Down in the Dirt

welcome to volume 95 (June 2011) of

Down in the Dirt

down in the dirt
internet issn 1554-9666
(for the print issn 1554-9623)

Janet K., Editor - click on down in the dirt


In This Issue...

Fritz Hamilton
Richard Shelton
Micah Thorstenson
Alicia Parks
Mel Waldman
Clinton Van Inman
Kelley Jean White MD
Christopher Hanson
Emma Eden Ramos
Nicholas Conley
Victor Phan
Roger Cowin
Denny E. Marshall
John Rachel
Robert Levin
Christina Bejjani
Karen Delasala
Tom Ball
Justis Mills
Peter LaBerge
Malachi King
Ally Malinenko
Mark Chrisinger
Harold W Eppley
Kim Farleigh

ISSN Down in the Dirt Internet

Note that any artwork that appears in Down in the Dirt will appear in black and white in the print edition of Down in the Dirt magazine.

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“See the World Burn”:
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I see the world burn

Fritz Hamilton

I see the world burn with
black fire & black smoke incinerating
all eyeballs & bellybuttons &

shiveling dead brains into tiny black
balls/ God comes down with his hallowed
tomato sauce & long thin worms for

linguini & has a dinner of screaming
souls who find this torture meal a strange
Heaven/ God finishes his repast, pleased

that his failed creation has passed, &
there’s nothing left for Him to do but
get sloppy seconds from the Devil, who

with stupid man in his game of torture &
death & totally ignorant of what’s happening,
incinerates all souls from the lovers to the

innumerable assholes, until only Job is left
on his pile of ashes & tickling his
syphiletic sores while with justice cursing

the sadistic God before being buried with the
rest of us beneath the sod/ injustice always
prevails as the rest of us scream from all

that ails/ how touching to know that
everything fails, & all our misery &
suffering comes to naught/ certainly

not what we’re taught, but
in the devil’s net we’re caught, &
as we writhe our last,




My roaches have turned to Nazis

Fritz Hamilton

My roaches have turned to Nazis/ they’ve
hanged Bonhoeffer all over the
ceiling/ his rotten feet tickle my invasive

nose/ they’re goosestepping all over my room, &
beneath their heels are thousands of crushed
geese, leaving nothing for Tiny Tim to eat/ they

make tons of motzaball soup out of the Jews &
feed it to the Bonhoeffers, who are real swingers/
Hitler harangues them for trying to assassinate

him, causing a furer over the fuhrer & making them
fire the ovens on a hot time in the old town
tonight, & ashes pollute the air/ they take pails of

burning ingots to Chicago State Mental Hospital to
incinerate the patients/ they eat the redhot
brains in psychotic babbles bubbling in

the pots, not knowing the beatitudes from the begots &
preaching in mad polyglots - uzbek, piglatin, sanscrit,
dogballs, catshit/ patients painting their

wisdom with feces on the walls/ Jesoo
taking it all in from above, taking soma &
drinking victory gin with his besotted Daddy/ hiding

in the bushes to eat berries with the birds &
sausages of dogturds/ I say no more with
murdered words/ Peter “sprinkling of

the blood of” Jesoo & drowning the worms, an
epistle of his pizzle with which he pisses “a lively
hope by the resurretion of” Jesoo from the

dead, as Peter’s peter drowns the worms, &
the keys to the kingdom & the
power to fuck us all ...



Richard Shelton

I have searched for truth
And found only poverty.
I have searched my soul
And found empty plates.
I have beckoned reality
And found only hunger.
I have sought life
And found a void,
Deeper than my reach
Vast beyond my mind,
All encompassing.

John Yotko reading the Richard Shelton poem
in the ISBN# book See the World Burn
and read from the 06/11 issue, v095, of Down in the Dirt

video Watch the YouTube video
not yet rated Live 06/21/11 at the Café in Chicago (in the ISBN# book See the World Burn and in Down in the Dirt mag v095, the 06/11 issue)

Amongst the Old

Micah Thorstenson

Alone and hungry
I found
In my empty fridge
Expired biscuits
And I dressed them
With four month old butter
And how delicious
They were
Is old and terminated
But carefully preserved
Meticulously conditioned
For existance
It seems this world is awaiting
The grand finale
Or the great punch line
That never connects
And I realize
My greatest line
Is yet to be
So I conditionally wait
Alone and less hungry
For my five minutes of fame
With the great clock ticking
The great lines
Running in circles
And I sit and calculate
For the late precision
Of discovery
To find
Me too

David’s Scrapbook

Alicia Parks

    David Birnbaum’s most valued possession, the only thing other than his laptop that he would run into a burning building for, was a scrapbook: big enough to paste an entire sheet of paper to, almost two inches thick, bound in red cloth. He had spent hours the year he was fourteen assembling the thing, and he still liked to flip through it every few months.
    The red cloth had been a random choice at the time. He had wanted something less formal than black leather – which was the only other thing on the shelf at the time – but he had come to like it. He’d developed the habit of running the fingers of his right hand up and down the slightly textured edge of the back binding, to the point that in many places the underlying cardboard was now exposed.
    On the first page of the scrapbook, rotated ninety degrees and filling the entire page, was a semi-posed shot of eight teenage boys and young men in yarmulkes, all laughing and poking each other. The next page, now right side up, held eight pictures of twelve-ish year old boys, of the sort that are taken at school. If someone were to study these pictures for a moment, they would determine that they were the same boys as in the previous picture. When David studied them he fancied that he could see a shadow in each one’s eyes, but he knew that might have been his imagination.
    On the next page was a 8x10 police mug shot, identifiable as such only by a plaque of numbers along the bottom margin and otherwise entirely obscured by layer upon layer of heavy black marker. David had started out marking out only the eyes, and then a few weeks later the name and mouth, and then the face, and then the hair and body. He had even, just because covering him with marker was so satisfying, done the background, but had always – with effort – resisted blacking out the serial number. He liked having him reduced to numbers. When he needed to black something out he just went over and over again where he knew the face had once been.
    The next page was the first real writing. David had had to haggle pretty extensively to get this piece of paper. It was the only piece of paper in the whole process that had had all eight names on it, and he wanted it in black and white. It was a list of witnesses for a sentencing hearing for someone whose name had been marked out with the same heavy black marker. The powers-that-be had kept the younger kids out of the trial itself, but all of them had banded together and insisted that all eight testify at the sentencing. They were listed in order of age, top to bottom: Eliot Davidovitch, Nathaniel Pearlman, Yoshua Levine, Yosef Abrahmsohn, Daniel Blumstein, Simcha Horowitz, David Birnbaum, Asher Skolnik.
    The next page was a newspaper clipping stuck to the page with fancy archival tape (which had cost a shocking amount of money), with proper documentation of the date and page, from the Boston Globe. The story had gotten more press than it likely would have had it happened elsewhere, things being what they were. The headline read: “Local Synagogue Finds Pedophile in Bar Mitzvah Program.”
     The story explained that the synagogue had had the in theory lovely practice of supplementing their formal bar mitzvah prep program with one-on-one mentoring from an adult man in the congregation, but had recently discovered that in practice it didn’t work out equally well for all the boys. The article included extensive quotes from the Rabbis about how grieved they were at the situation and that they were doing what they could to support the boys and make sure it never happened again, and to please respect the boys’ privacy.
    The name of the perpetrator was also blacked out here. This was not in any deference to the privacy of the accused. On the contrary. A few months after the story broke the eight of them had agreed that they would no longer say nor suffer to hear the name of their perpetrator, and almost everyone in the synagogue had complied. Some followed the boys’ lead and called him “Creep,” but most made do with “you-know-who.” The only people who still referred to him by his name, causing everyone in hearing range to flinch, were his parents. His wife and his children – who had been younger than his taste, thank goodness – had moved to California, where Davorah Weintraub (now Epstein) had demanded that her new synagogue initiate a vigorous “good-touch-bad-touch-you-can-come-to-me-with-anything” program such as David’s had installed less than a month after the story broke.
    But of course inevitably gossip that juicy is hard to be respectful about, and the identities of the boys Creep had worked with was a matter of public record. For the first two days after the initial newspaper story the five boys not yet at college were continually stopped in the halls and on the sidewalk and on their yards and asked if it was true and what it had been like and why they hadn’t told and if they hadn’t told obviously they must have liked it. Also thus interrogated were the victim’s brothers and sisters, including some elementary kids, not to mention Creep’s kids themselves. The phones were ringing off the hook at all nine families’ houses and the houses of Creep’s neighbors, some of whom had seen the police cars at his house, plus just the general roar of gossip among those with no connection to the case.
    The several pages after the newspaper stories, therefore, were strongly worded emails from the Rabbi (with lots of capital letters), one to all the families in the congregation, and another for all the teachers in the congregation’s day school to read to their classes. The emails had almost stopped the direct interrogations and reduced the background roar to a manageable level, although there were more such emails scattered throughout the next several months of the scrapbook.
    They’d actually been really nice about it. The Rabbis. No hint that they’d thought even for a millisecond of covering the thing up like Catholics are wont to do. No whisper that the boys had been breaking the Law by ‘lying’ with a man. They’d even paid for therapy for all of them, including group therapy, which is where they’d become so tight – the older boys pulling each other through and then reaching back to grab the younger ones.
    Next was a rather long Globe interview, dated four days after the first one, of Nathaniel, who had been the one to break the story. He had gone off to college and established that the “once you’re tired enough you can sleep anywhere” theory does not apply to sex abuse survivors who freak out when they find themselves alone with another man. He’d limped along for over a week napping while his roommate was in class and sleeping in the dormitory lounge before finally giving in and showing his shame to the woman at student housing. She had granted him the single on the condition that he get counseling, and the counselor had bullied him into reporting by pointing out that “these men don’t strike once.” The article ended with Nathaniel pleading to all the sex abuse survivors in the reading public to report, for the sake of the children.
    Going forward from there were more newspaper articles, into which the word “rape” gradually crept, and then a rising number of legal documents, all larded with more emails and newsletters from the Rabbis: giving updates on the case, telling people how to respond, announcing the new sex abuse prevention program. In each of these documents, the name was crossed out. It had been work. Even a year later, David was still finding occurrences of the name and searching frantically for his marker.
    The legal documents reached a creshendo nine months after the first newspaper article. He had been given twenty two years, which would pop him out of the system at fifty one. The DA insisted that that was as good as could be hoped for, but there were some low days imagining all the havoc he could wreck with other boys’ lives, and how to manage to follow him around for the remaining thirty years of his life to make sure he never got access to any other kids.
    The last page contained only a five inch Boston Globe obituary – name crossed out, documented by date and page – dated almost four years after the first newspaper article: “Bar Mitzvah Pedophile Found Dead in Cell.” Creep had been requesting frequent HIV tests in prison and had hanged himself three days after he finally popped up positive, according to the woman sergeant who came to tell them he had died. Completely off the record, of course. She said she didn’t know whether the sex had been consensual or not, but they knew.
    A month after the sentencing Eliot had gone to the prison and asked to meet with Creep, to make sure he was getting the treatment that they’d been assured child abusers get. Sure enough, both in jail awaiting trial and in prison after sentencing, he’d been gang raped by eight men his first day in. Creep had whined that they kept doing it, as if he thought Eliot had come to stop it. They had felt only slightly guiltily at the great pleasure this news gave them.
    But when the news came that he had hanged himself, they didn’t bother with guilt, they just bought champagne, lots of champagne, and drank it together until they could no longer stand. Even Asher, who was only seventeen.


Mel Waldman

    Scream. I scream silently into the swirling, whirling night as I stroll across the Coney Island Boardwalk at midnight. A full moon hovers over the ocean and the pier and all of Brooklyn on this eerie night.
    Two strangers pass me as I saunter to the pier. I shriek. But they don’t seem to hear my ululations. I howl. I wail and the bloody waves rush and roar and spill their violence onto the beach and against the pier and the jetty.
    Two strangers pass me in the darkness. I howl. Yet they keep moving away, far away, their footsteps becoming weaker and then inaudible. Why don’t they acknowledge me? Am I a ghost? Or are they afraid of me-a stranger too-crying out in the night, shrieking an endless scream? Why?
    Above, the surreal sky absorbs my anguish, my voiceless rage sucked into a merciless vortex and suddenly, the Heavens howl. In a dark metamorphosis, the storm begins. The heavy rain and wild winds ravage Brooklyn. They sever trees and power lines and frighten human beasts wandering across the Boardwalk after dark.
    A lonely traveler blinded by the storm, I search for the pier. Battered by the fierce rain, I drift through pitch-black darkness. In the distance, I see a glimmer of light darting and flitting about, dancing in the tempest. I follow the flashes of light. Trudging through the flood and whirling winds, I find the pier. And I wait for the storm to end.
    I wait. Above, a full moon hovers over the pier, illuminating a scintilla of space. I scream silently into the swirling, whirling night. I wait.
    Buried in anguish and despair, and breathless from the ferocious winds and bloody rain, I shriek sounds of loss and lamentation. Invisible, I crave and long for recognition. But no one sees me. Why don’t you see me? Even a blind man can smell my humanity. I’m more than a human beast, much more.
    Trapped inside an endless scream, I believe the storm or my life will end tonight. My mouth wide open and frozen in time and space, I fear that death is near, just around the bend. But I can’t move, can’t run away. I’m paralyzed, suspended between Scylla and Charybdis, and I wait for destiny to find me. Whether I live or die, I’m doomed.
    Slowly, the night disintegrates. And the tempest disappears, rushing off like a wild stallion galloping across meadows to another time and place. Shriveled up into a ball of ice, I close my eyes and wait.
    At dawn, I feel the heat of the sun sitting on my heavy eyes. I try to open them, but they’re shut tight. Even when I command them to open, they disobey. Then an alien spirit speaks to them and miraculously, they open wide. My eyes burn and are on fire, for the powerful light of the sun is unbearable. I turn away from the sun.
    Soon, I forget about the oppressive light and look west, gazing at the ocean and a sunless sky. What I see makes me tremble. The ocean and sky are blood-red. Indeed, the waters and Heavens are bloody, adorned with human or non-human blood. Hypnotized by these bizarre visions, I can’t look away. My frenzied eyes remain fixed on the obscene ocean and sky as mammoth waves of blood flow to shore and sail across the surreal sky.
    Am I dreaming? Can these visions be part of a nightmare? Shall I wake up soon to a sane and predictable universe? My eyes dance around the pier and land on my fragile body. I look down at myself and scream.
    I scream. My body is covered in blood. A ghostly skeleton, it is covered in thick layers of blood. I have no flesh. I believe the beasts ate my flesh. Yes, the cannibalistic storm and eerie darkness devoured my mind and soul and body. Perhaps, I’m mad. But look at me. I’m a blood-red river, nothing more. And I’ve left a trail of blood on the Boardwalk and pier.
    I’m trapped and lost inside an endless scream. I scream, but you can’t hear me. Only I can hear this voiceless shriek, here, inside my private wasteland, where I’m buried alive.


Mel Waldman, Ph. D.

    Dr. Mel Waldman is a licensed New York State psychologist and a candidate in Psychoanalysis at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies (CMPS). He is also a poet, writer, artist, and singer/songwriter. After 9/11, he wrote 4 songs, including “Our Song,” which addresses the tragedy. His stories have appeared in numerous literary reviews and commercial magazines including HAPPY, SWEET ANNIE PRESS, CHILDREN, CHURCHES AND DADDIES and DOWN IN THE DIRT (SCARS PUBLICATIONS), NEW THOUGHT JOURNAL, THE BROOKLYN LITERARY REVIEW, HARDBOILED, HARDBOILED DETECTIVE, DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, ESPIONAGE, and THE SAINT. He is a past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis and was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature. Periodically, he has given poetry and prose readings and has appeared on national T.V. and cable T.V. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, American Mensa, Ltd., and the American Psychological Association. He is currently working on a mystery novel inspired by Freud’s case studies. Who Killed the Heartbreak Kid?, a mystery novel, was published by iUniverse in February 2006. It can be purchased at,, at /, and other online bookstores or through local bookstores. Recently, some of his poems have appeared online in THE JERUSALEM POST. Dark Soul of the Millennium, a collection of plays and poetry, was published by World Audience, Inc. in January 2007. It can be purchased at,, at /, and other online bookstores or through local bookstores. A 7-volume short story collection was published by World Audience, Inc. in June 2007 and can also be purchased online at the above-mentioned sites.

Front Page Girl

Clinton Van Inman

Just a bag of clues is all you are,
Just a bit of bone, a cut of cloth,
Wild dogs took all the rest.
Like some grisly jigsaw pieced upon
A table they now call you Jane.
But I knew it was really you.
Sketch artist captured well
That girlish grin I thought I’d
Never see again until your
Composite un-identified you:
Front page girl, eighteen to twenty-one.
You know we searched for you
Day and night, night and day
Until they gave up and thought
You had really run away.
But I knew it took more than snow
To cover you that day not even
Your horoscopes could predict.
But from that cut of cloth the trail
Of footprints follow from fibers
You left behind upon the front seat
From the only sweater you had owned,
Though badly burned it could not hide,
And was more than enough to show—
Now your forensic fingers finally point
To the one who had really lied.

