GENERIC SPRING 2013
EMERSON’S GENRE-FICTION-ONLY LITERARY MAGAZINE
Ge ne r ic , I s s ue # 3 , S p r ing 2 0 13 Co py righ t f o r a ll s to r ie s be lo ngs to the i r cre a t o rs Ge ne r ic i s c o p yr ight o f Undergradua te S tude nts f o r P ubl is hi ng, Em e rs o n Co l l e g e De s ign by Li z a C o r tr ight C o ve r A r t by Ol ivia Billbr o ug h This is s ue is se t in Gi ll S a ns , S tylo gr a p h, a nd Pa l a t i n o L i n o t y p e
Ele ctr o nic e di ti o n p ublis he d a t is s u u . co m P r i nt e diti o n p r inte d a t the Emers o n C o l le ge P r i nt a nd C o p y C e nte r , B o s t o n M A
table of contents foreword
A P o i so n ed H ors e w ill F al l , Ev e n i f y ou S hoot it F ir st
Ou te r L a nd s
De a d M e n a nd t he ir Ta les
If I am G u ilt y , I W ill P ay
E atM e D r i n k Me
Th e S to r y D u m p
Ph an t o m F ire w ork s
Ta l i a R o c h m a n n
Generic Staff General Manager: Alexandra Kowal Editors-in-Chief: Liza Cortright and Ross Wagenhofer Editorial Staff: Erin Arata, Julia Domenicucci, Chelsey Falco, Sydney Hermanson, Hillary Kody, Katy Rushlau, Elizabeth Venere Copyeditors: Julia Domenicucci, Jacquline Marr, Katy Rushlau, Ross Wagenhofer
Dear Readers, Undergraduate Students for Publishing has been holding genrewriting workshops since the fall of 2011 in the hopes of providing an outlet for students interested in genre fiction. Every month, we celebrated a certain genre – from historical fiction and fantasy to lesser known genres like steampunk. The product of those workshops culminated in the creation of Generic, Emerson’s only genre fiction magazine. There are many opportunities on-campus for publishing literary fiction, but writers interested in a different sort of story used to lack a place to publish their work. Generic is pleased to be that place where students can gain valuable writing and publishing experience with genre fiction. After all, who doesn’t love reading stories about dragons or cyborgs or spies? The popularity of, and interest in, genre fiction is evident. Although it’s been two years, Generic and our genre-writing workshops are still going strong. We believe that the most important thing is to have a quality story. Our mission is to highlight the elements of genre fiction that we love, as well as prove that genre-writing is just as valuable as literary fiction. The pieces in this issue are entertaining, thought provoking, and will hopefully encourage more genre fiction appreciation. These stories are finally starting to gain equal status in mainstream literary circles and we like the trend. As part of our ongoing support, we are proud to present Generic Issue #3. We hope you enjoy these stories not only as genre fiction, but as genuine pieces of literature.
We s te r n
A Poisoned Horse Will Fall, Even if You Shoot it First TJ Ohler
My father is down at the Sheriff’s talking to the man who calls himself my husband, and the rest of the men about the new gunslinger in town. Pea-Eyed Burt came into Daddy’s Saloon a few minutes ago saying there was a man with snakes running along his boots leading all the way up to his cold, blank eyes. I reckon Burt’s one eye be deceiving him like normal. A few fortnights ago, he swore he saw my mother dancing in the dust outside his worn out hut. It turned out to be a loose calf from the town over. The Sheriff decided it was ours to eat; the natives didn’t need the food. Madeline, the town whore my daddy lets use the saloon for business, walks up to the counter to run her dirt ridden fingernails against a glass I was using to count corks from various alcohol bottles. My father thinks it would be a courtly idea to make a cork horse collage after his owner has poisoned him. “I heard the new cowboy be Johnny Mills. The little bastard child.” My breath catches. “We shoulda seen the demon in him commin’. Sheriff didn’t have a chance.” “That’s enough of your slippery lips, Madeline. Talkin’ ‘bout ghosts and men with snakes for eyes gets mighty tiresome.” Johnny’s father was the pervious Sheriff. She clicks her tongue at me before shaking her head and saying, “Pearl.” From how her eyes glare at me, I imagine it’s what someone sees when you wear a new dress and suddenly dust comes and layers itself onto the folds of the fabric. They curse themself for spending all the time sewing it and is sickened by the fragile nature of the dress. Madeline sees me as that dress. She
A Po i s on e d H or s e W i l l F a l l , E ve n i f Yo u Sho o t it Fir s t
gives me the once over again, like the sight of my rigid back and false smile are clear as day. “I think I deserve some of your pa’s horse juice.” “Father’s given you ‘nuf free liquor to last you and little Billie until he turns sixteen.” “You best not talk about my son like that.” She puffs out her cheek and her chest. The sound of the saloon doors slamming brings both of our eyes to the man who has entered in his snake-like cowboy boots. He moves swiftly, without doubt, and from the scar running from the left side of his forehead to his right eyebrow, I know it’s him. Johnny Mills has returned to Puxatonic. “Damn, if it ain’t hotter than a whore house on nickel night,” he says as he presses his weight into the counter. “Ain’t no whores here this day.” Madeline brings the sleeve of her dress down to her elbow. Her breasts must feel the need to breath. The air in the room feels stifling like the time Johnny’s pa killed six Indians in front of the saloon. Johnny doesn’t even register my presence. My eyes travel along the edges of his body. The scar is faded now and in some magical way it accentuates the beauty of his face. His loose shirt billows lightly away from his chest so I can see part of his toned muscles. The years have done well for him. I touch my stomach and rub along the edges. I must look like a starved calf with a bloated stomach. Sheriff says I do. Meanwhile, I don’t blame Madeline for the way her hand finds its way into Johnny’s lap, gripping around his treasure parts. I turn away from her. I try not to blame her for her nature. She don’t have no husband to support her and she has two kids to take care of. She musta forgot about how two moments ago she was calling him a little bastard child, but maybe she don’t recognize him. Money is money, as Dad says. Though I don’t see why so many folks in town drink his horse juice. It tastes like a brush of death mixed with abandonment. “I ain’t seen a man with your stature since, well, since the earth turned from dust to soil.” She used that line last week on the Sheriff. He looked like he wanted to rip the tattered dress off her chest. “There’s still dust, sweetheart,” Johnny says. I whip around. “You know the Sheriff don’t like intruders on his territory. I suggest you leave before there’s a tussle over whose got the biggest gun.”
TJ O h ler
“I’m sure I’d win that battle,” he says with a smile. He’s too cocky. Johnny was so innocent when we were kids running around town. “I ain’t no intruder, but I think I will take this little lady up on her offer.” He pulls Madeline’s dress back to a less revealing location. “Sheriff lets folks do their business in the shed two doors town. If you want to rustle in the bushes there be my guest. And if ya ain’t buying no drink, get the hell out of my saloon.” He laughs, and it reminds me of the time I poured dust all over him and he wouldn’t stop smiling. Delicious. I contemplate all the diseases he’ll get if his gun goes anywhere near Madeline’s village of quarantined houses. Then I wonder if he’s noticed all the changes to the saloon, like how the chairs we used to jump from one to another are all gone except for one, which is in the back room. I sit in it on occasion to read books Pea-Eyed Burt finds. “Care to show me where this fine sanctuary is?” he asks Madeline. I look over at him to catch him staring at me, like he’s blaming me for him running away and leaving me behind. It’s his fault. He ran just like my mother did. He takes her hand. “Thank you for your services,” he says. “Well, ain’t you just the finest gentleman,” Madeline bellows behind her hand. She’s probably checking how bad her breath smells. Then a gun fires, and Johnny is pushing my head under the counter. Then another shot. I hear men yelling before the sound of boots entering the saloon comes. I stand up despite Johnny telling me otherwise. Madeline is crouched down on the ground, her head in between her knees. I know I shouldn’t be thinking this as half the men come in, like my father has given them one of his test batches of horse juice, but I am. Johnny’s ear is bleeding and blood is slipping into his left hand while he has a gun pointed straight at the people entering. The memory comes aggressively and without control. I was twelve when I found Johnny bleeding behind the saloon. My dad was teaching me the art of making your own special alcohol like he had. I already wanted to forget the taste of the beginning trials of his. I lifted up my mother’s old dress and checked on him. He had a long cut on his face that was bleeding all over his shirt “Can you breathe?” I asked. His chest was moving fast. I imagined the blood all over him was from millions of tiny little holes that had formed in his lungs and blocked his airway. “John, let me help you.” I forgot about my mom’s dress as I got into the dirt and tried to pull him up. He groaned. “Who did this?”
A Po i s on e d H or s e W i l l F a l l , E ve n i f Yo u Sho o t it Fir s t
He mumbled something, something about his pa. I knew he had to be wrong. Sheriffs were supposed to obey the law, so I ignored his delirious words and tried to help him again. Even covered in blood, he had this gentleness about him that none of the other boys in town had, and though I wasn’t sure he had feelings for me, I knew how I felt about him. Seeing him like that scared me, but it was worse when he slipped from my hands and fell to the ground. His scream punctured the darkness, and I was sure he was going to die. “Should we not move? I want to help you.” I could hear yelling from down the dust path. I recognized the voice as his father’s. It sounded slurred and slow as if lost in some haze. I tried picking Johnny up again, but I was too weak. My whole body was shaking and not just from the sight of blood or the fear that maybe what Johnny had said wasn’t some hallucination. “Johnny, I need you to stand up. I need to get you inside.” That’s when I realized he had passed out. I tried to pick him up, but it wasn’t working, so I tried to drag him along the ground. His body felt like eight bins of liquor. I was too weak to help. As his father got closer and called out Johnny’s name, I felt like I was nothing, like the wind would just suddenly come down and pick me up off my feet and carry me away. That’s the helpless feeling I get now as the Sheriff enters the saloon and takes his stance in front of the rest of the men. I move out from behind the counter and stand next to Johnny and Madeline. “Ya damn well better not have shot at my deputy,” the Sheriff says. He looks at me too, and I can tell his eyes fall over my arms which are cradled around my stomach. I thought his expression was angry before, but now it’s even worse. Meanwhile, the Deputy pouts in the corner holding a rag over his shoulder. “He came before his gun could,” Johnny says. Pea-Eyed Burt lets out a laugh. The Sheriff takes his gun and shoots Burt in the foot. I cover my ears to drown out the screams, but surprisingly Burt is silent. He’s on his behind now, cradling his foot. I leave then. My feet carry me to the back room, where I have some medicinal supplies, not much, and I don’t know if I will be able to help. Pea-Eyed Burt may be one eye and one foot short on this day. When I come back out, the tension has somewhat gone down. “I knew you wouldn’t fear a duel with the likes of some wandering stranger,” Johnny says. I go over to Burt and start helping him with his foot. It’s a slow process and one in which I have to focus. I barely notice the words said behind me except that the Sheriff and Johnny will duel at dawn tomorrow in honor of tradition.
T J O h ler
Burt’s boot has meshed with his torn flesh. “It’s gone,” Burt says. “It’s all gone.” “Be quiet,” I say. “Calm down.” I try to peel away the bits of shoe, but I can’t see clearly. Too much blood. Already I can tell a few of his toes are completely gone. Burt’s delirious. “Love is like a snake wrapping around your neck.” I try to shush him. I look around, but Johnny is being held by the Sheriff to take a drink together. I can see four more shots of father’s horse juice on the counter. They’re declaring the duel. After I found Johnny covered in blood, we once counted how many drinks it took until his daddy got mean. Seventeen, on a good day. Three, on bad ones. Burt grips my arm. “Don’t let a guy hurt you like he did me.” Then he passes out, his head smacking against the ground. I look at his foot. I don’t know if he’ll be able to walk again. He could die from infection. I’ll go get Grandma Sage from across the ways. Maybe she’ll be able to help. A hand lands on my shoulder. I look up expecting Johnny, but instead it’s the Sheriff with his shiny badge and fake cheer. It’s funny what alcohol will do to you, or the idea of childish duels. The other night he kept talking about how he’d love to have an actual duel, like a true cowboy does. He forces me to stand and leave Burt behind. I see Madeline and whisper fast for her to get Grandma Sage. She may not do it, but I don’t know how long the Sheriff will keep me. In the back room where no one can see us, he pinches my arm. “What ya think it look like when my wife goes against my gun? I’m supposed to ride the river with you.” I can’t even trust myself anymore, I think. I say, “I just wanted to help Burt. He’s got nothin’ but himself.” I’m wiping the blood off my hands, but it doesn’t seem to be working. “That drunkard cowpokes little boys in their dreams.” “You make words sound like fool’s gold.” He slaps me across the face, and it shocks me, not because he does it, but because he usually only hits me where other people can’t see. Johnny has him riled up. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I mean not to be so dreadful. I only mean to please you.” I kiss him hard on the lips the way he likes. I make sure my tongue runs circles over the coarseness of his stubble. I even bite his lip to let him know I like it. He thinks biting is sexy. I watch him through open eyes as he is taken up by my actions. He stops when his hands reach my stomach. “Baby a’right?” I nod.
