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Š 2017 Sword & Kettle Press. Authors retain the rights to their work. Headings set in Unica One, designed by Eduardo Tunni. Body set in Vollkorn, designed by Friedrich Althausen. Second digital edition. Special thanks to our parents, Bruce Springsteen, John Deere hats, pork roll Taylor ham, and everyone who supports Sword & Kettle Press. Sword & Kettle Press Kayla Allen, Editor-in-Chief Zahan Mehta, Contributing Editor

01 You’re nine and Dad has finally agreed to take you to your first Devils hockey game. You have your nose and pudgy pre-pubescent fingers pressed against the glass when the action crashes to your side of the rink. Your favorite player punches his opponent in the face and you can hear his skull crunch like a soda can. He looks at you and smiles, and you swear his teeth turn pointy and his eyes glint red before he skates off to the other end of the ice.

02 You’ve been walking down the boardwalk like a spray-tanned Tom Cruise circa Mission Impossible, trying to avoid the creep that was stalking you all morning. Hiding behind the carnival games has seemed to work well so far, so well that you start to wonder if you look too much like one of the stuffed monkeys and that’s why you’re evading discovery. Across from you is a game called Shoot the Geek, which you think might be a little offensive. Cardboard cutouts of stereotypical nerds with glasses and faux pocket protectors stand in a line in front of a realistic looking rifle that probably shoots water or pellets or something. A bro in a snapback and a tank steps up to take a shot, pays his money, grabs the gun—wait—did one of those cardboard cutouts just flinch?

03 The pizza and bagels are better in Jersey because Jersey water is different. No one else can replicate that water, no matter how much toxic waste they dump into it. You eat another slice of pizza and it tastes slightly like metal—just the way that pizza is supposed to taste. Your stomach hurts, but you ignore it. The pizza is too good to stop eating.

04 You’ve been given directions to your friend’s place. When you didn’t recognize her address, she explained, “Central Jersey. About an hour south of you.” You didn’t know there was a place between the well-defined borders of North Jersey and South Jersey, but you suppose that’s where it must be, and follow your GPS. You pass a road sign standing stalwart in the median that reads “Welcome to Central Jersey.” That’s weird, you muse. Don’t they only have signs like that on state lines? You wonder, and the front of your car disappears into mist, and then your windshield, and then you don’t wonder anymore.

05 It’s “going down the shore,” not “going to the shore.” People do, in fact, go down. You sit in the burning sand and watch them, one by one, walk into the ocean and disappear, as though they are walking down stairs. They do not come back up. The tides roll in and out, splashing over their heads with cold indifference.

06 Realistically, the money is only to support your frappuccino addiction, but your parents think it’s responsible of you to want a job, so you find yourself showing up to the local restaurant for your interview. Rather than just one interviewer, you have six: the manager, two waiters, the cook, and another member of the kitchen staff who stands next to the glass door, peering out suspiciously. All six men look like the same person at different ages— dark hair full to thinning, crow’s feet from invisible to chasms, all the same strong Italian nose. All the same outline tucked into each waistband and covered by the shirt, except the cook, whose shirt is too short to hold his bulging belly and exposes the hilt of his gun. The scout keeps peering out the window. Maybe you should find another way to tip the cute barista.

07 You smell it as soon as you walk through the doors of your high school: spray tan. Your stomach drops. How could you have forgotten to get yours? Everyone knows that the strong orange chemicals are the only way to protect your body from the harsh summer sun beating down on the pavement. When the day is over, you cover as much of your skin as possible before stepping outside—sliding your hands into your sweatshirt sleeves, pulling the floppy hood over your face—but it is not enough. It is never enough.

08 You weren’t near a computer when the tickets went on sale, and the Bruce Springsteen show at the Meadowlands sold out in five seconds. There’s only one way to get there now. In a red baseball cap, you mix up a handful of sand from the beach at Asbury Park, a dash of Budweiser, and a few drops of your own blood. It is time to begin the ritual.

