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Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine Issue 6 Spring 2016


Issue 6 Spring 2016

Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine Sioux City, Iowa www.atlasandalice.com atlasandalice@gmail.com

Š Atlas and Alice, All Rights Reserved.


Editorial Board Brendan Todt – Founder Benjamin Woodard – Editor in Chief Liz Young – Poetry Editor Summar West – Poetry Editor Whitney Groves – Fiction Editor Donald Quist – Fiction Editor Emily Arnason Casey – Creative Nonfiction Editor Readers: Sarah Braud, Sarah Kilch Gaffney, Ian Wallace, & Destiny Vaughn.


Letter from the Editor

With spring comes rebirth, and the twelve authors represented in our latest issue speak to that idea in myriad ways. Greg Hill, in “GENESIS, Initial Chapter,” playfully retells the beginning of the world, using only seven letter words. “Two Hearts,” by Zann Carter, lets a new relationship come alive through the mechanics of a stage production, and S.F. Wright’s “Strange Business” finds a man being offered an unusual new job. Even the pieces about endings within these digital pages somehow feel like new beginnings. Brennan Burnside’s “da Capo” deals with the aftermath of a horrible accident, while Jennifer Fliss, in her excellent triptych, “Where Are They Now?,” digs into the questions we’ve all asked when flipping through our old high school yearbooks. Beginnings and endings are often pretty similar. It’s the snake eating its tail. The phoenix rising from the ashes. All that stuff of lore. In C.C. Russell’s essay, “DIA toward LGA, July 2003,” the phrase “I think you’d better sit down for this” is repeated several times. It’s an expression that offers immediate dread, yet one that also promises unbelievable revelation. I’d like to think that all of the pieces that make up Issue 6 require you, the reader, to sit down, to brace yourself. Because, let’s face it: new beginning can be harrowing. Until next time, BW


Table of Contents Jennifer Fliss ƒ

Where Are They Now?

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Zann Carter ƒ

What You Do With Death

11

Two Hearts

13

James Armstrong ƒ

The Beast

17

Greg Hill †

GENESIS, Initial Chapter

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A.D. Ross †

Unctuous Inner Organ

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Meggie Royer †

Like Mother, Like Daughter

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Toti O’Brien ≈

The Night

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Brennan Burnside ƒ

da Capo

33

Cassandra Carter †

Elegy for the Undead

37

C.C. Russell ≈

DIA toward LGA, July 2003

41

Alice Whittenburg ƒ

A Reassuring Fiction

45

S.F. Wright ƒ

Strange Business

51

Call for Submissions

55

Contributor Notes

56

Fiction – ƒ

CNF – ≈

Poetry – †


JENNIFER FLISS

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Where Are They Now?

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ZANN CARTER

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What You Do With Death 1. When death suddenly appears in your house, grabbing the comfortable chair, underfoot like a big, stupid dog, you endlessly describe it to friends: Death is an exotic creature whose movements mesmerize, whose ragged mouth opens without provocation, whose name contains sounds humans cannot reproduce. Death is the walnut table with family pictures, growing heavier, denser, collapsing. A black hole in the living room. Bizarre permutations of time. Undependable physics. Death occupies your house like something you couldn’t pass up at a rummage sale, a free sample, a circular addressed to ‘resident,’ offering cheap garden hoses. A thing you have no use for, a thing you can’t part with because you might. 2. Your friends describe death: A huge, dark stickiness, clinging to windows. A shining silver ball whizzing past your ear. Death rattles Momma’s china. It builds a piano in your heart and plays only black keys. It pulls books from the shelves and writes marginalia. Death weeps in the corner, saying it’s life’s unwanted baby. First, it wants a blanket, then grabs the whole bed. Death absorbs a room’s light and sends it back, crackling along optic nerves. If you touch it, death wiggles and squirms and slides away. No, it nuzzles close, making sad harmonica sounds. 11


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3. You long to move freely, go to the bathroom, do laundry or read books without death staring at you. You wish death would, at least, blink.You feed it pastries.You nudge it down the hall so you can open a door.You squeeze it under the sofa so you can vacuum. When company comes, you hang death in the closet. It slips off its hanger and interrupts conversation, cranky, wanting attention. You apologize for death’s rudeness, hang it up again, secretly stroking it like a soft old cloak. Mornings, everyone reports death traveled through the house all night, opening closet doors, reading diaries, slipping like silk into dreams. 4. You hang death on the front door. It knocks loudly all day. Neighbors complain. You stick death in a kitchen cupboard. It leaps out every time you get a glass. Stuffed into the junk drawer, death tangles extension cords, bits of twine and paper clips. Melts candle stubs. Coupons become too soggy to use. You wrap death in blue tissue, pack it in an unlabeled box you put in the basement on the special occasion shelf by Christmas Ornaments, above Halloween Costumes and Easter Baskets. When you leave, death howls and moans in the dark, making everyone nervous and crazy. 5. Desperate, you take death to the attic. It spreads out, floating, rippling like a frisky parachute. Death loves it here, with baby clothes and velvet dust and moth wings. It glides like a smile through the rain and light that streams through holes in your roof. All day while you wash dishes, or scrub the tub, you hear death bumping softly against rafters. At night, in your sleep, you feel death wandering out, singing through all the restless stars.

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Two Hearts OPENING SCENE: Music, something simple ONE guitar MAYBE a recorder a bus terminal (perhaps) HE is here ----------------> <---------------- SHE is there exchanges are made: 1. a smile / raised eyebrows 2. names (possibilities: Giselle/Leon; Ogden/Babette, etc.) 3. telephone #â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s

SCENE TWO A stairwell Shadows Smells of incense, HER eerie perfume and popcorn (being cooked in Apt. 2C by a widow for her only son who has come to visit for the first time in months...only to borrow money (a gambling problem?) of course and she knows it and pretends she doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t) HE (Ogden/Leon) and SHE (Giselle/Babette, etc.) KISS

SCENE THREE Windows. City visible out of one, the other is dark but for a sliver of moon.

