Crack the Spine - Issue 134

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Crack the Spine Literary magazine

Issue 134

Issue 134 November 26, 2014 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2014 by Crack the Spine

Cover Art: “Los Angeles Sunset� by Allen Forrest Born in Canada and bred in the U.S., Allen Forrest works in many mediums: oil painting, computer graphics, theater, digital music, film, and video. Allen studied acting at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles, digital media in art and design at Bellevue College, receiving degrees in Web Multimedia Authoring and Digital Video Production. Forrest has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications: New Plains Review, Pilgrimage Press, The MacGuffin, Blotterature, Gargoyle Magazine, his paintings have been commissioned and are on display in the Bellevue College Foundation's permanent art collection. Forrest's expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh creating emotion on canvas.


Bobby Gilliland Righteous Underfoot

Priscilla Frake Sunday Afternoon s

Julie Wittes Schlack Power Lines

S.M. Ellis The Way We Got Here

T.A. Stanley A Guide on Loving Him

Joddy Murray Blue Agave, Moistened

Rachel Welch The Dreadful Anticipation

Bobby Gilliland Righteous Underfoot

Marcia’s penmanship is absolutely stunning. Reading one of her handwritten notes is like holding a delicate pen and ink drawing on rice paper in your hands. I hate to criticize but her spelling is absolutely awful, and that detracts from the beauty of it all, if you are so inclined. The girl can’t help it, she went to school in these parts. It’s probably a miracle she even knows how to handle a writing instrument. I normally wouldn’t have been interested in a woman like Marcia. She’s too insecure and plain for my taste. My opinion of her changed when I heard talk around town concerning where she went to church. I had always wanted to attend one of their services. I saw her as my way in. I couldn’t outright flirt, she was far too jumpy and standoffish for

something like that to work. It took subtle hints, lies, and fake body language to sneak my way into her thought process. I made her feel as though I were reaching out to her. The only way I could have lied more would have been to say, “I love you.” My scheming finally paid off and she took a chance. Stuffed into my change one Friday was the first note she ever wrote to me. It said I needed to be at the old abandoned store on highway 9, at ten o’clock. She would meet me on the steps at the front door. I knew to be discreet but she felt the need to actually tell me so, as if I didn’t know this already, “Be derscreet.” she wrote. The poor little thing is simply too country for her own good. I couldn’t help but laugh at it. The following Sunday I went to the service. I pulled into the dusty little

parking lot behind the old cinderblock building that they were renting. People were looking at me before I even got out of the car. It was a car no one recognized and suspicions were aroused. I found Marcia exactly where she said she’d be, at the steps for the front door. She quietly whispered instructions into my ear when I stood beside her. “Sit in the back row and don’t bring attention to yourself.” She was out of breath and sounded oddly excited. She looked more skittish than normal, like she was about to jump out of her skin. “Wait for me when the service is over. Don’t expect a lot.” I felt the peach fuzz sway inside my ear when she breathed the consonants as the air moved from her mouth to my body. I sat in the pew on the last row. Many heads turned to stare at me before the service began. Some stink eye looks shot in my direction from

squat, round women with faint moustaches. Beanpole thin men with hunched shoulders stared at me coldly while they spoke under their breath to their wives sitting next to them. Men took to the dais and strapped on electric guitars and the music started. They played a 12 bar progression like in a blues song, but in a major key. Each cycle of the repeating progression became a little louder and more joyous with each pass. People began to clap, some danced, some raised their arms and shouted at the ceiling. The groove was hypnotic and at the climatic moment carried through the end of the song with shouts of “Praise the Lord” as the service began. I was expecting a fire and brimstone sermon and I heard exactly what I thought I’d hear. I’m a recovering Baptist, I know all about

this type of hard sell, it’s familiar territory for me. This preacher had a nice yodel to start each sentence and made a grunt to end it in a descending tone. He took in huge audible gulps of air between each line. This one was a good showman and he really knew how to push the goods. Things were becoming more spirited and the heat of the air was beginning to make me lightheaded. The windows were painted over to keep prying eyes from spying into the room and that gave it a claustrophobic feel. One tall fan at the front of the congregation and one blowing from the back of the room only circulated warm, humid air. I could smell clean clothes when the service began and now I could smell the rising odor of sweat. Half the congregation was standing with their arms raised high. I saw Marcia pop up from her place on the aisle a few pews in front of me. Her

dark red hair, which many people say is stringy, was shimmering and falling in straight, perfect cascades down her back as she leapt into the air. I hadn’t realized just how ill fitting her thin yellow dress was until this moment. The light fabric bunched in places where it hung loose. The hem fluttered up and down like a waving flag against the back of her knees, its fabric limp from too many washings. She was, for the first time in my eyes, the most oddly beautiful creature I had ever seen. The last few months I’d been playing a wicked game. My ulterior motive behind all the plotting and lies, some big and some white, was to simply attend this service. Now I was in the presence of a woman fully engulfed by the Holy Spirit. I was genuinely moved by her loss of self-consciousness and guilt filled my belly. I used this woman by preying on her sensitivity to gain a

personal goal. I didn’t do this for growth of my soul, I did it for selfish curiosity. I’m a Marine combat veteran and this felt almost as bad as anything I had done during my hitch. I looked down at the concrete floor in shame. My eyes were soon drawn to her milky white legs. She had kicked off her shoes and there before me were two of the biggest feet I have ever seen in my life. They had to be at least 12 inches long and no more than 3 inches across at the ball. How could such a skinny, petite woman have such oddly shaped feet that were this huge? Her toes were spread wide and they griped the hard concrete floor with each leap and pirouette. The toes seemed to be as long as a small child’s fingers. I was completely mesmerized by the strange sight, and I have to admit I was beginning to feel physically aroused. Any guilt and

