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- Life After Fire –

Complications

Nik Korpon

(Let your ears burn to Red Lipstick on a Cigarette by The Garnet Hearts)

There’s a man in the phone booth already. Whether he’s dead, that’s 50/50, but the pendulum of drool swaying from his chin means he can probably move. I flip a coin in the hand that’s not holding a bouquet of carnations, kick the door. ‘You going to need the phone much longer?’ He shuffles to his feet like his bones are made of Slinky. The needle stuck in his arm bobs up and down as he moves. I nod at him. ‘Forgot something.’ Looking up with eyes focused somewhere behind me, he smiles through the drool, laughs at some joke inside his head and scuffs away over the cobblestone street. I lay the flowers on top of the phone then drop coins in the slot and dial home, peeling the sale sticker from the plastic holding the flowers together. ‘Hello, you’ve reached the Blackman residence,’ my boy squeaks. ‘Please leave your name and number and we will return your call as soon as pos…poss’—Kerry’s voice whispers possible in the background—‘possible. Thanks for calling,’ he says, his proud smile audible. I hang up before the beep. Coins drop inside the phone box. Salt water and exhaust overpower urine and unwashed body as I leave the booth. Between the buildings, I watch a tugboat pull a disabled boat to the docks. Eric’s soccer practice was right after school, so they should’ve been home by now. Then again, an empty house means I won’t have to sit at the table while Kerry swings the dining room lamp over me like an interrogation light. Something hits my face and I look up. The sky says it’s midnight but my watch tells me Happy Hour just started. More drops hit me and I pull my sport coat over my head. Within a block, my shirt is two shades darker. I duck into a door on my right, The Black Gardenia in gold filigree across it. Cigar smoke and a man hunched behind a bar. Behind a piano in the corner sits a fedora and a burning cherry, tendrils of smoke rising from it. When my eyes adjust, I see the man underneath, skin the color of shadows. He rests his cigar in an ashtray -1-


- Colored Chalk – Issue 3 -

on the piano and his ancient voice lacerates itself. I leave a trail of wet footprints to the bar. A bruise covered the crook of the bartender’s arm, four or five pinpricks sprinkled like black confetti. He flicks his chin at me. ‘Jameson. Neat.’ A ten, crumpled in my wet fist. The chemical scent of vanilla next to me. A woman crunches an ice cube between her teeth and swirls her drink, the color of blood in a swimming pool. She has almond-shaped eyes you could lose days in. ‘You didn’t say please.’ She smiles, her breasts as if there are two thimbles sitting on them. ‘My mother would be ashamed of me.’ I smile, extend my hand. ‘I’m Shi.’ ‘You don’t seem shy, not to introduce yourself like that.’ ‘No, my name is Shi.’ She puts a hand over her mouth, giggles to herself. ‘I’m sorry.’ Marks like healing rope-burn on her wrists. ‘Don’t be. It’s my parents’ fault. They named me.’ The bartender sets a glass next to my hand. ‘Three-fifty.’ I put the money in my pocket. ‘I’ll start a tab,’ then, turning towards her, ‘please.’ ‘You’re catching on already. I’m Melody. That’s Hank over there.’ Hank doffs his fedora without missing a word or note. ‘And you’ve already met Jimmy.’ At a table by the piano, a man in a grey derby and overcoat takes long, deliberate drags of his cigarette, eyes the bar. I nod at Jimmy. ‘Can I buy you a drink, Melody?’ She smiles yes and Jimmy makes a drink without her asking. As she crosses her legs, I catch a glimpse of red material—lace, I think—under her skirt. ‘I hope those aren’t for your wife.’ She takes a sip, nods at the bouquet at my hands. ‘Who said I had a wife?’ ‘The tan line on your ring finger.’ Putting my right hand over my left, I mutter, ‘Oh.’ ‘What happened to the ring?’ ‘That’s a little personal, isn’t it?’ -2-


- Life After Fire –

She shrugs. ‘Isn’t that the kind of conversation you have in a bar at five in the afternoon?’ ‘Melissa.’ Jimmy puts the drink down, takes away the empty glass. She doesn’t even look at him. ‘Wife?’ ‘Mistress.’ I empty my drink. The man in the derby coughs, then says something to Hank. Hank segues into a Billie Holiday song. The orange circle at the end of his cigar smolders in the ashtray. ‘The wife took the ring until I earned it back. Last chance and all that. ’ ‘And you’re trying to earn it back with carnations?’ She pulls a cigarette from her purse, raises her eyebrows to ask if I have a light. ‘Sorry, quit smoking last year.’ Appearing by her side, the man in the derby flashes a gold lighter, whispers in her ear. I hear no less than fifty this time as Hank finds the key change. She nods with her eyes. I wait until the man sits down then lean closer to Melody, smell vanilla and smoke. ‘Who is that?’ ‘One of the regulars.’ ‘What did he want?’ She takes a deep drag. ‘You don’t really want her back, do you?’ ‘What?’ ‘Your wife. You don’t really want her back.’ Waving to Jimmy, I order another Jameson. ‘I don’t know. It’s… complicated.’ ‘What isn’t? You deal with it or you don’t.’ She uncrosses her legs, lets her foot rest on mine. ‘Or you sleep with someone named Melissa and wonder what you should do because of the kid.’ ‘How do you know I have a kid?’ ‘It’d be a lot easier if you didn’t. But,’ she smiles and lays her hand on my knee, ‘he’ll still love you no matter what you do.’ Her hand moves further up my leg. I take the cigarette from her lips and have a drag, let myself smile. ‘You should have your own hotline.’