A Po is o n e d H or s e W i l l F a l l , E ve n i f Yo u Sho o t it Fir s t
“One day that little boy’s goin’ to turn out just like his pa.” He rubs my stomach before turning away. “Do somethin’ with that face before ya come out.” Then he’s gone. I feel my knees give way, not because of the slap or the idea of spending another night with him, or of Johnny dying tomorrow. I sit on the ground in blood and dust and tears because the idea of my baby being like the Sheriff makes me sick. If I could ram all of the horse juice in the world down my throat right this instant, I know I would. Then I see Burt’s pleading eye in my head. I need to be stronger. I need to be better than this. I can’t let the Sheriff win. I stand and brush off my skirt. Without fixing my face, I walk out into the saloon. Men are joking and laughing, and enjoying their drinks. I see Johnny huddled next to Madeline. When he sees me, his face gets dark. I wonder if he sees someone ugly, or if maybe he’s remembering the time we kissed for the first time by the river. Then he was a fool and ran. I keep moving because I see Burt lying on the dirt outside. They must have thrown him out there to rot. I walk tall and strong to Grandma Sage’s. I need to pick up a few things. Two hours and some purchases later, I have Burt lay down in his hut. I used daddy’s horse and cart to pull him here. Johnny came out of the compound where Madeline does business to ask if I needed his help. I told him to go clog his guns in a bed of poisonous snakes. “Grandma Sage will be over in an hour to check up on you,” I say. I imagine her lugging along Madeline’s kids. They’re almost like her own. Burt doesn’t respond. He keeps moaning in his sleep. I check his foot and look away. Earlier flies had been swarming around it. He will most definitely lose his foot. “You’ll be okay,” I say. I want the words to be true, not lies, like I know they are. Back at the bar, Madeline is buying a drink with actual cash. I guess Johnny got his gun to fire. I shouldn’t care about these things. I shouldn’t care about what some runaway boy who killed his father and left the girl he said he loved behind. But I do. “That boys a sissy,” Madeline slurs. “Probably like Burt.” “I think yous got ‘nuf alcohol, dear,” I say, taking her glass. “I’s not allowed to tell you,” she says before long. “He mades me promise not to.” She looks down like a guilty child, and it makes me think that her oldest son is probably more mature than she will ever be.
T J O h ler
“Then don’t tell me. Your mouth can’t handle letting more dirt flying from those lips.” I wonder how Johnny felt as she wrapped his arms around her back. “Yous got a mouth so fiery, no wonder he won’t talk to you.” “What in the hell are you talking about?” “All he asked was questions about ya. Is Pearl married? Is she pregnant? Is she happy? Yapping on like a cock at mornin’ sun.” I stare at her. “Johnny?” “Yes, ma’am. He kept pushing me away like I had me some disease.” You do, I think. “Well, I wonder why he’d do that. “ “He said he loves you.” Madeline’s head clomps down on the counter, and before I can stop myself, I’m running outside, the wind whipping against me. I have to know why he left, why he came here and acted like I didn’t exist, or maybe I just imagined he didn’t notice and the whole time he was watching. I shouldn’t need a man to keep me sane, but I run to him anyways. It takes a few minutes before I find him next to a horse on the ground. At first, I think the horse is sleeping, but as I get closer I can see the mound of wet ground around it. “They shot her so I wouldn’t book out of town,” Johnny says. “Not that I planned on runnin’ anyways. I don’t abandon my obligations.” “You abandoned me,” I say. “You said we’d leave together.” And when he looks at me, my heart breaks. What comes out of his lips is something I would never expect. “Your pa told me yous was going to marry Robbie. He said it would be better for you to have a life with someone that actually could provide a stable home for you and that I would never be that man.” “How could you decide that for me? I can handle my own choices.” He nods. “I can see that now.” Then he’s telling me everything. All his feelings. From the day we first kissed he always felt sick in his stomach because he never felt good enough. His daddy always told him he was worthless or his brother always made him feel lower than dirt. It reminds me so much of how I feel with the Sheriff that I want to rip the dead flesh of Johnny’s horse and make a noose out of it and kill everyone that’s ever made someone feel like that. I’ve learned that I’m not strong enough for that though. I couldn’t even protect Johnny that day in the alley when he needed me most, and he couldn’t take me away from here when I needed him. I don’t forgive him, but I’m beginning to understand him in a way I never did. Maybe my mother had valid reasons for leaving too, or maybe she was just selfish. “I see fire in your eyes, but when yer with ‘em it goes out,” he says finally.
A Po is o n e d H or s e W i l l F a l l , E ve n i f Yo u Sho o t it Fir s t
I can’t talk about how the Sheriff looks at me like I’m already dead. I look away and stare at his horse. “What was her name?” I ask to avoid his words He looks at me, and for the first time since he’s arrived I feel like maybe we’ll be okay because he smiles, not cocky, but genuine and vulnerable and kind. “Pearl,” he says. And that’s all I need in this moment. I kiss him, next to a dead horse and broken hearts. It’s ten minutes before dawn, and I haven’t seen Johnny since we buried his horse in the ground and fell asleep in a secluded area of trees. The Sheriff didn’t notice. I’m assuming he was busy with one of his woman “friends”, who isn’t pregnant with a baby. My heart clenches. I have no idea what to do. I imagine spending the rest of my life stuck here, being talked down to by the Sheriff. I try so hard to imagine the Sheriff is someone else, that I am not married to him. If I just refer to him, like a stranger, then maybe he will turn into dust. Then I think of Johnny and how he is a stranger to me too. Neither man seems like an option right now. “Me and the boys had us some target practice this mornin’. I think I’m ready for some shootin’.” The Sheriff wraps his arm around me and kisses my forehead before wrapping something around my face. I don’t move. It feels cold and covers one of my eyes. I want to vomit. I think of my son, or daughter, growing inside me, and I imagine what they would think of their daddy and his target practice. I slowly take off Pea-Eyed Burt’s patch. I make a decision, and though part of me knows it’s wrong, it’s the one I need to make. “Wasn’t much of a fuss. The target couldn’t really walk.” I go over to the counter where I’ve made my own horse juice from a mix of Grandma’s Sage’s ingredients. I give the Sheriff, my husband, the glass. I let him drink from the cup. “Your pa’s horse tonic gets better every day,” he says. I think of the times he was kind and generous. The day he became Sheriff and rubbed my back until I fell asleep in his arms. The day he caught me crying in the back room of the saloon and held me. At first his kindness towards me filled the void that Johnny left after he ran away. I don’t exactly remember the shift into what he is now. “It’s time,” I say. “Mills is waiting. Whole town’s waiting.” The Sheriff takes a few steps and stumbles a little until he’s outside.
T J O h ler
Killing is wrong and I may never forgive myself. I watch from the saloon doors. Most of the town has gathered to watch the intruder get shot by the Sheriff. Supposedly, my husband’s got the best gun in the countryside, but I know it won’t matter. He sways in the rising sun. I hear the clock strike and see the guns rise. The Sheriff’s hand only makes it halfway. A poisoned horse will fall, even if you shoot it first.
Outer Lands Ashleigh Heaton
My heart is pounding. It is all I can hear in my ears as I run forward, branches whipping my face as I weave through trees, the night too dark for me to even try avoiding them. Behind me, the muffled thunder of stampeding horses grows closer and closer, and my heart matches their pace. “How could you lose her?” calls a man’s voice, echoing throughout the forest. As I run, I imagine how much harder this sprint would be had I listened to my mother all those years and worn skirts to every occasion. Silently, I thank the lord for inventing trousers. The better to run away from you in, I think. A flock of pixies flee from a nearby bush, spooked, and skitter into my face. I stumble and try to swat them away, yelping at their poking and prodding. One gets caught in my red dreadlocks, pulling at my hair in an attempt to free itself. “Run! Run!” they screech in passing, their frantic fluttering melting into the darkness as they leave me with nothing but new scratches across my cheeks. The one in my hair finally pops free, dashing to catch up with its flock. Pests. “Did you hear that, sir?” another man’s voice shouts, high-pitched and boyish. “I think she’s over this way!” A sting of curses prick at my tongue, but I swallow them back. No use in making more noise. Clutching my satchel of supplies close, I keep sprinting, letting the adrenaline in my veins push me forward, the moonlight a hesitant guide for my feet as it shifts through the trees. Dried leaves crunch underfoot, rocks occasionally jut out from the earth and threaten my balance. I dodge them, internally triumphant at my agility.
A s h leigh Heato n
Who knew I had poise? I think. I mean, sure, I’m escaping capture and covered in dirt and smelling of fish or mead or piss or maybe all three, but at least I’m not going to be tripped up by a couple of – Suddenly, the trail slopes downward, and the abrupt inertia makes my feet fly out from under me. I tumble forward, landing with a less than graceful thud. I hear my golden locket snap off my neck, falling into the dried leaves beside me. A cool breeze blows across my face, and I look in the direction it came from, off to the west. Beyond the trees, I see a small clearing, a glimmer of open land peeking through the aspens and elms. My breath catches at the sight. I need to get out of this forest–the king has no command over the outer lands. I will be free. Much too close, I hear a horse whinny. I snap up my head to see the silhouette of four mounted guardsmen charging toward me, only a couple hundred yards behind me. “There!” one silhouette calls. “There, there she is!” I jump to my feet and tear toward the clearing, quickly snatching up the locket as I ignore the soreness in my legs and the shortness of my breath. The opening becomes clearer and clearer, and I push toward it, dropping my shoulder to ward off the branches grabbing at my clothes. An arrow whistles past my shoulder, but I do not turn around, my eyes fixed on the pale light beckoning me forward. Almost there… almost… A second arrow lodges in my forearm just as I break through the trees. I scream, clutching my arm as I fall to my knees, blood beginning to trickle from the wound. More curses rise in my throat, and this time I let them free. Behind me, I hear the horses’ feet clomp to an abrupt halt, the thoroughbreds neighing impatiently at the stop. Arrows notch, but the guards make no further advances towards me, afraid to pass the borderline. “Felicity Thatcher!” the deepest voice booms. “You have been found guilty of thievery and crimes against the throne. It is by the king’s command that you shall come with us and be punished for your misdeeds!”
Dark spots begin to cloud my vision, and I squeeze my eyes shut. Of
course they poisoned the arrow. “Not… in the king’s lands…” I hiss through the pain, willing myself to stay conscious. “You can’t… do anything to me… here…” The commander grunts. Passing into the outer lands is treason, even if in pursuit of a criminal. At least that minor detail was working in my favor. “That may be true, girl,” he says. “But if you do not come with us willingly, we will be forced to carry out your sentence prematurely.”
O ute r Land s
The strings of their bows tense. Shit. I blink my eyes open, taking in the clearing. I had been so close. The moon bathes the scenery in a pale blue, its refracted twin rippling in a lake fanning out to the north. Grass and trees roll over hills, mountains rise up to line the horizon. The outer lands are so open and exposed and free, exactly how I dreamed they would be. I glance at the lake again, fighting through dizziness. There, at the shoreline, stands a woman, her dark eyes fixed on me. She wears a tattered, corseted frock suited for a peasant, but her raven tresses and flawless, coffee skin give her an air of elegance fit for royalty. Her hand rests on the head of a massive grey coyote to her side, petting it absentmindedly. I must be hallucinating. That is no ordinary coyote. It could easily be a small bear, or a boar. But the most unsettling feature is not its unnatural size, but its crimson eyes glowing in the moonlight, glaring at me. “Miss Thatcher, what is your answer?” the commander says. The woman shifts her glance from me to the guards beyond me, unfazed, almost irritated with their presence. The coyote growls, low and deep. “Guerrero,” she says, her voice cutting though the clearing. “Come esos hombres.” With that, the coyote speeds forward, closing the distance with otherworldly speed. The commander calls for attack, but the coyote ignores the arrows shooting toward it as it leaps over my head and towards the forest, snarling and barking. I lock eyes with the woman, her face expressionless. The sounds of shrieks and tearing flesh fade away as I fall forward, and the world turns black. When I come to, my mouth tastes like dust. I cough, blinking my eyes at the noonday sun. Every muscle in my body aches, and my arm throbs. My arm. The thought of it lets the memories flood in: my escape, the guardsmen, the woman by the lake. My hand instinctively flies to my arm to yank out the arrow, but I find it has already been removed, the wound crudely dressed with scraps of woven rags. I find my locket safely curled up in my fist, and I let my thumb stroke the engraved surface, finding comfort in its familiar crevices. “Ah. Finalmente estas despierta.” I bolt upright at the sound to find the woman from the lake sitting on a nearby rock, casually shucking peanuts. Beyond her, the outer lands stretch onward, the lake rippling as a gentle breeze gusts by. My satchel rests beside her, and I realize she is digging into my food rations.
