Lick of the Monster BRANDY STOREY
Great Monsters AIKO M.
I May Want to Collect Data on My Sleeping Habits BETH GORDON
Dad JESSIE READ
Monster, Hidden BRUCE KAUFFMAN
Eulogy ALEX DAWSON
Circus JOSEPH S. PETE
I Edit My Life MICHAEL LEE JOHNSON
Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Lord APRIL VÁZQUEZ
Bound SOPHIA KING
Monsters ANUBHA MEHTA
Pit Viper DS LEVY
Falling Through the Cracks ADRIANA GREEN
Leftover Sensations ANNMARIE ROSELLI
The Hooded One JOSHUA HOWE
Cat & Mouse QURAT D.
The Monsters ELIZABETH BANFALVI
Banishing the Monsters SUSAN KSIEZOPOLSKI
Demons RON CHASE
Vampire BOB MACKENZIE
Self vs. Self KYLE CLIMANS
Monster Part 2 KELSEY NEWMAN-REED
Timeline Corruption ALYSSA COOPER
How to Make a Sociopath Laugh R.M. KOZAN
Front Cover AISHA ALI
Inside Back Cover
DUSKA DRAGOSAVAC & LILY MONSTERMEAT
FREE LIT MAGAZINE Editor-in-Chief Ashley Newton
Literary Editor Eunice Kim
Kyle Climans, Alyssa Cooper, Adriana Green, Bruce Kauffman
Aisha Ali, Elizabeth Banfalvi, Andrew Case, Ron Chase, Qurat D., Alex Dawson, Duska Dragosavac & Lily MonsterMeat, Leanna Gennuso, Beth Gordon, Joshua Howe, Michael Lee Johnson, Sophia King, R.M. Kozan, Susan Ksiezopolski, DS Levy, Aiko M., Bob MacKenzie, Anubha Mehta, Kelsey Newman-Reed, Joseph S. Pete, Jessie Read, AnnMarie Roselli, Brandy Storey, April Vázquez
Free Lit Magazine is a digital literary magazine committed to the accessibility of literature for readers and the enrichment of writing for writers. Its mission is to form an online creative community by encouraging writers, artists, and photographers to practice their passion in a medium that anyone can access and appreciate.
A monster is, by definition, “any creature so ugly or monstrous as to frighten people.”We all know monsters from classic tales and horror films, and can usually identify them quite easily. But what if a monster is not made up of how it looks? We can walk among many ordinary people, places, and things, and never suspect a thing. The greatest danger lies within what we cannot see and the things we fail to suspect. Some of us may be afraid of the monsters told in such classic stories out of fear we will be hurt by them. In reality, we can become consumed by their power and unleash that same fear toward others. Some of us know of our own monsters hidden inside us; we just hope nobody else finds them out. Whatever it is you are most afraid of, a monster of some kind is fuelling your fear. Beware of the disguises they craft, for it is the less threatening appearance of things that lets our guard down the most. Ashley Newton Editor-in-Chief
The Magic Issue November 2017
Lick of the Monster BRANDY STOREY
Paralyzed stoic, melodic bells toll. Don’t be confused; this is no AC/DC anthem. Nonetheless, your last breath of millions, you have taken. The chatter and whisperings of the damned begin speaking through my bones, only to vibrate back as hollow shrieks. Giving me away to the monster who’s sure to make his ominous appearance. He’s coming. I’m scared by the sound of the crackling earth. The white noise persists as the angelic ones turn to flee. He makes his arrival known; dank breath surrounds my body whole. Soul seeking, he peers through the guts of my abdomen. Searching ever so scrupulously, death reaping all my internal being. His eyes – black and dense with aching eternalness – stare up from my raw endless depths. Each and every sinewy muscle down to my malleable veins and tissue deteriorates the moment our eyes meet. Enraptured, the bells continue to sound. The stairs fall from beneath my center. Darkness encumbers everything as I’m vanquished. He whispers in my ear, “You’re mine to take and meld from smoke and twinkling stars, my angry fire to light you entirely aflame.” His promise makes me ache for a painless, peaceful demise. “Nah-uh” he says, “this death is here for those who so deserve,” he venomously strangles while vigorously shaking me undone. As promised, his tortured flames lick and frolic upwards from the thick of my calves, while bones unprotected from the flesh disintegrate. Before departing, my essence is one in which he demands to taste. The stars touch down from the sky as the smoke rises from the destruction of my wasted body. Every reprimand given is the jagged pull of thorns lodged inside, only to bleed my last drops of life you have ripped away from me. I’m wreaked from the havoc, only splinters left to salivate this masochist beast who’s lapping my wounds as if to compensate. A dirty deed done, but Monster, why so merciless? My body and soul yours for the taking; is this how I must repent? A Monster I am. Go ahead; be angry for our moments together, I consumed your nefarious past to give you a future. What I have given to you is worth much more than the shit I stole and must live with myself. Guilt and regret you shall live free and without, the Monster that I am is now damned to drown in your filth. The stars that twinkle hold your memories and the fire remembers the pain, but ‘I’ the monster, lives now with the smoke; your mistakes and begotten past. I am the Reaper of Agony: see me for what I am; you have been relieved, as have so many, many others. Meanwhile, I remain engulfed with an eternity of greed and misgivings, looming in the dark, for that’s where I’ll wait for whoever’s next. Till then, leave me be, to drink in your butchered soul and seethe.
I May Want to Collect Data on My Sleeping Habits BETH GORDON
I’m singing in the shower, Whitney Houston circa 1992 and Kevin Costner is my savior, rescuing me from the enemies of daily life: missing socks, twenty overdue bills and nineteen dollars, coupon-cutting hordes of women who I call neighbors, and my blue-eyed husband. I think he might kill me next time. Chewing on the piece of chicken sautéed in fresh lemon and cheap white wine, he looks perplexed. Adds a piece of broccoli with his next bite, washed down with his favorite beer, tells me I should have followed the recipe word for word. It’s consistent and correct, he says, I always know what I’m getting. I’m searching the pages of What to Expect and there is no answer to the moment when your baby hangs off your chafed nipple at 3 am and in 3 hours you will rise to fix pancakes, diverting his anger. Visions of throwing my used-up body out the window so real that I hold her tighter so I won’t let go. I may want to collect data on my sleeping habits. There’s something wrong here, something festering like a rotten tooth. As cold sunlight creeps through the dusty curtains and my daughter begins to wake, hungry and loud, I search through my dresser drawer. Where is the other purple sock, where did it go?