shame I felt were quickly lost. She was now speaking in tongues. Her head rolled backward onto her shoulders. She looked as though she were prepared for God himself to drop ripe grapes into her mouth from the heavens above. Her slender fingers were pointing wildly and her arms were reaching backwards to balance herself. One of the mustachioed women in the pew in front of Marcia stood. She threw a hand into the air like she was swearing to take the stand and expanded on what Marcia was saying in her strange, indeterminate language. “Salvation is assured for those who bathe in the blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. His is the only way to salvation.” the troll woman shouted. “Praise Jesus and his glories!” Marcia kept going for many minutes before her confused translator fell back into the hard pew with an

exhausted look on her face. Time felt as though it moved forward in one huge bounding movement. The service was winding down. The congregation began to find their seats again. Some clustered into small bunches and embraced each other. I checked my watch and this had been going on for almost two hours. We were now at the postcoitus phase. The heavy velvet drapes behind the pulpit were never pulled back. I didn’t get the full display of their faith, but I was hoping my low-key presence would grant an opportunity to return. I walked to the front door next to Marcia and we spoke briefly with the pastor. I told him I loved the sermon and lied once more. “First time I’ve felt the power of the Lord inside a church in years preacher.” I said as I leaned in close to say my words softly. “I believe I’d like to return if y’all will have me.”

Working in a knitting mill gives wire-y framed men like this preacher, a death grip strength with their hands. He grabbed my shoulder and squeezed hard, while shaking strong and firm with the other. The preacher was a hard worker in and out of his church. He spoke with humility. “Brother. Jesus loves you, so will we.” I could smell cigarettes and Listerine on his breath. “We’re just glad our sister Marcia found a good soul to bring into the flock.” and he winked at her. Marcia’s face was a mix of dry and glistening streaks. The sweat was drying but still there were places where sweat ran down as her body tried to cool itself. We walked to the corner of the church. Her silence and nervousness made me feel awkward. This is why she’s known in town as “that strange little gal down at the Piggly Wiggly.”

She finally spoke without looking into my eyes as she extended her hand to shake mine. “When I see you Friday I’ll tell you if you can come back.” Another note was passed into my hand as we shook hands. I told her I would see her at the store on Friday. I drove half way to town before I finally pulled to the side of the road so I could read her new message. I commented out loud as the engine idled. “Good gracious alive, look at how beautiful those looping letters are. This girl could be a calligrapher if she learned how to spell, use capitalization, and understood punctuation.” In one long, run on sentence she said I should return to the church at exactly midnight. She said there was a secret to share with me. A secret she could tell none of her brother and sister parishioners. She explained I was to pull my car

around back with the headlights turned off so as to not draw attention to my presence, and approach the back door. She spelled attention as “at ten son.” Poor little thing just can’t spell to save her life. When I got home I turned on the air conditioner in the bedroom and after it was cool enough to lie on the bed I took an afternoon nap. I wanted to be alert and ready for the midnight meeting. As I lay there I asked myself if I would burn in hell for the charade I was presenting. I was jumping through too many hoops of logic and propriety to simply attend a single sermon. I don’t know what to believe when it comes to churches and their faiths. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in God. Life is like shrapnel from an explosion, tearing flesh and maiming the innocent. Somebody or something has to be in charge. Otherwise a chain reaction of savagery would go critical

causing us all to indiscriminately stomp each other’s guts out. The process of turning that faith in God and making it a process for living though, is what has always troubled me. In my mind, Marcia’s people were different than the rest of us animals. They took faith and actually did something about it. I slept like a baby until late in the evening in spite of my evil. I worried about my car being seen behind the church by patrolling county deputies, or just some passerby. The fear of answering questions of why I was there, if I had been caught, weighed on my mind. I was tense and on guard. I didn’t know why she wanted me to return to the church that night. Marcia was an unknown to me and most people who talked about her commented on how unsettled and unpredictable she was. This began to worry me. Was she unstable? I felt

concerned but intrigued about the mystery she hinted at. I could feel my heart pounding as I pulled into the dusty parking lot with my headlights turned off. As I approached the back door it slowly opened just wide enough for me to fit through. I couldn’t see Marcia until after I crossed the threshold. I heard the door shut and her heavy breath behind me. A bead of sweat rolled down my spine. “Just walk down the hall and wait for me where you see the light coming from a doorway.” She spoke with an assured tone and I followed her instructions. I waited for what seemed like minutes at the door while my eyes adjusted to the light levels in the room. The doorway led out into the main floor of the church. I saw several lit candles sitting atop stands in the main room that were evenly spaced. Their light didn’t reach far and I could only

make out the general shape of the front row pew. I felt her presence behind me. “Go to the pulpit and look back toward where we are now standing.” I did what I was told. One large unlit candle sat on the dais where the minister would keep his notes. I looked back and saw Marcia bathed in light from the first candle near the door. She still had on the yellow dress from the morning service. In the loudest voice I had ever heard her use, she spoke to me from across the church floor. “Do you know Eula Mae Harper?” she asked. There was a beautiful lilt in her voice. I replied that I didn’t know Ms. Harper. “She was the woman who sat in front of me for this morning’s service.” Marcia now spoke in strong, confident tones. She was an entirely

different person from the one I had barely come to know. “Old Eula Mae was acting out this morning. Lying through her teeth. She didn’t understand a single thing I said.” Marcia shifted her weight onto her back foot. She drew the leg in front into a position as if she were wearing a slit skirt and she wanted to show me her thigh. “I didn’t say none of that stuff Eula Mae said. Want me to tell you what I actually said?” My voice cracked, “Yes.” My mouth was dry but my throat was sticky with phlegm because I was nervous. “I speak in tongues every week and never know what I am saying. It just comes out of my mouth and there’s no sense in it. But this morning was different. This morning I understood exactly what I was saying. For a moment I was scared I had actually said it in English.” With one foot in front of the other,