THEY gaze out of two windows, backs turned to EACH OTHER

(rain, lightning in both windows, ROSE curtains ghostly billowing)

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(WHAT is going on here??? ennui?? fear?)


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SCENE FOUR Pouting with TULIPS a GAME of rummy (some nights SHE wins, some nights HE wins. Random.) Improvised conversation about extremely personal things. SCENE FIVE Dinner (anything may be served only BREAD is mandatory) NO dancing HE winks SHE laughs (reverse on Mon, Wed. Fri) THEY eat until all food is consumed. CURTAIN REPEAT FROM SCENE TWO UNTIL AUDIENCE OR ONE OF THE ACTORS PASSES AWAY.

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JAMES ARMSTRONG

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The Beast The gazelle walked down to the stream and took a drink of water. Just then, a lion leaped out and grabbed the gazelle between its claws. The gazelle struggled to get away, but the claws had sunken in too deeply for it to ever escape. The lion bent over and whispered into its ear. "Do not struggle," the lion said, "for I am death. This is the natural order of things. All that lives must one day die. For each creature, each fly, each blade of grass that grows upon the savanna, a time is appointed. Now is yours. There is no escape, so why struggle? Be at peace. I shall take away every care and worry you have and grant the restful stillness of eternal silence. Do not fight me. I come to you as a friend, your last friend in the entire world, to help you cross the final stretch into oblivion." "You deceitful beast," the gazelle cried. "You say this, not because it's true, but because you want an easy meal. I shall fight you with the last of my breath!"

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GREG HILL

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GENESIS, Initial Chapter (pattern plainly bearing seventh longest lingual figures) 1 Opening: Firstly, CREATOR created heavens astride planets. 2 Terrain existed without pattern: chaotic, lacking. Shadows colored hellish seaways. 3 CREATOR thought: Observe! Visible shining swiftly emerged. 4 CREATOR noticed visible shining, thought: Radiant! CREATOR divided shining against dimness. 5 CREATOR labeled shining Daytime. Dimness CREATOR labeled Shadows. Evening through morning equaled ensuing diurnal measure. 6 CREATOR thought: Bazinga! Animate, heavens! Animate, seaways! Isolate heavens besides seaways, abysses besides abysses. 7 CREATOR created heavens, divided covered seaways against topmost seaways. Objects thereby emerged. 8 CREATOR labeled heavens…Heavens. Evening through morning equaled ensuing diurnal measure. 9 CREATOR thought: Beneath heavens, convene seaways towards precise bearing, uncover drained terrain. Objects thereby emerged. 10 CREATOR labeled terrain Earthly. Seaways CREATOR labeled Oceanic. CREATOR admired efforts, blurted: “Whoopee! Objects looking awesome!” 11 CREATOR thought: Advance, grasses, kernels, berries, flowers. Objects thereby emerged. 12 Earthly terrain yielded grasses, kernels, berries, flowers. CREATOR admired efforts, blurted: “Whoopee! Objects looking awesome!” 13 Evening through morning equaled ensuing diurnal measure. 14 CREATOR thought: Advance, glowing beacons. Measure daytime against shadows, signals marking diurnal periods, marking seasons, marking annuals. 15 Develop whereby beacons betwixt heavens sparkle against earthly terrain. Objects thereby emerged. 16 CREATOR created several massive sparkly objects—greater, stellar rondure leading Daytime; smaller, evening rondure leading Shadows. Besides, CREATOR painted shining beacons, distant stellar objects — pulsars, perhaps. 17 CREATOR painted shining beacons betwixt heavens, shining athwart earthly terrain. 18 Besides, beacons divided Daytime against Shadows. CREATOR admired efforts, blurted: “Whoopee! Objects looking awesome!” 19 Evening through morning equaled ensuing diurnal measure. 20 CREATOR thought: Seaways, produce copious animals, deliver dynamic variety, besides soaring animals gliding athwart earthly terrain, tangent heavens. 21 CREATOR created immense oceanic animals — marlins, belugas, monster jellies — copious animals besides. CREATOR admired efforts, blurted: “Whoopee! Animals looking awesome!” 22 CREATOR exalted similar animals, shouted: “Produce! Produce! Satiate seaways. 19


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Produce athwart earthly terrain.” 23 Evening through morning equaled ensuing diurnal measure. 24 CREATOR shouted: “Present animals — donkeys, caribou, buffalo; serpent animals — worming, snaking, coiling animals — besides beastly animals.” Animals thereby emerged. 25 CREATOR created beastly animals: donkeys, caribou, buffalo; serpent animals: worming, snaking, coiling animals. CREATOR admired efforts, blurted: “Whoopee! Animals looking awesome!” 26 CREATOR shouted: “Observe! Hominid animals!” — bipedal sapiens. Looking similar, thought CREATOR. Kindred towards Ourself — roughly kindred, perhaps. Present hominid animals supreme thought ability, keeping mastery towards oceanic animals; towards soaring animals; towards beastly animals; towards serpent animals besides. 27 Therein, CREATOR created hominid animals; manlike besides womanly, CREATOR created. 28 CREATOR exalted bipedal hominid animals, shouted: “Produce! Produce! Fulfill destiny. Produce athwart earthly terrain. Control earthly terrain. Command oceanic animals, soaring animals, beastly animals, serpent animals besides.” 29 CREATOR shouted: “Observe! Hominid animals, receive grasses, kernels, berries, flowers. Consume! Consume! 30 Beastly animals, soaring animals, serpent animals — wherein animals present, consume herbage!” Thereon, animals feasted. 31 CREATOR admired earthly objects, between squeals blurted: “Whoopee! Objects looking awesome!” Evening through morning equaled ensuing diurnal measure. [English Monarch Version sourced.]

