welcome to volume 85 (August 2010) of

Down in the Dirt

down in the dirt
internet issn 1554-9666
(for the print issn 1554-9623)
Alexandira Rand, Editor
http://scars.tv - click on down in the dirt

In This Issue...

Matthew Glasgow
John Ragusa
Raud Kennedy
John Rachel
Mary Campbell
Matthew Lett
Christa Ward
Anthony R Pezzula
Roger Cowin
Michael Grigsby
Scott Brownlee
David Danforth
Linda Andrisan
Michael de Mare
G. Tod Slone
Matt Rosen
A. C. Lippert
Jon Brunette
Andrew Jefchak

ISSN Down in the Dirt Internet

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The stockings were hung with care.

Matthew Glasgow

    It didn’t matter that it was August; it was Christmas at Dan’s place. He wanted to celebrate before he turned himself in. Warrants here and there; I can’t even remember every charge he had against him. Stupid shit I’m sure. Either way, he was going away for a long time, and he was going to miss Christmas this December.
    Dan’s place was always a dump, but tonight it sure was merry. His sister brought over her old plastic tree, some red and green and blue and yellow and orange lights, and a few ornaments. One even said “Baby’s First Christmas”, probably Dan’s. Jeez, I wonder what that kid was like growing up, ‘cuz ever since I’ve known him, he’s been crazy as hell. Them first few months, before he could talk, his mother musta loved him. Knowing him, his first word was probably “fuck”. It had to be all downhill from there. I can just see it, Dan crawling around, opening his infantile lips and squeaking out “fuck”. His mother thinking, “Damn, at least I have a few years before he’s up and running, and strong enough to escape my grasp. But ‘til then, I’ll keep him within reach”.
    The whole crew was there: Rob, Tom, Scanlon, Richie, etc. I was the last person there, had to finish my goddamn shift at that taco joint. I told the boss I needed off, he said fuck you. Typical. Dan was wearing this gigantic Santa hat, going around kissing Kim and Casey and anyone else while holding up some mistletoe.
    “OOOOXXXXXX... Look who fuckin’ decides to show up! Howya been ya bastard!” Dan screamed from across the room with a huge grin. I didn’t even have to guess that he was smashed already.
    “Ahh Danny, same shit different day. Place looks great. Feel like I’m at the North Pole or some shit.”
    “Ha ha ‘tis the season my man! Aww, is this for me? Thanks bud, you can just stick that under the tree. Hey that rhymes! Whaddaya know! Woo, I’m feelin’ good. Whaddaya drinkin’?” Dan spewed out in a wonderful drunken ramble.
    “I’ll just have a High Life if you got one.”
    “‘Course I do. Special occasion man. Only the best ha ha! I’ll be right back.”
    Dan really did seem happy. I guess when you’re facing months of misery, you don’t have many options. Gotta live it up while you still got your freedom.
    I put my gift under the tree, it was a steel flask. Figured he could use it. Shoved a pack of Pall Malls in his stocking too. Dan actually asked us to bring him presents, pretty strange for Dan. He was a guy who had to do things his way; didn’t want shit from no one. I remember trying to buy him a beer at a bar one time, and man, he let me have it. Went on some speech about independence, and how he hated owing people. I was too drunk to pay too much attention, but I got the gist. Probably why he resorted to robbery, wanted to keep the landlords and creditors even. Nothing they could hold over his head, you know. I’m sure in time; he would have even repaid the people he stole from.
    “Here’s your beer. I got some liquor too. John’s been bartending over at Whistler’s lately. Made me something called a Red Death...You gotta try one.”
    “Okay, I will. Let me just down a few of these first.”
    I made my way through the party, mingling here and there. Really just killing time until I, myself, felt good. Tom told me about his new job over by the old Pennsauken market. Rob let me know every movie and TV show he’d seen lately. I just chugged as fast as I could, saying “yep” and “uh huh” between gulps. Dan’s sister was a real buzzkill. Going on about how sad it was that Dan was going to prison, and how sure she was that he could put his life back together. I showed my respects by letting my beer hang by my hip, tilting my head sympathetically while she blathered on. I even threw in a few breathe heavy from nostrils + close eyes + shake head from side to side in disgust/pity moves from time to time. It really didn’t matter. Danny was a grown boy. He fucked up, now he has to go to jail. Happens.
    Once I got myself out of that conversation I went to the ice cooler for a few more High Lifes. I was on a good pace, about six deep, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be.
    “You ready for a Red Death?” Dan asked while sneaking up behind me.
    “Yeah, sure. I think it’s about time.”
    Dan guided me over to his makeshift bar. It was really nothing more than a few pieces of plywood, but somehow it stayed together. John was behind the bar, his arms spread wide apart as if saying, “What’ll you have”. Asshole musta thought he was still over at Whistler’s.
    Dan motioned for two more, and John began bumbling with the glasses and bottles of liquor. He tried to act like a pro, raising each bottle high in the air like he was the main attraction on the Vegas Strip. Probably even expected a tip as he slid the drink my way. Fat chance.
    Dan raised his glass for a toast.
    “Here’s to this night never ending...‘Cuz God knows it don’t get much better after this.”
    “Here, here.”
    “Damn, that’s good shit...I’m gonna go see what Chris is up to” Dan said while slapping my back.
    “Don’t go too far...We’re opening the presents in a little bit.”
    I stayed by the bar and asked John to make me another Red Death.
    “That hits the spot,” I gasped.
    “Yeah, I learned that one a few months ago.”
    “No kiddin’ Cocktail!”
    “Ahh stop breakin’ my balls Ox,” John whimpered, “But you know they call it a Red Death for a reason.”
    “That’s what I figured...How ‘bout another.”
    This one burned something fierce, so I put it out with a swig of beer.
    “You make me one more of those and I might finally catch up with all these drunk bastards.”
    “Ha ha, you got it Ox.”
    By the time I swallowed my third, everyone was walking over to the tree.
    “I just want to thank all of you guys for coming out tonight, and also for all the gifts you got me!” Dan announced while pushing the white cotton ball away from his face. “But seriously, I’m gonna miss all of you...Be happy, hold on to what you have, and try not to think of me too much while I’m gone.”
    I squeezed my way to the front of the crowd, right between Sally and a fluorescent Frosty the Snowman.
    “Well go ahead, open ‘em”
    Dan burrowed through the wrapping paper like he was a little kid. Scraps of Eight Reindeer and a laughing fat guy with a white beard fell carelessly to the ground, and Danny stood there with a bottle of wine.
    “Thanks John, great gift”
    “No problem, that’s some good stuff. It gets better with age too. So I figured when, you know...”
    “Yep. Gotcha.”
    I lost focus on some of the other gifts Danny got. I knew he couldn’t take those things where he was going anyway. Guess he would still have them when he came back though.
    Most people left after Danny was done opening his gifts. Cocktail made me another Red Death. He was starting to give me a little attitude, so I figured I’d just leave him alone. Just finish the night on High Lifes. Any other time I’d have a few words with him, maybe even beat his ass. But it was a special occasion.
    I talked to Sally for a little bit, but either I wasn’t drunk enough or she wasn’t drunk enough, so I just kept things basic. Job, family, the news, and shit like that. She sure was looking good though.
    After running out of things to say, I plopped myself on the couch. It’s really a shame how much of a pussy I’ve become. Instead of entertaining myself with a brawl or a broad, I just sat there listening to shitty Christmas music coming from an old record player. At least Jimmy was getting some from Casey. Good for him, needs it more than me anyway.
    As the party dwindled down to only a handful, mostly friends of friends that I didn’t know well enough, I somehow got stuck with the role of DJ. Flipping the records to side B every 15-20 minutes was a pain, not to mention having to choose from A Perry Como Christmas, The Christmas Song-Nat King Cole and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. He even had Merry Christmas from Sesame Street and John Denver & The Muppets- A Christmas Together. So many options. I never knew why Dan didn’t just spring for a CD player. Something nice, like a five disc-changer. Maybe even some new system that I didn’t even know about. Guess he liked the nostalgia. The obsolete.
    John left with Rob and some guy he knew from work. A few more left shortly after that. Pretty strange, people leaving a party before they got kicked out. Maybe they just couldn’t handle their booze. All I know is that there was still a half cooler full of High Lifes in the kitchen, and as long as I could see straight, I was staying.
    I sat alone in Dan’s place for nearly an hour, trying to fight off the heavy eyes that come with boredom and High Life. It was about 3:30 am when Casey crept through the living room.
    “Leavin’ so soon darling?”
    “Oh hey Ox, I didn’t know you were still here?”
    “Yep, still hangin’ strong”
    “Wow, looks like you put some away. That your little pile?”
    “Sure is. Every golden can.”
    “Well you always could put them away...Listen, it was good seeing you tonight, I gotta get home though. Early shift at Hank’s tomorrow morning”
    “I know how that goes, I- ”
    “See you soon”
    Damn. Cut me off mid sentence. Musta really been in a hurry.
    Dan came down shortly after, grabbed a beer, and joined me on the couch.
    “There you are. Didn’t pull an all-nighter this time?”
    “Ha ha. Look at you with that big red hat. I should call you Kris Kringle!”
    “Ahh you like it? Kept it on the whole time.”
    “That’s great. You’ve been after Casey for a while. I’m glad you finally got her.”
    “It was just a pity fuck. Gone now.”
    “Don’t say that.”
    “It was. I’m gonna be going away for a while. She felt bad. Didn’t even stay.”
    I tried to think of something comforting to say, I couldn’t. Made a soft grunt instead.
    “How bout a smoke out on the porch? I need some fresh air.”
    “Sure Danny”
    The screen screeched as Dan slowly pulled it free. We stepped on the wooden planks with the sun starting to show its face in the distance. I inhaled.
    “Did your sister leave?”
    “Na, she passed out early. She’s such a lightweight.”
    “Few can hang with us though.”
    “That’s so true man...Gonna miss your crazy ass”
    “Crazy, no you’re the crazy one. I’m just along for the ride.”
    “You kiddin’ me? Remember that time at your old apartment on Burlington Pike?”
    “Which time?”
    “When you and Braz almost went at it.”
    “Oh yeah”
    “You kept tellin’ him to hit you. He wouldn’t, so you grabbed a steak knife and sliced your forehead wide open.”
    “Man, I think I had a whole bottle of <>IEvan to myself...Woke up with my face covered in dry blood and whiskey.”
    “And you call me crazy!”
    “Well, maybe we’re both a little crazy.”
    “I agree,” Dan said while flicking the butt off the deck, “One more?”
    Danny pulled a fresh cigarette out and took a hard drag after lighting it.
    “I guess these are gonna be my new currency.”
    “Guess so.”
    We both had nothing to say for a moment. At least silence can be filled with smoke sometimes.
    “Goddamnit I don’t wanna go to jail!”
    “I know man, I know”
    Danny starred at his cigarette as it burned to the filter.
    “You know, when I was a kid, I used to love Christmas. Not even the day so much, just looking forward to the day. Right after Thanksgiving, I’d already be wishing it was Christmas, you know?” Danny said while flicking the butt away, and watched it plummet to the ground.
    “Yeah, still my favorite holiday”
    “I remember I used to have one of those Advent calendars, where you would open a tiny door each day for the 25 days before Christmas, and inside the door would be a tiny chocolate.”
    “Oh, yeah, I know what you’re talking about.”
    “Christmas day had the biggest piece of Chocolate. But once it came, it was over. A whole year till I could eat that big piece of Chocolate again.”
    “You didn’t have a good time tonight?”
    “No, I did. But now I have nothing left. No presents waiting for me. No days off school. No more egg nog. Carols. Fa la las. And no Chocolate. Just jail...I want to hold on to it forever, but I can’t.”
    “Hey, you can still look forward to getting out. You won’t be there your whole life or anything.” That was really the most solace I could give to Dan, but it probably did little good.
    “Thanks man. I’m going to miss hangin’ with you. Always been a good friend.”
    “You too...Its getting kinda late, and these High Lifes and Red Deaths are starting to kick in.”
    “Go ahead man, you can sleep on the spare bed in my room. I’m just gonna stay out here a little while more.”
    I passed out almost instantly on Dan’s spare bed, which was really only a mattress. Things like blankets, pillows, and maybe even a headboard created a bed to me. In the middle of my slumber, I heard a rattle. It sounded like someone was running all around the living room. As I crept closer to the door, I heard Dan’s voice yelling “fuck” over and over again. From the corner of my eye, I saw a red flashing light coming from the window. I looked outside, and surely enough, there were two squad cars parked out front. A sudden fear came over me, and I thought God I hope Dan doesn’t do anything stupid.
    Quickly, I went back over to the door, where I heard a loud clang of steel. Dan must be in the kitchen. OH SHIT!
    I broke open the door, ran down the hall, and leaped almost all ten steps on the way downstairs. The house was nothing more than blurred colors as I frantically searched for Dan’s pigment. Suddenly, I heard the front door’s lock being unhinged. “Ahhhh” BOOM. I followed the noise until I reached a cop standing in the doorway pointing a .45. I looked down to see Dan on the ground, with a wound in his chest. No. No. He didn’t get shot, did he?
    “Stop where you are!” the cop screamed. I froze.
    “Jerry, call an ambulance!” he yelled back to another officer.
    “What? No. What the fuck did you do?” I said. Dan wasn’t moving.
    “He...He came at me with a knife.”
    The steak knife rested by Danny’s side; his sister came running out.
    “no. no. danny. No!” she sobbed, and rushed to his body. Blood oozed, bastard got him right in the heart. Still had his hat on though.
    “An ambulance from St. Nicholas’ is on its way, sir.” The cop told us.
    Words were spoken but our ears fell deaf as the paramedics took Danny away from us. Tears rolled down her face while they lifted him onto the gurney, and checked him for any signs of life. There were none. While I watched them load the black-blanketed corpse into the back, one came up to me.
    “I thought maybe you’d want to hold on to this.” The paramedic said as he handed me his red cap.
    The sun was hot. Too damn hot. Christmas was over.
    I walked the streets, expecting tears that never came; sometimes I hated being so tough. I thought about that night, how alive Danny seemed, how dead he was now. My whole life, I always thought things would get better, they had to. Maybe, this was it though. This second, this minute, this hour. Danny knew his time was up, something few people are privileged with. He wished that he could have held on to “it” forever, but really, that’s all you can ever hold on to: your memories. So I proudly put on that big red hat, and opened that tiny door.
    Somewhere there is a woman weeping, sealing decorations back into a box for December, possibly never to be seen again. Doomed to a life of dust and attic darkness. As for me, I am licking melted chocolate off of my fingertips on a warm, August day.

A Magic Touch

John Ragusa

    Barry Finnan had always wanted to have a unique ability. So after he was struck by lightning, he was pleased to find that his touch had become magical. Whenever he touched someone, they would fall asleep. When he removed his hand, they’d awaken.
    He didn’t know why this had happened; it was totally inexplicable. But Barry wasn’t about to complain about it, because he was special now. He had something that set him apart from other people.
    At first, he didn’t tell anyone about it; he wanted it to be his secret. Once something like that got out, insomniacs would bug him to help them fall asleep. He wasn’t going to be a healer for anyone. He was a selfish man; his only concern was for himself.
    He never gave to charity. He thought that people ought to help themselves. He had no interest in philanthropy. He was devoted to the advancement of his own cause.
    His girlfriends had known all about him. He spent little money on them. He got jealous if they looked at other guys, but he flirted with lots of women.
    As a child, he’d been mean to his brothers, Buck and James. He made fun of them a lot, laughing when they cried. He took their toys away, too. He enjoyed making their lives miserable. He thought he was better than them because he was older.
    He knew he could use his touch for his own gain, but he wasn’t sure how. He’d have to read books for inspiration.
    He checked out novels from the library. He read five of them before finding one that gave him an idea. It involved a wager.
    Barry hadn’t seen his brothers for years. He decided to call on one of them.
    He looked up James’s number and phoned him.
    “Hello?” James answered.
    “Hi there, James,” Barry said. “This is your brother, Barry. What have you been up to lately?”
    “You must want something. Right?”
    “I don’t want anything. I called because I’ve missed talking to you.”
    “Yeah, and I’m the queen of England.”
    “I know I’ve been cruel to you before, but I’ve changed now. Can’t you forget the past?”
    “Why should I? You treated me like dirt. You did the same thing to Buck.”
    “That was a long time ago.”
    James hung up. Barry sat staring at the phone. His plan had not been successful.
    However, Buck could be a different story. He was more naîve than James.
    He called Buck, crossing his fingers.
    “Hello?” Buck answered.
    “Is this Buck?” Barry asked.
    “It sure is. Who’s calling?”
    “It’s your brother, Barry.”
    “Really? It’s been a while, man. How have you been?”
    “I’m all right. I wanted to get in touch with you.”
    “I’m glad you did. Where are you living now?”
    “I’m residing at Beasley Street.”
    “You should visit me sometime.”
    “As a matter of fact, I was planning to do that. Are you busy tomorrow?”
    “No, I’m not,” Buck said.
    “I want to meet you and James at your house.”
    “Okay. Do you think you can come over at seven o’clock?”
    “That’s fine with me.”
    “I’ll ask James to come over, too.”
    “Great. I’ll see you both, then. Bye.” He hung up. So far, everything was going fine.* * *

    The next day, Barry went to Buck’s house. Buck was cordial, but James was aloof.
    After they exchanged greetings, Barry said, “How’s about a wager?”
    “What kind of wager?” James said.
    “I’ll bet you $500 I can make someone sleep by touching him.”
    “That’s impossible!” James said.
    “I’ll bet you James won’t sleep,” Buck said.
    “All right, you’re on,” Barry said, shaking Buck’s hand. “I’ll make James doze off now. Watch.”
    Barry touched James, and he fell asleep.
    Barry beamed. “See? I told you I had a magic touch. Now pay up.”
    “How did you do that?” Buck said, writing out a check to Barry.
    “God gave me the talent. I was struck by lightning, and then I found I had the power.”
    Barry lifted his hand, and James awakened. “Did I sleep?” he asked.
    “Like a baby,” Barry said.
    “Say, I have an idea,” James said. “When we go out and see men, Barry can touch them. While they’re asleep, we can take their wallets. Then we’ll split and divide the cash between us. How’s about it?”
    “That’s brilliant!” Barry said. “Let’s do it.”
    “I don’t know, fellows,” Buck said. “It seems risky.”
    “No guts, no glory,” James said. “We’ve got to try it.”
    “I agree,” Barry said. “If we go into town, we can attempt our plan.”
    “Count me out.” Buck was adamant.
    “You’re chicken,” Barry said.
    “I’m not chicken!”
    “Oh yes, you are. You’re afraid to get arrested.”
    “You win,” Buck said. “Let’s go get us some dough.”
    Barry smiled. “That’s the spirit. Buck, let’s go in your car.”* * *

    On the way to town, they discussed their plan.
    “Our victim has to be alone,” James said.
    “What if he’s carrying a gun?” Buck asked.
    “It won’t do him any good,” Barry said. “He can’t shoot all three of us.”
    “This is dishonest,” Buck said. “It’s just not right.”
    “Stop being a wimp,” Barry said.
    James pointed ahead of them. “There’s a dude across the street. Let’s get him.”
    They drove up to the curb, stopped the car, and got out. When they approached the man, Barry said, “Hey, you got a light?”
    Before the man could reply, Barry touched him. He fell asleep instantly.
    Then the man started yelling, “Help! Police! I’m being attacked!”
    A squad car suddenly appeared, sirens blasting. Two cops climbed out, their guns cocked and ready. “Freeze!” one of them cried.
    The brothers obeyed him. They were handcuffed and read their rights.* * *

    In their cell at the police station, Buck said to James, “You and your bright idea! We’re up the river now.”
    “We’ll get off,” Barry said.
    “No, we won’t.” Buck punched the wall. “Thanks a heap, you two.”
    James sneered. “Damn it, how was I to know the bugger we found talks in his sleep?”

Love Games

Raud Kennedy

“Jane,” I call out,
hoping you’ll respond
with my name on your lips.
“John,” you say,
making this real.
Just when I thought love
had passed me by for good,
you float by,
a lavender flower
on a fall breeze.

