Although normally the first person humiliated the second person, the first person secretly fantasized about being humiliated too. The second person had always normally fantasized about being humiliated, but when the first person confessed to wanting to be humiliated, the second person decided to try being humiliating, because the first person had been so good at humiliating that the second person wanted to do something to please the first person. But though enjoyable, the second person found humiliating the first person less humiliating, and that the first person humiliated the second person less, which was not as humiliating.
“Humiliation” (image via Flickr user Jane Fader)
As they took turns humiliating and being humiliated by each other, they developed the humiliating fantasy of a third person humiliating them both. A win-win-win situation. The third person humiliating the second person, and thereby humiliating the first person. The second person being humiliated by the third person, while still being able to humiliate the first person. The first person being humiliated by both, while also knowing that the second person was being properly humiliated.
Humiliatingly, the second person decided to leave the first person and be humiliated by the third person all the time. Though humiliated, the first person understood, but still liked to be humiliated, which was humiliating, and still asked the second person for humiliation, which was even more humiliating. And because the second person didn’t want to humiliate the first person, the second person sometimes humiliated the first person as a form of humiliation, though it was humiliating for both.
The bigger humiliation though, came when the third person didn’t want to humiliate the second person anymore. Humiliated, the second person returned to the first person, and to make up for not wanting to humiliate, or be humiliated, the second person humiliated the first person and, to reciprocate, the first person humiliated the second person, though each still secretly longed to be humiliated by the other, all the time.
Born in Puerto Rico, John Yohe grew up in Michigan, and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. He has worked as a wildland firefighter, deckhand/oiler, runner/busboy, bike messenger, wilderness ranger, as well as a teacher of writing. He has lived in Mexico, Spain, France, and traveled to six continents. His first full-length collection of poetry, What Nothing Reveals, is out now. His work has appeared previously in such journals as Fence, Rattapallax, Rattle, and The Hat. A complete list of his publications, and poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing samples, can be found at his website: johnyohe.com.
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A young woman with a scarf over her head comes to visit me in the necropolis. How did she know I am here? I lie in the sun, too tired to run away. She brings a clean blanket and food in a plastic bin, rice with chopped chicken. She waits while I eat. Then she asks questions.
“Do you live here? Are you alone?”
I do not want to answer. She is gentle and persistent, like fine rain that soaks through the leaves of a tree. I talk without looking at her.
After I was robbed, beaten and left for dead, I took refuge in the necropolis. That was years ago. I forget how many. Somehow I healed, but the scars repel people. When I beg on a busy street, I wear a hood to shade my face.
Most days, I scavenge for food or for things to sell to scrap dealers. They want metal, cloth, glass, and wood. No plastic. They pay very little, by weight. If you argue, they throw you out. I eat what I find, unless it smells too bad. People give me stale bread, bruised fruit and bones. I buy leftover vegetables from street vendors.
At dusk, I leave the garbage heap or the city and return to the necropolis. The valley is somewhat sheltered from the wind. No major roads pass nearby, no neighbors. It is quiet here, street after street of old tombs and graves.
“Le fin de la journee” (image via Flickr user Ian)
The mausoleums, built like stone houses, are owned by wealthy families who keep them locked. I tried the doors. There are ruins, empty sarcophagi. I did not want to live in one of those.
Against the circuit wall, I found a shed. Maybe it was used for garden tools. I patched holes with scraps. The shed has a dirt floor, one window, shelves and pegs. I keep things there—rags, water jugs, a bowl. I never sweep around it or light a fire. The smoke would attract attention.
There are plane trees, cedars and cypresses, but the ground is dry. I fetch water from a secret source. It is a long walk, and the jugs are heavy.
People seldom come here. On holidays, when they bring flowers to lay at the grave of a loved one, I hide. I don’t dare make a sound, but I watch. People stare at the grave, weep, and mutter.
Sometimes they sing a short, mournful song. When they leave, I can relax. After the flowers wither, I clear them away.
I have no fear of the dead. It is the living who frighten me.
I walk and look at the names and inscriptions on the tombs. I recognize words such as born, died, years, peace, bosom, father, mother, wife, and eternal. The necropolis is a great book spread over the ground. Its pages are stones, flat or upright. Statues and carved symbols are everywhere—sheep, angels, stars, doves, wreaths, torches, ivy leaves, columns, skulls, obelisks, urns and hourglasses.
At night, I look at the moon and the bright stars. Clouds sometimes pass between them and the earth. The cold makes me shiver. I huddle in my shed until dawn. But in midsummer I sleep under the sky.
Once, a group of officials walked through the necropolis. It was noon on a day when I felt too sick to scavenge. I hid and overheard them. A fat man in a black suit led the way. A thin man in a gray suit trotted just behind him and to the side. Five or six men followed.
“The place looks shabby,” said the fat man.
“Yes, your honor,” said the thin man, “it is sadly neglected. The department has no budget for maintenance, let alone restoration. As you see, the historic tombs are crumbling. Some are centuries old.”
“Vandalism? Are the tombs defaced?”
“No, your honor. Just weather.”
“What about the private owners?”
“They visit, pull weeds, pick up debris. No one can afford repairs.”
“What’s over there—fresh flowers?”
“So it appears, your honor.”
“Is the necropolis still in use?”
“You mean, are there new burials? Old families have the right to continue to use their tombs.
There are no plots for sale. New tombs are prohibited.”
“My assistant tells me that vagrants camp here, that the poorest of the poor live among the tombs.”
“The wall is in disrepair. It is not difficult to enter. My staff report no permanent residents. Other than those laid to rest.”
“We cannot allow gutter trash to lie among our ancestors. That would be indecent.”
“Yes, your honor.”
“Make a sweep. Evict anyone hiding in the ruins. Ask the owners to contribute to repair the wall, clear the drains, and so on.”
“The council can levy an assessment.”
“The council! That will be the day.”
“You honor knows best.”
“I’ve seen enough. What about all of you?” The fat man stopped and turned to his entourage.
They murmured assent. The thin man bowed.
“Thank you, your honor. If I may be of further assistance, please do not hesitate.”
The officials walked away. Some days later, a crew of laborers spent an hour sweeping fallen leaves and twigs into piles. Then they talked and smoked and threw pebbles at the tombs. They left and the piles stayed.
I give the young woman the empty plastic bin. I feel better now that I have eaten, and sleepy.
I yawn. The young woman is worried, unhappy.
“The blanket is for you,” she says. “May I visit again?”
“Why come here?”
“It is my good deed, as we are commanded. No one will follow me.”
“Maybe I will not be here.”
“Where will you go?”
The young woman does not believe me. I look at the sky. She gets up from the ground where she has sat. Dust is on her skirt.
“There is nothing to worry about,” I say.
She waits. What does she want, a blessing? But I am done with talking.
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia. His website is boucheronarch.com. He writes on housing, communities, gardens, electric motorcycles, and love gone wrong. His fiction and nonfiction appear in Blue Lake Review, Cerise Press, Construction, Cossack Review, IthacaLit, Montreal Review, Mouse Tales Press, New England Review, New Orleans Review, Niche, North Dakota Quarterly, Poydras Review, Talking Writing, Zodiac Review.
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the fragrance of dark coffee
sometimes i have beautiful thoughts,
and i try to use words to describe them
but very scarcely do they suffice.
so i apologize in advance if these words
don’t move you the way the thought moved me.
they can come out bitter,
like a fresh cup of coffee.
if i offer you a cup:
you may try and put your own Splenda into it-
the one you keep stored on your person
for times like these.
in the end, you’ll enjoy it with me
over light conversation.
feel the gentle jitter of caffeine
sent down your spinal cord.
let the sound of your inner voice
acknowledge itself. listen. breathe.
you’re reaching the bottom,
but no matter how hard you try
you will not get that last drop.
the end may be the sweetest,
but it’s the part that always
leaves a stain in the cup.
“Coffee in the morning” (photo by Flickr user chichacha)
Phillipe Chatelain is a poet from the Bronx and editor of In Parentheses. He prides himself on finding a balance between crucial self-reflection and expressions of awe or disgust toward the outward world. His biggest astonishment is the seamless unity of existence connecting all living things. His plight with humanity stems from their role in obstructing this unity. His work is forthcoming in Enhance Magazine, The Acentos Review, Praise Writer, BarebackLit, Blast Furnace, and Rockett Review. Follow him on Twitter @uptownvoice, or check out his blog at rhythmicfacets.tumblr.com.
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Those hideous words,
“Unfortunately, we regret to inform you…”
come to me, only
after I’ve poured my wishes
into the new year for
a fresh purpose—
they come without a scene.
Telling my best friend
on more days than she wants to hear,
during car rides where I cannot see,
“If I don’t get it…I’ll die.”
With pink sunlight
on one side of her face,
she says this,
repeating in her mind her own crisis,
“Stop it. You’ll be fine.”
We both keep driving,
so that dinner will replace our mood.
“Urban rejects” (photo by Flickr user macinate)
He and I agreed to write
each other letters
for as long as it takes,
before we find real lovers.
Traveling more miles,
I open his small envelop
after brewing Wild Cherry tea
because it’s romantic,
and we’re starved.
He gives me more honesty
than I expected,
like crying into paper,
for this virgin heart—
and my kitchen table,
shiny and bare,
becomes special. A powerful place.
“Birthday Cake” (photo by Flickr user Will Clayton)
25. My age is a plucky guide
to a private, darkened hallway
of extremes. Now, my choices
are still fresh, limitless, but they’ll
expire in five years—
I’ve been told.
Images in front of me tighten
in color; I care more,
while time squirms
next to me in my old car.
Hours act demanding, each morning
that I drive to a job, too far—
undeserving of my youth.
Merica Teng work as a writer and English professor in La Mirada, California. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from California State University, Long Beach, and won the David Sedaris Humor Writing Contest at UCLA in 2009. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Mas Tequila Review, Carnival Lit Magazine, Subliminal Interiors, and Crack the Spine.
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Please enjoy this Novel Publicity interview with Melissa McPhail, author of the spellbinding epic fantasy, Cephrael’s Hand. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $450 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of the book.
Your debut novel, Cephrael’s Hand, was the winner of The Written Arts Award for both the best fiction and the best Sci-Fi/Fantasy categories–congratulations! So what was the inspiration behind this story, and can you tell us a little bit about it?
I started the first version of Cephrael’s Hand when I was going through a difficult time in my life. I needed the cathartic joy that I’d always found in writing. I didn’t set out to write a novel—just to write. That first draft had no planning, no world-building, no design. It was pure creative inspiration. And it was awful!
But the characters… I had brought them into being, and they insisted that they had a story to tell. It took my growing as a writer—and over a million words tossed into the trash—to finally tell their story properly.
Cephrael’s Hand is the result of a philosopher’s approach to fantasy. It’s the story of one man’s steadfast determination to save the realm he swore to protect, and his willingness to do anything it takes to accomplish that end—even to betray those he loves. It’s the story of the unlikely pieces (men and women) who unknowingly fall beneath his shadow, and of the players who follow him. Ultimately, it’s a story of salvation.
I see fantasy as a metaphor for life in this world. We all face tests of our honor. We’re all working to accomplish our goals and flourish and prosper. Few of us set out to do evil. Yet evil is done. Goals are abandoned. Integrity is compromised. We totter precariously on thin wires as we move through the labyrinth of life. I strive with my series to illuminate those wire-thin paths, that we might find solid ground beneath them.
Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open the book?
If you listen to my critics—too many characters! But this is an epic fantasy dealing with a conflict that spans multiple kingdoms. It takes a team to save the world.
Hopefully you’ll meet interesting characters and a world you can easily find your own place within. You’ll discover pirates, princes, star-crossed lovers and philosopher-soldiers. You’ll see many characters who are not as they appear, and a few who are exactly as they seem. You’ll find adventure on a perilous road with prince Ean val Lorian, and farcical escapades with Trell of the Tides and the pirate Carian vran Lea.
