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Troubadour University of West Florida

2013


T R O U B A D O U R


Troubadour Editor Sarah Kuhl

Editorial Board Joe Angeletti Maria Burns Rebecca Cleary Toni Holt Kayte Middleton Bobby White

Advisor Jonathan Fink

Troubadour is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of English and World Languages at the University of West Florida


Troubadour Contents Emily Barksdale  Dad /28 Michael Barretta  Fourth and Goal /1 Cleo Battle  White Walls /35, Blue Sky /39, Next Generation /41 Marlene Burrell  Untitled /22 Nick Dienst  Snider Street /31 Jennifer Foehl-Rodriguez  Untitled /24 Amber Fortune  Alcaniz and Jackson /42 Lauren Gibson  Refined /6, In the Exam Room /13 Charles Greenberg  Self #22 /21, #bluronpurpose scene 1 /25 Cassandra Hicks  Missing Home /10, Gallimaufry /44 Elizabeth Hurd  Interlinear /27, Walk Away /30 Amanda Johnson  Untitled /26 Catherine Merchant  Hands /14 Delores B. Merrill  Clematis in the Rain /18, In Conversation /43 Grady Miller  The State’s Rights /45 Tyler Nicholson  Decisions, Decisions /23 Samantha Olsen  gothic /7, seedling /36 William Peaster  On Sensuality /9, Upon the Isle of Man /37 Taylor Smith  Tree /19 Ann-Margaret Stahl  Curious and Effortless Country /34 Richard L. Tabor  What heart shall touch thy heart? What hand thy   hand /17, Ambrosia! Ambrosia! Where have you gone? /20 Ashley Thompson  Pink Satin /12 Eniko Ujj  Kodi (Disenchanted Youth Series) /29 The cover image (“Ambrosia! Ambrosia! Where have you gone?”) is by Richard L. Tabor


Michael Barretta

Fourth and Goal

T

homas shivered in the sudden cold. His mouth tasted sour and rotten like a mouse had curled up and died on the flat of his tongue, and his drink didn’t wash away the taste..   The players returned to the field, and the fans, mostly parents of the players, let out a ragged cheer. He set his drink down between his feet, turned to look over his left shoulder, and stared Death in the face. Despite the faded blue jeans and Gulf Breeze Dolphin’s football T-shirt, Thomas knew exactly who he was even without the wings.   “Long time, no see,” said the Death Angel.   “I hoped I would never see you again,” said Thomas. Unlike the first time, alcohol cushioned the mental blow of Death manifesting before him.   “The leading cause of disappointment is unrealistic expectations, Thomas,” said the Death Angel. “Everyone sees me in the end. You know that.”   The Death Angel stood and stepped gracefully over the metal bench bleacher seat and sat down, folding his spindly limbs like a dying spider. A whistle blew and Thomas looked away, indifferent to Death. There was a flag on the play. The Milton Panthers had the ball. He didn’t catch the signal. The Death Angel slid closer to Thomas and snatched the Styrofoam cup with his long, thin fingers. He popped the translucent plastic lid, sniffed and winced at the pungent odor of the cheap booze.   “You’re not dealing with your situation very well, are you?” asked the Death Angel.   Thomas grunted. Not that it was anyone’s or anything’s business, but no, he wasn’t dealing with the situation well at all. Since his return from Afghanistan, his marriage was falling apart an inch at a time. All he really did that was halfway enjoyable, and all he wanted to do right now, was to hide in the upper decks of the high school football bleachers and watch his son play. The Death Angel smoothed the lid back on and handed back the Styrofoam cup. Thomas took the cup and squeezed too hard, popped the lid, spilling the vodka and coke.   “What do you want?” asked Thomas.   “Little guy over there, the receiver, number 22,” said the Death Angel. “I want your son.”   “No, you can’t have him,” said Thomas, believing with every fiber of his being that his will alone in this matter would be sufficient.   The Death Angel smiled and laughed. “Oh my God, that’s a good one, Thomas. I have you all. I’ve got the itty bitty babies in my hand. I’ve got the whole wide world in my hand. He changed aspects and became a cloaked skeleton complete with scythe. “I have all of you, Thomas.”   He changed back to an unreasonably skinny pale man, only a marginal improvement.   “Please,” said Thomas. His son was the only thing he had left that made any sense. --


“Speaking of itty bitty babies, I forgot to thank you for that fine piece of work in Afghanistan. Itty bitty babies, they’re like stem cells for heaven. You know what I mean? I tell you, the pearly gates fling wide open with enthusiasm when they get delivered.”   “Please,” said Thomas again. He didn’t know what the Death Angel meant nor did he care, and he certainly didn’t want to hear about the itty bitty babies. He saw them every night in his dreams. His eyes began to water. The prospect of losing his son would be beyond bearing. He would fold up and disappear, collapsing into a singularity of infinitely compressed pain and remorse.   “Please?” mocked the Death Angel. “Really, what do you care? Here you are hiding out in the cheap seats drinking up crappy vodka and guilt by the barrel. He probably doesn’t even know you are here.”   His son didn’t know. Thomas entered just after the kick-off and climbed to the upper reaches cradling his cup of booze. He watched the game and silently cheered his son, who never got the chance to handle the ball, yet took the hits from guys four inches taller and forty pounds heavier. Later, his son hooked up with friends and rode home with another father. Thomas’s only connection, his last connection with life, was whisper thin and glass fragile.   “Take me,” said Thomas.   “What do you think this is, a one-for-one swap? Everyone has a time and place and it’s not your time or place,” said the Death Angel. “Miles to go before you sleep.”   “Was it theirs?” asked Thomas.   “Of course it was,” said the Death Angel.   “Can we make a deal?” asked Thomas. He could feel the sting of tears. The world began to crystallize to brutal clarity as he sobered.   “Who do you think I am, the Devil? I don’t make deals. I don’t have to. I’m a force of nature, Thomas,” said the Death Angel. “Can you even fathom how many aspects I have scattered across the known universe? I’m the reaper, with a capitol “R,” not Monty Hall.”   “Anything,” said Thomas, and he meant it. The desperation rose from inside like molten magma in a volcano.   “We can’t make a deal, but I am a gambling man,” said the Death Angel. “If your son makes a touchdown tonight, he can live out the rest of his life.”   His son had never even the handled the ball in the previous nine games. Thomas looked to the clock billboard. It was the fourth quarter with two minutes remaining. The Milton Panthers had the ball on their own thirty yard line. Gulf Breeze defense seemed to have rallied and was holding them, too little too late. The score was 22 Milton, 17 Gulf Breeze.   Milton punted.   “What do you want in return?” asked Thomas.   “I don’t need anything from you. I’ve got the whole world in my hands.Shake,” said Death, holding out his pale hand. “Gentlemen’s bet.”   Thomas held out his hand, and the Death Angel seized it with a ferocious inescapable python grip. Pain rolled up his arm and into his chest and his heart skipped beats out of sheer agony.