A s h leigh Heato n
“Decidí seguir adelante y comer,” she continues, throwing back a handful of nuts. “No he comido en días.” “Those are mine,” I say lamely, pointing at my bag. I only packed enough for one–there is not food to spare. She glances at the bag, then at the peanut shells scattered around her feet, then back at me. Shrugging, she cracks open another nut. “Yo te salvé la vida. Lo menos que puedes hacer es darme algunos nueces.” “I’m sorry, I don’t, uh, understand…” I say, my voice breaking through the dryness of my throat. “English? Do you speak English?” The woman sighs, brushing crumbs off her skirt. “I do, muñeca,” she replies, drifting effortlessly between fluencies. “I assume you do not speak the southern languages?” “Uh… no,” I reply. Lazily, she picks up my satchel and throws it to me. I catch it and look frantically inside: the peanuts, the bread, the grapes, the apples, even the salted fish are gone. The only food left is a few carrots at the bottom of the bag. Furious, I glare up at the woman, who rolls her eyes. “I was hungry,” she says simply, tossing a wave of dark tresses over her shoulder. “I don’t care much for carrots, you can go ahead and eat them… oh, don’t be like that. It was the least you could spare after I saved your life.” My face drops. She snorts at my expression, then stands. “Don’t worry, muñeca, I know where to get more. Those guards left plenty of food and money to barter with. Besides, you wouldn’t have lasted two days out here with that pathetic amount of food.” “Those… those were my rations!” I say, throwing the satchel to the side in frustration. I begin to stand, my legs begging me otherwise. “What else did you take from me? What else do you plan on stealing?” The woman squares her shoulders, but her expression remains calm. “Guerrero, aqui,” she snaps. A grey coyote suddenly dashes out of the forest to come to her side, circling her heels. Its red eyes stay trained on me, the hair on its back bristling, a growl softly building in its throat. I freeze, clamping my mouth shut. I had, in fact, not been hallucinating about the size of this thing. It was almost as large as a yearling, without the thoroughbred elegance. A rusty smear of dried blood paints its muzzle, and my stomach drops. A moment of silence passes between us before the woman smiles tightly.
O ute r Land s
“Do not worry, Guerrero will not hurt you,” she says, stroking behind the coyote’s ears. “Unless I ask him to, of course. Then you will be carrne de perro quicker than you can scream.” I gulp. I do not feel compelled to test this theory. Nervously, I sit back down, combing my hands through my auburn dreadlocks. I realize how many leaves and twigs have nested in my hair and begin picking them out, eyes darting between the ground and the gigantic coyote. “Who are you?” I ask. The woman settles back down on her rock, crossing her legs daintily. Guerrero trots to her side, looking up at her. She nods, and he lies down on the ground, folding up under himself and resting his chin on his paws. The hairs on his back still bristle ever so slightly as he continues to size me up. “My name is Reyna,” she replies. “A drifter, just as you are.” “What do you want from me?” “That depends,” she says, tilting her head to the side. “What do you have to offer?” My hand instinctively grips my locket tighter, rubbing the surface once more. “I…” I manage, licking my cracking lips. The outer lands were much drier than I had anticipated. “I don’t know what you mean…” Reyna points to the horizon. I follow the path with my eyes to stare at the tallest mountain in the range, its top capped with snow. “You see those mountains there, muñeca?” she asks. I nod. “There is someone I intend to meet in those mountains. I was planning on making the trek alone–” Guerrero interrupts her with a growl. “–with Guerrero, of course,” she continues, patting him on the head. “But when I saw you last night, even injured, you still defied the king. Bravery is admirable. And I do not want to see a brave woman go to waste. Now I just need to know what it is you can offer me.” “I’m wanted,” I blurt, the words rushing out of me. “I’m dangerous to travel with.” Reyna chuckles. “And you think I am not?” she says. “Muñeca, I can guarantee you will stare death in the face when you are with me. Those mountains are more than trees and slopes. A number of creatures you think are legend are said to roam those mountaintops, and will no doubt unleash the dientes de guerra upon us when we pass through their lands. Some even say–”
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“No,” I say, cutting her off. “You don’t understand.” Reyna blinks at me, surprised by my forwardness. I look down at my hands and inhale deeply, summoning up the courage. This woman did save my life– the least I can do is trust her. I hold up the locket by its chain, letting the pendulum gently swing back and forth. The sun catches its golden curves, glinting. Confusion passes over Reyna’s face, her lips pursing. I take another deep inhale before breaking the silence. “I stole magic,” I whisper. Guerrero begins to bark, jumping to his feet. Reyna’s eyes widen, though she makes no move to attack me. I pass the locket from hand to hand, bringing it to my chest and staring at the ground. “I see,” Reyna says. I can hear her trying to keep her voice level. “And that is why the guards were after you, yes?” I nod. “And why, may I ask?” Clearing my throat, I decide to keep my answer as simple as possible. This woman does not need to know everything, even if I do want to trust her. “I needed a cure,” I say, my grip tightening over the locket. “A cure for a spell, wrongfully cast. It didn’t matter though. I was… too late.” Reyna nods. She does not press me further. “And why are you here?” she asks. “I had nowhere else to go. I needed to escape. I didn’t care where I was, so long as I was out of the king’s wretched lands. I never got the chance to use the magic, though, so the guards were able to track me, and… well, here we are.” Reyna looks at me steadily, taking in the information. Magic is dangerous to be in possession of–in untrained hands, it could lead to disaster, and my hands are anything but trained. It could conjure a cure or a flood, depending on the user. It was a gamble to possess in the first place. I bite my lip, waiting for her to have Guerrero unleash the dientes de guerra upon my throat. Then she throws her head back and erupts in laughter. “Yes, muñeca, that will do,” she says, smiling. “Even if it does come with a little peligro. Piensa en lo que podría comprar, lo que podría hacer…” I blink. “You still… you still want me to come?” I ask. “Dios mío, yes!” Reyna says. “With that magic, we just might stand a chance of making it through those mountains. You never know when a bit of the king’s possessions can come in handy.”
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Spying an unopened peanut on the ground, Reyna scoops it up and splits it open. She peeks up at me before taking a bite. “That is, if you want to join?” The locket in my hands feels heavy. The mountains seem too vast, imposing and threatening in the distance. Would I even be able to scale them? I do not even know how to use magic properly–I could ruin the entire journey with the wrong incantation. I do not know this woman, but it is frankly impossible not to agree to what she says when her coyote could be ready to kill you at any moment. Any way I look at this, I end up dead in some form or fashion. So I nod. Reyna smiles back, tossing the nut into her mouth. “Good choice, muñeca,” she says. “We leave at sundown. Rest up.”
" Su pe r n atu r al/ Pa r a n o r m a l
Dead Men and their Tales Eric Hackler
“You’d think someone would lock the door to this place once in a while.” Roman was whispering to himself again as he entered his deathly quiet workspace for the night. He was the only one there, so to speak, and that was just the way he liked it. Around the corner, he could hear the sounds of horses and carriages passing in the distance. Roman rolled his eyes. “Amish folks… useless in every way but one. They won’t ever come in here after dark.” The damp grass was silent against his boots. If anyone ever wanted to sneak up on him, they wouldn’t find a better place. Roman set down his tools and began looking at tonight’s options. The freshest was a little girl. That wouldn’t work. The professors at the University-of-West-Coast-Wherever couldn’t be teaching anatomy to important college people with so small a subject. He moved on. “What about an athlete? Their bones would be nice and strong. Eh… chances are they died of an injury of some kind. I need intact. A lawyer? No, too greasy. What about the cat lady? I don’t want to risk that again.” The last cat lady he’d dug up had apparently insisted on being buried with her felines. Roman moved away. He walked quietly through the small graveyard checking names, dates, and occupations here and there. He flat-out ignored the grave labeled “Yorick”. This was a typical Roman evening. Strolling through the past and ascribing his own legends on the poor souls he found there. The grave by the corner stood over the body of a transvestite. A nice chap who had been arrested by the fuzz for lewd behaviour but had escaped prison with the help of a dwarf cellmate, only to be struck and killed by a misjudging pelican. The tiny headstone surrounded by American flags belonged to a general. A curmudgeonly fellow, his family, who had
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become so sick and tired of his claims that he fought in the Cold War, all simultaneously attempted to kill him. Now they all leave flags so all their other relatives will think they really did love him and therefore not suspect their involvement. The collection of rounded headstones in the shape of a triangle guarded the many-layered resting place of fifteen unacquainted friends. Each had said they wanted to be buried with one of the others, thus creating an unintentional mass grave certain to befuddle future archaeologists, seeing as the funeral home really couldn’t be bothered to decide who had loved who the most. Roman fully expected that some day, one of these characters would crawl from their coffin, shout at him regarding how wrong he was and politely ask him to stop making things up. But until then, the graves were up for grabs. All but one. At the very heart of the yard, hidden in a swamp of bouquets, was the body of the child everyone loved. The one tale that Roman hadn’t created, but the one he wished with all his heart he had. Her young body was curled in the fetal position beneath the earth, never knowing the love that was given to her in death, remembering only its absence in her short life. The bullet was still inside her, and hers was the only grave Roman would never touch. Finally, he came across a small grave in the shadow of an ash tree. The man beneath it had died a perfect ten years ago and the cross in the upper right corner indicated that this was a priest (Roman had been stealing from this business long enough to know the codes). “Wonderful! Clean, virtuous and won’t send me anywhere I’m not already going. Father P. M. Barry, the scientific community thanks you for your generous donation.” And with that, Roman headed back to retrieve his tools. Digging up a body is hard work. Unless it’s rained recently; then the job’s a bit easier (albeit messier). “At least it’s not winter,” Roman reminded himself as he embedded his rusty shovel in the earth and cursed the creators of the show Supernatural for making it look so damn easy. The best way to get through it, Roman had learned long ago, was to just sing a song in your head and move the shovel to the beat. Tonight, it was “A Pirate’s Life For Me.” “We’re rascals (shovel in) and scoundrels (throw dirt) and villains (shovel in) and knaves (throw dirt) Drink up (shovel) me hearties, yo ho (throw) We’re devils (shovel) and black sheep (throw) and really (shovel) bad eggs (throw) Drink up me hearties, yo ho.”
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At three feet, Roman’s muscles started to ache. At four, he had to stop for ten minutes to catch his breath. At four-and-a-half, he stopped for another ten minutes to curse Supernatural again. Then at four-and-three-quarters, his shovel connected with wood. “They buried their priest in a shallow grave? That’s a new thing.” Roman used his hands to uncover the lid of the coffin. It was a simple pine box with a cross on it and the occupant’s name and death year. “Really, the funeral home wouldn’t even donate a nice coffin to the death of a priest? He has to be their biggest supplier. Mortuaries should have a membership: ‘Attend X number of funerals, get your own absolutely free’ kind of thing.” Roman looked down at the shovel at the bottom of the hole. “I suppose reversing the process would increase the price of my coffin…oh, well.” Roman and his shovel climbed out of the hole and headed over to the pile of tools to find a pickaxe. As he walked away, the wind blew through the trees and Roman could swear it was whistling ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.’ “Why did I choose that song? It’ll be stuck in my head for weeks! Ugh!” Roman traded his shovel for the axe and returned to his bounty. Pine box lids are easy to pry open. People don’t usually spend too much money on the nails. As the hinges gave, the skeleton was revealed and Roman’s exhausted delight turned to exhausted bewilderment. There was no skeleton. The box was empty. In a business that practically defined the phrase “this wasn’t supposed to happen,” finding an empty box was definitely not supposed to happen. “Did someone beat me to it? Did they bury an empty box?” The wind whistled through the trees and Roman spun around. His eyes darted from grave to grave. He’d heard about this. Rumours and stories. Police burying false graves to catch grave robbers. Set up a tender looking grave, let the guy dig up the empty box, and arrest him once he’s all tired out. Roman gripped the pickaxe tighter. The wind whistled behind Roman, and he spun back in a panic but saw nothing. He still heard the wind though. It was louder and Roman could almost hear notes. Like someone was whistling a tune and the night was singing harmony. Then Roman noticed the ash tree next to the grave. His ears noticed it first. For all the whistles in the air, there was no rustling accompaniment. Roman looked at the tree and his eyes confirmed the suspicions of his ears. The leaves weren’t moving. Roman could feel the wind blowing on his face; he could hear the song in his ears, but it seemed the rest of the world couldn’t. Then it all stopped. The wind, the cold, the music. It all went silent. Roman looked around. The cemetery was back to normal. After taking a moment to rub his face and pat down the hairs on the back of his neck, Roman looked again at the
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grave he’d just re-dug. Empty. “Who buries an empty coffin?” There was dust at the bottom, and in it he could clearly make out the outline of a man. The coffin had been occupied at one point or another. He looked again at the lid. No other pry marks. No one else had opened this coffin. The wind whistled wildly through the trees again. “I swear it sounds like someone is whistling!” Then the voice broke the silence. “Most people just leave a white rose.” Roman spun around so fast, he dropped the pickaxe, embedded the end in the lid of the coffin, and tripped himself with the handle. He slowly climbed back to his feet to face the speaker. The man standing at the edge of the grave was thin. Very thin. But weirdly proportioned. His torso and legs seemed to be the proper width but his head, shoulders and arms were all malnourished-ly skinny. When he moved, there seemed to be a delay. It was like each bone in his body was getting the message from his brain a second after the one before it. The man wore a priest’s robe. He smelled of cheap wine. The kind that only tastes good for a second, then leaves a bitter taste in your month for hours. That kind of wine. “Maybe I should cut down on my drinking.” Roman stared in disbelief. The man checked his fingernails and continued nonchalantly. “Or a bouquet on the ground by their toes. Anyone who goes deeper Is some kind of creeper And the smell isn’t great for your nose.” The man looked up at Roman, but Roman was too busy having no clue what was going on to worry about getting his mouth to work properly. So the man began again. “Oh, don’t stand there with your nerves looking shot You wanted me here, did you not? Well, I’m here and I’m real So let’s us make a deal And thereby continue the plot.” Roman had this habit of remembering the strangest things at the most unexpectedly appropriate times and at this moment, his mind leapt back to that third grade English assignment, recognized the man’s rhyme scheme and then leapt right back to the front of his head. “Was that a limerick?” “An unfortunate side effect, yes.” “Why?” “Yours is as good as my guess.”
