. "I'm your father. When did you become my boss?"
      Laurel crouched by the armchair and took Peter's brown-spotted hand. "Dad, think about what you're proposing. It's not like she can take care of you."
      Peter pulled away. He'd been a Purple Heart recipient in World War II, and rose to hold a corner office at an insurance firm. He wasn't going to explain himself to his daughter. The nights, alone, when the prospect of death creeps into your bed and turns your heart crystal cold and your stomach sour. That's when you need someone warm beside you. What does a young person know about mortality? Grace, Laurel's mother, died ten years ago. His jaw tightened. She wouldn't stop smoking even when the doctor removed part of her lung.
      Hell, he changed Laurel's diapers and paid her way through law school. Yet she stuffed him into a nursing home, a seat in God's waiting room, and after he signed a power of attorney, she stripped him of his right to make a single decision for himself. He and Grace had a house with a pool. Now he lived in a single room. Damn it, he knew stuff. But everyone who'd agree was dead, except Evelyn. She liked his stories, including the ones he'd told ten times. They'd shared an era together. Couples married, and war veterans were heroes.
      He said, "This place has cockroaches."
      "Dad, c'mon, again with the bugs? This is the highest rated senior center in New Jersey. If you saw a cockroach, it was lost."
      "I hardly see you, so you wouldn't know if the place was hit by a plague of locusts."
      "Guilt? You're laying a guilt trip on me? Partners' hours are crazy. How do you think all this is paid for?"
      "Oh ho, you think I like being a burden? Evelyn and I will move to a place we can afford."
      Laurel rose. "Damn it, I didn't mean that." Laurel moved to the window and looked out. "Why do we always fight? I feel so drained when I leave here."
      "Then don't come. Evelyn and I can get along without you."
      "Dad, you're not getting married, and you're not moving. I'm sorry I mentioned money. Please, can't we stop arguing?"
      Peter looked at Laurel. "When you were young, you clung to me like a vine."
      Laurel turned to her father. "Dad, you were my rock." Tears welled in her eyes. She bent and caressed his neck with her hand. "I'm sorry I made you mad. I'm just worried about you making a mistake."
      "If it's a mistake, it's my mistake." Peter crossed his arms.
      Laurel straightened. "So, we're agreed? You won't marry Evelyn."
      Peter flipped the back of his hand toward Laurel. "Okay."
      Laurel sat on the arm of the chair and kissed her father's forehead. "Dad, you'll still have meals with Evelyn, and play bridge together."
      Peter looked away. "Yeah, until someone else grabs her."
      "C'mon, what is this place, Sex and the City? So we're settled?"
      "Yeah, yeah"
      "Good." Laurel stood and gathered her bag to leave.
      Peter brightened. He looked at Laurel and smiled. "We won't marry. I'll just buy Evelyn an engagement ring."




Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their little Shih Tzu, Sophia.

Joe's stories appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Black Heart Magazine, Crack the Spine, The Summerset Review, Forge, River Poets Journal, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, Writers Abroad, Bong is Bard, The Stone Hobo, Johnny America, Infective Ink, The Shine Journal, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, Milk Sugar, The Newer York and Orion Headless.






Wasted Afternoon

By

Maui Holcomb


     
      "Wrath of God," Victor said, flipping a card onto the table.
      "Oh, you BASTARD!" Harry cried. "Anyone stop him?"
      "Tapped out," went Stan.
      "Don't want to," added Trevor, looking smug. Harry was not amused.
      The guys swept their cards aside. Harry, knocked out of the game, slumped back in his chair. Wrath of God had killed all his best fighters and sapped the last of his life points. He pulled off his Giants cap and scratched his head. All the enthusiasm oozed out his body.
      They played at the dinner table their landlord had grown up around, now crowded with beer bottles and fast-food wrappers, a creeping pile of junk mail devouring one end. A three-foot glass bong, cracks repaired with packing tape, teetered atop a stack of Variety and Hollywood Reporter magazines. Across from Harry sat Trevor Phillips, thick eyebrows shadowing pale blue eyes, long blonde hair tamed with an Adidas sweatband. Victor Jimenez, chiseled in a Grateful Dead t-shirt, Fu-Manchu stache neatly trimmed, fanned his cards with the glimmer of a smirk. Stan Decker, his dark Afro piled high and stylish sideburns stretching low on his jaw-line, peered at Vic with feigned menace and chopped at a small mound of coke with a bankcard. The reek of bong-water mixed with the spoiled food stench lurking in the nearby kitchen. The dining room was in the middle of the house's open floor plan. The Wu-Tang Clan thumped from speakers a few feet away in the living room, and songbirds twittered in the backyard. It was 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon in Hollywood, March 1996.
      Nearly a year out of school, about all they knew was they didn't want to go back. After a period of temp and service jobs, Harry and Stan had landed gopher film jobs. Trevor still commuted an hour south to Palomar, where they'd attended college, for an orderly gig at an old folks home. Vic was the only one with half a foot in the new digital world, freelancing at a computer consulting shop.
      Mostly, though, they partied, chilled, and dreamed of success. Harry had a screenplay in progress on the little Mac in the corner but hadn't touched it in weeks. He spent his weekdays smoking shwag and doing runs for Maximum Entertainment, a small company on the Westside with a roster of D-list stars.
      Rising late after a night at the corner bar, they'd made a run to Jack in the Crack and settled in for one of their latest pastimes - getting high over the card game Magic: The Gathering. An addictive and violent card game in which combatants try to kill one another off, each with their own set of cards featuring warriors, wizards, fell creatures, spells and counter-spells, purchased for 3 or 4 bucks a pack. A friend had introduced them to it soon after they moved in, and they got hooked, mystifying most of the old college crew.
      Victor's Wrath of God was a powerful card that laid waste to everything in play on the table. Vic won more matches than his roommates and always seemed to throw out big cards just as Harry was particularly vulnerable. Trevor often countered spells strategically that had no effect on him just to fuck with his friends. Stan and Harry both tended to take unnecessary risks, misplay their cards, and miss crucial details.
      "Well, Vic does it again," said Trevor with a big laugh. He shuffled through his cards.
      Stan finished dividing the powder into eight strips and slid the mirror over to Harry.
      "Start it off, Beavis."
      Harry grunted, picked up a curling dollar bill. Tightened its roll. He leaned over his reflection, avoiding his own eye, stuck the bill in a nostril, and sharply inhaled a line of coke. A burning pressure shot straight to the back of his skull, spreading out and tingling as he popped his head back. Then he crouched over and switched nostrils. The room jumped into sharp focus, and he cracked his jaw and snapped his head.
      "Whoo-oo!"
      "Feel better?"
      "Oh, yeah," said Harry, clapping his hands. "Hurry up and finish the round. I'm takin' the next one."
      He leaped up and stepped into the living room. Shafts of dusty light shifted as the blinds clattered in the breeze. Two grubby couches and a black leather chair surrounded a beat-up table clustered with half-filled bottles and dirty glasses. An ashtray overflowed with lipstick-smeared butts. Trevor's big screen TV and stereo stood in front of a brick fireplace. Harry muted the music, switched on the TV, and flopped onto the chair.
      "Hey bitch!" Stan yelled at him, and then, "Demonic Trolls coming at you, Vickie."
      Harry flipped him the bird and turned the music back up. CNN streamed jerky video of grinning Russian soldiers holding up a dead Chechen by the hair. Post-nasal drip crept down Harry's throat, and he felt a shiver in his spine as the emaciated body stared at him. Unable to sit still, he popped back up and paced next to the game table.
      A soft knock turned their heads. Trevor, halfway through his coke, moved it out of sight as the door popped open. An attractive young Korean woman poked her face in.
      "Anyone home," she called. Trevor pulled the mirror back out from under the table and sucked that shit up.
      "Oh, I see," said the girl, smiling.
      "Hey," Trevor squeaked on exhale.
      "Yo," from Vic, studying his cards.
      "Hey Anne," Harry brightened up. He returned to his place at the table and cleared junk off a chair by the wall so she could sit down.
     
      "How you guys doing?" she said. "You remember Tracy, right?"
      A pale, homelier girl followed Anne inside, with large lips and floppy hair. Tracy waved to the guys with an awkward smile, and they acknowledged her with little comment. She was an old friend of Anne's who for some reason had started showing up with her lately. Anne herself, long black hair held back in a ponytail, wore baggy blue jeans and a tight maroon t-shirt embossed with the word TEXAS.
      She eased over to the table and sat down next to Harry. Lit a Marlboro and dropped the pack on the table.
      "Playing that game again, huh?" she drawled, shaking her head and grinning. "Did you guys go to college, or what?"
      "Yeah, yeah," said Stan, eyeing his cards. "You just wish you could grasp the rules." He flicked his fingers at the pile of powder.
      After the girls got their coke on, the game continued but with less enthusiasm. It was always more awkward around women. Anne pulled on her smoke obsessively, and Tracy, amped-up, couldn't sit still, jumping up to scan the DVD collection above the TV. Everyone wired now, the conversation jumped and jagged.
      Harry slouched in his chair and watched the game, not really following what anyone said, all too aware of Anne next to him, her crossed leg swinging inches from his. Though not a regular smoker, he held out two fingers and she shared her cigarette. He inhaled and handed it back, brushing her fingers. She'd been his old girlfriend's roommate and had overheard him in some vulnerable moments. Now that they were out of school he'd been edging towards making a play, but how she felt about him had always been unclear. She came around a lot, and though she was friendly with them all, he thought her attentions leaned towards him. At least in his more confident moments he did.
      "Mind if I put this in?" said Tracy, holding up a movie.
      "Sure, go ahead," replied Harry without really looking at the movie, concentrating on the cards with coked-up intensity.
      It was Trevor's turn.
      "I'm sending Death Stroke your way, Stan. Taking out your Pegasus."
      Stan pursed his lips in disgust and tossed aside the flying horse.
      "Mmm," Anne said with amusement.
      To cheer up, Stan cut some more lines, and the smudged mirror took another circuit. Harry's legs bounced under the table; by now he was pulling his own smoke, and his nose was comfortably numb.
      Then Vic unleashed another assault, this one directed at Stan, using a barrage of Fireballs to knock him out. Stan just shook his head and flipped over the last of his cards.






     



     
      "Bitch."
      "Ah, poor boy," said Anne, patting Stan's shoulder. Harry looked the other way. Tracy's mouth was hanging open at the flash-cut opening of a Hong Kong gangster flick.
      From outside came an escalating shriek of tires (they all looked up) and a BANG! right out front.
      "Oh!" Tracy jumped out of her chair.
      "What the," said Vic, and the guys all left the table.
      Harry, his car parked on the street, flung the door open with a sick feeling. It wasn't there anymore. Instead a yellow Nissan Z-car listed forward and settled, the hood a mangled mash of metal and tinkling glass. Harry turned his head and saw his crumpled five-month-old Saturn in front of the neighbor's yard. A hubcap raced away from the neighbor's car in the middle of the street.
      "Oh fuck." Harry stumbled onto the porch. "What the FUCK!"
      "Wicked," someone right behind him said from far away.
      The birds had fallen silent. On the opposite sidewalk a man in a blue jersey and brown pants sprinted away. His thudding feet made the only sound on the street.
      "Hey! Hey YOU!" Harry took off down the middle of the street in his socks.
      Neighbors began to appear at their front doors.
      "Stop that guy," Harry yelled at a middle-aged man holding a trowel, but the running guy evaded the man's awkward lunge, crossed the street, and disappeared round the corner.
      Harry's heart pounded with speedy intensity as he thumped after the guy on cold concrete, irritating pebbles, crabby blades of grass. The air sliced into his face and the mass of putty that was his nose began to tingle back to life. The guy never looked back, but Harry thought he looked Mexican. Or somewhere south of the border. He didn't have time to worry whether he should notice that or not. Wherever he came from, he was pulling away as he neared Melrose.
      "What's up?!" a voice came from a car pulling up. "I'm a cop!"
      It was a compact BMW with a young white guy in wrap-around sunglasses and a snug black cap. Harry pointed ahead.
      "He crashed into my car!"
      The guy nodded and zoomed ahead, following the suspect left at the intersection. Harry began to lag, an ache stabbing his right side below the ribs. At the intersection he glimpsed the Bimmer squealing around another corner. Paramount's stages loomed on the opposite side of the street, huge Frasier Crane with his idiot grin dominating the wall.
      Dodging cars on Melrose, slowing to a walk up Gower, Harry saw a yelping LAPD squad car approaching. He got to the alley in time to see the BMW knock the suspect to the ground with its bumper and skid to a stop.
      "Shit," Harry said under his breath as the man slid onto broken pavement.
      The guy scrambled to get up. Started back the way he'd come. Locked eyes with Harry, who had stopped behind a row of garbage bins. He was young and lean, with frantic eyes and high scratched cheekbones. Dirt streaked the number 8 on his jersey. One pant-leg hung torn at the knee, shin streaked red. The off-duty guy vaulted from his car, and the kid slipped back to the ground.
      "HOLD STILL, MOTHERFUCKER!" the cop yelled, grabbing him and pinning him against a crumbling concrete wall. The cop held his piece to the kid's head, and a uniformed policeman jumped out of the arriving squad car and trotted up to join them like they had something cool to show him. Harry wanted to leave but stood frozen, the sour drip sliding down his throat, each breath jabbing his chest. He rubbed his nose self-consciously. The new cop whacked the suspect's legs out from under him with his baton, and he crumpled to the ground, both cops towering over him, shoulders heaving. The off-duty guy kicked him in the head.
      Harry tasted slime in his mouth and turned back as another black-and-white bounced around the corner. Tried to look like he just happened by. Thumping whooshes thudded above, and a shadow passed over him. He looked up to see a police helicopter circling around as he trotted back across Melrose. Jesus. All for a few wrecked cars.
     
      Back at the house a party atmosphere had developed, the excitement bringing together normally aloof neighbors. With the street blocked, children pranced about like it was a snow day. In all, five cars had been affected. Harry saw that his had been completely crumpled in the back, the trunk smashed into the rear seats, which were squashed against the front ones. It had been pushed into a Volkswagen Jetta. The impact had twisted the Jetta to the side and pushed it across the street, where it managed to broadside two cars at the opposite curb that had thought to escape unscathed. Long black skid marks approached the wreckage from the far side and terminated at the crumpled sports car the kid had been driving. A motorcycle cop stooped over it, all bulbous helmet and shiny boots, taking notes. Another listened as Stan described the accident with wild hand gestures. Trevor posed spread-eagled in front of the Saturn, tongue lolling out, as Vic took photos. Anne and Tracy stared cross-armed at the mess with a balding neighbor who Harry hadn't met, next to what evidently was the guy's dented Mercedes convertible. Anne turned to Harry as he approached.
      "Did you catch him?"
      "Cops did," Harry waved back the way he came.
      "Some illegal shit, eh?" said the man, his twisted face splotchy and purplish.
      "Uh, yeah, maybe." Harry glanced back up the street and saw an ambulance pass on Melrose.
      "That one yours?" said a voice at Harry's shoulder. He turned to see one of the cops gesturing at the Saturn.
      "Yeah."
      "Your name?" the cop said from behind mirrored sunglasses. He chewed sunflower seeds and spit the shells to the side between sentences.
      "Harry Reynolds." He half-lifted his hand to rub his nose but forced it back down.
      The cop noted this down.
      "Just fill the rest of this information out." He handed Harry a card, attached to a compact clipboard.
      "So . . .what happens now?"
      "Call your insurance. That guy," the cop jabbed his finger up the street where the chopper still circled. "Probably stole the car and won't have insurance anyway. You covered for uninsured drivers?"
      Harry shrugged.
      "If so, you'll be fine." He spit a shell to the side. "The suspect will be arraigned. If it goes to trial, you will be contacted. There is a good chance he'll plead guilty, in which case there will not be a trial."
     
      Harry retrieved his license plate from the ground as tow trucks gathered up the wrecks. He felt spacey, and his nose dripped. He watched his car hauled away. The police weaved away on their motorcycles in the wake of the last truck. The residents of Beachwood Drive retreated back inside their homes.
     p; The door of the house had been standing open, and it was fresh and cool inside.
      "Shit," said Trevor. "Think it's time for a bowl!"
      He produced a Ziploc of herb and grabbed the bong. Anne and Tracy, flushed with excitement, pulled up chairs. Vic chortled and sorted his cards, and Stan chopped at another mound of coke.
      Harry, after digging up his insurance card, lay on his mattress and tuned into the hold music on the cordless, staring at the ceiling, dead rebels and bloody migrants shimmering across the ceiling. It was 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon, still a while till Happy Hour.






BIO: Maui Holcomb grew up in the Northwest and currently lives and writes in Burbank, California. He attended Pomona College in the 90's and toils in the lower echelons of the film industry attempting to make movies sound good. Previously published in Hobo Pancakes, Stirring, The Cynic, The Los Angeles Review of Los Angeles, OneTitle, Specter, The Writing Disorder, and Crack the Spine, he spends his free time cleaning up after his wife and two daughters.