09 It’s 2 AM and you’ve had more drinks than you can count on your—wait, since when do you have six fingers on that hand? You’ve been dragged to your usual booth in your usual diner, where you’re trying to peel your forehead off the glossy wood table for long enough to order some orange juice. Nothing out of the ordinary. Tonight is feeling a bit too much like the usual, though, so you pass on your Belgian waffle, extra whipped cream and two sides of bacon, much to the table’s surprise. You’ve always said “someday,” but it’s finally the night to try it: the garbage omelette. A permission slip for the chef to feed you whatever he wants masked by some cooked eggs In what feels like either thirty seconds or seven years, by your drunk calculations, the waiter brings your food. “Chef ’s treat,” he says. “One man’s treasure is another man’s trash.” You look at the nondescript, seemingly plain omelette and notice something dark red starting to ooze out the side, that hopefully you’re drunk enough to believe is tomato sauce.

10 Leaning against the brick exterior of the grocery store, you diligently scratch off the dull gray spots on your lottery ticket with the side of a quarter. None of the numbers are winning numbers. You scratch off the last one with a sigh and–it matches! You can’t believe your luck. But when you go to claim your prize, the man behind the counter shakes his head. “I wouldn’t want to win this one,” he says. He points at the small print on the ticket. You haven’t won several million dollars–you’ve won several million everything bagels. “I’d start looking for a new place to live, maybe change my name,” the man continues. “They’ll start dropping them off immediately, and they won’t stop until your entire house is full. You’ll never be able to get rid of all of them. You’ll never be able to clean up all of the seeds.” The scent of garlic already fills your nose.

11 You’re on cruise control down Route 287 in Mahwah, anticipating another 4 hours to this road trip, when your stomach starts rumbling. You scan the side of the road for relief–and then you see it. The bird flying majestically over the letters. The sweet repetitiveness. Sustenance. Wawa. You pull into the parking lot and barely have the key out of the ignition before you’re through the front door. You grab item after item and make a bag out of your shirt to store them, like you’re the new kangaroo parent of Aisle 4. You bring everything to the counter and plop it down, withdrawing your wallet. The phone rings. “One moment, please,” the cashier says, and picks it up. “Mahwah Wawa, how may I help you?” Even mid eye-roll, you can’t help but snort at that. Mahwah Wawa. Sounds like a baby teething, or maybe the name of a Native American tribe. You check the clock, you’re on a schedule, after all, and then realize that you can’t tear your eyes away. That you’re getting dizzy. “No, the Mahwah Wawa,” the cashier says. You hear a syllable with every clock’s tick. Mah-wah-wa-wa. Mah-wah-wa-wa. Your vision starts to narrow and spin. The last thing you remember is being eye-level with a half-eaten Cheeto long ago dropped on the tile floor.

12 The women you see on TV may be the Real Housewives of New Jersey, but they aren’t real housewives. You’ve caught a glimpse of a real housewife only once, when you showed up to your friend’s house earlier than you were supposed to. A flash of black feathers; a dark, glinting eye; a slight scent of rotting meat—and then your friend stepping onto her porch, hurriedly closing the door. She never invited you back.

13 You did it. You got out of New Jersey. You’re somewhere in upstate New York when you realize that your car is almost out of gas. Heart pounding, you pull into the nearest gas station. This is a test. You pop open your gas tank, climb out of your car, and approach the pump. You probably pay first, right? You slide your credit card into the machine, unscrew the cap from your tank, and grab the pump head. The nozzle is almost in the tank when gas suddenly sprays everywhere. It’s on your car, it’s soaking into your clothes, it’s puddling around your shoes—it’s going everywhere except the tank. This is a test, and you have failed. A man pulls up to the pump next to yours. When he gets out of his truck, you see that he is smoking a cigarette. He throws it onto the pavement. You don’t have time to scream.

AUTHORS Kayla Allen ( was born and raised in the Armpit of America. She currently lives in Boston and she would do just about anything for a good ol’ Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on a multigrain bagel from Goldberg’s. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sword & Kettle Press. Lauren Smith ( moved to the Garden State at age 2, and spent the following 16 years trying to keep the corn out of her John Deere hat and avoid driving on the Turnpike whenever possible. She escaped to Boston, where she graduated from Northeastern University with a BA in English, and now works as the Programs Coordinator at GrubStreet Creative Writing Center.

Garden State Gothic  

Horror stories from the Dirty Jerz.

Garden State Gothic  

Horror stories from the Dirty Jerz.