What I hate about the rain

Kelley Jean White MD

You’re making me write this. I’ll never run
under an umbrella with you again, laughing
and your head kept bumping the new little leaves
of the maples and the wet ran down
my back and I didn’t care. Michael and I
(which Michael?) ran and sang in the rain on a dark
night at Dartmouth and ran drenched into someone’s room
(his or mine?) and the world was absolutely right—
and my hair was long and wet and my face
must have been beautiful laughing. Now I’m a toad.
Thick and wrinkled and always tightly straining
at myself. I hate the rain that tells me I am alone.
I hate the rain that tells me you are warm in front of a fire
with a woman who warms your heart. I have cold hands.
No one to chafe them warm. I don’t mind lonely.
But then the water pours from the gutter into my
eyes and I remember other storms.


Christopher Hanson

He’s at home,
An empty home
And maybe as an
“Empty” him
On his birthday with a
One dog
And most importantly,
The phone,
A silent phone,
A foreboding phone,
Post-52 years,
And as many candles,
Already blown.
These plastic cords
Fail to rattle noise.

He’s still at home,
She’s in bed,
Even the dog’s
Unto slumber,
But the phone,
His only connection,
Never leaves his side,
Still and both silent.

He’s still at home,
Wife and dog still
In dream,
When he shakes off the
And walks to the window.
He looks for me,
But instead finds a movie,
An experimental shadow show,
Where silhouettes play
Against the curtains
And across the street –
Not for him,
Not even for his eyes,
But he watches.
He revels in remembrance of
And the only reminder of
Life he has left,
A hard-on.
He soon averts,
Out of character
And in need of,
The phone has more appeal,
But still
Cannot seem to ring.

One day later,
Another day,
Any “other” day
He remains
At home,
The emptier home,
And finally asleep.
It’s no longer his birthday,
And like the call he’d waited for,
He finally slumbers.

He’s at home –
The day after,
The next week,
And at 53,
Still awaiting,
But the phone
Will never ring
And though he’ll live,
For at least a few more
His son,
The call that never came,
Lived as well,
And without a
Second thought.

“The man with many names.”
(the Christopher Hanson Biography)

    I was born “Christopher Hanson” in Minnesota; Born in the same hospital as Bob Dylan, not that it matters. I remember very little from this snowbound world having actually grown up in California where I picked up the nick-name, “Cloud,” I don’t know why, simply, “Cloud.” While in good old San Fran, I made nice with some fellows and females of Japanese decent. I picked up a sword, I learned to eat sushi and wander in between the realms of Aikido, Iaido and Zen. They dubbed me “Kazuki.” All aside and all names following me into college, I studied for five years at the University of Wisconsin and graduated with degrees in both Criminal Justice (to bust-up a broken system) and Anthropology – I love people, what can I say? During year five of college, I’d acquire my latest addition, “Yang Yun,” my Chinese name. The name basically translates to, “a tree in the cloud.” This was the name given to me by my wife, the love of my life that I met while studying abroad in China. Since my graduation in 2008, I’ve lived in China for nearly two years as a teacher and within this last year, have finally made it back to the states, wife and all. It’s been a wild ride and something tells me that it’s just begun. As for my “writing” and my “art,” it’s a time-honored tradition and way of life – at least for me.

    I’ve travelled the world, I’ve come home. I’m educated, I’m uneducated. I write, I write and write some more. I drink and write again. This is my story, maybe your story and somebody else’s story. I write, I wander, I write and I love, this world and the many facets/faces of it – simply complicated.

    I’ve been, or will be, published in, “A Brilliant Record,” “The Stray Branch” and “Down in the Dirt,” and am looking forward to continuing down this literary, literal and metaphorical road I venture.

War Pigs of Suburbia

Emma Eden Ramos

    The neighborhood knew it as “The Sideways House.”
    The main entrance to Leland and Sarah MacLeod’s home faced the road, while their built-in toolshed paralleled the next-door neighbors’ front porch. “It’s a ruse,” Leland explained playfully to any inquiring visitor. “Burglars think the shed’s the front. They come in, end up leaving with a truck-load of gardening shit.”
    The MacLeod’s two story home lay at one end of a horseshoe-shaped housing community in Long Island. Fifteen years earlier, when the family first left Manhattan, Kelly was only two and the idea of Gordon had just begun to sink in. As a safety precaution, Leland installed a fence that still kept each of his three children from haphazardly wandering onto the busy main road. These days, Kelly and Gordon were mindful of their surroundings. The same, unfortunately, couldn’t always be said for Allie, the youngest of the MacLeod children.

    When the bedside alarm sounded at 7:00 AM, Sarah knew her husband was already up and moving. As usual, Leland would be outside, his morning cup of Scottish Breakfast in one hand and Sarge’s leash in the other. Today, he’d be waiting for the Saturday Paper.
    The floorboards creaked as she made her way from their bed to the bathroom. The cold water felt refreshing on her cheeks, and Sarah used a washcloth to clear the smudged eyeliner she’d forgotten to remove the night before.
    She dressed.
    Tucking her t-shirt into her jeans, Sarah walked quietly out of the bedroom and down the stairs. She stopped by the kitchen, took a tea bag from the open box, fixed herself a cup and headed outside to join her husband.
    Sarge stood dutifully next to Leland as he inspected a newly-formed burrow that had, overnight, appeared between the toolshed and the driveway.
    “That terrier across the street’s becoming a damn pest.”
    “Could be a possum,” Sarah replied, amused by her husband’s blatant irritation.
    “No, it’s the dog.”
    “You gunna bug ‘em about it again?”
    “Oh yea.”
    “Well, I say we have Kelly do it. Their son’s around her age; won’t sound as angry coming from her.”
    “I don’t want her mixing with that kid. Something’s not right with him.”
    “Gordon could go then.”
    “Nope, I’ve got it covered.”
    “And if they don’t listen, again?”
    “I let Sarge loose on him the next time he wanders over.”

    Gordon was up before his sisters. “What time?” he muttered to himself. 8:00. Not bad for a Saturday. He still had time to complete his morning routine before Kelly was awake to tease him.
    Gearing up in his red suit, wrestling gloves and sneakers, Gordon headed for the stairs, ready for part one of his daily morning workout.
    Reaching the front door, Gordon heard his father’s voice coming from the driveway.
    “Hey, I’ve told you...” Leland began. “This is the third time your dog’s made a mess of my driveway.”
    “It’s not him.” Drew Dolan tried to sound pleasant.
    “Well, I hope not because the next time I hear digging out here, I’m sending my Sarge to stop it.”
    “You do that. You just better hope it’s not someone’s kid your dog goes after. You know, they banned Rottweilers in Florida for killing kids.”
    “My dog doesn’t go after kids. You just keep yours off my property.”

    The taste in Drew’s mouth was feud-induced acid reflux: undigested milk and sour coffee. He walked through his front door and was immediately overwhelmed by the sound of Black Sabbath and the scent of Marijuana. Nick was off to an early start, he thought, pouring his second cup of coffee.
    Nick Dolan savored his joint. Eighteen and expelled from school a month before graduation, Nick had little hope for his future. He’d considered joining the Peace Corps, had even gone as far as cutting back on his drug use in preparation for applying, only to learn that he’d need two years of college to enroll. Now, music, pot, Scorsese films and the occasional household inhalant got Nick through what he considered his “daily, tortured existence”.

    Kelly MacLeod awoke at 10:00 AM to the sound of her sister’s high-pitched screams. Allie, eight, squealed joyfully as their father chased her around in the front yard. Kelly got up, dressed and went downstairs to join her brother in the kitchen.
    Gordon sucked on a strawberry flavored protein shake while flipping through a sports magazine.
    “Where’s that sexy wrestling suit?” Kelly teased.
    “You’re funny.”
    “Allie says it makes you look like a cartoon radish.”
    “She told you that?”
    “At least her insults are clever.”
    “I know, mine are pretty lame.”
    “They suit you... Get it, suit? As in wrest...”
    “Yea, you should leave the jokes to someone else.”
    Kelly fixed herself a bowl of cereal.
    She and Gordon finished their breakfast and joined the rest of the family outside.
    “Allie-kins!” Kelly patted her sister on the head. “Hi, dad.”
    “Morning gorgeous.”
    “Where’s Sarge?”
    “In the driveway.”
    Sarah greeted her two older children, then went back into the house for a second cup of tea.
    Reheating the water in the kettle, Sarah looked through the magazine her son had left on the kitchen counter. The pictures made her smile, the idea of her skinny, almost fifteen-year-old toting those biceps, that six-pack, was quite comical.
    Sarah poured hot water over the dry tea bag, then jumped at the horrible yelp she heard coming from the driveway.
    It was over by the time she reached the scene. Leland held Sarge, his large hand over the animal’s heavily salivating mouth. Gordon kneeled over the helpless terrier, while Kelly tried to comfort her crying sister.
    “What the...” Sarah began, then noticed Nick coming out of his front door. His hair was messy, his eyes red and slightly swollen.
    “You fuck! You fuckers killed my dog!”
    “It was an accident,” Kelly interjected.
    And, like a pack of scavengers, the neighborhood residents left their homes to survey the scene.

    Animal control came and went. Questions were asked, accusations made. Sarah explained that she wasn’t present during the attack. Leland said he’d repeatedly warned the Dolans to keep their dog off his property. His kids were too surprised and confused to help.
    “Zeppelin,” Nick explained, “went out to pee. That little girl across the street called him over, and that man sent their dog after him.”
    “You think it was done on purpose?” the man from Animal Control asked.

    By early evening, the neighborhood commotion had finally subsided.
    “We really need to go over and apologize to the Dolans,” Sarah said to her husband.
    “It wasn’t our fault. I told Drew just this morning...”
    “It isn’t a question of fault anymore. It would be wrong to just do nothing.”

    Nick paced his room. I’ll kill their fucking dog, he thought, see how they like it. The idea of sneaking into the MacLeod’s home was exciting; the revenge was warranted. It would be like that Scorsese film, the one with Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis. Nick knew how to mix the cocktail his father used to kill raccoons. A cup of Pepsi laced with methomyl fly-bait granules; death was slow and painful.
    Only, how to get the dog to drink it? He’d have to wait until dark, when the neighborhood street was empty and no one would notice him. The MacLeod man might hear, though. He’d have to sneak in through a window; the dog would surely bark. It wouldn’t work. There was no way, Nick realized, that he’d be able to sneak into a home where there was a giant guard dog, carrying a cup of liquid poison. Something was bound to go wrong.

    “There’s blood in it. I can see its veins.”
    “Allie,” Sarah argued, “it’s salmon. It always has some veins, and you never complain.”
    “I don’t want it. It’s nasty.”
    “You don’t have...” Leland began.
    “You’ll eat it! You sat down here for dinner, and you’ll eat it because you made a commitment.”
    “I didn’t make a com.. I didn’t promise to do anything!”
    Sarah threw her napkin on her plate, stood up and grabbed her daughter by the arm.
    “Mom!” Kelly snapped, “what are...”
    “We have commitments. We have things we do because. When we sit down as a family, we eat because that’s what families do. When our dog kills our neighbor’s dog, we apologize because that’s what neighbors do.”
    Rising from his place at the head of the table, Leland took his wife’s hand and led her out to the stairway, where they could speak in private. Before exiting the dining room, Sarah noticed her children; all three looked as stunned as they had earlier by the driveway.
    “I’ll apologize, alright.”
    “Tomorrow morning I’ll go over and apologize.”
    “You shouldn’t take this out on the kids.”
    “Yea, I know. I’m sorry.”

    Sunday morning, the air was clear and mild. Leland stood, as he always did, in front of the toolshed with his cup of tea and Sarge, alert by his side. He saw Drew come out, thought about the promise he’d made to Sarah, but decided to wait. Drew had the authority to request that Sarge be euthanized for the attack. Leland wanted to see how Drew handled things before apologizing. He wasn’t about to succumb to someone who intended to make his life--his family’s life--difficult.

    Gordon dressed and headed downstairs. He needed a break from his workout routine and could hear Allie in the kitchen. He wouldn’t risk being seen in his wrestling suit. Not after being compared to a “cartoon radish.”
    Allie sat at the kitchen table, eyeing her father as he readied the waffle iron. “Strawberry waffles, strawberry ice cream and strawberry milk. Thats what I want for breakfast. No whipped cream. Only things that are strawberry-ish.”
    Kelly was still sleeping, though it was after 10:00.
    “I was up super-late,” Allie declared, upon Gordon’s arrival. “I had bad dreams about that dog and the boy across the street. I kept Kelly up.”
    “She’ll be sleeping for a while, I’m thinking,” Leland began, turning to his son. “You’ll look after Allie in a bit while your mother and I go into town.”
    “I don’t need looking after. I’m eight.”
    “If I go for a run by the road, Al, will you follow me on your bike?”
    “I’ll go for a ride on my bike, and you can follow me on your feet.”
    The MacLeod men exchanged smiles.

    Nick was tired and hungover. He’d spent the night taking shots of his father’s whiskey, smoking and thinking of ways to get back at the MacLeods.
    “The jackass didn’t say a word to me this morning,” Drew had said at the breakfast table.
    “I hate them,” Nick replied.
    “They’ll learn soon enough, son. Someone’ll teach that man a lesson.”
    By 11:00 AM, Nick was out of the house. He drove around for a while, planning, then stopped at a gas station. Pepsi (the fly-bait granules were already in the pantry), beef jerky and a box of Tylenol PM; Nick planned to dope the Rottweiler up with diphenydramine if the original plan got botched. Either way, Nick wanted the MacLeods to loose something they cared about. An eye for an eye. Someone’ll teach that man a lesson.

    Gordon and Allie walked out of the front door and onto the lawn.
    “I’ll get my bike,” Allie chirped, running towards the toolshed.
    Gordon began warming up. Between rounds of jumping jacks, he sprinted from the front door to the fence, and back. The main road was pretty clear, except for a few cars, Gordon noticed. People generally stayed in on Sundays.
    Gordon heard Allie ride up the neighborhood street. She tapped the handle bar bell to announce her readiness and circled the small street once more, impatient to get started.
    Gordon opened the fence door and called to his sister. Allie rode to the end of the street and stopped, waiting for her brother to join her.
    A moment later, before the two could begin their jaunt, Kelly called out from her bedroom window.
    “Gordon, come on!” Allie nagged.
    Gordon ran back toward the house, unable to hear Kelly from where he stood. Allie stomped her foot, rolled her eyes and sighed.
    “Come on!” she called again.
    Allie began to peddle. She made circles, riding from one end of the road to the other, just waiting for Gordon to notice. There was a strip of road between the two white lines that separated the car lanes. Allie noticed and decided to see if she could ride straight, between the lanes, without wavering. As she peddled, frantically looking from side to side to make sure she hadn’t gotten off course, Allie failed to see the car ahead of her.
    Nick came down the main road, Black Sabbath blasting from the ipod he had hooked up to his car’s stereo.
    The third line of “War Pigs” was the last thing Allie MacLeod heard before she and her bike were under the wheels of Nick Dolan’s car.

    The neighborhood knew it as “The Sideways House.” The resident, Leland MacLeod, lived alone with his three Rottweilers. When a family of five moved in across the street, they had their nine-year-old daughter bring the “lonely” man a basket of muffins.
    “They’re strawberry,” the little girl explained when Leland opened the toolshed door. “I love things that are strawberry.”
    Leland smiled at the girl, accepted the gift and went back inside. Commitments, he thought. We all make commitments. Nicholas Dolan, now almost twenty, had a long-term commitment to the nearby penitentiary. Kelly MacLeod was a committed Sociology student at Hofstra University (not far from where she once lived). Gordon was captain of his high school wrestling team; and they all, each member of the MacLeod clan (including Sarah, though she was no longer Mrs. MacLeod), made the commitment to visit the headstone of their youngest member, whose life was a casualty of suburban warfare.

Emma Eden Ramos Bio (2010)

    Emma Eden Ramos is a writer and student at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. Her fiction has appeared in BlazeVOX, The Legendary, and The StoryTeller Tymes. She also has a piece forthcoming in Yellow Mama.