Find more works bt Maui at: sundresspublications.com
thewritingdisorder.com/fictionseven
spectermagazine.com





Open Windows

By

Julia Hones


    
      He thrust into her body, but it was pointless. It was not going to happen. He did not belong to this place. He was like an alien in it.
      "I'm not in the right mood for this." After leaping out of the blankets, he sat on the edge of the bed. His eyes landed on the gloomy yellow walls around them and the smell of sweat made him sick. It was suffocating to be in that room without windows. "And what the hell are you doing in this brothel? This is no place for a young woman."
      Lila sat up, pulled her legs close to her chest and wrapped herself in a blanket.
      "Where are you from originally?" His question sounded like a rebuke, as if he were telling her off.
      "Paraguay."
      "What brought you to Argentina?"
      "A job"
      Her breathing became deep and her arms embraced her chest.
      "You call this a job?" He shook his head with contempt.
      "The men offered me a job as a waitress and then . . ."
      "Then you changed your mind," he said with a tinge of sarcasm.
      She shivered. "There was no job as a waitress. They forced me to do this. They forced me to work as a prostitute. They say I owe them money and they threatened to kill me if I didn't do as I was told." The words tumbled out of her mouth in a nervous whisper.
      Now he recalled the bruise on her buttock when she took off her gaudy orange dress. He noted the ashen color of her skin and the blue discoloration around her round dark eyes.
      "Did you try to escape? Did you call the police?"
      She shut her eyes, and he spotted tears sliding down her cheeks, glistening under the dim light that fell from the lamp beside the bed.
      He wouldn't take this any longer.
      "Put on that dress right now." He approached the door.
      "Please, don't say anything about this . . . they threatened to torture me if I said anything."
      The portly woman at the front desk kept answering phone calls. She had a perfunctory smile and a straightforward manner.
      "Are you done, sir?"
      "I can't do it here. The room is horrible. May I take her home? It will be more . . pleasant there." His heart pounded as if it were about to explode inside his chest. It was like being on the brink of a precipice. Men were coming and going, and the smell of tobacco was strong. With a frown, the woman threw a suspicious glance at him. Then she relented.
      "Okay, you can take her as long as you pay the difference. We double the amount. Bring her back in less than an hour."
      A pale sun shone over the highway, the air was crisp and the vast fields, far away, looked deserted. They stepped out of the brothel and got into his car. He did not know how he would help her; he did not know where she was willing to go. The next hours were an enigma.
      "You'll never come back to this place again, Lila," he said in a whisper.
      She took a deep breath. All the car windows were open, and the air carried the scent of the ocean.






BIO: Julia Hones writes short stories, flash fiction, poetry and book reviews. Her work has appeared and is forthcoming in literary journals and anthologies, both in print and online. She is the poetry editor of the Southern Pacific Review. To learn more about her published material, you can visit her literary blog: juliahoneswritinglife.blogspot















 artwork by Dan Williams

"When When"

Artwork by Dan Williams










Safe Harbor

By


Christopher T. Werkman



     
     
      The bottle danced an erratic jig. Otis saw it floating near the stern of Bubble Watcher as Andre backed the fifty-five footer into its mooring slip. Otis decided prop wash caused the motion, but even after Andre shut down the grumbling diesels, the clear-glass beer bottle continued to jiggle, bottom-end-up. While other divers off-loaded their gear, Otis watched the bottle continue to wiggle and bob amongst the Styrofoam cups, plastic bags and other harbor flotsam. He realized there had to be a creature hooked on a line tied to the bottle's neck, engaged in an unending struggle for freedom. The work of bored teens, he figured. Bait the hook and toss it in the ocean - a floating gallows. Otis grabbed the gaff, climbed out of the cockpit and shuffled along the narrow deck-space between the cabin and the gunwale, hoping the bottle would come within reach.
      "What's up?" Andre called down from the flying bridge.
      "Not sure," Otis shouted back. He could snag anything inside ten or twelve feet, but the bottle was out of range. It submerged, then popped to the surface again. Whatever the line held was too small, or weakened, to take it under for long. "C'mere," Otis hissed, in his raspy whisper. Instead, the bottle moved closer to the algae-coated jetty, green as ripe spinach. Just as Otis decided to get off the boat and try to recover the bottle from the pier's walkway, it made a break for open water, giving Bubble Watcherwide berth.
      Diving in to swim after it was Otis' only option. He noticed a tampon applicator floating in the coffee-with-cream colored shore-water. A mile or so out to sea, he could count the planks in Bubble Watcher's hull from a depth of a hundred feet; but in the marina, all manner of waste found its way into the water. Not only that, he had no idea what was hooked on the line. Getting bitten or being speared on the dorsal of a panicky fish was even less appetizing than a leap into the murky water. So, the bottle skittered away, leaving Otis as angry at his own inaction as he was with whoever set the trap.
     He jumped down onto the main deck, stowed the gaff and picked up his gear. He dove the summer-warmed ocean in his swim trunks and a tee-shirt. Since Andre, the owner, supplied him with a tank and regulator, he had only to off-load his buoyancy vest, weight belt, mask, fins and snorkel.
     Andre climbed down from the bridge and tilted his head toward the jetty. "No treasure?"
      Otis hoisted his equipment onto the pier, then glanced in the direction the bottle had taken. He wanted to tell Andre about the bottle, but the words hung in his throat.
      "Nah, turned out to be nothing."
      "How was the dive?"
      "Spec-tacular. One of those little gals and I found a sea turtle with a wad of fishing line tangled around her flippers. We cut it loose, and she followed us around for most of our dive." His smile, clipped as his diction, barely showed his teeth. "Neat."
      "That 'little gal,' the tall drink of water you surfaced with?" When Otis nodded, Andre did a once-around to make sure she wasn't nearby. "Man, Otie. I was you, I'd be on her like spar varnish."
      Otis winked. "She probably already has a grandpa." He stepped up onto the stern, then to the pier. "Same time tomorrow morning?"
      "Sure. Eleven spots reserved. Probably some walk-ins. Castin' off at ten sharp."
      "I'll fill the tanks and have everything good to go." Otis picked up his gear, walked into the dusty gravel parking lot and discovered the girl they were talking about was parked next to his car. Her shiny red SUV wore New York plates. She was toweling off her robin's-egg blue aluminum tank. A large woman with olive skin and long raven hair, she was fleshy, but athletic. He judged her to be in her thirties, and imagined she might look at home on a soccer field or a basketball court.
      "Hey, Otis." Her smile came on like high beams. "I really enjoyed the dive. That poor turtle seemed so happy when we cut off the fish line."
      "Yeah, glad we ran across her. Damned monofilament line is ruining the ocean." The jittering bottle did an encore in his memory as he opened his car's trunk and laid his gear inside. He almost mentioned it, but as he turned to face her, she stooped to remove the regulator from her tank. Instead, Otis watched the top of her Day-Glo pink swimsuit strain to contain her breasts.
      She stood and gave him a knowing look. "I bet you'd like one of these." She stowed the regulator in the back of her car, and pulled two cans of beer from a cooler.
      "There's the way to my heart, girl. Thanks."
      "What makes you think I'd want your heart?"
      "You wouldn't." He opened the can and took a sip. "It's old and worn out, just like the rest of me."
      She laughed hard. "I work with guys half your age who will never be in the shape you're in."
      "Then they have my sympathy. And what is it you do up there in ... ?"
      "Schenectady. Marketing."
      Otis grinned. "Convincing people to buy what they don't know they need?"
      She wrinkled her nose. "Sometimes. Or that what they bought from me a year ago isn't as good as what I have to sell them today. Companies though, not people." She closed the SUV's back hatch and leaned against it, her reflection on the window doubling her beauty. She explained that she was a refugee from the dot com collapse of the late nineties and she'd sold soft ware for six years. "The company is moving into a new building in late August, so I bumped my vacation up a few weeks. I get a corner office with a great view of a park, and I want to be there to make sure it's arranged the way I want."
      "Well, if you have to work, it sounds like you've got a great situation."
      "Have to work." Her laugh rolled. "That's right, you said you retired. What did you do before you became a dive bum?"
      "Michigan State Patrol. Was a trooper for thirty-two years. My wife, Jayne, died a few years back after ten rounds with breast cancer. Right after that, I had a bout with the big C, myself."
      For the first time, a serious expression cleared away the woman's smile. Her dark eyes brimmed with concern, making her even lovelier. "Oh, Otis." She touched his arm lightly. "You're okay now?"
      "Seem to be. Had surgery and some radiation." Radiation scared him, especially because he believed exposure from traffic radar caused the cancer in the first place. When the course of treatment ended, he was declared clear of disease, but lacked confidence in his body. To his way of thinking, nurturing cells bent on his destruction amounted to treason. As a trooper, he relied on his body to safeguard his life. Its dalliance with cancer shook him to his core. On the way home from his final radiation treatment, he saw a mid-sixties Pontiac GTO gleaming beneath the wind-tickled plastic flags on a used car lot. Half an hour later, he was writing the chain-smoking salesman a check. The car took Otis back to the time when he was young, strong and healthy. At another level, although he never conceptualized it, the control he exerted over such a powerful machine transposed into a feeling of mastery over his body. Otis viewed the GTO as an outgrowth of his psyche, although the reverse was probably closer to the truth. "But, yeah," he told her. "I've been clear since."
      "And you had it ... where? Do you mind my asking?"
      Otis shrugged. "Not if you don't mind me telling you. My testicles. They took the right one. Managed to save the left." He raised his eyebrows, amplifying his grin. "Easier to cross my legs, now."
      Dark as she was with a tan compounding her complexion, her blush ripened. "I'm sorry" She laughed. "I deserved that."
      Otis shook his head. "No. You really didn't. I should watch my manners. I'm the one who's sorry."
      She waved off his apology. "So, Mr. Trooper-man, if I was boogying on down here to Florida and you pulled me over, would you give me a ticket?" she asked, challenging him with a quirky lopsided grin.
      "Damned betcha!" He enjoyed her obvious surprise. "If I stopped you, you'd have been doing at least five over. I let a few folks off if their story was creative enough, but never a good-looking lady."
      "Well, I suppose that's a compliment, but why not the pretty ones?"
      "Because lookers get breaks all of their lives. They expect to get off easy. I always enjoyed disappointing them."
      She finished her beer. "You're a study, Mr. Trooper-man. But today was wonderful. You're a great diver."
      "Oh, you're pretty good, yourself. Do you have much chance to get deep, up north."
      "Quite a bit. In the warm months, anyway. I've dived Lake George lots of times, and the Finger Lakes. The water's beautiful. Clear as a crystal, but cold. You wear a full wet suit, or you stay in the boat. That's why I love it down here, diving in just a swim suit. I'm surprised you wear a tee-shirt."
      Otis chuckled. "Tracy, at my age, the more you wear, the better people like to see you."
      "So, you do remember my name. I was beginning to wonder."
      "Sure." He took the empty can from her and started for a trash barrel. "You told me on the boat. Tracy Walterman. Cops remember names."
      She laughed. "It'sWelterman."
      "Well, I'm a retired cop with old ears."
      "Mr. Otis Trooper-man Cop, I head back north tomorrow, and I'm going to my favorite seafood joint tonight. If you'd be my guest, I'd leave Lauderdale feeling like I've evened the score for a terrific dive."
      Otis wished he was twenty years younger, and that he didn't already have plans for the evening. "It's nice of you to offer, but I have a gal friend I promised to take to dinner tonight."
      Tracy's smile lost its usual symmetrical balance again, pulling itself higher on the left and forming a shallow cleft in her cheek. "I feel silly. I should have figured a man like you was busy, if not spoken for."
      "To be honest, I've been wondering the same about you. A fine looking lady like yourself can't get one of them New York boys to tear himself away from the office long enough to come along to Florida?"
      "I think I intimidate a lot of them. My height." She shrugged and turned her palms to the late afternoon sky. "I've dated some guys as tall as me, and even some who were shorter. I don't have a problem with it, and it always seems okay, at first. But it's like, somehow the reality catches up when the newness wears off. They stop calling." Her hands rose gracefully to rest on the smooth curved cliffs of her hips. "That, and I'm pretty independent, probably on the pushy side, which might put some of them off. It's nothing for me to pack my gear and drive down here alone. The right guy will eventually stumble by, or I'll stumble across him. In the meantime, I just do what suits me." Her smile straightened.











     
      Something about the way Tracy punctuated her final sentence with a jut of her chin made a memory flicker. Otis recalled an evening on the patio-deck of a house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He and Jayne were drinking wine while their steaks grilled. Earlier that day, Jayne told him about the lump her doctor found in her breast. "Don't worry, Otie. I'll beat this," she told him, cocking her head with her typical spunk. His awareness slipped back into the parking lot, and he smiled at Tracy. "I think you're doin' it all just right."
      She extended her hand. "I'm so glad we rescued the turtle. I'll always remember that. You're a good man. And a great diver."
      He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "You drive careful tomorrow. Watch out for those bad old cops, and good luck with your new office."
      Otis allowed himself some wistful fantasy as he watched Tracy drive off. "Might haves" and "could haves" swirled in his mind like scuba bubbles. Kate, the lady he was taking to dinner that night, was a close friend, but neither of them had a lasting relationship in mind. A quick phone call could have smoothly extricated him from their plans, with no hard feelings. However, the way things played out with Tracy was for the best. That's what Otis decided to believe.
      Just as he relaxed into reluctant acceptance, however, the specter of the wriggling bottle returned. "A good man," he muttered, walking back to the pier. Andre was gone, the area deserted. Most of the slips were occupied now, with boats tied at rest for the night. Wavelets slapped at Bubble Watcher's hull as he peered into the space between the boat and the jetty, where he first noticed the bottle. Only an iridescent petroleum slick rode the gentle swells. He ambled a short distance along the pier, watching for any movement not associated with natural wave action. After searching unsuccessfully around several moored vessels, he walked slowly back to his car. The bottle and Tracy were both gone.
     
                               *** *** ***
     
     Otis got into his GTO and fired the big engine. Neither the bottle, nor the beautiful girl from New York would stop looping through his mind. Those two unrecoverable losses nagged at him all the way to his townhouse. As he idled past the fastidiously maintained and almost identical dwellings in the gated community, he traded waves with several of his elderly neighbors. At fifty-eight, Otis was the junior resident of the neighborhood, and the object of a lot of gossip, he learned. The fact that he was considered a mystery man amused him. There were no dark secrets. After a couple months alone in the house he once shared with Jayne, he decided he would be happiest if he clung to the memories, but changed his surroundings. Early on the morning he set off from Ann Arbor for Ft. Lauderdale, Otis paged through an album of photographs chronicling his marriage. Jayne assembled it while she fought for her life, and her swoopy feminine script titled or commented on every picture. Other than the album, his clothes and his car, the only other possession he brought south was a set of golf clubs his co-workers at the patrol post gave him as a retirement gift. He enjoyed golf, but made up his mind to expand his interests when he came south. He met Kate, another transplant from the north, playing tennis. Scuba led to his part-time job, which offered free diving and some extra walking-around money. There was nothing for his neighbors to discover, but he enjoyed fostering their speculation by volunteering little about himself in chats out on the lawn.
      After cutting the sea salt with a steamy shower, Otis dressed in khaki shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and sandals. He just picked up his keys and started for the door, when the phone rang. "Hi, Kate," he said. "I was just on my way over." He glanced at his watch. He wasn't late, so he knew something else was going on. "Everything okay?"
      "Oh, Otie." Kate's voice dropped into the apologetic range. "Charlotte called this morning. We have a problem at one of my stores, the one in Cicero. I don't know, some kind of big blow up with the new manager. The groomer there, a man who has prepped dogs for Westminster, is threatening to quit."
      "That isn't good."
      "Not even a little bit. Charlotte could probably handle it, but I want to be sure that groomer knows I think enough of him to take care of it personally." She paused. "God, it sounded so simple. Put the business in competent hands, bask in the Florida sun and collect checks."
      "Except for a hiccup here and there, it's gone pretty well."
      She chuckled, and Otis pictured the way her deep smile lines framed her lips. Jayne had true dimples, but Kate's smile lines did close impressions. "I guess you're right. Well, anyway, I'm flying to Chicago tonight, in about an hour and a half. I admit it's an excuse to see my grandkids, too. There was no way to let you know, sooner. Char didn't call until after you'd cast off." Kate clicked her tongue. "You won't carry a cell. Anyway, tonight's a no-go, Otie. I'm sorry."
      He smiled his tight smile. "Don't give it a thought. Go take care of business."
      Otis scooped up his keys and walked out to his car. On his way back to the marina, he peered into the parking lot of every seafood place he passed on the chance he'd spot a red SUV with New York plates. His imagination refused to leave Tracy's sumptuously upholstered body alone.
      Tide's Inn was no tourist hangout. Its shabby yellow exterior had a "needing maintenance" look that repelled snowbirds, and attracted locals who preferred not to mingle with them. The restaurant/bar sat in a cluster of similar businesses, only a few blocks from the slip where Bubble Watcherwas tied off, and Otis ate there often. He loved the sea, but preferred beef to fish. Sid, the owner, named an open-faced steak sandwich in his honor.
      Sid whisked Otis' empty plate away. "OT Special met your exacting standards tonight?"
      "I don't know about any 'exacting standards,'" he said through a wry smile, "but it tasted plenty good."
      Sid laughed. "Another beer?"
      Otis stood and dropped several bills on the shiny dark bar top. "Thanks anyway, buddy. I've got a lot of tanks to fill tonight."
      Andre's dive shack was so well insulated from the locomotive-like commotion of the huge compressors in the back, Otis didn't have any trouble hearing the Rolling Stones on the tiny transistor radio dangling from a ceiling joist. Sweat wallpapered his shirt to his back while he stood in the yellowish light leaking from the single bulb hanging like a noose from the ceiling. He swatted at the occasional mosquito, waiting for the air pressure gauge to reach three thousand pounds. Then he shut the valve, hit the switch to kill the compressors and disconnected the final four tanks from their supply hoses. Pulling them out of the cooling bath, he stacked them with the others.
      Otis got a cold beer from the dingy refrigerator, stepped out into the humid darkness and locked the door. He already decided to spend the night on Bubble Watcher. With the beers at dinner, the one in his hand made five. He didn't feel affected, but any thought of a DUI overruled a drive home.
      Otis walked to the edge of the pier. He looked into the water where he first spotted the bottle that afternoon. The surface was smooth. Nothing stirred outside the frequency of the water's gentle rise and fall, the ocean's heartbeat. He boarded Bubble Watcher, climbed the ladder to the flying bridge and settled into the comfortable captain's chair. Sipping his beer and gazing into the star-speckled sky, he awaited the moonrise. Although it was quiet for a Saturday night, muted music and laughter made the drift across the water. Otis fantasized about what entertained the unseen merrymakers.
      He thought of Kate and of Tracy. Although female companionship was a tempting notion, Otis didn't believe he was lonely. He accepted being solitary as a carryover from his former career. The job of a patrol officer was, after all, to ride alone and observe the behavior of others, something that was second nature to him. Was he to walk back into Tide's Inn, it was a good bet someone would call him by name and offer to buy him a drink. However, he would be just as happy to sit by himself and watch people argue with, seduce, and entertain each other. Besides, there was no one in that bar, or anywhere on Earth, whom he could tell about the bottle.
      When he finished his beer, Otis let his head loll against the high seatback. His awareness soon dissolved into slumber, and a dream formed in which he floated close above the ocean, his body rising and falling in harmony with the wave action. The full moon glowed and he watched his shadow dance on the sparkling breakers below. He soared off like Superman, toward the beach where the restless swells rolled and broke against the sand, their roar evaporating into a foamy hiss.
      Then, through luminous curtains of mist, he spotted the silhouette of a figure in the distance. Zooming off in that direction, low over the broken water, Otis rose to hover above a woman wading hip deep in the roiling surf. The hem of her dress swirled about her on the turbulent indigo surface like light-colored paint. Just as Otis realized the woman in the midst of the surge was Jayne, he noticed the bobbing bottle, riding the swells near where she stood. "Jayne!" Otis called out several times, but she couldn't hear him.
      Then, just as he hoped, she saw the bottle and reached to grab it from a frothy roller. Otis held his breath while, hand over hand, she gathered the line until a silvery fish, less than a foot long, emerged from the water. She deftly unhooked the struggling creature and let it slip free.
      A departing freighter's horn roused Otis from his sleep. He glanced at the clock on the pilot's console. 9:45. He had only napped a few minutes. Regardless, he felt more refreshed than he would have expected. Moreover, Otis awakened into a soothing calm, much the way he felt when Bubble Watchermade safe harbor with all its divers. He remembered dreaming, but as often happens, he lost any distinct images in the fog that borders consciousness. He recalled something about the moon reflecting on the sea, but in seconds, even that slipped into his mental mists.
      He picked up his beer and the warm glass reminded him it was empty. He tipped it up, but only a trickle made its way down its long neck. Thirsty, he climbed down from the bridge, jumped onto the pier and started for the dive shack where the old refrigerator held some cold ones.
      Otis changed his mind. What the heck. It's still early. I'll head for Tide's Inn. Or maybe even someplace else.
     