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“You can’t stop?” “Oh your god, how I dream, I could end this rhyme scheme, But I’ve got no other way to express.” The man dropped his hand to his side and just stared at the ground, a dejected look on his sallow face. The clock of the nearby church chimed three. The man took a deep breath and suddenly there was a grin on his face. “Ah, but our time in this darkness grows short And by sunrise I have to report What to you can I sell That’s worth going to hell? Roman’s immediate attempts to back away several feet were thwarted again by the handle of his axe and he crashed back into the grave. “I’m sorry. What?” “Why else does one, with devils, consort?” “What do you mean, you’re a devil?” “I thought I had made that point clear. By being dead and yet still standing here” “But you were… are… a priest.” “They once called me ‘Elder’ Now, I guard the hell door” “That one didn’t work as well.” “What do you want, I haven’t rehearsed all year? “I’m still lost though. How does an Elder end up going to hell? “There were little boys.” “What? No limerick about that?” Elder Barry shrugged. “I can’t make that whimsical.” “So then…” Elder clicked his lips. The awkward silence had begun. Roman looked around the graveyard trying to find some way out of this mess. Elder interrupted Roman’s thoughts with a clap of his hands. “Yes, let offers begin.” Roman bit his lip. Explaining to someone that you don’t want to hang out with them was bad enough when they couldn’t throw you into the inferno for laughs. He started carefully, “Believe it or not…” “You’re imagining the trouble you’re in?” “Something like that.” Elder Barry waved his hand in a nothing-to-it kind of way. When he spoke again, he sounded like the most agreeable person since King Henry VIII’s seventh wife. “You sell me your soul,
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I accomplish your goal. It’s what Wall Street would call a ‘Win-Win.’” The knot in Roman’s chest tightened. This explanation was going to be harder than he thought. “Yes, I do see that, the thing is…” “Are those feet in your shoes getting cold?” “No colder than yours,” Roman muttered to himself. “Look, sir. The point is: I didn’t call you.” “Yet, I bring knowledge of treasures untold. Though your mouth may groan, You heart wants what I own.” Roman checked the tombstone quickly to make sure this guy wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness. “You can see all the wonders I hold.” The cheap wine smell was overpowering. Roman’s legs hurt from standing and tripping over a pickaxe twice. He wanted this to be over, but how to make that happen? The direct approach. He took a deep breath. “Elder” Elder’s face lit up at the tone of Roman’s voice. “That’s the sound of a man of conviction. A man who is free of restrictions. Speak onward, my son Tell me what you’d like done. And your dreams can be works of non-fiction.” “Go away!” The smile vanished from Elder’s face like Jesus’s body postcrucifixion. He took a startled step backward, making a sound that sounded like a seal swallowing a baseball (which, thank god, is too strange a noise to base a limerick around) and thus silence fell. Roman stared at Elder. Elder stared at Roman. No one said a word, rhyming or otherwise. The clock struck three-fifteen. Roman started and narrowly missed falling over the pickaxe again. Elder was too stunned to move, but at long last he broke the silence. “Is there nothing at all that you’re wanting?” Roman thought about it. He thought of his one room apartment. His rusted tools. His empty wallet. There was so much in this world he could use… The clock struck three-thirty before he was ready to answer. “There is. It’s a very long list.” “Then let me make it yours for the flaunting. Flying carpets unfurled. An entire new world.
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No more graveyards you need to be haunting.” Silence fell again. Elder Barry waited. Roman considered. Elder Barry waited. Roman considered. He thought of all his woes. He saw the possibilities. He felt the bruises on his legs. Then he thought of her, alone in the untouchable grave, and he summoned his courage. “That’s the thing though. I like this.” The grave robber’s voice was barely a whisper but in it was more poetry than in the whole of the conversation. “I don’t want to cheat. Where’s the experience in that? Where’s the challenge? Look where we are. Surrounded by people whose lives hijacked themselves, crashed and burned but because of that, because they failed in life, they are loved. And loved more than most. This is where I’m meant to be.” “That’s The Beatles.” Roman smiled. Elder returned it. Roman bent down and wrenched his pickaxe from the lid of Elder’s coffin. “Well, the night is young and I have another grave to dig up before the sun rises.” “Find the unmarked grave on the far side.” “Why?” “Man was a killer ‘fore he died.” “Really?” Elder nodded. “They injected his arm, Doing his bones no harm. All the wet eyes for him have since dried.” Roman looked in the direction Elder was pointing and headed off. Three paces later, he stopped and looked back. Elder was standing by his grave looking very alone. His thin arms were held at his side and his eyes were looking over the grass. “Hey.” Elder looked up. “Do I have to dig you up if I ever want to talk to you again?” A smile spread across the thin face. “Just knock three times on the tree, If it’s me that you would like to see. I will come round each time For with more lyrical rhyme.” Roman returned the smile. “Oh, by the way, would you mind filling your grave back in?” Before Elder could reply, Roman held up his hand. “That’s not a deal; it’s a favor.” Elder Barry laughed and nodded. “Because, grave robbing, you know, is a felony.” Roman winked and headed off to unearth a murderer’s corpse.
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When he finally left the cemetery at six in the morning, the sun was just coming up, the first horses were trundling along their cobblestone paths, Romanâ€™s body bag was full and there appeared to be two freshly dug graves in the earth behind him. As he walked to his old beat up Volkswagen, he whistled a song to himself and heâ€™d be dammed if the wind didnâ€™t join in too.
" We s te r n
If I am Guilty, I Will Pay Janelle Caputo
Thomas led his horse named Mare, out of Thomas’ lack of creativity, toward the center of town. If it could be called a town. Casa Despricio was the smallest place Thomas had ever been to. It consisted of a sheriff’s station, a saloon, and a clinic, all of which were situated between a dozen or so houses. For miles around Casa Despricio there was nothing but barren desert. It was a lone oasis in an ocean of sand and scraggy cacti. Perhaps Thomas was too excited at the prospect of visiting his first town that could truly be considered part of the Wild West, but as Mare’s soft clops echoed in the encompassing silence all he could think of were the stories his uncles had brought of their grand Western tours. As he tied Mare’s lead to the railing of the saloon he imagined himself swinging the saloon doors wide. He anticipated a tall-ceilinged room, dim from flickering candlelight, a low bar with a gruff bartender serving pints of sarsaparilla, a collection of scantily clad woman sprawled across tables as men with wide hats and cigars gambled away their savings. He anticipated music to be pouring from the cracks in the walls, for every head in the room to turn as he entered. He anticipated the music to dwindle to nothing as the Sheriff stood from a shadowy far corner just to say, “Who the hell are you?” What he should have anticipated as he approached the darkened saloon was what escaped his notice as he occupied himself with pipe dreams. He should have noticed the silence. As he walked into the unlit tavern the incongruities of the place made themselves known. Every chair had been upturned, mugs of beer were abandoned,
If I a m Guilty, I Will Pay
entire shelves of alcohol were empty, shattered bottles littered the low counter, and no one was there. Thomas stopped just inside the doorway, hands twitching at his sides. Before he could convince himself to leave he took one precarious step forward and his boot dipped into a puddle of something dark and sticky. A foot or two away a corpse sprawled face-first on the ground, a dozen or so holes littering the back of its vest. Thomas has never seen a corpse before, so he was understandably frozen, caught between trying to scream and leaning forward to inspect the corpse’s gunshot wounds out of unadulterated curiosity. Before Thomas could decide, there was a tinkling of glass as if someone was stepping on the carcasses of brandy and sarsaparilla strewn across the floor. Thomas found that he was suddenly not alone. On the other side of the bar a man in a black vest and apron tugged a bowler hat from his balding scalp and whispered, “What did you do?” Thomas looked from the man to himself to the corpse, man, himself, corpse, until the smell of blood and alcohol that permeated the air began to make him feel lightheaded. “Me?” Thomas said. “Yes, you, boy,” the man said, shouting now as he threw his hat at Thomas. The felt thing bounced off Thomas’ chest and landed in the blood at his feet. “Oh, and now see what you’ve done!” “You threw your hat,” Thomas said, feeling more confused and alone than he had in his entire twenty-three years on God’s green earth. “And you were meant to catch it and place it on your head in rebellion, that sort of thing. I’m meant to play the disgusted civilian, you, the charming gunman. Look at you, not a witty retort to be found. Oh, you’re a bang-up excuse for an assassin if I’ve ever seen one.” “An assassin?” Thomas said, almost shouted. There was a cold sweat trickling down his neck now and he could barely lift his arms to wipe it clean. “I’m not—I’m from New York. I don’t even live here. I don’t—” “The Old States? First day on the job, eh?” the man said, staggering forward to grab Thomas’ arm. “We’ll see you in the Hoosegow before your assassin buddies can fetch ya.” Before Thomas could protest, again, that he didn’t even have a gun, that he’d arrived not five minutes ago, that he had no reason to punch a dozen holes in the man whose blood soaked his boots, the saloon doors burst open. “George, dead?” another man said, his voice a deeper timbre than Thomas had ever heard.
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The man gripping Thomas’ arm nodded and pushed Thomas towards the new arrival. “And this here city-slicker done it.” “Well hell,” the new man said, turning Thomas to inspect him. The new man was the Sheriff, Thomas could tell from the five-pointed star at his breast pocket. He had a full beard, a wide hat, and half a cigar squished between his yellowed teeth. “Looks like we’re gonna need a new doctor,” the Sheriff said, eyeing Thomas up and down. “You a doctor?” Thomas shook his head, feeling words betray him in a way they hadn’t done since he was a toddler. Words were his comfort, his cadence, the only thing he could do right, and now they felt as foreign as the barren plain he’d trekked the last four days. “No, no sir.” “That’s a sure shame,” the Sheriff said, manhandling him through the saloon doors even though Thomas didn’t put up the slightest resistance. “Its gonna be the gallows then. Thanks for the help Barkeep, I’ll send Deputy Brown over to clean the mess.” Thomas was having a hard time wrapping his head around what the Sheriff had just said. Gallows? Surely he’d said shallows, hallows, fowls, or bowels, not gallows. Gallows meant asphyxiating to death in front of a grimly enthusiastic crowd, gallows meant black hoods, and nooses, and last words. He was twenty-three, he’d just graduated college, he had hardly decided on the particulars of his first novel yet, the Sheriff couldn’t have said gallows. As the Sheriff led, mostly carried, a weak-legged Thomas across the street to the Sheriff’s station, a tuft of blonde hair caught Thomas’ eyes. Perched behind a row of barrels outside the saloon, too close to Mare for Thomas’ liking, was a girl. Mare didn’t seem to notice, or care, that there was a girl crouched by her or that her owner was being accosted; she nibbled at the weeds under the saloon’s porch and glanced at the scene before her with little interest. The girl seemed more than interested. She was wide-eyed, thin, and watching Thomas so closely that he felt self-conscious of the fact that he was hardly carrying his own weight. Under her attentive gaze he righted his back and legs, and was rewarded by the Sheriff elbowing the center of his spine. He mewled in response and was ignored. “Missy,” the Sheriff said, addressing the girl, Thomas assumed from the way she straightened at the name. “Go on home, girl, I’ll send the missus over in a bit. It’s alright, we caught the bastard who done it.” Missy was still for a moment before she nodded and slunk into the alleyway behind the saloon.
