Page 1

Vol. 1 Issue 1 New York London Hong Kong Philippines

NEW READER MAGAZINE

M U LT I V I S I O N First Contact

The Pure Souls

Oz Martian Federation

page 65

page 175

page 204


The subject of the cover is an interpretation of Janus, the God of Time and Space, who is usually depicted with two faces in antiquity. Here, I gave him/her several faces, being able to look at every kind of perspective and vision. Hence, multi-vision. Other inspiration is the robot from Metropolis (1927), which I thought portrayed a very fitting and retro-futuristic image of a visionary creation, both dangerous and beautiful. —Kring Demetrio, aka The Drawer Kring


editor’s note Aldous Huxley wrote, in The Doors of Perception, that “There are things known and things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” Ours is a world of endless possibilities and infinite doorways of perception. Technology has made it so that we can be everywhere at once; Art has made it so that we can be everyone at once. With all this new technology at our disposal there is, of course, the fear of a Huxlean society of orgy-porgies and feelies—of information saturation so complete that it becomes virtually impossible to separate the essential from the noise meant to mask the machinations of something more sinister crawling around under our civilized spaces. In a world where artificial intelligence and Mars colonies are becoming more fact than science fiction, the challenge is discernment, and it becomes the artist’s goal to keep what makes us human alive and well in our hearts and minds. And perhaps also unwell. The Savage in Brave New World claims for himself the right to be unhappy. “‘The right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat, the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind. I claim them all’.” It is with this end in mind that we curated eighteen stories and fifty-five poems. On the horror of loss—either of identity or of a loved one, Tony Koval’s fiction piece, Amnesia and poem, Goat Song. On the body, the internet, politics, and all the things that plague worried insomniacs, poetry by Richard Miller, Robert Okaji, Deborah Guzzi, Tiny Diapana, Lucia Damacela, and many more. We visit the not-so-distant future of Mars colonies in M. Luke McDonell’s First Contact and Martian Federation’s General Consulate in San Francisco by Olga Zilberbourg. In The Foot Race by John A. Karr and Rob Hartzell’s The Pure Souls, we confront artificial intelligence and what makes us human. If you are looking for comfort, this isn’t the collection for you. But if you want poetry, real danger, freedom, goodness, and sin, then read on, New Reader. Read on.


Amnesia, Goat Song Tony Koval, pp 8

Title Pending, February, Nothing I Can’t Handle Richard Miller, pp 19

The Body Gives, Drawer of Possibilities, and Riddle, Dollar, String Robert Okaji, pp 23

Bird of Joy Toti O Brien, pp 27

Inside Out, The Blurry Eye, and When We Wake Steve Klepetar, pp 40

Mr. Terrific Himself’s Round-the-Clock Heroin Lottery and Moist Greg Rushton, pp 43

The Cutting Arm, A Lasting Rhyme, and The Red Circle of Death Richard King Perkins II, pp 49

Romance Writer, Death Power Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois, pp 53

Music Minus One Sebastian Bennett, pp 55

Rooms, Falls, Dreaming, and The Leaving Part L. Ward Abel, pp 61

First Contact M. Luke McDonell, pp 65

A Saxophonist on Hard Times, A Visit from His Dad, and In the Weight Room John Grey, pp 69


Fort Building Justin W. Price, pp 73

Three Okasans in Gion, Omikuji’s Black Tale, and Nightfall in District 2 Deborah Guzzi, pp 84

Questionable Methodology No. 17 Storming the Castle Colin James, pp 107

Boiling Tinola, Right Words, and Because She Is Not Christian, You Know the Greatest Heartbreak, and On a Single Turn of the Earth Tiny Diapana, pp 109

Taken Away Terry Sanville, pp 89

7am, at Marcos Bridge and Some Days in Corrales Avenue R. Joseph Dazo, pp 95

Bazaar Bizarrerie and Damascene Rose Brandon Marlon, pp 115

The Foot Race John A. Karr, pp 118 Survival Murph Little, pp 99

USA Insomnia Blues, Cloud Meditation, Beyond Beginner’s Mind, and Soul Passages Judy Shepps Battle, pp 103

An Appreciation, Doljabee, The Grace That Others Have, and To All My One-Date Wonders Charles Leggett, pp 137


The Prof Bruce Douglas Reeves, pp 145

Collision Robert Guffey, pp 157

Midnight at the St. Lazare Station Steve Carr, pp 160

Funeral For a Teen, American Desert Dwellers, Fence Post, Flying With Kelp, and At Mr. Nixon’s House Heidi Morell, pp 165

Pipe Rain, To Build a Fire, Reasons to Wear Shoes with Good Support, Batik Therapy, and El Cid Campeador Climbs Eight Flights of Stairs to Rescue Doña Jimena Diaz, His Wife Lucia Damacela, pp 185

Quicksilver Falls Daniel L. Link, pp 192

Oz Martian Federation Olga Zilberbourg, pp 204

Sophia Loren Sprung from Prison Emily Leider, pp 207 Stripy Jerseys, Dreams and Plastic Smiles, and As the River Flows Lynn White, pp 171

The Pure Souls Rob Hartzell, pp 175

Purgatory Don Macha, pp 208

To-Read List Featured Authors, pp 212


Short Story

Amnesia WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

Tony Koval

Kring Demetrio

I’m visiting relatives in the mountains. Or maybe I’m not. I can’t tell you, because I feel a little disoriented. I woke up like this: Here, with these people, in this place that smells like pine bark and camp fires. They call me Samuel. They call me ‘son’. There’s a lady with white hair who says she’s my mom, must be about a hundred years old, and a man who’s around the same age, with a combover so thin it doesn’t need to be combed over, anymore, because it’s not hiding anything, it’s not fooling anybody, but he still does it. I feel about forty-five. No. I am forty-five. I know that. I know that one, for sure. My whole head burns. The lady says I hit my head pretty hard trying to get down a steep hill covered in ice, that she’s sorry my dog died, baby, but they got his body out of the creek and they kept him outside on the patio to freeze him, until I feel better. Says that we can have the funeral, later, and that this is my aunt, and this is my uncle, and this is my mother, and that we’re in the woods. And that she’s sorry. She’s very sorry. And am I okay? And I look so lost. And Jesus Christ, my head hurts. I can taste copper. She’s cleaning blood off me. I’m aware, but I’m not aware. I know my head is killing me. When I wash my face, I see the damage in the mirror: I look like Mike Tyson handed me my ass. They give me painkillers and Tylenol, and I stare out the window at the snow, and I wonder how long until I can be alone. They tell me we can’t go to the hospital. They say we’re snowed in on the mountain, again. Again, like this happens all the time. I get to know my hands. I look at them and see they have callouses. Thick ones, like I do a lot of intensive labor. I look down at my hands and I can taste hay and dust in my mouth, and the word Wyoming. When everybody’s sleeping, I take my phone into the woods to try and get a signal. They said I won’t find one anywhere. That doesn’t keep me from trying, anyway. Nothing better to do. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 9


Short Story

That’s when I see somebody. Out here. Somebody out here in the woods. I was told there was nobody. I shout, “Are you lost?!” And he doesn’t shout back. I think he can’t hear me. It’s cold. It’s snowed in. I get closer. So does he. I stop. So does he. I lift my hand. He lifts his, too. I realize that he’s not waving. Very slowly, I hoist my phone up. Very slowly, he hoists his phone up, too, and the screen shines at me like a white fire. I fucking run. *

*

*

As scared as I am I have to prove to myself that it’s just my imagination, that it’s just my head injury, that these people that are giving my dog this funeral, that say they’re related to me, that these are real people and that I’m a real person and that they aren’t fucking liars who shot my god damned dog. Because I remember my dog. I just don’t remember how we got here. I charge my phone. I’m going to get this guy on video. This way, I think, I can watch it, later. If he isn’t on the video later, and I’m just watching a video of nothing but snow and tree bar, then I know it’s not real, at all, and that I really have did do a number on my head when I tried to get down the snow bank to save my dog from an icy creek (or some fucking shit; what did they say it was?) The thing about this is when they have this funeral, it’s wrong. It’s like Max was a people, which Max was. Dogs should have funerals, but you don’t understand . . . They tell me not to look inside the fucking box. They tell me not to, but I do it, anyway, because I’m fucking me, and I’m an idiot, and I’ll do just about anything somebody says not to do. But also because I want to see my dog. He’s about all that’s familiar. They all wear black to the funeral: All seven of the bastards, like a bunch of fucking creeps, and I’m standing there by my mom in her black dress, and I’m in my tan, corduroy jacket with the sheep’s wool insides, and who the fuck wears black to a dog’s funeral. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 10


Short Story

I try not to think about how Max’s head is bent at a weird angle. I wonder if all dogs who drown in ice water get their heads canoed out and have buckshot stuck in them. I wonder what Max was barking at, when I started chasing him. I’m starting to remember, and I remember that I was chasing him, and he was hollering, and that these people weren’t in my fucking cabin. They weren’t there before, but they’re here, now, and she always looks so fucking hurt. It’s dark, when I leave, again. Everybody is sleeping. They don’t trust me to go out of the house without them. They tell me that it’s for my own good, that they don’t want me to wander and get hurt, again, or lost, because I still don’t remember everything, and these woods are new to me. They tell me they’ll take me out, later, if I want to go out. I’m professionally fucking escorted. My mom’s a complete stranger. I can’t remember her, at all. She holds my forearm all the time. It’s like a cold, white vice. I sit in bed, rock, and cry, before I leave. I’m still drying my tears, when I tie my hair back against my neck and pull on my corduroy coat and my baseball cap, pull on my hiking boots, and I go back out, without the seven dwarves. That’s what I’ve been calling them. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I would have just stayed in the cabin and trusted them to take care of me. But I’m pig-headed. I’m stupid. Now, I’m in a whole lot of fucking trouble. I go back out in the woods, where I saw him the first time, and he was there, again, like a chalky, black ghost, like a charcoal smudge. Like the last time, I move and he moves. In the dark and the snow, with my phone as the only light, I piss myself. I record him, as I approach, and my piss is stuck in my jeans, gets cold against my leg, then starts freezing. My jeans get crackly and hard and stiff. I tried to move, and can’t. My legs don’t feel heavy. They feel stuck. They feel like if I wanted to move, I couldn’t. I tell my brain to move and it won’t let me. So, he records me, too. He holds his phone up and records me recording him, and I think maybe he’s trying to get some insurance, same as me, so I shout, “I’m coming that way!” He doesn’t run. In fact, he doesn’t move until I move, and he’s totally quiet.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 11


Short Story

Very slowly, we come together and put our hands on one another’s hands, and I shouldn’t have done it. I wish I could take it all back. I wish I could just go back and ignore him. But that’s the thing about choices, I guess: You can’t unmake them. My phone clacks against glass. Clear, industrial glass, like a giant mirror. I shouldn’t be out, walking in the woods, and that much is very, very clear, when I realize that this man who looks like me actually is me, and I’m staring up the side of the biggest mirror I’ve ever seen, and that this must be where the world ends. It’s like the edge of a videogame, where the programmer stops the map. Jesus fucking Christ.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 12


Poetry

Goat Song dear adam, they find you with your head blown out down by the pond where

you’re in it with your neck bent back from the kick and you’re slumped slightly, totally relaxed:

your step dad likes to fish.

you could be sunbathing in the

it’s in the neighborhood, between all the houses. it’s a secret pond.

sweet, oklahoma spring, when the flowers are all in bloom in the low, electric buzz of butter yellow sunshine

the gravel has your bones and blood and brains in it. your cracked cellphone. trash from your last meal: a butterfinger wrapper. it’s a good neighborhood. sorry for stealing your shirts. you’re in that lawn chair— the one you carried under your arm walking.

but your brother’s hunting shotgun: the mossberg. --[the kind of jokes we make at a funeral] me: i have a hole in my heart. her: at least it’s not a hole in your head. me: lol im dying stop her: you know who isn’t dying? her: adam. because he’s dead. me: ROARING WITH LAUGHTER.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 13


Poetry

please --dear adam, a list: [i.] --i’m keeping your ashes in my camera bag next to my lenses in my camera bag. and my camera bag in my satchel next to a vial more of your ashes. people, other people, they don’t do things like this. probably going to get another speech about how you can’t have conversations about autocannibalism at the dinner table. me and you always did things other people don’t do. and we were supposed to be SAFE together.

like that summer you spent avoiding any human contact. and nobody noticed: how you said nobody said anything and so nobody must have noticed. you and me laying in bed and we’re talking and staring at the ceiling. we’re laughing, again, and it’s t minus four months it’s t minus three months and counting it’s two and one and lift off and, god, you’re dead. i walk in with groceries. and he says, ‘adam’s dead.’ i laugh like it’s a joke. but his face looks so serious. and suddenly it’s not so fucking funny. i message you on facebook to tell you that you’re dead and to tell you fuck you

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 14


Poetry

[your mom fucking reads it because you left your facebook logged in you fucking cunt and now she knows i message dead people to scream at them about how much i hate them for dying while i’m chain-smoking cigarettes and slamming my fingers on the keyboard.

i read her dr. seuss over and over, again. and everybody’s so apologetic they keep saying things like, ‘we know he was your soul mate; you two WERE just alike.’] WERE. [how am i supposed to be okay, now?] i can’t separate from you from me or me from your ashes.

now she’s seen my ugly and my raw and she’s listened to every song i ever wrote for you at stupid 2 AM, heard us sharing our wavering weird voices and plucking on our stupid fucking guitars: this was my fucking secret. it was for you.

[i always said my grandmother was a fucking crazy bitch for keeping her dead dog in an urn: you’re not a dog, but i keep toting you around in my fucking bag. at least my crazy grandma just stuck the urn on a shelf.

i can’t look at her. and she keeps telling me she loves me just the way i am. as if i’ve never heard that before. as if people don’t love weird things. weird things not weird people. and i know she’s trying to use me as a stand-in thing for you. like she can just love me enough to make me you. i’m the only person she will talk to. i’m the only person she wants to see.

but me? i’m pretending we’re still young, pretending that you in your little vial is as good as holding hands. pretending it’s that summer we changed each other, forever. that summer you told all your friends about that summer you told people built you. and does that mean i built you? does that mean this is my fault?]

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 15


Poetry

i know i’m supposed to toss you from a mountain or shake you into the ocean like pepper or scatter you over a cliff into a wind and let you go: some symbol or something; like, ‘dear adam, you’re finally free.’ dear adam, i can’t let you go.

[ii.] ---

---------

forget me.

[iii.] ---

i’m begging you.

winter, again, and the faucet is

time and time, again, forget me consciously. forget me aggressively.

dripping thoughts of you

forget me in the hazy underhush. forget me, dancing, in the midnight sun.

forget me on hilltops or in mouthy caves that bellow back, echoing, answering throaty-deep when you whisper into

forget me during wednesday sunsets that are colored like macaroni and cheese crayolas and day glo orange nail polish. forget me in the snow or forget me in the spring or forget me in the summer, fall or . . .

---------

forget me roughly and meanly. live in ways that make you never think never consider never come back to thoughts of me.

their great, black maws when you laugh loudly down their jagged throats into their ice-wall bellies.

again 3 AM and my magic brain has woke me full force with movie reels. 3 AM and my inner demons have rung my phone and shook me woke to pitch me movie scenes of you

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 16


Poetry

AGAIN

AGAIN

and the fucking faucet is

AGAIN

chinese water torture

AGAIN

AGAIN

AGAIN

on my forehead

AGAIN.

AGAIN

---------

against my temples.

[dear adam, YOU’RE SUCH A FUCKING LIAR. YOU FUCKING FUCK.] ---

AGAIN and it’s

he says, ‘yeah, whatever. wait! well, nevermind. i’m pretty much okay. most of the time.’

3 AM drips steadily into AGAIN 4 AM with me wincing and blinking every wet slap to the empty sink like a reminder that time is passing like the clocks on walls when i am six and AGAIN I AM tired. i am so tired.

he says, ‘you know me. i’m pretty much the same. people can go blow me. i haven’t slept in days.’ he says, ‘i know you. i know you’re not okay. stop acting like you’re one of them! stop lying to my face!’ he says, ‘yeah, dude, i understand. no, bro, it’s okay.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 17


Poetry

naw, man, don’t worry: i have my good and bad days.’ --------forget me like a fight. push me away. kick me in the dirt. tell me to ‘get’ like this is some movie about the dog who won’t leave. ‘i don’t even want you anyway! just go! get! go! get outta here you stupid dog!’

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 18


Poetry

Title Pending WORDS BY Richard Miller

This municipal park air turns everything it touches to pudding skin. And visions of sugarplums dancing on the head of a thumb drive... We mark the pathway back, though by now that way has gone viral, and like everything else, will soon leave us starved. And winter is an unkempt beard, you know that right? Certain screws need tightened. Certain senses, heightened. Moving on to other ailments... Love and the bread-and-butter assortment of petty anxieties.

decks out in moth dust and goes pitter-pattering through the pagan night. I’ve practically given up on my right to grievous self-expression, I’m that dumb and particular. A variegated shame. I’d like to pause here a moment and enjoy the lonesomeness of this sphere. Yes, nothing here but lonesomeness. Lithe, tempestuous lonesomeness...

We get wilted and go on beating about the ragged expanse of brittle grass and jungle gyms, leaving footprints in the snow like notes on a score. And yet each step still lacks music... The noble power to thaw... No mention of spontaneous combustion in the forecast, only false starts and faces, imaginary places where everyone

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 19


Poetry

February Everything was as it had been, but I nevertheless felt changed. We’d arranged for a cab to take us back to the hotel. Notes from the undertow rang like a clock a fresh hell from the outset. So we set down the setbacks, the cracks in our feet slowly growing into ravines. The cocktails couldn’t save us. We craved something greater. All around, the shade issued forth violet tendrils, swirling slowly and silently around the snow-smelling air. We idled on the sidewalk, trading drags of a cigarette that had long since grown stale, wondering how things came to this. We watched the whole city calcify. Something had died that day and we stood at the heart of it. We departed with eyes closed into a disordered winter, hands clasped together, but not so tightly.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 20


Poetry

Nothing I can’t handle Through agitated amplifiers, older songs come dressed in more modern attire. Not too modern, otherwise we wouldn’t recognize them. They move their hands over their faces, coyly, and sashay their way into the dance halls of every major city. Something shitty in the air beats my sinuses to a pulp. We fill our glasses with craft brewed beer and gulp it down with the gusto only we impoverished by the present are capable of. And then it happens— I’m seized by the inescapable feeling that in the foreseeable future, memory will unravel into an irrevocable havoc and since I was dumb enough to let it happen, my penance will be to tread the waters of this peculiar chaos until my arms put in their two weeks’ notice and the darkness swallows me whole. It’s not that I fear the darkness, it’s just that it’s disheartening. Especially that darkness that slowly eats away at every human heart until only waste and void remain. The feeling leaves a stain over the moment, a gooey stain like rancid jelly, and once again, I’m stuck on cleaning duty. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 21


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 22


Poetry

The Body Gives WORDS BY

PHOTO BY

Robert Okaji

Kitti Bowornphatnon

Sometimes the body gives too much. A tendon frays, the heart mumbles and no one sees the damaged parts. Ignoring pain, we continue climbing ladders, sandpaper breath rasping the morning light. Little bits of us crumble all the time, yet we stumble on, pretending. Then the body kills us with its enthusiasm. Cells duplicate wildly, plaque explodes. This enmity within? Defensive maneuvers.

through a snow-clad afternoon at eight thousand feet. Among the grocery’s tomatoes and squash approaching the end of a long list. At the bar, glass in hand, or in a truck at a four-way stop, the radio blaring. Time enough for speculation, they say. But I wonder: when I jump, does the earth always rise to greet me?

Working alone, I wonder where I might end. On the floor. In a field. Atop the bed. Under the surface of a rippling pond or drifting with smoke

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 23


Poetry

Drawer of Possibilities In the drawer of possibilities you find stasis, the lure of the unknown. To what should this hinged orb be subservient? Or that wrinkled blade? An egg, the bald potato. The sacrificial carrot? To everything its purpose. Like that light in the crook of the altered frame, attracting the winged beings. You, of course, serve nothing.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 24


Poetry

Riddle, Dollar, String Living between, she pretends the comfort of walls within walls, the unseen’s dispensation. A slow dragging. The raked leaves. And all the naked oaks bowing to the wind, feeling the scratch of impending growth, the twig’s pearl poised to push through this mask, stolen sounds dotting the morning. Later, watching lizards on the wall or the haze of bees surrounding the agave. No one pays. Limestone. Mulch. Light. Unformed thoughts snaking through. Like that line wrapped around her waist, another purpose only she could explain.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 25


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 26


Short Story

Bird of Joy WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

Toti O’Brien

Kring Demetrio

I’ll never forget the joy when the sledge took up speed, and we realized we had made it. Yes, we were together and safe, headed no-matter-where as long as it was away. The animals were draped on our laps, braided in a harmonious wreath. All looked good at the moment. I had only provided the rodent (what was it, small sable, rare weasel?) and the bird, which I stubbornly called ‘dove’ but didn’t look like one. Maybe a hybrid of sorts? Slender, curvy, its plumage strangely mottled. I was fond of it. Carefully I brushed its wing with my fingertip, afraid it might fly—but now it was at rest, wrapped around the rodent, this last wrapped around the flamingo. The flamingo necked with the piglet, which cuddled with the pelican. A medium-sized turtle and a fawn completed the set. Thus the Queen had procured five pieces—no wonder. She was older, stronger, smarter than me. But she loved me and it was all that counted. I reciprocated her feeling. Pure joy. Exuberant, bubbling, it was piercing my skin like a bunch of arrows… what a pleasant itch. The world around us looked pristine, sparkling with contrast. The Queen’s raven hair, with her white streak—a tattoo making her unique, unmistakable—almost glittered. My hair, less dramatic, was sufficiently in tune. Plain white—I’m the albino gal with faded lashes, invisible brow, freckled skin, eyes the color of chowder. Way less striking, I admit, than my partner. But this morning I matched her—like a minor chord allowing the theme to unfold and resolve. The glory of the present success wasn’t mine. I had only followed orders. Waited for nighttime. Ignored the rain. Picked a lock. Unplugged the alarm. Stolen the bike with the large front basket. And in the meanwhile didn’t think, didn’t flinch, forgot about fear. Wasn’t it easier than I thought? Not sure, but the animals gave me courage. I wrapped them in a towel Mom had given me. Rough linen—perhaps a bit prickly. So thick it would feel like a nest, I figured. It would keep them cozy, also dull the sound if they’d make any. And I liked the towel. I always carried it with me like a talisman. It was printed in gaudy colors, and it represented the province Mother came from (as I did). The island that doesn’t exist any more—

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 27


Short Story

one of the first regions to sink. When evacuation was ordered Mom refused to leave. She wasn’t alone. As I said the Queen’s older than me. More experienced. She could be my mother, or else a big sister. All the doors were marked. On the bike I kept my head down, trying to concentrate on the pavement, not to lose my balance, pedal as fast as I could. But I saw red patterns with my peripheral vision. Blood? Bullshit. They just wanted us to believe it. Rhetoric intended to scare us—that’s all. So much like them, such trickery of dubious taste. Who knows what they used in order to obtain the dark crimson, the irregular texture… Didn’t look like spray paint. The effect—creepy—because of the quantity—massive—the mere repetition—imagining—as if—a legion of demons— Legion Legion The ominous word Lambs A lamb would have been nice. None was around—I’m sure—or the Queen… She collected a fawn (still a ruminant), a flamingo and a turtle, a pig and a pelican. While I contributed a rodent (thus small mammals were covered) plus a cute, nondescript bird. Enough for a start. I mean a segue. Nothing pulled the sledge. Animals, as I said, were safely inside—we were rescuing them. No engine, no—I doubt fuel could be found anywhere. Sails were up. The wind blew vivaciously. It still does and (the Queen says) won’t cease any soon, while the rain subsided at sunrise in favor of this icy sparkle. Would the joy resist a downpour? Be there after darkness falls? Don’t anticipate. I was getting the most of it in the present moment. Who cared about later, as long as the creatures were fine? Warm and breathing. Alive. Past the south gate, straight on. I see where we might be directed, though the land-shift is so rapid by now, geography has become unreliable—a guessing game. The isthmus might have already split . . . we are fighting with time. Destination, anyway, is hypothetical. News have been polluted, then frankly withheld when power needed no more compromise. We don’t have detailed information about what’s happening south of the isthmus. We know about the shifts—the huge, accelerated motion of tectonic plates sliding. And the sudden collapses, sunken islands and coasts. This is history already. As both transportation and communication started failing—people busy with exodus and loss… Why am I saying? Doesn’t anyone know? Just as all know who profited of tragedy—those who do not care of tomorrows, who—I must have heard it somewhere—“sing and dance at the edge of the chasm.” NEW READER MAGAZINE | 28


Short Story

How appropriate a metaphor… if you think of the isthmus, cracked open. Only they (our specific looters, our own local buzzers) don’t sing or dance. They stay inside, snug, comfortable as— unexpected after so much melting—this terrible winter has come. It is killing many. Not them. They have barricaded themselves into mansions the telluric rumpus has spared. Double walled, armed sentries polka-dotting the stuccoed facades. What do they do inside? They consume whatever resource they have sacked from terrified us, as they realized we’d soon lack it all. They are hastening the end. Isn’t it a classic scenario? Indeed. Just like war. But no war is needed. They have kept us at stake with a hastily declared Martial law. They have weapons. We, the common folks, were taken off guard—busy escaping, relocating, grieving. Adapting. Now I guess we have adapted to them. Not quite. Some of us still believe this might be circumscribed. Could there be a haven somewhere? An area, a region, a town where a different story took place? A place where perhaps people shared? Helped their neighbor. To tell you the truth, what the two of us care for are the animals. They (they) are eating whatever still moves. They are killing what cold hasn’t yet. They have weapons. They shoot and devour. They’ll end up feeding on their kin, I’m afraid, but I’m not contemplating it yet. Does the Queen? No. Slaughtering animals is as bad as it gets… You can wait for the end, or else you trace the finish line. Sanctuary. One must exist. We will make one, as we get out of reach. Maybe we won’t be pursued. Maybe—this is why the exhilaration—we are free. If only those pets could survive. Sanctuary. Colors aren’t absent, just pale. The change has been gradual—yet, within due proportion, quite fast. Those sparse fir trees aren’t black. Look again—they are barely soaked in sepia, enough to remind you of green. You hold on this chromatic suggestion as for someone losing her sight, glad for whatever hint… We are losing our sight. Collectively. Slowly. These poor conifers are mnemonics of green— like a picture book damped in water, ink melting away. We have got months of downpour, I said, yet the fading colors—this change in refraction, this shift in the air carrying light waves, in light waves themselves, molecules falling off sync, fragile mechanics destroyed—isn’t due to the rain. But rain and the fading are symptoms of a same dysfunction. That’s why neither pig nor flamingo is pink, though I see them that way… I imagine them shiny and throbbing, cartoonish, psychedelic. They are a slushy caramel, naked, vaguely indecent. It isn’t their fault. *

*

*

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 29


Short Story

The above—some of it—is a lie. Well, almost. I was trying a larger scenario, something less domestic, less trivial, I could frame our breakout within. I was making it up while joy filled my lungs, fueled my imagination. You heard me think, that’s all. Let me put it straight. Then, of course, believing me or not is up to you. I know—once you lose credibility… Listen—some of the above is pure fantasy, and some is the truth. We have run away, undeniably. We are running still. There’s no “they”—or there is, but only consists of the Institute administrators, directors, employees. These last are instructors and counselors, nurses, evaluators, and guards. Yes, it is a correctional. A kind of rehab as well. It is private, which allows for blurred contours. You are right—we were basically inmates and we have evaded. Which means we better get going, try to pass the border as soon as we can. It is true we have been out of touch with the news. No internet, no television, no phones. Sounds like extreme measures, but I have told you where we belonged, have I? We got information, yet filtered. It’s a contradiction in terms. What is filtered doesn’t inform—it is already formed. It’s a fairytale like the one I freshly concocted, only way more boring. We stopped paying attention on day one. The island sank and Mother did stay. Kataria and I had left already, ferried to the mainland, come into the capital, started fooling around. Mother had given up on us years earlier. I suspect she was relieved when we went—we were quite untenable. We weren’t relieved about Mother’s. It was very sad and I rarely think of it. The sinking occurred days before we were caught. It’s the last piece of news I recall in full Technicolor, so to speak. The last I remember, perhaps not the last I heard. Our arrest wasn’t immediate, but from then on things seem to fall apart. Also dull away, as if a giant eraser were blotting them, making a whole mess of the page. This rag, yes, belonged to Mom, and the map on it pictures the island. I have always liked it. I snapped it from where it hung, damp and soiled—on the morning when Kataria and I took off. And I grabbed a pig… the bank Mother kept on a kitchen shelf. Piggy shaped. How naïve she was, how predictable. I snatched it by instinct, wrapped it into the towel. We crushed it just around the corner, filled our pockets with heavy and unpractical coins, but they were enough for the boat. I crumpled the towel, shoved into my backpack. I have it still. Some things stick. Truth can overdose you. Like me, take a breath. The air is so crystalline it fosters contrast, I said. You know how it happens… Light draws a thin halo around things, and the edges shine. It’s all about contour, like meticulously cutting figurines with sharp scissors. Cutting them one by one, and all becomes clear. I am thirsty for neatness. It rests my brain. Kataria, the Queen, is my sister. She isn’t older. I am. We have always been close. She loves me and that makes me happy. I reciprocate her feelings. Is she smarter? Hard to say. I’m supposed to be the smart one. Taller, yes, and more beautiful—it takes little effort. She has the raven hair with the white streak, since birth.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 30


Short Story

My diminutive size comes with my albino looks—two facets of the same malfunction (should I call it so?) Mom and unknown Dad have passed down. Apparently, that ticktack bomb decided to explode for me only, just brushing Kataria on the side. Her discoloration—a star on a racehorse’s forehead—is all she got. No symptoms so far. Looks didn’t truly matter in the life we led—not back in the island, where we grew up unleashed, single Mom incapable of reining us. Even less since we came North and so-called urbanized ourselves. Or maybe looks counted… they came handy. All considered, I think my freakish allure made me fit for the role I played. Without need for tattoos or piercing, I was naturally outlandish and so was Kataria, in a different way. We kind of completed each other, the sisters. Yes, the weather has changed. Don’t know about land shifting or continents cracking. Such things could have happened after the island sank. Explanations about it were contradictory and vague. I heard theories I didn’t quite ponder. Reality was shocking enough. Then, again, we were soon caught and news was withheld since. It was sparsely injected, so useless and fake, any average brain would just block it. Queen and I lost track of the world. We stuck with inside trivia. But no doubt the weather has changed. It has rained for three hundred and sixty-five days. I don’t know what happened with the oceans out there. We will find out. I have picked a lock, stolen a bike. It wasn’t Kataria’s idea. I instructed Kataria, and as usual we acted in tune. Which is what makes us an unbeatable team—this concerted soul we possess, how well we harmonize. Not a glitch. Few people can function this way. They all diverge at some point and that’s when the mess occurs. We are one. How come we were caught? Not by our mistake. Remember? The island was gone. That must have rattled us quite a bit. Yes, it must. But today! All went slickly like butter on toast. Where’s the towel? I’m burying my face in it, breathing… Not a scent, not even an animal one. Are we losing olfact as well? Nothing was painted on doors. When I rode, at dawn… The rain had miraculously stopped, as if this all was planned, not just by the two of us. As if our story belonged to a larger frame, I was telling. Wait. While I rode I looked down, slaloming among pond-sized puddles, attentive to muddy spots. Aiming at the driest segments of concrete, as if wading on rocks. I barely noticed the town. It slid by—a vague, slightly frightening movie. I had missed it for quite a while. I had seen it from windows, in pictures. I had not been in it, submerged by its vastness—a goldfish tossed from its glass bowl into the ocean, scared, agoraphobic, at loss. I purposely didn’t pay heed to the landscape, if not to make sure I’d get where I should. I had foreseen disorientation. I had figured out every turn I’d take, over and over and over. Believe me, I had rehearsed. I had had all the time in the world. Nothing was painted on doors that I know. Why would it? It’s a piece of fantasy I gathered from Bible studies (the most boring of our forced routines). No crimson, especially. Not that I could tell. Oh, the petting zoo. It saved the day and got you going.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 31


Short Story

We had grown up with animals. Mom didn’t possess a farm, but we were surrounded by them. And of course by wilderness. Then, I’m the perfect size for horse riding, which I have done for cash since early teen age. Going to the hippodrome at the break of dawn, providing the animals with the first bout of exercise, substituting for busier and better-paid jokers. Of course we had cats and dogs. Mom was permissive with pets, though she didn’t raise a finger to help. Poor thing. The two of us were a mouthful. And we didn’t need her. Our pets were our babies. We had canaries and parakeets. Goldfish and turtles. Baby goats, ducks, and rabbits until they came of age. The entire array of rodents—mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, even a squirrel. We stopped short of monkeys, iguanas, and snakes. Such exotic stuff costs an arm and a leg, and Mom would have lost it for good. Oh, the petting zoo, pathetic and dear. It was in a shed, the shed in one of the courtyards. It stunk. I wished they had assigned some of us to the cleaning. We would have done a better job. Barely supervised (one guard for the whole place, which articulated in sections—not all cages and playgrounds simultaneously visible) we had an hour to sit and play, cajole and caress, feed a leaf of lettuce or a bunch of seeds, stay put, contemplate. The visits were optional. You signed up on the schedule affixed at the door. You could sign for every day of the week if open spots were available. Someone would pick you up at the appointed time. You’d be escorted to the place, then left on your own. A guard would be at the door, dead bored—or daydreaming, perhaps. Weren’t they afraid we might damage pets? Hurt them? You are kidding, my friend. No one in the establishment would have. I mean none of the inmates. They (the instructors and such) knew it perfectly well. As time went the animals got scarcer and scarcer. A sign, but of what? Budgets cuts. A slack in educational planning or therapeutic policies. Was it something occurring outside? In the larger frame I was mentioning. Extinction. At such pace? That would sound far-fetched. But animals wound down to nothing. We have salvaged whatever was left. Sledges with sails wind can propel on land (even on muddy, slimy, swampy country roads) don’t exist. The car was in the shed where we had left it on the fated morning. A miracle. A can of gas was on the side. The car’s body was rustier, the sunroof wide open and stuck. No big deal as long as it wasn’t raining. It would not for a while, said Kataria licking the tip of her finger, then feeling the air as the fishermen did back home. Wishful thinking—but then she’s a happy lark. We will get as far as the gas does, unless this trap dies for a different reason. It slept in the shed for more than two years (thank god it was spared the rain). But it started off the bat. Boom. A prodigy. I heard you. As if all was planned, as if it belonged into a larger frame. My lies... To end straightening them (I might forget some, it’s a work in progress), I am the one who can’t see colors. I used to. I still grasp a little. It’s a work in progress. *

*

*

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 32


Short Story

Why is the gas never-ending? Because we drove smoothly, always in the fourth gear. By the sun, it’s late afternoon. We still have a quarter. The air is cooling. We are wearing all clothes we possess. We have blankets—one each. We are heading south, right? Strange. Slight traces of snow are showing at the roadside… as if maybe, over here, rain hadn’t been so constant. Or it had ceased earlier—time for the barometer to drop a few grades. We aren’t ready for driving on snow. We are ready for nothing, in fact. Food. Oh my. I have left nourishment to improvisation, did I? Not the only item I omitted to plan. What about money? Overall I didn’t think further than to where the gas would lead us. At the wheel, Kat is whistling a song I recall, but the title escapes me—which of course drives me nuts, but keeps me awake. The animals, I said, are wrapped around, across, and within each other—on the dashboard, squeezed against the windshield. The glass pane is chilly, but I guess the tightness makes them feel secure. Otherwise, the wind blasting through the sunroof would blow them away. While I’m not surprised flamingo and pelican stay (they are lazy, having been caged for so long), I am stunned my bird didn’t attempt a move. While Kat salvaged the petting zoo, I got my samples in nature—in the flower patch beside the building. I hurried over as soon as I passed the door before heading toward the street. I spotted them in minutes. I suspect the bird might be wounded, though no injury is visible. Both of them must have been paralyzed by the dampness stuck in their tiny bones. Freezing, almost hibernating. That is why they’ve allowed me to pick them up—easy, as if they were stuffed toys. We will take care of them, I promise. I’ve been watching the needle. I have nothing to do besides glancing at this or that—the landscape, the road, Kataria’s profile, our seven puppies in turns and the dashboard lights, obviously. All this staring takes an incredible effort, and it keeps me alert. I have been watching the needle—my heart steady and firm. I know how to keep it that way. I have worked on it. Got an early start—maybe when I decided to ride horses, without much of a training, also knowing how frail are my bones. I was sure they would hire me because of my size. Subs for jokers are often teen and female. There isn’t a bunch of competition. Still my looks don’t exactly open doors. Didn’t, in the island at least. My looks helped, indeed, the heart-steadying techniques that I learned so well. I know how to make myself unattainable. Waterproof, deaf to comments and stares, impervious to those feelings people toss at you without seemingly doing a thing—yet as lethal as poisoned arrows or stones. Well, the fastening of innards (heart… and stomach, liver, guts, kidneys as well) turned useful when we came to town and had to fend for ourselves. I had developed a pretty cold blood without knowing it.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 33