-3-


- Colored Chalk – Issue 3 -

A smile of recognition, then it’s gone. The man clears his throat and she looks over to him. Hank builds to the chorus, taking raspy breaths between lines. She looks back to me. ‘So, Shi.’ She bites her bottom lip, hooks her fingers in my pocket. ‘Do you have any plans tonight?’

-4-


- Life After Fire –

HIGH FEVER

Michael A. Kechula

(let your ears burn to Fly Me to the Moon by Frank Sinatra)

When torrential rains came, my house flooded. Suffering from flu and high fever, there was little I could do to escape. One minute I was looking at the downpour through my bedroom window, and the next I was knocked off my feet by rampaging floodwaters. Everything went topsy-turvy. I thought I was gonna drown. Suddenly, arms grabbed me. I musta passed out. When I woke, a craggy, greenish face was close enough to kiss. Eyes stared deeply into mine, as if searching for answers to life’s most ponderous enigmas. I wanted to scream, but didn’t have the energy. I remember thinking, Orange eyes. Who the hell has three orange eyes? As I trembled violently, the eyes’ owner climbed on top of me. Warmth coursed throughout my body. Then my rescuer began to chirp. The melodic sounds calmed me and made me feel strong again. And then stronger. And even stronger yet, as if I could conquer the universe. That’s when I felt ecstatic surges through every muscle, every nerve. I found myself crying out for mercy, yet wanting more. Overwhelmed by the intensity, I passed out. “You’re gonna be OK,” said a nurse. She was standing in a rowboat. Water was just inches below my bed’s mattress. “How’d I get here?” I asked, remembering my encounter with three orange eyes, and wondering if I’d hallucinated. “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me,” the nurse said. “In fact, some guys from Homeland Security have been waiting for you to regain consciousness. Do you feel strong enough to talk to them?” “Why Homeland Security?” “It has to do with how you got to this hospital. And everything that’s happened since flash floods hit us two days ago. I was here when she brought you in. You better -5-


- Colored Chalk – Issue 3 -

brace yourself. When the waters recede, and word gets out, this place is gonna be crawling with reporters. You’ll probably make millions outta this.” “I still don’t know what you’re talking about.” She gave a cynical look. “Didn’t anybody ever tell you about abstinence? Especially when it comes to strange stuff?” “Dammit! Tell me what the hell’s going on!” “So you’re gonna play innocent to the bitter end. OK, have it your way. I’m gonna row to the next wing. I’ll be back in five minutes. Oh, by the way, she’s also a patient here.” When the nurse rowed away, my thoughts drifted back to the green face, orange eyes, melodious chirping, the weight of something pressing against me, and the electrifying sensations that had jolted me to the marrow. Then I realized whoever owned those eyes had saved me. I owed her. Freak-eyed or no, I owed her. Minutes later, the nurse returned in her rowboat. A basin, covered with a cloth was on the seat. Extending it toward me, she said, “This is for you. It’s from her.” When I removed the cloth, hundreds of squirming orange-eyed things chirped frantically.

-6-


- Life After Fire –

The Collector

Anthony David

(Let your ears burn to Hell Hound on my Trail by Robert Johnson)

The boy was covered with birds. They found him before the rescue crews had got that far. I managed to get out with my camera but it was all spoilt now, all gone to Hell. The trucks began to show up just as first light broke, carted us all away before I had time to find my albums. Usually they let folks help look for survivors, situations like this, but there's a gas leak. Least two propane tanks went up right away, another one since the twister died off, and they think a couple may be punctured. But I got the fireman whose face got blowed off. I got a few of him while he was burning and again as they put him out. That tank went off like a bomb right in his face. I couldn't get any of the boy, though, with all those birds and he was so far away and then they covered him with a sheet. I was working in the dark room when it all happened so I got through it all fine, but it's a damn shame. Only had three days with the boy. Now the place is all blocked off with sawhorses and firetrucks, all my photos are jumbled in with a dozen other house's things all over the place. Someone with a flashlight asked me if I was with the press so I nodded, but they still made me stay behind the barricade. I'm free to shoot them for a while. Shouldn't stay too long, but if I have to start all over I figure it won't hurt to remember why. I shoot the men as they shout over the diesel engine moan. They holler to each other, to the trapped folks, and once in a while there's a commotion as somebody spots an arm or a foot. They sift through the rubble and pull someone out, then you hear the shout for a paramedic, or just a stretcher. I shoot the contorted faces of women with empty arms, men with blank stares, children without mothers and lumps under sheets. And all the dark clouds that keep moving south-east. I shoot until there's too much commotion for one house. When the folks in charge start to hurry over and the shouting gets frantic I figure it's time to head out.