Marcia began to walk toward me. It was a slow and seductive walk. Her hips, and I didn’t know she had hips until that moment, rolled from side to side with each step. Candlelight made her red hair glow and glimmer. “I said the words spoken through me by God almighty. He allowed me to understand them as they passed through my throat.” Her eyes were normally as wide and round as saucers, like she was startled, but now her eyes narrowed and focused. She looked directly at my face and this was completely different than how she normally acted. I had never seen her look at another person’s face as she spoke, certainly not at their eyes. She stared directly into my eyes with purpose and a piercing depth. I was worried Marcia had snapped but then I realized that she was now speaking as a fully self-aware person. The way she spoke and the look on

her face held absolutely no uncertainty about this. These were the words of someone who was completely comfortable in their own skin. The transformation was striking, and this transformed woman was coming closer and closer, one barefoot step at a time. “The Lord said, Woman, I have provided you with a fallow field until this moment. You shall suffer no more. Make this field fertile. Burn the weeds from the field.” she said in an even tone. “In my head I saw exactly what God said, like a vision, and now here we are.” As she neared me she stroked the sides of her hips with her palms. “The Lord told me you, Lucas, the man I had brought into his own house, was the crop I was to nurture. He told me lust flows through your heart and you must be tamed.” Her head tilted downward as she took the first step onto the dais and she stopped, with

one foot-long foot perched on the edge. “I will tame you, Lucas. I am an instrument of God and I will break your wickedness and bring you into the arms of your savior. I am the love and mercy shown by your God.” She walked between the pulpit and me. We faced each other in silence. I was prepared to defend myself. At this point I remembered Old Testament tales of sacrificial lambs and I intended to not let this woman stick a dagger into my chest or belly. “Prepare yourself. I will release you from the Devil’s clutches and we will embrace in the loving arms of our God.” She turned and took the large candle from the pulpit. With a disposable lighter she lit it’s wick and the flame grew larger and brighter than any other in the church. We looked into each other’s eyes and I saw the reflection of the flame licking in her bright green iris. The

flame moved like a snake, slithering and winding upward, and she spoke in a voice I have only heard women use in bed after I have brought them all the way to climax. “God said to me, Marcia, this man is to be your husband. Submit to him without hesitation.” Pentecostal snake handling churches are illegal in many states, but not here. They still maintain something of a clandestine existence out of necessity. Too many folks don’t understand it, it’s too extreme in behavior and belief. They are openly mocked and scorned in equal measure. This particular church I was now standing in kept its snakes under a red velvet drape behind the pulpit. At that exact moment I realized Marcia had placed the velvet drape on the floor, at our feet. I also realized that before I arrived, she had released every viper from their cage and

venomous snakes of every species surrounded us. I could see she had her right foot on top of an enormous copperhead. Its tail coiled around her ankle and up her calf for several turns, but it did not bite the offending leg standing on it’s back. Its head was almost as big as my fist. I later learned they named this particular snake, “Righteous.” It had bitten so many people who were not right with the Lord, and killed most of them, that the name seemed appropriate. Inches from her left foot I saw a horrifying cottonmouth. Its body was bigger around than Marcia’s calf and I could see its body pulse and heave in a coiled position. The mouth was wide open and aiming upward, like a baby bird waiting for its mother to feed him. I feared it would strike faster than my eye could see. I looked at Marcia, my body tingling

from paralysis. In one of her hands was a Mason jar. The paper label on front stated, “Poison. Stricknine” Does anyone in this place, other than me, own a dictionary? She twisted the top off the jar of strychnine and said, “I’m right with God.” It has been said that Marcia’s head looks like a skull with the skin stretched too tightly over it. She does have sharp cheekbones and her lips are stretched thin and tight across her teeth. It’s as though the skin that is covering her head is one size too small for the hard unyielding bone beneath. I saw her lips curl back and she took a large drink of the liquid contained inside the canning jar. She made a face like the taste was extremely bitter. For as scared as I was, and as hideous as Marcia’s face reacted when her taste buds revolted at the taste of strychnine, I knew what I had to do in a flash of understanding. It came to

me in a blinding moment of clarity and my body motions were as though a spirit were leading me. I was calm and clear headed like I had not been in many years. I put my hands on her shoulders and turned her around. Righteous was still wrapped around her leg and this movement pulled the upper half of its body toward me. I felt the heavy snake crash against my leg, but it didn’t bite me. I bent Marcia over at the waist and as I lowered my pants I pulled her yellow dress high onto her back. With bent knees and sweat pouring from my body like a drenching rainstorm, I took her virginity while she clutched the pulpit with white knuckles. The rattlesnakes began rattling their tails and the wooden pulpit made thumping noises as it rocked. Guilt ravaged my heart and with the rhythm of the pulpit I confessed all my sins to her. The rattlesnakes

stopped making noise as I told her I had lied. The moment I stopped talking they began to rattle once more, only louder. They stopped rattling and I told her about my wicked and lustful meetings with other women. I even told her about the time I let a man give me oral sex behind a bar when I was in the Marines and drunk out of my mind. After the last confession they rattled the loudest and I sensed all the serpents were agitated and writhing wildly all around us. I felt them slithering across my feet. When I was done I realized that I had spilled my guts not just to Marcia but also to God in heaven. I told her I was sorry and asked for her forgiveness. The snakes became silent and docile. “I forgive you and God forgives you.” She said. “But you have to atone for your sins. You have to find a way to make up for these things and you

must promise to never do them again.” Brother, I can see you right now. I see the look of disgust on your face and a self-righteous finger of accusation pointed in my direction. You can call me sacrilegious and a blasphemer all you want, but that isn’t true. I may be crude and unsophisticated but I am not a heathen, so temper your response. I’m trying to be a better man. Marcia was indeed a virgin. A 35 year-old virgin who the locals, and even her own parishioners thought was just too damn strange to be an attractive mate. I didn’t see those things after that night and I certainly didn’t after I got to know her better. She may be a little paranoid and she’s a shockingly bad speller, but she is the one of the most emotionally intense women I have ever known. Yes, I had sex inside a church but don’t cast stones at me for that action.