Late Delivery

Nicholas Conley

    I take the pizza box out of the bag. I hand it to Man #3. He opens it. He looks at me suspiciously. Man #3 ordered pepperoni and pineapple and if it isn’t just how he likes it, he’ll blame me. I know the type.
    Man #3 seems satisfied. I smile. I even got the pizza to him five minutes early. He digs into his pockets.
    “How much is it, again?” he asks.
    “13 bucks,” I reply.
    He takes out $15 and puts it in my hand.
    “Keep the change.”
    He walks inside. I go back to my car. $2 tip, not too bad. I look at my next delivery. It’s at 433 Banner Street, which I’ve never heard of. Great.
    I take out my map. There’s no Banner Street in town. The waitress must have messed up the order again. I sigh. She always does this. The pizza’s getting cold.
    I call the recipient’s number.
    “Hello?” Woman #2 answers.
    “Hey, this is Sheriff’s Pizza Rodeo,” I talk quickly, “I can’t seem to find your address. 433 Banner Street, is it?”
    “Um, no,” she says in a tone clearly intended to make me feel like an idiot.
    “What is it, then?”
    “Bana Street. B-A-N-A. It’s not that hard.”
    “Alright, I’ll be there in just a second!”
    I speed off. Traffic lights get in my way. The car ahead of me goes 10 miles under the speed limit. Eventually, I find my way to Bana Street. I open my bag to check on the pizzas. It’s already cold.
    I park in the woman’s driveway. I put my cap on, to show off my Sheriff’s Pizza Rodeo logo. I knock on the door, dreading Woman #2’s arrival.
    She answers. She’s an older woman with deep frown lines. She scowls at me from behind her glasses. It’s like my existence alone is insulting to her.
    “Hey,” I say as warmly as I can, “Two pepperoni pizzas, right here!”
    “You’re late.”
    “Yeah, sorry about that. Heavy traffic and I had the wrong address.”
    “I’m aware. Here, come on inside.”
    Woman #2 walks back inside. I hesitate. Delivery boys are strictly forbidden from walking into a customer’s house. Wanting to stay on the woman’s good side, I walk inside anyway.
    She yanks the two boxes of pizza out of my hands and opens them. She looks pissed. She looks at me, then back at the pizza. She groans melodramatically.
    “It’s cold,” she says, “and you’re late. I’m going to be calling your manager about this.”
    I stop, trying to think of something to say.
    “I’m really sorry about the lateness, ma’am. I did everything I could.”
    “Yeah, I’m sure. I’m sure.”
    “I swear, I’m so sorry, I—”
    “What’s done is done. How much money is this, again?”
    I sigh. She doesn’t care. To her, I’m not a person trying to do his job. I’m a machine. If the machine makes a mistake, you throw it in the trash.
    “20 bucks, since you called in with that coupon.”
    She hands me a $20 bill. No tip. She hurries me out of the door. I drive back to the pizza place. I’m overcome with dread. I’m on shaky ground as it is and my boss hates me. He can’t wait to fire me. But I can’t afford to lose this job. I can barely pay my rent.
    Sure enough, I’m fired that night.
    The boss says I’m not cut for this kind of work, says how it’s all about customer service and I fail at that. He completely excuses the waitress (who’s his girlfriend) for giving me the wrong address. I walk out.
    A month later, I’m living off of unemployment. I’m in the grocery store, buying whatever I can with my EBT card. I go to the produce section and look through the tomatoes.
    Then, I hear a familiar female voice behind me.
    “Excuse me, young man. Can you hand me one of those tomatoes up on the top, if you don’t mind?”
    It’s Woman #2, from the day I got fired. She doesn’t recognize me. But now, her voice is warm. Friendly. She smiles at me as if I were her favorite grandson. I hand her a tomato.
    “Thank you, dear.”
    She smiles before she walks away. As far as she’s concerned, the young man in the grocery store was a human being. That pizza boy from a month back, on the other hand? He was just a cash register.

The Elevator Ripper

Victor Phan

    Tires squealed as a new obsidian black Lexus pulled into an empty spot in the parking structure. The door swung open and sexy legs covered in black fish net stockings and stiletto fuck me pumps stepped out. Michelle was the owner of the creamy smooth legs with skin the color of caramel. She bore gorgeously layered black hair and enchanting hazel eyes. A big leather coat covered up her more succulent traits as she nervously glanced side-to-side making her way to the elevator. She wasted no time rushing to the far side of the stone monolith and pressed the button. A shadow of a man moved across the wall following her.
    The reflective doors whispered open. Michelle entered the elevator and tapped the button for the fourth floor. As the doors began to close, a hand came between the doors and suddenly stopped them.
    “Shit!” Michelle yelled.
    Michelle’s hand quickly reached into her purse for her weapon. The doors parted revealing a well-dressed man in his forties and with a genial demeanor. He wore a black suit with a bright red power tie. Seeing this harmless man, Michelle’s hand dropped back to her side. Jack entered the elevator, eyes looking right at Michelle. She immediately turned her face away.
    “Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to scare you,” Jack apologized.
    “Okay. Whatever,” Michelle said still facing the wall.
    Jack gazed at her one more time before turning around and pressing a button. Once the doors shut he turned back to Michelle and offered his hand. He wore a warm smile and introduced himself. “I’m Jack.”
    Michelle didn’t respond and just stared up at him with an annoyed expression.
    “Seriously. I didn’t want to miss this car and have to wait for the next one,” Jack continued.
    Michelle looked away from him. Jack shrugged and turned back towards the elevator doors. A moment of silenced passed between them before the elevator jerked to a sudden stop.
    “What the hell was that?” Michelle said as she looked around.
    “I don’t know. It just . . . stopped by itself,” Jack replied. He too perused the elevator. Jack tapped the buttons repeatedly to no avail.
    “Nothing’s working,” he pointed out. Jack removed his mobile phone from his coat and checked it. “I have no signal. We may have to wait until it comes back up by itself.”
    When Jack looked back at Michelle, her hand was back in her purse. She looked obviously disturbed. Jack gave her the once over and knew he’d have get her mind off the situation at hand unless he wanted to get face full of mace or pepper spray, or whatever she had in her purse.
    “Are you headed to a party?” He asked her. He stood very straight and shined another one of his toothy smiles.
    “No. Why would you ask that?” Michelle replied defensively.
    “Um . . . it’s New Year’s Eve. Reasonable assumption.”
    “No. I’m . . .” Michelle frowned not knowing what to say from here. She hardly knew the answer herself. Then her thoughts turned to the well-dressed man with the winning smile in front of her.
    “What are you doing here?” Michelle asked.
    “Oh.” Jack paused for a second then answered, “Visiting a client. I’m a doctor.”
    “A doctor who makes house calls? That’s rare.” Michelle stated.
    Jack shrugged, “I get paid well.”
    Jack looked to be getting very comfortable in the small enclosure. He loosened up his tie and continued suggestively, “Very well. If you get my meaning.”
    Michelle swallowed a hard lump as she looked past Jack’s shoulder. She noticed the stop button on the elevator had been pulled out. Jack moved closer to her. She tensed up even more pressing her back against the elevator wall.
    “You really shouldn’t be out alone tonight. There’s a psychopath running around,” He said to her. The fatherly warm man who had entered the elevator was gone. Something perverse came alive in Jack’s eyes.
    Michelle tried to back up even more but the cold metal wall prevented her from going any further. Jack took off his coat and let it drop to the floor behind him.
    “It’s all over the news. He cuts out his victims’ tongues and keeps them as souvenirs,” Jack continued as he moved closer to her.
    “Please. Just . . .” Michelle pleaded but she could feel his breath against her. He pressed himself against her, pinning her. She felt his hard cock poking her through his pants.
    “With sociopaths like that out there, a sweet little thing like you needs the company of a real man,” Jack said with maddening eyes.
    Michelle squeezed her eyes shut wishing she were somewhere else. Jack ripped her coat open sending buttons flying. He drooled as he saw her firm perfect breasts squeezed together by the tight dress she wore.
    “Have you heard what they’re calling him?” Jack asked as he cupped her tits. Michelle was shivering, breathing very deeply. He smelled her intoxicatingly fragrant hair and whispered into her ear, “The Elevator Ripper.”
    Michelle’s eyes popped open.


    The door of the empty hallway opened to reveal a wild office New Years Eve party on the other side. Co-workers were celebrating the New Year with generous amounts of alcohol and good spirits. Pedro and Nadia spilled out from the door and shut it closed behind them, silencing the sound of cheers. Pedro was a good-looking hotshot graphic artist and Nadia was the receptionist endowed with all of the voluptuous trappings expected of young Hispanic women. Both had been drinking all night along and too many months of sexual tension in the office had gotten the best of them.
    Pedro led Nadia by the hand still giggling down the hall towards the elevator. There he pressed her curvaceous ass against the cold metal doors. They didn’t even bother to lock eyes or exchange words before their voracious mouths met. They kissed each other sloppily trading saliva and rubbing their tongues against each other. Pedro squeezed her plentiful breasts and felt her hard nipples through the fabric of her dress. Pedro’s cock instantly grew hard; he had to have her right then and there.
    Pedro hit the elevator button and slid his hand under Nadia’s skirt. He moved her thong aside and slid a finger into her hot drenched pussy. Nadia gave out a hungry moan wanting what was throbbing inside of Pedro’s pants.
    The elevator doors swung open and they both spilled in. Pedro and Nadia fell onto the elevator floor still kissing. Nadia was breathless but was able to utter, “Wait.”
    Pedro kept kissing her neck not hearing what she had said. He was too busy concentrating on undoing his belt buckle and unzipping his pants. His erected penis was already out and had dripped pre-cum onto Nadia’s smoothly waxed pussy.
    “I said wait!” Nadia yelled. Pedro immediately halted. The wind went out of his sails.
    “What’s wrong?” Pedro asked. He hoped she didn’t have a sudden change of mind. No amount of masturbation would satisfy him after he got this worked up.
    “I think I’m on something,” Nadia said.
    Nadia lifted up her hand to see it covered in warm blood. Her face lit up in fear. Pedro looked down and saw that they were lying on the disemboweled remains of a middle-aged man. Confusion hit him before terror had the chance to set in. The elevator doors then whispered closed. Pedro and Nadia both looked toward the sound of the metal doors entombing them.
    Michelle stood against the wall, a bloody scalpel in one hand and a twitching tongue in the other. She was breathing heavily, like she just had a glorious sexual release. Her legs were still shaking with all of their orgasmic joy. Michelle regained her composure and looked down at Pedro and Nadia staring at her like idiots.
    “I fucking hate it when they call me the Elevator Ripper,” Michelle paused then said, “It makes me feel . . . ugly.”
    She raised the knife. The elevator muffled the sounds of screams and slashing that followed.

Growing Pains

Roger Cowin

A boy becomes
Uncomfortable in his skin.
It has become too tight.
It presses painfully against his skull,
His chest, his testicles.
He begins to feel claustrophobic
And begins to remove his skin,
Flaying himself like a hunter
Harvesting a hide.
Relieved, he capers and bounds
Around the room, feeling free
For the first time in his short life
Till he catches his reflection in a stray mirror.
Appalled and suddenly afraid,
He looks grotesque
Like a drawing from
An anatomy textbook.
He knows Mother would be very upset
To find him running about
Without a stitch of skin.
But try as he might, he cannot
Get his skin to fit again, the arms
And legs are too short, his face
Will not pull down over his head.
“Certainly,” he thinks, “bare bones
Are more aesthetically pleasing.”
So, layer by layer
He peels his flesh,
Removing it in long tacky strips
Which he drops on the floor.
When there is nothing
But a tiny skeleton staring
Back from the mirror,
He turns this way and that,
Pirouetting like a runway model
Displaying the latest fashions,
Admiring his new, streamlined form.
But what is a body without flesh?
Or flesh without a skin?
And isn’t it all
Just a jar to bottle the soul?
Later, Mother arrives home
And cannot find the boy anywhere,
Only a few spare organs
And some discarded skin.
“Messy boy,” she thinks,
“Leaving all this viscera
Lying about.  Just wait
Till his father gets home.”

Book Of Sand

Denny E. Marshall

It is all so simple
Too be born
And too die
I had too put
A chapter in
Though what is a chapter
In a grain of sand
In the book called man
Volumes of ocean shores
We will never
Put our finger on

John Yotko reading the Denny E. Marshall poem
Book of Sand
in the ISBN# book See the World Burn
and read from the 06/11 issue, v095, of Down in the Dirt

video Watch the YouTube video
not yet rated Live 06/21/11 at the Café in Chicago (in the ISBN# book See the World Burn and in Down in the Dirt mag v095, the 06/11 issue)

End-of-the-World Sale!

John Rachel
[ Author’s Note: This story is an adapted excerpt from my forthcoming novel “11-11-11”. ]

    So the nuts and the fruitcakes were at it again. Something big — really big! — was going down on 11-11-11.
    The world was going to end. For real. Not like the last time.
    A lot of people really believed this. Or as Walmart liked to call them . . . a lot of shoppers.
    As 11-11-11 approached, actually right after the back-to-school promotional push back at the beginning of September, Walmart mounted a new campaign.

Get the best buying tips for the Apocalypse!


    So . . .
    What part of “end of the world” were people not understanding?
    If indeed the world was ending, trail mix, Kevlar underwear, purified water, skin creams and cartons of Top Ramen were not really going to help.
    But Walmart was keeping busy.
    Very busy.
    The ads touted Walmart as the only place you needed to go for all of your emergency needs. It was one-stop shopping for the Apocalypse. That this was the Mother of All Catastrophes, the one which would terminate all life on Earth, vanish the Solar System, and possibly make the entire Universe disappear, was not a factor. There was money to be made!
    Today was November 10th and people had been packing in for over a month-and-a-half now, leaving wads of cash at the Center, Missouri branch of the multi-billion dollar megastore.
    At this particular facility there was a 30’ high LED countdown meter, visible from the next county if not outer space, mounted over the facade of the gigantic building directly above the main entrance. Its main function was to stress the urgency of buying what people allegedly needed. Today it read:


    A huge seller at the Box Store at the End of the Galaxy, was the Hyperspace Thermos Bottle, called the Magnum Opus. Advertisements touted the thermos bottle’s most amazing feature: Dual purpose. Keeps your drinks either hot or cold! Wow! Imagine that. Hot or cold! And you don’t even have to tell it which to do.
    There was a giant flashy booth in the center of the women’s section of the store featuring a new special array of cosmetics: Apocalyptics™ by Revlon. Several hyperactive sales girls scantily dressed as sexy angels demonstrated the proper application of everything from their Astral Lip Gloss to their Shadows of Nirvana face sculpting cream.
    A whole range of over-the-counter medicinal products dedicated to alleviating discomfort and addressing issues associated with rapture and trans-dimensional travel packed the shelves. These included space travel motion sickness pills, SPF200 radiation block, creams for allergic reactions to space dust, anti-dehydration drinks — what? no drinking fountains on the stairway to Heaven? — a quick weight-loss formula called Slenderness Is Next To Godliness in order to look svelte when meeting your maker, a product called Geiger Balm for gamma ray rash, non-prescription Duragesic transdermal pain patches to alleviate pain from the elongating effects of near light-speed travel, even special soft ‘astral traveling’ non-chafing inflatable diapers called Bum Wraps, for hemorrhoid sufferers.
    There was a Lost In Space Survival Kit which included a talking GPS direction finder, a laser pointer pencil, a Pinochle deck, a baseball cap with a peace sign, cotton swabs, crackers with no expiration date, a tube of Velveeta cheese spread, Handi Wipes, Dr. Scholl’s Foot Powder, and a multi-lingual phrase book which had in over 170 languages: ‘I am from planet Earth and would like to be your friend. Take me to your leader.’
    And so it went. The same questionable or entirely superfluous products they typically sold, repackaged with a new sales spin. People clambering up and down aisles, climbing over one another, elbows flying, tempers short, grumbling and mumbling expletives, cash and credit cards flying out of wallets, everyone lumbering back to their cars to try to stuff all of the stuff in and still leave room for the kids.
    Albert ‘Jinx’ Jenkins worked the shipping and receiving area for the store, and like he had been for over six weeks, today he was on overload. He felt like a one-armed wallpaper hanger. A one-legged ass-kicker. A one-titted pig with twenty sucklings.
    Being so busy had the advantage of making the time go by quickly. The days just passed and nothing particularly noteworthy would happen which would distinguish one from any of the other hundreds of forgettable days he spent there.
    There was one thing, however, Jinx looked forward to. About a month ago, he noticed a very cute new girl working at the Dog-On-A-Stick eatery close to the main entrance of the building. She was a little overweight but had a lovely face and a great smile, and for whatever random reasons fueled such a response, caused a warm urgent swelling behind the zipper of his shrink-to-fit Levi 501s. He recently had been making a point of wandering by on his lunch hour. It was all fairly innocent. He didn’t plan on pursuing anything with her. But it was nice looking at an attractive, sexy, apparently single girl five years his junior, and letting his male imagination do what male imaginations did.
    Since he was showing up every day, she couldn’t help but notice him, and probably just to alleviate her own boredom started being very cordial to him. Not necessarily flirtatious, but certainly friendly and funny. They were fast becoming buddies. Joking. Goofing around. Sharing a few pleasantries.
    It was all good. Something to break up the day.
    The last few times Jinx had stopped by, he ordered his usual but then they just kept on talking and he kept up the jokes and she kept on laughing and finally he would sit down when other customers demanded her time. Same thing happened today. She got busy with other customers. He sat down and now was wolfing down his meal — it was the same every day, two dogs, fries and a Coke — hoping that she would get done before he had to go back to work, and they might have a few more minutes of silliness to get him through the rest of his busy day.
    Jinx waited but the line for phallus shaped fast food kept getting longer. Fun and games were over for today. He stood up, she waved and smiled, then went back to taking an order from an extremely obese woman with three obese kids. He waved, emptied his tray in the trash, then put it on a growing stack of identical trays by the turnstile exit, as he quickly strided out. If he hustled, he would be back on the loading dock with a minute to spare. They were expecting eight big shipments, so this afternoon would be particularly insane.
    Relief was in sight. Tomorrow was the last day of the push for 11-11-11 merchandise. Then either the world would end or it wouldn’t. Either way, the frenetic bustle of the past few weeks would be over. This mad rush shopping for the Apocalypse would come to an end.
    There was a note on his desk when he arrived.
    A note from his boss.

Report immediately
to my office.