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A.D. ROSS

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Unctuous Inner Organ Real queens request liver, like Grimmâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s deceptive stepmother, not for taste but something bigger, a biological picture. All the impurities caught in a salty, gritty vessel. Earthy flavor, paired with blood-brown gravy, fungi and onion. The dirty dish leaves rancor on the tongue, but she grows to like it, seared in soy and shredded ginger to cut through the grainy texture of a well-spent life. The metal strainer, bad-catcher of crumbling minerals, toxins, chemicals that tasted too good to be true (and they were). Anyone will tell you, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a muscle move to dine on inner organs that filter nourishing foliage from the foreign.

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MEGGIE ROYER

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Like Mother, Like Daughter Autumn, and your motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hands are starting to change again, salmon in the backyard creek reversing course. In this life the two of you are leaning against your fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ghost like wind. And even the rain knows to stay away from the house, whole drafts of it missing the porch, your mouth filling with silver the way the dying tremble beneath the coins over their eyes. On quiet afternoons you can hear her nails beneath the door or from the pantry, once entering the kitchen to find each one palm up on the table, clasping the first knife they could find, ready to ward off the only intruder they ever knew.

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TOTI Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;BRIEN

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The Night A clear understanding of “syncopation” takes two cheap alarm clocks—those I get at the nearby dollar store. Two: one on my bed stand (I keep it close in spite of the noise, it soothes me), one in the adjacent living room. Doors wide open: the heat is unbearable otherwise. The house is quite small. For a cool definition of syncopation listen to the clocks chasing each other, slightly overlapping. Stumbling, tripping over. It is kind of hilarious, besides obviously instructive. Mumbling over this acoustic curiosity livens up the empty space of my occasional insomnia.

I hesitate to apply so pompous a term to my wakes. I never treated them seriously. They seldom occur. When they do, I take grandmother’s advice: she had a rhyme about resting your body, in case of a wandering mind… As a child I learned to relax, enjoying mattress and blankets, when a weird vibe stretched my eyelids open. Quietly, my eyes stared into a landscape of darkness, shadows, vague luminosities. And I listened to curious night sounds, such as the clumsy concert of clocks I described… thus, I never considered myself an “insomniac”.

She surprised me, when at the dinner table she exclaimed: “Aren’t you one? You must be. I knew it when I first saw you. All women like you fit a specific profile! Insomniac, nymphomaniac…” Her French fry dangled lazily between her fingers. We had barely met: she was an acquaintance, the girlfriend of my boyfriend’s twin. Did the men’s close ties create familiarity between us? I didn’t think so. She surprised me, with the double brand she casually punched on my forehead: bright red, out the blue. But I must have laughed.

Nymphomaniac… How did that pair with insomniac, in the profile blatantly fitting my appearance? Obviously, non-sleeping gals need to fill long hours with something—best performed in their nightgown. Such as bugging the neighbors with serial sex? Unquenchable, pointless? Nymphomaniac: the word emerged from mud. From a green pond, infested by a multitude of hovering dragonflies. I had heard it in childhood first—maybe last—at the time of grandmother’s lessons on gracious sleeplessness. I had asked what it meant, being briefed in return about female sexual insatiability. I had sort of figured it out, since I knew what sex was. And it didn’t shock me. 29


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I stared at the whole sexual thing—for what I could see—as at a not so frightening landscape. Made of darkness and shadows, still, yet not lacking its delicate glare. In that picture I easily fit this weird mantis, why not, though without great detail. What impressed me was the word itself: its halo of humidity. Its aqueous origin. Its assonance with lotus flowers (nymphaee in Latin) and with liquid fairies, inhabitants of fountains and springs. I associated “nymphomaniacs” with some bathing practice. I thought of embraces enhanced by perfumed washing, bubbly immersions, aromatic massages. Finally, it could have been a charming perspective she threw at me, from the other side of the table: starry nights on the beach, a small bonfire, towels scenting of roses. Clouds of talc, like sparks from a magic wand… lots of clients lined up… Endless wake of desire. Sacred hunger. She was still holding the fry. Though she incessantly ate, she was way too thin. She confessed she had to consume a bagful of chips, on her way to a dinner party, not to embarrass herself with her disproportioned appetite. Not to wolf up the entire hors d’oeuvre buffet. She had short blond hair, and one could have called her unbeautiful. I gave myself permission, after she chose to define me a lady of the night—whatever terms she selected. Empty lady of the empty night, impossible to fulfill, as she couldn’t replenish herself with food. I was her twin, at last, just as I suspected. Only, reversed: maybe due to my long dark hair? A concave mirror I was, where she sought her reflection. She saw darkness, and shadows.

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BRENNAN BURNSIDE

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da Capo /a I’ve heard kids in the school saying, “Watch out for the new kid.” Like it’s a Western. They’re parting seas of people to look for her. A celebrity with scant details to identify her. Rumor had it she had a brace—but that was over a year ago and it’s probably off by now. They say that her car crashed last year after the after-prom party at Adrian’s beach house. That began the whole ban on underage students staying alone in beach houses. They pointed to that event and said “They’re children and NOT to be trusted.” She’s a friend of Adrian. Or, was. She was at the party. A friend from another school. No one knew her then. At the beach house, they all thought that she was his girlfriend. A few months later she was the forgotten indirect object of a statement muttered in the hospital waiting room. “Who was she?” “Kellie or Kaylee. Or something.” “What’d she look like?” “Blonde or brown hair. I don’t remember. The house was dark and it could’ve been different in the day time.” She would’ve been forgotten. That’s amazing. That phrase, “would’ve been forgotten”. If not for what? What laws run beneath these sorts of things? /b Now, she’s come to school and they know exactly who she is the moment they see her. Her image precedes her. They’ve all imagined her silhouette approaching the double doors. See her limp. See her dour eyes. See her black hair. The hair most likely colored to disguise her. The eyes have lost their color because they no longer look at the sky. Despite their best efforts, everybody looks at the limp. They draw attention to the leg. Without even bothering, they can see a scar shaped like the spinal cord of Idaho. The shape is a myth. No one’s ever really seen the scar, but once you’ve heard something you can’t help but see it. It’s radioactive. It glows through her clothes. No one speaks to her and no one understands why she’s there, but word passed 33


