“The Comfort of Dead Whales” – Harper Hull (Fashionable Fiction Winner) “Beware the Carousel” – Matthew Dexter “There Ain’t No Sin and There Ain’t No Virtue” – Zoe Alexandra “Meat” – Neil Richter “The Comet Train” – Robert Vaughan “Salamonster, During D.C.’s Destruction” – Sean Lyman Frasier “The Lunatic and the Tiger Shark” – Crystal Beran “I Became an Old Couple” – Greg Gerke “Her Heart is a Screen Door, Too”- Ryder Collins Two Collaborative Pieces by Barry Graham and Peter Schwartz Also Featuring: Three Illustrated Shorts by John Dermot Woods
“The Comfort of Dead Whales” – Harper Hull Mankind could have effectively come to an end and they wouldn’t have known it. The island was, for the week, their own tiny bubble of insulated reality. This rocky, jagged mound, a mere speck on the globe, was absent of humanity, except for the two of them, and was in short supply even there. Birds outnumbered positive thoughts at a staggering ratio. Duncan had taken to imagining the end days of the planet in as many ways as his mind could conjure and create; he’d found a favourite jut of rock on the highest cliff the island had to offer and it had become his ‘thinking place.’ His new schedule involved days that seemed to stretch themselves as far as they possibly could, defying the rotations of the planets until ultimately snapping back on themselves in a fuzzy mix of morning sun and dusky moon. Given this, Duncan had a lot of time to think about things that normally wouldn't have even blipped his radar. This particular island was so far north of the Scottish mainland, Duncan had ruminated, that there were very few scenarios of spreading Armageddon in which he would even be aware of an ongoing apocalypse. Every capital city in Europe could be bombed and he wouldn't see a single mushroom cloud through the endless gull-wing skies that surrounded and encased him. An invading army wouldn't bother coming this far north, although Duncan did concede that a lone, predatory submarine or long-range spotter plane was a possibility, watching the horizons and skies for potential escapees or retaliatory actions. The Germans had loved coming up here during World War 2, after all. Scapa Flow and the U-boat graveyard, all that good historical stuff. The very idea of a large, black submarine suddenly rising to the surface of the tumultuous, angry sea like an ancient god sent a shiver down Duncan's spine as he stared out across the empty water.
The only surefire world-ending event that he would be aware of here, Duncan finally concluded, would be something related to space. An exploding sun, a rogue meteor, something epic like that. Satisfied with this conclusion, he started to wander back to camp, and to Megan, with new ideas already blooming in his mind. He saw his wife from far away, outlined against the orange tent in her bright yellow slicker, sitting on the ground with her knees pulled up below her face. Duncan waved and got no response. He was beginning to think the trip was a complete disaster. He'd planned it as a relationship saver, a week completely alone, away from the erosions and irritants of everyday life. Things had been going downhill fast between them recently and Duncan just wanted to fan the embers of the once-blazing fire that had brought them together. After scouting lonesome locations and checking erratic ferry services this island had become his chosen location for the renaissance of their mad, heated love from days gone by. Megan hadn't wanted to come from the moment he mentioned it, but he had somehow persuaded her to give it a chance. Now, as he looked around at the barren, barely-grassed rock, and the endless flinty skies, he believed that their relationship would die here, not prosper. He sighed, coming up on home camp quickly, the only splashes of bright color anywhere within view. Here, he thought, under Godless skies and surrounded by furious saltwater, here I bury my love, my hopes, my past. Every big and little thing we did together banished to the darkest sheds at the bottom of memory's overgrown garden. No more reminiscing, talking, in-jokes, sympathy and empathy - she'll be gone, and there's no one else on the planet I can connect those things with. Part of me dies here. An entire chapter of my life locked away in an unopenable box. "You alright, Megsy?" he asked, trying to sound carefree. She looked up at him from the ground, a strand of red hair that had escaped from her yellow hood blowing across her forehead.
"Not really, no. This is bloody miserable Duncan, I want to go home. Like I did yesterday. And the day we got here. I don't want to go home next week, I want to go home right now!" "I told you sweetheart, thereâ€™s no way, the ferry only stops here once a week. You should come to the cliffs, look at the view, have a think! No wonder you're miserable, staying in the tent all the time." "There's nothing to bloody see, not even a sheep! This is literally the worst place on Earth and I can't believe I actually came. Never again!" Duncan crouched down and reached a hand out to rest on Megan's left knee. "We should try and have a good time with each other - like we did back in Salford when we first met and couldn't afford to go anywhere. I say we go in the tent, have some fun to warm up, then I'll heat some beef stew and tea out here while you have a nap. Then maybe we could pretend this island is travelling through dimensions and act out the different versions of us." Megan jumped up, laughing the disgusted laugh Duncan had come to hate. "Not a chance, you mad bastard, I couldn't feel less in the mood than I do now. I'm going back inside to lie down; you have your nasty dinner, play your silly games, I'll eat some TUC crackers or something later on and act like a grown-up." The zipper on the tent closed behind her with a great ripping sound and Duncan never saw Megan again. He stood up and walked off in a direction he hadn't gone before, wondering if humans were born with the limitation that they could only utter ten words during their lifetime, would he have used up nine of them back there just to make a point?