    What was this all about?
    He would find out soon enough. He reported as requested.
    His boss didn’t wait for him to even finish crossing the room when he started to bellow.
    “You were observed by security stealing food from the Dog-On-A-Stick. We are not running a soup line here, Mr. Jenkins. Your employment is terminated, effective immediately.”
    “But sir—”
    “No ‘buts’ about it. Please collect your personals. You will be escorted out of the building. Have a nice day.”
    A hand reached out from behind him and took him by the arm. Jinx had not seen the uniformed security man in the rear of his boss’s office when he walked in. They left together. Ten minutes later he was putting the key in the ignition of his Toyota Innova.
    Jinx was fired for eating two hot dogs at the fast food court in Walmart and forgetting to pay for them. Technically, he didn’t forget. He sweet-talked the pudgy little honey running the hot dog booth and she fluttered her eyelashes and giggled instead of collecting the $1.30 due for the nitrite-laced concoctions of ground up beef lips, eyeballs, testicles, ears, and other sinew. His excellent service at Walmart for several years did not factor in the decision to let him go and he was replaced by yet another pus-faced high school drop-out who would work unquestioningly for minimum wage and no benefits.
    With a wife and four kids the current Walmart sales campaign rang very true. Walmart was the end of the world place to shop. If he couldn’t find another job really fast, it would certainly be the end of his world.
    Then again, maybe after tomorrow he would have nothing to worry about.
    Wonder what’s on TV tonight.

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 considers his home to be Japan but is currently living in Vietnam while he writes his next two novels, respectively 11-11-11 and 12-12-12.

The Author

Robert Levin

    All right, maybe my book fell a hair or two short of greatness and, for sure, it hadn’t sold very well—even my parents, went my standard joke, waited until it was remaindered before buying their copy. Still, my book had made it onto a library shelf. A LIBRARY SHELF!
    And now it wasn’t there anymore.
    Of course since this was a library—the main branch of the New York Public Library—I might reasonably have concluded that the book had been borrowed. But I couldn’t give any substance to that possibility.
    I’d been making frequent visits to my achievement from my apartment in the Village for two years—this time on a sudden impulse in the middle of a relentlessly fierce winter that had otherwise discouraged such excursions (and, I should add, just a month after my father’s death and on a morning after a late-night party at which I’d had too much to drink). But for all of these two years the book had remained in pristine condition. It had never been withdrawn, nor, as far as I could tell, had it even been opened. No, I knew with certainty that no one had taken it home.
    Probably still a little drunk, definitely frayed and sick to my stomach—and now with a developing panic to compound this condition—I reached behind the books that had flanked the single copy of mine. Then I checked the entire shelf—and the shelves above and below it. After that I searched the full length of both sides of the aisle and rummaged through piles of books that were stacked on the floor.
    Nothing. And no, no one was seated at the reading tables.
    Near to distraught, I looked for a librarian. Two middle-aged women—one short and dowdy with close-cropped gray hair, the other tall and lean—were standing behind the checkout desk. But stationing myself as I did right in front of them (and on legs from which the blood was all but gone), they paid no attention to me. They were having a personal moment.
    “Helen,” the tall one was saying, “you told me it was ‘extraordinary.’”
    Helen, clearly irritated by the tall one’s remark, shut her eyes.
    “Yes, Sylvia, I said that. I did say that. And actually, if you want to know the truth, I think it’s better than extraordinary. If you want to know the truth, I think it’s sublime.”
    “WELL?” Sylvia said. She seemed on the verge of tears. “Then I don’t understand—I don’t understand why you’re doing this, Helen.”
    “Sylvia,” Helen said, “why are we talking about your ass now? You know your ass isn’t the issue. You’re doing your spacing out thing again, aren’t you? I told you what it is; it’s your ANKLES. They’ve started to make me cross. I can’t help it.”
    My own crisis and my hangover notwithstanding, I was, of course, compelled to take a look. Sure enough, Helen had a point on both counts. Sylvia’s ass, though it was hyperbole to describe it as sublime, was quite exceptional—at another time I’d have undoubtedly taken notice of it on my own. And Sylvia’s ankles were, no question, a nettlesome sight. They had only the merest hint of definition. Indeed, when Sylvia, demonstrably piqued, suddenly turned and marched away, her calves appeared to descend directly into her shoes.
    If it was apparent that Helen, who was pressing her palms against her temples and rolling her neck, was herself more than ready to leave at this point, she could indulge in no such luxury. With Sylvia’s departure it was left to her to face me.
    “May I help you?” she said wearily.   
    But before I could speak, Sylvia, coat in hand, was back.
    “I’m going to lunch, you fucking asshole.”
    And then she was gone again.
    “Have I come at a bad time?” I said.
    Helen managed a wan smile. “No,” she said. “Well, yes. But no—it’s all right.” She took a quick, and I thought wistful, glance at the elevator banks.
    “Okay,” I said. “Okay. I’m looking”—my voice was shaking and sweat was pooling in the hollows of my underarms—“for a missing book.” I gave her the title.
    “Missing?” Helen brought her screen up.
    “It’s not where it should be,” I said. “You haven’t, you know, DISCARDED it, have you? That doesn’t happen—does it?”
    “DISCARDED it? What do you mean? That’s ridiculous. We don’t DISCARD books. What a question.” Helen studied the screen. “There’s no record it’s been taken out.”
    “Of course,” I rasped. “No record.” And it was at this juncture that the aggregate of my anxiety, my dyspepsia and the frustrations I was experiencing became too much and licensed by Sylvia’s language to loosen constraints on my own, I blew, you could say, what remained of my cool.
    “Helen,” I heard myself blurt, “this is BULLSHIT! This is beyond the fucking PALE. It’s egregious enough that some books here go totally ignored for years and years. But what about the chance that posterity will acknowledge them, Helen? Have you bothered to observe all the stone and marble when you come to work—the enormous ceilings and the Latin inscriptions and shit? This is supposed to be a sacred place. It’s supposed to provide, in its implicit assurance of permanence, the opportunity for nothing less than an author’s immortality. And you know what? It’s just a fucking BUILDING now!”
    Helen looked at me then in a very peculiar way, and I knew she knew who I was.  
    “I’m sorry,” she said with a surprising and disarming gentleness. “I’m sure the book will turn up. Why don’t you try again in a few weeks?”
    But if Helen’s tone succeeded in softening my attitude, I wasn’t done.
    “My father,” I said, “he never finished it, Helen. He never finished his book.”
    I don’t mind telling you that after that I had a very bad time of it. I awoke each morning with the kind of heartache I thought was reserved for breaking up with the love of your life. Staying inside as much as I could, I turned off the phone and slept a lot. I was in a major depression.
    Although Helen had said to wait a few weeks I could wait no more than one. Despite a monster snowstorm, I braved the streets and an erratic subway and returned to the library.
    My book’s floor was nearly empty because of the weather, but a stifling heat was nonetheless blasting from the radiators. Quickly removing my coat, I looked around for Helen and Sylvia. To my relief two other women were behind the desk and there was no sign of them.
    Approaching the stacks then, I recognized the spine from thirty feet away. And my heart threatened to bolt from my chest.
    It was BACK!
    And not only was it back, but I discovered, upon rushing to it and taking it in my hands, that while it bore no withdrawal stamp it had obviously been read as well. Some person (or persons) had actually made notations in it.
    “OK,” was the listless and ambiguous judgment—WAS it a judgment?—next to one highlighted paragraph on the first page I opened.
    And then, several pages later, I found, “???”
    This I didn’t like seeing at all because it meant I maybe hadn’t done my job.
    And the marks on two subsequent pages were no less dispiriting—an apparent lottery number and what I had to allow was a not bad caricature of Barbra Streisand.
    A half-dozen pages later, however, and adjoining another highlighted passage—one of my own favorites, in fact—was a word I could not have brought myself to wish for.
    At first I felt like weeping. Then it occurred to me, and I was right back in the depths, that it was Helen who’d done this—that, following a charitable impulse (the very last thing I required!)—she had located the book and created this moment for me. But would a librarian deface a book? No, that didn’t, and under any circumstances, seem feasible. That was, if you thought about it, way off a librarian’s spectrum.
    I felt like weeping again. It wasn’t possible, was it, that the book had been in its place all along, that I’d suffered some kind of alcoholic derangement and INVENTED its disappearance?
    But if there was a mystery here it was a mystery that I was hardly inclined to investigate. In fact, it would be awhile before I wanted to come to the library again.
    After running my fingers across the breadth of the smooth jacket, and knocking my knuckles on the sturdy hard cover, I carefully placed the book on its shelf. Tapping it once, I turned and walked away—and then I paused and looked back at it.
    When I got outside I realized that I hadn’t put my coat on yet. But I didn’t need it. Standing on the library’s top step in howling gusts of freezing snow, I felt no discomfort.
    I felt indestructible.


Christina Bejjani

    Phirae groaned, pressing her pillow in front of her eyes, ignoring the bright flash and incommensurable heat that suffused her room for the next couple of minutes. Despite her best intentions, she couldn’t fall back asleep so she accepted the inevitable and sat up. She got out of the bed, bleary-eyed and clumsy, and stumbled to the kitchen. The motion and the morning light that filtered through the window reinvigorated her sleep-filled body and she retrieved the necessary energy to put the coffee beans in the machine to grind.
    While Phirae waited for her life essence to brew—its intoxicating smell already enveloping the room—she heard a soft caw. She left her post in the kitchen to walk down the hallway, stopping right outside her bedroom door. She stared at the creature, her head tilted and her mouth curved, bemusement and affection easily noticeable.
    There was always a creature in Phirae’s bedroom: it was the Soul-keeper and that morning was one of its rebirthal days—its flames awakening Phirae earlier from her nightmares. Phirae crossed the room to stroke the bird through its wrought-iron cage. Its scarlet and gold plumage felt as soft as the down in the pillow she had slept on and Phirae wanted nothing more in that moment than to keep indulging in the feel of the feathers between her fingers.
    The Soul-keeper, however, had different plans for her. It cawed again and banged angrily at the bars of its cage, its beak snapping too close to her fingers for comfort.
    “Crael, Crael,” Phirae crooned, shushing the bird. “You are by far the best phoenix we could’ve asked for. I shall get you your food, don’t worry.”
    Phirae withdrew her fingers then, weary of the bird whose eyes went wide at her mention of food. She backed away slowly and turned from the room with her nose upturned. She was not a snack and Crael would not draw away life from her for Niamel. She advanced purposefully to the kitchen, selected her favorite mug, and poured herself coffee. She clutched the mug until her knuckles were white with the pressure she exerted; even after she finished drinking and placed the cup carefully in the sink, there was still something in the manner she held herself that suggested her anxiety.
    Phirae went about her daily work—her independent schooling, cleaning, cooking, checking Crael, and the likes, activities of a housewife though Phirae was a trained fighter—but it was all for naught. Whenever she heard the slightest sound, she gave pause to her activity, looking at the door expectantly. Her face continued to fall all day until she no longer believed he would return. She flopped into a chair near the entryway and reread the letter she had received two days ago with a satisfied smirk aglow on her countenance. When the door creaked as it opened, Phirae did not look up, assuming it was just her imagination and keeping her attention on the letter. Someone cleared his throat and Phirae’s hands went to the sword at her waist as her head snapped toward the intrusive noise, letter forgotten.
    Niamel stood at the doorway, leaning against the frame while staring at her with an amused expression written on his face. Phirae barreled across the room and threw herself at him, embracing him with all the energy she could muster, her fear and anxiety trickling away.


    “Brother, I am so glad you have returned home. When Crael burst to flames this morning, I knew you must come back soon, but...” Phirae sat across the kitchen table from Niamel, staring at him with a fondness that transformed her plain face to one of deadly beauty.
    “I take it that didn’t stop your dear incessant worrying?”
    Phirae laughed—it was okay to be light-hearted now, she told herself. “No, brother, it did not. I protect Crael for you, but that does not mean it is a job I enjoy. I find myself more pleased in your company.”
    Niamel’s face hardened. “You shouldn’t. You must always be on alert, and it was not I who gave you that job anyways.” When Phirae lowered her head, looking abashed, Niamel’s eyes twinkled and his hand reached out as though he would force her to look at him. He didn’t. “Sister, I am sorry to upset you. It is never my intention.”
    “I understand you. I shall not complain about Crael anymore, brother.”
    Niamel laughed and Phirae raised her face to his. “Only say things that have the possibility of being true.”
    Phirae swatted his arm. “That is not funny! You were the stern one not two seconds ago and now you are trifling!”
    Niamel caught her loose hand and enclosed it in his. They both smiled. “Oh, Phi. What would I do without you?”
    “Want the serious answer or my real retort?”
    Niamel chuckled, but there was no crinkle to his eyes from the action. “Tell me instead what has been going on with you since my last assignment.”
    “I have not done very much, brother. I cook, I clean, I tend to Crael when his feathers need to be brushed and swept from the cage. I read books to educate myself and do the practices you’ve taught me, but none of this is very interesting.”
    “Phi... be serious with me. I know there are other things in your life too.”
    “I want to be a fighter like you. I am not meant to be cooped up like the phoenix I protect. I shouldn’t be stuck in this house just because that’s the role of the youngest child. It’s frustrating,” Phirae said, begging him to understand.
    “Phi...” Niamel’s gaze implored her to switch subjects.
    Phirae did not comment on either of his avoidances; rather, she ploughed forward with the few stories of the frivolity she had of late. “And Saunaef has even asked me to marry him. Brother, I am so happy in this matter. I do think I shall accept his proposal. Read this,” she commanded and shoved the letter she was rereading earlier into his lap.
    Niamel’s eyes widened while he read the letter, but his hands were unmoving and his breathing steady. When he gazed back at Phirae, he sounded inordinately calm as he asked, “Are you truly sure?”
    “He gives me great joy,” was Phirae’s response.
    “Sister, this is more than just happiness. It is everything.”
    “And I love him with every particle of my being. Except,” Phirae’s face twisted into a smile as she said, “for the part that you hold.”
    Niamel cupped his sister’s cheek with one of his hands and used the other to push the strands of her blonde hair that had cascaded down across her cheeks back behind her ear. “It is a rare sight to behold. I am the one of us who was born with a pure soul, and yet I am only filled with lust. You are the one who feels eternal love for another.”
    Phirae leaned her head into her Niamel’s hand. “That is not true, brother, and you know it. You love our queen by doing your duty to her. How can that be lascivious?”
    Niamel smirked and used his thumb to rub her cheek. “Have you beheld the majesty of our queen?”
    Phirae refused to fall for his bait. “No, but can you honestly say that is all you feel for her and this realm?”
    Niamel sighed, long and withdrawn. His hand fell limply down onto the table between them. “Perhaps not. Many days I wish I was born the youngest child so that I may have had your duties.”
    “My duties, my duties,” Phirae repeated with a smile. “Crael was hungry this morning. Go feed him. He almost bit my hand in his eagerness, and we both know you cannot be tainted by me.”
    Niamel left the room with a sweep of his traveling cloak. Phirae closed her eyes and waited. She sighed as a familiar tingle caused bumps to rise on her arms when the magic was exchanged. Still, she felt it was not enough to satiate Crael; she knew then that Niamel had only allowed the bird to nibble on his fingers. And her duty would be to scold Niamel when he returned.
    Duty. It was such a curious word. Everyone in Risacern had precisely two children as a matter of duty. The duty of the eldest child was to serve the queen in all matters while the child’s pure soul—the magic of the realm always ensured it was born pure—was stored in a Soul-keeper. If the eldest child did something unholy in his duty, the Soul-keeper burst to flames, ensuring the child’s soul remained pure, reborn because the Soul-keeper followed its duty. The duty of the youngest child was to protect the Soul-keeper daily, and should either of the children fail, the realm would perish, a lesson taught to them at a young age. The parents were allowed to raise their children and train them until they were of age at sixteen; then, the little ones were expected to fulfill their duties. The parents were never seen again afterwards, but it did not matter. The queen provided the food, clothing, and shelter necessary for her people.

    “But what would you have us do? This is all we have known and you dislike the idea of me becoming a fighter.”
    “I know and that is my point. There needs to be a change. I dislike the newest assignment my queen has given me, but I will obey her anyways. Why must we live like this? Why can’t I change things so that you may be happier? Have you ever dreamed of something more, sister?”
    “Yes,” Phirae acknowledged, tilting her head at Niamel, who chose to stand in the doorway rather than sit. “But you are trying to make me forget with my own mischievous dreams. Brother, you hardly let Crael feed off you. You know that after every rebirth, you are supposed to let Crael nourish so that your soul strengthens inside of him. And yet—”
    “Yet, I do not want to be trapped more in this system,” Niamel interrupted. “Sister, do not fret. All’s well. At least here, that is,” he corrected, shaking his head. “Did you know that the queen suspects there are many spies in her court? The Talyaks are gaining political power, and I fear it is for the worst. It certainly disrupts my dreaming of something more.”
    “Are the Talyaks the ones who took over the last neighborhood?”
    “I do not know how they managed to do that, but yes. They are...” Niamel looked at the ceiling with a frown.
    “I know, brother. I am sorry you are unhappy. I am sorry about the Talyaks. I am sorry our lives are not to your pleasure,” Phirae whispered, staring at her fingers.
    “You are considerate and too magnanimous, Phi. Even when those words are empty, I accept your kindness with the gesture.” Niamel approached her and kissed her forehead. “But I must take my leave now.”
    Phirae faced Niamel and began her daily memorization of his features. “But you’ve hardly rested and...”
    “My queen requires it of me, Phi. She only allowed me leave so that I may see you.”
    “Oh. And Crael, yes?”
    “Take care of yourself,” Niamel said, not acknowledging her last question. “I do not wish to alarm you, but be wary. Whatever’s going wrong lately...” He shook his head and kissed her forehead again. “Lock the door behind me,” Niamel shouted over his shoulder, waving his goodbye.
    Phirae did exactly what she was told.