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around that she was coming that morning. Does she come as a messenger of good will? Is she proving to all of those backbiters and trash-talkers in the school that she’s lost some flesh after all? /c The pictures were passed around on Facebook. They were in some macabre photo album titled “Adrian”. A photo log of hospital photos and wound close-ups. Adrian’s unconscious in most of them. Some anonymous user named “Justice Mustice” (most likely someone from his high school) posted them. The threads therein are pretty sickening. Some of the more PG sections go, “He’ll never walk again.” “whose dat bitch? whats her name” “he dated that girl on the lacrosse team” “I hope she fucking reads this and fears for her life. I hope she understands what she took from him” The comments go on and on. They will continue ad infinitum. The internet will create this tragic memorial as a non sequitur, as an object of ephemera. A website you must visit before you die. Adrian will become a forgotten indirect object of a subset of internet lore. A new generation will embrace the lore in a more meta way. They’ll follow the link on Snopes.com and they’ll no longer discuss the crash—but the online response instead. • • •

Look at the girl crucified on this page. She posted a suicide note on her Tumblr. The shame was too much. Have you read the comments? They’re brutal.

/d These types of things occur all the time. No one knows the truth of such matters. Does it matter if Adrian and her were lovers or just friends or even family? Does it matter that she wasn’t driving? Does it matter that she was asleep in the backseat with no seatbelt on? Does it matter that her survival is actually the most incredible thing about the crash? Adrian was buckled in. And yes, he was drunk but he was secure. She was thrown from the car. Through the fucking windshield. The broken glass sliced her leg and the blood loss nearly killed her. (There’s your Idaho spine…) Does it matter?

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No. If you go by the Facebook album, then the end result was far worse for Adrian. Less so for her. But he’s still alive. In good spirits. Not bed-ridden. A year after the accident, he walks with a cane. But he gets around quite easily. People still send him messages of congratulations. Has he ever seen the comments? Does he know? Possibly. Does he care? Possibly. But it’s too big a thing now. He’s getting too much heat. He’s the victim. He’s the golden boy. Despite being the driver, he was completely innocent. He homeschools now. His mother’s a professor at Tech and she doesn’t want him troubling himself with trying to rush to class on a cane. Doesn’t want him to be burdened by all the pity. Besides, he doesn’t need to go back. In fact, he shouldn’t go back. It would ruin everything anyway. He has an aura, after all. A mythos that would collapse if everyone saw how well he actually is, how fragile this electronic castle stands, how he is no longer the photo album posted over a year ago. So, it’s the new kid that carries it, that keeps it for him. Whatever her name is. Kayleigh or Karen or something. The transubstantiated object of accumulated internet scorn and ridicule. The result of a determined focus on an abstract object, the wish and need to take something apart that had once been together. /e Why did she come here? Was she kicked out of her old school? Rumor had it that her dad is a sex offender and that her mom had to move her or that she was a drug dealer and the cops cut her a deal or that she feels incredibly bad that she ruined Adrian’s life and she wants to do penance through the social isolation and ridicule that surely awaits her at his alma mater. She’s somewhere around the school building. When they find her, it’ll all begin again. They’ll treat time like a coda. They’ll return everything to the beginning and when they finish they’ll repeat. It’s early yet. And when she’s found, it’ll start slow because this is a gradual process. They’re looking at the unraveling of a human soul and that takes time. It’s a coordinated effort. It’s emotional and cognitive dissonance fueled by malicious glee.

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CASSANDRA CARTER

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Elegy for the Undead I. Contour flesh fresh again. Dust vanilla silk in the rotten vein canyons. Finger dew into the left of your mouth, All that is left of your mouth. II. It has always hurt. The devouring. You have always hurt me wholly. Absolved shame with hooks and fingernails. Kissed my ribs into feathers, winged them around my shoulders. This hurt is new. Unfamiliar in our stomachs. It gnaws. It swallows. It thirsts for different oceans. III. I found your ring finger in my hair. Contemplated my 37


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nails against it. Opened my chest with â&#x20AC;&#x201C; for it. Slept with you inside. IV. You no longer stop at skin. You no longer spit me out. V. I lick myself back from the left of your mouth. All that is left of your mouth. I cannot be your tongue, your snapping jaw, the fresh right of you. All that is left of you.

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C.C. RUSSELL

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DIA toward LGA, July 2003 The woman across from me speaks into her cell phone as if it were a walkie-talkie. She is telling the person on the other end that she had some trouble getting her boyfriend’s remains through security. She thinks that he would have probably found this whole incident funny and she is trying to follow that thought’s lead but it is hard. There are different goodbyes. Here, lack of sleep kicks in as my wife and I are still waiting for our flight. An older couple hugs their tearful daughter. Our own daughter will not be born for another decade. Today, the coast does not signal to me in the least. I hear no calling from the ocean or skies the grey of that long island. And yet I return. How many things in a given day will we never see again? How many things do we not think to say goodbye to? When Larae died on that Flight For Life helicopter in the air over Powell, I had not spoken to her for nearly a year. My wife and I had lived in New York for three years. I hadn’t seen Larae in two. The surgery had been successful; that was the last that I had heard—another tumor removed but by some crazily ironic twist she had a reaction to one of her new medicines. By the time the paramedics reached her, it was too late. She was pronounced in the air. “I think you’d better sit down for this.” Honestly, it was comical, this statement coming over the phone. You expect that phrasing only from the television, some afterschool special that will end with many oh-so-important lessons. “I think you’d better sit down for this,” he said. We spent one of our last times together in Laramie, Wyoming. Larae and I walked from one bar to another. I was still drinking, then. She was drinking again. She smiled, her hair growing back in so well though she still hid it under a tied bandana. Said she felt better. We shared a shot of whiskey, old times. We shared stories, apologies. We’re waiting in Denver for a red eye flight to cross us back over the jet stream to New York. Spent the week catching up with the empty plains of Wyoming, waiting for another set of goodbyes to seep in. I spent the last three days haunting the acolytes of vegetarian lunches and fresh air. Haunting the friends still there, the ghosts of my own younger years. Waiting for this flight, I’m not sure why I never thought to say goodbye to her. These things have never been easier than now. 41