It didn't take long before Duncan was walking downhill towards the one cove on the island he hadn't visited yet. As the dirt and sparse vegetation gave way to pebbles and rocks, and the cliffs began to rise on either side, a bizarre sight down the beach caught his eye; a hillock made entirely of great white and brown birds sat away to Duncan's right. Curious, he stomped towards the undulating, flapping mound, wondering how close he could get before they took off in panic and filled the air with their ugly gull calls. Only a few even seemed to acknowledge him as he approached. Duncan reached down with both hands, and soon most of the birds took flight as tossed pebbles clinked and clanked on the ground around their moving pile. They rose into the air, a curtain of feathers and beaks rising above the stage, revealing a stripped whale carcass lying on the beach. Duncan stopped moving and stared at the bleached wreckage of the once great creature that spread out before him; it was all splayed ribs and harpoon-like jawbones, odd patches of flesh still clinging to the frame in areas. Something about the bleak purity of the white, curved form drew Duncan in and he ran to it, full tilt, panting as he barely slipped between two huge rib bones and lay down inside the skeleton, flat as he could get along the knobby spine. Soon the rude, loud birds returned and blocked out the somber light, cawing and pecking at any remaining morsels of whale flesh they could find. Within these moving walls Duncan decided that this was his rightful place, Jonah'd inside this dead whale. The world far away, of cities and shops and buses and people, that he and Megan had once loved and fought in, was dead now. The world of the haggard island, where she still slept or walked or sat, surrounded by Poseidon's hiss, was also dead. This dead whale, thought Duncan, is my new world. I am free to let go of all colloquial thought and open my mind to brand new concepts and theories. I will evolve in here, protected by these awful gulls that wall me in. I will forget what love is, what loss is, even what language is. I was brought here for this very
reason. It will be glorious! Duncan shut his eyes and waited for his revelations and evolutions. Strange mathematical and grammatical problems flared in his mind, as the birds clicked and clacked against the whale bones. Words quickly became nonsensical and numbers lost their values. The pebbles and spine dug into his back but soon that didn't matter. He saw new colours and smiled even as the birds began to peck at his closed eyes. They were useless now, anyway. The last image he visualized was of Megan, her green eyes glinting and her oxblood lips spread wide apart as she laughed, pointing at him with one hand and slapping her thigh with the other. His smile disappeared.
BIO: Born and raised in the mystical wastelands of northern England amongst harpies and dragons, Harper now lives in the sultry, sweaty southern United States with his Dixie wife, fighting off giant spiders and man-eating vultures. He has work published or about to be published in four continents and can't wait to hit that dark, mysterious fifth. He has fallen off a boat, been hit by two cars, literally been scared of his own shadow, and traveled in an elevator with Kirsten Dunst. Favourite things include the writings of JG Ballard, the music of (the) Pixies, Scapa Flow, tiramisu, winter coats and microbrews. If you ever read anything he is responsible for he just hopes you enjoy it. More info at: http://harperhull.weebly.com/index.html
“Beware the Carousel” – Matthew Dexter Girls in The Gravitron are slutty. At least that’s the rumor in my town. Most fathers think The Gravitron is the dangerous ride. They don’t know the Ferris wheel is the mother of all murderers. Dad never lets me ride The Gravitron. Says the centrifugal force is three times that of gravity. The inertia of my madness moves a little slower. Dad’s always holding me back. “Not until you’re taller.” “That kid only hit his head because he was doing it wrong.” “Accidents happen.” Every afternoon around dusk Mom picks me up and Dad disappears. Says he’s going to have a drink with his buddies. But today I tell Mom I’m going over to a friend’s house, follow Dad as he crisscrosses between cotton candy machines, face painting booths, animal balloons, ticket stands, chili corndogs, and the everpresent, effervescent chunks of fluorescent heroin used to lure over-sugared children. Dad walks fast, sweeping in and out of traffic like a puppy looking for his master. He ends up in the corner of the carnival by the trees, trashcans, bees, and mothers hovering over little boys who ate too much garbage. Dad floats toward the beer booth and buys a couple Coors. He drinks them standing. Where are his friends? The foam collects on his lips beneath the sinking sun. He buys two more. Yellow jackets circle his plastic cups. He doesn’t mind. Nothing fazes him. He no longer looks like my dad; he’s morphed into a different mindset, a secret life. Hiding behind a maple tree soaked in vomit, I watch it all: Dad’s eyes attached
to the rides, the women, the screams, and the putrid smell of sickness drifting through humid air. He sips beer and watches the Ferris wheel, Funhouse, the Whip. Kiddie rides don’t interest him. He hands cash to a homeless man digging through Styrofoam trash-- redeeming himself as my hero-- until the donation is wasted on four more beers. They sit Indian style in the grass and drink like hobos. Dad’s talking loudly; laughing with this madman Mom would never give the time of day. The vagrant’s words make no sense to me, but Dad seems to understand. “Wanna ride The Gravitron?” The man’s mouth opens, mostly toothless. Eyes like roman candles, pupils expand as fireflies come into focus and approach us from the magical place these fairies hide during the day. The whole affair makes me want to throw up a little in my mouth. Almost want to kick Dad in the shins and see what he says, but need to dig deeper into the decrepit carnie hole he crawls into when Mom and me go grocery shopping. He’s in a different world as I stare for fifteen minutes into the lobster tank. They finish their beers. Dad orders two more. “Rocket fuel.” They wander off toward the crowd; lost in the iridescent insanity they’ve become a part of. Following them toward The Gravitron, people stop and stare at the disheveled homeless man holding my father’s hand. So this is what he does when he gets drunk? Dad dances to the rhythm of Metallica as they hand over their tickets, wait in line. Kids are laughing, but Dad doesn’t give a damn. He’s going to ride the lighting. Most of these tools weren’t even born when metal was at its best. Neither was I. The only thing keeping tears from streaming down my cheeks is the third
grader waiting in line a couple dozen people behind Dad. The machine is going crazy. We can hear the screaming. Beams of light making love on our faces, it feels like an awakening as the orange moon watches unaware. Time expires; teenagers waddle away from the mechanism. A couple punks puke in the grass behind the majestic open-mouthed contraption. It swallows Dad. The chick sees me, asks, “Ya wanna ride it with me?” “I’m too young.” Don’t want to admit I’m too short. She’s at least a foot taller, boobs pondering their existence. “My cousin works here.” She points to the gothic monster taking tickets, standing at the entrance to the gates of heaven. I look at the vomit and bubble gum on my shoes. There’s a chunk of caramel popcorn in her hair. She’s making love to her box of Cracker Jacks. “I would, but my dad’s on this thing, he can’t see me.” Butterflies and dragonflies have sex in my stomach as she giggles. “Put this on.” It’s a ghost mask. I Almost wet my pants. Dreaming of reaching second base, she places it over my face and hands her tickets to the lunatic of her uncle’s loins. “Have fun Casper.”
