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- Body Armor – In the winter this was not a problem. It was cold and the wrap around armor helped keep me warm. Summer at Torkham, with Arizona heat and Florida humidity, was another thing. As my first summer progressed I identified the following calculus. If I wore my body armor it might save my life but I would surely die of heat prostration. So I began leaving the body armor in the MRAP with my helmet – once again only donned when VIPs visited. Yes, the soldiers had to wear their armor all the time, but they were 30-40 years younger than me! During my second summer things changed. A suicide attack the previous fall at the Customs office in Kandahar targeted the American Customs Advisors there, killing one and wounding two. A US soldier and Afghan linguist were also killed. This raised the threat level and no one had to tell me that going around without body armor was unwise. I was able to mitigate the heat effects by switching from the whole torso “wrap around” armor to a simple plate carrier that was open at the sides. It offered less protection but much better air circulation. Personal Security Details The Army went down to the border every day to secure the port. They set up a series of posts establishing a security bubble that included the Afghan Custom House. My work, however, required that I regularly visit a satellite office and truck staging yard that was outside this bubble. As I had no intention of wandering over there by myself, I always requested the Army patrol leader to provide me with a PSD (Personal Security Detail). He was usually able to do so and two soldiers would be assigned to accompany me on my rounds. This became a popular assignment when the soldiers discovered it often entailed sitting on the floor in an air conditioned office drinking chai (tea) while chatting with an array of polite and friendly Afghan Customs Officers. The Afghans were happy for the opportunity to interact with US soldiers – something their bosses did all the time but a rarity for the regular employees. Skyhawk During my second year the US Embassy provided me and all other US government civilians in the field with an individual Blue Force Tracker – known as a Skyhawk. It was about the size and heft of a 1980’s style cell phone and could be used by a control center to track my location. The device included a “911” panic button. The idea was to carry the tracker whenever outside the wire so I could be located in the event I disappeared into the countryside. Since I was always in close proximity to my US Army protectors I didn’t see much use for this, but wore it anyway because I knew the security office monitoring the big board would notice if I didn’t. Besides, it cost a lot of money! When my Afghan friends asked about the Skyhawk hanging on my belt I was honest about its purpose, but embellished just a little when explaining the “911” button. I told them if I pushed it the Navy Seals would arrive to rescue me within 15 minutes. They were duly impressed. Be a Respectful Foreign Infidel A recurring story out of Afghanistan tells of a lone Afghan policeman or soldier suddenly going berserk and killing a number of foreigners with whom he had been working. The Taliban would then claim he was one of their own who had been infiltrated for this purpose. Don’t believe it. These events are almost always the result of the Afghan version of “going postal.” An episode such as this is usually triggered when an Afghan perceives an intolerable insult that demands drastic action to restore

honor. Such an offense usually involves showing a real or perceived disrespect for Islam or Afghan women. The recent riots over the burning of the Koran are an amplified example of Afghan religious sensitivities. Their protective attitude towards women is best illustrated by the fate of an American contractor who was dating a female Afghan co-worker in Kabul. One night the police pulled him over and shot him dead. No investigation ensued. The truly disquieting part of this circumstance is that for some particularly ultra-sensitive Afghans the mere presence of a foreign infidel is enough to set them off. It was within this context that I worked at a border crossing transited daily by thousands of Afghans on their way to and from Pakistan. I interacted on a routine basis with numerous Afghan police, all of whom were armed with AK-47s. I did everything I could to avoid offending any of them. One would think it would be easy to not insult Islam - a no-brainer. I found out otherwise one day when visiting the warehouse where Customs staged small shipments for processing. It was hot and I was tired, so I sat on a carton of books while chatting with the warehouse officer. He said I should not be sitting there. I asked why and he replied, “Because the name of the Prophet might be written in one of the books.” I leapt to my feet with an anguished “Oh!” and continued our conversation without comment on the matter. He let it go. Being respectful of Afghan women is more straightforward—do not go near and do not look at them. I learned to instantly slide my gaze away and watch from the corner of my eye so I could maintain a proper distance. Also, when chatting with an Afghan, do not ask about his wife or other female relatives. This is not a topic of conversation. Finally, on the very rare occasions when I officially met an Afghan woman – such as a government official in Kabul or a female police officer – I maintained the proper decorum that applies to all Muslim women: do not shake their hand unless they offer it first; otherwise never touch them, get too close or comment on their appearance. * * * Every day in Afghanistan was a crapshoot – there was always a chance of being wounded or killed. To me, however, most dangers were remote and unlikely. Only suicide bombers ever gave me serious concerns. This was because the attack in Kandahar had targeted Customs Advisors - just like me – and most of the killed and wounded had been retired U.S. Customs officers - just like me. One morning while getting ready to go out on patrol I paused, looked in the mirror and asked myself: What the f*** are you doing here? Then I took the fear, put it in a box, stashed it away in a corner of my mind - and went out and did my job. You know about the dangers but don’t think about them. Although facing these risks and striving to be a respectful foreign infidel could be wearying, there was a flip side. This was the experience of friendship established with Afghans. I came to have many such friends with whom I spent countless hours chatting, drinking chai, engaging in repartee, and yes - working. These relationships were based on genuine mutual respect and affection feelings that continue to this day. My relationship with some of the Afghan Customs officers became so relaxed I discovered an exception to their taboo on discussing women. Although still totally silent about their wives, they were quite happy to ask about mine. In response I told them my wife was from Mexico and that the women they saw on the Bollywood shows from India were almost as beautiful as her. But they knew how old I was, did the math and expressed skepticism. So I said I would prove it by showing them a picture of her at the beach. They all gathered around eagerly as I brought up the photo on my netbook. I pointed to a tiny dark silhouette way off in the (Cont’d. on p.28)

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nothing but darkness. He was out of options and was certain he could fight the guy off if he turned out to be a serial killer or rapist. He also had the gun to equalize things if it went wrong. Settling into the passenger seat, Scott looked for the seatbelt, but didn't find one. Glancing at the driver, he saw the man with that creepy grin again, like he knew what Scott was thinking. The hair on Scott’s neck stood at attention. Unconsciously, Scott reached down and unzipped the top of his backpack and felt for the pistol. “Hang on, dude,” the driver said, pressing the accelerator to the floor. The car lurched forward as he popped the clutch, leaving rubber and flying sand in its wake, slamming Scott into the seatback. Glancing at the driver again, Scott saw he faced forward, that sick grin still glued to his face. “So, what calamity put you in the middle of nowhere on such a glorious night as this?” The driver asked. “Had a little accident,” Scott said, cursing himself for his desire to stop conversing with this man. There was a smell in the car he hadn’t noticed when he first got in. It smelled like a cadaver when it reached the end of its usefulness. “No, shit?” The driver said more than asked. “Yeah,” Scott said, staring out the window. “What brings you out here?” “Oh, I travel this road all the time,” he said. Scott noticed he didn’t say he lived close by; just that he was always out here. Scott cursed his overactive imagination, but he felt flagging this guy down had been a mistake. “I like driving at night.” Shaking a cigarette out of a battered pack with his free hand, the driver offered the pack to Scott, who took one and lit it off the same match the driver had used. Scott thought it seemed weird that the flame was undaunted by the wind rushing in through the windows, but the driver’s hair wasn’t moving either. “So, what brought you out this way?” The driver asked. “I know you ain’t out for no joyride.” “I was on my way to Carson City to see my fiancé.” “Really?” The driver said, like he knew exactly why Scott wanted to see his fiancé. “She hot?” “What the fuck kind of question is that?” “Just makin’ conversation, brutha. I get the feelin’ you’re needin’ to see her for more reasons than just ’cause you miss her.” Scott stared at this road demon for a moment then shrugged his shoulders. It didn’t really matter if he told this guy why he was going to see Meghan, as long as he didn’t spill about the gun in his pack. He had no intention of ever seeing the guy again anyway. “She’s been seeing another guy and I need to find out what’s up.” “Plannin’ on doin’ one or both a little harm I’m bettin’, too.” “What’s it to you?” Scott was getting pissed, but more than a little scared, too. He wasn’t sure if it was the casual way the driver talked about the violence Scott had planned, or if it was just that horrible grin. “’Cause I can help you, hoss,” the driver said. “You could say I have experience in matters of this sort.” “Just take me to the next town,” Scott said trying to sound fearless, but failing miserably. “Oh, now you need to hear me out,” the driver said and shot him that wide, scary grin again. This time Scott could see some decay in that smile, he could also see something in the voids between the teeth, something alive and moving. “I can handle this fine,” Scott said, took a draw off the cigarette, turning away from the driver and staring out the window, his mind working furiously to find a way out of this situation and this car. “You don't understand, boy. You flagged down the midnight express and I’m the captain of this vessel. We’re goin’ all the way to Carson City to deal with your woman and this fella she’s been messin’ with. Then, once we make things right, we’ll be ridin’ this highway together.” 10