ANUBHA MEHTA Monsters in the dark swallow me whole Their words so true they slash my soul But in all of the hurting and in all of the pain I realize I am the only one to blame I plead for them to stop yet I could never kiss them goodbye For they are my dirty secrets My darkest lullabies These things that I love are killing me slow But stupid me, I canâ€™t let go Everyone tells me I need to break free, But whatâ€™s freedom without love, and love is all that I see. My love is my addiction, an addiction to thee Where the shadows are dark and the darkness so whole Their words so true that they slash my soul My monsters in the dark, pray, swallow me whole
Pit Viper DS LEVY
We’re on the patio sampling a bottle of Chardonnay from a charming little vineyard in Traverse City when Adrian says, “You know, TC’s soil is perfect for growing grapes and cherries. Cherry Capitol of the World.” “It’s gorgeous up there,” says Brenda, who turns to her husband and says, “Honey, when were we there? Remember, that summer we took the kids and your mother?” Phil swirls, sniffs the bouquet, then holds the glass to the light. This particular Chardonnay has a very pretty yellow-ochre, coppery glow. “Hints of lemon, apple, maybe even a tad vanilla,” he says. Phil Andrews has his own Concord 700-Series Wine Cabinet. A student of the grape, he pours through books and magazines and could be a sommelier if he weren’t already a civil engineer. He and Brenda have the farm across the road. When we moved in Brenda came over with a plate of butterscotch cookies and a bottle of Merlot. I know next to nothing about wine except that I love it. Or rather I like the way it makes me feel. One evening when we were first married I told Adrian, “Wine always makes me feel whispery.” Of course by then we’d had a few glasses and he’d laughed, thought I was joking. But I was serious, back then whispery seemed like a good thing. Adrian stabs a cube of the Vermont cheddar I bought that afternoon at Whole Foods, pops it in his mouth. My husband’s a quiet man, reserved really. A musician, he designs stringed instrument for a living and is a visionary when it comes to guitars. His shop is out back, in the barn. His favorite wood is mahogany, but he’s made some lovely instruments out of maple and pine. As a musician – well, his long lean fingers stretch the frets with ease, moving like ripples on water, and his touch is amazing. He loves to play. I think it takes him to a place only he can go. We moved here three years ago from California, ready for a new start. So here we are in the Rust Belt, the throbbing heart of the country. After we’d been here a couple of months, Adrian wrote a song for Stephanie, our daughter, who would have been four last May. He’ll never play it for anyone except me. It’s a beautiful song, and the sound coming from his guitar is like a haunting angel. His finger-picking simply ethereal. For the longest time he couldn’t get through it, but last week he did, and I knew then we were traveling different paths. I excuse myself and go into the kitchen to get some more cheese, and when I come back Adrian’s talking about deforestation. His company is trying to do something about illegal tree logging in Honduras where they harvest much of their wood. I haven’t seen him this interested in something in a long time, and I don’t mind listening to the same stories again and again. “We’re trying to give back to the region,” he tells our guests. “To the people who live there.” “The Hondurans are poor?” Brenda asks, shaking her head at my offer of more cheese. “Oh, geez, the worst,” says Adrian. “Second poorest country in Central America.” Sometime I’d like to go with him into the jungle. It’s so deep, he says, it’s like entering a shadow world. Fortunately, his company has special all-terrain vehicles that can penetrate the hot and humid jungle. And the snakes, he says. Not your garden variety. No blue racers. We’re talking pit vipers, he says, coral snakes. Deadly demons. I don’t care. I want to go there with him. 7
“ … And that’s an accident waiting to happen,” says Adrian. “Say,” says Phil. “Speaking of accidents.” As Phil begins, I’m wondering if tonight, lit on wine, Stephanie will come to me in my dreams, she and her tender blonde curls and those fat little fingers that used to grab my hand and squeeze. I lived for that touch. I see her sweet smile; see us taking turns in the hospital reading one picture book after another. Even at that age, she loved to look at the pictures, loved to hear us read. Last week she whispered Adrian’s song. “… last week,” says Brenda. Their eyes are on me. “What?” I say. Adrian looks down at the patio. “Well,” Phil says, “we sat on the Interstate forever. What was it, honey, twenty, thirty minutes?” “Oh, longer,” says Brenda. “At least forty-five minutes.” “A terrible accident. Both cars totaled. The EMS took someone away. When we finally got moving again we passed a couple standing on the side of the road. They were talking to a cop, totally dazed.” “Who wouldn’t be?” I say. “The woman had on beige pants--” says Phil. “Khakis,” Brenda chimes in. “You could tell she’d wet herself.” He takes a sip of wine, the stem of the glass threaded through his stubby fingers. “Poor woman.” He sits back in his wicker chair, crosses one leg over the other, stares at the ground. We all sip our wine, don’t say a word. There’s too much sadness in the world. Sometimes it hits you when you least expect it, like when you’re listening to a song. In the trees, cicadas chirp solemnly. A slight breeze wafts through the screens. The branches on the maple tree flutter. Maple and pine make for a fine guitar body, though most people still prefer rosewood and mahogany. But maple and pine are just as good if you know how to make those woods sing, and Adrian does. All of his guitars have a pure, clear sound.
Falling Through the Cracks ADRIANA GREEN
Well, this was a long time coming, and it is what I came to expect. Everywhere I use to unpack sent me running; they still call out my name with its old sound, But I’m a new face in a ghost town. Burning bridges just to light the way ... though, I think that has been done before. I think this has all been felt before. You know, before my apathy and their disinterest became one in the same. Because I’m beautiful, sure, but I’m teeming with rage. And somewhere down the line, accusations and misunderstandings seemed to get in the way Of most everything that was pulling on my heart strings. Left gutted, though less honest. See, I had more hope before that mindset got to me – the one that picks apart any good you do until there’s nothing left to think clearly about. Only the memories of those who have wronged you are left to dwell on now, as you stay up Making speeches, smoking cigarettes, becoming content with no longer living The way you used to. From one lover to another; what’s a life spent without desire? To be a child is to wonder; it’s one in the same for a while. But I made sure to always leave something behind to sustain their appetite As if I was planning for obstacles to always get in my way So that I wouldn’t have to explain these monsters, Well I call them actions. And when it’s all self-induced, there is nothing and everything that I can possibly do To tame them.
Leftover Sensations ANNMARIE ROSELLI
When Luthien woke his skin was the color of flat sand on a starless evening. What the hell happened last night? He sees a sky not quite black. The moon, a shredded toenail hanging on a milky weave. Leftover sensations of tepid glass–thick tumbler, lazy ice. Last evening, he stopped on his way home. Between shots of Jack Daniels, Luthien remembers a powerful mouth. In the small bar–a big woman whose billowing lips could suck the enamel off teeth. What did he do? Did that insane mouth hoover the color from his body. Luthien’s fair skin that goes lobster belly pink on the beach. Was he vacuumed dry? Luthien hopes he’ll wake and find his skin its proper shade. But Luthien, you are pale grey. Too bad. Nervously he squeezes his eyelids shut. Shelby and her tears. She’d found him and Cassandra porn-style in ‘their’ bed. So what if he and Shelby picked out the duvet with coordinating sheets. The woman in the bar had lips like clamps–tight and hot. Big, deep red wet lips. Did he hear a name from that strange sucking mouth? Martianna, Maliana, Marvianna? A sentence slithers into his ear. A velvet tongue like he’s never tasted in thirty eight years. White hands pulling his hair so hard, his head whacks the bar wall and he doesn’t give a shit. His head. Her mouth surreal. A serpentine force plundering his desperate throat. Did that burgundy wet nurse utter something to his bourboned-out body? Think Luthien. You almost talked Shelby out of leaving post-Cassandra fuck. The name. It will be important. Take a moment. Go through the minutes after her lips sucked your dick through your throat. The red lips whispered something. “When a heart is shattered, its pieces fall to earth. Tears of pain water. And grows the blood rose that springs forth the serpent that feeds on the rat.” The bedroom clock screams. Luthien wakes to the sun’s rays slithering past his silk curtains. His mane of hair, dripping sweat, soaking the grey cotton sheets. Saturday morning. Shelby would have slapped the alarm off, then woken him with a tender kiss.
They used to make love on Saturdays.
The Hooded One JOSHUA HOWE
Under lamplight he sits Alone on the old bench, Erect and thin beneath The sharp pines clawing sky, Head bowed and black, his face In rippling aged fabric A lost, forgotten thing— The hooded one. It rains tonight, below A stygian sky and clouds As sooty as charcoal, And in a crinkling voice He speaks to me, as if From somewhere far away, But it is lost to rain That pat pat patters on The endless asphalt road, And so I look at him— The hooded one.
I sense a smile, perhaps, Though nothing can be seen, And he begins to sing A dark song from the past That whispers through the trees And tugs at buried fears And dreams within my mind— A lullaby that I know. “What are you waiting for?!” He turns his hooded head To lean in close to me, A gelid hand upon My cheek as he begins To peel away the shroud, Despite the pouring rain, Revealing ice chip eyes I’ve seen so many times, but never seen so clear. You, he says. You.
I shuffle down the bench, The dripping hood so still, And lean in close to hear: I am waiting. “What are you waiting for?”
Cat & Mouse QURAT D.
You’re on pins and needles Pills and needles Tiptoeing through a fog, Trying To Walk Straight… All the cold water Can’t cut through the static, The white noise world you’ve made for yourself, Padding your cell, Longing for clarity and oblivion Or something in between You’re the prisoner, the warden, Predator and prey But who is hunted, It remains to be seen.
