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efiction eFiction Magazine

April 2011

April 2011

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Issue No. 013


eFiction Magazine

April 2011

Contents Short Stories Wisdom in Broken Hands

Brian LoRocco

Uptown Boys:

Margaret Elysia Garcia

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Once Upon Our Time

The Dreaming Stasey Norstrom

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Boob Job Harris Tobias

39

Four Ways to Uncover

Ryan Dorrill

51

Knife, Fork, Spoon

Zach Endres

61

A Time Traveler

First and Ten Daniel Marvin

71

Contributors 75

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Serial Fiction Timeline Glen Binger 77

Episode I

Blood Binds

Tonya Moore 82

Episode XI

Book Reviews Serial Essie Holton 98 Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouch Childproofed

Essie Holton 100

Reese Reed

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Wisdom in Broken Hands Brian LoRocco

Ray Dawson was sitting on a broken locker room bench with his hands still wrapped, breathing the sweat off his body, and listening to all the familiar post-fight noise—the obnoxious voices of other fighters, some celebrating, some excusing, some talking about who they were going to screw tonight, and his own trainer, seven years his junior, bullshitting and laughing with them. The talk, the nonsense, the laughing, all of it, still bothered him. It was not what he wanted to hear after losing. But what was the big deal? He’d been losing for a long time now. Forty one years old, Ray was, and this time he’d been beaten up by a nineteen year old from Flatbush. The kid from Flatbush approached him in the locker room. Typically, after a fight if you ran into the guy who got the decision it was a menial encounter, good fight, keep at it, good defense, whatever. Every now and again, you ran into a punk who wasn’t satisfied by simply having his hand raised at the end of the night, a punk that thought because he beat you in a boxing match that he had some authority over you and the right to say whatever he wanted . The kid from Flatbush was that type. “Hey GJ,” the kid said giving him that old locker room slang—everyone in the room knew what the kid was referring to. “Good fight, grandpa.” Ray looked at Jonesy, his trainer, not sure why, maybe it was in-

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stinct, but in any case saw what he should have come to expect from him. Nothing. Only nothing was a lie. Jonesy was on the verge of laughter. Ray could see it in his eyes, could see him beginning to smirk. Maybe Jonesy was right, maybe seeing your friend getting into it with the kid that just beat him up was funny. “Come again, fella?” Ray said. “You heard me, GJ. I said good fight,” and then the kid turned to his own trainer, and said, “Hearing’s going, too.” Ray knew exactly what to say to the kid, he knew that without mistake. Jonesy once told him, “You don’t have a vent.” He said this over a Guinness, at Chelsea O’s. “That’s your whole fucking problem. Everyone has a vent, Ray. You just never developed one, or you turned yours off, and you’re fucking yourself for it, you know that? That canvas, that’s your only outlet. I’m telling you as a friend, man, there’s a lot better ways to spend your forties than getting your ass kicked. Trust me on that.” Ray saw the look on the kid‘s face, his brows crunched in hard, his lips flailed back, and believed it was nothing but a mask; had as much substance as a scarecrow in a cornfield. But the old crow in Ray Dawson knew better. Ray said, “You’ve gone and beat up on an old man. You proud of yourself?” Some of the guys erupted into laughter (kid never saw that coming) and the antagonists “oooooohed.” “Ain’t my fault, your granddaddy crippled ass is still in the game.” “Ain’t my fault, you’re supposed to be the prospect, and your ass went the full four rounds, with someone you coming in and calling

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glass jaw.” Ray thought that might have put the kid over, and half expected him to rush forward, and could say he was surprised that the kid only eyed the room insecured by the sounds suddenly against him. Ray said, “I’m over here. Look at me, don’t go looking at them.” Once again Ray made eye contact with Jonesy, who at this point, had his forearm over his mouth. There appeared to be a moment of apology in Jonesy’s eyes, but it seemed as if that eye contact, and the feigned apology, only caused Jonesy to lose control and erupt uncontrollably. If for no other reason than because Jonesy was laughing at him, he thought of his advice about venting. Jonesy was right about that. Ray rarely let the steam fly, and he knew exactly why that was. He was afraid. Not of other people either. He was afraid of himself. So afraid of his own anger, buried deep as it was. He was angry at everyone. He was even angry at God. Maybe most of all at God. Ray Dawson’s problem was he had skill (if you could accept that as a problem). Once upon a time he had hand speed, good reflexes, and power. Great power. Knockout power; power in both hands; he could knock a guy out in the late rounds. The biggest problem was he had a glass jaw. They called him Ray “the glass jaw” Dawson, GJ around the gym. If you caught him in the sweet spot, he went down like an overturned crane, and no that nigga wasn’t getting back up. His question was always this: with a weakness so glaring, why was he given any skill at all? If his weakness so compromised his skill, why give him anything? Got no answers to that; God sure as hell never answered.

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Maybe just to fuck with you, Ray. To say here is Ray Dawson, a guy who in his twenties won seventeen amateur fights, won in the Golden Gloves, a guy who many believed had the goods to become a champion. Enter fight eighteen—he’ll never forget Manny Hernandez, Dominican from West New York, first big puncher he’d ever faced; imagine that, 17 fights and a Golden Gloves before meeting a guy with decent pop—not good, decent; landed a textbook left hook, and put Ray on his ass for the first time. With his left hand, Manny Hernandez took away not only a boxing career, but as Ray thought of it, his entire life. No, that nigga didn’t get back up. “I’m right here,” the kid said motioning to his face, “looking at you right in your eyes. Don’t come at me like that, or I’m una whip your ass some more. Sorry ass washed up old man.” Thought about getting up. Thought about going at him. He was 19 after all. Somebody pulled the kid away. After all was settled down, Jonesy came around patted him on the back, and said, “You’ll get ’em next time?” “Won’t be a next time,” Ray said. “I think this is it.” Jonesy shrugged. “Been telling you that a long time, champ.” *** His rusted locker door creaked harshly. He wondered if there would be an empty can of tomato sauce in there (some punk did that one time, broke the lock and left it right up there, dirty as it was) but there was

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nothing but his belongings, his clothes, his wallet, his cell phone, and keys. Let’s face it, Ray was never a boxer passed the age of twenty-eight— he had a string of losses that year—and to his credit he knew he wasn’t a fighter past that age. That was when he gave up the dream. He never said it, but knew just as much in his heart. He had a delivery route, a shitty apartment, a daughter out of wedlock, who mommy kept from him, and the fragments of a life, that Jim Mc Maron in the Dispatch, once upon a time decribed as having all the makings of a champion. Jonesy, said, “You want meet at Chelsea’s for a cold one? The guys are all going.” “No, Jay, not tonight. Going to get me some sleep tonight.” Jonesy patted him. “Keep your head up, okay?” “Just never worked out,” Ray muttered more to himself than to Jonesy. “Huh?” He dropped his head to his hands. Something his mother said to him a very long time ago occurred to him (it occurred to him often lately): “God gave us strengths and weaknesses. Listen to me baby Ray, and don’t you go forgetting, in life we all have our crosses to bear. It’s how well we bear them that determines who it is we are.” There was more to it, but Ray had forgotten the rest —it was good. That much he remembered, that it was good. Lot of broken dreams, on a highway that boasted brilliant lights, not too far in the distance, a road that looked straight, but riddled with nefarious turns, and ultimately a detour that led to obscurity.

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On top of everything else Ray was in more trouble. Serious trouble. He was overdue on a $3000 loan. The loaner wasn’t a federally insured bank either (not that an insured bank made it any safer these days); the loaner was Frankie Valdone, a man you did not want to play games with. “Maybe I should let this go,” Ray said, “but—” “What’s up?” “You did a good job of breaking that up back there.” Jonesy looked at him unexpectedly (he was used to laughing and getting away with it). He shrugged, “You know what you’re doing, Ray.” “You know something, Jones, all these years we’ve been doing this, I can’t help but think I’ve been nothing but a joke in your eyes. You‘re a real friend.” Ray left with his gym bag over his shoulder, the welt beneath his eye throbbing, and a headache that hammered acutely over the temple. “Ray, wait, ” Jonsey called. *** He was hungry. He was hungry, and the Hungry Man’s Salisbury steak in the freezer wasn’t going to cut it. No, he was in the mood for French onion (freedom onion—as Jonesy called it; and Ray would say let it die already, it’s not funny anymore) that plus a burger. A juicy, rare cheese burger. He took the bus out of Manhattan, came through the Lincoln Tunnel and decided he would stop over in Hoboken, stop in at the Malibu, and that was what he did. He realized his shades were

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still in his bag. If there was one thing he hated, really hated, was when a pretty waitress came up to him and said (and they all said the same thing): “My goodness, were you in a fight?” It was either yeah, you should see what the other guy looks like, haha, or those fucking stairs again. So he took the shades out of the bag , and put ‘em on, hoping the welt that traveled down into his cheekbone wasn’t too revealing, never mind the fact that he might look like a weirdo wearing shades in a diner at midnight. But who cared? Hoboken had its share of weirdoes either way, not as many as New York, but its share nonetheless. Even though these days there were more and more of the pseudo city types that you could spot a mile away. A type that irritated him. He didn’t know why they irritated him, but they did. Most were twenty-somethings that had distinct suburban voices, young people that wanted a taste of city life, that probably worked shitty jobs, with shitty pay, jobs that required a tie, and gave them the bragging rights they sought. Most would stay in the city for no more than five years, move out and make room for the next cohort. “Hey, Ray,” a familiar voice said. He lowered the menu, and saw it was Greg Harris, who bartended at Carl’s. “Greg, how are you, bro? What are you doing here?” “I’m working here now, left the bar, couldn’t stand working for Carl no more. Guy’s a real prick,” he said lowering his voice. “Sorry to hear that.” “Nah, I’m doin’ fine here, and there’s no one breathing down my neck.”

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“You still in Rutgers?” “Yeah, one more year to go. What about you, still fighting, that why you wearing the shades?” “You should see the other guy.” “I believe it, I believe it. What can I get for you?” Greg took his order, writing it down on a flip pad, before disappearing into the back. He brought the soup and the Heineken at the same time. As he carefully placed down the soup he said, “Have you seen Heather lately?” Heather, he thought about her and a smile came to his face. Pretty little Heather. No, he hadn’t seen her. Not in a few weeks. She waited tables and bartended in Carl’s Bar. The last few times Ray had gone there… well, it was a bit strange. The two of them connected on some level. It was this instant connection, that he couldn’t decribe, but liked very much. She leaned over the bar and they talked the entire night. She let business pass her right by, this despite all the distractions. Somehow, he thought, they had this way of making each other feel special. It was weird. “Last time, I was there,” Greg said, “I thought you were gonna bring her home.” “She’s too young.” “What, she’s in her late twenties, twenty-seven, twenty eight?” “I’m forty-one, man.” “Yeah, but you look much younger, dude. Didn’t I ever tell you what my friend Don says?” “What does Don say?” “Age is just a number.”

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Ray laughed. “Just a number , huh?” “Yeah. Trust me, she’s smoking hot. Don’t let a few years get in the way of that.” As he was eating, all he could think about was Heather, about the chemistry they shared, how everyone in the bar disappeared; he thought about how shy her eyes were when they met his, and the silly things they would talk about, just to talk to each other, and how everyone noticed it afterward. He finished eating. What the hell, he headed to Carl’s. *** There was a large crowd of people dressed handsomely outside the bar, guys in button downs, girls in tight jeans and sexy dresses, with their hair and makeup perfect; smoking and chatting, under the overhang lamplights. Ray walked passed them hearing some of those pseudo accents, but also hearing a lot of strong Jersey accents. As he was going in he heard one loud mouth guido talking to his boys about his M5, but Ray thought he was really talking to the surrounding girls in jest. Looking for some cheap ho, to go wow you drive a Beamer. Yeah, and I also live at home. Ray laughed. Inside was loud, and even though you could hear the music outside, walking in was like crossing a barrier into a different world. The music was more alive. The place was dark, but lit with different colored lights—mainly amber and red—surrounding the bar, and it wasn’t just

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the music but the chatter. There were a lot of smiling faces, and friendly conversation. Somehow Ray found an empty seat between two groups of twenty somethings a few girls and a few guys on both sides. Looking past all that was going on, he didn’t see Heather, but that was okay; he shrugged it off; it was Saturday, they were busy,and he was sure she was here. He did see Carl, who was at the tap pouring one thing or another. Carl spotted him, and gave him a cautious look. Ray saluted, and Carl had raised a one sec finger, but seemed so taken by Ray’s presence that he over poured the beer, and foam slid down the side of the glass. After serving the customer, Carl came his way, and shook his hand; it was a quick firm handshake. “What’s going on, Bro?” Carl said, “What brings you?” “Just come in for a drink. Had a fight tonight.” “Oh,” Carl said, and usually would ask about it, but his concern became more evident. “Listen man, I don’t know what’s goin’ on, or if your even aware of it for that matter” (Ray hoped the next part would be about Heather, but it wasn’t). “These guys have been coming in here, asking for you. Said you owe them some money. I know one of these guys, Vin, he’s a bad dude… Maybe this isn’t the safest place for you to be tonight.” “When was this?” “Past few weekends. I don’t want problems here, you know?” “Yeah, I’ll just take one drink, and then I’ll go.” Carl looked reluctant. Very reluctant. Ray didn’t know what the hell was going on in Carl’s mind, but it looked like he was making the

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most stringent decision of his life, deciding whether or not to drop the bomb on Japan or something. So Ray decided he would break his confusion. “I’ll take a Hennessy straight up.” Carl looked at him, into his eyes, looked like he wanted to say something, Ray could sense that much, but in the end just nodded, “One drink.” Carl poured it, and served it over a napkin that advertised Bacardi rum. “Here you go, Ray,” and then added: “Don’t get yourself hurt.” “Nawh, wouldn’t go doin’ that now.” He wanted to say something silly like got my lucky shirt on tonight, but didn‘t. “Heather around tonight?” That broke a smile on Carl’s face. Ray got the sense that Carl, for some reason, liked him. He wasn’t quite sure why Carl liked him, and he didn’t think Carl knew why either, but he did. “You mean your little girlfriend? Yeah she’s around.” “Tell her I says hi.” Carl tapped the bar, “Just don’t stay too long.” *** Ray sipped the Hennessy while looking around the bar casually, trying not to give up too much, trying not to look eager, but not seeing Heather anywhere. The bar was very crowded, and hot. Then, just like that, he spotted her. She came behind the bar on the far end holding a tray, and their eyes somehow met; despite how dark it was, despite the size of the crowd, their eyes locked. Her hair

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fell across her shoulders, a little longer than when he last saw her, but elegant... She flashed him her smile, that great big smile that she had, and gave him one of those sexy finger waves, where each finger moved individually. My God, he thought, smiled and waved back, that’s my girl. All of a sudden the fight that he lost, his boxing career, the money he owed, all of it became irrelevant. She put the tray under the bar, and began her way over to him—at least that was what he thought she was doing. As it turned out a smile would be all she would give him. To Ray’s surprise, she leaned over the bar, the same way she had done with him, and began, or from the looks of it, continued, a flirty conversation with some guy. He watched it for a while. A range of stupid thoughts went through his head. For a long time he wondered what she was trying to do. Trying to get him jealous? Simply being a cock-tease? He watched a little longer, feeling his blood getting hot—Heather leaning over the bar, laughing and smiling, even playfully smacking the guy on the shoulder at one point, leaning over the counter with the tops of her breasts prodded out from her shirt, business passing her by. “Well, well, well,” a voice said from behind him squeezing him by the shoulder, and turning him half way around in his seat. “If it isn’t Ray the glass jaw Dawson. I believe you have a debt that needs some settling. Unless you want make a scene, you better come with us. ” There were two of them, both boxy men, both standoutish, and Ray thought, standoutish not in a good way. One of them wore a tan suit and a tie, the other an Adidas wind jacket. Both of them reeked of cologne.