-7-


- Colored Chalk – Issue 3 -

The coffee tastes like the diesel stained asphalt I've walked on for two days, but it'll keep me going another few miles. Not one goddamn hitch since I left. Kerouac would've never made it to the west coast these days, everyone's seen too much TV. I slide the empty cup toward this forty-something tragedy behind the counter. She cocks her head, twists underneath a grease stained dress that clings to her shape more than I'd like, makes her way over. "So what is that anyway, your man-purse?" Her red crusted sneer mauls a piece of cinnamon chewing gum. I shake my head. "So what is it, then? Fanny pack?" She holds the carafe the way I've held my arm all morning, with the elbow against the hip, wrist turned out, waiting. "Well?" I nudge the cup again. She coughs like she needs a cigarette, then a fat man across the room hollers for her to turn up the TV so she pours the coffee and moves on. Every little dive along this road has a TV now. "Is it about that poor little boy?" The waitress reaches for the volume knob. The man nods. "Mm hm." The sound of an unbalanced ceiling fan is replaced with a clip of helicopter noise. "Damn shame." I drop a five on the counter and it's twenty feet to the door as a woman's voice talks over an aerial shot of the wrecked houses. Ten feet, I rub my face when a sketch comes up on the screen. The fat man wipes steak sauce out of his mustache. "That's one sick sumbitch." The door jingles shut.

-8-


- Life After Fire –

FALLIBLE

Richard Thomas

(Let your ears burn to Cure for Pain by Morphine)

I retch into the stained porcelain until my stomach is a twisted knot. Empty now, there is nothing but gasping air, a sheen of sweat coating my forehead. I used to lie awake at night and fantasize about such things. Romanticize these horrible moments and how I would react. War, rape, fistfights. Violence layered upon violence, a momentary release of every thread of anger that had knitted its way through my being. It doesn’t work that way. In the end I was less than a man. Their screams are what I hear, every night, and a drift of smoke is all it takes to set me off. I’ve told my neighbors to stop. That it’s against the law now. They laugh, and scratch at the track marks on their arms. It ain’t the Four Seasons, they cackle. I don’t know what would be easier, or more rewarding, I wonder, as I hold the cold metal in my hand, and spin the chamber around. Wrapping my mouth around the barrel and pulling, or making that trek next door to take them out first. It spins, ratcheting around and around. I’ve pulled it twice tonight. The hollow click a tiny echo in my empty hovel at the end of my rope. I had a job once. It mattered. Once. Cigarette smoke drifts under my door, and as I shut my eyes, tears squeeze out, and I mutter the endless mantra that I repeat five hundred times a day. “Forgive me Lord. Please, forgive me.” I can’t sleep any more. And no matter how many cases of beer I put down, how many times I run a razor over my wrists, I am still numb to the core, and yet am in so much pain that every pore of my body screams out for reprise. I am autistic with loss. It was my cigarette. I fell asleep. It was the heat at first, but the smoke that really woke me. Choking and gagging, I rolled off of the couch into the darkness. The crackling was deafening, except for their screams. Those I could hear. Flashes of red and orange, hypnotic in its intrusion. The front door fell in under heavy boots, and beacons of failing light. My eyes stung, and I could not see. As I passed out, their voices pierced my eardrums. His, and hers. “Daddy...daddy. HELP. Daddy.” -9-


- Colored Chalk – Issue 3 -

Out of the Hills

Chris Deal

(Let your ears burn to Belgian Congo by Frodus)

He walked down out of the hills, stopping only to wet the handkerchief he had tied around his face to keep from breathing the smoke and ash, his path a broken highway littered with burnt cars and forgotten corpses, his destination nothing but a direction, east, towards the coast, where he could only hope to find someone for a simple greeting, maybe a game of chess, a drink of something other than dirty rainwater, something other than the nothing that the landscape has become, rubble and bone and bloody mud mixed with ash, pure chance he is not one with the dead, a regret if he would allow the thought. Scavengers found the store before him, and left only moldy fruit and a single can of pineapple juice, a feast. He walked down out of the hills, not thinking about anything for long stretches but his steps, one foot before the other, and that was all there was for him, nothing more could be allowed less he stop taking those steps, less he reverse his course and walk back into the hills, to the house he had built long ago that was little more than a cabin, but he only called it his house, to his house he had built he left ablaze because he could not bring himself to bury his family. The days grew shorter, the nights darker, the sun harder to spot in the sky, a fresh burn on a heavenly body. He forgot his name, he forgot the days, he forgot his wife’s face and the way her skin shivered under his kiss, the way he could always bring about goosebumps over her chest, he forgot everything that had nothing to do with the day of walking and the nights of staying awake with the loaded gun on his chest waiting to fire at any sound, animal or human, food being harder and harder to come across. He walked down out of the hills, towards the sea, a man with no name, with no history, with nothing but a vague destination and a couple bullets in a gun he took from under the seat of a smoldering pickup with something he couldn’t identify as human slumped over the wheel, something that made his mouth water and his feet move fast away. - 10 -


- Life After Fire –

When on the day the dawn never came, he sat down, his watch long since broken, he sat down on the broken pavement above a valley that was not there before, he sat waiting for the sun to come and shine down on him, and with nothing to do, with no energy to walk any further, he remembered his name.

- 11 -


- Colored Chalk – Issue 3 -

Life After Fire

Charles King

(Let your ears burn to Gasoline by Seether)

Yellow. Red. The colors jump, dance and multiply in the viewfinder of my camera, in and out of focus, zoom and wide angle. With each little tweak of the shutter speed and light sensitivity, the glow; they fade; they consume the image; they become nothing. Inside, my life shrinks, melts, and crumbles. The flames licking the sky tell me nothing will survive. Pictures, stories, hard disks, and rare, irreplaceable things, all twisting and writhing, consumed by ash. Nothing but my birth certificate and social security card in the little fire safe will ever come out. Perhaps not even that. Most people would cry. Most people would call the fire department. Comfortably numb; the shutter snaps again and again. Twist and shrink the aperture. Twist and focus tighter on the blown out windows with fire clawing out of them at the sensible color of what used to be my house. Someone called nine-one-one because the sirens are coming. Help. Water. Contrast. Better pictures. If they ask, this isn't my house. If they ask, I don't smoke. Starting over will be easy.