BIO: Christopher T. Werkman lives with his partner, Karen, and too many cats on a few acres outside Haskins, Ohio. A retired art teacher, he still paints, but his passion is writing fiction. When he isn't writing, he plays too much golf in the summer, too much tennis in the winter, and rides his motorcycle too fast.

His stories appear in literary journals: Lynx Eye, Quality Fiction, Word Catalyst Magazine, 50 to 1, Litro: Stories That Transport You, Journal of Microliterature, 5923 Quarterly, Specter Magazine; and in anthologies: Hannibal's Manor, Short Sips, Coffee House Flash Fiction, and Daily Flash: 366 Days of Flash Fiction.







Blackness

By


Peter Black



     
     
     "If you shoot me you'll never see the treasure," the man says. He hangs upside down, ropes tied around his feet.
     "How are you still conscious?" Robertson asks. "You've been hanging there for an hour."
     "I have a big brain," the man says. He is tall and very thin. Messy brown hair dangles in front of his soft face. "And if you shoot it, you'll never get to see the treasure."
     Robertson is a short, balding man with a scruffy brown beard. He shoves his gun into the man's stomach. "I wasn't going to shoot you in the head, I was going to shoot you in the liver."
     "Whatever. If you shoot me, you'll never get to see the treasure."
     Robertson pulls up a chair and sits down. "What is this treasure you speak of?"
     "It's black," the man says.
     "Ash?"
     The man shakes his head and sways back and forth on his ropes. "No, it is not ash. Untie me and I'll show you."
     A cell phone rings. Robertson picks it up. "Hello?"
     "Hello," says a voice. "Is this Gutterson?"
     "No," Robertson says. "Gutterson is in the other room. This is Robertson."
     "We've got a problem," the voice says.
     "What?" Robertson asks.
     "That guy you've got tied up in there is some sort of god."
     "God?" Robertson says. "What kind of god?"
     "The powerful kind. If you shoot him, you'll die."
     "What? Why?"
     "That's just the way it works."
     "He said something about treasure."
     "Did he say, if you shoot him you'd never get to see the treasure?"
     "Yeah."
     "He's trying to convey a meaningful message," the voice says. "Don't worry about it."
     "He said the treasure is black."
     "Hippie bullshit. Just ignore it."
     "What the hell am I supposed to do with him?" Robertson asks.
     "Bury him alive," the voice says.
     "What?"
     "Bury him twelve feet deep. He won't be able to get out."
     "Will he die?"
     "Of course he'll die."
     "I thought you said if he dies then I die," Robertson says.
     "No," the voice says, "you just can't kill him directly. If you bury him underground you're not really killing him. Oxygen deprivation is."
     "I'm not really killing him with a gun either," Robertson says. "The bullet is."
     "Listen, Robertson. Don't argue with me. Are you gonna bury him or not?"
     "Do you have any idea how long it will take me to dig a twelve foot deep hole?"
     "No, I don't." Click.
     Robertson throws the phone on the ground.
     "Who was the that?" the god asks.
     "My boss," Robertson says. "He says you're full of shit."
     "I am not," the god says. "Untie me and I will show you the treasure."
     Robertson walks through a door to an identical room.
     Gutterson is sitting in a chair holding a gun. A man hangs upside down across from him.
     "What's your status?" Gutterson asks.
     "Just got a call from the boss," Robertson says. "Says the guy we got in the other room is some sort of god."
     "What kind of god?" Gutterson asks.
     "The powerful kind."
     Gutterson nods at his hanging man. "This guy says he can make us rich."
     "That's what my guy said too."
     "So they're both gods?" Gutterson asks.
     "Probably," Robertson says. "The boss told me to bury mine twelve feet deep."
     "Why?"
      "If I don't, I'll die." Robertson says.
     
     "Hmmm . . . " Gutterson says. "We better bury my guy too then."
     Robertson and Gutterson untie their prisoners and march them outside.
     Gutterson points his gun at them. "Dig."
     The gods start digging.
     "Hurry up," Gutterson says. "I'm getting hungry."
     The gods dig and dig and dig. Finally, after several hours, they both stand in a twelve-foot deep hole.
     "Alright," Robertson says to the gods. "Now we're gonna bury you."
     "While we're sill alive?" one of them asks.
     "Yeah," Robertson says. "That's how it's gotta go or we die."
     Gutterson and Robertson begin shoveling the dirt back into the hole.
     The gods look at each other. "What about the treasure?" they ask.
     Gutterson and Robertson stop shoveling.
     "There is no treasure," Robertson says.
     "Yes there is," the gods say.
     "Well, where is it?" Robertson asks.
     The gods point at the surrounding jungle. "In there."
     "What is it?" Robertson asks.
     "Take us," the gods say, "and we'll show you."
     Gutterson keeps shoveling. "Don't listen to 'em, Rob," he says. "These guys are clever ones. Don't let them fool you."
     "We're not fooling you," the gods say. "The treasure is in the jungle."
     "Maybe we should go check it out," Robertson says.
     Gutterson stops shoveling. "Have you lost your damn mind? I'm not going anywhere with these freaks. Let's bury 'em and go get some dinner."
     Robertson shrugs. "Fine, whatever."
     "You are making a terrible mistake," the gods say. "The treasure is less than five miles away."
     "Oh yeah?" Gutterson responds. "Well you're less than three minutes away from being buried. Now shut up and let's get it over with."
     "But if you bury us, you'll never find the treasure."
     "What exactly is the treasure?" Robertson asks.
     "It's black."
     "Doesn't sound like anything I'd be interested in," Gutterson says. "I prefer my treasure gold. Or dull green."
     "It is all of those things," the gods say.
     Robertson stops shoveling. "I thought you said it was black?"
     "All colors combined are black," the gods say. "So it is any color that you wish."
     "I thought all colors combined were white," Robertson says.
     "No, black."
     "Is it worth anything?" Robertson asks.
     "Yes," the gods say. "It will make you rich."
     A blue tiger jumps out of the jungle.
     Robertson drops his shovel. "Holy shit!"
     Gutterson points his gun at the tiger.
     "Whoa," the tiger says. "Cool it, man."
     Gutterson lowers the gun.
     "You can talk?" Robertson asks.
     "Have you ever seen a blue tiger that can't talk?" the tiger responds.
     "I've never seen a blue tiger," Robertson says.
     "Exactly," the tiger says. "I was taking a dump in the trees over there and heard you guys. There is a treasure. These two aren't lying."
     "And why should we believe you?" Gutterson asks.
     "There has been talk of it in the jungle for years. Many of have gotten close, some have seen it, but none have ever captured it. Apparently it is priceless and extraordinarily beautiful."
     "See," the gods say. "We told you."
     Gutterson and Robertson look at each other.
     "What do you think?" Gutterson asks.
     "Might as well check it out," Robertson says. "Let's just bury these two after we find it."
     "What about the tiger?" Gutterson asks.
     "Yeah," the tiger says. "What about me?"
     "We appreciate the info," Robertson says to the tiger, "but I'm afraid we can't take you along. We're keeping these two prisoner and you'd probably just get in the way."
     "You kidding me?" the tiger says. "I've been looking for this treasure for the last five years. I should be married and have kids by now."
     "We're sorry for your troubles. But Gutterson and I are criminals, and criminals always claim all the money for themselves. Our reputation is at stake."
     The tiger scratches his head. "Well, if you guys don't take me, then I'm going to eat both of you."
     "Uh, we have guns."
     "Guns don't hurt blue tigers. I'm immune to their bullets."
     "Bullshit," Gutterson says.
     The tiger stands on his hind legs. "Go ahead. Give it your best shot, so to speak."
     Gutterson shoots. The bullet explodes in a cloud of blue smoke on the Tiger's chest.
     "See, asshole?"
     "Goddamnit," Gutterson says.
     "I don't like tigers," one of the gods says.
     "Since when do you have any say in this?" Gutterson responds. "What's your name, tiger?"
     "My name is Tiger," the tiger says.
     "That's easy to remember. I'm Gutterson, this is Robertson, and these are the gods."
     "What kind of gods?" Tiger asks.
     "The powerful kind."
     The five enter the jungle. It's thick and dark and wet. Massive trees tower above them. Big green leaves hang lazily in the underbrush. Lizards, snakes and bugs scurry across the ground. An owl howls in a tree. Monkeys swing from branches.
     "Smells like sulfur in here," Robertson says.
     "Smells like tiger shit," Gutterson says. "Don't you have any friends or family, Tiger?"
     "I did once," Tiger says. "Used to hunt antelope with my dad in a few miles west. But you're on your own once you turn eighteen."
     "And why is that?" Robertson asks.
     "Tigers are narcissists. They do everything by themselves and for themselves."
     Gutterson stops walking and turns to the gods. "Which way?"
     The gods point into the jungle. "Follow closely or you will succumb to the terrors of the jungle."
     Tiger nods at the gods. "Where'd you find these two?"
     "We were taken from our homes against our will," the gods say.
     "Homes?" Gutterson responds. "You guys were living under a bridge down by 39th street."
     "And we were then hung upside down and beaten with sticks for hours," the gods say.
     "That's a bit of an exaggeration," Robertson says. "It was more like an hour and a half. And our boss told us to do it so what can you do? If your boss tells you to do something you gotta do it."
     "Understandable," Tiger says.
     The gods lead them through thick bushes. They hack their way through with hands and claws. Eventually they reach a small river.
     The gods hold up their hands. "This river is deeper than it looks," they say.
     "How deep?" Robertson asks.
     "Deeper than it looks."
     "How deep does it look?" Robertson asks.
     "Deep," the gods say.
     "I can't swim," Robertson says.
     "Neither can I," Gutterson says.
     "Pathetic," Tiger says.
     "We didn't grow up in the jungle like you."
     "Well," Tiger says. "I suppose we'll just have to leave you two behind."
     "You can't leave us behind," Gutterson says.
     "Agreed," the gods say. "We told them we'd bring them to the treasure."
     "These guys were gonna kill you!" Tiger says. "And they still are!"
     "Regardless," the gods say. "We gave them our word."
     "You gotta be kidding me," Tiger says.
     Silence.
     Tiger sighs. "I suppose they'll have to ride on my back then."
     "Aren't there any other options?" Robertson asks.
     "No," the gods say. "This river must be crossed to reach the treasure."











     
     Silence.
     "Fine," Gutterson says and jumps on Tiger's back.
     Robertson sighs and hops on too.
     "Ouch!" Tiger yells.
     "What?"
     "You fucks are heavier than I thought," Tiger says. "Hopefully we don't all drown."
     The gods and Tiger jump into the water.
     "Ah, it's freezing!" Tiger yells.
     They swim for a few minutes. Then, suddenly, one of the gods starts thrashing and screaming.
     "What's wrong?" Robertson yells over the howls.
     "A shark's got him," the other god says calmly.
     "A shark in a river?"
     The other god watches his friend thrash and scream. "It appears so."
     "Not possible," Robertson says. "Must be a crocodile."
     "No," the god says. "It is most certainly a shark."
      The screaming god disappears under water.
      "I believe it ate him," the remaining god says.
      Silence.
      "Swim!" Gutterson screams. "Swim, swim!"
      Tiger paddles furiously. The god begins an elegant breaststroke.
      They swim and swim and swim. Several minutes later, Tiger claws his way onto the bank and collapses, panting. The god takes a deep breath and wipes himself off with a leaf.
      "Nice work, Tiger," Gutterson says and slaps Tiger on the back.
      "Fuck you," Tiger gasps.
      Robertson looks back at the river. "Sorry about your friend, god."
      The god shakes his head. "He wasn't my friend, he was my fellow."
      "Uh, okay," Robertson says.
      "He also once informed me that if he were to ever be eaten alive, he would prefer to be eaten by a shark."
      "Well I suppose he's lucky then," Robertson says.
      "Indeed," the god says. "Shall we continue?"
      "You ready, Tiger?" Gutterson asks.
      "Fuck you."
      The hike and hike and hike. They thrash through heavy underbrush, stumble down slopes, dodge snakes and monkeys, climb trees and wade through swamps. It gets dark. The moon pierces through the thick jungle canopy; slivers of light dance across their faces.
     Robertson collapses onto a stump. "We need to rest."
     Tiger lies down. "Yeah. My paws hurt."
     "We are nearly to the hill of the razor grass," the god says.
     "How big is it?" Robertson asks.
     "Quite large," the god says. "The largest hill you've ever seen. And it is covered with razor sharp grass that will rip you to shreds."
     "What?"
     "Yes. The pain will be excruciating."
     "Let's camp here then," Gutterson says. "Go fetch us some firewood, god."
     They all sit around a fire. Tiger has his head in his paws. Robertson leans on a stump and smokes a cigarette. Gutterson takes a sip of whiskey and passes the bottle to the god.
     The god stares at it. "I don't drink."
     "Live a little," Gutterson says.
     "I'm not alive. I'm a god."
     "That will give you life," Gutterson responds.
     The god grabs the bottle and takes a swig.
     "Good stuff, huh?"
     "No," the god says. "It's quite terrible."
     "So where you from anyways?" Robertson asks.
     "Heaven," the god says.
     "What's it like up there?"
     "The weather is nice."
     "Are you a Christian?" Robertson asks.
     "No," the god says.
     "Muslim?"
     "No."
     "Jew?"
     "No. The religions you speak of were formed in the depths of hell. I'm from heaven, not hell."
     "Jesus was from hell?" Gutterson asks.
     "Jesus was a reincarnation of the devil," the god says.
     