You’ll often wonder who is good and who is evil—because most villains in real life are cloaked in shades of gray.
Can you tell us more about some of the key concepts that inspired the world of Cephrael’s Hand?
The story is crafted out of many of the philosophies I’ve studied. As I was planning Cephrael’s Hand, I had been reading about game philosophy. Game philosophy speaks on the importance of games in our lives and takes a look at their composition (barriers, purposes and freedoms) and their anatomy (pieces, players, maker of games). It’s a compelling concept with abundant applications, and I became immediately interested in exploring the ideas more via the story of Cephrael’s Hand.
Balance is another concept that threads throughout the story. Exploration of this idea comes out of my study and practice of yoga. If ever a concept permeates our lives, the pursuit of balance is one. Whether seeking to balance work and parenthood, our social commitments and our private lives, or even just the juggle of that list of a thousand things we’ll never get to, every one of us is seeking balance in some fashion. Placing this concept within the framework of a fantasy story embellishes it with a magical lure.
The Cephrael’s Hand constellation plays an important role in the book. Is there a real life constellation that plays a similarly important role in your life?
I can’t say that a particular constellation is important to me personally, though I’ve studied astrology for many years. But I’m drawn to the idea, both scientifically and philosophically, that we are all connected somehow with each other and the broader universe. String Theory and General Relativity play to this idea from the perspective of science. Certainly, if we are connected to the stars in some esoteric way, then the actions of the stars can impact us. Astrology believes this, and the graphing of natal charts proves an underlying truth in this ancient, mystical and often misunderstood science. Philosophies far and wide declare that we’ve descended or separated from a universal oneness and teach karmic values with the intent of helping us return or re-ascend to that harmonious state.
The concept of balance in Cephrael’s Hand stems from this idea of universal connectivity.
Ever since a linguist named Tolkien came along, language has been a very important aspect of the epic fantasy genre. What inspired the various languages in your book?
The desert languages are based on Farsi or Arabic, depending on the tribe. Farsi is one of the oldest languages still in use today, and its traditions lent themselves well to the Kandori culture, which is one of Alorin’s oldest races. Likewise Arabic, being originally a language of the nomadic tribes, seemed the correct base from which to draw the language of the Akkad.
Even older than both of these languages in my novel is Old Alaeic, which is the original language of the angiel, the Maker’s blessed children, and of the two original races: the zanthyrs and the drachwyr. Old Alaeic draws primarily from Gaelic root words. I chose Gaelic because the language maintains some of the earliest roots of our Indo-European linguistic heritage. Its spellings and pronunciations are almost universally reminiscent of mythological beings from ancient times and are often associated, especially in the fantasy genre, with elves, Druids or other mystical races.
Which other authors have served as influences and inspiration for your own work?
I love lyrical writing, so my bookshelves host an eclectic mix (albeit heavily weighted with fantasy and science fiction). Those who first come to mind from the fantasy genre are Anne Rice, Patrick Rothfuss and Jacqueline Carey, all of whom carry on a great and fabulous romance with the English language, much to the ecstasy of millions. Being able to string words like pearls into a story that reads at times like poetry in motion seems the greatest pinnacle of storytelling skill.
It’s been said that one of the most time-consuming processes of writing epic fantasy is world-building. Without giving too much away, what are a few of your favorite world aspects and what inspired them?
As I wrote in a recent guest post, world-building and the magic system developed for the world are intimately connected. We can’t really describe a fantasy world without talking about the magic that rules it, because so much of what we understand about the world derives from our understanding of how the physical laws of the world work.
In creating my world of Alorin, I established five “strands” of the lifeforce known as elae. These strands are a way of describing and codifying the lifeforce which is the source of energy in the world, but they are only one way of describing it. While most of the viewpoints I am writing from agree with describing the lifeforce in terms of “strands,” there are other races in Alorin who have codified it differently, darkly, or with less purity for lack of philosophical simplicity.
I love exploring different viewpoints and imagining how each would describe a universal energy. I love examining the cultures that seek to describe this energy and how their ideals might alter their understanding of it. For example, the Adept race believes that Adepts are born with the ability to work one of the five strands, but only one. Yet some of the “Wildling” races are known to be able to innately work more than one strand.
The Fhorgs race works blood sacrifice to fuel their magic. Would their magic work without such sacrifice? The Adepts believe that it would. Yet within the Adept philosophy, a working of magic requires faith both in the existence of power and in one’s ability to manipulate it. If the Fhorgs don’t believe themselves able to wield the lifeforce without letting blood, it follows that magic would become unavailable to them simply because of their lack of belief. Moreover, because the Fhorgs don’t limit their ideas of their magical ability to a five strand approach, it’s possible they might achieve more through the wielding of it–or not. These are existential questions for these two races, questions which set them at odds with each other. Questions from which derive conflicts and persecutions, intrigues and betrayals.
Such explorations fuel both world-building and magic-system building, because their delineation establishes how the world works, how the people of the world interact with the energy that fuels it, how they interact with each other, and how they use the energy itself to work arcane acts.
You grew up in a house full of musicians, but your creativity emerged in the form of writing. Have you always felt called to write?
I always thought I would end up with a career in music like the rest of my family. I grew up harboring such an appreciation of these accomplished, classical musicians all around me, it seemed a natural course to follow in their footsteps.
Instead, I stumbled into writing the way one sometimes bumps into providence, colliding with it accidentally. I happened to take a creative writing class in high school. My creative writing instructor believed the best way to teach writing was to send her students out to actually write. So I did—hundreds of pages over the next few years. Writing became both an outlet for my creativity and the escape reading had always provided. I know I share that love affair with many authors.
At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
Usually I turn to music—either composing it or listening to it. If I can find a great new song, sometimes that will help inspire me out of the hole. When a scene just isn’t working, I’ve learned to go back to where I was last doing well in the story and scrap everything that came after. It’s an agonizing process, but often necessary.
The Dagger of Adendigaeth, book two in your series, has just been published. How has your vision expanded from book one to book two, and what kind of creative growth have you experienced in your process this second time around?
We grow as writers with every novel—at least I believe that’s the goal. Many of the things I gained in writing The Dagger of Adendigaeth are intangible, ineffable understandings of myself and my creative process. I think of those times of being fabulously, fantastically stuck and the final moment of inspiration that launched me out of that depressing well. I think of the plot twists that came to me completely without warning, and the absolute magic that is the creative process.
The thing I loved most about writing this book was being able to explore so many viewpoints—especially the viewpoints of those characters who might be viewed as antagonists. But I don’t and never have seen them that way. It’s my greatest purpose in writing this series to be able to show the motivations and ideals that mold and shape each character. The more we can understand each other, the closer to a peaceful coexistence we will find, whether in the microcosm of our lives or the broader political and religious zones.
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About Cephrael’s Hand: Two brothers find themselves on opposite sides of a great battle, neither knowing the other is alive. A traitor works in exile while preparing for the disaster only he knows is coming. A race of beings from beyond the fringe of the universe begin unmaking the world from within. And all across the land, magic is dying. Cephrael’s Hand is the first novel in the award-winning series A Pattern of Shadow and Light. Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
About the author: Melissa McPhail is a classically trained pianist, violinist and composer, a Vinyasa yoga instructor, and an avid Fantasy reader. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their twin daughters and two very large cats. Visit Melissa on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.
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Emily Jane Trent writes contemporary erotic romance. As the author of the five-part Masquerade series, she promises readers “rich characters and engaging plots that will leave you wanting more.” Books in the series include Passion Unleashed, Passion Tempted, Passion Shattered, Passion Revealed and Passion Embraced. We recently had a chance to ask her about her interests and influences; here’s what she had to say.
Who are your favorite authors and/or influences?
Beth Kery writes erotic romance in a style that suits me. She understands what motivates her characters and her stories are rich because of it. Sylvia Day is the other romance author I admire. She’s written for many years and has a wide range of romance stories to offer. She writes a lot. She releases books frequently. She’s a real pro and I enjoy her writing.
Do you have a favorite quote about the writing process?
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot… reading is the creative center of a writer’s life… You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” —Stephen King
How does your geographic location influence your writing?
I live in the U.S., so I’m sure my style reflects the culture I grew up with. I write about places I have been and places I haven’t. I can do research to make that realistic. But I’m sure that the California girl in me comes through in my writing. And that’s a good thing. Writers should be who they are.
Has your past influenced your writing at all?
Definitely, my past gives me the wealth of understanding to draw from. What I’ve been through and my personal relationships have educated me about life and people. From that, I can create believable characters and entertain my readers with a story that has richness to it. That’s only achieved through living and tapping into one’s own experiences.
Pick your poison: what’s your favorite writing fuel?
Coffee and chocolate, gotta have it.
Do you have any special writing routines, exercises or superstitions when starting a new project?
I have to write in a block of time, non-stop. Once I get into the story, I’ve left the real world. I’m really living the story vicariously and letting the characters talk to me. Interruptions destroy the flow. I’m best in the mornings. So, I start early and work for 4-5 hours. Write first and do other activities like promotion later. Other activities don’t require the creative energy that writing does.
What are your hobbies, outside of writing?
Wine tasting, reading, cooking, fitness, movies and enjoying friends. All those activities go together. I drink wine with good food. I cook healthy, tasty food that supports my fitness. And enjoying friends is often having coffee together, sharing wine or cooking dinner for them. Movies and reading can be done while eating and drinking! It’s just one big, happy circle.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I’d do watercolor paintings. I’m an artist and that was my focus in college. My writing method is a lot like watercolor painting which is done by layering the paint colors. My stories are written broadly, start to finish. Then I go back and add more detail. I enrich characters, fill in scenes. But I have to have the whole story there first. It’s like the canvas that I can keep filling in until it’s done. The process feels like watercolor painting to me.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
I dream of going to Argentina. They have wine country I’d like to visit. The country looks beautiful and I’d like to try the relaxed lifestyle and the food. But only to visit.
As a self-published author, do you have any advice specifically for self-publishers?
Yes, my best advice is to outline the story and then write it start to finish. Write for yourself, which means: if you like what you’re writing you’re likely on track. Don’t be second guessing what your readers want during the actual writing. You already know what they like and that will come through naturally in your creation. Never edit, rewrite or think about selling the book during the writing. That will stop you in your tracks. Only write when you write. After it’s done, there will be plenty of time to edit and do all the other stuff. Don’t kill your creativity by correcting or criticizing your writing before it’s even done. Keep the two separate. Write, write, write, and only then review.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I’m writing a series of novellas. It’s my take on the virgin meets billionaire, but with a new twist and unique characters. It’s light BDSM and very romantic. I had planned a trilogy but the characters have developed so much, it looks like it will fill four novellas, maybe more.
I’ve also got a story called “Passion Ignited” in the new Vixotica erotica anthology, which is available via iTunes now.
Want to know more about Emily Jane Trent? You can find her website at emilyjanetrent.com, purchase her books at Amazon, or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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Reviewed by Laura Roberts
Set in Manchester, England in 1991, The Sound of Loneliness follows desolate narrator Daniel Crabtree from his dreary apartment, to drearier pubs, and back again. Although Daniel is ostensibly a writer, he has only completed a single short story thus far, and has dreams of making it big, though little ambition beyond charging his friend “in publishing” with getting someone interested in the story.
Living off his monthly unemployment checks, Daniel begs or borrows (and occasionally steals) everything, from food and drink to the shabby furnishings in his apartment. Too proud to admit to his family that he is a starving artist, he makes up grandiose tales of his success for both his mother and uncle’s benefit. Is he kidding himself, or does he really think that this one story will one day make a name for him?
It’s hard to tell, as Daniel often comes off as delusional, thanks to his overinflated ego. Despite the fact that he occasionally realizes how awful his writing is, he continues to rage against the publishing industry that rejects him, do the bare minimum to receive his monthly welfare checks, and otherwise continue his sad existence.