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Quick like love and anger, the night she threw her glass at my head outside of the bar on 3rd Street. The next morning she would call, ask why I wasn’t next to her, wouldn’t believe me when I said what she had done. I told her I believed in forgiveness and went to her. There were several things I told her I believed in. I remember her bed, reading a never-ending supply of X-men issues. The first time we kissed, our tongues slick with cheap scotch. No one told me to hold onto these things. The call came six months after I had last left Wyoming. A visit without seeing her. In Manhattan that day my wife and I had wandered the subways, watching the people in their never ending flow, watching it all move—and we affected none of it. . Then, outside the teahouse, a man sitting on the sidewalk, blood spitting from his nose, his hands snapping to his face over and over. A new friend told me to leave it alone, to let him come out of it himself. That it is more dangerous sometimes to help than to do nothing. I had to let the small town kid go. I had to quit trusting everyone. This, then, is how some things come to their end. Not in silence and not in a sudden burst of sound but like every other moment. They are expected. They quietly line up and stretch out before us. Every time I leave Wyoming now, every time I fly back to New York, I am leaving Larae. It is not the ocean that calls to me, it is her ghostly voice in the wind coming down off of the mountains. Every time, I am leaving her behind – betraying her all over again. “I think you’d better sit down for this.” I sat down as I was told to. I let the words tunnel through me.

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ALICE WHITTENBURG

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A Reassuring Fiction 1. Early this morning, after he released more than one thousand documents concerning the black site in our region, Jihoon Kim went into hiding. Immediately there was a frenzy of media speculation about where he might be, but I knew that he hadn’t gone far. In fact he spent the day disguised as my long-absent husband Noah Thompson, finally returned home. As a faux medical worker helped him up to my second-floor flat, I told curious neighbors that Noah was suffering from amnesia and trauma. He looked shockingly old and battered, and they didn’t inquire further. Most people in this troubled district have learned not to inquire further when trauma and amnesia are at issue. Once the door was securely bolted, I brought out an antique Underwood. “You should rest your voice,” I said, unsure of who might be listening. “Use this instead.” The MAN IS NOT a good typist, and he started to pound the keys with two stiffened forefingers as though he needed to make some noise. At lunch time I ignored his typed request for miso soup with gochujang and brought him a bowl of menudo. “It’s your favorite,” I said as I placed the soup in front of Jihoon. I tried not to imagine WHAT HE THINKS of Noah’s tastes or mine. HE IS, while wearing the silicone face-and-neck mask that our trusted friends so skillfully crafted, able to fool a casual observer, but Jihoon asked to see some photos and videos of Noah so he could be more convincing. Then he changed his bearing accordingly — HE IS shorter than Noah and thinner, but he has an actor’s ability to become another man. Even in our small shared temporary world it wasn’t possible to know WHAT HE HIDES from me, but it was certainly not his restlessness. I invited him into Noah’s library where he immediately picked up a copy of Man’s Fate. “MALRAUX is so gloomy,” I said, and he exchanged the book for One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was then that I gave him a template out of my own handmade paper, the grid openings exactingly inserted with a craft knife. He thanked me and put it carefully aside. . 2. I allowed Jihoon some time online because he wanted news about himself, but I limited him to my own most-visited sites. He then went to the typewriter to say: “I am desperate to make a statement to the media.” But that was out of the question. Our friends insisted he had to remain disguised as an old man and to walk slowly, talk infrequently, and stay away from mobile devices, those traitorous beacons. In other 45


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words he would hide in plain sight. Mid-afternoon he could be seen from the street below as he sat on the balcony, drinking tea and reading Garcia Marquez. Later he handed me a typed note: “Have you ever lost hope that your husband would return?” My reply was glib: “I’m far too old for optimism.” In fact I have done well during these years of single living and have enjoyed the company of discreet friends. HOPE IS only an acknowledgement that I am not complete by myself, and therefore I reject it. But the fact that Noah went into hiding without a word to me has haunted me every day. Our friends have given me small reports over time – he is well; he is near the ocean in a safe house; he writes each morning in a café – but I have never received a word directly from him. The weather was damp, and in the afternoon while Jihoon sat on the balcony looking at the mountains, a mist arose to obscure the view. When he came back into the flat I said, “I wish visibility were better.” “Poets say NATURE’S VEIL enhances beauty’s outlines,” he typed on a ragged piece of much-typed-on paper. I turned the paper over and wrote: “Thanks to you, our leaders will pay FOR HIDING TRUTH’S outlines.” As soon as I did this I felt shy, as though I had been coquettish, but Jihoon seemed not to notice. He was certainly not thinking about me but about our friends hard at work crafting an escape plan. When Jihoon went into the bedroom to change into his traveling clothes he left the door partially open, and I caught a quick glimpse of his NAKEDNESS. A stirring of desire surprised me. He will win a NOBEL Prize some day, I reminded myself sternly, perhaps long after I die. . 3. Back at the typewriter, Jihoon held out a note to me: “This mask is uncomfortable.” I was told not to let him remove the mask at any time, so I replied, as if to the air, “Being old means being uncomfortable.” He added: “If I must wear a mask, why don’t we have a party?” I have heard that people in hiding, especially courageous and energetic people like Jihoon, are always at war with themselves – wanting to reveal themselves, yet knowing they must not. “My SOCIETY IS getting on your nerves,” I said slowly. “This sometimes happens when people are reunited after a long absence.” He ratcheted the typewriter’s carriage to begin a new line: “I’m wearing a mask — let’s have A MASKED BALL.” “You should get some rest,” I said, and then I busied myself with chores. Tense with unspent anxious energy, Jihoon went out again onto the balcony. I thought about the kind of party we could have – one WHERE EVERYONE HIDES and no one speaks. Jihoon began to read Giovanni’s Room, and his interest in Baldwin distracted him for a