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“You see what you done? Killed that poor girl’s father,” the Sheriff said as he shoved Thomas through the station’s single, unlocked door. “You’re gonna hang if I have any say in it.” It felt like years later that Thomas sat in the single cell the Sheriff’s station offered, hands folded in his lap, answering the same questions for the dozenth time. “I didn’t kill him,” Thomas said, on the edge of a groan. “I see the confessional is not gonna come easy. Quit beating the devil round the stump, boy,” the Sheriff said. He was sitting backwards in a chair, leaned towards the cell. His hat was on the floor beside him and Thomas had spent all of sixty seconds counting the straggled hairs on his head. There were thirtyfour well, thirty-four and a half if you were to count the one that jutted from his ear and didn’t count his beard. The Deputy had come back from retrieving the corpse from the saloon already and was resting against a desk. He was a quieter man; he offered Thomas water and then watched the proceedings with a silence that could be confused with disinterest. “Let’s start from the beginning again. Where ya from?” Thomas wanted to rip his hair out; he’d been over this part at least a dozen times. Still the Sheriff had a gun and enough authority to hang him so he figured he should at least be forthcoming with his backstory. “I’m from Brooklyn. My pa’s Elliot Dean; he owns factories. I just graduated Harvard, thought I’d take a trip west before I take over the family business,” Thomas said in a single breath. He didn’t mention how he didn’t want to own factories. He didn’t think the Sheriff or his soundless Deputy would be likely to understand that all he’d ever wanted to do was write a novel. They thought he was a murderer, not a novelist. “And, what? Thought you’d shoot yourself a good man before going back to your posh life? For kicks?” the Sheriff said, smacking the tobacco in his gums. Without warning the Sheriff slurped the saliva pooling in his mouth and spat it into a spittoon across the room with unnerving accuracy. Thomas considered himself a calm, rational man, but if he had a gun just then he would have shot the Sheriff where he sat, right through the center of his forehead, so that his brains splattered the walls. “I told you—” “Sheriff,” the Deputy said, speaking for the first time in so long a stretch that Thomas had almost forgotten he had a voice. The Sheriff grunted his ac-
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quiescence. “Perhaps we should leave him to stew awhile, seems questioning him so long might tire his ability to confess.” The Sheriff mulled this for a bit and then nodded, he flattened his hat onto his head and stood. “Good thinking, Brown. We’ll let the runt reflect awhile. Let’s go an’ see if the saloon’s reopened.” As the door slammed shut behind the officers, Thomas leaned into the wall, hoping that if he pressed himself against it hard enough he might just slip through to the other side. He couldn’t fathom how he’d gotten himself into such a situation; he’d only wanted an adventure, not to be hanged, not to die. Albeit this would be an excellent beginning to his novel, a fresh-faced young man falsely accused of murder, awaiting trial to be hanged. Problem was, if this was a novel there would have to be a gallant rescue and, in a town as small as Casa Despricio, Thomas couldn’t imagine who in the hell would risk their life to save a stranger. “If you know what’s good for ya, you’ll shut your bazoo and follow me.” Thomas opened his eyes without realizing he’d closed them. The cell door was creaking open inch by inch and on the other side of it Missy stood with one hand on her hip. She was taller than Thomas remembered, probably because she’d been crouching before, and was wearing a thin black shift that made her seem like a marauder in one of his fantasy novels. “You—” Thomas said, but Missy shoved a finger over her lips. “Were you listening at all? Jesus, I’m gonna have to do everything.” She reached forward and yanked him to his feet. Then she proceeded to drag him through the open cell and out the back door of the Sheriff’s station. Tied to a pole out back was Mare, her long brown neck tilted in curiosity. “Why’re you—” “Shut your yap and untie the lead!” Missy said, watching as Thomas lifted quivering fingers to the rope and didn’t so much as untie the carefully drawn knot but pull it tighter in his haste to untangle it. Thomas had a double major in English and European History from Harvard, he was a published columnist, an accomplished businessman, and a New York socialite from the time he turned 18. So it came as no surprise that he was used to being the best at everything. “Have you ever untied a damn knot in your entire cozy life?” Missy said as she ripped the lead from his hands, within moments Mare was untied and Thomas was left standing in the dusty wake of her tall leather cowboy boots as
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she swung herself onto Mare’s back. She extended a gloved hand to Thomas. “Come on then, Princess, we have minutes if not seconds.” “Didn’t I—they say I killed your father. Why’re you helping me?” Thomas said, staring up at her. Her short blonde hair blew around her head on the light desert breeze, resembling the brim of a straw hat. For a moment she seemed to consider Thomas’ question and then her lips parted in a glorious smile. “You seem barely capable of riding a mare, I don’t expect you could’ve taken down my pa so easily,” she said. “Besides, I happen to be on my way out of town and I thought it might be rude to take the horse without the owner. You come with me and I’ll keep you safe.” “You?” “Me.” There was a commotion in the station, voices raised, objects being tossed aside. Missy grabbed Thomas’s wrist and hauled him into the saddle behind her. “You can think it over later!” she yelled as she kicked Mare’s belly so that the horse reared and then bolted for the desert, leaving a cloud of dirt in her wake. There was shouting, and gunshots, and an awful lot of uproar for what couldn’t have been more than two or three men. Luckily the horse was more sensible than its owner. Thomas would argue that the reason for his lack of sensibility in this particular situation was that Mare had grown up in the west, had dealt with this brand of people for her entire equestrian life, but that would be a lie. The truth remained that Thomas lacked sensibility because he was too goddamned naive, which seemed to be an ongoing problem as of late. “Whoa there, Mare,” Thomas said as he clutched at Missy’s blouse. He’d never been in this situation with a girl before. He wasn’t sure what to hold that was appropriate, but Missy seemed to decide for him. She wriggled in his hold until his arms were looped round her waist. If Thomas had time to consider the implications of his and Missy’s proximity, he would have stammered or blushed, maybe have even filed this experience away for his novel; instead he clenched his teeth and tried very hard not to swallow any bugs. Meanwhile, Mare wove between cacti faster than Thomas could acknowledge there were cacti in front of them. Three more gunshots rang behind them and a deep voice resembling the Sheriff’s yelled something about “damned city-slickers murdering honest folk,” just before the thunder of horse hooves reverberated throughout the desert. Thomas dared not look behind him but he knew that if he did he would
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see the Sheriff, the Deputy, and any other man in Casa Despricio who owned a horse and a gun, charging towards him. “Faster, Mare,” Thomas said, but his voice was whipped from his lips by the wind. Missy dug her heels into Mare’s underbelly and leaned against Mare’s thick neck as if she was trying to make herself as small as possible. Thomas followed suit, all former inhibitions forgotten as he felt a bullet brush his right cheek and he pressed himself against Missy’s back. “They’re gaining—” “Would you quit your belly-aching? Your mare’s doing the best she can,” Missy said, tilting her head just to give him a withering glare. Thomas nodded and then kept still, listening for the Sheriff, but there was nothing. The desert was wide and still and Thomas risked a glance behind him, to find that they had lost the brigade of constabularies in the dark maze of cacti and sand crested hills. Perhaps the men had simply dwindled into the shadows but Thomas doubted it. The Sheriff didn’t seem the type to sneak anywhere. Casa Despricio was an island of soft light some distance behind them and, now that the threat was gone, Thomas could appreciate the bank of stars that wreathed the town and the surrounding horizon. Once he was done drinking in the scenery, Thomas straightened in the saddle, smoothing his hair over his forehead. Missy adjusted her grip on the reigns but made no effort to slow Mare. “Thank you,” he said, so soft he was surprised Missy heard him. She shrugged and turned just to say, “Don’t thank me yet,” and Thomas sincerely wished he had a scrap of paper to write this all down, because this entire situation was becoming a more and more perfect beginning for his novel and he had no doubt he would forget half the things Missy said before he had his typewriter in front of him again.
Urb a n F a n t a s y/ S p e c ulative Fic tio n
EatMeDrinkMe Talia Rochmann
Back in Paris, Remy becomes something less than a shadow. And something a little bit more. No one meets him at the airport, which doesn’t surprise him and yet his expectation that his family won’t be there isn’t a sad one. If anything, Remy feels relief as he collects his luggage, turns his government-issued mobile phone off, and stuffs it into the bottom of his rucksack. After more than six months at the Institute for Evolved Humans in Australia he has been reshaped, like a base metal. The Institute is compulsory for every registered Vol of age, although Remy has always suspected he in particular was singled out because how else do you punish a Vol for selling himself as a drug? In Paris, with his hair long and the open wounds on his hands still oozing, he knows that he will be reborn, will stop, maybe, spending all his time alone in the dark places of the earth, will come into the light as his own beast. This knowledge is heavy in his chest and at the same time makes him feel incredibly light, or not light exactly but weightless, morally and spiritually weightless. Remy hasn’t eaten in the thirty-some hours of travel and that helps too. Charles de Gaulle is huge in a way he has missed in Australia, where the only sense of vastness comes from the flat, red ground, the yawning blue sky. The airport reminds him of a church in comparison, high ceilings which helps him feel insignificant. Awe before great spaces in nature––it’s a tenant of Romanticism, but it is a human characteristic. Remy is no longer fully human, and so he is unmoved by the idea of nature. The works of humans are now the only things worthy of his awe, and even then he knows he can transcend them. Will transcend them. He will pass through the walls of brick and concrete, will
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feel no more trapped by four walls than he feels standing alone in the glaring Australian sun with open space on all sides. His heart is loud in his chest and he can feel his blood––he is, these days, unusually aware of it, the ebb and flow––quickening in his veins the closer he gets to the RER. Remy’s Institute phone is off, but his Parisian phone is in his hand, his palms growing sweatier by the second, by the step, and then the train comes and he steps on and he turns his phone on and he sits down, hands shaking, waiting. Do you see ghosts? he’d asked another so-called evolved human at the institute in texts, his fingers moving quickly over the keys of the phone. I do, the reply two words, pixels strung together. And why not, among people who can bite through a steel bar, can make coins dance in their hands, if Remy himself could turn water to wine? Ghosts are real––why not? And he has always known, or always hoped. On the humming train to his parent’s house in Belleville, he waits for his dead brother to find him in the same way he has for the past three years. Waits for his brother to let him know that he’s been forgiven for how he felt two months ago, how he felt when he was bleeding out in the dark, feeling blood, which was once worth a hundred euro an ounce, drain out of him. Hoping no one would come, because without the blood he had felt himself becoming what he had been all along: nothing. Remy’s phone buzzes, and when he checks the screen it flashes the symbol of a missed call. When he opens it, tries to click to check messages, the symbol disappears. No calls. No messages. He can feel his heart thumping against his sternum, can imagine that if he looked down his collar he would see the flesh there moving with each thick beat. He is back; he is in Paris with all his brothers, living and dead. And himself, something in between. “Welcome back, têtard,” his brother Tuvia says when he opens the door. Remy can’t compose himself quickly enough to hide his surprise. “Golovastik,” Remy corrects him after a moment. Tuvia smiles and pulls Remy in through the door by the back of his neck, then embraces him roughly. For a long second he freezes, the muscle memory of loving his brothers is slow to come, and even when he returns the hug and it ends and they grin at each other, Remy feels he has experienced a great loss. He’s been away from his brothers for this long before and been fine, hasn’t he? But now he’s been gone for so long he doesn’t remember what that is, to be one of them. He’s failed the first big test and that failure sits heavy in his chest. “You didn’t think we’d be here?” Tuvia runs a hand through his hair. Remy can’t stop looking at his brother.