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He rose from the stool, slinging the gym bag over his shoulder, and said to himself, Whatever it is you do Ray, don’t look at Heather… don’t look at Heather. He didn’t look at her, not at first. The guy in the Adidas jacket put his hand on the small of Ray’s back and pointed forward. Ray could see two gold rings on his fingers. The other guy, the one in the tan suit, cleared the path ahead calling, “Watch out, look out,” to everyone. And then Ray betrayed himself. He glanced over at Heather, knowing she’d be watching, knowing she’d be looking on concerned. He was wrong. Heather didn’t notice. She’d been too distracted with her new friend. The back room was dank, and smelt of moist concrete walls, and unsettled dust. There were cases and cases of Corona, Heineken, and other beer cartons stacked high. The lights were off. No one bothered to turn them on. Only the radiance from the bar lights lit the room, casting a dim glow. There in the back was Frank Valdone, who presumably took the delivery entrance in. Frank put a cigar between his teeth, struck a match, and in an instant there was a crescent of orange flame, followed by his deliberate exhale. “So,” Frank said, “if it isn’t Ray Dawson.” “Just need a little more time.” Frank laughed. “Is that what have you have said for yourself? You need more time? You’re a month over, and you think you’re going to stand in front of me and tell me you need more time. Well, I got news for you my friend, your time is up.” He sucked on the cigar. “Somebody turn on the lights. It’s fucking dark in here.” Frank was a burly man, with long silver hair that had been neatly

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combed. He wore thin silver frames, a button down polo shirt, and obnoxiously shiny shoes. “Dawson, I’d like you to meet two good friends of mine, neither of which, I guarantee, will be to your liking by the end of the night, but nevertheless…” He took another puff of his cigar. “This is Hector. Hector who as you can see has a slight fetish for rings. “ Hector creeped around Ray slowly, with a menacing look in his dark eyes. He raised his left fist, a ring on each finger, and shook it near Ray’s face, as if saying, “ I’m going to hit you one real good.” “And this guy here,” Frank said, “this guy here will be a real prize fighter one day, make me some real money. Something you could have done for me, if you weren’t all glass.” Everyone laughed. “This is Lonny, 23-0, and turning pro next year. What do you think about that ,Dawson?” “Oh,” Ray said, an idea coming to him immediately, “you’re a fighter?” Lonny snickered at Ray, pointed his thumb at him, and to Frank said, “Who is this clown?” Lonny had his dimensions, similar height and weight, and probably was in the same weight class. He was about 25 though compared to Ray’s 41. “Light heavy?” Ray asked. “Fuck you,” Lonny said. “Boys, boys, easy now, there be plenty of time for blood after we talk business. Lonny, Hector, I’d like you to meet Ray. The infamous Ray ‘the glass jaw’ Dawson.” They laughed into crude high pitched laughter—Lonny’s laugh was higher pitched, and all things considered the sound of his laugh almost made Ray laugh. “Ray is a foolish man

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that doesn’t know what it means to pay his debts. So Ray, tell me, are you still driving that 90-whatever, 300z?” “94, yes.” “Here’s what I want you to do. Tomorrow morning I want you to sell the title of the car to Lonny over here, in the amount of one dollar, a dollar which you will give to him as well. You understand that?” “Come on, Frank, I owe you $3000. The car is old, but it’s worth about 9000.” Which was true, it was worth about that much. “4000! “he cried unexpectedly frantic. “You owe me 4000! An extra grand for all the fucking aggravation you put me through!” His head bobbed with emphasis when he spoke, causing strands of his gelled silver hair to wisp free along his face; he blew the wisps of hair away. “So it’s either one of two things, you sell me your piece of shit car, or it’s not going to be there when you get home, and the beating you get tonight will be even worse. Choice is yours.” Just then one of the bar employees came through, and stopped abruptly surprised by their presence. “Who the fuck are you?” Frank asked. “We need two more cases of Michelob light, just be a sec.” “Get lost buddy, I’m doing business! Tell your customers they’ll have to wait.” The guy just stood there. “GO, GO GO!” Frank yelled at him, now loosing many strands of hair. Lonny and Hector made a move for him, but the guy, mumbling something, went like he was told. Frank’s eyes met Ray‘s. “Two cases of Michelob light? What are people doing to themselves these days? Michelob light!” Frank said exasperated. Now

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Frank was perspiring badly. He dropped his cigar, took off his frames, and wiped the sweat with his forearm. With his eyes hyper extended, Frank said to himself, still in utter disbelief, “Michelob light.” “So let me get this straight, you telling me that I owe you $4000 and you’re going to take my car, and this pussy is going to be the one to beat sanity into me.” He said this to Frank. Lonny opened his mouth and got out: “What the f-” Frank held up his hand to silence Lonny before he got started. He still had the silver frames in his hand, and now he held them up to the light to examine them. “Where do guys like you come from, Ray Dawson? You’re knee high in shit, and you keep pushing. Why?” “Two guys yeah, but not this guy, not one on one.” Making two clawing hand that quivered violently for a moment, Frank became exceedingly frustrated again. “I didn’t ask you about two guys!” His face was red. It had been such a reaction that Ray wondered if he was being theatrical or if he was truly capable of getting that agitated so abruptly. “Let me take this faggot out, Cap.” Lonny said, “Please, I had enough of his mouth.” “You couldn’t take me down the street pal.” It took every bit of restraint for this Lonny character to hold back, and Ray Dawson knew so much. “How ’bout this,” Ray said, “you’re a fighter Lonny, I’m a fighter.” “You’re a has been that never was,” Lonny said. “Fine, a has been that never was, a guy with a glass jaw, that already lost one fight tonight, so how ’bout this, you take me one on one? If

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you win you guys get my car, my money whatever it is I owe you. If I win, Lonny you inherit my debt. If you so sure you can beat me, you take a risk.” “Please Cap, let me fuck this guy up. Outside, in front of everybody.” Frank, put the frames back over his eyes. He was collected again. How quickly he could change was amazing, “First guy to go down loses.” Frank said. “If you lose Lon, it’s coming out of your runnings.” “Funny, Captain.” “No, Lonny, no, that isn’t funny,” Frank said. “And remember, never underestimate an old dog.” And to Ray he winked. It hadn’t occurred to Ray that maybe Frank wanted to give his new fighter a test drive before he fully invested into the kid, but Frank was a exceptionally smart man, (and no, Ray never underestimated an old dog). Frank sent Hector to get Carl, and when Carl came to the back, Frank explained. “Just tell me who goes down first.” “In front of my bar?” “I’ll take care of you. You know me, I’m a man of my word.” Ray lowered his head, switched the bag from his left shoulder to his right, and exited the bar. He looked around for Heather, but she was nowhere to be found. Once outside, in the cool air, and with the sounds going from blaring music to sounds of the chattering outdoor crowd and city noise, car horns, sirens out in the distance, Hector yelled for everyone to clear some space. A dark H3 Hummer sat double parked before a fire hydrant with the hazards flashing. There was a guy with dark glasses behind the wheel. Frank said nothing to anyone as he went. He stepped up into the Hummer, and Ray watched as it drove away.

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He took a deep breath. The kid took off his Adidas jacket. Started bouncing up and down while flagrantly flapping his forearms to loosen up his arms. In the fight game the last thing to go in an older fighter is his power. The speed may go, the reflexes may fade, but the power is there until the end. Ray Dawson’s strong point had always been his power. He managed to agitate the kid pretty good, and the kid was an amateur—there were strangers watching, people to impress. Ray calculated something and decided he would drop all his eggs in this basket. Providing he was a conventional fighter—right handed—the kid would throw his most natural heavy handed punch which would be the overhand right—he wouldn’t open with a left hook unless he was really crazy, because a hook would need to be set up better, and if he missed he would be horribly off balance, worse than if he missed with an overhand right. On the other hand, Ray could use a hook to counter the right hand. He knew if the kid started with a jab, the one light handed punch—in most cases—that sets up all others, and then Ray could be in trouble. It would be a real fight. It would show the kid was poised. But looking into his eyes, Ray saw anything but a poised fighter— instead there was a young killer desperate to make a point. Hector was the one who called out “Fight!” The kid was conventional. He came forward. Ray was watching the right shoulder. Then it happened. Just like Ray thought it would. The kid threw the right, Ray stepped in, and dropped his counter left hook across Lonny’s jaw, and as Lonny’ face, came back into position,

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Ray delivered an overhand right of his own, a punch that Lonny never saw coming—the punch you don’t see coming is the one that does the damage, that’s the one that your body does not have time to brace for, and incidentally was the one that put Lonny on his ass. Fight over. Lonny was bleeding from his face. Ray thought about his own career, though about the potential it once had…. It was then that Ray realized the bar crowd was screaming and cheering him on. He overhead some people saying things like who is that guy, and others calling him Tyson, others calling him Mayweather. He felt like a champion. Ray looked around, and thought it was best to get out of there. He started down 9th street. Then he heard a voice, one that was very familiar, call after him. “Hey Ray,” the voice called, “wait.” It was Heather. Ray stopped, closed his eyes, thought about turning around, but didn‘t. As it turned out he didn’t have to. “What’s up, Ray? What happened? I missed you,” she said, and hugged him. In the summer night, he smelt her citrus perfume, and when she stepped back he admired how utterly gorgeous she really was, her body, her smile, the vulnerable look in her eyes, all of it. But Ray thought about something else—something that made him think: you’ve been hit in the head one to many times tonight. “You missed me, little lady?” She simply smiled, and that shy expression that made her eyes gleam, the look that drove him absolutely wild came into her eyes. Then reality suddenly became clear, the way it does sometimes. He wasn’t her special guy—the few moments they shared were common moments

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she shared every night, with whatever guy happened to be there. He wasn’t sure if he was thinking straight, but to him she was like glass herself, something fragile that would break. The head shots, right? And the he remembered it. It just popped into his head, just like that. He remembered the rest of what his mother said: “The foundation should be built in our strength and not in our weakness.” Ray said, “You say that to everyone?” She simply lowered her eyes and pouted her lips. He ruffled her hair. She was so beautiful, and he so crazy. “Goodnight, little lady.” Call me the iron jaw, he thought (or shithead maybe more fitting), and smiled as he walked down 9th Street, a street he walked down many times before, a street he never walked down in his life.

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Uptown Boys: A Once Upon Our Time Margaret Elysia Garcia

Perro and I lived in uptown. It was back when we were into people watching. The town was perfect for a good sense of sight. Constant sight. They knew everyone’s face and no one’s real name. They didn’t know scent either. No one ever heard you coming in this town. I didn’t bother to ask what anyone’s name was. I’d been here so many years that I sometimes forgot my own voice. Perro’s name was given to him by cousins who thought he was dog-like for tilting his head when he heard high pitched sounds and because he smelled bad when it rained. Once I moved here, I couldn’t tell sweat socks from roses. I couldn’t hear a thing. There was a constant identity crisis here. The Mexican kids went to college and expected more than their parents bargained for. Grown white men worked teenage jobs. It was the last town in Los Angeles County but the LA Weekly cost a dollar here while the OC Weekly, that none of us wanted, was free. I’m used to this town now. The way the three freeways skirt the very edges of the town, just like the bars, but none of the freeways actually runs through the town. It takes an hour to drive from one side of town to the other because there’s no ramp you can jump on and off

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to escape the endless rows of boxed houses—nice ones above the boulevard, hovels below the track, no man’s land beyond. A town of pink sound walls and Indian Hawthorne bushes in all the center divides and along the railroad tracks and little else. Perro was a regular at the store I worked at, and if I’m not mistaken, he fell for me pretty early on. Perhaps it was love at first sight: Perro, with his Walkman permanently attached to his ears listening to the same homemade Smiths compilation. The headset nearly covered by his trademark bowler hat. To me, he looked like a Mexican Cary Grant played by Johhny Depp. It was hard not to notice him. But I tried. Perro wasn’t one of the more eccentric freaks, I’m afraid. And that’s what probably took me so long to really notice him. Visually, he was up for stunning competition—if not my affection, at least my obsession. My favorite freak, the day Perro walked into my life, was Troutman. Troutman had a mouth that curled up on to itself, his eyes too close on either side to his nose. “I’m not allowed to be near children. I’m a molester,” he’d say if you walked too near his favorite bench on Philadelphia. He rocked in that demented way insane people rock. I always thought he was kidding. That a molester wouldn’t just tell you that that’s what he did. Kind of like a guy on a first date might not tell you he’s a dishwasher or a lawyer or a leaf blower. But the cops busted Troutman in Homeless Park with a small blonde child on his knee. How he got any child to come up to him, I couldn’t figure out. What about his face wouldn’t make most children run? His top lip was a hair from his nose. His greased, bony fingers lifting under the girl’s dress when they caught him. So he

