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Issue Eight

Crack the Spine Issue Eight January 23, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright © 2012 by Crack the Spine

Cover Art “Brokenness” by Col Adamson

Contents M.Y. Pastorelli………….……………….…………………….Expatriates The Burden of Titles Deana Prock…………………………………...…….…………..Trip Wire Forecast Teresa Pfeifle……………………..………………………….…….Peaches It‟s Okay, Right? Rosemary Anderson.………....……Apple Blossoms in Massachusetts Shaun Hamilton…………………………………………...Bastard Thing April Avalon………………………..……….……...……………..Reverie White On White Ariana D. Bleyker..………………………..Final Things (The Break Up)

Expatriates By M.Y. Pastorelli Today two Russian dudes came up to me at Starbucks. One of them looked at me with some curiosity, my necklaces and multiple bracelets and chains running up and down my arms. He was drunk and red-faced, and leaned over to me and reached for my pack of smokes. He took out a cig and showed me his own pack, a Chinese brand I had never seen before with "8 mg" labeled ostensibly on the front where the government warning should have been. He replaced my cigarette with a roll from this Chinese package, as he spoke nonsensically to me. I made out that it was his friend's birthday and they were celebrating. He lit up right there to my surprise, and the girl from the counter came to tell him in English that this was a non-smoking area. He handed her the freshly lit cigarette with a dopey smile, and she took it outside and put it out on the pavement with annoyance on her face. This frivolous performance of theirs was repeated exactly once, and exactly one more cigarette was wasted. What was not so exact was the amount of stress tolled on the hapless women behind the counter by this intrusive presence of the duo in unruly foreigner act, and particularly on the head barista, who this second time around disposed of the flaming cigarette with understandable anxiety. She threw the smoke onto the ground with clumsy force, which I thought uncharacteristic of her, while still somehow managing to appear girlishly cute in the act. She must have anticipated that I'd be watching. The birthday boy remained remarkably wordless and devoid of drama throughout all this, but was clearly complacent in his friend's antics. My heart started pumping extra blood to my brain as I thought to figure the nature of the goons' stupor and posturing, and my place and stake in the spontaneity they had created. Then the sociable smoker handed me an unopened bottle of sesame seed oil he had with him, and wanted me to tear off the plastic wrapping around the bottle cap. I hesitated, because I did not wish to open a can of worms by catering too much to their scripted stupidity, but I said why not, better me than the girls. As I received the bottle, I felt that it was a mistake; I had become the victim you see in Hollywood movies, where the rare spotlight shines on the yellow guy in an embarrassing and compromised position. I cleared this thought quickly, though, corrected myself, and resolved not to think in such drastic and dreary terms. I could just as easily have been a cool and strong man of character, responding in exactly the same way I was, had I not been exposed to those racist Hollywood scenarios.

The perforated seams made it easy to part the plastic away. One of the part-timers with a tray full of mugs passed me by and softly apologized to me for the inconvenience of the situation, as if she'd had a chance of dismantling these two wild, blue-collar seamen with acne-pocked faces and blackened and calloused hands of their alcoholinspired ambitions. Or filling the hole in their disgruntled souls. I said it was okay and I meant it. But as these simple, clichĂŠd words escaped my lips, I began to see myself as kind of a hero. Disgusted, I struggled to shake off the sneaky thought. Once again, I had become a victim of self-caricature. I was my own worst enemy. Finding myself back in reality, I gave back the bottle to its owner, who uncapped it, and proceeded to ladle its thick contents over ice cubes. Clearly, something was lost in translation. Though with that, for a change, the wannabe ruffians started to talk among themselves, the pitch of their talk wild and the tone toxic, the topic, anyone's guess. They gestured with pomp, dipped, shook, and pelvis-thrusted. The talkative friend, now seeing himself a friend of mine, came over to me repeatedly, as if driven to not let me be. And I do not believe I was testing them, but when later I walked by them to throw away the garbage accrued on my table, he engaged me once more. What I found fitting to do at this moment was to give them a piece of my mind, in this sarcastic mode, a vestige of my American rearing. "You know, you two are great. A couple of tough guys drunk in the middle of the day, intimidating the women at Starbucks of all places, making risquĂŠ comments. You two are hilarious, fucking comedians." I topped it off with two thumbs up and a fake smile. Fighting words, to be sure, because I wanted to be swung at. I knew, if I was still conscious, my hands would naturally go. I imagined they would fly in deft arcs and straight lines in a Mike Tyson combination of cross-hook-cross. And I hoped, it would knock them out. But it never came to that, and the swinging display of my American spirit was reduced to mere apocryphal barking, aimed at but flown over non-Englishspeaking heads. In this country of lost men and barking dogs and metaphorical winks, where cool dudes ride around on Vespas sporting "New Hampshire" license plates, sometimes, I use my American tongue in such perversely errant ways, not finding a home, nor an origin.

The Burden of Titles By M.Y. Pastorelli You just have to look out the second floor window to be God. Stories pile on, without a proper ending to them. The stories that I write will come to me sitting up here, a few sentences will get written with a few sips of coffee, and will be forgotten, to be pulled out from the drawers of memory once again, more relevant and mature, at the proper time. These negative memories carry us forward. On the feet of the men and women I see below me, they carry the hopes and yearnings of their generation and the one before it, or the one after it, but rarely both.