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“No,” Remy says, “not here. I thought it would be empty when I got in. All the lights off, the dogs asleep.” They’re standing in the small hallway before the rooms open up, alone. Tuvia has taken one of his bags. “I would come into the house like a ghost, with all my things, and climb the stairs. Put everything on the floor or in its place in the room, and go back out again into the night, to do anything. And no one would hear me.” He knows halfway through that he’s saying too much and saying it too well. Tuvia knows him, but does Tuvia know the Remy who spends hours reading poetry and watching Japanese film? He barely knows himself when he talks, these days, because he’s spent the past month in silence. Tuvia said what he’d said mostly as a joke, and now Remy can see the concern in his eyes. “And our parents are here?” Remy switches his grip on the bag. Tuvia is about to answer when someone else beats him to it. “Yes, Remy, we’re all here,” she says, and Remy flinches. Aislou Duchamp is tall and she has Remy’s wide, heavy-lidded eyes, his sharp cheekbones, angular shoulders. They have the same small rib cage and long thighs which give their bodies an inhuman proportion and beauty. Looking at his mother has always been surreal, yes, but after six months the sight of her is like a punch in the nose, and he sways in place. They’re even dressed the same in this moment, skinny jeans with loose button-down shirts, though his is plaid and her’s is a flowing ivory, just sheer enough to give her outline dignity without revealing a thing. “Hello,” he says, and moves as if in a dream to kiss her on each cheek, though the touch is brief and neither move into a hug. She’s clear eyed and he’s forgotten how piercing that stare is. His mother is like a spirit writ large; her power is intangible, but it makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up and he thinks carefully of everything he could possibly say before his tongue does more than run over his teeth. Just the sight of her reduces him, makes of him a worm crawling in the dirt, and she the boot which has not yet decided whether to step on him or not. When he looks at her and thinks I hate you, he feels in his own thought the undertone, the real meaning of I hate that you make me hate myself. “Remy?” someone says from the sitting room, and then the other three brothers wash over him, reminding him with their grizzled faces that he is the youngest of five (now four). Remy looks away from his mother and he’s glad. His father takes his bag. Roman and Liev ask him about the other Vols in a constant stream of banter, which only concerns him insofar as he’s the subject. Joachim notices Remy’s hands, then Tuvia, and Remy sees them exchange a
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glance which burns all the way down. Then Aislou takes one of his hands in both of hers and runs a finger down the thickest of the scars. “You said you were fine and you’re biting again,” she says, and his brothers all stop talking to watch. “So you lied to me,” she says with the brush of her smooth finger against his rough skin, and he meets her eye. Always, he thinks, I’m the son who lies. “One of my friends went crazy, did I tell you?” Remy hears himself and he sounds like Aislou. No one else in their family uses that tone, where the voice is soft but high, and so, so cool. “I don’t know if they let him leave. The one who stabbed me, you know.” Aislou’s eyes flicker to his side where they both know his longest, most pitted scar is. He thinks of that moment, the sensation of the knife glancing off his ribs, and how he sat in the dark for what seemed like hours afterward. Bleeding out. She lets go of his hand. “He doesn’t sound like a very good friend,” she says, and walks back into the sitting room. Then his brothers again, asking about the boy who stabbed him, lifting his shirt up so they can cluck. Remy feels Tuvia watching him and, although this is everything he’s been missing, all he can think of is how very alike he and his mother look and sound, and how he feels stripped now, worthless, more worthless than he ever felt at the institute. The way she said “friend” when she might as well have said “scum,” the disbelief. Did you really make friends there? is what he heard his mother say. Did you like it, with all the other mutants? The little girl who brings people back from the dead? The thief with the bad taste in clothing who could unlock anything? The thug who was your roommate? How do they all like you? Do they think you’re clever? Do they think you’re any good in bed? Do they think you’re handsome? Do they like you, or do they think you’re an even smaller kind of monster than they are? Aren’t you? Why did you come back? Did you think I wouldn’t be here? Remy, he can almost hear her from the other room, If I wasn’t here, who would protect all your brothers from you? “I still can’t believe this,” his cousin Marie says, pushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear. She’s from his father’s side of the family, truly French whereas his mother’s side are all immigrants, and she’s enough times removed that they were almost dating when Sol died. It is ten in the morning, the first day he’s spent in Paris, and he called her as soon as he woke up to ask her for a favor.
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“I always thought you were lying and had a nurse tucked away somewhere, trading needles for head,” she says. “But no one at the pharmacy even asked why I wanted them. Guess I look like a diabetic, fat rolls and all.” She’s sitting cross-legged on the hardwood of her bedroom, a shopping bag full of sterile needles on the floor in front of her. Remy stands by the window, struggling because he wants to pay attention to the cold blue Parisian morning and at the same time watch her fingers as she picks through the packaged syringes. “I wish,” he says, finally moving away from the window to slide down next to her, their shoulders touching. “That would be more interesting, wouldn’t it?” He knows that his voice is lower than usual, a thicker murmur. This is how he is in Paris. He’s remembering, slipping into his old skin. It doesn’t fit quite right. Not yet. Their fingers brush when he reaches for one of the syringes. Remy’s hands feel too big, clumsy after all this time. He sets the syringe back into its plastic case in front of him. He told Marie he would have bought the syringes himself, but people from the Institute were probably checking on him, and even if they weren’t they might have told the police to watch out. Or maybe his name was now on a list somewhere, or maybe none of that was even legal since everyone was supposed to be supporting drug users by giving out clean needles. But Remy wasn’t a drug user trying to find clean needles; he was the drug, the only drug. Maybe none of the rules applied to him, but that also meant there weren’t any rules protecting him. Anyway, he’d asked Marie for the needles and bought the rest of the stuff himself, which he arranges now in front of him. The formation is always the same: on the far right, the syringe in its case, the needle cap still on; immediately to its left, the box of alcohol swabs; above the alcohol, the vials; and on the far left the bright purple quick-release tourniquet Marie bought him for his eighteenth birthday. Remy has read that one is supposed to throw tourniquets out after a while and he knows a new one would be maybe five euro, but he likes Marie’s. It’s one of the most useful presents he’s ever received, and he tells her so again as he lines everything up exactly. “I love watching,” she sighs, resting her chin on his shoulder. Remy isn’t sure he wants her so close, not when he hasn’t done this in six months, but he doesn’t say anything. His fingers seem to know the way, and they tie the tourniquet just above his left elbow as he stretches the arm out, knuckles to the floor. The needle goes in smoothly and the pain is like ecstasy, a pain which shoots all the way up his arm and turns into something liquid and hot that gets his heart rate up, makes his breathing go shallow. Remy licks his lips and he can feel Marie’s closeness and heat even more as he draws the plunger back, and the sight of his own blood in the syringe excites him in
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such a deep way he wonders how he could ever leave this, ever be happy at the institute, in sobriety. When he pulls the needle out, a bead of red wells to the surface of his skin. He licks it and empties the syringe into the two smallest vials. That was supposed to be it: a vial for Marie, a vial for him. But they have at least ten more syringes, he has maybe twenty vials, and the alcohol swabs come by the hundred. Remy suddenly finds himself with another syringe even though his hands are shaking and he hasn’t put gauze over the first puncture, still slowly bleeding, and he draws more blood and he draws more blood, thinking of how this morning was the first in a month where he ate as soon as he woke up, thinking that he knows exactly where he wants to take Marie for lunch today. And the blood comes, seven punctures still bleeding down his arm and he reaches for another syringe. His teeth are chattering and he’s breathing so fast, in stutters and starts, and on the ninth syringe he botches it and his arm begins bleeding in earnest. Marie darts off to the bathroom and comes back with the gauze. The tourniquet is still on so after the initial burst, the bleeding falls off. “That’s enough,” Marie is murmuring, her mouth against his ear. He keeps his arm straight while Marie tapes gauze on to the punctures, takes the tourniquet off, carefully puts each used syringe in the plastic bag where they all came new less than an hour ago. Remy can’t take his eyes off his arm, even when everything’s bandaged and neat, not until Marie comes back to sit next to him and then he licks his lips and pulls her on top of him. His eyes close tight and he kisses her, riding the high of the needle, and he hasn’t even transmuted them yet, and he doesn’t know how much blood he’s lost but he’s willing to bet that before the day is out he’s going to lose a lot more. Marie sleeps on her stomach, one arm curled to her side and another under her head. Remy watches her breath, aware of the sweat sheen on both their bodies, and where once it would have been enough to be beside her now he can’t stop thinking of the blood just five feet away. Maybe half a pint—certainly too much, too fast—and neatly portioned out in one ounce bottles meant to hold shampoo, not blood. He looks at Marie, then at the blood. Remy can’t sit still any longer and he slides off the bed to crouch beside the bottles. Right now they are nothing: blood as good or bad as any other human’s, without meaning or purpose or worth. Something to give up for free at a hospital, to give to a brother to save his life, if his life could have been saved with blood. The bottles are cold in his hand and he thinks of the first rush of cocaine, the teeth in it digging into the back of his skull. Remy holds the memory in place, the feel, and
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it consumes him. His skin becomes the sensation, and he feels heat growing in the tip of his fingers and he thinks of the blood, smooth on the tongue, and he thinks of the cocaine’s kick and then he lets out a ragged breath as they leave him together, rush out of his fingers and into the bottle. The blood turns black. L’encre, he thinks, ink. The ink with which he writes himself, the ink with which he becomes meaning rather than absence. His heart rate is up. Blood which was once worth a hundred euro an ounce. How much will it be now, after months off the market? How much more valuable has he become? He wants to find out. “Too bad you won’t be graduating with me,” Thierry, who he knows from art school and from before, says to him later at a party thrown by Remy’s biggest distributor, Rene. He tells Thierry he never cared about photography as much as he should have anyway, and asks him what he should buy next. A fur coat, Thierry tells him. Go wild. And Remy thinks he will. He’ll be caught again soon, he was caught once already and since there was no law against using superhuman powers to make drugs he got off easy, but he won’t this time, and whether soon means in an hour or in a year it doesn’t matter. Go wild. Why not? A few people leave to catch the metro, but they’re the only ones he didn’t know and now his mind is racing, and he’s wants something more from this night that he can’t describe. He goes into Rene’s room where the vials of l’encre are still on Rene’s desk. When Remy tried to transmute the first and smallest vial of blood it turned almost clear and he felt a jolt go through his body. He thought, maybe the transmutation went terribly wrong and he’d turned blood to water, or to oil, or maybe he’d just turned it into pure heroin. He didn’t want to know and transmuted it back to blood-mixture, being sloppy this time on purpose. The liquid in the vial turned a scarlet red. The rest of the transmutations were accomplished in in one or two rounds, and for fun he transmuted some of them again to change the color. The ecstasy-imitations were light, almost pink; the acid-imitations black, while the general opiates turned a flat maroon. All of them need to be watered down, but he created nearly half a pint of pure l’encre, the ink, the blood, all varieties, and he’d held the vials in his palms until they were warm, until the heat in his fingertips cooled. Most of the vials are hidden away, to be sold tonight or tomorrow or the day after. Remy takes one vial and an eyedropper, leaves the room to rejoin the party. Everyone left is drunk, and a few people have been smoking more than cigarettes. Someone’s dimmed the lights and someone else has convinced Rene to light candles, thick red candles that are already burning hot, wax run-
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ning down their sides. Remy imagines putting his palms over the flames and holding them. He’s used to the burn of a bad transmutation, but how long has it been since he’s been burned by real fire? Maybe he’ll be immune to the pain. That’s not what he wants, though, not right now. “Let’s do it,” he murmurs into Rene’s ear. “Let’s do it now.” “Who wants it?” Rene says, loud, standing up and sneering at the room. Remy tries to count how many people are still here and though he can recite their names it’s somehow beyond him to keep track of the number. He knows them all, that’s what matters, and a handful are his friends. They turn their heads, dark eyes shining in the candlelight. Not for the first time, Remy finds himself in awe of Rene, who is muscular but not huge, has good features but isn’t amazingly attractive, and who for all that can command a room at will. Everyone stops talking and instead looks at Rene, then Remy, then Rene again. “Remy?” Rene nods at him and Remy shifts his weight, his mouth suddenly dry. He isn’t Rene, he doesn’t have the authority, but something dark stirs in his chest. What does he want from tonight? He knows it, feels it in the back of his throat, but he can’t name it. Not yet. “Kneel,” he tells them all, his voice low and thick, just the right timbre because he sees Thierry’s lips part, his eyes unfocus. When Delphine told me you were a Vol, I thought it was your voice, Thierry had said to him, a year ago, two. Sometimes you speak and it’s like, I can’t describe it. Like I stop thinking. Like I give in. And she agrees, it’s not just... you know I’m not like that. It’s not all the time, but sometimes you’ll say the most innocent thing and it’s as if I stop being human, as if I become a dog, and my only purpose, my only desire, is to do what you tell me. The voice that makes Thierry his servant, Remy thinks, is the same voice that makes his mother’s face cloud over. If his mother hates it, it must be good––not morally, he doesn’t care about that, good for him. For getting what he wants. And he stands, tense, waiting, and no one moves at first and then Thierry kneels. Then Delphine. Then Nadia, Louise, Baptiste, Lena, Auguste, all of them, and half of them are smiling. They probably think it’s a joke, that he’s being dramatic for a laugh. There’s a wall between Remy and them; he isn’t angry or embarrassed, isn’t ashamed, doesn’t, in that moment, care about their opinions at all. They are to him like an ant to a tiger. He doesn’t feels superior, it’s not about that. They are two totally disparate walks of life, he feels it now, he’s felt it before but never this clearly. As if one of them might as well be dead. It wouldn’t matter. More than eight people kneel in front of him, and he tells them to open their mouths.
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Remy unscrews the vial of his blood, fills the eyedropper. In silence he puts a drop on each person’s tongue. As he approaches, they close their eyes, and when it’s done they press their lips back together. To Remy they become a line of mouths and teeth. When he’s done he puts a last drop on his own tongue. Thierry crosses himself and they all stare, then break into laughter. Remy dips his finger into the vial and smears a cross on Thierry’s forehead. They laugh harder. Remy doesn’t laugh but he smiles and knows, regardless of what these people think, he owns them now, owns them down to their bones, down to their hot, beating hearts. Delphine licks the blood cross from Thierry’s forehead.
" Fan tas y / M etafi ct i o n
The Story Dump Alexis Hawthorne
Charlie had fallen. His body hurled downwards and smacked hard against the ground. He expected a numbing feeling to drape over him. He imagined his limbs crippled; blood trickling through his scalp; and a cracked skull showcasing chunks of his brain. However, his eyelids fluttered open and he lifted his head. He was fine and nothing seemed wrong. There was nothing red staining the white ground. As his pupils adjusted to the light, he discovered that the ground was not just white, but littered with odd black bits. What a fall, he thought, as he picked himself up, brushing off the bits that had clung to his clothing. Inspecting them, they weren’t black bits at all. They were letters. Letters that made small clinks as they hit the ground. It was then when Charlie heard a deep scream. His head turned in every direction until he finally looked up. In an instant, he discovered that the source of the noise was a large, falling man whose body had snapped against the ground. The man’s head split into two neat halves but, instead of brains, his head was filled with little black bits. Not letters, but numbers. A head full of numbers, Charlie thought, what’s the use of that? Charlie wavered; something inside him desired to poke the man to see if he was completely stuffed with numbers. “Outta the way, kid,” a gruff voice said. Charlie stepped back, watching two strange men carrying a medical stretcher over to the broken man. A stocky nurse and a doctor, who fiddled with his cracked head-mirror, stood over the body. Charlie doubted these men knew what they were doing. “What’d you reckon?” the nurse asked his superior.