--


H

e felt it all over again, the thunderous impact of the RPG on the abandoned Mercedes and the white-hot pain of spalled metal hitting his legs and nearly sweeping his feet from under him. He scrambled to advance his position while firing a short burst into a glassless window. He was rewarded by a red spray and choked scream. He limped as fast as he could to a doorway alcove and pressed his back against the sunbaked wall. His mouth was dry as a bone. His legs trembled and burned from the metal fragments and fatigue. He selected his next position and broke cover, advancing two short steps, a nearly infinite distance, to a burned-out taxi. Two rounds smashed into his body armor, spinning him like a top. He fell behind the taxi in breathless agony from the non-penetrating bullets. Broken edges of ribs grated into each other. He levered himself up, took a single, wheezing inhale, and sighted on the shooter through the shattered taxi windows and put two in the center of mass. The fighter dropped as if touched by the hand of God. The screams of wounded men laced the air. Rounds ricocheted off the taxi in front of him. Dust and iron blood filled his mouth. He caught a muzzle flash from the corner of his eye and re-sighted. He aimed and fired two grenades through his M204 launcher and watched them fly through a storefront window. The twin explosions blew dust and debris out of the openings. He launched himself forward towards the store’s adjoining door, firing as he ran. He paused at the door and then swept in, weapon leveled. He traversed his weapon, efficiently scanning for threats in the gloom. Blood and gore were sprayed across the room. The fighters were down, barely recognizable as people. He saw others smaller, doll-like figures among the men he intended to kill - children. He slid to the floor in horror at the realization of what he had done. A dark shadow, with wings as dark as space and just as vast, moved across his vision, harvesting among the human wreckage.   “Near death experience?” asked the Death Angel as he relinquished his grip.   “Yes,” said Thomas. He breathed heavily, fatigued from the vision. “Occupational hazard,” said the Death Angel.   Thomas shook off his vision. He had seen it a thousand times before in his sleep. He turned back to the game, having missed the return. The Dolphin quarterback faded back behind a wall of blue and gold uniforms and the frenzied clash of shoulder pads reverberated through the stands. A Milton defensive lineman broke through, tossing a smaller boy to the ground, and hit the quarterback hard enough to drive him back for a two-yard loss. The clock ran down further. The Dolphins formed into a brief huddle and then took position. The snap was short, but the Dolphin Quarterback still managed to catch it. The Dolphin line crumbled, and the quarterback made a desperate throw as the Panther linemen converged on him. The pass was long and out of reach for the intended receiver, but not for an opposing Panther who intercepted the ball. The Milton fans cheered wildly as their player took two steps and was dragged to the ground. The Gulf Breeze coach called a time-out with 32 seconds left on the clock.   “How’s your faith? The size of a mustard seed?” asked the Death Angel. “That’s all you need. Of course, I’m apolitical, so I really don’t care.”   The time-out ended and the teams lined up against each other. The ball was snapped perfectly and the Milton quarterback threw a short pass to the side. The receiver was nailed after making the catch and the ball was stripped from his hands. The Dolphins recovered the fumble and called time-out again with 13 seconds remaining on the --


clock.   Thomas looked down at his coke and vodka. He reached for it then pulled back as if it was an especially poisonous spider.   When the time-out ended, The Dolphin’s offensive team took the field with more hope than skill. The ball was snapped, and the clock started to run down. The quarterback scrambled, intending to run as his blockers crumbled. He was hit low in a knee-breaking tackle and the ball flew from his hands. The loose ball danced across the field in a drunken course, evading outstretched arms till it was finally scooped up by the Dolphin’s receiver, number 22. Thomas Junior tucked the ball tightly under his arm and sprinted a side-winding path through the defending Panthers. He leaped over a diving tackle and stumbled as a hand grabbed his ankle. He regained his balance. The clock ran out, but the play was still in motion. Thomas Junior was hit hard from behind and was pulled down. He slid the ball forward into his outstretched fingertips.   Thomas stood, as did all the other Dolphin fans. Their view of where the ball came down was blocked by players from both teams. The referee’s hands reached skyward. Thomas began to laugh for the first time in a very long time. He added his cheer to the crowd’s as his son’s name was announced. His foot kicked the Styrofoam cup and it fell below to splash on the pavement underneath the bleachers, forgotten and unnecessary. The extra point sailed wide of the goal post.   “He won,” said Thomas. “He won.”   Six rows lower, a fat man dropped his foot long hot dog down the back of another fan and clutched at his chest. Thomas watched as the man arched his neck like an unearthed prehistoric fossil. The man stared Death in the face and his eyes went wild with fear and pain. Thomas witnessed the first uncertain moments of the end of the man’s life as he was weighed and measured. With the decision cast, the Death Angel smiled a feral predatory grin back at the fat man, adding to his terror. The man attempted to stand and flee, but tipped over backwards, knocking over his coke and an extra-large order of chili cheese fries. A nucleus of frenzied action formed around the dying man as his overweight wife struggled to hold him in a sitting position. She furiously patted him on the arm, as if it was an acceptable cure for years of bad diet and little exercise. Thomas stood to help.   The Death Angel reached up with an impossibly long arm and pulled him back down by the shoulder. “It doesn’t matter what you do,” said the Death Angel. “I have some insight on these matters.” He put his arm around Thomas’s shoulder and whispered in his ear. “Do me a favor.”   “What?”   “Get off the bleachers. Happy men live longer.”   “You were never coming for my son, were you?” asked Thomas.   “Sooner or later,” said the Death Angel. “But not now.” Your son will live the rest of his life regardless of touchdowns. That’s the way it works.”

T

he Death Angel stood and looked at the fading fat man and then back. “I have to go to work now.” He changed to his dark-winged angel aspect. The translucent black wings stretched over the stadium like a gossamer fog, dimming the stars, and covering the fans with an invisible cloying darkness. They reached further to wrap the --


horizon and surround the world. The Death Angel bore his burden without any sign of fatigue or remorse. He turned. “Don’t look for me anymore. When the time comes, I’ll find you,” said the Death Angel.   Thomas reached into his pocket and wrapped his fingers around the Medal of Honor that he was using as a key chain and squeezed it tight. It still hurt. He went down to see his son.

--


Lauren Gibson

Refined I sit tall, legs crossed, “like a queen,” as our mother would always say. I pour the little packet of extra fine sugar In my coffee and watch the tiny particles dissolve, The wind whistling outside the shop like a copper tea kettle. My eyes lift to see your smile, framed by the foam Of your cappuccino. Through pursed lips, a chuckle escapes. In that foam framed smile I saw the little girl with dried sugarcane Crusted around her scrunched berry-bunch lips. Two tow-headed Children pouncing through the cane fields, each grabbing a stalk To crack open and suck, sweet insides cutting through the bitter. Our bare feet grew thick and heavy from the moist earth, and we were close to it. You wiped away the foam, and those once berry-red lips smoothed And softened in color. Your feet, peeking out from under the table, Were no longer caked with earth, but were tightly bundled in thick stockings And stuffed into high-heeled shoes. I uncross my legs. “I never wanted to be a queen.”