It's kinda strange isn't it? MY doesn't like to believe in predestination, but nonetheless he almost wants to say that fate just played a trick on him. Of course you may think his intentions are obvious in coming up like this to talk to you. You may even have relied on a repertoire of excuses to politely eject yourself from just this kind of a scene in the past. But knowing all that, somehow MY has found himself here, talking to you and you listening to him. And he is thinking wishing to have met you at a different place and a different time is simply meaningless, because this place now is what fate, in all its wisdom and mischief, has uniquely presented to you. He doesn't want your number. No, right now, he just wants to take your hand and take off running. Won't you come running with him?

Trip Wire By Deana Prock

contingent- contingencycontingency plan- plan bthe private callerthe plink on your blackberrythe plink on your blackberry at dinnerthe pin drop- the hasty retreatthe menâ€&#x;s room- the silencerthe silent treatment extra- extra-curricularextra-curricular behaviorthe forgotten receipt- the missing hoursthe second set- the smile on her facethe tears on her face- the snap of a wirethe bait and switch- the fool me oncethe fool me twice motive- motivationmotivational torque- the applicationthe three day wait- the patience- the pacing- the rattle- the slip- the slide of brain waves- the ping on your blackberry- the hasty retreat- the smile on her face- the snap of a wirethe flash- the silencer

Forecast By Deana Prock

Snow floats in on a parachute breezelands on her tongue like a paperweight. Adjusting the tourniquet around her heart, she bleeds out slowfilling the margins with thank-you notes, calling us home with her sweet-grass smell.

Deana Prock lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY, where she is currently completing her Master's Degree in English Literature. She shares her space with one man, two narcoleptic cats and a very abused laptop. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in BloodLotus, Boston Literary Magazine and Rufous City Review, among others. She longs to fly south for the Winter.

Peaches By Teresa Pfeifle Stop laughing! I will, as soon as you stop eating those peaches. What's wrong with peaches? Watching him bite into those peaches, soaked in sugar, bright orange, it made me laugh. They reflected his sweetness. What are you looking at? He asked, shoving another peach into his mouth You I'm not much to look at I smiled, because he is.

Itâ€&#x;s Okay, Right? By Teresa Pfeifle I scraped my knee, it bleeds. It's okay. It happens to everybody, right? I'll put a band-aid on it. It will hurt when I rip it off, but it's okay. It happens to everybody right? I'll rip some skin off, maybe even disrupt the scab, but it's okay. It happens to everybody, right? Then i'll pick the scab, but it's okay. It happens to everybody right? I'll put the scab in my mouth and it's better than okay.

Tess Pfeifle is eighteen years old and has been on the warpath of writing ever since she won third place in a script-writing contest during the third grade. She enjoys scary movies, zombies, dystopian fiction and strawberry smoothies. Tess is deathly afraid of leprechauns, despite her Irish heritage. She also has a pet snake named Golden Retriever who is currently going through an identity crisis.

Apple Blossoms in Massachusetts By Rosemary Anderson

Sunday morning on Stage Road beside Doc Streeter‟s old house -a budding forsythia, and it‟s as if Cummington were created to showcase these golden blossoms, their simple gilding glory.

Monday afternoon at Bread & Circus in Hadley, bouquets of freesia wrapped with green tissue and filling tall silver milk cans, their scent wafting the aisles like the easy honey tongue gliding beneath language void

as if New England‟s pioneer spirit lived in my health food store and infused each leaf , each tint of petal -- yellow, pink, purple -- like sunsets in the Berkshires so many evenings, held (like me) by the warm embrace these mountains bestow --

the nameless hills and valleys slow born, a vast thing. Evening

on Route 9, I see flowering dogwood dancing in the breeze from speeding cars heading home. Then an apple tree exploding

out of an aura of dropped blossoms, looming from the warm ground which gave it birth. Why think if a picture is a true thing? Thatâ€&#x;s how I felt once at eighteen in Peoria, Illinois, standing at a winter window at night --

as if my body had grown out of a substance much like myself, connected center to center -as if I were flying away, ghost of my old self, energy lifting beneath me, my strong trunk/root plunging skyward

through yesterdayâ€&#x;s air, blazing through mist and the smooth sky and the universe, essential juices screaming! But then, plants understand they must fruit and die after blooming -a gracious release,

not just trapped in one brief form. This world streams away from me like smoke, translucent steam or champagne (odd words: to disappear, dissipate, evaporate) -is left behind.

Huge flakes of snow like petals now fall swiftly downwards and I feel as though my body is rising, streaming upwards, soaring into space faster and faster while the petals seem as stationary as the stars.

Rosemary C. Anderson is a published poet and a visual artist who has exhibited artwork nationwide. She was the editor at Redgreene Press, Spring Grass Press, and Anderson Books, and of an international women artists magazine. Currently, she lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and sends educational books to prisoners all over the country via Spring Grass Book'Em--including poetry books, poetry instruction and old Poet's Markets and Writer's Markets; inmates' most popular request is for dictionaries. What she really needs is a large house, space for an art studio, and a space for Book'Em possibly with a church or nonprofit in Pittsburgh. If anyone wants to start a books-toprisoners program in their state (for one or more prisons or states), email her at for an electronic or paper instructions--books and volunteers can be gotten for free. And everyone can read poetry!