                                    #
     
      The next day they wake up early to a sunny sky. Parrots and exotic birds chirp. Dew drips from branches and leaves. They gather their things and begin walking. After an hour of hiking they reach a clearing. A gigantic hill, covered in long, glistening red grass, stands in front of them.
     "So this is the hill," Gutterson says.
     "Indeed," the god says. "The hill of razor grass."
     "Why's it red?" Tiger asks.
     "It is covered in blood," the god says. "From those that have attempted to reach its peak."
     Silence.
     "So how are we supposed to get up it?" Robertson asks.
     "Walk," the god says.
     "How can we walk through razor grass?"
     "The secret to the hill," the god says, "is to walk on top of the grass. For if you fall in it, you will surely be ripped to shreds."
     "How do you walk on grass?" Robertson asks.
     "The secret to walking on grass," the god says, "is to walk on your hands."
     Silence.
     "How are we supposed to walk on our hands?" Robertson asks.
     "Is not that hard," the Tiger says. "I spend half my time on my hands."
     "The secret to walking on your hands," the god says. "Is balance."
      "I can't walk a foot on my hands, let alone up a whole hill." Robertson says.
      "Yeah," Gutterson agrees.
      "Understandable," the god says. "I will carry you."
      "What?" Gutterson and Robertson say.
      "You will hang onto my legs while I walk on my hands."
      "You can carry us?"
      "I am a god. Of course I can carry you."
      "What about me?" Tiger asks.
      "You will have to do it yourself," the god says.
      "I don't know if I can make it all the way up the hill on my hands," Tiger says.
      "Well, then you will be ripped to shreds."
      The god props himself up on his hands. "Let's go."
      Gutterson and Robertson each grab a hold of the god's legs and shove their dangling feet into his crouch.
      "Remember," the god says. "If you fall, you will surely be ripped to shreds."
      "You've made that perfectly clear. Let's go."
      The Tiger sighs, throws his hind legs in the air, and stands on his front paws. "This is gonna suck."
      The god places one hand on top of the grass and then the other. The grass sways but does not collapse. The god slowly begins to move up the hill. Robertson and Gutterson clutch his legs.
      They climb and climb and climb. The god doesn't make a sound. Tiger starts to pant. "I'm not sure I can make it," Tiger says, his arms shaking. "I'm tired."
      "If you fall," the god says, "you will surely be ripped to shreds."
      "How much further is it?" Robertson asks.
      "We are near the top," the god says.
      Tiger continues to shake. "I don't know if I can make it. I knew that razor grass was going to be the end of me!"
      "No one is dying in the razor grass," Robertson says.
      "If Tiger falls," the god says, "he will surely die."
      "Understand that," Robertson says. He turns to Tiger. "Listen Tiger, you have to keep walking."
      "Go on without me," Tiger says. "I don't have the moral fiber to continue."
      "You may not have the moral fiber," Robertson says, "but you do have tiger blood."
      "Why don't we just leave him?" Gutterson asks. "He can't eat us if he's dead. More treasure for us."
      "True," Robertson says. "It's an interesting ethical dilemma. Tiger carried us across the river so I feel like we owe him. But then again, we are criminals, and our reputation is at stake."
      "I vote for reputation," Gutterson says. "Besides, Tiger only carried us across because he had to. He wanted to leave us there."
      Tiger's arms shake violently.
      "Assholes!"
      Tiger's arms crumple and he falls into the grass. Robertson closes his eyes. Gutterson shudders. The god watches.
      Thud. The grass crumbles under Tiger's weight. He lies sprawled on the ground.
      "Is he dead?" Robertson asks, eyes still closed.
      "Uh, no," Gutterson says.
      Tiger sits up, shocked, and rubs his body. "I didn't get cut once! I'm invincible!"
      Robertson opens his eyes. "What the hell?"
      "I thought you said this grass would tear us apart," Gutterson says to the god.
      "Very peculiar," the god says. "I must have been thinking of another hill.
      Apparently this is the hill of red grass, not razor grass."
      "Jesus Christ." Gutterson jumps into the grass.
      "Is it safe?" Robertson asks.
      Gutterson wiggles his legs. "Yeah. It's actually kind of warm and fuzzy."
      Robertson hops down. "Goddamnit, god."
      The god jumps to his feet. "A slight miscalculation."
      Gutterson starts walking. "Let's go."
      They make it to the top of the hill and look down. Evening has come and there is a slight breeze. A cell phone rings.
      "Hello?" Robertson asks.
      "Gutterson?" a voice says.
      "No, this is Robertson."
      "Where's Gutterson?"
      "I'm with him."
      "Did you bury the gods yet?"
      Robertson rubs his chin. "Ah, no. Not yet. We had a problem with the hole."
      "What kind of problem?"
      "The dirt was too soft."
      "What do you mean, too soft?"
      "The gods climbed right out of it. We had to take them elsewhere."
      "Are they buried?"
      "Not quite. They're digging the hole now."
      Silence.
     "I received word from someone," the voice says, "someone that I trust dearly - that one of the gods was eaten by a shark. Is this true?"
      "No sir," Robertson says. "Completely false."
      "Hmm hmm," the voice says. "For your sake, I hope so."
      "I assure you that the situation is under control, sir," Robertson says.
      "Okay, Robertson. But let me just say this. If I find out that you went on a treasure hunt with those lunatics then I'm going to play volleyball with your decapitated head."
      "I understand sir. And I just want to say thank you for your patience - " Click.
      Robertson looks at the phone.
      "What'd he say?" Gutterson asks.
      "Nothing. Let's go."
      They hike along the crest of the hill. Darkness falls and a billion stars twinkle in the sky. Nothing but blackness lies in front of them.
      "Where are we?" Tiger asks. "We are approaching the end of the world," the god says.
      "What do you mean, the end of the world?" Robertson asks.
      "I mean the point where the world comes to an end," the god says.
      "I thought the world was round," Robertson says.
      "No," the god says. "Nothing is round. Everything has an end, and we are rapidly approaching the end of the world."
      "I see," Robertson says. "And what's at the end?"
      "The treasure," the god says.
      "I don't understand," Tiger says. "How can the treasure be at the end of the world, if the end of the world is the end of the world?"
      "You'll see," the god says.
      They walk further. It gets darker. The stars fade into blackness.
     









 artwork by Dan Williams

"I Will"

Artwork by Dan Williams










The Manifestation of the Devil

Psychological Horror

By


Hollis Whitlock



     


      Peter stepped into the fraternity house of Omega after his final exam. The familiar voice of Lucifer called.
      "Have a drink my loyal friend."
      Peter placed his books on the kitchen table. A bottle of red wine, with one drink remaining, stood erect on the counter next to an empty wineglass.
      "Thank you, I will," Peter replied.
      Peter grabbed the bottle and placed the spout to his nose. The sweet, yet foul essence of fermenting grapes permeated.
      "What are you waiting for?"
      "There's merely but a mouthful. I'm savoring our final drink together."
      Peter placed the spout to his mouth and tilted his head back. The liquid flowed down his throat. Two red streams ran from the cracks of his mouth and united at the tip of his chin before dripping to the floor. Peter placed the bottle on the counter and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
      "There's plenty more below. Let's celebrate."
      "Yes, let's do that."
      Lucifer always manifested in the red wine that fermented beneath the fraternity house. Peter stepped downstairs into the cellar to fetch more for the celebration of graduation. Bottles were stacked against the wall in a rack. He grabbed one and wiped the dust from its side.
      "Have you asked her?"
      "No, not yet."
      Peter looked at the label. 1666 was the first year of Omega's existence. The winery had been operational for centuries. September 2004 was hand written on a strip of tape. That was Peter's first year.
      "Have another drink and let's be one."
      Peter uncorked the bottle. A pop and a fine purplish mist lingered from the spout. Peter swilled.
      "What if she says no?"
      "Have another drink. I'll ask her."
      Peter swilled. A warm buzz encompassed his body. He swayed while taking another swig.
      "Alright. I won't feel so abashed if she says no to you."
      "She won't say no to me."
      Peter drank the remainder. He placed the empty in the rack and grabbed another bottle.
      "Let's go party."
      "Take them all. I want to socialize."
      "I wish I could, but I only have two hands."
      "Use your fingers."
      Peter grabbed six bottles and swaggered upstairs into the kitchen to a house full of students socializing. The guests cheered. Muge wandered through the crowd and put her arm around his waist. Peter placed the wine on the counter.
      "I think that's for you."
      "You're right. It's time to propose."
      "I'd like everyone to join me for a glass of Omega's finest wine . . ." Hands clapped, as Peter uncorked the bottles and poured. "Not only in celebration of another prosperous year in our pursuit of independence . . . ." Cheers bellowed. Peter elevated his voice and distributed the wine. "But also for the best four years of my life with the woman I love." Glasses elevated in preparation to toast. Peter looked Muge in the eyes.
      "Will you marry me?" The guests silenced and waited for an answer. Muge flushed and smiled.
      "Yes!" Muge replied. Peter kissed Muge on the lips to the cheers of the crowd.
      "Drink merrily my friends!" Peter shouted.
      Lucifer flowed through the veins of everyone in the room except for Paul who was staring into a glass of wine.
      "Why so glum my friend?" Lucifer asked.
      "You're not my friend." Paul replied.
      "Not yet."
      "Are you Peter?"
      "No, I'm not Peter."
      "I didn't think so."
      "Why don't you have a drink?"
      "No. I know who you are. What are you doing here?"
      "I'm inebriating the guests, freeing them of their pointless inhibitions, and allowing them to enjoy themselves. And you?"
      "I'm an engineering student, celebrating my first year as an honor student. I'm going to be the elite of society. You shouldn't be here."
      Guests danced in the living room to instrumental music. The parties theme was Arabic. Women gathered in a circle, while exposing their abdomens, and gyrated. Guests clapped in rhythm to the beat. Muge danced while exposing her pierced bellybutton. Paul's fingers clenched around the glass as he sipped. Tingles ran up his spine. Blood surged.
      "You crave her don't you."
      "I can't believe you're getting to me."
      Peter walked past Paul carrying an open bottle and bumped Paul's elbow. Wine sloshed onto Paul's shirt.
      "Sorry Paul. Let me give you a refill."
      "No, I'm . . ."
      "Have a drink and socialize." Peter filled the glass and walked forward. Paul put the rim to his mouth to prevent the wine from spilling. Lucifer swam into Paul's mouth. Muge's hips twirled erotically to the rhythm of the music. Paul's heart rate increased.
      "You want to consume her flesh and deflower her every orifice. Don't you?"
      "No, no. I'm a respectful conscientious person, not some man-animal lusting after inebriated women." Paul's arms shook. Sweat formed under his shirt. Parts of his body hardened.
      "Why do you watch?"
      "You're right, but I'm able to control my desires."
      "Why do you want to deprive yourself of your desires when you can lavish her flesh in uninhibited bliss."
      "No, I want an equal, someone I can share my life with and feelings and thoughts."
      "A wife and children. Is that what you really want?"
      "Yes, I believe in Holy matrimony."
      "Have another drink and let your carnal desires do the talking."
      "No. I'm not talking to you anymore." Paul put the wineglass on the mantelpiece. "You're a bad influence on me." He stepped toward the dancers. "But I'm going to tell her what you've told me."
      "Finish your drink. I'll tell her for you." Paul looked at the wine. "You're too uptight. Join with me and you can have your desires satisfied." Paul's arms shook. Perspiration oozed from his pours. Goosebumps formed on his skin. Paul pointed his index finger at the wineglass.
      "I don't need you." The wine swayed from one edge to the other. A glint of firelight reflected from the center.
      "Your desires need fulfilling."
      "No they don't"
      Paul felt a firm hand on his shoulder.
      "It was good to meet you Paul. Sorry about the wine earlier," Peter said.
      "It, it was?" Paul stared at the alluring physique of Muge.
      "Not really." Paul stumbled backward. His face flushed with an awkward smile. "I'm just kidding you. But you need to develop your self-confidence." Peter rubbed Paul's shoulder. "Muge! Let's go! I have a surprise for you! We can celebrate our honeymoon early!"
      "Where are we going and why are we leaving so early?" Muge asked.
      "You're arousing the guests a little too much for my liking."
      "You're the only one who gets aroused." Peter stared at Paul.
      "No, I'm not the only one around here." Paul lowered his head. "Not that I blame him. You're a very beautiful woman."
      "You didn't answer my first question."
      "It's a little secret my love."
      "I'll grab my coat."
      Paul's eyes welled with tears. His face flushed. Peter turned toward him and frowned. The glint of Lucifer stared from the mantel.
      "Drink me my old friend," Lucifer said.
      "An unattended glass of wine." Peter said, extending outward.
      "That, that's mine," Paul complained.
      "My apologies Paul. I forgot."
      "No, go, go ahead and have it."
      "Drink up and be merry Paul. You might find a woman of your class."
      "Of my . . . I, I have found . . ." Muge stepped into the room.
      "Class. You're first year."
      "I'm ready. Let's go!" Muge said.
      Paul's arms shook. He wiped his forehead with a cloth and stepped in front of Muge.
      "I, I need to talk to you," Paul said
      "Paul step aside," Peter intervened.
      "Just a moment Peter. What is this about?" Muge asked.
      "Peter doesn't feel the way about you that I do. He, He's been coercing with Lucifer. His, his intentions are unethical." Peter stepped forward.
      "I think that's about enough from you," Peter said. Muge placed her hand on Peter's chest.
      "It's alright Peter. In a way I'm flattered Paul, but you're a first year, with no job, or money and you're three years younger than me."
      "I, I was top of my class. I'm, I'm going to . . ."
      "You're stuttering Paul. I think you've had too much to drink. You'd better sit down." Muge guided Paul to an armchair. Paul sat.
      "Yes, look at the glass he has." Peter said, pointing at the mantel. Muge shook her head. "You need to relax Paul and learn to mingle," Muge said. "I tried to tell him earlier. He needs to develop his self-confidence. Margaret's on the couch. She's about your level." A plump woman with glasses sat huddled. "I'll introduce you. I was Margaret's tutor last semester. It'll help break the ice."
      "No." Paul replied.
      Paul put his hands over his eyes to hide the pooling tears. Peter and Muge kissed while walking toward the mantel.
      "Have one for the road," Lucifer said.
      "Yes, why don't you!"
      "Peter, you promised me that tonight would be your last. I don't want you acting like Paul." Muge said.
      "Yes, you're right. I've got what I want." Peter put his arm around Muge and flexed his arm. "I don't need you anymore. You'll have to find someone else," Peter said.
      Paul stood and clenched his fists. Lucifer swayed like an ocean's storm on a secluded beach. Muge secured the glass. Lucifer's fury subsided. Muge handed the glass to Paul.
      "Have a drink and socialize. There's lots of first years here," Muge said.
      "But, but you're the woman I want," Paul replied. His eyes reddened.
      "You're not good enough for me Paul! Peter and I have graduated! We're moving toward the next stage of our life!"
      "But, but."
      "You're still a student Paul! You've got a long way to go!"
      "Come on Muge. Let's go," Peter said.











     
     
     
     



      Paul watched Muge's hips sway as Peter and Muge walked arm in arm. Muge looked over her shoulder and smiled. Paul wiped the liquid from his eyes.
      "Take a sip and ease your worries," Lucifer said. Paul looked at the wine. His image reflected in red with long horns protruding. He breathed deeply and withheld tears. "Do you really want her that bad?"
      "I want more than that. I want a love and an equal to prosper with. All you ever think about is lust."
      "Me, don't blame me for your desires. I'm not your creator."
      "I suppose that's true. You're not." Paul sat upright and clenched his teeth.
      "Yes, God's the one to blame for your desires. I'm merely here to help you fulfill them." Paul ran his fingers through his hair. He glanced at Margaret. She smiled. "Have a drink."
      "You'll get me into trouble."
      "Look at Peter. He graduated with honors and is marrying the woman of your dreams."
      "That's true, but it's in chemistry. I'm going to earn the highest degree possible in engineering and with honors."
      "If that's what you want, I'll grant you your wishes. Now drink up." Paul swirled the wine in his hand." Two tears dripped.
      "I want to graduate with honors. I want to manage a major company and I want a physique like a Roman God.
      "Drink my friend. Drink." Paul glanced at Margaret. Mild acne plagued her cheeks. Glasses made her eyes appear to bulge outward. Bucked teeth with braces protruded from her smile. Paul stared into the wine. "We've both been snubbed tonight. Unite with me and we'll have our revenge." Paul nodded.
      "Alright then. Grant me my desires and I'll unite with you."
      "Forever?"
      "Forever."
      Paul raised the glass to his mouth and swilled. Streams ran down the corners of his mouth and dripped on his shirt. Paul glanced at Margaret. Her smile widened. Paul stared into the mirror above the mantel. His eyes were red. An eerie outline of a face had formed on his shirt. He smiled a white reddish grin and approached Margaret.
     
                                   * * *
     
      Paul studied for four more years. He earned an honor's degree in engineering and a master's in business administration while residing in Omega house. In his spare time, he worked on campus at the school's gymnasium as the fitness manager and developed a muscular physique.
      Tonight was the traditional year end party for graduating students and their guests. Paul walked into Omega house and placed a suitcase on the kitchen table. A bottle of wine stood erect next to an empty glass and a letter.
      "I saved you a drink my loyal friend," Lucifer said.
      "Yes, my only friend in deed. What would I do without you?"
      "Drink and let's celebrate. It's my favorite day of the year. Paul poured the wine into the glass and raised it in preparation to toast.
      "To friendship, loyalty, and love." Paul swilled. Two red streaks ran from the cracks of his mouth. He placed the glass on the counter and opened the letter.
      . . . Your employment managing Wilstar Engineering Inc. will commence on May 15th, 2013 . . .
      "I suppose this is our final evening together."
      "I suppose it is, but it's been a great four years. I don't know how to thank you."
      "I do . . . Get the wine."
      "Yes of course. The usual guests will be arriving."
      Paul entered the cellar and pulled a bottle from the rack. He wiped the dust from the label. March 2009 was written in black marker. It was the first batch that he'd made.
      "Have you asked her yet?"
      "Asked who?"
      "Margaret."
      "No, no, not yet."
      Paul shifted a bookshelf to fetch another bottle and exposed a second rack of wine. He smiled and brushed the cobwebs away. He removed a bottle and wiped the label.
      "Do you want me to ask her?"
      "No, no, I don't." 1666 was written on the label. 1666 was hand written in black ink on a white sticker. "What, what do we have here?" Paul's heart rate elevated. Tingling vibrated through his body.
      "Are you going to ask her yourself?"
      "No, no. Who made these?"
      "My first and most loyal friend." Paul laughed as loud as the clown did at the fair. Tingles ran through his body. Opiates exploded in his brain.
      "You made these didn't you? You're the first student at Omega who began making wine. Aren't you?"
      "In a way you're right, but don't worry about it. He's long since past. Take them upstairs and celebrate."
      "No, no, my eternal friend." Paul looked around. He found a crate and placed the bottles in it. "I'm taking you with me. You've given me everything a man could desire."
      "Everything? Haven't you forgot something?"
      "There's no need to remind me. I just want to leave this place."
      Paul was trembling. He struggled to lift twenty-five bottles up the stairs. Margaret smiled. She puckered for a kiss.
      "Not now. I'm carrying something."
      "Oh good. There's wine," Margaret said.
      "Your nervous Paul. Have a drink and I'll ask her," Lucifer said.
      "You've got to be kidding me," Paul replied.
      "Who are you talking to?" Margaret asked.
      "I'm, I'm, just mumbling to myself."
      "Alright, I'm going upstairs to change. Pour me a glass."
      Paul placed his suitcase on the crate and staggered out the door into the parking lot to his car. Two guests arrived.
      "Paul. Are you ready to party?" they asked.
      "Yes, I'm getting some party favors. I'll be back in a few."
      Paul placed the wine in the backseat and clambered behind the wheel.
      "Where are we going?" Lucifer asked. Paul grinned and laughed. "Do you know who works at Wilstar?" "No." "Muge is an employee." Paul and Lucifer laughed. "And I'm going to be her manager."
     