If God had really been offended by my lustfulness I think he’d have made one of those huge serpents bite me. He might have commanded all of them onto me in a snake biting frenzy of vengeance to punish me for such a foul transgression. That didn’t happen. I believe Marcia spoke the truth, God wanted us to consummate our relationship in that place and at that moment. Within days we were married in front of the same pulpit. I became a member of the congregation but I don’t get to services often. I’m considered something of a lost sheep among our flock, but Marcia is there every Sunday to worship. Sometimes she picks up the snakes, she speaks in tongues every week. Sometimes the church has to move to a new location. It never fails, the word gets out around town that the snake handlers have set up shop somewhere and then it’s a matter of

time before a problem starts. The locals come out, ask questions, and then the congregation winds up having to find a new place to meet. Usually the church moves to another town or even another county. I try to stay in the good graces of the church by helping move the pews and the pulpit each time this happens. I owe that church quite a bit. The war is no longer in my mind. Marcia keeps me from straying with other women by speaking in tongues when we have sex. “Come on back, brother Lucas.” The preacher says to me every time I see him. He means what he says. He really wants me in church every Sunday. “I love you. God loves you the most. I know the Marines and the war took a lot from you, but we love you and we miss you each week when you aren’t here. Come back and we’ll fill you up with love. We’ll fill the part of you

that feels empty.” When I met Marcia I was nearly 50 years old and had never been married before. One time the preacher and I were talking when I was helping him build some new cages for the snakes. He asked me how Marcia and I had met. I stopped what I was doing for a moment and I looked down at my feet. In my mind I could see the snakes curled and slithering across the red velvet drape once again. “Well, “ I said slowly, to let him know I was thinking for a moment. In my mind I saw the pale skin on the small of Marcia’s back from that night in the church. “I met her at the Piggly Wiggly.” I felt fear and fulfillment enter my emotions at the same time. “And she invited me to the church.” The urge to go home and make love to Marcia on the living room floor crossed my mind.

Then I thought of her eyes rolling back in her head and speaking in tongues as I lay on top of her and I didn’t want to be with the preacher anymore. I really wanted to make an excuse to leave so I could go home and jump on my wife. We stood in silence for several seconds. I think he was expecting me to tell him more of the story. “Preacher.” I said, “Don’t worry. Your church has done more for me than you’ll ever know.”

Priscilla Frake Sunday Afternoon s The whole week seems to turn around the axis of Sunday afternoon— to pause even as it rushes forward into tarnished hours— trying to finish, to taste, to gather— gathering ashes, tasting futility, finishing nothing— knowing that Monday morning comes, it always comes. A perfect hour is a ghost, or less, a memory— that cold green afternoon in Aberdeen crowned by beeches, Tai Qi outside the Chinese temple in December sunlight, your hand in mine as we walked beside a field of blooming thistles—Memory is less substantial than pain, the pain that only wants someone to feel it before it will go away— Sunday, meanwhile, perfects its sadness: the smell of onions and laundry a line of sunlight drifting slowly across the wall, sending up flares where it touches some polished surface then moving on.

Julie Wittes Schlack Power Lines

In the summer of 1969, men walked on the moon, Charles Manson and his band of followers went on a killing spree in Hollywood, Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in Ted Kennedy’s car, and, to my everlasting chagrin, Woodstock happened without me. It was also the summer that I met Ian, a fellow Counselor-in-Training at a camp in Michigan called Circle Pines. He was tall and rangy, barely kempt and badly shaven, masculine without a hint of machismo. He had blue-gray eyes that always seemed to look just beyond whomever he was talking to. I was smitten with his bow-legged gait, his tan cutoff corduroy shorts and purple paisley shirts, with his frizzy brown ponytail and his artistic aspirations. After a month of almost constant companionship, my tenacity paid off. Ian had become my boyfriend, my

first romance to last more than a few weeks. (“My boyfriend,” I’d casually and inappropriately drop into conversations, as in “Oh, you’re from Chicago? So is my boyfriend!” or “My boyfriend likes orange juice too.”) We revived our romance each summer and exchanged long, moony letters between them. Ian’s came in envelopes that he’d psychedelically illustrated with precise and goofy cartoons of himself squatting in a bubble, his guitar on his shoulder, floating through streets, classrooms, and the L train. The front of my envelopes were unadorned, the letters inside dense monologues comparing the My Lai massacre to the Holocaust, reveling in the size and solidarity of the anti-war moratorium in Washington, D.C. (“My first major protest,” I’d actually written, as though I had just lost my

virginity, “and I’ll never be the same…”). But on the back of every envelope, I’d write song lyrics as if they were a secret code, as if the words of Joni Mitchell or the Jefferson Airplane carried some veiled meaning known only to us. Oh, won’t you stay, we’ll put on the day, and we’ll talk in present tenses, I wrote one damp February night after the summer of 1969. Over time, my choice of lyrics got more pointed. We are all outlaws in the eyes of America, I wrote after the killings of anti-war protestors at Kent State and Jackson State universities, not sure what Gracie Slick had meant but sure she was right. But Ian’s dispatches from the college in Champagne changed little. “I’ve made my first record,” one said. “It’s in an a capella choir. We sing early temperance music. What a goof.” By the end of August 1972, in what would be my last summer at Circle Pines, my infatuation was waning. The

humidity was oppressive. Earlier that week we’d seen a tornado in the distance, swooping down on a distant farm; and on the second-to-last day of camp, that same heavy stillness was in the air. Finally, just before dinner, it broke. Thunder roared, lightning cackled, and the rain pounded down, turning trails through meadows and woods into small rushing rivers. Kids and counselors alike hooted with joy. We were about to be released—from the heat, from bells and dining halls and bugs, from each other. We ran and slid barefoot in the soaked grass. Kids painted each other’s faces with mud, giving them all the same tearstreaked, gutter-snipe look. We—the alleged grown-ups—looked on at this wet childfest. Matted hair, filthy clothes, none of it mattered. They were going home tomorrow. As the downpour tapered off into a drizzle, we began to gather up the kids for dinner. They sloshed into the dining hall, looking forward to their