Janet Kuypers reading a poem by Raud Kennedy
from Down in the Dirt magazine August 2010 (v85)
(which is also in the 5x9 ISBN# book Clearing the Debris )
Love Poem
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Watch this YouTube video
live at the Café in Chicago 08/10/10

Moon Walk

John Rachel

    Malcolm Timberlane was surprised when he stepped out onto the surface of the moon. He felt very comfortable and had no problem breathing. He had always understood that the moon was a very inhospitable place and lacked oxygen, that it was immersed in a total vacuum. That to survive required sophisticated protective and breathing gear. But there he stood in his favorite brown leather sandals, white Bermuda shorts, an orange ‘I want my Oompa-Loompa NOW!’ t-shirt, and a navy blue baseball cap that said ‘I ♥ the Dodgers’.
    So much for science class.
    They did get one thing right. That was the gravity. The moon was the perfect place to instantly lose weight. He felt extremely light and could easily jump over ten feet straight up. With 1/6th of the gravity of earth, he only weighed 27 pounds and effectively was six times as strong. He felt like a super-hero, maybe Spider Man or Mr. Incredible.
    How did he get here? That’s a long story. But in a nutshell, Malcolm was a gazillionaire. And NASA, with all of the budget cuts for the past ten years, needed the money.
    The moon is a strange place for a vacation. Especially alone. But the truth was, he was not here to sightsee. He was here for his fourth –––– and he hoped final –––– attempt to commit suicide. So far he had been an unqualified failure at ending his own life. Alone on the moon, it seemed like a safe bet that no one would interfere.
    Malcolm had found out six months ago that he had incurable bone cancer. The fancy name was malignant fibrous histiocytoma and it was extremely rare. But definitely bad news. So far he had experienced only mild pain but his doctors had made it clear he was in for some rough times.
    He had always had it good. His parents took good care of him. And recently life had been served up on a silver platter sparing none of the finest trimmings, all as a result of a simple but clever piece of software he had developed when he was only fifteen. This was an application used all over the world to “unlock” cell phones, disabling the manufacturer’s code which pre-determined user options, like for example who they could buy their service from. Malcolm made a fortune until someone hacked his code and stole it. But by then his biggest problem was where to put all his money and how to spend it fast enough. He retired at nineteen.
    But no amount of money was going to save him now. He had gone to the best specialists all over the world –––– Zurich, Tokyo, Stockholm, Seattle, Boston, the Mayo clinics in Minnesota and Arizona. Medical opinion was unanimous. His days were numbered and the last few weeks would be hell.
    Malcolm hated pain. More than loneliness. More than death itself.
    So here he was. On the moon. Fully expecting when he opened the hatch door of the lunar delivery vehicle, POOF! He would be sucked into the infinite nothingness of space, guts and bones and muscles and blood exploding and dispersing into a molecular vapor.
    He kicked up some moon sand. Looked around. Pinched himself. Still here.
    What now? He circled the base of his spaceship. Scanned the local terrain.
    Suddenly he noticed what looked like a door. Could it really be a door? It was mounted almost vertically at the base of a small crater escarpment. There was no window but centered at about waist-level some sort of metallic plaque deeply engraved with odd squiggly writing. He walked the fifty or sixty yards to get a better look.
    As he approached, the door started to glow. Then it literally dissolved, exposing the interior of a foyer and a long hallway. He entered and immediately heard voices, which seemed to be coming from a room at the end of the hall.
    Malcolm was surprised that he felt no anxiety or fear as he stepped toward the chattering. Then again, he really had nothing to lose, if whoever might be inside turned out to be hostile.
    He stepped into the room. This was the last thing he expected to see. It looked like the lobby to a Marriott Hotel. Sitting and milling around were hundreds of pint-size men and women –––– or were they boys and girls? –––– talking, laughing, throwing fluffy balls of phosporescing string, squirting at one another from the tips of their fingers a shimmering liquid, which on contact sent a shockwave of light rippling across their skin but then vanished.
    They noticed him but seemed completely unfazed. A few smiled, then went back to their frantic conversation and play. No one expressed the least bit of shock or surprise that this giant –––– by their standards –––– earth creature had entered their midst.
    They wore no clothing, were completely hairless, had large enthusiastic eyes, and chatted away in what sounded like a cross between the cooing of pigeons and the squeeking of gerbils. It was of course some incomprehensible language. But one thing struck Malcolm immediately. They were all extremely alert and seemed to find everything very entertaining.
    Finally, one of the creatures –––– who towered over the others by at least a couple inches, hence seemed to be in some leadership capacity –––– came up to Malcolm, took him by the hands and started dancing. This drew the attention of a few others, then more still. Soon Malcolm found himself surrounded by dancing, giggling, skipping moon people.
    Abruptly, the dancing, celebration, and conversation stopped. Malcolm had no idea what prompted this but now found himself the exclusive center of attention. All eyes were staring at him in rapt anticipation. He was at a loss for what to do. Maybe introductions were in order.
    “Hi. I’m Malcolm Timberlane.”
    They just looked puzzled.
    He glanced around the room.
    “Nice place you have here. Do you shop at Ikea?”
    Malcolm couldn’t imagine what they thought he had just said, but instantly the entire room was filled with laughter. Outrageous, hysterical laughter. He assumed it was laughter. It didn’t sound like human laughter but everyone was again animated, holding their bellies, rocking back on their heels, slapping each other on the backs, and generally seemed very amused by what they had just heard.
    This went on for a while. Then abruptly the leader held up his hands. Everyone became silent, almost brooding.
    The leader looked up and down at the full length of Malcolm, who could not fathom what the little man was looking at or thinking. After a couple minutes of this, he spoke.
    “Dzu ferna cowlee zmist po bekla cruda.”
    Everyone gasped.
    The leader then leaned forward and stuck out his tongue. It kept extending until it was over two feet long and the tip came to rest on Malcolm’s chest. The leader’s eyes became as big as saucers –––– literally –––– bulging to the point where Malcolm thought the little guy’s head was going to explode. Then quite instantly the leader’s eyes shrunk back to normal and closed. Behind their veiny lids they started to glow bright yellow.
    As distinctly and smoothly as Tom Brokaw announcing tonight’s news headlines, Malcolm heard the little guy’s voice in perfectly neutral Midwestern English.
    “You don’t have to die yet. We can fix the problem with your bones.”
    Before this thought could even sink in, they took him through a maze of hallways and a series of doors. They eventually entered a tiny room containing what looked like a tanning bed. They had Malcolm completely undress and lay down on its crystalline lower surface.
    He barely remembered what happened over the next two hours. He shuddered, shivered, was plunged in and out of major hallucinations, was massaged by invisible hands, tossed and turned, bounced and deconstructed. It was wild but not particularly unpleasant. When the machine finally powered down, all of the sensations through his body and the swirling sheets of imagery stopped. He felt simultaneously calm and exhilarated.
    Malcolm got dressed, was handed a thermos-size shiny metallic receptacle containing a milky white substance for him to drink –––– it tasted like marshmallows and hazel nuts –––– then was led through the maze of corridors and rooms, back to the very same door he had originally entered.
    As he stepped back out, the little people crowded at the entrance and jumped up and down excitedly, chattering, giggling, squirting, and generally treating the spectacle of the departing earthling with enormous fanfare. They obviously had enjoyed his visit but wouldn’t miss him.
    Malcolm kept turning around to look back. Each of his glances seemed redouble their enthusiasm. When he got about halfway back to his spacecraft, the crowd noise suddenly stopped. When he looked back, there was the door but not a trace of the moon people. It was as if they had just instantly disappeared.
    The trip back home –––– it took three days –––– was uneventful, in fact pretty boring. There isn’t much scenery along the route between the earth and the moon.
    Finally, after a scorching rough-and-tumble re-entry into the atmosphere which almost shook the teeth out of his head, his space capsule splashed into the Pacific Ocean near the Marshall Islands and was hoisted onto an aircraft carrier by a huge helicopter with the NASA logo prominently displayed on the fuselage. Underneath the logo, someone had spray-painted ‘If you can read this, you’re following too close.’
    Malcolm was airlifted to Honolulu. His personal Gulfstream G550 was waiting there to immediately take him to California. He was exhausted but too agitated to sleep. As they were landing in L. A., he called his attorney’s office.
    “Cantwell, Brewster, Klein and Farber.”
    “I’m calling about the Timberlane estate.”
    “Of course, sir. I have instructions to tell all participants in that matter that the reading of the will for the late Mr. Timberlane will be starting promptly at 2 pm. That’s in 37 minutes. Do you need directions?”
    Traffic being what it is in Los Angeles, it took over an hour for his chauffeur to drive the ten miles from LAX Airport to Century City, where the law offices were located.
    Before leaving for the moon, he had drawn up a last will and testament with his attorney. He made it clear that he couldn’t face the horribly painful death the doctors had predicted, thus he would not be returning from the moon, that this would be the last time they would ever meet. It was a very emotional moment, touchingly summed up by his attorney’s reaction.
    “I assume, then, Mr. Timberlane, that you will pay whatever balance is due on your account before you leave today.”
    Malcolm had tons of friends. At the same time, he had lots of money. There would be plenty to go around.
    After he initially made a list which ran into the hundreds, he finally narrowed it down to the twenty three individuals he considered to be his most loyal buddies. The ones that were always there with him, night after night, in the bars, the clubs, on his jaunts around the world to the best party spots, beaches, hotels and casinos.
    A net worth statement from his accountant and a little arithmetic, Malcolm concluded he could comfortably give each of them $20 million, with plenty left over for various charitable contributions, trust funds and foundations he had set up to do some good in the world.
    He was quite pleased with himself. $20 million should make them pretty darn happy!
    And they deserved it. They had been right there with him through thick and thin.
    Thick and thin? Hmm.
    Actually . . . there was no thin.
    They had been there all along alright, as long as the drinks and food, the accommodations and limo rides were free, as long as the money and the good times kept on coming.
    Malcolm started to have second thoughts about his largesse.
    He went back and forth. Did they or did they not deserve to inherit all of this money from him? Back and forth. Back and forth.
    Then it finally hit him.
    Hey! It’s only money. He’d be dead and gone. Someone might as well make use of it.
    But to make sure they didn’t take it for granted –––– to have them “earn it”, so to speak –––– he would put just one condition on their receiving such a generous windfall.
    When Malcolm burst into the conference room, sweating from the dry heat of southern California and out of breath from huffing the smoggy Los Angeles air as he hustled his way to the 32nd floor suite of Cantwell, Brewster, Klein and Farber, the reading of his will was almost finished.
    “Hi! I’m back.”
    Everyone looked at him expressionless. Stunned. Dumbfounded. Stupified.
    Not because he was still alive.
    But because the attorney had just read the condition he had put on their money.
    The silence could be cut with a chainsaw. It went on for what seemed like an eternity.
    Finally, a girl he had recently flown to Madrid with in his private jet spoke up.
    “You’re . . . you’re not dead.”
    “Glad to see you too.”
    More silence.
    Malcolm walked around the huge conference table. But now no one would look at him. He went right up to each of them. Tried to get them to turn and look his way. Say something. Grunt. Belch. Ahem. The slightest movement would have been a major breakthrough.
    Malcolm slowly worked his way around to the head of the table, next to the attorney.
    Looking at the sides and tops of all of their heads, he then announced a decision he had just spontaneously arrived at.
    “I’ll tell you what. I don’t want any of you to go home empty-handed. So the money is still yours even if I’m not dead.”
    A chorus of cheers went up. Spirits were high.
    “But . . . I’m still holding you to the one condition.”
    A chorus of jeers and yelling. Everyone was pissed.
    He was chided and derided.
    Are you completely nuts?
    You can’t be serious!
    You are a freak!
    This is sick!
    No way!

    “Come on! It’s no big deal. Just like it says here.”
    He grabbed the will from the attorney and read it.
    “For each designated party to receive the $20 million inheritance alotment, he or she must moon walk not less than ten feet in a continuous motion, the fidelity of said performance to that of Michael Jackson who popularized this dance move, to be assessed and judged by an independent entertainment industry expert with widely recognized credentials in the dance arts. So all you have to do is moon walk, and you get a check. A big check. And since conveniently I’m not dead now, I will be the judge. Let’s get started!!”
    Malcolm ended up keeping the money. All of it. Not a single one of them could do anything resembling moonwalking, though the attempts, if pathetic, were amusing –––– sometimes hilarious.
    As his “friends” left the room, he was lambasted with a steady stream of vitriol and assaults on his character.
    Give me the money, you bastard!
    “Money isn’t everything.”
    I always hated you!
    “Glad that’s out in the open.”
    You give me the creeps.
    “You’re not leaving empty-handed after all.”
    You are a disgusting, self-absorbed son-of-a-bitch!
    “And that’s on a good day.”
    Why are you doing this?
    “It’s fun to be mean.”
    After they left, Malcolm sat there and stared out the window of the conference room.
    His face settled into kind of a Zen mask.
    Maybe it was a bit much asking them to moon walk.
    He couldn’t say he could moon walk either.
    On the other hand . . .
    He could say he walked on the moon.

John Rachel Bio

    John Rachel has a B. A. in Philosophy, has traveled extensively, is a songwriter and music producer, and a left-of-left liberal. Prompted by the trauma of graduating high school and having to leave his beloved city of Detroit to attend university, the development his social skills and world view were arrested at about age 18. This affliction figures prominently in all of his creative work. He is author of two full-length novels, “From Thailand With Love” and “The Man Who Loved Too Much”. He is currently living in Japan.

Gutroach and Boogerdung at the Sleep-Cheap-We-Peep Inn

Mary Campbell

    Recently I had the honor of serving on an authors’ panel at the first annual meeting of the Virtually Unpublished Writers of Tasteful Religious Books Society. Actually, I didn’t really serve on that particular panel, because I went to the wrong hotel. Which I didn’t find out until the next day. The conference was at the Cheap Bed Sheep Shed. I showed up at Sleep-Cheap-We-Peep. Anyone could have made the same mistake.
    I wondered why the concierge looked at me strangely when I asked him to direct me to the conference room. “Well, we have meetin’s in the back of the bar sometimes,” he said, pointing at a faux-hardwood door, which you could tell was flimsy and hollow by the multiple holes at about the level where a man’s fist would be if he were to drive his fist into it.
    Well, I thought, the VUWTRBS is on a pretty tight budget, although, given the fragrance (Eau de Bud Light) and the ambience (dark as a sewer tunnel and about as tidy), I made a mental note to suggest the Kmart employee break room for the second annual meeting.
    I was reassured when I saw a dais with a couple of folding chairs and an audience of more than a hundred seekers of spiritual truth. I walked onto the dais feeling confident in my navy patent-leather pumps and navy-and-white linen polka-dot sheath dress with a white Peter Pan collar. I chose one of the folding chairs — the one without an overturned beer can and glob of Cheez Whiz on the seat — sat down, demurely crossed my ankles, and waited.
    I looked at the audience. They, presumably, looked at me. It was hard to tell, because of the spotlight that made everything appear radioactive.
    After half an hour, the audience was getting restless, as evidenced by what sounded and smelled a great deal like a certain unseemly type of competition my brother and his friends had sometimes entertained themselves with after they’d had a few beers. Since there didn’t seem to be anyone in charge, I decided it was time to take the initiative.

We’re Gonna Tear This Place Apart

    I stood up and walked to the microphone, tapping it to make sure it was turned on. I adjusted it to my height, smiled a huge, welcoming, spiritual smile and said a hearty “Welcome.” My voice sounded confident, the first time I heard it, before I went temporarily deaf. I could hear just enough to discern the word “welcome” bounce off walls, floors, and ceilings, pass through a linear accelerator or two, and return sounding like Jobba the Hut with a bad case of tonsillitis.
    I turned the microphone to “off” and spoke directly to the Seekers, smiling more broadly and spiritually than before, if that were possible, though I had the feeling that my ears were actually meeting on the back of my head and thought I’d probably reached my maximum smile diameter.
    “Well,” I said perkily, “this is supposed to be the Q & A session led by Mr. Edmund Digby. Mr. Digby, you’re not out there in the audience anywhere, are you?” There was no answer, other than a signal that the competition might be starting up again, so I said, as quickly as humanly possible, “Well, let’s just start without Mr. Digby and the others. I’m sure they’ve been delayed and will be here any minute.
    “My name is Mary Campbell. You’ll see it there on your program, next to Unfamiliar Territory. I assume you’ve read it and you have some questions. Who wants to go first?”
    “I’ll go first,” said a young man in the front row — one of the few faces I could actually see. He was puffing on an odd little pipe, which he then handed to the young lady next to him, and she puffed on it too and passed it on, and I was about to say something about How Germs Are Spread when the young man said, “My name is Gutroach and my question is, where’s Puking Maggot Progeny?”
    I glanced at my list of attendees, pretty sure I would have noticed a name like that earlier, and sure enough it wasn’t there. “Mr. (or is it Ms.?) Progeny isn’t on my list,” I said. “Is he or she a late registrant, perhaps?”
    “Well, perhaps he is or perhaps he ain’t, but we paid to see Puking Maggot Progeny and by G-d, we’re gonna see Puking Maggot Progeny or we’re gonna tear this place apart.”

She Who Must Be Obeyed

    At this I became a little indignant. I had never read any of this Progeny person’s books, nor had I heard of him, but I knew that my work had merit too, and I said as much, with all the asperity I could muster. “So,” I concluded icily, “perhaps Mr. Progeny ain’t gonna be here, in which case you can listen to me and then we can go to the wine-and-cheese buffet before the banquet, or you can all go home and I’ll see that your registration fees are refunded.”
    “Wine and cheese?” said Gutroach, grinning as broadly as I had but not, I thought smugly, as spiritually. His smile was very bright, I had to admit — too bright, I quickly realized, for someone who had, as far as I could tell from my spot on the dais, only three teeth, but since these were approximately the same shade of mahogany as his gums it was hard to tell. “WINE and CHEESE? Yummy, YUMMY.”
    Then he licked his chops (whereupon I could see where the gleam came from), scratched his...lower torso, and started to get up from his seat. The odd little pipe, I noticed, had made its way back to him, and I was opening my mouth to give a brief lecture on hygiene, when he shouted to someone else in the room, or perhaps to someone on the Isle of Wight.
     “Hey, Boogerdung,” he yelled, as if Boogerdung were lying inside a sealed casket instead of sitting in the second row, “I got the munchies. You got the munchies? Let’s go grab that wine and cheese and go to the Scab Zombie.”
    I had reached my limit with Mr. Gutroach, and I had no interest in hearing whether or not Mr. Boogerdung had the munchies.
    “SIT down, Mr. Gutroach,” I said firmly, sounding, greatly to my surprise, like She Who Must Be Obeyed. “The Scab Zombie is closed. Raided. Shut down. Everyone’s in jail. I’m the only act in town tonight, and I’m ON!”

‘He loves that little girl, Man’

    Mr. Gutroach actually sat down, even looked a little sheepish. The audience was quiet. I cleared my throat and began to read:

Anna Sighs

Pressing on my pearly window, Night inhales. . . .

    “Hey!” Mr. Boogerdung interrupted. “Why should we care if night is pressing on your %&^%$& pearly window?”
    “I don’t know,” I said. “Why should you care if Bing Crosby is dreaming of a White Christmas?” Silence. Faces blank as notebook paper.
    “Okay,” I said. “Let’s try that again. Why should you care if Mr. Marshall Mathers’s public persona is that he’s a pistol-packing drug addict who bags on his momma, but he wants to take time out to be perfectly honest ‘cuz there’s a lot of shit that hurts deep inside o’ his soul, and he grows colder the older he grows, and the boulder on his shoulder is like the weight of the world, his neck is breaking and he wants to give up but he doesn’t. And why doesn’t he?”
    “’Cuz he’s bringin’ in the big bucks, Baby,” said the girl next to Mr. Gutroach.
    But Mr. Gutroach paid no attention. “Man, that’s some sad shit,” he said, shaking his head, “’cuz Eminem, he loves that little girl, Man.”
    “Is that right?” I said. “Well then maybe, just as one little teeny-weeny example of questionable parenting, he shouldn’t do songs that end with him slitting that little girl’s mother’s throat and yelling, ‘Bleed, Bitch, bleed!’”
    In the ensuing silence, I read my poem:

Pressing on my pearly window, Night inhales and,
bloated with the noxious air, it tries to come
inside and take its pleasure there. My little lamp
is proof against the first assault, and bears the siege
with dignity, but we are only three—the lamp
and Anna here with me, but Anna sleeps while Night
retreats to breathe the venom that it needs so it
can swell again and burst the breach.

All-engorging, thick with vile effluvium, and
restive, Night still heaves against the pane and probes
the porous mortar, thus to gain a continent, and
breathe again, but holding breath within, as if
release would leave it spent of form and substance, vanished
in a photon storm.