If this sounds like a tale you’ve heard before, you’re right. The UK apparently has thousands – perhaps millions – of these aspiring author types, living off the government, avoiding an honest day’s work, and seemingly in thrall to the falsehood that suffering and poverty make Great Art. What makes Craig Wallwork’s book different than the dime-a-dozen plot is that the author himself sees through this ruse, and shows his audience what suffering and poverty really bring. To wit: bitterness, hatred, a growling belly, growing insanity, debt, and the inability to change one’s position in life.
Oh, and let’s not forget the alcoholism, for it wouldn’t be a tale of soul-crushing poverty in the UK without the omnipresent pub!
Oddly enough, though I thoroughly detested Daniel Crabtree as a character, I found Wallwork’s book quite engaging. Perhaps it was the dreary day that lent an English air to my reading, requiring a hot cup of tea and a purring cat for accompaniment, but I found myself curious to see where this sad sack (Daniel, that is) would take me. Though Daniel is, indeed, a terrible writer (and would be a terrible human being, were he real), readers might take pleasure in seeing him so thoroughly thwarted by his sorry attempts at publishing. After all, if the cream rises to the top, there will always be the chunks of whey and assorted detritus to sink to the bottom. What of these would-be writers?
They are the Daniel Crabtrees of the world, persistently beating their own heads against the wall, perpetuating the sorry stereotype of the starving artist, who suffers humiliations for his art. And yet here we see that this humiliations are not really for art’s sake at all. They are merely the pride that goeth before the character’s fall. Is it still a tragedy when one’s tragic flaw is the belief that one is actually better than all of the fools he reads about in books?
Though The Sound of Loneliness is truly a portrait of a young man desperate to become an artist who will likely never succeed, and thus a rather dismal view for aspiring authors, it is perhaps a more realistic take on artistic dreams. After all, we cannot all go from rags to riches, à la J.K. Rowling. Some of us will fail. And what then?
To find out what happens to this dream deferred, you’ll have to read http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1780996012/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1780996012&linkCode=as2&tag=blackheartmag-20The Sound of Loneliness.
EXTRA BONUS SECTION
Who doesn’t love prizes? You could win either of two $25 Amazon gift cards, an autographed copy of The Sound of Loneliness, or an autographed copy of one of its tour mates, Stranger Will by Caleb J. Ross or Angel Falls by Michael Paul Gonzalez. Here’s what you need to do…
Enter the Rafflecopter contest
Leave a comment on my blog.
That’s it! One random commenter during this tour will win a $25 gift card. Visit more blogs for more chances to win. The full list of participating bloggers can be found here. The other $25 gift card and the three autographed books will be given out via Rafflecopter. You can find the contest entry form linked below or on the official Perfect Edge Trifecta tour page via Novel Publicity. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Craig Wallwork lives in West Yorkshire, England. He is an artist, filmmaker and writer. His short stories have appeared in many publications in the US and the UK. He is the author of the short story collection Quintessence of Dust, and the novels To Die Upon a Kiss and The Sound of Loneliness. Craig is also the fiction editor at Menacing Hedge Magazine. Connect with Craig on his website, Facebook, GoodReads, or Twitter.
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Reviewed by Laura Roberts
It’s been rough lately for the Lord of Darkness, with ex-girlfriend drama rearing its head at inconvenient moments, ancient gods returning to take over the universe, and Satan’s own unstoppable laziness. But whatever.
Satan is okay, and he thinks you’re okay, too. This whole eternal damnation thing is all a bit of a misunderstanding.
He runs Hell as a resort, kind of. A vacation spot. The point is, he’s not a bad guy. He’s trying to save Heaven and all of creation, and he only has a dimwitted giant, a surly waitress, and a monkey to help him. So, a thank you might be nice. Maybe buy him a cup of coffee next time you see him. And you will see him.
It’s the Apocalypse, and all that.
Thus begins your journey through Angel Falls, a comedy about hell written by Michael Paul Gonzalez. And here you thought hell was all screaming, torture, and fire ‘n’ brimstone!
Satan has been a bit lax with the torture and such, given his general disinterest in being the Evil Overlord of the afterlife. When he finds out that a certain socialite has been trying to break into Heaven through shady means, God Himself tasks Satan with the job of stopping her. Oh, and did I mention the devil’s lost his balls (a pair of anima crystals) and has to undertake this quest with the limitations of a mortal?
Populated with a cast of characters that includes familiar faces from the Old Testament, as well as a round-up of ancient gods and goddesses from around the globe, Gonzalez’s tale is quite the wild ride. Like a comic version of Anne Rice’s vampire universe (back when vamps sucked blood and were badass villains – or at least hardcore goths, and not sparkly hipster douchebags seducing teenagers), the book riffs on the question “What if Satan weren’t such a bad guy after all, just kind of misunderstood?”
As in Rice’s Memnoch the Devil, it seems God and Satan aren’t quite so different after all, and Gonzalez’s devil is supposed to be helping the souls in his sprawling city of Angel Falls reach their ultimate destination, whether that’s Heaven or insanity. Instead he’s left the souls in his care to their own devices, leaving pamphlets at their doors with helpful tips on surviving the afterlife (a nod to Beetlejuice’s Handbook for the Recently Deceased), and allowing them to make their own decisions. Free will at last!
As a reformed Catholic, I found the fast-and-furious Biblical references worked well, particularly when used to poke holes in the theology. As a former Anne Rice enthusiast, I also enjoyed the alternate take on Heaven and Hell, good and evil, God vs. Satan dichotomies. After all, are we not all equally good and bad, yin and yang, all wrapped up in the same fleshy package?
If you’ve ever wondered what earned Satan all his epithets in the first place, and found Milton’s take just a tad too stodgy for your tastes, check out Angel Falls.
EXTRA BONUS SECTION
Who doesn’t love prizes? You could win either of two $25 Amazon gift cards, an autographed copy of Angel Falls, or an autographed copy of one of its tour mates, The Sound of Loneliness by Craig Wallwork or Stranger Will by Caleb J Ross. Here’s what you need to do…
Enter the Rafflecopter contest
Leave a comment on my blog.
That’s it! One random commenter during this tour will win a $25 gift card. Visit more blogs for more chances to win. The full list of participating bloggers can be found here. The other $25 gift card and the 3 autographed books will be given out via Rafflecopter. You can find the contest entry form linked below or on the official Perfect Edge Trifecta tour page via Novel Publicity. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Michael Paul Gonzalez lives and writes in Los Angeles. He is the editor at ThunderDomeMag.com, an online lit zine and small press. He is at work on his next novel as you read this. Seriously. He probably just rattled off a really amazing chapter, and someday you’ll read it and think back to this moment, and exhale. Connect with Michael on his website, Facebook, GoodReads, or Twitter.
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I hate to reduce the man to trite categories, but for the sake of introduction: Todd is a bisexual Aquarian New Yorker (by way of Pennsylvania) fashion model-slash-collage artist caught up in a bizarre love triangle with an arrogant Leo fashion model named Frank, and a nymphomaniac drug dealer named Lucy. Lucy’s sun sign is not mentioned in the novel (Scary Kisses by Brad Gooch; best novel ever written, motherfucker) but I’m guessing she is a Gemini because she is very good at playing games and seducing men.
The novel opens with Todd masturbating on a beach. After he achieves orgasm Todd mumbles to a helicopter passing overhead, “Drop a bomb on me. It won’t matter. I’m a bone.” Damn, make a bitch swoon.
I’ve bought Scary Kisses for at least two potential lovers, hoping they would love it at least a little, perhaps say to themselves, “Any woman who loves this book is a woman I must get in my bed as soon as possible.” It didn’t work out that way. The last potential lover asked me if I was serious about the book. He was scared of Scary Kisses. He was nothing at all like Todd. What the hell was I thinking?
Unlike the flummoxed potential lover who turned out to be a dud, Todd is very much a man after mine own love addict’s heart. He likes to fuck. Specifically, he likes to fuck Lucy. He’s pretty damn concentrated in his lust and love for Lucy. I like that about Todd. Yes, there is the one time with Frank in Milan but it’s like bad Chinese food: Todd had to have it at the time, he was starving for it, but it made him feel so terrible he never ate there again.
I will someday get the message Todd left on Lucy’s answering machine tattooed to my back:
I’m sorry I missed your call baby. I’m sorry I missed our Chinese dinner. I just had to be a zombie for a while on my own. You wouldn’t have liked me anyway. But if you’re looking for a man who knows how to stir your taffy the way you like it… if you’re dying for a tongue to separate those soft hairs of your youknow-what… if you want to be properly felt up… pleeeaze call me back.
Misti Rainwater-Lites is the author of several books. Her novel, Bullshit Rodeo, is forthcoming from Epic Rites Press later this year. Misti maintains a blog at www.roxixmas.com.
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Octave Parango is an ad designer and the main character of the acclaimed French novel 99 Francs by Frederic Beigbeder (aka 9.99: A Novel, in English). Octave is a creator. In fact, he is a genius—at least from the point of view of his superiors. Not one brainless idiot for the last 2,000 years has ever been as powerful as Octave. You see, Octave is the man who imposes his ideas on the flock of consumers.
Octave is young, handsome, cynical, sloppy, sweet and sarcastic. He only wears trendy brands (sometimes he makes them trendy), drives a luxury car, can seduce any girl (or guy), and most importantly—in contrast to all these directors, senior managers, vice presidents and so on—Octave isn’t afraid of losing his job in the advertising agency.
Why? Because he is the best creative designer, and there is no doubt!
Octave has no equal in the universe. He is engaged in advertising. He decides what you will want tomorrow. For him: “man—it is the same product as everything else.” In some ways, he is a god. He has plenty of money, women and cocaine.
But, on the other hand, Octave is miserable, lonely and unhappy. Also, he is angry, cynical, devoured by his own bile and hatred for the world. He hates the job that has made him powerful.
He has everything, and yet he has nothing. He’s alone in a huge apartment, has intimate relationships only with questionable-content videocassettes. The hamster that lived in his office was Octave’s only friend. He lives on drugs, hates his job and amuses himself by making bloody writings on the walls in the toilet of his own office.
Why do I want to write about this character? Probably because he is incredibly human and doesn’t hide it.
Octave looks as tired and beat-up as any junkie. But as soon as he begins to talk, he becomes a different person. You can tell him everything, because he understands a lot more about this rotten world than all of us put together.
I always thought that people became cynical and critical for two reasons: either they are very stupid, or they understand a lot more than the rest of us. See the wrong side of the world, mired in advertising and seeking to impose someone else’s will upon humanity, and you end up like Octave, whose job is to impose that will. As a result, he both idolizes and despises himself.
I have always been attracted to those men—the mysterious, complex and contradictory. But at the same time they are very naïve and sincere, without pompous politeness or gentlemanly habits. They inspire maternal feelings in me. Can Octave be saved? Read the book to find out.
99 Francs (French edition) – $16.46
9.99 (English edition) – $22.74
Korah Morrison is an internet marketing specialist, copywriter and consultant at College-Paper.org. Writing is her hobby. She likes to write essays on any topic and for everyone who tells her: “Hey! Write my essay please!”
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Bestselling author Jeff Rivera is re-launching his first novel, Forever My Lady, this week at Amazon. To help you get to know Jeff, he has written the following blog post about his journey from childhood poverty to a successful writing career.
Dio Rodriguez grew up on the streets and knew all too well the hard, cool feeling of the barrel of a gun tucked down the back of his jeans. But his hard exterior softened when he met Jennifer. Jennifer understands Dio like no one else and makes him want to be a better man. Suddenly a drive-by shooting lands Dio in a prison boot camp and sends Jennifer to the hospital. When Dio learns that Jennifer is pregnant, he realizes that he must find a way to turn his life around and return to his lady. But can trainee Rodriguez get his act together among the hardcases in prison? And will Jennifer be waiting for him if and when he does?