ELIZABETH BANFALVI Kathy paced back and forth in the small room. She held the paper in her hand and repeatedly recited what the points of her topic were. She had 15 minutes left before she would have to go and present. She was told six would be attending. She had seen the room. It was so large for so few. She had them put the chairs in a semi-circle in front of her chair. She didn’t work with an overhead projector or a desk or table in front of her. Usually she just walked around. 10 minutes – Kathy rubbed her hands together to get them to relax and get some warmth in them. She was always like this and yet she had been doing this for years but it didn’t change. She quieted her mind and rolled her shoulders to relax them. 5 minutes – she paced again anxious to get everything started. Back and forth down the length of the small room she walked. 1 minute – she could hear them in the next room – the scraping of the chairs and the door opening and closing. She heard the mumbling acknowledgements of the group. She took a deep breath and then walked into the room. There they sat except one. One of them was standing against a wall looking like she was about to bolt. Hello everyone, she said and there was a grumble from some and hellos from others. She looked at them carefully. She kept her eyes moving so they didn’t realize how observant she was. The first person was in red – why, she didn’t know. Her face was red and swollen and she was angry. She sat with her arms crossed across her chest and legs crossed tightly. Ok, better be kind to this one – don’t need #1 to disrupt the others with her anger. The second was in orange and brown. #2 was solemn and sat with her hands crossed across her tummy and ankles crossed. The third was in a bright yellow shirt. #3 looked her straight in her eyes. She sat up straight and very upright. The fourth was smiling at everyone turning from one to the other. She kept up her own conversation with each of them even though they didn’t seem interested in talking back to her. This one was dressed in green – very nature like. Probably she was a tree hugger. The fifth was very quiet and in a beautiful blue. She sat there turning her head one way and then the other just taking everything and everyone in. The sixth was the one beside the wall and had to be encouraged to come sit with the others. It was like she was very cautious sitting beside everyone. 13
What a group! Where should she start? Why did they all look familiar? Kathy asked #1 – how are you? So why are you here? #1 just stared at her. Then she grumbled that she heard it was free and she wanted to know what she could get out of it. Ok, what do you want to get out of it? What do you mean? She gripped her arms more closely against herself. Your top is very pretty, where did you get it? #1 loosened her arms and looked at her top. She suddenly sat up and uncrossed her legs. She appreciated her style. #2 so, same questions. I heard about you from a friend. I am a writer and I was having trouble getting or creating my newest work. Definitely, I hope you get what you need from today. #2 relaxed and uncrossed her legs and loosened her arms. She also sat up slightly. #3 again same questions. Like her, I heard about you from a friend and decided to check you out. Don’t know if you can help me but who knows. She walked up to #3 and reached out her hand to be shaken. #3 didn’t know quite what to do and slowly extended her hand. It ended up being almost like a half handshake; not much commitment. #4 So why are you here? I saw your brochure and decided to come. I really like coming to places and events like this and meeting new people. #4 went on a bit more as she glanced back and forth to all the other people there. I’m sure you will enjoy today. #3 just snorted. #5 again same question. #5 sat up slowly and said very little. Just wanted to see what was going on. And then silence. Well, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to express them. #6 Why are you here? I don’t know. Came here this morning and they told me this was going on so I came in. Well, thank you for joining us. So Kathy started presenting her topic like she usually did. She made sure she spoke slowly and lowered and slowed her voice. This usually helped people relax and understand what she was talking about. #1 started relaxing and sitting forward in her chair. Her face and hands weren’t as red or swollen any more. She didn’t seem as angry any more. She even asked a few small questions and Kathy answered.
#2 put her hand up and asked a question. Kathy answered and #2 smiled.
#3 sat back in her chair listening and observing the others. She didn’t ask any questions but just observed the back and forth questions and answers. #4 had a smile on her face the whole time. She asked several questions at first timidly in case she was overanxious but then relaxed because Kathy was answering the questions easily. #5 sat quietly and was listening and observing Kathy and her actions. Several times #5 cleared her throat and finally near the end she started asking questions and smiled when she 14
heard the answers. #6 at first had moved her chair slightly away from the one beside her but during the time Kathy was talking, she moved it back to the original position. Kathy felt good and looked at all of them carefully. She had connected with them and that was a good feeling. All of them were different but were they? Again she felt that familiarity when she looked at them. They were all women like her. They were all ages. They dressed differently colour wise but style wise they were similar. Their clothes were similar to what she always wore throughout her life. Her mother had sewn and told her about styles and so she learned from her. 15 minutes left – Kathy started to wrap up. She asked if they had any questions and #1 and 2 easily asked question no longer angry or withdrawn. #3 sat up again and when Kathy asked if she got what she needed #3 simply said she got enough. #4 giggled and said she enjoyed it completely. #5 smiled a beautiful smile and she said she enjoyed herself. #6’s eyes looked straight into Kathy’s and she told her yes she had gotten a lot from today. 10 minutes left – Kathy announced the dates she would be doing new events in the future. She gave them all her postcards on how to reach her. 5 minutes left – Kathy started walking around to each of them to further let them know she was conscious of them. 1 minute left – Kathy asked if they would like to quickly ask anything and one of them asked what did you get out of this? Kathy stopped walking and thought. We are all the same. I see people come in with their monsters – fear, anger, not feeling good enough, a feeling of lack, jealousy, unloved, grief, hopelessness, and all sorts of other monsters. What I hope to let them know is that I have them within me also.You are not alone in how you feel and either am I. Once they know that, we connect and learn to be comfortable with each other and it doesn’t matter who we are.
Banishing the Monsters SUSAN KSIEZOPOLSKI If I give you voice Through my words Giving you this choice, Then will you be silenced? Will you leave my head? Will you be banished? Will you vanquish? Returning at night under my bed. I am not afraid of you dwelling In hiding under my bed You are no match for the monsters yelling Presuming residence in my head. The ones that patiently wait Coming out without any bait Teeth exposing with truths bared Biting away at my self worth Eyes bulging with truths aired Cutting out my resolve, tossing it in dirt. How do I slay the beast, Drown it out With burning heat Or offer cookies sweet? If I surrender and stop the fight Then will you give up your bite? Will you scurry away? With nothing left to sway My fears put to bed Leaving nothing but silence as I am left alone in my head. Free from the chatter Released from the mad hatter Fears swiftly scamper Evil transgressions no longer tamper I am left with the innocent hero Dormant, waiting to be unleashed Once the monsters have succumbed to the arrow Carrying the weight of exposed truth released Crushed in the light of reality I am left alone in silence, within victory! 16
RON CHASE there are demons
I have held them close and taken them as lovers I have lustily drunk them and felt them moving inside me they hold my hand when I write and my tissue when I wail as they spill the cigar box of my soul on the ground for all to see there are demons they speak to me in the darkness when everyone else has left me alone and tell me secrets that I have kept from myself there are demons and I fear I may be one of them
BOB MACKENZIE I crouch in the woods Watching them all day From the dark shadows At the yard’s far edge Watch them leave their home Then come back again Fearless and secure Until the night comes And all go inside
Into the room I creep Making not a sound And I look around To where they all sleep Choosing one with care Her sight arousing My bedside manner As I creep closer And I make her mine
With thick walls and roof The house is solid Built like a brick well You know what I mean Inside they cackle Over someone’s comment Share evening chatter Until one by one They slip off to sleep
The warmth of her blood Flows into my throat Whetting my hunger As I kneel by her Others hear the sound Raise an outcry then Scramble in panic As I seek each out To savour her blood
The house is solid Impossible to breach At night when it’s locked Many days I’ve watched Prowled close in the night Looked for openings To get in the house And tonight I circle Searching for entry
By dawn they all sleep This time for always Splayed across the floor Where I have left them Once I had their blood By dawn I go home Full and satisfied And it is as though I have never been
There under the wall I see it at last That small opening Cleared of dirt by rain And I dig I dig I dig and I crawl Far under the floor To the floor’s centre And I claw upward
Self vs. Self
KYLE CLIMANS In the age we live in, amidst the corrupt madmen who call themselves leaders of nations, the neo-fascists who think nothing of their Nazi salutes and what that allegiance truly means, and the seemingly increased spewing of hatred from divided groups in our society, all these darkest sides of humanity stem from monsters. These monsters are not seen, heard, or smelled, nor in many cases are they even identifiable as objects or conscious entities. They exist as aspects of character in every one of us, manifesting through our darkest thoughts and deeds. The monsters within us fuel our hatred, our fear, our anger, and our greed, to name a few emotions. It is easy to point out the evils of the world and blame them on monsters, but the truth is that humans need no monsters to commit atrocities. Every atrocity has begun with a person surrendering to their darkest nature and giving it full reign. Then we put these people, guilty of so many crimes, and judge them to be complete monsters, but we all know that no person is entirely a monster, and that the monsters exist within all of us. The scariest aspect of these inner monsters, as far as I can tell, is that they cannot ever be truly defeated. Just as an addict is forever saddled with that monkey on their back, so too are people forever plagued by their own monsters, addictions or otherwise. It is a battle that is without end in our minds. Some people spend their entire waking hours locked in a silent, furious turmoil that few can even recognize upon seeing them. It is part of the reason why suicide can sometimes be so shocking, and seemingly come out of the blue. Being in such turmoil is not easy, and so many people leave their monsters unchecked. They would rather try to run away from their monsters with escapism or distraction. This escape can come through alcohol, food, drugs, meaningless obsessions, or worse. Perhaps they simply give up and let their monsters take the wheel and steer them towards whatever sort of selfdestruction awaits them. It is a dangerous by-product of hedonism, which allows people to pursue their own desires to the cost of everyone around them. And yet, it is possible to keep these monsters in check. People everywhere manage to do it every single day, come hell or high water. It can be seen in the story of a man who spends three years addicted to heroin, but then manages to stay clean despite all the temptations laid out before him. The Christian tendency to forgive and seek redemption is not new. It stems from a side of human nature, which is determined to see the good in people, remembering that we are all human, regardless of our upbringing or our origins. We are all corrupted with inner monsters, and yet we also have a chance to master them, even if it takes years and endless effort. While some will fail, or surrender, these cases only serve as a reminder to appreciate the little victories that humanity can make in overcoming themselves.