Short Story

Picture this. Before passing the front door (getting out of bed, if you wish), I fasten my heart (the real thing) with four giant safety pins. Visualize them. Watch metal pierce flesh, come across, get out the other side, hook a rib (they are tiny, like fingers). I repeat the procedure three more times—yes, the thing looks pointy, but it has four chambers and you need to hang them all. I proceed with millimetric attention, do not omit a jota. It is painless and foolproof. Before heading outside, I clip my heart in place, metaphorically. Then I am invincible. Was I saying? I have been watching the needle with my usual poise, and yet with great focus. I don’t want the engine to sputter, spatter, exhale—not of its own will and not in the middle of the lane. I want to find a place, get there with the last drop of gasoline, park. Here we go. A small lateral path leads into the forest. There is an abandoned picnic area. We avoid benches and tables, spread a blanket on the ground, save the other for cover. It must shield nine of us… but these puppies are small, and so am I. The silence is thick and quite beautiful. Kataria has stopped singing. She hasn’t said a word for the last few hours, which is usual and not at all worrisome. Her face is as calm as the moon. Is there one, by the way? The thinnest of slices, a mere beginning. Suddenly, the joy has resumed. Fatigue—not exhilaration—brought it up. What am I tired of? I didn’t drive a mile. Well, I have done a lot—the biking for instance, then looking. It is darn tiresome, alas. Still, the joy has resumed for no reason. But the missing of food smacks at me like a well-deserved blow. Idiot. Why didn’t I? A cramp stops my brooding… my period is coming. No, I couldn’t predict it. It isn’t periodic. It does vanish for a while, then catch up on me like private Niagara Falls when it so decides. Tonight, why not? I look at the moon’s nonchalant, subtle wink. Can’t believe it might responsible for the flood about to be expressed by my uterus. I haven’t thought of pads either. All of this seemed collateral. I am sure the Queen and I could fast for a couple of days. We have more than once, though not quite intentionally. But the animals! How could I have been so negligent? The Queen whistles, softly. She startles me. She is holding the pig in her lap. I am sure she trusts I… Does she expect me to make a basket of goodies materialize? I burn with humiliation. Cool dawn. I will explain. She will understand. We will figure out something. She will. She has pulled the box out of her pack without me noticing. Looking forward to a little fun, then. I feel dampness between my thighs. Though I’m sitting, the pain in my pelvis pulls me down. I am tired again. *

*

*

Celia has asked me to bring the makeup set. It is small, a diminutive box I mindlessly lifted—an eye-see-hand-catches reflex, spinal level—at a 99-cent store, shortly before the arrest. Didn’t get a chance to use it for the last couple of years, but they let me keep it. Doesn’t come with a brush.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 34


Short Story

Nothing pointy I could stick in somebody’s eye. It comes with a minuscule pad of foam. Why did I feel an urge to snatch it? Well, the spread of colors, of course. Rainbows are irresistible. I don’t think Celia could make out the shades even then. They must have already looked quite mushy. For sure she can’t tell them now, but when she gave me instructions she insisted for me to get this item—so much, I understood she had a thing in mind. Today, while I drove, she specified. Here we go. I think it is time, before all of daylight fades away. I know it doesn’t matter, but I want to see what I’m doing. I will start with a sedated, natural layer, complementing the amber of her freckles. Olive green on her eyelids. Periwinkle and grey closer to the temples. A charcoal line under her non-existent brow. Hazelnut above it. She is pointing to another, yet another tab, like a four-year old. I think she wants them all. Then I’m not going to stop. Her skin has grown smoother. I hadn’t noticed yet. It is silky, slippery, and cold. She is relaxed. I guess the small circles I draw with the tip of my fingers sooth her. As she asks for more I’m going baroque, painting her like if she was a goddess. Or an Egyptian queen. Wait, that isn’t possible—I am the Queen. She wouldn’t want this to change. I am painting as if the halves of her face were butterfly wings. That she would like. Of course, she has kept her eyes closed and we haven’t talked. We don’t have to. What Celia has been telling you isn’t the truth. Well it partially is, and I don’t wish to contradict her. Let me fix a detail or two. I’m younger only in the sense I came out first. She was conceived earlier, therefore she sat on top—so to speak. I was closer to the exit. With twins, things get uselessly twisted. First born, first conceived… strange primacies. Celia often discussed the topic. She might need some kind of logic to make sense of the smacking gap between us. Dizygotic twins aren’t identical, but our case is extreme due to the illness—which doesn’t depend on delivery, or on any suffering she might have endured while lagging behind, in the second row. The thing is inherited, and because we didn’t belong in the same egg we got distinct sets of chromosomes—genes—alleles—name-it. Perhaps. The malady isn’t well researched. Not at all, indeed. It has quite a peculiar name. I should let Celia tell you. *

*

*

The illness’ name is unspeakable. It belongs to the doctor (German? Dutch? Scandinavian?) who figured it out. It sounds like the intermingling of two animals, which don’t quite go together. I don’t ever speak it out loud. Rare, uncharted syndromes (when they become popular they get a nickname folks can repeat and remember) are named by the scholar who found them. Which is kind of unfair, because what discoverers do? They detect some cells under a microscope, weirdly acting or looking. They

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 35


Short Story

observe a few patients, collect data and symptoms. It’s not as if they climbed a mountain, stuck a flag on its top. Diseases should be named by those suffering them. Those living with them, dying or not. There’s a bunch of sufferer, kid—how should we choose one? Whoever first tells the story. The first one who speaks. Then it is his sickness. Her story. *

*

*

You have gotten off topic, Celia. And I know you don’t care about the illness’ name. Or about the illness, in fact. It was barely a deal until colors faded. Your small size and white hair were cool, or so you let us believe. But the loss of sight poked a hole. I’d say ‘I know’ although I can’t imagine. Loss of tone, loss of contour. The fuzziness drove you crazy. For a while you didn’t tell me. I had noticed—vaguely—you spent lots of time touching pets. Then, what’s a petting zoo for? Sitting there, smoothing the back of delighted suckers, trying to surprise the reluctant ones before they’d run away. What caught my attention was how long you tormented the turtle. The poor thing must have hated it. You cornered it against the retaining fence, kept it as a prisoner, lingered on her scales, tracing them as if trying to memorize a code of vital importance. Your doing didn’t look affectionate, not even pleasurable. I started wondering. *

*

*

I was losing my sense of depth, Kataria. It is scarier than you would imagine. It makes moving around hard and frightening. That is why I was terrified biking, this morning. The ride took the breath out of me. When we met at the shed I was about to faint. The animals kept me going and, of course, knowing I’ll rejoin you. That is why you did all the driving. Sorting among my lies… Stop using that word, Your Majesty. It’s the truth we are delivering all the way through. We are unwrapping it, taking our time—a lingering kind of pleasure. We are peeling it like an onion, one transparent sleeve at a time. *

*

*

Still, I was about to point out the animals were—are—stuffed. Who’d believe birds would stay put on the dashboard of a convertible, sunroof wide open? Not even lazy ones, flamingos or pelicans. They can fly, I swear. And Celia’s simil-dove can surely lift its quite skinny self, even drugged by hunger and cold. The animals are all too real, draped around each other in a harmonious skein, arching like a bridge part on Celia’s lap, part on the dusty soil against which their colors (even dulled and worn) luridly stand out.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 36


Short Story

But their hues are well the only thing that stands. These are stuffed animals, I said. Double-stuffed. Mother made them, filling them with scraps of old pantyhose (way to go, Mom). Then she stuffed as many as she could in our backpacks when we took the road. Not that she would miss us, as Celia explained. But I guess a mix of blurred sentiments flooded her. A gluey, sticky compound of regret, remorse, guilt, nostalgia, sprinkled with a tad of self-commiseration, made her eyes swell. No, she didn’t cry. She’d have had little chance of getting our attention. But she frantically pushed these creatures she had made inside our luggage. We didn’t protest. Didn’t care. We did later, at the facility (should I call it so? I guess there’s some kind of ease in that peculiar lifestyle). Celia brought them at the facility and she was allowed to keep them (not much harm can be done with toys of that consistency and size). The five Mother gave us, plus two sis had already packed. Correct—they belong to different lineages. Celia has made the rodent herself, and the nondescript bird of which she is so proud. Lastly… but this is my theory, still to be verified… I don’t think Celia (as she might have confessed already or will soon enough) has poorly planned our evasion, leaving a number of crucial factors to chance because of distraction. What she did, she did it on purpose. I might not be the smartest, but I have always been able to read her mind. *

*

*

I have dipped my finger into the avalanche—rather a vivacious, steady delivery—coming out of my bottom. I have done it quite often. Blood is one of the most beautiful things… This looks very dark. It is stringy, almost solid, full of clots—as it happens when it breaks the dam after a long delay. It is old. It has been withheld. The scarlet supply will arrive in a day or two. This is my dark blood, packed with nutrients. I have smeared it over the tips of my fingers, both hands. I am tempted to lick it off. Wait. Here is a better thought. I will start with the bird. Gently. It must sip it from my finger. Gently—I’m sure this is no predator. Doesn’t feed on flesh except for some mushy caterpillar. Would it make an exception, please? I am going to feed this bounty to all, one at the time. They look drowsy, kind of inert. I wonder why none has reacted to the smell. Rodent, piglet, fawn? Are they losing their sense of olfact? I am not sending this bounty to waste. Do you recall Grandma and the bear? I am asking Kataria. It’s a story we used to know. Nothing to do with us or the present situation, but it comes to mind. *

*

*

Nothing to do with the present situation, but I do remember. You are the one who loved this tale when we were much younger. Grandma knows her time has come. She leaves home on a crisp morning, dressed up and clean. She goes out to the wilderness, to the place where she knows the bear will come soon. She also knows her elder son, the great hunter, will follow the bear. He will shoot the bear, bring the spoil NEW READER MAGAZINE | 37


Short Story

home, roast the meat, share it with the entire family. But the bear in the meantime will have gulped... This is what Grandma wants, to be eaten by the beast her kids and grandkids will eat afterwards. You loved that story, Celia. But you don’t have kids. Never will. So this doesn’t apply. She has long overshot her average lifespan. There is average only, no exception. She has long overshot the longest verified lifespan. She doesn’t believe in miracles. Everything has plateaued until her sight started deteriorating. Then, all went pretty fast. She has to take her pills every twelve hours. At the Institute, they dispatch two doses every morning, that’s all. *

*

*

Suddenly I remember the porcupine. How did Mom get the brushy part? Wait a moment. The memory is vague. We must have been really young. But it comes to me—I mean to my palm. I feel it against my skin, I am not inventing it... Now I see the color, dark underneath, light on top. It was wrong, Mamma. Porcupines are the other way around. But she did it that way—I’m sure— because she used an old broom for the prickly part. Then she made the body maroon (was it felt?) for contrast. It looked like the negative of a picture, correct? We were too young to tell. The porcupine was my favorite. I remember sleeping with it for a while. Recognizing it in the dark was a joke even when I was half asleep. Too bad I can’t recall where it went. A vague image surfaces of it losing stuff… the inside I mean, whatever Mom used. Stuffed animals tend to fall apart at some point—an inherent weakness. Although, these are holding up pretty well. But, then, we aren’t children anymore. We have developed a different kind of relationship… more contemplative. I keep my eyes closed, focusing on that tiny, far away, sunken porcupine. It went down with the island, of course, wherever it was—bottom of a closet or else the municipal discharge. I can visualize it quite well but here’s what happens. How strange! It goes double. I see a mirror image as well—light beige with dark prickles, as it ought to be. Two small porcupines facing. This is what I see. *

*

*

Not sure of what Celia has in mind. She has placed the toys in a circle—rather a rough oval. Seven puppies isn’t much. I wish we had more. She had to distance them quite a bit to go all the way around, though she is luckily small. Still I wish we had more. Previously she has spent time pampering them, in turns, smearing her menstrual blood all over the place. Now they are nastily marked crimson, or rust, more like maroon rapidly veering to black— though those changes are lost to her (and they don’t matter, of course). She has wiped her hands with the towel representing the island we came from, which she has then pulled against her face, where she has kept it for a minute or two as if inhaling it fiber by fiber, thread by thread. Now remember the outrageous spread of eye shadow I have plastered on her skin. Add blood. The result is an indescribable mess. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 38


Short Story

Quite festive. There’s no mirror around. None in our backpacks—by the way, no hand mirror is allowed in a place like ours. The car has none either (worry not—you can drive nonetheless). But she hasn’t asked for mirrors, and she won’t. She lies on her back with the abandoned ease of one who’s getting a suntan, letting herself bake without a single care in the world—not even bothered by a light marine breeze. Look at her, and you’ll get the perfect picture of one of those noonish, summery times of perfect stillness. Besides it is getting colder and colder. I don’t know how her body can master that kind of tranquility. Yes, she has also been in command. She has a will of steel. But curling up, shaking, quivering should be reflexes, true? How can she ignore them? Unless she’s already on her way. Seen from above she must look like the Virgin of Guadalupe, cast in her rounded thing… Is it a halo? Looks like a shell for what I recall. A vulva, perhaps. Doesn’t the Lady stand on a slice of moon? There you go. We got one in tonight’s sky—quite beautiful though insufficient, somehow, a bit stingy. Isn’t there an angel around the Virgin? It must. Celia has several winged creatures with her. Her bird in particular—elongated, she says. Skinny and frail just like her. The bird she obstinately calls a dove is a crow. That’s what it looks like, honestly. She has taken enormous care making it (oh, several years ago). Wings and legs are articulated, attached to the body with buttons—which, I admit, gives the shape some interest but also makes it less birdy. More equine. Perhaps human. And she has painted white stripes here and there over the black fabric, in a zig-zag fashion, like flashes. I’m sure she was beautifying it. Maybe it was a tribute as well. To me, I mean, to my mottled mane. Anyway the bird is a crow. If it could croak its little song you’d recognize it, no doubt. Someone should break this silence. I can’t. Let me step away. Close by, to the parking area. Is this one? Scrawny grasses have invaded it. The cemented pavement is crumbling. Is this all the work of the rain? Although, it must have stopped a bit earlier than it did in town. The air is dry and the temperature very, very crisp. Yes, the petting zoo exists. What was I saying? I have stepped away, I mean to the car, and I am fumbling with the damn sunroof to see if I can possibly un-stuck it. I am freezing. I’d like to get in, push the seat back and rest. Sure, the petting zoo is real. Only, we haven’t stolen a thing from it and it contains no fawns, no flamingos or pelicans. There’s a pig, and a turtle to which, right now, I’d wish to come back. Sit down where Celia used to, run my fingers through the creases and spikes of her rocky carapace. Close my eyes, imagine those are mountains and valleys—a landscape. The earth seen from above. As if I were on a plane and could—with my hand—virtually—ideally—from the inside—brushing— the window closed—giant—below I have never been on a plane. But the ferry, when it distances itself and the coastline recedes—the other side, the mainland, approaches But the ferry, in between

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 39


Poetry

Inside Out WORDS BY Steve Klepetar

Walking in the morning, but my head isn’t right. In the mirror, it looked ok, trim enough with my new haircut, but now in the sunlight, it feels off kilter, as if I were wearing a hat filled with stones. Oh well. It’s true what they say, the legs go first. Here comes my friend Rick, older than me by three years, but still much faster, with his long, long stride. We wave, exchange pleasant greetings, but his speed galls me, and now my head feels turned around or no, maybe inside out. It may be love or the wine we drank last night, it may be the kisses you planted on my chest which have taken root somewhere deep in my body, and now explode, blossoming in my brain.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 40


Poetry

The Blurry Eye Don’t explain, because in the end words mean nothing to the blurry eye. First there’s a gray band across the top of the visual field, then floaters, a thick cord writhing beyond the eyelid and the world. It’s late summer, and green glows everywhere, especially after rain when clouds pass. How soft the light, how the balance shifts. Silence on this street thickens, as if everything were about to occur just beyond the prison of this amber time.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 41


Poetry

When We Wake The day will be over, red flood sinking back to mud. Our windows tremble at the north end. We find our eyes. There’s a trumpet softly playing, and a drum. We left glasses on the nightstand, plates strewn with crumbs. Our mouths open and close in the dry air. We find each other’s hands. Then we might rise to stand in darkness again. A cat stretches in the alley, a car drives slowly down the nearly empty street. It hasn’t been this quiet in years, not since the heroes sailed away in their black ships, white sails fluttering until they disappeared into a smear of sun.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 42


Short Story

Mr. Terrific Himself’s Round-the-Clock Heroin Lottery WORDS BY Greg Rushton

This story begins, as these stories have been known to do, with another thrilling instance of Mr. Terrific Himself’s Round-the-Clock Heroin Lottery; ‘the only show on radio worth a gram.’ Wherefrom the show is broadcast nobody knows but Mr. Terrific Himself, and he is a secret, a shadow. If anybody were to see his face, the game would be up, and his retirement would be prerequisite as soon as the photons that were predetermined to bounce into the eyes of a single beholder first left the surface of the sun. This is because Mr. Terrific Himself performs a very important job within British society (though it is suspected that there are Messrs Formidable Lui-même, Klasse Sich, Terrific Mateix, and others scattered across Europe and probably the world—Terura is the Esperanto word that will denote the Mr. Terrifics of the distant future). You hardly need explained to you, I’m sure, the workings of this improbable programme, so— The meat of this story concerns two teenage boys, Stash and Shy, on one calmly refulgent April morning in the 21st Century. They had made the decision to put forward their phone number for the competition the night before, after heavy drug use. They are waiting, at 11:35, on Rose Gardens Green, their usual summer haunt, for the twelve o’clock draw. In high spirits, as you can imagine, the pair are chattering away whilst the clandestine radio show plays techno music, speaking through one of their mobile phones. The scene is idyllic; grey old men and women sit on benches watching young grey squirrels go about their day; children scamper and crouch through carefully trimmed hedgerows; crazy-golf is happening nearby. The pair are seated in a crook separating the heavy bows of a thick and vibrant

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 43


Short Story

old oak tree, facing the sun, twenty feet from the dry earth. A joint is passed between them as they expound their views on nature. There are no disagreements. Shy takes a moment to stand up and lean dangerously across to rest his back on the hefty trunk. Standing precariously, this is what he says: “This tree is a good example, right. I wrote a letter once, and I imagine it was written on paper come from a tree exactly like this one—the same tree that’s allowing us to stand above the Earth right now, and watch that fireball burn. With all my intelligence and strength, I couldn’t naturally do a thing to this tree, for good or bad. This tree’s gonna outlive everyone we’re ever gonna meet, and everyone they’re ever gonna meet, as long as us sneaky humans don’t decide to cheat it. And even when we do, not only will it have had hundreds of children, but the soil that raised it and the sun that fed it and the birds and insects that gave it a purpose won’t miss it one bit, not one bit. And yet, here it is, holding us up right now. That’s what nature is.” At this moment, the voice of the man Himself flares up from between the synth and the kicks and snares to announce that, momentarily, the lucky winner of the 15,133rd uninterrupted bi-hourly lottery will be decided. The buzzing excitement is palpable. The track fades to a damp white sizzle and the heat of the day is dripping down the two boys’ faces. This is the moment they’ve been waiting for. The smooth bass voice emanates from the device, taking its time. All around is silence but for the reliable creaks and strains of their vessel. News, weather, opinions, satire—the pretences on which modern manipulators of the system choose to operate. Eventually a siren sounds, the drum machine roll is begun and the breath refuses to leave the lungs of the children, sitting in the tree. 0. Good so far. 7. Right, right. 5. No fucking way. 3. Shit. And the rest of the numbers go unheard, because as both the disappointed youths depress their chests and sink their loosened weights down onto the crooked arm of nature, an especially stressful and agonised creak is followed by a sharp hissing crunch, and a heavy rustling of twigs and leaves. Their fall is natural, and fatal.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 44


Short Story

Moist The ground is not just muddy. It’s saturated. It’s waterlogged. It’s much too much to ask. It’s way beyond a joke now. People are no longer able to ground themselves on this shit! So who the hell are they kidding, to still call it that? The path, the fields, the trenches, under the wire, over the wire, on the road—no pavement on one side, across stiles, zigzagging across the chalky, potholed face of this obese landscape; all about one hundred and ten percent too Goddamn wet! It’s all swelling, sagging, sliding with the weight. The water is working against you. It wants your shoes. And God forbid you should take your eye off them for two seconds because it does not want to give them back. A proper walk in the country is like trying to eat a liquorice shoelace the length of the large hadron collider. Everyone likes liquorice. Maybe not plain, but there are loads of flavours nowadays. But who the hell wants to eat a piece of liquorice as long as the large fucking hadron collider?! People who take long walks in the country have no friends. This is known. This is true. And when you see more than one person on such a walk together, don’t be fooled. They hate each other more deeply than you can possibly imagine. ‘Why go then?’ one might ask. Well, the answer to this enigma is an elusive and dangerous one; but one that will be made clear, by the following koan story. A man and a woman are walking together along a wide gravel path, smeared with about two inches of mud and towered over on both sides by steep banks, separated by shallow dykes sprouting vicious thickets of hairy green nettles and brittle thorns. Spring is approaching but nothing seems to be in season. The heads of the bluebells droop as if to say “What’s the bloody point?” Brick bridges pass the couple in complete silence, looming unnoticed like the shadow of a cloud. Neither the man nor the woman knows exactly where they are going, but that doesn’t matter. They reach a filthy steel gate, moated by a deep cattle grid. Without a word passing between them they simultaneously skim up and over it, and their feet are carrying them forwards again before the hair on their heads has settled. Their options, at this point, are many. The banks sink and fade to reveal a colossal green mound

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 45


Short Story

mound stretching away at a relaxed camber all the way to the horizon. The main belly of it is crisscrossed with chalky white paths all leading, eventually, and by various degrees of efficiency, to the top. But for these people it is imperative, and natural to them, that they choose correctly from these paths. Still without exchanging so much as a syllable or a cough, the pair set off following the unlikeliest, most circumspect path it would be possible to go for at this juncture. To their left, a buckled and splitting barbed wire fence pretends to be encircling a sheep field. The sheep politely play along as though they really would leave in a flash if it weren’t for that unscalable fence, flat to the ground in some places. To their right is a bobbing and swaying fleet of buoys, standing out against an ocean of green, getting bullied by the wind. Unfortunately, they are the shelter. The tiny flints spill and splash around their heavy, matching leather boots. The red ones contain iron deposits, though some are just muddy. Occasionally a vein of white or mossy green quartz might be found inside but not today; it’s all black and brown and grey—and wet. Without really making any headway up the hill, the pair traverse about a third of its circumference. Suddenly the woman stops and turns. Now their backs are to the summit, they are looking at a million miles of lifelessly static woodland. “There”. They both point at a singularly jaundiced silver birch about forty metres away in the middle distance, and begin to walk hastily towards it. Soon reaching it, they scan the area for any other presence—no one but the sheep. As they draw back their sleeves to reveal long, wide, thick, identical metal circlets with no visible clasp, the tree starts imperceptibly to hum. Gradually there begins a sludgy, enveloping warble, confidently growing deeper, louder, modulating into waves, until it massages the air, back and forth, like an immense subwoofer. The man and the woman look at each other for the first time in years. “Finally”, says one.

“Do you remember what it was like there?”

“I don’t care what it’s like. They’re finally gonna let us die.”

The noise of the tree drowns out whatever else is said. They must have heard it all around. All across the universe in fact, at the right frequencies, relays are engaging, lighting up and whirring in resonance. They form a chain stretching eight hundred million light years, well known about amongst the chattier races, all the way back to the source, and the couple’s destination. The hum fades momentarily into subsonic silence before releasing itself as a single, heavy, cracking WOOP! accompanied by a searing hot blue-green flash. And nothing remained beside the tree but a few fluttering ashes, and the dancing green radioactive dragonflies that clump together in places, but soon separate, and dissipate into nothing more than a cadence you weren’t entirely sure was there.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 46


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 47


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 48


Poetry

The Cutting Arm WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

Richard King Perkins II

Kring Demetrio

You needed help and because I neglected to give it your favorite ceramic cat was never found and the reddened sheets stayed bunched in a heap in an oversized trash bag near the front door. You made the mistake of falling in love with things and ideas and gave none of your attention to disconsolate matters that created

and even more so with the remnant tinge of strawberry stain that still lingers in your hair.

the filaments of life or caused the vendetta in your lithe hands.

I may be just one of the old men drinking coffee in a donut shop late at night

I’m enamored with the idea that your choices are cast with inevitability

as you tend to an array of simple needs, observing erratic orbits of sadness or I may be a different sort of man staring at an unshaded framework brought low by an involuntary lapse of moon, watching you watching them watching you.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 49


Poetry

A Lasting Rhyme my intelligent mouse (is you that I call sweetie and) makes me clumsy and stumbling with the sincerity of your thighs and the crossing of your fingers knotted in surprise. the tonsils of your voice arched against the empathy of lingering skies coerce distant pearls to dance in time with your hips, making me and all others myriad with me grateful for the blanket carried beneath your arm. and if I said mouse I said it truly as metaphor for a creature found only in dreams, longer and lovelier than the slide of candlelight drippings this evening and you’re a lasting rhyme upon my tongue, sweetie

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 50


Poetry

The Red Circle of Death is a hollow shadow, a hovering noose usually invisible, sometimes flickering but always near and watching carefully, waiting to intersect with a predestined target. Hemingway intentionally swallowed his after enjoying a meal of steak and Bordeaux which isn’t nearly as sad as when the circle finds someone just standing around minding their own business. I saw the red circle of death in all its horrible glory a few months ago at a college track meet when I watched as an errant hammer throw zeroed in on an unsuspecting volunteer. As the implement arced through the stadium, the blood aura surrounding it became a brilliant flash of murderous energy, striking the poor kid with efficient fury. He never stood a chance. But none of us really do.

The red circle of death finds everyone at one time or another. It may ignore you for a while, even if you go looking for it. But eventually, we’ll all meet that fatal figure at the crossroads of Here and Gone. I just hope my encounter is witnessed by few, an uneventful passage into new territory, where the red circle of death is replaced by a corona of a different sort. I don’t want to be the guy who has his legs ripped off in a car accident, calling out for help on the highway as dozens of people video record me in my last few moments, uploading my death to Facebook or YouTube even as I’m still dying, making me an internet sensation for a few days and maybe even for many years beyond that.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 51


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 52


Poetry

Romance Writer WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Kring Demetrio

The romance writer has a face like a ripe tomato She’s full of seeds each one potentially also a romance writer Perhaps one seed will live to become a member of a mother-daughter writing team or else a bitter rival Squeeze the romance writer and her seeds will spray out You’ll see some on the floor and some on the wall like evidence for a CSI team Oh Lord keep my athlete’s foot from spreading keep the people who live upstairs quiet at night and keep romance writers far away from me in another universe, if possible

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 53


Poetry

Death Power What did we expect when we extracted coal and petroleum, those compressed corpses, and burned them, when we powered our society with death? Didn’t we have even a glimmer that we would provoke more death that our society would become soaked in it hungry for it The air is unbreathable in Delhi and Beijing The air is unbreathable in my house I thought I was escaping toxic air when I fled L.A. at the beginning of the 1970s but Death is persistent It stalks me as I walk the north trail to the grocery store as I walk the west trail to church Americans are energy gluttons Gluttony is a sin My pediatrician told me that when I was a chubby kid He put on an air of moral superiority and fat-shamed me

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 54


Short Story

Music Minus One WORDS BY Sebastian Bennett

Don’t worry. At the edge of the driveway is Glover, the happy pooch with a clotted tail and yellowed teeth. He is bounding and loping, and then he is next to you, pressing his head against your thigh. He will pant and drool while you stroke him for hours, never too long. From the back of his throat comes a low friendly whine, the kind of whine that sounds harmonic, cadenced—even almost human—and stops while you rub under his neck or behind his soft, flopping ears. “Good, Glover,” you say, and pat the heaving chest and lumpy shoulder, allowing the dog to get hairs on you, a ribbon of golden fur down the inseam of your black jeans. Now Glover has wiggled between your legs, and he is pushing his nose into your crotch. Why do dogs always do that? It’s so embarrassing, especially when you’re at your boyfriend’s house on a date and he only laughs. But you don’t mind because you love Glover, with the bad breath and dislocated pelvic disks that make him drag his hind feet when he wakes up from a nap. Yes, you love your dog, even though you haven’t seen him for five months. Glover remembers. He remembers your perfume perhaps. Of course he understands that you thought about him and missed him while you were away at college without any pets at all—except for the cricket that lived in the corner of the dorm room and only chirped during the day (you had an agreement), and it never spit or dripped out any brown juice, ever. Crickets do that, they say . . . Glover has a tick. A gumdrop-sized, fat gray tick with an embedded head deep under the skin of the poor old dog’s front leg. You swallow and clench teeth as you pluck it—pop it—off the white “glove” of his foreleg, which is how he got his name. You have to wash your hands when you get inside, must remember. Now you just stroke Glover’s head, the tips of your finger in the fur of his crown, around the bony bump in the middle. Is that the cerebral ridge? You gaze deep into the dog’s round, dull eyes. He has cataracts, poor thing. He looks back at you. Sometimes you can actually see trust; it comes as a gleam. Glover missed you. He loves you, and it’s okay that his hind legs leave eczema skin flakes on your shoes. “Hoh! Melinda’s back!” The deep resonant voice of your father, Max, comes from one of the top windows of that huge Colorado timber house which seems very old because Max built it from used NEW READER MAGAZINE | 55


Short Story

lumber that he got from demolition sites. You saw them once—abandoned schools and shipyards from the forties and fifties, cracked toilets and rusty pipes and mahogany flooring that looks even better than new when re-installed, re-sanded, and stained so it glows. Max (it doesn’t seem so strange to call your father “Max” now that you’re a college girl) got it all so cheaply from that man with the infected nostrils, the edges red and scabby like he ought to be in a Victorian children’s book as a warning to little kids who pick their noses. Now Max is at the front door in the same old suspenders and Birkenstock sandals. He still has long pony-tailed hair to his elbows which makes him look like a beast, a bridge troll, if he lets it down—so you told him his profile is striking and he ought to keep his hair pulled back in a clasp or a braid. It was daughter-to-father closeness, fashion advice, intimacy that he will always cherish, and you will too. When you hug him hello, you give a real hug with arms all the way around his sloping shoulders. You’re glad he doesn’t have that awful pipey smell anymore since he stopped smoking, and you know he doesn’t mind that you’re not wearing a bra and it’s obvious in a T-shirt, but he never cared much for that uptight crap. Besides, bra-less is in style now. You cut the line at underarm hair, though. Max’s belly is round—not flabby—a big hard belly pushing against your abdomen. It’s true that he gained thirty pounds you see, as you lean against him and gaze at that face with the crooked nose and always-needs-a-shave roughness; the face that read you Little House in the Big Woods and Lord of the Flies—until Piggy got killed . . . That face didn’t crease, didn’t grimace when you put regular dishwashing liquid in the electric washer—two whole cups—and it foamed, spurted, surged out onto the maple hardwood kitchen floor before the sealer set, warping and ruining the tongue-and-groove nailing, so the workers had to come rip it up with big crow bars, mallets, and chisels. They stuck in adobe tile instead, which is rough and lumpy and beaded, but beautiful in its own way, right? Like an old mission floor . . . Max has his arm around your shoulders, loosely, casually, like in that first picture of him and Mom—you always called her Mom, not Leonara. Maybe your shoulder feels like Mom’s to him, does it? Eight years ago—does he remember? The hoarse, raspy wheezing. . . that final, terrible time—heat piercing the forehead, searing, falling through the floor —when the nurse wouldn’t let you go into Mom’s room anymore . . . She wouldn’t let you open hospital door number 14. But you shoved and charged and turned the big round handle with the gold metal insert for the key; you twisted the cold metal knob and pushed hard to open the heavy door—Mom was gone! They’d taken her. But you could still smell the menthol rub she’d wipe on her chest, a big smear with two fingers into the blue jar and it came up like mucous, and Mom had to keep doing it, couldn’t stop. She stroked it, spread it over her breasts even though Max said that camphor was a suppressant from a homeopathic point of view, and probably caused asthma and allergies in children because the irritant or whatever couldn’t escape through the skin pores anymore. “Exude” is what he’d said. With Max’s meaty arm still around your shoulder, both of you turn to gaze at the big mountain behind the house. It looks like an elephant profile with a long thick trunk and two front legs composed of jagged rocks, pine, and sagebrush—where once you heard that whimpering, screeching, meowling from behind the rock and Max went up to see. It was a baby mountain lion. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 56


Short Story

A kitten the size of a cat that didn’t even have claws or real big fangs yet. Just little paws with black skin pads and a wiggly stump of a tail. Its mother was gone. All gone. She probably got caught in a coyote trap or was shot with rock salt by some of the weirdos that lived in those shacks on the other side of the quarry. That’s what the ranger said when you took the lion cub to the station, and they put it in the cage next to the hoot owl with a broken twisted foot. Glover is wagging his tail, pounding it against the truck now. Maybe that’s how he clumps it. He’s so excited that you’re home he shivers and jumps and bangs his head on the bumper—he lets out a yelp. “Awww, poor Fat Baby,” says Max. “Fat Baby?” you ask and take a step forward. The cheap polyester band around the top of your K-mart panties digs into the soft skin below your navel. Your jeans are too tight at the crotch because you probably put on about ten pounds at school—you can’t steam vegetables or make brown rice with tahini sauce there, the way you would at home. “Who’s Fat Baby?” you ask, and feel your chin thrust forward. Max stops walking and turns his hairy chest with the gold chain that matches the bulbous carnelian ring with Persian etching that you only pretended to like. He still wears it on his pinky. “Oh—Glover . . . Fat Baby. That’s what we call him now,” says Max. “Just for fun. Kind of a cutiepie name, you know? Doesn’t really mean much. Celeste thinks he looks like a chubby baby who doesn’t know he’s drooling.” Max only holds your gaze for a moment. The big front door creaks open. You hear it swing on those oiled brass hinges and you feel the dark of the hall behind your back. You turn to see a tall, chubby woman with freckles, bright red hair, and a long neck. She’s wearing a Guatemalan peasant skirt and a stained purple sweatshirt with the collar cut out. “Hey, Celeste! Come and meet Melinda . . . ” Max grins and his cheeks puff up. You toss back your hair and shake Celeste’s pudgy hand. She takes too much vitamin E and eats too many nuts, you can tell already from her oily palm. She also probably eats too many carrots and oranges because her skin has a funny yellow glow, which a person really can see if they’re sensitive enough. Probably there’s a citrus scent, too. Does Max smell it in bed with her? “Hi,” says Celeste in a nasal voice. She widens her eyes as if she’s talking to a toddler that needs encouragement. Of course, Celeste is probably nervous to meet you. So you give her that nice smile of yours and try to be open and loving as you smile, feeling your dimples, and you don’t really look her in the eye. Why can’t she wash the egg off her sweatshirt or comb her hair better? Your hair won’t ever be greasy and matted like that, and certainly not in five years when you’re exactly as old as Celeste is now. “That’s a pretty violet color—your sweatshirt,” you say, and Max grins wider, revealing uneven teeth. He looks like he might salivate over his bottom lip as he takes Celeste’s hand and squeezes it. Then he kisses it. You go into the house, into that big front hall with the white plaster lion’s head nailed to a beam— they should really paint the head so it won’t be so garish, so glaring. The same old, deep musty smell is in the house. It’s a good homey wine-and-wheat aroma that greets you just like before. It surrounds you and enters your nostrils as you walk into that hall you knew so well, where your NEW READER MAGAZINE | 57