--


Samantha Olsen

gothic i admire your beauty skeletal and delicate, and made of spider’s silk. the façade featuring dozens of stone straws and beneath them, above the largest portal, is a gargantuan lace doily crocheted out of spun stone. from the south tower emmanuel cries his peals resonating through the streets. flying buttresses leap outwards lining either side like the sun bleached ribs of a whale supporting the main hall of this venerable church. inside is atlas, embodied in the ogival arches and standing hunched over to hold up the ceiling; thousands of tons of stone bearing down upon a single axis. the walls are filled with windows saturated with cranberry red, interspersed with pinpoints of celestial blue and dove white, the stained glass throwing its blood upon the floor. they puncture the walls in more places than seems wise as though the virgin mary, the four apostles, and christ can stave off gravity by their divine influence. the arched ceiling stretches over head --


far higher, and far wider, than should be possible made of heavy blocks supported only by glass and ribs. you have stood for nearly nine centuries, our lady of paris.

--


William M. Peaster

On Sensuality Like the river to oblivion, Lethe, aimless and unmindful to the words I have misplaced upon my return, careless like an unmanned hammock by the sea; perhaps this is not a return but where I’ve crept all along like a body that sneezed out a soul that dreamt of fleeing loudly; maybe this is where I kiss next the one with violent hair, gorgeous babbler of things nonsensically appropriate, so so so she’ll say just know why I call you Sisyphus because you rise and fall like the sun deserving all six of my kisses, and yes in those moments there is tension, like great muscles flexing out of apprehension of something immediate, some Charybdis or Scylla churning out an inviting gesture of the eye a look that could only mean come and we will meet as lovers upon the plains of oblivion; and I hear her in my mind, the imaginary preaching: I will count the strands of your hair which are the days of your calendar, beautiful boy

--


Cassandra Hicks

Missing Home Hyacinths outside my window in my backyard. The saccharine smell of hyacinths Bright purple pink blue hyacinths. But this isn’t where it began. In fact, it’s been 8 years. Corey Beach, Blue Point—an only child back then Playing in the sand, splashing in the water with mom and dad. Train whistles sound in the background; they hold me close. Lilacs- that’s what she always smells like Earthy, sweet, dewy, and fresh. Lilacs and Shower-to-Shower body powder Homey, unsullied, refreshing, and safe. She gave me a bottle of it the Christmas before I left I left. I know I ran. I had to. My front porch; that’s what I miss the most. Number 214. East Islip. The 631. Long Island. No matter how I say it, it’s home. Lake George, NY—The best hideaway in the woods. My silent retreat on the water. Just thinking about the crisp cool fresh clean

clear

water

makes me miss my brothers. We spent many a summer there, in fact many a fall, spring, and winter too. Smelling the sulfur, hearing the crackling, and seeing the yellow-roasting   marshmallows. - 10 -


Tasting the hot dogs and hamburgers and the ooey-gooey s’mores Feeling the tree logs beneath us, the mud beneath our feet, and the sharp bites of   mosquitoes. Watertown, NY—my home away from home. Apple picking in the fall, skiing in the winter, white water rafting in the spring,   rollerblading in the summer. Amber- our first puppy; our own bundle of joy. We were happy there; we could have settled in and started our family. Crestview. It sounds so foreign on my tongue. Humid, rainy, cloudy, hot. Very, very hot. A journey into the unknown knowing one, single, solitary person. Pensacola-UWF. New sights and sounds, new professors and co-workers—overwhelming. I could get used to it here.

- 11 -


Ashley Thompson

Pink Satin Take one off then who am I? Take two off then what am I? Is my identity lost with what has been taken from me? Am I less of what I am or once was? What am I, if what declares me woman is robbed from me? Who am I, if I cannot recognize the body looking back at me in every reflection? My chest defaced with the wounds of my battle. I stare in loathing of what my lamenting eyes show me. My identity is lost, along with the rest of me.

- 12 -


Lauren Gibson

In the Exam Room Magnets, my eyes, drawn to any framed thing on that wall. When they’ve read each chart twelve times through, The eyes drop to count each tile of that cheap laminate floor. 14x24=336, reads the cellphone calculator. 336 tiles: good math. I twiddle my thumbs and notice the subtle stinging on the corners Of them and their neighboring limbs. I ignore the near-bleeding, And set them simultaneously between my teeth. Anything to keep the image from my mind. I sit in the chaffing stiffness of the paper gown, hearing only the crinkle Of the sheets beneath me. I wish for any other sound—the shuffling feet Of a passerby, an inconceivable mutter from the wall. Her expression plays through my mind again and again, and each time The circle takes its turn, I am more worried by the scrunched brow She had forced smooth and less convinced by her smile. I feel the firmness of my breasts against the paper gown, wondering What it would be like not to feel them. They have known many hands And lips. Some young, some old as me or maybe older. When we were young my girlfriends and I were never shy about Our nakedness. We would strut through our locker rooms And bedrooms in lacey bras or less, welcoming our sexuality. In middle school I was once offered fifty dollars to reveal them To a classmate, a much better exchange than the Mardi-Gras Girls who are paid in plastic beads. My first boyfriend closed His eyes and asked me to cover up. He said they made him uneasy. But their most vivid memory is of the time I quietly locked my door And fell to my knees in desperation, pleading and bargaining with God To let that lump be something else, anything else. It was, of course, Only a sign of growth.

- 13 -


Catherine Merchant

Hands

I

remember this dream more clearly than any other I’ve ever had. In the dream, I was standing in the middle of a thick forest, and before me was a massive stone edifice that seemed to have been standing there since the creation of time. Standing atop an archway over the front doors was a tall man, dressed in tatters with a burlap sack over his head, clutching a large mallet, with a heavy gong next to him. As I watched, unmoving, not participating, the man moved to strike the gong with the mallet, and the sound that issued forth woke me up with its overwhelming intensity, leaving my ears ringing just from the memory of it.   This was the dream I had the night before my mother died.

I

got the call on a Thursday morning; that was a Thursday morning where I was neither employed nor heading to class, so there was no defensible reason for me to look at the phone, see that it was my younger sister calling, and ignore it completely, delving back into the carefree virtual world. My sister, Hannah, still lived at home with my mother, and I assumed she wanted me to drive her somewhere—a favor she’d asked of me a number of times in the past.  You know that old adage against assuming? It’s an adage for a reason.   She must have then actually gotten in touch with my brother, who spent the time to come to my small house and soberly inform me that our mother had slipped into full unconsciousness, a doctor had seen her and given her three weeks to live, and that we should start making preparations for her inevitable passing.   “Oh.” It was all I could manage in reply, dazed by the one-two punch of guilt and denial straight to my gut.   “So you should probably...come over and see her. She’s at home, hospice care, you remember how she wanted it. Three weeks isn’t a whole lot of time, and there’s things we should discuss as a family. When you’re ready.” Every word of it remains seared into my memory; while there were plenty of words exchanged over the next few days, it’s this short, perfunctory, slightly awkward conversation that sticks out in my mind.   “Yeah.” It probably helps that my side of the conversation was rather flat. “I’ll be over in a bit.” A bit stretched into a while stretched into some time of sitting and staring blankly at my surroundings: the pockmarked ceiling, the blank television—and my own hands, mixed with brief wonderings of what my mother’s hands looked like. Why couldn’t I remember? Why did something so...so very basic slip my mind so completely like that? Go and look, I told myself. Go and look at her hands, if nothing else.  I managed. Three hours after actually getting the news, I managed to actually make it to my childhood home, pausing yet again in the driveway before getting the wherewithal to face what was coming. Hannah met me at the door with tearstained features and a tight hug. - 14 -