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hadn’t quite done it yet, but he was seconds away. Once, the government thought he was dead and quit sending his social security checks. He marched up and down the street in protest waiving a letter he’d received from social security proclaiming that payments would cease to him because he was dead. “Tell them I’m not dead! Tell them I’m not dead!” He cried. My boss felt badly for him and offered to tie him over with cash until his payments were reinstated. But he barely spent much of the money he received and always had an extra check that hadn’t been cashed yet in the pocket of his thrift store blazer. On the day the cops had busted him for almost violating the girl and his parole, we found out his name was Ignacio Rodriguez. No shit. I’d pegged him for an old Ozark hillbilly come to California Grapes of Wrath style. You can’t always trust your vision. He was old, my Troutman. His skin specked with freckles and sunspots and cancer moles. His skin wasn’t any race, any color at all, just the gray leather look of old cheap shoes you are always about to throw away but never do. Old men smell like their father’s tobacco stand, their tinkering projects and gasoline and bleed easy skin. You can see the Metamucil trace marks on their lips and imagine the trace on their asses. Then there was Bogman. How he got all that debris of ivy vines and bark and moss on him , I have no idea. We were in south eastern Los Angeles county. Our nature being one of dry riverbed dust and bleached tall grasses in empty lots, manicured grass on the hills of the cemetery. Bogman lived in the alley behind the supermarket on the

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boulevard just below uptown but would walk all the way up the hill towards our little store. He didn’t have the urine stench of most homeless, though I have to go by others’ accounts of this. He looked like, I imagine, Wuthering Heights would smell. But we live in a desert climate how could that be? He kind of looked like a blurry Jolly Green Giant. You couldn’t tell where he began and ended. Once, I caught myself dreaming that he had taken me in his arms off to a cave somewhere above the town and made me the queen of his domain. I imagined him, my Hades and me his Persephone, and I’d wait out my season in silence. He would take me again and again, holding his hand across my mouth so I could not scream. This is why Perro had competition. Not with an actual world or actual man, but with my head and all the freaky men in it. Once, when the city council went on one of those clean up the city rampages before an election, where all they could see before them were blocks after blocks of tax base dwindling eccentricities, they vowed to give us voters something new and better to gaze upon—-an empty street. They began interviewing the homeless and the hangers on. Told Perro to move along and that he’d better not flick that butt into the street. Those homeless they could manage, the council had dropped off in downtown Los Angeles in the dead of night—-somewhere on Julian Street where trash cans still house bonfires. But Bogman baffled and intrigued them and did not fit easily into the back of the average vehicle. And, for starters, they couldn’t figure out what language he spoke. Perro and I were glad it wasn’t Spanish. One less thing to blame us for. The city council hired a linguist from the local college to have a

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go at Bogman. Turns out it wasn’t such a bad idea to hire him. Bogman, apparently, was an illegal Hungarian immigrant. A truck driver who’d lost his job and visa after too many nights of drinking. The council put him up in a hotel and forced him to bathe—-a whole ecosystem clogged itself down the sewer. They gave him a white shirt, Dockers, and a pair of loafers with thin socks. They sponsored him with a one-way ticket to Budapest with several stop-overs. We weren’t sure how he did it, but the linguist found his mother and the local paper interviewed her through translation. She begged them not send him back to Budapest. There were no jobs for him there. He didn’t say a thing. Boarded the plane and left. My other love was old enough to be my great grandfather. We called him Violin man. He carried his violin in a shopping cart from one edge of town to another and it took him all day to reach his destination. A park bench on a side street in uptown. I never saw him board a bus, hitch a ride, nothing. Just walking. There were plenty of parks and park benches closer to his house and plenty of corners for a street musician to play, but he would have none of it. You could tell time by where he was in the city. If you were late to work in the morning you’d know because Violin man would already be standing at the stoplight ready to cross the boulevard. If you saw him a mile back on Lambert, you still had time to grab coffee. I don’t ever remember hearing him play. Perhaps it was the traffic drowning out his sound. I saw the violin sitting on his lap, him holding it upright, pressing up against her with thick calloused fingers that I wished to god could have pressed against me. I watched him adjusting

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her strings, running his fingers across. But never did I hear a note. After he died, the city council erected a plaque near the bench he frequented. They dedicated it to the “Fiddle Player Man.” What kind of cadence is that? He was the Violin Man, not an oddity meant for brass plaques and granite. I conducted a ceremony myself for him. I stood across the street from his bench and watched its emptiness until Mexican women, the only ones who ever seem to use park benches for their purpose, came and sat, waiting for a ride home from a tired day. I stood there touching my arms—imagining my fingers bigger, flatter and thick, closing my eyes, opening again upon the blankness and the stop motion traffic of buses, cars, the occasional Vespa of mod kids in the wrong era. I mumbled a prayer to the air, blew it like a kiss to the bench, as my obsession evaporated into nothing. I walked up the street. Lit candles for them all in the Catholic church. Bent down in front of La Virgen, feeling it and not feeling it as usual. And this is how I ended up with Perro for awhile. With the competition incarcerated, flown, and dead, he was the most likely of candidates. The one who lasted. And if he was not some one that a girl could obsess over, he at least was eccentric enough to share the obsession. The joke would not have to be explained, history would not have to be divulged—-we could simply be, without sentences, without reliance on the senses to guide us. We lasted only a few seasons, like a good cable series with so many arcs and resolutions that by the end of season two? We felt complete. There was no need to introduce new characters, lottery ticket wins or babies.

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Eventually, we parted. He needed to find East Hollywood the way all children born into the LA suburbs do. He needed to have no one understand him so he could play guitar and get on a stage. And my eyes wandered away from both of us. From our bed in an uptown apartment, I was starting to notice pulls and snags in the carpet, and then the crack in the wall growing even larger after the earthquake, the door with its half-inch high opening on the bottom, where Santa Anas could waft in and stir my restlessness. I followed these visuals like breadcrumbs from his side. I took the 605 North. Then the 60 West. I followed an orange, purple sunset. I followed the dark green leaves of filthy trees. Sometimes I see Perro and smile and wave and take him up on that backstage pass. He’s good for a hug and that smile in a crowded bar that pays for a round and says, nice to know you got out too.

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The Dreaming Stasey Norstrom Walls so thin I can almost hear them breathing And if I listen in I feel my own heart beating “This City Never Sleeps”

I Body It lays cool across the land, an arm and a leg draped over the lowlying hills to the west, Its other limbs draped across the wide summerwithered river to the east. As the sun sets, a light breeze comes over the hills, cooling aching avenues and torn up streets, congestion finally dying down. It can breathe so much better in the evening; the choking smoke subsiding, the moist air clearing and cleaning the many arteries and veins. Stretched out, It watches the stars twinkle awake: tiny lights scattered across the twilight sky, each one illuminating its own sense of wonder. It reflects, gazing at the infinite scene hovering above, remembering a time long past of excitement and anticipation. Perhaps just folly and youthful ambition to be something more than what It has become, deep down It keeps hope safe from the diggers of man and the builders of innovation and progress. It relaxes its bumps and tired bones and, breathing deeply, slowly, begins to fall asleep and, as It sleeps, It begins to dream…

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II Heart She no longer remembers her name. It’s been so long since anyone has spoken to her, aside from the rare “here you go” and “you poor thing” and “get a fucking job.” Formal conversation was lost to her years ago since people forgot how to talk face-to-face and would rather email, chat, and tweet 2 <3 u cya, l8er g8er :o). She misses the interaction and the communication, the sense of pride within—and of—the community. Even those around her, displaced, diseased, or disheartened, have nothing to say to each other, let alone to her. Her frame is now thin, no longer full with the joy of mankind. Her knitted gloves are beginning to unravel; her multi-colored striped leggings do little to keep out the cold. Her oversized woolen coat has begun to wear at the cuffs and every seam beginning to fray. A tired smile tugs at her face as she spies a pigeon cooing its way past her. “Here ya are, dear,” slips from her young lips, a voice of withered wisdom. She casts a scrap of bread towards the chatty bird. It stops, pecks at the bread, gobbles it down, and waddles on its way without so much as a “thanks.” “Even winged rats no longer keep any company.” Her sight lifts tired eyes from the pigeon’s departure to a pair of (no longer?) lovers standing on the river walk, arguing, too focused on each other’s weaknesses. Standing so close and yet the space between them is cavernous. She watches as blind fingers search lightly for her charm; a heartshaped pendant sitting high on her breastbone: a ruddy red color sus-

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pended by tarnished silver. Memory searches, clutching her heart, remembering of time long past. She was the first one here: greeting each and everyone with open arms and a hope for a better future. And they would fall into their arms, embraced by the hope of a new young world and all the possibilities that lay before them. She brought them into her bosom and they created a life together: nursing, caring, protecting them from the elements and dangers of disillusionment. And they protected her in turn: loving caringâ&#x20AC;Śthey talked to her all the time. But no longer.

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III Mind He can no longer mind the people always surrounding him, their collective voices speaking/yelling/demanding all manner of things. He doesn’t remember the shower this morning nor can he recall the board meeting he had. Perhaps it was the dragon that threw his day off: the old white wyrm that sleeps in the deep forest beside the zoo. The delirium once made him worry that something was wrong, but now he sees the bridge of light and shadow and knows that everything is going to be ok after the snow starts and he’s able to comb his hair. He stops on the sidewalk, not able to see the bloody fists punch harder and harder at the safety glass between the two faces. The hands belong to wild eyes and a crank-shaft voice, hoarse from screaming truths at him all day long. He turns and walks away, picking at the scab on his neck with fingers twitching, the free hand dropping his nightly bottle. He points at the moon while glass shatters underfoot, stepping in shards he can no longer feel. To die. He reaches out to the night, wrapping himself in a lover’s embrace. For years, walking handin-hand with his sweet new beau, he takes her down to lay under the stars beside the water’s edge. To sleep. He no longer minds the people. …perchance to dream...

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IV Dreaming An exhausted old specter wanders the cityscape, its newborn twin keeping pace with the dragging apparition. Side-by-side, before and behind, they are one inside the other. Buildings erect as the newborn giggles as others collapse while the old man sighs. Since man first found this city-before-city, they appeared. The Watchmen: they are the beginning and the end, the alpha/omega of the dreaming, they are the caretakers of the Dreaming Lands. And, as the people sleep, they awaken and walk. Wrapped up against the midnight air, she dreams of golden rays and festive lights and the possibility of what was/is/could be. Loose in her hand rests a heart-shaped pendant on a tarnished-silver string. Her heart, this heart she gave so very long ago, big enough for everyone and everything and now here, tiny in her palm, is all that remains. The pair stop, the baby giggling at the sleeping girl. Pointing a chubby finger, the pendant sparkles, catching the city neon light hanging overhead. The baby giggles louder, its toothless, gummy grin approving of the tiny spectacle. The old form shakes it head slightly, a slip of a smiling frown on his face. The two continue onâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;this Virgil and Dante of the daily life that yields a monotonous hellâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and find themselves alongside the river. Disintegrating before them, the massive wrought-iron bridge collapses into the river. As it falls it rebuilds, completing its life cycle right back to its previous moment in time. Neither one takes notice of the event

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yet both are all too aware of its presence. They hear him before they see him: curled about a lamp post, legs kicking at the world from under his worn woolen coat. Words emanate from his body: lips remain shut, speech without form. The baby frowns and covers his eyes, tears welling. His twin bends his aging frame over the rage of the man’s sleeping mind and whispers shush! to the cacophony of this mind. Silence pools and flows over the twitching form and the voices fall to sleep. As the old man rises, stars shoot across the sky: a million wishes for the mind contained behind his tired eyes. He bears them all and finds his peace, once more drifting to sleep. They leave his mind be, following their same path since creation. Travelling amongst the million free souls that live amongst the city’s massive form, they bear witness to the multitude of souls drifting about the Dreaming Lands: flying, falling, feeling; imaginations explore, wrapped in desire and despair. Undulating dreams wash over the old man yet he forges onward, bodies and thoughts ebbing away to vapor and dust. The baby smiles and waves at the remains which collect themselves once again, as they do every night, and fulfill their abstract reality, their fantasy-in-half-life. A roar and eruption of air signals the last flight of night from the Great White Wyrm, its massive form rising from the spires of glass and steel. The dragon rises above its forest of industry, taking purchase upon the highest peak of the tallest tower. Once again it roars—a warning from on high—and the free form souls respond, beginning a return to their flesh-born homes. The collective retires, finishing another journey out among the Dreaming Lands.

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Faint illumination from the impending sun rise does not alter the twinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s expressions. Completing their journey, they turn and watch the last of the souls find their homes from which they left. Dawn approaches and the day begins anew.

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V Arise Golden rays warm Its waking form. It stretches with those inside that make up the whole of It. And with new day comes new hope and movement; these dreams left upon the smiles of all; those shaken to life by the confusion of subconscious symbols; those unaware of what happened while they stepped behind the curtain of now and into the Lands of all that was/is/could be. Their dreams are Its dream and their experiences are Its: living, dying, rising high and dust to dust. We are It. It is we. And with us, It has risen.