Monster Part 2
KELSEY NEWMAN-REED “please don’t think I’m a monster” I never did / never do you are too soft to bare fangs of a monster / too soft to take someone down with your fists / too strong to let me fall completely “please don’t—” I never did / never do I know you are only human
/ a monster in your own eyes
Timeline Corruption ALYSSA COOPER
Dangerous obsession, I am Monstrous; I am cruel in the breadth of my caring, wanting things that I canâ€™t have caught up in the thought of parallel worlds, of other versions of me, of tangent lines collapsing, of worlds where I am still happy, of universes where my heart still lives. Contemplative and quiet and cruel, I have no excuse for this obsession. It has been years, and I was never coerced decisions to be made were laid in my hands and I made them.
DUSKA DRAGOSAVAC & LILY MONSTERMEAT
How t o Make a Soc io p a t h La u g h R.M. KOZAN
I’m sitting in a rental car with a Molotov cocktail on my knee, quietly waiting outside the home of my childhood nemesis, Greg Zamfir. The night is cool, my window half open. I hear the wind breaking against the car and then pulling away in a long dry inhalation. A gentle breeze. It is almost midnight. The incandescent glow from the final lit window of my enemy’s abode has just disappeared from view. I am quite confident that it was the bedside lamp in his master bedroom, now extinguished. On the west side of the house, a door faces the stairwell that leads to the upper floor, where the bedrooms are. The upper half of the door is mostly vulnerable glass, the perfect place to introduce the bomb. The resulting flames will prevent anyone from descending via the stairs. His family will all be imprisoned on the second floor. Maybe his wife or kids could jump out the window, breaking a leg or two. This I wouldn’t mind, but really I just want Greg punished, not his family. They will be collateral damage. It is not like I am a murderer in my heart. I’ve thought about this long and hard and there is no other option for his punishment. When I first realized what a terminal influence he had been on my life, and how well his own life had turned out, I thought maybe I could contact him, explain the situation. He would offer a heartfelt apology and we all could get on with what is left of our lives. I even drafted a letter in which I explained my feelings about all that had happened between us. The problem with this approach, I realized, is that if Greg was still unrepentant, I would have lost all element of surprise. He could just laugh in my face and tell his family what a loser I am. If I did anything after that, who would be the prime suspect? I ruled this option out, and destroyed my letter. I thought of kidnapping him, torturing him. Maybe that would guarantee an apology. But kidnapping is too complicated an endeavor to get away clean. And what if in the struggle he got free and turned the tables on me? I couldn’t face that possibility. No, after weighing the attractions and dangers of this approach, I had to rule it out. He has caused me enough pain already. I know I might be caught, arrested, and punished for my homicidal revenge, but it won’t be by Greg; it will be by the police, and hopefully the publicity will serve as a warning to all those others who so callously bully and destroy lives. This all started, or restarted, last week when I found my Grade 8 diary in a trunk in my parents’ basement. Three weeks ago, now, they died in a car crash; some drunk bastard plowed into them while driving at a highway speed on a city road. I admit I was not close to my parents; I last saw them thirty years ago. I dropped out of school in Grade 11 and moved to British Columbia without even saying goodbye. I sent a postcard or two, I am fairly sure, to let them know I was still alive, but I moved so often, if indeed I was living anywhere, that they never could find me, assuming they were looking. So I was floored and grateful that, thirty years later, I still meant something to them. You see, three weeks ago their lawyer contacted me and he told me that my parents left me all that they owned, which was not much. The house they had lived in the last years of their lives was a small, ratty and aged bungalow in north-central Regina. They were never well off, but this seemed a new low point. The place was a dive, shingles missing from the roof, some of the eaves troughs dangling precariously. 24
There was very little paint remaining on the cracked wooden exterior, and it was right in the middle of a terrible neighborhood. The area, known as Moccasin Flats, is a den of drugs, prostitution, and despair. Clearly some sort of catastrophe had fallen upon my parents since my departure. There was still a sizeable mortgage to be paid on the house, and the interior was no better kept up than the exterior. The basement had obvious water problems; it smelled bad, and there was mold in one corner. I have no siblings, no friends, no other living relatives, so I was stuck cleaning out the house all by myself. There was no money for cleaners. What little there was of worth among their furniture and possessions I sold to an auction house for a very few dollars. One small gleam of light in the storm clouds that had lingered over my travels for so long was that I was now able to retrieve a lot of my childhood possessions. Again, I must admit I was surprised that my parents did not discard all my stuff, even after I was gone so long, even though I had ignored them for so many years, even after I spent a decade in prison. They must have loved me. In 1978, I moved to B.C. in an alcohol and dope-fuelled haze that is very vague in recollection. I remember it happened. That is all. After that, things went further south. I started to drink heavily. I became addicted to hard drugs. I stole things. I defrauded the government. I hurt a woman. I went to prison. Much later, after being diagnosed as suicidal and committed to a psychiatric institute, I finally dried out and had a chance to think about what had gone wrong with my life. I understood then that my self-esteem had been shattered at an early age and because I expected bad things to happen, they did indeed happen, often in extreme and imaginative ways. But what could I do with a life that had lain in tatters for thirty years? Here I was, 47 years old. I had no job, no family, and no future. My brain was fuddled from years of chemical abuse, and I was a physical wreck. There was no way that I could hold a job, no way I could take on responsibility, any kind of responsibility. I only had strength for one last symbolic and quixotic reply to this world. I had nothing, except maybe, this one final objective. I am getting ahead of myself. When I found that trunk in my parents’ basement, with all my old school papers and diaries, I thought: here is a chance to understand myself again and maybe, finally, find a way back from this wilderness. But it didn’t work out like that. The more I read, the angrier I became, and the angrier I became, the more I realized that I could not change who I was at this late stage. Who ever really becomes a new person? Only a politician (a liar). So I sought a target. Who was responsible for this messy ending, this ugly, failed me? As I read my old diary, the answer soon came clear. It was Greg. It was Greg who first punched me in the face for no reason as I struggled to carry a heavy sack of product for my first job, earning literally pennies a day delivering the local newspaper. It was Greg who repeatedly and publicly accused me of being a homosexual, even though I didn’t even understand what that was at the time, being sexually naïve, and indeed a completely virginal youth. It was Greg who daily dosed me with chalk dust by clapping me with the blackboard brushes, encouraging my asthma to turn from inconvenience to crushing health crisis. Through clouds of choking smoke, I see my young classmates laugh and then disappear as my eyes blur and swim. It was Greg who made sure that any girl I had a crush on would see me pinned to the floor beneath his bully boots and made to say, in contradiction of his supposedly heterosexual 25