I think about this moment, where I am and where I’ve come from. I’m at a crossroads – we always are, in one way or another. When I began my trek as a professional writer, I didn’t want rejection so I decided to self-publish my novel, Forever My Lady, and I didn’t have any money, really. I barely scraped together about $200 to print the first books, so the only thing I had going for me was the passion to tell this story I just had to tell. I believe that when you want something bad enough, and you’re willing to work toward it, anything is possible. I know you’ve probably heard that before, but I’m living proof of it.
When I was 19 years old, we were homeless living in our car and the only thing that kept me going was my writing. It was then, when I would go into the public library, that I wouldn’t have to think about how bad life had been. I didn’t have to think about how embarrassing it was to ask McDonald’s if they had any food they were throwing out or go into the grocery store and hope to God they had some samples to eat. It was then, in that moment, that I could get lost in another world and although I felt like I had no control over my life at that time, in that moment, in that story, I could control things. I didn’t have to be a victim. I could conquer all.
That’s why I wanted to write this novel, Forever My Lady, to take people on an emotional journey they could relate to. To put things in it that I’d been through in hopes that other people could connect with me. Having been an extremely lonely teen growing up, writing was my way of hoping to connect to people heart to heart. That’s why it was so important for me to re-launch Forever My Lady, with the hope that it would connect to a whole new generation of people.
Even when people told me to give up, move on, that “Hispanics don’t read books,” that I was a dreamer and worse, when they talked about me behind my back, I kept clinging to the dream that one day people would “get” this story and it would touch hearts.
I hope that if you haven’t read this novel it will do exactly that – that it will touch your heart and you can get to know a little bit about me through these characters, and maybe even get to know a little bit more about yourself.
Find out more about Jeff Rivera and Forever My Lady at JeffRivera.com. You can grab a copy of Jeff’s book at Amazon, follow him on Twitter @mrjeffrivera, or read about his other books on Goodreads.
Jeff Rivera is an author and inspirational media personality. He has appeared on national television, radio and print in such outlets as Forbes.com, The Boston Globe, Publishers Weekly, Right On! Magazine, Rotarian Magazine, TMZ, WABC, WNBC, WCBS, SITV, American Latino and NPR. His humble beginnings of living in American poverty on welfare and food stamps as
the child of a single mother, to his days living in his car and final rise to becoming a published author, journalist and media personality have inspired many.
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After reading through the submissions to our Haiku Contest, including a short list of poems by runners up including Luke Aditsan, Drew Jennings, Daniel Leonard, Mark Leci and Ellaraine Lockie, we are pleased to announce the winner of our 2012 Haiku Contest:
Colin D. Halloran!
Colin D. Halloran is a former enlisted infantryman who served in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. He has since earned two degrees, most recently an MFA in Poetry from Fairfield University. He is an internationally published poet and photographer and the winner of the 2012 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award for Shortly Thereafter, a collection of poems about his service in Afghanistan and the impact it had on him upon returning to the civilian world. He can be found online at colindhalloran.com.
Here is Colin’s winning haiku:
Lying next to you
I cannot feel you, only
that you are not her
For his winning poem, Colin receives $100 in cash, and inclusion in our forthcoming Poetry for Lovers ebook, to be published as part of a collaboration with Buttontapper Press in time for Valentine’s Day 2013.
Thanks to all who entered the contest for sharing their haiku with us, and we look forward to holding another poetry competition soon!
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Ever wondered whether you ought to download a copy of the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey, or grab a copy at your local grocery store? Well wonder no more! Here’s a handy-dandy infographic from Neo Mammalian Studios that’ll give you the highlights (and lowlights) of the world’s most inexplicable best-seller.
P.S. Problems reading this? Click the image to embiggen!
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More Tall Tales
No Eyed Tim of Tim’s Tavern wears a patch over his left eye but no one calls him Righty or One Eyed Tim or Patch because last time Tim threw a pint glass at the guy’s head. Vicious. Bloody. Though it taught us regulars all a lesson: pints are for more than drinking out of. You can prove a point, too. Which can be helpful.
This is how we see it:
[BEER] + [MEN] = [RIGHT]
Across the street is Pam’s Place. Pam’s a relentless bitch.
This is how it is at Pam’s Place:
There’s not even a TV there.
“trudy’s bar” (image via Flickr user Are we there yet?!)
At Tim’s we [JEER] and [FIGHT] and [DRINK] and it is [MANLY] and [A GOD GIVEN RIGHT] and even, we’ve agreed, [HOLY].
The other night we decided to tell Pam’s Place off for good. We decided to staple-gun dead rats to the front awning.
“Looks like a sombrero,” Lanny said.
“Too Mexican,” Harry said.
“She won’t be thinking of nationality when she’s screaming her bitch face off,” I said. We agreed that it would’ve been [STUPID] if she did. We stood back to appreciate a job well done. Street was dark. The neon signs proclaimed Pam’s Place had [BEER], too. That got us good every time. We know good [BEER] and we knew Pam’s Place didn’t have any. We laughed [LOUD] and [HEARTY] like [MEN].
A window opened up above Pam’s Place and a man said, “Screw off.” And because we were so pumped with [MANLINESS] we decided we would take exactly zero in terms of [SHIT].
This is how we saw it after we kicked the door open to two naked people in the tiny studio apartment:
[TIM] + [PAM] = [ ]
We stared for a very short 3.5 seconds. Lars threw a bottle, which proved the lesson we learned with the pint glass.
And that’s why we won’t go back to Tim’s.
Michael Badger III is a MFA student in Boston though he lives in the Pacific NW where his vast boot collection and beer brewing fanaticism comes in handy during the rainy season. He’s had stories published in Short, Fast & Deadly as well as Stockholm University’s anthology Two Thirds North 2013. He’s also single. barroombanter.wordpress.com is a side project of his that passes as a personal website.
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Avocado. Avocado with bacon and lettuce and turkey. On bread, naturally. This was Jillian’s Avocado BLT. Jillian was my sister. Only after seeing this on the Penny Coffee House’s menu did I grasp how tangible success really is.
“I’ll get Jillian’s Avocado BLT.”
“That’ll be $9.50.”
I walked out into the brisk air, I held my hunger like a child that I was readily trying to abandon. I spied the Ol’ Lady Luck Lounge across the street, the place where fat middle-aged women liked to test their luck on the VLT’s, but their luck ran out in the 80’s. No one has recorded how many dreams have died there but it was one of the more profitable soul stealers in Lethbridge, or as the teens called it “Deathbridge” (because we’re all angst filled little motherfuckers).
I walked across the street to take a peek inside the Ol’ Lady Luck Lounge. Now I wasn’t expecting great things, bear in mind it was noon on a Monday, and though I should have been at school I thought this would cheer me up, (in juxtaposition of course). I pushed open the door, with twinge of hesitance. It was dark with heavy air; I found it hard to breathe, as if the non-smoking sign was for show.
The wooden countertop was cracked in various places. The green felt of the pool table in the corner had faded to gray. What caught me by surprise was the crowd that wasted themselves within the confines of these walls.
There were droves of women and men alike, pulling back levers that would reveal their futures. If you looked closely you could see their souls draining through their eyes, and replacement fuel being lighted every time three cherries came across the screen, only to be burned again. It was like watching cigarette butts being put out, cigarettes with defiant flame.
There was a single man at the bar, I figured he would be my best chance at human contact and perhaps I wouldn’t feel like leaping from the high-level bridge shortly afterwards. I sat down beside him and ordered a beer.
“So what’s your name?”
I find that every time a conversation at the bar is sparked I always expect the names to be Killer Jim, Smoky Joe, or something like Prison Mike, but he was Rick, and I figured I’d settle for that. Rick had glasses, and a failed moustache. He was wearing a corduroy jacket that looked second-hand or just weary from years of shielding Rick from the misfortunes of the world.
“What your name?”
“Nice to meet you, John.” Rick was polite, thus I liked Rick.
“Got any plans for the day, Rick?”
“colt gold cup” (image via Flickr user M Glasgow)
“I think I’m going to kill myself.”
At this point I had gotten quite emotionally attached to Rick, and Rick kicking the bucket would really take the wind out of my sails.
“Why would ya do that, Rick?” He stayed silent for a few moments.
“I can’t stand existing just to fail. Day in day out I get up and am forced to abandon living to work 9-5 to eventually spend all I have sending my daughter to university. Then twenty years later I get fired, they had the nerve to fire me, after twenty Rick had adopted a melancholy tone that was unlike the old Rick I had known some twenty minutes ago.
“Listen Rick, how bout I flip a coin, heads you kill yourself, tails you live at least another week, see how she treats ya. What do ya say?”
“Okay Rick, ya crazy sunnovabitch here we go!”
What Rick didn’t realize is that I had bought a double-sided coin earlier that week at the local magic store. How ingenious! What I didn’t realize at the time is that both sides were heads, and I don’t want to say this is the worst mistake I’ve ever made, but it’s definitely up there.
I flipped the coin, unaware of what I had just done. The coin landed on heads.
I looked at Rick then back down at the coin.
“Now wait a sec-“
I was interrupting by the sound ofthe bullet from Rick’s colt 45, leaving the chamber and exiting through the back of his skull. The entire Lady Luck Lounge had stopped, had entered some alternate dimension where time doesn’t exist, and even if it did it would have stopped because Rick was the supreme ruler and ultimate entity. The patrons had stopped pulling for their triple cherries. They just sat there, slack-jawed. One slot machine kept on going. It hit seven, seven, cherry. No luck.
I had Rick all over me, his dreams, his failures. Silhouettes exposed by dim lighting were painted red and purple. The audio clip of the eventual call to his daughter played in my head. The company that laid him off and his daughter, might never know the part they played in Rick’s death, I thought I’d like to let them know.
The light in front of me was pulsating now, my innards pirouetting, both in rhythm with my heartbeat and the sharp ring Rick’s weapon had left in my ears. The way the TV in the background kept going, you would never know that a modern superman had just died. I’m sure it’s happened before, and it will again, like the sun setting behind the snow sprinkled coulees.
I stood up from my barstool, walked towards the exit. I headed out into the street to again meet the brisk air that awaited me. Outside nothing had changed, Rick had risen and fallen in chains, staring at the bottom of a rye and coke, and now fragments of his skull adorned the counter of the Lady Luck Lounge. I was covered in Rick, bloody pieces of Rick, decorated like a Christmas tree.
I figured I’d get Jillian’s Avocado BLT. I crossed the street and entered the Penny Coffee House, with $9.50 at the ready.
John Hunchak is an eighteen-year-old high school student residing in Lethbridge, Alberta. He will be attending the University of Alberta in the upcoming academic year and is committed to the university Golden Bears football team. He spends his free time with his wonderful girlfriend or three best friends, usually not doing much. They live in Southern Alberta, which in case you were not aware, is a barren wasteland devoid of happiness. He is also the drummer in the local Lethbridge band Lucy for President. He pursued professional Pillow Polo until he found out that it’s not even a thing. His favorite song is “It’s Tricky” performed by Run DMC. His personal web site is @LeChak44.
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Eleven-thirty A.M. Carl stirred more salt into his beer, just like his daddy had showed him. The only other people at Foley’s were professional drinkers and Billy Jessup, the wise old man of professional drinkers. “Awfully dressed up today, Carl,” he said across the bar. He had a long, craggy nose that threatened to break off and fall into his mug. Billy was the only one who ever said anything to Carl. “Where’s the lumberjack suit?”
Carl usually wore a red and black or a white and black plaid shirt, jeans, and work boots. He began wearing it as a tribute to his dad after he passed away. After a while, Carl just got used to the look. In between sips he pulled at his collar, scratching the nape of his neck, yanking at the knotted tie underneath. He re-laced his boots, finger-combed his hair to the right, and pulled the chain out from under the sweater, resting the cross against his chest. After a minute, he tucked it back under his t-shirt. Outside the wind clattered against the windows, rain thundering in the
“Got a hot date, do ya, Carl?”