                                    * * *
     
      Two years later, Peter was snoozing in bed on an early Saturday morning. His bloated abdomen protruded from the sheets like a beach ball. He rolled on his side and was disturbed by a green light flashing on Muge's cell phone. Peter opened his eyes and glanced around. A note was taped to the night table. I have to work this morning. See you tonight. Love Muge.
      Peter yawned and grabbed the cell phone. He prepared to turn it off, but noticed numerous text messages. He read them. The messages were from Paul. The replies told of a yearlong affair. Meet me tomorrow at nine at the Rendezvous restaurant. I have something to tell you. Love Paul.
     Peter wore shades and a hat. He drove to the restaurant. Muge's car was in the parking lot. He walked inside and waited.
      Peter glanced into the dining room. Paul and Muge were sitting next to the window. Their hands were touching; their eyes transfixed on each other. Wine was sipped between bites of a shared cheesecake. When finished, Paul and Muge strolled, past Peter and kissed.
      Tears pooled in Peter's eyes. His hands shook. The hostess escorted him to a table. Peter glanced where Paul and Muge had been sitting. The sweet, yet foul essence of fermenting grapes permeated from an open bottle.
      "Drink me my old friend," Lucifer said. Peter grabbed the bottle. A mouthful remained.
      "Friend? How could you let this happen?" Peter asked.
      "You deserted me!"
      "At the request of Muge! For love!"
      "And you forgot about friendship!"
      "And you forgot about loyalty!"
      "Drink me and you can have your revenge."
      Peter swilled and walked to the exit. Muge was entering Paul's car. Peter removed his hat and glasses. Tears streamed.
      "Muge!" Muge turned. Her body shook.
      "I, I was just finishing . . . a, a business lunch," Muge replied.
      "Come here!" Muge stepped forward.
      "Peter. I'm, I'm sorry."
      "What? You're going back to that technician!" Paul said, revving the engine.
      "Paul, Paul give me a moment."
      "Why should I? You're not good enough for me now. I'm your manager. You're nothing, but a stuttering slut."
      "Paul. You said you loved me."
      "Love is for fools, like that blob you married."
      "Oh God. What have I done?" Muge murmured
      Then Margaret strutted across the parking lot carrying a child.
      "Paul! I've been searching for you for the last eighteen months! This is your son!"
      "Lucifer. How could you do this to me?"
      "Don't blame me for your desires. I just help you fulfill them," Lucifer replied.





BIO: Previously published works can be found at:

A Child's Nightmare was published in Schlock magazine 49th ed. on March 18, 2012. www.schlock.co.uk/
The Awakening was published in the fall issue of the Zodiac review. www.thezodiacreview.com
The Birth of Dracotha was published in the 9/5/12 issue of Yesteryear Fiction. www.yesteryearfiction.com
The Streetwalker was published in the 8/3/12 issue of daily love. www.dailylove.net
Death's Calling was published in the 7/14/12 issue of LINGUISTIC EROSION www.linguisticerosion.com
Mustafa's Plight will be published in the winter issue 1.15.13 of Black Petals magazine www.blackpetals.net
The Drowning at Charles Inlet will be published on October 31st in the Nazar Look's anthology, Crossing the Path of Tellers www.nazar-look.com
The Circular Nature of Time will be published in the November anthology of Aurora Wolf Press aurorawolf.com
The Journey to the Serpiente Sea was published in Fiction on the Web on October 12th www.fictionontheweb.co.uk
I Did It for My Mom was published in Kalkion magazine on Sept 20th, 2012. www.kalkion.com
The Final Mission was published in Catesbury's Sable Mares issue 6 on November 2nd www.catesbury.com




She Said, Again and Again

By

Lisa M. Palin


    
     When I was seven, I would sneak into her room at night to play with her things. The sparkly pendants hung just over my navel, and her screw-on earrings bobbed painfully against my neck. I spritzed the fake Chanel perfume ("Why get the real thing when he can't tell the difference?") and walked through the cloud of scent the way I had seen her do. I looked at myself in the mirror, and giggled as if a boy was inviting me to dinner.
      I had seen the ritual. At the grocer, at the gas station, in the department store. He approached, she smiled, he joked, she laughed, she touched her hair, he asked for her number, we walked away, she threw one last look. ("The secret, Dawnie, is to leave before they figure you out. It's the mystery that makes them call.")
      When I heard a car pull up, I'd yank off the jewelry, turn off the light, and dash into my bed. She'd come to check on me. Sometimes she'd lean in and brush my bangs off my forehead or kiss my nose, and I'd struggle to keep my face blank as the smell of gin surrounded me. The scent was comforting: it meant she was home. That she hadn't decided to disappear like my father had. ("You wouldn't have liked him, Dawnie. All promises and no plans.")
      At seventeen, I had my own jewelry and perfume. I even had a man. James, at twenty-two, was far superior to any of the specimens my mother had trailed through our tiny apartment. She didn't agree. ("He's got that look in his eyes, Dawnie. You can't trust a man who looks at you like that.") But he had plans. He was going to New York to play guitar in a band. I was going with him.
      My suitcase sat by the door. I left a note on her pillow. She'd understand. Hadn't she done the same thing, left home with my father for adventure? It hadn't worked out well for her. ("Except for you, Dawnie, you're the best thing in my life.") James and I were different.
      I heard a car pull up. When the knock came, I moved slowly to answer it. ("Don't be too eager, Dawnie. Remember, they like to chase you.")
      It wasn't James.
      "Are you Dawn?" The man at the door looked tired, but eager. Lines were etched into his forehead and cheeks. "Is Elaine - is your mother here?" he asked.
      I shook my head. "She's out," I said.
      He smiled at me. "Dawn," he said. And I knew what he was going to say next. "I'm Jim Reed. I'm your dad."
      I stared at him, at eyes that suddenly looked a lot like my own. Why had he come? After all these years? If he had cared, he would have come sooner.
      Behind him, I saw James pull up in his rusty Honda. He honked the horn, and I picked up my suitcase. I edged out of the apartment, closed the door behind me. When I turned to leave, the man was watching me.
      "I don't have a dad," I said, and ran down the walk to where James had the trunk open.
      I didn't look back as I got into the car, as I buckled my seatbelt, as James pulled away from the curb. Halfway down the street, I tucked my hair behind my ears and did look back. The man was standing at the door, his shoulders hunched.
      ("Always think about your future, Dawnie. Don't get bogged down in your past.")

     



BIO: I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and attend the Writing for Children M.F.A. program at Simmons College in Boston, while teaching Legal Research and Writing at Northeastern University School of Law. Prior to enrolling at Simmons, I practiced law here in Boston, focusing on complex civil litigation. I have been published in the Boston Literary Magazine.
















 artwork by Dan Williams

"Grab Bag"

Artwork by Dan Williams










Top of Page


Call Me Ke'Oni

By

John N. Miller


    
     
      Imagine, Emmaline. Our first date -
      that ritual in which potential lovers
      test the roles each would like
      accepted by the other.

                                         Oh Emmaline,
      you don't know how often I rehearsed,
      how often I dreamt of this night, lying
      in my dorm in chill mid-winter Amherst.
     
      And now I'm home, come home here to find you
      right next door, where I knew you'd be -
      local girl, half-Hawai'ian Emmaline
      I'd known as a young neighbor, not
      "Emily," one of the Amherst girls
      I fancied.
                               And now you're waiting
      as I back out in the family Ford,
      turn, and steer myself
      across the campus of my father's school,
      out along the row of tall
      coconut palms quivering above the hedge
      between the Morgan, Isaacs, and Morgan
      compound (which needs no description for you)
      and my home grounds.
                                    Emmaline,
      I'll be there for you at the time I set
      to stage the start of our romance.
     
      Pausing at the highway's concrete rim,
      I check my watch, my pulse, the intervals
      between each wave sloshing on the beach.
      Far ahead, the lights of Kane'ohe Bay
      twinkle on calm water
                                    while between
      the few dim streetlamps almost at my feet
      the sea swells to a low, recurrent roar
      smashing, seething up the sand,
      sighing in slow withdrawal
      into its ever-ebbing
      ever swelling source.
                                          "Hurry, Ke'oni!
      Emmaline, I'll soon stand at your door,
      readying myself for the obligatory
      ritual within the ritual
      of first dates - meeting your parents."
     
      And sure enough, to usher me inside,
      your mother emerges, a full-blooded, matronly
      Hawai'ian, who in our romance
      has all the speaking parts, while her husband
      old man Morgan, a mere wisp of a Caucasian
      holds his tongue.
     
      "John! How good to see you!
      It's been a while. My, how you've grown!
      Come here, I need a closer look at you.
                 [pause]
      You're still the spitting image of your father."
     
      It takes all my self-control
      not to make a face at her. My father!
      How can she presume to know
      a man who in his role as dedicated
      educator masks a Puritanic zeal
      to round his students into good, stolid,
      proper Philistines?
                                    Ah, not tonight!
      Our date's the thing. Let's get on with it.
                                    As if on cue,
      or with a canny sense of timing, Emmaline,
      you enter - smiling, radiant, attired
      in a simple, tasteful dress
      almost bursting at the bosom,
      and amid a flurry of farewells
      and admonitions to enjoy ourselves
      at last we exit for my car
      and the slow, romantic drive
      along the coastal road to Kahuku,
      my planned route and destination.
                                     But
      something's wrong. You're seated close to me,
      the night is warm, the stars a sprinkle
      of glinting diamonds in the summer sky,
      the concrete road a ribbon bleached in moonlight
      and you just sit here dazed,
      mute as a puppet whose ventriloquist
      has lost the strings to make her mouth move.
      You must know the standard repertory
      for first dates - "So how do you like college?"
      "How's the social life at Amherst?"
      "What about the girls at Smith?"
      "Are you still writing poetry and stories?"
      It's the girl on a first date
      who's supposed to break the ice
      and get some dialogue between us flowing.

                        [silence]

      If nothing else, fill me in
      on all the changes while I've been away.
      What's happened to the bygone fields of cane?
      Is the sugar mill still there?
      What's your local unemployment rate?
      I have no penchant
      for that dismal science, economics,
      but are we heading toward a ghost town?
     
     
                [dead silence]
     
      "Whattaya say we try to catch some music?"
     
      I twist a dial and voila, something
      clicks,
      and with a further turn or two
      there's music, just the thing to fill our void
      with the lovely, haunting "Song of the Islands"
      what you call "Na Lei O Hawai'i," Emmaline,
      as you relax and with your eyes closed
      lean your head against my shoulder,
      and before we know it
      we're dreaming our way to Kahuku . . .
     
      and from the hills of Punalu'u
      a mist rolls down, as if sprayed
      from a perfume vial, bearing the aroma
      of plumerias. Near Hau'ula, a bronzed figure
      strides through spindrift on the coastal road -
      old man Morgan, young now, throw-net draped
      around one shoulder. At Hau'ula School
      a man in tweed is practicing his golf shots
      on the floodlit campus, I cry "Father, Father"
      but no sound issues from my throat
      to break his concentration. Out past Laie Point
      a lone surfer waits in moonlight
      for the next wave on a silvered sea.
     
      The music fades out when we reach Kahuku,
      the rusted sugar mill, the abandoned or dilapidated
      stores, the movie house, still there, thank God,
      the drug store patronized by local lovelies
      clad in skin-tight, low-slung jeans and tee shirts
      reaching to their navels, with tattoos
      visible on the bare upper reaches
      of their fat rear ends.
                                    Your friends, Emmaline?
      On seeing them, you come to life,
      literally leaping from the car,
      responding to their calls -
      "Yo, Irm" or "Em," or "Morgan Babe" - before
      I extricate you, making sure
      that no one fools with you until we're safe
      inside the so-called "indoor passion pit."
     
      The movie's a romantic comedy,
      "The Many Loves of Emma Morganthau,"
      a splendid choice for our first date.
      Warm next to me, you gaze at the screen
      enraptured, it seems, totally absorbed
      in what you see. As I knew from the start,
      Kahuku's where young love is meant to be.
     
      After the film I take your hand as we stroll,
      into a sultry, starry Island night.
      Our car is waiting, and the road ahead
      leads to the heights of what this evening promised,
      the old Kahuku hospital,
      set on a promontory that provides
      a picture-postcard view of the plantation,
      lava shoreline and the white-spumed ocean
      thrashing at it far below -
      "Fever Hill," in local parlance,
      the ideal place for lovers, Emmaline.
     
      "Hey! Where d'you think you're going?
     
      I feel no need to answer. She should know.
      Already a few cars are parked
      amid the gleaming shards of beer bottles.
      Oh Emmaline,
      can't you hear the wind among the palm trees,
      the hoof-beats of time's chariot drawing near?
      Let me slide around the steering wheel,
      draw you close to me, and seal our love
      with a long, searing kiss. Ummm. . .
      "I need you, love you. Say you love me too."
     
              "Whoa there, White Fang.
      This is only our first date, remember?
      And I can't say a damn thing
      with your tongue jammed into my mouth."
     
      "That's the French way of saying
      'je t'aime beaucoup' -
      'I love you, dear, so much!'
      Quit squirming, willya? We're in the grip
      of some vast oceanic force. Relax,
      surrender to it. Just let me . . . ."
     
      "Stop it. Stop it, John. What's got into
      you? You're not the guy I used to know."
     
      "Are they warm, are they real,
      Those soft curves that appeal
      So strongly to masculine eye . . ."
     
     
                "Oh for Chrissake, cut it out, willya?
      No, Frenchie, they're not the Grand Tetons,
      but they're no falsies either. So get your cotton-
      pickin' hands outta there, and don't you dare try
      to unhook my bra . . . Get off of me! Get off of
      me, you fucking haole."
     
      "Hey. Watch your mouth, girl. I don't like being
      called 'fucking haole,' or 'White Fang,' or even
      'John.' I hate that name - it's so cold, so Biblical,
      as if I were some character out of the New Testa-
      ment. Can't you call me 'Keoni.'?"
     
      "Maybe, if you let go of my wrists and get a grip
      on your own . . . . There. That's better. Now let
      me up for air . . . Ke'oni. I'm a real mess. And it's
      all your fault. Gotta Kleenex?"
     
      "Oh Emmaline, I'm sorry. Here, let me get that
      lipstick smear . . . Emmaline! You're crying."
     
      "'Emmaline'? Good God, are we both going crazy?
      Since when have I been 'Emmaline'"?
     
      "Do I really have to tell you?"
     
      "You'd damn well better."
     
      "Well, first of all I like three-syllable names . . .
      And 'Emmaline' - those vowels and consonants!
      So smooth and lilting! Rolls right off the tongue.
      Just the name I needed."
     
      "Needed? For what?'
     
      Well, Irma . .. Emmaline. This whole evening
      is a romance I'm trying for Creative Writing -
      I wrote it first in prose, but that bombed - a C+.
      Characters insufficiently developed. So I psyched
      out our professor, knew he was a Shakespeare nut
      and was revising our date in loose blank verse.
      You know a poet
           gives to airy nothings
           a local habitation and . . ."
     
      ". . .a name. Like 'Emmaline?' So that's it, huh?
      I'm nothing but a figment in some hot-shot
      haole's fucked-up imagination."
     
      "Don't call me that! I've already told you
      I don't like being labeled 'fucking haole.'"
     
           "Ah Keoni, I wouldn't dream of calling you that!
      Such a vulgar name! And from the sweet lips
      of your Emmaline! And here, in our lovely local
      Island habitation. Cut the bullshit, John. Admit
      it. You're trying to force a sexual 'romance' on a
      real date. You're no Hawai'ian, not even half, as I am.
      You're a haole, and you haoles have been fucking us
      royally ever since your goddam missionaries got here
      loaded with their Bibles and their white man's burden.
     
      "That's all in the past. I'm not responsible . . . ."
     
                "Shut up. You've scripted everything so far. Now it's
      my turn. I'm not dumb, you know, though you make
      me feel like one of those dolls they sell to tourists, with
      bare tits and wearing plastic hula skirts. I've gone to
      high school, I take night courses at a community college,
      and I know how you haoles have been screwing us
      ever since those missionaries . . . "
     
      "Listen, Irma. I'm not a missionary, or a descendant of
      missionaries who profited from their pulpits I'm a poet,
      a creative writer."
     
      "That's the problem. You're a haole poet. First you
      Whiteys give us backward, ignorant savages a written
      alphabet - all of twelve letters. Big deal! Then you use
      your own, 'richer,' 'more expressive' language to try
      to make us feel subservient or inferior. And now you
      stick me in the role of an easy,'native' sexual conquest.
      To fulfill your messed-up fantasies. That's the power
      of the pen, man. That's exploiting me."
     
      "Wow! That's the first time I've heard that poets
      have any real power. And hell, what's wrong with
     fan- tasy? Lovers tend to see their loved ones through
     rose- colored glasses. Poetically. Or fictionally.
     
      "Yeah? I'd say 'scarlet,' in your case, not 'rose-
      colored.' And what if your 'poetry' fouls up your sense
      of who or what you really are . . . Ke'oni? Or what if
      you're forced into someone else's fiction? Did you
      really think that by fancying me as 'Emmaline' you
      could turn me into a 'romantic' conquest?"
     
      "You don't get it. This was supposed to be a dream-date,
      modeled after a Shakespearean opus. Both of us had our
      roles in it."
     
      "Why? Why compose your dream-version of our date,
      then try to force me into it?"
     
                     "I don't know. Maybe because I got homesick and
      dreamt of getting back here to the Islands. And having
      a really great evening with you."
     
                "A couple years ago you told me you looked forward to
      going away to college. To get away from home and from
      your father. And you know, I envied you. I wish I could
      have gone to a Mainland school with a big scholarship like
      you had."
     
                "And you would have been like me, only more so - an
      exotic fish out of water."
     
                "What about the Smith College gals? I bet you could have
      made out like a fish with them."
     
      "Maybe. Most of them were out of my league. Wealthy.
      Super-intelligent. Sophisticated. So I'll admit it. I started
      getting horny too. Especially during those long, cold winter
      nights."
     
              "So that's it, huh? Hey, I think I'm gonna take a writing
      course this fall, and do a story called 'Profile of a Haole.'
      Wanna hear what I have in mind?"
     
     
              "Do I have any choice?"
     
              "Okay. This guy regards his schoolteacher father as some sort
      of tight-assed YMCA moralist and goes to a Mainland college to
      escape his old man's control. What he can't escape is a stereotype.
      People are always asking if he surfs, if he speaks Hawai'ian, if he
      plays the ukulele or guitar, if he likes poi, blah, blah, blah. A lot of
      them have been to Hawai'i as kids, and have sucked up all the
      Fantasy Island stuff that's fed to tourists. . . . How'm I doing?
     
                          "That's enough."
     
                          "At first he doesn't like being pegged this way. He wants to be
      himself, to have his own identity. But after a while he decides to use
      the role to his advantage. He tells the gals his 'native' name is Ke'oni
      and they think it's cute. But . . ."
     
                          "That's enough, God damn it, Irma . . . ."
     
                          "Okay. I won't go into the problems he has with his 'Keoni' iden-
      tity. Meanwhile his roommate keeps harping on those little brown
      galsin the little grass skirts who shake their asses at him when they
      dance, who'd just love to go down for a good-lookin' white guy like
      him, and how he's missed out on all the nooky available in the
      Paradise of the Pacific."
     