half-frozen chicken parmesan patties, powdered mashed potatoes, and corn niblets with renewed gusto. I did a couple of head counts, but kept coming up one kid short. Chevonne was missing. A ten-year-old from Cabrini Green, which was even then notorious as one of the most dangerous and abandoned of Chicago’s housing projects, Chevonne was one of the many campers attending Circle Pines on scholarship. She had never been out in the country before and was terrified of insects, especially spiders. The dark silence of the woods made her shudder, and on nights when the sky was a bowl of stars hanging luminous over the big meadow, she crossed her arms and gripped them in a terror so deep that she left gouge marks in her skin. But indoors, in fights, on top of roofs, and when playing Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, Chevonne was fearless. Wiry and strong, her processed hair flaring around her

face, she scampered and jumped, laughed and yelled; and when I intervened to say, you have to stop this, you have to do that, she looked at me with a fixed smile and opaque gaze. Chevonne did what she wanted. When it was time to set up the dining room for dinner, she hid behind the barn and made miniature campfires of dry grass or sauntered back to the cabin for a little pre-dinner nap. If she didn’t want to go swimming, she’d sneak off the path en route to the lake, double back through the dreaded woods, and melt into some other unit’s game of soccer or Capture the Flag. I spent anxious, exasperated time almost every day tracking her down. She was indifferent and uncontrollable as the wind. While Ian shepherded the kids to their tables, I went outside and called her name. No answer, only a heavy dripping from the trees and a few tentative chirps from the stunned

birds. Walking toward the rec hall, I bellowed her name again. And this time, I heard an answer, a faint and jolly, “Here I am!” I stopped and looked up, first at the roof of the office, then at the roof of the rec hall, and then at the stand of trees between them. Chevonne sat straddling one of the highest boughs, halfway out from trunk to tip and clutching a small branch. “Are you all right?” I asked stupidly. “Yeah, I’m all right.” Her voice was thin—not trembling, but flat and hollow as a movie set facade. “I want to get down now.” “Now wait a second, Chevonne,” I yelled. “Don’t move yet. Let me go get a ladder and some help.” The bough she sat on was wet and sodden and bent under her modest weight. The trunk of the giant elm was black, slick, and bare for its first fifteen linear feet. I had no idea of how Chevonne got up there, on that bough that grew higher than the power lines and rec hall roof.

“I don’t really want to wait for no ladder.” Her tone was saucy, but her voice, filtering out between the thick clumps of leaves, seemed separate from the small figure in the yellow slicker, green shorts, and red sneakers. “It’ll take me just a few seconds. Now please, sweetie, I know you don’t want to stay up there, but I just want to get you down safely. Can you hang on for a just a little while longer?” I pleaded. “I’ll be right back. I promise you. Just hang on.” I ran back to the dining hall for help. When I returned, Chevonne was lying on her stomach, her arms and legs wrapped around the bough. “I’m back, and Fred’s coming with a ladder. Just hang on.” I heard a lazy rustle and saw one red sneaker drop a few feet, and get stuck in a tangle of branches lower down the tree. I looked frantically around the base of the tree, trying to find a toe hold or rock to stand on that

would put me within reach of the first climbing branch. How the hell had she gotten up there? “No, I don’t care to wait,” she said, her little voice now furry as a peach. “I don’t much like it up here.” Then there was another brush of leaves, a sudden gush of water. Chevonne began slowly falling past the branches that jutted out like impatient arms on the hips of the giant elm. “Oh my god,” I heard the camp director, Billie, gasp behind me as we watched Chevonne float down and reach with her small pink palms toward the power line. She caught it and hung for what seemed like minutes, suspended like a piece of laundry on a still, muggy day. Then she dropped straight to the ground. I can still see Chevonne’s return to camp the next morning in a glistening white sling, a Band-Aid on her forehead, and watch the other kids crowd round her with new respect,

exchange addresses and hugs and good-bye kisses. I see it like a longago Saturday matinee, not as anything connected to me. But that moment when Chevonne, through some miracle of will and coordination firmly grabbed hold of that potentially lethal power line, was as startlingly real as birth. I’d thought I was finally an adult, but I was wrong. I’d been gawking at Ian, gazing at the moon, contemplating my own place in the universe, looking everywhere but at the child in front of me who had spent her life slipping from a high, wet branch. Now I felt foolish and impotent, but also awake.

S.M. Ellis The Way We Got Here For years I haven’t caught you, partitioned by the strong arms of routine hard and permanent, the way doors feel when boundaries are drawn the flesh remembers and the flesh forgets. That’s me being chatty. You used to say “Like anyone avoiding an honest look at himself.” I was hoping to hear it again even with that buzzing curtness so when your calm voice spools out from the answering machine I know that no one’s there I know but keep talking as if words could become my body pulsed out to you in sonic print from the banks of our empty acts and tonight the wind continues rising and I am sleepy, the clock has struck.

T.A. Stanley A Guide on Loving Him

One night a woman is in but pale from working kisses the side of his bed with the man she loves and he has his back turned to her. He is sleeping, but she is not, and she thinks about the fact that recently she has seen little besides the back of her lover. She has memorized all the moles on his back (two next to his spine on the left side of his middle back, one off by itself closer to the lower back on the far right, and another one even further down, right above where the sheets cover him). She makes a constellation of these imperfections as she stares. It is a strong back,

inside. He doesn't lift many things, but he does yoga and she can see the long, flexible muscles even in his relaxed state. He turns from her more and more every day. During the day it feels like a giving up, as he places his back to her while he cooks dinner, rather than look at her as she tells him about her day. At night it feels like pure exhaustion as he sighs and rolls over to his side. Sometimes she thinks it is just habit, unintentional in the pain it causes her to see him always facing the opposite wall. But if she

neck he shifts further away to let her know, as subtly as possible, that he just isn't in the mood. He gives almost no explanation—I've been through so much. I can't handle it. I'm not sure about what any of it means any more he says. She knows it's all bullshit, but he doesn't and the more he believes the bullshit the more of his back she sees. At night, after he has fallen asleep and is gently snoring, she brushes his shoulder blades with her finger. Of course, she has had plenty of time to study