“Finally. Go see her—she doesn’t look good and she can’t talk, but go see her. She’d like that.”   “So we’re already talking about what she would like?” I regretted it instantly, though didn’t apologize, and passed by her with a brief touch to the shoulder. The rest of our expansive family—aunts, uncles, cousins, my mother’s own parents, my siblings—had arrived long before me, her second child. No one said a word to me as I passed through the living room toward my mother’s bedroom, though it was easy to read the mix of sorrow and reproach written all over their faces.   Whatever. Let them think what they want.   Moving into my mother’s bedroom, I stopped cold in the doorway for a moment, greeted by the sight of the strongest woman I’d ever known lying helplessly in her bed, two IVs buried in her arm, the room filled with the quiet drone of the oxygen machine keeping her as alive and comfortable as it could manage. Her narrow, sunken chest rose and fell with shallow breaths, and though her eyes were half-open, she gave no recognition as I moved to sit in the empty chair perched at her bedside. The doctor who had seen her that morning had given her three weeks, but seeing her in that moment, I would have been surprised to see her last longer than three days.  You know how they say people who are dead or dying look so peaceful, so serene, as though they were just asleep? It’s a fucking lie. There wasn’t a single thing about her that looked peaceful or serene: not the way her bones jutted ruthlessly against her emaciated figure, not the way her hands trembled every so often with pain or fear or whatever else it was that she was feeling—and sure as hell not the look in her half-lidded eyes. I’ve never seen that look on a person before or since, but I recognized it the moment I saw it.   She was terrified.   “What am I supposed to do?” I spoke aloud to no one. “What do you want me to do? Tell me, I’ll do it.” I’d held myself together reasonably well up until this point, so it surprised me a little when I felt the wet warmth starting to slide down my cheeks. I ignored it, reaching out instead to clasp her nearest hand between both of mine, vaguely surprised by how small and light it was. Her skin felt like wax paper, like I might rip it open if I wasn’t careful enough. There was no strength, no resistance in her touch, and though she continued to stare with sheer terror into the blankness of the air, though it seemed as though she were still struggling to draw each and every breath, I still felt the warmth of the woman who’d raised me, who had been there for me like no one else.   “You can’t go yet,” I told her. In that moment, I went from a reasonably capable adult to a scared child that didn’t want to lose the care, love, and support of a mother. “We’re not—we’re not done. You’re not done.” Someone can’t just up and die when they have so much unfinished business, right? A ten-year-old child still left to grow to adulthood, a legal career that was just beginning after a decade of schooling, not to mention countless friends and family left behind—including her own parents who had already lost a different child to cancer. I don’t really like to think about what that might mean for my genetics.  I don’t remember exactly how much time passed there, with me at her bedside. Other people, other friends and family came in, sat with me, with her—talked with me, with her, but I never left her bedside. She continued to breathe, continued to stare emptily - 15 -


upward, life draining from her body with every passing moment. The thought of just how small her hands were kept popping up into my mind: the fact that those hands used to seem so much larger, so much stronger, the hands of a tirelessly working mother. Hands of love, care, and warmth, reduced to...to those.  It was dark out, the moon offering empty light through the window when I felt her hand twitch. It was the first movement, other than her pained breathing, that she’d made since I arrived, and it immediately startled me out of my thoughts. Her eyes fluttered, her breaths became even more shallow as her lips moved, mouthing words barely voiced. I leaned in, bringing my ear to her thin, colorless lips, and listened to the whisper of a whisper.   “Lift me up.”   As though saying that had been her ultimate goal and life’s work, her hand relaxed completely between mine, and her breathing slowed to a halt. The doctor had given her three weeks, and she lasted less than a day.

T

here was nothing fair or just about the way she died, there was no completion of a cycle of life and death or any of that poetic bullshit you read about. A mother of four died at age forty-nine of sheer bad luck, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. There was no moral of the story, there was no lesson to take home, there was no example to be made: she got cancer and died and that’s all.  I spent (and still spend!) plenty of time wondering what significance I might draw from her final words. Were they the results of a morphine-fueled, probably hallucinating mind? Did she somehow recognize that I was there with her, and did she try to tell me something at the last moment? There’s no way to know, of course. The only things I can do are think and wonder—and try my damndest to live up to her example.   Try to lift myself up.