    To the loveliest of all,
    I will always be yours.
    From the first moment we met, I felt entranced by you. You are unlike any other woman I have ever been with. You are not fickle, you are responsible and independent. You are not fragile, you are strong and courageous. You are not flippant, you are magnanimous and resolute. You are beautiful, body and soul.

    Please do me the great honor of becoming my beloved, Phirae. Of belonging to me and I to you, joined together in an eternal bond of love. If you do not desire this, pray do tell me quickly, a letter out of your hand as soon as you see this. If you do... Well, then I will be the happiest man alive so long as my soul stays pure.

    Over the past few days, Phirae had fretted because of what Niamel had said. She had been trained for fighting just as well as he had, but her fighting was restricted to the house she felt imprisoned in for years. There were two men she had grown to love with all the strength her heart could provide, and now they were both possibly in danger from the Talyaks. Phirae wished she could be in the battlefield, but nothing would ever happen to allow that. That was why she did not truly discuss her dreams of something more with Niamel. If she had expressed herself fully, her brother would be unhappy that she was displeased so she limited herself to cutting remarks, nothing that could entirely satisfy her.
    Phirae paced restlessly in her house until she finally decided to reply to Saunaef’s letter, having nothing else to do beyond trying to learn how to sew her own clothes.
    My Saunaef,
    You do me a great honor with your proposal. I have grown to appreciate your attentions and I hope to continue this and more in our future life together. Your kindness to me and understanding my frustrations have provided me with a friendship I could not bear to lose. I look forward to sharing my bed with a man whose heart is both tender and pure.
    I want to expand my letter and express my love with as much fervor as you have, but perhaps me asking after your welfare is also a sign of affection you can equate to my love. My brother has told me such tales that frighten me, and if you are able to reassure me, please do so; I worry so greatly about the two of you. I await your next letter for I’m sure, as it always does, that it will provide me with a joy no one else can give me.

    It would not bode well for a warrior and protector like her to have such fears; instead, she should fear that daft sewing machine she would tackle later.
    Niamel’s wishes flitted back to her mind, but Phirae swatted them away. She closed her eyes and mailed the letter with a hope so fierce it almost took her breath away.


    “Excuse my slip of manners, good sir. Would you like to come inside?”
    The messenger shook his head and his features arranged to those of polite apology. “No, Lady, I’m afraid my business is short and the usual civilities will only delay your receipt of my news.”
    Phirae wished there was a chair behind her; her knees began to shake so she gritted her teeth and her hold on the door became taught with her tension. “Well, your audience is rapt. Please proceed.”
    The messenger stepped forward, close enough that she smelled the cloves on his breath. “Lady, your brother has been wounded. You may not leave your house to visit him until he is rested enough; he wills me to tell you something else.” The messenger cleared his throat. “He wants to you guard Crael more zealously than you have. That is his message.”
    “How was he wounded?” Phirae’s eyebrows shot into her hair and her hands were shaking the door unconsciously. She hid them behind her back and straightened her posture.
    “On assignment,” the messenger replied, his eyes narrowed in confusion or suspicion– Phirae was unsure which.
    “No, you misunderstand me. I do not mean to pry into the queen’s affairs. I merely wish to know how he is hurt.”
    “Slashes to his forehead and thighs, lady. He has lost a lot of blood and needs to sleep off his exhaustion.”
    “Oh, dear Niamel!” Phirae cried out, her hands coming forward to clutch her dress tightly for a few moments. She then released the dress and placed her hands on the messenger’s shoulders. “You may tell my brother that nothing shall happen to Crael or him so long as I am alive.”
    “Indeed, my lady, I shall. May the queen’s blessings be upon you.” The messenger spun away from her and out the door. Phirae walked to the door, locked it, and fell to the floor, her back to the door. It had only been two weeks since Niamel had visited her and he had already been injured.
    “Oh, Niamel, what would I do without you,” she whispered.


    When Phirae’s exhaustion became too much to continue, she filled a cup with water and gulped it down in a heartbeat. She used a paper towel to wipe off her sweat and threw it away. She then proceeded cautiously to the door, opened it, and checked her surroundings. She sighed, picked up the mail, and closed the door. She began to flip through the letters and her heart pounded wildly when she saw the one from Saunaef. Wishing she could visit him right then and there, Phirae tore his letter open—and felt as if she were forgetting something—but she smiled at the contents of it. She held it to her chest, cradling it, and after a few moments, seemed to realize what she was doing and dropped the letter. Phirae frowned, clearly upset, and stalked to the bathroom to relieve herself.
    When Phirae tossed water on her face to cool down her body, she heard a thump that alerted her senses. She turned off the faucet and wiped her hands. She withdrew her sword and crept out of the door warily, head turning to the right and left, spotting no enemies, until one thought burst through the edges of her consciousness.

    That’s what I forgot.
    I did not lock the door.
    I was not as vigilant as I should be.
Phirae chanted as she ran to her bedroom.
    Crael was still in his cage but his neck was bent at an unnatural angle and his body was motionless at the bottom, his feathers without his penchant vibrancy.
    “This girl is meant to be your savior, Niamel? This puny girl?”
    “Phirae would never let me down for the world. Right, Phi?”
    Niamel looked at Phirae with a pride so blinding and true that she knew she would never forget his steadfast faith in her. A faith that even their parents and her scant friends had been quick to dismiss.

    Phirae punched and kicked and bit and even tried head butting her assailant or kidnapper or whatever this person was, but he was stronger, restraining her arms with one of his hands and carrying her against his chest with the other. He laid her down on the bed and straddled her as he used his hands to hold her wrists above her head. No matter how much energy she expended, Phirae could not dislodge the man and when she opened her mouth to scream, he clamped a hand down on it and used his other hand to imprison both of wrists instead.
    “Open your eyes,” he said.
    Phirae knew that voice.
    She obeyed the command and saw the long brown hair falling down and framing the face that was staring down at her. His hand lingered for a moment longer on her mouth, tracing the shape of her lips, before he used it to pin down her wrists again.
    He nodded.
    And then Phirae realized.
    “You ended up being one of the spies of which my brother spoke?” Phirae tried to keep her voice steady, but her lack of control, his betrayal, her brother’s loss—it was all too much.
    “Not by choice,” Saunaef answered sadly. “The Talyaks killed my Soul-keeper, and now I have to follow their orders. They did not order me, however, to refrain from speaking the truth, and I shall have you knowing the details.” He paused expectantly, but Phirae did not acknowledge his gesture. “They are the queen’s worst enemies and they dislike her new plan to extend her power. They know Niamel is one of the key players and now they will control him through me.”
    “All is lost–”
    “No,” Saunaef interrupted. “For those of us whose souls are now corrupted, we need you. Our souls are pure, but controlled by the corrupt. You must rectify this. You cannot let the world run into chaos. You cannot allow us to lose our free will. Fight for us.”
    “But why? There is nothing left for me here.”
    Niamel, eight years old, looked at Phirae sternly and added, “You’re positioning your feet incorrectly. You’re allowing the enemy in and now he has access to your vital spots. Hold your sword higher and keep your arms tucked in a bit more. There, that’s good. Now strike with all your might.”
    In front of her, the practice dummy split in half as her sword cleaved through it with the precision of a well trained assassin.

    “It is not all about you, my dear, and au contraire, there is still a lot left should you care to notice it.” There was something strangely intense in Saunaef’s mien as he declared those last words.
    “I never said it was all about me,” Phirae replied angrily, her hands shaking until she clenched them into fists. Though they were fists she could not even move to strike this man. She closed her eyes and evaluated his words. “Does this mean you are going to rape me?”
    “What?” Saunaef barked out, his voice sharp and guttural. “No. Of course not. I’m only on top of you to ensure my own safety.”
    Phirae sighed. “Even if you weren’t here, I doubt I would have the energy to reach my sword in time.”
    “This phoenix will be your life and death, Phirae. It holds all the truths of our realm, all the traditions, but even more than that, it keeps your brother safe.”
    “I’m also ensuring your safety.”
    “My safety doesn’t matter. I’ve lost everything,” Phirae mumbled, her words a mere whisper of the screams that pounded her brain.
    “And that is the true reason I will always keep it safe,” Phirae replied fiercely, thinking of the way Niamel protected her from the other children who tried bullying her as a child; of the way he made her breakfast when their parents were running errands;
    of the way he held her when she had admitted how much she would miss him when he was gone and when their parents had finally left them; of the way he paused each time at the threshold of their door before he left just to look at her fondly and return the love that she had always felt for her protector, her kindred spirit.
    Even though Saunaef’s anger and the force of him speaking those words had both physically and mentally shaken Phirae, she could not stop herself. She blinked, shutting out the images that kept flitting to her brain, and replied calmly, “You never loved me.”
    “I could kill you right now.”
    “Not killing me is not a gesture of love. It’s one of mercy...”
    “It’s not mercy,” Saunaef interrupted.
    Phirae continued as though he hadn’t spoken. “But I don’t even believe you’re capable of that anymore.” She opened her eyes then, wishing that her gaze on him could somehow shoot lasers into his skull.
    Saunaef sighed as though talking to Phirae had exhausted him. “If I was merciful, I would end your life. But I’m not. Instead, I get to see the hatred that now fills those beautiful eyes of yours.”
    “Why am I arguing with you?”
    “You won’t listen to me.”
    She did not respond.
    “You still have your choices and your freedom. You don’t have a duty to the queen yet. You have a lot to lose. If your brother or even I meant anything to you, you’d fight.”
    She blinked.
    “The youngest ones were always luckier than the elder ones.”
    He released her and left.
    Phirae stayed on her bed and heard the door close behind him.
    “Many days I wish I was born the youngest child so that I may have had your duties,” Niamel whispered back to her.


    If Saunaef died, she would both weep and silently rejoice, she had declared earlier in the day.
    But he and Niamel were now both worse than dead. Their bodies were soulless, their strings were pulled by others with too much power, but their minds were intact. They would kill her if they were ordered to—not even just her but the queen as well. They would destroy everything both they and she had ever known if the Talyaks wished it, but they would know exactly what they were doing even when they could not stop themselves.
    Phirae felt a steely resolve come across her. She rose and picked up her sword, tucking it back into its sheath at her waist. She walked to the front door and locked it. She began to practice her battle moves again, twirling her sword in high arcs above her head.
    Phirae had lost her love and her brother and failed in her duty. There was nothing left for her in the world, but that was the exact reason why she chose to struggle against her current situation. She swore that there would be a day when they were all free again, and she did not care what price she would pay as long as she could repair some of the damage that had been done to her. She dreamt of something more.
    Phirae was a natural fighter.


    Phirae marched towards the queen, the brazenness in her step shocking even her. It had not taken her long to reach the queen’s fortress and when she did, she danced around the queen’s guards; the ones who saw her knew and admired her brother so they did not question her motivations. Phirae did not even stop to admire the finery of the castle; she would not allow herself any other distractions.
    The queen had several servants attending to her in every way—fanning her, massaging her feet, braiding her hair. At the noise of Phirae’s approach, the queen’s eyes widened, not used to this level of audacity in her subjects. “And who are you to despoil my rugs,” she demanded.
    Phirae kept her shoulders straight and looked the queen directly in the eyes. “I am Phirae, sister to Niamel, your trusted servant, and I have news for you. My brother Niamel’s Soul-keeper was slain recently by Saunaef. Saunaef’s Soul-keeper suffered the same fate at the hands of another. I know you expect me to take Niamel’s place, but instead I ask that you release me from your service.” A collective gasp echoed in the hall, the queen’s servants stopping their work to gape at Phirae. “They are being controlled by the Talyaks, and it is likely that others who have been loyal to you have been cut down just like them. I seek to free them from such lowly servitude.”
    The queen’s eyebrows climbed so high they were hidden in her bangs; her lips pursed for a moment before a smirk arranged itself on her delicate features. She rose from her throne and stared haughtily down at Phirae. “What proof do you even have?”
    “None beyond my own word. You have to trust me.”
    The queen raised an eyebrow at that. “Why should I grant you this? What makes you different from the rest?”
    Knights gathered in the throne room and the guards reluctantly followed suit, realizing their mistake in either admitting Phirae or losing their vigilance while protecting their queen.
    The words flowed freely off Phirae’s tongue. “Determination. I have lost the people that matter most in my life. I failed in my duty so I ask that this be my duty instead. I no longer care if I live or die; I have one goal and even if you refuse me this, I will not serve you. I will serve my kinsmen and my country. This is my warning, the request itself a mere formality.”
    Outraged cries followed Phirae’s declaration, but the queen held up her hands for silence. “No has spoken to me like this before,” the queen challenged, daring Phirae to acknowledge her perfidious thoughts.
    “Death is my companion and it may well be yours if you do not grant me my wish,” Phirae replied, an odd calm radiating from her.
    The queen laughed freely then. “So you admit that I could have you killed for your impudence?”
    “You would be both wasteful and cruel then.”
    The queen’s smile widened. “I think I like you. You are well-versed and even have good intentions. But—” the queen said, her gaze scanning over the audience, the rest of her subjects. “But I shall grant this request to nobody else. Go in peace.”
    Phirae nodded her head in assent and turned her back on everything she had known. As she exited the castle, the cold morning air blasting her cheeks, she removed Saunaef’s letter from her breast pocket along with a lighter she kept for emergencies. She set her past to flames and marched with her back straight away from the ashes. Despite the price she paid, she allowed her dreams to come alive with each step forward.

cry at night

Karen Delasala

the wind rushes like something not silent
like out of a nightmare when faces appear
cold, damp, dark and mysterious
are these faces depressing like rain
i wish poetry could always be beautiful
but seldom is beauty a beautiful thing
cold, damp, dark and mysterious
are my days, all my rainy days
black is not a color that is simple
complex, intricate are its fine lines-
the wind howls like a forsaken creature
or one who can only cry at night.

John Yotko reading the Karen Delasala poem
Cry at Night
in the ISBN# book See the World Burn
and read from the 06/11 issue, v095, of Down in the Dirt

video Watch the YouTube video
not yet rated Live 06/21/11 at the Café in Chicago (in the ISBN# book See the World Burn and in Down in the Dirt mag v095, the 06/11 issue)

A Useless Man

From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    His friends said he was extremely clever but wondered why he didn’t do anything.
    They told him, “You throw it all away.”
    They said he was useless the way he was...
    But he said “Life is a joke. And I can’t bring myself to do anything but sit and watch.”
    I said, “He was a typical intellectual of the 22nd century who was paralyzed into inaction. Our true leaders did not appear on the world stage but were apathetic instead.”
    And the world economy spiralled down in trade wars, military wars and madness. Finally everyone was dirt poor and had nothing. It was just like the fall of Rome. And everyone was useless.

Alternative Realities

From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    Some people said that the world we see is not the whole picture. We are limited by our senses.
    And we are always ignorant on the cosmic scale of things... We are unable to understand all the important questions, such as if there higher beings, why do we exist, what is in space. What is under the Earth’s surface and so on...
    But human intelligence seems limited. If there was anyone smarter they would no doubt kill themselves out of sheer boredom and due to persecution...
    We are trapped in this mortal coil.

Baby Experiment

From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    They gave birth to 1000s of babies but there were no adults among them. They suckled a machine to get milk.
    As the years went by and the babies grew up, all they could do is moan and groan and roar. They still fed on the machines. And there were no other people just the babies. There was no education of any kind except what they learned from each other.
    Scientific observers noted that there was no difference between an orphaned animal and a human in this experiment.
    But animals didn’t have orgies, though, like they did here.
    But many people were bullies and crazy and violent, like animals here...
    But animals didn’t have orgies and so they declared this to be the fundamental difference between humans and animals.

Choking Under Pressure

From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    She was a figure skater. She made it to four Olympics but every time she fell and was a poor finisher.
    She felt like a loser and everyone thought the same, though they didn’t come out and say so.
    Twentieth in the world is meaningless.
    She said if the world is not how she would like then there’s nothing she can do about it.
    To be #1... is a curse to try for. Who can torture themselves the most to win... Then after years of torturous training to fall down boggles the mind.
    Some peoples’ lives are marred by failure. They fail no matter how hard they try. They have a lousy career, they get divorced they pay alimony and life loses its richness.
    “But the person that can come through under pressure is the best person of all,” I said.
    It’s a world of pressure for most.
    But still many look on the bright side no matter what happens.

Down in the Dirt (Again)

From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    Shitting bricks had new meaning here.
    They built their homes out of human feces bricks. The smell of the countryside was sublime... And they built temples to their Gods.
    Sometimes they rolled around in the shit wrestling or making love
    No hiding your “dirty mind.”
    The leader of the people was a well respected “dirty man.”
    Everyone sung his praises and thought him to be a role model. He led them in the dirt.
    But one day something snapped within his brain and he became a villain instead. And forced people to eat shit.
    This was too much for the people who rebelled and forced him to eat shit.