      "My roommate for two years was a pre-med major who didn't
      give a damn about my social life. Or his either."
     
                          "So our hero writes his little dream-story, or poetic drama, both
      to use the 'Hawai'ian' role he's been forced to play and to compen- sate
      for his frustrations, for the lack of 'freedom' he'd hoped to find.
      So here we are, after a failed rehearsal. Right?"
     
                          "Go ahead and write your goddamn story, Irma. I hope you get
      a good grade for it. Better than a C+."
     
                          "Yeah, but you don't know how I'm gonna end it. There's some-
      thing else I wanna work in - what happened to you at Amherst
      and what you've done to me tonight, and.what your haole busi-
      nessmen and our own Tourist Bureau have done to us locals."
     
                          "Which is?"
     
                          "Exploited us. Fucked with our identities. Imposed on us the
      fantasies of what 'natives' of Hawai'i are supposed to be. Like
      those hula girls Kodak pimped each Saturday in order to sell more
      film to the tourists. Until digital cameras arrived. .Or those
      teen-aged studs running around half-naked carrying kerosene
      torches at 'genuine' commercial Hawai'ian luaus, chanting some-
      thing that sounds Hawai'ian, to attract more visitors to posh beach-
      side hotels. Like a guy I know, or used to know, calling himself
      'Ke'oni' and trying to date-rape the girl of his wet dreams. You've
      made me feel like a tramp, John. And you've gotten sucked into
      your own poetic dream-world, so now you don't really know who
      you are."
     
                          "I don't, huh?"
     
                          "No, you don't. You don't know whether you're still your
                               father's son, or the 'Keoni' you want and try to be."
     
                          "I'm sorry, Irma. I just lost my head a few minutes ago."
     
                          "Sorry, huh? That you lost what was in your head - and
      in your poetry? I'm sorry too. You've hurt me, John. And
      I was really looking forward to this evening."
     
                          Thus the denouement of our first date -
      two potential lovers in a car
      in a nearly empty parking lot,
      both together and alone, you sniffling
      and dabbing at your eyes, I gazing out
      beyond Kahuku Point:
     
                          "The sea is calm tonight,
      The tide is full, the moon lies fair
      Glimmering and vast, out on the tranquil bay.
      Come to the window, sweet is the night air . . . ."
     
                          There I go again. A real addict.
      Fuck you, Arnold, shooting me full
      of the opiate of sophomoric poets.
     
      I can imagine our drive home
      through the pathetic little coastal towns
      with their convenience stores and mini-marts,
      you sitting tense and distant.
      But we'll both play our roles like real troupers
      when we're back at your front door
      for the obligatory goodnight kiss,
      too tired for more tears or argument,
      pretending that we're nothing but good friends,
      all passion spent.



BIO: Though born in Ohio (1933), John N. Miller grew up in Hawai'i (1037-1951), retired in 1997 from teaching literature and writing at Denison University (Granville, OH), and now lives with his wife Ilse in a retirement community in Lexington, VA.
He has had one short story published by CONTE.











Strollers

By


Bob Williams



     
      Tiny balls of dirt and dust begin to trampoline from the sidewalk in an earthquake way that alerts two worms, seven spiders, four crickets, a disabled moth, and several other nameless crawlers that an army of wheels propelled by sneakered feet bears down upon them all. Sixteen wheels, eight sneakered feet. That is, sixteen if you count the twelve sets of distinguished double wheels as one wheeling unit - these wheel teams are most durable, top notch turn radius too. Four other wheels rolling along at the far end of the squadron are singular and lonesome and have no partner to encourage toughness against the glass, fractured pavement and miscellaneous rubble scattered about the sidewalk. Above the solemn wheel quartet in her clip-and-go stroller seat/car seat rests Mae Anne Forester. Isn't she lovely in her butter yellow bonnet and beanbag smile, big eyes staring back at Mommy.
     
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      "So I told him, you know. . .I don't want the thing to look all gaudy when people pull up the driveway you know. Like, what's his name's place? Gerald Farnsbird, you know when ya pull up to the Farnsbird's you just kind of see the garages but can't really grasp the enormity of the home until you're inside? It feels modest. I told him I wanted something quaint like that."
      "Gerald Farnsbird is such a dick!" Joyce Montgomery's booming voice boomed across two other women to meet its mark: Cat Forester. Joyce then made a shmutzy face (hidden from Cat Forester) to the woman directly next to her. The face conveyed Joyce's continuing disbelief that Cat's husband had hired an architect to design their new country home. Joyce's opinion on this matter based entirely upon Cat Forester's choice of footwear and of course her tacky and low-style Jamboree five thousand XPlorer
TM stroller.
      Riding along in front of Joyce Montgomery is the titan Michael Lee Montgomery III. Pronounced "The Third". And not pronounced, "Mikey," not ever.
      "I'll tell you Cat," all four women huffing audibly during the stroll to school, "when we remodeled the house and added the play room above the guest house that architect was a real sonofabitch. I mean, he wanted to do everything his way. He fought me tooth and nail when I said I wanted to install a fireman's pole for Michael Lee to start practicing on. 'You know the boy is going to save lives,' I told him. He just went on and on about support structures and regulations and not to mention the obvious safety hazard involved in blah blah blah, so eventually I threatened to fire him and you know what he did Cat?"
      "What'd he do Joyce?" "You know he put that fireman's pole right the hell in my guest house."
      "Jesus Joyce, I'm not really like that."
      "Well Cat, sometimes you just gotta tell a motherfucker what time it is, isn't that right Michael Lee?" Michael Lee had his stroller seat facing Xploratoraly outward since day one - eleven pounds six ounces of pasty white fury. Kid had teeth when he left the womb, sharp ones - during those treasured Joyce-free evenings some of the women joked that Michael Lee, upon command, had chewed through his own umbilical cord.
     
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      "So is that what you're going to say to Mr. Picot today? You gonna tell him 'what time it is'?" Cat asked, over the other two women stuck in the middle.
      "What do you mean?" Replied Joyce.
      "Well. . .I mean. . .we had just heard that Michael Lee was. . ." motioning to the others for backup.
      "What do you mean, we?"
      "Oh. . .you know Picot," one of the women in the middle volunteered.
      "He's a foreign idiot."
      "Joyce, I don't think that has anything to do with it. Maybe you're just. . ."
      "Just what," Joyce Montgomery had slowed her pace to hear this answer, her white knuckles clenched chopper style handlebars.
      "Nothing, nothing, it's fine." They strolled about ten silent and uncomfortable strides, "Gayle, how's your oldest doing? She was at orthodontics camp right? Still doing that?"
      "She's switched, she's going to Vandy now."
      "Vanderbilt doesn't have a good Orthodontics program?"
      "I'll tell you," Gayle began, "We're really excited, she wants to be an Orthopedic Surgeon now. Alexandria finds bones much more interesting than teeth, said she couldn't stand the smell of peoples' breath."
      "A normal response for a seventeen year old," mentioned Cat Forester.
      "What's that supposed to mean," asked Gayle, holding a remote control like a battleaxe (controlling the now stopped stroller - this hands free device, in conjunction with dueling cup holders, allows the busiest of parents to talk on the phone, drink coffee, or even hold another child's hand).
      "I'm just saying that she's seventeen and committing to ten years of schooling, there is no way she can fully comprehend the effort and dedication that. . ."
     
      "Can you tell me about a time you failed and how you responded to that failure?"
      Beep.
      "Hi. . .Mister. . .uhhh, Williams. . .this is Clark D'Anthony over here at Northeastern University calling in reference to your past due Perkins loan. Please give a call back at six one seven three seven three eight four zero eight. Mmmthankyou."
     
      Mr. Humberg Picot rolled uninterruptedly from the left side of his bed all the way to the right. His right shoulder had gone numb so he grabbed the dead forearm and shook it about a little bit, he then let it slump heavily back down to the mattress, tried to lift it on his own yet it continued to lay there like a half-struck possum in the street. Sun poked through the tiny window near the tiny bed in his tiny apartment to reveal his uniform black hair - immune to quarrel, brown satin skin soft against a pillow, stranger to dissension, gentle Picot.
      "Ohhhhhhhh. . .AHHHHHHHHH," he yelled.
      Humberg's fiancé rushed from the shower, cutely injecting an earring into her ear that hid behind a waterfall of blonde hair.
      "It's your biiiiiig day," she said, forcing a smile to Humberg's lips.
      "Ohhh NO. . .NO NO NO," Picot put his face back into the pillow, rather childish really, kicked his feet at the bottom of their bed.
      "You have no choice," the blonde fiancé laughed, "don't let little Mikey get you down, I'm sure his mother isn't that bad."
      "Don't call him that, he'll hear you."
      "You'll do fine, coffee is made. Just think, when you get back here later we can do it," she motioned.
      "I hate when you talk like that."
      "Mmmhmmmm."
      Humberg rolled out of bed, looked at the shower, but that's where the relationship ended.
     
      "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
     
      Beep.
      "This is an automated message for. . .Robert. . .Williams. . . please call Sallie. . ."
      Click.
     
      "I don't really see how it's any of your business what my kid wants to do, or what she is capable of," pushing "slowly forward" on her remote control now Gayle's face was stiff and red, a hot fucking brick of motherly alarm.
      "I'm just saying. . .maybe we shouldn't put so much pressure on them," go on, Cat Forester.
      "Are you telling me how to raise my daughter?"
      "What's wrong with a little pressure," inserted Joyce Montgomery, lighting a smoke, "unbelievable they don't letcha smoke on school grounds anymore, world fulla morons and pansies. . ."
      Humberg Picot waits inside his classroom checking armpits for both smell and moisture, he's surrounded by ABCs and piss-poor etchings of nondescript shapes and lines and miscellaneous eyeballs and doggies, trees and kitties, moms, dads, fences, cars and something noticeably dark by that one strange kid. Humberg slurps at his coffee. His classroom assistant arrives with a full jug of the stuff.
      "What's that?"
      "Coffee," answered the assistant.
      "Nooooo. . . no no no, get that out of here."
      "What?" "I do not want them hyper, or even awake, or thinking at all." "Dude, you nervous?"
      "These things can get a little silly," said Humberg who now peered over some notes, circular lenses rested at the bottom of his thirty-five-year-old nose. "Just put out some milk over there, and orange juice, they've got to have something with their bagels."
      "I still don't see why we didn't get donuts."
      "Because they will not eat the donuts. If they eat donuts around the other parents they will think that the other parents think that they are fat and eat poorly and are likely to think that these poor eating habits will be passed down to their child who will then be likely to be very fat as well, which will most certainly result in an unfulfilling future. And but of course donuts are filled with sugar which gives parents unnecessary energy. You can't excite them, you'll learn."
      The Uber-Baby Namesake
TM squished two ants (a mother and son) and one worm on its way into the school. Joyce Montgomery stopped (everyone) so she could wipe the dead worm from one of the durable double tires with the tight turning radii and noted, "Ew. . .gross." She butted her cigarette out atop the still-wiggling worm to further her disgust, and her air of food chain induced superiority.
      So, leaving the worm carcass sizzling on the pavement the four mothers wheeled their babes into school. The Burgess Day School is an uncomfortably clean place. The floors are shiny to the point of being reflective and smell like medicine. You'd automatically assume that after some apocalypse the next earthly inhabitants would find that this place has held up god damn great. The quartet followed signs: "Burgess Nursery Parent-Teacher Afternoon." Picot's spine tingled at the sound of voices echoing through the halls. . .
      "Fine! I mean. . .if you don't put any pressure on them they'll turn out to be drug dealers. . .and probably hippies!" argued Joyce.
      "You are literally insane," stated Cat Forester. Mr. Picot rose from his wooden chair under the ABC halo and walked to the door of the classroom. The classroom assistant opened the door and noticed, "Duuuuude, they sound fired up already."
      "Some people have to invent worry," Picot said.
      Michael Lee Montgomery the Third came through the door first, he signaled his arrival by waving his bottle in the air, a drunken sergeant on leave - he solidified his presence by throwing his pacifier onto the ground in defiance of all those who might rally against him. Joyce had him dressed in the green and white Osh Kosh overalls that gripped his two-foot torso snuggly, she thought that this color scheme might make her "he's got green eyes," lie more believable. Gayle's remote controlled stroller sauntered in next and anticipated a dangerous future of robotic child rearing. Third came the woman who wants to be cool that no one (not even your author) cares about, then sweet Mae Anne Forester's giggling grace - her blushed, dimpled cheeks turned pools of spittle begging to be pinched, their softness provided any pincher a moment to remember the pudgy glory of eighteen pressure-free months on earth.











      "Mmmm welcome to The Burgess Day School," said Mmmmister Picot.
      None of the parents noticed him, their eyes too busy cataloguing and judging the classroom. They took their respective darlings out of their respective (but not equal) strollers and placed them on the thick psychedelic oriental carpeting put in place to make nap time infinitely more enjoyable - don't worry, Picot had scissored off the frilly ends of the carpet before he even laid it down. Not quite under her breath Joyce Montgomery stated that "this carpet is a little distracting," but continued on to the border of the classroom, on a feverish hunt for Michael Lee's artwork. The children began their punch drunk promenade around the classroom carpet, "Ga, ga, ga, uuuuu daaaa, ohhmmmm" quipped Michael Lee The Third. And to this sweet Mae remarked, "Ahhhhh. . . ack. . .HA!" That last bit spoken with such force and whimsy it took Mae by surprise and she toppled over, no one noticed that she'd nearly collided with a neat stack of colorful cardboard building blocks.
      "Where's Michael Lee's paintings?"
      "Where are Michael Lee's paintings?" asked Picot.
      "What?"
      The other three parents peered over.
      "Sorry Miss Montgomery, I usually don't allow the children. . .even though they can't even speak yet, to hear. . ."
      "It's Misses Montgomery, Misses Michael Lee Montgomery."
      "That has a nice ring to it, you must be very proud."
      "What?"
      "I was just mentioning that normally I prefer the children to hear only proper grammar."
      A big ball of shit began to compile itself in Humberg Picot's stomach. It'd been building inside him since the moment Misses Michael Lee Montgomery entered the classroom and put a face to the pain. His head immediately refilled with those harassing, unintelligible, dinnertime phone calls.
      Ring.
      "Hello?"
      "This Picot?"
      "Yes it is."
      "Well I'm the Mother of Michael Lee Montgomery The Third, Michael Lee came home today with shit in his undies and I wanna know who put it there."
      "Excuse me?"
      "That boy has been potty trained for weeks, what's going on in that classroom of yours that's makin' my boy shit his pants?"
      "I didn't know he did that, surely had I known I would have asked Scott to change him."
      "Surely."
      "I'm very sorry Miss Montgomery."
      "It's Misses."
      Click.
      Ring.
      "Hello, Burgess Day, Humberg speaking."
      "What's your fuckin' name?"
      "Humberg. Hello Misses Montgomery."
      "So what are you then?"
      "Excuse me?"
      "WHAT. . . are. . .you?"
      Cheshire cat flashed through Picot's mind's eye.
      "I'm not sure what you. . ."
      "You know. . .Iraq, Pakistan, you know, what are ya?"
      "I'm actually Fijian Misses Montgomery."
      "Well whatever it is I'm tired of it, you middle easterners gotta get your shit together."
      "Fiji is an island in the Pacific Ocean Joyce, I'm not Middle Eastern and even if I were . . . "
      "You think you're smarter than me?"
      "Of course not."
      "Is that a wise crack?"
      "Of course not."
      "I'll tell you something Picot, I don't like you. For the money we spend over there, it is unbelievable. . .Anyway, I called to tell you that Michael Lee needs to have a separate nap time from the other students, he seems very well rested when he gets home from school. He runs around crazy all night long so me and Michael The Second haven't really had any time to ourselves. . .if you know what I'm getting at."
      "To be honest Misses Montgomery, I think Michael Lee may be slightly hyperactive. Perhaps you're putting a little too much stress on his young mind. You can't quite discipline a toddler, it just confuses them, children need to run and play that's what they do. Also it would not make sense to separate Mikey's nap time because after nap is when I teach the ABCs, we find it best to teach when the children are refreshed and ready to learn."
      "What. . .the fuck. . .did you just say?"
      "I said that I, and the administration at Burgess feel that it is best to teach ABCs after nap time when the children have fresh rested minds."
      "Did you call my boy Mikey?"
      "Yes, he's a baby, a lot of us call him Mikey, it's cute."
      "Cute?"
      ". . ."
      "I'll tell you something else Hum-berg, I don't like you. My boy is not cute he is handsome and he isn't hyper he's powerful and now you go on and separate his nap time and I'll know if you did and. . ."
      Click.
      Humberg Picot stood awkwardly in front of his desk, noting the parents' resemblance to a group of indoor bird-watchers, craning their necks at the deep psychological intrigue of infant art - Picot also considered whether or not he should rest the tip of his ass against the desk edge or continue to stand vertically so as to project power. He pulled at the bottom of his argyle sweater vest instead, pursed his lips, apparently felt this moment the perfect time to learn how to whistle, gave that up, thought about doing it with his fiancé later.
      "God, it's so beautiful," remarked Joyce Montgomery. About four tiles to her left Cat Forester took a break from looking at what could have possibly been Mae's rainbows to peer at this most recent piece from Michael Lee III: Infantile Apocalypse is set against a yellow background of finger threateningly thick grainy construction paper. Lee utilizes a black Sharpie brand marker to etch the outline of his semicircular doomsday sun. Cabinets of fiery red fury curiously fill the center and couple with several slashes of incoherent orange outrage that completely disregard the boundary at the sun's outer edge. Lee uses these orange markings to instill the impression of a nearly deceased graffiti artist who heroically finished his work. A hobbled master pouring his soul onto construction paper while gasping at his last breath, the breath of creation. It is rare to find something so dense in color and texture this illuminating, shockingly black and red markered in spots, but Lee's autobiographic indictment is meant to defy, and to entangle, it unearths the last shred of hope in a darkening world, Lee does not sink into the black ash at his work's center but rises from it.
     