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Boob Job Harris Tobias

The size of her breasts spoke volumes about what kind of woman she was—a woman who would do almost anything to please her man. Their size alone should have been a warning and maybe they were, but it was drowned out by the rest of her. She was beautiful and looked as out of place in my shabby office as bouquet of roses. She wore expensive clothes and her perfume probably cost more than I earn in a month. She was young and rich with the contented air of a showgirl who managed to escape the life by marrying a rich old man. This hypothesis was proven true when she placed a photograph on my desk. “My husband, Archibald Cheever, is missing, Mr. Danks. He went out last night to play cards and never came home. This morning I went into his room and his bed was still made.” this statement told me several things about their relationship—he left her alone at night, they slept in separate rooms, she didn’t wait up for him. Whoever those boobs were for, it didn’t look like Mr. Cheever was on the receiving end. “We always have breakfast together. I’m worried, Mr. Danks. I think something has happened to him.” She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue in a way that was more about mascara than emotion. “Why don’t you go to the police, Mrs. Cheever,” I asked hoping she had a good excuse. “Oh no. There’d be reporters, it would be in the papers. This is a

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private matter, Mr. Danks and I want to keep it that way.” “Why me? There are dozens of private eyes in Phoenix.” “You come highly recommended,” she said crossing her legs demurely. This sounded like pure bunk to me but a client is a client no matter how you get them. So I told her my fee and asked her a few general questions like where was this card game and the names of the other players, what kind of car was he driving. and did he have any enemies she knew of. To this she said the predictable, “Everyone loved Archie, he didn’t have a enemy in the world.” I already had his picture so I concluded the interview by saying, ”I’ll make some inquiries, Mrs. Cheever. You’ll be hearing from me as soon as I learn anything.” She stood and gave me her hand to shake. “Please call me Jocelyn and thank you Mr. Danks.” “If we’re going to be on first name terms then you’ll have to call me Richard.” That’s my name Richard Danks. I’m a private investigator here in Phoenix and have been one for the last eight years. And before you start with the jokes, I’ve heard them all, Dick Danks, Dick the Dick, Damp Dick, Donkey Dick, ex-cetera, ex-cetera. Very amusing now get out of my face and let me tell my story. The card game was the logical place to begin and in this business, logical is good. According to Mrs. Cheever, the game was a regular Thursday night thing. Archie Cheever had been playing with this same group of guys for the last five years. Last night’s game was at the home

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of Nick Wineglass. I did a quick internet search on all the players and learned that Mr. Wineglass made his money as a high priced corporate attorney who, until his retirement six years ago, was the founding partner of Wineglass, Levin & Dunn. The house was one of those over-built, over priced suburban McMansions that are springing up all around Phoenix. It was a monument to the American legal System. It made you wonder just what blind justice was weighing on those scales of hers. A sweet gray haired Mrs. Wineglass answered the door. She invited me inside and when I stated my business she called upstairs for her husband. We talked about the weather until her husband came down and she made her exit. “What’s this all about, Mr. Danks? What business does a private investigator have with me?” “I’ve been hired by Mrs. Cheever to locate her husband. He failed to return home last night. Last night’s card game seemed like the logical place to start looking.” “Archie’s missing?” “What can you tell me about last night?” “Nothing. I mean nothing happened. We played poker like usual. The game broke up around midnight. Everyone said goodnight and went home.” Mister Wineglass seemed genuinely concerned for his friend. “Did Mr. Cheever seem upset? Did he act different in some way?” “Nothing obvious except that he did seem quieter than usual.” “Quieter?” I repeated trying to draw him out. “Archie was always telling jokes and stories. He was a pretty talkative guy, you know, chattered a lot. Anyway, last night he was quieter

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than usual.” “Do you think something was bothering him?” “One of the guys, Ed I think, asked him if he was alright. Arch just shrugged and said he might be coming down with something or something to that effect.” I made a few notes and handed Mr. Wineglass my card. “Call me if you hear from Mr. Cheever or think of anything else.” My next stop was the home of doctor Edward Fisher. Dr. Fisher made his millions young in life as the owner of a chain of walk-in plastic surgery clinics called The Perfect-U. His over the top mansion attested to his business success and confirmed my suspicion that money was no substitute for good taste. He was the youngest of the four poker players, handsome, arrogant and divorced. He was just putting his golf bag in his Jaguar when I pulled up. I handed him my card and begged a few minutes of his time. He checked his gold Patek Phillipe and said he could only spare a few minutes. “If you’re not at the tee on time, they give your spot to someone else.” “Well we certainly can’t have that,” I said with as great a lack of sympathy I could muster. “Archibald Cheever never got home last night. His wife hired me to see if I could find him. What can you tell me about last night?” “So old motor-mouth is missing, huh?” “You don’t seem too surprised.” “No now don’t get the wrong idea. I’m surprised he’s missing but I’m not surprised he might have gotten someone angry enough to shut

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him up. The man talked incessantly about other people. Maybe someone finally took offense.” “I thought you and he were friends.” “We played cards every week but I never saw him socially. I don’t care for talkative people.” “Nick Wineglass said he seemed quieter than usual last night.” “Maybe so but even half of too much is still a lot.” He checked his watch again to signal he was in a hurry. “Just one more question. Nick said you remarked at how quiet he was.” This got him red faced and flustered but he recovered quickly. “I might have said something like that but I was joking. He still talked more than anyone else.” The third member of the card game was a fellow by the name of Leon Francis. Mr. Francis was a man of more modest means at least compared to his card game buddies. Leon was a retiree like the others but he lived on his pension and social security like the majority of Americans. He was a pharmacist for all of his working life. He never married and lived alone. His place turned out to be a semi detached town house condos built around a swimming pool in one of the new gated communities springing up all over. The only purpose I can see for the gate is to discourage what few friends you have from dropping in. But to each his own. Live and let live that’s my motto. I pushed the doorbell and could hear it ring inside but no one answered the door. I was heading back to the car when I heard sounds coming from the backyard. I took the path around the house and found

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a trim older man working away at a pile of mulch. I called to him and he startled. “I’m sorry,” I called, “I’m looking for Leon Francis.” “You’ve found him,” he said walking over and unlatching the gate. He extended a mulchy hand then hurriedly wiped it on his pants and offered it again. It was a weak and fishy hand clasp, weak and shy. I told him why I was there and he became concerned and serious. “Archie was my friend I hope nothing has happened to him. “Tell me about the game last night, did you notice anything odd about his behavior?” “Now that you mention it, he seemed much quieter than usual. Like something was on his mind.” “Did anyone ask him about it?” “Ed asked him what was wrong and Archie said ‘something was going down” or something like that.” “What do you think he meant?” “I think he was worried about Jocelyn, Mrs. Cheever.” “What about her?” “Archie thought she might be having an affair.” “Did he say who with?” “No he said he didn’t know but he was pretty certain she was seeing someone.” “Why, what made him so certain?” “Well for one thing, Jocelyn got her breasts enhanced.” “So what? What’s so suspicious about that, lots of women get boob jobs and plenty of men like big breasted women.” “That’s very true but Archie and Jocelyn aren’t like that. They don’t

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have sex. Archie is gay and it’s well known that Jocelyn is just playing the role of trophy wife. Archie couldn’t have cared less about the size of Jocelyn’s breasts, in fact he was embarrassed by them. She must have done it for someone else.” “Well,” I said, “if they weren’t having any sex, wasn’t the young wife entitled to get some on the side? Hell, who could blame her?” “That’s not the way Archie saw it. To him cheating is cheating and he was afraid it would lead to scandal and shame and Archie couldn’t abide that.” “You seem to know an awful lot about his private life,” I said. “Like I told you before, we were good friends.” When I got back to my office, I looked through my notes. If Jocelyn’s boobs were for someone else, I needed to know who that someone was. I didn’t feel comfortable asking Mrs. Cheever who she was seeing, not if I wanted to keep collecting my per diem, so I decided to follow her around for a while and see where her boobs led me. I drove over to her house. It was another monument to the god of square footage and excess consumption. Her car was in the driveway so I parked down the street and waited. A lot of what a private investigator does involves waiting. The cops call it a stakeout, I call it down time. After a while you get good at it. You read the paper and do the puzzles, listen to the radio and think about your wasted life. If you’re smart you can use this time to learn a language or get a degree. I should have been a genius by now but I’m not that bright. You can do anything on a stakeout except sleep. You snooze you lose; that goes for most things in life.

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After a couple of hours killing time, Mrs. Cheever, wearing a tight fitting sun-dress and dark glasses, got behind the wheel of her sporty two seater and took off down the road without so much as a glance behind her. I followed her around while she did a little shopping. She made a stop at the Perfect-U Clinic, one of Doctor Fisher’s plastic surgery chain. I thought that was interesting. When she came out she was on her cell phone and she didn’t look happy. She picked up some takeout food and returned home. I parked in my usual spot and resumed my vigil. A couple of hours later the good doctor himself pulled up in his Jag and disappeared inside. Now I couldn’t be sure this wasn’t a purely professional visit. If he was her surgeon, this might just be a routine examination then again maybe he was examining more than her routine. Doc Fisher didn’t strike me as the kind of doctor who made housecalls. This was all very interesting but it wasn’t getting me any closer to actually finding Archie Cheever which was what I’d been hired to do. In my overactive imagination I could visualize various scenarios where Archie Cheever confronted Dr. Fisher after the game and violence ensued. This would make Dr. Fisher a suspect but it didn’t feel right—too obvious? I don’t know, it was too simple. I decided to dig a little deeper. It had only been 24 hours that Archie Cheever had been missing. He could still be very much alive somewhere, sleeping off a bender or visiting his sister in Boise for all I knew. But deep in my gut I knew that wasn’t true, I just didn’t know what was.

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The phone woke me at five thirty in the morning. It was my employer. She was sobbing. The police had just been there. They had bad news. Archie Cheever’s body had been found in his car about ten miles out in the desert Near Pipe Stem State Park apparently dead of a heart attack or a stroke. There were no signs of violence on the body and his wallet still had a couple of hundred dollars in it so robbery didn’t figure into it. “So it looks like poor Archie died of natural causes, Mr. Danks. I guess I won’t be needing your services anymore. Send me a bill for what I owe you and thanks.” Well, wasn’t that neat. Jocelyn gets to play the grieving widow at the inquest, the rich widow collects on a fat insurance policy and she and doctor Fisher get to play hide the salami for the rest of their lives. Everybody gets what they want except poor Archie, he gets to be dead. I know I wasn’t on the clock anymore but I believe in giving my customers more than they pay for. So I drove out to Pipe Stem Park to take a look around. The cops were still there just putting Archie Cheever’s car up on a flat bed tow truck. The body was long gone and since it wasn’t a crime scene, I was free to look around like any other citizen. I asked the tow truck operator if he found a lot of abandoned cars out here. “A few,” he said. “But not as many as a few years ago.” “What happened a few years ago?” I asked. “This was a big queer pick up place. Gay guys would meet their dates here and drive off. Sometimes they wouldn’t come back. Cops cleaned them all out a few years ago.” Pipe Stem Park is typical of desert parks. The parking lot led to a nature trail. There was a restroom and a place with picnic tables.

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I walked around. I didn’t know what I was looking for but I figured I’d recognize it when I saw it. I went into the men’s room and looked through the paper towels in the can provided for that purpose. I didn’t find anything there. I looked around the picnic area. There were a half dozen trash barrels. Most were empty. In one I found what I was looking for. Amidst the cookie boxes and sandwich wrappers I found a syringe. I wrapped it carefully in a napkin and put it in my pocket. I had a hunch it would be important. Go try and figure out where hunches come from but if you’re a PI or a cop you learn to respect them. They come from deep inside and sometimes they whisper in your ear and sometimes they smack you over the head. This one was a whisperer. I only have one real friend on the force, a homicide detective named Barry Alfaro. I stopped in to see him on my way back from Pipe Stem Park and was lucky enough to catch him just sitting down with his coffee and bagel. “I thought all you cops only ate donuts,” I said knocking on his office partition. “Well if it isn’t Dickie Danks PI to the stars. Come on in. How they hanging?” I told Detective Alfaro about my case and about my suspicions. Then I showed him the syringe I found and unwrapped it on his desk. He stared down at it like I’d just placed a dog turd on his bagel. “What do you expect me to do with that? This isn’t even a criminal case. The guy died of natural causes you said so yourself.” “No I said the death certificate says he died of natural causes but my guess is he died of what is in this syringe and if you alert the ME to look for whatever compound this is, he’ll probably find plenty of it.

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Then, when it’s officially a homicide, you run the prints on this little piece of evidence your friend has brought you and you have your perp. Clean, sweet and easy. You’re a hero you close the case and you’re in my debt forever.” “You want me to waste a bunch of valuable lab time on a wild hunch?” “How about you just ask the ME to look for suspicious chemicals that mimic coronaries or strokes or whatever it looks like he died from?” Barry’s a good guy. He actually picked up the phone while I was there and called the ME’s office. I heard him tell them to run some toxicology on Mr. Cheever. Then he sat back and looked at me long and hard. “Well I did it, I went out on a limb for you. If, by some miracle, you turn out to be correct, I’ll let you know and you’ll put this syringe back where you found it so that I can find it and the chain of evidence will be unbroken and if you ever breath a word of this conversation to anyone they’ll be finding pieces of you in the desert for the next decade.” “You’re the best, Barry, thanks.” Three days later it was a murder case. The drug, famoxine methylhydrate, is one of those rare nearly untraceable compounds that cause a massive coronary. Spooks use it for political assassinations. It’s difficult to get your hands on unless you’re a CIA assassin or a pharmacist. The prints on the syringe were badly smudged but the print lab was able to get a good partial that matched Leon Francis’ thumb close enough to bring him in for questioning. “He broke down like a girl,” Barry Alfaro told me a couple of weeks later over beer and pretzels. “He was sobbing

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and weeping how he loved Archie how they’d been lovers for six years. Archie was going to break it off. His wife’s boob job had awakened deep feelings of jealousy and guilt he was going back to women he was afraid of scandal all kinds of gay craziness. Fisher decided that if he couldn’t have Archie, no one else would so he lured him out to the old Pipe Stem parking lot where they first met and killed him. So there you have it. It turned out just like you said, I’m a hero and I owe you big time. Sometimes you’re not such a boob after all.”