agenda, “Girls are stinky”. Children do not discount confessions extracted via torture. It was Greg who deflected all his guilt and punishment onto me: it was I, not he, who was responsible for cheating in math class; it was I, not he, who was responsible for stealing lab supplies; it was I, not he, who was responsible for gluing the school door locks. It was the result of Greg’s efforts that my hopes began to die. I began to fail academically, socially, and spiritually. As I re-read my old diaries, the pattern was undeniable. It was the same every year, every awkward teenage stumble along the way. It was Greg who caused me to look behind myself every step I took, who made me flinch at every unexpected noise, cringe in the face of the new, shrug off challenges out of fear of failure, turn my back on life, on my family, on myself. I had found the turning point in my life, and it was he. At that point, I had still clung to a small hope that we both could make peace with the past. But when I went to search him out on the web and found out about his life, I knew I could not. There had been a class reunion at our high school a few years ago. Postings on the Facebook event page from many of my old peers explained their journeys to middle age. But only Greg’s did I read. There were also many recent pictures provided by my old classmates; Greg had supplied two. In the first photo, Greg sat in a chair, undeniably middle-aged but looking calm and healthy, with his two little boys playing nearby. He stared into the lens with his cold, unreadable eyes. He had not changed. His two sons were a kinetic blur of aggressive play behind him. They would be just like him, I was certain. The second photo was of his wife. She sat in a camp chair, her legs carelessly crossed so you could see the naked skin of her inner thigh reaching very far up toward the macabre chamber from which his demon spawn had issued. She was possibly pretty, looking healthy and relatively youthful for her years, but her eyes had a certain hard sheen that implied disconnection. Perhaps she was a victim too. The angle and pose of this portrait was definitely not flattering, and I wondered how anyone could be so oblivious as to not only take such a degraded, shameless picture, but then to send it on to your high school reunion organizer for all to see. I have no wife, no children. I feel sorry for his, a little. But mostly I feel anger at the comforts he has achieved while I’ve languished in my own mental hell, one mostly of his creation. I’ve wrestled with these and many more different ideas in my head of how to respond to all this. And I must repeat, I am not a murderer in my heart. I love animals and little children. I don’t like to squish bugs. But I have already been murdered and must now finally act in my own self-defense.
To: “Leslie Kindersley” <firstname.lastname@example.org> From: “Greg Zamfir” <BigDawg99@hotmail.com> Subject: fire
Hey L, My house burnt down last night! Some looney from my old high school tossed a Molotov cocktail in but I managed to jump out the window just in time. The Mrs. didn’t make it and both little goobers are dead. But not all is bad news. They found the guy and when he resisted arrest they tasered him and he croaked! LOL! Also I had generous insurance on the house and wifey, so we can finally move to Saskatoon and start that new life together. Call me after 7. G 26
â€œThe more I read, the angrier I became, and the angrier I became, the more I realized that I could not change who I was at this late stage.â€?
Great Monsters AIKO M.
The monsters that hide under your bed are the ones you should dance with. The monsters that eat your nightmares are the ones you should talk with. The monsters that watch you sleep are the ones protecting you from other bad monsters. The monsters that lurk in your shadows…Watch out for their mischievous pranks towards you. Now if you decide to be the monster, well these are the things you should be doing instead. If you decide to hide under a monster’s bed, you should poke them with a stick to keep them awake. If you eat monsters’ nightmares, chase after them, and scream, “BOO!” Always watch a monster sleep so you can learn their sleeping habits, and then you can be a monster too. It’s fun to play pranks on monsters, so tap on each of their shoulders, and run circles around them. The other alternative is on learning to be a monster, and it’s not as easy as you think it is. You got to know how to be sneaky, but you also have to know how to scare people so bad that they can’t move. You have got to be able to vanish as quickly as you appear. As a human, when you become a monster, you can’t be nice to people. Unfortunately in the rule of being a monster, you need to be the opposite. You need to be blood-curdling, ferocious, chilling people to the bone to become the greatest monster in history! Let no one bring you down, you are to bring them down. But why am I telling you this? You have the qualities to become a fine monster, and to join me in the monster parade. Apply now, and I shall teach you every trick in the book to become a great monster. We shall join forces to rule the world as monsters! Bring your friends, your family, anyone can join, but to become a great monster, you just need to follow the steps I have given you. See you soon, little monster!
JESSIE READ your wine stained lips speak silence louder than the scream of any addiction feels a lot like a family lineage of man up does alcohol coat your mouth soaking it in words you could never get your tongue to wrap around words evaporating from a bottle where you can no longer taste the sting of their longing you just drink, swirling crisp air around your tongue alcohol coating your mouth like a second skin till the sting of trauma isolates your mouth and your liver needs a vacation dad we both mask a lot of emotion filling our mouths with alcohol instead of words but there’s nothing romantic about addiction swirling around the inside of your mouth numbing your tongue into silenced trying to escape the mouth of trauma you see you never were a bad father had to wrestle with words words that sting like venom out of your mouth can’t seem to place them in the air so you just soak up the sharp of your addiction like a sponge waiting for the world to be more forgiving and how this world can be so unforgiving and i’m hoping this world will be more forgiving that i can write you out of this addiction out of the mouth of trauma like maybe if i show you this poem you’ll get help my mouth wants to be an envelope but i find it so hard to open these words just like thorns rustling around my mouth like a hurricane these words mouth so heavy and my tongue is cement and i’m trying to find the nerve to tell you these words hold my body hostage and dance around my tongue hoping to run out of my mouth can you forgive me? for watching trauma unravel its teeth upon your body like rust rubbing against a wound i never want to see you suffer i just want to write you out of this i will tie this poem around my neck and let it sing its battle cry i will send it via carrier pigeon or in a message in a bottle hoping one day it will reach you and i hope it reaches you 29
Monster, Hidden BRUCE KAUFFMAN beneath layers and layers and layers of softness a monster slumbers just around a distant but still approaching corner on this long one-way street of silence a monster sleeps a softness a hole in it a silence its crack of corner a stillness broken those points portals the waking monsters come through searching not light from a still darkness but instead a hardness a feeling of same to cling to to embrace and there is always a steely hardness around us for it to clutch onto sometimes even within us for it to grab hold of in our own hard 30
times and in this world already frightened afraid of other afraid of self but in it still always hardness monsters the ever-exception the never-rule monsters never an allencompassing light ever-arrive as but hollow shadow surround your days your nights your self in light and soft silence and they cannot arrive but if you slip if you fall into their waiting darkness simply stare them down with your laser-sharp eyes reach out to them then reach right through to realize their hollowness has no heart no pulse no vision 31
no strength or life and they will fall in front of you and back into simply the shadowâ€™s shadow they ever were
ALEX DAWSON Apparently he was a real cupboard slammer. They say he was mean never thought to buy flowers or wear a smile at dinner. His father was worse cursing niggers and nippers but he fought in the war and drank too much. They say he wore suits and worked as a banker tall, broad, gentlemen stature but if you drank the last coke or used all the butter apparently he was a real cupboard slammer. I only knew his life as a farmer stubborn smile, potbelly, thick fingers caked with dirt and manure. He smelt stale with dried sweat and dank from beer; I always wished I could smell like a farmer. They say Iâ€™m not fiery like my teenage mother but even she would sneak out of bed to watch T.V with her father and maybe he was into a few rye and coke hammers but thatâ€™s the grandpa I like to remember.