The machine smells even stronger than I imagined: fresh vomit, cotton candy, dirty socks, and something extra. The girls in The Gravitron are pulling down their shirts, tucking them into their shorts. Not slutty behavior by any standards. It disappoints me. Maybe they wait until they start the revolutions? Dad and the wino are already spinning, rubbing arms, and laughing like the worst town drunks on an awful binge. The door closes and the man returns to the middle, where the magic happens. Dad is hysterical as the centrifugal force pulls us backwards, sideways we spin, spiders in paradise. Dad signals to the captain. The microphone comes to life and warns us not to walk on walls or go upside-down. Dad struggles onto his knees as we pick up speed. The captain is snorting into the microphone, rubbing the tip of his nose. The homeless man is urinating himself. My mask falls off as Dad rises to his feet and begins walking around on the walls. I’ve never been prouder in my life. He smiles as a child tries to kick him in the nuts. Only the strong can maintain themselves when The Gravitron really gets kicking. Metallica is still raging. Master of Puppets is pulling the strings to my father’s madness, making him dance, and people are shouting. Dad smacks his head against a metal bar. “Look at this fool.” “Sometimes he does this naked.” The machine nearing maximum velocity, his blood looks like vomit and we chase it in circles, this comet of our inertia. Never felt closer to my father than that evening in The Gravitron, leaning on third grade breasts, the stars so bright and
big. BIO: Matthew Dexter is an American writer living in Mexico. He survives in Cabo San Lucas. His work has been published in morethan a hundred literary journals. He loves shrimp tacos.
“There Ain’t No Sin and There Ain’t No Virtue” – Zoe Alexandra Your mother wraps her thick arms around your back in a sort of kung-fu death grip. “I missed you, Sadie,” she says. Mumble into her dense shoulder, something about how things never work out as planned but life goes on. She will tell you that life throws twists and turns at you, and that your Grandma Fan needs a caretaker. Grandma Fan has no idea where she is. She lives in your mother’s spare bedroom, throws her soiled underwear at the wall and screams, “Where’s Alfred?” and “Someone better change me. This isn’t pretty.” Your bedroom looks exactly the same as it did in your childhood. Your mother hasn’t moved a thing, just organized and dusted. It looks like a museum about your life, instead of your childhood bedroom. Every award has been neatly framed, although there are only two, and both are second place. One is for the second most organized student in your seventh grade class; the other is a merit badge for excellence in the Junior Debate team. Your bed sheets are adorned with faded prints of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and there is a brownish period stain on Dopey’s head. Scary, to think how old that period stain is. Teenage Menstruation. It could’ve been a really sweet band name.
Decide to get your life in order. Decide that George was just a roadblock. Decide that you were happier before he existed. Before long Laurel will call. She’ll say that someone saw you at the Bergen Mall. People know you are back in town. It would be a good idea to socialize with some old high school friends. Remind Laurel that she was one of the two friends you had in high school; the other was Jill Mason, and she’s married now. Laurel will tell you that “the someone” who saw you at the Bergen Mall was Jill Mason. She’ll say that Jill Mason said to invite you to a dinner party on the 14th. Decide to kill yourself before the 14th. Decide to make it look like an accident. Wish for a horrific landmine burst like in Phantom Finger. Your mom will set the table for three, set out the good plates with small rose blossoms on the edges and the nice cutlery too. She’ll make an organic tempeh dish and grip your hands as she speaks, “Grandma Fan needs you. This is the winter of her life”. Grandma Fan will pick at the tempeh, stare into your face and say, “Carolyn, we thought you’d never come back from the rodeo.” Tell her your name is Sadie. Stare into her grey-blue eyes. They look like tiny uninhabitable planets. Feel tears well up in your own eyes. Dab at the corners with the silk napkin and offer to clear the dishes. Lie in your childhood bed for the first time in eight years. Stare at your Daffy Duck alarm clock and regret the purchase. You were fifteen, you should’ve known better. No wonder you were an outcast freshman year. You had a Daffy Duck alarm clock. Think about George, lying alone in the Queen-sized bed you bought together. He is most likely lying beside his camera, caressing it like a lover, or even worse, he could be lying with Elle, stroking her smooth round model ass. Stroke your own leg and feel the ridges of cellulite on your thigh. Who’d want to touch this? Fall asleep wrapped around the huge Snoopy stuffedanimal Billy Jacobson won you at the school carnival ten years ago. Before falling
out, whisper, “Billy Jacobson, what has become of me?”into snoopy’s backside. Grandma Fan sits on her orthopedic shower chair as spurts of water hit her wrinkled face. Soap her up and study her old woman’s body. Her arms covered in purple bruises from bumping into counter ledges and falling off chairs. Her body is shriveled and sad. Realize that old age is simply a return to childhood, before returning to the earth, before returning to atoms. Fight the urge to tell her how sad it all is. You can’t even shower yourself. You can’t even wash your own vagina. Realize you love her in the saddest, purest way that you have ever loved anyone. Dress Grandma Fan in a flowered housedress and grey hospital socks. Kiss her leathery beige forehead and say, “You’re a peach, Fanny. A peach.” She will smile and say, “What about peaches?” The house phone will ring and your mother will call you into the kitchen. She’ll give you a hard dull look and whisper, “It’s George. I can tell him you’re not here.” Grab the phone from her polished hands and answer cautiously, holding the phone a little too far from your face: Hello? Hey Sadie. It’s me, George. Hi George. I miss you, Sadie. I’m sorry you feel that way, George.
Sadie, I mean it. The house is so empty without you. Yoshi misses you. I wish you’d come back and give this thing another go. What thing? Person, place, or thing? Sadie, stop playing the word game. George, I need to take care of Grandma Fan and I need to clear my head. I have to go. Wait for George to tell you he loves you, he’d do anything to be with you again, to smell the pollen of your hair, to touch the smooth crook of your neck. He’ll say none of this. He’ll say it’s okay, he’ll give you time to yourself. He’ll promise not to bother you again. He’ll say you can call him anytime, if you need anything. Bye George Bye Sadie Hang up as hard as possible and then realize it was a mistake. You should’ve hung up slowly; he would’ve heard the disinterest in the click of the receiver. It would’ve made him feel a chill, an emptiness he’d find hard to bear. You had failed. Now you’d have to long for George. Begin reading Grapes of Wrath. You read the Cliffs Notes in High School but you never bothered to finish it. You had used the bubbles on the quiz sheet to make a detailed mosaic of a Church Steeple, then proceeded to write a poem on the back called, A lonely day by the Old White Church. It was a prose poem about
a young boy who had accidentally strangled his mother to death with a tangled rosary, and in a fit of grief had carried her lifeless body to the Old White Church to attend one last service with her before she set into rigor mortis. You had received a D- on the quiz and a note attached from Mrs. Stevens that said: Please See the School Counselor re. your poem . -Mrs. S Promise yourself you will not call George until the last page has been turned. This time you will really read Grapes of Wrath, and you will undergo a spiritual change. Perhaps you will no longer love George by the time you get through it. It could take weeks, even months to finish. Get to the part where Jim Casy says, "Before I knowed it, I was sayin' out loud, 'The hell with it! There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do. It's all part of the same thing.' . . I says, ‘What's this call, this sperit?' An' I says, 'It's love. I love people so much I'm fit to bust, sometimes.'” Re-read the lines; let them fill up your mind like a helium balloon. Decide that you aren’t ready to let George go, not forever anyway. Realize you are like Jim Casy. Realize you love George so much you are fit to bust sometimes. Write George a letter on your mother’s good stationary. It reads: Dear George, There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virture. There’s just stuff people do. Love, Sadie Ps. I think I left my grey turtleneck sweater in the drier.