Bastard Thing By Shaun Hamilton

Try as he might, Saul Matthews found it impossible to purge himself of the memory. A caustic cocktail of too-strong skunk and too-cheap whiskey spring cleaned his brain of more pleasurable experiences, but the dead girl refused to break her stare. Without warning, like a madman running into a school with a machete the memory‟s violence would return, replaying the hit and run as though it were a matinee show designed to amuse. The sound of the car; the cute blonde woman thrown over the gold BMW‟s bonnet; the sight of her slamming into the tarmac. His peripheral vision would repeat for his entertainment the few seconds it took for the radiator‟s teeth to toss her off her feet, throw her into the windscreen and hurl her high into the indigo sky. So fast had the executive car been going that it was out of sight before she landed. On her head. Breaking her neck. Opening her skull and exposing the mashing of her pinkish brain. Suddenly her mind stained the tarmac; her dead thoughts drying in the afternoon sun. And the driver‟s rear lights were nowhere to be seen. It happened a week ago. Outside his house. The extended Victorian terrace part of the supposedly respectable district overlooking the Manchester Ship Canal. (It had to be respectable, it cost three grand more than they could afford and forced them to borrow from other sources). It was true opportunities to live on the street were few and far between as the properties tended to pass from parent to child over a series of generations, but the recession sliced the head off tradition. Properties became available to normal folk, including Saul and his wife, Sarah. Now they could put an offer on one; now they could barter and negotiate. Now they could look out on the brown vein feeding the North of England and its steep banks. Whenever Saul or Sarah flung back their bedroom curtains or opened their front door they were greeted by a sheen of oak and birch; leaves concealing birdsong would warm their hearts as if they had become part of a picture postcard scene. They would involuntarily smile at the sight they had been lucky enough to find. After a lifetime of longing and the punishment of saving, they had their dream home. But there are risks in every venture and theirs was the road. Off-road parking was an impossibility with such old terrace. No drives and garages didn‟t exist. It was true that accidents were rare along the main access into the village but they did occur. Wing-mirrors knocked for six by passing idiots who couldn‟t judge the road‟s width (which defied explanation as it was easily four cars wide); breaks slammed as pets ran

from their homes into the street; kids causing horns to be blown and relieved adults mouthing off. They were risks but none worse than any other street. Saul and Sarah felt they were worth taking just to get their ideal home. Their ideal postcode. Their ideal everything! They didn‟t have any kids or pets, so the chances of the road directly affecting them were remote - besides, their door didn‟t open directly onto the pavement. They also owned a gravelled courtyard – small but perfectly formed to keep them separated from the public. Theirs and their neighbours‟ cars all lined the kerb bumper-to-bumper with barely enough room for a cat to pass between. And the fluctuating sizes, between a Fiesta and a Land Rover, ensured someone wishing to cross the road would struggle to perform their „green-cross code‟. The girl - according to the police who questioned him once his shock had eased enough to let him speak - was in her thirties. He didn‟t need them to tell him she was attractive with a living body like Marilyn Monroe and a dead body like Quasimodo. She had casually sauntered between a silver Mercedes SLK‟s rear and a navy Shogun‟s front. Unable to see the full extent of what was happening to her right, she had simply stepped out with no concern for her own safety. She really couldn‟t see what hit her. Saul did. He had been leaving his house at the time. Furious with the DIY Sarah had told him to sort or there would be no more “room christening”, he had slammed his front door at the very moment the BMW tossed the young woman over its sleek body like a dog playing with a rag doll. He had been pissed off with his wife telling him to get the odd jobs done, even though she knew he was useless at such things. “We look like squatters”, she‟d groaned in exaggerated frustration and so with the threat of more moaning and no sex, Saul had felt he had no choice but to secede - the final straw had been his struggles with the mirror making him late for his shift at the local Morrisons. Spitting “Fucking mirrors” as the brass knocker bounced off the wood, he‟d turned to see the woman pirouette and spin over the car‟s roof as though it was all just a performance. A one-off show, just for him. Pretty legs and arms were yanked out of sockets as she performed her mid-air jive. All were broken as she failed her landing and slammed into the tarmac. Transfixed by what was taking place only a few feet before him, by the time Saul reached her deformed body the car was gone and the scene branded to his memories. Immediate movements afterwards were automatic and mechanical; when he first dreamed about it he thought he looked like a newbie actor on the set of a crappy soap opera. There had been an ambulance and police. Statements were made; questions asked. Did he see the driver? (No.) Did he remember the registration plate? (Didn‟t see