“Not exactly.” He finished the beer and adjusted the tie again, pulling out the chain then putting it back under his shirt. He covered up the tongue of his work boots with the hem of his pants, zipped up his jacket, and walked out into the driving rain.
Carl had never won anything. Not a scratch ticket, a card game, a hand of poker, a coin toss, anything. When he was a kid, his mother implored his older brother and sister to let him win a game every once in a while. The more they tried to let him win at Monopoly, the more he rolled into jail. In Scrabble, he’d get all vowels and never a triple word score. Stuck at a red light in a rural neighborhood at four in the morning, he drove through and was pulled over by a cop waiting around the corner. And here he was, walking half-drunk in the rain without an umbrella to the birth of his son on April Fools’ Day.
He sprinted across Kneeland Street, the “Walk” sign having stopped blinking just as he got to the corner. A car skidded, its honk punctuated by a giant splash that further drenched his back. He thought about turning around. His shoes were pregnant with water, clothes weighing him down with every step he made to the hospital. He hadn’t seen Charlene for two months, since he had driven off during the meet-the-parents-meet-the-guy-who-knocked-me-up dinner.
Not showing up was what they all expected, for him to abandon her again. He was going to be there for his son.
“Penny from Heaven (Day 11)” (image via Flickr user Caitlin Regan)
He pulled his jacket collar over his head, and there on the ground sat a penny. Carl was not a superstitious man and had a near disdain for the coin. It was a worthless item, something fathers had their kids roll up when the jar overflowed. Salvation Army volunteers ringing their Christmas bells knew he was just trying to clean out his car. And he certainly never used the take-a-penny tray at the register. Pennies were nothing but a gimme to the zinc companies and the fat cats running them, something Carl had heard from one of the blowhards at Foley’s, and he was shocked to find himself thinking like this more often lately.
He stood on the sidewalk until his t-shirt clung to his skin and his slimy feet slid around in his socks. He couldn’t tell if it was face up, but he picked it up anyway, hoping this penny would bring his son the good luck he never had.
Darren Cormier is the author of the collection A Little Soul: 140 Twitterstories and the creator and editor of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty, a collaborative novel featuring 13 writers. His stories have appeared in Opium Magazine, Amoskeag, Every Day Fiction, Ether Books, The Light Ekphrastic, and NAP, among many others. He received his MFA from SNHU. He lives in Boston with a growing collection of books.
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The torso was lighter than Alberto expected; the heft of a bag of cornmeal. He felt the subtle ridges of the ribs, the soft curvature of the abdomen as he centered it on the embalming table. He pulled the legs, arms and head from the body bag, and then, with his index finger, scratched off a piece of dried blood from the chin in the same way he might brush a crumb from his son Joshua’s chin at the breakfast table.
He went about his work as calmly as he could, setting the body parts in the correct anatomical places with the same care and reverence he’d used to set altars before he left the priesthood seven years ago. His nerves hummed as he looked at the pieces of the eight-year-old body.
This was a boy, once. He wished he could light a candle for him.
Theodore Ellis, or Teddy, as his mother called him this morning, would be cremated, but she wanted to see him one last time. Photographs to help with the reconstruction lay scattered like playing cards on the adjacent embalming table. Alberto studied a snapshot of Teddy in his wheelchair, white plastic spoon in one hand, cupcake in the other. His mother stood behind him, rusty brown hair dancing in her face, pale hands gently resting on the push handles. The sky was bright, cerulean. Sun played at Teddy’s eyes. The hint of a smile tugged at his lips. He didn’t seem to notice the camera. Too caught up in the cupcake.
Cerebral palsy had twisted Teddy’s arms and legs at impossible angles, his hand clutching the spoon like a claw. But the photograph showed his face up close, the sharp green eyes and red freckled nose, and Alberto knew he would use it.
But who had taken the photo? The father? Would Teddy’s mother have included a photograph taken by the murderer?
“Martinez Funeral Home” (image via Flickr user Beth Walsh)
Alberto sprayed each body part with disinfectant. Water tumbled down the table legs, pooled on the tiled floor at his feet. In his seven years as a mortician, he’d seen terrible things. Six months into the job, a body nearly sawed in half during an industrial accident came in, the man’s guts hanging like bloody rags from his abdomen. Two years later, Alberto prepared a teenage girl who’d been raped, murdered, and dumped in a car wash. Bruises so thick and blue they resembled electrical cord ran around her neck. It took three coats of makeup to cover them.
But he’d never worked on a child this young, this broken.
Both as a priest and an embalmer, he’d learned to stifle the overwhelming emotion with the nomenclature of his job. It didn’t work perfectly, but it allowed him to press beyond tragedy to accomplish his tasks.
In the priesthood, the words had wooden sounds, like sacrament, forgiveness, and grace.
Now the words were metallic; but they had the same anchoring effect.
They would guide him, and so he said them aloud.
Aneurysm hooks, he said, and the word rattled around the tiled room like a coin in a can.
He lifted the implements from the embalming table and dissected the quadriceps.
Trocar, he whispered, and it sliced the air as he pierced each organ to aspirate.
Drainage tube, and the remaining blood leaked out so that the embalming fluid could take its place.
When he was finished, Alberto began massaging the boy’s skin. Porcelain, but as he kneaded the flesh with his finger tips, color rose like a blush.
He rubbed the biceps, moved his way down to the wrists and hands. He stroked each finger, then lingered at the pinky. The tip was a half inch long at most. The length of his wife’s eyelashes. She’d be picking up Joshua from preschool about now. She’d ask him if he wanted a vanilla shake from Wendy’s and he’d say, Yes.
Alberto recorded each of his 724 embalmings in the little black notebook he kept in the breast pocket of his houndstooth coat, but he was still amazed at the intricacies of the human body; everything in some way depended on everything else. Once the heart stopped, the body seemed in a headlong rush to return to dust.
The church had been high ceilings, stained glass; the spirit ethereal, removed from the transitory. When he resigned from the priesthood to marry and start a family, the Cardinal warned him about the dangers of a life of the flesh. But embalming offered ritual, routine, and connection to the spirit.
Preparing the body for burial was the Eucharist.
Now, with this severed boy in front of him, he wondered about his choice. He longed for something pure and acute, something that couldn’t be ripped apart and confused in its reordering.
He took needle and thread from his bag and stitched Teddy’s arms and legs back on his torso. Weaving the needle in and out with rhythmic precision, each figure-eight of the groove allowed Alberto solace.
He stepped back from the table and caught his breath. He’d been working five hours, but it seemed like one. The mother would inevitably study Teddy’s face, search for any trace of her son. It had to be perfect. He double-checked the photo and then went to work.
Alberto didn’t have dowel rods to reattach the head, never imagined he’d need them. He’d have to improvise. A mop stood in the corner of the room. It might work.
With a handsaw, he cut off a two foot section, sharpened each side. He burrowed it into the torso, twisting it like a beach umbrella. The flesh sighed, wet, airy.
Alberto took a deep breath, drove the stick further.
He thought of Nero impaling Christians’ heads, setting them on fire to light the streets.
He stepped back from the table, tried to clear his mind. He paced the floor, lifted his hand before his face; his fingers twitched.
Anuerisym hooks, trocar, drainage tube.
Coins rattling in a can.
He stepped back to the embalming table, lifted Teddy’s head. As Alberto secured it to the mop handle, he clenched his teeth, tried not to weep.
After, he sutured the neck and bent so close he thought he felt Teddy’s breath.
He placed eye caps under the eyelids, stitched the mouth closed. He took out the makeup bag, waxed the face and hands, and worked the sponge across the forehead.
A few times after he’d prepared a body, he felt something like a spiritual departure from the corpse. Tonight he was simply alone with the boy he stitched together at the broken places.
He ran his finger tips over Teddy’s waxy cheeks, then lay his hand softly on the boy’s shoulder.
Before turning out the lights, he curled Teddy’s eyelashes with his thumb and index finger so they lifted off the cheeks.
Home late, Alberto eased the front door open.
His wife was watching television.
“You okay?” she asked.
He was grateful she’d waited up, but he only wanted to sit next to her for a while without talking and feel the warmth of her body.
“He asleep?” he asked.
He walked down the hall to Joshua’s room. He’d splayed himself across the mattress, one leg tied up in the bed sheet. Alberto freed the leg and scooted him to the center.
Joshua stirred, but didn’t wake.
Mornings before work, Alberto occasionally stood over his son like this. His smallness and vulnerability amazed him, filled him with dark imaginings—car crashes, fires, pedophiles and kidnappers. Leaving Joshua those mornings took a kind of courage Alberto didn’t know he possessed; faith he’d encouraged his congregation to practice, but never understood until moments like these.
He leaned further over his son. He put his hand on the sleeping chest, felt the beating heart, warm and steady as a church bell.
He left his hand there until his own heart fell in sync with his son’s.
Dennis Fulgoni lives in Los Angeles with his wife, son, and daughter. He is a Title I and Bilingual Coordinator at Irving Middle School in Glassell Park. His work has appeared in Quarterly West, The Colorado Review, Parting Gifts, The Hawai’i Review, New Stories from the Southwest, The Citron Review, and is forthcoming from Literary Pasadena. He is the recipient of a Kirkwood Award for Fiction through the UCLA Writers Program and an Intro Journals Award. He received Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize in 2008. He holds an MFA from Antioch University, and is furiously rewriting his first novel.
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I had a normal childhood in every way. We lived on the outskirts of town in a new housing development with plenty of woodland and fields nearby in which to play. I remember hot humid summers, crisp fresh autumns and cold sharp winters. I recall playing outside my house – kick the can, hopscotch, stick ball, all the childhood favourites. We’d be amusing ourselves and having fun when the music would start. The kid with the best hearing would suddenly stop and put his finger in the air to silence us.
Say Cheese (image via Flickr user theredmission)
As the music got closer, we all heard it. And that was when we acted. We’d all run for our piggy banks, or to beg some change from a parent, then run outside and wait by the curb. For you see, it was the van. The Cheese Van. I can still hear the metallic, tinkle sound of the cheese song played over ancient speakers. The screech of brakes as we, unable to contain our excitement, ran along-side the window where the friendly Cheese Man watched with a benevolent, wise look that said “Yes, today the children will have cheese.”
The bossy kid who always cut into line ordered his usual, Gorgonzola on a stick. We laughed and called him “G-Man” behind his back and I don’t think he ever found out. The wait seemed endless! Children are not known for their patience, and we were certainly no different than any other group of kids waiting for cheese. My feet were antsy, I could hardly stand the anticipation. As I rattled the change in my hand I thought to myself, “Today I’ll try something different. Today I will try…” and then scan the cheese sign for something unusual, out-of-the-ordinary. But when I got to the window and the tempting smell of cheese reached my nose and the Cheese Man smiled down at me, I froze, my brain racing but the words not coming out. “Chedder cubes, please.”
Darn, my usual. Those lovely little cubes with the toothpicks in. Clean, tidy, no melted cheese all over my hands. Next time I would be brave, I would order something else, something new.
This simple childhood pleasure, one which most of us look back on with fondness, became more than a weekly moment of joy for me. I grew up, as did the other kids in the neighbourhood. We slowly drifted apart, gaining our own interests and friends. But despite getting older I was always on that street corner when I heard the music. I started to take a deeper interest in the complicated, mysterious workings of the Cheese Van. Where did the cheese come from? Who decided what to offer customers?
The older I got the more complicated my questions became. Until that fateful day when I decided that I, too, would be a Cheese Man. The best Cheese Man anyone had ever seen.