The 14th comes without warning, like D-day, like an explosion on the calendar. You were not prepared. You hadnâ€™t even devised a suicide plan. Decide instead to get really sick. Your A.A. sponsor has taught you that this is a program of honesty. You cannot lie to Jill Mason. You must really get sick. Make yourself a bowl of oatmeal. Spike it with Visine. While on the toilet shitting your brains out, call Jill. Tell her you cannot make it to her dinner party. Tell her you are violently ill. It is not a lie. She will sound genuinely concerned. She will ask you what the nature of your illness is. Tell her you think you were poisoned. Food poisoning. She will recommend that you drink club soda to settle your stomach and take a hot bath. She was always so maternal. Feel a twinge of guilt as you crap.
BIO: Zoe Alexandra's stories have appaeared in Best lesbian Erotica 2007 (cleis press), Nano Fiction and Verbicide Magazine and her poetry has most recently appeared in 3am Magazine. She studies English and Southern Connecticut State University and spends her days as a retail slave. She blogs at: http://zoealexandra.blogspot.com/
“Meat” – Neil Richter A man sits in a red booth at the back of a restaurant. His name does not matter and he is clad in dingy flannels, the color of which do not matter, and he stares at his plate, which bears a burden that does matter. A pile of beans and mush glisten and steam. Next to them, a thin steak lolls on the remainder of the faded china, its center as pink as a tongue. The man can only imagine the casing that this slab of beef once resided in. A casing that once moved and ate and breathed and shat and oozed and died. He has spent three of the last seven days moving cow hides into trucks. At first glance it didn’t seem like it, but it was the worst job in the plant. As he pulled apart sheets of skin, frozen together in the Midwestern cold, he prayed for a place on the gutting floor, for a pool of fresh blood, for a gout of steam out of an obscene, quivering nostril. Nobody answered. And so, he watched the trucks pull away, one after the other, marking time by the thin sheet of pinkish ice that formed on the sparse hairs of the cowhides. In the summer, if the foreman liked you, you also worked on the loading docks, manhandling sides of beef. It meant you could take the hard hat off and pick at your scalp once in a while. You could also dress lightly, so long as you kept your work boots on. The man liked the looks he got carrying half a dead cow across the concrete floor, his muscles bulging through a cotton wife-beater. Fresh out of the deep freeze, the blood fell on your back, icy cold, and left big blotchy stains that kept the sun off. The big slabs of beef formed makeshift umbrellas. The man liked feeling strong and protected, if only from the sun.
A fly crawls precariously close to his plate, but the man does not swipe at it. Eventually, it settles for a sweet drop of Horchata that’s fallen from the man’s sweating glass. He tilts it, listening as the ice cubes clink together in the variegated rays of light, and drinks deeply. A teenager, his server, leans against the bar and talks to a pretty girl. She has untouched hands and an untouched face, and the boy pushes his body toward her, subtly pinning her to the wall. The man finds himself focusing on her hands. There are many ways to get hurt at the plant. Clean-up men fall into vats, or get blasted by boiling hot water from fire hoses. Knockers pulverize fingers and toes against mallets. Gutters lacerate nerves, tendons, and blood vessels. The man considers himself lucky; the only scar he bears is a thin sliver of moon on his right temple from where a pipe hit him. He almost died, but at least not at the plant. The man takes a bite of his steak and smiles because he knows that there are still things that are his. When he sees the fresh meat packed away in little Styrofoam containers, he thinks it is beautiful, and he knows he’s the only one. The alternating ribbons of fat and gristle, when stared at up close, form a kind of miniature symphony. There are so many shades that exist between red and white and gray, so many. He looks at the hundreds, the thousands, of individually wrapped little schooners shuffling down the conveyer belt because they are beautiful, but only to him. He can own that, and on any particular day, it’s enough. The steak is good, well spiced and not overcooked. It still tastes like something that was once alive, not a soy product or a low-fat cola, but
something that’s organic and dead, and that nourishes the man, the man being something that is not dead. This is a nice feeling. He can own that too.
BIO: Neil Richter moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. His accent followed him. He pretends to wear many hats, 'writer' being his favorite pretend hats.
“The Comet Train”- Robert Vaughan The train that transports us to Ubud is called Comet. I see the name listed in our itinerary after selecting my seat. That’s odd, I think, since this is Bali. I see Bernie board, the solo British fellow on our tour of mostly Americans. He’s a lawyer, a little overly groomed. Nails with clear polish, daily reading glasses that match certain starched shirts. Is he gay, I wonder. Probably would be in America. He chooses the vacant seat next to me.
“Good breakfast,” he says, referring to our earlier buffet at the Westin.
“You think so?” Decide I don’t want to sound cynical. “Yes, it was.”
Bernie settles in, switches Persols to tortoise-shell readers. I notice how they pair nicely with his chocolate Izod shirt. He smells clean, a vague Aveda pomade
“Don’t you think it’s odd that we’re on a train called Comet?” I ask. Point to our itinerary sheet.
“Funny, I never read mine,” Bernie says. He pauses for a long time. The train starts rolling slowly from the station. It’s as if I’d asked him the meaning of life.
“I find,” he finally says, “that every aspect of this trip has been unusual.”
“Really? How so? Can you think of another example?” “Well, those dancers we saw last evening in Benoa? The ones doing the traditional dance, the Sang Hyang Dedari?”