- 16 -


“What heart shall touch thy heart? What hand thy hand” by Richard L. Tabor

- 17 -


“Clematis in the Rain� by Delores B. Merrill

- 18 -


“Tree” by Taylor Smith

- 19 -


“Ambrosia! Ambrosia! Where have you gone?� by Richard L. Tabor

- 20 -


“Self #22” by Charles Greenberg

- 21 -


“Untitled� by Marlene Burrell

- 22 -


“Decisions, Decisions” by Tyler Nicholson - 23 -


“Untitled” by Jennifer Foehl-Rodriguez

- 24 -


“#bluronpurpose scene 1” by Charles Greenberg

- 25 -


“Untitled” by Amanda Johnson

- 26 -


“Interlinear” by Elizabeth Hurd

- 27 -


“Dad” by Emily Barksdale

- 28 -


“Kodi (Disenchanted Youth Series)” by Eniko Ujj - 29 -


“Walk Away” by Elizabeth Hurd

- 30 -


Nick Dienst

Snider Street

That’s the place,” she said, shifting her weight against the seatbelt to reach over him, pointing one finger out the car’s grimy window. She double-checked the scrap of paper in her hand, marred by the scratched and sloppy writing of a charcoal pencil. “415 Snider St.”   The ranch-style home, set back ten or fifteen yards from the traffic of the road and styled in a modern display of newly pressed stucco and clay, appeared normal, seemingly no different from any other home lining the dim residential avenue. It was painted an ordinary shade of light blue—colorful but not gaudy—complemented in places by pairs of long white window shutters, peering back out at the road like half-closed eyes. Behind the cold glass of each window, a single shade was drawn for privacy.   The man slowed the Mustang to a crawl, cutting the wheel to the left until it inched parallel to the curb, cursing the old car’s lack of power steering as he did so. The clouds that had dotted the orange haze horizon hours ago now gave way to intermittent sheets of light rain, glancing softly off the windshield and running in small tributaries that zigzagged in random directions off the glass. He leaned back in his seat, trying to look at the house instead of her. Tonight, eye contact was awkward and unwelcome. He could feel her in the seat next to him and knew that she was staring, her eyes burning into him, waiting for him to say something. Waiting for him to put the car into gear and hightail it back across town, back to that same bleak apartment littered with the same candy and condom wrappers and burns in the carpet from cigarettes that had been there for months. They could just drive away, the two of them, and forget about this street and this house and this whole damned mess forever. But that would solve nothing. Sighing, he turned the key away from him, extinguishing the life of the vehicle; the car gave a slight rumble as the engine cut out, and then the only sound was the soft patter of rain in the dark.   Still watching the house, the man unthinkingly raised one hand to his mouth, biting down on the already ragged nail of his index finger. When it was smooth enough for his liking, he moved on to the middle finger, then the ring. It was an old and annoying habit, one he’d tried to kick since childhood but one that always re-emerged when he was especially strung out. His bloodshot eyes darted back and forth while he gazed out the window, moving from the number on the mailbox to the well-kept lawn to the heavy oak front door. The driveway was empty, but he knew the house was not. He thought about what they were doing there. He didn’t know if it was worth it.   “It won’t take long,” she said from beside him, seemingly reading his mind. “I’ll be out before you know it.”   He turned to look at her now, forcing a weak smile. “That’s not really what I was worried about.”   “What is it then?” - 31 -


He exhaled deeply, shaking his head. “What do you think? I’m about to let my girlfriend go meet a complete stranger just so . . . .” He trailed off, looking back toward the house.   She took his hand, giving it a tight squeeze before releasing it. “We talked about this, remember? If you don’t want me to do it, I won’t.”   The man remained silent, tightlipped. He could think of nothing to say, nothing at all.   She continued, nearly pleading. “What other choice do we have? Seriously. I don’t know if you’ve checked our bank account lately, but—“   “I’ve seen it,” he said quickly, cutting her off. “I know what it looks like.” The rain began to pick up, its drumbeat tempo increasing on the roof of the Mustang.   “Then you know that we’re not in the best of places.” She reached into the darkness below her, groping somewhere inside an unseen purse, and came back up with half a pack of cigarettes. She lit one, drawing deeply on it, savoring the ancient aroma. She cracked her window slightly so that the smoke could escape, rolled just far enough down so that the rain couldn’t trickle in. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but there’s no other way to get that sort of money. Not the kind we need.”   The kind we need, he thought, and a shiver ran through him. Jesus, we’re a long way down. He looked at her—her pretty face masked in the gathering darkness, occasionally lit by the glow of the cigarette as she inhaled—and suddenly felt like crying. He remembered the girl he had met in that art history class eternities ago. Before this terrible vice. Before it had all gone to shit. How, he asked himself now, had something so easy and free turned into something so binding? Suddenly he wanted nothing more than to grab her by the shoulders and kiss her like he used to, promising to take her away from it all. Still, he couldn’t. There was a large, frightening part of him that wanted to be there, parked on the side of Snider Street while the rain pissed down on them both. He wanted the money and what it would bring. They both did.   “I’ll go in, do what I have to, and be right back out. We’ll finally have some cash. We can go see your guy and then maybe even get some groceries after that. We’ll be fine, like we were before. It’s all right, baby,” she said, nodding. “If you say it’s alright, it is.”   He put both hands on the steering wheel and gripped it until his knuckles were white. “I know. But—doesn’t it feel like cheating to you?”   She wedged the butt of her cigarette through the cracked window and shifted noisily in the cracked leather seat. “We’ve talked about this already, remember? It’s not like that. It’s—it’s just different. We talked about it.”   “Yeah,” he said, his voice rising just above a whisper, “different.”   She lowered her voice, looking at him directly now. “Look—just tell me not to go in there, and I won’t.” Something flashed in her eyes, only briefly, then disappeared. He could have imagined it. “It’s your call.”   “Why?” It wasn’t fair, he told himself, to put the decision on him. “It should be your call if it’s anyone’s.”   “Just tell me not to go in there,” she repeated, slower this time, as if to a child, “and I won’t.”   He looked at the house again, soft light escaping through its blinded eye socket windows, but said nothing. He couldn’t. Sure, it was shitty that it had to be this way, but - 32 -


there were no other options. Weren’t there? He loved her more than anything, anything in the world, but was this what that love came down to? Was it love for her that allowed him to let her go in there, he wondered, or love for what would come out of it all? And what would it be like afterwards, after Snider Street? What would it be like sleeping next to her that night, both their heads and arms swimming with the satisfied poison delight that forced them there in the first place?   She unbuckled her seatbelt, breaking him from his thoughts. “I’ll have my phone on me,” she said. “I’ll text you if anything gets weird, but I don’t think it will. From what I’ve heard, this guy doesn’t bullshit.” Her voice wavered. “He knows what he—what he likes and supposedly doesn’t waste any time.”   He looked at her one last time, knowing it was now or never. Turn the car on, part of him said. Turn it on and drive AWAY. Drive away NOW. Instead, he leaned in and kissed her softly. Her lips were dry, and neither of them closed their eyes to enjoy it. “Please hurry,” he said after a moment, his voice cracking slightly as he did.   Her mouth hung open a little, only for a second, lips pursed in the corners. Her eyes, oddly bright in the dark confines of the car, silently screamed betrayal. Without another word, she pushed open the door and stepped out onto the wet asphalt of Snider Street. He winced as the door slammed shut behind her.  It was happening, he thought as she walked around the front of the car, the rain already soaking through her shirt. It was happening now and he had let it and there was no going back and nothing would ever be the same after this.   Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. She was still only feet from the car when he rolled down his window to call to her. “Wait!” he yelled, his voice rising above the wind and the rain. “Please! Wait!”   She turned, her face lifting into a smile as she ran back to his window.   “Yeah?” Her eyes were soft now, relieved and thankful. The eyes of a little girl, he thought.   He reached into the backseat of the old car and came back with something, handing it to her. “Here,” he said, trying not to meet her gaze.   The breath caught in her throat as she slowly reached a shaking hand inside to take it from him. It was an umbrella. Her smile vanished, and she nodded. Once again, she turned away from him. Popping the umbrella open wide, she hurried up the long driveway, never looking back.   He watched her go, still staring long after that great oak door had opened and she had shuffled inside, shutting it behind her. After a while, he rested his forehead on the steering wheel, closing his eyes and trying desperately not to think of anything at all.

- 33 -


Ann-Margaret Stahl

Curious and Effortless Country Everyday I linger Between Sleep and Sentience In this Curious and Effortless Country Marvelous things Happen Here. Suddenly it appeared to me One Morning, I understood What it was. The universe was Expanding Into And the explanation was Breathtakingly Simple and Elegant. But by the time I snapped on The bathroom light, I had forgotten it.

- 34 -


Cleo Battle

White Walls There came a day when Miner lost his mind digging in trash: rotten cabbage discarded dreams old golf clubs Danny’s first shoes a diamond ring Maria threw in anger his savoir faire gone.