Scott turned to the driver, fear causing his sphincter to tighten. What he saw didn’t improve his disposition. Scott was certain the head injury he had sustained in the crash was affecting his vision. The driver had turned into something out of a freak show. The wide grin was now missing teeth. Sores wept yellow fluid down the driver’s face, skin drawn tight around the skull. HIs eyes protruded from the sockets like someone had grabbed the skin at the back of his head and pulled. One of the driver’s fingernails fell from its right hand, wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, floating into the open ashtray in the center of the dash. The driver didn’t seem to notice, pressing harder on the accelerator. “Boy, we’re goin’ huntin’,” the driver stated, staring at Scott. Scott identified the movement he had seen earlier as maggots squirming between the driver’s rotted teeth. Scott screamed. “Let me out,” Scott said, reaching for the door handle and pulling, but the door remained glued shut by the wind rushing past outside. “Oh, Hell no, I couldn’t do that. We’re on a mission you and me. Time to let the evil out a little, as my old daddy used to say.” Scott knew jumping from the speeding car was a bad idea. At this speed, he would die on impact with the ground. Glancing over at the speedometer he saw the needle was buried at one hundred twenty miles per hour. “I can’t do it anymore. What do I have to gain? The fucking bitch isn’t worth it,” Scott said, attempting to divert this crazy maniac from his course. “You sure? ’Cause we can sure fuck ’em both up, right close. Make ’em pay. You ain’t losing your nerve are you boy?” He asked, grabbing Scott’s leg with his right hand, which when Scott looked was just a claw made up of bones. Looking at the drivers face Scott screamed again. The driver’s face had deteriorated into a skull, rotting tissue hanging in strings from yellowing bone. The eyes were still contained within the skull, but fire played within the sockets behind the eyeballs and leapt from the pupils. Scott screamed again. “Pussy,” the driver growled, turning his fiery visage back to the road. “If you ain’t got the guts to take care of her, then then I’ll have to do it for you." “NO! Let me out of here!” Scott screamed. “Only one way out of here, boy, and you ain’t got the cojones to take that trip.” “Fuck you!” Scott screamed over the roar of the engine. Grabbing the door handle once again and leaning all his weight into the door, the wind from outside trying to push it shut, he was able to shove it open enough to launch himself into the night. Scott leaned into the void, but at the last second a boney hand grabbed his shoulder, the bones piercing his clothes and the skin beneath. Scott felt blood begin to flow down his arm and pain shot into his neck and back from the wounds. Looking back, he saw the driver grinning that grin at him again. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, you little prick.” Reaching back with his right hand, Scott pried the claw off his shoulder, turning the wrist so the fingers were pointed back at the desiccated remains of the driver. The demon screamed in anger, taking his foot off the accelerator, grabbing for Scott again. Scott moved closer to the chasm created in the open door hearing the roar of the engine decline. Dropping past the rocker panels, he felt the boney fingers brush his shoulder, then the touch was gone and he rolled out of the car. There was surprisingly little pain as he hit the ground and rolled. As blackness overtook him, he heard maniacal laughter disappearing into the night. “She’s all mine, pussy.” * * * “His vitals are stabilizing,” someone said when Scott could feel again. He wasn’t certain how long he had been out but he hoped

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that the driver was long gone. Opening his eyes, the face he saw was normal. “Well, you’re back with us,” the face said. “Stay still while we finish back-boarding you. John, get me another IV catheter. I want to get another line going before we move him.” Scott tried to turn his head, but a collar held it in place. He waited until the medic inserted a needle in his arm, connecting a hose to the other end, then they carried him up to the road. “But, how?,” Scott began as the paramedics strapped him to the gurney sitting on the side of the road. “What’s that, buddy?” “Where am I?” “I don’t know what you mean, buddy. Your car is right over there,” the medic said pointing over to his right. “You were thrown clear on impact. You are lucky we’re good at our job or you’d be gone permanently. Other than the two minutes we lost you, you’ve been here the whole time.” “Two minutes?” “Not to worry man. Where’s home?” The medic asked as they loaded him into the Emergency Flight helicopter. “I live in Vegas, but I was on my way to Carson City.” “Really? Well, you’re going back to Vegas. They have the best trauma center and it’s about the same distance as to Reno.” “Okay,” Scott said, then realized he needed to find his bag before someone found the illegal handgun. “I need my backpack,” Scott said, groaning as the medic hit him with another shot of morphine. “We didn't find a backpack, man. The cops looked in the car, but the only thing in there was a bag of half-eaten food from Mickey-D’s. Don’t worry though, they’ll find it when it’s light out.” That’s because you left your backpack in the car when you jumped out. That nightmare has your gun. Now he plans on making sure she is handled perfectly, he thought. “Noooo,” Scott moaned as the pain killers hit him and blessed darkness overcame him again. The helicopter lifted off and turned toward Las Vegas. * * * Five days later, Scott had recovered enough to begin explaining the accident. No officers wrote him a citation, but after two surgeries to remove a ruptured spleen and repair several organs damaged in the crash, he was certain it was only because they felt sorry for him. Just as he suspected, the cops had found no evidence of the truck. Half way through the fourth day, a man in a suit, wearing a badge from the state patrol, walked into his room and sat in the chair near his bed. When Scott saw him, he knew he was in trouble. Scott was finishing his lunch when the cop walked in. He almost choked on his lime gelatin, when he saw the cop holding his backpack. “How’re you doing, son?” The state cop was large and solid looking with dark brown hair graying at the temples and large hands. “Not bad. They say I can go home in a couple of days.” “Where’s home?” The cop asked. “I go to school at UNLV. I’m pre-med.” “Wow. Now I wonder, what is a pre-med student from Las Vegas doing way the hell out in the desert in the middle of the night?” Scott eyed the cop for a moment then shook his head. “Just ask what you want to ask.” “You were concerned about your backpack the night you crashed,” the cop said. “What I want to know is, if it should have been in your