it.) Did he try to resuscitate? (No.) Why not? (It was clear she was already dead.) He knew more were asked but he couldn‟t remember what or if he answered them. The only thing he could tell them for certain was the shade of her red dress. A smart crimson corroding as it soaked up her blood. An hour after the police had left, Sarah opened the front door and felt the heat of anticipated frustration at the sight greeting her. His tools littered the hallway at the foot of the stairs. Believing him at work, she began contemplated the bollocking he would receive when he returned home after his shift. She gingerly stepped over and pushed aside screwdrivers, a drill and its broken bits, dozens of screws and ruined rawlplugs. It was a god-damn disgrace! How could he leave everything like this? But at least her mirror was on the wall. Her precious mirror. Her “fucking mirror”. A shame hubby had hung it up wrong: skeewiff and covered in greasy thumbprints It wasn‟t like any other mirror she‟d ever seen: 18 individual blocks overlapping each other in 7 rows: 3 over 2 over 3 over 2 over 3 over 2 over 3. Each block was the size of a house brick and half-an-inch thick. The spaces in-between the bricks were like 2 inches of invisible grout. When Sarah found it in the knick-knack shop, she bought it without a second thought - despite Saul‟s protestations about his DIY skills. He told her about the shelves he‟d hung up in his first house that were so rickety he ended up using No-More-Nails to glue them to the wallpaper. He revealed how he‟d been forced to drop Design and Technology at school for Home Economics because the teachers thought there was less chance of him being sent home with missing limbs if he used a needle as opposed to a saw. “But you can‟t even sew a button on your jacket,” she‟d said, amazed by this little revelation. “Exactly,” he‟d replied, “which gives you an idea as to how shit I was at woodwork. Can‟t you just get a normal mirror? One that hangs off a nail with a piece of string instead of something weighing half-a-ton and has to be screwed to the wall? You know, one that won‟t need a spirit level and drill?” But one of the things Saul loved about his wife was her determination – when she wanted something, she got it. And she was adamant she wanted the mirror. So she bought it. Only one of Saul‟s arguments reached her. Handing the money over to the dumpy girl behind the counter, he‟d whispered to her that he thought it looked like “18 shards of broken glass

glued together. A lifetime of bad luck”. Giving it a moment‟s thought (was it really a broken mirror? Could the separate pieces be seen as broken?), she shrugged the comment off as he reluctance to work. “We‟d better get some lucky heather then, hadn‟t we?” She laughed, he grumbled, the mirror was carried to the car and the heather forgotten. Discovering it had been hung with a serious lean to the right and the tools discarded beneath it, she walked into the lounge, preparing herself for the fight to come. “Jesus, Saul. What‟s happened? What‟s happened to your head?” He was sitting on the sofa, his head in his hands. Looking up, he expected to see the liquorice-coloured hair of the slender woman he‟d married only three years before but instead found the dead girl‟s ruined face floating before her. He should have jumped; should have been shocked and screamed or even run but instead he cried. For the first time in years he felt a tear slip down his cheek and lose itself in his beard. “Saul! Didn‟t you hear me? I said, what‟s happened to your head?” His wife‟s words slipped from the girl‟s bloodied mouth. He couldn‟t look at her. He knew it was the shock making him see things; making him react in this way but knowing didn‟t make it any easier. Looking down, turning his eyes from the living and the dead, he rubbed the tender duck-egg lump sticking out of the top of his balding cranium. “That? That‟s where your fucking mirror fell on me.” She sat next to him. With her arm around his shoulders, he blurted everything out about the hit and run and how useless he‟d felt with a dead woman at his feet. He told her about the blood and the pieces of chipped skull and how grey a human brain really is. Spitting it all out at her as though it were caustic bile, he rocked on the seat, something he hadn‟t done since he was a child being bollocked by his parents. He could feel himself regressing. And all the time the girl‟s face hovered before Sarah‟s. His shock peaked when Sarah cried and the dead girl smiled. That had been a week ago, and though he could now see his wife‟s pixie face as easily as he had on their first date, he still saw the girl. Still saw her lying on the road. But he could deal with it. He was a man. It‟s what men do. It was a memory and it memories fade with time.

Everything changed the morning Sarah forced him to put the mirror up again – only this time level. As her husband‟s battle scar faded and the lump‟s severity eased, so did her sympathy – and impatience filled the void. He had a day off. He could put it right. But even second time round he failed to manoeuvre the misshapen thing without getting injured: it bounced off the first lump, forming a duplicate. The hooks slipped from the screws as he lifted it, forcing him to hold the dead weight – something that might have been easier to do if his hands weren‟t covered in margarine from his breakfast. Backing away from the wall, the mirror slid from his grip, swinging into him, using his hands as a pivot. Again, he slumped to the ground, his wife‟s pride and joy weighing down on his chest. “Oh for fuck‟s sake,” he cursed, rubbing at the fresh cut atop of his head. “The fucking thing‟s going back where it was and if she wants it different, she can pay some other poor bastard to do it!” Wiping his hands, he lifted the cumbersome bastard, placing it back on the hooks. Again it leaned down on the right as though it had suffered a stroke. That was when he saw it. In the first block. Top left. 1 of 18. Starting point. Collect £200. Don‟t bother considering jail; just grab your cash and go. The hit and run. Blonde girl lying dead at his feet The whole thing was being replayed over and over again in the rectangular box. He watched it. Gawped at it. His whole world became transfixed on that nine by four inch piece of glass. Time and time again the car flung her over its metal shell; displaying her carcass like a sacrificial goat. It would start with the impact and end with his standing over her. Helpless Stumbling, he stepped back from the mirror. Though his eyes refused to leave the movie, he walked backwards, moving from the hallway into the lounge. He stopped when he hit the armchair, falling over the arm into its cushioned embrace. Righting himself, he focused back onto the mirror through the separating doorway and still the same scene replayed itself for him, over and over again. “What the hell is wrong with me?” he whispered, rubbing his head‟s fresh bump in wonder. Nausea washed through him as the pain and confusion filling his head reached his stomach. Leaking sweat, he stood, staggering from the amber lounge, through the yellow dining room and into the white kitchen beyond. Grabbing a clean glass from