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Four Ways to Uncover a Time Traveler Ryan Dorrill

“He’s definitely a time traveler. No doubt.” “Jules, you’re being paranoid. Or delusional.” He shot me a look. “Or both.” I glanced down the train car at the man in question. “He’s just a normal guy with a strange sense of style.” Jules raised a bushy eyebrow at me. “How can you be so sure?” Normally I would have shaken this off as another one of his dramatic episodes, but as we rode the rattling Japanese train southward the wall of darkness outside seemed to add weight to his words. We weren’t exactly on one of the central lines, either. This was the old Omi electric, leading through the rural mountain towns of central kansai. I turned back from the window. “Look, maybe this guy is a little weird, but just because he’s wearing a cape doesn’t mean he’s some sort of Star Trek character.” “You’re right, that’s preposterous.” I smiled victoriously, but he raised his index finger and went on. “Time travel is a rare occurrence in the Star Trek universe.” He snorted as the relief drained from my face. I had a bad feeling that this was going to lead to another incident. “This isn’t another one of your conspiracy theories, is it?” I checked

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my cell phone wearily. Still fifteen minutes until Yokaichi station and the train was rattling around more than ever. I loosened my schoolissue necktie and tried to get comfortable. “I’ve heard enough of time travelers, extraterrestrials, and undead samurai for one lifetime. Can’t we enjoy a single commute without pretending we’re in one of your weird stories?” “Hey!” He frowned and jammed his hands in his pockets, turning away and looking out the window. “You said you liked the samurai story.” “Well,” I paused, clearing my throat, “that was just a story.” “Well this isn’t. Look at that guy,” Jules waved a hairy arm in the man’s direction. “He meets all four criteria for time travelers. And...” he paused an raised his index finger for dramatic effect, “I think he’s been stalking me.” He was trying to get me to bite. “No. Just no, Jules. He is not stalking you,” I chopped my left hand into the palm of my right and indicated the accused man. “The guy is totally staring at us,” Jules appealed in a furious whisper. “Or he’s daydreaming.” “About assassinating one of us to accomplish his mission.” I laughed. “Look, even if he is a time traveler, why would he be stalking you: a high school junior with no extracurricular activities, poor communication skills, and an after school job selling otaku stuff on ebay? If you weren’t so weird, you’d be the most boring person I know.” “Wow Wells, thanks man. I have some aspirations other than living

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in Japan my whole life, you know. Not everybody’s dad can be ambassador or whatever your dad does.” “Secretary to the trade secretary,” I said, rolling my eyes and undoing the top button of my shirt. “We’ve been through this about ten times, now.” “I’m going to be a professional writer and political blogger as soon as I get out of samurai land. You’ll see,” he folded his arms across his chest and looked away from me. “Alright, I’m sorry,” I sighed. I might as well be nice if we were going to be riding the train together all year. “Tell me about these four signs.” “What signs?” he smirked and raised his bushy eyebrows again. “God dammit,” I cursed and wound up to punch him in the shoulder, but the train hit a bump and nearly knocked me off my feet. Even my judo-club training couldn’t help me keep my balance on these death traps. The engines were whining like the Millennium Falcon and we were rolling past the dark rice fields and shadowy mountains outside at quite a velocity “Just tell me,” I said, lowering my fist, “about the criteria you mentioned.” “Number one,” he held up his bony index finger like some sort of professor, “strange, atavistic clothing.” “Ok, I’ll admit it. He’s a qualifier.” I peered down the car at our Japanese stalker. He was staring blankly into the night now, ignoring us and the rest of the passengers. “But what the hell, he probably works for a Renaissance fair or one of those gothic lolita costume shops or something. Anybody could qualify for number one.”

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“That’s why there are three more criteria,” he said, crossing his arms and shaking his head at me. “Ok, I’ll bite. What’s number two?” I said, reaching up and grabbing an overhead strap to steady myself against the motion of the train. Outside, snow was beginning to settle on the window frames. “The second criteria,” he said, his eyes gazing outside, “is an unnatural accent. As if he’s trying to speak normally but can’t quite get it right.” I scoffed. “That’s basically true of everyone in this country,” I said, giving up on standing and squeezing into a seat next to an old Japanese man. The old fellow was staring at me through thick glasses, but my eyes wandered down the car to the man in question - the man in the cape, or was it a hooded cloak? Hadn’t his eyes been gazing in our direction again before he put his hood up? The man crossed his arms and lowered his head but I had the feeling that somewhere beneath his hood his eyes were still peering at me. “So, what’s the third criteria?” I asked, finally dragging my eyes away. “A strange preoccupation with watches.” “That’s fallacious reasoning.” “How do you mean?” he said, sounding hurt as he lunged for an overhead strap to steady himself. The train felt ready to derail; outside the brakes were squealing. “Time travel. Watches. Ok, I see the connection, but it’s superficial, like something they would put in a movie. No real time traveler would be that obvious.” “Why not?” he said, nearly falling over as the train came to an

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unexpected halt. Overhead, the speakers emitted an incomprehensible announcement to explain the problem. Jules straightened himself and dusted off the soy sauce stained front of his blazer. Then, he went on, “Assuming he travels frequently to various points in time, he’ll want to keep several watches to keep track of the local time after he leaves each temporal location.” “Alright, fair enough. There’s one more criteria, right?” “Yes, indeed.” He paused and glanced overhead. “The lights are flickering.” I looked up and sure enough he was right. No one else seemed to notice or care. The old man beside me was snoring quietly, his gray beard resting against his chest. “So what? These old trains are always falling apart.” Jules glanced down the car at the accused time-traveler, but for all intents and purposes the man looked asleep, hunched over and leaning against the wall. “The fourth criteria is his smell. Time traveling leaves a physical and chemical imprint on his body – one that’s difficult to conceal.” “So what?” I leaned my head over and took a brief whiff of my armpit. “After two hours of judo club I smell pretty bad too, but I’m no time traveler.” He grimaced. “You’re so weird.” “At least we have something in common,” I said, jabbing him playfully in the shoulder. “Owww!” he whined. “Look, you’ve got the wrong idea. They don’t smell like BO. There’s still deodorant in the future. The smell is strange, chemical, like new car scent mixed with air-conditioned air.”

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“Alright. So who’s going to test him for that criteria?” He shrugged and adjusted his glasses. “This is all theoretical, of course.” I threw my hands in the air and let them fall to my sides. “That’s it? You’re just going to leave it at that?” “Well I’m not going over there. Especially on a night like this.” He indicated the flickering lights and the ice crystals forming on the train windows. “Are you asking me to go?” “No.” He shook his head emphatically. “I’m just going to keep an eye on him. Maybe I’ll snap a few cell phone photos for good measure.” “You know Jules, I wouldn’t mind...” “No.” “I’ll do it.” A grin started to spread on my face. “No.” “Seriously. Comon, I know you man. The whole reason you brought this up is so you could get me to go over there and scope this guy out, right?” He stared at his shoes and adjusted his glasses. “You are a brown belt.” “Alright.” I stood up and cinched my leather belt, waking the old Japanese man in the process. “I’ve got this.” “No, Wells,” he persisted, “it’s alright. The guy could be dangerous.” “Dangerous is my middle name,” I grinned, loosening my necktie further and cracking my neck. “Besides, there’s no way this guy is actually a time traveler. If he is, I’ll sneak over to a vending machine later

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and buy you a beer.” He adjusted his glasses and shook his head at me, his shoulders hunched. I strode down the train car toward the man and he seemed not to notice; as I got closer, I couldn’t help but check for strange smells. There was nothing unusual except the burnt plastic smell coming out of the train’s heating vents. Finally, I came up to him and leaned against the window beside him. “Strange night, eh?” His chin slowly lifted and he blinked at me from beneath his hood. “Hmm?” “Strange stuff,” I said in Japanese this time, “first the snow storm and now the train stopped out here in the middle of nowhere. Probably only four minutes away from Yokaichi, too.” He nodded and licked his lips, as if tasting the words before he spoke. “Uncanny,” he answered in almost perfect English. There was only the slightest hint of an accent. The answer jolted me for a second. I had expected something in Japanese. I blinked at him and he folded his arms across his chest, yawning. I pried on. “You wouldn’t happen to know the time would you?” He raised an eyebrow at me as if to ask ‘are you kidding?’ but then pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and glanced at the time. “Eight fifty. Our journey has run very late.” “Thanks,” I went on, shooting an ‘I told you so’ look at Jules. No

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watches. “You have somewhere to be? Work?” “No.” I coughed into my fist and glanced out the window. The snow was really coming down now. Presumably the conductor was outside, shoveling off the tracks with his hat or something. “So, uh, that’s an interesting outfit you have on. You work at a clothing store?” He cocked his head back. His lips were curling into a slight smile. “No,” he shook his head. “A museum?” He raised an eyebrow at me. “I simply find these garments comfortable.” I leaned in closer to the man and glanced about conspiratorially. “Look, I’m sorry for bothering you. I know this is ridiculous, but my friend down there,” I said, turning and jacking my thumb in Jules’ direction, “he thinks you’re a time traveler.” “Hah hah hah.” The man laughed, each syllable oddly disparate, like the cars of the train. He didn’t seem to get the joke. “Your friend must be very strange,” he said, stretching out the last words. “Yeah, he is.” I shrugged. “Sorry for bothering you and thanks for clearing that up.” I strode back down the car to Jules, jamming my hands in my pockets with the thumbs hanging out. He rubbed his temple with his hand, mortified. “Nothing,” I said, holding my hands out in appeal. “No smell, a pretty normal accent - solid English, actually – and a cell phone to tell the time. Sorry Jules.”

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He sighed and leaned himself against the window. “Why do you always do this?” “What?” “Embarrass me in front of people.” I shook my head. “What are you talking about? It’s not me buddy, this was your idea.” “You didn’t have to act like I’m some sort of kook in front of the whole train,” he waved his hands at the other passengers, his cheeks red. I narrowed my eyes and glared at him. “Look, nobody cares. That guy could have been a psycho just waiting for some white gaijin to kidnap. I put myself on the line there and this is how you thank me?” He sat down next to the old man and crossed his arms without saying a word. As if in response, the train started up again and began rolling down the tracks. “Don’t look now,” he said, “but that guy is coming back to kidnap you, Mr. Dangerous.” I bit my tongue and turned. Sure enough the man was heading in our direction, his cloak trailing behind him. He had his arms crossed in an X shape, like a gunslinger reaching inside his cloak for his six-shooters. I shrunk back defensively, but all he removed from inside the cloak was his cell phone. “I apologize,” he said, bowing slightly. Long hair spilled out of the hood, “but my cell phone is in a state of malfunction. The time,” he said, rolling up his sleeve to reveal an arm covered in watches, “is nine fifteen.” He dragged out the last word again, then smiled, bowed and walked away back down the train.

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My jaw dropped. “Wow. Jules, man. Do you think...?” He silenced me with a wave of his hand and rose from his seat, staring after the man. “Don’t worry about it,” he straightened his necktie and lifted his head, “we’ll discuss it after you buy me that beer.” I cleared my throat. “If we ever get off this train, I’ll buy you two.” Outside, the dark landscape was rolling by again, but now it was the inside of the train that seemed foreign to me. We had only three minutes left to Yokaichi, so I didn’t take a seat. Instead, I joined Jules and surveyed the other passenger with a weary eye. “You know, that woman in the back is awfully pale,” he said, a grin spreading on his face. I shook my head. “Zombie or vampire?”

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Knife, Fork, Spoon Zach Endres

“Do you have your knife? And your fork? And don’t forget your spoon.” Every morning Laut heard these, his mother’s words. She hollered them from across the cluttered living room as she sat in a dilapidated armchair that faced not her departing son, but an old-fashioned tube television and a rug that had seen better years—as well as exponentially less resident crumbs and coffee stains. Aside from the occasional bathroom break, Laut’s mother only ever had one real reason to get up, and that was to bid her son farewell as he left for the day. However, to the chair’s sagging disappointment, she was instead in the habit of simply shouting at Laut to make sure he had his knife and his fork and his spoon. He was then left alone to finish readying himself for his daily entrance into the real world, where he worked to provide for what was left of his family, which consisted primarily of him, his perpetually seated mother, the chair, the rug, the television, and the few knickknacks that had found a humble home in their apartment. Things weren’t good, but at least they had their silverware. Laut, as always, answered her call with a grumble. There was then the distinct clang of the closing front door. “One of these days…” his mother said to herself. Once outside, Laut pulled his jacket tighter to shield himself from

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the brisk winter air. He patted the sack that hung from a belt loop, feeling the curves and the edges of his knife, his fork, and his spoon. His other hand brushed against his weak mustache as he rubbed a trace of snot from his nose. Acclimated at last, Laut moved on, down through the unkempt courtyard of his apartment complex and out onto the street. Here, as always, the cars parked their way to work. They pulled forward into a new parking spot, parked, pulled forward into another parking spot, parked, and so on until they finally made it down the matrix of parking spots to their destinations. And as always, Laut walked, never one to enjoy sitting in parked cars. Besides, he enjoyed the diminishing effect that came with being one among the buildings that towered on the edge of every block. He never grew tired of all their contrasting textures and glass panes and steel frames and tediously bricked façades. They were a testament to society’s triumph over the mad natural world, and they dwarfed Laut’s concerns, just an individual, one of many in the offices and apartments above, all tending to their lives with a sack on their sides that contained a knife, a fork, and a spoon. Laut prodded his sack once more, momentarily forgetting he already checked. After his stroll alongside the perpetually parking cars, he entered one of the looming structures he admired so. He nodded to the clerk in the lobby, a boringly attractive young woman with a pale complexion who grew her brittle blonde hair just long enough to cover ears she considered at least one size too large. “Good morning, Laut,” she said.

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“Mandy,” Laut said in return. “Having a good Monday?” “Already looking forward to lunch,” he said with a grin. Indeed he was, and so were his knife, his fork, and his spoon. For the next four hours he tittered away in his cubicle, making ends meet and looking forward to striking his knife and fork into some real meat. His cubicle neighbor was in the same boat in a proverbial sense, and a moment later was also in the same cubicle. “Bring your spoon today?” the man said. His name was Charles and he was notorious for finding reasons not to work, even if he had to resort to inane small talk. He would often find himself engaged in very small talk, beyond issues of lunch and the weather and what degree one had from what scholarly program, from issues involving the rate at which the new paint was drying in the conference room to what the exact note the vending machine chimed when you made a selection. His coworkers would have minded, but honestly, all that small talk was much more interesting than what they were doing to begin with. “I forgot it one time, why can’t anyone just drop it?” His face changed subtly. “Why? It’s steak today.” “Soup, boy,” Charles said. “Oh.” Laut wasn’t a fan. “Why did I think it was steak?” “You always do.” “It should always be steak.” “How long do you think it takes the cooks to put on their hair nets? I think six seconds.” “Four. I’ll see you at lunch.”