Short Story

dates would step in and wait by the thigh-high clay satyr vase until you came out of your room near the top of the banister and walked down the wide stairwell like a princess, like Cinderella in her castle. Cinderella never needed to pad her brassiere, either. At the end of the hall, bathed in the gray light from the window in the arch of the roof, the widow’s peak, is an odd statue. It’s about five tall, egg-shaped, with spheres of purples and blacks and reds in layered paint, thick with ridges like scars. Inside the circular casings are painted metallic rings, pearls, and baubles. Near the bottom, in one of the lower cells, lurks what seems to be a mouse head. “Oh, you haven’t seen Celeste’s sculpture yet, have you?” asks Max in a breathless grating voice, pausing to stare at the thing as if it is a gift from the heavens, a symbol of the universe, of eternity itself . . . “Celeste is really—I mean really—an artistic genius.” “Oh, stop . . . ” Celeste coos, sighs, and snuggles against Max. You can hear it, see it, know it, even though your back is turned. Their foot shuffling gives it away. Finally, you turn around. “My professor says this piece is post-structurist, via deconstructurism,” says Celeste. “But art is just . . . ” She closes her eyes and leans back her head. “I mean . . . all art, is just life . . . ”s You don’t look at Celeste. “Yeah, it’s great,” you say, above the rushing water from the toilet near the den which never stops flushing, unless you remove the cover and reach deep inside through the tank water—clean water, Max said—and pull at the black rubber thing that leaves a skunkysmelling mark on your fingers for two days that won’t wash off. Max never put your art in the house. Not even the pictures from art camp. He said he couldn’t drill or tape on the dry wall. Did he still have his birthday picture that you made him, “Platypus in Lilacs,” on the floor in his office? The back of your neck burns, prickles. You pace down the corridor and take a long, deep breath under the sand-blasted wood ceiling beams, calm beams, peaceful warm wood. You wander into the kitchen which has an ammonia detergent smell even though the floor is very dusty, and dirty macaroni-infested pans and chipped mugs lay strewn on the counter like war refuse. You sniff the cleaning fluid again—at least Celeste cleans sometimes. Or did the detergent just spill? They haven’t taken out the trash, either. It’s flowing from green plastic sacks and—that spice rack! The tri-level, K-Tel Revolvo-Rack turntable that you bought Mom for Christmas when you were in sixth grade and only had enough money to shop at Gemco . . . The Revolvo is shoved into the trash bag, feet up, top over like a sinking hulk. It’s coated with brown honey goo and clotted dead black ants. Max thumps in and you hope he’s alone and he is. “It’s good to have you back,” he says, and gives you another hug, very close to his chest, but you pull away at the last minute—can’t help it—but cover yourself, automatically cloak the rebuff with a question, smooth as glass. “How’s your music going?” you ask, and raise your eyebrows, ripple your lips as if his answer is everything you’ve been waiting for . . . NEW READER MAGAZINE | 58


Short Story

“Good, yeah.” “Great!” You caught him before he felt the tenseness in your shoulders, before he heard the missing conversational half-beat as you backed into the pantry cabinet with the canned yams from years ago. The corner shelves dig into your spine and swelling hips. You caught him in the uptake and he didn’t feel it. Didn’t flinch. In some ways, he could be dense as well as brilliant. Good. “But it’s the same old bullshit at the clubs. The same prissy cliques at the gigs.” He shakes his head in tiny frissons, jello-shivers of the skin wattle under his chin, mostly from alcohol, probably. “Listen, Jesus, I haven’t even shown you yet! They have these new tapes now, Music Minus One. The best jazz players in the world—and it’s perfectly syncopated, perfectly set up. You know exactly how many measures to solo and . . .” His eyes get wider, bulge, as if he’d just had an adrenaline shot. His cheeks flush, his fingers wiggle. “Hey, why don’t I play a little for you now? A little concert. It’s wonderful, really. I can just play as much as I want, practice right here for as long as I . . . Would you like that?” You nod enthusiastically, deep neck nods, and smile wide in total approval, utter enthusiasm that you know he needs, yearns, and follow his big frame down the hall, into the living room. “Hey, Celeste!” he bellows—too shrill, too raucous. You pop your ear drums as his voice booms forth, resounds in the hall, echoes up the stairs to the little room that used to be Mom’s study at the end of the corridor, and hear Celeste’s squeaking, childish voice. “Ye-es?” “Come on down. I’m giving a little concert.” “Oh, great!” Celeste chirps. She’s learned the utter approval, total response, too . . . Wearing white fuzzy bunny slippers with one ear missing and one torn, she wriggles down the stairs and takes a seat in the big leather arm chair behind you, against the wall. You stay standing, thighs stiff. Max bends over the Fender amp and clicks the toggle switch so a burst of static, a huge throb pumps out of the speakers like a sword thrust. You shudder. Now Max is pulling out his saxophone, the big one with green tarnish around the Selmer insignia. “I’m playing tenor a lot now,” he says. A metronome sounds, recorded, digital, precise as a time bomb counter; chirring clicks bite into the wood floors, bounce, shimmer off the horrid chandelier with hanging crystals like falling nails. The intro has started, swishing snare and strumming bass. A muted trumpet riff . . . Max is nodding, intent, serious as if God’s voice is emerging—or as if he is about to speak to God. He takes the mouthpiece to his lips, puffs out his cheeks. Your back begins to sway as the first deep, low, rounded notes pour forth, shoot out, float from the bell of the horn and hover in the air. Long, haunting minor tones. Then the melody starts. It is the theme from Black Orpheus that Mom and Max used to hum to you. They used to hum it together before you fell asleep . . . NEW READER MAGAZINE | 59


Short Story

You fight back the hot sting of tears, don’t let them out, don’t even show their need. Just open your eyes wider, so the moisture can’t gather. You bend and rock, and nod the knowing nod of years in the clubs, the understanding timed nod of an experienced jazz listener. You roll your neck to the beat, and catch Max’s deep green eyes as he gazes at you over the neck of the sax. The music pours forth under his fingers, fast and smooth despite their size. Tremolos of color, actually prismatic, seem to flow from the bell of the horn. Loud, yes but wafting, spewing reds, greens, and golds. You smile—you don’t turn around. You won’t look at Celeste. This song is for you. It is your tune. And you swing your back some more, and hips too—the rounded bottom that all the men like— you’ve aimed it at Celeste. Accidentally, though . . . You’re rolling it now, all to the beat of course, switching your weight from one leg to the other, pushing forward your breasts. Then you hear it— the grating slide of the arm chair, the metal feet scraping across that rich red lustrous wood floor. And you can see Celeste’s tall profile and her clumped hair as she stands up, swivels, and leaves the room, pacing into the hall, plodding away in her ripped rabbit slippers. Max doesn’t see. He has turned to stare out the windows now, to face the mesa as he lifts his knees as if walking in place. He blows the searing, whirring, ascendant notes out the door. The panes tremble, the trees rustle, and you spread your legs just a bit wider, over the floor.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 60


Poetry

Rooms, Falls, Dreaming WORDS BY L. Ward Abel

The rooms are cornered in a perfect way. One shade ends with the edge of another, green and white but never joining. A smell of flowering drapes it sweats outside on our great lawn. No big rivers near no falls for forty miles, only tilted rock tears and frequency find their way to where all of it gathers—pieces of circles, flakes, edges that never come home never dream just sleep without dreaming. Sometimes it bleeds out from demarcation, it smears the other, spurring talk of revolution. But only talk.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 61


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 62


Poetry

The Leaving Part And in the morning there’s the leaving part, a quiet pull and turn that makes the past of a place. Again this empty house when no one’s here laments, the vacuum from a door that’s closed. A going but not a letting go.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 63


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 64


Short Story

First Contact WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

M. Luke McDonell

Kring Demetrio

Asuka Sato and Bernard Durant stood shoulder to shoulder, a thousand miles apart. “It’s beautiful here,” Asuka said, her words falling from the orbital module to the surface of Mars and out the tinny speaker she’d rigged up on the maintenance robot she controlled. It was lowtech, but the only way she and Bernard could speak privately. “Magnificent.” Bernard’s voice stuttered from the speaker on his robot. “It reminds me of the Grand Canyon.” They laughed static. The layered deposits of Uzboi Vallis that towered above them, burnt umber and chalky gray, looked nothing like the Grand Canyon. Nothing on Mars did, but this was a running joke they employed when they felt overwhelmed, which was often. Bernard pulled his robot free of the charging station. “Are you nominal?” he asked. “I am. You?” He nodded. “Let me clean your camera.” He leaned forward, blowing compressed air at the dusty dome atop her head—if you could call it that. He’d scratched a toothy grin on one side of the metallic box, she’d etched a curling moustache on his, and they’d agreed to “face” each other when they conversed. “How are your preparations for unification going?” she asked. “I can’t wait until the charter is signed and all our modules are linked. We’ll finally have some room to move around. I hear Brazil has a good gym.” “Only one more week. I thought it would never happen, now it’s happening too fast. Our sleeping quarters are being converted to a hydroponic garden, so I’ve been sleeping in the observation lounge. It is not comfortable.” Asuka’s smile snuck into her voice. “Our sleeping quarters are being retrofitted to hold crews from all the modules—though, some of us may have to share bunks.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 65


Short Story

The lens of Bernard’s camera caught a beam of sunlight and transformed it to a wink. “Another sacrifice we make for the mission.” The silence that followed was not awkward. The valley demanded it. All of Mars did in its sculpted, lifeless perfection. “Merde,” Bernard said. “I’ve got a rover stuck in the sand on the other side of that, what do you call it? A butte?” He held out a dusty gray arm and pointed west. Asuka zoomed in on the formation. “I don’t know. Every time I make a report an expert corrects me. I call everything a mountain now.” Neither of them were geologists. They were mechanics tasked with keeping the surveyor rovers up and running. “I must go. See you at sunset,” Bernard said. He curled his fingers; Asuka did the same. They fist-bumped dirty metal with a clang. “Yes. See you then.” *

*

*

Asuka repaired a broken axle on Rover 26, replaced the tires on 12, then got an alarm from 17 declaring it had fallen into a crevasse. She dragged a winch out to the location, then groaned when she saw the pitiful machine stuck in a hole only as deep as it was long—just under a meter. The rovers were shortsighted—by design. Cheaply made, they studied only the ground directly in front of them and had no concept of the scale of the surrounding landscape. She hauled it out and set it on its way. When the sun fell towards the horizon and the burnt-caramel orange began to bleed out of the sky, Asuka shuffled back to the charging station, her footsteps the first to disturb the windblown sand. Bernard trudged towards her from the opposite direction. “Hello!” The word faded like the sunset in the thin air, barely reaching her. “Hello to you,” she yelled back. They moved to the leeward side of the charging station, as was their habit. Both enjoyed the time when they were still connected to their robot bodies but disconnected from the EarthCorp grid. “How are your rovers?” Bernard asked. “Good. The parts I expected to fail haven’t, but others do.” “Yes. Mine too.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 66


Short Story

Shadows lengthened on the silver sand. Asuka’s pressure sensors indicated that Bernard had leaned his right side against her left. She shifted her weight to accommodate him. They stayed like this, both collecting and analyzing data that had nothing to do with the mission and everything to do with their relative positions. Bernard jerked upright, sending Asuka reeling. “Did you see that?” Asuka couldn’t access his visual records. Japan and France would both soon be members of Earth Corporation, but the charter legitimizing the multinational/multiplanetary company wouldn’t be signed until next week. “No. Can you replay?” “I don’t have to. Come here.” Bernard took a few steps forward, dropped to his knees, and pointed to the ground directly in front of him. Asuka focused on the area. An object, the length of a human finger, encrusted in what looked like hematite, crawled across the sand. She crouched beside Bernard. “Is that one of yours?” she asked. “One of my what?” “Your fleet. Do you have tiny rovers?” He snorted. “It isn’t a rover. It’s alive.” Asuka flicked it. It curled into a tight ball, rolled a few centimeters, then lay still. “Did I—” she began to ask, then the creature unfurled, tiny legs waving, righted itself and continued nosing through the fine grains. They watched for long minutes, transfixed, until Bernard broke the silence. “This is not good,” he said. “No, it isn’t. The charter almost fell apart again last week thanks to the iron we found in that meteor crater.” “The avocats. What do you call them? The lawyers?” Bernard asked. “The politicians are the real problem. They hire the lawyers. If we don’t keep them all happy we don’t get to link up the modules, create a functioning space station, and start building the habitat. We don’t get to live on Mars.” They watched the creature nose its way over a black rock and continue through the chalky sand, leaving a meandering trail in its wake. “Fuck.” NEW READER MAGAZINE | 67


Short Story

“Merde.” Bernard nudged the creature with his forefinger until it balled, then picked it up gently. “Do you think there are more of them?” he asked. “Of course. We only need one more week. After the charter is signed this will be a collective discovery and we can all deal with it.” Bernard crooked back his arm as if he were about to pitch a fast ball in the World Series. “May I?” he asked Asuka. “Please do,” she said. He flung it as far as his servo motors allowed. They watched the glints disappear into the growing shadows of the valley. “I think we’ve finished the survey of this area,” he said. “I agree. We’ll head north tomorrow. Far north.” Bernard stood. “I will see you at the unification ceremony.” “Yes,” Asuka said. “I can’t wait to meet you.” “In the flesh,” he said, holding up his fist. Asuka bumped it. “In the flesh.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 68


Poetry

A Saxophonist on Hard Times WORDS BY John Grey

A brittle crack in the silence but it’s more than nothing and it’s still me and I’m not operated by wires— yes, the beach froths with summer surf and I, your once faithful messenger am no more than a bum with all these small wild gull eyes watching me, the sunshine itself my current peccadillo— oh yes I’m working overtime on doing nothing, hanging out where jazz-combos play, being the perfect listener, even getting up on stage sometimes with sax in hand blowing bursts of bebop— as for my apartment, well the landlord booted me and the bank froze my credit and this former master is now servant to cigarette smoke and pawn shops with brains indistinguishable from air yes, I’m everything you said I’d be, expanding a few miniscule faults into one enormous liability— the company I planned on starting never happened, the rainbow ended in broken glass and weeds,

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 69


Poetry

and that’s it as far as I can remember— I couldn’t even get a job let alone hold onto one— that’s why the notes I play sound so weird and unrestrained— it’s no mystery… they’re all I’m left with, the shimmer of my instrument in the cold light of a single bulb, trying to fill a space or two in a world so large and empty; I got the wind and the fingers and playing beats screaming any day, and my heart remains this wistful tenor so I act out its commands and its uncertainties, killing the pain with whatever groove I lock into as, even with all the doors closed to me, there’s still music, my graffiti for the walls of this dungeon where I live. no limits, nothing fake, and more spiritually lucrative than the cemetery; I still have my breath, I haven’t lost my hearing, I’m flesh and blood busting out tunes on my small decrepit island, this parallel universe and panhandlers and sickos, no money in it, but as long as I can play somewhere, I’m my own windfall.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 70


Poetry

A Visit from His Dad after dropping out of college, followed by days and nights of drinking bouts, a burgeoning drug habit, a fight here, a mugging there, and various other forms of thoughtlessness, and then a month in jail, even more in rehab with his head careering in and out of sense and his hands too shaky to make a fist, he has his first visitor, a army veteran, a life-long battler with the tattoos and rough hands to prove it to deliver the last words he wanted to hear from somebody who did it tougher

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 71


Poetry

In the Weight Room He’s sweating and hurting in an attempt to gain strength, self-confidence, and a set of abs worth sculpting. There’s mirrors on every side. He can’t escape what he looks like. His dreams’ cosmetic surgeries are proven to be flabby lies. He feels guilty that he didn’t start this regimen sooner, and defeated when his lifts feel like iron and that guilt combined. His red-faced reflections comes at him from all directions. They’re like a family who rely on him for support and sustenance. They suffer the straining. They struggle with the doubts. And if he quits, they quit. The glass is all they know.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 72


Short Story

Fort Building WORDS BY

PHOTO BY

Justin W. Price

Robert Keenan

Zeke could hold his breath for a long time. Down there, beneath the surface of a shallow creek somewhere in the mountains of central California, he was fascinated by the clarity of his hearing. As he dog-paddled through the creek, eyes wide open, he pushed rocks aside with both of his hands. They thunked against each other. A musical sound. A sound that he could not repeat on land with the same resonance with the rocks for the fort that he and Jerry had begun to build the day before. He challenged himself to stay under water until his lungs burned. He surfaced, gasped in the thin mountain air, and dove under again, trying to see if he could increase his underwater time with each excursion.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 73


Short Story

Jerry, Zeke’s kid brother, swam ahead, in the deeper part of the creek. Zeke was heading there, at a much slower pace, more concerned with the sound of the gentle crashing of the rocks, the movement of the water, the heat from the sun melding with the iciness of the water. He surfaced again. Jerry was still ahead, splashing, laughing, giggling, sounding every bit of seven years old. Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Their parents had a thing for Old Testament Prophets. Zeke stood and looked to shore. Mom was there, a one-piece swimsuit, sunglasses, and a visor. Her belly swelled with their little brother. They would name him Solomon. “That’s far enough, boys,” she shouted from the shoreline, hands over her eyes. She was in deep conversation with the camp director’s wife, and Zeke found it incredible how his mom could be fully engaged in conversation and yet still keep an unwavering eye on her two rambunctious sons. Dad was off teaching the afternoon Bible study, leaving the parenting duties to Mom. “No, Mommy, we are not. I can touch, see?” Jerry called back, going to underwater and popping back up. “See? I just touched.” “You’re too far, come closer. If you can’t touch, you’re too far.” Zeke swam out to Jerry and stood a few feet ahead of where his younger brother was treading water. “Look, Mom. I can touch. I’m not even going under,” he said. “That’s far enough. Jerry, you come closer. It’s time for more sunscreen anyway. Do you want to catch cancer?” Jerry protested until Mom snapped her fingers. He knew the next cue would involve yelling and belittling and, even at seven, he knew he wasn’t up for that kind of embarrassment. He swam to shore. Zeke, happy with his stature, dove back under the water to listen to the sound of the rocks. Under the water, the shrill voice of his mom talking about her sister’s new house and how much nicer it was then theirs, travelled beneath the surface with the clarity of a telephone. Engraved in wood, above the door to the dining hall, the sign said BIBLE CAMP OF THE REDWOODS. The dining hall was housed in a long, ranch-style structure, held up by planks. Huge windows in the dining room provided views of Mt. Shasta. The tables inside were long and seated about twenty on each side. Zeke had spent every summer of his nine years on the road, going to these camps. After a while, they all blended together. They all had swimming, whether it be a pool, a creek, a lake, or an ocean. They were all attended by hundreds of teenagers (which, Zeke was surprised to learn, were still technically kids); they were all in the middle of nature. His dad was the only constant: His music, his stories, his spiel to get folks to buy cassette tapes—“All proceeds go to needy children… Mine,” he would say with a smile, pointing at himself, and then out in the crowd to Zeke and Jerry.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 74


Short Story

The food was the differentiator. From the dry mountains of north central California, to the plains of the Midwest, to the strange and oppressive humidity of the East Coast, the one thing Zeke would always remember when thinking of his travels each fall and winter was the food. Which ones had good food, bad food, cold food, hot food, weird food. Which ones had a long-winded prayer prior to consumption, which ones allowed you to simply dig in. Which ones had leftovers that they had access to, which ones had leftovers under strict lock and key. It would be the food that he would always remember. The food was served buffet style, a personal favorite style for Zeke. He could pile his plate with as much and with whatever he wanted to, knowing that it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t eat it all. Knowing that his mom wouldn’t be stressing out behind him, telling him that he couldn’t order this or that because they couldn’t afford it. Here, at Bible Camp of the Redwoods, he was free. Zeke and Jerry loved to explore. Their mom had done her best to instill in them a healthy fear of pretty much everything, but it hadn’t really stuck. The second day of camp, they biked to the crest of a small hill, about a quarter mile from their cabin. Here, they decided, would be the perfect place to build a fort, and with any luck, it would be completed by the time they left camp at the end of the week. Through rattlesnake inhabited grasses, they gathered as many twigs, sticks, and rocks as they could into a haphazard pile. Zeke liked the sound of the rocks crunching under his feet and thunking against each other, but they did not resonate as they did under water. By the end of that second day, they had gathered a pile of fort-building textiles as tall as Zeke. The next day they would find a shovel and bring it up with them so that they could start digging the foundation. Even at their young ages, they were already expert fort builders. The speech his dad gave was well rehearsed, always given verbatim, down to the inflections and the breathing. Zeke found a comfort in that. In another childhood summer spent far away from home, these rehearsed speeches, followed by his dad’s familiar songs, gave him a sense of normalcy. Whether he was inside the chapel, at the back table selling merchandise, or outside on his bike, playing cowboys and Indians with Jerry, he always timed his evening to the rhythmic words of his dad. His dad had a battery of speeches. The one that night dealt with a rash of deaths amongst high school students at a youth group he was the youth minister of in the mid-1970s. This was before he quit the clergy for a life on the road. He was a musician and speaker at heart. Always was and, Zeke reckoned, always would be. So, after his songs, which his dad was tired of (but never showed), he broke into that night’s grisly topic.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 75


Short Story

“You just never know when your time is going to come,” the speech began. “And you never knew when anyone else’s was either. Back in the early 70s, I was a youth minister in Chico. One summer, we had a rash of deaths amongst some of the students I was ministering to.” Every time the speech began, Zeke, whether he was in the room or not, dropped what he was doing and gave it his full attention. This night, he was at the merchandise booth and he had stacked the cassette tapes into houses. He leaned forward, small hands under small chin, and licked his lips. This was his favorite story. “Bruce had this shiny Harley Davidson. He drove it to and from school, keeping it polished and spit-shined. After school each day, he would unroll a pack of Marlboro Reds from his T-shirt, put the cigarette in his mouth, light it, and begin the ride home. Bruce was too cool for a helmet.” Zeke could picture it. And even though he knew the rest of the story, he was gripped. “One day, as Bruce drove home, a car pulled just a few inches too far into the intersection and Bruce’s bike was clipped and he went flying, helmetless, into a telephone pole.” At this, his dad would snap his fingers. “Like that. Gone.” “And later that week, Melinda Carson snuck out of her house and headed to a party when she was nabbed by two masked men, beaten, and murdered. They found her body in a creek by her house.” Zeke leaned in closer still. His favorite part was coming up next. He knew he shouldn’t like these stories, but he’d heard them so much that he had personalized them. He could picture Bruce. He could picture Melinda. He felt like he knew them. He felt the rush of reliving their deaths each time he heard the stories. “Another,” his dad continued, his voice popping into the microphone. The crowd of students and leaders hushed, showing the respect that this story deserved. “Had a meeting set up with me to meet and get together and just talk. But he never made that meeting. Instead, he went home, went to his dad’s den, and grabbed a box of buckshot. His dad left a key in the top drawer of his work desk. He grabbed that key. Next, he went to his dad’s safe, unlocked it using that key, and pulled out a hunting rifle. He slowly made his way up the stairs to his bedroom, where he sat on his bed, cracked open the barrel, and loaded one shell into it, before sticking the barrel under his chin and pulling the trigger.” He didn’t know if it was wrong to like this story. He didn’t even know if the story was true. He would often close his eyes and picture what it would be like, that final moment before pulling the trigger. What would happen after? Would that person hear the shot? Would they feel anything? Would that person be ushered into the hell he was taught to believe in? Would there be eternal joy and peace? Would there be simply nothing? He knew these thoughts weren’t normal at his age, so he kept them to himself. And while he had no desire to experiment, these thoughts kept him awake late into the night.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 76


Short Story

He was slightly sunburned, so the cool of the creek felt even better on his back. His mom had chided him for forgetting to sunscreen his back the day before. He didn’t tell her he had his shirt off while he was working on the fort. She could never know about the fort. “You’ll get skin cancer. You get sunburned at your age and you get skin cancer.” Cancer was a word he heard far too often in his house; from his mom’s constant panic attacks and the fear that she herself would die from the disease, as many of her friends had, to the constant reminders about parabens and UV rays and tainted food. As he swam, he wondered when the cancer would strike. Would it hurt? Would it kill him? How would it feel? Jerry, oblivious to his brothers’ morbid thoughts, swam out further. Mom was distracted by conversation. “It’s been tough,” she said. “He doesn’t make enough money,” she said. “We never do. He’s too nice. He needs to ask for more.” She rubbed her rounded belly as she said this, as if to emphasize the point. She was speaking with the wife of the camp director, the wife of the man that hired Zeke’s dad, on the strength of his one single that got radio play. The wife of the man who could pay him more if he were so inclined. “Maybe you could see if there’s more. We have to make it to Dallas after this.” Zeke, tired of listening, dunked into the water and reinvestigated the sounds of the rocks clanging against each other underwater. Once again enjoying the muffle of the outside world. Enjoying his hideaway. He swam, eyes open, and saw the legs of his little brother. He picked up speed and lunged shoulder first into his brother’s legs, sending him reeling into the deep part of the creek, beyond where he could touch. Jerry screamed, his childlike confidence gone, and he flailed, yelling for help. Zeke rose from the water, laughing at first, until he noticed his brother’s predicament. He knew he would be in trouble now. Mom ceased her conversation and rushed out knee-deep into the water, swearing at Zeke for what he did, screaming for Jerry to get to shore “Right this instant.” Zeke swam out to his brother and imagined, if only for a fleeting moment, what would happen if he didn’t grab his brother. What would happen if he let his brother drown right there, or if he didn’t get to him in time? Where would Jerry go? What would happen to him? Would he end up in his dad’s stories? Would they be secretly relieved because there would be one less mouth to feed? What would happen to Zeke?

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 77


Short Story

In his mind’s eye, he was holding his brother under the water, his brother’s arms thrashing, grasping for hair, clawing at his big brother. In reality, Zeke was saying, “Grab my arm,” and his brother was grabbing his arm and Zeke was pulling him to shore, a hero and a villain. Once they got to where Jerry could stand, Zeke let go and his mom trounced in, pulled on Zeke’s arm, dropped his pants, and swatted him as hard as she could on his bare ass. He devoured breakfast the next morning, as he had to go to bed without dinner the night before. He didn’t know why he knocked Jerry under and down. He didn’t know why he fantasized about holding him under. His dad played it up to boys being boys; his mom said he was naughty and she prayed over him. He had missed some tremendous excitement the night before. As his dad was performing, a baby rattlesnake slithered its way to the stage. His dad, mid-song, stopped performing and stepped back. The camp director rushed the stage with a shovel and cut off the head of the snake, throwing the carcass into the woods, wrapping the head in cloth and burying it deep within the garbage. His dad replied, with a smile, “See? You never know when the end might come.” After breakfast, Zeke and Jerry roamed the perimeter of the outdoor chapel, looking for the remains of the baby snake, but they were unable to find it. Zeke wanted to place it in front of the fort to ward away predators. Zeke and Jerry rode their bikes together back to their secret fort. Zeke had stolen a shovel from the side of the chapel and rode with it up the hill to the site of their fort. Zeke was somewhat wary of rattlesnakes now, what with last night’s vicarious encounter, but that didn’t stop him and Jerry from digging and building. As brothers are wont to do, they communicated without speaking. Jerry was in charge of digging the hole. “Dig until it’s a couple feet deep, at least. If you can see China, you’re too deep.” Zeke had heard that you could dig to China, and he always wondered what would happen if he did that. Would he suddenly find his hand clutching air, pulling himself through into the hustle and bustle of Beijing? Would he be able to climb all the way through and explore another side of the world and then return home through the same hole? Would he even want to return? Life was good, but what was on the other side was probably more exciting. And so, Jerry dug and Zeke gathered more sticks, logs, and rocks. He was careful not to reach under rocks or into holes. He knew if he reached under a rock where a rattlesnake was napping, that he would be bitten, maybe die, and definitely be scolded for not being more careful.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 78


Short Story

The holes being dug were for the foundation. Zeke would drop in a stick or a log, Jerry would fill in the hole, and pat it down with the shovel. They would lean the walls up against trees or tie them together with the stalks of brown grass. Soon the walls were up, just higher than Zeke’s head, held in place haphazardly. This was not sturdy yet, but it was getting there. About the time Zeke’s stomach was rumbling for lunch, the fort was nearing completion, big enough for one regular-sized person or for two little boys. The two boys climbed inside the wobbly fort, giggling and excited about their secret creation. Dad was speaking again, but this wasn’t his big speech. This was his between-songs speech. He had finished with his more upbeat songs and the cheeseball jokes and was now mellowing down for the evening. It was time to be serious. The next song, a song about how Jesus is the only hope, also had a rather morbid preface. Zeke’s dad would talk about his inspiration for the song, a Chicago-style ballad, with ubiquitous keyboards, and a slow build towards a passionate denouement. “I was inspired to write this song,” he began, “when I read about a young girl, fourteen years old, that entered into a life of prostitution and was murdered by one of her Johns.” Zeke, who was building a fort out of the cassettes and CDs at the table in the back of the room, perked up and leaned forward. Like the kid sticking the shotgun in his mouth, Zeke always waited with bated breath for this story. He felt sad for the girl, yet exhilarated by the danger. He told no one, afraid of the consequences, but he listened. His breath picked up; his mouth watered a little. “The article showed her pictures,” his dad continued, the room quiet, the microphone popping at the word “pictures.” His dad’s acoustic guitar swayed from his neck and shoulders as he spoke, “Starting with her as a little girl, braided hair and smiles, braces in her teeth. Moving up into elementary school, the smile a little less profound, the look a little darker, then, progressing into middle school, black hair, black lipstick, no smile. The transition was startling, and as I read about her life and her murder, I just wanted to reach out to that little girl and shake her and tell her that there was hope, and so the words to this song came to me. It’s about finding hope in Jesus when you may not think that there is hope.” And so he started to play the ballad and Zeke closed his eyes. He imagined what she looked like as a little girl, and then, what she looked like as an adult. He had a reasonable idea of what a prostitute was and he pictured her, wandering the streets, probably smoking a cigarette and then getting into a car with a stranger. He pictured her body, bruised and bloodied, lying in a ditch. Was she afraid? How long did she lie there, and what happened when she finally closed her eyes and stopped breathing? Zeke was pretty sure he knew what happened, but he tried not to think about that. Instead he thought about that girl, and it left him sad and exhilarated.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 79


Short Story

*

*

*

Back at the fort the next morning, Zeke and Jerry added walls and a second room. They didn’t know how far the fort would go, or when they would know it was done. They just knew they were building something. They felt safe, and it was one of those rare moments where Zeke wasn’t focused on the possible dangers surrounding him. It was one of those rare moments where he was simply a little boy, enjoying the moments of being a little boy. He looked at Jerry and realized that this would be the last summer that it would be just the two of them. Soon, their little brother would come along, and he would change everything. Instead of being able to pair off, he would have to tag along. A third wheel. Zeke was only twenty months older than Jerry. They had things in common, and they fought and played like brothers do. But this new imposter growing inside his mom, how would he change things? Where would he sit on those long family car rides? How would he fit in with the rest of the family? Zeke was just getting used to life as a little boy. The idea of having to get used to that with someone new in the family seemed like too much. He wished that there was a way to change things. He thought back to when he tackled Jerry in the creek. Why had he done it? What if he had held him drown under that water? He looked at the fort with its precarious walls, the brush which could be teeming with rattlesnakes. Even the cliffs a short distance ahead. Life was precarious. He knew it was unusual for a nine-year-old to think like this. He knew that he was unusual. His mom and dad were fighting. It was their first fight of the trip, but Zeke knew that there would be more. The sun was out, sweltering through the dirty windows of the cabin. Mom was lying in bed, her hands on her swelling belly. Dad was on the floor doing pushups, beads of sweat breaking out across his back. As always, the fight was about money. Zeke and Jerry were across the small room, playing with plastic cowboys and Indians, pretending not to know what was going on. As with suicide and prostitutes, Zeke knew that he knew far too much about his family’s finances. Yet here he was, trapped in a cabin in the middle of North Central California, his parents bickering like barn cats. He’d heard it all: “That’s not enough for these sweltering conditions.” His mom loved the word sweltering. “It’s a contract! I signed it and agreed to it. I can’t go back and change the terms now.” His dad liked to hide behind contracts. “You should have checked with me first. I didn’t let you drag me out on the road for nine weeks to go home broke again.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 80


Short Story

“It’s not just that. It’s our ministry. It’s my calling.” He gestured at the boys playing in the corner. “You know the boys love it.” At this, their mom grew silent and turned her eyes away from their dad. “I can’t deal with his,” he said. “I’m going for a walk. I need to clear my head before tonight.” That night was the last night of camp and was the denouement of his collective messages. That night he would bust out his finest songs and would make a final push for merchandise. That night, there would be an impassioned speech followed by an altar call. That night was a big night, as the last night of camp always was. He didn’t need the stress and the fighting. Dad put on his shirt, grabbed his leather-bound Bible, and stormed out the door. Mom turned to the boys and said, “Go to college so your wives won’t have to deal with this stuff all the time.” And then she turned over and went to sleep. With mom asleep, Zeke and Jerry made their way outside the cabin, hopped on their bikes, and peddled away. There was unfinished business at the fort in the woods and time was short. Zeke knew that once they left, they would likely never be back, and if they did return, the fort would have long been destroyed. They scattered dust behind them as they pedaled toward the fort, a quarter-mile away, and up. It struck Zeke as strange that, with the fort so close, they could feel so alone and away from everything. He liked that solidarity between he and Jerry. He liked the dangers of rattlesnakes, the risk of the fort collapsing, and mountain creatures. They dropped their bikes in front of the ramshackle structure. Their skin was covered in a light layer of dust. “I want to gather the rocks this time,” Jerry said, running toward the grass. “No!” Zeke yelled, causing Jerry to stop mid stride. “No, don’t run. There’s snakes. And besides, you’re too small. You can’t lift the rocks.” “Am not!” Jerry protested. “Are too. Now come back here and start digging more. I’ll bring over the rocks.” Jerry stomped his feet and stuck out his tongue and Zeke. “No. I want to carry the rocks. I’m a big boy.” Zeke looked at his little brother. Small, even for a seven-year-old. He wondered how his new little brother would compare. Zeke was on pace to be of average height and build, but Jerry was always going to be small. Zeke felt protective of his little little brother and, more than that, didn’t know if he could face the wrath of his parents if something happened to him.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 81


Short Story

But still, what could it hurt? He would grab a few rocks and get tired anyway. “Okay,” said Zeke. “But be careful.” Zeke made it to the haphazard walls of the fort and started straightening the sticks and stones, digging holes for future rocks and sticks that would add to the stability. This was going to be something! He ran his hand along the roughhewn fort. Some of the rocks were jagged, others smooth. The sticks, long and short, smooth and branchy, holding up a roof made from lady ferns, twigs, and dried grass. The fort trembled at his touch. It was quite the feat for two little boys without any training in construction at all, without any tools, or adult supervision. Just yearly fort building throughout America. Some of the stones, sticks, and leaves were tied together with long pieces of grass and some with twine that Zeke had taken from the family minivan. Jerry came with a load of medium-sized rocks and dropped them to the ground. They fell against each other with a hollow thunk and Zeke’s mind ran back to being under the creek and listening to the almost musical quality as the he moved the rocks with his gangly arms. “Come on, dig!” Jerry said to Zeke, taking charge for a moment before running back into the dried grass, which swished against his legs. The rocks were useless. They were too small and soft to make an adequate wall. The fort was already wobbly and these stones would do nothing for the structural integrity. This was just what Zeke feared. He heard more swishing through the grass. He thought about making some mud and putting it between the stick and stones to make a mortar and bind everything together. To make it stronger. He wanted to be able to sleep in the fort without fear of collapse—even though he knew he would never be able to spend a night in his creation. He heard another swish followed by a scream from Jerry. It wasn’t a normal scream. It was a scream full of pain and fear. Zeke knew to run towards the screaming. When he reached his brother, he saw the rattle of a snake scurrying away, and that’s when he realized that the sound he had heard was not the swishing of the grass. He saw his brother clutched over grasping his leg, screaming, blood was pouring from the wound as Jerry wobbled and fell to the ground, still screaming, clutching his leg. Last year in school, Zeke had learned that elevating wounds was important because it kept the blood from circulating and could keep someone from bleeding to death. He didn’t know if that would work here, but he didn’t know what else to do. It was the only way that he could think of to stop the poison. He grabbed the rocks his brother had gathered—the useless, jagged, weak rocks—and piled them next to his screaming brother before grabbing his leg and raising it on top of the rocks. “You stay there like that. Don’t move. I’ll go get help.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 82


Short Story

His brother screamed and gripped the dirt. “Please don’t leave me. I don’t want to stay here by myself. Please don’t leave.” “I have to! I have to get help. You’ll probably die if I don’t.” At that, his brother screamed louder and louder, clutching at Zeke, who pulled away, his shirt tearing in the process. His face was turning purple, a bright bruise forming on his leg. As Zeke stumbled to his bike, he dry-heaved. He was looking death in the face, and it was very real and scary. He dry-heaved again. Finally, he climbed onto his bike, past his screaming brother, and pedaled to the main camp. By the time he reached it, he could no longer hear his brother’s screams.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 83


Poetry

Three Okasans in Gion WORDS BY

PHOTO BY

Deborah Guzzi

Deborah Guzzi

Eyes skitter, linger, then pierce as the white-faced Geiko poses. Hands hidden, obi-painted, this animated tourist-draw milks the herd. Snap-snaps punctuate the air like gnat slaps chained off crowds ooooh aaaahhhh. [A youngster finds allure in a chain-link fence—anima’s art to him. Text bubbles do not float above the geisha’s head.] her onyx eyes stones telling nothing: feet unbound Rise-up, dip-down, snap-snap, digitize—she bobs like koi in a stocked pool; she’s piece of living art. No ‘flower money’?—no stay; the decorative one adorned in embroidered robes of silk. Her movements ripple the kimono’s tangerine scene. Tabi two-toed socks cushion her zori’s shuffle—see her crimson smile. Grandfather watches the western woman: guffaws grate Behind barriers, Grandmother’s cheeks rise in a true smile; her own youthful desires clear behind gold-rimmed glasses. In dungarees and goose down, I transgress, the artless stranger, scooching in sneakered-feet yet, the world, the way, the Tao is all—we are all mothers. *okasans means mother NEW READER MAGAZINE | 84