VOL 7, ISSUE 7

car, how the hell did it end up at the scene of a double homicide in Carson City?” Scott found it hard to swallow. He stared at the cop, knowing that his eyes had widened to the size of plates. Had something happened to Meghan? Had the thing driving that car made good on his promise? Had the experience really happened? “I don’t know.” “Are you sure about that, son?” The cop stared at him as if he could see inside his soul. “Because the victims were Meghan Dawson and Miguel Rios. Ms. Dawson was engaged to one Scott Towne, that’s you. The thing is, she and Mr. Rios were killed while you were undergoing surgery right here in Las Vegas. That’s a hell of an alibi. The other quandary I have, Mr. Towne, is the gun used in these slayings has only one set of fingerprints on it. Can you tell me whose fingerprints they are?” “Mine?” “Correct. Now have you any idea how this might have happened?” “How could I? You know I was here. I can’t believe Meghan is dead. Who could have done this?” “You know what I think?” “What?” Scott was sure that he knew what the cop thought, but he was too scared to say anything else. “I think you were on your way to Carson to confront Ms. Dawson and Mr. Rios and got cold feet, or maybe you actually did get run off the road by a truck driver. Hell, I don't know,” the cop said, scratching his forehead with the side of his hand. Scott had seen new interns in forensic medicine do this instead of using their gloved fingers to scratch. “How do you think your backpack and gun wound up at the crime scene?” “I don’t know, maybe a demon from Hell did it,” Scott thought, but didn’t say. Instead he just shrugged his shoulders. “I can’t believe this.” Scott was stunned. It was hard to believe Meghan was actually dead. How could a figment of his imagination have killed her? “It doesn’t matter, because I can’t prove any of what I believe happened. I can only speculate about your part in this. But trust me,” the detective said, leaning in close to Scott. “I fully intend to keep working this until I find out what happened. Then we’ll meet again and next time, I won’t be so friendly.” “I honestly don’t know what happened, sir. If I did, I would help you out. I loved Meghan.” “You maintain that position, son. It’s all you’ve got at this point. I’ll let you know if I find out anything else.” When the cop left, Scott felt sick to his stomach. Working his way to his feet, he hobbled as fast as he could into the bathroom, dragging his IV pole and vomited into the toilet. After several minutes of dry retching he heard a noise behind him. Turning around in the small space he stepped out, but no one was there. An envelope sat on his rolling table, leaning against his empty dinner tray. Opening the envelope he removed a get well soon card. Opening the card he nearly screamed in horror when he read what was written. SHE SCREAMED REAL GOOD. SO DID HER OLD BOY. BE SEEIN’ YA REAL SOON. Scott dropped the card and hobbled back into the bathroom and continued emptying his stomach into the toilet. 

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(See Dennis’ bio o p.29)

11


No Map and No Directions by K.G. Waite

Robert Hayes stared out the window and listened to his partner tell the new admin some lame joke. He listened to her laughter, bright and thin and so utterly expected. Part of the requirements of the job, he supposed. Nothing like the laughter of his mother. He smiled and took a sip of his tea, thin and green and disgusting. Celeste had forced him to abandon coffee. And meat. And dairy products. He wondered what his wife—ever in pursuit of eternal life—would press him to give up next. What would be the next thing to drop out of his life completely? If he were to examine the facts—and that was his job, wasn’t it… to sort through the facts and find some Truth within them? He would have to admit the fault was his. He had allowed it to happen, had started it, actually, had set things in motion all those years ago. He put his mind in reverse, reeling backwards a single frame at a time, each important moment a snapshot in his memory: the purchase of the Lower Eastside brownstone, his Columbia degrees— bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D., his move to New York, his mother, the day of his high school graduation, pushing him out the door towards town. “Go, Bobby Joe,” she said. “Go and make something of yourself. Go and make me proud.” Just before leaving, he took one last look around that cabin— except for the bathroom, one main room, with beds all around the perimeter. No decorations, save the calendar tacked to the wall and his various paper awards, yellowed and curling up at the edges, perfect attendance certificates—twelve in all—his National Honor Society card, his name printed upon the honor roll year after year after year. After he left, he never looked back. As his awards grew, as his brain expanded and filled with Important Things, he found his family, his past, and his history embarrassed him. He discovered that it was easy enough to change one’s name, to lose one’s parents in a tragic accident. With enough money, it’s simple to invent a life. And one day, Bobby Joe Jones died. And Robert B. Hayes was born. But inventions were often illusory and realities pressed deep. It didn’t take much to call memory back. Sometimes all it took was a laugh to bring back the memory of his mother and his siblings. Momma had grouped them, for the sake of convenience: The Little Ones, the youngest boys. Twins. The Middles. Also twins. His sisters. Two by two, twins marched from his mother’s womb. Except for him. Oldest. Oldest was alone. Oldest was expected to Know Better, but often he didn’t. * * * It had been meant as a joke. The Little Ones were always trying to introduce a bit of levity, to fill a situation with enough hot air to lift the tiny cabin from its formidable foundation and move it, on the trails of their laughter, to a happier place. To a Someplace Else. To that place everyone wanted to find. There was no map. There were no directions. And yet, it was a place everyone sought. A place that to this day everyone seeks. Momma finished the breakfast dishes and then poured herself another cup of coffee from the blue spatterware pot that boiled nonstop on the woodstove. She wore her thin threadbare nightgown that ended just above her knobby knees. Her feet were jammed into fuzzy pink slippers. In one hand she carried her cup of coffee. In the other, a bottle of dollar store lotion. Once a week, Momma would bathe and then rub that lotion over her tired sagging skin. The only luxury she’d ever known, in an attempt, Robert supposed now, to smooth away the harsh realities that were her life.

Momma walked into the bathroom. Shut the door behind her. They could hear her humming, could hear the shower curtain drawing back. They started at one another, biting upon their lips and pressing grubby hands against dirty faces to keep the laughter inside. Bobby Joe wondered whether the Little Ones had gone too far. A moment later, Momma emerged, hands on hips. “Do y’all mind ‘splain’ how the hell our donkey got into the bathtub?” She paused. Crossed the room to the kitchen area and parted the curtains with one hand. “That is our donkey, ain’t it?” One of the Middles giggled. Momma laughed then. “Well, at least it ain’t a elephant.” She sank her bony self into a wooden chair, and for an instant Bobby Joe got a profile view of his twin brothers growing in her womb: the Last Ones. Momma laughed long and hard, and her laughter gave them the permission they needed to laugh also. They all joined in and that little cabin, deep in the mountains, surrounded only by trees and abandonment and hopelessness, filled with laughter. And despite the fact that the house remained resolutely upon its foundation, Bobby Joe felt them travel to that place that had no map and no directions. * * * Robert looked out the window and watched the people on the sidewalk thirty floors below. The rich rubbed shoulders with the artists who rubbed shoulders with eager interns—all of them taking care not to spill their coffee as they stepped with eyes averted around the homeless woman who begged at the corner every day. Every day, he, too, averted his eyes from the face of the woman, so as not to see the Truth of the facts contained therein. But today, as she’d turned to a woman with a designer dog and held out her torn paper cup, Robert had noticed the gentle swell beneath her shirt, the roundness of her hips. He wondered whether the child within would be Oldest or Last One. He stood and slipped on his coat. The new admin, the laughing, briskly efficient admin, removed her glasses. “Where are you going?” “Can you cook?” His voice was harsh and impatient. She reddened. “I didn’t realize that was a job requirement.” “Can you stone a squirrel, gut it and fry it up for dinner all within the span of an hour?” She blanched. “I’m a vegan.” He sighed. Another one. He tried another tactic. “If I dropped you off on the side of a mountain, how many days would you survive?” “You mean like one of those reality shows?” “No. I mean like reality. Hold my calls.” He took the stairs, thirty flights of stairs, because that would be faster than the elevator at this time of day. He walked to the corner, drawing his coat up closer, wishing for his thick scarf. He went up to the woman. Smiled tentatively. “Are you hungry?” She stared. Waited. “Come with me,” he said. “I’m no hooker.” “I’m not looking for one.” Robert removed his coat and wrapped it around the woman’s bony shoulders. “When was your last meal?” “Tuesday.” “That was two days ago.” “I can count. I’m homeless, not stupid.” “I’m taking you home.” “I’m not a stray you can take home to your momma.” Robert cringed. He hailed a taxi and flashed the driver a hundreddollar bill. He saw the driver curse as he pulled to the curb. But even in New York, a hundred-dollar tip was a hard thing to come by. Robert opened the back door, helped the woman slide across the vinyl seat, dull and green, yellow foam pouring through a hole in the center. He sat beside her, gave the driver his address, and leaned against the back of the seat. Neither of them bothered with seatbelts. (Cont’d. on p.28)