- 12 -


- Life After Fire –

Matilda Hits Rock Bottom

Michael Paul Gonzalez

(Let your ears burn to Lost Cause by Beck)

We’re standing hand in hand, Mad Molly and I, watching the wreck of the Matilda slowly bubble its way to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. My first thought, standing shivering and wet on the rocks of Marina del Rey, is that this is not as cool as the movies make it seem. My next thought is, I’m going to have legal troubles very soon. Mad Molly is drenched, expressionless, her left eye dangles from its socket, her mouth is slack. I’m the only thing keeping her upright. I did this to her, made her into a harlot and then, afterwards, tore her, mutilated her, because she wouldn’t…couldn’t, do as I asked. I look at her, so helpless and frail right now, and I hate her. I pull hard on her wrist and slam her against the rocks. She drops like a wet pillow. For good measure, I stomp her head twice, reveling in the wet squish as her head makes contact with the rocks. My prized possession, the first thing I ever made in my life, Mad Molly the Pirate Puppet Wench, she’s dead. I fling her towards the Matilda’s mast - let her go down with the ship, retain some of her seafaring dignity. It’s relatively early in the morning still, early enough that Stan – excuse me, Blackscarf, The Dread Pirate Captain - is probably drinking his coffee and planning a fine day of faux-piracy as he commutes. His heart will break or explode upon arrival. I can’t believe nobody else is around to see this. What am I doing here? There’s usually sculling teams from UCLA, joggers, dogwalkers, but right now it’s just me and the bubbling wreck. I blink hard to clear some of the running mascara from my eyes. Pirates used to be a surly lot, but thanks to Johnny Depp and his shitty movies, we’re all a bunch of half-drunk, flouncing nancyboys with bad hair extensions and scarves. What the hell am I doing here? That’s my life beneath the green waves. Now six inches, now two feet below those floating Styrofoam cup shards and cigarette butts, that’s two years of mopping and sweeping the decks. Four feet below that in the galley, that’s where I got laid for the first and probably last time in my life. She was drunk. I was not. She left, and - 13 -


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somehow (I’d like to think accidentally) unmoored the boat. The wind kicked up last night and the breakers were rough. The boat hits bottom so hard I feel a slight vibration in my feet, a mere ghost of what I felt when the Matilda hit that first sandbar. Nothing like the vibrating rip as she rubbed on the rock jetties that make this Marina. This was a message from God. “Thou shouldst not have cavorted with thy boss’s drunken wife.” The waves lap against the mast and there’s Molly, her little foam arm snagged around one of the ropes. Her head lolls back and her mouth drops open, that little pink foam tongue hovering just below her single white felt tooth. I throw her voice out over the waves. “J’accuse! J’accuse!” Molly was a French Pirate. When I decided this, I don’t know. Another in a long string of miscalculations on my part. “Hoooooly Shit!” What happened?” It’s Blackscarf himself, green and on the verge of puking at the sight of the Matilda. “K-K-K-kuh-kuh-I-I-I-I-,” I say. “What the fuck did you do?!,” he yelps, still staring at the wreck, moving away from me to get a better look. Then the words stick and my jaw jackhammers open and closed, no sound escaping. Molly was my voice, my only voice, and she’s dead to me now. She could only speak if someone was watching us, and nobody was watching as the swells came in and threw us around . Nobody on the radio could understand my calls for help. Probably just sounded like static to them. You think Stan would understand – or care – about that? I’ve spent my time working here as an invisible man. It’s amazing what people will say to you if you never talk. Eventually they forget you’re there, and you get to overhear things about salaries, backstabbers, hirings, firings, affairs, you name it. If you’re one-on-one with someone, you stay silent long enough and they’ll unburden their soul to you. Stan loved to use me as a verbal punching bag. He loved to poke and poke until my face was purple and quivering as the words jammed in my throat. Until last night, my silence has always made me feel shitty. In the case of Mrs. Blackscarf, silence was the ultimate aphrodisiac. She was three sheets to the wind and looking to get revenge on Mr. B for some unknown indiscretion. I know so much about him now. His fears, his insecurities, his micropenis. All of these things I learned as Mrs. B got drunker and drunker, until eventually she revealed her desire to become “a puppet fucker.” It was strange, grasping her hips - 14 -


- Life After Fire –

with one hand while I used the other to make Molly encourage us, almost a ménage a trios, I suppose. It felt so good at the time, and now I just feel like trash. I need a puppet to talk, to seem interesting, and last night, I discovered I couldn’t even get laid without the aid of a puppet. “I-I-I,” I say to Stan. “Ju-huuuuuh-J-j-j-.” “Shut up,” Stan mutters. “God Damn it, God Damn!” Coast Guard ships are beginning to approach. Stan stomps in small circles around the rocks. “Did you at least try to call for help? Oh, wait, you couldn’t have c-c-could you?!” He mocks. “I fucked your wife!” I blurt, my eyes wide at my first complete sentence sans puppet in years. It took the wreck of the Matilda to shake the words loose. For once, it’s not a stutter keeping me silent, only my mind racing for the next thing to say.