In The Cage

From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    They locked the criminal in the cage and people came by to see him. The tourists would wear a special headset that would allow them to read the prisoner’s mind.
    He knew when they probed his head and he would scream and shout.
    But everyone knows there is no escape from the cages we build around ourselves.
    We feel we can’t be free and we don’t let anyone else be free either.
    For most the cage is imaginary but there all the same.
    To escape from the cage is to escape from society. But outside society there is nothing interesting...
    “Man is everywhere in chains,” as Rousseau said.
    Many people are masochists and sadists at the same time.

In the Sewer

From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    I couldn’t remember how I got here...
    Last thing I knew I was selling weapons and the next I was down here.
    Why didn’t they just kill me I thought.
    I tried to catch rats who tried to devour my flesh while I slept but without success.
    Finally I got stuck in a narrow passage while the rats ate me alive.


From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    I dreamt I was scaling the statue of liberty and I fell and broke all my bones.
    The quest for liberty is an ongoing concern for many even in the year 2097.
    Freedom was never more hard to reach than now.
    You can’t be free and you don’t want others to be free either.


    Then I dreamt I was playing floating soccer on the Moon. It was just a dream inside a dream. While playing I just wanted to impress a certain nameless woman, lady liberty I called her.
    But she said, “It is not a game of freedom, but rather full of rules.”
    And she said, “I like no holds barred types of activity.”
    I said, “Is liberty chaos?”
    She said, “Of course. Nature is random and chaotic.”
    I said, “So to be an anarchist is the most free you can be.”<[>


    Then I dreamt I was swimming in an ocean covered by ice. There were mechanical fish and attack sea creatures but I had a protective aura around me... And I was looking for freedom...
    The sea creatures were ruled by “Triton, Lord of the Seas.”
    Triton controlled the sea life with “power wands” and most of the sea creatures could communicate using sign language.
    It was a giant experiment.
    I met Triton and asked him, “what was the point of these seas?”
    He said, “All the sea creatures were free, totally free and didn’t eat meat but rather just neo plankton.”
    And he was the King due to the fact that he was the brightest of the lot.
    And Triton said, “The hardest thing in life is to be free.”

Mad Android Fable #41

From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    In the year A.D. 2345 androids had taken over the government...
    Everyone believed androids were superior to humans...
    So many people wanted to turn into androids and did so.
    It was all fashion.
    Of course as androids they would not need to eat or sleep or have sex but rather would spend their time doing scientific research. However most humans had no scientific ability. So they became guinea pigs for scientific research conducted by the androids. Some people said the androids were just like Joseph Mengele, the Nazi. But the androids claimed they were doing important science that would benefit everyone.
    For example they were experimenting with the human form, trying to create a perfect artistic form unrelated to humans of today. And they were trying out clone education and contemplated changing everyone into an android.
    Moral: Humans will replace themselves sooner or later.

Mad Android Fable #47: Android Rights

From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    And so it happened that an android murdered his cruel human master.
    The courts looked at the video tape and declared the cruel master to have been a criminal in his treatment of his android.
    So there was no punishment.
    The people were outraged however and went on to riot and kill many androids and some humans...
    Moral: The idea of “rights” will be out of control in the near future.


From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    They had a competition for the greatest nihilist.
    The winner sat for 3 days with hardly a movement... People said he was meditating but most said he was doing nothing and obviously believed in nothing.
    Another talked to himself for days...
    Still another acted like a chimpanzee for a few days. He was very convincing and so on.
    But in the year A.D. 2234 most people were nihilists as ordered by the government. The government didn’t want the people to believe in anything. No strong views. Just live one’s life quietly.

Paying for Sex

From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    In the future it may come to pass that all men must pay cash for sex... After all for a suitable mate men have always had to pay alimony, child support and diamonds and gold and expensive dinners and so on. Women have always decided who loves who.
    It would be a world of prostitutes of various kinds... all teasers...And every woman would proudly wear a “price tag” to make all clear to potential suitors.
    In this world women had all the money and men had to work like slaves to afford sex.
    What else is new some said. Others said, society must treasure the fairer sex for they are superior to men.

World of Machines

From Tales of Madness, Vol.III, by Tom Ball (2010)

    It was the year A.D. 3897
    This world had been abandoned by humans.
    They didn’t bother to turn off the factories however.
    And there was a production line feeding farmed birds into a giant orifice of a God. The madness was set to continue indefinitely...
    The factories also produced things like God dolls. The God dolls looked intelligent and were male as well as female. A children’s toy perhaps.
    But there was a solitary woman here who called herself “Mother Nature.” She was naked and dishevelled at her fall from grace.
    Now she was just a destitute loser, dreaming on opiates... Only this and nothing more.

Birth of an Addict

Justis Mills

    The night Drew tried his Ritalin he ran for a long time. The cold bit into his face; it wrapped around his arms and filled his lungs with gentle fire. His freezing nose was childishly fascinating: a stiff numb slipperiness that spread right to the edge of his eyes.
    He should run more, he thought. He should run like this every night forever. He should run right down the suburban border, right where the streetlights started to stop, where he could see his feet but also maybe stars.
    He rested at a park that was dark and closed, with trees that looked like ghosts. No, not ghosts. Vampires, maybe, but a six-year-old’s vampires. The kind that was sort of scary but that didn’t keep anyone up at night. Prepubescent vampires, only also plants and much, much bigger than him. He laughed about that for a while, which was interesting and tingly on account of his lungs and face, but also made him want to run some more.
    He snuck a peek down the road, where the streetlights finished stopping and the pavement was invisible. The road was an abyss before him, winding like the intestines of a terrible beast, which wasn’t so scary because it meant the worst was over. He must have been chewed up and swallowed. Digested: stripped of nutrients. If he could take that, he could take the rest. He could be shit out somewhere in the middle of nowhere to melt into the dirt, ebbing down until he merged with the water that was sucked through the roots and the trees got his blood after all, the fuckers, and they’d laugh at how he’d laughed at them, but he’d be laughing too.
    God, the cold felt nice. He walked really slowly and felt the breeze pulling at his shirt, pulling him toward the breaking road, except then it stopped. He had come to the border, the precipice of the sparse lights at the lining of the cloud that you might see from space, if you knew where to look and you squinted.
    And then, the edge: a tennis court. The still air and nibbling cold and stark green flatness made all the trees disappear for a little bit, and it got quiet like the pause before some body swallows. He opened the gate and strode into the square, ready for battle but also unarmed.
    He couldn’t see anything outside the court, anything outside the center of these blaring lights; the tall fence’s shadows cast a checkerboard on his face. He walked to the net and stood transfixed, and his lungs had finally cooled off by now so it was just his heart pounding and his stomach considering being sick.
    And there it was, on the edge of the net: a graphite pole in its plastic sheath. He pulled it out, smirking, waiting for the net to fall. But it didn’t fall. It didn’t even slump. The pole was frozen in his hand, lightweight, menacing, useless.
    He didn’t want to run anymore. He was stunned, brandishing his tiny staff, waiting for something to seep into the straight flat green to try to eat his soul.
    Then his head split and his lungs ached and his face thawed, and he dropped his sword and closed the gate and began the long walk home.

heroin jar in shopping cart

Justis Mills Bio

    Justis Mills is the editor of First Stop Fiction. His work has recently appeared in Leaf Garden and Bloody Bridge, and is forthcoming elsewhere. In his spare time he is mostly tall.


Peter LaBerge

This word is served
with fries and a soda
as it slides off the tongue.
However, it does not belong
amidst pleasant, tasty foods and
its putrid juice inks onto the plate,
polluting the fries one by one.
Smell of rotting popcorn,
butter sneaking in between
stained couch cushions in the old,
reeking nursing home.
Contrary to popular beliefs
this word was not carted
into a nursing home,
blindly grasping for death.
This word is already dead.


John Yotko reading the Peter LaBerge poem
in the ISBN# book See the World Burn
and read from the 06/11 issue, v095, of Down in the Dirt

video Watch the YouTube video
not yet rated Live 06/21/11 at the Café in Chicago (in the ISBN# book See the World Burn and in Down in the Dirt mag v095, the 06/11 issue)

Peter LaBerge Bio

    Peter LaBerge is a sixteen year old up-and-coming writer. Though he was only introduced to writing poetry recently, much of his work is featured or forthcoming both online and in print. In addition, five of his poems were recognized in the 2011 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and he is the runner-up for the 2011 Elizabeth Bishop Prize in Verse. He is also the editor/founder of The Adroit Journal (, a literary publication dedicated to charity. His previous publication credits include Leaf Garden, Burnt Bridge, The Blue Pencil Online, The delinquent, Burning Word Magazine, Indigo Rising Magazine, The Camel Saloon, and more. He is also a photographer, with photography appearing in This Great Society.

The Violin

Malachi King

    The concert hall was drawing fresh converts every night. Wang Sho-Jia, an eight-year-old prodigy had tried to dismiss the growing storm of rumors concerning her violin, but it had the opposite effect. Her flawless English was so smooth and articulate viewers didn’t believe she was telling the truth. It sounded rehearsed, polished. Carmon had watched Sho-Jia’s interview and he didn’t believe her when she said her violin didn’t heal people like magic. “It was just the music,” she said, “that brought people in. The music heals the mind, not the body.” Her words fell around Carmon like snowflakes fall around a freezing man’s shoulders, hunching over a pitiful fire. He doesn’t want to notice the snow. He doesn’t want to believe it’s getting colder, the snow deeper, and his chances of survival slimmer by the moment.
    Wang Sho-Jia played two concerts backed by a professional symphony and was scheduled to fly to France after a third. Her concert tour was only halfway through when the rumors had begun. She didn’t understand them. She just wanted to focus on her music, on her violin. The sweet notes dancing in her head begged to be let out at each performance and when she performed it felt like a great connection was being made between her spirit and the physical world. This fusion set the music in her mind free and filled her soul with gladness. The roar of applause at the end of each concert was accompanied by Sho-Jia’s own heartbeat which also filled her ears and lightened her heart.
    The violin Sho-Jia played had been in her family for generations. Her father, Wang Bohai, had played it in concerts throughout China. He had been regionally well-known and had brought his family a reasonable income; first with performances, and then as conductor and composer. Bohai’s mother had passed the violin to him. She had been a music instructor in Hong Kong and did not play concerts, but she did inspire hundreds of children to follow their hearts with music. She was so talented, when she played the violin for her students many of them wept from overwhelming emotion.
    Beyond that, Sho-Jia only knew the violin had been a part of her family heritage for a long time. She was embarrassed that shame was brought onto her family from her performances. When she was told people believed her music was healing them of sickness at first she didn’t believe people would even believe such a thing. At the very next concert, though, she lingered in a hallway near the entrance, wearing a heavy overcoat, and listened to the whispers of men and women as they filtered in. Many were saying they hoped to be healed by the music. They spoke of inflammations, areas of pain, and cancer. When Sho-Jia saw an old woman being pushed through the doors on a wheelchair, she ran back stage and cried in her grandfather’s arms. Wang Cheung tried to comfort her.
    “Shhh, little spirit. Shhh. They only want to hear your beautiful music. Why should that make you sad?”
    She mumbled something in reply. It was broken apart by sobs.
    “That is not a reason to cry, little spirit. Listen. It will do them good to hear you. Let them believe. Remember when you believed in the power of music?”
    Wang Sho-Jia sniffled and nodded. She did remember.
    “I think there is something in you that still believes.” Cheung continued. “Music is a powerful thing. It is not for us to decide what that power is. Let their minds believe what they want. The mind heals the body, Sho-Jia.” He gave her a gentle squeeze. “Your parents still see you, little spirit, and they are very proud. I am very proud.”
    Sho-Jia climbed down from her grandfather’s lap, shed her coat, and picked up her violin. Its warm cherry finish comforted her and she traced the grain of the wood with her fingers. She felt the gracefulness of it, how it fit in her hand and under her chin. The tension of the strings held the potential for wonderful music, waiting for her bow, for her hands. She sensed the union between herself and the instrument, and let her heart settle into a peaceful rhythm. Then she walked out onto wings of the concert stage. A crowd of over two thousand waited.
    Carmon Blake had struggled to find parking. All the handicapped spots were taken, not all by vehicles with the proper tag. This was not unusual and Carmon just shook his head and went farther out to find a spot.
    It was taking him much longer to walk anywhere lately and he was leaning on his cane more the past two weeks. He bit back the pain that seared in his knees as he made his way between the cars and towards the concert hall.
    When he had been forced to begin using his cane at school he immediately became the subject of derision. Everyone made comments and laughed and said he looked like an old man. It was true; osteoarthritis was unusual for a boy his age, but not unheard of. They were just ignorant, Carmon told himself, they didn’t know any better. Ignorant idiots, his English teacher had called them.
    When he approached the swinging doors, Carmon sighed. They were difficult with a cane. The two doors on either side opened outward, but they were entirely blocked by people standing and waiting inside. There was a thin available path through the center and Carmon maneuvered through the rotating doors, grimacing at each step. It felt like someone was pressing his knees with hot irons. He paused and breathed deep when he made it through.
    Clutching the ticket he purchased online, Carmon needled his way through the crowd waiting at the counter. They were upset at the line they had created and Carmon ticked off another reason why the internet was the better way to buy. He showed an usher the number on his ticket and was waved to a seat in the middle section of the mezzanine. He painfully climbed the stairs.
    The crowd was abuzz with activity. People were finding their seats and turning off their phones. After he was seated, Carmon listened to one couple in front of him argue about how long the concert was supposed to take. The guy tried to elicit support from the strangers around him, but he lost the argument in the end.
    Carmon noticed an elderly pair to his right that held hands in silence. He wondered why they were here. Did they want healing too? The man dabbed his eye with a handkerchief and the woman began stroking the back of his head.
    Some talked so loudly everyone around them could hear. They seemed to enjoy the attention and blasted the rumors of healing with sarcasm.
    “I should have brought my dog! He needs fixing; he has a gimp leg!” A ripple of laughter followed.
    Someone from behind shouted, “Bringing your mouth should suffice! That needs fixing worse!” Now the laughter turned against the loud man, but he laughed along with them.
    Carmon watched the observers carefully. Some laughed carelessly, others were annoyed at the disturbance. A few, though, watched the speakers with lines of concern around their eyes. There was a hopeful glint in them. Carmon saw the elderly couple lock eyes for a moment, then the handkerchief came out again and the woman’s hand began to console the man.
    A hush settled on the audience as the musicians began taking their places on the stage. When a small Chinese girl came out carrying a red violin the crowd suddenly stood and applauded. She took her place at the end of the other violinists and bowed her head. The conductor entered with similar, although less intense, applause. He bowed graciously and turned his back to the audience, signaling the beginning. The two-thousand-plus concert hall quieted.
    The music began with sweeping low tones from the strings, rising then falling in time with the soft patter of the tympanis. The woodwinds entered with a flutter, adding to the chorus passages of harmony and phrase. The brass soon picked up the conversation with strong interjections. The conductor moved his arms in regular patterns, shoulders swaying slightly. The music gathered and maintained its pace. The first movement crescendoed with full participation of all instruments, carrying wave after wave of forms and dynamics. The audience was moved and clung to every sweep and yaw.
    Then the little violinist stood up. Her tiny form was dwarfed by the grandiose settings. A shower of lights descended on her shoulders and she moved the bow back and forth across the strings with purpose and ease. Microphones sent the stream of music emanating from her violin into the open space over the audience’s heads and down into each member, filling their ears with melodious song. They were enraptured.
    Carmon Blake listened to Sho-Jia play, enjoying the buck and sway of her notes. He wasn’t particularly a music lover, but tonight he made every effort to be. He kept his eyes on the Chinese girl and noticed her graceful form, barely moving, standing still as her arms worked the violin. Her head was tilted to the side, her chin held the instrument, and she played with her eyes closed. That impressed Carmon the most.
    His knees still hurt. He reached a hand down and caressed the bony knob on his left knee. It felt swollen. He suddenly felt stupid for being there. So what if his grandmother said her cancer was gone? She hadn’t gone to get a second opinion. The first doctor may not have seen any more cancer, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. Carmon fumed at himself. His ears turned red and his face flushed. How could I have been so gullible? He asked himself.
    Carmon stood up and stuck his cane out in front of him as he worked his way to the isle. People made efforts to let him by. One benefit of having a cane, he thought, is that some people actually get out of your way.
    Carmon brushed up the aisle and pushed the doors open to the stairway. Hot tears now eased from his eyes and slid down his cheeks. He knew in five months he would be a cripple and there was no magic in the world that was going to heal him. A cripple! The word buried itself in his mind and refused to yield.
    Before entering the main lobby, Carmon wiped a sleeve across his face. He may soon be a cripple, but no one was going to see him cry about it.
    The lobby was fairly deserted now, only a man on his cell huddled against the wall and an employee sat behind the counter, fiddling with the computer. Carmon just wanted to find somewhere to sit in peace. His knees were on fire from the stairs.
    He walked down the right hallway, his cane thudding on the tiled floor. He imagined himself an old man, bent low from years of toil, his joints enflamed and nearly useless. If I get to be an old man, he thought.
    A bench appeared at the end of another hallway and Carmon made for it. He could still hear the concert, its baritones penetrating the walls easily. The amplified violin sung above the rest, its rapid notes sounded bold, confident. Carmon could picture the young girl on the stage and thought it strange such a large sound came from such a small person.
    When he sat, the pain in his knees lessened for a moment then swelled to a fever pitch. Carmon pulled a tube of ointment from his pocket and pulled a pant leg up to apply it. The cream went on cold and slimy, but the rubbing brought the pain to a manageable level. Carmon sighed and leaned his head against the wall. He closed his eyes. He could now feel the music as much as hear it. The wall reverberated with the rhythms and pulse so much so that Carmon pulled his head forward and opened his eyes.
    A man stood before him. An old man with oriental features. He had on a grey suit, pinstriped, with a bright red tie. In the center of the tie was an emblem with a crimson shield surrounded by musical notes. Carmon’s gaze went up from the man’s tie to his face. It was etched with time, but his eyes were gentle. Carmon stood, surprised to find his own eyes had teared up again. He wiped them and muttered, “Excuse me” to the old man and tried to turn away. The man grabbed his shoulders.
    “No. Come.” The man’s gentle eyes met Carmon’s and held him there. Carmon didn’t struggle, but just watched as the old man motioned towards a door further along in the passage. “Come. You’ll see. My name’s Cheung.” The old man pressed Carmon’s cane into his hand and smiled. Carmon walked with him to the door without actually knowing the reason why. Something about the man, something about his eyes. Carmon trusted them.
    Wang Cheung pushed the door open for Carmon and held it as the boy passed. They sat together on a bench in the next room. There were coats hanging on one side and instrument cases stacked along the wall. Several had stickers naming cities Carmon had never heard of.
    The music was louder here and Carmon and Cheung sat and listened. After a time, Cheung turned to Carmon and said, “My granddaughter loves to play. She was never forced into it.” Carmon nodded politely. “She has always loved it. I think it helps her deal with the loss of her parents. She’s so young.” Now it was Cheung’s turn to wipe away tears. Carmon felt incredible sadness come from this man. Cheung hung his head for a moment and closed his eyes. His shoulders shrunk as if from incredible weight.
    “She plays wonderfully.” Carmon said.
    This brought the old man around. “Yes. She has the gift. Much like her father did, and her grandmother.” Another smile. Cheung’s eyes became bright and soft again. “She doesn’t understand why people come to be healed. She thinks it’s silly.”
    “It is silly.”
    “No, son. It’s not. Her violin, it’s...special. It’s over three hundred years old.”
    “I didn’t mean-”
    “I know what you meant. It’s okay. She thinks the same as you. Only I know about the violin. It was once-” Cheung’s voice was lost in a roar of applause. The music had ended.
    Cheung’s smile widened and his fingers absently touched the symbol on his tie. Carmon was about to ask him about the violin when a side door was thrust open and the conductor entered. He looked tired and flushed. He sat down wearily and acknowledged Cheung with a nod.
    The young violinist entered next, clutching her instrument with both hands. She ran to Cheung and hugged him. Carmon looked at the floor.
    “Sho-Jia, this boy wants to meet you.” Cheung smiled wide and motioned toward Carmon.
    “Hi.” Carmon said. “You sound wonderful.”
    “Thanks. It’s more the violin than it is me.” Carmon noticed she had Cheung’s smile.
    “Well, it’s nice to meet you. I’d better get-”
    “Not yet.” Cheung said, holding his shoulder. “Sho-Jia, would you mind playing for him? Just a little?”
    “Of course I will, grandfather.”
    Sho-Jia closed her eyes, nestled the red shiny violin under her chin, and began to play. The broad notes filled the room, bounced off the walls, and buried themselves in the hearts and minds of the three men that were present.
    The conductor sat and stared at Sho-Jia. He still couldn’t believe this little girl could play with such emotion. He knew it was an incredible honor to conduct her performances. It had been three months since the cist in his cerebral cortex had begun to shrink. He didn’t even know it existed.
    Carmon was shocked by the waves of energy that radiated through his body. Sho-Jia was just standing there, pulling the bow across the strings, but Carmon could barely stand. He finally sank to the bench, steadying himself with both hands. A brilliant light pierced his head and pulsated down into his neck and chest. Carmon clenched his eyes and braced himself. He didn’t know what was happening, but he couldn’t do anything about it anyway. His entire body was riveted to the frequency of the music coming from Sho-Jia’s violin.
    When the waves of energy reached his hips he heard popping sounds. The burning sensation immediately cleared away and his pelvis felt numb. Then it was his knees. The pain washed away and was replaced with a dull sensation, a low humming. Next, his ankles vibrated. It felt like grains of sand were being pulled out of them. Soon, they too were numb and painless. When the light passed through Carmon’s feet, Cheung put a hand on Sho-Jia’s shoulder. She brought the music to a stop and lowered the violin.
    Carmon remained poised on the bench for a moment, eyes closed.
    Presently, he opened his eyes and saw Sho-Jia putting the violin in its case. Cheung was holding the case for her. He turned and smiled at Carmon. Just before Carmon said thank you, Cheung shook his head and put his finger to his lips, then motioned toward the door. Carmon nodded. The old man’s eyes were wistful, intelligent, and rimmed once again with tears. Carmon pushed the door open and walked into the hallway. He left his cane behind and never came back for it.