But the work, oh, the work that must be done first. For the Cheesemen’s Guild were very selective about who they accepted for apprenticeship, more so than the other guilds my old childhood friends were pursuing. Even the motto of the Cheesemen’s Guild inspired a sense of awe and pride in all members: “Caseus, Nunquam Non Caseus”- Cheese, Always Cheese. The first item we were tasked with was to learn the motto, understand the motto. Become the motto. And study the history of course. Oh sure, we had fun too, it wasn’t all work work work. I remember someone in the class would whisper “caseolus diutinus” – a little cheese goes a long way – during lesson, and soon the entire class would be rolling around, laughing until the tears were streaming down our faces and our sides were in agony. We were just average students after all, having a bit of fun.
I enjoyed the study, difficult though it was. I was particularly interested by ancient history. I recall being fascinated by the description of an archaeological dig which took place in Egypt years ago. I remember I could barely contain my emotions when I read about a find from the Eighteenth Dynasty: an ancient fondue set, complete with a fork fragment. How exciting to be the person who made the discovery; to pick up the ancient fork in your hand, to feel the strength of the stand and the roundness of the bowl, decorated with sacred images of Bastet, goddess of cheese. I could only imagine the thrill of that life-affirming event.
In the months and years to come we were pushed to the limits of human endurance, both physically and emotionally. The weak ones (there were a few whose dreams greatly exceeded their abilities) were forced to drop out early. Others lasted until later, only to stumble at a seemingly simple hurdle like “Basic Skills with Cheese Wire” or “Best-Before Dates: Rules or Guidelines?” Then we would be one less, our little group. We soldiered on, gaining the secret knowledge. We grew wise in the ways of cheese. But even then, I felt different to my fellow students, my aspirations somehow greater. How could that be possible? Surely the greatest thing that I, that WE, could be doing with our lives, was to perform the sacred obligations of Cheese Men? But no, I wanted even more. I not only wanted to own the best Cheese Van in the area, I wanted to own an entire fleet of Cheese Vans! Imagine the joy I could bring to countless children all over the country! The same joy I had experienced, multiplied thousands of time over! Surely there could be no more purity of purpose to which a man could aspire?
My ambition fuelled me through the long wakeful nights of study, the painful process of proving to the examiners that my knowledge and skills met the extraordinarily high standards they sought, until finally I graduated and was awarded the title of Cheese Novice by my superiors in the Guild.
It was around this time that I met Robyn. She was beautiful, intelligent and funny, and was the most intoxicating person I had ever met. More importantly however, she understood and shared my love of cheese. Whereas most people would smile politely when I mentioned a fine Finnish Lappi, Robyn would immediately launch into her opinion on the current explosive controversy of whether Spanish Manchego was better with crackers than an Italian Romano Pecorino. Robyn was truly a rare gem, a Couronne Brie of women. After a single date I was smitten. Another two and I knew this woman was my soul mate. We would enjoy endless moments gazing into each other’s eyes. We made plans, great plans. The world was ours for the taking, with all the cheese we could imagine. Sadly, though, it was not to last. Like lovers through time, our love was torn asunder by the classic discussion of whether the first Taleggio was made in the tenth or eleventh century. Try as we might we could find no common ground upon which our relationship could survive, and so parted. We agreed to remain friends but the rift remained there between us, forever unspoken.
I was now more driven than ever and quickly passed all of the initiations that a novice must. I completed every task set for me, no matter the difficulty. I had no life except for my life of cheese. I rose through the ranks of the initiates faster than an excited child in an Edam-rolling contest. All my diligence and determination paid off when I finally reached my goal, that wondrous moment in my life when I was awarded The Golden Roundel. I had made it.
After that it was all just a matter of economics. My very own Cheese Van. Then another. And another. Soon I had a fleet of Cheese Vans and was content in the knowledge that I had achieved my dream, that of bringing happiness to children all over.
I still have my very first Cheese Van, parked out back. It’s rusted now, the bright painted pictures of cheeses faded to a more ghostly version of themselves. My son has just started to babble in his own language, my own little Babybel. I saw him out in the yard with the dog yesterday, having the kind of conversation only a dog and a boy his age can have. It could have been just a childish bark or the dog sneezing, or even a strange effect of the wind carrying his youthful voice to my ears, but I could have sworn he spoke his first word.
Kelly Evans was born in Canada and obtained degrees in European History and Religious Studies before moving to the UK. While in England Kelly joined a writing group offered via the University of London, remaining with the group for a number of years. She moved back to Canada after 20 years away and obtained a Master’s in Creative Writing, during which time her first short stories were published.
Kelly continues to write stories and novels while working as a Business Consultant. When not writing she enjoys watching really bad horror films and reading historical fiction. www.kellyaevans.com
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Ex-marine seen too much killing
wants to be a serpent has a plan and much money
removes lips splits tongue head already shaved
pulls teeth snips ears reticulates skin with tattoo
cuts off fingers cuts off toes grinds down nose
stitches snake-eyed lenses to his eyes
fuses foot to foot hands to hips learns to wriggle and hiss
and swallow things whole
there is problem with sex organs and then there is not.
Ex-marine transformed to serpent has a plan
writes to tattoo mags and swinger rags
asking to be less than a slave or man
no one responds to the simple plea
by the ex-sergeant who has become
the lowest creature on earth.
In desperation new serpent man shattered plan
joins a church of strychnine drinkers and snake-handlers
and to his horror is venerated like a god.
“Snake” (photo by Flickr user Steve Lodefink)
A Trusted Stranger
It’s easy to lose awareness while in your own recliner.
By this time, the material is contoured to your needs
just as its protests are recognizable. Staring at the television,
the distant sound of airplanes overhead is correctly pitched.
The owl that calls from the pine tree in your neighbor’s
backyard is well-known. Panning your vision is an antiquated
slide show of people familiar in your life. You have grown
comfortable with the activities and patterns surrounding you.
But in the unknowable distance, someone is unwittingly
plotting a collision course to your home. Like a spiraling
bullet or a trusted stranger, they will alter everything;
with an arrival, a meeting and the soft caress of your blood.
“Boot” (photo by Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski)
Was there ever enough time?
Adultery in its purest sexual form
seems to fold the hours
like my grandmother did laundry;
cold and starkly efficient.
The language of darkness
is a terse symbolism
quashing the shoots of oversentimentality.
Our itinerary is a blind rush of immediacy.
When you speak, it is only of now,
asking me to twist the grain of your marrow,
to drift within the gulf stream of your shifting blood.
Sprinkled daybreak enters the room
and turns your mouth-words upside-down
and I’m no longer certain of what you’re asking me.
I guess this is how it ends.
Two corpses rigored in osculation
and your dreamy little one laughing at you
for kissing someone that’s not Daddy
nor even Santa Claus out of costume,
seeking warmth in the coldness of night.
Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He has a wife, Vickie and a daughter, Sage. His work has appeared in hundreds of publications including Prime Mincer, Sheepshead Review, Sierra Nevada Review, Fox Cry, Two Thirds North and The Red Cedar Review. He has work forthcoming in Bluestem, Poetry Salzburg Review and The William and Mary Review.
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He watches the cursor blink and feels his heart beat. They are in rhythm, which is fitting,
because this should come from the heart. Even so, he can’t help but form a list of supporting
points like they are evidence in a case he will argue. AP English has had some impact. He begins
We’ve known each other for ten years, since the third day of first grade.
We eat well together. I eat your fries, you eat my dessert.
We prefer the book to the movie, except for “Lord of the Rings.”
We actually finish homework when we study together.
You never laugh at me in gym class.
I love your laugh. Except in gym class (there was that one time in badminton.)
You bake cookies for my birthday and Valentine’s Day.
You can read my handwriting.
You are nice to little kids, animals, and the lady down the block who yells at people.
You’re smart, but never make anyone feel stupid.
You’re pretty, even if you don’t think so.
I’ve never once not picked up when I saw you on Caller ID. And you know how often I don’t pick up.
IN LOVE! ❤ (Photo by Flickr user Growinnc)
Twelve is a good number to stop at. If it were an essay, there’d be four points in each of
the middle three paragraphs. Plus, thirteen is unlucky. He presses print, hears the whir, and then
an annoying beeping. Out of ink. Is it a bad omen? The lack of a spare toner cartridge fuels his
doubt. He promised himself he’d tell her tomorrow. Now he’s not sure. He’s been back and forth
so many times he’s lost track. Just in case he finds his nerve, he scribbles down his list on
notepaper and readies himself for a restless night’s sleep.
He studies the sheet at the bus stop the next morning. He is a good student and a good
studier and is fairly certain he can memorize the list by the end of school. It’s not unfamiliar
material. He looks up because he feels her coming, and she is. She’s wearing the fuzzy blue hat
he gave her for Christmas, the green army jacket they found at the thrift store, faded tan cords,
and low-cut sneakers. He enjoys these moments when she’s a block away and can’t see the way
he looks at her. He stuffs the sheet in his back pocket.
By French class he’s no less certain. Mme. Baird’s conjugation of “manger” sounds so
romantic that it makes his list seem listless. At lunch he sits with her, as he always does, but he
has no appetite. He doesn’t finish his fries or touch the ones on her plate that she has rotated
toward him. She asks if there’s anything wrong and he shakes his head and takes one of her fries
to try to fake it. She smiles but narrows her eyes at him, like she does when she knows
He plans on reviewing the list during last period in Chem lab. After that he will make his
decision. He finds his beakers and lab coat, his workbook and his data sheets, but when he goes
to his back pocket he finds nothing. He panics. It’s not in his nature to lose things, especially
those things outlining his heart in twelve bulleted points. He tells his teacher he’s not feeling
well, which is suddenly true, and rushes to his locker, thinking maybe it’s in his jacket pocket.
It’s not. Nor is it in his backpack, a hoodie, or between the pages of “Catcher in the Rye,” which
are all piled up on the floor of his locker.
He sees it all as a bad sign and a good excuse. His mother talks about things being in the
stars or not in the stars, as if one could look to the sky for personal navigation. Right now his sky 3
is cloudy. He could probably recite most of the list from memory, or at least enough to get a “B”
if tested. The paper is lost to the wind, though, and thankfully there are no names on it. No one
except he, and maybe she, could ever make sense of it. It’s on the computer, safely tucked away
for him to contemplate another day. Just a dozen bullet points, bullets he’s decided for now to
They sit in their usual spots on the bus going home, him a seat behind her, both with their
backs to the side, their feet in the aisles, and their heads toward each other. She again asks if
anything’s wrong and he tells her he’s tired. She shakes her head but lets it go. He imagines the
discomfort if the list had been revealed, if he recited it to her like he was in a debate and she
were the judge, who would likely vote for somebody else.
They don’t say much as they get off. He’s a stride ahead and she steps on his heal to coax
a smile. He tries to give her one. The list is gone, he decides, because of this, this feeling that
something heavy is weighing down what always felt light. Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow
he will forget the list and the bullets and he’ll try to smile and eat her fries. Things have a way of
turning out like they should, his mom says, and right now he believes her.
After a block she grabs hold of his backpack and spins him around. She studies his face,
searches for clues, but finds none. She asks if he can come by later and help her with Calc. He
nods but says nothing. She appears hurt, or frustrated, and walks past him. Because of this, she
sees it first. He watches her bend down, and he knows, even before she reaches it, even before
she says, “Isn’t this your writing?”
Andy Millman has run a high school youth center, taught college communication classes, and
worked in radio and television. His short story “The Driver’s Seat” was named as a
Finalist in the Glimmer Train November, 2012, Short Story Contest for New Writers.
He is represented professionally by the Purcell Agency (ThePurcellAgency.com) and can
be reached at Mill60062@yahoo.com.
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Jonah lay dead on the black and white checkerboard tile of the bathroom. The wound in his stomach had only taken moments to bleed out, to stain through the blue towel tied around his waist. His blood began to pool and work its way through the grout lines between the porcelain tile. Margaret had laid the tile herself, a year earlier when she’d still been hopeful the apartment would sell for close to what they’d paid for it.