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“Not much definition. No distinguishable features. Numbers from the cranium,” the doctor drawled, “cavity.” He cleared his throat. “The cranium cavity. Perhaps an accountant or mathematician. Maybe he just thinks in binary— ah, well. Not important. Heave-ho!” he said as the two men lugged the body up by its limbs and plopped it on the stretcher. They didn’t notice Charlie or the numbers that they continued to spill from the man’s head. His eyes following this trail of numbers, Charlie then saw a large INTRODUCTION painted on the ground. What does that mean? Before, he thought he saw a man walking towards him. The man was average looking and writing on a clipboard. He stopped in front of Charlie and looked up, bored. “Hi, I’m Bob,” he said. Guess that meant Bob, Charlie thought. “What are you doing?” Charlie asked as the man circled him, taking notes. Bob’s eyebrows perked, as if he had expected him to be mute. “I’m filling out your character sheet,” he said, his attention returned fully on the clipboard. “Welcome to the Story Dump. Once again, I am Bob and you are...?” “Charlie.” “Charlie. No last name,” he muttered, adding it to the sheet. “Again, this is the Story Dump. It’s where everything ends up after it’s been thrown away. From unused characters to buildings, clothes, useless words—you name it, we’ve probably seen it. We try to organize everything as much as possible— hence—the character charts,” he said and, through his speech, Charlie knew Bob must’ve had it memorized by now. “Here in the Story Dump you’ll be placed based on how much development you’ve got,” he said, glancing back to Charlie. “Lanky arms, long legs. Average looks. Roughly fifteen or sixteen.” “Seventeen.” “Huh,” Bob mused, crossing out his estimation on the clipboard and correcting it. “Little to no muscle definition, obviously not the athletic sort, but perhaps a decent mind…” he paused, looking at Charlie. “Perhaps.” “Look, I’m not a character and I don’t belong here and—would you stop writing this down?” Charlie frowned. “Easily aggravated. Denies himself to be a character,” Bob stated, clicking his pen. “I’ve seen you many times before, kid. You’re undeveloped. You fell into this place. You have no idea who you are or what setting you came from. You’re in denial but, still, you’re a character. Follow,” he said, twirling his pen forward, pointing to the long road ahead of them. There were large buildings lined up along the street. Some of them were stacked up on each other, and a few were crumbling, their letters trickling
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down onto the sidewalks. As Charlie followed Bob, the street became crowded with people, all equally unaware of his existence as they worked. Some of the stronger characters were pushing miscellaneous items in wheelbarrows and others were picking up intact words, tossing them into the buckets they carried; the few children that Charlie saw played with the letters in the street, gathering them up for games. “Heads up!” someone called and Bob yanked Charlie out of the way where a bicycle, now bent, had fallen from the sky. “How come it’s not broken?” Charlie asked, meaning to say, why wasn’t the bicycle just a pile of letters? “Some things survive the fall. Some things don’t,” Bob shrugged. “You’re very lucky. No missing letters.” Bob poked him and Charlie rubbed his chest when they resumed walking. “Where did it come from?” Charlie asked, looking up at the sky. It wasn’t blue. Everything above was white. “No idea. Not important. We all end up here: characters, words, letters, punctuation, settings. Anything insignificant, it all ends up here. Some stuff isn’t needed in a story, but it doesn’t mean it just falls off the page into nowhere—it lands in the Story Dump,” Bob said as they continued down the street. “What I do is find out how far you’ve come and where you belong.” “Why?” Charlie said, as several plaid golfers’ hats wafted down from above, only to be collected by a woman who gathered them in her arms and slipped down an alleyway. “Well, we can’t have a developed character stuck working in the setting and we can’t have an undeveloped character deluded into thinking he can get out of here,” he grunted. “But I want to get out of here,” Charlie and Bob said, simultaneously. “Yes, they all do. But they’re still here, aren’t they?” Bob rolled his eyes, flipping the page on his clipboard. “Now, where’s your setting?” “My what?” Charlie blinked. “Your setting. Your place of origin. Where do you live? Do try to keep up,” Bob said, waving him along. “I don’t remember—I didn’t get to stay long enough to find out,” Charlie said, quickening his pace as people continued to work around them. “Yes, your writer would obviously want to keep you in the dark from your own story,” Bob said, dryly. “I am not a character. I don’t have a writer. My name is Charlie and—”
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“I want to get out of here,” they both said. Charlie frowned and Bob pinched the brim of his nose. “No one ever leaves,” he said, forcing calmness into his voice. “You can develop your character all you want, but you’re stuck here. I’m sorry.” Charlie didn’t want to believe that. His voice cracked as he said, “But I’m not like these other people.” “Fine,” Bob shrugged, loosely hugging his clipboard to his chest. “What’s your conflict? Every good character’s got one. What could yours possibly be other than Middle Class Suburban Angst with a side of Sourpuss?” Charlie was unable to respond. His mouth wavered, wanting to say something intelligent. Maybe even witty… if he could think of something fast enough. When he said nothing, Bob gave him a small smile. “If you don’t have a conflict, you’re not a developed character,” he said, glancing at Charlie’s frame before returning to his clipboard. Charlie walked with Bob as he continued to scrawl notes onto the character sheets. As they walked, Charlie saw a group of old men sitting outside on a shaded porch. Across the street from them, construction workers were sorting words into recycling bins. Further up the street, the buildings were becoming scarce. In the distance, there were acres of open space filled with trees and the occasional abandoned farmhouse. “Why organize everyone?” Charlie said, quietly, as he watched a girl, half his size, lead a leashed elephant down the road. “It keeps us busy,” Bob said, flipping over to the next page on his clipboard. Charlie stopped, looking up at a large statue of Abraham Lincoln that was placed in the middle of the road. Who could have thrown this away? Charlie thought as he looked up at Abe. Bob followed his gaze and wore a proud smile. “That’s just Adverb Abe,” Bob said. “He was constructed by fictitious Piccirilli Brothers. He’s made entirely of deleted adverbs. Naturally, a rough draft version of Howard Roark had something to say about it, but we never tore it down.” “…Adverbs,” Charlie said, incredulous. “Well, we get so many of them, you see,” Bob said, “and we wouldn’t dare use them in construction.” “Why not?” “Charlie, we can’t build a civilization off of adverbs. Do you eat your dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets before you heat them up?” he smirked. Charlie would’ve smiled, but refrained; he wouldn’t give Bob the satisfaction. “You’ll get used to it here—we all do. You may even like it,” he said as they walked away from Abe. The buildings were becoming less frequent as were the people.
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“Now…where to put you,” Bob muttered, flipping through the charts. “That won’t do,” he said to himself, crossing out a line on the sheet. “What’s that?” Charlie asked, pointing to the gated area where grotesque characters were trapped; some of them were shoving their arms out through the bars of the gate, as if trying to reach out to Charlie while they collectively moaned REDRUM. “Stephen King’s rough drafts. He goes through quite a bit of them, actually,” Bob frowned, looking over at the prisoners whose bodies were deteriorating, little bits of letters falling out of their skin. It was then when two rats scurried out from the jail. Charlie watched as Bob pulled a handgun out from the back of his trousers, loaded it with exclamation points, and fired them at the rats. After a series of shots, they burst open and two RAT!s were seared to the ground. Bob tucked the gun back into his pants and returned to his clipboard. “We’ll start you off with something small. Perhaps sorting words,” Bob said. “What did you do that for?” Charlie demanded. “Do what?” “The rats—you just—and then,” Charlie swallowed. “Why did you kill them?” “Sometimes choices must be made. Characters can destroy each other here. Rats will ruin almost anything,” Bob frowned, poking Charlie in the chest with the corner of his clipboard. “You get a second chance here, but it doesn’t mean you’ll last forever.” “Especially when you go around shooting everyone!” he snapped. “Look, this is how it works,” Bob said. “We need to keep some sort of order or we’ll kill each other and be nothing but letters. If you want that, say the word,” he said, reaching for his gun, cocking it back and pointing the barrel right up to Charlie’s nose. Charlie didn’t move. Did he want this? He wanted to get out. This was a way out… but to where? Bob’s arm was taut and his face was unyielding, the same way he was with the rats. Would his head even explode? Charlie wondered. What types of letters would be in his head? Or maybe it would be numbers. Maybe his head wouldn’t be full at all. Maybe Bob was right. Maybe he was undeveloped. He would just be a large CHARLIE! on the ground until he was picked up by children or recycled by workers or strange women from alleyways. “Well?” Bob said as Charlie looked down and off to the side when the gun was tucked back into Bob’s belt. But still, they kept walking. There wasn’t a building in sight and there weren’t any people this far down the road. What a gross looking lake, Charlie thought as they walked past the murky black body
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of water. There was a tiny sign by the lake that read: Lagooon uf Missspelled Wordz. Charlie smiled. “So, what else is around here?” he asked. Bob’s eyebrows rose, pleased. “Well, over there—see that black cloud?” Bob pointed. Charlie squinted and nodded, seeing the large black dot tainting the white sky. “That’s a syntax storm. Should hit us in a few days. It’ll be a mess. Everyone’ll pitch in to clean it up,” he informed. “And, over there, those are Thesaurus Trees.” Charlie followed Bob’s finger to the black and white trees that would lightly flake the ground with words. “Pretty. Who thought up those?” Charlie said. “No one, really,” Bob chuckled. “In the beginning, we used to bury the characters that came here already dead. The bodies decayed and fertilized the ground. We had trees within weeks.” In the beginning, Charlie thought, slowly realizing that Bob, too, was once in his situation. “What was your story?” he asked. Bob gave a weak smile and with a hint of pride, he said, “There once was a man named Bob.” “That’s it?” “That was all,” he shrugged. “I was the first one here.” “That’s not much to go off of,” Charlie said, gently. “Yes, well, sometimes things are better left unfinished,” Bob said as they walked down the white path, where the little black bits ceased to follow.