I nod. “Yes, they were amazing.” And they were, but they'd haunted me, and when we’d returned to the Westin I couldn’t sleep. I decided to walk the beaches of Kuta, despite warnings against doing so in my guidebook.
“Indeed, and many of the dancers were men.” Bernie waits for my reaction.
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, I asked our guide.” Ravindranat is an Indian who lives in Nusa Dua.
He prefers to be called Gusti Agung, which roughly translates to Great Leader. Says a lot about him. He’s another odd fellow; in fact, the whole tour has a sickeningly strange pallor.
Bernie retrieves a magazine from his man bag, the cover article reads: Relationships: Take Them or Leave Them.
I’d travelled over 10,000 miles to get away from mine. My insightfulyoga teacherrecommends a country halfway around the world, purported to be over-thetop exotic, fascinating. No shopping, a place to get healthy. Take a break. Sounds like just the ticket I crave. But here, every Bali moment I miss him, more and more. With each spectacular sunrise I think, I wish he could see this. I re-play the tapes in my mind, those arguments where I had to be right, had to press my point. For what? I hate myself for it, way more than I can hate him. I look out the train window at the neon green latticed landscape, the rice paddies strewn between forest groves with tall trees that remind me of the eucalyptus trees back home.
“I’m homesick,” I say aloud, not expecting Bernie to hear me.
Bernie pats my knee, nods. “Hang in there mate,” he says. “There’s a nice spot in Ubud called Fly Cafe. How about you and I ditch the next tour? We’ll sit in the café and have a nice meal with some local Bintang beer.”
I smile. “You're on, Bernie, Bintang it is.”
BIO: Robert Vaughan’s plays have been produced in N.Y.C., L.A., S.F., and Milwaukee, where he resides. His prose and poetry is published or forthcoming in over 95 literary journals. His work is included in the 6S MIND GAMES anthology. He is a fiction editor at jmww magazine. Flash editor at Thunderclap! Press. His blog: http://rgv7735.wordpress.com
“Salamonster, During D.C.’s Destruction” – Sean Lyman Frasier Silly, silly, these tiny creatures with their tiny concerns that seem so abominable, until something larger struts by, opens their eyes and minds to true disaster, and tears down a building, or two, or ten.
The megaphone crackles, and they yowl about PEACE as they try to shackle me with metallic trip-cord, like dental floss pulled tight to stop a charging bull. I can see their desperation from here, amongst the high fog and the low clouds.
Beside me, helicopters tango against a long smudge of charcoal sky. I hear a crescendo of siren songs the tiny creatures panic to while they clutch: automatic machineguns, crucifixes, mistresses, cushioned steering wheels, looted television
sets, pure breed Dalmatian pups, peep show door handles, and so on.
Me, I clutch this nuclear loneliness, this feeling that I am a bomb on an absurdly slender precipice, and the masses, after years ignoring my balancing act, now watch me from below, finally noticing that if they breathe the wrong way I could tip. But they have already breathed, and whatâ€™s done is done, but still undone. All thatâ€™s left is the shadow widening as it falls.
Soon: The end of things. The end of those things they clutch. The end of every word in every language that means clutch. I am the final word shrieked from the last human alive. I kill because why else would I exist? Alone and born from this reckless want of more and faster.
Monuments crumble like old saltines. My feet are raw with crushed vehicles. Each step shakes another building from the skyline. I hear screams and try to mimic them. Instead, I melt a fighter jet with my fire breath.
There is nothing here for me. Beyond this city, another city. There is no rock large enough to hide beneath now, no creek deep enough for me to dodge and dip about in. Just destroy, everything and anything, as monsters do in storybooks, or the simple villains of Japanese creature features. There is no PEACE here, despite how many times they insist on shouting it, until these tiny creatures hush their screaming.
I knew silence once, among the bog reeds and cottontails, and the still waters that beckon mosquitoes to hover in the dimness. That silence was interrupted as sneakers trampled my brother while scampering across moss and twig, left him crushed except one leg that twitched to his heart beat as he refused to die for half a minute. Then the twitching subsided, the footsteps faded, and the silence settled again.
It left me fearing a return. The rattle of the grass, the rubber squeak of the sneaker, the thud of the foot on the damp soil. I watched, waited, in darkness, in sunshine, every living thing a lie, because some day that foot could drop.
The gray sky is grayer in this mist of smoke and debris. With a belly full of blood and a trail of crushed tanks behind me, I will know silence again, and it will most certainly know me.
BIO: Sean Lyman Frasier writes and lives in Brooklyn, NY. Creature features and ranting vagabonds are his most consistent inspirations. He was born with four supernumerary teeth and is likely 5% Thresher shark.
“The Lunatic and the Tiger Shark” – Crystal Beran The day hung above me like an interrogation lamp, ruthless and unyielding. No breeze arose to chase away the coffee-cop breath of the coming torpid tropical noontime. I rested in a mercifully non-corporeal wakefulness for one last moment before cracking open my eggshell eyelids. My pupils were runny yellow yolks, and drained out of my face until all that remained were pinpricks through which I could not see. A terrible wave of nausea rose up with each gentle rock of the boat; my head shattered into a hundred-thousand tiny pieces, each sharp edge biting, shredding, masticating my thoughts.
The brightness of day overwhelmed me, and I hid once more behind red glowing eyelids. Remaining utterly still, I began to sort through the fragments of sound that composed my memory of yesterday: the yell of the maniac, whooping fierce above me, shouting nonsense with head tilted up and up and back towards the stars, the soft whisper of the wind, inviting us out to sea, lying sweetly, promising mystery and adventure. My own voice, “Yes, of course we know how to sail. How much to rent it for three days?” A crack like lightening, and then the inevitable smack of the mast falling into the water. Hector’ssmile as wide as his legs astride it, as if it were a carnival ride and not our means of transporting ourselves back to land.
Bracing myself for an ice pick of a headache, I slowly raised my body up onto my elbows and surveyed the damage. Hector lay wrapped in the sail, the red stain
of his blood inched across the canvas. The mast, broken in two a few feet above the hull, crossed the width of the boat and dipped lazily into the water with each crest and trough. A good two hundred yards to port we could see the Abaiang Atoll. It was a swimmable distance from us, but the sharks circling intended to see this thing through, intrigued as they were by the drip of Hector’s blood through the netting that connected the miniature catamaran’s two hulls.