No, to find fragility and penetrate,
just as the hungry sea assaults the levee where it
groans, and swallows up the shore—except that Night
can but devour and look for more, can ebb but not
abate, for it is powerless to moderate its
gluttony, nor would it, if it could.

Anna tosses in her sleep, and if she feels the
indolent oppression, swollen with its kill, she
feels it inwardly, and moans, the speech of wan
resistance, drained of will, a feeble protestation,
habit murmuring, “I am.” Something in her
knows the enemy and would arrest it, summoning
a name, essaying ownership. It rises out of
bounds before the net is thrown.

Bereft of thought and consciousness, it senses nonetheless
that I alone am here to watch and to resist —
to fill the lamp until the fuel is gone. One forgets
at midnight that this too will pass; not even Night
outlasts the unremitting circle. But at midnight
one unreasoning expends what has been grown and
gathered season after season, sacrifices
every treasure, throws into the flame a hundred
fragile artifacts, to gain a moment’s clarity.
At midnight, friends have settled in and locked their doors,
oblivious to ghastly appetite, now thickened
by the certainty that Anna will comply and
abdicate her shape, to be a pool, a fog, and
then evaporate.

Perhaps she dreams that Night will hide her face and nobody
will notice that the Anna space, once occupied by
negligible molecules, is vacant now. But
Night and I were taken by surprise; we had
forgotten that the planet turns. At sunrise, the
tenacious lamp still burns, and Anna sighs.

I knew I had them at ‘the vile effluvium’

    Man, you musta been WAY down when you wrote that,” Mr. Gutroach said softly. “Lookin’ at you, who’d of thought you ever felt that dark?”
    I moved my chair to the edge of the dais so I could see the audience better. About twenty-five people remained in the tawdry room, with a combined (visible) tattoo count roughly equivalent to that of the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet.
    “You all aren’t members of the Virtually Unpublished Writers of Tasteful Religious Books Society, are you?” I asked. There were a few puzzled looks, a few guffaws, and one nonverbal comment from a Rude Bodily Noise contestant.
    “Well, you sure ain’t Puking Maggot Progeny,” said Mr. Boogerdung.
    The girl next to him whispered something in his ear. He shook his head no. She said, “Please.” I looked at them curiously.
    “She wants me to read a poem I wrote for Mama, who died.”
    “Oh, please do,” I said. “My mom died a long time ago, and I still miss her. I’d be honored if you’d read your poem.”
    Apparently Mr. Boogerdung kept it with him all the time, in his wallet. I noticed he had a library card in there too. The sheet of paper had clearly been folded and unfolded a hundred times. It was about to fall apart at the folds. He opened it carefully and held it reverently and began to read:

Mama, sometimes at night, when everything’s quiet,
I wonder if you’re near. I wonder if you hear
Me when I talk to you ‘bout bein’ sad and say I’m sorry for bein’ bad.
When you were here on earth, were you sorry you gave me birth?
Daddy always said I was jest a waste of human flesh.
But you always made me feel better inside, like if I tried
I could be great and do you proud. Is that still true now?
Mama, I know you’re in Heaven. I hope the angels up there are givin’
You clouds and harps and such, ‘cause down here you never got much.
But sometimes I watched you prayin’ to God, and you were sayin’
Watch out for my boy when I’m gone, and if his daddy carries on
’Bout him not bein’ worth a lick, you give that mean old fart a kick.
(Beg pardon, Ma’am, but that’s what Mama said.)
But after you weren’t there to yell at, Daddy didn’t seem to care
’Bout nothin’ else and died hisself. I love you, Ma. Am I too bad for God to help?

    You could have heard a pin drop. I was so moved by his sentiments and so impressed with his natural, untutored style that I didn’t know what to do except hug him. He hugged me back, probably thinking of his mother.
    “What was her name?” I asked. “Your mother’s, I mean.”
    “Well,” he said, “her given name was Charlotte Rae but everybody called her Sugar.”
    “Your mother’s name was Sugar Boogerdung?”
    Mr. Boogerdung and Mr. Gutroach laughed so hard that Mr. Gutroach belched enormously mid-laugh and almost choked to death.
    “Them ain’t our real names, Ma’am,” Mr. Boogerdung said after picking himself up off the floor. He leaned toward me and said in a low voice, “I was christened Jody Leonard Bodie. You can call me Len if you want.”
     “What about you, Mr. Gutroach?”
    “Arthur Billy Clovis Dewitt at your service, Ma’am,” he said obligingly but almost in a whisper and more to his shoes than to me. “My folks thought it’d be cute for my initials to be ABCD. But if you don’t mind, please call me Gutroach or Billy, or Buttface, I don’t care, as long as it ain’t Arthur or Artie or Clovis.”
    “Great to meet you gentlemen,” I said, taking Len’s left arm and Billy’s right arm and leading them toward where the wine-and-cheese buffet ought to have been if I hadn’t been at the wrong motel.
    “I haven’t introduced myself properly either,” I confessed. “’Mary Campbell’ is my nom de plume . At home I’m known as Festering Pustule, but you guys can call me Pus.”

Mary Campbell Bio

     Mary Campbell is the author or coauthor of five books and the ghostwriter or editor of dozens more, on topics ranging from prostate cancer to desert-wildflower gardening. She wrote and edited print promotional materials for the University of Arizona for more than twenty years, both as an employee and as a freelance journalist.

     Mary originated, and for five years researched and wrote, the ABCNEWS.com “Small Business Builder” column.

     Mrs. Campbell attended Stanford University as a music major before transferring to the University of Nebraska at Omaha and graduating from the University of Arizona, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a minor in music.

     She is an enthusiastic supporter of the ARTery, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “making the arts accessible to everyone,” including the American Ballroom Theater’s Dancing Classrooms program popularized in the feature films Mad Hot Ballroom and Take the Lead.

     Mrs. Campbell has written dozens of hymns, anthems, and gospel songs in addition to short fiction and poetry. The mother of three and grandmother of seven lives and works in Omaha, Nebraska.

Ivory Dreams

Matthew Lett

    Peter Slate was a clever young man, intelligent and resourceful. He was 10 years-old, husky, but not overweight. His eyes were a dark almond color, and he kept his mop of black hair parted to the right, like his father’s.
    Currently, the hour was late, and Peter was in his bedroom counting his stash by the shimmering light of the moon.
    “...three...four...five...six...” Peter stopped counting. Six was good—six was more than half-way there. But eight was better. Eight would get him that 4-pack of Captain Triumph comic books. He’d asked for them for his birthday, but instead, his mom and dad had gotten him a bunch of shitty old baseball cards. And he didn’t even like baseball! Dad had said it was an investment —money in the bank— but all Peter could see were pictures of old men that he didn’t know or care about, their faces wrapped in cellophane that he wasn’t allowed to touch. Big deal!
    Two more, Peter thought smiling. Gathering up his loot, he stashed it beneath his pillow. Beside the pillow lay a Toolmaster hammer. Peter picked it up, hefting its comfortable weight in his hand. Just two more, and tomorrow morning he’d find himself walking down the sidewalk to the Comic Emporium with four dollars in his hand. Which just happened to be the exact cost of the Captain Triumph (and his Rowdy Rangers) comics.
    Slipping out of bed, Peter took the time to put on his slippers, and then walked out into the darkened hallway of his home. It was quiet and still; the house groaning like an old man turning in his sleep. His parents’ room was at the end of the hallway, and Peter made his way down as quiet as a church mouse. He opened their door for the second time that night, and stepped in.
    Dad was still lying there bathed in a pearly shaft of moonlight, Peter’s mother curled up to his chest like a sleeping baby.
    They were dead, both of them. His father with a hole the size of a quarter bashed in his forehead. His eyes were open and staring at nothing but eternal shadows; his mother, the back of her head shredded by the steel claws of the hammer in Peter’s hand. The blood around their lifeless figures was cold and tacky now, the color of midnight in a stagnant universe.
    Peter climbed up on the bed and opened the mouth of his mother. As a much younger child, he’d received fifty-cents for each tooth he’d lost courtesy of the Tooth Fairy. And she was real, oh yes. Mother had told him so on many occasions. And with three teeth already taken from dad’s head, and three from mom’s, and with a little simple math put into action, Peter needed two more teeth. He’d just miscalculated on his first trip, and had had to come back.
    Taking careful aim as not to hit his own finger, Peter drew the hammer back over his shoulder, and brought it down in a quick, decisive arc. The head of the hammer connected squarely on his mother’s left front molar, and popped out just as neat as a newborn babe.
    Peter repeated the process three more times before leaving his parents’ bedroom for the night. There would be tax on the comics, something he’d realized while working on his dad, and extra teeth would be required.
    Peter returned to his room, shucked off his slippers, and slid into bed, the teeth of his parents’ tucked securely beneath his pillow. The Tooth Fairy would be visiting soon and he had to get to sleep.
    It’s like dad said, Peter thought drifting off behind heavy eyelids, money in the bank.

Cough Drops and Lies

Christa Ward

    John and Mary sat across from each other on a train traveling through the countryside. The rolling green hills they could see outside their window gave the illusion of comfort.
    “John,” said Mary.
    “Hmm?” He was back to reading his newspaper and did not look up.
    “I have,” Mary’s voice cracked and she coughed lightly into her handkerchief. “Excuse me, I think I have a bit of a cold coming on. I’m going to see if the snack station has any cough drops.
    “That’s a good idea,” John said, laying the newspaper down on his knee for a moment and looking up at his girl. “I love my mother, but she is a bit of a hypochondriac and I can’t imagine what she would diagnose herself with if you show up sick.” He smiled at Mary before he picked up his newspaper again. He liked to be informed of the worlds events so he could impress people with his intellect at dinner parties.
    Mary smiled back at him, but her smile it seemed misplaced and quickly disappeared. Mary crossed the short distance between her seat and the door and slid the compartment door closed behind her. She began walking slowly down the hall towards the snack bar focusing on the small patterns in the design of the carpet.
    “Can I get you anything, ma’m?” the round man behind the snack bar asked.
    “No,” said Mary, surprised she had already made it to the counter. She stared at the chips and soda cans for a moment trying to collect her thoughts then turned back down the hallway to her compartment.
    She took a deep breath before sliding open the door to help calm her nerves. She did not know how to tell him and her worst fear was not rejection; it was that he would propose. John wasn’t a bad guy but he wasn’t the type of man she wanted to raise a child with and the only support she would even think about requesting from him would be alimony.
    “Did you get the cough drops?” John asked as she returned to her seat.
    “No,” said Mary. “They were out. But I don’t really think I’m coming down with anything I won’t be able to sleep off.”
    “You can’t sleep now. We’ll be at my parents house in less than an hour.”
    “I just need a little catnap,” said Mary folding her jacket to use as a makeshift pillow and closing her eyes.
    “Mary. Stop being childish.”
    “John, how many children do you want to have?”
    “What? What are you talking about?”
    “I’ve always wanted three. Two boys and a girl.”
    “There may be some cough drops in my pocket,” John said letting the newspaper drop to the floor and methodically digging through his clothes for a throat lozenge.
    “I don’t want cough drops. I want- I want- I don’t know what I want,” Mary said softly. She opened her eyes to look at John.
    “I love you,” she said. But she felt nauseous as she said it knowing it was another lie.
    “I love you too, Mary,” he said, getting down and kissing her on the forehead and dropping a cough drop he had managed to find into her hand.
    Mary closed her eyes and shifted around trying to find a somewhat comfortable position to try to get some rest before having to discuss her unborn child with this man she did not want to marry.


Anthony R Pezzula

    James walked through the mall tying to clear his head, trying to shake the mood he was in. It wouldn’t be easy, it never was.
    On one pass when he reached the end of the mall he decided to circulate down a little used corridor that led to one of the entryways intending to then head back to the other end. That’s when he saw the kiosk and the strange little man on duty. The man sat on a stool near the kiosk as other kiosk merchants did. He was thin, and looked to be of small height since his legs dangled far from the floor. He had on a cowboy hat with what looked like a snakeskin band around it. A ponytail snuck out of the back of his hat. He had tattoos on one arm that gave the impression of being a sleeve; all kinds of colors and designs that went right down to his wrist. He wore a black tee shirt over light blue jeans, and brown cowboy boots. His face was skinny and it looked like he had a day’s growth of beard. Not an unpleasant face, but not one you’d want to look at too long either.
    But what drew James’ attention was not just the little man, but also the sign on the kiosk. It said “We Have What You’re Looking For.” Strangely though, there were no items on the kiosk’s shelves. It looked completely empty. Yet the man sat there waiting for customers like all the other kiosk attendees. James couldn’t help himself, and approached the little man.
    “Excuse me,” he said, “just what do you sell here?”
    “I sell whatever you’re looking for,” replied the man pointing to the sign.
    “But there’s nothing on your shelves; how are people supposed to know what you have available?”
    “Oh, I think we might have what you’re looking for James,” said the man as a smile spread across his thin lips.
    “How do you know my name?” said James.
    The man just shrugged and went on, ignoring the question, “Why are you here James?”
    “I wanted to see what you’re selling.”
    “No,” he said smiling, showing beady little teeth a bit yellowed, but not rotten, “I mean why are you at the mall today?”
    “Today’s not a good day for me,” James replied strangely feeling the need to confide in this guy, “not good memories, you know?”
    “Everyone has bad memories,” the man said, letting his eyes wander as though thinking of his own, “why is today so different?”
    “It would have been the fourth anniversary of our first date.”
    “Ah...a woman.”
    “Not just a woman, the woman. She was the one, and we celebrated the day of our first date, first every month, then every year for the three years we were together.”
    “So what happened?” the man said as he brushed some dust from his boots.
    “She broke it off a year or so ago shortly before I was going to be deployed to Afghanistan.”
    “Harsh,” said the man shaking his head.
    “Aw I think things were headed that way anyway, she said we were going in different directions, she needed to grow, or some such stuff. Probably did me a favor by telling me in person rather than sending me a letter while I was there.”
    “’Suppose,” said the man, “but still, she maybe could have waited ‘til you got back.”
    “Maybe,” James said, “but in the end it didn’t really matter, I knew I was losing her anyway.”
    “Sounds like you’re not over her yet.”
    “No, I guess I’m not. Things seemed to go downhill from there. I came back a few months ago and haven’t been able to find any work yet.”
    “Tough times,” said the man stroking his chin while giving James a long look “seems like there’s more though. Something else bothering you?”
    “Yeah,” said James, dropping his eyes. Feeling the need to continue to unload, he went on, “I got word last week that one of my buddies over there got killed.”
    “I see,” said the man giving James a look that invited continuation.
    “We built a school for girls in a small village in Kandahar Province, a tough place. Some of those kids have never been to school, never got a chance at an education you know. We are doing some good shit over there.”
    “No doubt,” said the man nodding while keeping his eyes locked on James’.
    “Anyway, last month his platoon was guarding the school, there were reports that the Taliban might attack it and try to destroy it. The platoon was escorting students into the small building,” James hesitated, the words stuck in his throat. After a brief silence James felt encouraged to continue by the man’s intent stare. “One of the girls blew herself up, can you believe that?”
    The man just shook his head but remained silent.
    “I mean what kind of world is this where people can convince a young girl with her future ahead of her, to do something like that? My buddy, all the troops over there, doing something good, and die for it? I mean will the insanity ever stop? We got people trying to kill us over there, we got people trying to come here and kill us. I don’t know, I don’t know,” James repeated, his voice trailing off, “what’s the use?”
    The man just shrugged, once again ignoring the question.
    “Its days like this that I get a little overwhelmed with everything, you know? I get these thoughts that I don’t like to get, so I come here just so I won’t be alone, just to be around people.”
    The man remained silent for a minute letting James recover a bit. “I think I have something here you’ll like James,” he said bending to pull open one of the kiosk drawers. He pulled out a ring with a silver band and black onyx stone and handed it to James.
    “Nice ring,” James said taking it from the man and welcoming the change of subject, “but I’m not one for jewelry, besides, I don’t think I can afford it right now anyway.”
    “I didn’t even say how much it was.”
    “So how much is it?”
    “It’s whatever you think its worth. Look why don’t you take it for a spin. Put it on go for a walk. Then when you come back you can tell me if you want it and how much you want to pay for it. How does that sound?”
    James looked at him skeptically, “What’s to prevent me from just taking off with it?”
    “I trust you James; I don’t think you’ll do that. Go on now, put it on and go. I think you’ll like wearing it. Go on.”
    James hesitated, then slipped the ring on his finger and started walking away. As he approached the main mall he glanced back at the kiosk and the funny little man, who just sat there waiting for his next customer not looking after James at all. James laughed to himself figuring he’d humor the guy, come back and return the ring.
    Near the middle of the mall James decided to duck into a Starbucks and get a cup of coffee. “Small decaf please,” he said to the girl behind the counter.
    “Coming right up,” she said smiling brightly, “want a muffin to go along with that?”
    “No, just the coffee.”
    “How about a biscotti, they’re really good.”
    “Um, no, just the coffee please.”
    “Our giant cookies are very tasty, hard to resist, how about one of those?”
    “Look,” James said, “I know you have to try to sell stuff, but I just want a cup of coffee okay; no cookie, muffin or any other pastry, just coffee.”
    “Okay,” she said keeping her cheerfulness, “that’ll be $3.29”
    James reached into his wallet and handed her four singles. She gasped as she took them.
    “What’s the matter?” James said in alarm.
    “Oh, sorry,” she said, still looking at his hand, “it’s just that ring is exactly like one my daddy used to wear.”
    “Yeah,” she said while not taking her eyes off it. “He never took it off, he liked it so. My momma gave it to him years ago and he treasured it. He was buried with it on.”
    “Oh, sorry,” James said sheepishly.
    “That’s okay, thanks. Mind if I ask where you got it?”
    “As a matter of fact right here at the mall at one of those kiosks. I’m not sure I’m gonna keep it though, I’m going back there to let the guy know.”
    “I have a break in about ten minutes; mind if I go with you? I’d like to see if they have any more like that one.”
    “No, not at all,” James said, looking at her as though for the first time. She was pretty enough, short brown hair, one of those faces that always seemed to be smiling. He wouldn’t mind spending some time with her. “I’ll grab a table over here and wait until your break.”
    “Thanks,” she said giving him a warm smile, “I appreciate it.”
    A short time later she came up to his table, apron off, black slacks with a white sweater. It looked like she combed her hair, making James feel flattered.
    “Okay, let’s go,” she said with that ever-present smile.
    James got up, discarded his coffee cup, and they headed back down the mall from the direction he came.
    “By the way,” he said, “my name is James.”
    “Mine’s Tara,” she replied.
    “My momma was a big Gone with the Wind fan.”
    “I see,” he said, “that’s a pretty name.”
    “Yeah, its okay I guess. I have sisters named Scarlett and Melanie.”
    “You don’t have a sister named Mammy do you?” he said laughing.
    “No,” she laughed in return, “but besides my older brother Rhett, my younger brother got stuck with Ashley.”
    “Ouch,” said James, “I was never a big fan of Ashley’s, seemed a bit of a wimp.”
    “Yeah, my brother feels the same so insists on being called Edward, his middle name, and my daddy’s name.”
    “I don’t blame him,” replied James.
    “So what do you do?” she asked as they continued to walk.
    “Right now I’m between jobs,” he said the darkness crossing his face briefly.
    “Tough time to be there huh?”
    “Yeah, sure is.”
    “Listen,” she said brightening, “my manager owns a few franchises in the area, I can see if he has any openings, you know, something to tide you over.”
    James looked at her, captured by her smile and enthusiasm. Pushing coffee was not something he was cut out to do, but maybe she was right, it would be some income while he waited for things to get better. He could still pursue programming work; still send out resumes. “Sure, that would be great, thanks.”
    “Who knows, maybe we’ll wind up working together,” she said smiling while blushing slightly.
    “Yeah, who knows,” said James relishing the thought and feeling a whole lot better.
    They approached the corridor where the kiosk was located, but as they walked toward its location, James saw it was covered in canvass, and the funny little man was nowhere in sight. “Hum,” he mumbled, “this is where I got it, wonder where he went?”
    “Are you sure,” she said doubtfully, “this looks like it hasn’t been used in some time, look at the dust on it.”
    “Yeah I’m sure. This strange little guy was sitting right here on this stool.”
    “You mean this dusty one here?”
    James rubbed his finger through the dust on the stool. “Yeah, I don’t get it,” he said, half to her and half to himself.
    “Why don’t you look inside the ring and see if there’s any identifying information in there, a company name or something.”
    James took off the ring and looked inside. “Huh,” he said.
    “What? Does it say anything?”
    “Yeah, it says ‘spes’”
    “What’s that, some kind of foreign language?”
    “It’s Latin.”
    “What does it mean?”