- 35 -


Samantha Olsen

seedling with my trowel, i tear open the fertile soil; dark, heady, and damp. i violate her as i plant the seed which is lying, innocent and fragile, in my palm. i fill the miniscule chasm smooth it over and pat it down as if it never had happened. a petite mound a pregnant belly the only evidence of invasion. later, a thin wisp will corkscrew itself through her, with tiny leaves outstretched, struggling toward the open air. a violence perceived as beauty, new life will emerge pale and green.

- 36 -


William M. Peaster

Upon the Isle of Man What child is this? Spit forth from savage seas, a being forgotten − of no memories, only infinite waves of blackness Of the Pequod? Or a Phaeacian breeze? Godkissed? Awaken! Washed ashore beneath a white night from seas of darkness to weights of sight as if birthed up from the Maw of Dreams a creature rising from upon its knees, into position contrapposto: Ecce Homo− Being of both of of Is this Icarus

song and silence, sempiternal dying, war and peace, who plunged into the sea?

Who comes now clattering ashore, Clattering and yakking the salt from his soul− Washed before an ancient moon, - 37 -


Who, in eras come and gone, has glimpsed A similar thing: the hero ‘s birth.

- 38 -


Cleo Battle

Blue Sky

I

could smell burnt rubber – see black skid marks. And hear shattering glass falling like broken crystal as the gas tank exploded. A body torn. Destroyed. I could feel blood dripping from the dash and watched it mingle red with brake fluid in a puddle beneath the accelerator. Sirens wailed, the lonely revolving flash of lights illuminated the darkness, while the static chatter of a police car radio spoke of another life gone.   This isn’t what Blue Sky intended when he lovingly painted the red bricks on the east side of the stately five story Prudential building. It was the first of its kind in Columbia, South Carolina. The mural was so beautiful that if you stared at it long enough, you could imagine traveling the road, and disappearing into the horizon. Perfect, the way the sun changed to a moon at dusk, and became a sun again at dawn.  I watched in fascination each day, as more and more of his vision unfolded. He had to be mad to paint so well. When the school bell rang for lunch, I was the first to run down three flights of stairs out of the building into the busy street, dodging traffic to see him. Columbia High was in the heart of downtown, and our campus was the streets. Until Blue Sky came, I’d sit in a historical cemetery built in the 1800s and talk with friends while eating lunch. Now I had the gaunt blonde pony-tailed artist to watch.   He was methodical. The sun moon took shape, but only after he’d painted the sky in which it shimmered. Unhurried, the horizon appeared, and the two lane highway flowed down like a gray waterfall – narrow at the top, and widening as it merged with the cement parking lot at its base. Perfect, the way Prudential’s customers could look at it as they parked their cars, or rest in silence as they contemplated its beauty.   Then came solid white lines on each side of the road, and a broken line down the middle. Blue Sky was like me. On this road, you could pass if others were too slow. There was a freedom about that broken line that excited me. Yet, I felt alone. Alone because there were no buildings, road signs, or people. I liked that. Only the dust your tires would kick up on an arid day when rain had been a month past, and its barrenness made you speed even faster.   This mural, its pastel-ness, whispered, “Open it. Open your mind and let me take shape. Explore my dimensions. There are more than three.” And I did every day, as I watched Blue Sky in his worn, paint splattered chambray shirt and denim jeans. Barefoot. How I marveled at his bare feet, and thought of my life.   The constant turmoil caused by my inward rage against restrictive parents. I wanted to be free, free to travel and explore. Sleep under a full moon like the one he was painting. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. Thoughts I couldn’t share. With a knapsack, see America on foot, then catch a slow boat to Europe and wander city to city, village to village.   Blue Sky added the boulders at the base of his masterpiece, jagged and smooth, and a metal guardrail – like the ones you see on treacherous mountain roads. No signs of life, - 39 -


but there was something living in the paint he used. Something green, wanting to grow. The straggly weeds that choked their way into existence between the cracks at the base of the building may have aided this illusion. I can imagine what he said at the hint of their removal. “No,” without further explanation.  I was graduating when the end came. His mural done. My whole life had been examined with every brush stroke. The hurt, the pain, the victories, the defeats – what was, what was yet to come, my memories and my dreams had all been taken out and turned like a prism to reflect their light.   And light dawned. No. Suicide isn’t what Blue Sky intended, I thought to myself, as I lowered the volume of the music, took my foot off the accelerator, and meditated in silence.

- 40 -


Cleo Battle

Next Generation We sit wasted in conversations briefing the latest sexy toy weapons of mass destruction We are merchants peddling wares to the highest bidder The atmosphere thick mistrust juxtaposed with youth eager to learn Old, sage, heavy-lidded Papas, pockets lined in gold listen intently for next generation possibilities Possibilities? There are no Saviors here.

- 41 -


Amber Fortune

Alcaniz and Jackson I don’t remember yelling or honking my horn, but I do remember the squeal of my brakes, my knuckles blanched white against my zebra covered steering wheel and the way I thought maybe if I pushed my foot down harder the car would stop, that the brake pedal would go down to the floor and through the bottom of the car until we stopped in time. But none of that happened, and the other car spun away from me, shuddering with the impact. Our cars sat in the middle of the road as people from the church and nearby houses looked out their windows, some rushing out to ask us if we were okay, questioning us with large eyes, lusting after something bloody or tragic to recount later, sitting in the street at the corner of Alcaniz and Jackson. One man walked up with a velvet coat the shade of puke and lifted a tiny top hat to nod at me, made up like a pimp from the imagination of a prepubescent boy. He handed me a purple flower and said, “I’m sorry you were in an accident.” He walked around to everyone at the scene, handing out purple flowers and reciting those words in a flat voice. When people hesitated, he insisted that they take a flower, poking them into faces of bystanders on cell phones. A cop came to take my statement, and by the time I thought to look for the man in the velvet coat, he was gone, and my flower was shriveled.

- 42 -


Delores B. Merrill

In Conversation My cousin when she visits somehow brings her only child into a conversation and I would listen if she said more but the name is only an interruption a parenthesis as she keeps talking about the mundane lifts her eyes looks backward like she’s confused about whether to place the dead daughter into a paragraph or a white space.

- 43 -


Cassandra Hicks

Gallimaufry Sunsets over crystal blue water while relaxing on the beach…psychological warfare Women’s voices heard above the din of the grocery store where shoppers shove their   laden carts “Wanting wear”    “two roads”    “one wrong way”    “every time” Saviors don’t know who they are or how perfect their timing is in life The domination of the free – such opprobrium! “Business trip”    “all alone”    “miss him”    “deployment”     That is not freedom it is costly for some give all. Deftly dancing and never overstepping the boundaries that apply The hours flow swiftly by and the hands of the clock never cease going round and   round Hearts beat as one being unified in peace “Love you”     “our future”     “solitary moment” Never understand the mindset of a soldier or the woman he leaves behind Here one moment and gone the next—unsure of the future “Please…”     “Wish I didn’t…”     “No…!” Sporting, dandling, cosseting the essence of all held true Fall into the rushing water of the creek—ever to be seen again?