I reached behind me to the cooler, which we stuffed full with the only thing we’d thought to bring along on our two-hour midnight voyage. I cracked open a cool beer, downing it quickly, and was halfway through a second before the drummer pounding away on my brain took a five and let me crawl over to Hector. That bloodstain was troubling.
When I arrived at his semi-conscious body, I found him displeased, far more hung over than I, bleeding from a six-inch gash in his right leg, and sporting a baseball sized knot on his forehead.
“I’m Captain Jack Sparrow,” he mumbled as I attempted to rouse him. I handed him a beer and waited for him to come around fully. Then I would kill him. But I suppose, in my own small way I was to blame for this as well. After all, I should have known better; I was there the night Hector lost his wedding ring.
Six years ago, I invited Hector to a party, and he, like any gracious guest should, came bearing gifts: a suitcase full of mojito mix and cocaine. After an
hour, all but the most hardcore of my guests had fled the scene, inventing excuses or simply shaking my hand a bit too fast and lying, “It’s been fun.”
“I will not spill my red wine in the hot tub,” I prompted him, making him say the words aloud before allowing him in. I relaxed and turned back to my conversation, when abruptly, Hector sprang from the Jacuzzi, zipped off to the kitchen, opened a beer, and pouring it directly into the hot tub repeatedly yelled, “It’s not wine!” I went to bed. His hyena laugh chased me into sleep. Hector spent the remainder of that evening burning my boyfriend with his lighter and throwing pint glasses onto the cement driveway to see how large an area he could cover with irretrievable glass shards.
“I should make you swim for help,” I told him, leaning against the cooler and away from the sun, watching the methodical spiral of shark fins circle around and around the boat. I opened another beer. He looked down, refusing to meet my gaze, knowing he must be responsible for the demolition, but not knowing how he could have managed to break the mast in half.
A shark bumped its nose against one of the hulls, giving it an experimental chomp. He was too small though, and his mouth couldn’t make it far enough around to do any damage. So far, it seemed that all the sharks were of the kinder, gentler reef variety, about six to eight feet long. The monsters had yet to ascend from the depths.
We watched the not-too-distant beach-line hungrily for a while, as the boat moved neither closer in nor farther out. I drank. Silence oozed out of my skin, lumbering angrily toward Hector like a malicious slime mold. I let it sit, thick and untraversable between us. We were castaways on our own tiny floating island. If it came down to it, I would kill him and eat him. I had two good legs and no concussion. I could take him. He knew it too.
A honeymooning couple strolled into view along the white sand shore. Thinking nothing for either my incapacitating hangover or my rising state of drunkenness, I leaped into the air, waving both arms above my head and shouted for help in every language I knew. They smiled, waved back, and continued off arm in arm. I drowned my sense of helplessness in another can of beer.
The ruthless day wore on, the sun sucking the water out of my blood through thousands of invisible straws. At mid-afternoon, I contemplated lassoing a couple of sharks, but knew, even as the thought surfaced, that there would be no way to steer them. Even had they been dolphins, the oceanâ€™s happy helpers, noted for carrying half-drowned sailors to the safety of the shore, I could not ensure the correct directional momentum. How did that joke go? Yes, dolphins do rescue sailors. Well half of them, anyway. The other half they carry out to sea to eat. Another beer.
Good thing the twelve-foot boat didnâ€™t come equipped with a Karaoke machine.
“With or without you, with or without you I can’t live.” A stripy shark longer that the boat drifted lazily by. If I could have moved I might have rode him. Mystery: another beer materializes in my hand. Thirsty is torturous.
“I’m never far from crazy,” I said to Mr. Stripes when I saw him next, “That’s why I’m a writer. You have to be, you know, crazy. It’s how it works. But you already know all this, why am I telling you?”
He bit the boat in response, leaving a ring of tooth holes three times bigger than my head.
“I know,” I told him.
Hector stirred above me, rummaging around the cooler.
“Give it back its hat,” I ordered, ever the captain, “Its beers will be all hot without its hat.”
“Yup,” said Hector.
Bump, went the tiger shark.
The island ballooned ahead of me, expanding in size with each stroke of the
cooler-lid-oar. My eyes danced. A shark nibbled on the plastic lid. Hector shook it away and pulled across the water until we crashed safely into white sand.
BIO: Travel writer and international woman of adventure, Crystal Beran can rarely be found where she says she'll be. She searches the world for stories to feverishly record back at her secret lair and frequently falls off the edges of the map in her quest for new material. She blogs at fictitiousadventures.blogspot.com
“I Became an Old Couple” – Greg Gerke I became an old couple one day and it did me proud—boxed, ragged thing that I was.
From my window I saw them take their time by my alley. Bearded and bald, he had on a white shirt. A frumpy body, but a body pleasing to him. In a fine red dress, she was taller. She wore glasses the color of her eyebrows and her eyes were blue and glowing with wisdom, compassion—how could I not throw myself in there? I did and I was boiled, and I went walking past the point where I once watched from the second floor. All of them now me.
I continued down the curved alley, meandering, as they seemed intent on before. I became, I filled, and soon did what I would never. Rustle in the plum tree for the bitter, wizened fruit, if only to touch. Guess the year of a penny I found. I almost rent, but I was two, shorn of hate and lust—ungossiping, tame, absolved.
The alley led to a street with motels and a vision center. Clouds then, with rain. Distant music rose up and I danced a two-step, careful no one recognized what I’d become, because I was unsure. Was this the life I wanted? Now half of me enjoyed Sudoku and the other half knew many recipes, tended her Schubert collection. I could go for Schubert, but contentedness, a strange new hurt, raged. The clouds’ gray went pink. I didn’t concern myself with anyone else, or what they were doing, or if they were mad—I didn’t have to. I was a happy couple.
A little more north and I saw my daughter from my first marriage. She had dyed her hair and was selling baskets made from hemp. Her favorite way to start a sentence: With a mother like you… That day she seemed untroubled, and I waved and she waved back and I went on.
There was the boy who broke my nose in high school. He made a bald joke, but I smiled and looked at my taller womanly self who exhaled a sweet, ripe scent into my ear. I could have fallen apart with happiness, sure the wind would right me. I continued directly to the home I enjoyed so much, my love in hand. Home to the paraffin lamps in the hall and in my bedroom. I had potpourri in the shower and a pair of nice leather gloves for winter. My house was solid, it had no leaks. Even
so, I didn’t need it quiet. I was a gracious couple.