What We Talk About When We Talk About The End

    Ally Malinenko

    It goes in different directions. I try to stay away from the panic.
    I think about Juneau. Or islands out there in the middle of the ocean.

    I complain about New York City grocery stores and the weather.
    We compare the places we have lived. But I don’t want to go back.
    I want to go forward. Somewhere new.

    This is what this time has been like. It is a vacuum. A non-space.
    I don’t live here, no one lives here. Here we just wait.

    We talk about selling off all our belongings. Leaving the apartment.
    Storing the little that mattered. And walking. South first, then west.

    Walking across America to see what there is left to see before the oceans become toxic and the people have all closed up and left for higher ground.

    Just walking till we reached another land, another option. A place where the sand
    feels like sand and not like the glass it is already trying so hard to be.

    Then the cats meow. They curl around my feet and cry in the heat, so full of need.
    And I worry we can’t go. We have so little but right now it seems we have taken on too much, the way a ship takes on water.

    So then we talk about other things. Bluffing. Poker. We talk about chess and pawns.
    Metamorphosis. We talk and talk to fill the hours before we know.

    It is the universe, I tell you, telling us to move on. We talk about “better.”
    We use that word. You nod and sip your drink. We don’t talk about Europe. That part is too hard.

    This is what we talk about when we talk about the end.

The Individual Who Missed an Appointment

Mark Chrisinger

    Clyde Thomas missed his appointment on Wednesday, the day before Christmas Eve. He told the receptionist that he had a “peculiar squeakiness in the joints, and it’s quite painful and, frankly speaking, embarrassing in public. So, you see, I won’t be able to make it.”
    “In that case,” the receptionist said, “you really might want to come in and have the doctor check it out.”
    “I’m sorry,” Clyde said and hung the phone on its hook.
    Mr. Thomas was a large man who was mostly clean-shaven and slicked his sandy blonde hair back in such a way as to make people think he almost never washed his hair. Otherwise, his appearance was quite neat: collared dress-shirts tucked beneath a belt, sport jackets, the occasional scarf, a dandy cap in the old-fashioned bowler style, etc.. He worked in an office as a customer service agent for a company that provided educational software for adult learners. Mostly he sat at his desk and reassured customers over the phone that what they were doing was correct, but he would also occasionally meet in person with people that were particularly helpless and needed on-the-spot instruction. After work, he either went to the bar with his friends, most of which worked with Clyde at the company, or to his girlfriend Janeva’s place. On the Wednesday before Christmas Eve, Clyde was supposed to see the doctor for a routine checkup. He had taken off work for this specific purpose. However, when the day came, and he put on his coat to leave, it occurred to him that he shouldn’t go, and he called the doctor’s office and cancelled.
    “Today will be a day,” he thought, “for something more amusing.” At this, he left his apartment and walked out into the streets. “Janeva,” he thought. “I will call her, and we shall meet, and it will be a lovely day.” And, thus, as he was taking out his cell-phone, smiling to himself, his employer, Mr. Briggs Johnson, walked by.
    “Clyde?” Briggs said and stepped in front of him.
    Clyde looked up from his cell-phone, and for a moment his smile wavered. “Mr. Briggs!” He shook his hand. “Good to see you.”
    “Are you going to work today.”
    “I have taken off, for an appointment.”
    “Hmm. Yes.” Briggs puffed out a large breath from beneath his gray-and-black mustache. “There is something to be discussed, Clyde.” Briggs shook his head, and he held his arms akimbo.
    “What is it?” Clyde pocketed his phone.
    “It is a matter of employment.” Briggs put his arm on Clyde’s shoulder and began to walk. “You see, it is not an easy time for us, you know. We need to save wherever we can.”
    “Sir, you’re not saying that I’m up for review, are you?”
    “Ha!” Briggs laughed. “No, no. Not you.” He looked askance at Clyde, and then looked slyly ahead. “But there are others I am considering.”
    “And you want my help?”
    “Yes, I want your help in deciding who is worth what, etcetera. You know?”
    “Ah, I see.” Clyde was silent for a moment. “Who exactly do you have in mind?”
    “Shh!” Briggs raised his finger to his lips and looked around. “Quiet. Quiet. We shouldn’t be talking about this in public. I am sorry I brought it up. But you must see me as soon as you are back in.”
    “That won’t be until Monday.”
    “Monday? That won’t do.”
    “Well, you see, I have the day off, and we are not in business Thursday, Friday, and then it’s the weekend.”
    “Right,” Briggs nodded. “Right. There is a problem, then. You see, the layoffs are scheduled to take effect on Monday, so we can’t very well discuss the matter then. I think, Clyde.” Briggs stopped and faced him. “This is a time for you take a little sacrifice for the team. Come in after your appointment, or tonight, whenever you can, today, and we will discuss this matter. If you can’t.” Briggs looked around at people passing by. “Well. Well perhaps we’ll have to reconsider some of our options.”
    “Oh, no, Mr. Briggs. You have my word. I’ll come in as soon as I can. It’s just a check-up I have. It won’t take long.”
    “Right.” Briggs smiled. “That’s what I like to hear.” He slapped Clyde on the back. “I’ll see you soon.” Briggs walked off, and Clyde turned back in the other direction. His phone rang, and he picked it up. “Janeva?”
    “Clyde...we really...there’’s all screwed up...”
    “Janeva. I can’t hear you. Janeva.”
    The line disconnected, and Clyde decided to walk to Janeva’s house, which was about ten blocks down.
    It disturbed him that Mr. Briggs was asking him to help decide who would get laid-off and who would stay. As far as he could tell, any one of his buddies that worked with him at the company would be ideal candidates. But how could he decide? Jamey perhaps deserved it the most: he often took two hour breaks and was known to eat chips while talking to customers. But, then again, he often had good results. Carl had the worst results of the team—that was obvious enough—but he always put his time in and almost never called in sick. It was not a clear matter at all, and the end result would be the termination of one of his friend’s employment. Perhaps he should simply choose by favoritism? But could he really pick between his friends? Maybe he could risk it and not go in. Of course, that would be bad business. He would do better to look out for himself.
     The phone rang.
    “Clyde, you should come over, because me and some friends have the day off, and we got some weed.”
    There was a pause. “Yeah. We got some weed.”
    “Well, I was coming over anyway. I have to do some things though. I got to go into work.”
    “Rachel’s friend...and he...they all had this weed.”
    “Hey, I can’t hear you. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
    Clyde shut the phone, and, as he was putting it in his pocket, it rang again.
    “Hey, Janeva.”
    “Clyde, it’s Briggs. I just got a call from Fred. He’s saying the’re about six people calling in sick. We need some people in here, so you get here as soon as you’re done with that appointment.”
    “Right, sir, I’ll be there soon, in fact. It won’t be more than a couple of hours.”
    “Okay, Clyde, thanks a lot. You’re my man.”
    Clyde walked a little faster and turned onto the side street Janeva lived on. The house was an old, drafty Victorian that badly needed a new paint job. In front of the house was a group of girls standing around a car and smoking.
    “Clyde!” Janeva, a slightly plump girl, wearing a black sweatshirt, her dark hair pulled back, left the group and ran up to meet him. “How are you, honey?”
    “I’m fine.” Clyde kissed her cheek. “A party here today?” He nodded at the group of girls.
    “Just a few friends.” She smiled. “Are you going to stay a while?”
    “I don’t know.” He looked down the road. “I got to go into work.”
    “Well you should stay, honey.” She hugged him.
    “Yeah, yeah, well I’ll be here a little while.” He started to walk towards the house.
    “You have to meet my friends. Hey, this is my boyfriend, Clyde.”
    They waved.
    “Hey,” Clyde said. He stood there for a moment, then said, “well, I’m going to get inside. Nice to meet you.” He walked up the steps and into the house, and the strong aroma of weed arose as he opened the door. He walked into the living room to find two guys sitting on the floor smoking weed.
    “Hey, dude,” the one just about to light bowl said. He was dressed in flannel and had long, greasy hair.
    “What’s up, man.” A guy in a brown leather coat and slicked-back black hair stood up and held out his hand. “You Janeva’s boyfriend?”
    “Yeah,” Clyde said and shook his hand.
    “That’s cool.” He looked back at his friend. “You want to take a seat, have a few hits?”
    “Oh.” Clyde looked outside at the group of girls by the car, smoking and laughing, talking excitedly. “Yeah, yeah.” He took off his coat and threw it in a nearby armchair. “I’ll have a few hits.”
    “All right, man. All right.”
    They sat down, and the guy with the long hair gave Clyde the bowl.
    “Thanks man.” He took a hit, exhaled with some effort, then said, “How old are you guys?”
    They laughed.
    “How old are you, man?” said the guy with the long hair.
    “I’m thirty.”
    “Shit, man, you’re old. We’re all like twenty three.”
    Clyde nodded his head. He looked down at his collared shirt and the belt around his thick waist. “I guess you don’t see too many guys dressed like this sitting down to smoke.”
    “Yeah, well, it happens, man.” The guy with the greased hair leaned back on the floor.
    “So,” the long-haired guy said, “what do you do, like office work or something?”
    “Yeah, I work in a cubicle and answer phones.”
    “Shit!” They laughed.
    “Yeah, well,” Clyde smiled. “It’s not so bad, you know. You got to do something.”
    “Yeah, that’s crazy.” The guy with the leather jacket lit the bowl, took a hit, then said, “I know we got to get jobs someday. It sucks.”
    “Yeah, it sucks shit,” the long-haired guy said.
    Clyde laughed. “What do you guys do for money now?”
    “Our parents, dude.”
    “You live at home?” Clyde took the bowl up again.
    “No, they give us money, and we have our own places.”
    “Shit.” Clyde coughed. “That’s crazy.”
    “It is”—the guy in the leather jacket took out a cigarette— “a way of life. We, of course, admit.” He lit the cigarette. “It is a pathetic way of life. But it is, certainly, a way of life.”
    “And you guys are comfortable with it, I see.” Clyde smiled.
    “Hey, man,” the long-haired guy said, “it sucks like anything else, I guess.”
    Clyde laughed. “Yeah, maybe it all just sucks. But what can you do? Not too many people want to kill themselves. Why? I don’t know.” He looked down at the bowl in his hands. “You want this?”
    “No.” The long haired guy raised his hand. “I’m good for now.”
    “You?” He held it out to the other guy.
    “No, man. We’ll save it for later.”
    Clyde put the bowl down on the rug and folded his hands over his belly. He looked out the window again. The girls were puffing at the ends of their cigarettes and stamping them on the ground. “Shit,” he said. “Looks like the girls are coming back.”
    “Yeah, shit,” the guy with the leather jacket said. He leaned forward and grabbed the bowl. “Better watch out, Pete.” He nodded to the other guy as he pocketed the bowl. “You think you have plenty, and then all of the sudden you’ve had two hits and it’s gone.”
    “I know, man.”
    “You guys going to be here long?” Clyde asked.
    “We might be heading out soon.” The guy in the leather jacket stood up, as did Pete the long-haired man.
    The front door opened, and the sound of several loud voices arose.
    Clyde sat on the floor and watched the two guys standing between him and the doorway where the girls were walking in. It occurred to him that, as much as his stoner buddies didn’t want to see their weed diminished, because it would feel, in a sense, like a depletion of essence for no good reason, he did not want to linger and find his day emptied of time.
    “Hello guys!” a girl with pigtails tied with neon ribbons shouted.
    “Hey,” the guy in the leather jacket said. “We were just heading out. Pete’s got to go to a job interview.”
    “A job interview?” the girl said. “What’s the job?”
    “Oh, it’s like, what?, Pete.” He turned to his friend. “Uh, cubicle work, right?”
    “Oh, God!” The girl rolled her eyes. “Well let me tell you something, honey.” She held Pete by both his shoulders. “You don’t want it.” She stared at him for a moment. “Trust me.”
    “Yeah, right.” The guy in the leather jacket slapped his friend on the back. “Well the man’s got to eat.”
    “Yeah.” Clyde sat up. “The man’s got to eat.” He picked up his coat and put it on.
    “Oh, Clyde.” Janeva pushed by the others. “You’re leaving? She stepped up close to him and held him by his coat collar. “We didn’t even get to hang out.”
    “Yeah, well, I got to work.”
    “Oh, come on. Just stay a little.” She stuck out her lower lip and looked at him with wide, begging eyes. “Pleease?”
    Clyde looked at her for a moment, then looked away. “I really can’t,” he said.
    “You have to, Clyde.” She pulled at his collar.
    “I got to go.” He took his collar out of her hands and kissed her. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
    “Okay.” She looked down with a sulky expression.
    Clyde touched her shoulder and walked past the others and out the door.
    He took out his cell phone and checked the time. It was not even noon. He had no intention of going in early to work. He needed time to think before his meeting with Briggs.
    “Clyde! Clyde!” Janeva ran out the front door.
    Clyde stopped on the sidewalk. “What is it?”
    “You’re not mad at me, are you?”
    “I have to go to work.”
    “Are you sure you’re not mad at me?”
    “I am not mad.”
    “Okay.” She hugged him. “Good.”
    “I just have to leave.” He kissed her again.
    “Well have a good day, then. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
    Clyde continued down the sidewalk, and, as he turned the corner, back on to the main street, he thought, “It is a life of continuous brambles,” and, as he looked across the street and noticed the sign for a Gombo’s Pub and Restaurant, it seemed to him that nothing was better than pleasing oneself in the absence of service to others, and he crossed the street and entered the pub.
    A man with a long mustache and a white collared shirt with flowing sleeves stood behind the counter of the bar. As Clyde first found him, he stared straight ahead, apparently at the bench where customers were supposed to wait, and held his hands in front of him. There were several people eating at the tables beyond the bar, and the place was somewhat noisy. When the man noticed Clyde, his face slowly brightened, as if he were seeing an old friend, and he raised his hand and said, “Enter, sir. Our place of dining is your place of dining.”
    Clyde stepped forward to the bar.
    “A table for one?” The man leaned forward. He raised his eyebrows. “Or drink for ten?”
    Clyde stared at the man.
    “Ha!” He laughed. “Very well, Horace!, Horace!, a table for one!” A young man with an angry expression came out from somewhere beyond the bar. He looked around the room, set his eyes on Clyde, and said, “Just one?”
    “Follow me.”
    The restaurant’s dining area was stuffy and somewhat dark. The walls were a soft red, and the tables were sectioned apart by bulky wooden partitions with mirrors on the interior. The waiter lead Clyde to a stall for two and said, “I am Horace, and I will be your waiter. Anything to drink?”
    “How about a Guinness.”
    “Very well.” He handed Clyde a menu and left.