- 44 -


Grady Miller

The State’s Rights

R

achael Goodson was roused from her sleep by a noise, not knowing exactly what it was she had heard. She was sitting in her comfortable chair and had been reading the Saturday funnies when she dozed off with the newspaper in her lap. She wiped a smidgeon of dried slobber-crust from the corner of her mouth and sat in silence, waiting for the noise to repeat itself. She jerked a little when the three loud raps on her front door came again.   She got up and looked through the brass peephole. The four men on her front porch were dressed identically in black suits, crisp white shirts and black ties with tiny golden crosses pinned to the center. She cracked open the door and gave the well-dressed quartet a squinting, puzzled look.   “Mrs. Goodson?” the man in front asked.   “Yes?”   “Rachael Goodson?”   “Yes. What…”   “I’m Agent Donovan, and we’re from the demon extraction division of the Department for the Investigation of Pagan and Satanic Heresies and Illegal Transgressions of the Soul,” said the man.   He produced a wallet and flipped it open to display his identification. The woman leaned forward through the partially opened door to get a closer look. The man’s picture was on the left, and the right side read, “Donovan Garrety, D.E.D., Ohio Bureau.” The top line of the I.D. displayed the acronym of his department in bold black letters.   Mrs. Goodson glanced at the other men. A short man with glasses stood on Donovan’s right with a black, jumbo-sized three-ring binder tucked under one arm, a black courier’s satchel slung over the other. This agent offered Mrs. Goodson a weak smile. The other two agents, tall, solid masses of muscle, stood expressionless behind Donovan and the smaller man.   “What’s going on?” Mrs. Goodson asked.   “We’re investigating a report of a possible demonic possession. Is your son, uh . . .hang on a sec.”   Donovan turned to his right and said, “Do you have a copy of the warrant, Schmitt?”   “Warrant?” Mrs. Goodson opened the door and stepped forward, her befuddlement now turning into mild panic.   “Stand down, ma’am,” Donovan replied, halting her by displaying his open palm at chest level, as per department protocol.   “Right here, sir.” Schmitt opened the binder and slid the document out of the front pocket. “It’s Gabriel, sir,” Schmitt whispered.   Agent Donovan continued, “Right. Now, Mrs. Goodson, is your son, Gabriel, at - 45 -


home?”   “No! I mean, yes, he’s home, but what do want with him? He hasn’t done anything.”   Schmitt handed Donovan another piece of paper.   Donavan looked at it and said, “We have a copy of a memo that was written in response to a description of an email referring to an entry from your family physician’s exam notes which was faxed to our department from an anonymous source. The doctor’s exact words concerning your son’s condition were, ‘Recommend exorcism.’”   “That’s a mistake!” Mrs. Goodson exploded. “Gabe is a pound and a half over the National Health Agency’s target weight requirement, so his doctor recommended exer-cise!”   “Mrs. Goodson,” Donovan calmly replied, “I understand this is a stressful situation, but we must do what we can to help Gabriel and ensure the safety of others around him.”   “But that was a typo! I have the doctor’s original note! My son is not possessed!”   “We’ll be the judge of that, ma’am. We are required, by law, to thoroughly investigate any reports of unholy infestations and take appropriate action. Now, if you’ll stand aside and let us do our job…”   “But we’re law abiding citizens! We’ve never missed a church session, and sometimes we go even when we don’t have to! Father Dunne gives Gabe the Sacred Shielding of the Holy Spirit blessing every other Sunday. Wouldn’t a priest know if our son was possessed?”   “Quite frankly, ma’am, most of the older priests don’t know a thing about demonic possession. That’s where we come in. We have the training and experience necessary to execute high-quality exorcisms as outlined in the Federal Guidelines for Demon Extraction and Neutralization.”   Schmitt held up his ominous binder and tapped a finger on the front cover.   Agent Donovan continued, “And we have the authority from the government of the United Christian States of America. So are we going to do this the easy way?”   Donovan and the other agents stood absolutely still and stared vacantly at Mrs. Goodson. She thought she heard a cow mooing somewhere in the distance.

T

he four men were huddled in the living room when the boy entered from the hallway. He was still in his pajama bottoms.   “Mom?” he asked, glancing between the men and his mother, who had covered her eyes with her hand and was shaking her head back and forth.   She looked up. “It’s okay, Gabe. There’s been a misunderstanding.”   Donovan stepped toward Gabriel and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.   “Everything’s all right, son. Let’s talk in your bedroom.” Donovan put his other hand on Gabriel’s opposite shoulder, gently turned him around, and escorted him back down the hallway.   “Mom?” Gabe said again, twisting his neck around to see her.   “Just a minute, baby. We’ll get this sorted out,” Mrs. Goodson replied.   Agent Schmitt opened his binder and gestured to it with his pen. “We need to fill out some paperwork, ma’am. Most of it has already been done. We just need to verify some information. We’d also like to speak with the father. Is Mr. Goodson here?” - 46 -


Rachael Goodson glared at the little Schmitt. “He’s away on business.”   “That’s okay, we can do this without him” he continued, intently looking at his documents. “Now, we have one Gabriel Goodson, age 12. Assigned to Federal House of Worship number 23712.16, Director, Father Benjamin Dunne. And do you know the name of the satanic minion who has invaded your son’s person?”   “He’s not possessed, you gosh-darned poopyhead!” she shouted.   Schmitt snapped his head up and said gravely, “You’ll want to be more careful with your words, Mrs. Goodson. As an ordained federal agent, I’m required to report any violation of verbal obscenity laws…”   “But this is bullsquirt!” Mrs. Goodson insisted, stomping her foot on the soft, plush carpet.   Schmitt shuffled backwards as he scribbled furiously on the form. The two suited gorillas pressed themselves between Schmitt and Mrs. Goodson. Schmitt looked at her as he pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose with an extended middle finger and then looked back down at his papers.   “I’ll just put ‘unspecified demon.’”   Mrs. Goodson took a step back and flopped down in her chair.   “Let’s rendezvous with agent Donovan in the bedroom, gentlemen,” said Schmitt.