his shoulders, but sometimes she doesn't even mind this because she loves them so much. She likes that they aren't too broad. Some of the men she's been with had shoulders that stretched on for miles. They seemed to want to take up an entire room—they demanded attention from her and other women, too (how could she forget all the other women?). She could never hold those men, her arms didn't fit comfortably around them in order to connect her hands at their chests. But not with this man, the man she loves. She could hold each of the protruding disks in the palm of her hand, if she

wanted to. She could enclose him in her arms and squeeze him until he couldn't breathe, if she wanted to. If she wanted to. But she likes better to trace the shape of his shoulders with her finger and then sweep giant figure eights across his back. If he wakes up from this he never lets on. He just breathes. She sees his back expand slowly and contract again, but otherwise he does not move. It is hypnotizing to watch and feel his breath at the same time, but it only makes her joints hurt with a need to cover more of his surface with her body. Some nights, she is able to find her own

pleasure in the pain of her longing and this action of sweeping his back will lull her to sleep. But tonight she notices something. A tiny indent off to the side of his spine—slightly bigger than a fingernail imprint. Her nails are long (she hasn't bitten them off recently) so she pushes into the indent with her index nail. It slides in smoothly and she wiggles it around. It is warm inside her lover, tight around her finger which now feels as if it has grown twice its size while inside him. She sees the skin moving from the outside as her finger dances along the inside of the man she loves. She finds space for

a nail from her other hand and she begins to pull apart her lover's back. The hole opens slowly, making no noise, as if it were designed to be opened in this way. When the hole is the size of a quarter she can see inside him. It is dark, mostly, but she sees the long, stringy sinews along the sides and can imagine further inside, the maze of bones and fleshy organs that make up her lover. She is pulling wider and digging deeper past the muscle until there is enough space to climb inside. Her lover does not stir as she crawls in next to his spine.

Joddy Murray Blue Agave, Moistened

Thicker by middles, edges serrated, sawing night as it drags its stars across the desert’s belly. Ants writing columns, quieter during silky-wet days, are slower with their simmer and all that ambition below ground. In my sleep, parts of these desert cacti wear suits and shake hands, feed each other with their own jelly; other parts sink roots deeper in sand, welcome spiders, call them to rest among the brush of thorns.

Rachel Welch The Dreadful Anticipation

The pigs were making a racket in the front yard. They rutted and grunted and searched for food scraps in the dirt, stirring up clouds that drifted into the faces of the two children keeping vigil on the front porch. Delia, eight, perched on the uneven front steps petting the one-eyed cat called Deino. She'd tied a pink ribbon around its neck, and though tattered and dirty it had lasted, much like Delia's pink tutu had lasted, improbably, through the years. Lucy, thirteen, slumped apathetically in an old rocking chair. She had the look of a spider, a Daddy Long Legs with a small, dense body and disproportionately stretched skinny limbs. Her movements, like a spider's, were quick, twitching. The heat had worn them down. Everything felt dry, even their young skin had turned papery and old. They were always

thirsty; a pitcher of ice water, half-full, sweated beside Lucy, and no matter how much they drank, every dustfilled breath made their thirst worse. Lucy, Delia croaked in her small voice, when are Mama and Daddy getting home? She looked out over the parched landscape of the front yard, with its sun-browned patchwork grasses. She occasionally to watch Deino, to see the slow heave of its chest. Soon, Delia, she drawled.

I’m not staying here to get killed. The boss man isn’t going to like us cutting him out. He’s going to kill me. Bang. Splat. Brains on the wall. Gone baby gone. The man started to whimper as he scratched and pulled out bits of his beard. We have to leave, he said. We have

to leave.

I bet they won't ever come back. Delia fingered the purple costume necklace around her neck. They're coming back, the older sister asserted. They're coming back soon. But Lucy didn’t want them to. Do you think it will flood? Delia wondered. There had been no rain. The sun had burned the world into shades of sick yellow; the girls too had their dry, taut skin dyed by the relentless orb that never faded to night’s cool touch. The sun, its heat, held every living thing in tense anticipation for rain; like holding in air underwater, from the crickets hopping lamely across the dust to the jaundiced sky above, all of creation felt their lungs bursting while they waited. Lucy stretched and sank farther into her chair. How can it flood when

it won't even rain? What if God's dammed up all the rain in Heaven, and when He has enough, He'll send another flood? Deino nuzzled its orange head against Delia's skinny brown legs. What if God wants to drown us again? When has God ever drowned us? Not us, but Noah and the people alive back then. God doesn't want to kill us. Sometimes it just doesn't rain. And some people think it wasn't even God who sent the flood. It was caused by a meteor crashing into the Indian Ocean. Wide-eyed at this new potential disaster, Delia clutched her cat's matted orange fur. Is a meteor going to hit us? Lucy let out a sigh like a frustrated horse. No. And it won’t flood. And Mama and Daddy are coming back soon.

What did you do? the wife screamed. Shut up, he roared over her preternatural wails. His clothes dripped water. He tore at his hair. He grabbed his wife, shook her, her head jerking at wrong angles. When she did not stop, he struck her. She fell, her eye engorged, angry and red the skin burned. He took her to the rusted car. Come with me, he called to the child hiding in the corner. No. Come with me dammit. No. I’m staying. Someone has to take care of Delia. Come on, come on, come on. He’s coming, coming, coming. Stupid girl. Stupid kid. She doesn’t need taking care of.