      Cat Forester tried so hard to stop an incredible outburst of laughter that spittle accidentally erupted through her fingers "pummpfh," juicy evidence all over her hands. Joyce Montgomery hears and sees this reaction. Hands on hips Joyce says, "What the fuck are you laughing at?" Suddenly, Humberg Picot realizes no amount of sweater vest pulling can stop the approaching storm. He tries anyway, just to make sure.
      "For Christ's sake Joyce it's a bunch of scribbling. . .it's not beautiful. You're craaazy," Cat now openly laughing, along with a few of the other parents.
      "Ladies, ladies pleeeeeease," begged gentle Picot. Scott the assistant began to reconsider his career arc.
      "You're just mad Cat, cause you're fucking poor!" Shouted Joyce.
      Little Mae began to cry on the carpet. Scott instinctively ran to swaddle her.
      "Joyce if you can't stop cursing I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
      "They're babies, they have no God damn idea what we're saying."
      "Joyce, you're contradicting yourself."
      "You fucking teachers and your big words, I'll tell you. . ."
      "Misses Montgomery please, sit down. . .please," Picot pointed to a seat by the refreshment table.
     
      Ring.
      "Hello, and thank you for calling Sallie Mae. Please enter or speak your nine digit social security number."
      "Operator."
      "This response. . .was not understood. . .please enter or speak your nine digit social security number."
      "One hundred, seventy-six, one, five, six, two."
      "This response. . .was not understood. . .please enter or speak your nine digit social security number."
      "Ahhhhhhh. . ..one, zero, zero, seven, six, one, five, six, two."
      "Thank you. For information on current loans press or say one, for information on. . ."
      "One."
      "For up to date loans, or to speak with an account executive press or say one. . .for past due, or delinquent loans press or say two, for information regarding. . ."
      "Two."
      "Please wait while you are connected."
      "Hello, Sallie Mae here, my name is Trisha can I please have your social security number?"
      Click.
     
      "Oh you think food is going to calm me down? I'll tell you something Picot I have never liked you. You middle easterners I swear to. . ."
      Outside trees yawned and stretched in the afternoon haze as shiny cars with tires pulled up the drive beneath them. Surely a slight wind suggested the trees bony fingertips try to touch the cars, the parents inside smiled and laughed, replacing cups into chilled holders. Someone on the radio provided them with powerful opinions, telling them that too many children are considered autistic and that we're a nation on the decline &c. Over seventy-five percent of the approaching Burgess members comment positively on the landscaping as they pull up the drive, just ask the trees.
      "Joyce for God's sake please settle down, I'm sorry, it's not a big deal okay?" Cat Forester tried to calm everything down.
      "No it's not okay, he thinks I'm fat. . .he called my son Mikey."
      Joyce worked herself into a fury. Picot continued to pull his sweater vest. Mae stopped crying and commenced crawling along the carpet where Michael Lee III sat. "What's wrong with calling him Mikey?" Asked the unknown woman. Joyce turned to her, two horns protruded from her wiry and wet black hair. Picot's heartbeat pounded against the argyle sweater vest. Scott stared at the door thinking about how little he really needed this on his resume.
      Joyce let everyone know they're all a bunch idiots, "You're all a bunch of idiots!" Picot considered the redundant nature of her statement as Joyce took a bite of deliciously soft garlic and onion bagel, throwing the rest at gentle Picot's vest like she'd known exactly what he'd been thinking. The bagel left a mark like old dog slobber and contained a fine garlic chunk that could be saved for a treat on the ride home.
      "Maybe you don't have much hope for your child, but Michael Lee is destined for greatness. . ." she spoke to the ABC halo, addressing each letter individually as she beckoned the power of all the psychotic parents from Burgess's past to join her moment of wrath.
      Joyce's right eye slid back into its socket, the eyelid covered it slightly, she cocked her head to the side to reinforce the dominant left eye that held its focus on the unknown woman. Joyce charged her, hands and arms outstretched in choke formation. Cat Forester yelled, "Joyce!" Cat jumped up to save the poor woman but the woman dove left to save herself. Mae Anne Forester put down her blue block and started crying again, just in time to remind Joyce that little children were indeed still playing on the floor. She managed to sidestep Mae (thank heavens) but unfortunately landed her expensive sneaker directly on her son's left leg. The leg squished under her weight, somewhat like that worm outside, the weak footing provided by Mikey's leg gave way and sent Joyce reeling into the neatly stacked cardboard building blocks - the sound of the collision like faint nightly echoes from the parking lot of a bowling alley. A new set of blocks would have to be ordered, Joyce looked at the unnamed woman from her bed of blocks and named her, "You bitch."
      Joyce Montgomery lay there under the halo of ABCs and infantile art breathing heavily with black eyeliner streaming down her cheeks, an awful cliché. A crowd of interested upper school parents had gathered just outside the doorway, peering over one another to get a look. Most of them would later recount this chaotic scene at family dinner, right after grace.
      "A lot of pressure on parents today," one parent said. Joyce Montgomery rose up from the bricks and did not look to her crying son's leg but instead to the interested onlookers, hoping she hadn't embarrassed herself too much.
     
      A well-established and well-respected agency is searching for interns to start work immediately. Must be comfortable working in fast-paced pressure-packed results-driven environment. Must be comfortable working with a team. Must be savvy and adept in social media (knowledge of SEO a plus). Must be a self-starter prepared to work in an expanding and emerging cutting-edge field. Please be organized, reliable, and willing to show initiative. The ideal candidate will be able to efficiently manage a diverse set of responsibilities. This is an unpaid position. Beep.







The Refusal

By


Kathleen Brewin Lewis



     

     
      Pratibha Ganesh watched as the shiny black SUV pulled up at the curb at Hanover Day School. "L-E-X-U-S," she said to herself, then thought, lex is Latin for law.
      When the teacher with the long gray hair called out the number that was pasted on the upper, driver's side corner of the windshield, Pratibha, her best friend Rachel Hanson, and Leah Hirschberg stepped forward and climbed into the car. Leah sat in the front seat next to the driver, who was her mother; the younger girls sat in the back.
      "Hello, everybody!" Mrs. Hirschberg called out cheerily through her glossed lips, "How was your day?"
      "Aah, it was Earth Day," replied her daughter, "And it was so boring."
      Leah was a year ahead of Pratibha and Rachel, fifth grade to their fourth, a tall and skinny crane of a girl. "We had an assembly with some man talking about the Ganges River and how he was trying to help clean it up, then we sang a bunch of songs, like 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' with those stupid hand motions that the kindergartners think are so fun, and then Mr. Windom the janitor planted a tree while we just watched. And the bossy sixth graders kept walking around all day long saying, 'Reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and refuse.'"
      "Well, that doesn't sound so bad to me," said Mrs. Hirschberg, winking at Rachel and Pratibha in the rear view mirror. Pratibha looked up at her, smiled, and shook her head."
      "Well, it was," said Leah.
      Pratibha sunk deep into thought, pondering the chant of the sixth graders and picking at the hem of her khaki uniform. "Reduce, reuse, recycle, and refuse. What the heck does that mean?" She actually knew what all of those words meant. Words were her life, as her father liked to say. Pratibha was going to be a contestant in the Lawton County spelling bee and her father had been helping her study the Consolidated Word List, as well as the prefixes, suffixes, and roots of words for months.
      The prefix "re" meant "again, go back, do it over." Reduce meant make small again, make less, so, okay, have less stuff. Reuse, duh, use something again. Recycle: put your old newspapers and tin cans and Coke bottles in the recycle bin. But she couldn't make sense of the word "refuse" in the context of the slogan. She thought of the anti-drug ads she'd seen: Just Say No. Maybe that was it.
      But what was she supposed to refuse, to say no to? Not knowing this bothered her. She felt the muscles on her forehead rise and bunch together in what was probably a tangible display of her consternation. She felt grumpy.
      "If my mom says it's okay, do you want to come over later?" Rachel whispered, so Leah couldn't hear.
      "No," said Pratibha, simply.
      "Oh," said Rachel.
      "My father's drilling me on my spelling words tonight and I have to study," she said matter-of-factly and by way of apology.
      The Lexus turned into Country Cove Estates, then pulled into the Ganesh's driveway.
      "Thanks for the ride," Pratibha called out in a sing-song voice, as she got out of the car and smoothed her dark and wavy hair behind her shoulders.
      "You're welcome, hon," Mrs. Hirschberg replied. Pratibha waved to Rachel, then walked up the steps to her house and through the front door. Her mother was sitting in the living room watching television in a jade green sari, her black hair in a tight, thick braid, with Pratibha's baby brother on her lap. The house smelled spicy; their dinner-to-be was simmering on the stove. The baby held the tassel of the braid in one of his hands and sucked the thumb on his other hand. Pratibha walked over and gave them both a kiss.
      "Would you like some nankatai?" her mother asked. Nankatai were the Indian cookies that Pratibha loved, sweetly scented with ground almonds and a pinch of saffron.
      "No," said Pratibha.
      "No?" her mother said, partly in surprise and partly as a reprimand.
      "No, thank you," Pratibha replied, as she walked up the stairs to her room.
     












     
      There was a note from her father on her dresser beside a stack of bright pink index cards. The note said, "Be a good girl and WORK HARD on these words." There was a single word on each fluorescent card, words her father had made her copy down over the week-end to study. She picked them up and looked through them.
      "Aborigine. A-B-O-R-I-G-I-N-E. Centripetal. C-E-N-T-R-I-P-E-T-A-L. Declination. D-E-C-L-I-N-A-T-I-O-N."
      She picked up the phone and called Rachel, who answered on the third ring.
      "Rachel, what do you think it means when they say 'reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse'? What do you think we're supposed to be refusing?"
      "I'm not sure," said Rachel, "Maybe it's like when I give something up for Lent."
      "Well, I'm Hindu," Pratibha huffed. "And I'm already a vegetarian." She hung up. She picked up the cards again.
      "Grievance. G-R-I-E-V-A-N-C-E. Inoculate. I-N-O-C-U-L-A-T-E. Conscientious. C-O-N-S-C-I-E-N-T-I-O-U-S. Sacrificial. S-A-C-R-I-F-I . . . " her voice trailed off.
      She sat down and opened the turquoise and gold brocade journal her Aunt Pritti had brought her from India and wrote, in neat block letters, "SACRIFICES I COULD MAKE." First on the list she wrote: "nankatai." And then, "kulfi with pistachios, playing with Rachel, getting new PE shoes, taking long showers, ordering a new Scholastic book every week at school, dancing in front of the mirror, sleeping late on Saturday, going to birthday parties, watching a DVD on Sunday afternoon." When she stopped and read through her list, she decided the only thing on it that might really, truly help the earth was to quit taking long showers, so she underlined those words and resolved to shorten her baths and conserve water.
      And then she realized that her father's study plan for her had taken care of a lot of the other things on the list over the last several months. She was already sacrificing "playing with Rachel," "dancing in front of the mirror," "sleeping late on Saturday," "going to birthday parties," and "watching a DVD on Sunday afternoon," so she drew a line through those items.
      It seemed that words really were her life.
      She looked over at the pink cards. "Plateau. P-L-A-T-E-A-U. Automaton. A-U-T-O-M-A-T-O-N."
      Her father came home from work at 6:00 and Pratibha was called downstairs to greet him. The four of them gathered around the table for dinner, the baby in his high chair, a little bowl of peas on his tray.
      "So," her father said to her with a small, stiff smile, "How is the studying coming?"
      "Fine," she replied.
      "Did you go through the entire stack of cards?"
      "Not quite," she said.
      "Well," he said sternly, "I believe you know what you need to do to succeed. This spelling bee is just the first step. There are state competitions, then the national one. I f you want to stand out, you must distinguish yourself. You want to go to an Ivy League college, right?"
      "I think so," she said.
      "You think so?"
      "I mean, yes." She bowed her head. Her hands lay curled and squirming in her lap like newborn kittens.
      Her father wiped his mouth with the napkin, patting his slim mustache with the cloth. "All right, Pratibha," he said, "Set the table off for your mother, then come up to my study immediately and we'll begin the spelling drill."
      Pratibha glanced at her mother and sat up straight in her chair. "No," she said calmly, shaking her head and fixing her eyes on the dark line above her father's mouth, "N-O."





BIO: Kathleen Brewin Lewis is an Atlanta writer whose prose, poetry, and prose poetry appears or is forthcoming in Foundling Review, Weave Magazine, The Anthology of Southern Poetry Vol. V: Georgia, Bolts of Silk, Constellations, Boston Literary Magazine, Slice of Life, Eunoia Review, The Prose-Poem Project, and a few others. A flash fiction piece of hers was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012 by Deep South Magazine. A graduate of Wake Forest University and the MA in Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University, she is the Senior Editor for Flycatcher: A Journal of Native Imagination.




Roger's Story

By

Terry Wall



    
      My name is Roger and I'm a recovering Asset Allocationist.
      I grew up in a family of Asset Allocationists. My father had the disease, my mother too. All my siblings have suffered from Asset Allocationism except for one brother who is a Market Timer - nearly as bad as Asset Allocationism but much easier to kick.
      At the dinner table each night, my father expatiated long and loud about balancing a portfolio, planning your allocations and working your plan, sticking with the plan through good times and bad. "Plan your work and work your plan," he'd say. Spin your partner round and round. Dosey doe.
      Yes, I was twelve the first time I allocated assets in a portfolio. I loved baseball cards, but I realized I could not be fixated on one hobby to the exclusion of others. Too much risk. I felt I had to balance things out no matter how much I wanted to go whole hog on the baseball cards. I put some of my money into football cards, of which there were not that many at that time. At some point, I found my way into old postcards with international postmarks.
      Before long, I was collecting religious and devotional cards from sects around the world. My friends started telling me that I'd gone off the deep end. I was balancing my card collection by relative weight and risk, staying up nights re-adjusting and re-analyzing. I determined that moderate risk was my threshold and I kept my portfolio balanced accordingly. It was after buying a rare Seventh Day Adventist card showing the main headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland and selling off the Missouri Baptist one that I had my first blackout.
      It wasn't long after that I was struggling minute by minute to keep the portfolio in balance: Asset Allocationism had me in it's dreadful grip.
      As I got older, I was in denial. I figured that since I was Beta balancing, my growing obsession with security-versus-risk ratios meant that I was OK - that I was the center of the universe - despite the fact that more and more people were hinting that my behavior was starting to look like an addiction, like a madness.
      Asset Allocation gave me such a rush. As I moved into real-world financial instruments, the obsession of the balancing act took over everything. My life was becoming more and more like a theatrical act: I had become a juggler of chainsaws.
      It was 2008 when the big hit came down. The market's fall was like a back-ally tommy-gun assault on a mobster with his pants down. I wanted out. But I knew that I could never get out! There was no safety in corporate bonds. Mortgage bonds, REITs, exchange traded funds all were going down. Equities? Munis? Fugget about it!
      The only investment that held up was in the company that made Taylor Swift T-shirts. It never tanked but everything else shrunk like a third-world cotton V-neck, anywhere from 40% to nearly 90%. I've known a lot of people who hit padded bottoms, but here I was, experiencing the choking too-tight-elastic bottom that any Asset Allocationist can face. I was looking forward to the loss of everything, to forced hospitalization, incarceration for life in a mental institution, and possibly, being forced to view Jim Kramer videos over and over and over. Maybe having to wear one of his T-shirts.
      It was difficult to walk into my first AAA meeting. I sat out on the parking lot for what seemed forever, watching cheery, confident people walking into the building. Some of them were laughing, slapping each other on the back. They were smiling people who seemed quite OK with life and the day at hand. They didn't seem to have cell phone apps alerting them to out-of-balance allocations.
      I've been a part of this program for over one year now. Today, I face each day with acceptance. I get up in the morning, sit my butt on that office chair and plunge into the foreclosure's section of the paper. I can look through reports on hedge funds and derivatives and actually think about moving a significant chunk of what I have into a pure play. I can bet against certain currencies for a week, or for an afternoon, or for ten seconds. And I can bet against the debt of Eastern European economies as readily as I can squash a fly on a picnic table.
      Yes I owe it all to AAA. Now, I truly know how to take life one flash trade at a time!
      Thank you.




BIO: Terry Wall is just beginning his quest for publication. He thinks of his work as offbeat and quirky, or perhaps, the work is normal but he is offbeat and quirky. He lives in St. Louis and is sometimes heard playing jazz standards around town.