JOSEPH S. PETE Bubbles attended all the morning seminars, the awards luncheon, the panel discussion and the breakout sessions in the late afternoon. He got the know the beige-carpeted convention center quite well—all the grand halls and the meeting rooms, where they hid the cranberry scones and where the stainless steel coffee dispensers were tucked away. He knew if he dashed upstairs during breaks he would have a restroom all to himself and wouldn’t have to wait as his fellow clowns fiddled and fumbled with the buttons on their garish costumes. He loved being a clown: the colorful outfits, the general goofiness, the broad comedy, the unfettered delight on a young child’s face. Bubbles was a student of the craft who watched old episodes of The Bozo Show, sought out vintage footage of bygone circuses and even read up on Commedia Dell’arte. A printing shop clerk by day, he had saved up for months so he could attend the Midwest Clown Association’s annual convention in Merrillville, just outside Chicago. He figured he’d learn something, hopefully pick up some tricks he could bring home to apply at kids’ birthday parties and when the circus rolled through town and inevitably needed a few extra hands. More than that, he wanted to be around the like-minded. With all the hysterical fear mongering about evil clowns and creepy clowns and It and all the other bastardizations of clowns he didn’t recognize and that seemed so foreign to his personal experience, he yearned to be among those who appreciated a good clowning routine, the thrill of the Big Top, the silliness of a small-wheel clown bike. Bubbles had looked forward to the convention for months, and it didn’t disappoint. But he just spent nine hours plopped down in uncomfortable banquet chairs and was itching to get out of the convention center. It got to the point where it seemed like a sunless claustrophobic prison, albeit with wallpaper from the late 1970s. A brochure highlighted a few nearby restaurants that sounded good, as well as a candy factory that hosted tours and sold 100 different flavors of jelly beans. He thought of wiping off his makeup and changing into casual clothes but decided there was more fun to be had. He’d grab something to eat, and maybe entertain some kids with balloon tricks at the Jelly Emporium. Everybody loved a clown, right? Sirens flashed behind him as he drove onto the highway. Bubbles pulled over. “Get out of the car,” the cop bellowed. “Put your hands in the air.” He stumbled out onto the shoulder, worried but thinking it would be funnier if a dozen other clowns followed him, pouring out in a slopping heap on the sidewalk in the classic small car gag. Bubbles pulled a balloon from his sleeve, twisted it into a heart and then a bouquet of flowers which he presented sheepishly to the cop, in an attempt to defuse the tension. The cop drew his gun. “Put your hands in the air!” he shouted. “Put down the object.” Before Bubbles could say anything, the cop charged him, slamming Bubbles’s head into his car door. “Why are you doing this?” “Put it down!” “What did I do?” he asked, letting the balloons float sadly down to earth. 34
“Sir, don’t talk back to an officer of the law. I told you to put the object down.” “What object? It was a balloon. I didn’t do anything. There’s a clown convention just down the street.” Damn it, he thought. There had just been reports about a man in a clown costume trying to lure kids into the woods in South Carolina. It had sounded fabricated, like a prank call, but maybe people and the cops now feared clowns were really dragging kids behind the wood line and chopping them up to little bloody bits in the dark of night. There was of course the Stephen King movie about a murderous sewer clown. “Sir, I am warning you…” Excruciating pain jolted through Bubbles’s body. It was sudden, a complete shock. He slowly, wincingly, achingly turned his head. Two headphone-like cords dangled from him. The cop was holding a taser. Everything went black. Bubbles came to. He was lying on the hard pavement. His ribs ached. His mouth was dry, so intolerably dry. A guy across from him asked if he was okay. His words seemed muffled. As he looked around and got his bearings, Bubbles saw that everyone was wearing orange jumpsuits, including him. His itched. The course fabric felt heavy on his goose-pimpled flesh. A stark metallic toilet with no stall stood only a few feet away. A dank liquid trail snaked toward him. He yanked back his sleeve, studied it, and sniffed to see if it smelled of urine. “Hey man, you okay?” the guy asked. “I’m Darnell. You’ve been out for a while.” “I’m… I’m…” he said, “Where am I?” “You’re in Lake County Jail. You’ve been here awhile.” “What did I do?” he asked, noticing his distorted reflection on an unbuffed aluminum door. His face was still pancaked in makeup, though it was badly cracked and peeling. He looked as warped as he felt. Darnell stared at him. “I didn’t do anything. Nothing. I was arrested for… ” A long silence lapsed. “I was arrested for... being a clown… being different,” he said. “I… I… tried to explain… I’m not a monster. I’m not monstrous. I did nothing wrong.” “You’re telling me,” Darnell said. “I… I didn’t do anything. I was just out in public. I was just minding my own business.” “Hey man, I can relate. I didn’t do anything either. I was just driving while black, passing through a white neighborhood,” Darnell said. Another long silence passed between the men. A steady din hummed in the cell. A disembodied voice on the intercom summoned an inmate. “My wife’s going to kill me, man,” Darnell said. “It’s going to to cost a fortune to bond out of here, and I can’t be late to work or they might fire me.” Bubbles slumped back against the hard concrete wall, realizing the full enormity of what had occurred. He turned his head toward Darnell, sorrowfully. 35
“What happened?” he asked. “I got pulled over for driving four miles over the speed limit. Four miles. They arrested me for resisting arrest, man. How can they even arrest you for resisting arrest when they have no other reason to arrest you? How does that make any sense?” “It doesn’t.” “Right, it doesn’t. How does that make any damn sense.” “That happened to me. The cop... He wouldn’t listen.” “Hey, you can wash that crap off man. They treat me like I’m a clown all the time, Darnell said, his voice rising in a crescendo of quivering anger. “They treat me like a damn clown. Um, no offense.” “It’s okay.” “Man, they can’t even let a man drive down the street without harassing him. It’s a joke man. It’s all a damn joke.” A portly, lurching clown suddenly stumbled up, with a shock of white circus makeup pancaking his face. His hand was wrapped in a blood-stained cotton rag that was maybe a diaper. His painted lips were twisted into a grotesque rictus. He seemed not to care if he was interrupting a conversation. “What’s up ninja?” he yelled at Bubbles. “Never sought I’d see another Juggalo here in the clink but we’re everywhere and it’s good to see another stone killa. Mad clown love to you.” “I’m just a clown,” Bubbles said. “Just a regular clown.” He thought Juggalos, like creepy clowns, like that Pennywise the Dancing Clown exploitation, were a perversion of what clowns were ideally supposed to be. He tried to recall the name of the band Juggalos followed—Insane Clown Squad, Insane Clown Team, Insane Clown Posse, that was it. “Sheeet, you’re just a clown, I feel you, I feel you. Got to keep it on the down-low out here among the normals.” Bubbles glanced around the jail cell. A pugnacious man with a face tattoo glowered at him. A wild-haired homeless man stared blankly off into the distance. Nearly everyone looked hardened, crazy, mean, like they would stab someone in the gut for bumping into them in a crowded bar or slam someone’s skull into the wall with even less provocation. “Much clown love, much family love anyway,” the Juggalo said. “You’re my people man. You’re my tribe. We got to stick together yo.” He scanned around the cell, then looked at Bubbles conspiratorially. “I’m Juggalo for life, and I’ll shout it from the rafters. I’m a straight-up hardcore murder clown yo. Let me show you this, let me show you.” He started to unwrap the makeshift bandage. “Jesus,” Darnell said. “What the hell?” Bone jutted out of the severed stump of his pinkie. It was a bloody mess. Skin was sloughing off, and it was blackened like badly burned chicken. “I cut my pinkie off with a hatchet yo.” “Why the hell would you do that?” “Cause I’m a killa, a murder clown. My homie One Leg—we called him that because he had one leg—died man. We were just trying to spill some blood and drink it to honor him. I tried cutting my arm with a machete but it was too dull and rusty, so I just pulled my hatchet and whacked my finger off. Way quicker and easier. Hurt like hell though. I tried to cauterize the wound with a blow torch but it hurt too much. I mean I’m a ninja but damn.” 36