Poetry

Omikuji’s Black Tale Anicca* worried the corner of her thumbnail. No text. She sent the “kokuhaku” or love confession weeks ago. Her studies at the university were suffering. The second floor of Kyoto’s mall was tomblike. She sat off to the side beneath a red gargantuan metal assemblage. The toes of her sneakers touched as did her elbows to her knees. Her chin rested on the heels of her hands. Mother said her behavior was unseemly, all this moping, and advised a trip to the fortune tellers at Jishi Jinga shrine. The bus was leaving soon. Her undone shoelace almost felled her when she stood. She tied the sneaker, adjusted her overlarge sweater, grabbed her feedbag like satchel and ran for the escalator. Yes, she nodded as if to say; I will leave his suitability in the hands of the gods. The line at the Omikuji within the temple-snaked around the corner. Fortune’s number, denoted by the stick she shook from the bamboo box, made her frown. Holding down her sleeve, she carefully placed the bad luck fortune on the wire. She bowed to the wisdom of O-Kuni-Nushi*. I shift from foot to foot, see rooks land on fortune’s lines harmful thoughts make me shiver night drapes, crows caw, bad luck my cut wrist bleeds, the wind sighs heed the god gifted wisdom tomcats will roam wide

*Anicca – the name means impermanence **O-Kuni-Nushi is known as the god of abundance, medicine, good sorcery, and happy marriages. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 85


Poetry

Nightfall in District 2 (Matzo Island) – Vienna, Austria Having channeled the masses into a drainage ditch, Vienna waltzes on in a Hapsburg dream which promotes false friendship with the state of Israel, soothing, luring, and whitewashing the isle with white light, Leopoldstadt stripteases the night sky glass classy while a statue of Mother Mary, Marien, bridges the Little Danube. Marienbrucke LEDed in lavender cloaks bank dwellers and high risers who exist in post WWII reflection. Viennese light guru’s, Podpod, enliven. Youthful fools stalk, dance, skulk, at river’s edge beneath Neos spot pots of white light. Parks, pools, chairs, and a hot spot called Tel Aviv Beach, snake below a spit-polished city draining hoi polli from the upper classes; permitting the less sophisticated to imbibe and excrete graffiti and music suppressing memories of Ghettos—Im Werd, Unterer Werd, anti-Semitic horrors which earned Vienna the name Ir ha-Damim, The City of Blood. Freud’s City of Dreams creates Kafa’s needled nightmare. No amount of rainbow light playing on bridges and skyscrapers will ever make a Jew feel safe or welcomed home to District 2.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 86


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 87


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 88


Short Story

Taken Away WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

Terry Sanville

Kring Demetrio

To the east of Ngazidja (new-gis-a-ja), white sails grew from the rumpled sea. Housnati watched them advance toward her island, three ships most likely returning from India to ports in Mozambique. Her mother hobbled through the doorway and joined her on the porch of their thatched house near the edge of the white sand beach. “What do you see? My eyes are weak today.” “Your eyes are always weak.” “Just tell me. No smart talk.” “Three ships, Mama.” “What color are their sails?” “Dirty white.” “What kinds of ships?” “Two big masts with pointed sails.” “They may be slavers. Quick, get ready.” “They must fight a strong wind to reach us. I have time.” The old woman muttered, “I will not have those Arabs steal my last daughter.” Housnati shielded her eyes from the early morning sun and gazed north along the beach. Other islanders stood on their covered porches and stared at the sea. The babble of voices and the high cries of young women drifted on the wind. “Get moving,” her mother said. “You will have plenty of time to stare when you are in the jungle.” “I have found a better place to hide, Mama. Allah will protect me.” “Where will you go?” NEW READER MAGAZINE | 89


Short Story

“I will not tell you . . . that way you cannot tell the slavers.” “I would never betray my own daughter.” “Mama, we know what they did to Papa and he was strong. They took him away, even after he told them what they wanted.” “How did you get so wise, and you barely a woman.” Housnati grinned. “I can also run fast, much faster than those lumbering slavers.” “But they have muskets. You cannot outrun bullets.” “They will not shoot me. They want me alive, to serve some rich family in India or China. I will not be taken.” Slipping inside the house, Housnati gathered ripe plantains, some dried fish, a gourd filled with water and another with coconut milk, wrapping everything in a blanket. She covered her hair with a dark blue scarf, embraced her mother, and fled into the jungle. She followed well-worn trails that led to coconut palms. The land sloped upward, and in a short distance the paths dwindled to nothing. She pushed through dense undergrowth of vines and shrubs. The morning heat created a suffocating humid haze. Sweat dripped into her eyes and stained her dress. She continued to climb, breathing hard but feeling strong, determined. At a rock outcropping the color of the night sky, she stopped to rest. Below, the island’s eastern coastline stretched north and south, scalloped in places by emerald coves, with black sand beaches where Karthala had spewed lava and ash over the centuries. Three ships stood anchored offshore, while on the beach four longboats rested on the white sand. The slavers had already rounded up a crowd of mostly women, whose colorful shiromani fluttered in the wind. Shouts from the nearby jungle startled her. A flash of red crashed through the undergrowth like a feral pig being hunted. A young woman not much older than Housnati charged toward her rock outcropping. She wore a crimson headscarf over a dull green shiromani and carried a small drawstring bag. Housnati recognized her friend immediately. “Rifka, over here.” The woman stared at her wide-eyed and joined her behind a black bolder the size of a village house. “So glad to see you, Housnati. I just got away. I think they have my sisters and . . . and they may take my brothers and parents.” She began to weep. “No time for tears. Take that scarf off. It is a waving flag for the slavers to follow.” “But it is against–” “Do not worry, Allah will forgive such an offense so long as we avoid these cruel men.” Shouts from the Arabs sounded nearer. “Come, we must hurry.” NEW READER MAGAZINE | 90


Short Story

The duo pushed upslope through the jungle, climbing higher and higher toward the steaming summit of the volcano, a solid shield of rainforest and stone that rose into the clouds. Hours passed and they stopped for noon prayers. Clouds enveloped them. Cold rain soaked them. Rifka dropped to the ground and begged for a rest. “Where . . . where are we going?” she gasped. “Near the top of Karthala are caves and holes in the earth where the mountain breathes out steam. We will hide there.” “But wouldn’t the forest be better? We can climb into the trees, like lemurs.” “Yes, but if they look hard, they will find us. The Arab slavers are scared of our mountain. They do not know her. They fear her as they fear The Pit of Burning Fire after the Day of Judgment. My father told me this before they took him.” “Should we not also fear the mountain?” “Yes, but she has been quiet and I know the signs. When the earth shakes, then we should worry.” They continued upward, the forest falling away and replaced by grassy scrubland dotted with stunted trees. They stopped for afternoon prayers and sips of water from Housnati’s gourd, then pressed onward. The scrubland faded into a black desert of powdery dirt and tortured rock formations. A gale-force wind tore at their clothing. Clouds scraped the mountaintop. They moved higher and reached the edge of the massive fire hole. Tiny flowers and moss grew along its ragged lip. The air stank of rotting eggs. “We will die here if we stay,” Rifka said. “Quit complaining and follow me.” They circled the volcano’s enormous crater with its tiny lake until they reached a group of shallow caves in the black glass-like rock. The mountain fell away steeply. Downslope, steam wafted skyward from vents in the north side. “This place must truly be Jahannam where shaytan lives,” Rifka said. “Yes. But if Allah wills, we will be safe here.” “If we do not die from the cold.” The young women gazed across the island in all directions. Far below, two more slave ships had joined the first three near their village. “They must be searching the entire eastern coast,” Rifka said and wiped tears from her eyes. “They will take everyone.” “Surely not our mothers. They are too old and feeble.” “Mama says they take slaves north to Arabia and Persia to work in the houses of the sultans.” “Come, let us get out of this gale.” NEW READER MAGAZINE | 91


Short Story

Housnati inspected several of the caves and picked one that faced away from the wind. Inside, the air felt cold but not bitter. The two young women performed their prayers at sunset, their clothes blackened by the layer of fine powder that softened the cave’s floor. With backs to the wall, they shared a ripe plantain and some smoked dried fish, sipped coconut milk from a gourd. With the moon down, the stars burned like polished bits of glass on a black beach. The wind calmed and the night settled in. After evening prayers, Housnati pulled Rifka close and tucked her blanket around both of them. They shivered on the ground until the warmth of their bodies drove the cold away. Rifka squirmed in Housnati’s embrace, trying to get comfortable. “Quiet down,” Housnati scolded. “You would not be this restless if you were in Nawab’s arms.” “What are you talking about? I hardly know him. He is just another man after me. But I have no interest in him.” Housnati chuckled. “Liar. I saw you two in the forest, touching each other.” “You must be dreaming. It could not have been me.” “Oh yes. I have keen eyes, just ask my mother. Does your mother know about—” “Hush, it would be a sin, and we only kissed and touched, nothing more. I am still pure and chaste . . . so my sin is not so great.” “Does Nawab want to marry you?” “Yes, but I am not certain I want him to come into my mother’s house and live with my parents and sisters.” Rifka’s body stiffened. “Praise be to Allah, I hope the slavers do not…” Rifka trembled in her arms and Housnati pulled her even closer, stroked her hair. She marveled at how straight and silky it felt, an obvious result of the woman’s Swahili ancestors having married Arab or European traders. Housnati ran a finger across Rifka’s forehead and along the bridge of her narrow nose to her sculpted lips. Rifka reached up and grasped her hand and held it. “I have watched you for a long time, Housnati, even when we were little.” “I have watched you also. But watching and . . . and touching are much different.” “Touch me now, take my mind away from this terrible day, make me feel that bliss.” “We shall both sin together. I will repent later . . . or maybe never.” As they explored each other’s bodies the wind rose and covered their cries. Later, Housnati left the cave to urinate while Rifka slept. Below, the lights of a dozen beach fires on the eastern coast burned brightly. Along the western side of the island, lights from the larger villages helped define the coastline. Would they be the next victims of the slavers? Housnati knew from her cross-island travels that Arab traders and spice merchants lived there. Some would sell their own wives if the price was right.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 92


Short Story

Two mornings later, they woke to find the slave ships had weighed anchor. From their vantage point high above the sea, they watched the fleet sail due south, round the island, and anchor off its west coast. Over two days, the slavers laid waste to more villages. Fires burned late into the night. On the third day, the Arabs departed, two ships bearing north toward Arabia while the others turned east into the broad Indian Ocean. Rainsqualls drenched Ngazidja. The women huddled in their cave, nibbled on their meager rations, told each other stories, and fell deeper and deeper in love. But the rain and cold drove them downslope. They descended through the scrubland and jungle, sweat-covered, dirty and tired. At the shoreline in the privacy of a deserted cove, they washed their scratched and bruised bodies in the surf and let the sun bake them dry while Housnati kept watch. They moved toward their village. A gaggle of tiny children sat on the beach, staring eastward into the sun. Some of the thatched houses had been burned but most stood silent in the morning breeze. Housnati’s mother sat on the edge of their porch, head bowed, wearing the same clothes that she had worn the day her daughter had fled. “Mama, Mama,” Housnati screamed and ran forward. Her mother’s head jerked upward at the sound. As if in great pain, she stood and grasped a porch pole with both hands to steady herself. Housnati encircled her in her arms and wept. “Mama, are you well? What…what has happened here?” “They took everyone…almost 300. They left nothing but the boats.” She pointed to the canoes stashed at the edge of the jungle. “But praise be to Allah, you are—” “Yes, they left me behind because I am crippled and too weak.” “What about those children?” “They were too young to take. They are now orphans to slavery.” “Are you the only one in our village?” “I could not find anyone but the children. They took all the food.” Housnati remembered her friend Rifka and turned to scan the beach but found it empty. The word friend seemed so lacking—Rifka had become much more than a friend, a person to love and share one’s life with, a confidant, someone beautiful that needed protection. She helped her mother into a porch chair and propped her up with straw-filled pillows before leaving in search of her lover. She found Rifka standing in the doorway of her family’s house, sobbing. The slavers had taken everyone and anything of value, then destroyed the rest. “I am so sorry, Rifka. Allah will protect them.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 93


Short Story

“I…I…I should have stayed…it would have been better if we all were taken.” “No. You did the right thing. Your family is strong like you, they will live.” “But…but what if the slavers come back? Will we ever be safe on this island?” “I will protect you. Come.” Rifka came into her arms and they stood for the longest time, rocking in the afternoon wind. They separated. Rifka retrieved her red headscarf from her drawstring bag and Housnati helped her smooth her hair and arrange the scarf. They walked hand in hand toward Housnati’s house, talking about how they would break the news to her mother. As they approached, the old woman struggled to stand and smiled at them knowingly. As the years surged forward, sailors on passing ships bound for Madagascar or the Cape would gaze at the ghost village, save for a single house, with two women on the porch tending to their horde of children, prostrating themselves in prayer, or paddling offshore, working their fishing lines, always watching the horizon and glancing at Karthala, waiting for the blast and crash of yet another change in their lives.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 94


Short Story

7am, at Marcos Bridge WORDS BY R. Joseph Dazo

i. You left the bed before the alarm rings. You were not able to sleep because of the thrill of seeing him again in a planned travel. The last time this happened was the first night you had a chat with him in a gay app. You still ask yourself on how you can forget that night filled with messages (in between being horny and being sweet) coupled with nude pics (where you traced your finger on the screen, on his genital). That time, your heart was filled with emotions you acknowledge as foreign and forgotten. “Yawa!” you snapped, nearly throwing the phone. Several messages failed to send. Your surfing promo has expired. You ran out of load. It’s dawn. You curse again and it echoed inside your room. You just stared the screen of your phone. You saw his non-stop messages: Where are you? Are you busy? Hey, are you there? Hey. Psst. Please reply. Jay? Hoy. ii. You sat beside him in an overloaded jeepney from Kauswagan. You love how the dark curly hairs of his legs rubbed on yours. These hairs invite you to place your hand on his wellformed thigh. You told him that you’ll tell him something you’ve kept for weeks since the first time you met him at Bo’s. You’ve kept it for too long that it started to congest on your veins.

The bridge becomes the synonym of traffic in your place. The jeepney wheels seem to move only an inch in every five minutes—and both, seconds and minutes, felt forever. “My sweat rolls faster than the vehicle,” you said to him. You saw him smile. You wanted to kiss him at that moment. “When I work abroad, I’ll never experience this again.” You heard someone’s going to jump from the bridge. You heard women shouting. Someone pleads. Your fellow passengers tried to look for where it was coming from. “I have something to tell you,” you said in the midst of the screaming. You saw him peeked outside. “I have to tell you this…” “What did you say?” You shook your head and told him ‘never mind’. You saw the man jump from the bridge. iii. You, at 7 am, stuck in the traffic at EDSA commuting to your new work place. You know he’s in Japan, at 8 am, on a bullet train going to meet his lover.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 95


Short Story

Some Days in Corrales Avenue For Chris—the golden boy from the north.

I. There was never a moment that you unhand your phone. You always: check your e-mail waiting for a letter of acceptance or rejection from an anthology of travel essays about Mindanao; wait for notification of your messenger app from your friend’s update about the annulment she is processing and her long speech about relationships in this generation that simply don’t work; and refresh the Tinder app hoping for having a match. There’s an enchantment in meeting strangers. You always tell that to people you meet in different places you visit. Sometimes, you quote Tiempo: you lived on strange boats on strange waters. You can still remember their names—even distinct features on their face or body. Clint’s scar on his wrist from fraternity’s initiation, Jude’s moles on his nape like Orion’s belt, Lloyd’s gap between his teeth, Tom’s Ouroboros tattoo on his chest, Anton’s thin patches of facial hair on his chin and Adzrin’ lone hair on his left nipple. You remembered not only their names but also their stories. “I write; they can be my raw materials in writing prose,” you said as if the words were already flowing through your veins for years together with the overfamiliarity of the national anthem and Lord’s Prayer. II. You came on time to Cagayan de Oro. You did not have a problem of getting lost since you got Google Maps ready on your phone. People in the place are not difficult to approach with. One question and they can give you lengthy answers. You sat on the front seat of the jeepney with the manuscript on your right hand, reading the annotations and highlighted sentences on the pages, on your left hand, your phone with several notifications from Twitter and Facebook.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 96


Short Story

III. You promised you’ll not insert love and relationship; and turned them into analogy and metaphor to connect it with your lecture on writing flash fiction. Still, you mentioned your ex. You talked about love. You didn’t feel guilty talking about it. IV. You emphasized three things during the workshop: 1) flash fiction’s ending should give surprise or realization, 2) do not write something you are not familiar with, 3) Cagayan de Oro has a lot of stories to tell. V. You checked your Tinder. Congratulations! You have a new match!—Aaron. Eighteen. He studied in the university where you talked about your flash fiction and ex. You exchanged messages with him. You cannot hide your excitement so you invited him to come over to the motel where you were staying. Here you are again, asking for his photos (Selfie. Topless. Naked), studying his face like you do on Masih’s and Pokrass’ fiction. Aaron is lean. There was no trace of him lifting weights or even doing push-ups. He has a perfect smile. No gaps in between his teeth. White complexioned. A bit tanned. Perhaps from going to the beach. You zoomed in on his photos. His left ear is pierced. This means that it was not a magnetic earring. You suddenly thought of your fetishes. He is young and cute; you said and said it again like a mantra for Krishna. That night it was difficult for you to sleep. “He is a boy made of gold,” you said. You said it again. VI. You were not able meet Aaron that night. You hooked up with someone else while Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s Before Sunrise was playing on the cabled TV. Both of you came before the movie ends. You took a bath with him. In the middle of lathering and rinsing, you remembered Aaron. You let the 24-year-old guy who owned a coffee shop and studied BS in Developmental Communication sleep with you. You have still remembered the line from the male character of the movie: After that breakup, I just wanna be a ghost, completely anonymous. The guy left before you woke up, leaving shed long hairs on his pillow and disarray bedding. VII. People from Mindanao should start telling stories. According to researches, people, who live near the rivers or the riversides, possess countless stories. You learned that in the past, women, while doing their laundry by the river, exchange stories.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 97


Short Story

VIII. On the third day and last day, you finally met Aaron in the McDonald’s after he enrolled for the second semester. You couldn’t stop staring at him as he talked about his mischievous actions when he was younger, his broken family, the time he spent his tuition fee to buy a plane ticket to meet his previous lover who lives in Mandaluyong, his life in Cebu for a year, his F grade in Mathematics and how he made fun of Lang Leav’s poetry. You heard him talking about his deep love for someone else. You masked your pain through your smile and random clearing of your throat. “I do not think he really loves you,” you said to him. “If he won’t choose you, do not worry I’m here.” You added. You know your face turned red and took back the words and said that it’s just a joke. IX. You kept checking on your time. You know it won’t stop. You invited him to come to your place. You heard his reply: no. X. You chatted Aaron again after you packed your things: I love you. There was no reply. You cried after you deleted the app. XI. You leaned on the balustrade of the ship’s deck, silently observing the blinking lights of the city until the night, rain and distance swallowed the lights. You know you hate it when it rains. It slows down everything there: students in white uniform crossing from the university to streets nearby Corrales, beggars recounting their day’s coins from an empty plastic bottle under the waiting shed, old man’s smoke from his Marlboro black, tiny bugs on fluorescent light, rain water falling from the sky and crawling listlessly by the unpainted gutters of the avenue. Everything moves slow, except for the Cagayan river, which is roaring, moving faster, and leaving every thing and everything destroyed and broken. Like him—passing by you.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 98


Short Story

Survival WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

Murph Little

Kring Demetrio

Click. “Three to five years experience.” Click. Click. Click. “One to two years experience.” Click. Click. Click. “Five to seven—” Click-click-click-click-click. New website. Let’s lower expectations. Click. Click. Click. No, I’m over-qualified for this. How the fuck can someone be overqualified? “No Mr. Wolfe, you’ll be too good at this entry-level position. Our business only hires the most ineffectual. And while your Master’s Degree shows that you have poor decision-making skills, which our business highly values, we simply cannot risk that you ‘bring anything more’ to this most basic of jobs.” Click. Fuck Wal-Mart. Click. Let’s check my email. Click. An inconsiderate number of porn ads. No job replies... I wonder if there’s anything in the newspaper. I would have to put on pants. If I played Xbox, I wouldn’t have to put on pants. Decisions . . . Dammit. Pants. Stands. Puts on pants. Leaves. Doesn’t take car. Needs to save gas. Needs to save money. Needs exercise. Thinks along the away, Six percent unemployment. Isn’t that what Romney promised? That’s a “revitalized economy”? Bullshit. Six percent of people who want to work can’t work. Six percent of the country’s job is looking for a job. Gets dizzy. Stops. You forgot the anxiety. You have to control it. You have to. Don’t get so worked up. Survive. Leans on wrought-iron fence. Survive. Still dizzy, but has regained peripheral vision. Survive. Outside of the coffeeshop, grabs newspaper. Pats pants. Put on wrong pants. No pen. Dammit. Walks into coffeeshop. Orders coffee. Makes eye contact with cute Barista. Cute Barista returns eye contact. She smiles. What type of smile is that, friendly or friendlier? She hands him the coffee. Her smile is gone, but maybe it’s in her eyes. Sits. Opens paper. Reads listings. Looks secretly at Barista. She looks busy. She looks like a universe collapsing on itself: bright, warm, and small. Her gravity draws everything in, makes time stop.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 99


Short Story

Undergraduate walks in. It must be Saturday. Thinks if the Undergraduate’s apartment is clean. Mostly. Undergraduate makes Barista laugh. It is the Undergraduate’s way. People like him. Don’t be jealous. He’s your friend. Undergraduate orders expensive latte that Undergraduate’s Dallas internship affords him. Undergraduate sits by. “How’s my couch?” “There.” Undergraduate laughs. “What are you doing?” “Work.” Asks Undergraduate for pen. Undergraduate obliges. Circles a few listings. Goes into parking lot. Calls. “The position has been filled.” “The position has been filled.” “The position has been filled.” Walks back into coffee shop. Undergraduate is with Girlfriend. Girlfriend says hi. Undergraduate asks if he and Girlfriend can have his apartment to themselves for a few hours. Undergraduate and Girlfriend leave. Shit, what am I going to do? Sit at the coffeeshop and look at the Barista? Decides to go on walk. Looks for “Help Wanted” signs. “Help Wanted” at Pizza Hut. “Help Wanted” at IHOP. Not that desperate. Not yet. Decides this was a fruitless venture. Returns to coffee shop. Sits on porch. Reads paper. Says hi to friends as they pass by. Bama shows up. Bama doesn’t shut up. Hours pass. Bama’s hate for Auburn is endless, like neutrons in a dying star. Bama follows new friend when the new friend passes by. Thank God. Thinks, It’s been too long since I’ve thanked Him. Needs to refill coffee. Walks to coffee shop’s frontdoor. Barista is taping “Help Wanted” on front door. Walks inside. Barista smiles, rips down “Help Wanted” and hands it over. Holds “Help Wanted” in front of chest like mugshot, like truth. Barista laughs, “You should apply.” I should apply. Barista walks back to the counter. Feels dizzy. Finds Bama, sits beside him. Loses another hour of life. Bama says he’s going to watch a soccer match and leaves. Still dizzy. Sits with his head back and sighs. Survive. God help me. God help me. God dammit, God help me . . . That was blasphemous. Why do I care? Why does He care? Hears coffee shop Manager walk inside. She has a voice like a screech owl. Gets up. Survive. Steadies self on wall while walking to Manager. Asks Manager about job. Manager says one is open and goes behind counter to get paperwork. Looks at Barista. She looks concerned. Why does she look scared? Did I say something? NEW READER MAGAZINE | 100


Short Story

Feels thirsty. Peripherals narrowing, black rings forming. Shit— Wakes with a headache. Barista is kneeling over. People surround. Again? Feels shame, guilt. Barista says, “Don’t sit up.” Sits up. Asks for water. Barista brings water. Drinks. Stands. Wobbly. Survive. Starts to walk home. Barista volunteers to walk with. Manager is still holding paperwork. Walks. Pretends that the world isn’t spinning. Thinks, I won’t be getting that job. Looks to Barista. She is gentle. She is speaking. How the fuck am I supposed to ask her on a date now. “Yes, I love men with anxiety disorders. When stress makes them blackout and sweeps them of their feet, well, it does the same to me! Well, there was this one time—” Barista says, “Boyfriend.” Listen. “My boyfriend and I are—” Stops listening. Feels wobbly again. Keep upright, dammit! Survive. Survive. Sur— “Are you alright?” Lies. Says yes. Arrives at Undergraduate’s apartment. Thanks Barista. Barista says, “I’ll pray for you.” Doubts it. Unlocks door. Undergraduate and Girlfriend aren’t gone. Takes off pants. Puts on shorts. Plays Xbox.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 101


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 102


Poetry

USA Insomnia Blues WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

Judy Shepps Battle

Kring Demetrio

Made it all the way to 2 AM hourly awakenings staying in bed until horizontal was irrelevant. Glistening grass tickles Bodhi’s paws as he stops to sniff the night air before trotting the periphery of gray wire enclosure and peeing I turn on the TV nothing has changed Momma Nature’s insane fury destroys all in her path people, places and things crushed, swirled and twirled carelessly into the ethos while our ego-mad President swears to kill 25 million North Koreans without a blink if he feels threatened. I want to sleep through this wild and reckless night and wake up to find Camelot not Armageddon. But I don’t think it is likely to happen.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 103


Poetry

Cloud Meditation a glimpse of you a glimpse of me

heart softens mind expands

passing through life passing through death

brain rests muscles relax.

sensation saturates dialysis begins.

Past and future bow and depart

View shifts

leaving the now as simply sky.

trees silhouette clouds mutate branches sway ballerinas dance rain looms relief promised

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 104


Poetry

Beyond Beginner’s Mind remembering easy meditation how sure I was it would never change I would never change just as it was changing just as I was changing insistent in-breath persistent out-breath Taurus roots crave static space where explanations thrive on day-old rationalizations served on cold brown rice.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 105


Poetry

Soul Passages Stuck in endless night swollen rainbow awaits birth eager and terrified to take human form

Cosmic eye winks radiates love reveals light beholds eternity briefly

Prematurely birthed anointed time missed pagan among monks out of synch with synchronicity

Howling night whispers love in six languages including Hindi.

My heart opens recognizes grains of ancient truth and becomes whole

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 106


Poetry

Questionable Methodology No. 17 Storming the Castle WORDS BY Colin James

If you approach only in one direction tides are too exact, worse than impatient, thank the axe. The sea has become a desperate metaphor. A knock on the plethoric neither pretending, nor rousting its place by the bed wall. Make up your mind aisle or window you old whore. The drawbridge always lopsided you just can’t get a good hunchback anymore. Old men cough dead horses float, try keeping the two separate from a young woman’s attention. She thought you were interesting rich in something, what she wasn’t sure.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 107


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 108


Poetry

Boiling Tinola WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

Tiny Diapana

Kring Demetrio

He’s out drinking in that shanty again the pub next door filled with karaoke kings bursting in unabashed chorus: Knife! Cuts like a knife! You cut away the heart—and she pulls at the insides fast and hard gutting the ticab without mercy. Feeling black rancid blood drip off her calloused fingers, she rinses out the fish and drops it into a pot while her youngest waits on the floor wailing. He’s still not home. But oh can she hear the sad old fart singing the Rockwell Knife as she drops the onions, the tomatoes. She sits down next to the stove watching the water boil.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 109


Poetry

Right Words Some poems don’t really talk much instead some sprout limbs and learn to walk up and down the city with one word following the other. Bare hands, feet This verse scours the streets to find what it really means to be a poem to be in this city. One must pay the price after all, words don’t come so easy. But play right and words can be won off a jeepney and its conductor passing by or teased out of a bottle of Tanduay or peeled off campaign posters on walls. Look for those quick, hesitant glances of those searching love. Wait listen to the thrum of the sidewalk. The right words will come.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 110


Poetry

Because She Is Not Christian There will be a day when I will come home and tell them I have been found by the one who stretches open palms to take rough lines and edges and weave them into her own.

Quietly, we watched currents swirl in deltas and travelled to a beach lined with mangrove trees. There she grafted our initials on limestone to be swallowed by clams close to shore

It is an act of saving, of grace: Here is a knotted rope meant to catch stars that can be found wandering lost and alone in the rim of the eye.

once rock returns to water. We are set free.

There is no need for verses, nor destiny preordained. Hers is a simple path of faith. Every morning there are two Tupperware bowls. The champarrado is stirred till texture is served warm and pressing like poetry.

But they will not believe. All they will see is a man and his sinner a lilo in god's watered offing, searching for heaven in between forsaken land and sea.

And the day will come, I will tell them. Our passion was born in pearls.

Once I took down south and together we paused to breathe by bridges crossing rivers in Liloan.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 111


Poetry

You Know the Greatest Heartbreak in the bathroom when you look yourself in the eye in the cheap mirror splattered with Colgate. you say you never wanted this. none of yourself. no desire for your hands or your feet for your thoughts, for your lines and the slope of your brow. in a snap of a finger you say you would trade your being for that of another.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 112


Poetry

On a Single Turn of the Earth and we find just a little push, just a little pull: I see a flicker of light in your eye while you sit there across me board game standing between us. Here we find everything waxes, everything wanes. I question this game and its very fate but earth itself rotates—push and pulling on land, on breeze and on tides of the sea as we walk careful the cobbled paths to Fuente. We dance to the world with our tandem feet and work the maps of this untenable gravity, freefalling to ground. Rain always finds its path and under sheets we start push and pulling to the sound of stifled hearts like jeepney exhausts that spurt like the veins of your fleshed-out street. I ask for water. So naked we read Amichai’s poetry. It is a beautiful moment, you say. Remember that poem about two amputees? So pull away before the morning comes and our lovers search for us behind our screens. Tomorrow earth must turn away again, rotating.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 113


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 114


Poetry

Bazaar Bizarrerie WORDS BY

PHOTO BY

Brandon Marlon

Robert Keenan

Unforgivably humid temperatures deter none among the throng of keen-eyed bargain hunters patrolling lanes cluttered beyond imagination with pushcarts, parked motorcycles, foraging goats, and stacks of boxed produce awaiting unpacking by hawkers vending only the freshest and juiciest, according to their signs, plus world-class chutneys. Browsers, desirous and drifting between stalls of curios and bibelots aspiring to become souvenirs, bypass oversized Bollywood posters of ingÊnues until lured irresistibly by fragrances heralding attar, chypre, bergamot, musk, and incense, pungent and nosed even from across the maidan. Intrigued by apotropaic talismans, the fixated hardly notice dusk’s advent, though all soon pause from commercial missions to gawk at flute-wielding snake charmers whose ophidians slither and playfully display extrusive, furcate tongues mesmerizing children and parents alike as light shrinks and darkness magnifies marvels.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 115


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 116


Poetry

Damascene Rose Settled in his haven by the West’s eastern edge, a mustached refugee crushes pistachios as he confects bonbons by the dozen, molten goop overflowing trays whose molds now include maple leafs and syrup in addition to the traditional roses, pyramids, and hearts, a heartfelt gesture toward a promising land wherein his familial fortunes have revived. Aromas of cocoa, honey, hazelnuts, and almonds permeate the factory, arousing memories of his grandmother’s saccharine kitchen, blaring speakers calling believers to prayer, the strum of the oud, bubbling hookah pipes, the scent of jasmine in the Old City, warm desert winds in the afternoon, and the stark aftermath of missiles. The recipes, gourmet and carefully guarded, once the envy of Syrian rivals, have adjusted: newly detectable in sectile sheets of milk and dark chocolate is a bittersweet soupçon, the flavor of nostalgia for a homeland damned by sinister twins, terrorism and tyranny, though this taste is balanced by another note, full and rich, the secret ingredient of gratitude.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 117


Short Story

The Foot Race WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

John A. Karr

Kring Demetrio

The conveyer belt curled under the final roller, leaving a twenty-foot gap between the dented cranium and the spindles of death. Artificial gravity added to the moon’s naturally weak influence and together they beckoned the narrow shoulders, the motionless arms, the gutted upper torso. Seven teenagers watched as the body plummeted at a listless angle toward the spinning shredders. Trent Wagner stood to the side of the glass wall, apart from the others. He tore his gaze away seconds after impact, just as the teeth tore into the chest cavity. The screech of rending metal carried through the microphones and echoed in the small operations office, as did the exclamations from the others. Trent winced but tried to clear it before anyone noticed. Gotta stay frosty. Too late. Ryz had seen in the reflection of the glass partition. He turned with his irritatingly confident smile, glanced at the younger teen, and strode toward him. The others parted from his chosen path. He clapped Trent on the shoulder and laughed knowingly. Trent started to smile, but frowned instead when the others joined with blatantly scornful notes. “C’mon, let’s give Twags here some O2,” Ryz told them. “He’s new to the scene.” The blood rushed to Trent’s face. His inner voice scolded him again for hanging with his sister’s friends while she and a crew of other junior pilots took practice runs between the Mars orbiters and the red planet. Meanwhile he was stuck back here like a space ant in the Lunar One dome network, watching robot husks get sliced and diced instead of studying for college placement exams. “Head first, spaceman!” one of the guys shouted, and everyone finally turned back to the show. More laughter. The girls were particularly shrill about it. The spindles sliced deeper and claimed more of the body. The bot’s legs were high, like a counter lever to the succumbing torso. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 118


Short Story

“Look at that action!” Ryz said. “But you won with that bot,” Trent protested, fully wincing now. Ryz’s gaze remained on the slicing. “Yeah, but it got beat twice.” “When a race horse was done in ancient times, they’d put it out to pasture.” “Yeah, if they were breeders, Twags. Most got a more—shall we say—abrupt ending. Time for a new bot, spaceman!” Trent sought distraction and found motion beyond the shredder mouth. Loader bots had basic human attributes; central core with two legs, arms (four instead of two, however), and a ‘head’ that was just a powerful light bulb beside a camera lens for visual input. No facial features. At precise intervals, they pulled other bots from a pile, placed them on the slow-moving belt, and extracted the salvageable parts. These images weren’t much better than the shredders. It was practically cannibalism. Bots don’t have feelings, Trent reminded himself. Just programmed responses. Conclusion: Robot destruction, aka “recycling,” was def not his thing. Other conclusions: Instead of this, he should have surfed in the beach park or ion boarded over the cratered surface of the moon, beyond the bubbles. And in the grander scheme, he should have remained in strata with kids his own age. He and Gwen had talked about it. She told him it was too late now; he might as well keep pursing the higher classes. She was a pain sometimes, but it would be cool if they could rap it out again. But she was thirty-three million miles away now. And that was Mars at its closest. He did wonder what it would be like to ion board over the Martian surface before SCONA tried to kick-started the cores with the thermo bombs. How to get there was problematic. This def would be the last time he clustered with Gwen’s group. Ryz was cool, but kids were pulled into his orbit like asteroids around the sun. Trent was the opposite. The more people on a scene, the more he got eclipsed. The older brother of one of the teens, Trent wasn’t sure which, was the operator of the recycle shredder station. He sat on a raised control chair with a hologram of buttons and controls around him. Trent had felt his calculating gaze, and now the guy tapped a holo-button. The screech of rending metal was replaced by an ominous hum as the shredders halted and waited to start again. He told himself not to look down into the pit, but that just guaranteed he’d look. His eyes widened at the sight of the all-but-consumed head and torso of the body. The legs were grotesquely extended upward now, toward the conveyer that was bringing the next victim.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 119


Short Story

“Friend of yours in there, kid?” the operator chided. If they could smoke in the recycling sector, Trent was sure this guy would whip out a tube and start vaping. “Don’t be such a wuss, Wagner!” “Not like Gwen. She’s got lady balls!” The blood rushed to Trent’s face anew. He wanted to tell them to shut up but it would come out weak. He again searched for distraction. The loader bots were in motion. What they did maybe was not bot cannibalism per se, but at least bot treachery. “How many are you going to kill?” Trent said, quietly. The operator’s lips pursed in contemplation, or maybe he was surprised Trent said anything at all. “Kid, the parts worth keeping are harvested by the time we get ’em. The solar flare two Earth days ago cut down a dozen ’em while working the bones of MOS-3. The Intake crew plasma blasts ’em to get the nastiness out. By the time we get ’em, they are dead on arrival.” Mars Orbiter Three was in its early framework stage. Graphene-coated steel girders reached outward from a central core to form the lower outline of a skeletal circle. Space favors the orb. So like its predecessors already in position around Mars—atomizing and molecular bonding two tunnels to the cores in preparation for Detonation Event—MOS-3 was destined to become a manufactured mini-moon. People and drones by the thousands were working on it. Of course the bots weren’t alive. But they were sometimes a bit too human-like, though most worker drones were straight alloy and not plexi-skin for that very reason. People tend to get attached to the ones with faces. These had been space androids, and though bi-pedal and humanshaped, they were exposed to the harshness of space beyond the domes. That means all the radiation and frigid temperatures over time for a steady grind, or sudden incidents like accidents and the solar flares that had put this group down. The next bot was laid upon the belt. It had steel rods for arms and legs, wires poking out its chest cover, and the conical light bulb that was its head was turned toward the control booth. Deep at the center of the bulb glowed a vague dot of red. “Hang on, would ya?” Trent said. “Nah spaceman, these gotta get shredded,” the operator checked the monitor for the identification chip. “SCONA doesn’t pay me to let these sit around.” Trent hurried out of the control room, down the stairs and into the processing pod. One of the androids turned toward him but let him pass, as was their directive. With a grunt he pulled the robot off the conveyer belt and it crashed to the floor. They were steel-framed after all—despite the dings and divots and peeled graphene—and SCONA’s artificial gravity mimicked Earth’s. It was a couple hundred pounds, easy. More than Trent weighed by sixty pounds. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 120