- 15 -


- Colored Chalk – Issue 3 -

SMILE

Joel Shoemaker

(Let your ears burn to Summer Teeth by Wilco)

"His black shirt cries while his shoes get cold." ~ Wilco You are so beautiful right now. In the dark. Lying there, still and mysterious on the bed. Still asleep, I want to wake you up to see your magical grin, but a few more moments of peace seem so right. Standing here, ready for work, staring at you and I think how fortunate I am for the dark, the blinds closed and the lights off. I can only tell it's morning by the red numbers of the alarm clock. How you sleep through it every morning like this I'll never know, but, really, who cares? You are just so gorgeous like this. Flipping on the light switch to wake you up, it's like the abrupt end of this perfect dream. I hesitantly turn on the lights and we're forced to enter back into this hideous reality. You. With the lights on, your face is gross with those pimples all over it. Your eyes aren't even close to a desirable color. Grey. Your complexion, you seriously need to go tanning. Your ears are so small and pointy. Your hair, with the lights on it's coarse and full of split ends. With the lights on even your elbows look out of whack. Looking at you, I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't be thinking this but it's like God threw up or something. And I swear if you didn't have perfect teeth I would so break up with you. Smile. That's right. There's my girl. You, smiling at me, I look past your disgusting complexion and I see these beautiful pearly whites, so white I nearly have to squint in order to keep looking at them. Seriously, if I could just tear those teeth out of your face I would totally make a necklace and end this relationship right now. I wouldn't even write you a letter. I doubt I would call. I think I'd probably just stop showing up at your place.

- 16 -


- Life After Fire –

But then you smile. Smile and I forget how I hate you. Smile and I forget how ugly you are. Smile and I am in love. Smile and I want to marry you. Smile and I can't stop kissing you. Smile and I can't stop falling in love with you. So just keep smiling. Those perfect teeth, so white I can see them in the dark. The rest of you just tan enough so I can't see you in the dark and it's perfect. Beauty, always and forever, a light switch away. God, how I love power outages. Smile. I promised to make you breakfast, but all you're getting is toast. I walk down the hall towards the kitchen and as I do I make sure not to step on anything. Boxes everywhere labeled with my name. I've lived here for six months now but everything stays in its box because things could change anytime. You never know. You get much uglier and even your perfect teeth won't save you. I grab the bread out of the refrigerator. Pretending not to notice the mold I throw in two slices on the highest setting. The goal being, naturally, to blacken the toast so it hides the mold. You'll never know. I put your breakfast on a plate and throw it on the table. I'm having a Denver omelet. As soon as my breakfast is done I turn off all of the lights and I holler your name. It's about time you get out of bed. The house is always dark. By now you should be used to this. You should love it. After all, I told you, I have a condition. I made up that story about being extremely sensitive to light or something. Be more sympathetic. Come on. Smile at me. Boxes are scattered everywhere through the hall and, to be fair I more than likely kicked a few into new and exciting positions. Some against the wall, others newly in the way of your path. Just trying to keep things interesting. That's when I hear you hit the floor. That's when I hear you scream. That's when I start laughing. Four eggs, two pieces of ham and half a green pepper, diced. Hold the onion. In my opinion this is the perfect omelet. It's very fluffy and very filling and arguably there was way more than enough for you, but I'm pretty sure you really, really like burnt toast. - 17 -


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It's when you don't stop screaming right away that I stop eating. Surely by now you should get up and just be embarrassed, come eat your toast and move on with your ugly, incredibly dull life. Go to work already. Stop screaming. Shut up, seriously just shut up. Alright. I'm coming. It's when I turn the corner and hear the screaming much louder than before that I realize that this is something more than embarrassment and, really, I'm trying so hard to care at least a little bit. But it's not until I give in and turn on the light and see you with your face in a pool of blood, shards of glass all around that I realize just how serious this is. What the hell did you break? Your blood is all over pictures of my dead grandmother. Pictures of my mom and dad's thirtieth frigging wedding anniversary. There's my sister's college graduation. That's my nephew's little league photo from last year. Sure, he sucked but come on. And all of the frames are broken. And there's all of this clear glass and pieces of wood are in your face and you're still bleeding all over my poor, sweet grandmother. That terrific picture of me and my old Cocker Spaniel. Then there's this tiny piece of white. And you're not smiling. And really, you couldn't be uglier. I bend down and pick up the enamel. "What is this?" You won't stop screaming. "Shut up. Please. Smile, baby. Just shut up and smile." I'm on the floor now and my work clothes are obviously ruined and I'm going to be so late for work. I don't think I have another clean pair of pants. I cringe as I touch your back and I'm really doing my best trying to comfort you. Seriously, just shut up. We really need to talk about this. It's probably only been thirteen seconds but kneeling in this blood feels like three hours and I already hate you. This isn't helping me out at all. Our love is on the line when you finally decide to stop screaming. Now you're just panting like a dog. My Cocker Spaniel. Freddy. Bloody Freddy. Your blood. "Seriously. You need to look at me, now. Open your mouth." - 18 -