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As he returned to typing, Laut felt a pinch at his waist. He looked down at his silverware sack and then opened it to discover that his knife was flipped over in a stabbing position. He pulled the sack off his belt and placed it on his desk. Under the fluorescent light, he examined the silverware. They lived up to their name, as they were indeed metallic, silver in appearance. They were sturdy, with sleek handles that culminated in broad bases, the emblem of the state ornately engraved below. Laut had owned this set all his life, yet he had never really looked at them before. And for good reason, he noted, since there wasn’t much to look at. He placed the three utensils back in their sack and left the sack on his desk to avoid any bodily harm. It wasn’t long before the anticipated lunch hour became the present and the workers queued in line for their soup. Laut and Charles sat down across from Mandy and everyone in presence opened their sacks. Charles and Mandy brought out their silverware in a neat and orderly fashion: first the knife, then the fork to the right of the knife, and finally the spoon to the right of the fork. They repositioned their bowls of soup to be directly in front of their patiently waiting mouths, and then, with all grace and measure, picked their spoons up from the table and tipped them into the steaming liquid. At last, they brought their full spoons upward and proceeded to sip. It was only then that Laut was suspiciously uninvolved in the proceedings. Charles and Mandy looked up from their soup when they noticed this glaring absence. “What’s wrong?” Mandy said, spoon of soup halfway to her mouth.

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“I can’t find my spoon,” Laut said, rummaging his hand through his sack. His knife and fork were in their proper place on the table. “I thought you said you had it?” Charles said. “I did have it,” Laut said. “It must be at my desk.” He snatched his silverware and bolted up, leaving Charles and Mandy to enjoy their soup, which they did. For the rest of the lunch hour Laut scavenged around his desk. The spoon was nowhere to be found. He crumpled downward into his swivel chair and racked his brain. He had seen the spoon. It was right there in front of him. He didn’t notice his coworkers when they came back from their soup binges. He didn’t notice that the hours passed and that Charles was trying to chat him up about how thick the window panes were. He didn’t notice the glare his boss sent his way as the bitter old man wondered what the hell that daft kid was up to. He did notice, however, when the clock hit five and he could run home. It must be there. His mother still sat in her comfortable chair watching the comfortable programming on that old, trusty television when Laut bolted through the front door. “Have you seen my spoon?” he blurted out. The woman, as worn as the seat she sat on, turned to face her son, a desperate man framed by the open doorway. “You said you had it,” her voice rasped. “And shut the door, it’s freezing out there.” “I did have it!” Laut said as he absently obeyed his mother. “Then of course I haven’t seen it. It’s been with you.”

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“It’s not!” “You lost it.” “I didn’t lose it!” “You did.” “I did…” She turned away from her son so she could face one of the few objects in her life that never let her down, except on its annual breakdown. But a defective television could be fixed; her son was a different story. The rest of the night involved no sleep or peace for Laut, only scrambling, rummaging, fretting, fretting, fretting. Consequentially, the next morning was not kind to him. His eyes sunk inward, his skin was a bumpy, pale texture, and his hair frazzled upward in an unkempt flurry. He rubbed his eyes and sulked as he sat in his swivel chair, the rest of his cubicle untouched, disregarded once Laut’s mental state went through its drastic regime change. “Soup again!” Charles chirped as he passed by. “Why is it never steak,” Laut said, more to himself than to his coworker. “You know we never have steak, boy. The company can’t afford it. Those knives and forks might as well be for display.” Laut sighed. And he sighed again at lunch as he stared at the bowl before him. Soup. Mandy and Charles sipped happily, both seated across the table from him. He whimpered.

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“What am I going to do?” Mandy looked up from her spoonful of soup, the chattering ambiance of the cafeteria filling in the void once filled by her succession of sips. “You can always just drink the soup.” “I mean in general—wait, what?” Laut said, taken aback. “That’s barbaric. We have spoons for a reason!” “There’s not much more you can do,” Mandy said. “You’ll never be able to convince the government to assign you a new one.” “We’re supposed to be civilized…” Laut went on to himself. “My cousin lost his knife last year,” Charles spoke up. “Tried to appeal for a new one. The clerks laughed in his face. They said if they gave one person a new knife, then they’d have to do the same for every idiot who lost theirs.” Then, when the silence wasn’t filled by another voice, he added: “True story.” “We should be allowed a warning… or something,” Laut said. “Maybe you need to keep better track of things,” Mandy suggested. “You sound just like my mother.” “What? It is your fault.” “No. It’s the fault of the system. I shouldn’t have to resort to drinking my soup like a dog because the government is too stingy to provide for us. This is supposed to be a civilized society! We… we have tall buildings!” Mandy shrugged as she turned her attention back to her soup. Laut watched her bring her spoon, brimming with soup, up to her brittle lips, caught the delicate lurch of her throat as it gulped down the

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frothy liquid. His gaze followed the spoon as it dove once more into the bowl. It was then that he decided to expose a thought that had dwelled in the back of his mind since the fiasco all began. The next trajectory of Mandy’s spoon was cut short as Laut spoke up. “You think maybe—” “No.” “But—” “No.” With missing another beat, Mandy’s spoon was once more at her mouth. “Charles?” Laut said, a tremor in his voice indicating he was already expecting the subsequent: “No way.” “Not even when you’re finished?” “We’re not going to break the law just because you misplaced your spoon,” Mandy said. “So you’re going to leave me to starve, is that it? All because of some arbitrary rules?” Laut said, a bit louder than cafeteria etiquette allotted for. “They’re there for a reason,” Mandy said shortly. Laut fell back in a huff, arms crossed, back slouched, lower lip sticking outward in a pout. Charles’ eyes flicked nervously between Laut and Mandy. He cleared his throat. “I hear the prairie dog population is—” “It’s amazing, y’know,” Laut interrupted, “what horrors humans

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are capable of. Even in our modern times, we treat each other so terribly. We torture, terrorize, murder each other—and for what reason?” “You can drink the goddamn soup,” Mandy said, exasperated. “—merely to save our own asses. To assure our own comfort.” “You’re so full of it,” Mandy said. “Once we stamp out selfishness, we will truly be civilized. If you lost your spoon, I’d hand you mine. Why? Because I have class, I’m humane. Because I acknowledge the plight of a person who made a mistake in a system that allows no mistakes.” “I’m ignoring you now, Laut.” Mandy then turned back to her soup without another word. Pleadingly, Laut looked to Charles, who, with an apologetic smirk, rushed to mirror Mandy’s stance. Laut tapped the table erratically as his lunchmates resumed their meals. He looked to his left where another group of workers—dressed in the same drab, collared shirts and pressed, formless slacks as Laut and every other worker in the vicinity—sipped contently from their spoons, exact replicas of every other spoon that clanged against the tables or bathed in searing broth. He turned to his right, caught sight of another group of workers as they laughed at some tired joke recited poorly by their peer, completely oblivious to Laut’s plight. His gaze turned forward, past the bent frames of Mandy and Charles. He saw row after row of the long, cafeteria tables, workers seated comfortably on the benches, sipping heartily from their spoons. Their knives and their forks lounged at their sides, and each and every one of them was kept warm by the heaters gushing from the high ceilings above. In the

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endless supply of shadowless light and within the walls that composited just one of the many tall buildings, with their bricks and their steel and their glass and their grandeur, Laut bowed his head, his hands running through his crumpled hair to the best of their ability. No one cared, not his friends or his mother or his bitter old boss, not his coworkers or those parking to work or those bustling about high above the streets. In this society that once seemed a satisfactory substitute to the incivility of the wilderness that it once conquered, Laut suffered, the empty spot to the right of his fork taunting him, just as the sips of the civilized did, again and again and again. Abruptly, Laut grasped his fork, causing Mandy and Charles to look up, befuddled. He brought the fork slowly upward, then, after a moment of finalizing contemplation, dipped it into his lukewarm soup. He brought it up, watched as the majority of the liquid fell between the forkâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s open arms, and then in one swift moment, he ducked his head forward and slurped, his pursed lips sputtering against the drops of elevated soup. He continued the process, slurping with defiant gusto from his fork, a spoonless man forever stuck with a knife, a fork, and little else. And they continued to stare.

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First and Ten Dan Marvin

“Ronald,” pap said, “you aint never gonna amount to nuthin’.” He swiped the drops of Bud out of his beard with a dirty sleeve and fell asleep at the table. I was glad pap was sleeping, he didn’t hit mom and me when he was sleeping. I turned back to my portable radio and tuned in the game. The Rams were playing the Cardinals and Marshall Faulk was running wild. It was only the first half and he already had over 100 yards in the game. I bet that his pap never told him that he’d never amount to nuthin’. “You think you’re better than me, don’t you boy?” Pap asked just before I headed out of the tunnel to join my team. “You think you’re so big now that you’re on the football team, don’t you?” Pap looked around and then hit me in the stomach, hard. He laughed as I fell to the ground gasping for breath. “Give ‘em hell kid” he mumbled as he headed out to the bleachers. Jeremy Jones was the running back for the Pittsford Eagles. My coach told me that no matter what happened around me, I should make sure that Jeremy didn’t get more than three yards past the line of scrimmage. The first half, I didn’t do so well. At halftime coach pulled me aside. “Ronald, think of your worst enemy. Now picture your worst enemy inside that helmet whenever Jeremy Jones gets the ball. You got that?” He pulled my helmet with each word to emphasize his point. I

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had it. The first play of the second half the Eagles handed the ball to Jeremy. But suddenly it wasn’t Jeremy anymore, it was pap. How the hell he got out there I didn’t know, but it was sure enough him in that helmet. I hit him with everything I had, I lit pap up. The ball squirted out while he writhed on the ground and one of my teammates picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown. When I looked back at the player on the ground, it wasn’t pap anymore, it was Jeremy and they had to cart him off on a stretcher. We won by 3 and I looked for pap in the stands as they carried me off on their shoulders, but he wasn’t there anymore. “Big man, going off to college” pap said at the bus stop. “Don’t think you’re getting a dime from me boy. Not a dime.” He didn’t hug me, not that I expected him to. Ma hugged me until pap shouted at her to get in the car. They left before my bus came. Central State was a big college and I felt lost. The football team got there three weeks before the rest of the freshmen so I had a chance to meet some people. I drank a little beer, but every time it was pap I saw in the bottom of my glass. While everyone else was getting drunk, I hit the weight room and added some bulk. Coach called me aside one day and said “Ronald, you are built to either be a linebacker or a halfback. Which do you feel more comfortable playing?” I thought about that for awhile. The halfback got to run and make plays and avoid contact. The linebacker got to hit people, hard. “If it’s all the same to you sir, I’d rather play linebacker.” Coach smiled at me and handed me jersey #56.

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Four years later, Central State was playing Tech in the Rose Bowl. Pap had never watched a game to my knowledge and I didn’t invite him to this one. The day of the game there was a knock at my door and there he was, smelling of booze and looking ornery. “All I hear is ‘your boy is in the Rose Bowl, Ed, aint that great?’ I can’t go out of the house without someone reminding me that you’re so wonderful. But you aint crap Ronnie. You’re a pussy, just like your momma.” He stood there awhile to see if his words had hit home, but I just stared at him. Finally he smirked and lurched down the hallway. “Just what I thought, you’re just a big pussy.” I knew that the Rose Bowl was my chance to shine for all of the NFL scouts. My dream was to play for the Rams and help them get back to greatness. Most of all, I would finally have enough money to take care of my parents. By now the routine was simple, every head in every helmet on the Tech side of the ball was pap. He grinned and leered at me every time the ball was snapped and told me I was no damn good nohow and I enjoyed knocking that smirk off his face. Over and over I knocked that smirk off his stupid face until the whole Tech offense was running to the other side of the field from wherever I was. I still got over there a couple of times and made them pay for what they said about my Momma. My coach said he’d never seen anything like it, and we shut out Tech in that game, 38 to 0. “With the sixteenth pick in the draft,” the commissioner said, “the Rams pick Ronald Dewise.” They held up a jersey with a Rams #56 on

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it and I smiled and shook their hands. I was a Ram, just like I wanted. More importantly my agent got me a contract with an $8,000,000 signing bonus. That would be more than enough to take care of Momma and pap. For Momma, a nice house in the suburbs. For pap, a hitman. Yep, I could finally take care of him the way he deserved.

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Contributors Brian LoRocco has written in the horror field for many years. With no college education he has taken what he calls the ‘Hemingway approach’, though he admits his work is far less ambitious. His previous work has appeared in the Ultimate Unknown. Currently he is working on a novel. He lives in the United States.

Margaret Elysia Garcia is a writer living in the snowy Sierra Mountains. Her unfiltered thoughts can be seen on her blog, Tales of a Sierra Madre (www.writerchick-mama.blogspot.com). The manuscript which this story is apart of won the second prize in the 34th Annual Chicano/Latino Literary Award given by University of California, Irvine.

Stasey Norstrom is a recent graduate of Oregon State and is a fulltime husband, father, and customer technical support representative for a small software company. He has been writing since the fourth grade but nothing that has as of yet been reviewed by others he doesn’t know. He likes bacon and designing games and hockey. And in that order.

Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers. Despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. To date

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Mr. Tobias has published two detective novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim. In addition he has published short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival. He currently lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Ryan Dorrill studied Physics and Writing at UMBC, then moved off to Japan to teach English. He’s back in the states now, writing, adventuring, and working part time at a book store.

Zach Endres is currently a film student at the University of Texas at Austin. He writes often, but this is his first published work.

Dan Marvin is the author of ‘Briefs for the Reading Room’ and the soon to be published ‘Dan Marvin’s Change of Briefs.’ Dan’s stories have appeared in flash fiction e-zines such as Alien Skin Magazine, Golden Visions Magazine, Short Humour, and others. For more information about Dan’s writing, visit www.danmarvin.net .

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Timeline Glen Binger Episode 1 — Beginning First rule of time travel: You are not to go back in time. Only forward.

It’s not the same like everyone pretends it is. There’s a legend about him in our neighborhood. He’s a rumor of science. He’s a myth amongst mankind. A prodigy, an icon, a phenomenon. A piece of history. Something truly great. And I’m proud of him – I really am. I remember them coming to the house and giving my mom the Missing Persons envelope. A Thursday night, I found my mom crying in her room folding clothes. My father was out in the garage lifting weights. I haven’t seen him work out since I was a kid. I guess everyone deals with the concept death differently – or so I’m told. Me, on the other hand, I knew he wasn’t dead. But how am I supposed to explain that to my parents without sounding crazy? “Oh, hey mom, dad; Marcus isn’t dead he’s just lost in time after using a homemade time travel machine we built in your basement.” I may not be as intelligent as Marcus but I’m pretty sure they would have tried to put me on medication.