Roger Cowin

Still in the bloom of youth
before tumors wiped his mind clean,

like ripples on the water
from a casually tossed stone,

like music
from a fading station,

my father stands
in front of a field of corn,

his voice
silent so long

calls to me
across the gulf of years,

calls to me, saying,
“Save me, save me.”

Janet Kuypers reading a poem by Roger Cowin
from Down in the Dirt magazine August 2010 (v85)
(which is also in the 5x9 ISBN# book Clearing the Debris )
videonot yet rated
Watch this YouTube video
live at the Café in Chicago 08/10/10

Gift of Fire

Michael Grigsby

    Jim watches Marc peer over the rail. So intent, so purposeful. Jim gets up from the deck and walks to the wheel and grabs it and gives it a random yank.

    “Hey!” Marc yells.
    Jim watches the wheel spin. The little yacht floats on the Mediterranean Sea. Several other selected students surround their professor.
    Jim sits back down. He looks at Sandy, not quite so pretty anymore. She ponders a book on mythology. Near her sits Dr. Hart, their fat middle-aged professor.
    “We see Olympus from here?” Jim asks and squints in the brilliant sunshine.
    “Funny,” Sandy says. “Anyone know where we are?”
    Janet shrugs. “Greek islands, I guess. Dr. Hart just wanted us to drift without a particular course.”
    “A symbol of life, my dear.” Hart smiles and picks up the Greek urn from the deck and turns it in his sweaty fingers. “Let the currents drive us where they will.”
    Jim nods and sips his vodka.
    Marc looks at them. “I’m trying to keep us from the rocky coast with no electronic navigation.” Marc looks at the shore, uneasy as always.
    “This is the ship I used when I came here with Dr. Wittgenstein thirty years ago,” Hart says.
    Marc, Jim’s roommate, always the worrier, studies architecture and even brought his toolbox along to handcraft something for his family. Jim majors in theoretical physics. He did not take this class because of Sandy, who is now even more intense than Marc. Really, Jim hopes to find some answers.
    “We’re here to discuss philosophy.” Hart gazes at the urn in his lap and stares at the intricate detail.
    Sandy nods. “What do you mean when you say philosophy teaches man there is no meaning to life?”
    She is so full of questions, especially those that have no answer. Go figure.
    “Meaning?” Hart says. “It is this insistence upon meaning that makes all I’m trying to teach so difficult.”
    Marc looks up. “But everything has to mean something, otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense.”
    “Right. It doesn’t make sense.” Hart looks at them now in lecture mode. “There is nothing good in man. Not one good idea, not one good attitude–”
    “But doctor,” Marc blurts, “if man hasn’t any good concepts, how does he know the ones he has are not good?”
    “Don’t search for standards. There are no absolutes. Reason is dead!”
    Jim sips his Grey Goose and smiles. He’ll never drink Absolut vodka and nothing is black or white.
    A sudden gust of wind rocks the boat. The map from Sandy’s book flies across the deck. Dark clouds appear.
    The boat pushes through a shimmering translucent wall. Or does it? Jim blinks.
    “Fast Mediterranean storms.” Hart swallows hard and wipes his brow.
    “This is Greece,” Marc says. “The gods are angry. Hey, Slim Jim, can you look over these? I can’t find this shoreline.”
    Jim gets up and huddles over navigation maps. He shrugs. “It’s like we’re in uncharted waters.”
    A weird burst of lightning rips the sky in a jagged flash. The wind howls, the onslaught of rain begins and the waves push the boat toward the rocky coast.
    Betty points to the cliffs. “Look! There’s someone up there!”
    Jim looks up and the wind throws him to the deck. He feels his elbow. His shirt is torn and the skin is barked. He makes his way to the rail. A lone figure can almost be made out, struggling on the cliffs.
    Then silence, sudden and strange. The rain stops, the clouds dissipate, all becomes quiet, as if by magic. Jim shakes his head and looks up at the high cliffs. Nothing.
    “Where are we?”
    Sandy finds the map and looks at her book. “Well, that peak must be Mount Caucasus, where Zeus sent Prometheus for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to man.”
    They all look at her. “See, Prometheus was chained to the mountain until a centaur, named Chiron, took his place.” Most of them roll their eyes. Jim smiles.
    The next morning a gentle breeze stirs the air. Jim walks up to the deck and sees Dr. Hart and Betty. Betty curls in Hart’s arms. Her t-shirt says, “Aristotle was bunk!”
    Hart sighs. “Next semester you’ll be with another professor, I suppose.”
    “I learned more philosophy from you this way than by the traditional method. But why me?”
    “I went with my heart.” He smiles. “Depending how the ethics committee rules on my budget management, I may not go back.”
    Marc climbs up to the deck. Janet joins them at the buffet table. She fills her plate and then perches on the high side. She leans down, puts the Greek urn on the table in front of her and admires its onyx and ivory moldings.
    Sandy sits by Jim. “I didn’t think you’d agree with Dr. Hart, as a scientist I mean.”
    “I now subscribe to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Reality is only a wave of probability. Cannot be certain of any particle’s location.”
    “But didn’t Einstein say that God does not play dice with the universe?”
    “Einstein brought us Relativity. No certainty, just perspective.” Sandy looks at him, crestfallen. Jim smiles. “I wish the universe was certain. It would be comforting if reality was not just random.”
    Janet beacons to him. He gets up and walks to her.
    “Be careful what you say to her.”
    “What do you mean?” Jim asks.
    “She tried to commit suicide last year. Then she changed her major to philosophy.”
    “Really? Go figure.”


    Sandy looks at Jim, moves to Hart and hopes he can give her some answers. She spent last night studying Camus because his book was about meaning and suicide being the only real philosophical question. If there’s no point, why go on?
    “What do you think we saw yesterday, doctor?” she asks. “Up on the rocks, we’re much closer now.”
    Hart huffs. “We saw nothing.”
    Marc gapes at him. “Are you sure?”
    “Certainty is impossible. No one intelligent today holds to the idea that seeing is believing.”
    So he does not trust his senses. Sandy looks at the urn. “Doctor, the top of your vase is cracked, the head is ruined.”
    “It can’t be fixed.”
    Sandy wonders if Hart, or anyone, has any answers.
    “The more we know,” he says, “the more we learn nothing.”
    “Dr. Hart,” Janet says, “there are things I know. I know there is a God who will punish—”
    Hart wheels around. “No one can be certain of anything. For emotional security you’ll trust in faith?” Red-faced, Hart clenches his fists.
    Janet stares at him. “Doctor, how did you arrive at your ideas?”
    “I considered life, my dear. Reality only dictates responsibility. I saw that reason was incapable of dealing with existence.” A clap of thunder explodes overhead. “I trusted my heart instead of my head.”
    “But you said certainty is impossible.”
    “Intellectual certainty is impossible. I’m talking about emotional surety.”
    “Then I agree. My heart knows things my head can never know.” Janet looks up at the sky. Violet-gray clouds tumble overhead.
    Sandy wonders what knowing and certainty have to do with faith. “But what about Descartes? He doubted everything, but could not doubt his own thinking. So, because he doubted, he knew he thought, and because he thought, he was real, he existed.”
    “I think, therefore I am?” Hart sneers. “But why should his ego survive his doubting? Just because one is conscious, why does that necessarily mean one exists?”
    “The thinking consciousness is psychic reality, not physical reality, and so has no basis in existence.”
    Sandy can barely breathe.
    “Who says consciousness is necessary,” Hart continues, “or even part of the physical world? The point is, you can never know.”
    Sandy feels a wave of nausea wash over her.
    “But I believe—”
    “Don’t believe, feel!”
    “Logically there must be—”
    “Forget logic. Logic is the most primitive, vulgar theory in all philosophy!”
    Thunder explodes and lightning branches the sky. The wind shrills and whips the sail about the main mast. The sky bubbles dark and somber in an energetic air.
    “Look! Someone’s up there. High on those rocks.” They look to where Betty points. “He’s gone now.” Betty tries to open the door below deck.
    The sky turns orange and the water glows like living coals. The clouds rush into each other, collide and swirl angrily onward.
    Sandy screams, “Another storm!”
    “No,” Marc says. “We’ve angered the gods again.”
    Cliffs from the mountain plunge into the water and cause rolling tidal waves. Foam froths like stale beer. A crash below. Sandy knows that is the sound of the fresh water tanks crack and spill into the galley.
    An explosion splits the mast head and loosens the boom lines. The boom whips around and hits Betty in the back of the head and knocks her unconscious. Marc goes to her and looks worried.
    Great sheets of rain fall. Sandy smells the salt in the air and tastes the brine. It’s a nightmare, so unreal. The boat fills with water and groans under the strain.
    Jim jumps up and tries to run on the slippery deck to get to the control panel. “The radio is dead!”
    Hart makes his way to the galley door. He fights the wind and rain. He finally opens the door but a flood of water gushes onto the deck.
    “We can’t go below,” Sandy yells.
    Marc fights to control the boat. It gulps in a huge draught of water. Jim goes to untie the life raft. Sandy tries to help him, her face white.
    “This is useless,” Jim yells. The gale blows them toward the rocky shore.
    Marc watches the wheel spin in its circle. He gasps as the boat careens to the coastline.
    The yacht crashes into the rocks jutting up near the shore. Splintered explosions rip the air. The little boat sinks half way and lists to one side.
    Marc squints. “I think I see a cave over there. We’d better take cover.”
    They pile out. Marc tries to drag Betty. “Jim, give a hand!” Jim grabs her legs and Marc carries her arms.
    Hart just stumbles around in a daze. Janet takes his hand.
    They wade into the shallow water. They splash to the shore and trudge along the beach. Exhausted and wet, they make it to the cavern and look around.
    Marc and Jim lay Betty in the corner. Marc, always the Boy Scout, opens his plastic pouch and finds dry matches. Sandy helps him gather twigs and brush from the cave and start a fire.
    They warm themselves and watch the boat in the shallows. Jim gives Sandy his jacket and pats her knee.
    Janet looks around. “It’s frightening, isn’t it? The way these storms come up.”
    Marc looks at her. “We have no radio or boat. Betty needs hospital attention—”
    “God will see us through,” Janet says.
    “So we just sit here and wait?” Marc asks.
    “That’s right,” Jim says. “Nothing matters anyway.”
    Sandy looks at Jim. She knew him three years ago as a senior in high school and he was more practical then.
    “We can pray,” Janet says.
    “You pray.” Marc turns on his heels. “I’m going to look at the boat. It’s our only chance. Jim, want to take a look?”
    Jim shrugs and they go outside. Sandy watches them at the shore. Jim has a hard time remaining aloof, she can see him struggle. He thinks that’s so cool. They look at the damage to the boat, they examine the mast and the keel and then they head back.
    They come in and Marc shakes his head.
    “Go figure,” Jim says.
    The students clamor and yell.
    Hart spreads out his hands. “Class, this is not some academic positioning. Listen, it might be my last chance to get to you kids. There is no logic, no reason—”
    “Shut up! Do you realize our situation?” Marc spits.
    Jim stares outside. “Something’s strange about that lightning. Flashes regularly.”
    They watch, all but Hart. The lightning sparks like a slow strobe light.
    Sandy looks at Jim. “What about the boat?”
    “Not good. Big hole in the port side. Lot of damage below deck. We’ve been drifting. Doctor, does anyone know where we are?”
    Hart turns to them, his face white. “No, we are lost, by definition. None of this looks like anything I’ve seen before.”
    “When did we last radio our position?”
    “Three days ago.”
    “We’ve been drifting for three days?” Janet puts her hands to her face.
    Hart stamps his foot. “You knew, you all knew. This is not your country club. It was a symbol. Nothing is real.”
    “Our situation is real,” Jim says. “Betty needs help. The galley containing our food and fresh water is flooded.” They all look at him. “The top of the mast broke off, speared the middle of the rubber raft. Big hole in it, cannot be repaired. With our radio dead...”
    Janet begins to cry. Marc stares straight ahead.
    “It was a symbol,” Hart says. “We were much closer to the shore than before.”
    “And, we saw some kind of animal behind the rocks,” Jim says. Sandy sees he’s more pragmatic now.
    Marc slams his fist in his palm. “Okay, we must face facts—”
    “These are just powerful electrical storms,” Hart whispers, “and have nothing to do with justice or facing facts. You rich kids should grow up and realize that.”
    “Doctor,” Sandy asks, “what are we going to do?”
    “I feel something good is about to happen,” Janet says.
    Jim grabs the Greek urn from under his raincoat. “Here, I brought this back from the wreck. The head was smashed in the storm.” Jim sits it by the fire. “None of what you say makes any sense. I need it to make sense.”
    Hart stares at it. “I considered life to be two opposing views. One must be eliminated.”
    “Look. Someone’s coming.” They run to the entrance, all except Hart.
    Sandy shakes her head. “No, it’s just a horse.”
    “A man riding a horse,” Marc says.
    As it gets closer, Sandy sees it is a centaur, half-upper man, half-lower horse.
    “It...it isn’t real...is it?” Sandy stammers. This is all crazy, it’s just crazy.
    “Real?” asks Hart. “What can be real in an unreal universe?”
    “But centaurs are only a myth...”


    Jim staggers. He wonders if he’s losing his mind.
    “Only what you feel is real,” says Hart.
    “I feel scared,” Janet says.
    The centaur reaches the entrance and looks up at the sky. He leans back, spreads wide his arms and closes his eyes. The rain ceases, the thunder and lightning stop. The morning sun comes out and the centaur canters inside.
    His upper body is of a splendid youth. Long golden ringlets frame his face. His lips curl into a sneer of pride and confidence. He bows. “Good morning. My name is Chiron.” Chiron gazes at Hart who crouches in the corner.
    Sandy gasps.
    “I see you recognize my name,” Chiron says. “Good. That will make my job easier.”
    Hart jumps up. “Job?”
    “You may know I was a teacher. I taught Achilles and Jason, and now others. I’m free from the rocks to help teach one final lesson. I’m—”
    Chiron grabs his neck and reveals ugly red welts. His wrists bear scars.
    “Are you hurt?” Janet asks.
    “My chains have left—”
    Sandy gasps. “Was it you we saw high on the rocks—”
    “I took the place of Prometheus centuries ago so he might be free.”
    “The Titan that stole fire from the gods? I was telling them that myth yesterday.”
    “Although the stories have been romanticized,” Chiron says, “they are essentially true, some more than others.”
    They all just stare at him.
    “Can you use your magic to help us?” Jim asks.
    “This is a mortal problem and must be solved in mortal ways.”
    “Magic be damned!” Hart struts up to Chiron, red-faced. Chiron stomps his back hoof. “I’m getting tired of hearing all this god and myth nonsense,” Hart says. “I won’t believe any of this is real!”
    Chiron looks at him and swishes his tail. “You’re a teacher and have a great influence over young minds. My master has chosen to set this aright. He’s waited nearly thirty years.”
    “I don’t believe—”
    “Oh? Meet one you cannot ignore.” Chiron bows his head as an old man appears at the cave entrance. The old man walks in wearing a ragged burlap cloak, a thin beard and a weather-beaten face. His gaze understands, his eyes incompatible with confusion.
    Hart gasps and steps back.
    “Their boat needs repairs,” Chiron says. The old man nods. “This girl is in need of medical attention. They don’t have enough food or water to last two days. They are lost.”
    Hart’s voice rises. “What could we do?! The storm just now stopped. I cannot be held responsible—”
    “What were your plans then?” the old man asks.
    Hart blinks. “Plans? Well, I would have waited—”
    “Not enough food or water to wait. Must think. Must act.”
    “I never felt we were in any—”
    “Feelings won’t give answers. Were you really going to do something? Or were you going to give it all up as impossible and try to evade responsibility?”
    Jim looks at the old man. Something about him makes Jim want to be practical, logical. He looks out of the cave. “It’s clear outside. Maybe we can see more now.”
    Marc nods. “Maybe we could repair the boat or fix the radio or salvage something from it. Something!”
    The old man smiles and points his cane. “There! Action—purpose—reason!”
    “Reason is dead!” Hart runs to the dark corner of the cave and slumps against the wall.
    The old man’s face turns hard. “Is it dead? We will see, and you may come to know the consequences of your opinions.” The old man turns to Marc. “You can’t use your radio to call for help. I’ve let you through my barrier. These islands of mine are uncharted and navigation is dangerous. We will help Chiron work on your boat and provide the course out of here. We only need to repair the outside hull using mortal means. It’s a temporary fix. Your raft is unusable. The others will fish for food.”
    The old man, Chiron, Marc and Jim go outside. The sun shines high in the sky and they walk to the shore. They stare at the little boat, tilted to one side in four feet of water.
    “Chiron is an expert,” the old man says, “and this task is not impossible.”
    Jim and Marc look up with relief. Chiron nods. They wade out into the water and climb the wreck. They salvage supplies and tools. They walk to the cliffs behind the cave. Marc carries the toolbox. They chop and saw trees and Chiron hand-makes a small cart.
    Chiron explains how to fix the boat. They saw, hammer, plane and make thatch. Marc and Jim sweat but smile. The old man lifts and holds the planks and nods when Chiron talks and never seems tired.
    They build a scaffold to frame the boat by firelight. They tie hemp ropes around it to hold it in place. They examine the rudder.
    The next day, Jim watches Sandy and Janet fish. Hart just stands in the cave entrance. Jim enjoys the feeling of work, manual labor, creating something out of nothing.
    Chiron planes the hull and patches the boat. They untie the ropes and let it right itself in the shallow water. They hold their breath. It floats. The old man smiles and Chiron looks proud. Jim and Marc grin.
    They march back into the cave. The girls cook fish. Hart stands in the corner.
    “Betty’s still unconscious?” Jim asks.
    “I think she has a fever,” Janet says. “How’d you guys do?”
    “Easy as 1-2-3,” Jim says. Marc looks at him. “Well, not so easy, but the boat is usable.”
    “You can leave here immediately,” the old man says. “Your sail is nearly useless, but you don’t have a long journey.”
    Janet brings the fish. “I didn’t feel you could do it.”
    “We did not do it by feelings,” the old man says. “We acted.”
    Hart rushes up to him. “Listen, old man, you keep talking like some kind of...of a...”
    “Some kind of what?” he asks.
    “I...I don’t know.”
    “That’s your trouble. You don’t define, only generalize. You don’t reason, only feel.”
    “Reason is dead.”
    “If it’s dead for you, so be it.”
    Hart looks at him. “No one can be certain of anything.”
    “Are you certain of that? Doctor, I have heard you denounce the fire of reason countless times.”
    Sandy runs to the old man and looks at him with excitement and fear in her eyes. “I know who you are. We all do, but I’m going to say it. You’re Prometheus!”
    His decrepit body melts away and a tall straight youth takes its place. He wears a bold smile, confident and proud. He stands, hands on hips, as a god overlooking his creation.
    Jim knows he has now lost his mind, spun off his axis. Or a brain tumor gives him hallucinations.
    “I...I don’t believe it!” Hart buries his head in his hands.
    “You have denied me long enough,” Prometheus says.
    Hart shrugs in shock. “I deny what must be denied. I face reality only with my heart because it can do things my head never can.”
    Prometheus walks toward him. “Oh, really? Can your heart navigate that boat? Can your feelings build a fire?”
    “But I’m not saying common sense should be discarded. I just believe reason cannot be trusted—”
    “Ideas are potent,” Prometheus says, “and have consequences in some places more than others. You want the form of reason but desire to strip it of its power and your responsibility. You want its benefits but not its demands.” Prometheus glows red. Chiron steps back. A pressure rises in the cave and swirls in the air around them.
    “It’s impossible to know!” Hart screams.
    “Mortal, you are about to have your request granted.”
    Prometheus lowers his head and closes his eyes.
    “I deny the mind, it only causes guilt.” Hart rants, delirious. “I deny certainty, I deny reason, I deny—”
    “Very well!” Prometheus thunders. “You have earned this!”
    An orange bolt of lightning leaps from Prometheus’s outstretched hand to Hart’s head. It hovers a moment and glows and then dissipates in a cloud.
    They all look around. The pressure in the cave lessens and they can breathe.
    Hart staggers and falls to the ground. He lifts himself up on his hands and knees and gurgles and babbles and makes noises more animal than human.
    Janet kneels down to help him. His eyes roll back in his head and he drools. Janet rolls up her jacket and lays his head on it. They all stare at Prometheus.
    Janet looks up. “What...what happened to him?”
    “He denied my gift, hated it. So I took it away.”
    “He denied reason, you took away—”
    “Yes, his rationality. He had a great deal more than he cared to admit.”
    Sandy furrows her brow. “But your gift was the gift of fire.”
    Prometheus smiles. “My brother Epimetheus and I created the world. He created the animals first, and without thinking, gave them the best gifts: teeth, speed, claws, strength. When we were ready to create man we had nothing left to give him. So I stole from the gods the greatest gift, the gift of reason.”
    “But the myth says you stole fire.”
    “Yes, the illuminating spark of reason. That which burns in a man is what the poets called fire, and it is. That’s what makes a man a man. If a man has no mind he has little appreciation for feelings, as I’m sure Dr. Hart would tell you, if he could.”
    “Will he be alright?” Janet asks.
    “Physically? Yes. Mentally? He controls that, not I. If he can find the courage back to consciousness, maybe.”
    Chiron turns to Jim. “Are you alright?”
    “I thought I was losing my mind.”
    Prometheus smiles. “Why would you worry about that, given your mind is not important.”
    “I was wrong. It’s man’s nature to think. To choose not to think is to choose not to live.”
    Sandy grabs Prometheus’s arm. “But how do I know what’s real?”
    “I gave you senses to inform your mind. I gave you reason to inform your life. Use my gifts.” Prometheus smiles. “Let’s go Chiron. We have what we came for.”
    Marc grasps the hand of Prometheus. “Thank you.”
    Prometheus nods. “Take this back to your world. And Jim, Einstein did not call his theory Relativity, he hated that. He called it Invariance Theory. But just as Einstein’s reality supplanted Newton’s, perhaps yours can subsume his.”
    Jim shakes his head. “No, I’m changing my major to engineering.” Jim smiles at Sandy and sees her throw a prescription bottle in the fire.
    They all walk out into stunning sunlight. Prometheus and Chiron wave and walk toward the cliffs, higher and higher, into Olympus.