- Life After Fire –

I can tell you don't want to do this. No way do you want to ruin our relationship right now. I'm the only one who can even look you in the face and even then it's only when your perfect smile is on display for me. "Open your mouth." I say this again but you're really trying my patience. I don't have any more time. I really need to get ready for work, again. Start this whole nightmarish day over again. This is so the last thing I need. Grabbing your chin, dropping the tiny little piece of enamel, prying your mouth open, you resisting is just making this harder for you. You know I will win. Smile. Whore. Looking inside your mouth is when I see how bad this all really is. You, seeing the anger in my eyes. The rage of a man seeing his perfect, award-winning smile cracked in at least three places. This perfect grin stained red. And the hole of a missing tooth. And I can't stand to look at you. The rage welling up inside of me and you know what's coming. What's more you know how much you deserve it. It's now that you clamp down on my hand. Hard. And whether it's your blood or mine running down my hand, my wrist, the arms of my dress shirt, I have no idea. My pain mixed with your pain mixed with your ugliness mixed with my rage. This is the recipe of my perfect revenge. The end of our extremely sub par six-month relationship. The end of your perfect smile. Those gorgeous teeth. Now you are nothing but ugly. And as I run the edge of this piece of glass from my parent's anniversary frame across your throat, your face, your mouth finally releasing from my badly chewed hand; it's all just a little better. Your beautiful death. Shut up now. That's it. Sh. It's all over. Nice and quiet. Quiet. Sitting in your blood, with blood all over my hands, I reach into my pocket for my phone. Blood on my hands, blood on the phone, now blood on the side of my face, I dial my secretary. I say, good morning. I tell her to cancel my 8:30 cleaning. I tell her to reschedule my 9:00 new patient exam. I tell her to push back my 11:00 root canal. I tell her I'll do my best to be in by early afternoon for the rest of the day. Oh, and I tell her to go ahead and place that classified advertisement in the newspaper for a new hygienist. - 19 -


- Colored Chalk – Issue 3 -

Kicking Your Crosses Down

Sean P. Ferguson

(Let your ears burn to Kicking Your Crosses Down by Circa Survive)

Above him, the traffic light blinks with the malaise of worn out souls. Yellow, nothing, yellow, emptiness, yellow, quotations filled with the unsaid words whispered from a single bulb blinking on and off the command, use caution. He isn’t at the intersection so much as he is the intersection. The world almost seems to have started with him standing in this one spot, and the rest constructed around him, a world that exists only inside this box created by the crosswalks of the intersection, and nothing outside of that is alive. The man moves not one muscle as everything else outside of him lives and breathes like a deer struggling to free itself from an expressway. Wars rage on. Mothers give of themselves, their entire lives in the hopes that what’s been growing inside of them reaches the ripe old age of something the draft board might consider acceptable. A child burns his hand on a pot for the first and last time. Here at this particular intersection, in this small island community, he stands there the way God must have on the seventh day, dusting his hands clean, admiring his handy work, having learned far too many times about pots on stoves. Beyond where I can see are four cement barricades recklessly lined up to protect the rest of us from what’s out there. Five feet in height and seven and a half feet wide, these small pieces of human ingenuity made of sand, water, and stone serve as a shield, keeping us from getting to what is on the other side. And that side, watching, waiting to come and swallow us whole. Until its prey turns its back and dips for a drink of water; teeth out, claws sharpened and quivering with the anticipation of a sleazy prom date. The man takes the baseball cap that he’s worn for all of eternity off of his head, beads of sweat glistening on the tips of his hair like nighttime rain helplessly clinging to the leaves of rainforest greens. He covers where is heart was placed when he was born, and turns to what the storm left of the island, the battered homes, cowering families, dogs running the town now that their masters have left them for dead. And with one simple motion he bows. It’s a silent conversation held with the world he’s - 20 -


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known for so many years, the life he built for himself and the people that have loved him. His lips move around a simple word spoken everyday with the ease and carelessness of lovers leaving the same room only to return seconds later. And the ears that have fallen deaf on this simple word just watch, shedding a respective tear. Words snarled and snapped at his heels when he left home as a teenager. College, degree, wife, children did not even seem like good ideas. He stole a large canvas bag that his mother used to carry flowers to the house from a nearby field. It was more than enough for a few days worth of clothes, a hairbrush, toothbrush, and the money that he emptied from his father’s wallet. The first step was to stop off at his friend’s house, and then get in his car and drive east, to visit their roots without crossing an ocean. Then they were going to find some job, drink, and maybe start laying some roots of their own. The access road that crossed over the bay, leading into the heart of the coastal town, lay through marshy mud holes like a withering vein. Imploded turtle shells crushed the pavement from local teenagers that drove up and down the road, competing to see how many they could hit before the police came. The radio didn’t work but that didn’t matter. Songs of freedom rang in their ears with the strength of ten thousand bands, choirs singing their praises. The bitter sea air reaching in through the open windows, wrapping its arms around them, loving them, coaxing them like the mothers they left behind. Terrance pressed harder on the gas pedal and the car growled louder, a war-cry, that they had arrived and were taking prisoners. The bridge that dropped them into town was unforgiving, they landed and bounced, a pair of babies dropped out of the womb from eleven stories up. Both of them got jobs working for a fishing boat that took tourists to holes in the ocean where they could catch fish, like the locals do, on their vacations. The man in the intersection found a girl, Abigail on the beach, and they held hands all summer. Her parents took her home before you couldn’t wear white anymore, and they consummated their goodbyes. As the sun would set, he’d look out from the beach over the Atlantic, wondering where the rest of the world went, why the pioneers stopped coming, why we’ve never sailed back as a whole. Exploration, to him, just seemed to stop; no one was going anywhere, ever.