    Within the hour, Clyde had consumed several Guiness and eaten a meal, and it suddenly seemed to him that seeing Mr. Briggs was an excellent idea, and that he would be happy to do it immediately. He left a tip at the table, paid the bill at the bar, and, after the man with the long mustache bowed and said, “A good day to you sir, and happy holidays,” he walked out into the street, carrying his coat and hat in his arms. For a moment he stood there, watching the people go by, and he asked himself who these people were, and what were they doing? In a moment he became cold, and he put on his coat and hat and began to walk towards his place of employment.
    As he was walking into the building, he ran into Carl, a lanky, partially balding fellow who was the all-time low-performer of their group.
    “Hey,” Carl said. “I thought you were off today.”
    “Briggs wanted me to come in. He said a lot of people had called in sick.”
    “Yeah, there’s me and Fred up there, and a few other guys. It’s ridiculous.”
    “So what are you doing? Going to lunch?”
    “No. Briggs said I could leave early. He said business was slow and I might as well take the time to enjoy myself while I can.”
    “Huh. Well I guess I’ll go talk to him anyway.”
    “Right. Good luck. See you around this weekend?”
    “Yeah, I’ll see you around.”
    Clyde walked inside and took the elevator to the fourth floor. The doors opened to a quiet, mostly empty office space. Fred sat in the corner at his desk, on the phone.
    “Hey, Clyde.” Fred waved to him.
    Clyde waved and took off his coat and hat, which he threw on the desk in his cubicle. “Briggs in?” He pointed to Briggs’ office.
    Fred nodded. “Yes, ma’m, that is the administrator only function...”
    Clyde walked across the room and knocked on Briggs’ open door.
    Briggs sat at his desk eating a sandwich. There was an open bottle of diet soda on the desk. “Clyde. Come in.”
    Clyde walked in, closed the door, and sat down in front of the desk.
    “Everyone okay at the doctor’s office?”
    “All is well.” Clyde smiled and nodded his head.
    “Hmm.” Briggs chewed and nodded his head. He placed the sandwich on the desk and took a swig of his diet drink, then put the cap on the bottle and slapped his hands together. “Now, Clyde, let’s talk business.” He leaned forward. “Can you tell me who in your group is the best and worst performer?”
    Clyde leaned forward, thought for a moment, then said, “You mean the best and worst performer?”
    “Best and worst?”
    “Like at the same time.”
    Briggs sat up and looked around the room. “How the hell can you have that?” He leaned forward again, and he took a long breath. “Tell me this, Clyde: Who is worth keeping, and who can we chuck out the window?”
    “Hmm.” Clyde held his chin in his hand and slowly nodded his head. “Right.”
    Who could they chuck out the window?
     “It’s difficult, Mr. Briggs. You see, all these people are my friends.”
    “Ha!” Briggs raised his head and laughed, then leaned closer over the desk. “I don’t care if they’re all your mother’s favorite uncle, Clyde. Let’s just talk in straight facts.”
    “Yes, sir.” Clyde continued to hold his chin in his hand and nod his head. “Facts,” he thought, “look at the facts.” He watched Briggs take another large bite of his sandwich.
    Briggs rolled his eyes and bobbed his head as he chewed. “Take your time,” he said, then cleared his throat and picked up the diet soda.
    “Right. You see, I just need to go back to my desk and get some papers.”
    “Well, go on, man.” Briggs waved him off.
    Clyde stood, nodded to Briggs, and walked out of the office. He picked up his coat and hat at his cubicle and left, and as he stood in the elevator he thought, “Briggs, Clyde: stupid, stupid. Clyde’s friends, Clyde’s girlfriend: stupid, stupid.”
    When he made it down to the street, he went back to Gombo’s Pub and Restaurant. The man with the long mustache was there, staring blankly at the wall in front of him. Clyde walked up to the bar and said, “How about another Guinness?”
    The man shook his head and looked at Clyde, and his expression slowly changed into a smile. “Sir!” he said. “Welcome to our establishment!”

You’re Not Hearing Me

Harold W Eppley

     “I need to cancel my reservation.”
    Charles heard a clicking noise and then some music from the 70’s. Something by Tony Orlando.
    “Shit Marie, they’ve put me on hold.”
    She probably didn’t hear him. She was in the kitchen, rearranging items in the cupboards, as she had been doing since Andy called.
    The television was on and the sound was muted. It was tuned to CNN which was what they had been watching when Andy called. Across the screen it flashed, “BREAKING NEWS.” Someone somewhere must be suffering. That’s what he always thought when he saw those words. Breaking news is almost always bad.
    “Yes sir, can I help you?” The man spoke with a foreign accent. He sounded like he was from India or the Middle East or somewhere over there. He sure as hell wasn’t from Des Moines.
    “I have a reservation for three nights, starting Thursday. The name’s Cramer, with a C. I need to cancel that.”
    There was no reply on the other end of the line.
    “I should be in the computer. We stay there every year when we come to Des Moines. My s— um, my wife she needs the posturepedic. So we always stay in the suite with the king-sized bed.  On the first floor. My wife’s got this thing about that. In case there’s a fire.” Shit old man, are you going to tell the foreigner your whole life story? “Anyway, I made the reservation last January. AARP rate.”
    “Thursday night,” said the man with the accent, finally. “That is a holiday. That is Thanksgiving.”
    Probably not where this man was from.
    “We cannot cancel your reservation. The time has expired for you to do that.”
    “I have until 6:00 pm on the night the reservation begins—”
    “Sir, not on a holiday.”
    “What are you saying?”
    “Holiday stays must be canceled one week in advance.”
    “My credit card will be charged whether we stay there or not?”
    “That is correct, sir.”
    “You’re not charging my credit card! I’m canceling my reservation. Do you understand?”
    “Sir, you must have a valid reason to qualify for a cancellation refund.”
    “We’re not coming because— it’s too cold there.”
    That’s what Andy told them. He called when they were in the middle of dessert. Blueberry cobbler and coffee in the living room. They talked about the weather in Des Moines and the cold front coming in from Nebraska. They talked about that for a good five minutes and Marie said, “We better bring our winter jackets.”
    Then Andy said, “Listen, Mom, Dad. About the reason I called—”
    “Have you got your storm windows on yet?”
    “Didn’t I tell you, Dad? Jeff installed new thermal panes. We’re getting a tax credit.”
    Charles was about to say, you can thank George Bush for that. Obama’s going to cut those credits next year.
    Then Marie said, “Will Jeff’s girlfriend be there this year? She’s so sweet.”
    Andy said, “Listen, this is hard. I don’t know how to break this to you.”
    “Weather is not a valid reason,” said the man with the accent.
    “You’re not hearing me. I’m not staying and I’m not paying.”
    “Sir, may I help you with something else?”
    “I’m never staying in your goddamn hotel again. Do you understand? I want to talk to your supervisor.”
    “What I . . . we wanted to tell you is that, well . . . Listen, I’m gay, and Jeff and I, we got married last week.”
    Charles tasted the blueberry cobbler turning sour in his mouth. Don’t you do this. 18 years we raised you, paid for that college education, didn’t say a word when you moved off to the city.
    He thought Andy was going to say something else, but then Marie said, “My feet bother me so when it’s cold.”
    “Dad, are you still there?”
    I won’t let you do this to your mother.
    “Ever since that time they got frostbit,” said Marie.
    “Listen, Mom, Dad. I just wanted to clear that up.”
    “Have a happy holiday, sir. One minute while I transfer your call.” Tony Orlando again.
    Marie was saying something to him from the kitchen. They had been married 31 years and still she expected him to drop what he was doing and come into the room so he could hear her.
    “How’s this for a reason,” Charles said to Tony Orlando. “My son is dead.” He placed the phone receiver into the base.
    It was dusk now and the only light in the room was the flashing glow of the television. More breaking news. Someone somewhere must be suffering.

The Group

Kim Farleigh

    The curving road disappeared behind converging walls, swallowed up by facades. Lights glowed gold under turquoise heavens. Black panes lined the road.
    Twenty-five people were on the street, wearing the same dark-blue shirt.
    “We’re a group,” a man said, “so saving beds and seats in pensions and restaurants is out. We’re a group and we have rules.”
    “What are the rules?” someone asked.
    “You know what they are.”
    “No, I don’t!”
    “You know that saving beds is out. It’s obvious in a group.”
    “I saved a bed because I was asked to do it.”
    “Don’t do it.”
    “I’ll decide if I want to do it or not.”
    Stiff index fingers got pointed at angry faces.
    A man said: “Juan – look at this.”


    Down the road a man in a pension’s doorway said: “There would be a disaster here if there was a fire. The fire-escape door’s too narrow.”
    This man’s girlfriend was in the walking group. He had shown up unexpectedly to see her. The girlfriend was beside him, wearing the blue shirt. The man’s son was awkwardly quiet beside the girlfriend. The son looked like he was cemented to the spot. His facial features were frozen; but his eyes were glowing with an uncomfortable glint as if all his repressed energy was being fired out through those strangely shining irises.
    The manager opened the pension’s emergency exit and said: “With this door, and the two main doors, there’s enough space.”
    “No there isn’t,” the boyfriend said. “There’d be a crush.”
    The silent girlfriend, holding bags, was leaving the pension to move to her boyfriend’s hotel.
    “That’s enough!” someone screamed, down the road.
    “I’m going to ring the police,” the manager said. “You’ve got me worried now.”
    “The police could close this place down,” the boyfriend said. “It’s a death trap.”

    A man was waiting to speak to the manager. He just wanted his passport back. He thought it was the nicest pension he’d ever stayed in.
    The manager looked at the boyfriend and said: “Why should I listen to you!? You’re not even staying here! What right have you got to tell me what to do?! Get out of here!”
    “This is the last place,” the boyfriend said, “that I’d want my son to stay in.”
    The son had been dragged off under obligation. He just wanted to be with his friends. His arms hung down like stiff, unmoveable appendages. And now he was having to listen to this – this nonsense about his father being concerned.
    “This is unbelievable!” the manager said. “You’re not even staying here!”
    “Yes,” the boyfriend said, “but I know people who are!”
    “ENOUGH!” someone screamed, down the street.
    The finger-pointers had stuck their foreheads together. Juan and Carlos were chuckling.
    “Pack your bags up in the morning,” the group organiser yelled, “and leave!”
    “I wouldn’t be surprised,” the boyfriend said, “if I read in the press that everyone staying in this place has died in a fire.”
    The manager’s eyes blazed with disbelief.
    “Get out of here now!” she screamed.
    “I’m on the street,” the boyfriend replied, “not in your death trap. I can stand on the street as long as I like.”
    “I’m closing the door,” the manager said. “You’re mad!”
    “Stick your door up your arse,” the boyfriend said.
    The things one has to endure to get one’s passport back, the other man thought.
    The girlfriend disappeared with the boyfriend and the son. She had had no idea that her boyfriend was going to show up. The boyfriend wrapped his arm around her as they went up the street. He hadn’t been going out with his girlfriend for very long. The son trailed behind them.
    “Unbelievable!” the manager said, to the man who just wanted his passport back.
    She was now speaking in English. The foreigner who wanted his passport back was happy with English because he didn’t want the other people in the reception area to understand.
    “He told me to fuck off,” she said. “This group is mad!”
    The foreigner wasn’t wearing the blue shirt. He had anticipated a ridiculous argument about rules so he didn’t want to be associated with the group.
    “That guy isn’t with our group,” he said, “and he shouldn’t have been here complaining about a place he’s not staying in.”
    “In three years of managing this place,” the manager said, “I’ve never had this. He told me to fuck off!”
    “I’m sorry about that,” the foreigner said.
    Diplomacy gets passports back.
    “In three and a half years I’ve had nothing like this,” the manager re-iterated. “He had me so worried that I was even going to ring the police to get them to examine the door.”
    The manager went back behind her desk.
    “Incredible,” she said. “And he’s not even staying here!”
    “It was none of his business,” the foreigner agreed.
    The foreigner stood before the desk. He heard the organiser’s name get shouted out down the street: “Chema! For God’s sake – that’s enough. Enough!”
    Juan and Carlos gritted their teeth together to stop their laughter from breaking free and reaching the street. They didn’t want the entertainment to stop.
    “I was wondering,” the foreigner asked, “if you’re finished with my passport?”
    “I’ve given it to a member of your group – Fran.”
    “Okay, thanks,” the foreigner said.
    He went outside. The group were silent – except for the woman who was shouting: “ENOUGH!”
    The foreigner approached Fran and whispered: “Fran – have you got my passport?”
    “I’ve given it to Toni.”
    Toni was standing with his arms folded, looking at the woman who had just shouted: “ENOUGH!”
    “Toni – have you got my passport?”
    “Okay. I’ll be in the reception. I’m going to read a newspaper.”
    The foreigner controlled his bewilderment. He’s left it in the pension! he thought. Oh, my God! Oh, well....
    “Okay, I’ll bring it to you.”
    The foreigner was also uneasy about his passport being handed from person to person. It wasn’t one of those things that you wanted other people to touch. There was something intimate about it, as if it could produce undisclosed threats.
    Two beautiful women were sitting on armchairs in the reception. The foreigner sat down on a sofa beside them and started reading a newspaper. His passport’s fate was out of his hands through no fault of his own.
    “You’re not telling me what to do!” he heard, coming from outside.
    Juan and Carlos were giggling. Beneath them they could see a bald man, who looked like a bulldog, pointing a finger at another man whose hair, standing up, resembled an angry bird’s plume. A woman, with dark, furious eyes, was standing between them, screaming: “ENOUGH!”
    “This outclasses cinema,” Carlos whispered.
    “This movie,” Juan replied, “should be called Pilgrim’s Lack of Progress.”
    The foreigner buried his face in the newspaper. The two beautiful women showed no reaction to the fight. They seemed above passionate indiscretions. Their skin shone with translucent purity.
    The same petulant lack of co-operation and trivial brutality, that had underpinned the events that night on that street, was underpinning the news stories that the foreigner was reading. But there wasn’t any association between those stories and him; hence those greed-ridden stories were entertaining.
    Carlos said: “Juan – enough!” every time Juan did something.
    “Juan,” he kept saying, “enough! Juan! Enough! Juan! ENOUGH!”
    Juan’s laughter caused Carlos to say: “Juan – stop laughing! JUAN! ENOUGH!”
    Juan returned to his newspaper. He loved idiocy; therefore he loved the news. The news gave him a feeling of light-hearted superiority.
    “Hey,” he said, “listen to this.”
    He read a story about a family decimated by lottery money.
    “They all wanted more from the winner,” he laughed, “including the distant cousins twenty-six thousand times removed. One threw a rock through a window in the winner’s new home. Another one stole his car! Another one broke into his house and stole his furniture when he was in Vegas.”

    Juan and Carlos chuckled.
    The foreigner was reading the same story. Imagine the embarrassment, he thought, if you were the only normal one in that family.
    He smiled, fleetingly, glad he wasn’t wearing the blue shirt.
    The girlfriend felt the strong arm of her newly-acquired boyfriend around her as she went into the hotel. That arm represented her boyfriend’s “comforting, masculine, protective concern.”
    The son knew exactly what it really represented; and he just couldn’t wait to escape as his mother had done.

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 or (202) 289-0061

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