A Plot of Murder in an Unpleasant House

Scott Brownlee

    “Bust a cap in his ass, yo?”
    It was Leather who posed the question.
    His cohorts frowned. Their names were Clint and Dakota.
    “You dudes ain’t ready fo dis type of commitment?”
    Leather fished through the breast pockets of his red flannel for a Marlboro. Thrusting a cigarette between his thin, mealy lips, Leather hiked up his black Harley Davidson t-shirt, revealing tight wiry abdominal muscles beneath pale Caucasian skin, and scratched his belly with an unsettling urgency. Shoving a balled fist into a torn blue jean pocket, Leather felt his fingers trembling in gleeful anticipation against the flesh of his upper thigh.
    “Don’t tell me you two are lazy, chicken shit bitches?”
    While lighting his cigarette Leather glanced downward at his Nike sneakers. Once white and now yellowish, the sneakers were strapped together by duct tape to prevent them from falling apart. Leather wiggled his toes and smiled because he could see them poking out of the holes in his sneakers. An oily strand of his shoulder length black hair fell across his dark brown eyes. The scrawny man shook it back. The hair felt greasy as it hung behind his ears.
    “If we don’t waste Madison,” Leather said, dragging deeply on the Marlboro. “Then robbing him is out of the question, yo. Our cracker asses be running far, far away from dat fat ass, hairy b-Itch. Dere’s no place on Earth we could hide from dat muthafucka, know what I’m sayin’? Da Apocalypse could come and dat crazy bitch would be all fried and melted and shit and his eyeballs hanging out and he’d still find us. Dat bitch got to die, yo. No one’s gonna give a rat’s shit ‘bout a dealer gone down. Besides, I need some new sneakers, yo.”
    “You need a new dick,” Dakota quipped.
    “Shit, fucking be what it’s all about, yo. Dis cock’s gotten me some fine ass poontang all over dey world. Yo sorry ass be stuck wit da same pink. Day in. Day out. But blow and ganja gonna make up fo dat.”
    “You better not be insultin’ Kassie,” Dakota threatened.
     “Will you two stop bitchin’!” Clint demanded loudly, shaking his head disconcertedly. “Suck each other dicks later. I wanna hear more. Go on, Leather, say what’s on yer mind. We might be onto something here.”
    Leather had milky white flesh. He was a poor specimen derived from Irish, Slovak and Ukrainian descent. His crooked teeth were yellow. When he smiled he looked like he was sneering at you. He didn’t look anybody in the eyes but sort of glanced at them in a sideway manner, always to the sides, slightly up or down, jittery, hyper, but never right at a person. Barks came from his thin lips and ugly mouth and if you could see into his constantly darting eyes that’s where his bravado sat. He was excessively thin, not strong, but could eat a pizza and a half gallon of high fat ice cream and not gain a pound. His face was unmarked, plain. It’s paleness made his thin, pointy nose and his small, square chin almost invisible. The sickly pallor made his brown eyes seem darker.
    “Da message I got is dat Madison is sitting on a lot of product a lot of da time. It’s up to us when we wanna make dis shit go down. I saw all da bad asses in da world in da Corps and Madison ain’t no joke. I know watta killer is. He’s one, yo.”
    “I wouldn’t fuck with him,” Clint said. “But a killer, nah.”
    “When are the girls coming home? I forgot,” Dakota interrupted. He cast out his hands dramatically as if to command Leather and Clint to behold the spectacle of semi-squalor they lounged in. “If Kassie was gonna go shopping tonight. Shit! I promised her that I would clean the place before she got home. Wait, is today Wednesday?” Clint nodded while Leather shrugged indifferently. “Ah, fuck, I don’t remember if she gets out earlier today or tomorrow.” A bit apprehensively Dakota added: “We gotta clean this place right away!”
    An answer did not come.
    “She still pissed because the mills laid you off?” Clint asked. Absently, Clint’s eyes swayed over the dimly lit, messy apartment and saw the peeling paint that hung off dull, dun colored walls and the tape, greenish with age, that held together rusty panes of cracked windows. Then his eyes swept over the dull hardwood floors that were marred by scratches. Each room’s floor was similar except for the kitchen and bathroom, which were covered by torn linoleum. The apartment reeked of dingy cigarette and pot smoke intermingling weakly with peach scented deodorizers. Unfolded clothes, toys, dishes, unpaid bills, half full Oreo and Doritos bags, discarded pizza boxes and empty beer cans were laying in a clutter throughout the house. Near rancorous smells drifted from the kitchen sink. In it sat a pyramid of dishes. The icy cold foyer hung with the heavy stink of old garbage bags. “It’s not your fault. You’re only one man.”
    Dakota looked past Clint at his messy apartment.
    Dat boy be tired of supportin’ Clint’s ass...and Clint be fuckin’ with him in his own crib...dat make any man salty...do dat in my crib, yo, an’ see how yo ass walk wit no a clip o’ caps in yo knees...
    “Fuck dat shit! Cleanin’ be a bitch’s job,” Leather said in agitation.
    “My wife’s not a bitch,” Dakota said sternly.
    “Every human on da planet wit da poon is ah bitch, I-aight?”
    “Let us not forget,” Clint said diplomatically to diffuse the mounting tension. “Behind every great man, somewhere in his shadow, lurks a woman.”
    “Yeah, and da bitch be stabbin’ her man in da back, get alimony an’ shit.”
    “Look,” Dakota said. “I got a kid and a good wife. Love ‘em both. Clint, you an’ me been friends a long time. You stayin’ here ‘cause your mom kicked you out. And it’s cool. We have good times.”
    Lyin’ mothafucka, face says all dere is to say...
    “And you,” Dakota directed his eyes and voice at Leather. “I known you ‘bout six months and we have some times, too. I ain’t into this shit you thinking about with Madison. He’s been good by me. And, what you said, er, yeah, that’s it.”
    There was a strain on Dakota’s face.
    Muthafucka don’t got balls to stand up for his ho in his own crib...da face says it all...conquer the weak fucks, fight the equal fucks and fuck da hos dat’s left over...dis boy is conquered...homeboy Clint, we be equal ‘cept I gots da biggest gat...
    “How about this, dudes?” Clint offered diplomatically. “We’ll have a few beers, soothe your rattled cages, discuss the robbery a little bit more and then,” Clint looked sternly at Leather. “We all pitch in to tidy up this house.”
    Leather sat upon a creaky couch while Dakota, visibly agitated, remained afoot with fists trembling at his sides. Without awaiting their response, Clint strode languidly into the adjoining kitchen to fetch three cans of Milwaukee’s Best, a pleasing sense of an alcohol buzz warming him. A glance at the kitchen clock revealed the passage of late afternoon into early evening. Clint opened the refrigerator, reached in, grabbed three cans of beer from the case and noticed the left over pork chops sitting unwrapped on a small dish inside. He grabbed a piece without thinking and took a bite. His mouth was full of pork when he cursed. Clint swore again, softly. He gulped down the chunk of animal flesh.
    “Hey, Dakota! Will your wife get pissed if I ate one of her chops?”
    “Tell me you’re fuckin’ around.”
    “What if it was just one bite?”
    “Oh no, man. There were explicit directions. Shit!”
    “How pissed will she be? If we order some Chinese do you think that’ll make up for it?”
    “We ain’t,” Dakota said as he entered the kitchen. “Got no money left. Bought that eighth of weed and that case of Best’s. Jesus, Clint, we’re gonna get our asses chewed for sure. Fuck! You know Kassie’s on the rag.”
    “Maybe if we cut the bite mark off she won’t know no better.”
    “I guess,” Dakota sighed bitterly. “All the knives are dirty. You’ll have to clean one from the sink.”
    Dakota grabbed two cans of beer from Clint. He drifted melancholically back to the living room. Clint was left fumbling with a cold pork chop and an icy can of beer. In the living room, Dakota rolled his eyes and sighed as he tossed Leather a beer. An uneasy feeling stirred in Dakota’s belly. He turned on his Aiwa sound system. A subtle hum vibrated from the tower speakers. Opening the beer, Dakota tilted the can to his lips, paused to listen to the quiet beginning of “Schism” by Tool, and began to guzzle down his liquid bread. Half the can disappeared. The song evolved into a surreal journey of sound. After a quick breather Dakota consumed the remainder of the beer. It felt good swirling in his belly. Setting the empty can on the flimsy coffee table, upon which Leather’s feet lay crossed, Dakota then threw his arms skyward to stretch his back muscles.
    Of German and Danish descent, Dakota was shorter than Leather by three inches but broader, more solid a young man with a robust, squat physique. Long hippy hair that was reddish-orange fell down to the center of his back. Dakota had the grain of a farmer. One who’s back earns one’s spoils. Watery blue eyes, bloodshot from heavy marijuana use, made him look sensitive despite the rugged looks of his broad nose and full lips. His teeth were more crooked than Leather’s but much whiter. His wavy hair was held behind in a ponytail. Freckles, brightly blotching, and occasional outbreaks of acne made him ugly. But he had those blue eyes women kill for and a face that was always eager to smile. Though only nineteen, Dakota was growing a beer belly. Dakota was clad in a plain white t-shirt, a pair of camouflage military pants and dirty white socks. A red bandanna was strapped like a belt around his head.
    “Yo man,” Leather asked between sips of beer. “Weren’t yo parents Nazi’s?”
    “My grand parents,” Dakota responded irritably as he fumbled for a cigarette. “And no, for the tenth time, they didn’t bake any Jews in the ovens. My grand father was wounded at the Battle of Lake Baikal. He was one the luckier ones,” Dakota continued; pride beaming in his eyes. “Half his tank crew was killed by a Soviet tank that crashed into it. Grandpa only survived by fighting the Soviets hand to hand. Before the Soviets’ locked in the German army, my grand father was shipped back to the homeland with mostly a missing leg. Had it been sent a week later, his ass would of been captured with 300,000 other German soldiers. I’ve told you this story a million times. Stop smoking what you’re rolling, man. You’re gonna send your brain cells to Hitler’s ovens.”
    “I’ll fuck yo shit up, cunt mothafucka.”
    Clint returned to the solemn living room. His presence silenced the squabbling between Leather and Dakota. An immensely tall man, Clint stood six feet, seven inches high and weighed 272 pounds. Though his gait was powerful, a bungling in coordination from his elongated, lanky limb structure hampered it. Clint was indicating signs of one pregnant with a beer belly like his friend. Long shoulder length hair, colored like wet sand, hung in waves around his green eyes. Darker brows and a bushy goatee lent an air of ferocity to Clint. He looked mean. Brace straightened teeth were browned by chewing tobacco. There was a certain look of an infallible dumbfoundedness on Clint’s face that was endearing for some. Anybody would say the German/Irish boy was ruggedly handsome.
    “Burn one!” Clint hooted as he plopped into a recliner. “Hey, dude, does this shit have to be playing while we smoke? Why not something more mellow? Like Marley or the Dead?”
    The song became immensely louder.
    “It’s my apartment,” Dakota responded, subtly adamant. He felt nervous in his stomach. “Besides that, if we get stoned to mellow music we’ll get lazy and not clean.”
    “That’s true!” Clint yelled over the droning sounds of the song. “But you’ll want to listen to the entire CD, dude! And when Kassie comes home with little Sammy-” Clint pursed his lips and simultaneously waved his hands away from his groin suggesting an explosive force. “-BOOM! Off the motherfuckin’ CD goes! You’ll get pissed at Kassie! Your buzz will be ruined! And,” Clint raised a significant index finger. “That’s a waste of money!” Clint chewed his lip. He wanted to smile victoriously but he knew instinctively that wallowing now would push Dakota over the line. The men whipped by the pussy are more afraid of their women than other men. He fought to prevent a teasing smile from surfacing. “And yer kid,” Clint added, unable to resist himself. It was like throwing salt into an open wound. He still had to shout over the blaring music to make his point. “He’s so cute an’ all! It blows when he cries ‘cause you two are fighting over stupid shit like music! ‘Specially this shit, dude!”
    “Let’s smoke dis fatty! Blow our minds right off da fuckin’ planet!”
    “The music!” Clint shouted.
    Dakota lowered the volume by remote control. A nagging sense of defeat weighed heavily on him. He hit a couple of buttons. “Legend” by Bob Marley was selected. The song “No Woman, No Cry” came on softly and pleasantly. It floated surrealistically throughout the room. Dakota glanced at Clint. His tall friend lounged in the recliner. A sick knot welled in Dakota’s chest.
    “Thanks,” Clint said to Dakota as Leather sparked up the hooter. “Now, concerning Madison, I think that scum fucker uses us and is and is always a Jew-bag with the weed. That greedy, fat slob smokes our share all the time.”
    “Yeah,” Dakota agreed, musing. “I can’t ever remember him offering us any of his stash. It’s always our shit he smokes.”
    “We all ready agreed to rob him,” Leather stated. “Da question is: Do we wanna kill him?” He inhaled deeply on the joint. The end glowed brightly in the dimly lit room. An aroma of sweet marijuana swam in all their nostrils. Leather leaned toward Clint to hand him the joint. Leather croaked, allowing not a breath to escape from his lungs. His muscles began to tremble slightly. “I say we kill dat fucking fat fuck.”
    “Why?” Dakota asked.
    Clint inhaled deeply. Leather started to cough suddenly. It was wild and hard but he refused to let the smoke out of his lungs. Clint giggled a little. He fought to not laugh out the smoke swirling in his lungs. The smoldering joint went to Dakota.
    “I say we just rob him,” Dakota revealed. “Take his stash and his money. And Los Angeles here we come.”
    “Fuck it,” Clint exhaled with a sigh. A glance at Leather amazed Clint because his sidekick, though face crimson, refused to relinquish the smoke from his lungs.” You’re crazy,” Clint mumbled, then abruptly, without restraint, grinned wide and chuckled. “Your face looks like it’s a hard pecker, dude!”
    Leather exploded with laughter. Finally the marijuana smoke was freed from his lungs. He hacked. And hacked. It became so uncontrollable that he tumbled off the couch. Thus causing Clint and Dakota to succumb to a frenzied laughing fit that lasted a solid minute.
    “Dope shit, yo.”
    Leather slithered back onto the couch.
    Can’t tell dem...Shit, dey don’t need to know... Madison’s a dead man...Whether you muthafuckas like da shit or not...
    Teary eyed, Leather grabbed the joint that Dakota handed him. He took another deep drag, held it in, passed the joint to Clint and grunted:
    “Yo boys, if we...um...kill Madison...”
    Leather became sidetracked as he envisioned what an erect penis would look like with his face imprinted upon it. A giggle erupted from him.
    “Um,” Leather exhaled lethargically. “What I be...um...”
    A dumbfounded expression swarmed across his face. Leather noticed that Dakota had obtained the half cooked joint. As the high intensified, Leather felt a tingling sensation all over his head. It seemed as if a thick invisible orb, almost a luminescent glow, vibrated around his entire flesh. Sort of like a gentle vacuum was sucking on his skin, almost a hallucinogenic sensation. Leather imagined that he could almost make out a blurry orb surrounding him. A blink of his eyelids seemed a multitude of forever’s to complete. Glancing over at Clint, who gazed at him as if waiting for him to speak, Leather smiled wide.
    “Was I saying something, yo?”
    Clint burst out laughing. It became contagious. Everybody was wasting their hits, smoke blown into everybody’s faces.
    Another track melted into their ears.
    “This music is so soulful,” Clint said mirthfully. The song was called Redemption Song and it played soulfully, freely. It uplifted Clint into a pleasant stupor. “Love music so much...yeah, I really do.”
     Clint’s tongue felt incredibly dry and swollen. Fascination beheld him when noticed flashes of multi-colored lights going on and off in the room. He watched Dakota sit down Indian style on the dirty, dull and scratched hardwood floor. A slight tap on the shoulder triggered Clint’s attention. Turning his head, Clint thought his head was separating from his body and he felt like he was glowing happily inside all of the sudden and he grinned in a silly way. A glance at Leather, where the tap originated, made Clint aware of Leather’s outstretched hand in which the low burning joint was gripped. Clint gladly took the offering.
    “The weed is exceptionally strong,” Clint said. His words sounded strange in his ears. It was like the voice of another man. “Almost like some shrooms are mixed in it. Nice.”
    “Don’t worry we’ll kill Madison, yo.”
    “Killin’ nobody, man. What? Ohhh, nah, no, shit...yeahh...No! Don’t kill ‘em...Only bring on the piigggsss...” Clint paused and sucked down several hits. Leaning off the rust colored recliner, Clint handed Dakota the smoldering remains of the weed and Dakota took it. “Rest’s yours, man...Enjoy, bro...What’s in this shit?”
    “Bring on the pigs,” Leather sang softly. “Bring on the big, big ham sandwich.”
    Dey don’t know dere’s heroin in dis weed...Ha...ha...ha...
    “He’s stooonnned,” Dakota drawled languidly while he utilized a handy roach clip to smoke the tiny remainder of the joint.
    “Yeah,” Clint mumbled. “Whoaaaaaaaaaa...”
    Without warning, Clint nodded off into his own little world. Dakota threw the forever gone joint into an ashtray where thirty cigarette butts lay crunched. He soon followed Clint, drifting into a kaleidoscope of hallucinatory colors that breezed by on the backs of eyelids. Leather was lost in a swirling mental waterfall of vicious, confused thoughts and began to unconsciously swing his fists softly in the air. Leather grinned in stoned glee.
    Three CD’s later the three slumbering men heard a noise at the foyer entrance. It was a door opening with hinges that creaked. Kassandra came into her apartment with baby Samuel clasped protectively in one arm and three plastic grocery bags in the other. She could smell the hemp in the air. Leaving the door open, she dropped her purse on the kitchen table and it sounded off like a roar of thunder.
    “Dakota! You promised me that you would clean the house!”