the sink‟s drain board, he filled it from the tap and swallowed the pint of cold water in five gulps, refusing to take air until the drink was no more – after which he repeated the process. Gasping, he dumped the glass in the sink and made his way back to the lounge. He wanted to look at it again; wanted to make sure his foolishness had passed, but his approach slowed the closer he edged. Moving beyond the leather settee, his legs became heavier. It felt as though the two pints of water he‟d consumed had sunk into his ankles and become lead en-route. Slumping into the sofa, he sweated as though he‟d just eaten a hot chilli and panted like a chronic asthmatic. “What the hell‟s going on with me?” he asked the room, his dross Birmingham accent bouncing off plastered walls. The tension had him. He felt as rigid as a stretched steel cable. Reaching over to the domineering television in the room‟s corner, he switched it on, mindful of what hung on the wall beyond the doorway. It was all the knock on the head; all the knock on the head. His thoughts were loud, cumbersome. They gave him a headache. Pictures played before him. Soap operas, adverts, debates. He searched with the remote and found Sky News. A pretty reporter was reading an article about a murdered teenager from last year. Her murderer today convicted; sentenced to life without parole. Stuffing a bound, pretty fourteen-year-old school girl into a bag and throwing her into the middle of a bonfire (whilst still alive) proving enough the ensure the nineteen-year-old boy would never know the luxury of freedom again. Saul turned it off, his hot cheeks puffed out as though belching away bile residue. There was enough sickness in his head without adding to it. He could have turned over; found something light-hearted to make him feel better. Something like old episodes of The Simpsons or Porridge. But suddenly, searching through the channels seemed too much like hard work. The need to be distracted just wasn‟t what he wanted anymore. So he stood and paced, his legs working exactly as they should have done only a few seconds before. He trampled the lounge and dining room carpets, fighting the urge to do what he knew he wanted to. But it was only a matter of time. He approached the mirror. Curiosity needed an audience. She was still there. Her lifeless body continuing to mock him as it twisted in midair like someone trying to be an expert gymnast. But the scene Saul was gauping at. His eyes were focused on the second block. The one next to the flying girl. It contained a recognisable face. A girl. In her early teens. A girl wearing the tattered remains of her school uniform. A girl crying. Pleading. He watched a handkerchief tied around her mouth. A hessian sack shuffled over her head.

It was her. It was the girl on the television. The dead girl. These were her last moments. Before he killed her. The boy. Saul watched. Watched her teenage murderer drag the cloth holdall containing the girl; heaving it from the dank cellar where he‟d held her. He shuffled her along concrete, gravel and grass where the crude bonfire was already burning away; black tyres lying within the flames like the charred remains of other victims. He manoeuvred as close as he could to the pyre before hauling the bag and its contents into the sacrificial blaze. The moment the fire ate away the least shreds of the sack to reveal her dead scream beneath melting eyes, the scene returned to her in the room. Crouching. Tearful. Alive. He dashed up the stairs, into the bathroom and puked up the water and as much bile as his stomach could muster. He heaved till there was no more to give, rested his head against the toilet‟s cool porcelain and felt his midriff‟s taut muscles groan with recovery. The girl‟s blackened face took form in his dark vomit; her dead eyes staring up at him from the foam crust. He wretched some more, his guts crying out in agony as it found more from within to distort her foul image. He knelt there for a further ten minutes, his guts wrenching whenever he pictured the girl‟s anguish, her helplessness swarming before him like a wasp over a picnic. What the fuck was happening? He stood, rinsing his face and neck with cool water. Emerging from the bathroom with water dripping over his sunset-orange shirt he appeared as though he were melting. From the bathroom door at the top of the stairs he could see the mirror‟s side profile, staring out from the hallway‟s cream wall into the lounge. Alongside it, directly opposite the stairs stood the front door; a talisman; an exit and entrance all in one. Suddenly Saul wanted out of there. Out of the house, out of the street, out of the village. He could climb into his car and drive. Take himself somewhere, anywhere as long as it was miles away. He could find a pub and get pissed. Call Sarah and have her pick him up whenever he felt ready. Maybe he could pull up at a hotel; disguise his fleeing as a romantic surprise for his beautiful wife. Maybe. The trouble was, to get out of the house, he would have to venture past the mirror and he wasn‟t sure he could quite do that. Not yet.

So he was trapped. This was madness. Irrational panic attacks weren‟t his style. The idea of being stuck upstairs because he was too frightened to walk past a mirror was ridiculous. And yet he couldn‟t help it. He didn‟t know what was going on and he was scared. Terrified. Ever since the woman‟s road accident, he‟d been accompanied by her ghost. She‟d been there in his sleep, in his dreams; whenever he was sat on the toilet; walking around the house; unpacking shopping. Everywhere. But since finding the murder in the mirror, she was nowhere. No longer his passenger in a car ride he‟d had no idea he was undertaking. He didn‟t really think she was a ghost – the rational part of his brain told him she was part of the guilt he‟d forced upon himself for not being able to help her – but now, now she seemed to be trapped within the mirror‟s frame. Was that a good thing? How could it be a good thing? Her spirit was still there in the mirror, mocking him every time he looked at his reflection. And now there was another one. Another girl dragged into her world! At least when it was just the hit and run he could have done something about it: sought therapy or get hooked on anti-depressants. But what could he do to get rid of the image of someone he had no affiliation with; no knowledge of her existence until he saw it on the news? Her death was being replayed as though it were some non-stop animation. Both of them were. What was the message? What did they want. It wasn‟t as if they wanted him to solve their deaths – neither mirror showed the killer and besides, the second one had already been found guilty – so why were they doing this to him? The phone rang, calling time on his mania. The repeating shrill was a reminder of reality. All thoughts of ghosts and possessed mirrors were lost. „I‟m just tired,‟ he whispered. „Not slept properly since the accident. Will see the doctor.‟ He walked across the landing and grabbed the phone from the bedside table. Sitting on the bed, his muscles relaxed with the normality of simply answering a call. “Saul? Where were you? You took ages to answer” Sarah asked, her voice shaking with concern. “I was… I was in the loo,” he lied. “Why? What‟s wrong?” “Nothing‟s wrong, really. I‟ve just got some news for you.” She sounded excited. Saul lay back on the bed, sank into the red duvet and prepared himself for her tale. “Go on. What‟s happened?” “You know Sammy?” “No.”