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while.

We ate an early supper of chiles rellenos – I made them for César’s birthday and kept extras in the freezer – and then Jihoon asked for some music. I found an online radio station that features undistinguished ballads, turned up the volume, and we went out onto the balcony. There we clung together, not really dancing but supporting each other and swaying slightly. It was at this time that Jihoon revealed HIS REAL CHARACTER, his true empathy. I began to cry quietly. From the street below a neighbor looked up and saw nothing inconsistent with the story we were telling. Stricken and embarrassed I whispered, “Let’s go inside,” but he insisted on remaining there until my tears dried. Jihoon is a very sensitive man of courage. He hides his sensitivity when he acts AND REVEALS IT BY HIDING. “Remember the costume party we had when we were first married?” I asked. “You were EMERSON, and I was Frida Kahlo.” He slowly shook his head, and I refused to feel my sadness. . 4. At sunset I readied myself to go out and check the drop. “Be careful while I’m gone, Noah,” I cautioned, and after giving Jihoon a meaningful look I went out the door and down into the street. I walked toward the river, stopping beside a long-abandoned and broken pay phone box. As I bent slowly to tie my shoe I saw, inside the smashed base of the phone booth, a dirty envelope that looked like windblown trash. Nervous excitement slammed my heart as I carefully extracted it and made it safe. Then I stopped at the market to buy tea and bread, and I arrived home without incident. When I came into the flat Jihoon had a look of almost frantic eagerness, and I hurriedly gave him the envelope. He went into the bedroom and closed the door so he could view the envelope’s contents through the template. Though I was the one who crafted the template using exact measurements, I had no idea what this grille cipher would reveal. After about half an hour Jihoon came out, carrying with him a whiff of burnt paper, and he sat at the typewriter. “LOVE MAKES everything more difficult,” he typed. “Now that I know what I must do I worry about what will happen to my friends.” On the back of a ragged bookmark I wrote, “Just seek the liberation of YOUR SOUL – as Noah chose to do.” The rest of the evening went by in a haze of anxiety, and at one point I gave a shrill cry as I saw a beetle CRAWL OUT from the baseboard. I like to think I am a calm person, and I have managed to keep myself sane during the long period of Noah’s absence. But on rare occasion my anxiety emerges FROM ITS HIDING PLACE. As the night crept by, I lay on the bed, alternately counting my breaths and reading stories by

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ZORA NEALE HURSTON, who always gives me courage. . 5. In the early hours of the morning Jihoon took the rucksack that I had packed with sandwiches and a thermos full of tea, and he walked out the door and down onto the street. I wanted to watch him walk away but that would have endangered us both. A short while later there was a tapping at the door, a tentative sound that frightened and reassured me. I opened the door to find Noah, the real Noah, standing on my doorstep. WHOEVER WISHES to think she would know how to act at a time like this would probably be wrong. I stood frozen for a moment, then pulled him inside, crying and laughing silently. As I set out food and drink, I felt sudden and overwhelming guilt that Jihoon had benefitted from the first day of Noah’s freedom. What if Noah’s amnesty had been compromised by this brief substitution? What if he had never made it to me? Yet I had only sacrificed one day of our shared life compared to the hundreds of days Noah has sacrificed, so I absolved myself just as quickly. I prepared a story in case the neighbors heard the knock – that Noah was confused and wandered away in the dark, then came back home unaided – but truth to tell whoever pulled the strings that brought him here will also have made it possible TO KEEP A SECRET. Where he was while in exile, who he loved and who he betrayed I will probably never know, and I don’t know why I feel I MUST HIDE THE FACT that I was distracted from his homecoming by Jihoon’s presence. As I found pyjamas for him, gave him more tea, and rubbed his shoulders, I kept tripping over my feelings, a strange mixture of relief and anger. “Oh, Noah,” I murmured, “this is a momentous time.” He nodded and smiled, looking so much more like the grim and battered mask Jihoon wore yesterday than I might have expected. Surely a safehouse by the ocean did not deplete him in this way. “I have a full heart, dear Lupita,” he whispered, but I am still not sure THAT HE POSSESSES ONE. Soon I will take this report to the drop. I know I have communicated many things that I am unaware of. They are hidden in the quotes Jihoon took from the internet and which I have somewhat clumsily inserted here in capital letters, as our friends instructed. Lying next to Noah, who has sunk into a reverie of exhaustion, I read a bit of GOETHE’s Faust. It helps distract me from wondering what Noah will reveal in time and how long I will have to hide my own bitterness. Whatever may happen, our advanced age is an enemy and a friend. We will have fewer years to enjoy a good outcome, fewer years to endure a bad fate.

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[Editor’s Note: Valdez’ flawless tradecraft and the strict avoidance of digital communication was vital to the success of Kim’s action. His testimony at the hearings on torture and international human rights was the beginning of the end for black sites and secret prisons. At those hearings Kim revealed that the next time she went to the drop, Valdez found a message from their mutual friends telling her something about the harsh conditions of Noah’s imprisonment. The safe house by the ocean was acknowledged as a reassuring fiction.]