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The National Guard started pulling the few stragglers and elderly that didn’t know what to do out of their homes; it was the third of their final warnings. They stopped searching a day or so ago, and then the storm came. The south end was wiped off of all of the maps in an hour, chewed up and swallowed into the belly of the ocean forever. Streets and homes, a playground, the ice cream stand, school, all of it underwater, everything man built on the sandbar the residents had dredged themselves. And the man walks to the barricades, watching into the darkness, where the fruits of man had gone, the part of the island he’d never wanted to see in the first place, and he pulled himself over. The only thing left in the intersection was the fog that hung on the island being pushed away by my voice, the son he never knew, calling out for my dad.

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Frankly, Scarlet

Mark Grover

(Let your ears burn to Never Tear Us Apart by INXS)

Thomas lay lifeless, like he was taking a nap, on top of the quilt. There was still a faint aura glowing around him, but it kept fading. Eudora, their Himalayan cat, was purring in a ball at his side. Thomas’ baby. Edward knew all along this time would come. His breath escaped him, his body trembled as he looked down at Thomas. All it required was the flip of a switch by Insightful Eyes. And there were all the little details of life that lovers kept to themselves. Things that must be found out for life to continue until they decided to flip your own switch. Thomas had never let Edward feed the cat. He didn’t know how much medicine to give Eudora for her kidney disease. Edward couldn’t call the vet. The secret would then be revealed. The microchips implanted in Thomas’ and Edward’s brain had restored their dignity. Thanks to Edward’s inheritance and a simple implant through Insightful Eyes Corporation life couldn’t have been better. He looked out into the green courtyard. It reminded Edward of their vacation to Edinburgh. They’d gone on the ghost tour and the ghosts had bruised Thomas. It was as close as they’d ever been to heaven in the daylight anyway. He remembered all the bring moss that clung to the buildings and the sun, my God, it was a brightness he’d never seen. Now, every time he looked out at the flowers in their yard they splashed him with their violent pastels. Their yard, their home, was a monument to all the dead men who’d been given risqué tea parties before they were put in mass graves. Where Insightful Eyes had buried them, no one would know. A fresh mound of dirt waited to cover the mass grave in the corner of the yard. Edward’s heart raced. They would come for Thomas, they would put him in one of the other courtyards under fertilized dirt. This couldn’t happen. No. Even though they both understood the terms. The house they’d been given, and the Association of Men, it was all automatic once the papers were signed. It all dissolved before him now. He sat down slowly and opened a book. When he opened his eyes, he was floating with the Secret Disassociation of the Association of Men. He grabbed the - 23 -


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magnifier, ran it over the Ouija Board, called to all those with the book opened. Several members appeared in midair, smirking, waiver. “It’s not what you think,” Edward said. “Thomas is dead. I won’t let them have him.” “It happened to me. I don’t know what you expect us to do. We signed the papers,” A Buddha shaped man looked up at him as he filed his nails. “Some things are just wrong. This was coercion. We literally signed our lives away to them. It’s one thing to die when they say, but to take away our right to choose how to bury the dead?” “You’re building too big of an attachment,” A buff, gym dandy sighed. “Oh, Christ! Now’s not the time to be yogic with me! We live in the United States. We get attached to things, people. Thomas was my lover.” “But The Disassociation isn’t about defying what they do with us once we’re dead. It was reclaiming our lives while we could still live,” a young, thin twink pleaded. Edward turned to the Buddha man. “So, you’re telling me you didn’t mourn when Gerald died?” “He ascended.” He rolled his wrists and fluttered his fingers up in the air like a holy roller yogi. “You’ve bought in to everything they told us. Why are you even in The Disassociation?” “Because, subversion is exciting.” “Ouija Boards will never replace real sex. You’re pathetic.” “Bite your tongue, my little grasshopper.” “I’m not little, nor am I your grasshopper.” “So, you’re telling me you don’t feel the least bit of gratitude for giving those who wanted more than the association could give a fuller life?” “I’m telling you I’ve realized this whole thing is messed up! This isn’t another Garden of Eden. We’re in a holocaust on top of a rotting cake. This will crumble.” “I’m sincerely sorry over Jonathan, but you knew as well as I that this time would come. What do you expect me to do, Edward? You know a festive memorial service with the only the best caterers will bring us all together to help us through this.” - 24 -


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“That’s what they said they’d give us. I don’t want a decadent food party. It’s an insult! You’re a spineless bastard.” Edward shut his eyes and was back in the bedroom. He slammed the book shut. Champagne glasses clinked down on the patio from the open window. Stewart was down there clapping his hands and ordering people around. The Corporation had wasted no time. Edward shouted from the window. “Stewart, get your crew out of here. I’m not having any party.” Stewart looked up at him through his sun glasses and waved. “Oh, Edward. I bet you’re just feeling icky, but the gathering will make you feel better.” “You don’t understand. I want you and everyone else to get out!” Edward sat back down on the bed, closed his eyes again. His mind swam through a murky fog to the earlier days of The Disassociation. At that time, there was talk on the Ouija boards about white magic, when its use was appropriate. The time was now. Anger pinched his nerves again thinking about how the subversive powers they worked so hard to achieve collectively had lost its fervor. All it amounted to now was a floating hellfire club. The doorbell jangled his nerves, made him feel heavy like he’d just eaten a heavy breakfast. Edward stood up and rubbed the temples of his head. The people that taught him to avoid coming back to reality so quickly were the same ones that abruptly rang his doorbell. “Goddamn Stewart!” Edward mumbled. He ran down the grand staircase. His stomach jumped remembering that this truly was their dream home. An evening of chasing each other up and down the red velvet stairs had become better than sex since the corporation monitored that. But there was nothing visually offensive about two men chasing each other up and down the stairs. Now it was simply a memory. It could have lasted longer, but the corporation had snuffed it out like a candle. Tears ran down Edwards eyes when he reached the doorway. He clasped his hands against the door, and envisioned sharp tentacles sprouting from his body. “Go away.” “Edward, come on. You know the ritual. I have a crew here to cleanse Thomas’ body.” - 25 -