The Road Home

David Danforth

    It wasn’t as if I wanted to work Christmas Eve. The call came in just as Cynthia put the five pound ham in the oven. Steve, my boss, informed me that our store in Stockton—two hours away from my house—just lost connectivity. A twenty-four hour store, staying open through Christmas day, so many dollars lost each minute, not well for our bottom line, blah, blah, and blah. He didn’t have to give me the finance speech. I knew how important it was.
    “I can’t believe you’re going to work on Christmas Eve,” Cynthia said, slamming a mixing bowl on the counter.
    “Honey, it’s overtime pay,” I told her.
    “It’s Christmas Eve,” she said, walking three steps to the refrigerator.
    “I’ll make enough money from this one call to make sure we all have a good Christmas,” I pointed out. “Do we really have to discuss this again?”
    “Ray,” she closed the refrigerator door hard, sending a handful of our pictures—held up by cute, colorful magnets— falling to the ground like so many dead leaves. “It’s... Christmas...Eve!” She gestured to our seven year old boy.
    “Hey champ,” I slapped him on the back, then picked up the pictures. “I’ll be back before you wake up tomorrow morning.” My voice trailed off as I focused on the top picture in the pile; myself, Cynthia and the boy, all smiling at the park after one of his pee wee league games. I had asked another parent to take the picture. It was taken six months ago, but it seems three times longer.
    He turned to me, smiling. “No problem Dad,” he said, his smile fading too quickly.
    “Can I talk to you for a minute?” Cynthia said, tilting her head away from the boy, out into out tiny family room. Her long, brown hair seemed to dance and jerk for a moment as her head moved.
    “Sure,” I said, nodding.
    Cynthia closed the white, wooden sliding door that separated the kitchen from the family room, careful not to close it all the way as the missing handle made it impossible to open it if that were to happen.
    “I understand missing his swimming practice, baseball practice, school play, you name any other of a handful of extra curricular activities Wilson participates in,” Cynthia spoke in a raspy whisper, “but this is a family holiday, Ray. We need to spend it as a family, damnit.”
    “He’s on a swim team?” I muttered, then shook the question out of my head. “Look around, Cynthia,” I said, extending my arms and matching her tone, “I work all this damn overtime for us. So I can move our family out of this shithole and into a decent house. So I can retire early to be with you two all the time—”
    “We don’t care about,” Cynthia started to yell, paused, then returned to her raspy whisper. “We don’t care about living in this house, so long as we spend our holidays in it together, as a family!”
    “Well you should care,” I checked my tone as Cynthia put her arm level in the air and slowly lowered it. “The walls are paper thin; the boy can still hesr everything we’re saying.” I shook my head. “You know, I can recite this argument in my sleep. I’m going now.” I looked into Cynthia’s shimmering hazel eyes. “Aren’t you going to tell me to have a safe trip?”
    She said nothing.
    “Fine,” I said, and walked out the door.
    An hour later I drove twenty miles under the speed limit in fog so thick I couldn’t see the reflective yellow borders of the two lane strip that was Highway 4 near Discovery Bay. In the dark, with the dual silver cones my headlights made, I watched what little of the road I could. A headache began to pulse near the front of my skull; my focus began to swim away to my fight with Cynthia. Why did she have trouble seeing the priorities? She just had to be patient.
    “Ah! What the hell?” I screamed as dark shape suddenly appeared in my thin band of light. I spun the steering wheel to avoid it, stamping on the brake pedal. The car jerked and bounced off the road, onto the soft dirt shoulder, into a patch of dry, yellow weeds, finally screeching to a stop. I looked up and, through the windshield, I saw a man. Did I hit him? He stood tall, well over six feet, with jet black, stringy hair that seemed to reflect the lighted fog. He wore black from head to toe: Black shirt, black jeans, and a long, black coat—like one of those duster coats cowboys wear. It seemed to move on it’s own in the wind, like a cape.
    “It’s foggy, there is no wind,” I said to myself, breaking the silence in my car, still staring at the man’s jacket.
    A dark shape loped into the light and sat next to him, coming up to his mid-thigh. That must have been what I tried to avoid.
    “Damn, that is one big dog,” I whispered, pulling on the door handle. I stumbled out into the misty, swirling air. God, I had forgotten how quiet the fog made things, pressing in all around, squeezing any noise out of the area. Anyone could have just slipped behind me and—
    I looked around quickly as I finished my thought. As my eyes passed over the stranger, he smiled, revealing a mouth full of pointed teeth sharper than his companion’s.
    “We are alone,” he said. His voice sounded like a person’s last gasp; their death gasp.
    “What? Oh,” I looked around once more. “I almost hit your dog, pal,” I said. “Who walks their dog in the middle of nowhere on a two lane highway, anyway?”
    “He is not a dog,” the stranger said.
    The dark creature at his side growled, a sound that started low and quickly grew to something loud, something that ripped through the fog like a bullet.
    “Boris does not appreciate one calling him a dog, either,” he said, patting the top of its head. “Do you, Boris?”
    I looked closer. It had to be a dog, what else could it be? Its muzzle looked longer than any dog I had ever seen. Its eyes were a solid, deep red—like a stop sign bathed in bright halogen headlights at night. His ears actually looked more like horns. As the stranger continued to pet him, Boris’ tongue, as red as his eyes and full of thorns I could see from where I stood, slowly wrapped its serpentine way up the stranger’s arm. Thin lines of blood began to appear, then spread on the stranger’s arm marking the tracks Boris’ barbed tongue made. I shivered in the damp air.
    “Well then, I’m sorry I hit your,” my voice lost strength and in the end I nodded and moved back, toward my car.
    “I assure you, no one here is going to harm you,” the stranger said.
    “Where did you come from, anyway? I thought I saw a weigh station a mile or so back, are you from there?” I asked, taking another step backwards.
    The stranger laughed—God, those teeth! Who would willingly grind each tooth down to a point like that? What dentist would agree to do that? “The Weigh Station,” he repeated. “Yes, I suppose you could say that.”
    “Fine,” I said, opening the car door. “Well, have a good night.”
    Boris bounded toward me and growled, drooling over his muzzle. He covered half the distance between us in two seconds. I might’ve been able to make it inside the car, but starting it before Boris could easily smash through a window? I slowly shut the door.
    “You really need to stay and hear me out, Ray,” the stranger said.
    “How do you know my name,” I whispered.
    “I know everything about you,” the stranger in black smiled, those horrible pointed teeth spotlighted in twin beams of light. For a brief moment, that’s all he appeared to be—a large, dark, lanky human outline with 32 bright, pearly white half inch daggers curled upward. “I know you have a wife. I know you have a child,” he walked in a circular pattern, around my car. Around me.
    “What’s your name? Who are you?” I asked. “How do you know that?”
    The stranger stopped strolling, looking excited. He bent down and picked up a spider—from the headlight glow it looked like a tarantula. He chomped into it like a drumstick from Kentucky Fried Chicken. White, cloudy mucus dribbled from the corner of the stranger’s mouth onto his chin as he smiled. He tossed the rest back to Boris, who swallowed it with one snap of his jaw.
    “Who I am is, of course, unimportant.” The Stranger paced back and forth, just to the right of my headlight beams. “I could be a figment from a nightmare you are having, falling asleep at the wheel. I could be a sociopath, and you could be in the wrong place, the wrong time. I could be evil personified, a demon sent up from Hell on a mission to damn those who dare to work on Christmas Eve. I could be an Angel, sent from Heaven—”
    “You’re no Angel,” I said, glancing at Boris.
    “Ah,” the stranger followed my stare. “No. No, I am not, but I could be.” He took a step toward me and my left hand flailed for the car door handle. “I could even be the saint of forgotten children in modern families. I could be any of those entities.” He moved so quick, his ash grey hand was on top of mine before I could even move. Immediately I felt pinpricks, his touch, icicles stabbed my nerves and joints, moved up my arm to my shoulder, my chest. I tried retracting my hand, but he held it tight. It felt like trying to remove my hand from a box full of blades. “The important question is not who am I, but what can I do to your family, Ray?”
    “What? You don’t go near my family, let go of me,” I tried harder to twist free of his grasp. My hand went numb, I felt a stabbing pain pricking my heart. Was this what a heart attack felt like? The ground, the stranger, my car, Boris; they all started spinning and I felt a sick lurch in my stomach. I punched the roof of the car with my free hand, hoping to dull the pain and regain my focus. “You don’t even know where we—”
    “I understand you think working all this time will be your ticket to a better house than that fleabag on tenth street you live in now, but you are not thinking things through, Ray,” the stranger licked his thin lips—his tongue looked thin and bright red, he flicked it in and out of his mouth like a snake. “You are not there to protect them, after all. You would have no clue when we would pay your wife, and your seven year old boy, a visit. Your son would make such a fine appetizer for Boris.”
    I watched Boris wag his tail and my stomach flipped. My chest felt compressed by an invisible vice. I couldn’t catch my breath. I punched the stranger in the stomach and he laughed.
    “Your wife, why, I could paint a Picasso with her innards, prop her severed head on your nightstand, and await your return. Who is to stop me? You? You are not home, Ray, you are working.”
    “Please,” my voice squeaked, “you said no one would harm me you’re hurting me please it hurts please let go.”
    The stranger unclenched the vice grip he had on my hand, and I fell to my knees in the dirt. I gasped for air like I had been underwater all this time. The pressure on my chest eased, and the cold, numb feeling in my arm and shoulder slowly receded.
    The stranger knelt beside me, so close I could smell the mold on his clothes. I could smell the subtle stink of infectious rot on his breath. I looked into his eyes for the first time, they were so dark I couldn’t distinguish pupil from iris. They looked more like two sockets you could plug something into. They darted and moved to match my gaze; I couldn’t turn away. “Make no mistake, Ray, you are at a crossroads here,” he whispered. “You need to chose your next actions carefully, because...there will be consequences for the wrong choices made. I can give you my guarantee on that.”
    I jumped to my feet and flung the car door open, knocking the stranger off balance, and I tumbled into the car, slamming the door. I sped off, kicking up dust and rocks underneath my wheels. I looked in the rear view mirror.
    “Choke on that you son of bitch,” I murmured.
    But he wasn’t choking on the dirt, wasn’t shielding his face from the rocks. The stranger and his pet stood still in the red glow of my taillights. They didn’t run toward me, they didn’t move at all.
    I arrived at the highway, and already the image of the stranger in black and his mutant canine began to fade from memory. I turned and continued toward the store, glancing at the dim blue glow of my car’s digital clock. This whole detour from hell only wasted ten minutes of my time. I could still make it to the store and fix their system in time. Even if he was a psycho, it wasn’t like he had my exact address.
    He had your name, and he mentioned Tenth Street.
    A trick, I answered my paranoia. Something with percentages of male names, he didn’t really know my name.
    How many other guys do you know with the name Ray?
    And another thing, I continued the argument, “Tenth” is a pretty common street name. He played the odds, that’s all; just a jerk trying to scare the crap out of lone holiday travelers.
    He’s a psycho with pointed teeth and black empty circles for eyes and a pet killer mutant dog to do his bidding and he almost killed you just be touching you. If he even WALKS down Tenth Street and gets lucky—
    I gripped the steering wheel, digging my fingernails into the side handgrips, and trying to force the thoughts from my mind. My knuckles turned white. The fog began to lift as I approached Stockton, and it took some of my uneasiness with it. Something about the random lights in the clean darkness made me feel less alone and more a part of reality. Realistically, there was no way that dark-haired nightmare could back up any threats he made.
    Is that what you’ll keep repeating one night when you come home to find they’ve been there?
    For two seconds my mind flashed on Cynthia’s head on my nightstand, her neck tendons draped over the edge, dripping blood onto the white carpet, her eyes open, looking up at me—sad, pleading, and lifelessly dull. Boris sat in the corner of the room, licking a chunk of something attached to a bone, my son’s bloody sneaker lying near the bed.
    “Wilson,” I screamed, making a U-turn. I remembered the drive home in flashes. The fog cascaded around my car like a falling blanket, I let up on the gas only once—the patch of road where I met the Stranger—and looked around to make sure he was gone. Looking back on it, I can only credit sheer, stupid luck I didn’t cause a head-on collision. If it wasn’t Christmas Eve, I would have. I careened onto my driveway, bumping into my garbage can, hoping it would fall so my family would come out to investigate the noise. I needed to see them.
    I slammed the car door, staring at the dark windows of my house. Every gesture, every move I made designed to make the lights come on. Anything that stood as proof my wife and son were alive. I ran to my front door, almost running into the stranger, who stood guard at the doorway, Boris at his side. For a moment I thought the Stranger hadn’t noticed me, instead staring at an ornate pocket watch.
    “You stay away from them you bastard!” I screamed as I ran to meet him. I stopped so suddenly I almost fell in front of his feet when I heard Boris’ low growl.
    “I have not entered the house,” he said, snapping the pocket watch closed. “It seems you have found your priorities, Ray, and just in time. Now, go inside and spend time with your family.”
    “Who the hell are you?” I asked one last time.
    The stranger slowly shook his head and walked by me. “Once again, Ray, you ask the unimportant question.” The Stranger snapped his fingers and Boris immediately heeled as they walked down my driveway. “No matter,” I heard him say. “Tonight, I was your weigh station, Ray. Tomorrow, I’ll be someone else’s. Many more families to visit, many more parents with choices to make.” He turned to face me, this walking dark nightmare with ghostly skin. I believed I still could see a few dark tarantula hairs between his teeth. “I can’t waste any more time here satisfying your curiosity.” He turned and disappeared before he reached the end of the driveway. Just...faded, like melting snow.
    I looked at my watch. Midnight. It was officially Christmas Day. It took me ten seconds to fit my key in the door, and I stumbled over the recliner in the family room. I ran to our bedroom and met Cynthia at the door.
    “Well, at least you made it back before—”
    I hugged her.
    “If you think you’re going to soften me up by—what are you doing?”
    “Smelling your hair,” I said, taking a deep breath. “You smell great.”
    I watched her try hard not to smile. “Let’s go to bed,” she said finally. “Wilson will be waking us up early tomorrow.”
    I didn’t sleep at all that night. I didn’t tell them what happened, only that I never made it to the store, and when the phone rang at nine o’clock Christmas morning, while we were opening presents, I ignored it.
    I haven’t told anyone about it until now, and only have the strength to write it down at that. Perhaps you’ll read this, and if so, just take this piece of advice: If you’re driving down a deserted stretch of road at night and run into a dark stranger and his large pet, don’t call it a dog, and weigh his words to you very, very carefully. It might be your turn.

House of Woo

Linda Andrisan

    I crossed the impoverished threshold of that Capitol Hill rowhouse and sniffed a painful residue of past stories discarded into the backyard metal shed. Outdated books on Russian and Chinese history were strewn about the soiled floor. There was evidence of political has been’s of that town with their curiosity meddling mounted in dirty, neglected piles of that catch-all crusty cache of unclaimed possessions. And he gleed through his barely visible smirk as he turned his back to me and closed the rusty, sliding doors.
    “Your rent is due the last day of the month,” he said coldly while I accepted his terms with slight uneasiness. It was cheaper than the last place and located closer in to Capitol Hill.
    What was I doing there? I never thought about it then. It was merely a place to stay for the cheapest price I could find within the confines of that empowered zone.
    “This is known as the Jefferson house,” he told me with a Bengladesh accent disguised through years of practicing American English.
    I admit I was as green as they come so I didn’t ask, “What does that mean.” And he didn’t bother to explain. He just grinned and left.
    There were five bedrooms. Three upstairs and two down. I took one of the downstairs and settled in with my books, computer, clothes and guitar.
    One day would go by and nothing happened. Not that I waited for nothing, like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. But I was there day after day with no clear meaning as to why. Eventually she was fated to come down from the locked room and break the silence.
    “Hi. They call me Woo.”
    “Glad to meet you,” I said with my usual unassuming politeness.
    I guess I wanted everyone to like me and be my friend.
    Her closely bobbed Afro framed a stately pose imaged into a lean, mean body. I liked looking into her commanding eyes set in a smooth, light black face. I understood without knowing that she was making her final statement in life.
    “I just got back from the dialysis clinic where I go every Monday and Thursday.”
    Need she explain? The main artery in her left arm puffed out like an inserted hose with running water, which she made no effort to hide as she insisted on wearing tank tops that summer to expose her situation.
    Her friend in the other room moved out, leaving a vacancy behind. Shortly thereafter, I heard or imagined I heard a voice out of nowhere say, “She’ll get her diploma.”
    I remained polite and nice and got involved with the library downtown, back and forthing it with no real purpose. Time moved on and I kept paying rent. One day I got a sudden inspiration to drive to another town where my old high school buddies were. I invited her to go with me. She eagerly accepted. On the day of departure, she was not there. So I waited long enough and then left without a note. Made it to my destination and called back in to my landlord to see about her.
    He said, “What did you do to her?”
    “What do you mean?”
    “She’s dead.”
    “Slit herself and bled to death.”
    “So it’s suicide.”
    “Well, we’re going to report it as a homicide. You just may want to come back for her funeral.”
    So I did. The church was packed and I sat in the back with one of my housemates. It was closed casket but the photograph on the program had Woo in her earned cap and gown.
    The next day Tom marched in with an abrasive air of I know more than you authority and said, “So how’s Woo doing?” He moved into her cleaned up room and took charge of the household politics. Louie joined us shortly thereafter. I found it strange that Tom would leave the house every morning at 8:00 with a backpack over his shoulder and meander down towards the Capitol. It was almost as if he were “politically inclined” in that town and had some important business to take care of, yet wouldn’t tip his hand on what he was doing. And Louie kept visiting the veteran’s hospital. Then he’d come back and shut himself up in his room with a bottle of whiskey and a whore he picked up off the street.
    Slowly I realized I was sandwiched in between a mental patient recently released from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and a mentally deranged Vietnam War veteran turned alcoholic and drug addict. Were they trying to say, “Which are you?”
    It seemed like Woo had left behind a suffocating spirit taking its revenge in death that life here in this house couldn’t quite sustain. They took a risk. I kept quiet, for several years to come. The yellow bulldozer across the street broke through the tar façade in front of our house and began plunging deeper and deeper into the impacted earth beneath. By nightfall all activity had ceased. They were still there and I was still in here.
    Suspension between here and there. And I couldn’t help but think, “With or without pay?” An open-ended question they couldn’t resolve. So they brought her up from the ground. And I was afraid to go on . . . .
    All these years they’ve called me “gutless” and “a piece of chicken shit.”
    So I gave away my books, sold my computer, abandoned my red car with its flat tire on the curb side and walked away. Either way they forced me to confront them. . . the “they” that seemed to follow me for years, ever since I left him in that Arlington townhome community some time ago and ran from the politics he was so immersed in. I guess I felt like Woo would understand better than I why I had come there again. Indirectly, perhaps I was looking for him and didn’t know where else to find him.
    In just a few days after her death, I felt like she was haunting me through all the winding, dank streets of that bleak, oppressive local winter and wouldn’t let go. All the while, I was trying to hold on to my resume, my ticket to another dream . . . one all of my own. Seemed to be it turned into a cock’s fight of will. I was among the living, still. She was not. Yet she had the power and unity of that town which cornered me in its enclosing circumference. She was teaching me a different reality from the one I had known with him. The stone and steel buildings jutted up high from the cement like multi-leveled spaceships and an ultra violet haze descended, snarling between the locked spaces of my cavernous path. Night lanterns lit deep below the sidewalk grates paralleled a glowing existence in the Capitol dome . . . waiting, waiting, waiting. Where was I in such a place that transformed before my eyes into Alice’s Wonderworld, with no one else on the street but I. Like a deserted ghost town. No engines whirring. No pedestrians walking to and fro. No lights in the downtown bureaucratic offices. And no way to run from.
    I frantically sought him in an ubiquitous search. I knew special places – the in’s and out’s of meeting spots, exchanges, if you will, where promises were kept. The cloud flow of a domestic sky encapsulated that silent city. But she wouldn’t let me find him.
    In that momentless space between two worlds, I fled back into the reality I was familiar with and re-entered her house. They were left in their political paralysis and I remained paralyzed in an imposed, shuddering fear that succeeding years only tantalized and hushed.
    Rock-a-bye baby . . . the cradle will fall. As always. Sweet dreams scattered all over the ground and supposedly reassembled by picky exploiters who advertise on E-bay. Something about “flying machines and pieces . . . .” Is this Humpty Dumpty all over again? A nursery rhyme I can’t quite get out of my mind.
    Hate doesn’t heal this dilemma. I’ve tried it. I know. Half-suspended. With or without pay, I demand, and, like the school kids, rebel with an “It’s not fair” attitude which triggers mental contortions of past injustices and the sources behind them. Bottom line. Some cock’s fight of wills. I am not amused, we used to say to each other in our childhood . . . and then . . . we said, And they call this Love?
    Air. Can you fly with it? How high? Higher than they ever imagined? Nothing but a big set-up. Icarus fell so hard as his ancient wax melted into the crippled tears of Olympic agony. What would have happened otherwise? He pissed on his wings and handed them to the next bidder. And now? Are they better than he? She thinks not. Otherwise, she wouldn’t need me back in her house.