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S.F. WRIGHT

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 6, Spring 2016

Strange Business I was tired of working as an adjunct and making no money, so I enrolled in a class to teach high school. I didn’t want to teach high school; I wanted to teach college. But after four years at my university and getting skipped over three times for full-time positions, I knew this wasn’t going to happen. The class met once a week. There were seven students, three women and four men, including me. One guy was Stan Chang. Stan was about my age—36—and tall and slender. He always looked stressed and overworked. He said he wanted to be a high school math teacher. I didn’t talk much to Stan the first weeks and didn’t learn much about him except what I overheard: he lived in Rutherford with his sister; he had an MBA; he owned a car but sometimes took the bus. One night after class I took the elevator with Stan, which in retrospect I’m not sure was accidental: I’m fairly certain Stan intended to get me alone. As soon as the doors shut, he began telling me of a side business he had which entailed selling software on EBay. I didn’t listen closely, but I nodded and said “Oh, really?” when it seemed called for. By the time the doors opened, I discerned Stan had an angle. “So a person would make thirty dollars for selling that kind of software, and for the kind the customer can install more than once, they’d make forty. You understand?” He spoke with passion. “I guess. . .” We were walking to the entrance, and I sensed I was about to be shanghaied. “I have some merchandise in my van. Where are you parked?” Hesitantly, I pointed to the lot. Stan brightened. “Me, too. Come on; I’ll show you.” I inwardly sighed but followed him across the street. I thought my eleven-year-old Accord was crappy, but it was luxurious compared to Stan’s car. His van was at least 20 years old. A third of the burgundy paint had rusted off. A taillight was held with duct tape. Three hubcaps were missing. Stan opened the door. Papers were strewn across the seat and gum wrappers lay on the floor. In the back, there was a child’s safety seat. Stan handed me two CDs, one with 2015 on it, the other with 2013. As he had in the elevator, Stan enthusiastically explained how people sold these for him on EBay and how much they made. And like before, I didn’t pay much attention. I wanted to go home, and waited for the moment I could politely tell him I wasn’t interested. “I take care of everything—” Stan counted his fingertips “—merchandise, shipping, everything. All you have to do is sell it.” 51


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“Well, thanks for letting, know,” I said. “But I don’t think it’s for me.” Stan’s face darkened, as though mad for wasting his time. “You can make a lot of money,” he said, but no longer enthusiastically; rather, his tone was challenging, even ominous. “I believe you,” I lied. “But it’s just not for me. Thanks for telling me about it, though.” I was free, but there was something I was curious about, even though I wanted no part of this. “Where do you get the software from? And why’d someone buy it from you rather than just, like, Microsoft?” Stan looked into the distance, as though preoccupied. “I have my sources,” he said. He didn’t offer any info on the second question. “Right.” Then, since I saw an opportunity to part on a positive note, I nodded toward the backseat. “I didn’t know you had a kid.” Stan looked at the child’s safety seat. “I don’t have a kid.” “Oh.” I was about to ask why he had that seat then but decided I didn’t care. But Stan answered anyway—or he sort of did. “That’s just there,” he said. I nodded slowly; then I coughed. “Well,” I said. “Thanks anyway for letting me know. See you next week.” Stan didn’t respond. The following class Stan was absent, but he was there the week after. As usual, he looked stressed and fatigued. He didn’t say anything about his business offer, and I didn’t mention it either. As far as I was concerned, I was fine if we never spoke of it again. But something about Stan’s demeanor toward me had changed: before, he’d been polite and sometimes cheerful; now, he was dismissive. He wasn’t rude exactly, but he was somewhat brusque; whenever we talked, Stan acted as though he were a clerk and I a customer he didn’t want to deal with. As with his response to the child safety seat, I decided I didn’t care. The semester was almost over; after a few classes, I’d never see him again. That evening, I saw Stan get on the elevator with a guy named Martin. Stan talked excitedly. They were the only two on the elevator, and as the doors closed, Stan saw me approach. He didn’t hold the door. Except for a few brief exchanges in class, I’d only speak to Stan once more. After the penultimate class, I was getting on the elevator and saw Stan approach. Unlike what he did to me, I held the door. He muttered thanks as the doors closed, and seemed content to remain silent, which was fine by me. But then halfway down, Stan said, “Martin’s selling software for

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me. He’s going to make a lot of money.” I nodded politely. “Really?” “That could’ve been you.” Stan’s eyes narrowed. “But you didn’t want to.” I shrugged and tried to force a smile. “Well.” But Stan didn’t say anything else. When the elevator reached the bottom floor, I couldn’t get off fast enough. “See you next week,” I said, cordially; but I walked quickly ahead of him toward the entrance. It was drizzling. I hurried across the street. As I pulled out of the lot, I saw Stan at the bus stop (apparently, he’d not taken his van tonight). He looked agitated and tired, as he had tonight, as he had all semester. He held his jacket over his head as a makeshift umbrella. I made a right, and glanced at him in my rearview mirror. That was the last time I saw him. For our final class, we met at TGI Friday’s. Of the seven students, five showed. Stan Chang didn’t. I sat next to Martin. We talked cordially about the class, films, and sports, while dutifully eating our mediocre chicken sandwiches (neither of us, we’d confided, had wanted to come, but had out of a sense of obligation). Eventually we ran out of things to talk about; but then I remembered something I’d been meaning to ask. “Stan told me you were selling software for him. How’s that going?” Martin rolled his eyes. “He tried to get me to sell software is more like it. It was a scam. He wanted me to buy the software and then sell it. On top of that, I think the stuff was stolen.” “Man.” Then I added, self-deprecatingly, so not to appear self-righteous, “I guess it was a good thing I said no.” Martin poured ketchup onto his fries. “I’d say. I should’ve said no, too, but I let myself believe it was legit.” I thought of those CDs vaguely titled 2015 and 2013. “Crazy,” I said. Martin nodded and took a sip from his Coke. “Strange business.” We moved to other topics—the Yankees, high schools that were hiring, the TGI’s décor. By the time we’d exhausted the subject of where the items hanging on the walls were purchased, I felt I’d stayed the appropriate amount of time. I said good luck to Martin, shook a couple of my classmates’ hands, and thanked my professor. I then left and haven’t seen any of those people since. Six months later, after working a couple of substitute jobs, I found a full-time English position at a high school, and have been there since. I’ve no idea what happened to Stan Chang. I don’t know if he became a math teacher (though I doubt it), nor do I know what happened with his EBay business—if he’d turned it into something, if he