It took a few weeks in the house but I did succumb. The years went by and one of me died—the man, the lover of Russian history, the one who called his best friend Pete. I was now one, but I still felt like a couple. And though I cried in the early evenings, around when I used to eat supper with my man, I went on. The flowers smelt just as good. Every year a better, higher quality recording of the Unfinished Symphony to purchase. I wasn’t a ghost and I wasn’t a wreck. Walking the streets humbled me. I liked to smile at those I did not know.
When I died I felt the presence I had been born as there with me. I felt whole and had an inkling I was being welcomed into a very calm place, and though I couldn’t feel my body, the transition went without a bump in time. At the close I was delicate, untroubled and I thought of my years and what I would say to explain myself to those waiting above or below. It left me in many versions, but it always started the same--I’m so glad I left that young, gloomy man behind…
BIO: Greg Gerke lives in Brooklyn. His work has or will appear in Quarterly West, Mississippi Review and Gargoyle. There’s Something Wrong With Sven, a book of fiction, is available from Blaze Vox Books. He is the fiction editor at ArtVoice. His website is www.greggerke.com.
“Her Heart is a Screen Door, Too.”- Ryder Collins These are the things Homegirl doesn’t remember; these are the things she saw as she lay tied up on that bed, not for a night, like she thought, but for almost 72 hours. She doesn’t remember these hours; she doesn’t remember being bruised and bleeding and crying and pleading. Homegirl was alone in the darkness and that’s all she felt. The darkness pressed in on her and she wanted to fight it; she wanted to, but her legs and arms were tied to the huge wooden acorn facsimiles that made up the bedposts. She would have punched the darkness, she would have clawed, kicked, scratched, slapped that darkness if she’d been free. If she could ever have been free. The only thing she could do was spit at it, and she was so thirsty. She’d had nothing to drink but alcohol and some drug concoction in her wine that she’d thought was just wine. She was alone in the darkness and she saw herself at eight with her buck teeth and those skinny little braids. She was followed through the darkness by a Quentinkid; he kicked her in the crotch and then pushed her down and gave her a facewash of darkness. It was cold and dark and she tried not to cry, but she cried and the darkness melted a little, but then froze back up on her cold buck-toothed skinny face. She was alone in the darkness with a guy that looked like a muscleyClark Kent.
A guy she’d been trying to repress. A guy that she let push his dick up her ass, who said he’d stop if it was too much but wouldn’t stop after she said, No more. It’d felt like he was breaking something inside her. She tried to throw that feeling back at the darkness but the darkness ate it up, smiled, belched, and then got darker for good measure. She was alone with a man who looked like her father and they were throwing bowling balls at the darkness, but the darkness ate the balls, and the darkness sent back bowling pins, and then the man said something about how her fifteen year old breasts were real nice nice little titties. She was alone in the darkness but then there was Labretboy, and they were bowling, and Labretboy was getting strikes and the scoreboard was going crazy every time. And every time the pins would fly off into the darkness, Homegirl felt like crying. She loved Labretboy’s moves so much. And the darkness was just a little bit less dark. And Homegirl stopped pleading and only whimpered for a moment. But then Homegirl was alone on the smoke-stank carpeted steps going down to Labretboy’s basement bowling hangout/bar and it was because she and Labretboy always always fought when they weren’t fucking, so they were either fucking or fighting, and she tried to console herself that she was a weeble, and weebles wobbled but they never fell down. The darkness didn’t care if she was standing or wobbling; the darkness didn’t care and the darkness got darker. The darkness sucked up Labretboy and his pins,
too, just to show her what’s what. She was alone with her fantasies about Richboy, and these fantasies she’d tried so hard to repress, these fantasies she’d never expressed. How she wanted to marry him, and when he’d come home from wherever he was, which wouldn’t be work cos that just wasn’t like him, she’d be wearing nothing but a see-through something and she’d have a highball ready, and she’d suck him off the minute he got in, and if he didn’t like it he might spank her, and if he really didn’t like it he might give her to the pizza boy, and if he didn’t like her he might cat’o’nine tails her, and if he really really didn’t like it he wouldn’t fuck her. The withholding was always the worst. She was alone with Peanutbuttersandwiches. Not the actual food, but an artist she’d dated who’d make out with her and then have to leave because, 1.) he was allergic to something and/or 2.) he had to eat a peanut butter sandwich. When he broke up with her, he’d said as her screen door slammed shut, I’ll always love you. She was alone in the darkness and that screen door kept slamming slamming slamming on her. She was alone in the darkness but then she was outside a bar, and she was with this other artist guy, and she was drunk and there was a cute punky drunk standing by them, and she invited the artist guy and the punky guy back to her house and she made them listen to her read her own poetry, and it was a battle of the dicks and the nice artsy guy tried to wait it out, but the punky guy had more stamina that way, and then she was alone with the pierced-tongued tattooed punky guy who was also an artist and who had a girlfriend, and who couldn’t get it up but went down on her with his pierced tongue and ruined her for all other oral sex ever, and
told her she tasted good and then a week later called her up for a threeway, and then she never heard from him again until he turned into her favorite bartender/withholder. She was alone in the darkness and her uterus was that screen door. She was alone in the darkness and then there was the ex-Marine and she was buying cigarettes from him again at the Shell station, and he was young and she was younger and foolish and he looked at her and she looked at him and for a moment there was a little bit of real real light. Then she was alone in the darkness and the screen door was rasping against her other insides. She was alone but then she wasn’t. She was in the workshop again, on the first day, and there was Richboy, and he was so tall and so handsome with blue eyes and wavy brown hair, so handsome that she can only remember these vague details, because if she remembers him in detail the screen door will cut into her heart. The screen door will become her heart. The screen door becomes her heart cos she can’t forget him. She’s alone in the darkness and the Junebugs are hurtling themselves at her screen, at the little bit of light she and the ex-Marine made. She’s alone and then there’s the ex-Marine again and a pinball machine and she’s pretending like she cares about pinball, but all she really cares about are how
the lights go crazywild when he gets one in the hole. She wants to be his pinball again; she wants to be his hole. She’s alone in the darkness of the tiki bar and then there’s the ex-Marine and she’s breaking up with him cos he, too, gots a girlfriend; she’s got him by the leather lapels and it’s so beautiful and so melodramatic that if she could freeze her life at this instant she just wouldn’t go forward ever. And that’s when the lights go out for reals.