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“How many?” “Five.” “After that I’d like to take off. Not feeling so well. Like, around four-thirtyish. Is that okay?” On the way home, she bought a bottle of wine, picked up the photos from the trip, and rented an Almodóvar film. On the bus she listened to the Los Tres CD that Curtis had bought her. He loves me, she told herself. He’s doing everything he can to call me tonight. And if he doesn’t, I’ll still enjoy myself. Get to sleep early. She sighed. At home, she prepared Bancha tea. When she opened her bedroom door, Logan’s smell overwhelmed her. She dropped her mug on the floor. She kicked her feet as the tea soaked through her socks. She looked around the room. Then frantically checked the apartment. Opened closets, peeked under the bed, even under the couch. Peeked again under the bed. She paced from room to room, gradually slowing down and catching her breath. She mopped up the tea on the laminate bedroom floor and followed its trail into the hallway. Something about the hanging photo album looked odd. The stack of her and Curtis’s graduation photos was half its size. * * * That weekend she lay in bed watching Saturday Night Live, wiped tears from her cheeks, bit her fingernails. She told herself that he didn’t call Wednesday, because he was finished with her. Every passing minute drained her. She had to accept being dumped, and at the same time, have faith that everything was okay between them, and that he had a good explanation. But maybe he thought that letting her suffer through it alone was good for her. She didn’t give a shit what he thought about that. To her, silence was like surgery, a worst-case scenario when everything else fails. It would leave a scar. She put the unopened bottle of Merlot and glass back in the kitchen, then fell asleep in her lingerie. In her dream, she kissed Curtis’s hand. They sat in a street bar, somewhere in Chile. He whispered that he had a secret to tell her. She caressed his thumb and looked into his eyes, willing him to kiss her. Suddenly, she heard a ringing sound, the same one as her apartment’s doorbell. She looked over to the bar where men drank beer and shouted at a TV soccer match. She looked back at Curtis, who had turned his back to her and was kissing a curly-haired architecture student from the Catholic university. Olivia woke up. The sound of the doorbell chime rang in her ears, and she saw her bedroom’s cracked ceiling. She looked around her room, at the TV and books on the wall unit, the CDs on the windowsill. On her night table, a framed photo of her and Curtis at Daytona Beach. In a flash of hope she checked her cell phone for missed calls. Then the cordless phone—nothing. She turned up the ringer volume on both. Through the viewer of her front door, she saw Logan’s apartment in the dim hallway light. She re-locked the door. She stopped herself from thinking about the dream and told herself that dreams are dreams, not reality. Same with the doorbell sound—mere paranoia. But standing barefoot on the cold floor, she sensed someone in the hallway. She returned to bed, hugged a pillow. Breathing deeply, to relax, only leavened a feeling of disgrace. She realized she had spent the last four evenings on her bed, next to the phones, waiting for Curtis’s call. * * * Tuesday morning. After her shower, she reached for her body lotion but her hand grasped nothing. The shelf looked different. Wrapped in a towel, she searched the recycling bin in her kitchen for the lotion. If I chucked it here, she thought, I’ve gone nuts. She checked the shelf in the bathroom again. At work, she rubbed her hands with hand sanitizer and stared out the window of the make-shift daycare room with its second-hand toys and colorful posters. Madison walked in and pointed at Olivia. 14

“Look at Bobby. We’ll both get fired if a city inspector walks in.” “Damn. Sorry,” Olivia said, handing Madison a baby. She took the seedling away from Bobby and rushed him over to the sink to clean his mouth. “What’s going on?” Madison said. “He still hasn’t called.” She began crying and the boy stared at her with his dirty face. “And I flew all the way there.” Madison put her hand on Olivia’s shoulder. A bell rang, signaling that someone had come into the centre. They both hurried to the main room carrying Bobby and the baby. A pair of men stood looking around. They reeked of Listerine, the yellow kind. “I heard my baby boy’s here,” one of them said. Madison held the baby tight. Olivia wiped tears from her face, glanced at the clock, and counted the day’s remaining hours. * * * After work on Friday, she went through her mail: a phone bill, flyers for pizza delivery and Thai food. She grabbed the grad school application from her knapsack and called a bursary agency in Ottawa. “Why haven’t I received the 2010 application package?” she said. “I ordered it two Mondays ago. The deadline is next week.” “My screen shows it was mailed Tuesday, last week,” the employee said. “I can re-send a copy.” Olivia hung up then dialed the first locksmith listed in the phone book. “Listen,” a man said with an Italian accent. “I’m not being difficult. Nobody with a license will change your lock. It’s a co-op apartment— you need a letter from building management.” After calling four other locksmiths, she told herself she’d lie down for a minute and pull herself together. She fell asleep, fully clothed. She dreamed of Logan standing beside her bed, hands behind his back, watching her sleep. “Marty’s with his mum,” he said. He leaned over her with furious eyes. “So we’re alone,” he said, bringing his hands out from behind his back and grabbing her face. She woke up screaming and panting for air. “Oh, my God! It’s just a dream,” she said over and over as she turned on the light. She ran to the front door. “I know you’re there,” she shouted, her voice shaking from the adrenaline. “Go away. Get the fuck away from here. Go. Now.” She paced back and forth, cursing herself, Logan, the building rules, Curtis. “You fucking freak,” she screamed. She poured the wine out in the kitchen sink and took a shower. Ripped up the pictures from the trip. Curled up on the couch with a cup of tea, cried herself to sleep. She woke up to the sound of people talking in the hallway. Beeps and walkie-talkie static. Sunlight snuck through the curtains. At her front door, she looked out the viewer and saw two police officers. “Olivia Galway?” the officer said as she opened the door. Jeff walked out of Logan’s apartment, nodded to the officers. His usual pink face was red. “Olivia,” he said, out of breath. “Let’s talk, in your apartment.” In her kitchen, he scratched his stubble nervously as he spoke. “The detective asked me to fill you in. Then he wants to talk to you.” “What’s going on?” “Your neighbor. Our new resident, Logan Ramsey.” “Yes, I know who he is,” she said as she clenched and unclenched her hands. “Just … say what happened.” “He committed suicide. Last night, maybe earlier today. We don’t know yet.” Her gaze became vacant and she felt like she hadn’t slept in a week. She felt an ambivalence, like a coma. That creep was gone,

TOUGH LIT. VII

(Cont’d. on p.28)