Is that them? Delia pointed excitedly to a distant black speck followed by a plume of dust. It rumbled and bumped its way

along the dirt drive, through a field of scorched grass. It jerked to a stop before hitting a sow, two hundred pounds that lay between it and the crumbling farmhouse. It wasn’t Mama and Daddy. The driver let the engine idle, and when he realized the sow would not move, he cut the engine and got out. Who is that man, Lucy? Delia left the steps and crawled into a fort she had made from a thousand small cardboard boxes. Pseudoephedrine: For the relief of nasal and sinus congestion. It was a circular structure, piled nearly four feet high. The boxes lay on their sides, with barcodes and additional ingredients visible to the outside world. Inside, curled like a cat in a ball, Delia could see the empty insides. She wrapped her arms around her knees and shut her eyes. Deino arched her back and hissed at the stranger. The stranger smiled; his muscles

forced the corers of his wide mouth to pull backward, revealing too many teeth. Afternoon, he said. He wore a brown suit, rumpled and dusty. His face was puffy and red, coated in a heavy flow of sweat. The collar of his white shirt was opened at the neck, revealing the damp undershirt beneath. Hope you don't mind the intrusion, he pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed his drenched brow. I was wondering if you could help me get back to the highway. Lucy frowned. Town's ten miles down that road you were just on. You can meet up with the highway there. She'd drawn herself up in the chair, trying to look bigger, more intimidating.

Thank you, I've been riding for so long without seeing another soul. I was beginning to think I'd gotten

myself lost. He smiled his smile again, and lingered. I don't like him, Lucy, Delia whispered from behind her wall of decongestants. Lucy didn't like him either. The stranger looked like a bad man: ugly, bloated, slimy. When she looked at him, she felt like she was full worms wriggling just beneath her skin. Anything else I can do for you? I've just been riding so long, and the air-conditioning's shot. I wouldn't mind a glass of that water you've got there. Lucy handed Delia's untouched and perspiring water to the stranger. He finished it in five gulps then smacked his lips and smiled again. I appreciate that. And he lingered still. She could feel herself shrinking in fear of this man who would not leave, but not for herself. She needed to keep her sister safe.

Can I help you with something else, Mister? She made herself icy, unwelcoming, pulled her face into its ugliest proportions: the corners of her mouth plummeting downward to her jawline, brows drawn together, putting her eyes in a black shadow. No, no, he said while easing himself to a seat on the splintering porch steps. Just thought I'd sit a while. It's good to have fresh air, to be still. Who are you? Just a man riding on business. Thomas Lane, and you are? he asked, holding a hand over his shoulder for Lucy to shake. What kind of business? She ignored the hand. Thomas Lane stroked the one-eyed cat as he spoke, People business. What sort of people? Dead people mostly. I'm a detective; you could say. You investigate murders? No, I look for missing people. It just so happens that missing people are

usually dead people. You wouldn't happen to be missing any people would you? She shook her head desperately. I'm not missing anyone. Mama and Daddy have been gone for a while, but they're coming back soon. She needed to tell him they were coming back. She needed this stranger to know he couldn't rely on privacy in the schemes she suspected he planned. But would he call her bluff? Surely they were coming back today. They had been gone for so long, and she and Delia were beginning to run out of food. Daddy had taken all of their money; she'd checked in his usual hiding place: beneath the loose floorboard by his bed, in a coffee can on top of the fridge, in the hole in the wall behind the broken television. He'd tried to get them to come, but Delia had cried. Daddy had gotten angry, started shaking her. It was bath time. Tell the man to leave, Lucy, Delia

tugged on her sister's arm. Hush, now, she scolded. Detective Lane looked at Lucy, confused. I didn't say anything. Make him go away, Lucy. Busy detective like you, shouldn't you be getting along? Who says I'm busy? But I should get to getting. Mind if I hit the head before I go? Lucy wondered what would make him leave faster. Bathroom's the second door on the left. Much obliged. With a groan, he heaved himself off the stairs, brushed the dust from his backside. Lucy didn't move, didn't breathe when he walked past. He let the door close with a bang. Deino yowled. Delia rubbed her fingers along her purple necklace. You shouldn’t have let him go inside, Lucy.

He kept saying the bad men were coming. It was one of his bad times. He was hyper and had started peeling off his skin. Scratch, scratch with his dirty yellow nails. He shouted for Mama to get up, but she remained motionless and sleeping on the old couch. Move, you little bitch. Get your stuff, he roared, throwing shirts, pants, shoes, underwear, across the bedroom. Lucy ran. She had to find her sister. They would go and hide beneath the rotting front porch. It was their safe place in the bad times. Delia was in the bathroom pouring dish soap into the steadily filling tub. Deino meowed and rubbed against her, ran ragged claws through the girl's already ragged tutu. She was humming when Lucy found her, splashing and swirling the soap in the warm water. I'm making a cloud, Delia smiled. Her wispy, blond hair hung in limp

tangled waves. Freckles stippled her delicate nose and cheeks. We have to hide-- But he pushed Lucy out of the way. Get up. We're leaving. He pulled Delia up by her hair. She cried, Stop it. Stop it. I don't want to go. Leave her alone. Lucy tried to pull him away. Daddy struck her across the cheek; she stumbled, a red flower blooming on her skin. Stop hurting her, Delia shouted. She kicked with her tiny bare feet, hit with her dainty small fists. He grabbed her shoulders, shook her. She spit in his face. He howled, picked her up, threw her into the tub. Bubbles scattered in the air, tiny clouds hovering, watching it all.

Lane headed for the bathroom, looking in empty rooms along the way. The house, he thought, was a dusty, decrepit wreck. The couch in

the front room leaned aggressively and stuffing was coming out of the maroon recliner. Empty beer cans littered flat surfaces; old papers lay like haphazardly thrown rugs on the bare and dirty floors. What looked like the parents' room was almost completely filled by a four-poster bed missing one of its posts. The sheets were dingy, the covers half torn from the dirty mattress. The closet door stood open, drawers hung like loose teeth in the dresser, clothes and underwear and broken shoes lay strewn. Lane poked his head in the guest bath, its single light-bulb dangling from the ceiling was dead and cold; the toilet had a rusty brown ring in it. The house smelled like a rat had died. He hadn't exactly been lying about his profession. Today he was a detective. He hoped to detect the missing mother and father, or the missing supply they'd been cooking, or the missing money owed the boss.