The Narc of Starkville

Michael de Mare

    When I walked into the bar where someone had pulled a knife on me the day before, I was surprised to see my girlfriend, Sharon. She was sitting up at the bar next to a big guy that I thought that she knew from work. I sat down next to her and ordered a draft beer for seventy-five cents. Cheap beer was just one of the reasons the bar was popular with bikers and drug dealers.
    I wanted to tell my girlfriend that it wasn’t safe for her to be there, but the words didn’t come out. Her friend said, “Why don’t you kiss this girl?” So I did. I leaned in, tilted my head and put my lips on her lips. She put her hand on the back of my neck and I tried to put my tongue in her mouth.
    She didn’t know that I was paying for college by working for the feds. Hell, not even my parents knew that I was paying for college by working for the feds. After the kiss was over, the guy said, “You two can use my car for half an hour.”
    I shook my head. Not because I didn’t want to have a liaison, but I because I was working. They must have been somewhat aware of what clientele the bar attracted, because they left somewhat quickly. I hoped that if anyone had asked her name that she had given an alias.
    Someone put money in the jukebox and it started playing Mr. Brownstone by Guns N’ Roses. A man took the seat that had been occupied by my girlfriend.
    “I could really use some weed,” I said.
    “Really? My girl and I, we can help you.”
    “Okay, that would be cool.”
    “Come with us.”
    He got up and signaled to a middle-aged woman across the room. Then we went outside and walked to a nearby apartment building. We entered his apartment.
    “Sit down!” he said.
    I sat on the couch.
    I could sense that he was doing something behind me, then I could smell the marijuana. He gave me a pipe. I took a small hit and gave it back to him. It was powerful stuff and it hit me right away. He was doing something again.
    “We’ll help you, but if you do anything to hurt me or Lisa,” he pulled out a large combat knife.
    In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams says that discretion is the better part of valor and cowardice is the better part of discretion. With that in mind, I valiantly got up and let myself out the door. I made my report and headed back to the bar to sober up before driving home.
    Soon Spring Break was over and I returned to the engineering university 200 miles north of home where I was a senior.
    I was working there, too. I went to see my drug dealing friend, Chris. “Chris, I’ve got the thirty dollars.”
    “Good. I’ve got the stuff.”
    “How much do you have?”
    “Four ounces. Your thirty will get you an eighth.”
    I gave Chris the money and he handed me a little ziplock bag containing marijuana buds. I stuck them in my pocket. “Thanks.”
    “You can borrow my pipe.” He handed me a marijuana pipe.
    I went back to my dorm room. It was a single. That was a luxury that my job afforded me. I needed to send the baggie to the feds, but it was important that I not be seen with any. We decided to use my sister, who was a freshman, as a cut out. The only catch was that she didn’t know that I was a cop. I also needed my money back to buy cigarettes and maybe a little beer.
    I put some marijuana in the pipe and lit it. I took a couple of hits off of it and got really high. A few minutes later, there was a knocking on my door. I let my sister in. “Uh, hi.” she said, sniffing the marijuana smoke in the room.
    “Hi. I’ve got some stuff that I want to get rid of.” I said.
    Her face lightened up. She was expecting this. “Okay.”
    “I bought it but I don’t want it anymore. I paid thirty bucks for it. I would like to get some of that money back.”
    I pulled the baggie out of my pocket and handed it to her.
    “I’ll be right back,” she said.
    She left. She was gone for a long, long while. Or at least it seemed like a long, long while. With the time-distortion effects of the marijuana, it was hard to be sure. I put Skeletons From the Closet by the Grateful Dead on my record player.
    Then she knocked again. I let her in. She handed me a twenty. “All gone.”
    “I hope that you didn’t smoke it, you were gone for a while.”
    She laughed. “You really need to do your laundry.” Then she was gone. Once, years later she asked me what I knew about federales at that university. I feigned ignorance.
    It wasn’t long until graduation. I didn’t attend, preferring to get out of town as quickly as possible. My mother didn’t like that, but she didn’t know about all the drug dealers that were being picked up by the FBI.
    Back home, I was cultivating a reputation as a druggie. I hadn’t told Sharon the truth and she was probably getting upset and confused. There was no helping it. Absolute secrecy was the secret to my success, not to mention survival. I made a habit of turning up at clandestine parties kids were holding out in the woods.
    One night, I was driving up a dirt road through the state woods when I saw a pickup truck and a car pulled off to the side. I pulled over and got out. I could hear girls laughing in the bed of the truck. Sharon’s friend was getting beer out of the cab.
    “Hey!” I said. I had my own beer.
    “Hey! Mike!”
    “Who is that?”
    I opened a beer. “Let me put on some music.” I said. I opened the back on my Ford Bronco II. I went back to the drivers seat, turned the key backwards and put in a DOORS tape that I had recorded in the radio station at college.
    Sharon was in the bed of the pickup truck, I knew. I could hear her voice. She didn’t want me to know that it was her, though. We could play this game. The DOORS music played. I sat on my tailgate and drank beer. Sharon, comfortable in her anonymity, made suggestive comments. It was a nice night.
    Soon the tape got to the song Light My Fire. It was a druggie song about pot, but I didn’t know if Sharon knew that. Sharon sang along to it. When it was over, she asked me to play it again. I squealed the tape back to the beginning of the song. We listened to it again. It was a long song, seven minutes. When it was over, she said, “Play it again.”
    “Yes, and again and again until you get the idea.”
    “You know, I really should get going.” I said.
    “I’ve got pot,” she said.
    I closed up my car and drove away as if the whole night had never happened.

Michael de Mare bio

    Michael de Mare grew up on a dairy farm in rural upstate New York. He joined the Navy at the age of 18 but was sent home after hurting his legs. He got a B.S. in computer science at Clarkson University and worked software engineering jobs both in New Jersey and in the Silcon Valley. In 2003 he went back to graduate school eventually earning a PhD in computer science from Stevens Institute of Technology in 2010. He taught for a year at SUNY Institute of Technology before completing his degree. He has published fiction in The Cynic Magazine and Down in the Dirt magazine and is the author of the collection Stealing Qubits.

Poetry in a Coffin:
The Past, the Distant, and Always the Safe

G. Tod Slone

    Dostoevsky was made by being sent to Siberia. Writers are forged in injustice as a sword is forged.


    Editor Bill Henderson’s introduction to the 2010 Pushcart Prize: The Best of the Small Presses is truly amazing in its aberrancy and begins thusly: “Despite the election of a president who can actually read, write, feel, think and govern, it can be tough to find hope these days.” A thinking citizen—where are the thinking citizens?—, as opposed to a smiley-faced Pushcart nominee, would have to wonder: when did poetry become an organ of the Democrat Party? “As the conglomerates have taken over (and destroyed) much of publishing, it falls to small presses to carry on,” notes Henderson. Yet clearly the small presses included in his anthology mimic the large presses: marketing of name-brand writers and unquestioning support of the academic/literary established order.
    To no surprise, Henderson’s introduction serves to inflate the anthology with base, self-vaunting. Donna Seaman of Booklist is quoted: “Open the latest Pushcart gathering of the best of the small presses and enter a cosmos of candor, humor, conviction and lyricism... generous, glimmering and hopeful.” It is amazing to think that a whole class of upper-crusty, well-educated bourgeois* types lay comfortably indoctrinated with the same mindset of faux-candor, humor, Democrat-party conviction, and absolutely no questioning and challenging of the established order. That’s what you’ll find in the pages of this anthology. Indeed, while the selected poets wallow in their cocoons of financial and job security, they exude plenty of glimmer and hope.
    “Hopeful, I think, because small presses remain close to the human heart and not lodged in hedge funds,” continues Henderson in his self-vaunting ramble. “Our universe of presses [which of course does not include any presses like The American Dissident daring to question and challenge] does not depend on money...” Yet what to think of Kenyon Review with its $1,000 tuxedo-dinner parties in New York City, Poetry Magazine with its $100,000,000-plus foundation, and any number of other upper-crusty lit journals possessing six or even seven-figure annual budgets like Agni and Ploughshares. How can one read the words of Henderson’s introduction without feeling personally insulted?
    “Bloated business giants were said to be too big to fail,” notes Henderson. But what about the bloated tenured professor poets weeping about high unemployment, while sipping their cocktails? “Well, small presses are too small to fail. We are at rock bottom now and we are grounded there.” Yet how can that possibly true? Rock bottom, while Henderson and others in this volume drown in money and security? How can Henderson write such inanity?
    “The behemoths of banking, insurance and automobiles and their publishing clones worshiped growth,” he continues. Scapegoats, of course, divert attention away from the fat-cat Hendersons fed on thousands and thousands of dollars in public grant monies! “As I said years ago in this annual sermon [appropriate word!], the Pushcart Prize is to me ‘a small good thing’—the title of my favorite Ray Carver story. [Yes, small, but found in every library across the nation, generating thousands of thousands of dollars, and distributed by W. W. Norton $ Co.] We will stay small because we and now all the country can see the horrors of money lust. A computerless shack in the back is our World Headquarters and we intend making no expansions or office upgrades...” Henderson’s introduction is truly incredible and truly unacceptable!
    My decision to critique only the poetry in this anthology was made because of the relative short length of the poems. I know I couldn’t have possibly forced myself to read through the essays and short stories. In general—overwhelmingly and unsurprisingly—, the poems in this volume are characterized as art for artsaking in the words of George Orwell, who wrote: “In cultured circles art for artsaking extended practically to a worship of the meaningless. Literature was to consist solely of the manipulation of words. To judge a book by its subject matter was the unforgiveable sin and even to be aware of its subject matter was looked on as a lapse of taste.” Evidently, I willingly commit here in this review “the unforgiveable sin.”
    Most of the poems are characterized by ramble. Perhaps ramble is the new poetry? Most of them begin as Maxine Scates’ poem, “Not There,” with a banal scene, then ramble and ramble on. “Sometimes late at night/ around 11:05 when I’m watching the local news,” writes Scates. James Richardson’s “Metallurgy for Dummies,” a three-page poem set in two columns, appears as a jumble of words and begins [column 1]: “Faint bronze of the air/ a bell I can’t quite hear,// [column 2] “stop-quick stop-quick/ of sweep hands,” and on and on it goes. Who in their right mind would even wish to try to read and decipher the thing?
    On the back cover of the anthology is more self-vaunting: “63 brilliant stories, poems, essays, and memoirs...” and “the most honored literary series in America.” But says who? Do the facts back the assertions? Well, let’s see... The first poem in the anthology is by professor/state-poet Louise Gluck and was nominated by a friend of the established-order, Philip Levine. “Midsummer” is a descriptive prose poem about Gluck’s childhood (boys and girls playing)—nothing more, nothing less, nothing experimental, and hardly anything at all on the edge. “On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry,/ the boys making up games requiring them to tear off the girls’ clothes/ and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last/ summer”. Is Gluck’s a great poem? Certainly not! Indeed, how could it possibly be considered the “best” of the “best” written this year in America?
    “Why Some Girls Love Horses” by Paisley Rekdal, nominated by the editor of Missouri Review, is about why some girls love horses and begins with the boyfriend or husband snoozing in bed, then quickly melding into Dandy, the poet’s horse and a description of it in the past. How this poem can be considered the “best” is anyone’s guess. “Sunflower,” by Henri Cole, another recognizable name, is a short poem about “When mother and I first had the do-not/ resuscitate conversation, she lifted her head,/ like a drooped sunflower, and said,/ “Those dying always want to stay.” Now, that reminded me of Johnny Ray Johnson, executed by the State of Texas, who said: “Nobody knows what it’s like on the other side. But, you know, nobody’s in a rush to get there.” For me, Johnson’s wisdom beats Cole’s and Cole’s mother’s by a mile.
    “O, Elegant Giant” by Laura Kasischke is a very short poem apparently about her father, who perhaps has Alzheimer’s, and begins: “And Jehovah. And Alzheimer.” Nothing much to it really at all. Perhaps if one dwelled on it a tad, it might manage to sadden a person. But that’s easy to do. The “best” of the “best”? Come on! The next poem, “Rain,” by Peter Everwine, is also of the “poignant” variety and mentions his dead father. But again, the “best” of the “best”?
    The poems in this anthology really do possess a comfy, bourgeois aura of sorts. Everwine’s poem seems to want readers to think that he is a sensitive, perhaps even, dainty man. “Collector” is written by Frank Bidart, chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and proponent of censorship. The poem occupies four pages, though with a lot of space, and appeared in The American Scholar. It begins: “As if these vessels by which the voices of/ the dead are alive again.” Holy shit! I mumbled to myself. It is really terrible stuff. Here Bidart shows us how the bourgeois poet is completely out of touch with everyday realities and conflicts. “Your new poem must, you suspect, steal from// The Duchess of Malfi. Tonight. Alone. Reread it.” Well, I don’t recall who that particular duchess was, nor did I give a damn. Clearly, to be the “best,” a name like Bidart helps, but also the verse must somehow exude a kind of bourgeois ambiance. Bidart’s piece fails to compel me to read through the entire four pages.
    “Daddy, 1933” is the next poem and written by Geoffrey Brock and nominated by, once again, Philip Levine. It is a poem about a poem written by the father of the famous poet who stuck her head in the oven. Need I go on? Well, over one-half of it is quoted from that poem. “...he wrote it the year after/ Sylvia was born/ by the long foraging/ [...].” Brock bows to the established-order icons, rather than standing apart to actually question and challenge them. Open wide, say ahh, and swallow Sylvia.
    “A Poetics of Hiroshima” by William Heyen jabbers on and on, while Paul Muldoon’s “Hare at Aldegrove” begins with a hare standing up on its hind legs, moves on to Marilyn Monroe, and jabbers on and on. David Moolten’s “Cinderella” jabbers: “And this stepsister of sorts, maybe she doesn’t appear/ Cruel or ugly, doesn’t even know when she waltzes/ about her kitchen to Strauss on the radio”.
    What is in the skulls of these queerish bourgeois poets? They are really destroying poetry in America. Far too much comfort has rendered them flaccid wordsmithies, as opposed to strong, individual combatants. Why would a man wish to write a poem around Cinderella? That surely must be the very crux of the problem why poetry has ceased to matter at all with the exception to the flaccid wordsmithies occupying wainscoted university offices.
    Ted Kooser, another state poet, writes about a “Zinc Lid” of a discarded Mason jar: “But its cucumber summers, dill and brine, are over”. Oh, my! In “Epithalamium,” Bob Hicok rambles on in good wordsmithery right up and through the final vow: “The marriage/ of light: particle to wave. Do you take? I do.”
    At least two of the poems in this anthology mention Emily Dickenson: Alison Townsend’s “The Favorite” (about her favorite writing student) and Bruce Smith’s “Devotion: Fly.” The latter is not about a zipper, but rather about “Fly buzzes in the blown-open pages of the tiny novellas, everyone carries like scattered dreams...” Indeed, most of these “best” poets are writing in and about some dream world as in “this dream the world is having about itself” (William Stafford), quoted by Carolyn Wright in her poem “This Dream the World Is Having about Itself.” “That summer in our late teens/ we walked all evening through town—let’s say Cheyenne—,” notes Wright. Kary Wayson in “I Turn My Silence over” contemplates “O underbite!/ With your mailbox of a jaw/ O nothing when I ask what’s wrong.” One would like to give Wayson a large overbite in the rump! “Let’s ask the throat what the mouth wants tonight,” she continues. Wow! The “best”? It is as if the 232 staff contributors who worked on this anthology went out of their way to choose the most innocuous poetry they could possibly find. Several of Poetry Magazine’s nominations are, of course, amongst the “best,” including David Yezzi’s “The Good News,” which, unsurprisingly rambles on: “A friend calls, so I ask him to stop by./ We sip old Scotch, the good stuff, order in/ some Indian—no frills, too fine for him/ or me, particularly since it’s been/ ages since we made the time.”
    Joel Brouwer jabbers on about Crazy Horse in “For What the Hell They Needed It for.” Fleda Brown’s “The Kayak and the Eiffel Tower” begins with “The white sheet I remember, flashing across/ the bed, and I was watching my mother and the crying/ and the bed disappeared and all was white” and on and on in dreamitude. At least Jill McDonough’s poem, “Accident, Mass. Ave.” takes us into the real world of (oh, my!) anger and vulgarity: “Look at this fucking dent! I’m not paying for this/ shit I’m calling the cops lady [...].” But immediate material damage to ones possessions is as far as anger and indignation go in the “best.”
    One might wish to give to the “best” poets the advice that they try beginning a poem with a good hook sentence. “The Homing Device Comprehended at Last” by Liz Waldner illustrates the opposite: “When my god leaves me—/ She doesn’t leave you/ When I don’t know she’s there, then/ and now?/ She’s here,/ and now?” Why is “best” poetry seemingly rarely if ever straightforward poetry? Henderson clearly presents political criticism in his introduction. Why is his “best” poetry void of political criticism, even criticism he favors a la rah-rah Obama? Well, one of the poems, “Beautiful Country” by Robert Wrigley does present such a view, though after a long flurry of army/drug ramble. Still, his view was positivist.
    Another piece of advice would of course be to limit the rambling, which Marie Howe seems to exemplify in her poem, “Why the Novel Is Necessary but Sometimes Hard to Read.” Yikes! Do we really need a poem about that? Another piece of advice might be for poets to stand up, fight a little bit, risk angering someone with truth telling, and wrench the cap-and-gown ostrich head out of the sand even if only once in a while. Christ, America is far from perfect. The academic/literary milieu is far from perfect. Yet, here we have Rita Dove, another state poet and proud Pushcart nominee, writing about the frost of 1814 in “1814: The Last Frost Fair.”
    One might conclude from reading these poems (and in fact to no surprise at all) that the poets “honored” by Pushcart are comfy, well-educated, well-versed in good manners and polite formalities, and of course far, far from the edge of conflict with power. Indeed, quite contrary to Hemingway’s’ insightful thought (see quote above), these writers are not forged by injustice at all, but rather by tea-and-crumpet discussions at four in the afternoon in some college or university. The writing is too smooth, silky clean and absolutely aseptic. WARNING TO STUDENTS: READING PUSHCART POEMS MAY EUNUCH-IZE YOU!
    The evident absence in this anthology of clash with power, struggle, and battle really pains me. If these poems represent the cutting edge in literature, they still wouldn’t be able to cut a stick of soft margarine. Some of them are written by poets who seem to relish in dainty weeping, yet somehow cold-hearted and incapable of actually weeping. If the poems in this collection are going to go down in history—indeed, “best” makes that suggestion—then in the not so distant future, only academics in little cocoon offices will be reading them.
    “To read poems for the Pushcart anthology is to discover how strong and vital the poetry scene in this country really is,” notes Henderson in his introduction. “Poetry in the United States seems in a vigorous state,” notes Rosanna Warren, tenured-BU professor and one of the anthology’s two poetry editors. Yet, if the poems in this anthology are truly representative of the “best,” then one would have to conclude the contrary. The themes of the poems in this anthology, with the exception of the poem about the car accident and the one on drugs in the army, can be summed up as coffin-like. What is sad of course is that many if not most of the poets in this anthology are teaching college students to write with plenty of fluff and as little substance as possible and always about the past, the distant, and the safe. Now, would there be any point at all in The American Dissident nominating this essay for next year’s Pushcart anthology? Silence!

    *The term bourgeois was always a pejorative one in the Sixties. Since so many who used the term pejoratively back then now have become bourgeois, the term has gone out of fashion. But The New York Times isn’t afraid to use it, though with a more or less positive connotation (“On Location: Above Paris and Bourgeois Cares,” 1/15/10), so why should I should I be? For me, bourgeois is more a mindset—a suburbanitic comfort zone—than money in the bank. For me, it implies forming an integral part of power no matter how small or local, as opposed to questioning and challenging power.