“Put that away man,” Darnell said. “That’s gross.” “Don’t tell me what to do,” the Juggalo said, with a sudden icy edge of menace. “You’re not my daddy.” “It’s making people sick, man,” Darnell said. Bubbles gagged a little, nodded in agreement. “Don’t tell me what to do,” the Juggalo said, lurching forward and looming over Darnell. He easily had four inches and forty, fifty pounds on him. “You ain’t my daddy.” “Look, I mean no disrespect, but it’s upsetting everyone, man,” Darnell said. “Besides, you’re going to get an infection.” “No, you’re going to get an infection,” the Juggalo roared, nonsensically. He grabbed Darnell by the forehead and shoved his head back into the hard concrete wall, concussing him. Darnell started to raise his arms to defend himself, but they went slack when his skull thudded with a forceful impact. The Juggalo balled up the bloody rag, diaper, whatever it was, and crammed it into Darnell’s gaping mouth. He pressed him hard into the wall with his other hand. His arms flexed like tree trunks. Darnell made some muffled sounds, but his eyes had gone glassy and he had no fight left in him. Everyone maintained their distance, including the lone guard outside the cell. Bubbles wasn’t much of a fighter, but he had to do something to intervene, to save the fast friend he just made in this hostile, unforgiving hellhole. He lunged at the much larger Juggalo who effortlessly brushed him off with a single swipe of a thick arm. “Big mistake ninja,” he said. “If you came at a killa, you can’t bring that weak noise.” The Juggalo started fishing around in the back of his jumpsuit. “I still got my hatchet homie,” he said wild-eyed, producing a bloody hand ax out of nowhere. “I hid it in my ass cheeks. I hit it real good when I saw they were going to lock me up.” Bubble’s eyes widened. He was incredulous. It almost seemed fictitious. “I’ve been a bad boy,” the Juggalo said. “I’ve got contraband.” Darnell was slumped motionless on the cell floor with the rag jamming his airway and seemed to be suffocating. The Juggalo left him and advanced toward Bubbles, who skittered backward in retreat on his elbows and knees. He didn’t move fast enough. The larger clown seized him by the ankle and drove the hatchet into the back of his thigh, and then into the small of his back. He brought down the hatchet over and over again. Bubbles took stock of the situation as pain seared like nothing he ever felt before. Here he was, apparently mistaken for a creepy clown, and now getting hacked to death by a self-styled evil clown who acted out an affection like it wasn’t just posturing, like true madness infected his soul. He tried to inch away but his strength waned as he bled out. Maybe there was a lesson or point that was lost on him. It seemed ironic, but Bubbles couldn’t remember the exact meaning of irony and knew some were sticklers for that. Barely able to keep his head up under the relentless onslaught of heaving hatchet blows, he made eye contact with the guard and mouthed “help me.” Maybe he got the words out, maybe he didn’t. He was losing blood fast, and the sheer immensity of his pain was too distracting. “Sorry,” the guard yelled through the plexiglass divider. “I got a family. We just had a new kid. Hang in there though, the cavalry’s coming.” 37
The Juggalo was shouting something incomprehensible, driving down the hatchet mechanically but forcefully, like he was chopping a tree. Chunks of Bubbles’s flesh flew around, and sticky damp crimson pooled underneath him. A curtain of darkness started to descend. Darnell was right, Bubbles thought. Everything was a joke. Everything was a bad joke. Everything was a sick... The Juggalo flipped Bubbles over with one coarse meaty hand, and towered over him. Blood ran down his arm and was splattered all over his clown makeup. He rose his hatchet high. “You ever hear about the Great Circus Train Wreck?” Bubbles offered feebly, his mind casting back to clown massacres he had read about. “More than 80 died after a train derailed in Hammond, Indiana. Most were burned beyond recognition.” The color drained out of his skin. “They got pauper’s graves that identified them with names like ‘Baldy’ and ‘Smiley.’ The circus even went on without them. Other performers from other troupes volunteered to fill their shoes that night. It was supposed to be a show of solidarity. But it mostly just stressed how replaceable they really were, how totally expendable.” He coughed, spitting up blood. “Nothing you can do to me is worse than what happened to them, you monster, you... “ Spittle flecked the Juggalo’s lips. His eyes looked crazed. It didn’t seem like a single word registered. “You’re a phony. You ain’t no murder clown. You... ” A dozen guards in riot gear streamed through the cell door. The cavalry had finally arrived. The Juggalo glanced back toward them, then brought the hatchet down. As Bubbles went limp, the blood-flecked monster whipped around and started swinging.
ANDREW CASE 38
I Edit My Life
MICHAEL LEE JOHNSON I edit my life. Clothesline pins & clips hang to dry dirty laundry. I turn poetic hedonistic in my early 70â€™s, reviewing the joys and the sorrows of my journey. I find myself wanting a new review, a new product, a new time machine, a new internet space, a new planet where we small, we creative creatures can grow.
Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Lord APRIL VÁZQUEZ
The scene reminded Annie of an Andrew Wyeth painting: a scrubby field punctuated by plump bales of hay, golden in the late afternoon sunlight. The only thing missing was lame Christina, scuttling crablike through the stray pieces of straw on the ground. Even the barn was there, though it was candy apple red--picturesque, perhaps, but somehow less authentic than the stark gray weathered boards of the painting. The landscape bored Annie, like a song she’d heard too many times. She called to mind her own, preferable, image: the stately Victorian house that crouched on the corner of Sixth and Regency in downtown Portland. Her mind’s eye went over each detail with satisfaction. The periwinkle siding and gray shutters. The turret, as wide as a grain silo. The stained glass window in the single third-floor bedroom. Inside, mahogany wainscoting and full grain leather furniture gave the den the look of a nineteenth century gentleman’s club; all it lacked was cigar smoke and glasses of port. “Pohhht,” Annie said aloud in her version of a posh English accent. Then she stifled a giggle of nervous anticipation, though she was alone in the car. In the whole mill town of Selwyn, Georgia, there wasn’t a single house like hers, and that was exactly why she loved it. The house was a tangible reminder of just how far from here, geographically and otherwise, Annie had come. At a stop sign across from a series of chicken houses, Annie craned her neck to check her face in the rearview mirror. She ran her tongue over her straight, white teeth and smiled. I’m thirty-two today, she thought. Every birthday brought the same satisfaction, because each year put her at a greater distance from this place and the person she’d been here. She wasn’t even Annie then; her old name had been discarded like the slough of a snake. Finally, the light changed and Annie put her foot back on the Cadillac’s gas pedal. For a rental car, it really was a pleasure to drive. She’d have to mention it to Michael when she got back home; luxury cars were his passion. As she lowered the visor against the piercing sunset, a new scene, one Annie had relived many times before, flashed unbidden across her mind. She saw it from above, as if from the perspective of an impotent deity: a tall, blonde girl in the doorway of a wooden bathroom stall, arms crossed, chin raised, as implacable as Athena before Arachne. A second girl kneeling with her head over a black-seated toilet. Two others hanging back, minor moons reflecting the light of a golden sun. “Do it,” the tall girls says. “I don’t want to.” The kneeling girl’s voice rises hollowly from the toilet bowl. “As if that mattered!” the blonde girl replies breezily, a hint of impending laughter in her voice. She looks over her shoulder and then, with a sharper edge, says, “Just do it already, so we can fucking go.” As if in deference to the inexorability of her fate, the second girl makes no further protest, but with a deep breath raises an index finger and plunges it into her open mouth. She vomits violently into the toilet then, shuddering, wipes her lips with the back of her hand. “Now get up, pig,” the tall girl says complacently. She steps back, permitting safe passage to the sink. The other girls move in unison with her. This ritual, thought Annie as the car thump-thumped over a bridge, was repeated for months. The girl’s mother, newly dead, and father, bewildered by grief and the sudden 40