D

onovan was sitting on the bed with Gabe when the other men came in. Mrs. Goodson had followed them, and Schmitt turned to address her in the bedroom doorway.   “You can observe the procedure, Mrs. Goodson, but I implore you not to interfere in any way.”   Mrs. Goodson stood just outside of the threshold of the room, wringing her hands.   One of the larger agents had scouted out a strategic position against the wall, near a chest of drawers. He rested his elbow on top of them, leaned his head onto his meaty fist, and went about the serious business of gazing out the bedroom window.   The other brute stood at the foot of the boy’s bed, hands clasped in front of him.   Donovan spoke up, “Schmitt, hand me the flask.” Schmitt dug in his satchel and pulled out a dark gray metal cylinder. “Here you go, sir.”   Donovan unscrewed the cap and put his hand on Gabriel’s back.   “Now, Gabe. I want you to relax and . . .” Without warning, Donovan quickly flicked his wrist and the jetted the liquid contents of the flask directly into the boy’s eyes from point blank range.   “Ahh! Holy heck, man!” Gabe cried, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands.   “Gabe!” screamed Mrs. Goodson as she started to rush into the room.   Schmitt, who had been rummaging through his bag, pulled out his hand, pivoted around, and jabbed his regulation high-powered stun gun into Mrs. Goodson’s neck. The shock sent her flying back toward the doorframe. Her head slammed against it, leaving a dent in the wood. Mrs. Goodson went to the floor, moaning and holding her throat.   “Stand down, ma’am,” said Schmitt.   Gabe started to rise from the bed, but Donovan grabbed him by the arm.   “Easy, son,” Donovan said. “Schmitt, make a note of the subject’s initial responses— - 47 -


the violent reaction to the Holy water and the blasphemy.” Then he added, “Klesko, let’s restrain him.”   Schmitt reached into his satchel and tossed a plastic bag to the agent at the foot of the bed. Klesko opened it and began to unpack the neatly-folded black bundles of flat nylon straps.   The agent leaning against the bureau quietly left the room, shuffling past the moaning Mrs. Goodson on his way out into the hallway.

S

chmitt held the binder open in front of Donovan as the head agent read aloud and guided Klesko through the steps of the procedure.   “Okay, Klesko. Has the subject been secured properly?”   Klesko gave the straps a tug and tested the sturdiness of the bedposts by shaking them. He nodded at Donovan.   “Where’s Johnson?” Donovan asked.   The three agents then heard the whooshing of a toilet and a door opening down the hall. Johnson was still tucking his shirt into his pants when he walked past the bedroom door. The other agents stood quietly until they heard the sound of running water and clanking dishes coming from the kitchen.   “Can we go ahead and get started?” asked Schmitt.   “Not yet. The Book clearly states that four agents must be present during the procedure,” Donovan answered.   They waited a few minutes more, and Johnson returned, coffee cup in hand. He resumed his station at the chest of drawers, raised his cup to the other three men, and took a sip.   “All right.” Donovan flipped through the binder and found the section he was looking for. “When dealing with unspecified demons, the evacuation must be initiated by the use of force,”   Klesko raised his service baton and prepared to bring a firm but non-lethal blow down upon the boy’s skull.   “Klesko, wait! There’s an addendum to this part.” Donovan scanned the words and read: “This addendum amends the previous code in Article XXXVI, Section 8, ‘Regarding the Use of Force’ . . . should refrain from striking the head . . . pending litigation . . . Let’s see . . . Oh, I found it. The new target area is the knees.”   “Both knees, or just the one?” asked Klesko.   “The Book doesn’t say. Let’s try one and see where that gets us. If we need to . . .”   Klesko brought the metal stick down through the air before Donovan could finish.   Gabriel let out a blood-curdling scream, stirring his mother to action. Mrs. Goodson staggered to her feet and lurched forward.   “Handle that, Klesko,” Donovan said, pointing to Mrs. Goodson without looking at her.   Klesko opened his coat and whipped out his pistol and fired it with such speed that his motions were one quick blur.   “Fwhoomp!” Klesko’s shot was high, and the dart dangled by its needle, which had penetrated Mrs. Goodson’s outer ear. She let out a scream as she crouched down, duckwalking back toward the doorway, her hand cupped over her ear, squeezing the dart - 48 -


between her first two fingers.   “Fwhoomp!” The second dart found its mark in the fleshy part of Mrs. Goodson’s upper arm. She tottered a moment in her squatting position, and then fell forward in the doorway with a dull thud. Klesko had his weapon holstered before Mrs. Goodson hit the floor.   “Mom!” Gabriel struggled against his restraints. “You rotten bunch of buttho—”   Klesko hammered the baton into the boy’s other knee with a little more enthusiasm than he had shown with the first. Gabriel sent out another scream that made Agent Schmitt wince.   “Dang! What a sound!” Schmitt said.   “That means it’s working,” explained Donovan. “And watch the language, Schmitt. We’re almost done, but don’t get sloppy. It’s unprofessional.”   “Yes, sir. Sorry sir.”   Donovan turned the page of the Book and began his reading in the prescribed loud, authoritative voice: “Hear me, ‘unspecified demon’! As is required by the laws of the United Christian States of America, you are hereby ordered to vacate this vessel which you have inhabited without authorization. Failure to comply with this directive may result in the termination of life functions for the aforementioned vessel. The power of Christ and the UCS government compel you!”   Donovan flipped the page to see if he had missed anything. He had not.   “In the unity of the Holy Spirit and the State, I conclude this state-sponsored exorcism. Amen”   “Amen,” repeated the agents.   Schmitt handed Donovan a hypodermic syringe. Donovan injected the mild sedative into Gabriel’s outstretched arm and then patted the boy on the head. “Sleep tight, son.”   Klesko removed the restraints and began packing them back into the bag.   “Did it work?” Schmitt asked.   “Of course it did,” Donovan said. “We followed the Book. The demon is gone.”   Schmitt nodded. “Sir, have you ever seen an unauthorized demonic trespasser exiting the host?”   “No, never. I know agents who have, though. But I don’t need to see them to know how dangerous they are, right?”   “Yes, sir.”   Donovan turned to fix his assistant with a look of suspicion. “You don’t doubt the existence of the devil’s minions do you, Schmitt?”   “Oh, no, sir. I was just wondering what they look like up close,” Schmitt offered frantically.   Donovan held him with his gaze awhile longer, and then he let Schmitt off the hook with a benevolent smile. Schmitt turned to retrieve the darts from Mrs. Goodson, and Donovan pulled out a pen and a memo pad from his inside coat pocket and quickly scratched out a few words.   He tucked away the pad and pen and said, “All right, good job gentlemen. We’ve finished just in time for lunch. Let’s head to Denny’s for our debriefing. Klesko, you drive. Schmitt, finish the paperwork on the way. And make a note to schedule Father Dunne for a re-education session.” - 49 -


“Yes, sir. Already done, sir.”   “Good man, Schmitt.”   The four men exited the room, carefully stepping over Mrs. Goodson as she lay sleeping in the doorway.

R

achael Goodson slowly raised her body up from the floor and sat, disoriented, blinking her eyes in the darkness. She could hear the soft sound of her son’s light snoring. She crawled her way over to his bedside, grabbed the mattress, and pulled herself up to a kneeling position. Resting her elbows on the edge of the bed, she clasped her hands together and quietly prayed.

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T R O U B A D O U R


Art Richard L. Tabor Delores B. Merrill Taylor Smith Charles Greenberg Amanda Johnson Marlene Burrell Tyler Nicholson Jennifer Foehl-Rodriguez Elizabeth Hurd Emily Barksdale Eniko Ujj Poetry Lauren Gibson Samantha Olsen William Peaster Cassandra Hicks Ashley Thompson Ann-Margaret Stahl Cleo Battle Amber Fortune Delores B. Merrill Fiction Michael Barretta Nick Dienst Cleo Battle Grady Miller Nonfiction Catherine Merchant


Troubadour 2013