“Of course you do. Sammy. Sammy Turner. She‟s the girl who‟s pregnant and whose brother got locked-up last week for GBH. The girl who lost her top at the Christmas do.” “Oh yes. Yes I remember Sammy,” Saul pictured a drunk girl standing on a table, the MDF top struggling with the hefty girl‟s weight. She was twirling a sparkly bra over her head, showing the whole room the luminous veins erupting out from behind ruby nipples as big as Saul‟s mouth. “Well, her boyfriend got set upon last night. Six hoodies grabbed him at a cash point. He‟s in hospital with broken ribs and his head caved in.” “Jesus,” Saul wheezed, shocked by the news. “Where did this happen?” “Outside the Bridge Pub in town.” Suddenly Saul wasn‟t so shocked or surprised by the news. Only an idiot would use a hole-in-the-wall in Bridge Street. Christ, the place had become so notorious for its violence, it had featured in a special on an innertown violence special on Sky News only six months previously. “Frigging hell. What was he doing getting cash out on Bridge Street? The place is bleeding lethal.” “What do you expect from someone dating Sammy. He‟s hardly going to be brain of Britain.” Saul remembered having a conversation with Sammy on the night she lost her bra. They‟d talked about favourite books and films. She hadn‟t read a book since leaving school but had a ritual to watch Dirty Dancing and Pretty Woman on alternate weekends. “Yeah. I see what you mean,” he said. “Anything else?” he asked, already past caring about the health of someone who was foolish enough to enter a war zone and take the piss. “Yes. I‟m sorry, darling, but I‟m going to be late home tonight.” “What? Again? You‟ve been home late most nights this last six months. What‟s happening at that place? Is it going to go under if you don‟t hang around every other night? Bleeding hell, Sarah, I‟ve seen less of you than I have my mother in recent times – and she‟s dead!” “You know I need to be here,” Sarah answered sternly. “The contract for Punch Taverns is a massive one and if we keep on top of it for these next few months, we‟ll be set for at least five years – and that‟s even if we don‟t get any other business in! You know as well as I do that their executives keep changing their minds. What‟s agreed on a drawing on Monday isn‟t necessarily going to be okay cum Wednesday. Anyway, I don‟t hear you complaining when you‟re spending the money I bring in on your DVDs

and books. Suddenly late night meetings are fine when you‟ve got a film or novel in your hands.” “I know, I know,” Saul guiltily replied. “It‟s just, well, sometimes, sometimes it‟d be nice to share a meal together. It feels like it‟s so long since we last did, I‟m not sure I can eat in front of an another person anymore.” Saul hated the sorrow in his voice but it helped to deflect away from the notion that Sarah‟s money provided him with a lifestyle he had become accustomed. One in which he didn‟t have to go out and take on a job involving responsibility. Stacking shelves in a supermarket gave him a stressfree life. Sarah, on the other hand, as one of the leading architects in a small-town firm, had to take a lot of shit from jumped-up tossers with no idea how lucky they were to have such a talented woman working her damndest for them. “Look,” Sarah said, obviously tired of Saul‟s self-pity. “We‟ll go away this weekend. Bugger off to the coast for some dirty-loving like we used to do before we married. I‟ll make sure I‟ve enough completed so I‟m not bringing my work home with me and we‟ll disappear to Blackpool or Skegness or wherever and we‟ll admire the hotel room‟s ceiling. How does that sound?” “Fucking beautiful,” Saul exclaimed. “I‟m supposed to be working Saturday, but I‟ll pull a sicky. I‟m due one so no one will care, and we can vanish to some shitty Band-B and go at it like rabbits.” “I thought the idea of spontaneous sex might cheer you up. Right, I‟ve got to go. I don‟t know what time I‟ll be home, but if it‟s any later than eight, I‟ll give you a call. Speak to you later.” She hung up before Saul had a chance to say goodbye. Saul stood and left the bedroom, his mind searching for a dingy seaside hotel. He wandered down the stairs, his earlier fears forgotten. He reached the mirror. He went to walk past it. He stopped. Blocks one and two continued with their movies unabated, but they were accompanied by two others. In the third, completing the top row, Saul watched someone at a cash point in Bridge Street being kicked and beaten by six teenagers in hoods. He didn‟t need a Mensa membership to know this was Sammy‟s boyfriend receiving his beating. But Saul didn‟t care about him and the way he lay helpless as they stamped on his head. His attention was transfixed on the first brick in the second row. The brick that showed a couple having sex. The woman was bent over an office desk, her skirt lifted up over her pale backside, her lowered thong cuffing her knees together. The man, his face hidden in shadow, was pushing himself into her, back and forth,