responsibility of four children, were no help to her. Nor did myopic old Miss Spencer ever guess what went on in what she called “the warshroom.” It stopped only when the school year ended. Then, the following year, both girls were swallowed up by the larger junior high, where they moved in different orbits. They had never spoken since. Annie pulled cautiously into the gravel driveway, then sat looking the place over. She’d recognized the house immediately when she saw it in the photograph, a flat brick box down the street from where Trish grew up. Not that they were Facebook friends, but Annie checked her page regularly. It was a compulsion, almost, to see Trish, sallow and tired-looking, with her husband, as round and bald as Porky Pig. When Annie saw them on the house’s porch, a plan had formed instantly. You’re flushed, Michael grinned at her over the laptop screen. It’s the wine. She tipped her glass at him, scarcely able to contain a whoop of triumph. I’m going home for my birthday this year. Now, maneuvering carefully through the gravel in her Manolo Blahnik heels, Annie tucked away each detail to return to later: three bicycles abandoned at intervals in the yellowing grass, a faded red sand bucket with two overturned Matchbox cars inside, a slick-looking grease stain on the carport. The smell of something fried hung in the air. Annie caught her breath. She didn’t know why she needed this. To show up here, with her every detail--tailored Armani suit, manicured nails, five-carat diamond--a vivid confirmation of success. She shouldn’t need it, yet she must, for elation rose up in her like bubbles in a champagne flute. Annie rang the bell. Trish, taller than Annie expected but with the dark circles under her eyes from the photographs, opened the wooden door and stood looking at her. Annie noted with a twinge of displeasure that she’d recognized her immediately. She didn’t even look surprised; it was as if Trish had known that someday Annie would return. “Susanne,” she said tonelessly. “Annie, actually. Since college.” “Oh.” “It’s been a long time.” Trish didn’t answer, but stood blocking the doorway as if protecting the people inside. “I got married,” Annie went on, conscious that her voice sounded higher than usual. “Last month.” “I know,” Trish answered, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. She’d seen the newspaper announcement then: Annie svelte in Prada with her hair thrown over one shoulder and Michael like a GQ model at her side. Pharmaceutical sales. Corporate law. A power couple. “I came to see how you were.” Trish narrowed her eyes, the first chink in her impeccable poker face. “To see how I was?” she repeated. “I just… wanted to see how you were. How you are, I mean.” Annie laughed, a stunted, almost choked sound. “How you live, I guess you’d say.” “Right…” Trish said slowly. “You came to see what kind of unglamorous life I live, still here in little Selwyn. What kind of shitty job I have. How little I get paid. Where I live, what I drive, what kind of clothes I wear. Is that right?” “Yeah,” Annie said softly, lifting her chin. How easy it was to slide back into her old tone of voice, her Selwyn demeanor. She willed herself to remain calm. “And… I wanted you to see me too.” “Well, I’ve seen you,” Trish’s voice went up an octave as she mimicked Annie’s words. “So I guess you can go now.” 41
“I’m going,” Annie said irritably. Then, as cuttingly as she could, she added, “You haven’t changed a bit.” Trish laughed outright now. Taking a step back and catching the doorknob in her hand, she spat back, “Neither have you,” and slammed the door in Annie’s face. Annie’s mind flashed again to the two girls, “You’ll see-- one day-- God will punish you!” the dark one had choked out on that final day of their sixth grade year. Annie hadn’t believed it, even then. Surely not; life didn’t work that way. And yet, the words had worked on her like a curse, so that everything she’d done since was an effort to disprove the prediction, unwork the imprecation. She hated Trish for that power. Now, giving her blonde head a shake, Annie turned to go. “It was for your own good,” she said with a little sniff toward the closed door. As she walked down the driveway toward the car, she muttered, “If I’d been that fat, I would have wanted someone to help me.” Back in the car, she lingered for a moment more, taking in the forlorn brick façade of the house, the sparse grass and battered birdbath. As if savoring the punchline of a good joke, Annie laughed aloud. She sped away from Trish’s house in the dusk, as thick as coal ash. As she rounded a sharp bend in the road--coasting rather than braking; if you took the curves too slowly here, the locals would shout, “Go back to Florida!”--Annie saw that the railroad crossing ahead was alight with flashing red. She sighed and pressed her foot to the brake. There was always some delay here, a train or a tractor or an oversized WIDE LOAD truck. Occasionally even a horse or mule with some ancient farmer atop it. One after another, the corrugated black rectangles rattled by. On one, in quavery white letters that seemed to glow in the gloom, Annie read the words: Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. A shadow crossed her face. It wasn’t over then, not yet. Annie clenched her fists on the steering wheel. Biting her lower lip, she thought, We’ll just see about that.
SOPHIA KING Selina opens her eyes. The darkness smothers her. Something is keeping out the light. She feels a layer of dry blood trying to seal her eyes shut and there is a piercing pressure at the back of her head, a tight knot. She feels the cloth tightly blindfolding her. Her tears begin to flow, softening the blood around her eyes. She feels the cord between her lips pressing tightly around her cheeks. Its rubber layer leaves a bitter taste in her mouth. The cord’s knot is pinching the base of her head. She senses the rope that is firmly binding her wrists and ankles – it is starting to sting her parched skin. Everything feels constricted. Panic and confusion take over, as she desperately tries to figure out what brought her to this place. Yet everything, until this moment, is as dark as that which is in front of her: she sees nothing, she remembers nothing. Instead, her attention keeps coming back to the cold metal of the chair that’s leaving goose bumps on her bare legs.
“Breathe, fucking breathe!” it is all Selina can think, trying to compose herself.
As Selina tries to calm down her breathing, she hears echoes in the room. Anxiously she realizes she is not alone. There is someone...something in the room. A hushed tiptoe... tiptoe... Her breathing picks up speed, as she yanks her body from side to side, trying to loosen the knots that bind her. There is a throbbing in her chest and a dizziness overcomes her body. The growing terror makes her movements useless. Something is sliding across the back of her neck, leaving an oily residue that tingles and sticks to her skin. “It’s not real...It’s not real...” Selina whimpers, as if trying to wake herself up. But the cool metal of the chair, the rubber cord cutting the sides of her lips, the slippery paste on the back of her neck, all tell her that she is awake. She senses a breath nearby, and a smell of decay penetrates her nose, suffocating her. As Selina tries to make out how close it is to her body, she feels something sharp glide down her spine. Her heart stops. She anticipates her last breath. Then again, tiptoe...tiptoe...Her body is full of sweat and shivering. Fearfully, she waits and listens to the strange sounds. The squeak of a door...Now she is alone. In this silence she begins to remember. She remembers her childhood playing Cops and Robbers with her older brother. She remembers the toy handcuffs her brother would fasten around her wrists...slipping behind the garbage bin, to set herself free. “Selina is a sneaky little one...” her brother would say. “She can get out of anything with those tiny hands.” As she sits in the darkness, sifting through this memory, she begins to wriggle her tightly bound wrists. The rope cuts through her skin with each tugging motion. She focuses intensely on the movements that will help to loosen the knot. She begins to feel her wrists move more freely. Then, all of a sudden, tiptoe...tiptoe... Before she can scream, something is pushing 43
down on her chest, smothering her. She can’t breathe. Suddenly, Selina gasps and opens her eyes. The sun peering in through the blinds comforts her. Looking around she notices the familiar purple paint of her bedroom walls. She can feel the softness of her pillow, as it touches her cheek. Realizing that it was just a dream eases some of the fright that still lingers. She lifts up her body, and a sense of relief soothes her. Her fingers stroke the back of her neck, wiping the residual sweat from her sleep. Something catches her attention: an oily fluid is still clinging to her neck. As she looks closer at the substance smeared on her hand and examines the cloudiness of the liquid, she notices the red marks encircling both her wrists. Her body becomes numb and with a lump in her throat, she murmurs, “It’s not real...It’s not real...” But as she looks around the room again, she knows that this is not a dream. Selina’s thoughts become muddled and a sense of dread overtakes her. Tip toe... tip toe...
OUR CONTRIBUTORS... Without the submissions from writers, artists, and photographers, Free Lit Magazine would not be possible! Please take the time to visit other websites linked to projects our contributors have been involved in, as well as the websites/social media platforms run by some of this issueâ€™s contributors: AISHA ALI - Instagram and Facebook ANDREW CASE - Instagram KYLE CLIMANS - Twitter ALYSSA COOPER - Website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook DUSKA DRAGOSAVAC - Website / LILY MONSTERMEAT - Website LEANNA GENNUSO - Website, Instagram, and Facebook BETH GORDON - Twitter ADRIANA GREEN - Website, Instagram and Twitter JOSHUA HOWE - Website and Facebook MICHAEL LEE JOHNSON - Website, Poetry Videos, and Facebook Group BRUCE KAUFFMAN - Finding a Voice on 101.9FM CFRC SOPHIA KING - Instagram R.M. KOZAN - Fresh Blue Ink DS LEVY - Website and Twitter BOB MACKENZIE - Facebook, Amazon Author Page, and Reverbnation ANNMARIE ROSELLI - Website
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DUSKA DRAGOSAVAC & LILY MONSTERMEAT