" Par an o r m al R o m a n ce
Phantom Fireworks Janelle Caputo
It’s very, very illegal in the state of Massachusetts to light fireworks without a permit. Mickey couldn’t give less of a damn. He drives us an hour and a half across the New Hampshire border, to a Phantom Fireworks that’s armed with more explosives than the US Army. Then he loads his 10-year-old Chevy with $150 worth of flammable material, covers it in a tarp, and drives through every toll booth between Phantom’s and home, with the subtlety of a moose crossing the Canadian border. He pulls the truck off the highway and onto a road that’s surrounded by a smattering of trees. He drives until the trees are so close together that their branches are almost stroking each other’s trunks. He only stops once we reach a clearing big enough that the forest won’t catch fire. We wait until the sunlight is struggling to reach us through the intimate vegetation and, then, Mickey cracks open a beer and says it’s time. It isn’t Fourth of July. The day isn’t special or planned or even entirely warm. It’s a crisp September evening and the summer heat is there, still simmering during the afternoons. But at night it’s chilly and the wind hurls itself through the forest like it’s trying to prove something. The only remarkable thing about the date is that school is starting in three days. Mickey and I will be seniors, then we’ll graduate, then we’ll go to college and have our own lives, and we’ll never see each other again. All last year, whenever I brought up graduation, Mickey told me I was being a whiny bitch, but the last time he said this, at the beginning of the summer,
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his lips shook as he smiled like he wasn’t sure if he’d been funny. And then he stopped talking to me entirely. He extends the lighter to me. The lighter is your responsibility Adam, he says without watching my expression, and you’d better appreciate the gesture because lighting these fuckers up is gonna be the best part. When I don’t reach for it immediately, he places it on the hood of the truck and walks away without another word. It’s the first thing he’s said to me in months that hasn’t left his entire face crumpled like he’d been sucker punched. I watch him from the hood of the truck. He has the headlights pointed towards the middle of the clearing, high-beams bright enough that I can see well into the forest, but my eyes never stray far from Mickey. He’s kneeling over a crate that he insisted on dragging from the truck himself. In it is every single firework we bought through our combined efforts, although Mickey pitched in the most: $148, all that was left from cutting his neighbor’s lawn this summer. All I had was $2 and a pack of Marlboros’, both of which I left in Mickey’s glove compartment earlier this summer, that he took with quivering hands. I wonder why he wanted to do this so bad. It was his idea. It was, mostly, his money. It was his truck and his ass that was getting arrested if the police noticed he’d smuggled fireworks across the state line, yet, he’s kneeling in front of the crate, nailing it to the ground with tent spikes, acting as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. I notice he’s grown this summer before I can stop myself. He’s gotten taller and wider and leaner in ways that make my eyes stick to his skin as if my eyes and his body are polar planes of a magnet. They can wander along his shoulders and the crest of his torso, can pick out each individual blonde strand on his head, but they can’t remove themselves from his body. At least, they can’t until Mickey’s head snaps up and then it’s like my eyes are flung across the clearing. My cheeks feel hot, my head feels light, and my beer is empty. I toss the bottle into the woods, watch as it shatters on a tree trunk and the umber glass melds into the dirt at its roots. Aren’t you environmentally friendly, Mickey would have said if he weren’t feigning muteness. I can hear the words, his voice, ringing in my ears, as if it’s something he’s said before, because it is. At the onslaught of summer, Mickey and I spent an entire night at the beach, drinking beers on the sand. I’d had a summer cold and my forehead and hands were slick with sweat. Mickey handed me another beer, caught my hand as I reached to take it, and used his grip to pull me forward. I imagined for a brief,
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startling moment, that he was going to kiss me, but he just pressed the cold fingers of his other hand to my forehead and frowned like my body temperature was disappointing him. The tease. “You’re warm,” he said. “It’s warm outside,” I replied, even though it wasn’t. “No, I mean, you’re sick,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me? We could have done this another night.” I shrugged, pushed him away, hurled a fresh beer toward the ocean and watched the alcohol spray from the lip of the bottle like a fountain. Aren’t you environmentally friendly, he said, only that time he had smiled. When I’m dragged to the present, by a scuffle two crows are having over the remnants of my shattered beer, I find Mickey close and quiet. I can’t remember hearing him approach at all. The crate is set up: roman candles and snakes and apache fire-dancers, soda fountains and sparklers and ghost bombs jutting out the top like they’re straining for the sky, like they just need a push. I open another beer with weak, shaky hands. “Adam,” Mickey says. When I look up, his eyes are narrowed and he’s staring somewhere over my shoulder with his hands on his hips. He’s so very close, I want to punch him. I want to break his nose and blacken his eyes and fracture his shins. I want to shatter him into itty bitty bits just so he’ll look at me. But he won’t meet my eyes, won’t do more than whisper assurances or proffer the lighter in my direction. It has been this way all summer and it makes me want to scream. It makes me want to cry. “The lighter,” he says so soft it’s like he knows I’m upset. I slide off the hood of the truck, steady myself on the bumper, and hand him my beer. Predictably, he drops it and the dark liquid is soaked into the dirt. I bite my lip to hold back the yell. Above me, the sunlight is decaying, inching further and further away, leaving the sky ink black. The only light comes from the stars that are only now extricating themselves from their hideaways to stare at the sad, sodden mess of a planet at their feet. There’s a thick fuse jutting from the bottom of the crate. I can see immediately that Mickey has taken all the fireworks and twirled their fuses together. Lighting this one strand will light up the whole crate, the whole clearing, the whole world. I flick the lighter but it doesn’t do more than spark pathetically until the third try and, by then, Mickey’s slurring as he yells something about doing it himself.
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I flip him off without turning and his ensuing laughter echoes for miles, bouncing hysterically across the entire craggy forest. He kneels beside me and pries the lighter from my hands. He’s breathing heavy like he’s run five miles and there are tears congregating in the corners of his eyes. “I’m sorry,” I say. He doesn’t respond. I want to hit him, but now he’s shivering and crying in earnest and he looks so much like someone just kicked him repeatedly that I can’t bring myself to add to his misery. I love the bastard too much. “Mickey, whatever’s wrong, you can tell me,” I say, as I rock on my haunches. He just bites his lip and fumbles with the lighter, his brows curling in concentration. We need to run the second the fuse is lit unless we want to catch ourselves on fire, so there’s no time for bickering, even if Mickey was feeling talkative. I twist my feet as if I’m at the starting line at a track meet and Mickey does the same while lowering the lighter as if it’s a baton. The fuse catches and my feet peel grass from the ground as I scramble to run. I feel my lips stretching into a delirious smile as the first firework goes over our heads and bursts into tendrils of artificial light. I’m laughing at Mickey’s side and he lifts his arm as if he might clap my shoulder but his hand rescinds to his jean’s pocket instead. I think he might cry again, but instead he begins whooping so loud I can hear his voice over the explosions. The sky is lit brighter than it is during the day, lights flashing, dazzling, twirling through the air as if the sun’s been blown and all that’s left of the universe is crumbling before our very eyes. Or maybe it’s a new universe being made, I say, only I’m not aware that I’m talking out loud until Mickey turns and shouts, “One only we can see!” As if I’m meant to understand. Mickeys’ eyes are wide and euphoric as we dance under the sparks, which might not be safe or smart, but I’m sick of being safe and smart if it means Mickey looks happier than he has in months. I throw my arms in the air and run in wide, drunken circles until every inch of my body feels like it’s on fire. I look up and there’s a flash of a roman candle. As it sails above my head, I remember meeting Mickey in the third grade, how he’d grabbed my hand and pushed his lips to my ear and asked if I had any candy. He said he’d trade me a PB&J, like he was a mini crack addict.
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I press my face to the sky and there’s a ghost bomb, shrieking as it sails high, high, high and disappears among the constellations. I remember seventh grade, riding our bikes to the pier and struggling to eat fried dough against the ocean gales. After that, powdered sugar clung to our clothes for weeks and our mothers just shook their heads, smiled, and didn’t say a word. Mickey hollers, “Take that Border Control!” And I remember getting our first jobs together. We worked on a farm four days a week. Mickey took bales, and trays, and crates from my arms because I was ‘scrawny’ and a ‘nerd’ and he could handle it. I made it up to him by sneaking croissant’s from the farm’s kitchen and we’d eat them in the stables while the dough was still pliable and warm and prone to stick between our teeth. The fireworks are roaring now, tossing themselves into the sky in such rapid succession that it’s all I can do to stand underneath them and try to understand what they mean. I remember Mickey’s girlfriend at the beginning of the summer, the one that had an ex-boyfriend bigger than Mickey and I put together. He was a jealous, beefy bastard and his father had a gun. I stepped in front of a pistolwhip he intended for Mickey’s chest, the force of it sent stars hurtling into my eyes and I can still feel the ache in my temple as I stand under the pyrotechnic downpour. I look down at my chest when the sparks begin to nip my cheeks and I can almost still see the blood congealing on my shirt, so thick and crusty I thought I’d never be clean again. Mickey’s voice is in the background and I can remember the hospital, waking up to Mickey still and silent with tears streaming past his jaw. I might have pinpointed the last time Mickey was Mickey, the time before he stopped looking at me, stopped talking, stopped laughing, but then Mickey jerks my shoulder and shakes me like he’s trying to bring me back from somewhere far, far away. “Adam!” Mickey shouts. When I turn to him, his eyes are wide. He’s licking his lips, holding my shoulders, and screwing the tips of his thumbs into my collarbone. We’re by the truck again and he leans me against it, his legs framing mine. His cheeks are moist and I almost lift a hand to spoon the tears from the corners of his eyes, but I’m too distracted by Mickey actually paying attention to me, for the first time in months. “What?” I say. Mickey doesn’t say anything for what feels like a long while.
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Behind him, the fireworks have dwindled into demented, irregular sparks and, in their absence, everything is too dark, too quiet, too cold. The entire crate has burned, leaving only a pile of ashes and an assortment of singed, once brightly colored paper that had been the fireworks wrappings. There’s only a single sparkler that seems untouched in the madness. It rests in the center of the ashes, defiant as it pushes sparks from its twisted core. I stare at it and my eyes water from its minute interruption of the dank light. “Adam,” Mickey says. I look at him but my ears are ringing and I feel warm and dry. Maybe I’m sick, maybe it’s another summer cold, but I can’t be sure. I can’t be sure of anything anymore. Mickey kisses me. For a moment, I stand there, too stunned to do much besides allow Mickey to crowd me against the hood of his truck. His hands come up to my collarbone and rub the skin in the hollow of my neck. His tongue pushes through my lips, shredding my last line of defense and I whimper, fucking whimper, like a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old receiving his first kiss. Before Mickey can pull away and question my hesitancy with veiled allegations about my sexual experience and an infuriating, crooked smile, I push myself into him, folding my chest into his. I wrangle hold of the kiss from his egotistical lips and we meld, like we were never meant to be apart, and the night’s quiet around us. I should be wary, he should be wary. We’ve never done this before and we should take it slow, but Mickey’s never been this close and I can feel his heart thrumming in his chest. I realize that neither of us have time to be self conscious about this anymore. It’s funny that it took months of ignoring me for Mickey to reciprocate my feelings, but his lips taste like tears and it’s really not that funny at all. Mickey pulls away, sucking air like he can’t get enough of it, but before he’s caught his breath he reaches for my lips again and he holds my face in his hands and explores my mouth with an almost desperate rapture. By the time he’s really, truly out of breath, he still hasn’t entirely pulled away. He has our foreheads leaned together and he’s smiling or maybe he’s laughing. There’s a haze over everything now, a veil of smoke that might be in my mind, or might be real, considering we’d just made a good attempt at starting a forest fire. “You’re really here,” Mickey says, running his fingertips along my arms. “Of course I am, dumbass.” “I’m sorry.”
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“Why?” I say. My head is too jumbled for me to try and understand why Mickey’s apologizing. It could be for the months of silence or the abrupt kiss or the unrelenting grip he has on my shoulders. Honestly, even if he should be apologizing, I couldn’t bring myself to care. Maybe that makes me a masochist. “I’m so, so goddamned sorry,” Mickey says and he’s crying again. “Don’t be,” I say. “Whatever you’re freaking about it isn’t your fault, except for the ignoring me part. I’m here for you Mickey. Whatever’s going on, I’m always right here.” “Don’t leave me,” Mickey says, his grip tightening. “I don’t think I could if I wanted to,” I say. I’m kind of laughing and then kind of choking on the smoke, so much so that when I look up again it takes me a minute to realize Mickey isn’t standing in front of me. He isn’t laughing or smiling or kissing. He’s kneeling at my feet with the heels of his palms fastened over his eyelids, his back heaving like he’s been crying for ages and can’t figure how to stop. I prod my bottom lip and it’s thin, smooth, and cold, as if it had never been kissed. As I watch Mickey, the sky begins whirring in the corners of my retinas into streaks of black and slender silver and it’s all I can do to drop beside him. “Mickey, “I say. “I’m sorry Adam,” he says so soft and desperate that it’s like a prayer. “I’m so, so sorry. Come back. Please, come back.” “I’m right here,” I say, but I might be lying because, when I place a hand on his shoulder, my fingers sink into his flesh as if I’m nothing more than a fleeting cloud of smoke and dust. When Mickey hauls himself into the truck, hours later, I don’t follow. I stare at the smoky sky and watch as the starlight encompasses everything. I’ve heard you’re not supposed to go into the light, but this light doesn’t seem so bad and, when my eyes open again, I find that my head’s in Mickey’s lap and the sky is sprinting past the windshield of his truck. Mickey has a hand smoothing the bangs from my face and Cream is on the radio and the windows are open wide.
Author Biographies Janelle Caputo
is a Writing Literature and Publishing major living
in Boston. She’d like to thank her parents for encouraging her to be a writer instead of an archaeologist. That decision probably saved her from ancient but no less deadly sarcophagus mold.
decided to try his hand at writing fiction after defending
Helms Deep & laying siege to King’s Landing—both of which failed spectacularly. When not taking the wrong classes for his directing major, Eric haunts graveyards and goes bowling. He hopes you enjoy his story, and warns that if you don’t he will infect you with something.
is a junior WLP major at Emerson. She enjoys choc-
olate chip muffins, puns, and watching copious amounts of YouTube videos. She also likes the word ‘tizzy.’
is a sophomore Writing, Literature and Publishing
major at Emerson College. She’s still pretty new to the whole “genre” thing, but she’s learning. She spends most of her time wishing she was Barbara Gordon. Sigh.
is a Visual and Media Arts Major with a not-so-secret love for YA
fiction. Though some people say, “write what you know”, he’s never poisoned a horse or shot someone in the foot, and, thus, hopes to continue writing stories about things he’s doesn’t know.
is a junior BFA Writing, Literature, and Publishing
major as well as a distinguished copyeditor for the likes of Stork, Gauge, and DigBoston. If it doesn’t have blood or pathetic, morally complex characters with ten thousand word backstories, she didn’t write it. She recently created a new genre which beloved teacher Kevin Miller called “gothic metaphysical.”
Third Time’s the Charm Generic, Emerson College’s only literary magazine dedicated to genre fiction, is proud to present its third issue! Whether you’re looking for a clever meta-fiction piece, a wily Western, or a tale with paranormal flair, we’ve got you covered. Generic is dedicated to exploring some of the best genre fiction Emerson has to offer.
IN THIS ISSUE
Featured Genres | Spring 2013: Romance, Western, Fairytale