robotically fucking the girl. His trousers were still up around his waist, his unseen erection the only part of him he‟d chosen to expose. It was as though he were performing a quick favour in-between jobs. A quick service between meetings. Saul thought Sarah‟s look of bliss was the most sickening image he had ever seen. Her eyes were closed, turned slightly towards her partner, her mouth open with silent screams. The man held her dark hair, pulling her head back, arching her so she could feel every inch of him inside her. It had been a while since Saul had seen his wife orgasm, but he recognised it now. Unwavering dedication to their job throughout their three-year marriage had snuffed out their once-strong flame. A friend had once said that if he put a penny in a jar each time he had sex for the first six months of marriage, and took a penny out every time he had sex from then on, the jar would never be empty. Saul‟s jar had been over-spilling for the first twelve months. Since then, he‟d probably spent less than fifty pence. And yet the mirror told him Sarah was still filling the jar. Surely this wasn‟t real? The pictures? The images? Surely they were just in his head. The rest of the mirror reflected what it could see of Saul – a broken man struggling with the tragedy that had taken place outside of his doorstep only a week ago and a marriage suffering because of his wife‟s dedication to her work. But did that mean he had the ability to see the horror taking place in the lives of others? Did that mean he could watch a girl getting abducted, a man getting beaten and his wife…? His wife… He stumbled away from the mirror. Like before he staggering into the living room. He needed noise. He needed a distraction. He needed normality. The television again. Sky news: a bombing in Afghanistan; a student‟s murder on Hampstead Heath; an elderly lady mugged in her own home; the economic downturn leading to the highest rate of suicides in a decade; a prostitute is raped; the famous face of an equally famous charity is being paid to be its front, despite telling the world he does it for free. All of these derelictions of duty, these ruinations of life. Each one happening before Saul. 2D images dancing along to the director‟s tune. He‟d been desperate to shed himself from everything he‟d seen within the mirror – especially, more than anything else, more than the murder, the torture and the blood, he‟d wanted the

images of his wife enjoying sex with someone else erased from his mind - but all he found were more reasons to dread looking into it. He couldn‟t look at the mirror. It didn‟t matter if all this was real or not, he couldn‟t look at the mirror. He stood up and walked into the hallway. A junkie drawn to a hit. They were all there. Bombing, rape, torture, burglary, abduction and suicide. Every one of the mirror‟s blocks contained a horror. He no longer saw his reflection. Only the carnage. Only the unravelling of madness. And his wife. His wife was still in that same box, being fucked by the stranger time and time again; coming, time and time again. Mocking his manhood. Raping his pride. Her cunt being filled in a way he never could. The only time Sarah had cum in their bed had been when he‟d used his tongue on her; he‟d never been able to make her orgasm via intercourse. For him, the act was simply impossible, no matter what position they tried. But there was this man. This stranger. Screwing Sarah, his dick hard and deep inside her, making her scream with pleasure. Making her come! Making her come! And the more he watched, the more he questioned. Was that his biggest issue here? Was he that shallow? Did making his wife orgasm really mean that much to him? Or was it the adultery? The act of being unfaithful to him. Of lying and being deceitful. And what of the other blocks and their visions? What about the idea he could see things happening that were impossible? How could he know what the carnage following an Afghanistan bombing looked like? How did he know about the details of the girl‟s abduction? The old woman‟s mugging? He could justify seeing the road accident – he was still traumatised by the whole thing; still trying to come to terms with the idea that someone could have been killed before him while he did nothing about it and the killer got away. But what about the rest of them? There was no justification for their existence. How could he see a street-walker‟s rape when he knew nothing about her, where it happened or how many attacked her? Surely that‟s stretching the imagination beyond the borders of acceptability? But there they were. All of them. What should he do about them? Should he tell the police? Give them details about the crimes that only the perpetrator would know? How could he? No one else might be able to see the images and if that were the case, then there would only be one

outcome. It didn‟t matter if he had watertight alibis they would find some way of making him pay. Of pinning at least one of the crimes on him and telling the world the man responsible for them all now sat in a prison cell. He couldn‟t do that. He couldn‟t take the blame for someone else. They would be getting away with rape; away with murder. And his life would be over. But according to the last block, it already was. This window didn‟t show what had happened. It showed something else, something truly unknown: the future. Something Saul would be doing. Soon. But he couldn‟t accept it. He wouldn‟t do it. No matter how much anger or hatred or betrayal he felt, he couldn‟t bring himself to do that. It wasn‟t in his nature – was it? He had never felt that way before; never felt the urge to do something so… something so selfish. Again he tortured himself with his wife‟s pornographic images; the scene repeating itself over and over. The question of how Sarah could do something so selfish raised itself. “Did she suck him off?” he asked out loud. “Did she swallow his cum and then come home and kiss me on the lips? With his seed drying on her mouth, did she place her lips over mine and make me kiss his spunk?” He paced about the hallway, talking to himself, his words and actions growing ever wilder. He would furtively look up at his wife as she lowered her knickers, bent over the desk and the unseen man lifted up her skirt before ramming himself into her. “Did she take it up the ass? Did she lick his balls? Did she suck his shaft dry of her cum? What about rimming his arsehole? Did she stick her tongue up in his arse and then come home and kiss me? Washing her tongue clean on mine?” “Did she? Did she? “Did-fucking-she?” He screamed. He screamed as loud as he had ever screamed before. His voice reached out to the gods. Hot tears scalded his cheeks. Veins swelled with the flush of blood, his heart raced to keep up with his anger. He yelled in one continuous bellow like an enraged bear. He turned and punched the mirror. Still intact, it rocked gently on the un-level screws. “Fuck you,” he spat, turning away from the hallway and stomping into the lounge. “Fuck you, you fucking fuck!.” Through to the dining room and into the kitchen. He opened the drawer and walked back up to the mirror. “What do you want to see? Huh? What do you want? Well fuck you, because it ain‟t happening.”