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He peeked through the hole in the door, and saw he’d done good work. Stewart was gasping, holding the sides of his neck, trying to bring air back into his lungs. Stewart had never become part of The Disassociation. His work as party planner and mortician kept him overly optimistic and worked to the bone. Stewart regained his composure, and rapped at the door again. “Edward, please. You know we only have 48 hours to have our services before the corporation takes possession of the body.” “No, I want things done my way.” “We relinquished living wills when we joined The Association. If you don’t let me in, I’m afraid I’ll have to contact all the men.” “Men? You call yourselves men? What a laugh!” “Well, at least I don’t pretend to be Scarlet.” “Excuse me?” “Oh, come on. The monitors? The corporation kept us more than amused with your weekly episodes. Stop thinking you’re not cliché, sweetie. Babe, you were everyone’s entertainment in the evenings! You were ravishing!” He blew a kiss to Edward through the peep hole. Edward covered his mouth and turned his back to the door. Life within the walls of Insightful Eyes had been anything but private. As he closed his eyes, he envisioned families laughing and eating popcorn, watching him and Thomas on computer enhanced productions, their plaid shirts plastered over with chiffon dresses. They’d be written into college curricula as part of a mythical characters program. The world would simply use all of them as products of humor. They’d literally sprout wings. They’d be in gift shops like ceramic cupids. “Stewart just continue in the courtyard. I want to shower.” “Well, okay. Make it snappy.” Edward ran out to the kitchen. He found Eudora’s medicine of top of the counter. It was the only thing they’d managed to sneak in with an outside number. Something the guards must have missed in the sleeve of Thomas’ suitcase. He picked up his phone and pressed the numbers. “Hello? Yes, please listen. Our cat, well, my partner, Thomas’ cat. He has a prescription with your office. The only problem is, I don’t know where we’re at. Can you please send help?” “Sir, we do make house calls, but I’m going to need an address.” - 26 -


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“I don’t have one. Contact 911, contact the news, I don’t care, just contact someone! We’re somewhere in the mountains, lots of palm trees, that’s all I can tell you.” The Eyes would be coming soon. Once they knew of buzz on the outside, it wouldn’t take them long. “Eudora, would you like some milk?” Sleeping pills were close by. Enough for both of them. Maybe a garden party for Thomas, Edward, and Eudora, would wake up The Disassociation. With Eudora in his arms, he’d open the book, close his eyes, and they would ascend to where Thomas now was, like they’d talked about in the early days of the The Disassociation before most of them became canaries. The next day, people on the outside opened their papers and read the headline: The two man cast and the cat of “Frankly , Scarlet” found dead in bizarre murder-suicide while a garden party is held in their yard. Based on a suicide note, Police believe Thomas killed himself over a shady finance deal with the producers of the show, but police can find no trace of unusual transactions in their bank account. Edward, in turn, took his own life and Eudora’s.

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Meanwhile‌Back on Earth!

Keith Haworth

(Let your ears burn to The Atomic Age! by The Protagonist!)

As the autumn strips the leaves from the trees leaving them naked and magnificent, frozen in their aged beauty, the London fog descends upon the streets. Its pavement cold and frosted. The ghosts of Christmas past are vibrant in their invisibility, yet I can sense them like a ghostly whisper breathing down my neck. The Dickensian England of years gone by is visible in the city's Stanley blade wielding, A.S.B.O awarded teenagers. I put on my three quarter length overcoat and pull up my fur-rimed collar against the frostbitten early evening night. A supernatural beauty seems to emanate from deep within the inner city, as the blue neon and orange hues become distant beams of preternatural light, like some translucent auroras borealis. I inhale and exhale the frenetic nightlife of the city as it becomes more alive, even more menacing than before. I watch as frosted flakes of snow fall like petrified raindrops. There is something of the night about me, as I cruise through the city. I haunt its pavements like some gothic Marie Celeste. As the night falls, the moonlight reveals forgotten courtyards and gaslight alleyways. Beautiful Japanese girls pass by, otherworldly, like antelope in stilettos. I become a leopard wearing trainers. The 21st century is a permissive society, as re-imagined by William Burroughs, and everything is permitted. My pupils contract and dilate, exacerbated by the refracted light of a million long dead stars. My mind buzzes, invaded by static, as satellites transmit signals across space and time. They are beaming a billion instantaneous thoughts and ideas. While people fuck in alleyways, hard and animalistic, new lives are created, whilst others leave this mortal coil, becoming sentinels of the heavens. The city is a sensory overload of subliminal advertising and canine luv affairs. Meanwhile, back on Earth, I create music and poetry. My head is a library of the mind. From twenty-six characters of an alphabet, I create arcane magic, an alchemist of sound and vision. I am trying to make contact, a lonely narrator of the human condition. But in reality‌ this is only artifice.

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Colored Chalk Issue 3: Life After Fire