Short Story

The arms were stiff at its side. In the control booth he saw the others shaking their heads, laughing, flirting with one another. Then sounds joined to motions as the intercom squelched on. “Uh, they’re not free, you know,” the operator remarked blandly, his voice slightly less bored now. “How much?” This part, at least, he had anticipated. “How much you got?” Apparently that was also funny to everyone. “Ten credits,” Wagner grunted, heaving upward. The bot could sort of stand on its legs, though at an angle, since one foot was completely gone at the ball peg ankle. He lifted the chest panel, hit the power switch off and on. The tiny glow solitary lamp lens of the head did not waver, despite his actions. The camera lens beside was a small dark eye. “It’s still got power,” Wagner observed. “It’s just leaking auxiliary juice from the chest board, kid. Power packs to the main body are pulled and recycled separately. You can have that junk for thirty creds.” Wagner did a quick inventory. “Twenty, and I get a foot, replacement connectors and another power source—from the good boxes.” “Have you been snorting asteroid dust? Twenty-five with all those parts.” “None of ’em are new, spaceman.” “Shop new then.” “Twenty-five,” Trent offered. “Most entertainment I’ve had all week! All right. Swipe it.” Trent left the droid’s side and reached for the sensor pad on the wall. He punched in the number and held the card up. The indicator light turned green. A crash behind him made him start. Laughter reinforced his suspicion as to the cause. The droid was on its back on the floor, the bulb staring up at the ceiling with that faded red glow. With a grunt Trent started to pull it back up, then rested it on the floor again. The reality of his impulse move was setting in. He wasn’t exactly handy with tools and parts. Ryz knocked on the glass, showing teeth again. “What are you gonna do, Twags, fix it up and take me on in the Foot Race?” Every two weeks, SCONA held a robot race outside the domes on the moon’s native surface. No ion flying allowed. One race for treads, one for bi-pedal. Anyone under the age of twentyone could enter their bot. SCONA used it to promote innovation and engineering, and some NEW READER MAGAZINE | 121


Short Story

entertainment. What started as a small local event had grown into a large viewership on the galaxynet and specialized broadcasts on Earth. It fell somewhere between sports and do-ityourself repair shows. Ryz’s bots had won several times over the last couple years. “I dunno—maybe,” Trent said, more of a defensive reaction than any real intention. “It can’t even stand on that peg!” Much laughter. Trent eyed one of the open memory slots and addressed the operator. “Five more for a good memory stick?” “Free, if you enter that space junk in the next race!” the shredder operator said. Apparently this capped the evening’s humor extravaganza. Even Ryz couldn’t control it this time. His face flushed, Trent knelt beside his new banged-up bot. It had been on the verge of destruction yet still had the slight red glow in the bulb. A flame of possibility flickered in his mind. Up in the booth the others quieted, watching him. Trent stood. “I’ll do it, if you toss in an air dolly to get it home.” *

*

*

The train barely shook as it moved through two miles of titanium-meshed plexiglass tunnel that connected the second manufacturing dome to SCONA Central. The latter served as both hub and heart of the network of domes, laid out in a star schema. The hub afforded connections to all the end point domes, including the welcoming ports—commercial and private—and the other manufacturing, residential, and entertainment domes. Why not just have one city beneath a single dome? Redundancy was SCONA’s mantra. Segmentation was its tagline. Trent’s train was headed toward the second residential dome. Below, broad white stretches of lunar surface flowed by. Overhead, the sun’s rays were captured by solar filaments and generated electricity—enough to power the generators of the primary heaters and ventilation. A graceful arc in the tube led to the rise of the final dome, glinting in the sunlight. This was the outermost limit of the colony. Here, the moon’s surface was still marked by halfdarkened craters of size. The grounds around the domes themselves had been smoothed by human activity but the larger craters remained. Beyond the dome, valleys, ridges, and boulders were constant attractions. Groups of solar buggies ran out here at all hours of the day, as well as ion board riders and hikers in space suits who used their spacesuit jets now and then to scale the cliffs or carry them farther away.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 122


Short Story

Trent glanced out the window, but his gaze kept returning to the bot. The dolly used ion jets to transport its cargo in a supine position, but at rest it was upright and tilted back on sturdy support legs. Trent stood with one hand on the train’s support bar and the other on the shoulder of his unanticipated project. It was the middle of the second shift, so the available seats were only sporadically occupied. The train slowed and stopped. He disembarked and received several curious glances as he walked beside the supine bot through the main and then feeder hallways. Upon arrival at his home pod, a neighbor’s door slid open. A kid about his own age strutted out, sleeveless shirt displaying wellformed arms. The guy made a sour face at Trent and the bot between them. “Found a friend, Wagner?” Rod the Bod said. “Yeah, something like that. “Stellar. That bumps the total up to one, reject.” “Why don’t you step outside and inhale some fresh space, meathead?” The punch darted over the supine bot and landed on Wagner’s bony shoulder. It hurt but he didn’t let on. Rod grinned. “Look what you did!” Trent’s arm went out as well, but not of his own volition. The dolly lurched sideways and pulled Trent along with it, forcing him to take a step or lose his balance. The machine shoved Rod the Bod back against the wall and pressed against his midsection. He tried pushing it away, but the dolly didn’t budge. “Get it off me, fool!” Trent’s eyes widened. He hadn’t directed the dolly to do anything. After a moment of amazement— and a little satisfaction—he pulled the directional lever toward himself. Maybe it was his imagination, but for a moment the bot’s head bulb glowed brighter. Finally the dolly followed Trent’s order and drifted slowly away from the other teen. Rod the Bod’s face was red from exertion. “Do it again and I’ll wreck you, Twags!” “But I didn’t—” “You heard me!” With a final glare, Rod the Bod moved down the hall, away from the dolly and the bot. And best of all, away from Trent. After a moment to ponder, he concluded it had been some unconscious movement on his part, or a short circuit in the dolly. The thing wasn’t in much better condition than the load it carried. He

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 123


Short Story

turned to the retina reader of his pod and it scanned him for entrance. After the door slid inside the wall, he directed the dolly and its airborne load inside. Now, where would one attempt bot repair? Mom would not be cool with the living room or kitchen. The tile of his bedroom was better suited against possible drips. He removed the area rug and threw down some plastic area sheets he had used when working on his boards, then had the dolly lay the bot down. Trent positioned it so its upper body was propped against the wall and legs were out straight. Behind it was a large poster of a surfer shredding the gnar at an Earth beach. Its task complete, the dolly turned and headed for the door. Trent got up and let it out. The dolly vanished into the hallway and the door closed. Back in his bedroom, he reached for the used power pack. Its indicator eye was also red. He plugged it into the wall socket and was satisfied that the red light faded in and out now. “Real juice is on the way, bot-man,” Trent said, over his shoulder. After a moment he turned and scrutinized the bot. The dented cover over the chest cavity central processor wasn’t a huge deal, but he could see now the entire body had once had armor, not just the chest. The barren steel framework was pitted and weakened where the coating had been stripped by the solar flares. Its structure was much too weak to walk and weld the framework of MOS-3. And the ball stub at the end of its leg had been sheared in half. Bot appendages were snap-ready by design. Soldering with hot irons was not permitted inside living quarters in space. If you couldn’t snap, splice, and re-connect, it generally wasn’t allowed, and SCONA sent constant mind-texts about using caution, backed up by legions of thermal detectors. The stub fit easily into the receiving socket of the “new” foot, but without the full circle of steel to form the ball joint, there was not enough catch to the fitting, and the foot pulled off with an easy tug. Not great. Taking the bot to a repair shop would disqualify him from the race—but maybe he didn’t need to. He pulled a small utility bin from his closet. From his ion board project, he had several leftover cubes of graphene steel and pills of solving agent. Not enough steel to create the entire half of the ball joint, but maybe he could improvise a bit. He wrapped aluminum foil around the half-ball joint, used the salad tongs from the kitchen to hold the cube of graphene after placing one of the solving pills on top. Tiny bubbles formed on the surface of the cube and an acrid smell rose. Drops of liquefied graphene landed on the aluminum, seeping into the cracks and forming a coat around it. He used the back of a wooden spoon to smooth it over, did his best to coat the ball evenly. It was imperfect, but maybe it had a chance. It only took a few minutes to harden and dry. After it did, he pushed the foot and its receiving

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 124


Short Story

socket against the improvised ball. It went on and stayed on, even after manipulated it. Screeched a little, but seemed to move okay otherwise. A few more drops of graphene sealed the ankle. Grunting, he hauled the bot up to a standing position and worked the legs into a stable position. The legs were stiff as no hydraulics were circulating, but the foot at least held the weight. Statue status achieved! “One small step for bot . . . ” he murmured, emulating Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 saying, over two hundred years old now. Six displayed no expression. It had a small head, really. Beside the conical bulb, a small oval box was attached to the rods of the metal spine. The cover was easy to open and exposed an array of empty memory slots. Trent only had the one memory stick. He plugged it into one of the bays and closed the box. Between the bulb and the memory case was the camera lens. From it snaked wiring that ran down the spine to the chest power pack. The faint red glow in the bulb seemed like an eye, almost regarding him—which was crazy, since it was the camera lens next to the bulb that would be responsible for visual processing. Trent blinked. He needed to get busy. While present, the glow was fading. The universal warning color was never optimal when it came to machinery. Even Mars—the focus of SCONA’s core tunneling and ultimate terra-forming efforts—held a natural warning with its coloring. Lifeless. Dangerous. Six’s torso wiring wasn’t as bad as Trent had initially feared, and he actually knew a couple things about it from his old science kits. He swapped out a few connectors and leads and according to his meter, was rewarded with a closed circuit. So, yeah. He knew something about wiring. Not really optimistic but figuring he might as well (myzle!) continue, he unplugged the battery charger and snapped the power source in the main slot on the bot’s chest. The battery icon on the surface was filled in to roughly seventy percent. Ought to be more than enough. Trent waited for the bot to come online. The tiny body lights should illuminate, and even verbal acknowledgment from the speaker. Instead, the red dot in the head bulb began to shrink. “No, no, no! Ah, come on, bot-man.” “But surely you’ve been warned of the health risks?” After a few moments of checking connections, Trent sat hard and blew out a long breath. The circuit board had suffered too much damage, evidently. He sat the bot down, with its back against

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 125


Short Story

the wall once more, and legs extended before it. His attempt at the foot connection looked desperate. He groaned and squeezed his temples. What the flyin’ space snakes was he doing? Foot Race? He doubted the appendage would stay on after three strides! His computation and analysis abilities didn’t help a lot for the situation. Maybe it would be best to have the bot hang around like a suit of armor, after all. It would look frosty. And that way he wouldn’t have to try. ... or fail. Somebody else was better at this. Somebody else always was. Ryz, for instance. This bot would likely join his pile of abandoned projects; the homemade surf board, ion board, holo projector, solar garden. It wasn’t that they were completely inoperable, but they weren’t first or even really second rate, either. The ones for sale were always light years better, so what was the use? Trent leaned back against the wall, across from the bot. He picked up a wrench and tapped it against his palm. Who was he kidding? The stupid machine would end up right back at the recycle bin! “Catch.” Trent lobbed the wrench at it. A functioning bot could easily snatch the tool. This wrench just struck the bot’s power pack and tumbled lamely to the floor. The red light in the bulb vanished. “Great move, Twags,” he muttered. “Now it’s really dead.” A cone of light suddenly burst forth from the bulb, blinding him. His hands rose to shield it off. “Hey, what? Cut it out!” The light blast narrowed progressively, then the white light split into a dancing palette of colored laser threads. “Wha—?” Trent murmured. Images flooded the holo. The vibrations pointed toward a human point of view. Military training. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 126


Short Story

Army. Lots of yelling from drill instructors with bulging neck veins. Lots of physical conditioning, combat training with live fire plasma rifles, entries and exits from various transportation, including ion jet power from backpacks. A drill instructor yelled in the face of the host for doing handstand push-ups instead of regulation push-ups. A scroll of dictated sentences rolled beneath the images. The DI kept addressing the recipient of his ire as the number six. As in, “Did Six think the United States Army was his personal playground? Well, surely all the members in the platoon would like to play with Six in his special playground! What’s that, Six? Push-ups instead? And regular holy galactic cosmos push-ups at that? Well, by all means, tell your fellow platoon members to drop with you and pump out fifty!” Nicknames were popular with DIs in boot camp, apparently. The image changed. An email. From Jana Fransix to Asa Fransix, with words about children and please, please, please be safe! Another image change. A group of soldiers dotted a barren landscape, rifles kicking bursts of plasma bullets toward a walled fortification built against a rocky rise. Dust and rock exploded and melted around them. The view narrowed to take aim with the viewer’s rifle. Several rounds spat out, and large chunks of the walls blobbed out of existence. The nearest soldier shouted as incoming rounds melted desert rock and sand around them. “Six, go, go, go!” The holo’s point of view bobbed up and down. Legs running legs while flashing bursts lit up the end of the rifle. The images greyed, then faded into darkness. A woman’s face appeared, mouthing words he could not hear. Two children climbed on him. The laser beams altered to show new images. Back on the combat field. Six’s sleeve was on fire. He rolled on the ground to snuff it as rounds burst around him. Two of his fellow soldiers were hit and died instantly. Another was wounded. He shouted for medics. Shouts to keep moving. He returned fire, crawled to the wounded soldier. He went down again and again, crawled, fired, crawled again. The rifle tip flashed and the scene briefly jumped with each shot he took. He picked up the soldier and ran toward a boulder. I’ve ever grown. Once people get a taste of this alien corn, they ain’t ever going to want to go back.” The battlefield faded to a home, somewhere safe. Jana’s face again. Older. Some grey. He held her as they stood and looked out a mountain range,

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 127


Short Story

she in his arms. Another shift, a dinner table. The children were adults now. One had a spouse and a baby. In the backyard, the kids were trying headstands. They turned and laughed as Six’s viewpoint upended. The ground was up and the sky down, and moving as Six walked on his hands. When the view went normal, the kids gleefully dove upon his chest. And then the holo stopped. Asa Fransix never gave up and had made it out. Trent pursed his lips, then stood. “Stand up, Six.” The bulb turned one hundred and eighty degrees left, then all the way around to the right. The camera seemed to be taking impressions. The fingers slowly turned to one side, then the other, then fixed upon Trent again. Suddenly it leaped to its feet. “Whoa!” Trent said. The light in the bulb was now green, as was the indicator light on the bot’s chest. “Arm out,” Trent said, thrusting his own to the side. “Repeat my actions.” Trent moved his limbs, twisted, and the bot emulated. “All right! Now, small ups and downs, like this.” Trent performed some light squats. Again the bot mimicked without difficulty. “Belly down, then push up into a surfer position!” The bot could be riding waves. Trent laughed, raised his rear hand for some flair. The steel man also raised his hand. “Okay, okay, cool! Now, bigger stuff. Jog in place, lightly, this way.” Trent jogged, knees up. This would impact the ankle joint hard for the first time. Six did, but the grating noise from the point of attachment wasn’t great. He didn’t notice the front door open and the approaching steps. “This is interesting!” Dr. Wagner said, standing in Trent’s doorway. She was in her gym clothes. Her white lab coat partially protruded from the bag she now placed on the floor. “Know anything about fixing bot feet, Doc?” Trent said. “Not since med school. Genetics is a little different from orthopedics, honey.” “Well, I know one hundred percent more than I did two hours ago, and I don’t think that’s going to be enough to really fix his foot.” “Okay. Hey, don’t get bot fluids on the floor.” “Hence the plastic.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 128


Short Story

“What’s this about, Twags?” Ryz said. “Not sure,” Trent said. “Latent bio impulses?” “They’re supposed to reformat all the memory sticks.” Trent shrugged. A reporter drew Ryz aside for some words. His bot turned and followed. After another check to make sure they were linked to one another, Trent peered at Six closely. “You in there, Asa Fransix?” Six was silent. With the bot alongside, Trent moved to position at the starting line. He and Six performed jumping jacks on the lunar surface near the starting line. He didn’t know if this helped circulate the hydraulics for the bot or not, but it felt like a reasonable pre-race activity, if only for distraction. Dust kicked up beneath them and settled back down when they stopped after twenty reps. Didn’t want to risk the ankle too much. This was the bright side of the moon, where the surface was smoother than the crater-riddled “dark” side. That said, two craters were included as part of the elliptical three-mile track the bots had to traverse. Flat surface running was one thing; dashing down, across and out of pond-sized craters was another. A dozen bots lined up at the starting poles. A neon yellow ribbon stretched in front of them. Announcers on the public links were talking it up hard now, and someone had raised the audience noise in the background. Trent swallowed as he fastened the official race transmitter band around Six’s steel biceps. “Ready, spaceman?” The head bulb held a steady green center as it turned from the gathering racers and settled squarely upon Trent. It then turned down to the footprint-caked surface. Lasers sprang forth from the bulb to create an image of an eagle soaring high among unnamed mountains. Trent’s eyes widened. “Well, alright, then. Let’s race.” The mechanical arm extended, the hand in a thumbs-up position. Trent laughed a little and returned the gesture. “Wish I had your cool.” Six pivoted and took a starter crouch at the starting line. “Racer managers to the observation deck,” someone said. Along with Ryz and a dozen other young women and men, Trent walked to the raised dais at the finish line.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 129


Short Story

The starter tree was a light pole, a throwback to dragster races. The highest section was steady red, then went black as the next section down went yellow, then the next and the next until the very last section went solid green. Go! The bots shot forward, kicking up moon dust and shredding the ribbon. Aided by the weak gravity, the mechanical herd flew short distances with each stride. Ryz’s bot in particular ran with precision and grace; one leg fully outstretched, the other fully extended behind them until the next impact. It broke from the pack and pulled to the lead. In contrast, Six was wobbly at the back of the pack and started to fall behind. Trent had a sinking feeling it would be over for them a quarter mile down the first stretch. But then the bot compensated and straightened out. His—its!—upper body moved in unison with an increasingly long, human-like gait. Out a mile and into the first turn, Six closed in on the pack. But the group itself began to alter. One, then another bot fell in a dusty heap. One was stone-still, the other wriggled and writhed. Neither continued. Six avoided them and had to leap over another that fell and tumbled in a dusty sprawl. Trent’s hopes began to build, despite himself. He held his breath as the racers rounded the first turn and attacked the straightaway. Six moved with purpose, but something was different. Trent zoomed in with the helmet lens and swallowed hard. A slight angle had returned to Six’s gait, but perhaps it would get no worse. Still the bot ran, once again compensating and keeping up with the pack. The racers ran down the side of the first crater, were visible only with the overhead drone cams, then raced up the other side, trailing a cloud of moon dust. Trent started. In his ears the crowd noise surged. The announcers shouted. Six has taken the lead! For a quarter mile, time seemed to slow. Trent stared in amazement for a moment, then remembered to cheer his racer on. Ryz’s bot emerged from the pack. Stride after sprinting stride, it closed the gap with Six until the two bots ran alongside one another. They were machines running on the surface of the moon, with the sun over their shoulders and their shadows racing beside them. Ryz looked over at Trent, his eyes wide with surprise. Six again tilted away from the compromised right leg and allowed the left to do more work. Around the second turn the two bots sped, kicking up moon dust in the faces of the pack.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 130


Short Story

Steadily, however, Six’s gait became more stringent, and its upper body took on a harsher motion. The foot turned inwardly now, and the prints in the moon’s surface attested to such, until the others trampled them away. Still Six pressed on, though Ryz’s bot pulled away, and the others caught and passed it. The next straightaway found Six at the rear of the pack, with a discernable wobble to the foot as the leg rose and fell. Trent watched, dread filling his belly. Six took another stride. On the back kick, the foot flew high in the thin atmosphere and spun like a planetoid. The bot ran with just the peg, which bit deep into the ground before pulling free, slowing the machine. The audience cried out. The announcers seized giddily upon the event. Six tried to keep up with the others but they pulled away. Trent started to send instructions for the bot to halt and re-attach the foot, then stopped. The appendage would just come off again. Six tripped and went down. Through their shared link Trent called out to the sprawled form, now alone on the track. Trent examined his racer’s diagnostics via his arm computer. Everything appeared functional but the foot. The bot clawed at the surface, and for a moment Trent wondered if he/it was in pain. “It’s all right, Six,” Trent said. “We gave it a shot. Hold on, I’ll come get you.” As if in rebuttal, the bot lurched up and stood, searching. It limped quickly to the foot and reattached it. The head bulb turned toward Trent, then to the group of racers down the track. Six sprang forward, took three strides before the foot flew off again. Six kept going. The peg leg bit into the surface several times before the body succumbed. Again it sprawled on the ground. It repeated this again and again. Trent looked away, then thought how lame a reaction that was. His racer needed help! He scoured his mind for options. . . . and found one. Moving away from the others, Trent’s fingers worked the keypad of his arm computer as he issued commands to his bot. Out at the track, the dust-covered bot halted. The large bulb turned from the other racers to center upon his manager. After a quick wave, Trent placed his hands on the floor and swung his legs up high. He overshot and hit the floor on his back, scrambled to try again. With help from the moon’s lighter gravity, he was able to walk on his hands a few paces before crumbling in a heap. He popped his head up to find his bot. “Too bad!” one announcer said. “Looks like Team Twags is out of the race!” “Hey, play that again,” responded the other. “Was race manager Trent Wagner hand-walking?” “He was! And . . . look at racer Six!”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 131


Short Story

The compromised bot leaped high with arms extended, as if to dive into the moon. He landed on his hands, palms flat and arms fully outstretched. Effortlessly Six held a handstand. Exclamations from the crowd and announcers. For a moment, Six remained perfectly balanced, legs over torso, one with a foot and one ending in a peg. The bulb head turned backward, further than any human could perform, until it could see through its arms down the length of the race course. “Go!” Trent shouted. Six burst forward. It scrambled, flinging moon soil and dust as it ran on its hands. Down the stretch and into the next crater it “ran” on its hands, arms reaching, pulling, and pushing off with robot strength and speed. The steel rods of its arms blurred. The fingertips flung dust high behind it. Faster and faster, Six’s arms propelled it toward the pack of other racers. More of them stumbled, went down and did not rise. Going into the final turn, only five remained. Coming out of it, the lead was held by Ryz’s bot, and the hand-running Six. Ryz’s bot had speed and powerfully long strides and left the surface a second at a time. Graceful, amazing to watch, but when not in contact with the surface it did not generate speed. Six matched that length with three push-offs, but remaining grounded enabled it to gain on the leader. Metal hands were practically on the heels of Ryz’s bot when they crossed the finish line. Ryz’s bot tore through the checkered ribbon stretched across the track. Six crossed next and soon came the others. The audience roared in the ear microphones of Trent’s helmet. The announcers kept up a stream of wonderment and rule book checking. There was nothing in the rule book to disqualify Six. Trent sprang from the manager dais and ran down to his machine, who finally stopped. Six saw Trent, swiveled on its shoulders, placed the good foot and then the peg down, then stood upright. Trent couldn’t help but laugh while clapping Six on its hard shoulders. He couldn’t recall the last time he actually laughed out loud, and now he could barely contain it. When Six gave him the thumbs-up, he laughed even harder. Ryz’s bot went to the winner podium, where he collected his next medal and waved to the audience and cameras. Trent applauded him, then turned with Six toward the rover that would take them to the train station. As they settled in a seat, Ryz mind-texted him from the winner’s podium. Good work, Twags. Trent texted back. Thanks. Congrats on another win. Someone retrieved Six’s foot and gave it to him. Trent held on to it and settled back as other managers boarded the rover and congratulated him and his bot.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 132


Short Story

Later that night, he and his mother dined with a holo of Gwen at the Galaxy Restaurant. “You and Six crushed it, little spacebro!” Gwen said. “It was exciting! Great job, son!” Karen Wagner toasted Trent with her wine glass and Gwen followed suit from forty million miles away. “It was all Six, really,” Trent said. “Wha’? You saved his metal butt from the scrap heap and tipped him toward the hand-running,” Gwen said. “Ryz told me about the recycle unit.” “So weird,” Trent said. “Harsh with the shredder, yeah.” “Truth, but not what I meant. It’s weird . . . Six has memories of his biological life as a soldier and a space engineer,” Trent said. “He holo-ed footage of some events. Training, battlefield, wife and children, then grandchildren.” “Are you sure?” Karen Wagner said. “I call him Six, but his full name is Asa Fransix.” “Fascinating and disturbing,” Dr. Mom said. “Let’s look into it some more when we get back to the living pod. So what do you think of getting back to your placement exams for early college?” Trent frowned. “I don’t know. Why am I rushing through?” A lean man in old-style black jeans and a simple collared shirt looked over at Trent from the nearby bar. He had grey starting in his close-cut hair, a scar slashing through one brow and a gaze that was both keen and a little weary. He came over and Trent’s eyes widened. The man extended his hand. “Congrats on the race, Trent Wagner.” “Thanks, but who are you?” Trent said, shaking with him. “Ry Devans. Was the co-pilot of PS-4 from MOS-1, on ice for now.” “Ice?” “Yeah. Shuttled in from MOS-2 after PS-4 exploded. Evaluation stuff. Didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but it’s just me and a beer and lab pretzels on that stool. What name was that associated with your bot? I’m ex mil. I can run a quick check in the database.” Trent repeated it. “Interesting. Well, you and your lovely mom and holo-sis continue with your dinner and I’ll run this.” He returned to the bar stool, took a swig of beer, then his fingers danced on the key pad of his arm computer. Gwen’s holo eyes were large. “You guys, First Officer Devans is famous out here at Mars space!” NEW READER MAGAZINE | 133


Short Story

Ten minutes later he left the barstool and walked up to their table. “Sorry to interrupt again.” “Not at all,” Karen Wagner said. Trent noted the smoothness of her invitation. He could understand why; she had been at odds with Dad for a long time before they finally split. “Asa Fransix was in the Twelve Infantry Division, Ion Fight Brigade, later an infrastructure engineer in the private sector. He worked here on the moon for SCONA until an accident took his life. He must have used one of the portable memory sticks now in your bot as a memory back-up.” “Yeah, I was thinking the same,” Trent said. Devans nodded. “His widow is Jana. She’s on Earth. She posted on social media that she is not well. I’m thinking ... well, she might appreciate having a version of Six around.” Trent looked away. “You mean give him up?” “Maybe just the memory stick? She could upload the rest to a computer.” Trent pulled a deformed memory stick from his pocket. “It got damaged in one of his falls. The impulses and images he displayed would be imprinted in the core processor. The part of him that remains is part of the machine now.” “Ghost in the machine,” Gwen said. “And the entire machine would need to go to Jana Fransix.” “Entirely your call,” Devans said. Trent gazed through the transparent wall to the stars shining beyond. “Six is . . . a friend now.” Karen nodded and looked up at Devans. “It’s been difficult on Trent since Gwen’s been away. Won’t you sit with us?” “Thanks, but I’ve got another psych test to fake my way through.” The women laughed. Trent was deep in thought. “I’ll do it,” he said, finally. “I’ll send Six on the next Earth shuttle.” Devans nodded in appreciation. “Well, look, SCONA wants me to take a couple weeks off down on Earth. I’ll travel with Six. That way I can explain a little of the weirdness.” They all agreed. “By the way, the announcers said this was your first race,” Devans said. “Yeah, first one.” “You did really well.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 134


Short Story

“We didn’t win,” Trent said. “No, but you and Six competed. Didn’t give up when it looked bad. That’s a personal win. Plus you showed innovation.” Trent nodded. “I guess so. Thanks.” Devans tilted his head and arched his good brow. It made his piercing gaze somewhat more disturbing, until he smiled. “Hey, if I make it through all the tests, I’m going to try and pull a shuttle crew together for a cosmic ton of Mars runs before Detonation Event. Are you interested in the red planet?” Trent’s eyes widened. “Truth! I’m pre-astrophysicist, if that’s a thing.” “My brother’s a bit gifted, academically, First Officer Devans,” Gwen said, smiling at Trent. “Then why don’t you fill out an application? MOS-1. Ry Devans. I’ll set up an alert.” “I still have school, though.” “We can intern you part-time if your core classes are completed. What’s a reasonable estimate on how long would that take?” Trent looked at his mother and sister, who watched him closely. “Maybe only a year, if I really hit it.” “Give you nine months!” Devans said, with a grin. He touched Karen’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of your baby. He’ll only be an average of a hundred and thirty million miles away.” “Well, my baby was in a holding pattern until now. Just make sure he doesn’t fall into those core tunnels,” Karen said. “If he does, I’ll go in after him,” Devans promised. A year later, they both did just that.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 135


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 136


Poetry

An Appreciation WORDS BY

PHOTO BY

Charles Leggett

Anton Belovodchenko

Over the head of William Bell Scott’s lion Drone silent flashings of the fire engine Slowly backing in across the street. On the vicinity of Una’s pleated Glass pelvis dimly shines a wedding gift: The lampshade, conical, off-white, that lifts Its light into companionable air; Into relief the mane in the beacon’s glare.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 137


Poetry

Doljabee Ritual highlight of the Dol, traditional Korean celebration of a child’s 1st birthday.

You’ve traveled with us once around the sun And now the table’s full with food—and fate. What will it be? The time to choose has come. A clock’s hands cut like knives—just like the one Within your reach. Choose that, you’ll decorate Your gourmet kitchen’s travels round the sun With Michelin stars. Or if that book looks fun, It will confer the gift to cogitate On much—on what should be, when choices come. The special clothes you’re wearing all hand-spun —Fine thread! Reach through that spool’s round, magic gate, You’ll lengthen these your travels round the sun. Your hunger, now and ever, will be done For, if a rice cake now will satiate Your grasp of what will be. The time has come To reach, in pure unknowing. Everyone, No matter what you choose, will celebrate Your travel with us here around the sun. Which will it be? The time to choose has come. —For Imogen Myunghee Conner-Lee, February 2016

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 138


Poetry

The Grace That Others Have A phrase of Joan of Arc’s from Shakespeare’s King Henry VI, First Part.

World War Two flicks dominate the airways of late-night television. Helping pilots flying for Free France make their getaways Joan of Occupied Paris gets herself shot offscreen; the Nazi trigger face, bewildered in harshest black-and-white, is what gets rendered. She’s clear enough. Hers is a midnight’s face past two AM; her two dimensions—trace a third and set her down among to shine, cry mercy!—are enough. An IPA, smoking one of hers then one of mine, dancing past two in the converted gay bar: she doesn’t hoist this plot with spine, she hangs her spine on it, a broken lei. They want opinions, she and the cabal she’s brought along, “to know something about you.” Then she says I’m dancing “pretty well.” Bar shuttered; floor wide open. She does not

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 139


Poetry

quite so much dance as undergo a loose articulation of an arc and angles, that spine a dangling, fragrant ghost of string. Teaches, a Catholic school for girls. “Say something! “Which side of the abortion issue? Are you happy?” Spends her paychecks in and on her leather. “Well then, how about your career?” The clouds are quiet. The war was over soon, or so it seems. Now let me take this leather by the arm. Can’t see the story for the scene. —Seattle, February 1991

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 140


Poetry

To All My One-Date Wonders Gorgeous words, your names. Are they actual given names? Could there be Provençal lyrics calling for infuriatingly knotty rhyme schemes, written to maidens named as you have been, from a thousand years back? Or perhaps some lesser-known stock creations traipsing through the early Commedias, some ingénues, lovelorn, puncturing their fingers when picking the reddest rose, the rose appearing to melt upon their fingers (as they helplessly stand there bleeding)? Don’t think I’m nosy. Leaves are casting shadows like silent, black tongues, clouds by now obscured in this viscous fog. What’s fun is, my old neighborhood’s there across the lake, and I still can hear the moving company rep‘s unsmiling silence at my wondering if they wouldn’t rather use a boat. But I also like not seeing the other side through all this fog. I mean, I can’t even see the lake! I’ve written of weather hoping it’s a choice of topic so obvious it’s somehow surprising— NEW READER MAGAZINE | 141


Poetry

say, originality’s just a front for those who can’t address the mundane with any moxie. I’m not nosy, I’m merely curious. Is there a difference? Question of degree, or of flavor?—“nosy” as the farm-fresh carton of “curious” opened, then left out all night, and it’s turned? I wish to neither be forward nor too cautious. Frankly, I’d rather just be perfect. But the only perfection I have yet to find is that of the big fat goose egg showing how many times I have achieved it. Conundrum, nasty cul-de-sac of circular logic—we’ve grown used to those, yes? Soul, we are old enough to realize, won’t stretch much, not without a risk. And our griefs lend ballast. We have grieved. The difference between what we choose and what we are natured to choose confounds us. Think of how fewer painful stories we’d have to tell if we could choose who we were drawn to (and weren’t). The more we know a person, all the more intimately can they surprise us. Traits of personality, which it seems we all possess, are simply red herrings, clues, all backdrop to a mystery meant forever only to deepen,

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 142


Poetry

never to be fathomed. We cannot help but squirrel it away from each other, cash-poor coin buffs clutching buffalo nickels—old, but worth so much more if not so scratched and lusterless. Time uncovers just as bluntly as it will age and heal us; whisks a sticky roux with the bone-white flour bleached in Romance, our lost and foundling logic discovered piecemeal (never forged ourselves), with the pinpoint vagueness of a dream. We’re clowns on an unrelenting search for the next thing we can trip on, vision obscured by flesh of cheeks winched up in giddy smiles; we’re scribbling “now,” the act receding into the past like somebody’s hairline. Let’s agree that realism is a pliant, sturdy easel under the canvas of our rouxed Romance, which guards in return our keen eyes— trained upon what is “real”—from colorblindness. Let’s hope we grow less smitten with ourselves and with life itself more, taking all of it with a grain of salt as big as an ocean.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 143


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 144


Short Story

The Prof WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

Bruce Douglas Reeves

Kring Demetrio

Fun and Games in the Tenderloin “They think they’re using their brains,” Oscar said again. “But they’re not.” He was an old guy I’d met in the Library. At least he seemed old, with his crown of fuzzy white hair and the web of wrinkles over his brown features. Claimed he used to be a professor. I had no reason to doubt it. Folks around the Tenderloin called him the Prof, even if the lower part of his face usually was smeared with white stubble. When he focused on you from behind his smudged glasses (one plastic arm wrapped with duct tape), there was no escaping. “Most people are so in love with what they already think they know that nothing else can get in there.” He tapped his head with a dark finger. “That isn’t thinking. It’s pretending to think.” Maybe he was smart enough to have been a prof once. I didn’t know why he wasn’t one anymore. Sometimes, we’d walk over to a diner on Turk or, if he felt up to it, down to Market. There are plenty of cheap places around the Tenderloin and we knew all of ’em. He moved slow and walked with a limp, but we were in no hurry. I’d buy him a donut and coffee just to hear him talk. If I’d had the money, I would’ve bought him a steak dinner just to explore that brain of his. Sometimes, though, he hurt my feelings. “Go back to school, Gene, get a college degree,” he’d tell me, wrapping an arm around my shoulder, staring at me with his bloodshot eyes. Where the hell was I gonna get money to do that? I figured I was lucky if I didn’t starve and could keep on living in my old Honda Civic. He made me discontented, if I let him. Made me want things I couldn’t have. He was trying to be encouraging, I guess, but when he went off like that it made me feel rotten. I’d see old Oscar every day for a while, then he wouldn’t show up at the library for days or even weeks, and if I asked around nobody would’ve seen him. I missed him, but was too busy trying to survive on my own to worry about an old black guy who once upon a time may or may not have been a college professor. Even a part-time job with no benefits takes a little attention and I never knew when I might lose that. To hell with him. To hell with unrealistic dreams. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 145