He smashed the wooden meat hammer into each individual mirrored block, shattering the glass and the scene it carried into hundreds of jagged pieces. A murder split into pieces; a mugging ripped apart. He hit the mirror with all of his effort, thrashing out his hatred on the evil thing. He thrust all of his weight into the blows, fucking the mirror as hard as the stranger had fucked his wife. He threw himself against it, breaking and breaking and breaking it, smashing it to smithereens. It came as no surprise when the hooks jumped off the screws. The shattered mirror tumbled onto Saul, the dead weight knocking him flat onto a carpet of glass. Five shards stuck into him: one in his eye, one in his mouth, another in his throat and the remaining two in his shoulders. The amount of blood was intense, pumped by the anger and hatred still filling his heart. Walls, carpets, ceiling and doors were splattered in violent crimson eruptions, their painted surfaces all becoming one. A myriad of screens reflected the scene; the glass fragments and blades giving Saul‟s dying eye a complete view of his ending. He didn‟t die immediately. Whoever felt his time on this earth was due to end also felt he needed to suffer a bit more. Slowly left this world. The mirrored piece that punctured his eye had come from his wife‟s foul block. If he had the ability to, Saul would have given out a belly laugh to accompany the irony. As it was, he managed a grin and gurgled, “Bastard thing.”

After spending too many years wasting his time as an architect, Shaun Hamilton one day decided to go back to his first love: writing. His primary aim was to have a story published before his 30th birthday, which he managed to achieve in 2004 with only days to spare. Since then he has maintained a steady pace with stories published in print magazines and ezines both in the UK and US. 2012 will see two collections of his work published: the first with Screaming Dreams Press, and the second with Pendragon. He is currently working on a number of stories and his novel, which he is writing in conjunction with the London School of Journalism. Contributor for the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog, he finds it rather apt that his work has been accepted by Crack The Spine, given that his own spine has a large amount of metalwork in it.

Reverie By April Avalon I am breaking the vast glassy surface of make-believe seas, As the moonlight is cutting the throat of scarlet sunrise, I am screaming my heart out loud, I need to release All my silently bitter emotions. I pray to the skies To remain in this world for a lifetime and ruin it then, In this perfect small drunken creation, in my fairytale, In the land that's beyond now and never, some time and nowhen And indulge in the smell of tranquility I can inhale, Where the past in a twist with the present and future unknown Is revealed in the blossom of orchids and blue camomiles, Mighty lightnings of fate never strike in this land of my own, In this place I'm the only survivor. I'll stay for a while, Till you come to my shelter and sing me a love serenade, As you own the key to the gates, and the key is my heart, First you gift me a dream, then you steal it from me, then you fade, And I wake. It's another new day. It's another new start.

White on White By April Avalon Blank papers of bitter today Do treasure the words white on white; If they are forbidden to say, Then my privilege is to write. I choke on the poison I've drunk, The root of my love is in grief; I'm learning the foreigners' tongue To perpetuate my belief. The strength of my weakness denies The myth only half proven true; The lines that I can't recognize One day were composed by you. The sequel could come to an end, But sanity claims it's too late, I take all the pain to defend The worlds my illusions create.

April has been writing for almost five years, getting inspiration from various experiences seen by the eyes of a thinker. The purpose of her creativity is urging people to see beyond the bounds, to be themselves, to speak their minds loud, not to be afraid to differ from the crowd.

Final Things (The Break Up) By Ariana D. Den Bleyker We swim atop the moon, you and I stroking our arms across its face and its dusty seas, our fingers coming up thick with final things as we crack our backs against the stars in the gentle curving of belly and thigh, our two bodies burning brightly as a fuse across the landscape, diving into the armpits of the night where the manipulations of newly budding dehydrations awake a pair of molting garden snakes in our light so that they can say something legless to the promises you made me that have fallen with us from the sky, their fractured existence proof you don't love me-and if there is a girl you ever loved, she has already gone on to someone who can better provide for her. Fact is, no poem can put us right, something so cynical and beautiful, everything in its beauty dirty and sweet but beyond that, nothing. Ariana D. Den Bleyker is a Pittsburgh native currently residing in a small town in New York where she is a wife and mother of two. She earned her B.A. in English at William Paterson University. Her work has appeared (or is slated to appear) in scissors and spackle, Stone Highway Review, Golden Sparrow Literary Review, Grey Sparrow Press and other fine journals. Her chapbook, Forgetting Aesop, was recently released by the publishers of scissors and spackle.

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Crack the Spine - Issue 8  

Literary Magazine

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