Matt Rosen

    Creep woke up to the sound of an earsplitting shriek. He picked himself up off the floor and faced the source of the cry, an obese, unsightly woman. She screamed again.
    “What the hell is going on?” Creep said, as he rubbed his eyes. His head felt groggy and his body ached. He looked down and saw two more bodies lying on the floor, assumingly asleep.
    The obese woman screamed again.
    “Why are you screaming?” Creep said. But the fat woman continued to squeal. Creep smacked the woman in the face. “Get a hold of yourself.”
    The fat woman shut her mouth. Tears flowed down her chubby face.
    “What are we doing here?” she said.
    Creep examined the room. Nothing but a toilet, a large door with no knob, a speaker on the ceiling, and an odd metal slot on one of the walls.
    “What’s going on?” another voice said.
    Creep looked down and saw one of the men on the floor had woken up.
    “I don’t know. I just woke up, this woman was screaming,” Creep said.
    “My name is Kim,” she interrupted.
    The man on the floor stood up. “Well do you mind telling me what we’re doing here, Kim?” he said.
    “Don’t get snotty with me,” Kim said.
    “What the hell are you talking about?” the man replied. He turned to face Creep. “What’s your name?”
    “Creep,” Creep said.
    “Peculiar name,” the man said.
    “So they say,” Creep replied.
    “I’m Jomes,” Jomes said.
    “What about me?” Kim said.
    “You should just keep quiet for now,” Creep said.
    Kim folded her arms and sat down. “Rude, rude, rude,” she muttered.
    Creep and Jomes made their way to the door and examined it.
    “Should we wake up sleepyhead?” Jomes asked, pointing at the man lying unconscious on the floor.
    “I suppose so,” Creep said.

    Days had past. Creep, Jomes, Kim and sleepyhead, whom they now knew as Kenny, sat against the walls in the empty room.
    “I’m hungry,” Kim said, “I could use a bourbon.”
    “Bourbon isn’t food,” Jomes said.
    “I know that. Don’t be such a jerk.” Kim said.
    “Whoever brought us here better say something soon,” Creep said, “nothing is worse than silence.”
    “I’m sure our host will turn up soon enough,” Kenny said.
    Out of the foursome, Kenny had remained strangely calm. He seemed giddy at times. The others chalked it up to the stress of being kidnapped, which had surely taken its toll on all of them. Creep’s tolerance for stupidity was low. Jomes’s carefree attitude was starting to slip. Kim was getting more and more annoying by the minute. But something was different about Kenny, and Creep sensed it.
    Creep had always been a sharp-eyed fellow, able to see things that remained hidden to others. Creep noticed Kenny’s right had was in a fist, and had been even before he woke up on the floor.
    There was no solitude in this room. No private conversations. Creep had formed a plan, but was unsure if he could execute it without backup from Jomes. Despite his concern on the matter, Creep had grown tired of waiting.
    “I was wondering if I could ask you something, Kenny,” Creep said, as he stood up and made his way to the door.
    “Sure thing,” Kenny replied.
    “What’s in your hand?” Creep said.
    Kenny let out a wicked and unsettling snicker. Creep was now sure of it, Kenny had put them in the room, and then he had posed as one of them.
    “I don’t get it,” Jomes said.
    “I don’t get it either,” Kim said.
    “Shut your face, Kim,” Creep said.
    “Excuse me, but you didn’t tell Jomes to shut his face and he said it too,” Kim said.
    “That’s because Jomes isn’t an annoying pig like you. So shut your face and shut it now,” Creep said, “Jomes, come stand next to me.”
    Jomes stood up and walked to Creep. They stood in front of the door.
    “Excuse me, but what is going on here?” Kim said.
    “Kenny is an impostor. He brought us here, or at least is in cahoots with the people who did,” Creep said.
    “How do you know?” Jomes said.
    “I just do. He has something in his right hand, too. I don’t know if it’s a key or a weapon, but I do know I’ll feel a lot better if we’re the ones holding it.”
    “Well done,” Kenny said, “well done.”
    “Give it up or kill me now,” Creep said.
    “I’m not going to kill you,” Kenny said, as he opened his hand to reveal a small remote. He pressed a button and gas flooded the room. “But you will.”
    Creep, Jomes and Kim fell to the floor, down for the count. Kenny smiled.

    Creep woke up to a harsh scream. “Damn it, Kim.” he said, with his eyes still closed.
    “It wasn’t me,” Kim said.
    “Sorry dude, it was me,” Jomes said, “I wanted to wake you up.”
    “So you screamed like a girl?” Kim said.
    “Let it go, Kim,” Creep said.
    “Excuse me, but you always give me a hard time when I scream,” Kim said.
    “That was one time. Shut your face and sit down.”
    Kim crossed her arms and sat down.
    “What happened?” Jomes asked.
    “He gassed us. The rotten bastard gassed us,” Creep said.
    “I certainly did,” Kenny said through the speaker on the ceiling, “I didn’t want to do it so soon, you know. I wanted to get to know you first, without you knowing who I was.”
    “And who are you?” Creep asked.
    “I’m your kidnapper, of course,” Kenny said, “I brought you here to do something for me. And you’re going to do it. You know how I know?”
    “How?” Jomes asked.
    “Because everyone does it,” Kenny said.
    “I’m telling you right now I’d rather kill myself than have sex with Kim or Jomes, no offence Jomes.”
    “None taken, buddy,” Jomes said.
    “Then why don’t you do just that?” Kenny said.
    “What?” Creep asked.
    “Kill yourself.”

    Months had past. Creep, Jomes and Kim were officially roommates. Once a day the slot in the wall opened up and food came out. Every now and then Kenny would get on the speaker and criticize them, or bore them with mundane stories from his day.
    Kenny had been serious when he told Creep to kill himself. That is all Kenny lived for, the death of others. But he didn’t think of himself as a murderer. He never pulled a trigger, or plunged a dagger into someone’s flesh; he simply kept people in a room, locked up and well fed, and waited for them to kill themselves out of boredom or desperation. They always did. Usually it took years, sometimes far less.
    “This guy is insane, Jomes. We’re dealing with an insane person,” Creep said.
    “Does he really expect us to commit suicide?” Jomes asked.
    “He seems sincere about it,” Creep said.
    “How long do you think you can last?” Jomes said.
    “Before I go insane?” Creep asked.
    “Before you kill yourself,” Jomes said.
    “Never,” Creep said, “I’ll never kill myself.”
    “I wish I could say the same. I don’t think we’ve been here more than a year, and I’m already starting to crack,” Jomes said.
    “Nonsense. Retreat into the bountiful world of your mind, Jomes. This heathen can’t reach us there. He is far from a Freddy Krueger. We’ll find a way out of this. Mark my words.”

    Four years had passed, and while they had no way of telling time, the three prisoners knew it had been at least a couple years.
    Creep lay against a wall. He had a considerable beard. Jomes sat against another wall; he too sported a sizeable beard. Kim, also bearded, was standing in front of the door, staring at it intensely.
    “Her cheese has been thoroughly creamed,” Jomes said.
    “She was crazy from the beginning,” Creep said.
    “What do you think she’s doing?” Jomes said.
    “Hell if I know,” Creep responded, “I’m just glad she doesn’t talk anymore.”
    Kim had been standing at the door for several days now. She hadn’t spoken in months, and she no longer slept or ate.
    She broke her gaze with the door and slowly turned to face Creep. She presented a stale, crazy smile. Creep shuddered.
    Kim turned and faced the door again and without notice began savagely pounding her head into the door. Creep and Jomes watched in shock as Kim’s lifeless body fell to the floor. Her head was caved in and the door was red, soaked with her blood.

    Several months after Kim took her own life, Creep and Jomes sat together enjoying delicious eggs.
    “I’ll tell you what,” Jomes began, “This guy may be a crazy kidnapping whack job, but he sure knows how to cook.”
    Creep kept his mouth shut. Though the food was always wonderful, Creep didn’t intend on complimenting the chef.
    Jomes shoveled the food into his mouth. “So good,” he said as he chewed.
    Creep stopped eating. He watched Jomes’s beard, which was full of eggs from days past.
    “This is some life,” Creep said.
    Jomes muttered something, but Creep ignored it. He lay down and closed his eyes. Jomes started making weird noises. Creep opened his eyes and saw Jomes, on his knees, choking. Creep grabbed Jomes and tried to aid him.
    “I don’t know what to do,” Creep said, “I don’t know how to do it.” Creep squeezed Jomes’s stomach again and again, and then Jomes went unconscious.
    Gas flooded the room. Creep fell to the floor.

    When Creep came to, he was still in the room, and Jomes was lying in front of him, breathing, alive. “Are you okay?” Creep asked.
    “I think so,” Jomes said, “what happened?”
    “I saved your life is what happened,” Kenny said.
    “What? Why?” Jomes asked.
    “I couldn’t just let you die, could I? Choking isn’t a suicide, after all,” Kenny said.
    “You’re sick,” Creep said, “you’re a lunatic.”
    “That isn’t a nice way to treat the man who saved your only friend,” Kenny said.
    “You only saved him so you could watch him kill himself another day,” Creep said.
    “Semantics,” Kenny said.

    Two decades had passed. Creep jogged in a circle around the room. His beard, much longer now, was thrown back over his shoulder.
    Jomes sat in the center of the room, a plate of eggs in front of him.
    “Why aren’t you eating?” Creep asked.
    “Not hungry.”
    “Come on now, you got to eat.”
    “Not hungry,” Jomes repeated.
    “Suit yourself,” Creep said. He was worried about his friend. Jomes didn’t talk much these days. He hadn’t been eating much either. Creep knew Jomes was severely depressed, but he did everything in his power to make Jomes more comfortable. Even so, Jomes was a changed man.
    “You don’t exercise, you don’t eat, and you hardly talk,” Creep said, “I’m just worried about you, man.”
    Jomes looked at Creep and gave him a stale smile. Creep shuddered. Suddenly Jomes grabbed a fork and began plunging it into his neck again and again.
    Creep ran to Jomes, grabbing the fork and throwing it across the room. Jomes fell to the ground, bleeding profusely. Creep covered Jomes’s wounds with his hands and applied pressure, but it was too late, Jomes was dead.

    “I never thought you’d last this long,” Kenny said through the speaker, “you and Jomes reaching over two decades was impressive enough, but you have almost gone four decades now, Creep, and you’re going strong.”
    “Have you forgotten?” Creep said, “I told you I wasn’t going to kill myself. That isn’t going to change. If I die it will be at your hands, not mine.” Creep lay against the wall. His long beard was now grey. His clothes were tattered and worn.
    “We shall see,” Kenny said, “we shall see.”

    Creep woke up to an unforgiving shriek, or so he thought. He stared at the empty room. It had been several weeks, and still no sign of Kenny. Creep sat against the wall, dehydrated and starving. He wondered where Kenny was. Kenny would never deliberately go without feeding him, he certainly never had before, it wasn’t his style.
    He was dead, Creep realized. Kenny was dead. And now without a source of food, Creep began to laugh, tears running down his face.
    “I told you I wouldn’t kill myself,” he said, “my death is on your hands, Kenny, your dead, rotting hands.” Creep smiled and closed his eyes.
    “You failed,” Creep said, “I win.”

The Temperamental Tempest

A. C. Lippert

    Helen sat on the couch near the sliding glass door that opened out to the deck. The air was thick with humidity and thunder occasionally boomed in the distance. The storm was steadily creeping across the bay towards the family cottage in Traverse City, Michigan. Water crashed into the rocky shore in the form of heavy waves beneath the house. Helen sat with a book balanced between her hand and her knee while her mind dove deep into the wonderments of the text. Half of the sliding glass door was pulled back and only a thin sheet of screen separated the wilderness from the furnished. Helen could hear the hearty rush of water every time it attacked the shore. She felt gusts of dense breeze as it hastily filtered through the sturdy mesh of the door every time the wind blew.
    The approaching storm was forcibly coaxed across the bay by the weighted wind. Its clouds grew darker and fiercer as Helen read more and more of her book. The young woman sat with her heel posted on the seat of the chair. Her knee poked up into the humid air and it looked as if she was prepared to pop the angry clouds when they passed. Her short Capri pants allowed the wind to tickle Helen’s leg whenever it felt the urge. The story in the book was becoming quite elaborate and the further she read, the more information about the true nature of her entertainment was unveiled. Her mind had become so dissolved in the book that Helen felt as if she had been immersed in an unknown sea. She had been submerged into murky waters. She had become lost in the waters and struggled to determine the true direction of the distant surface.
    The gusts of wind were progressively becoming stronger. Helen could feel the increased weight of the wind on the smooth skin of her leg. She unknowingly wore a sour, pouty expression on her lips. The storm was near, and the Sun’s light was completely blotted out by opaque, bulky clouds. A tall lamp peeked over Helen’s shoulder and provided all the light that she needed to read. The book that Helen held in her hand continued to pamper her imagination with the teachings of the text until the storm swiftly arrived.
    Rain began to fall from the gloomy clouds overhead. Droplets sprinkled onto the bay outside, splashed into the water, and then quickly dissipated as they blended with the rest of the body. The intensity of the wind picked up immensely. It forced several drops of rain to sift through the door’s screen until they splattered onto the floor of cherry. Soon the rain fell so thick that one could see only twenty feet outside of the window until they became blind. A few cars crashed that night due to the rain and one drove off the road into the bay. Lightning violently flickered its tongue and then thunder roared loudly.
    Layers of wind harshly smacked the windows and sides of the family cottage. Helen continued to read and scarcely noticed the effects of the storm. The storm outside mirrored her mood and the teachings of her tale. Her mind faded away from the book’s contents only long enough to hear the howl of the wind. Then, she dove back into the depths. Rain sadistically pelted the windows and flooded the wooden deck outside. Blustery weather pressed its heavy hand on the window behind Helen until it shattered. It was as if God touched a gentle finger to that window and pressed intensely. Fragments of fractured glass scattered throughout the interior of the house on the bay.
    Rain poured through the gaping hole in the wall. Pools of water started to gather on the wooden floor in neat puddles. The dreadful storm continued until Helen’s mood passed. When she released the tension on her lips, she placed the book down on a spot of dry floor beside her chair, and stood up. The girl looked around in bewilderment and genuine awe. ‘How could a little thunderstorm have caused so much damage?’ She thought. Then, Helen sat back down and waited for her husband to come home, so he could clean up the muddle that she had undoubtedly created.


Jon Brunette

    “We should play fireball.”
    When the boy spoke, his words poured waves of relief off Mark’s hot sweaty body, especially after three hours. The friend said, “Why don’t we play fireball?” After several hours on the field, boredom held Mark as powerfully as his girlfriend always would. Without her to excite, he could just impress his buddy. And his friend hoped to show machismo in a new sport. Mark wanted to keep his friends, as anyone would. To do so, he would act brutal to weaker classmates, bloody their noses and blacken their eyes, to look manly to his buddy and sexual to the hot chicks. Usually, it worked.
    Mark agreed; they should break the monotony. “Only our sticks will touch the ball, I suppose? It couldn’t harm us, could it?” Wiping perspiration off his forehead, he smiled. Any activity besides the hockey would relax him; he didn’t want to quit, he just couldn’t play hockey anymore. A lot of people hunger for new challenges. With a certain amount of jeopardy, activity pumps the blood, quickens the heart; it becomes flying down the highway at ninety-miles-per-hour.
    His friend said, “We’ll play fireball before anyone in our school will.” Mark shook his head inquisitively. “We have sticks—they’ll keep fire off our clothes. I wouldn’t lie to my friends. Why should I lie? Besides, I’d burn as quickly as you. Seriously, can you play hockey or what? Well, prove your skills, boy!”
    Grinning, Mark chased the ball. With it in his hands, the boy brought the yellow ball to their truck. He handed the object to his friend. Reluctantly, Mark nodded. “Okay, we’ll play fireball—just don’t burn my clothes.”
    With light in his eyes, the friend dipped the ball in the can. Mark dropped his Zippo on the fuzz. After the ball burst into flame, Mark lit his black cigar. They batted the ball like professionals. While they did, the ball blasted fiery lines in the brush until the weeds glowed brilliantly. They touched the ball between sticks jammed into mud. Slapping the fireball, Mark laughed; an unholy trooper just off the battlefield to fight the Devil would envy his laughter. As loudly, his friend laughed.
    When the ball batted back to Mark, he whipped it around his body, between his feet, and finally, through the poles. As professionals would with a major trophy, he lifted his stick. A warm sensation touched his shoes. With a puff of smoke, the ball had bounced off the shrubbery. Quickly, it dribbled behind Mark, just a blur like a really big firefly. As it jumped, the object lifted Mark’s jeans by his ankle. As though his body oozed lighter fluid, the ball brought flames into his face. Climbing his clothes, the inferno burned his eyes as painfully as his thick cigar would.
    His flesh burned to the material around his body. Below those clothes, his skin melted like cheese in the middle of a sandwich; it caused him to leap as wildly as naked beachcombers do on hot sand. Mark jumped quicker and quicker, until he looked through a thick haze that engulfed his body. Painfully, the fire wrapped around him like heavy wool blankets; they burned like bubbly liquid that wouldn’t shake off. Carried on the breeze, a smell as thick as tar put bile in the windpipe of his friend. He could barely speak to his phone. Before the ambulance blared, Mark stopped any and all movement; he lay stiffly, with his flesh black and flaky.
    Death brought respect that few achieve. Everyone who’d lived with Mark bowed at his funeral. When the principal planted a tree in his honor, those who could recall their noses broken recalled when real authority had fractured their skulls verbally and he would help them to rebel. With a black cap on his shaggy head, one student spoke for everyone: “I wish for Mark to live eternally somewhere happier than our community.”

Airport Music

Andrew Jefchak

At the airport in Charlotte a young woman,
Looking like a Charlotte in purple tee,
Sat down with a feathery smile and vague lips.
January sun streaked across the aisle,
Over the piano at which she sat impervious,
Unfazed by beeping express carts
Hauling the old and slow, who squint uncertainly
Toward farther gates.
She improvised a tune to suit an afternoon’s rest
Or thoughtful leisure. A stout man in a straw hat
Lingered behind her, his face a mess of misunderstanding
As the purple-clad girl invented notes, tinkling
Under recorded warnings about strange baggage.
Her rhythms cut through caution, her deeper tones
Paralelled the voice that echoed Trust No One.
And she played on, improvising a rhapsody,
Marvelling at the very idea of a piano at an airport:
A mistake superb as hummingbirds in snow.

what is veganism?

A vegan (VEE-gun) is someone who does not consume any animal products. While vegetarians avoid flesh foods, vegans don’t consume dairy or egg products, as well as animal products in clothing and other sources.

why veganism?

This cruelty-free lifestyle provides many benefits, to animals, the environment and to ourselves. The meat and dairy industry abuses billions of animals. Animal agriculture takes an enormous toll on the land. Consumtion of animal products has been linked to heart disease, colon and breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and a host of other conditions.

so what is vegan action?

We can succeed in shifting agriculture away from factory farming, saving millions, or even billions of chickens, cows, pigs, sheep turkeys and other animals from cruelty.

We can free up land to restore to wilderness, pollute less water and air, reduce topsoil reosion, and prevent desertification.

We can improve the health and happiness of millions by preventing numerous occurrences od breast and prostate cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks, among other major health problems.

A vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle may be the most important step a person can take towards creatin a more just and compassionate society. Contact us for membership information, t-shirt sales or donations.

vegan action

po box 4353, berkeley, ca 94707-0353


MIT Vegetarian Support Group (VSG)


* To show the MIT Food Service that there is a large community of vegetarians at MIT (and other health-conscious people) whom they are alienating with current menus, and to give positive suggestions for change.

* To exchange recipes and names of Boston area veg restaurants

* To provide a resource to people seeking communal vegetarian cooking

* To provide an option for vegetarian freshmen

We also have a discussion group for all issues related to vegetarianism, which currently has about 150 members, many of whom are outside the Boston area. The group is focusing more toward outreach and evolving from what it has been in years past. We welcome new members, as well as the opportunity to inform people about the benefits of vegetarianism, to our health, the environment, animal welfare, and a variety of other issues.

The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology

The Solar Energy Research & Education Foundation (SEREF), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., established on Earth Day 1993 the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST) as its central project. CREST’s three principal projects are to provide:

* on-site training and education workshops on the sustainable development interconnections of energy, economics and environment;

* on-line distance learning/training resources on CREST’s SOLSTICE computer, available from 144 countries through email and the Internet;

* on-disc training and educational resources through the use of interactive multimedia applications on CD-ROM computer discs - showcasing current achievements and future opportunities in sustainable energy development.

The CREST staff also does “on the road” presentations, demonstrations, and workshops showcasing its activities and available resources.

For More Information Please Contact: Deborah Anderson

dja@crest.org or (202) 289-0061

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