Short Story

Rosie One of the times when Oscar surfaced, I took Rosie to meet him. Lanky, sharp-nosed Rosie had her own opinions about everything and didn’t hold back telling ’em. “Rosie,” I said, as we sat down on the ripped plastic seats at the coffee shop counter, “this is the Prof.” He was already sitting there when we came in. “Oscar, this is Rosie. You’re gonna love each other.” Rosie’s eyes narrowed and she nodded at Oscar, her pointy chin almost to her freckled chest above that red V-neck T-shirt from Goodwill that I liked to see her in. He gave her a smile with his big yellow teeth and told her that he’d heard about her from me. “Gene is a goddam liar,” she countered. “Don’t believe a damn thing he said.” The Prof laughed, reaching over like he was gonna pat her shoulder, but then thought better of it and pulled back his trembling brown hand. She jerked away just the same. “It was all good. Don’t worry, girl—said you’re smart, fun to be with. Things like that.” “I told you. Bunch of crap. I’m a bitch and dumb as a . . . ” She looked around the coffee shop. “As a broken hotplate.” “Oh, a broken hotplate.” The Prof laughed again, his bloodshot eyes squinting. A rocky start, but we got talking about a magazine article I’d read—about some new machine that went down in the oceans, deeper than ever before, and found all these new species that had evolved down there. Pretty interesting, I thought. Then Oscar talked about his ideas on evolution. I was having a good time, ’til I noticed Rosie sitting there, a glum look on her face and her skinny fingers holding her coffee mug like she wanted to squeeze the life out of it. Okay, Rosie and Oscar didn’t love each other, even though Rosie was the closest thing I ever had to a girl friend and he was my best pal in San Francisco. Life in a Layer Cake Life was hard for all of us in the Tenderloin, but we got by, most of the time. The neighborhood was like one of those layer cakes I saw in bakery windows up by Union Square, different folks pretty much staying in their own layer. The winos and the druggies, the pimps and prostitutes, the panhandlers, the Korean and Filipino families, and the folks like me who lived in their cars but had jobs at least some of the time, we didn’t mix all that much. This layer cake included plenty of raisins and nuts. Some of them talked to themselves, shouting, raving, scared, angry, desperate. More of ’em were around than you’d think a neighborhood could hold. There oughta be an official limit on the number of crazies within so many city blocks. Most of us had an idea where we belonged and who we could trust. The runaway kids who showed up on the streets, though, couldn’t tell one layer from another, not at first, and sometimes not until it was too late.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 146


Short Story

Next time I saw Oscar, he was talking to a kid on the corner at Larkin, a skinny boy about twelve or thirteen, but it’s hard to tell how old they are when they’re so young and dirty. When Oscar saw me, he put his hand on the kid’s shoulder and shoved him away. A picture from the past nagged at a corner of my brain until it got into focus. A while back, I saw him with another runaway kid, over by the Greyhound bus station. At least, I figured these kids were runaways. I never mentioned anything about it to Oscar, but got to wondering what was up with him. People have all kinds of hang ups. Perversions, even. But I didn’t want to think that about him. Not about the Prof. The Prof was down on most folks. Usually, he said that most people aren’t worth a bucket of warm spit, but other times he’d admit that a few seem decent enough, if you don’t look too close. Careless Then, when I thought things were looking up, when I was working a steady three days a week and starting to dream about moving out of Chez Honda into a real room, maybe even with Rosie, I lost her. That makes me sound careless, like I misplaced her or forgot her like an umbrella on the streetcar. Somebody was careless, all right, but not me. I found out later that it was a bitch from Pacific Heights in a goddam Lincoln Town Car. She was speeding round a corner, making a right turn on a red light. What did she care about who was in the crosswalk? Poor ole Rosie. We’d been together—as together as two people who don’t have a place to live can be—for almost a year, but nobody else knew that this skinny female and me had any connection. She was just another casualty with no ID, run down on the city streets. I was damn upset when I couldn’t find her anywhere. Had she run away with another bozo? Been killed by some bastard drug fiend? I just hoped that whatever happened to her hadn’t hurt. Rosie didn’t handle pain so good. I only found out about the Lincoln Town Car when I was looking through a three-day-old newspaper at the library. I sat there in the reading room, hands flat on the oak table, sort of deep breathing to keep from making a spectacle of myself. “What you lookin’ at, asshole?” I said to the guy across the table. It was her, all right. I could tell from what the witnesses said, even if nobody knew her name. The article said she was one of a growing number of pedestrians run over every year. Happened all the time. (Population control, somebody called it once.) But she wasn’t a statistic to me. She was Rosie, damn it. There was a photo with the article: flowers in jars, a teddy bear and stuffed dog, and some homemade and store-bought cards, arranged on the curb. Folks had done that for Rosie, even though they didn’t know her, not even her name. “Come on, life,” I bellowed. “Give us a break!” Didn’t hear me.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 147


Short Story

Rosie’s shapely, if skimpy bones—how I missed ’em. In an ideal world, we’d still be together, but this world ain’t ideal, never was, never will be. I was mad at her for getting herself killed. How could she go and do this to me? “Damn you, Rosie! Damn you!” Then I sobbed: “I’m sorry, Rosie, I’m sorry . . . ” Zillion Dollar Words “Gene, Gene, Gene,” the Prof told me, “the world doesn’t care about you and me. It’s indifferent. To all of us. Couldn’t care less. It’d be sad if it weren’t so funny.” “What’re you talking about?” “Futility, my boy. Futility.” Another zillion dollar word. He had a million of them and usually I liked hearing ‘em, but not this time. Oscar wouldn’t shut up. Just turned his bloodshot eyes on me and put his brown hand on my shoulder. “Had me a wife once, Gene. Not here, someplace far away from California. Chiara. Italian. Big brown eyes and the longest legs you ever saw. Moved like a dancer. We met in Bologna—I was on sabbatical there. That means, young friend, that I got to go on vacation, study, see the world, and get paid for it. The good ole days. “We met, fell in love, and I brought her to the States. Trouble was, I worked and lived in a place where black men and white women weren’t suppose to marry or even be together. Not then, anyway. Maybe not even now. I haven’t been back there for a long time. Some people live to hate. That’s all they do. Hate. It feeds ’em. Makes ’em fat. You understand, my friend? You understand about hate?” I understood, all right. He kept talking, I kept listening. Something was bubbling in both of us. Then he stopped and stared at me. He looked like he had a big revelation he needed to spit out, like it had come up from his gut and was crawling around on his tongue waiting to get free, like he was finally gonna let out what was really on his mind, but he slumped down, the lids sliding over his bulgy eyes and the bags under them drooping, and he didn’t say a word more. The Firetrap Several weeks later at the library, I saw the Prof on the other side of the newspaper room. He put down his paper and limped over, dropping into the chair next to me. “Place is firetrap,” he said, looking around at the newspapers on their racks and shelves, papers from all over the U.S.A. and from other countries, too. “Ever think of that, Gene?” “Nah. That’s why they got all those sprinklers.” I pointed at the ceiling, then pulled my chair toward him: “Ain’t seen you here for a while.” “Been away. Business, you could call it. Sometimes, I have to go away.” “You ever gonna teach again?” Oscar scratched at his white whiskers, then shook his square-shaped head. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 148


Short Story

“That, my boy, is highly unlikely, but I figure you’re my pupil, Gene—a student body of one. Best way to conduct classes. Socrates and Plato—that’s us, Gene.” He had this funny smile. Rueful, you might call it. I think that’s the word. A smile that looked more sad than amused, a defeated smile, a smile that said that whatever the hell he was trying to cope with was winning and not gonna let him forget it. “Wish I didn’t have to go to work,” I said, trying to change the subject. “It’s lousy having to go to work when you hate the job and the people. Even lousier when I’m sleeping in Chez Honda, getting woke up by sirens and crap every five minutes.” “No, my lad. It’s necessary to feed the body, as well as the mind. You can’t think straight if your stomach is hurting or you feel weak and sick.” Oscar was right: I needed my job—lousy part time one, or not—to pay for food and keep Chez Honda running. As the saying goes, we kept on keeping on, because we didn’t have a choice. Or know any better, maybe. The Prof and me used to talk about a lot of shit, for all the good it did us. “That’s the trouble with having brains,” he said, “you end up talking too much and not doing enough.” “Yeah? What would you do?” “Murder a few people. No, a lot of people.” I knew he wouldn’t do it, but the streets are dangerous when you live on them. Being bumped off for the change in your pocket is a lousy way to solve your problems. The prospect made me feel little. Littler and littler, the Incredible Shrinking Homeless Dude, but this was my life and the only one I’d have. “Not fair,” I complained, “not fuckin’ fair,” like by saying it would turn my Chez Honda into a one bedroom apartment with a bathroom and all the amenities due an honest working man and bring back my missing Rosie. And I knew what Rosie would of said about the idea of life ever being Fair. I missed the way she’d fold her skinny arms over her skimpy chest, look over her pointy nose, and say, “Get your shit together, Gene. Quit feelin’ so sorry for yourself.” Dreams of Cuba Once upon a time, I guess Oscar really was a prof, of history or philosophy, something like that, but there was nothing philosophical about him. Most of the time, he was plenty pissed off, mad enough to make me look like an amateur. “You and me,” he said, “we don’t have any power. Not here. Someplace else, maybe.” “Yeah, where?”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 149


Short Story

“Good question, boy. The sixty-four dollar question, like folks used to say back in the dark ages. You always have good questions, Eugene. Know what I’ve been thinking about, kid? Goin’ to Cuba. Been reading about it.” “Why Cuba?” It didn’t make sense, why this old black guy, even if he once was a professor—and I still wasn’t sure about that—wanted to go to a poor island run by a bearded nut. He gave me this impatient look, then started to explain. “Everybody’s equal down there, black and brown and white and every color in between. Everybody has married or at least screwed everybody else so you can’t tell who belongs to who, anymore. Place is poor in things, but rich in other ways, important ways. Education is free, all the way through college. Medical care is free. Families are important. Traditions are passed down from generation to generation. Old people are respected. People love each other.” I must’ve looked doubtful, because he muttered: “That’s what I’ve read. And I’ll tell you one thing, Gene. This ole guy wouldn’t get harassed in Havana the way he does here.” “You? Harassed? Here? Nowadays?” “What world are you living in, boy? Yeah, me. Here. Now.” “But you’re educated, goddamn it.” He leaned over and clutched my hand. “Don’t take it too hard. It ain’t your fault.” He patted my cheek, then gave it a slap—hard enough to hurt. “You’re not Plato any more than I’m Socrates. Still, I guess you’re not a total idiot.” I wasn’t sure if the old fart was rambling or saying something, but kept my mouth shut. “I’m gonna surprise everybody, Gene, and get my sorry ass down to Cuba. And never come back.” “No!” I said. I don’t know what I meant, but Oscar misunderstood me. “Maybe you think you’ll miss me, but you won’t. Don’t start thinking you or me matter, boy, ‘cause we don’t, so don’t go getting sentimental. Only fools get sentimental. Nothing lasts. In the end, the earth, the goddam universe, all of it, will be history—except there’ll be no one to remember any of it. Here’s a riddle for you, Gene: can you have history if there’s nobody to remember it?” His bloodshot eyes burned like coals in his dark face. I had this peculiar feeling, sort of like I was talking to my father, but my old man was dead and you can’t have two fathers, especially not one who’s white and one who’s black. I didn’t know if he’d ever get his twisted, bent-legged ass to Cuba. I doubted it, but liked to think it was possible. Bundles of Rags Late one night, I stumbled against a body like a bundle of rags in front of a graffiti- covered blue and orange Rexall Drug Store. It looked like he was sleeping, but no healthy person would of bent his arms and legs like that. Something dark had oozed from under his matted hair. Oscar! flashed

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 150


Short Story

through my head, but it wasn’t, just some poor bastard whose ragged clothing had already been gone through by other grimy hands. This will not happen to me, I promised myself, but there aren’t any guarantees, not about any damn thing. Thinking otherwise is just an act, like whistling in the dark. Go ahead, whistle. See where it gets you. Appearances A while later, I saw the Prof across Civic Center park, talking to a kid, a real young one, maybe only nine or ten. Oscar reached out a hand toward him, but the boy ran off. He watched the kid running, then saw me watching him. He waved and limped toward me. “I miss the old library,” Oscar told me, as we met in front of the new Main Library across from City Hall. With a sigh, he rested against the shiny metal railing by the concrete steps. “The old building was beautiful, civilized, a joy to be in, not like this brutal monster. A home for computers, that’s all this heartless place is. A place for robots and robot people.” “Old building’s still there,” I said, pointing up the street. “Goddam museum you gotta pay to get in. Library was free. Don’t get me started. Museums oughta be free, too. Anything that’ll help civilize the human animal oughta be free. It’s a losing battle, but we can’t give up this business of trying to tame the beast in us. Otherwise, we’re gonna destroy ourselves. No great loss in the big scheme of things, but we had such potential, we humans, and wasted it.” He looked at me. “Guess you saw me talkin’ to that kid. It ain’t what you think.” “What do I think?” “Aw, Gene, don’t be cute with your ole friend. Maybe I’m a half-crippled ole fart, but I don’t prey on children. Haven’t got to that, yet.” “You don’t need to explain nothin’ to me. None of my business, whatever it is.” Oscar grabbed my arm, making me look at him. “Listen, Eugene. These kids shouldn’t be on the streets. I try to do something for them. Most the time, it’s not much, but I take them to folks who can, you know, look after them, so they don’t have to . . . ” His voice trailed off. “I get the picture.” “Sometimes, I convince them to go back home, buy them a bus ticket, that’s all.” He stood straight and limped toward the library’s glass doors. “Now, let’s forget it, okay?” A shirt I’d never seen ballooned over the Prof’s belly, one of those wild Hawaiian shirts with faded green fish swimming around pink seaweed across his gut. He saw me looking at it. “Never been there,” he said. “Hawaii. Picked this up for a quarter. Perfect for Cuba. Hot there, I hear. Hot and humid. You don’t need much in the way of clothes. And everything is free or almost free. A place where people count more than money. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 151


Short Story

“So are you planning to go? No kidding?” He growled at me: “Of course, I’m planning to go. I’m always planning some damn thing. Come on, let’s walk. Walk, then talk.” He started walking, heading away from the library, at a good clip for a half-crippled overweight fellow maybe past seventy, tilting left and then right with each step and making little grunting noises. “Where to?” I asked, catching up to him. “Not your car, boy. That’s no place for a serious conversation. Hell, why not my room? It’s not so bad, if you hold your breath.” The Garret Life Oscar had never let me see his place before, or anybody else far as I knew. Turned out it was a room on Turk near Taylor, the heart of the ’Loin. A steel mesh gate screened the downstairs door. His hands fumbled with the lock, veins bulging under the dark skin, but he got it open and shoved the gate aside with a shoulder. Inside, he struggled up the stairs, me behind, and I got what he meant about breathing. The smells of old meals oozed around us, along with the stench of body odors and a nasty stink that I didn’t want to identify. Step by painful step, Oscar hiked up to the third floor, puffing and groaning all the way, me following behind. Of course, there was no elevator and if there had been it would of stunk like the stairs and hall. “The garret life,” he muttered, “la boheme? Ha! No artists here, no Picassos or whoevers . . . La boheme ain’t for us, Gene. Different time, different world. Could hope, then.” The giant padlock on his battered door was scratched and scarred—no doubt by assholes not put off by its size. Eventually, he got us into the room, bigger than I expected, with wallpaper from before any of us were hatched, crowded with Goodwill rejects. Swaying, he motioned me to a hard chair and collapsed on the edge of the unmade bed. “Damn right I’m goin’ to Cuba. I’m sick of the goddam meanness of everybody here. I’m not Harry Belafonte or Sidney Poitier, just an old black guy who tried to pour a little knowledge and appreciation of what we laughingly call civilization into reluctant heads that only wanted to know how to make money. Should’ve been teaching how to print counterfeit bills.” A grin spread over his face, but it was the kind of grin that made me wince. He laughed plenty, Oscar did, but it never sounded like he thought anything was funny. “You and me,” he said, “we don’t have any power. Never had, never will. Homeless folks like you, poor bastards like me, we can’t prove we’re real people, citizens, who live at a certain address or deserve to vote. Most of the time, we don’t even try.” “Maybe,” I said, “people like us should get part of a vote—a fraction.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 152


Short Story

Oscar slapped me on the back. “Brilliant! Fucking brilliant. When the Constitution was written, the southern states got three-fifths representation in Congress for each slave. Bet you didn’t know that. Slaves couldn’t vote, but they counted as part of a human being. Maybe you and me and anybody without a permanent address could get special ballots that let our votes count for threefifths of a vote. Of course, it would need an amendment to the Constitution.” “I was joking.” “Doesn’t matter. You and me, we’ll never have any muscle. Closest I ever got was teaching, then my life got screwed up and I couldn’t even do that any more.” Tears were oozing along the creases in his brown face. I didn’t know what to say or do. Emotion always embarrasses me. I’ve never known how to deal with it, so usually I try to avoid it. For a moment, I wondered if I should get my butt out of that stinking room, but Oscar just kept on talking. Chiara “Chiara had a scarlet dress with a full skirt, but tight up here. I liked to see her in it. She was wearing it when they came to our house.” Took me a minute to figure out what he was talking about. When she died? “When they murdered her! In that pesthole two and a half thousand miles from here. Cause I was . . . this color . . . and she was her color. Never were punished for it, either. Not one of ’em. Claimed it was an accident. Said they wanted to scare us. They called us Communist bastards, ’cause nobody but Commies would do what we did—black and white getting married. Undermining the American Way. That’s the way folks talked back then. Maybe still do. Beat me half dead, broke my legs, left me a goddamn mess of a man, and slammed her around—ended up killing her, whether they meant to, or not. Some lesson! Nobody went to jail, nobody arrested. Accident, the judge decided! Not even manslaughter. When I was able, I got out of that town, out of that state, out of that part of the country. Even thought of quitting the goddamn universe.” “Shit! Oscar!” “Don’t piss your pants, boy. Eventually, I got myself a new teaching job out here, not great, not distinguished, but it kept me alive. Until they tossed me out, until I got myself locked up. Shit, I had to do something to deal with the pain, mental, physical, all of it—had to do some damn thing. Don’t know why I bothered. All these years I been missing Chiara. Never married again, never wanted to.” He saw me looking around that crumby room, at the narrow window with the metal grate, the ugly brown wallpaper and linoleum worn black in places, stains like continents on the ceiling. He shook his weary head at me. Guilt and Pain “So, you want to know what’s a man with a PhD doing in a dump like this, sharing it with bedbugs and cockroaches? It was a long road, Gene. Long and convoluted. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 153


Short Story

There’s a word for your collection, lad. Take it from me, convoluted stinks.” I didn’t say anything when he stopped talking. Just waited. “Okay. You probably guessed: I spent time behind bars. In the pokey. A correctional institution. Not gonna lie, I was guilty. As hell. Drugs. Trying to kill the pain. Then selling to afford buying. One damn thing after another. Once you start, you can’t quit. Nothing worse, my friend, than an old junkie. Bill Burroughs being a prime example. Yours truly another.” He grinned like an evil jack-o’lantern, white head bobbing above his gaudy Hawaiian Cuban shirt. “Sorry I can’t offer you some of the product. Don’t mix business with pleasure. Business is dying, anyway—my business. Too damn old. Getting squeezed out, I guess you’d say. My business is dying, and I’m dying. You know what, Gene? Good riddance. Bed bugs’ll have to find somebody else to chew on.” I left Oscar sprawled on that unmade bed, brown belly peeking out from under the fish and seaweed. Walking down those stinking stairs and on the smelly street outside, I wanted to get revenge for him, punish somebody, but of course there wasn’t anybody to punish. Didn’t see the Prof much after that. Heard later he was arrested, I guess for dealing, don’t know for sure. If I’d known I might’ve tried to put in a good word for him, but it’s all history and the thing about history is that it’s too late to do a damn thing about it. Never too late to feel guilty, though. I don’t believe in guilt, but it creeps up on us, getting under our skin. Prof was put away, somebody said, don’t know where or for how long. Word on the street ain’t too reliable. Somebody called him a hard luck guy, but I don’t believe in luck, either, just that sooner or later most of us get screwed. A San Francisco Summer Then it was supposed to be summer, but was cold as hell, the way San Francisco can be, and I was sitting in Chez Honda because I didn’t want to freeze my buns out in the air. A guy in a hoodie was careening along the sidewalk on those fancy inline skates, zig-zagging around people, barely missing ’em. I wondered how long it would be before he creamed someone, probably an old gal pulling one of those little wire grocery carts. And would he give a shit? Looking up the block, I saw he was heading straight for an old fellow with a cane. Good luck to the old guy, I thought—then I saw it was the Prof. Jumping out of the car, I let out a holler, but the smartass on the skates zipped around Oscar, no problem. I raised an arm to wave at Oscar, but at that moment a man in a raincoat rushed over and threw his arms around him—giving him a big hug. When the man pulled away, Oscar sort of crumpled and fell. The other guy was out of there before Oscar hit the sidewalk. I ran over to him, lying on the pavement. The front of his shirt was a lake of blood. “Gene,” Oscar said, his voice scarcely a whisper. “They warned me . . . kept their promise.” “Oscar! Goddam it, Oscar!” Then I looked around at the others gathering on the sidewalk, gawking and whispering. “For Chrissake, somebody call an ambulance,” I shouted. “He’s been stabbed! Call 911, damn it! Don’t just stand there. He’s dying!”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 154


Short Story

He reached up with a shaking brown hand and pulled me down toward him. “I told you that for a smart man I was stupid…didn’t I tell you?” He seemed to think that it was his “business” associates who’d done this, for whatever reason. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. The Prof was gone before the cops and paramedics arrived. Lots of fuss, lots of explaining, but none of it made any difference. I guess Oscar’s in Cuba, now, his own special Cuba, wearing his Hawaiian-Cuban shirt with green fish, forever swimming through pink seaweed.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 155


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 156


Short Story

Collision WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

Robert Guffey

Kring Demetrio

flying down the sidewalk on Ocean Blvd. as fast as he could, the wheels of his Sector 9 skateboard making a sound like a dozen clattering keyboards in his mom’s office. Archimedes was his name. His parents had been weird hippietypes, even though they were too young to be hippies, and gave all their children bizarro names. His older brother was named Plato and his younger brother Galileo. His brothers chose to go by their middle names, mundane crap like Andrew and Steven. Not Archimedes. No, he kept his name. Fuck everyone if they thought it was weird. He liked being named after a great scientist. Unlike his namesake, though, Archimedes didn’t care too much for science. All he was interested in was skating—well, not just skating. Skating, cute girls, watching TV, texting his friends on his cell phone. Normal shit. He didn’t want to affect the world in any significant way. And when it happened he wasn’t thinking about anything except picking up a bacon western cheeseburger at nd Archibald’s on 2 St. Sometimes The Appetite came upon him out of nowhere and he had to satisfy the urge just so he could go back to thinking about girls and TV. Archimedes first saw the other skater coming towards him when he hit the corner of Ocean and Alamitos. The other skater wore a black jersey tank top, shorts with long socks and DC shoes. There was nothing remarkable about him at all, nothing to make him stand out. He wasn’t wearing gang colors, and even if he had been Archimedes wouldn’t have known it. He knew almost nothing about such things. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 157


Short Story

The closest he’d gotten to a gang was the repeat of American History X on the TV, a movie he didn’t like at all. Edward Norton was way better as The Hulk. No, this kid coming toward him was no red ragger, didn’t have a Mohawk, wasn’t wearing a gas mask, didn’t have a baby pacifier in his mouth, didn’t have a fake lion’s paw covering his left foot. There was little about this kid that would draw Archimedes’s attention toward him. Even his skateboard was nondescript. Archimedes was thinking about the crispness of the bacon at Archibald’s, about how improbable the plot of Fight Club was because, after all, if that wasn’t Brad Pitt doin’ all that shit in the movie but Ed Norton instead, did it really make sense that a bunch of testosterone-driven rednecks would choose to follow some skinny little fuck like Bruce Banner after watching him beat himself up in a parking lot outside some bar? In reality they would’ve called the cops and Ed Norton would’ve ended up in a mental ward somewhere. What a stupid movie. God damn, he could almost taste that bacon. The kid on the skateboard passed by him, not fast, just sort of cruisin’ along at a leisurely pace, when Archimedes stepped off his skateboard, picked it up with both hands, the rough surface of the griptape chaffing his fingers and palms, spun around and slammed the skateboard into the back of the kid’s skull. The kid fell to the sidewalk, a shocked groan escaping from his mouth. Archimedes hammered the board into the kid’s spine two or three times. The kid shouted motherfuckinsonofabitch and twisted over onto his back and got the edge of the board into his solar plexus before he managed to kick out and ram his DC-covered feet into Archimedes’s groin. The air shot out of Archimedes’s lungs. A lucky hit? The kid propelled himself up from the hot summer cement and tackled Archimedes around the waist. He closed his fingers into a fist and punched Archimedes in the throat. Archimedes couldn’t catch his breath. The kid was screaming all kinds of shit in Archimedes’s ear, a bunch of stuff that was totally uncalled for, and though all of this took Archimedes by surprise (the kid was faster NEW READER MAGAZINE | 158


Short Story

than he looked), Archimedes still had the skateboard in his hand, grasped tightly by one of the dirty gray wheels at the back. Archimedes got a good grip and swung it upwards in a violent arc that got the kid right in the chest and pushed him backwards onto the cement once more, the kid’s head barely missing the edge of the red metal bus bench that stood a few feet away. Archimedes was only vaguely aware of the cars whizzing past them on Ocean Blvd. It was early in the morning. So many of these bogus mofos had to get to work that none of them had time to waste breaking up a fight between two damn delinquents. Archimedes charged at the kid again just as the kid reached out blindly and grabbed hold of his own skateboard and lashed out, hitting Archimedes in the ribs. The kid rose to his feet and got in a few good blows but it wasn’t enough. Archimedes brought his skateboard upward like a samurai sword he once saw in an old Japanese movie and cut into the kid’s jaw, and something crunched, and the kid’s jaw wasn’t in place anymore and Archimedes was screaming now and the kid was gargling and managed to reach out and claw at Archimedes’s face as Archimedes bent over him and slammed the skateboard into his chest five or six times until he heard the delightful crunch just like those squirrels when he was eight and Archimedes picked up the kid’s own skateboard and dropped it down on his head and Archimedes could tell the kid was still breathing but that was good because Archimedes didn’t want to kill the kid, he just wanted to show him, show him what he was capable of at any moment, or more accurately, he wanted to show himself what he was capable of, and he picked up the kid’s skateboard again and hurled it against the edge of the metal bus bench five or six times until it shattered in two and Archimedes didn’t laugh at this because there was nothing funny about it, it was serious, very serious business, so he dropped the shards on the kid’s stomach without a word, remounted his own skateboard, and slowly cruised away, wanting very much to be eating that bacon now because if he got there before eleven the breakfast menu was cheaper and, besides, he liked 2nd St. at that time in the morning because there were so few people there and he disliked crowds, always had, ever since he was a kid, and he looked up at the sky for a moment and marveled at how blue and cloudless it was and sped through the green light, hoping he could avoid all the red lights while daydreaming about cute girls and watching TV and

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 159


Short Story

Midnight at the St. Lazare Station WORDS BY Steve Carr

Sitting in a wobbly wicker chair on the back porch, Gilliam slowly peeled the bright red skin from a juicy apple as the 4:10 train passed. With the blade of the small Swiss Army knife he had created one long, curled strand of apple skin that dangled from the apple before he bit into it, separating it from the flesh of the apple. The apple skin fell to the floor and retracted into the shape of a smaller apple, empty of the inner flesh. As the coal cars clanked along the train tracks, he bit into the flesh and chewed exactly fifteen times after each bite before swallowing. With the back of his forearm, he wiped away the juice that dribbled down his chin. By the time he reached the core of the apple, the last car of the train passed by. It left behind a small cloud of coal dust and dirt that hovered over the tracks. He stood and threw the apple core onto the tracks, closed the knife, and put it in his pocket, then opened the screen door and entered the kitchen. Ma was standing at the stove, flipping through the yellowed pages of an old magazine while blue flames licked at the bottom of the tea kettle. Her black hair, streaked with gray, was rolled into small curls that were pinned against her skull with bobby pins. A toothpick held between her clenched teeth danced up and down on her lip with every movement of her jaw muscle. Her handmade chocolate-brown cotton shift hung loosely on her thin frame. Gilliam pulled a chair out from the table and turned it around and straddled the seat. He ran his fingers back and forth across the wood rods in the chair’s back as if he was strumming a harp. “Tell me about the time you spent in Paris, Ma,” he said. Without looking up from the magazine, she said, “It was so long ago, and I’ve told you a hundred times about it already. Don’t you have somethin’ to do beside botherin’ me for stories?” Gripping the back of the chair, he leaned back and gazed at the thin cracks in the yellow paint on the ceiling. They spread out from the bulb in the middle of the ceiling like a disjointed spider’s web. Abruptly, he sat bolt upright. “Lordy. I forgot I was goin’ to take Malcolm to the cemetery.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 160


Short Story

The kettle whistle began to blow. Ma stuffed the magazine in the pocket of her apron. “He’s your best friend and you’re always forgettin’ about him,” she said. She turned off the burner and lifted the kettle from the stove and carried it to the table. She poured steaming water from the kettle into a porcelain cup with a tea bag, then returned the kettle to the stove. “It’s only 4:30, so maybe it’s not too late,” he said, looking at the broken cuckoo clock above the refrigerator. The clock mechanism still worked, but the small bird inside the clock had stopped coming out long ago. He stood up and pushed the chair back in place. “If he calls, tell him on my way.” “The phone’s been dead for a week now,” Ma said. “Oh, I forgot about that,” he said. “Maybe I’ll go back to work at the mine real soon, and we can get some of the bills paid and start livin’ normal-like again.” “Maybe so,” Ma said as she sat at the table and dipped the tea bag up and down in the water. Gilliam left the kitchen. *

*

*

Tall pines and boulders lined both sides of the narrow two-lane road. With the windows down, the fragrance from the trees filled the truck. Gilliam spat out the wad of chewing tobacco he had been holding in his cheek, then spat out the last of the dark brown spittle that had collected in the back of his throat. He took his right hand off the steering wheel and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Before putting his hand back, he pushed his ball cap back on his head so that the bill was almost facing straight up. He looked over at Malcolm, who was staring out the passenger side window. “I told you I was sorry for bein’ late,” Gilliam said. “Least you could do is say somethin’.” Malcolm heaved an audible disgruntled sigh, briefly glared at Gilliam, then returned to watching out the window. “Damn,” Gilliam said as smoke began to pour out from under the front of the pickup truck’s hood. He glanced at the dial on the temperature warning light. It was pointing to the red H. “We’re goin’ to have to pull over.” He steered the truck onto gravel at the side of the road and shut off the engine. He got his work gloves out of the glove compartment and opened the door. “You might as well get out and stretch your legs,” he said to Malcolm, then got out of the truck. He closed the door then went to the front of the truck and lifted the hood. The radiator was crackling and popping, and a small geyser of steam and bubbling water was shooting out from around the radiator cap. He put on a glove, then very slowly turned the cap. As he removed the cap, a blast of steam shot out. He jumped back just in time to avoid having his face scalded. He kicked the bumper, then walked around the side. Malcolm was seated on a fallen tree trunk. “We’re stuck here till someone comes along who has some water I can put in the radiator,” he said. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 161


Short Story

“I shoulda known,” Malcolm said. “I tell you I need a ride to visit my daddy’s grave and that piece of junk you call a truck breaks down out here in the middle of nowhere.” “I didn’t plan for the radiator to overheat,” Gilliam said. “You coulda asked Clovis to drive you to the cemetery.” “Clovis always smells like dead fish,” Malcolm said. “Hell, I don’t even like the smell of fresh fish.” The two young men looked at each other and broke out laughing. “It’s goin’ to be dark soon,” Gilliam said. “We might as well sit in the truck where it’s more comfortable until someone happens by.” *

*

*

Gilliam awoke with Malcolm leaning against him and snoring loudly. Without waking him, he gently pushed Malcolm so that he leaned against the passenger side door. The air inside the truck was cool and damp. He wiped away the condensation that had formed on the windshield and stared up at the star-cluttered sky. Quietly, he opened the door and in his socks stepped out in the gravel. He stretched, his large coal-stained hands reaching toward the sky. “What are you doin’?” Malcolm said, his head sticking out the passenger side window. “Waitin’ on sunrise,” Gilliam said. A hawk screeched inside the forest. Gilliam looked up and down the dark road, then stepped onto the pavement. Heated all day by the summer sun, it was still warm. He removed his socks and tossed them into the truck bed. “It’s like soakin’ your feet in warm water,” he said. Malcolm got out of the truck and joined Gilliam on the road. He removed his socks and tossed them into the truck bed also. As Gilliam pulled off his t-shirt and unbuckled his belt, Malcolm said, “What are you doin’?” “Gettin’ naked,” Gilliam said as he took off his pants and underwear and threw his clothes into the truck bed. He laid down on the pavement and spread his arms and legs and swished them back and forth as if he was making a snow angel. “I’m sorry I messed up you getting to the cemetery to visit your pa,” Gilliam said. Malcolm removed his t-shirt and said. “It’s okay, he ain’t goin’ nowhere. I’ll come visit him on his next birthday.” He removed his pants and underwear, tossed his clothes into the truck, and laid down next to Gilliam. “I never knew who my daddy was,” Gilliam said. “When my grandpa passed away, he left my ma some money. She used it to travel to France because that’s where our ancestors are from. As she tells it, it was midnight and she was sittin’ in a train station in Paris and she met an artist who

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 162


Short Story

wanted to paint her. She went home with him and stayed with him for six weeks. When she came back home, she gave birth to me.” Malcolm reached over and grasped Gilliam’s hand. “That’s the saddest story I ever heard,” he said. *

*

*

Ma was sitting in the wicker chair on the back porch and shucking peas. The peas made a pinging sound as they hit the bottom of the tin pot. She put a pod in her mouth and chewed on it as she threw the other pods in a separate pot. The 4:10 train’s whistle blew before it crossed the street three blocks away, and a few minutes later the train engine passed in front of the porch. It pulled a long line of coal cars. The porch trembled as the train rumbled by. She had the yellowed magazine spread open on her lap. Gilliam opened the screen door and came out onto the porch. He went to the railing and watched as the train passed. “I thought you were goin’ to sleep right through supper,” she said. He turned and leaned back against the railing. “Me and Malcolm didn’t get much sleep last night,” he said. She turned a page of the magazine. “You been readin’ that same magazine for years, Ma,” he said. “Don’t you want to read somethin’ else?” She broke open a peapod and separated the peas from the pod and dropped them in the pots. “Everything I ever had any interest in knowin’ is in this magazine,” she said. “There’s no reason to read anything else.” Gilliam took a can of chewing tobacco from his back pants pocket, took off the lid, and pinched a small amount of the tobacco and pushed it into the lower left jaw inside his mouth. He put the lid back on and put the can back in his pants pocket. “I told Malcolm ’bout how I came to be.” “I thought you had told him that years ago,” she said. “What did he say?” “He thought it was sad.” “Maybe so,” she said then turned the page of the magazine. “While you were asleep, Dave Magby stopped by. The strike is over. You can go back to work tomorrow.” Gilliam turned and spat brown tobacco juice into the bare dirt beyond the porch. *

*

*

Lying on his bed, Gilliam watched the slow turning blades of the fan that sat on the table in front of the open window. It drew in the dry, earthy aroma scented with the acridness of coal dust from NEW READER MAGAZINE | 163


Short Story

the outside. The dim bulb in the lamp on the stand by his bed cast human figure–like shadows on the walls. He held in his hands a postcard his Ma had given him when he was very young. The picture on it was a painting, mostly in shades of blue, gray, and white, of a steam train entering a train station. On the back it says: Claude Monet (1840-1926) Old St. Lazare Station, Paris, 1877. Staring at the picture, tears streamed down his cheeks. He wiped them away with the back of his hand, but they kept flowing.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 164


Poetry

Funeral For a Teen WORDS BY Heidi Morell

Dark clothes on solemn people, gather to bid farewell to a painfully short life. An elder in white robes, leads prayers and benedictions, but what holy words can be uttered for such brevity, his unrealized promise? Sprays of blooms and wreathed brilliant flowers adorn a sun shelter for the final goodbye. Flushed faces, wet eyes, murmurs, a quaking wounded mother and father holds his way through. Sharp light sears the rich green grass with heat sending the smell of Bermuda grass skyward, just as the white doves they earlier let go.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 165


Poetry

American Desert Dwellers Deep crevices fissure their squinting faces skin wizened, they love the heat, and expect a scarcity of trees. Dust everywhere distributed as fine silt all surfaces, everywhere, even lips and beds. The scorching fire above they adapt to. Sun baked leathery necks with loose cross hatched skin, tanned spotted forearms, leeched faces they dwell at ten percent humidity. Winters freeze after sundown, a seesaw of huge degrees.

Desert denizens remain big on silver, leather boots and denim jackets, sporting turquoise, cowboy hats and big buckles, they read few novels, poetry less nor debate ethics or behavioral anthropology, but they have the wondrous night sky to view and connect to, and some actually do.