IDEAGEMS MAGAZINE


resolutely away from it. Things might get worse. They did. Hank was finally quiet, and Peg was taking a nap in her room. Lacy was looking through recipes for different ways to serve hamburger. She’d just about decided on “Spicy Meatloaf with Onions and Cheese,” when she heard a horn and a squeal of brakes. Lacy knew immediately what had happened. Jesus, God, No! she prayed as she raced through the living room and out the open door. She was almost dizzyingly relieved to see Peg standing in the street, looking bewildered but unhurt. A car was stopped less than a foot from her. Lacy dashed down the steps. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry…,” she said breathlessly, as she reached the sidewalk. “What do you think you’re doing, you old bat?” the fat, red-faced driver of the car yelled. Then, to Lacy, “You’d better keep her inside! I almost hit her!” “I’m sorry… I’m sorry….” “Kerry? Kerry?” Lacy almost dragged her mother-in-law back on to the sidewalk and up the steps. Behind her she could hear the driver muttering about “old people cluttering up the street.” Lacy’s patience was gone. “Kerry’s not coming!” she shouted. Then, seeing the stricken look on Peg’s face, she quickly amended her statement. “I mean, he’s not coming until you’re in the house and sitting down and being quiet.” Peg sat in a forlorn heap on the sofa. She didn’t say a word. Lacy felt a momentary surge of guilt, followed by anger. Why do I have to do all this by myself? I can’t watch the old—Peg—all the time. It’s not fair! Her nerves were tiny, taut cords, splitting one by one. She went into Hank’s room and took her bottle out of the diaper bag. There were two swallows left and Lacy took them both. Am I becoming an alcoholic? she wondered. Then thought, I don’t care. I’m past the point of caring. If anybody deserves to drink, I do. The spicy meatloaf with onions and cheese was delicious. Harold didn’t seem to be in a bad mood. Lacy debated as to whether or not she should tell him about Peg’s near escape. He’d blame her, of course, even though he knew it wasn’t her fault. Lacy cleared the table with hands that shook slightly. She couldn’t face getting through the evening without a drink. “I’m going to the store,” she informed Harold. This was unprecedented. He scowled. “Why now? Isn’t Blanche coming tomorrow?” “Hank is out of diapers,” she improvised hastily. “He’s had his bottle. He probably won’t wake up. I won’t be gone long.” It won’t hurt Harold to look after his mother and his son for twenty minutes, Lacy thought, as she got into the car. True, but that didn’t assuage her guilt—not for the trip, but for its real purpose. Lacy drove to a convenience store and picked up diapers she didn’t need. Her next stop was a liquor store where she bought vodka. Unwilling to wait, she parked on a dark street, uncapped the bottle, and took a long swallow. The relief was instantaneous. Lacy relaxed and closed her eyes for a minute, feeling the tension drain from every part of her body. Then she slipped the bottle into her pocket and drove home. “Everything okay?” Lacy asked as she stepped into the living room. Harold didn’t look up from the keyboard. “Hank’s still sleeping. Mama hasn’t said a word. You think there’s something wrong with her?” Lacy knew very well what was wrong, but Harold didn’t need to. “Maybe she’s just tired.” She took the diapers into Hank’s room and put everything away. Just when she was beginning to hope for the best, Hank woke up and started to cry. Then she heard the plaintive call: “Kerry? Kerry?” Lacy sighed and began the nightly ordeal. VOL 7, ISSUE 7

Before sliding into dreamless sleep that night, Lacy realized the husband beside her hadn’t touched her in months. Then realized she was grateful. What happened to us? she wondered. What happened? As promised, Blanche came the next morning. The house seemed to brighten when she stepped inside. Peg and Hank were both quiet. Lacy felt a strange peace. There was something about Blanche… Lacy shopped for groceries and formula, then picked up a couple of sheets for Hank’s mattress. By no means did she forget the vodka. When she got home, Peg was actually focused on a TV program, and she seemed to be enjoying it. “Hank’s had his bottle, and I just changed him,” Blanche informed her. “Did he cry much?” “He started to. His teeth are bothering him. I gave him one of those frozen peach slices. That’s a pretty good idea.” Lacy was already apprehensive about the time when Blanche would leave. Things seemed to go so much better when she was here. Lacy carried the groceries into the kitchen and had just finished putting them away when Blanche came in. The vodka bottle was on the table—still in a paper bag, but unmistakable. Lacy grabbed for it, trying to wedge it into her pocket. “Never mind,” Blanche said gently. “I know.” “You know…?” “That you drink. Yes. I’ve known for a while.” Then, as Lacy just stood there, “Put the bottle… wherever you keep it,” she suggested firmly. “Then come into the living room and we’ll talk.” Dazed, Lacy put the bottle into the diaper bag. Something’s going to happen, she thought. I wonder what? Hank stayed quiet. Blanche had coaxed Peg into taking a nap. The two women were alone. Lacy sat down on the couch. “Now, tell me,” Blanche said. “I didn’t drink at all when I was pregnant with Hank. Not a drop, I promise you. Peg was living with us then, but she wasn’t as bad as she is now. After Hank was born things got harder. Alcohol didn’t really make things easier, but it softened the edges. After a while, I realized I couldn’t cope without it. I keep telling myself that after Hank stops crying so much. After we find a good facility for Peg, I’ll stop… but now I’m not sure I can stop.” Lacy burst into tears. Blanche didn’t try to comfort her, just waited till the tears stopped on their own. Then she pulled a tissue out of her purse and handed it to Lacy. She took out something else too—a small silver box. “I don’t know if I should give you this,” Blanche said, almost to herself. “There are other ways: meditation, prayer, counseling… but those things take time, and you need help now.” She opened the box. Inside were small round pills. They looked like tiny white marbles. She picked one up and handed it to Lacy. Lacy didn’t know if she wanted it, but her hand reached out and took it. “What is it? A tranquilizer?” “No. It’s a—a mind-altering drug.” “Like LSD?” “Something like it, but definitely not LSD. It changes the way you perceive things… I don’t know… it gives you a new understanding.” “And you’ve taken them?” Blanche nodded. “Not them. One. The effects are permanent. You never need to take more. That’s what makes it different.” “Why? I mean, why did you—? “I was going through a bad period. And I wasn’t just drinking. I was doing drugs. Then a friend of mine gave me these. Figuring it didn’t much matter, I took one.” “And?” Blanche shrugged. “My problems didn’t go away, but I saw them differently… and I dealt with them differently… and I understood— things.” “Is that why you always seem so calm? Why everybody seems so calm around you?”

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Central Park and finding that golden locket. Next time I write it will be about how great it feels to have the golden locket returned to my mother. Until next time journal…. I knew what I had to do. I walked to the park, with the journal in hand not wanting to let go of it. I walked along the path looking for the sign. Wherever the pink carnations were, was the spot that held my grandmother’s locket. As it started to rain, I approached a beautiful assortment of pink carnations to my side. I ran over to the flowers and sat in front of them. I began to dig and dig beside the flowers, thankful for the rain making the ground softer. I finally came upon a box. I lifted it out of the ground, untied the ribbon, and opened it. There inside the box was my grandmother’s golden locket. I turned it over and it read, Hold this close to your heart and know that I will always be there. I placed it around my neck and held it over my heart. I grabbed the box and started down the path. I knew I had one thing left to do. I went to a flower shop and bought a packet of pink carnations. I came upon my grandmother’s grave; it was right beside my mom’s grave. I dug a little hole in between both of the graves. I opened the tiny bag and placed some seeds into the ground. I filled up the hole and dug another tiny hole beside it. I unlocked the necklace that was around my neck, I slowly brought the necklace to my lips and kissed it, and then I placed it in the tiny discolored box. Once again I filled the hole back up. I patted both spots in the ground and sat there for a little bit staring at them. I raised the palm of my hand to my lips and blew a kiss to my grandmother, my mother, and the locket. I slowly rose and walked back home, tears slowly slipping down my cheeks. I made her dream come true and that is all I could (See Tia’s bio. on p.29) ask for. 