How many times had Margaret heard the realtor say, “Relax. Be patient. It’s a buyer’s market.” Only just last week over breakfast, Margaret had said to Jonah, “If that bitch says it one more time, I’m going to blow my brains out.”
Blood drainage (photo by Flickr user gaelx)
“Yeah,” Jonah had grunted, scraping his spoon against the side of his cereal bowl. “She’s crazy.”
He never once looked up to meet Margaret’s eyes. His statement was just something to fill the empty air between them. Margaret knew his thoughts were miles away, lost in the choreography of Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.
“If this place doesn’t sell, Jonah…” she’d said. But he had already risen from the table. He bumped into the green Formica tabletop with his hip, knocking over the salt shaker.
“I have class in twenty, Mags. But, we’ll talk about it later, okay?” He set his cereal bowl in the sink and smiled down at her. “I’m going to be late.” He grabbed his duffel bag and walked out the door before she could finish sweeping the tiny granules of salt into her hand.
Now, as Margaret sat on the unmade bed and faced the bathroom, she thought of how happy they’d been when they moved into their little studio apartment on the Upper West Side. Despite the staggering cost. Despite it only being 525 square feet of livable space. Those things hadn’t mattered.
Or, maybe it was the suggestion, that sense of possibility for a happier time that she remembered. Not the selling of her grandmother’s antique brass bed that would never fit. Not that horrible phone call she’d had to make to her parents, begging for help with the down payment. And, really, she could barely remember the fight they’d gotten into because he’d been too tired to help move their boxes up six flights of stairs.
It was the easier things she recalled. All the little signs that told her to overlook the bloated cost, to seize that possibility that things would be better. The apartment was within walking distance of Lincoln Center where Jonah’s dance troupe performed its Spring program.
The living area had eleven foot ceilings, a decorative marble fireplace, and resplendent pre-war details. But the bathroom had been the clincher: white painted brick walls, a 13 foot ceiling with exposed beams and an extra-long claw foot tub. On the far wall, just past the pedestal sink, three raw wooden steps led up to a terrace overlooking the garden.
Margaret eased the bathroom door open, mindful of the splinters from the gaping maw in the wood. She swept Jonah’s shoulder and right arm behind it and peered inside the bathroom. Jonah’s blood was splattered, a thick claret against the white brick. The bathroom was small enough that all four walls had taken some of the spray when the bullet had erupted from the chamber, through the bathroom door and cleaved into Jonah’s gut. In his left hand, Jonah still held his electric razor. It whined against the tiled floor, a sort of sorrowful white vibration like the steady rumble of the car engines just outside. Margaret reached down, her shaking fingers barely touching Jonah’s still-warm ones. She flipped the switch. So easy, she thought. One moment, it was on. The next, it was off. On.Off. Jonah’s switch had been thrown.
She set the .44 Magnum revolver down and it clattered into the sink with Jonah’s toothpaste still mired around the drain. His toe shoes were lined up against the old radiator next to the bed to dry – the troupe gave him an allowance of 10 pairs a week and he had coated the inside with glue to stiffen them. He went
through at least a pair a day. He had danced for nine hours every single day. The air in the apartment smelled like a mixture of iron or copper and polyurethane so Margaret turned the exhaust fan on. Jonah should have turned it on before his shower.
Brianne M. Kohl is a graduate of Kent State University with a B.A. in Anthropology and a Creative Writing minor. So, naturally, she became a technical writer who dreams of slipping haiku between lines of code in syntax diagrams. She has been published in ‘In the Hardship and the Hoping: Poems of Northeast Ohio’ by JB Solomon Editions. She currently resides in Pittsboro, North Carolina and can be found at: www.briannekohl.wordpress.com
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On the train home from work, Miguel awoke to find a man sleeping beside him. The train car was packed with people while it was half empty when he boarded from the downtown station. Miguel squinted from the sunlight streaming through the windows. It was always jolting for him to awaken to altered surroundings, as if much had changed in the fifteen minutes he was napping.
As he turned his attention to the other passengers on the train, Miguel saw that many others were asleep. Men, women, suits, yuppies, laborers, vagrants, and students. Most of the people who were not asleep stared out at the passing landscape.
Miguel thought about all the hours that these people passed away on the trains. All that time in this in-between space, replenishing their bodies with sleep—for time with their loved ones, or another day at work. Now that he worked full-time at the library’s resource
desk, Miguel spent two hours every weekday on the trains, a rate of over 500 hours or
twenty entire days commuting. It saddened him to think of all those hours that could
never be brought back.
CPR Dummies (Photo by Flickr user sporkwrapper)
Miguel read his book for the rest of the ride to Fremont. By the time the train rolled to its final stop, a handful of people remained in the car. When he stood to walk off the train, Miguel noticed a gray-haired businessman with his head slumped against the window. The man sat two rows in front of him. He did not rouse when the train brusquely aligned to enter the station.
“Fremont—Fremont station. End of the line,” the conductor said over the loud speaker in a singsong voice. “All passengers must off-board. This is now a Richmondbound train.”
Standing in the aisle, Miguel leaned over to tap the man’s shoulder. “Sir,” he said. “It’s the last stop. Sir?”
He tapped the man’s shoulder again with more force. The man showed no sign of awakening. Frazzled, Miguel whipped his head to the train doors that would be closing soon. No one else was in the train car. He turned back to the man. A crumpled newspaper lay on his lap. A black leather briefcase rested by his legs.
“Doors are closing but will re-open,” the conductor said.
Miguel leaned over to shake the man’s shoulders. “Sir, wake up!”
The man’s head slumped against the cold windowpane at an unnatural angle.
Miguel’s eyes opened wide as the train doors closed to a bing sound.
“Oh god,” he said, dropping his shoulder bag to the floor.
He bent close to the man’s chest. It did not move. Miguel placed two fingers over the man’s carotid artery
just like he had learned two years before during a CPR training he took for one of his first jobs out of school. He felt no pulse. Reluctant to believe what he was seeing, Miguel grabbed the man’s wrist to check for a pulse. There was still none. He noticed that the man had no wedding ring on his hand.
His CPR training had been done on rubber dummies, never on a living being, so Miguel dashed to the end of the car.
He pressed the intercom button. “Hello, hello?” he said into the speaker.
The conductor responded.
“Ma’am!” Miguel said, “there’s a man in this car who won’t wake up. He’s slumped against the window and his chest isn’t moving and I checked for his pulse and I didn’t feel any. I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”
“Just stay there and don’t move him,” the conductor said. “I’m calling emergency medics right now and I’ll be right there.”
Miguel hung up the intercom. He stared back at the man, his head angled against the window half a train car away. Oh god, get me out of here, Miguel thought while he walked back to retrieve his bag, careful to look away from the man.
With his bag slung over his shoulder, Miguel slouched forward on one of the seats next to the train doors. For minutes that seemed to drag and drag, he stared out the window, past the parking lot where he could faintly hear sparrows chirping in a row of trees. Where was this man going? Did he have children he was leaving behind? Did he live alone like his father who used to take this same train into the city to work as a lobby attendant?
Before long, Miguel heard the station attendant’s voice over the loud speakers.
“Attention passengers. The Richmond-train train on Platform One is out of service due to a medical emergency. Do not board that train. All passengers, please board the San Francisco Daly City-bound train, which should be here in nine minutes.”
The conductor came through the sliding doors between the train cars. She speed-walked to the man. Miguel watched her staring at the man. She grimaced and shook her head before walking over to Miguel.
“Are you okay?” she said.
Miguel nodded. “Yeah, I’m all right. I’m just, you know, sad for him. He looks young—like he’s in his fifties at most. Younger than my dad.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “We all gotta go some time.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
As a crowd gathered on the platform, the conductor opened the train doors when the paramedics rushed over, pushing a stretcher.
“Can I leave?” Miguel said. He had nowhere to be but he wanted to be home in his apartment. It was beginning to feel like a long day.
“I’m sorry, but you can right after one of the officers takes your statement. It shouldn’t take long. Just procedure.”
In a daze, Miguel stepped out onto the platform. A few bystanders stared at him before a BART police officer moved them aside. The station attendant’s voice boomed again. Miguel stared off at the waning sun with the sudden urge to laugh aloud. Then he saw a man in a business suit pacing along the platform toward him.
“Hey Bill, it’s Paul,” the man said in a loud, self-important voice. “Listen, I’m stuck at BART in Fremont. I’m going to be late because some guy fainted or had a heart attack or something. We might have to reschedule with their sales team.”
Miguel’s inched in the man’s direction. His pulse spiked with rage.
“Yeah, yeah. Believe me, I’m sorry, too, but shit happens, right? Talk to you
The man snapped his Blackberry shut. While he stared at him, Miguel could imagine this man sitting behind an executive desk in an office perched above the city. He seemed like the kind of guy who spit out phrases like “Let’s hit the ground running,” “I want 110% effort,” or “These quarterly numbers are low, people.” This was the kind of man his father used to grumble about when he came home from work, the kind of man who would walk past him every morning without acknowledging him as though a lowly
lobby attendant did not exist.
Miguel wanted to punch him. He glared at the businessman. For once, he didn’t want to bite his tongue to such a man, even if he was a stranger. He took a step toward the man, planting his feet wide on the platform.
“That guy you just talked about is dead,” Miguel said. “Have some damn respect.”
The businessman flinched and turned to avoid Miguel’s glower. He walked away.
“Asshole,” Miguel muttered, staring at the man’s back before he walked over to
the police officer.
The officer took his statement. Before he descended the stairs to leave, Miguel peered into the train. He saw the dead man resting on the stretcher, covered with a yellow blanket. Though he did not know the man—what he had and had not done in his life—he solemnly hung his head and left.
Out in the vast parking lot, emptying with a flux of cars, Miguel took out his phone. He called his dad who he had not spoken to in months.
“Hey dad,” Miguel said, staring up at a sparrow that looped in the sky above him.
“How are you?”
Juan Alvarado Valdivia was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He received his MFA from Saint Mary’s College of California. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in BorderSenses Literary Magazine and the e-journal, Label Me Latina/o. He lives in Oakland where he is at work on a collection of short stories. Ramblings, lackluster poems, and excerpts from his memoir can be read on his blog: cancer-landia.blogspot.com.
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These are my friends, ones I see each day
I got a prescription for our problems, keep the hounds at bay
– David Lynch
We were beaten, drugged, dateraped, grounded, imprisoned, slandered, censored, humiliated, blamed, impregnated, socially sterilized, and politically pawned. We were filmed and photographed and catalogued. We were engendered, lectured on the dangers of critical thinking, frightened in hallway corners. After we were diagnosed with makebelieve illnesses we were instructed on what to hate and what to love and what these words mean and sometimes forced to part ways with our most beloved.
Pink Man_San Terenzo (Photo by Flickr user Davide Genco)
In our punishment we were taught smiling is a privilege, joy is often forbidden, and our very biology is criminal. In our punishment we were called Man. “Man is a social animal.” And then we were stripped of our social status and given styrofoam trays of meaty cholesterol and odd soups.
The cafeteria workers were women and mentally disabled former students. The military regularly visited the lunchroom. They got tired of watching me walk by uninterested and eventually asked if I would do pushups and carry assault rifles for the good of the country.
“Why not? We’ll pay for college.”
John Deere hats, knives, and Confederate belt buckles were always in fashion. Teachers joked about inherently irrational women. They brought in the whole class. “You ladies and your shopping.” When I wore pink I was called inappropriate. When I wore makeup I was interrogated.
When I printed questions I was forced to shut up, threatened, and censored from discussing real violence and the façade of security. The administration called it advice.
In hospital youth wards deaf boys howled through the night, 12, 1, 2, 3 a.m., patients fighting the sleepy pull of medication until orderlies arrived with fresh tranquilizers. Many girls were assumed to be promiscuous, inept, and illegitimate.
We were all illegitimate.