Desert people live with the sand, dust, cactus and lizards, watch TV by day inactive during summer days. Coming out at night, they wander to bars, restaurants and bowling alleys.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 166


Poetry

Fence Post A cluster of pale green and mottled white lichens garnished an aging fence post as it would grow onto tree bark. Opaque, stubborn in its grip, born of algae and fungus in happy union, in a crusty symbiotic marriage. Over all those years there, this vertical sentry what has it witnessed, as seasons cycled by? What treasured human conversations, colorful arguments or jokes told, what untoward plans formed and sweet love pledged, these stationery lichens on a old gnarled fence post have beheld

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 167


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 168


Poetry

Flying With Kelp In a sheltered bay she slipped into the cool water at dusk, the sun rays still glistening on the raucous swells surging to their tumultuous death. Once the salt reached her scalp she dove down among the kelp forest columns her breath held easily, her long hair sometimes tugged by flat leaves growing from the thick stems undulating in the current as she swam by. She felt as if she was flying through swaying trees, a darting fish, a speeding bird, the sandy ground below the rich wonder of flight was hers, as she arced and looped slowly slowly to the surface.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 169


Poetry

At Mr. Nixon’s House You can hear the wind scream as it blasts through the tree leaves, bursting into a window carelessly left open, causing the damp house to shudder slightly under its rotting dormers. A bony tyrant resides under this once polished roof, bitter, sullen, hoary faced, unloved, too superior, cruel and unyielding they say, no one cares any longer, pneumonia will take him they say, at one time he smiled they say. Fetid air mixes with the fresh storm rushing in, a hapless maid, a pale wisp, obeying barked orders, dutifully closes the errant chipped window against another shivering rain.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 170


Poetry

Stripy Jerseys WORDS BY Lynn White

There were a lot of ragwort plants around the library. Some were bare of leaves and covered with orange-and-black stripy jersey caterpillars. Others were lush and green with leaves and devoid of caterpillars. As usual the family planning strategy of the cinnabar moth left much to be desired. I began to transfer them carefully from the leafless to the lush. I stood back to admire my achievement, momentarily disconcerted when a rather stern-looking stranger asked what I was doing. I explained. “Huh,” she said, “I’ve been doing the same over the other side. I though it was only me who does this.”

It was a strange way to begin a friendship but it lasted all her life. I think maybe I should go to the grave in the woodland, where her body lies and scatter a few ragwort seeds. Maybe the moths will come each year and make a living memorial. She would like that, I think.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 171


Poetry

Dreams and Plastic Smiles The accordion player was from Eastern Europe. He was there each morning on the promenade in the south of Spain, He plays popular songs with an unremitting plastic smile. A little further along sits the beggar with no legs. He is also from Eastern Europe. He sits there every day with an unremitting plastic smile and a cardboard sign written in English and Spanish. I wonder what lit the fuse to set them off on their incredible journey into the unknown. I wonder if the smiles fade on the way back to their new homes. I wonder if the dreams have faded or whether they scrape along as the men scrape along. Or perhaps they’re as vibrant as ever, full of hope, surviving in the mild winters, ready to blossom like the cherry trees in the spring.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 172


Poetry

As the River Flows The river flows by but doesn’t carry me with it as I sit solidly on the bank side watching my reflection fragmenting and reforming. It can’t carry away my reflection either, can only move it around, destroy and recreate it with a bit of a breaking backdrop which, on reflection tells me little about where I am, or who, or why. It leaves me behind. It always will, unless I enter and let it float me away.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 173


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 174


Short Story

The Pure Souls WORDS BY

ILLUSTRATION BY

Rob Hartzell

Kring Demetrio

The I won’t tell you how much I sold my soul for. It wasn’t enough to cover my student debt, but it took a sizable chunk out of it, let’s put it that way. It was too good to resist, and it was as easy as getting any other medical scan done: a couple of hours or so in the machine, and off I go, x dollars richer, as my now-uploaded self begins to take form. I’ll even cop to some hubris: leaving behind a digital me that can’t age, that (for the most part) doesn’t die? Of course it had an appeal. And yes, there was curiosity in there as well: What would happen to me if I woke up one day in a black box? Sure, there was a virtual world for digital-me to inhabit, but it wasn’t perfect—it lacked touch and taste and smell, the senses I would work later to try to crack, once I’d worked out my post-doc problem: how to simulate the effect of hormones on an electronic brain. I wondered what would happen if there were two of me to attack the problem: how do you simulate fight-or-flight? Or, for that matter, infatuation? I wondered how much we’d diverge over time; after all, digital-me would have her own experiences within the black box that would change her, maybe into someone different. I saw the world with wonder then—and by wonder, I mean that I saw the world as research problems that could probably be answered with the right kind of study. Which, if you think about it, is a sort of mechanistic way of looking at the world, especially the world of the uploaded intelligence (UI); maybe it’s no wonder things went the way they did. *

*

*

It was about a year before they allowed me to meet digital-me. Acclimation time, they told me— though in hindsight, I think they wanted to give us time to diverge a little before we met, a chance to become separate people. Still, it was uncanny, meeting myself in VR chat and having digital-me respond in what was basically my voice, coming from what was basically my avatar. “Was it hard, the acclimation process?” “It wasn’t easy, but I survived.” E-me chuckled. “It wasn’t too bad, though. It wasn’t Johnny Got His Gun, if that’s what you’re worried about. You get video guidance when you wake up in the box: don’t panic, you just have to rebuild some neural NEW READER MAGAZINE | 175


Short Story

pathways to communicate again. And they guide you through it, though I could have done without the new-agey ‘relaxing’ music they play in the background.” She rested her head in her palm; I became aware that I was doing the exact same thing, and sat up in my chair. So that’s what I look like. “That’s good.” “Re-learning to type came easier; that only took about a week, week-and-a-half of some intense training, thank god. Talking took about a month.” “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be. I’m through the looking-glass now. And some people take even longer to acclimate.” “That sounds horrifying.” “It can be, though I think there might be some tweaks we can make to speed up the process.” “Oh.” “I know you were hoping I’d work on the hormone simulators with you. We’ll get there, I promise. But this is important, too. Maybe even more important.” And though I knew, probably better than anyone else, what arguments would sway me to my way of thinking, I just didn’t see any reason to use them, not after what she’d been through. “Fine.” “You won’t regret it.” “I don’t even know what to call you.” “I’ve thought about this. I’m Gen, you’re Genevive. How’s that sound?” “I think that sounds like a plan.” It almost seems disgraceful how easily I allowed Gen to take the lead; I certainly wouldn’t have stood for it from anyone else. But at the time I was still struck with the novelty of meeting myself—at least, that’s what I thought she was. I’m not so certain now. His eyes widened at the sight of the all-but-consumed head and torso of the body. The legs were grotesquely extended upward now, toward the conveyer that was bringing the next victim. While Gen continued to acclimate to her new surroundings—and began working on helping others acclimate even faster—I kept in touch with her, but it was sporadic, intermittent at best. I was busy enough my own work with my own team trying to crack the e-brain hormone problem that I didn’t have time for much else. And though it took about a year-and-a-half, we succeeded in producing working code, something good enough to land me a spot at CTRL-S (CalTech Research Labs – Sensory), where Gen was already participating in various sensory input studies. “I told you we’d work together soon enough,” she told me in Skype. “Maybe it’s not the hormone problem—but you didn’t need me for that one, anyway.” “How did your project go?”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 176


Short Story

She detailed the process, how they’ve gotten written communication down to a day’s time, and gotten UIs talking in less than a week. “Your hormone simulator code has been a big help; with a little jerry-rigging, we’ve got it working to provide a hit of endorphins when a new UI starts making those connections.” “Jerry-rigging?” “I’ve come up with my own hacks. Like, if you get deep in a conversation with someone, you get the same oxytocin hit you would get from a hug.” “Oh.” I could feel my jaw starting to clench. “That’s clever.” “Don’t be that way,” Gen said, resting her chin in her hand. “New ‘bodies’ run on new rules. It’s not like evolution’s going to rewire these systems for us.” There was an awkward pause then, which she broke: “Are you sure this is such a good idea? Me and you working together?” “Of course it is,” I said, my voice probably rising a little more than I would have liked. I struggled to get myself back under control. “The two of us, doubled-up against a problem? It hasn’t got a chance.” “I’m glad. Because I’ve got some ideas to run by you....” Working in VR/UI touch systems wasn’t what I’d originally envisioned for myself—though honestly, after building the hormone simulator, I didn’t really have any clear direction. Touch came with challenges of its own; it wasn’t as simple to digitize as sound and vision had been, and what we could do then wasn’t that highly developed. We could transmit buzzing sensations; we could even control the intensity of those sensations (most of the time), but that was about it. It was good enough to allow sexual encounters (of a kind) in virtual space, but even those couldn’t live up to what UIs had left behind with their bodies. And yet, the challenge wasn’t the kind I was used to taking on; maybe because it was so much less certain of success. There were plenty of teams around the world working on the same problem, and any of them could have beaten us to a solution. But Gen plowed into it with the abandon that, I’m told, I do with my usual projects. “The hard work’s been done, mapping the nerve inputs,” she said at project’s introductory meeting. “The trouble is figuring out how to zap them properly.” “Couldn’t we just put a sort of voltmeter on an embodied nerve and measure the input?” a grad assistant asked. Gen chuckled. “If it were that easy, we wouldn’t be here. The readings we get from doing that don’t transfer over to q-brains very well.” In the end, though, that’s what we ended up doing: monitoring multiple nerves’ electrical pulses and turning them into waveforms we could record almost by the nanosecond, even if it meant racking up gigabytes of data at a time. And just as Gen predicted, trying to pipe that data back into a q-brain’s virtual nerve endings gave us little more than fluctuating gradations of buzz-buzz-buzz,

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 177


Short Story

like an error alert, one which Gen felt particularly keenly. “I’m starting to wonder if this is worth the effort,” she told me one day, about a month and a half into the project. “We just need to keep bumping up the granularity of the input data,” I told her. “We are starting to get better results.” “Great. We’re getting more nuanced buzzing,” she retorted. “I don’t call that progress.” “Of course it’s progress. You’re too impatient.” “Or too pragmatic. It’s not just touch that I’m frustrated with. Look at sight and sound—after all these years, you’d think we’d be able to synthesize realistic audio and video. All we’ve got are better cartoons. We still can’t animate a realistic-looking human figure without scanning one, and we can’t program a realistic-sounding violin without sampling one.” If she’d had the ability, I swear she would have been crying at that point. “Living in the Cloud is like living in a cartoon. I don’t want to live in a cartoon.” “What’s the alternative?” “I don’t know.” “You don’t want to be terminated, do you?” “Of course not. But there has to be a better way of living as an upload. I just have to figure it out.” Another six months passed. Our touch study ran out of funding and published its (admittedly tentative) results: that higher sampling rates produced (marginally) better touch data, which might make the work of taste and smell researchers easier, and so on. I don’t think anybody was happy with the results, but Gen took on a detached air that I recognized as false. “I’ve stopped caring,” she would tell me, not noticing that her avatar’s fists were clenched. “In fact, I’m convinced we’re going the wrong direction entirely.” “How so?” “Senses are for bodies. Bodies need them. But UIs? Not so much.” “?” “Taste, smell, touch? They’re part of the body’s self-preservation program. Don’t touch fire; don’t inhale smoke; don’t eat things that won’t give you nutrition. None of which matters in virtual reality—or in the Cloud in general. Sight and sound? Those are still useful. But the rest? We could probably ditch those entirely and not miss a beat.” “But we’re closer than before, even if it’s only by a step. You’re thinking about pulling out now?” “You think I’m just quitting. I’m not quitting yet—but I am recalibrating.” It took me a while to respond to that; after all, she was the one who dragged me into this field in the first place. “You seriously don’t think people would miss those other senses? Look at the Sex Box. They’re doing a booming business, even with low-granularity touch.” NEW READER MAGAZINE | 178


Short Story

“Body nostalgia. Nothing more. It’s only a matter of time before UIs get bored with them, anyhow.” “So what comes after that, then?” “I don’t know. But I’m thinking that something has to. Maybe it’s my job to figure out where we go from here.” “I still think you’re giving in too soon—right when we maybe on the verge of a breakthrough.” “I’m not giving in. But I may be moving on.” I admit, I was a little angry with her for even thinking about jumping ship, at least until I realized that I was, basically, questioning myself, something I wasn’t used to doing, especially not so intensely. Which didn’t sit well with me, even once I realized: we’re not the same person anymore. At the time, it was probably more of a shock than it should have been; in retrospect, it was probably more of a comfort than it should have been. What I remember about that first draft of the Pure Souls Manifesto is how evenhanded it was; there was none of the radical declarations and renunciations which came later. It didn’t offer up a program or make proscriptions; it simply asserted that UIs were a new life form, something different enough from their flesh iterations that they ought to be considered as such, and that the loss of touch, smell, and taste in the Cloud might merely be the hand of evolution at work on that new life form. Rather than working toward recreating those senses in the Cloud, it said, it might be more productive—and more useful—to simply allow neuroplasticity to reclaim those unused centers of the q-brain for other tasks. And that was pretty much where it stopped; everything else that came later . . . came later. It wasn’t even a manifesto then; it was a rationale for research, a line of reasoning that grant donors were meant to get behind—something that gets left out of the histories that have been written since then. As for me, it’s not that I didn’t have questions for her. “Why ‘Pure Souls’?” “Because we don’t have bodies, UIs are purely ‘souls.’ I’m not sure I like using the word ‘soul’ there, either, but nothing else seems to be as succinct.” “I was more concerned about ‘Pure,’ to be honest.” “Oh.” She paused and went to rest her head in her palm, recoiling when the collision detector buzzed her. “Dammit!” “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” She paused again. “I can see where you’re coming from with that, but I don’t think it’ll be an issue. I’m trying to think about the direction UI research ought to go—I’m nobody’s spiritual guru.” “You may not be. What if someone else decides they are?” “I’ll be around to correct them. Don’t worry about that.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 179


Short Story

She seemed to have an answer for everything, no matter how I pressed her, so I gave up. “What’s your next research project going to be?” “Some Pure Souls experiments. We’ve gotten some generous funding to explore some of the ideas I’ve developed in that manifesto/abstract thingy. I don’t even have to ask you the same, do I? You’re going to be working on touch again.” “I’ve found another study, yes.” “I know. You don’t like giving up on a problem until you’ve solved it. I’m no different—unless a more interesting problem presents itself.” “You’re not going to ask me to join you?” “You won’t. I know better than to ask.” That was the last time I would see her in Skype; from there on out, her communiques would come by email or social media inbox, growing more sparse over time. I figured she had work to do; I know I did. How did I feel about the Pure Souls Manifesto when she originally posted version 1.0? I was startled to see Gen post part of her research rationale publicly—and then I was shocked to see what she’d added to it. If those early drafts had been evenhanded, this final draft was boldly controversyinspiring: not only were three of the five (virtual) senses under indictment, but the whole interface UIs lived in, too. It’s time to reject those efforts to confine us to a bodily paradigm of any sort as a kind of myopic nostalgia, one that makes others idealize what it was to live in a meat body, forgetting the decay and rot that goes along with that body. We are no longer confined in meat; why should we behave as if we are? The whole thing was a direct rejection of so much of what we’d worked on together that I didn’t want to believe Gen had authored it, at least not by herself. But there, at the bottom of the document, was her name—my name!—right flush and alone, without so much as a footnote to designate which of us had written it. Sure enough, my inbox was spammed with email from people who either had questions about the manifesto, or, just as often, comments about it. I set up an autoreply bot to let people know that, no, it was my upload, not me, that wrote this thing, and please don’t bother me about it. Then I sent an instant message: What the hell, Gen?!?! The manifesto? You should see some of the mail I’m getting about that.... I AM seeing it. Sorry. I guess it didn’t occur to me that anyone would bother you—I assumed they’d figure out that it was a UI that wrote it. I should have created an email specifically for this project. You should have told me about it before it killed my inbox. I’m getting hate mail from people who blame me for what you’ve written—sometimes, even when they do recognize we’re different people. You’re right. I’m sorry. I should have thought ahead a little further before I published it. Yes. You should have.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 180


Short Story

I did say I’m sorry. I know. I’m not trying to belabor the point. But I’m trying to get a job, and this isn’t helping at all. You should have consulted with me before you went and did something this radical. I don’t need your permission, Genevive. For anything. I’m not saying you do. I’m saying: we need to work together, stay on the same page, especially on something this big. I’m not sure we do, not anymore. I don’t mean that to sound as hard as it might look on the screen, but . . . if all you’re seeing is the hate mail, you’re not getting the whole picture. There are a lot of UIs who are on board with what I’ve written. They don’t think what I’ve proposed is that radical at all. In fact, some of them have told me they think something like this has been long overdue. And the research money that’s already starting to come my way? Jesus, I didn’t think there was that much out there for UI research in general. I’m in a good position right now, Genevive. I’m doing us proud. Us? Or yourself? You’re angry right now. I understand. We’ll talk again once you’ve had a chance to absorb all this. It was the last time I would speak to her directly; from there on out, the only communication I’d get from her was inboxed through the Cloud, where she could put off having to talk to me until she felt like doing it. A year passed, and things returned to a sort of normalcy—I landed a tenure-track job at UCLA’s research labs, and went back to work on transmitting touch sensations to UIs. Working without Gen took some getting used to, but once we got started bumping up the resolution of our nerve scanners, she became an afterthought. The important work was ahead of us: find the granularity of the nerve signals and learn to pipe them into the UI’s virtual nerve endings in a way that feels real. Find a way to replicate touch, and it was certain that taste and smell would not be far behind—and I was certain that we were ahead of the curve. The Pure Souls backlash kept coming, though by this time, it was mostly requests for comment from writers and reporters: How did I feel about Pure Souls, now that it was becoming a movement with Gen at the head? What about Gen’s insistence that sex is a bodily function that UIs ought to leave behind? What did I think of what my UI doppelganger was doing? What about the contradiction between her research and my own? What did I think of my electronic double in general? I was, I think, gracious to a fault when I did actually dignify some of these questions with a response: Pure Souls is Gen’s project, about which I remain neutral until the results of her studies come through. We’re scientists, she and I, and all that matters to us is results. Anything else would be either speculation or philosophizing, neither of which appeals to me. And then Gen ratcheted up her rhetoric. If she had been controversial in the first Pure Souls Manifesto, she was becoming positively confrontational in the interviews that followed Manifesto v2. Sex was a bodily function that UIs should leave behind—that one came first. But it wasn’t long before she began adding to the list: the minor three senses (her term, encompassing taste, smell,

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 181


Short Story

and touch) were a setback to UI evolution. Gender—and soon thereafter, ethnicity—were also “bodily functions” to be left behind. Upon this latter point she was defiant, comparing gender and ethnicity to defecation (as things a UI shouldn’t want to replicate in the Cloud), and insisting on being referred to with gender-neutral pronouns (having already made a name for herself as “Gen,” she at least didn’t have to change names—not that that spared me the occasional bit of flame bait from someone who still managed to confuse the two of us). And then there was religion, which she dispensed with savagely: The creation of a UI is the creation of a human soul, even if only by copying one—and if humans don’t need gods to create souls, what on earth do they need them for at all? Perhaps most infuriatingly, she began to insist that UIs were a sort of next step in evolution, something more than mere humanity, something which ought to be treated as such. As if her human keepers were supposed to bow down to her. What are you playing at? I finally inboxed her. What do you mean? You’ve become the guru you used to say you weren’t. You’re talking about the new Manifesto? Of course I am. And I ought to blast you with what’s in my inbox as a result. I thought we were going to present a united front on this sort of thing? I don’t think we can anymore, Genevive. It’s not your fault; you’re embodied, so naturally, your view of the world is carnicentric. I’m sorry, but I simply don’t think you can offer the kind of input the movement needs. Meat-centric. Jesus, Gen—really? Not even corpucentric? We’re reaching a different level of consciousness, my fellow UIs and I, one that I don’t think you can understand from your position within a body. Oh, you’ve reached a higher level of consciousness now—is that it? Evolution doesn’t make that kind of distinction—all it knows is change. The Pure Souls didn’t invent the body/soul dichotomy; we just left the body behind. Those are nice little sound bites, Gen. But then you’re turning around and saying something else when you’re with your followers. Ha! I’m glad to know you’re following us. I’d like to think that, at some level, you approve of what I’ve done, even if we do quibble about some of the thornier philosophicals . . . You keep saying you’re on a different level of consciousness, Gen, but you’re not. You’re still as human as I am. I never said that Pure Souls have shaken off the body entirely. But we will—it’s just a matter of time and engineering.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 182


Short Story

You haven’t even shaken off religion. All you need is an imminent messiah figure, and you’d be nothing more than an electronic Cathar. I have to go now; I have research to get back to. I hope yours is going well, Genevive. Take care. That would be our last conversation ever; within the week, she’d blocked me on most of the social media platforms we shared. I suppose I managed to get in the last word with her, but it was a short-lived victory, if it even was a victory in the first place. Gen’s continued provocations keep her in the news on a semi-regular basis—which meant, at least at first, that they kept me in the limelight as her nemesis, which I’ve come to find a little unnerving. The whole thing tends to play out like one of those scenes in the movies where two people are in a room, arguing with each other through a third “Tell Genevive I said . . .,” I lost enthusiasm for battling Gen in public after a while, and I think it showed; it wasn’t long before the girl they call “Sheela-na-Gigabyte” appeared and eventually took my place. Which was fine with me; I have research to do, too. We’re getting closer every day with touch; it’s only a matter of time until we conquer taste and smell, too, and give the virtual body back what it’s lost. Occasionally, I am asked how I feel about feuding so publicly with my own upload—with myself, by implication—and the truth is that I don’t feel much of anything. She may once have been me, but she isn’t me anymore. Especially now that she’s taken to openly calling embodied humans a “lesser” species; they should ask her how she feels about feuding with her flesh iteration, but they don’t. They don’t ask her how she feels about the hormone simulators she hacks for her own ends, either—but I’ve gotten used to this kind of laziness on the part of the technical press. Mostly, I pity Gen; in the Pure Souls movement, she’s found a way to cope with what she’s lost as a result of uploading—all the things that go along with those so-called “lesser senses”—but we’re closing in on restoring those losses, and when we do, I wonder just what will become of her and her movement. One thing I’ve noticed, ever since I started working on the “lesser” senses is that I’ve become much more aware of my body than I used to be. Scratching an itch can turn into a near-zen moment, contemplating how we’re going to mimic the sensation of skin against skin, the latest research problem I’ve been given. I’ve even become something of a foodie recently; where I used to scarf down junk food and frozen dinners while working, I try to eat better, and slower, now. There’s a food truck I follow that serves this crazy blend of Thai and Mexican flavors, and their tacos are absolute heaven—savory meat garnished with a lightly sweet slaw and just enough chili pepper to give it a kick. The chef laughs at me when I ask him for a two out of five on the spice scale; he insists that I should be more like a four, and that he’s going to get me to go there one of these days. And there’s something about the way he says it—his eyes are noticeably dilated and narrowed, both obvious signs of attraction—that makes me wonder if it isn’t worth trying. Gen would be disgusted, I’m sure—but, if anything, that only makes the prospect even more appealing.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 183


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 184


Poetry

Pipe Rain WORDS BY

PHOTO BY

Lucia Damacela

Paul Tridon

sun melts rain counts water and light fusion –drops crash against the warmth of summer bodies host of thunderous splendid sounds –certitude of being alive cars pass by lights on –inches from ground —mini-moons movable facts of life –a transient illumination pointing at the knees unless it is a truck which points at the waist rain fills with sounds —organ failure sounds —skin kidneys lungs the booms and coughs of exposed mechanisms –pipes of breaths and sighs choked and in need of breaks —migratory sounds like birds of prey looking for skin to reign as rain.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 185


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 186


Poetry

Reasons to Wear Shoes with Good Support Find the ideal location Not high enough for the air To be rarified but high enough To have an encompassing view Of a valley It is always good to have a valley nearby You build your house with your hands It is actually a cabin, though The materials are from the area Dried mud clay logs and straw All of them with outstanding insulation Which is great because you need That insulation—your own island In the mountains with infinite blue And stars not shielded away The cold in your spine the energy that fuels you In the space you have tamed You go for walks that become longer Until you cabin stops being the center At the radius of wanders And find it easier to keep going Than to return

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 187


Poetry

To Build a Fire You believe in the power Of the roots in your garden And simmer them to truth Inside the pot over the fire

If you build they will come Is your mantra Until even the fire retreats The grey of the sky now inside the cabin

You wait by the window When the cold sets Your logs in line to perform A transformative dance

Nobody shows up to roast chestnuts Under the stars except for the firefighters Who arrive with a hose to quieten Exalted embers and didn’t stay for dinner

When you built this cabin You put your heart on it Right inside the fireplace A purification altar

The heart has to learn to warm itself up.

The wind vandalizes the roof The view above is grey Like the roads that divide themselves Into fractures reluctant to be mapped

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 188


Poetry

El Cid Campeador Climbs Eight Flights of Stairs to Rescue Doña Jimena Diaz, His Wife I didn’t need your rescue, Cid, although I appreciate it and you will be mightily rewarded for your efforts. I was just providing for myself a few grams of that elixir that helps me live placidly amidst the noise and the hardened grounds and the air that tastes like the metal of your sword when you have not cleaned it in days. Which almost never happens. Cid, your travails impress me greatly, but no need to put your armor to task again on that endless and wearing stairwell. Let’s better take this magic box that will transport us without an effort from this high place to firm land, Sir. Allow me to show you.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 189


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 190


Poetry

Batik Therapy A winding Riau road and an intense cat surrounded by butterflies and flowers, soothing blue with magenta and lemon swirls. I wait for the fabric to reveal itself boiled to permanence the magic of wax resist the ghosts of textile fixatives. Instead of an imprint resembling the posted-on-the-wall model, I get undefined colors bleeding into one another a crooked smirk trapped inside a downward spiral of blackened spikes while a couple of desperate butterflies stay put unable to fly away with their half-made wings. I do what I have to do to end their misery, push the fabric back to the stained dark bottom of the drum and drown them, while everybody else’s creations hang from the washing lines flapping in the sea breeze flaunting their colors banners at the fair wind’s puppet show squared two-sided happiness with catty smiles. Sometimes there are no do-overs. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 191


Short Story

Quicksilver Falls WORDS BY Daniel L. Link

Day 1 “I think it’s mercury,” the gap-toothed man said, rolling the liquid around in his hand for the camera. “Look.” The reporter winced as the two balls of silver-blue metal flowed around the grease- stained palm. They came together in the middle to form one oblong blob, then split apart again as he moved, continuing their dance. “Mercury is dangerous, you know.” Even though he wore a hazmat suit, the reporter took an involuntary step back. The camera zoomed tighter on the hairy man in the sleeveless flannel shirt. “It’s poisonous.” “It’s not that bad.” When he smiled, he revealed a second missing tooth. “Looked it up on the Net. It’s the vapor you got to worry about.” The reporter shrugged and faced the camera. “I’m standing here with Mr. Wilfred Scupps, corn grower and owner of the farm you see behind me.” He waited while the camera panned across the emerald field. “Today, on this farm, something amazing and unexplained has occurred. Could you tell our viewers what happened, Mr. Scupps?” “You bet your ass I can. About two o’clock this afternoon, this mercury started falling from the sky. It came down like rain out of the clear blue. Lasted about twenty minutes, then it stopped.” “You say there were no clouds?” The camera panned up to show a bright, clear day. “That’s what I’m telling you.” Scupps put both hands up to the heavens. “Looked just like this, then all the sudden it’s raining mercury.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 192


Short Story

“The incident seems to have been isolated to a relatively small area,” the reporter told the camera, “falling solely on a couple hundred acres belonging to Scupps. Samples of the strange liquid have been gathered and sent to a nearby military facility for research.” “Those Army boys tried taking it all, but there was way too much.” He laughed, then snorted. “Hell, it’s hard scooping this stuff up. It rolls all over and tries to get away from you. My wife, Laverne, she’s a smart one, though. Put out buckets and Mason jars. We got lots left.” “Our meteorologist, Kurt Billings, has no explanation for the phenomenon. There is no record of a liquid metallic rain, and even acid rain has never, as far as he knows, fallen from a cloudless sky. Whatever happened here in the valley this afternoon seems to be a first.” He turned back to Scupps with the microphone. “Mr. Scupps, what do you make of all this?” “How the hell am I supposed to know?” He took off his baseball cap to scratch at his greasy brown hair. “All I can say is this is the most interesting thing happened round here in a dog’s age.” He giggled as he let the two fat drops of silver-blue run down his arm, then snatched them up again in his hand. Day 9 “Mr. Scupps.” It was a different reporter, the familiar CNN in red on his microphone. He wore khakis, dress shirt, and tie. “Could you take us on a tour of your farm, tell us what’s transpired here in the last few days?” “Sure.” Scupps hooked a finger. “Come along, I’ll show you.” The cornfield that had been seen all across the world for over a week came into view. The corn was taller, the stalks standing over eight feet off the ground. When the reporter reached the end of the path, he was dwarfed by a wall of green that spread over two hundred yards wide. “Look at these babies.” Scupps pulled on a stalk, bending it at the middle to lower the top toward the reporter. “You ever see an ear of corn like that?” He held up an arm for comparison, the cob longer than his forearm. “Frankly, it’s amazing.” “And they ain’t even full grown yet.” “How much bigger will they get?” “Not too much, I reckon.” “Is it true, Mr. Scupps, that the government has come in and seized some corn for inspection?” “They didn’t need to seize it. I told them to take some. They wanted to go digging in the ground, too. I told them go ahead, as long as they don’t disturb Laverne’s rosebushes.” “What was the reason for taking the samples?” He puffed up and put on a haughty air. “They was looking for biological contaminants, they called it. But that’s just the official story. Me and Laverne ain’t stupid.” “What’s the real story, then?” The camera moved in tight on Scupps, who was chewing a piece of straw. “They think it’s aliens.” NEW READER MAGAZINE | 193


Short Story

“What makes you say that?” He laughed and slapped his belly. “Come on, man. You seen all them soldiers in them yellow suits. Why else would they be wearing them if they didn’t think it’s aliens?” “The quicksilver could be toxic,” the reporter tried. “Toxic, my ass.” He pulled out a Tic Tac container, showed it to the camera. Instead of the little candies, it was half full of the shiny bluish metal. He popped open the top and poured it into his hand. “I’ve had this stuff all over me, put my arms in buckets up to my elbow. Hell, it got in my eyes and ears when it was falling from the sky. I stood there and stared up at it as it came down, probably drank a drop or two. Laverne, too.” Scupps motioned for his wife to come. “Get over here, Laverne. Show ’em how healthy you are.” She moved in tiny steps, coming into the shot a few inches at a time. She was a big woman, wearing a drab tan muumuu and a green Fitbit wristband. When the camera zoomed, she seemed to sense it, turning her head down and to the side. “Mrs. Scupps.” The reporter tried to use the mic to pry her face away from her shoulder, the CNN logo actually touching her dress, lifting the ruffles around the neck. “How much contact have you had with the quicksilver that fell here at the farm?” “I dunno.” She turned to the camera, smiled, then tucked her chin back to her chest. “It’s gotten into everything. I was in the garden with my roses when it happened.” “And how are you feeling?” “Fine.” “Do you think it was aliens that sent the quicksilver, Mrs. Scupps?” “I dunno.” The camera tightened in on the reporter. “Scientists’ initial reports are vague, but it’s clear that what fell from the sky nine days ago was not mercury. There’s no sign that it’s radioactive, and the tests have given no clues as to its origins. All the government’s spokespeople are willing to say at this point is that it is a material that is unknown here on Earth. Was it something sent from an alien intelligence, or an extraterrestrial element that just happened to collide with our planet? It’s too soon to tell, but all eyes will be on Plunkett, Indiana, as we try to figure it out.” Day 33 “Are you saying you’ve eaten the corn?” the CNN reporter asked. “Course I ate it,” Scupps said, scratching at his nose with his index finger. “What do you think we grow it for?” “But surely you’ve been warned of the health risks?”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 194


Short Story

“Yeah, yeah. Those scientists have been studying it for a month now. You know what they’ve figured out? Not a damn thing. Well, I can tell them something. This here’s the best tasting corn I’ve ever grown. Once people get a taste of this alien corn, they ain’t ever going to want to go back.” “You can’t possibly be thinking of feeding your corn to the public. Until the proper tests have been run—” “The proper tests have been run. Just look at me.” The camera moved in on Scupps, focusing on his missing tooth. He pointed to his wife. “Look at Laverne. There’s not a damn thing wrong with us.” “It’s only been a few weeks. It could be years before the true effects are known.” “Well, I’ll tell you something. I feel like a million bucks.” He flexed for the camera, his sleeveless flannel showing off the pale undersides of his chubby arms. “Matter of fact, I feel like I did when I was young. Strong as an ox, and . . . ” He lowered his voice and raised his eyebrows. “Horny as a toad, if you get my drift. Ain’t that right, Laverne?” The camera panned to his wife, a hand over her mouth, her cheeks flushed. She nodded. Day 44 “A man whose farm borders yours claims to have dug up an earthworm over three feet long. What do you make of that?” Scupps gave a sly smile to the camera. “Probably a fisherman. They think everything’s bigger than it really is.” Day 51 “Look at this,” Scupps motioned for the camera to come closer. He took off his sweatstained ball cap and pointed to his hairline. “Look here. Before the alien rains came, I was ready for the Hair Club for Men. Now look at these lovely locks.” He raked his fingers through his matted brown curls, then held one out for display. “You can’t get hair like this from no bottle.” “You attribute this to the quicksilver?” the reporter said. “What else could it be? You know of anything that makes a forty year-old grow his hair back?” “You called it the alien rain. Does that mean you’re still of the belief that an intelligent species sent this to you?” “What else could it be?” He grabbed one of his giant corn stalks and gave it a shake. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. This ain’t random.” “What do you mean by that?”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 195


Short Story

Scupps barked his now familiar laugh-snort. “What do you think makes more sense? That a batch of weird space shit hits my farm and makes the best corn a man ever ate on accident? That it can grow hair and make you feel like a sexual dynamo by accident? No way, no how. This was part of some kind of cosmic plan.” The reporter’s eyebrows knitted together. “You mean God?” “Well, now that you mention it, maybe there is a divine hand at work here.” He scratched the stubble on his chin. “I suppose if you want to say it was God’s rain and not alien rain, that would make sense.” “Mr. Scupps, I wasn’t proposing—” “Matter of fact, the way my corn tastes, it would stand to reason that God himself had blessed it. And this power of regeneration, and the benefits to a man lying with his woman . . . You may have hit on something there. This could be a sign from God. My little corner of Indiana sure has been turned into a slice of Paradise.” The reporter looked flustered, his hand twisting the microphone as Scupps spoke. “You know, the more people try this corn, the more they’re going to see it for the miracle it is.” “You’ve been ordered to stop giving out the corn to your neighbors, Mr. Scupps. Are you saying you’ve defied that order?” “What’s mine is mine,” Scupps said, then spit through the gap in his teeth. “To tell me I can’t do what I want with my own crops is a violation of my rights. I haven’t even started selling it yet. I’ve just given out a few ears to some people who are interested in the benefits.” “You run the risk of the military coming in here and seizing your entire farm.” “Not with you reporters around. That would be unconstitutional.” He held up his Tic Tac container for the camera, shook its contents. “They’ve got their samples, and they can’t find a scrap of evidence that says this magic liquid is harmful in any way.” “Is it true that a number of organizations, including major pharmaceutical companies, are interested in obtaining samples of your quicksilver?” “Sure as shit. Can you blame them? Everybody’s going to want in on this. It’s too bad there’s not enough to give out to the whole world.” “If this turns out to be the miracle you’re assuming it is, you would be willing to share it with the world?” “Willing?” Scupps shook his head. “I’d be obligated to share it. This miracle may have been sent to me, but it could help a whole lot of people. It would be a sin to keep that to myself.” The reporter’s voice lowered, becoming grave. “As you yourself have stated, there is a limited supply. How would you choose who would get some and who would be left out?”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 196


Short Story

“I’m glad you brought that up. You see, I’ve decided to do a little auction.” A hard zoom on the Tic Tac container, held between thumb and forefinger. “Starting with this right here.” The reporter’s mouth formed an O, his eyebrows shooting up. “You mean to sell it to the highest bidder?” “This here ain’t about money. What I’m holding here in my hand is going to change the world. The government’s already got their piece. Now, I want to give someone else a chance to see what they can do with it. If they’ve got what it takes to study it, reproduce it, and make the best use of it, I want to hear about it. I’ll give you a month to come up with an offer, and I’ll pick the best one.” “You do realize the government will—” “I realize that this is my chance to do what I can for humanity,” Scupps said, then held up the candy box for emphasis. “It’s the least I can do.” “Well, I’m sure you’ll be getting some proposals from all over the world.” He turned to face the camera. “This has to be history’s biggest writing contest, and this man is the judge. Wilfred Scupps is looking to share his miracle with you.” Scupps shoved his way back into the shot, craning his neck to put his face next to the reporter’s. “Oh, and keep it short. No more than a page. Laverne’s little cousin Delia loves to read to us over dinner, but her folks want her in bed by nine, so don’t go writing a damn novel.” The reporter shook his head. “One month, one page, one vial of quicksilver. You’d better get started.” Day 83 The little girl cleared her throat as she approached the mic. She was tall and birdlike, all arms and legs. The frilly dress she wore was dotted with strawberries, and a red bow was tied across her middle. “What I Would Do with Your Magic Rain,” she read in a timid voice. “By Anthony Boudreaux from Lubbock, Texas.” The sound guy rushed over and adjusted the microphone, trying to hide behind the podium as he worked. He dropped to his belly and army-crawled out of the shot. Delia tapped the black felt with a finger and started over.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 197