The State of the Nation by Andrea Cambou

My mind a tumultuous cesspool Asphyxiation Subject to the spewing of vile indignities Strangulation Plagued by the grotesquely obscene Exsanguination Crippled by my own seemingly adolescent naiveté Amputation My escape barred by bottomless crevices Cauterization Abysmal rains that threaten to drown Abomination Gasping for air under a grey hazy sky Annihilation My eyes blinded by unshed tears

Last Embrace by Andrea Cambou

Brutalization My fragile withered to fragile wisps Absolution

Dead contortionist limbs

Hope as thin as gossamer wings

Decrepit and rotting flesh twisted like pretzels

Salvation

Exposed knuckles looking like large chunks of sea salt All I need is a fucking lemonade and a place in the shade Cold fingers slide down my thigh Their last exhale a warm breath on my manicured toes Just ghastly Their eviscerated intestines are marring the Tuscan tiles Keep that dead and flaccid cock away from me You belong with the other carrion Your kind are dead You just don’t know it yet

About Andrea, in her own words: “As a California native I am privy to wild and wondrous sites most within an hour of my azalea adorned front porch. The crashing waves pounding the rugged coastline are frequent backdrops to my life as are towering redwood trees and silent footfalls on leaf covered trails. My life is made nearly complete by my loving husband affectionately known as Honey Bunny and our four beautiful baby boys that are covered in silken fur and speak exclusively in meows and purrs. I am melancholy and morose by nature, my tumultuous and erratic mind keeps me up at night and I wield my words as a weapon against the darkness that threatens to drown me. In the veritable literary pantheon I am constantly exploring different themes and styles from bodice ripping erotica to poems and haikus that celebrate my eccentric and often cold nature. I am a forever a student, triple major and a lover of animals, with a special place in my heart for those of the feline variety.”

You’ve been dead for years 24

TOUGH LIT. VII

IDEAGEMS MAGAZINE


Hopes and Dreams by Charles E.J. Moulton

I now lit my fourth cigarette within fifteen minutes. The match ignited and approached the tobacco. Noticing the severe shaking of my left hand, I closed my eyes, concentrating on my breathing. I inhaled again, my lips trembling. No fear, I told myself. They will know how good I am. The other girl has another offer. I don’t. The sky called me by the way of my restlessness, because the leather chair just chilled me to the bone, the clock on the wall ticked too vehemently, my elegant skirt squeezed my thighs so bad I felt like a sardine. So, I stood up, walking to the window and looking out. I inhaled again, tasting the smoke of the cigarette, feeling it warm up my body. But my soul ached. Everything depended on this job. Trying to concentrate on the panorama, I forced myself to divert my thoughts. New York City, my dream town. Haliburn Associates, my dream firm. Central Park, what a beautiful place. If I got this job, I could have my lunch there. Here we go again. A smile surfaced from the depths of my soul. The smile reeked of cynicism. How many times had I been here? Knowing I was perfect for this job, knowing my credentials could impress the president, and me, still leaving empty-handed. What did they want? A Harvard graduate with high honors, one that still, after two years, had not landed a single job. Thirty-nine applications and counting. Mom assured me of the normality of the situation. So close and yet so far away. This was the closest I had been in two years. This job offered me everything. Money, love, success, the works. I looked at my watch, extinguishing my half smoked cigarette inside the ashtray and realizing that I smoked too much. Too much for a thirty-year-old woman. Twenty to two. They promised me what? To have the decision within an hour? The pizza in my stomach made noises. The waiter’s insults forced me back into the waiting room. Had his cynical Italian laughter really been necessary? Just because I was nervous, some pizza guy laughed me in the face. Me! I mean, really. Gosh, what was taking them so long? I adjusted my jacket and blouse and practiced my breathing exercises, just like always. My lungs filled with air as I walked to and fro in the waiting room, hearing my high heels click on the shiny floor and echo into the secretary’s marble chamber. Slowly, my nerves ceased to rattle. Maybe, my job searching cost me too much pain. If this job failed, my next stop had to be Boston. I am sure that my dear mother could fix me a nice job as an assistant somewhere. Maybe, that would be better for all of us. I wouldn’t have to move anywhere. I would remain in Boston and become a spinster. Geez, I’m glad I am alone here, I thought to myself. I won’t have to pretend to be calm and collected. I feel like throwing up. The smile of the secretary around the corner oozed a perkiness I loathed. At least, for the moment. I wandered over to the mirror, away from the secretary, and glanced at myself. My hair impeccable and my make-up perfect, I still looked like crap. This business suit? Whose idea had that been? Mom’s. My thoughts wandered toward Josh. If I lost this job, where did that leave him? I loved him. This job sealed the stamp on our relationship. If I got it, our thing could work. He wasn’t leaving New York City. After ten fiasco applications here, the boost of Anthony Robbins’ success seminar gave me an appeal that turned proverbial heads. A beautiful Harvard graduate with no self-confidence now owned some self-esteem. I believed in myself. Okay, at least, a bit. If this job failed, my mother’s promise of pulling some strings in VOL 7, ISSUE 7

Boston opened doors. So much for my self-esteem. Josh? Marriage, yes. I needed him, but a relationship on the basis of a four hour drive each way? Eventually, life in the same city eased the pain. I grew restless. I smoked too much. This was it. Josh knew that. I did, too. No waiting. No more. I just couldn’t. I picked up the small notebook that rested in my jacket pocket. My scribblings of positive quotes quickly turned that tiny red thing into an old tattered scrap of junk. However, its importance exceeded the look of it. My eyes flew over most of the quotes, all written in pencil. Voltaire, Shakespeare, Washington, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Gandhi, words found by me in books and noted here. One quotation ejected its enigma into my face that day. Fate proposed a toast seconds before triumph. Titus Maccius Plautus, the earliest surviving Latin playwright, mused: "Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words." Calm inspiration cooled my senses like fresh water on a summer day. Immediately, my spirit rejuvenated itself. All the former fiascos in this city erased themselves. An angel appeared in my heart, promising me that all dreams eventually would come true for me. The angel gift-wrapped all of my childhood dreams and gave them to me, neatly packaged within ten words. I dreamed of myself a rich, married architect, a mother of three with a Central Park apartment with two expensive cars parked in the garage. The door opened behind me. I turned around, startled, probably looking like a scared bird attacked by a giant snake. The CEO of Haliburn Associates stood there in the doorway of his office, his hand clutching the handle. His clean shaved face broke into a smile. This meant something. Did it mean that his news contained good information? Was he sacking me, just as the others had? “Cindy,” he said. “May I call you that?” I swallowed, feeling that one drop of sweat trickling down my forehead. “Yes. Sure.” He laughed. “I have a request.” My heart started beating faster. I felt as if my heart now turned into a racing car. “You have to call me Paul.” I shook my head. “Does that mean…?” Paul Delaney looked like Santa without a beard. No, he looked like God. “You are starting on Monday. Welcome to the firm.” My knees started rattling, my belly shook. That pizza now turned into little jellyfish swimming in my tummy, the perky secretary now turned into my best friend, the insults of the Italian waiter turned into a compliment. Out of my nervous mouth sprung an ecstatic fountain of laughs my spirit never had known it owned. Cindy Hollingdale proved them all wrong. Cindy, the successful architect, won. The tension that gripped my soul fell away from my hips and landed somewhere in the canisters. The world seemed like a friendly place. I rushed to that beardless Santa, embraced him, yes, even kissed his lips. He chuckled with surprised: “Ooh!” as the secretary popped her head into the room, wondering what the hullaballoo was about. “Do you mind, if I call my fiancé? After all, he will want to know that we are now sharing a flat.” I laughed, confused and delighted. “I mean, a life.” Paul chuckled and nodded. “Sure. Go out and party. We will talk tomorrow, okay? Say, noon time? Will your hangover be gone by then?” I burst into tears. “I think so.” I couldn’t stop laughing. “Oh, Paul. You have saved my life. This is the