Some of our parents wanted us. Some of our parents wanted us to suck it up and go back to our routines. Many of us wanted legitimate freedom. We were all told we had a disorder or disease of some kind and I don’t know anyone who came in and didn’t get knocked out for bedtime.
At work I cleaned up bloodied steak bones and buttery roles saturated in A1 sauce. The kitchen called me a devil and the front of the house called me a faggot. The kitchen got high in the back. The managers strutted with bowls of ice cream. I was threatened to be fired when I asked for a salad and had a cigarette on break.
A self-described farmboy cornered me by the dumpster and told me I’m a sinner. I’m socially, spiritually, mentally, and physically diseased. My knowledge of other cultures and other religions incriminates me. My sexuality condemns me. My loneliness is my own fault.
Husbands and MILFs climbed on karaoke tables and smashed margarita chandeliers.They flaunted missionary sex, told me I wasn’t old enough, took me to bed anyway. On the weekends I visited crackwhores and 42 year old mommaboys who smelled stale, drank gallons of cheap liquor, washed dishes, and never shaved or read books. I did this in the Midwest. I did this in the Shallow South. I did this in the North. I did this on the West Coast. Their confessions scream in my mind like horror movie sound effects stuck on loop.
Many were raped, disowned by their families, written out of wills and professional acceptance, impregnated early, and trained in moral absolutes and utopian norms that made their states of being taboo.
My friends and I don’t see much of each other anymore. We are all criminals and lovers or else part of an element that superficially rejects sex and creates an everlasting divide.
It mocks the one between the First and the Third worlds.
Jewd Quinn is the author of Unpredictable Leather, a musicbook (audiobook + song illustrations) available on http://jewdquinn.bandcamp.com, and numerous forthcoming works. He blogs The Aftermath of Fashion on http://jewdquinn.tumblr.com and expands culture in an ongoing culture war.
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Peter looked into the mirrored store window and straightened the green tie that ran down his chest like a snake.
A woman neared his shoulder, and Peter turned his chin toward her. Her face was deeply lined. “Excuse me, sir, my Social Security check is late. I had to leave groceries at the counter. Could you lend me twenty dollars?”
“You want me to give you twenty dollars?”
“I’ll pay you back when I get my check.”
Hollow-man (image by Flickr user move-at-light-speed)
Peter thought, that’s a lie. The Gristides was two doors away. He said, “Where do you live?”
She took a half step back.
“I’ll buy the groceries and carry them to your apartment.”
“I can do it.”
“Do you want my help or not?”
“Could you just give me the money?”
Peter shook his head.
The woman eyed Peter’s designer suit. She led him into the Gristides.
Peter placed two large paper bags of groceries on the Formica kitchen table, and sat on a vinyl chair. The woman watched him and squeezed the wrinkled fingers of her left hand.
Peter looked around the apartment. There was an embroidered spread on a single bed in the corner. A twelve-inch TV had a wire hanger for an antenna. There was a small fridge, a stove, and a tattered brown chair. He said, “I don’t see pictures. No family?”
“Me either. My mother abandoned me to an orphanage. No one adopted me.”
“Nonetheless, I’ve been successful.”
“No thanks to her.”
The woman stiffened. Seconds ticked off an audible clock.
“Make me a cup of tea.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I said, a cup of tea.”
With an eye on Peter, she filled a small steel pot from a porcelain sink. Her unsteady hand plunked it on the black burner, and she turned on the flame.
Peter leaned his chin on his fist.
Her voice was unsteady. “We should have bought some cookies. I don’t have anything to serve with tea.”
Peter shrugged his shoulders.
The whistle on the pot caused her to jump. She poured the steaming water into a cup with a brown-stained crack.
Close to him, she smelled like a moldy basement.
She backed up to the stove.
Peter let the tea sit. “Nothing for you?”
“I’m not your mother.”
Her words came quicker. “I never had a child. I only wish I did. I would’ve cherished him.”
Peter shifted in the chair, and she flinched. Her hand brushed the still hot burner. “Oh.”
She brought her hand to her mouth. Her eyes widened. “Please don’t hurt me.”
Peter thought, I’ll have her by the throat before she can scream. Will her face show surprise? Will she scratch for her life? The Gristides checkout girl saw us together, and she’ll remember me. Peter felt his heart beat faster. Interesting, he thought, risk adds excitement.
Peter was back on the street. He looked at his face in a car mirror. Not a mark. He avoided eye contact, and walked to a subway station two blocks away. On the train platform a woman stood near a column wearing a tattered rain coat that hung down to her ankles, and a cloth cap pulled down low. She had two overstuffed shopping bags. Every filthy thing she owns, Peter thought. He casually closed the gap between them She had dirty, broken nails, and smelled like a cesspool.
“Got some spare change, mister?”
Peter smiled. “Certainly, mother.” He had a few bills ready in his pants pocket.
“Much obliged.” She took time to count, fold and stuff the money underneath her coat.
Peter looked around. A man in a cashmere, camel coat had a New York Times folded to read an article. He gazed at Peter over the paper. When their eyes met, the man smiled under his mustache.
Peter thought, anyone who can afford a cashmere coat doesn’t ride the subway unless he has an ulterior motive. Who smiles at a man in a New York subway? Must be gay.
Peter turned back to the woman. He positioned himself behind her. She’s slim, he thought, it wouldn’t take much of a shove to get her over the edge of the platform. An old woman, unsteady, maybe drunk, she lost her balance and fell. Even Oscar Wilde in the camel coat won’t be able to contradict my story. Anyway, if you fear risk, don’t play the game. That’s the sport. Peter smiled to himself. But let’s be fair. We’ll put into God’s hands. I’ll count to twenty. If no train comes, I’ll call it off. If God wants her to live, she will. She can continue her miserable existence. Okay. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight…
Peter felt the wind of an oncoming train on his cheek. His heart rate surged, and oxygen filled his lungs. The roar of wheels on steel was building to a crescendo. Peter raised his palms. Not too obvious, he thought. Let the column block my move.
Peter was struck by a double punch of fists to his back. He hurtled forward, lost his balance and tumbled over the edge of the platform. He twisted in the air and caught a glimpse of a sneer under a mustache before the train slammed into him and ripped off his legs.
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their little Shih Tzu, Sophia. Joe’s stories appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Black Heart Magazine, Crack the Spine, The Summerset Review, Forge, River Poets Journal, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, Writers Abroad, Bong is Bard, The Stone Hobo, Johnny America, Infective Ink, Milk Sugar, The Newer York and Orion Headless.
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Once upon a time there were two brothers whose parents’ attraction to each other was so great it destroyed them both. The boys were raised by their grandmother. This was a long time ago, a time when people knew less than today, so more was possible. The first brother grew up and studied the world around him, and in learning its rules and its randomness came to see and understand himself as a part of it. The second brother grew up thinking the world revolved around him, and so he was ever at a distance from it, ever unsure of his place in it. The town they grew up in was small, very small, and as happens in very small towns, opinion spread so far so fast it soon become doctrine: the first brother, people said, is the one to watch; the other one’s so good watching out for himself no one else need bother.
Moon Goddess by Flickr user AlicePopkorn
The day they became men, their grandmother told them she would grant them each their heart’s desire. She was a very powerful grandmother: it was custom to greet rites of passage with gifts, and it was in her power to grant wishes. It was custom for those receiving gifts to ask for something that would honor the gift-giver, and so initially the brothers agreed: the first brother would ask to become a moon, because then he could study a world from afar while remaining a part of it, while the second brother would ask to become the planet that moon revolved around.
The first brother made his wish and felt himself grow longer yet lighter, felt everything outside him grow flatter yet clearer, felt the warmth inside his body re-settle entirely just above his skin. He floated past the birds, past the clouds, past the last blue sliver of earth sky, up into space. An asteroid crashed into him, landing not with a crashing thunder but a high-pitched ringing sound. When the dust from the impact settled, there was no crater, but a gold coin. Whenever anything collided with him, it turned into a gold coin. It was just what he’d wanted. He glowed as if he was a sun, and the townspeople applauded and joyfully cried out.
The second brother became jealous, and saw the chance to surpass his brother once and for all.“I ask for my heart’s desire,” he said.
The grandmother looked like she’d been struck. “And I did promise to grant your
heart’s desire. No doubt you are aware the custom in these instances is to—”
“I do not ask to have custom explained.” The townspeople gasped. He
swallowed hard. “I ask for my heart’s desire.”
“Then you leave me no choice but to beg. Anything else, my darling. Only not what you ask. There is no happiness in what you ask.”
“You have granted my brother’s wish,” he said. “You are honor-bound. You can do no less for me.”
So, heart heavy, she did.
The second brother expected a grand gesture, a magic word, a clap of thunder.
Instead his grandmother looked at where he had stood, sadly. She was looking toward him, but she was not looking at him. He grew angry, thinking she’d gone back on her word and refused his wish. Though she ignored his protests, he followed after her, screaming, cursing, insisting she do as she’d promised. It took him a very long time and eons of isolation to realize she had.
His heart’s desire was to become everything, and so she’d made him everything.
He was the whole and complete universe, everywhere anyone looked, everywhere anyone was, all the places no one was or had been or ever would be. That’s what she’d warned him about: everything and everywhere are so everything and everywhere, they’re taken for granted, background, invisible. There’s nothing to distinguish them from. No one could see him, hear him, touch him.The first brother, in the absence of his second brother as world, found himself orbiting a black sphere, though he did not know where it came from or where he and it were in relation to the world he’d known. Since his brother was everything, was he inside his brother; was the black sphere some small part of the boy he’d known? Had the brother’s wish, warped by jealousy, pushed the first brother outside of existence entirely? The black sphere was a strange planet. It did not turn on its axis. It had never known footfall, nor breath. Perhaps they were outside the universe, where rules and randomness had no meaning.
The first brother revolved around this corpse of a globe for century after century, era after era, always missing his brother, always thinking he’d caught sight of him here, or there, just around the corner. But he never saw him.
The day came when the first brother’s life came to its end. He gathered eons’ worth of gold coins and fused their light into a necklace. He sought out his grandmother.
It was custom to greet rites of passage with gifts. He asked her for one last wish. She was a very powerful grandmother, and it was in her power to outlive her grandson and grant his last wish. He offered the necklace. She told him to keep it.
“You’ll need it soon,” she said, and they hugged for the last time.
A team of the five whitest horses imaginable raced toward him, rider-less. He reached out and caught hold of the flying reins and was dragged across the sky. The horses picked up speed, soon racing so fast he could no longer see what they were passing or where they were going. The horizon became smaller and smaller, until it was just a small black dot. The closer the horses drew, the smaller the dot. When they finally reached the dot, the horses reared back and leapt inside it, taking the first brother with them.
Whiteness: one vast chalk fog, difficult to breathe. He wasn’t breathing; he didn’t need to breathe anymore. He hung in the whiteness, unmoving. The horses turned black, then ran to liquid: they leaked their way across the vast whiteness, settling into fat puddles of ink and slurving patterns of loops and lines. Beneath his feet he saw the black planet rising toward him. As it neared, he remembered the necklace his grandmother made him keep. He took it in his hand. There was a clapping sound. The first brother died. His last wish was to rescue his brother from his prison. So after he died, he turned into the other side of the sky, the mirror side; that way, the second brother could see himself in the way others did and in the way he saw himself, could see himself both as the center of everything and a single part of it All.
Matthew Miranda has had a short story and memoirs published in The Southampton Review, flash fiction in Artvoice, book reviews in Artvoice and East Bay Express and sports articles in the Times Beacon Record and Sports and Leisure Magazine. He has a BA in American Studies and an MA in English from SUNY-Buffalo and an MFA from Stony Brook-Southampton. He was accepted to a law school that soon lost its accreditation due to financial aid mismanagement, is an accomplished pianist/ composer, and lives with his girlfriend, a family of mellow ghosts, and a six-year old with an affinity for surreality. His website (quite under construction) is: http://bluesofnine.com.
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