Lane looked in the kitchen, doubtful he'd find any product. The black and white kitchen floor was coated in the same brownish-gray dust that covered the rest of the house; here and there, chunks of the linoleum were missing. Some of the cabinets had no doors; dishes cascaded over the lip of the sink and onto the beige counter-tops. An empty jar of peanut butter had rolled in front of a refrigerator that wasn't humming. The father’s tools of the trade, the pots and bowls and glasses dusted with the white powder of pulverized cold medicine, completely obscured the kitchen table. Just off the kitchen, a door stood ajar. Lane hadn't touched it before he gagged on the rotting smell. He covered his mouth with his hand and pinched his nostrils closed. It was a girl's room. The floorboards were pocked with little termite holes, the walls papered in a ripped, faded, age-blackened damask.

There were two twin beds, one purple one pink. Towels hung over the windows. A once white vanity with a cracked mirror held costume jewelry and sparkling pencils and horse figurines. There were books stacked on the floor and in corners, tattered, well-read paperbacks. The purple bed was still rumpled from troubled sleep, and compared to the pink bed it was bare. The pink bed was piled high with stuffed animals: dingy white bears holding hearts, a plush unicorn with a shining horn, a dazedly smiling monkey, floppy-eared dogs, one gray snowman wearing a top hat. There was a body on the bed. Surrounded by her soft toys, the little figure lay in state, hands folded over her still heart. She wore a shirt with a butterfly on the chest and a tattered tutu. Her feet were bare, but the toenails were painted the blue of a freshly washed sky. Beaded bracelets were stacked on her thin, discolored arms. A plastic tiara rested on her

corn-silk hair. Her eyes, a cloudy blue, stared blankly; almost beautifully innocent in their frozen moment of untimely death. Her skin had begun to dry and tighten, hollowing her cheeks. Around her neck, Lane could see a ring of purple, the work of much bigger and stronger hands than the ones that wore plastic rings from Cracker Jack boxes and gumball machines. Shit, Lane whispered and felt sorry because it didn’t seem like the right thing to say staring at a child's dead body. The father had killed his youngest child, left the other one talking to herself, and run away with his addict wife. No money, no meth, Lane had come to a dead place filled with dead things. He felt the urge to do something, say a prayer, kiss her goodnight, lay a sheet over her empty eyes. No, she was perfect, resting, loved. Lane left Delia undisturbed on her shrine; Lucy still sat in the dilapidated rocking

chair, her eyes just as dead as her sister's. You were in there a while, she said as he hurried past. Lane stopped on the crooked porch steps; the cat flicked its tail over his dusty loafers. Thanks for the hospitality. If you see your dad, tell him I stopped by. They'll be home soon. Sure. And will you take care of your sister? Her cheeks flushed red as she answered, I always take care of my sister. Right. He walked back to his car. He paused to kick the sow still blocking the driveway. Just as he thought: dead. Lane drove away in a cloud of dust. Behind the run-down house, mountains of black cloud rose, sparking with streaks of silver. On the porch, Lucy watched the stranger go, wondering if Mama and Daddy would

come home and dreading the possibility that they might. Delia sat on the steps, her small hands stroking Deino's orange fur.

Contributors S.M. Ellis S.M. Ellis writes poems and lives in New York City. Allen Forrest Born in Canada and bred in the U.S., Allen Forrest works in many mediums: oil painting, computer graphics, theater, digital music, film, and video. Allen studied acting at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles, digital media in art and design at Bellevue College, receiving degrees in Web Multimedia Authoring and Digital Video Production. Forrest has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications: New Plains Review, Pilgrimage Press, The MacGuffin, Blotterature, Gargoyle Magazine, his paintings have been commissioned and are on display in the Bellevue College Foundation's permanent art collection. Forrest's expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh creating emotion on canvas. Priscilla Frake Priscilla Frake’s first full-length book of poetry, "Correspondence," was published in 2013 by Mutabilis Press. In 2012, she won the Lorene Pouncey Award at the Houston Poetry Fest and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared in many journals including Nimrod, Atlanta Review, The

Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Carolina Quarterly, The Spoon River Poetry Review, and The Midwest Quarterly. Bob Gilliland Bob Gilliland is a corporate America refugee who now works as a Circulation Assistant in a small public library. When not lost in the stacks he can be found reading, tending to his elderly dog, and collecting vintage vinyl records. His short story "Too Much Schlitz" was chosen by the Chattanooga Pulse for inclusion in their "Best Short-Short Stories of 2014" issue. Joddy Murray Joddy Murray's work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 70 journals, includingAmerican Literary Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, Bluestem, Carquinez Poetry Review, Cider Press Review, Confrontation, DUCTS, Existere, Licking River, Meridian, Minetta Review, New Orleans Review, Pembroke Magazine, Stickman Review, Texas Review, andWisconsin Review. He currently teaches writing and rhetoric at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Julie Wittes Schlack Julie Wittes Schlack writes essays, short stories, and articles for the business press. Her essays regularly appear in Cognoscenti, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Shenandoah, Writer’s Chronicle, The Louisville Review, Eleven Eleven, Ninth Letter, and Tampa Review. Julie received her MFA from Lesley University’s low-residency program.

T.A. Stanley T.A. Stanley currently lives in New York City where she is attending NYU as a graduate student in the Draper Program for Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities and Social Thought. While that title is big and intimidating, she has chosen to focus on Gender Politics which is intimidating in a different way, but in some way more relatable. She received a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona, and has yet to be published. She is currently working on a series of short fiction pieces that address the thin lines drawn between love and obsession and the violences attended to these emotions. She further wishes to investigate a gender binary which has resulted in the personal experience of physical and emotional violences inflicted against her and close friends as women. She uses magical and fantastic elements to illuminate the ways in which the lived experience of "womanhood" has made her feel through embodiments of these emotions in surreal acts and transformations. She works to encourage empowerment to the feminine and a resolution between the masculine and the feminine which does not result in violence against either male of female bodies in her work. Rachel Welch Rachel Welch is currently a law student at Walter F. George School of Law. She graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Linguistics from Georgia Southern University. She has previously worked as a freelance writer and editor, and has recently had a short story featured in Five2One Literary Magazine.

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