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expressionless. They were hardly there more than a minute or two. What could have gone wrong? Could it be he liked what she had to offer or a desperate move on his part because he was running out of potential emcees? There was no time to review and think about it. Maybe they were doing two shows at once. “Well, then, when the show begins, we’ll have the name and the occupation of the person. The camera will sweep through the area that will give us a clue of the type of people living there. What major city or modern buildings or historic ones is it near? Are there foods or products, associated with this area? What makes this person so special even as an ordinary student, housewife, or doctor? In other words, what is it in that person’s past that is the reason for him or her to be on An Ideal Situation? Perhaps think, if you were interviewing someone from the organization Doctors Without Borders you would ask why he/she has chosen to help out. Would we find out if it was something in his or her childhood that he or she experienced or a trauma he/she went through and vowed to help others? Is that the train of thought you’re thinking?” “Yes!” she exclaimed. “That’s exactly how I see it. If I am to start Monday, I have several people on call.” “Good. We’re on the right track. Do you have to give notice to any job or engagement before you start work on Monday?” Marjorie shook her head no. She didn’t dare say she was fired from the two previous jobs because they promised her a raise, insisted that she had to work overtime and then they would consider a raise. After working 70 hour weeks for months, she questioned them. They were still hesitant, with a “Well, let’s see....” Let’s see to her meant it was a no-go. She couldn’t afford to stay as her rent was going up and car payments had to be paid. She left on pleasant terms and they wished her a good life, almost. They weren’t too sincere, and she wondered how much the newest intern would get. “Good. Let’s go upstairs to the office and set up a budget and timeline for you. Is your passport updated?” Marjorie stood up and said, “Yes, and my luggage is half-packed. You need any other information?” “No.” He shook his head, and smiled. “Cool, very cool. Let’s shake on this.” They did. “Call me Kenny, okay?” They walked to the elevator and Ken pressed the button. When the door opened, Kenny pressed the button for the 5th floor. “You’ll get to know what office and studios are on what floor. After we finish the paperwork, we’ll go to the studio. I’ll introduce you to everyone. We can start today if you wish.” “Sure! Great!” When they got off on the 5th floor, Marjorie was appalled at the rundown condition. The light streamed in from the huge window to the right of the elevator. “Are they redoing this floor?” she gulped. “Kinda scary, isn’t it?” “Is it? I never noticed it. It’s a pre-war building and we’re trying to catch up as fast as we can. I don’t spend too much time on this floor.” Kenny opened the door to the office. No one was around. An unlocked door. Marjorie wondered if she was going to live past the first show or would they find her hanging in a clothes closet somewhere. Again, she pushed the negative thoughts from her head. “This is a payroll office and no one is around?” Kenny sighed and shook his head. He switched on the lights. “Ah, we’re still connected,” he laughed. “The boss says when we fill in all the TV slots then we can have a full staff, five days a week and lights on 24/7 if need be. There’s no cash around. Strictly online billing or checks. Now we hire only a few people for a few hours a week.” The door opened and in walked an attractive Hispanic girl. “Lannie,” Kenny said, “this is Marjorie Lorano, She’s going to be the hostess on the latest show, An Ideal Situation.” “The latest?” said Lannie with a smile. “Wish you luck.” She went to the file cabinet, opened some forms, and handed them to Kenny. “I thought this was a new show?” said Marjorie. Kenny shot Lannie a stern look. She gave him a wide-eyed, blank stare.“Er, it is,” Kenny said briskly, “We’re hoping that if it succeeds, as a new hot, hot show, and not that one that was on before. You know, everything changes so rapidly—there’s a lot of competition now. At least, VOL 7, ISSUE 7

this show won’t have to be too scripted. You seem to have the right people for the first couple of shows, right?” “I do. In fact, I have them on the handy laptop.” She held up her carrying case. “Good girl. We’ll check them over. Here’s the contract. Read it over and if you feel it sounds right, sign it, okay?” “Yes, I am glad that I have a travel budget for me with suggested fees for guests who appear on the show.” Marjorie read it over, looked for any loopholes, she was familiar with this type of contract. She thought she found none, but one could never be too sure. She felt confident, was satisfied, and signed the contract. Lannie put one copy in an envelope and handed it to Marjorie. The other she put in an envelope and put it in the file cabinet. “Okay, let’s go to the studio and I’ll show you where and when you report in. We’ll meet the crew. You are really confident that you can start next week?” Wow, eager-beaver, aren’t you for this one?” quipped Lannie. Marjorie just stared at her puzzled. “Isn’t that what you, Kenny, told me when I applied for this job or am I mistaken?” “Lannie, enough already! We’ll talk later!” Kenny snapped at her. “Gottcha! Good luck, Marjorie!” Lannie made no attempt to hide her sarcasm. * * * Marjorie returned home and kicked off her shoes lay down on her bed. It had been an exhilarating day filled with a major success of landing a guaranteed job with benefits. The number “10” blinked in red on her answering machine and 30 e-mails with “Congrats” in the subject line flickered on her computer screen. But she didn’t have the energy to read them, for she was out cold. She woke up at 3:00 in the morning with a strange, alarming feeling. What was it? Was it a bad dream? She lay back down and tried to recall it but went back to sleep. When she awoke again it was 10:00 AM. The production crew, Pedro, Pete, and Joel, had decided to report to work at 2:00 PM. Then she thought of Kenny and what idea popped into her head about his odd name, “Witherly.” She sat up in bed with a start. “Witherly,” she muttered. “That’s what I was dreaming about. There’s something about that name… and that creepy fifth floor.” She got up, went into the kitchen, and made herself a strong cup of coffee. She listened to all her phone messages and read all her e-mails. She was mighty pleased with herself. The phone rang. She knew it was her good friend Jamie. “Hey, lady! What good news! I guess you’re a TV producer now.” “Beats being an unpaid intern.” “I’m surprised you’re still home. Don’t you have a rehearsal, a runthrough, or whatever it’s called?” “Yup, but we decided to come in at 2:00 PM. It’s give us time to chill out and rest.” “Well, good luck, dear friend. I must attend to the my own business.” “Sure.” Marjorie hung up, got dressed, grabbed her laptop and headed out her apartment floor. She hailed a cab to save time and went to the studio immediately. The elevator reached the floor but the door wouldn’t open. Sweat beaded on her pale skin. She pressed the button over and over and banged on the door. A sharp chill ran through her. She had the strange sensation that someone was in the elevator with her. “Open Sesame, Mr. Door! Please!” The door opened and Kenny was standing there. “Are you okay?” he asked concerned. “You look as though you’d seen a ghost.” (To be continued in our next issue….) Rosalie H. Contino is a regular contributor and sponsor for IdeaGems Magazine. She resides in Brooklyn, New York where she received a PhD in Educational Theater from NYU. Dr. Contino is a costume designer, consultant, playwright, and lecturer for multiple productions and events. Her plays Transitions in Taking Care of Daddy, Twixt ‘n Teen, and Lights Out! received honorable mention from the Writer’s Digest Playwriting Contest. Lights Out! made quarter finalist from Writers Online.