BIO: Ryder Collins just finished writing a novel called Homegirl! She's gots stuff in DIAGRAM, > kill author, decomP, Wigleaf, and Juked, among others, and a chapbook, Orpheus on toast, available from Imaginary Friend Press. She homegirls it up at http://bignortherngirlgoes.blogspot.com/.
A SNOWBALL FOR VESUVIUS If I am a snowball. It’s cold and it’s winter and the sunlight reflecting off the snow burns red. It’s heat we fear. The whole sky, a precursor to fifteenth-century European plagues we’re destined never to avoid. Snowflakes losing their individuality. Slowly, so slowly it’s almost not happening. A shift in paradigm, purely tectonic. Marxism, Fascism, Solipsism. Another needless land war we intended to engage in, but only for a short while and for the purpose of enlightenment. If I am a snowball and the years add on to me, they do it in countless empty calories: old boxer's knuckles, punched-out from too much trying and not enough hiding. Oh, it's cold and getting colder and so little fossil fuel is left. See it. Coal and lava and sandstones melding into fragments of treasure under millennia of small inspections, tiny and trapped, like the perfect wedding cake couple. All this feasting and fucking. Cannibalism without eye contact. Never calling it what it is. Damn it, name it right, this time seven hundred years ago Timbuktu was a thriving nation on the edge of a Saharan metropolis and now it’s lost its star power to rough-and-tumble men with AK47's and long, lonely names, and no one cares to look for it, not even Santa Claus, otherwise omniscient in his magic tundra. The whole world’s a Christmas that never came. A cumshot in the face from your favorite uncle, with love. If I am a snowball and the years add on to me then someone has to get hurt to stop this. Please say ouch, and I’ll say sorry.
THE WET YEARS All precipitation starts as ice or snow crystals at cloud level; a moment of purity before placement into complex charts measuring the wetness of wavelengths, the density of bone marrow. A cable news weather girl whose true worth is proven when her wrists and ankles are bound to wooden bedposts. So maybe rain is just us, our desperate slant on a fall that began long before the arrival of our ancestors to a land they quickly mastered. Built and abandoned, old conveyor belts and elevators to the mines of Monongah, sitting stalled and lifeless. Rust as an element. The pockmarked earth, a million mass graves for infinite droplets that fell sometime before midnight. The deterioration of metals sunk in mud, former statues of saints turned criminals. Ordinary fathers stealing fifths of gin then flipping moms over on their backs as daytime soaps blare their weak versions of romance. The same exact meal, served hot or cold, whole or in pieces, by fork or by spoon. The waiting between downpours, the ancient fear of weather so potent it reconfigures DNA. Eight feet in three hours, twenty in twelve. Twenty-two MPH drops. Pets and pianos, bird cages and trash cans, floating by in a dirty river, together, drowning. The very idea of dry gone. Atlantis, the only reasonable forecast.
BIO: Peter Schwartz's poetry has been featured in The Collagist, The Columbia Review, Diagram, and Opium Magazine. His latest collection Old Men, Girls, and Monsters was released as part of the Achilles Chapbook Series. He's an interviewer for the PRATE Interview Series, a regular contributor to The Nervous Breakdown, and the art editor for DOGZPLOT. Barry Graham is the current national tic-tac-toe association champion (1994,
2004, 2006, 2010) and he wrote The National Virginity Pledge between tournaments.
Three illustrated shorts by John Dermot Woods. FUDDERMANâ€™S FOLLY
Frank Fudderman said that he responded to an internet dating personal and agreed to meet the woman, whom he had never seen, in front of the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon. The appearance of the woman that he met did not so much disappoint him, as confuse him; he had a very different and very exact expectation in his mind. When I
reminded Fudderman that there is no way to predict such things and that our powers of imagination will always fail in the harsh light of reality, he quietly folded his napkin, stood up, walked out of the kitchen, and then the front door. After that, no one I knew ever heard a word from Fudderman again.
A Greek man who holds the lease on a storefront on Eastern Avenue, and, for some unknown reason, does not have to be concerned about regular income, according to a friend who works at the city chamber of commerce, has been operating a “treat stand,” a store which purports to sell some kind of sweet, but, indeed has not sold a single item in over twenty years of operation, and, in fact, has never had a single item for purchase stocked on its shelves. The neighboring residents say that on most evenings, just after closing, the man closely inspects the empty shelves, apparently taking inventory, regularly noting things on a clipboard. My friend at the chamber of commerce said that the man must have considered selling his business several years ago when he inquired at the local bank about having his operation valued. Afraid of embarrassing him, the bank employee politely suggested that it would be more lucrative to operate the store himself, and he accepted this advice. At the height of the mid-summer heat, for two weeks each year, he closes down the store, and, according to a cardboard sign hung it its window, he travels to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It’s an escape from the doldrums, quiet, and oppressive humidity of August in Baltimore.
At a summer street fair organized by the local chamber of commerce, we witnessed the president of a major real estate development group, Jim Blackwell, in a serious discussion with Al Horowitz, a successful labor organizer, so we moved closer to the two, expecting to hear some harsh words exchanged, as Blackwell was well known for using non-union labor. But, instead, we witnessed a continuous exchange of back pats and handshakes. We stood and watched as Horowitz complimented Blackwell for his lean and efficient operation, and Blackwell noted the great work that Horowitz had done in wresting privilege from the hydra-headed beast of corporate America. Then, Blackwell suggested that Horowitz, an avid golfer, join him for a round at the private course of which Blackwell was a member, and, to our surprise, Horowitz said he would be honored. The next morning, as we walked to buy our morning coffee, we watched as the city workers whose union was in the midst of a bitter dispute with the city government, cleaned up the refuse from the previous dayâ€™s fair, and we found it to be singularly disappointing when we watched the men sweep away a pile of paper cups left in the exact spot where Blackwell and Horowitz had stood and talked.
Special Thanks to John Dermot Woods for the wonderful artwork, and Elusive Designs for helping create a great first tshirt. Thanks to everyone who has supported FIX IT BROKEN. We hope you enjoy the first Issue.