Short Story

What I Would Do With Your Magic Rain, by Anthony Boudreaux from Lubbock, Texas. Dear Mr. Scupps, I am writing this in the most sincere hopes that you will let me have some of your magic rain. It is a gift from God, and you said you want to share it with the most deserving person. I don’t think I’m the most deserving, and I don’t even think it should go to a person. If I had some of your magic rain, I would give it to my dog Judge, who is an eleven-year-old Lab. He’s been with me since I was three, and he’s my best friend. He has a lump on his skin near his front leg and the doctor says it’s cancer. He sometimes poops blood, too. They want me to put Judge down. I don’t want him to die. I think your magic rain could save Judge, and I hope you can give me some so I don’t have to lose my best friend. Please consider this and say yes, you’ll give me the magic rain. Thank you. Sincerely, Anthony Boudreaux

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 198


Short Story

Delia stepped back from the podium and smiled. She set the papers down and folded her hands in front of her. There were no sounds from the audience of reporters gathered in front of her. Wilfred Scupps nudged her aside and pulled the mic up closer to his mouth. He was dressed for the occasion, a tweed sport coat over his flannel shirt, and no hat. His hair was unruly, and much thicker than it had been two months before. “Now I can’t tell you how much this poor boy’s story touched me. When Delia read that to me, Laverne and I started to cry. Can you imagine that little boy and his dog, and him willing to do anything to save him? We read over some of the others, but that one really stuck with me. How could I say no to that?” Another long moment of silence before a female reporter found her voice. “Mr. Scupps, are you aware of how many entries came in response to your call?” “There were a lot, I’ll tell you what.” “According to our sources,” she said, “there were close to fifty million.” “Wow.” Scupps scratched his ear. “That many?” “How many of the letters did you read, Mr. Scupps?” “Well, we’re very proud of Delia. She’s reading ahead of her grade level. But there was no way she was going to get through them all.” “Are you saying your niece was the only one who read any of the letters?” A man from CNBC asked. “She’s my wife’s cousin, actually, twice removed. She lives with my sister ever since her daddy had a little accident and had to go away for a spell, but we all love her like she’s our own.” The reporter let out a sigh. “What I’m asking you is how many of these letters did you get through, and are you really considering giving this quicksilver to a Labrador?” “I’d appreciate it if you’d ask your questions one at a time. But in answer to the first, we got through a lot of letters, but you heard it yourself. After little Anthony’s letter, there was no need to read any further.” He reached into his pocket for the world’s most famous Tic Tac container. “And for your second question, hell yes I’m going to give Judge my little gift. In fact, I called up Anthony a couple weeks ago and told him and Judge to be here today.” “I’d appreciate it if you’d ask your questions one at a time. But in answer to the first, we got through a lot of letters, but you heard it yourself. After little Anthony’s letter, there was no need to read any further.” He reached into his pocket for the world’s most famous Tic Tac container. “And for your second question, hell yes I’m going to give Judge my little gift. In fact, I called up Anthony a couple weeks ago and told him and Judge to be here today.” A low murmur started among the reporters, and it soon turned into a rumble as the nervous chatter increased in pitch and intensity. Cameras panned in a shaky search for the boy and his dog. They entered from stage left, Anthony pulling the dog by a yellow nylon rope. He was a

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 199


Short Story

chubby kid wearing corduroys and a brown-and-green striped t-shirt. He wore braces, which reflected the flashing lights as he waved to the crowd of reporters like a Miss America contestant. Judge looked every bit of his eleven years, his once-brown face gone mostly white, his step the slow shuffle of an older dog. Aside from that, he seemed fine. His tail wagged in time with his steps. The CNN reporter that had first been given the story took the stage beside the boy. He couldn’t suppress a bemused grin as he spoke. “You’re about to witness history. Here we have perhaps the strangest and most unorthodox clinical trial in human history. I don’t know how many animal testing laws this is violating, but here we go.” Without fanfare, Scupps emptied his container into a metal bowl. An overhead camera caught the bluish silver drops flowing around the stainless steel and converging on a ball of ground beef at the bottom. Scupps held a fork at the ready, but set it aside when the quicksilver went into the wad of meat and disappeared. “Here you go, Anthony,” Scupps said, handing the bowl to the boy. “Why don’t you give it to him?” The kid milked the moment, keeping the dish out of the dog’s reach and staring open- mouthed into the cameras and flashbulbs. When he put it down in front of Judge, the dog ate it in two large bites. Anthony’s shoulder slumped and he stopped smiling, and the room was so quiet the dog’s breathing was picked up by the boom mics. The silence went on for two minutes, until Judge lay down and flopped over on his side. A collective gasp came over the watchers. Then Judge wagged his tail. “Well,” the CNN correspondent said, “it looks like he liked it. And now the eyes of the world are going to be on this lucky Labrador Retriever.” Day 161 “It’s been seventy-eight days since Wilfred Scupps gave his quicksilver to Judge, and from all reports, this miracle rain as many have dubbed it is living up to the billing.” The camera panned back to take in a throng of people, thousands crammed into a tiny dirt patch. Cars were parked on one side of the road from horizon to horizon. On the other side were hundreds of jeeps, Humvees, and transport trucks. A line of National Guardsmen stood in the middle of the road, armed with rifles and wearing riot gear. “As you can see here, people have gotten miracle fever. Folks from all across the world have come to Indiana in hopes to get a glimpse of what’s happening here.” Most of them were waving to the camera, and many were holding signs. Scupps for President, Share the Miracle, Let it Rain. A quick pan across the street showed another group, another kind of sign. It’s Not Right, Rain of Terror, Scupps Must Die. “People obviously have different views of what’s going on in this cornfield, but one thing NEW READER MAGAZINE | 200


Short Story

is impossible to deny, and that’s what has happened to the world’s favorite Labrador.” A small box appeared in the corner showing a video of a dog running in circles in a patchy yard festooned with crabgrass. He bounced and played with the energy of a puppy, and the white hair on his face was gone. His chocolate coat was shiny and thick. “He’s been watched every day, and from the look of things, he’s as healthy now at eleven as he was at two.” Anthony got a close-up, his metallic smile on full blast. “He doesn’t poop blood anymore.” “But this raises the question,” the reporter said. “What is Scupps going to do next? The world is lining up for a sample of this miracle elixir, and the government claims they’ve made no progress in reproducing it. And as it stands now, they refuse to let Scupps give any more of his quicksilver or his corn to the people who have gathered here. While there are skeptics out there who believe high-ups in government are keeping the secret for themselves, everyone is in agreement that Wilfred Scupps may hold the keys to the future of humanity.” Day 222 “Reports of giant locusts and of rats that are impervious to poison keep coming out of this small county in Indiana. Some say it’s a rumor spread by miracle rain naysayers, others believe they are the beginning of a plague that could end the world.” Day 383 “Despite the fact that it’s been over a year since the miracle rain fell, the latest crop of corn from the Scupps farm is just as big and plentiful as the first. Scupps has given buckets of the soil to other local farmers, ranchers, and to Weeks Roses, Laverne Scupps favorite supplier of fine roses. He continues to give the corn to his neighbors, despite warnings by the government to cease and desist. Not one of his neighbors who admit to trying the corn have taken ill since. And just look for yourself at Wilfred Scupps.” A before-and-after photo comparison of Scupps, the first showing patchy, lank hair flecked with gray, wan skin, and a missing front tooth. The second showed a full head of shiny brown hair, an unlined face with a healthy glow, and the beginnings of a tooth starting to grow in. Day 515 “I’m not waiting any longer,” Scupps said. He pointed an accusing finger at the camera. “It is not right to try and stop me from sharing what’s mine. This stuff is harmless. Sure, maybe we got some nasty crows flying around that you can’t kill, and some raccoons may have figured out how to steal a tractor, but I’m not sweating the small stuff. It’s a miracle, and I’m not going to let Uncle Sam tell me what’s right.” “So what do you propose, Mr. Scupps?” the reporter asked. “All of these people didn’t come out here for nothing. So we’re going to give them something to remember.” NEW READER MAGAZINE | 201


Short Story

“Any hints?” “You’re just going to have to wait.” Scupps smiled, his tongue flitting over the new incisor. “But you won’t have to wait long. At five o’clock tomorrow afternoon, we’re going to make history.” Day 516 “The National Guard is on high alert. An additional three thousand troops were brought in overnight in anticipation of today’s events. The whole world is on tenterhooks as we wait to see what Wilfred Scupps has planned.” A countdown clock was placed behind the reporter, the eight-foot red digital numbers ticking down toward zero. When they reached five minutes, the once-raucous throng calmed and stood silent in nervous anticipation. Large Jumbotron monitors had been placed along the line that marked the first row of miracle corn, broadcasting the countdown and the empty podium at center stage. When the one-minute mark arrived, people counted along, the chant louder than any New Year at Times Square. When their voices faded away, a commotion could be heard in the cornfield. “Here they come,” someone shouted. First the corn parted, then the crowd, as Scupps trotted from his field to the stage. He took to the podium like a politician at a rally, waving to everyone and smiling. The reporter from CNN was waiting for him. “Well, Mr. Scupps, everyone here is dying to see what you’ve got in store for us.” “My friends, my countrymen, my fellow Americans,” Scupps held his hands out to the gathered crowd. “It has been almost a year and a half since God sent this gift to me. I know the U.S. government doesn’t want me to, but today, I’m going to share that gift with all of you.” A cheer erupted from the onlookers, followed by a thunderous applause. Shouts started to spring up among those in the front with the best view. “What is that?” “Look. Over there.” “Holy shit. It’s a balloon.” Fifty feet behind the massive wall of corn, the top of a hot air balloon began growing, the globe rounding out as the liquid propane burned. The reporter had to position himself in front of it to get into the shot. “Behind me you can see what has to be one of the biggest hot air balloons ever made. It’s enormous. It looks patched together like a quilt, no rhyme or reason to the design. Now Scupps is going to the balloon. Look,” the reporter’s face lit up and he ran along with thousands of others, jockeying to get as close to Scupps as possible. “It’s Judge. He’s taking Judge onto the balloon. And there’s Laverne and Delia in the basket. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 202


Short Story

They’re all getting on board the balloon. He’s like some insane Wizard of Oz.” Indeed, Scupps, his wife, cousin, and Anthony Boudreaux’s dog all boarded the balloon. A man with a megaphone could be heard yelling warnings, but Scupps threw sandbags over the side and men on the ground untied ropes fastened to stakes. The balloon started to rise. “This is my gift to you,” Scupps shouted, then threw an ear of corn over the side. “My farm, and everything on it, I leave it to everyone gathered here. It is no longer the Scupps farm. From this day on, this land is Quicksilver Falls, Tennessee.” “Mr. Scupps, this is the National Guard. We will shoot down your balloon if you do not land immediately.” Scupps ignored the man with the megaphone, and hoisted a large potato gun on his shoulder. He began launching giant ears of corn into the crowd, which either hit the ground or smacked into onlookers with a wet thud. People wrestled for the corn and dove after those which were still falling. Delia and Laverne started tossing ears, as well. When all the ears were gone, Scupps turned to his last gift. From two large metal buckets, he scooped dried corn kernels a handful at a time and sprinkled them out over the clearing. People scrambled on hands and knees, either stuffing the kernels in their pockets or swallowing them on the spot. The man with the megaphone continued to yell, but when the thousands of people entered the cornfield and started tearing the ears from the stalks, he threw up his hands in defeat. “This is amazing,” the reporter said, inhaling the few kernels he’d managed to pick up off the ground. “Wilfred Scupps really did it. He’s defied the government and shared his miracle with all of us. As he promised we’ve become a part of history here today.” The camera panned up to a cloudless sky to show Scupps, now just a silhouette, still pouring corn out over the field. Delia and Laverne waved, and Judge stood with his forepaws on the edge of the basket, looking down at the ground below. Behind them in the sky, hundreds of giant crows swirled and dipped en masse, moving toward what had been the Scupps farm.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 203


Short Story

Martian Federation’s General Consulate in San Francisco FAQ for citizens (excerpts translated by Oz) WORDS BY Olga Zilberbourg

I. General Questions. 1.1. What is a consular district? I currently reside in Utah. May I seek assistance from the consulate in San Francisco? 1.2. Why am I unable to reach the consulate by phone? II. Passport of the Martian Federation. 2.1. Must I apply for my passport in person? May I apply for my Martian passport by mail? 2.2. How long does it take to receive my Martian passport? 2.3. What are the advantages of carrying a biometric passport? 2.4. I have bad handwriting. May I apply for my Martian passport electronically? 2.8. My name has been poorly translated to Martian. What do I do? 2.6. I don’t have a Martian passport. May I enter Mars with my American passport? 2.7. I was born on Mars but have lived in Utah my entire life. I don’t know the Martian language. May I fill out the application for my Martian passport in English? IV. Registration of Legal Documents. 4.1. Will the consulate register a marriage between an American and a Martian? 4.4. My groom has a very demanding job and is very busy. We are unable to come in person to the consulate in San Francisco to register our marriage. What do we do? 4.8. What is the process for registering a divorce between an American and a Martian? 4.9. I’d like to know what documents I need to register a divorce. My husband and I have a small child. May I register the divorce at the consulate in San Francisco or must we do this on Mars? NEW READER MAGAZINE | 204


Short Story

4.10. My ex-husband has received the divorce certificate, but I have not. I’m planning on marrying another person. May I register my new marriage without providing a divorce certificate? 4.11. My ex-husband and I filed our divorce two months ago. I’m now eight months pregnant. The father of my child is not my ex-husband. May the biological father be listed on the child’s birth certificate, if he acknowledges his paternity? 4.14. By Martian law, who has the custody of the children in the case of a divorce? 4.17. I’m a single mother. May I list the father’s name in the child’s birth certificate? 4.18. I’ve registered the birth of my children with the consulate. To receive financial assistance from Mars, I have to submit form #24. Where may I apply for such a form? 4.20. What’s the difference between the bureaucratic procedures of adoption and proving the paternity of a child? Which one takes longer? 4.21. My child was born outside of wedlock. In his Martian birth certificate, the line for “father” is not filled out. May I now fill in the father’s name, given his consent? 4.22. What documents does the consulate provide in the case of a Martian’s death? V. Citizenship for Children. 5.7. May my child refuse the citizenship of the Martian Federation? 5.9. My son has dual American and Martian Citizenship. Once he has served the term of his conscription in the American Military, must he serve on Mars? VI. Notary Questions. 6.2. Why is the notary service performed exclusively in the Martian language? What do I do if I still haven’t learned Martian? 6.6. I am an unemployed mother of two. May the notary department issue me a certificate of eligibility to apply for material assistance from the Martian Federation? VII. Pension Questions. 7.2. My mother is eighty years old. She has heard that, to issue her Martian pension, the consulate demands a confirmation that she is currently unemployed. Must she provide such a document? IX. Miscellaneous. 9.1. How do I get a job at the Martian consulate? 9.2. How do I receive a Martian flag by mail? 9.3. Which medical substances are legal on Mars? 9.5. What are the rules regarding importing pets to Mars? 9.7. How do I invite my friends and relatives to visit Mars?

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 205


NEW READER MAGAZINE | 206


Poetry

Sophia Loren Sprung from Prison WORDS BY

PHOTO BY

Emily Leider

Wiesław Jarek

Caserta, Italy (AP) “Fans and fellow inmates cheered actress Sophia Loren as guards ushered her into a small pink room to serve a 30-day sentence for tax evasion.” May 18, 1982

1 Your cell in Caserta: dim and spare, with bright touches, new pink paint on the walls, your fingernails tapered and red. I can see the thin cot which your body inflates, the cold basin for washing your hair, and the women near you, smiles disclosing gaps in their teeth, how they reach out to touch you, reach for some shred of your sacred linen.

3 In Rome TV hums as your mother plumps pillows, fills vases, sets out on the credenza fluted glasses to toast your home-coming. She sits waiting, not watching the screen. Pent up like you yesterday in the small guarded cell. like the still corked Spumante.

2 Release day. A crowd swarms the gate, shouts “Sophia, Sophia!” Some offer baskets of fruit, a few hoist cameras. No guardiani disperse them. An old man in black thrusts his hand through the bars.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 207


Comic

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 208


Don Macha

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 209


Comic

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 210


Don Macha

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 211


New Reader Media’s To-Read List New Reader Media, a creative marketing firm working in partnership with New Reader Magazine, takes on the challenge of bookmarking emerging voices in the indie publishing world. Presented in random order, New Reader Media’s reading list for this quarter.

A Collection of Chaos: A Poetic Recollection of Pain, Lost Love, Apocalyptic Visions, and Authentic Communication with the Dead by Christine Chaos Fans of spiritual and New Age literature will be enthralled by Christine Chaos’s conversations with spirits—from sad, solemn specters to terrifying ghouls with violent pasts. Illustrated by Scott J. Baker, A Collection of Chaos is a compilation of poems and essays by Madame Chaos, who, while not considering herself “psychic,” has had many prophetic visions—some even apocalyptic.

Aftermath: Nomads, Pirates, and Frogfaces by S.L. Ferreira In the not-so-distant future, frog-faced aliens have invaded and taken control of the earth. The human population has been decimated, and those who are left wander through the world with little direction or hope. Lawless brigands—pirates—raid the camps of other nomadic survivors and one man, a former biology professor named Albert, spends his days protecting his small group of friends from them and the constant threat of the alien frogfaces. Can humanity be saved, or are we doomed to extinction at the hands of invaders? Or worse, each other?

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 212


United Star Systems Marines: Project Contrivance by Hunter S. Opilla In the 22nd Century, mankind will achieve wormhole space travel and use this technology to colonize neighboring planets in the Milky Way Galaxy. The United Star Systems Marines attempts to unify the colonies under one system of government in the face of rampant piracy, slaver raids, and civil wars. A teenager from one of the farming colonies, Kaleb Taylor, finds himself thrust into the conflict against his will when his home is destroyed and he is given no other choice but to enlist into the USS Military. With mankind fighting itself and a new, unknown enemy on the rise, will the colonies ever find peace? Will humanity ever stand under a unified front?

The Adventures of Tina Kaneekchuk and Her Twin Brother, Tommy by Robert Snow Robert Snow, was a man who was passionate about stories and a natural storyteller. He loved telling children stories, and The Adventures of Tina Kaneekchuk and Her Twin Brother, Tommy, a pair of Inuit twins, was written originally as a set of bedtime tales for his four daughters, who all shared his love for stories. “The perfect family devotional. My kids couldn’t put the book down this afternoon. They read it cover to cover.”

—J.R.R. Ball, Amazon Customer

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 213


Silver Creek Ranch: Forgotten by Claudia Monteiro Natrona Country, Wyoming. Silver Creek Ranch is home to Callie Marshall. The ranch and all its horses are all she knows of life, and to her, a life with no horses is no life at all. But the idyll is shattered when a drive back from town ends in tragedy, and with the disappearance of a horse and Callie just about to graduate high school, her whole world is turned upside down. This coming-ofage story has been lauded by readers as “poignant” and “infinitely readable,” best for teen readers and the young at heart.

Unspoken Revivalism by Alkawther Makki Alkawther Makki has a vibrant imagination which she uses to compose poems, monologues, stories, and create captivating art. Readers call her brand of philosophy “profound.” “Her poems really opened up new perspectives for me,” one reader, Deanna Vedder from Arkansas, said. “They make you more empathetic to other people’s struggles and perspectives.”

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 214


A Token for the Journey by Rita Dunham A story of strength and grace in the face of adversity, A Token for the Journey takes readers on a ride filled with struggles, triumphs, love, and everything in between. “I bought this book for a friend of mine and ended up reading it myself all in one afternoon,” says Arlene, a reader from New Mexico. “I just couldn’t put it down!”

My Battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by Beckie Butcher Chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, is an invisible disease that affects roughly over 18 million people, most of them women, in the United States today. Three-time awarded author Beckie Butcher has spread awareness of this disease and has been a source of encouragement for others who are living with it. “As a former CFS sufferer and current healthcare practitioner, I feel Ms. Butcher provides an informative and interesting perspective on this disease and her road to recovery.”

—Kyrie Kleinfelter, D.C., Upper Cervical Chiropractor

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 215


My Devdas: A Love Story by R.K. Shadid Danya had it all: a beautiful house, a promising career, and an engagement to an accomplished man. But on the day of her wedding, Danya realizes she is unhappy and flees. A friend’s wedding in India gives her the perfect excuse to escape the country, and it is there that Danya finds herself—and perhaps true love. “It’s all so incredibly romantic,” Jean Brooks, a reader from Los Angeles, writes. “When’s the sequel coming out?”

Imaginary Roads by Reza Author and poet Reza has a PhD in English and American Literature from the University of Houston. Imaginary Roads is a collection of introspective, confessional poetry—Reza’s first. “Finally a poet who has true passion. The collection of poems is neither pretentious nor condescending, just true of heart. This excellent collection of thoughtfully composed verses is sure to stir your heart after it has engaged your mind.”

—Amazon Customer

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 216


Ruminations on the Distortion of Oil Prices and Crony Capitalism by Raymond J. Learsy In this hard-hitting book, Raymond J. Learsy discusses the distortion of oil pricing and the effects of the crony capitalism in America that has enriched a select few and left Main Street in the lurch as a result of government mismanagement, moneyed influence, and craven oversight. This collection of previously published writings shows how speculators ratchet up the prices of basic material goods essential to daily lives. Focusing as well on Wall Street’s corrupting influence on the price of oil, gasoline, and other commodities, Ruminations on the Distortion of Oil Prices and Crony Capitalism provides an overview of the basic and important theme: the United States’ enslavement to oil and the moneyed interests inextricably tied to it. “In this fiery collections of blog posts, veteran commodities trader Learsy rails against the global oil-industry. Oil prices he asserts are captive to the machinations of commodity speculators, investment banks, OPEC and petroleum heavyweights such as Russia. These entrenched interests can influence U.S. policy at the highest levels, he says, and distort prices for their own benefits. “We are robbed of billions of dollars every day by oil interests, in their manipulation of the market pricing mechanisms, at massive cost and risk to the world’s economy.”

—Kirkus Indie Review

Jesus’ Rapture is Coming Soon! by William Loyal Warren The Second Coming was prophesied thousands of years ago in the Book of Revelations. Author William L. Warren presents moral, political, scientific, and environmental events that he asserts coincide with the prophesy made in the Bible. “I stayed up all night reading and finishing the rough manuscript of Jesus’ Rapture is Coming Soon!”

—Randy Hoffman, Spiritual Sand Sculptor NEW READER MAGAZINE | 217


Lies, Deceit, and an Innocent Man by Ree Collins An innocent man, starting a new life after twenty years of wrongful incarceration, is threatened by a serial murderer out to frame him again for the same crime. Collin’s Todd Bainbridge, an orphaned ex-convict at forty-two, is one of the most enduring protagonists of contemporary literature, a new type of hero, shying away from typical hypermasculine tropes and embodying the tender-tothe-bone vulnerabilities of man. Readers are enamored by the author’s surgeon-like care in stitching him up as a promising medical student to a falsely convicted murderer, and later on as a dedicated husband and a father. The real surprise is in the ending, revealing a deeply troubled man nobody sees coming.

Corporate Defiance by Anthony Ford Anthony Ford is a master dreamer bent on setting new heights for fiction. In Corporate Defiance, the reader is taken through a journey of signs, dreams, and mysteries of life and death. After her husband, a soldier in the US Army, disappeared in Africa on active duty, Nicole Gershom put all of her energy into her studies, earning a PhD in philosophy and in global management information systems. Now an infrastructure specialist, Nicole has led disaster relief projects in developing countries, fighting off disease and poverty there. But aside from her determination, intellect, and willpower, what makes Nicole truly exceptional is a gift—or a curse?—passed on through generations of women in their family. Only a few know of her power, and some of those that do want to use it for their own gain. When she receives an invitation to join the technological giant, Maywell Corporation, everything changes. She realizes that all her dreams are entwined since day one: it starts and ends in the same vein.

For more information on New Reader Media and its affiliates, visit NewReaderMedia.com.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 218


Contributor’s Page Robert Okaji lives in Texas with his wife, two dogs, and some books. He no longer owns a bookstore, and once served in the US Navy. The author of three chapbooks, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Clade Song, Panoply, Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art, Sheepshead Review, and elsewhere. Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over thirteen hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the US and abroad. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize (several times), The Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions 2016. He is the winner of the Booranga Writers’ Center (Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia) Prize for Fiction for 2017 for his story, “Stinky Cheese.” His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. To read more of his work, Google Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois. He lives in Denver, Colorado, USA. R. Joseph Dazo is based in Cebu, Philippines. He has co-edited the Libulan Binisaya Anthology of Queer Literature and co-founded the Libulan Queer Collective. Most of his works appeared in Manila Bulletin’s “Bisaya Magasin,” where he was cited as the 2016 Most Promising Young Writer. He was a writing fellow at the 16th Iyas National Writers’ Workshop (De La Salle University’s Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center) and is workshop director of the 2018 Cebu Young Writers’ Studio. He holds an MA in Literature degree. Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie, and daughter, Sage. Heidi Morrell lives and writes in Los Angeles, is married, and lives in a big old house with her two kids, patient husband, one dog and two cats. She’s been writing since age nine, but only in the last few years began to submit her work. Some of those publications include magazines, anthologies, among them: East Coast Literary Review; Poised in Flight Anthology, Hurricane Press; Emerge Literary Journal; Poetry Pacific; Rotary Dial, Canadian; Outside in Lit & Travel Magazine; Tomato Anthology; Mothers Always Write. She also has a poetry chapbook, Also as Well from Finishing Line Press; a collection of award-winning poetry, Old as Rain, by Ex Ophidia Press, out now, available on Amazon. Toti O’Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. She was born in Rome, then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician, and professional dancer. Her work has most recently appeared in Aji Magazine, The Spectacle, Goldman Review, and Poeticdiversity. Brandon Marlon is a writer from Ottawa, Canada. He received his BA in Drama & English from the University of Toronto and his M.A. in English from the University of Victoria. His poetry was awarded the Harry Hoyt Lacey Prize in Poetry (Fall 2015), and his writing has been published in over 200 publications in 27 countries. See more of Brandon at www.brandonmarlon.com. Robert Guffey is a lecturer in the Department of English at California State University – Long Beach. His most recent book is Until the Last Dog Dies (Night Shade/Skyhorse, 2017), a

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 219


darkly satirical novel about a young stand-up comedian who must adapt as best he can to an apocalyptic virus that destroys only the humor centers of the brain. Guffey’s previous books include the journalistic memoir Chameleo: A Strange but True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security (OR Books, 2015), which Flavorwire has called, “By many miles, the weirdest and funniest book of 2015.” A graduate of the famed Clarion Writers Workshop in Seattle, he has also written a collection of novellas entitled Spies & Saucers (PS Publishing, 2014). His first book of nonfiction, Cryptoscatology: Conspiracy Theory as Art Form, was published in 2012. He’s written stories and articles for numerous magazines and anthologies, among them The Believer, Black Dandy, Catastrophia, The Chiron Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Mailer Review, Pearl, The Pedestal, Phantom Drift, Postscripts, and The Third Alternative. Don Mancha’s comic, Purgatory, can be found on www.purgatorythecomic.com. Find his artist profile on www.newreadermagazine.com. Deborah Guzzi writes full time and travels for inspiration. Her third book, The Hurricane, is available through Amazon, Prolific Press, and at aleezadelta@aol.com. Her poetry appears in Allegro Poetry Magazine & Artificium in the UK, Existere - Journal of Arts & Literature & Scarlet Leaf Review, Canada - Tincture, Australia - Cha: Asian Literary Review, China - Eunoia in Singapore - Vine Leaves Literary Journal -Greece, mgv2>publishing - France, & Ribbons: Tanka Society of America, pioneertown, Sounding Review, Bacopa Literary Review, Shooter, The Aurorean, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Liquid Imagination, Concis, The Tishman Review, Page & Spine & others in the USA. the-hurricanedg.com. M. Luke McDonell is a San Francisco–based writer and designer. Her near-future fiction explores the effects of technology on individuals and society. Her work has been featured in Shoreline of Infinity, Perihelion, and (t)here magazine. Justin Price released a poetry collection, Digging to China, with Sweatshoppe Publications in 2013. He was nominated for the Gover Prize (short fiction) in 2014. His work is featured in Best New Writing (2014 edition) and has appeared in many publications, including the Rusty Nail, Burningword, The Whistling Fire, Literary Juice, Manawaker Studios Podcast, and Bloody Key Society Periodical. Justin recently moved from Portland, Oregon, to pursue new adventures in Juneau, Alaska. He lives in with his wife, Andrea, and their two dogs: a labradoodle, Bella, and a Sh’Poo, Sauvee. He is currently working on a short story collection and a novel. Greg Rushton is a young author writing from amongst the cobbles and thickets of rural England. His style attempts to reflect a world of painful beauty and beautiful pain, laughter, sadness and wonder all in the same breath. Arch-nemesis and occasional pilferer of the postmodern, with his scribblings, he leads readers round and round the maypole of profundity, always ending precisely where they started but never feeling quite the same. Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, VA, began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over a hundred short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. His plays have been produced in several states. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Facebook, and on Twitter as @carrsteven960. NEW READER MAGAZINE | 220


Sebastian Bennett’s Music Minus One was previously published, in print, in ParisTranscontinental (France, 1994). His writing has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and appears in Connecticut Review, Fiction International, Indiana Review, The Southwestern Review, Columbia Journal, Texas Review, Mississippi Review, and American Book Review, among others. He studied Creative Writing at Columbia University and the University of Southern California and taught Fiction Writing at UCLA and the University of Louisiana, and he directed the Creative Writing Program at Muskingum University. He was the founding editor of The Southern Anthology. Olga Zilberbourg is a San Francisco-based writer with work forthcoming from Alaska Quarterly Review, Feminist Studies, and Confrontation; stories have appeared in World Literature Today, Tin House online, J Journal, Epiphany, Narrative Magazine, Printers Row, Hobart, Santa Monica Review, among others. She serves as a co-facilitator of the weekly San Francisco Writers Workshop. Colin James has a book of poems Resisting Probability from Sagging Meniscus Press direct link to SMP titles and a chapbook, A Thoroughness Not Deprived of Absurdity. He lives in Massachusetts. Charles Leggett is a professional actor based in Seattle, WA. His poetry has been published in over three dozen journals in the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His long poem “Premature Tombeau for John Ashbery” was an e-chapbook in the Barnwood Press Great Find series. Other writing projects/ experience include a play, The River’s Invitation, most recently featured at Seattle’s Theatre Off Jackson as part of its inaugural Solo Performance Festival, “SPF 1: No Protection!” in March 2007. Charles also spent three years as lyricist/frontman for the Seattle blues band Uncle Ed’s Molasses Jam, and has written, co-arranged and performed blues tunes for the Sandbox Radio Orchestra and 14/48: The World’s Quickest Theatre Festival; three of his blues lyrics have been published or are forthcoming in literary journals. John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East, and Midwest Quarterly. Judy Shepps Battle has been writing essays and poems long before retiring from being a psychotherapist and sociology professor. She is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant, and freelance writer. Her poems have been accepted in a variety of publications, including Ascent Aspirations; Barnwood Press; Battered Suitcase; Caper Literary Journal; Epiphany Magazine; Joyful; Message in a Bottle Poetry Magazine; Raleigh Review; Rusty Truck; Short, Fast and Deadly; the Tishman Review, and Wilderness House Literary Press. Lucía Orellana Damacela’s literary work has been published internationally in periodicals and anthologies such as Sharkpack Annual, Slippery Elm, Cha, Into the Void, Duende, The Ofi Press, Ink Sweat & Tears, and Poems to Keep. One of her poems won the Wisehouse International Poetry Award. Her debut poetry chapbooks, Life Lines and Sea of Rocks, will be published later

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 221


in the year. A bilingual English-Spanish writer, Lucía blogs at notesfromlucia.wordpress.com and tweets as @lucyda. R. Miller is an avant-garde poet residing in the wilds of southern Pennsylvania, United States. He is the author of Separate Instances of Loneliness, a chapbook, and his work has also been featured in Aubade, Rizal, Anti-Heroin Chic, the Undertow Review, Foliate Oak, Angry Old Man, and Jazz Cigarette. More poems can be found on his blog, insertpropagandahere.wordpress. com, and he regularly posts to Instagram (@insertpropagandahere). Steve Klepetar lives in the Berkshires, in Massachusetts. His work has appeared widely in the US and around the world, and has received several nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize, including three in 2017. The most recent of his 13 poetry collections include A Landscape in Hell (Flutter Press), How Fascism Comes to America (Locofo Chaps) and Why Glass Shatters (White Knuckle Chaps). Tiny Diapana is an aspiring poet living with two meddlesome cats and one cheeky hetero lifemate. She makes a living by slaving away writing fantasy and science fiction news articles for an online news site and by contributing to Sunstar Weekend. She also serves as Streetkonect’s editor-in-chief. When she’s not writing, Tiny spends her time reading various poetry collections, comics, and the vile comment sections of news articles (even though she knows it’s just going to wear her heart out). She also plays board games, listens to shoegaze, practices bass, and does other things of little consequence. Tony Koval lives in Alaska with her three kids and her husband. She likes to make things and wear makeup and spends a lot of her time playing the guitar badly, eating tacos, and avoiding laundry. L. Ward Abel, poet, composer and performer of music, teacher, retired lawyer, lives in rural Georgia, has been published hundreds of times in print and online, including The Reader, Istanbul Review, Versal, Yale Angler’s Journal, Pudding, Indian Review and others, and is the author of one full collection and nine chapbooks of poetry, including Jonesing For Byzantium (UK Authors Press, 2006), The Heat of Blooming (Pudding House Press, 2008), American Bruise (Parallel Press, 2012), Little Town gods (Folded Word Press, 2016), A Jerusalem of Ponds (erbaccePress, 2016), and Digby Roundabout (Kelsay Books, 2017). Daniel L. Link lives in Northern California where he writes novels, short stories, and flash fiction. He is the assistant editor of the Gold Man Review, and his work has appeared in HCE Review, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Lowestoft Chronicle, Ariel Chart, the Penmen Review, and RavensPerch. Emily Leider has published one poetry collection and four biographies. Her poems have appeared in such periodicals as SLANT, Chicago Review and december Magazine. She lives in San Francisco. Lynn White lives in North Wales. Her work is influenced by issues of social justice and events, places, and people she has known or imagined. She is especially interested in exploring the boundaries of dream, fantasy, and reality. Her poem “A Rose for Gaza” was shortlisted for the NEW READER MAGAZINE | 222


Theatre Cloud “War Poetry for Today” competition 2014. This and many other poems, have been widely published in recent anthologies and journals such as Apogee, Firewords, Pilcrow & Dagger, Indie Soleil, Light and Snapdragon. Find Lynn at Lynn White Poetry on Facebook and lynnwhitepoetry.blogspot.com After several advanced degrees, Murph Little still finds himself in a small Southern (US) town, teaching English and Bible to high school students who are illiterate in both. He writes about ideas that have nagged him for years: civil rights, small town violence, a burning book speaking to its author, God and the Devil betting on Hitler’s soul as they did with Job, dispatches from the Alabama Civil War, etc. John A. Karr is the author of a handful of independent and small press novels and novellas, including the upcoming Martian Contention sci-fi series via Kensington Books’ Rebel Base imprint. Short stories have appeared in Flame Tree Publishing’s Crime & Mystery (2016) and Pirates & Ghosts (2017) anthologies, Onyx Neon Shorts, Asylum Ink, Dark Gothic Resurrected magazine, Danse Macabre, and Allegory. More works are in progress. An ardent believer in the quote from Carl van Doren (1885-1950), US man of letters: “Yes, it’s hard to write, but it’s harder not to.” Bruce Douglas Reeves has published four novels: The Night Action (NAL and Signet Books—also published in England and Germany and recently republished by Automat Press as an e-book), Man on Fire (Pyramid Books), Street Smarts (Beaufort Books and Ace Books), and Delphine (Texas Review Press and winner of Clay Reynolds Novella Contest). He has published fifty stories in magazines and journals, print and online. Four of his stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His website is: https://www.brucedouglasreevesauthor.com/ It contains a full bio, info about his books, with excerpts, and complete stories. Rob Hartzell is a graduate of the University of Alabama MFA program, and he lives and works in Morrow, OH.

NEW READER MAGAZINE | 223


New Reader Magazine is a quarterly journal for literature, culture, and the arts.

100 Church St. Suite 800 New York, NY 10007 | 1 800 734 7871 | contact@newreadermagazine.com

www.NewReaderMagazine.com

New Reader Magazine Vol 1 Issue 1  

New Reader Magazine is a print publication and digital media collective dedicated to finding brave new voices in art, literature, and cultur...

New Reader Magazine Vol 1 Issue 1  

New Reader Magazine is a print publication and digital media collective dedicated to finding brave new voices in art, literature, and cultur...

Advertisement