A Phonology Of Wasted Time

By


Adam Hoss



     


      Cole Bowers ignored a voicemail and the time, slid his cell phone back into its denim holster and continued his brainstorm.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, the investigation"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, our whole town went to"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, everything was"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he remembered Stacy's"
      A homeless woman in a wheelchair blocked the path ahead. Cracked ebony eyes stared at something somewhere, towards a deity manifest for the Eighth Avenue faithful, adorned in garbage and a Crayon Jesus. An aura of sewage, a zoo of pungent aromas. Cole shouldered awkwardly through the sidewalk's oozing human mass and instinctively felt for pennies.
      No time, he thought. The sentence takes precedence. Jesus, homework, the homeless - such petty distractions can't compete with the greatest dependent clause in literary history.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, dragons ruled the skies"
      Moody and winter, the sky cast in newspaper grey Wednesday in Manhattan. Cole watched the things of the sidewalk scroll between his feet: spent Trident wad with oversized molar marks intact, squashed Marlboros, faded pink and yellow remnants of Mona Lisa in chalk, a penny, ruby red heels, mud-caked work boots, sidewalk-battered sneakers, bruised feet in sandals, half a Metro card, a receipt for KY Jelly, a pamphlet that asks "Are you prepared for eternal hellfire?"
      Masked by taxis, Cole's pocket tingled with invisible sound.
      Another instinct, more muscle memory, and the phone again broke free from its prison. "I can't talk, Mom," Cole said. "I'm writing."
      "With all that noise?"
      "Okay, well, more like thinking."
      Silence.
      "With all that noise?"
      "Jesus, Mom. I'm getting groceries. Not a good time, alright?"
      "Well it's good you're working on your thesis, then."
      "Yeah."
      "Oh, honey. You can't keep putting it off."
      "Yeah."
      "Anyways, the reason I called is, well, Carol and I were talking, and - you remember Carol, right? You'd better. She sent you graduation money, after all. Anyways - what's that?" Her voice moved away from the receiver and then back. "Cole, your father wants you to remind him what the practical uses are of a college degree in linguistics."
      "Oh, god dammit. Not now. I can't - "
      "Hold on, Cole." Her voice left and shouted somewhere distant. "What's that? He says he can't."
      "No, Mom. I mean I can't do this right now."
      "Anyways, the reason I called is, well, because you won't believe what I found out."
      "I'm sure."
      "You remember your Uncle Steven, don't you? Of course you do. What am I saying? He's family, after all. Anyways, I think your Uncle Steven might be sexually attracted to your sister. I mean, I was shocked. Now, don't ask me to prove anything, but Carol and I were talking, and, well, that's just what I think."
      "Fascinating. And not true. I'd like to concentrate on my thesis. Is that okay?"
      "You aren't still approaching black people in the street - complete strangers - are you? Now, I know how this will sound, but Carol and I were talking, and, well, the statistics show that those people are dangerous, Cole. I know, a white woman isn't allowed to say - "
      Cole held the power button.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, the needle broke the skin"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, the Japs had taken the hill"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he realized he didn't known shit about drugs or war so maybe this whole thing's going nowhere."
      At brick apartments south of 29th Street, city workers were scrubbing graffiti remnants reading "4:20" and "I got the chance and took . . ." A bald black man in flannel looked on. Cole stared momentarily, pondering secrets of the brain, and ultimately decided that the man didn't look African enough.
      Anyways, Cole though, there's no time.
      The thesis is more idea than written document.
      The thesis is a boner-killing inspiration drain that must be avoided until the e-mails from Dr. Feinstein turn less "reminder" and more "ransom note."
      The thesis must wait.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, much work in the phonology literature has sought to explain the phenomena of consonant epenthesis"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, Chinguru chia abamura nchogu egwatia mbara (Gusii, Niger-Congo) [lit. the strength of human beings together is like an elephant splitting wood]"
      Cole felt for the reassuring texture of the grocery list in his pocket. His finger read pen carvings like braille: 1% milk, Hot Pockets, toothpaste, roast beef, Miracle Whip, Listerine, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, roach spray.
      The transplants never anticipate the Herculean endurance challenge that is Manhattan grocery shopping. Legions of debt-ridden degree seekers, wide-eyed explorers from the suburban heartland, kids who think it'd be neat to empty their bank accounts for a couple semesters at NYU - such creatures come unprepared for fourteen-block treks burdened with milk and booze and forearms full of rations.
      At a crosswalk a European couple argued in tattered English about a missed flight.
      A woman with a stroller and an iPhone dodged taxis, tempting fate of the flashing red hand.
      A peddler tried to force neon coupon's into Cole's coat pockets.
      A black-haired, lip-ringed teenage boy stared solemnly into his phone, mumbling something about love at its lifeless screen.
      The light changed, and Cole walked away.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he became a charismatic vampire, seduced several high school girls, and now he's legally required to inform his neighbors that he's a registered"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, blah, blah, bullshit about love and Stacy and the future"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, aqdwfvauhasdehklwqeukljheqkh"
      Once a complete sentence, the story will fall out naturally, Cole reasoned. Just like my thesis once I find another African.
      Outside the glass facade of an Eighth Avenue hotel, a Muslim woman in traditional garb screamed at a dark-skinned doorman.
      "What, you think I have bomb?" she demanded.
      The doorman stared silently, sad blue eyes against ambiguous olive skin - eyes that have seen something somewhere.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, ZOMBIES!"
      Cole shoved through a pack of tourists on the sidewalk. The transplants quickly develop an acute tourist-induced rage. Move, Cole though. Move, move, move, move, move, move, forward, now, move.
      At a crosswalk, a wrinkled woman asked Cole the time in Spanish, then in English. The light changed and Cole walked away.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he remembered the weird tingling sensation of Stacy's tongue ring"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he lost it all on cards."
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he found himself recruited into a deranged and exploitative game show that pits the disabled homeless against one another in grueling challenges for a shot at employment with their sponsor, McDonald's"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, fuck you"
      "Stop!"
      A girl dressed in glasses, freckles and rainbow hair jumped in Cole's path, palm extended like a sidewalk traffic guardian.
      "I'm Stacy," she said, smiling.
      "Hi."
      Cole felt something somewhere.
      The transplants hold human contact at a safe distance. Thousands of potential second dates and soul mates swirl endlessly in a hurricane dance of awkward smiles, Craigslist and mutually stared-at computer screens in empty rooms.
      "How are you?" Stacy asked.
      "Fine, I guess."
      "Just fine?"
      "Well, I mean, I'm good. Yeah, I'm doing good."
      "Doing well, you mean?" she laughed.
      "I mean, sure. Yeah. I guess. But, you know, so many people say 'doing good' that it doesn't - I mean, doesn't that on its own mean it's not really a grammar mistake anymore? But, uh, listen, I'm in a hurry, so . . . "
      "Let's do something amazing today."
      On a brick tower behind her bruised hair, massive clock hands crawled forward.
      "Sorry," Cole muttered as the clipboard came out. "No time."
      He stared at the sidewalk and watched his sneakers walk away.
      "Well I think that's really selfish, because the children have time for you. Look. This is Yosef from Ethiopia. Do you know what he had for breakfast today?"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, Gary Fletcher, a grizzled veteran of the force, first arrived on the scene. Fletcher tried to keep his head in the game, but his mind wandered. Two weeks until retirement, he thought. Little did Fletcher know, he was about to"
      Ahead, a bearded man sat with cardboard sign: "Disabled Veteran Plz Help." A fast-talking blonde spitting numbers into a smartphone dropped quarters at the man's feet.
      Cole felt for more pennies.
      Ahead, another sign: "Need money for pot, booze and hookers" with subtitle "At least I'm not bullshitting you, like THAT guy."
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck"
      The line at the grocery store wrapped back to the deli.
      It'll be shorter when I'm done shopping, Cole told himself, a knowing delusion. Maybe it moves quickly. Another.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he never returned Stacy's call"
      The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, the Japs had taken the hill.
      Where was the fucking air support? Scott clutched Stacy's picture and begged. "Tell my wife I . . ." he began, before Jenkins cut him off. "You'll tell her yourself, Slater. Don't you die on me!" Distant sounds of fighter jets began to" "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, Stacy was just a blocked Facebook page, not a wife or fiancé or girlfriend, but Scott liked to lie a lot and he thought he was pretty good at it, too"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he gained the superpower to control time and rescued his past self from his past self"

     











     
     
      A half-gallon would be kinder on the biceps, Cole reasoned as he eyed the milk. Or I could just buy milk at the corner deli on the way home. But then I'd have to lug these bags into the deli and the owner Nasir will see that I'm shopping somewhere else and I can't because he agreed to help me with my thesis because he grew up in Somalia and speaks it pretty well too and now he'll be pissed that I'm such a soulless corporate fucking sellout and - fuck!
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he moved back to Ohio"
      A Korean woman's cart collided with a pink tie-clad businessman mid-Blackberry sales pitch. He was sorry, Jim, but he'd have to call you back.
      "Lady," the silver-haired man began, "in my country we drive on right side of road."
      "Yes I know!" the woman snapped. "It always stupid American in the way!"
      "That's cute," he said. "Is that Engrish?"
      Cole nabbed a six-pack of overpriced craft beer, considered its weight, and returned it to the shelf.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, tormented endlessly by the Taliban in a hellish desert hole, oceans apart from God, the 101st Airborne, and Stacy's"
      The sentence is finished somewhere in my head, Cole thought. I just need to find it.
      A wheelchair blocked the cereal aisle. Its owner, a thin-haired Italian man, slumped in his seat, staring somewhere, making no effort at movement. Transplants and natives alike squeezed around the metal prison.
      Cole awkwardly pondered offering the man help, scanned his surroundings from the Frosted Flakes to the Raisin Bran to be sure nobody was looking, and decided to backtrack through a needlessly long maze to avoid confrontation.
      "How strong are you?" the man asked as Cole began a three-point cart turn.
      "Huh?"
      How strong am I? Cole thought. How strong am I? Barbells? No problem. Biceps? Triceps? Grocery-hardened. Heart? Research pending.
      "I said, could you please try to wrestle that can off the shelf? Piece of shit is jammed. Quickly, now. Do you want me humiliated?"
      Cole feigned struggle and mumbled "That's really stuck good, isn't it?"
      The man stared lifelessly at his canned green beans.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he found himself at the center of a KGB assassination conspiracy involving reverse-engineered Martian technology"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he was pickpocketed at an orgy"
      "I said, do you know what time it is?"
      Cole stared at the man's watch, a golden disc against withered olive skin.
      "Yeah, don't bother. It's broken. My watch, I mean. Hands stuck half past noon, 1998. Of course, it don't say the year, but I know. I keep it, you know, to think back. It reminds me of the person I was when the hands stopped moving. Tricks me sometimes into thinking, you know, that I . . . well, never mind."
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he saw that the prophecy of Xaal, Lord of Lust, would come to pass"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, his brain was tricked into thinking it was just a lucid, prolonged wet dream and Stacy's lips weren't even real"
      An unkempt black man bagged Cole's milk.
      "Hi," Cole said.
      The man made no eye contact.
      "I'm Cole."
      Silence.
      It wasn't working.
      Should I come right out and ask? Cole wondered. Would that be offensive? Racist, even? So many people are watching.
      "So hey," Cole sputtered clumsily, "are you, uh, originally from New York, or . . ."
      "Do I look like New Yorker?" he said.
      "Well, I'm not sure, so, uh, I . . ."
      "I come to find American Dream. I support many families in my country. You do not give a shit, so why you ask?"
      The accent matched: the tone, the rhythm, the poetry of the shapes of his words. He's a recent immigrant, a frequent flier or living deeply among ex-pats in a forgotten English-optional Brooklyn niche.
      "Well, you have an interesting accent. That's all."
      "It is shit accent. I come from Ethiopia."
      "So you speak Amharic?"
      He slowed his hands and narrowed bloodshot, mahogany eyes.
      "Yes, I speak. But I only learn Amharic at University. I learn English also. My people, in my village, what we speak we call Shabo."
      Cole felt the things in his chest freeze.
      "You realize that you're one of the last living speakers of that language, right?" he asked, sweat gluing his palms to the counter. "Would you - I mean, if you don't mind - could I interview you for my master's thesis? That would . . . I mean, it would just be awesome."
      Pink tie told Jim to hold, please, and impatiently tapped Cole's shoulder.
      "Yeah, listen, buddy. You think you could do everyone a solid and give us an estimate of how long this little exchange will take? Don't get me wrong. You and Jamal here seem like real tight homies, right? Pay no mind to the folks who maybe are on a schedule for their jobs. Just a suggestion, buddy."
      "Sorry."
      The man returns to his phone call and asks Jim why DuPont never complained when they got that last batch with those shitty Chinese watch batteries.
      "Why you want to learn shit language? When I go home, when I speak Shabo, they turn away. They think I am uneducated man because it is shit language."
      "I don't think it's a shit language," Cole said. "In fact, I'd be really interested to hear you speak it. Does it use a tone system? It does, doesn't it? I can hear that rhythm in your accent. See, most English speakers can't . . ."
      "You want exploit my people in your science journal? Fuck you."
      Cole swiped his credit card and lined his forearms with plastic bags.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he won the lottery twice in a day but had to give it back"
      Clouds shaded the sidewalk world mixed patterns of gray. Cole dangerously dodged traffic, straining against the weight of his food to avoid Stacy and her Ethiopian children.
      Maybe if I sponsored an African kid we'd be pen pals, Cole thought. Maybe Yosef speaks Shabo. Maybe Yosef has a digital sound recorder and intuition of his people's phonology. But the deadline for my thesis would come way before I could mine anything interesting or useful, and I can't afford another semester in the city.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, molten flesh of his palms dialed ten digits still burned into his brain, and he told Stacy's voicemail goodbye in a shit language"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, 'twas a foggy April morn. Fuck you"
      At Twenty-Sixth Street the bags' weight doubled.
      Cole carefully arranged his groceries on the sidewalk and flagged a taxi.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, a silver-haired businessman in a pink tie told Jim to hold. He smacked Stacy's bare ass, licked her neck, and told her he loved her but they'd have to finish later because this deal he's about to close with Jim is really"
      The driver hoisted Cole's groceries into the trunk.
      "Thanks."
      The question never entered Cole's mind. Nobody was watching.
      "Are you an African immigrant?" he asked.
      "I am American."
      The ride passed in silence.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he cursed Mr. Lyons for dangerously inflating his ENG 1350 Creative Writing ego"
      Police sirens and black-suited men blanketed the New Yorker Hotel.
      "I live here," Cole told a cross-armed cop, who nodded wordlessly and let Cole juggle plastic bags, police barricades and the door handle on his own.
      The lobby's zoo of humanity had been segregated into four corners. More suited men and cops patrolled the patrons. Police line and barricades and cameras formed a wall. The NYPD stood in formation. Cole failed to talk his way past the next checkpoint.
      "The President's doing a fundraiser upstairs," a cop spoke in uncut Brooklynese.
      "Like, the President?"
      "You fuckin' retarded, kid?"
      The chairs and sofas looked over-occupied, so Cole slouched against the window with his bags. A suited man explained that we needed to remain seated. Foreigners excitedly readied their cell phone cameras and spoke in intense whispers. Cole mechanically scanned the crowd but saw no Africans.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he decided that his billion dollar fortune could be better spent funding the preservation of endangered languages than on buying politicians, Chinese batteries or Stacy's heart"
      Another wall of cameras congregated opposite the massive panes of glass.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, Stacy wouldn't anyways"
      "I understand you're from CNN, but the press waits outside. End of fucking story," the Brooklyn cop shouted at an intruder.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, the FBI had the warehouse surrounded. Scott struggled to his feet and reached for the weight of his firearm. "Holy shit!" screamed Stacy "Ladyfinger" McCoy. "You got hit by fucking lightning, man. Can you still fight?" Scott's finger teased the trigger. "For you? To the death," he said."
      An Asian child tunneled through the mass of reporters and pressed his palm against the window.
      Cole scooted closer.
      The child blew rings of hot air against the glass. Cole felt something somewhere and blew a ring back. A crooked smile revealed rows of rotted teeth. Muffled by glass, his "hi, mister," sounded exotic, like a fleeting shred of human knowledge encoded in a dying language, obscured by centuries of colonialism, oceans, the internet and shit accents.
      A reporter pushed the child back into a forest of suit pants and loafers, frantically cleaning the glass with his sleeve.
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he fell in love"
      "The second time Scott Slater was struck by lightning, he realized that last one could potentially work but love won't pay the bills so he promptly gave up the dream and became a professional accountant"
      Cole stared at the stalled grandfather clock in the corner and waited for his food to spoil.





BIO: Adam Hoss is an English professor, a linguist and a hoarder of obscure and useless knowledge. Despite these obsessions, he is a terrible player of trivia games. His work has been published in Larks Fiction Magazine. He teaches English at Terra Community College in Fremont, Ohio, where he lives with his plants.










Student Number 146

By


Jo Wharton Heath



     
      Jennifer heard her name, and without allowing herself to think, she swept out onto the stage on the ends of her toes swathed in pink nylon and began the twirls she'd practiced a million times. She raised her chin and studied her hands on high as though they were grapes hanging just out of reach. Jennifer was a whirlwind nymph skimming over the earth.
      Then she heard one of the judges cough.
      They were watching her. They were evaluating her. She began to feel more like a frog than a nymph. Her rhythm faltered, and her pink feet felt heavy and swollen. Somehow, Jennifer worked through the number and scampered off stage.
      "I was horrible," she said to her dance instructor.
      "Of course you weren't," he lied.
      When the judge stood to announce the winner, she -
      A bell rang, and Jennifer wondered briefly where she was. Oh yes. Algebra class. The students around her were gathering up their stuff to leave, and she hurriedly did the same. She put on her coat and pulled her long black hair free of the collar. After adding her math notebook to her backpack, she lifted the heavy thing onto her right shoulder.
      Her next class would start soon, so she hurried around the students who were talking and walking slowly. Once outside she began to trot, partly to keep warm and partly to hurry. After crossing the concourse, she ran up the cement steps of the History building, trotted quickly across the hall and up the stairs, and slipped in the back of the auditorium. She made her way to seat number 146, her number, down five steps from the door and then left past six other students. The classroom was huge and the assistant was still taking role by jotting down the numbers of the empty seats. The professor put his first transparency on the projector, and Jennifer read "The Courts of Europe during the Industrial Revolution."
      She wrote "Courts" in her History notebook.
      Jennifer dribbled down the court and frowned. The ball didn't sound right. Its resonance had a bloop to it, and whenever the ball made that sound, things would go wrong. She was powerless to do anything about it. Or was she? She faked a jump and fooled her guard. At exactly the right moment, as the guard came down, Jennifer pushed off the floor into the air and threw the ball up toward the basket. Ordinarily, she didn't throw from that far back, but the flat-sounding ball had hurried her. As she and the guard ran toward the basket, Jennifer saw the ball curving and peaking well, and then she saw it hit the rim and bounce into the stands. She -
      The class exploded in laughter. The professor must've said something amusing. Jennifer leaned over to the guy sitting next to her. "What was so funny?" she asked.
      "Ah. You had to be there," he said, and smiled at her. She noticed his blue eyes twinkled.
      "I sometimes don't pay attention," she admitted. Jennifer liked his blue eyes.
      "No kidding!" he said with a grin as he turned his attention back to the lectern.
      She blushed and stared at the side of his face for a moment.
      His blue eyes searched her eyes as he unbuttoned her shirt and pushed it over her shoulders. As she began to loosen his khaki's, Jennifer stared at his eyes, his face, and his chest that glistened with sweat in the hot motel room they had taken for the afternoon. Something was wrong with the clasp on his pants. It wouldn't open! She couldn't interrupt what he was doing to bend over and inspect the damned thing. Why couldn't he have worn jeans with a snap? She grabbed the little zipper handle and pulled down, but it snagged the tail of his t-shirt.
      Jennifer gave up. In a pique, she tuned in to the professor's lecture and began to take notes.




BIO: Once a mathematics professor, Jo is now a writer who lives in a house in the woods with her husband Bob just across the interstate from Auburn, Alabama.












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