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Seven days after Marcus went missing; I was watching TV when a glimpse of him sprawled on the sage wall of my bedroom like car lights. Just like always, he loved to interrupt me – always thought it was a good time to ask me about our blueprints. This time was different, though. This time I was glad. White noise sparkled his voice and he echoed something that sounded like ‘help.’ I even got up to look through the window. There weren’t any vehicles outside. Then, like that, he was gone again. And that was all the proof I needed. “Sir, your change.” The clerk at the coffee shop is trying to get my attention but I am focused on the guy across the street. He was in the exact same spot yesterday morning, watching me with the same thick sunglasses. “Sir?” I turn back to her. “Oh. My bad.” I take the change, smile as if to say thank you, then take a seat on one of the massive green sofas in the front of the shop. It’s overcast. I’m almost hesitant to take out my laptop. The guy is staring in my direction which is a good enough reason for me not to lose sight of him. Plus, he has a faux-hawk. And I don’t trust people with faux-hawks. I figure if he wanted to kill me he’d either have done it by now or have to wait until I left the shop. So I’m going to sit here for a while, enjoy my coffee, surf the internet for anything related to time dilation and special relativity. And I might also try to figure out some sort of escape route. Actually, that’s probably a good idea – I need an out. You know, just in case. God damnit. If he’d only waited. If only he had waited for me to

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get home from work so we could’ve tested it together. None of this was supposed to happen. And I was going to call in sick, too, but the college loans were crushing me that year so I couldn’t. It’s only been a year, Marcus - I know you’re still alive. Only forward, not backward. The last thing anyone needed is accidentally becoming their own grandfather. We decided that together —he wouldn’t go behind my back. I saved an article on Spacetime which reminds me of that; it was the first thing he mentioned. “That mathematical model for this would have to incorporate the fourth dimension,” he said. “We’d have to figure out a Spacetime platform. And going backwards would essentially ruin everything.” Though confused by the big words, I knew for a fact Marcus wasn’t going to try and screw up the present. He might not have had much common sense, but he was never ignorant. Plus, we set the timer positive the night before. I turned the dial myself. The lobby is uncomfortably quiet—like before someone gets murdered in the movies. I look up over the screen to see I’m still being watched. He’s checking his hair but still paying attention to my immediate area. Yep, back to work. Secondly, of only two things we discussed before he prematurely utilized the prototype, was to never use two of its functions within one session. We were able to draw a fuzzy line between time travel and teleportation. Through our experiments with the squirrels in our yard we figured out that the separation most scientists create between the two forms of space-travel was erroneous—they are, in fact, connected.

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So maybe I should start exploring that portion of our study. And, of course, Google keeps trying to get me to buy teleportation devices. All I want to do is read about the theory from a scholarly source. Fuck the internet. Wasting my god damn time. As far as we knew, no one had ever tried to combine the two. Nor will they if I can’t convince them otherwise. Everything started with trying to convince my parents that Marcus wasn’t dead. Actually, I take that back. Everything starts with figuring out why this dude is eyeballing me. This is partly why I work in coffee shops; at least I thought this was why. I like to work on a public network with multiple users. Most of the time, I use shops that are kind of crowded—like today. Though, I should have been smarter than this; to use the same shop two days in a row. As I begin to realize what the faux-hawk is probably watching me for, I start clearing my browser history. I dig into the computer’s hidden files and delete the temporary folders with website content data. I start Facebook stalking, figuring that’s what most people do with public Wi-Fi. Someone behind me shuts the lip of their laptop, picks it up and heads towards the door. The man in thick shades outside raises his wrist to his face. I don’t move, except to re-adjust my eyes. The kid pushes the door open, turns right and starts walking. Out across the street, the man motions towards the kid with the same hand; like he’s pointing at him, but he doesn’t move. He turns his shaded, faux-hawk head back in my direction. Shit. Shit shit shit.

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In order to survive, as he knew, Marcus would’ve had to adapt to the slice of time he is in. If he were to do something abnormal in that universe of time, the occupants would react differently and alter the sequence of life in all segments of its existence; thus proving that everything is connected via the timeline. That’s a pretty common fact. Wherever he was he had to do exactly what he was supposed to do at that portion of time. This is why going backwards would essentially ruin everything. Going forward had fewer consequences and more opportunity for correction. Yet still, it also meant more difficulty locating him. And if I didn’t find him, he was going to die with a distorted, older version of me—and not me. Back in the basement the night before he disappeared, Marcus was ranting about the first rule. “According to the butterfly effect and the chaos theory,” he said, “and however deep into foreign space the concept of time is relevant, our decisions could bounce off some other source of life.” He always had trouble expressing himself, especially when trying to explain something to me as complicated as this. “It is nearly impossible to know that when you go forward, Sal. But when you reverse, you already know what your frame is supposed to do.” “Yeah,” I said. “I suppose.” “Still, though,” he paused to connect a red wire to a blue receptor, “it’s too risky. Too many consequences.” I laughed, trying to figure out his thought process. “That’s my

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point, man.” We essentially built the prototype together. I mean, I helped him build it logically, he designed it. Marcus was full of knowledge but always took the long approach trying to create. So we physically built it together; we made a good team. “I hear you. But aren’t you just the little bit curious?” “Yeah but not enough to risk the course of all existence.” I laughed. He shrugged and went back to the plans. Why did I laugh? I probably should have realized something was up. But regret only wastes time. I’ve got more important matters to tend to. Matters that won’t stop staring at me; matters that have unusually thick sunglasses and an annoying hair style. I have to get out of here. The man outside knows who I am and what I’m doing. I want to kick myself in the teeth for not being more careful about this. Okay. Regret is a waste of time. No sudden movements. Time to go. He knows who I am. Powering down my laptop, I realize if it’s some higher force watching me—which I’m assuming it has to be—he probably isn’t the only one and they’re most likely prepared. In the movies, they surround the building but usually only during a forthcoming shootout. This isn’t the movies and I don’t have a gun and they’d probably need a search warrant. Unless, of course, they’ve already ran-sacked my place. My mind is a circus. Focus. Marcus, man, I am coming for you. Nothing is going to keep me from doing so. I pick up my computer and head for the bathroom as casually as I

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can. The clerk looks up at me from the espresso machine quickly then goes back to reloading it. For some reason, I only just now realize how cute she is and make a mental note to come back to this shop sometime in the near future. The bathroom is cold. I get the feeling it hasn’t been used in a few hours. There is a small window above the toilet. It looks big enough for me to crawl through so it’ll have to do. I step up onto the porcelain, push open the glass, and take a peek out into the alley. It’s empty. I sigh, looking for a sufficient landing pad, relieved there aren’t men with guns and sunglasses waiting for me. This is going to be hard. The landing pad I have to work with is a dumpster approximately three feet below the window. Shoulders shrug; I need a new computer anyway. I try my hardest to let it only fall two feet after sticking my arm out as far as possible. It bounces and lands on the edge of the dumpster lid. My weight is probably going to knock it off onto the pavement but there isn’t much of a choice. I hoist myself up, squeeze my abdomen through the frame and grab the edge of the trash bin. This hurts more than I thought it would. A flab of skin uncomfortably close to my pride and joy gets pinched under my weight against the frame. It’ll probably bruise but focus, Sal. Focus. I use the dumpster to pull the rest of me through and land hard on the pigpen landing pad. Luckily, my laptop doesn’t fall off. I regain my balance and make sure no one witnessed me popping out of a building like a pimple. As I collect myself, I notice a chunk of graffiti on the side of the dumpster. Normally, I’d admire the artwork and shrug it off. But this is different. It’s familiar; I’ve seen this symbol before. Then it slaps me in

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the face. It’s one of the doodles from the blueprints – one of Marcus’s! A cartoon smiling skull with a top hat and two X’s for eyes. He’s trying to communicate with me, at least I’m assuming. But what is he trying to say? What are you trying to tell me? I roll out on an adjacent street, adrenalin pulsating. From a distance, I can see the man in shades still watching the coffee shop. I feel relieved, I’m free, I’m amazing. Safety soaks my soul. My escape the greatest in the history of me. I’ll come back for my car tomorrow, catch a cab home today. The man will curse over his dinner tonight, upset he lost me. And I hope to god he will not be wearing sunglasses during supper. I am all that is mastermind. I am a man on a mission. I am going to find you, brother. During the best cab ride of my life, I think about the first thing we’d do after I find Marcus: grab a beer. We’d drink a beer and laugh about the whole thing. The cab pulls onto my street. For some reason, the ride home feels shorter than the drive there. We’d make jokes that started with the phrase “Remember when.” The air smells fresh and the sun has come out; finally, a break from winter. I could punch Marcus in the arm and he’d hit me back. I get out of the cab, walk up to the door, unlock both bolts, go inside and leave the keys in the lock, door open. We’d get a house together, splitting rent obviously. I set my computer on the table. In hopes of something appearing from the last time I looked, I open the refrigerator – my hopes are to no avail. Maybe we’d even throw a few parties, meet some girls. I’m digging through week-old deli meat, half-dozen eggs, orange juice, baking soda, among other inedible food products. Nothing. I

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should probably start looking for a job. Then I notice the skull again, this time on the box of baking soda. It looks cold. “So I see you’re trying to modify the timeline, Sal.” A thick voice looms from the dark of the dining room behind me. “We’re gonna have to do something ‘bout that.” I close the refrigerator door but don’t have to turn around; I know who it is. I can already put a faux-hawk to the voice.

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BLOOD BINDS Tonya R. Moore Episode XI

Charls watched his wife, with a gripping sort of worry he’d never known in all the years since they’d first met. He wondered idly, if he was managing to hide it very well. She didn’t know it. He couldn’t tell tell her, couldn’t bring himself to ask the upper most question in his mind. How long had she been carrying that monster around inside her? The mighty Lakvan dragons paled in comparison to the Tsavingiri. Giants among dragons. They were leviathans. Among their kind, those titled Zehi were revered and feared. Kings. Planet killers. Star eaters. Why was such a thing mingling with humans? Why had it chosen Helioselene as a vessel? He watched the way the woman who’d been sent by the Council, knelt to cradle the delicate looking thing who without even really trying, had nearly brought him to his end earlier. In an instant, the Council’s foot soldier had brought down down the dragon’s mate. He’d somehow managed to collect a rather troubling handful of companions. The elite wayfarer carrying a behemoth’s potential. A child-witch who’d somehow broken the laws of time. A nightwalker of questionable origin... and now a god? A god in girl bones. Too many things that should never cross paths were rapidly converging.

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The Delicate one’s eyes flew to Charls. She twitched, a full bodied recoil. What was she remembering in that instant? His assault or hers? Her trembling hand flew, not to the ribcage he’d shattered but to her red-stained cheek but she groaned clutching at her chest when she tried to move. Baron helped her to sit upright. She swayed, disoriented. She grimaced at the sight of the tattered remnants of her clothing. “Why on earth am I...?” She frown at Baron. “You hit me.” “Yeah.” The dark one replied unrepentantly. “You kinda deserved it.” “Did I?” A sudden movement to their left sent her flailing. Tallow and Kyle scattered dirt and twigs as they went to stand with Charls and Hel. Anna’s gaze zeroed in on Charls. Recognition registered as she remembered. “Oh. God...” Her movements become more frantic. “Where’s Anju? Where--” “I’m here, Anna.” He emerged from the shadows behind her. He looked battered, utterly worn. “Thanks,” he gave Baron a brief nod. “I wasn’t sure how much longer I was going to be able to keep that up.” Anna took in his tattered appearance. “Oh my... did I--” Anna’s breath hitched. Her brow creased, eyes narrowed. She scowled over at Charls. “Or was it them?” Charls sensed fresh fury bubbling forth. He tensed, mentally readying himself for another attack. Though, truth be told, he wasn’t sure

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how much of a defense he could put up in his current state. “Now, Anna...” Anju helped her to stand. “No more violence. We’re going home, alright?” She gave him a troubled frown but nodded nonetheless. “Home sounds good.” She assented finally. Anju’s emerald gaze fell to Baron. “Same goes for you. Don’t go after the middle-kind’s life.” “Can’t exactly say I don’t want to.” Baron faced him, arms folded stubbornly. “I’m only going to question her. I just wanna know how she got her hands on magic a dragon can’t break.” Anju groaned. “I should have figured on Nate blabbing about that. Stick with your own assignment.” he ordered. “If there’s something to pursue there, I’ll do it.” “What?” She drew back, glared at him with hands akimbo. “You don’t trust me not to kill her?” “No, I don’t.” He replied flatly, “but that’s not my only reason. This is still the Council of Ancient’s domain. The Sacred Laws don’t just apply on Earth, you know?” “Sacred Laws. Sacred Laws.” She mimicked, exasperated. “Who gives a rat’s ass?” She became serious. “Just so you know, the council didn’t specify how I should act on my findings.” “You figure that means you’re free to do what you do best.” The half-kind dragon replied sagely. “Wreak havoc?” “Asshole.” She muttered. “It’s not like I... wait.” Her eyes narrowed speculatively. “How much?” Anju’s sharp toothed smile widened, his fiery gaze battering against

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Charls flinty stare. “As much as you like, I’d imagine.” The challenge telegraphed therein to the Selestine wizard was unmistakable. His attention whipped back to Baron before Charls could decide whether to not to respond in kind. “Be home by December,” he said quietly. “Anna has big plans for Christmas again.” “I’ll won’t miss it this time.” Baron promised cheerfully, though to Charls it sounded a bit forced. “Bells on and bearing gifts. I’ll be there.” Charls watched their byplay in silence. From what he’d observed in the past few minutes, Baron wasn’t as self conscious about her own nature as the pale one. She seemed wholly comfortable in her own skin. Careless with her own power. That could either be a very good or very bad thing for her companions. It was too early to tell. Anju grabbed her armed as she turned away. “You know, you don’t have to do this. It doesn’t matter how much you think you owe--” “This isn’t about that. I have my own agenda too, remember?” She gently pried his hand away. “Go home. Anna looks like she’s about to pass out again.”