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Authors’ Bios. Owen Ferguson is an ontological archaeologist and publisher. His imprint, Obscene Works, can be found at Obsceneworks.com. He is also a journeyman writer, plying his trade at http://owen ferguson.elance.com if you have need of some insightful prose. He is also available for private detective work, no domestics. Born in London, Ontario, he currently resides in Hunt's Point, Nova Scotia during the nice season and Oaxaca during the other nice season. A physicist turned activist, turned educator, turned raconteur, Scott Stambach plays with words every night to neutralize his left-brain, which overflows all hours of his mathematical day. When he sleeps, the different personalities throw parties and commingle over cocktails, though the details are always murky in the morning. This cycle has left him with dozens of short stories, several of which have been published in both online and print journals, including The Writing Disorder, Wild Violet, and Blood Moon Rising. Lucille Falcone is a full-time writer that enjoys working on everything from poetry to screenplays. Her favorite genres include mystery, sci-fi, eco-friendly activism, biographies, and how to. When she is not writing for human readers, she delves into the wonderful world of computer programming and web design. See more at: http://www.eloquentatheist.com/author/lucillef/ Bill Finnegan is a regular contributor to IdeaGems Magazine. A retired lawyer, Bill has written a novel titled Saving Frank Casey and eleven short stories. His story, “The Apprentice,” which appears in the current edition of The Chrysalis Reader has been nominated for a Push Cart Prize. Elizabeth Scott was born in Grand Prairie, Texas. At the age of seven, she was removed from her birth parents and placed in foster care. She was adopted by a couple that lived in Maine but then was placed back into foster care until the age of eighteen. Elizabeth currently lives with her husband and 12-yearold son in Lewiston, Maine where she is enrolled in the Literacy Volunteers Androscoggin program where she is working hard on growing her reading and writing skills. Rex Lee Applegate is retired from U.S. Customs where he excelled in the authorship of arcane government reports and memoranda. After two years teaching English and History he began contract work related to his Customs background. This included a recently completed two year assignment with USAID in Afghanistan. His central writing project is a series of alternative history/time travel stories that indulge his passion for both history and science fiction. In addition he is working on notes and vignettes that explore the experiences of American civilians working in Afghanistan. D. L. Whitehead has worked as bodyguard, technology consultant, writer, reporter, photographer and even taxi driver. He has published several short stories on Yahoo Voices and his first novel, tentatively titled Darwin’s Sword will be on bookshelves in November 2012. He lives in Northern Nevada with his wife and their dog. See more at http://www.dlwhitehead.com/ Kelly Garriott Waite’s essays have been published in The Globe and Mail, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Christian Science Monitor, Thunderbird Stories Project, Volume One and in the on-line magazine, Tales from a Small Planet. Her fiction has appeared online in The Rose and Thorn Journal, Front Row Lit and Third Sunday Blog Carnival. See Kelly’s blog: http://writinginthemarginsburstingattheseams.blogspot.com/ Raised in Ottawa, Brian Robertson studied in Toronto and Rio de Janeiro. Currently writing a doctoral thesis in green economics with a German university, Brian has been writing fiction since 2006. In 2010 he won an Award of Artistic Merit from the Rhode Island Writer’s Circle. Since then the university student-run magazine Persephonyx has published two of his short stories (“Confetti” and “Lapse”) and five flash-fiction pieces. Haiku Heute and Lynx Poetry Journal (AHA Poetry) will be publishing some of his Germanlanguage haiku in July and October 2012. Anna Valdez is a first year teacher, first time author, and first time car buyer. She is from Irving, Texas, and currently resides with her family in La Feria, Texas. Linda Boltman’s psychological thriller, Man in the Moon was released by Jigsaw Press in July, 2011. Since that time, Linda has gone on to write seven other eBooks including The Captive, The Copper Box, Lover’s Leap, The Valet of Darkshire Manor, Moon Pies, Plum Loco and The Christmas Challenge, all

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available on Smashwords.com. Her short story, “The Captive,” was selected by San Diego Writer's Ink Anthology, Vol. 4 as one of San Diego's finest writers. Her stories and poetry have been published numerous times in IdeaGems Magazine and Tough Lit in both magazine and e-zine editions in the United States and England. See more at.www.lboltman.blogspot.com/ Bonnie Wheeler, an Okie turned Yankee, writes nonfiction, fiction, plays, and poetry and is currently working on her third novella. She has been featured on the cover of the National Spiritualist Summit Magazine and has published selections in Muses and Memories: An Anthology of Prose Poetry, People Plus News, and multiple Oklahoma and Maine newspapers. She has written, produced, and performed in several plays that debuted locally with Center Stage Players. Bonnie traveled as a Navy wife before settling in Topsham, Maine. She has three nearly perfect children and eight absolutely perfect grandchildren. Eric Bonholtzer’s work has appeared in numerous publications. He is a USC graduate with a Master's Degree in English from the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Eric has received numerous awards for his writing including taking first place in the fiction and poetry categories of the College Language Association Creative Writing Contest as well as receiving the Ted Pugh Poetry Award. His short story collection, The Skeleton’s Closet, is available at Amazon.com, Bn.com, and other retailers. His poetry book, Remnants & Shadows, is also available. Eric’s work has appeared in many anthologies and he is a regular contributor to several national magazines. In addition to writing, Eric is also a successful civil litigation trial attorney. Vince McDermott was born in New Jersey and now lives with his wife in Brunswick, ME. He was a meteorologist for over thirty years, retiring in 1998. Vince writes humorous poetry, pieces on nature, and attempts to write mysteries and comic historical fiction. His inspiration comes from Stephen King, Ogden Nash, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Claudia Aragon is an outstanding storyteller, capturing the nuances of family life and the difficulties of a hard-scrabble existence. Her writing has appeared in The San Diego Reader, The Paper, The Sacramento News and Review, and Green Prints Magazine. Claudia has finished a fantasy novel and is currently working on an adaptation of Frankenstein. She is ghost writing the family history of a well-known resident in her area. She loves writing poetry and is inspired to write every day. Janna Vought graduated summa cum laude from American Public University in May 2011 with a BA in English. She is currently an MFA graduate student at Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri. She attends school online from her home in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs. Her interests include feminist literature and paranormal and occult works. Her nonfiction work has been published in Imperfect Parent Magazine and her poetry has been featured in The Eagle Literary Journal. She currently has several works in all genres submitted for publication. Lela de la Garza is 67 years old and has spent most of those years writing. She recently joined a wonderful writers' group which gave her the initiative to start sending her work out. Lela was born in Denver Co., but has lived in Southwest Texas almost all her life. Currently she resides in San Antonio, TX, with three-and-a-half cats. Tia Stauffer is a recently graduated student of the Class of 2012. She is now attending college where she is majoring in Elementary Education. She loves to sew and someday wishes to own her own business along with having a teaching career. Along with sewing she enjoys reading, writing, working, and hanging out with her friends and family. Charles Moulton has been a professional stage performer since he was 11. Still working in show business, 90 productions later, leaves Charles following in his father's literary footsteps also as a professional writer. Charles is a published author with credits such as the short story “The Bloodhound & the Magician” in Another Wild West (Pill Hill Press), book reviews and articles for The Battle Cry as well as biographical articles for Vocal Images and Hackwriters. Charles is an honors graduate of the Stagnelius High School in Sweden. He studied vocal technique and acting at the Vienna Music Academy. As a performer, he sings in three bands, performs oratories, and plays opera roles. Charles also holds a diploma in Child Psychology. For more, go to: http://www.reverbnation.com/charlesejmoulton

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Tough Lit VII