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got in trouble (Martin did say he suspected the merchandise was stolen). Stan was a minor figure from my past, whose role shouldn’t justify a story, let alone anything more than an occasional thought. Yet I still think of Stan Chang—not frequently, but more often than one would assume. And I’ve told the story of my knowing him many times and still tell it. It is, for one, a quirkily attractive story, and, depending on how I tell it, at times even absurdly funny; and I’ve never bored anyone with it. But there’s more to the story than its humor and quirkiness, and more to why I’ve told it so often and still tell it. There are a plethora of potential reasons for this, yet whenever I seem close to grasping one it flutters away, leaving me back to where I was, wondering why I still think and talk of Stan. But perhaps this fluttering away is in my head; maybe I do know the reason, or know I can find it, but prevent myself because I don’t want to know. And that, perhaps, is as close to an answer as I’ll get.

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Call for Submissions ______________________________________________ Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re always looking for writing that spans genres, that demands to be read, that might be considered the black sheep of a family. Art and science thrill us, but so does the simple image of a man standing at a crossroads. Surprise us. Thrill us. Make us laugh and cry and cringe. Tell us your thoughts. We canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t wait to hear from you! For submission guidelines, please visit http://atlasandalice.com/submit/

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 6, Spring 2016

Contributor Notes ______________________________________________ James Armstrong is a playwright and fiction writer whose stories have appeared in Concho River Review, The Chaffey Review, 34th Parallel, The Main Street Rag, Iconoclast, and The Rockford Review. His plays have been published in Arts & Letters, Canyon Voices, Yemassee, and The Best American Short Plays: 2012-2013. In addition, his long short story “Little Falls” will be appearing forthcoming in The Long Story. He lives in New York. Brennan Brunside is an urban gardener living outside of Philadelphia. His work appears or is forthcoming in Word Riot, Maudlin House and Monday Night Lit. He posts photography and writing on his blog, burnsideonburnside.tumblr.com. Cassandra Carter is a graduate student at Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA. She has been published in Hot Metal Bridge, The Donut Factory, and Razor Literary Magazine. Zann Carter is a poet, fiber artist and the head groundskeeper of th’ poetry asylum (a sort of moveable literary collective) in Terre Haute, IN. She co-hosts a monthly poetry reading now in its 8th year and occasionally presents workshops on healing through expressive arts and storytelling. Her poetry has been published most recently in SageWoman, Dirty Chai, The Healing Muse, Misfitmagazine and, forthcoming, Witches & Pagans. She has twice received the Grand Prize in the Max Ehrmann Poetry Competition. Her desperately-in-need-of-updating website and blog can be found at www.zanncarter.com. Jennifer Fliss is a New York raised, Wisconsin schooled, Seattle based writer. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in diverse publications including, The Citron Review, Brain Child Magazine, Prime Number, Foliate Oak, and The Establishment. More can be found on her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com. Greg Hill is a writer and voice over talent in West Hartford, Connecticut. He has an MFA from Vermont of College of Fine Arts. His poems have appeared recently in Black Heart Magazine; Verse Wisconsin; and Queen Mob’s Teahouse. His creative writing endeavors are not inspired by working a desk job in some media company’s web department. Toti O’Brien’s work has appeared in FLAR, Lotus-Eater, The Lightning Key, and Gone Lawn, among other journals and anthologies. More about her can be found at totihan.net/writer.html. A.D. Ross was born in Guntersville, Alabama, but spent over a decade in northern Virginia. After abandoning art school in Richmond, she went on to pursue writing. She now holds an MFA from George Mason University and is currently pursuing her PhD. at Auburn University while teaching World Literature. Select readings are available at www.alyssarosswrites.com. Meggie Royer is a writer and photographer from the Midwest who is currently majoring in Psychology at Macalester College. Her poems have previously appeared in Words Dance Magazine, The Harpoon Review, Melancholy Hyperbole, and more. She has won national medals for her poetry and a writing portfolio in the

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 6, Spring 2016 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and was the Macalester Honorable Mention recipient of the 2015 Academy of American Poets Student Poetry Prize. C.C. Russell lives in Wyoming with his wife and daughter. His writing has appeared in such places as Wyvern Lit, Word Riot, Rattle, and The Colorado Review. His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net. He can be found on Twitter @c_c_russell. Alice Whittenburg‘s fiction can be found online at Eclectica, The Big Jewel, riverbabble, Word Riot, and other places. Her stories also appear or will soon appear in the following anthologies: The Return of Kral Majales, Prague’s International Literary Renaissance 1990-2010; Condensed to Flash: World Classics; and Eclectica’s Speculative Fiction anthology. She is coeditor of the online magazine The Cafe Irreal. S.F. Wright lives and teaches in New Jersey. His work has previously appeared in Steel Toe Review, The Tishman Review, Across the Margin, Razor Literary Magazine, and Pretty Owl Poetry, among other places. His website is sfwrightwriter.com.

Note: All images within this issue courtesy of morgueFile. Cover photo by Benjamin Woodard.

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atlas and alice literary magazine issue 6 | spring 2016

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