Baron spun abruptly the moment they left, clapped her hands together and grinned at the startled foursome. “Alright, boys and girls! This is how it works. I ask a question, you think of an answer. I’ve been told it’s rude to dig deeply but trust me, this way saves us all a whole heap of time.” “Is she always like this?” Charls asked softly as she blabbed on

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and on. “We only crossed paths once,” Hel shrugged. “The circumstances weren’t exactly...” Rapid fire speech apparently completed, Baron subsided. She retrieved her backpack, then took a deep breath. “Now, does everyone know where their belonging are?” She skipped a beat. “Got it. Good.” She contemplated her stunned audience. “And... I suppose, the first step should be to go to your intended destination before you got diverted here? Yeah, I think I can do that. Okay, here we go.” Charles suddenly realized what she was about to do. He brought his staff down furiously, only a fraction of a second too late. Waves of energy came crashing down around them, madly swirling and blanketed them all. The earth shook beneath them, trees that caught in the melee shook free of their roots, toppling down. Amidst the chaos, Hel called up a spell to throw up a feeble barrier around them. It shattered like an egg, sending dirt and debris cascading down on them. In the last instant the bulk of what was crashing down vanished. Everything went still. The air around them got heavier. Colder. That definitely wasn’t Hel’s doing. Charls tried to find Tallow in the gloom. She was unconscious, maybe because she expended her energy trying to clear the air? Kyle had shifted to his wolven form, now nudging her face with his nose, trying to rouse her. Baron reared spitting out a mouthful of dirt, having hit the ground face first. “Why did you do that?” She moved to give Charls a helping hand

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up. “You could have killed us!” Charls had had just about enough. “This happened because of you!” He snatched at her arm, dragged her down to one knee roughly. “Do you really think I’d be willing to put my life and theirs in the hands of someone whose power I don’t even understand?” Her jaw clenched as her knee hit the ground, painfully. The dust was already clearing. There was enough light for him to see pain briefly register in her eyes. Well, that was good he decided grimly. Eyes adjusting to the light, Hel stood. “Charls, have a look around.” They were in the middle of a grassy field, surrounded by a ring of full flat trees bursting forth with fuzzy fuchsia flowers. Their scent was sickeningly sweet. intoxicating. Beneath it all, the smell of death flesh and rot permeated the air. “This isn’t Adessa.” He stated. “Where are we?” “You figure it out.” Baron yanked her arm away. She folded her arms and sat on the ground, scowling. “This is your roller coaster ride.” She glanced sideways after a few seconds. “Hear that?” Charls didn’t say anything but in the instant that hollow rattle reached his ears, he was cut off from the source of his power. It was a chilling repeat of the first instance when the dragon’s mate had turned on him. Baron was on her feet in a flash. Her demeanor had shifted completely again. She slipped off her backpack, let it fall to the ground. Her stance suggested that she was waiting for something. That sound came again, followed by a childish giggle. Charls felt a chill, right before something bright and hot fluttered before his eyes. He felt a light

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touch brush his forehead. Soft laughter again. “Pray.” That singular word pierced his awareness. Slid into his bones. He couldn’t move, couldn’t think. He felt hands on his shoulders, a hot weight on his back. “Pray!” Came the voice in his head again. “God only helps the one who prays.” “What is it, Charls?” Hel asked anxiously, rushing over to where he knelt. “What’s wrong?” “Stay away!” He managed. It didn’t take much effort to make sense of what had happened. This thing had brought them here. It had latched on to him after he hurt Baron. Her reaction didn’t make it seem like this was her doing. She was the cause somehow. From the looks of it, she’d already arrived at the same conclusion. Baron swerved to glare in his direction. He sucked in a sharp breath. She was glowing, like the blood under her skin was on fire. She didn’t seem to notice. She was furious, immune to the utter terror that had taken hold of him. “Stop it!” She hissed, not at him. “Do you hear me?” The weight pressing on Charls’ back eased. The fingers that gripped his shoulders loosened. The air sparked. A slender, nearly emaciated boy with starkly red eyelids and buttery smooth skin the color of coffee beans, appeared beside him. Thick bangles encircled his slender wrists and ankles. He wore a crimson streaked shendyt and a breastplate lined with glittering jewels. There was a tiny bell on each of his sandals. With every step

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he took, they made that same sound that had crippled Charls, as each foot sinking down into feathery soft grass. The scattering resonance kept Charls off balance. Each chime struck at him like a hammer, leaving him virtually powerless. It was deliberate, the sorcerer knew it. There wasn’t anything he could do about it. The boy stepped too close to Tallow for the wolf’s comfort. It growled, a low and long warning. The boy stopped, head tilted to one side as if intrigued. The next sound that came from him matched the wolf’s, grew deeper. Louder. He smiled toothily. There was nothing friendly about it. “Take it off.” Baron ordered quietly, drawing his attention back her way. “I finally found you.” He said after a while. He smiled. It was a tentative, experimental gesture this time. “All this time, I’ve been searching. Searching all over for you. All over.” “I don’t know who or what you are.” She uttered through gritted teeth. “I won’t let you tarnish that child’s memory. Take it off. I won’t tell you again.” Strangely, the creature complied. It shifted, vanishing then reappearing before her, having adopted the visage of a red headed child with startling blue eyes. “This facsimile of my younger self,” Baron asked at length. “Is it meant to frighten me?” “Frighten you?” She seemed genuinely puzzled. Baron scowled. “You can’t so that!” She stomped her foot impatiently. “Don’t answer a question with a question. It’s annoying.” She

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turned to Charls abruptly. “Can you manage a barrier?” He nodded. “At least that.” He spared their challenger another cautious look. “I want a thorough explanation when this is over.” “You’ll get it.” She answered tersely. “Two barriers would be better.” “Now just wait--” Hel began when he merely started doing as the newcomer as said. “Stay out of this!” Baron snapped. She pointed at the child. “And you, don’t screw with me!” She roared. “Do they still exist? That city. Its people?” The answer was shrug. “I don’t suppose it would have died if I left. Is that what worries you? I would never break that place. You like that place, don’t you? So, I would never... I just wanted to see you again. Wanted to see you again. That’s all.” “Oh my god,” Baron whispered. “It get it now. You’re that thing...” “You told me you’d come back for me.” The little girl accused. “You lied.” “It didn’t lie. It just wasn’t time.” Baron ventured. “Who sent you? Who gave you the idea to come looking for me?” The shape-shifter stared past Baron. “A friend,” she murmured. She stared at Kyle the Wolf, long and hard and then she looked away and smiled. “He made me promise not to tell.” “Please go back. I don’t want to have to kill you.” “I won’t go back.” The child turned toward her, just stood there with her arms hanging limply at the sides like she didn’t know quite what to do with them. “At first I did just as you said but I’d already slept. For so long. For so long... and I like it. Being a god. Why didn’t

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you tell me answering prayers could be so much fun?” “Who would have prayed for this?” Hel wondered aloud hoarsely. “This whole world is dead!”

Baron crossed the distance between them. She knelt, hands to the little girl’s shoulders. “This isn’t evolution.” She explained. “This is corruption. This isn’t what you were meant to be. You weren’t even made by the same power that made me.” “Then,” The eyes widened. “What am I? Am I...” “Something else.” Baron murmured. “That’s all.” Her grip on those frail little shoulders tightened. The air ignited. The child vanished, reappearing a short distance away near the copse of trees. Baron strode toward her, sped up into a dead run when the little monster opened her mouth to scream. In the next instant Charls understood why. That scream intensified, decibel increasing to an inhuman roar. Fire spewed out of the child’s mouth, engulfing her body. He threw up a barrier just as flames and smoke mushroomed into the air. Baron plunged right in the thick of it. throwing. The swirling ball of explosive energy swallowed her up. Charls still see her glowing body as she hefted the child up by the scruff of her next. She was merciless. Overpowering. The cloud of fire swelled with frightening speed. The barrier kept out the flames but not the force of the blast. The earth throbbed. Darkness clamped down on

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him. When Charls came around, Hel was tending to him. Baron was seated a short distance away. “Did you kill it?” He croaked. It was more painful to talk than he expected. “You don’t kill something like that,” she answered quietly. “I mean, they must have left it in that place for a reason. You powers revere them too, don’t you? Those Who Came Before. I just put it back to sleep. It’s got a lot more to do, I guess. Growing and dreaming.” “You’re not a god,” Charls began. His quiet condemnation rang out. Even Hel held her breath, apprehensive about what might happened next. Baron however, seemed to switch moods, just as randomly as conversation topics. “You’re a wizard for god’s sake,” she chuckled. “Would it kill you to be a bit more original? Feel free to think of this as my second audition, if that makes what you just witnessed freak you out less.” He glanced across at Tallow. She was prone but breathing steadily, using the Wolf’s belly for a pillow. That was good sign. The sun was going down. Just how long had he been unconscious? “Would you really have killed it?” He asked. “Could you have?” “Maybe. I dunno,” she admitted, studying the damage done by explosion. The field had been split in two, creating a jagged crevasse. “All I know is, someone did this just for the sake of having a few ha-has at my expense. Well, they have my attention now, just like they wanted. I do hope you realize that I wasn’t the only one being sent a message.”

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Charls found himself at a loss for words. “I really don’t like how you operate, old man.” She declared at length. “But considering that I have my own fair share of skeletons in the closet, I’ll just wait to see how this all plays out.” “What are you talking about?” Hel looked from Baron to Charls. “What is she talking about?” Neither answered.

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Book Reviews Serial by Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouch The most disturbing short story I’ve ever read. Make that the most disturbing story I’ve ever read, short or not. “Serial” by Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouch left me with images and scenes in my head that made me feel quite literally sick to my stomach. These images still, weeks later, will creep into my mind at the most inopportune times leaving me feeling nauseated all over again. I try desperately to block them out, and the harder I try, the worse it gets. “Serial” is a three part story written about two serial killers who meet by chance while the female serial killer is hitch hiking to find her next victim and the male is picking up hitch hikers looking for his next victim. Each author was responsible for developing a serial killer character without letting the other know anything about their character. In part one, you meet Donaldson, who picks up hitch hikers and kills them in a pretty typical serial killer manner. Don’t think that this isn’t still horrific when you read the author’s descriptions, they are vivid. But Donaldson is what many people think of when they think serial killer/rapist. He does have methods to incapacitate his prey that are less than typical, and this adds to the dementedness of his character.

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In part two, you meet Lucy, who is hitch hiking looking for her next kill. Her method for incapacitating her prey are far more standard than her actual method of maiming and killing. The thought that anyone would actually do what this girl does and find pleasure in it is horrifying, but far more horrifying are the images created in your head of her victims while she is killing them. In part three, Donaldson and Lucy meet. This doesn’t bode well for either character. They quickly realize what the other is, and it is a race for survival. Not knowing how the story would end, I almost found myself rooting for Donaldson solely because I didn’t think I could live through another of Lucy’s kills. While one killer is severely hurt, and the other is drugged, the two killers stumble around for their “fix”, which seemingly is more important than their actual survival. After reading this story, I sat in horror struck silence for a few minutes, probably with my mouth hanging open the entire time. Needless to say, this short story left an impression on me, and I will certainly remember these authors for a long time, and unfortunately, the characters as well. However, I will not dismiss the authors, considering that, aside from the actual content, they wrote a hell of a story. I will, however, screen my next read more thoroughly.

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Childproofed by Reese Reed I downloaded the ebook Childproofed by Reese Reed months ago when I first got my Nook. I was really excited about the whole ebook reader and downloading process. I ended up getting a lot of books and then not reading them right away. I finally read this short book a few weeks ago. I sure was glad that I hadn’t read it sooner. New mom syndrome. Reese Reed illustrates how the main character, Virginia, goes through all the tough stuff that new moms are forced to go through. She is exhausted, insecure, she’s gained weight, and she feels like her “work” doesn’t really count in the “real world.” To make matters worse her husband, who works as a high school teacher and head coach of the football team, is the target of a hot, young (but legal) student’s affections. Virginia learns of this crush at a Friday night football game. She is sitting in the stands with her two children in tow when she over hears this girl, Ella, talking about a married man on the field who she just must have. Virginia is surprised. She assumes that one of the players is married but her husband has never mentioned this to her. It quickly becomes apparent that Ella is talking about her husband after a statement about how he must be sick of his wife after having two children with her. Virginia quickly packs up her children and heads back home. Virginia keeps this information to herself and tries to deal with it throughout the entire book. She spends more time fixing herself up,

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and at one point even resorts to a quick spying session, which I am guilty of myself. Finally, she takes a trip to her parents’ house where she tries to reconnect with the person she used to be. Upon returning home, Virginia can’t stand it any longer and confronts her husband about Ella. He is shocked and outraged. Surely his wife must be joking. Handling this situation about as poorly as possible, he storms out of the house. As a wife, I would have taken this as confirmation that something was going on with Ella or someone else. This book clearly illustrates what most, if not all new moms go through. Wondering if your husband is bored, faithful, fulfilled, or just plain sick of you. Virginia, like all of us, lets herself go only getting dressed up for special occasions and letting her hair and make-up fall by the wayside. She feels out of touch with herself, a feeling that I think all new moms can empathize with. She feels like her life is all about taking care of others and that somewhere along the way she has lost herself. The feeling of losing yourself is very real after having children, especially after the second (or I imagine third or fourth) child. There don’t seem to be enough hours in most days and the rest of the days seem to be too long without a chance to focus on yourself, shower or even eat. As I read this book, I could feel all of the things that Virginia was feeling without the author having to describe the actual feelings. As you read you can imagine yourself in her place, and you start to

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think the way that she is thinking. I have to admit that after reading this book, I had a mini crisis myself, feeling that I had lost myself in the midst of my own two children. The truth is, I have lost who I was before they were born and since then I have found a new, amazing woman. A woman who can handle any disaster thrown her way, function with no sleep, eat at a constant run, and feel her heart melt at the sight of a single smile. I now have no breaking point, no point at which I have to walk away because it is too hard. I am a completely new person, a better person because of my children. Reading this book and reflecting on it made me realize just how lucky I am.

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eFiction Magazine April Issue No. 013  

Inside: stories by Brian LoRocco, Margaret Elysia Garcia, Stasey Norstrom, Harris Tobias, Ryan Dorrill, Zach Endres, Daniel Marvin, Glen Bin...

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