At the Bottom of Pandora’s Box
By Charley Daveler

Bring, leave, bring.

“Bring bring,” Number 151 said.

No one got it.

Bring, leave, bring.

He thought it was funny.

“You know, like a telephone?”

The woman next to him, short hair tied back into a clean pony tail, gave him a look as if to say, “That’s very nice. Now shut up.”

He turned his head with a flourish, then brought, left, brought.

The thousands of workers kept at their duties, their silvery white suits in a wave of motion as each brought, left, brought. They carried the heavy squares to the conveyer belt where the bricks would be shot off to Foreman Knows Where and then have hammers brought, lifted, brought right down on their brownish faces.

A newer number, 389, was staring at 151 from across the belt, watching him as the novice pretended to set the brick down just right.

Number 151 smiled at him.

“I don’t understand,” 389 said.

“Don’t understand what?” 151 asked as he brought, left, brought. “Why we work for nine hours just bringing, leaving, and bringing?”

“Why you’re a telephone.”

“Oh. Because all I do is bring and bring. Bring, bring.”

The man across the belt slowly closed his eyes, not expecting this. He shook his head and smiled, going back to bringing, leaving, and bringing.

“So you’re new here?” 151 wondered.

The newcomer turned around, surprised, before saying, “Yes, just got here a week ago.” He looked at their faces. “It’s nice that the position opened up. I’ve been assigned to work into factories since I was fourteen, but this was really an unexpected dream.”

“The suicide rates here are pretty high still,” the woman next to them muttered.

“Suicide is a thing we can’t avoid if we want to make a well-oiled society,” a man down the assembly line said.

All three gave him a look.

“It is the way I got this job,” 389 said politely. “Otherwise, we’d just have to wait for someone to get to the age they can’t work anymore, and that takes years.

“Let’s not talk about that,” 151 asked, bringing, leaving, and bringing.

Everyone continued with their work.

“I admire…” 389 thought suddenly, “How friendly you are. How you don’t focus entirely on your work.”

“There’s not a point to focus entirely on your work,” the woman said. “No matter how good of a job you do here, you can’t move up.”

“That’s not entirely true,” the newbie argued. “I mean, I moved up. I’ve been changing locations for many years now.”

The people looked at him.

“Why?” they all said.

“Well, some jobs are easier. Some jobs are more exciting.”

They stared at him. He shrugged. “Sometimes you just need a change.”

The workers frowned, each went on bringing, leaving, and bringing.

“Sometimes, I give myself challenges,” he said. “And if I beat enough of them, I allow myself to start trying to transfer from a job I hate.”

“It’s not easy to switch, I thought,” 151 replied.

“It isn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s not impossible.”

“Isn’t it hard work?” the girl asked.

“Yes. Kind of. Usually.”

“So why would you bother?”

“It makes it more interesting. And one day I’ll find a job that I like doing long term.”

“Jobs are just meant to make society run,” she said. “It’s our service to them.”

Number 389 stared at her. “Well, then I guess your friend is right about the suicide thing.”

“He is not!” 151 insisted.

The newcomer looked down. “Sometimes,” he said, “Even with all of the horrors of the world around you, the pain and suffering, the boredom and apathy… sometimes it’s all people can take. It’s those of us who manage to have hope for a better future that can keep going. The people who can’t go on any longer are the ones who won’t see the misery ending. They only see bringing, leaving, and bringing. There becomes no point. But I see possibilities. I see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“That’s called death, honey,” the woman said.

The new man frowned, staring at the brick he was carrying. He dropped it on the belt and turned to bring the next one.

“That’s the opinion,” he said.

Then he brought, left, and brought.

- - -
Charley Daveler is an American author and playwright. She is a fan of the good and the bad in literature, but could do with a little more bad.


No One Told You
By Jack Rousseau

I took the car into the shop this weekend. The auto mechanic said “twenty-four hours” would be enough. I came back twenty-four hours later. It was enough. But the bill was steep.

I tried to pay with my Master Card.

Insufficient funds.

I tried to pay with my Club Sandwich Gold Card.

Insufficient funds.

I tried to pay with my Rolex watch.

Insufficient forgery. (It said “Rolet” instead of “Rolex” and it took me this long to notice.)

The shop refused to release my car, so I was without a drive on Monday. Luckily, Jaime works in the same office and agreed to drive me until I get my car back.

He was quiet in the morning, on the drive to work. But it’s the evening and he’s full of questions.

“What happened to the car?” he asks.

“They wouldn’t release it from the shop.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t have the money to pay for the repairs.”

“You have a job. Ask for a raise, or advance, or something...”

“A raise? I’m not getting a raise. My jobs a joke!”

“Get a new one.”

“It’s a job, not a t-shirt. Besides, I’m broke. I’ll take what I can get.”

“What was wrong with the car?”

“I don’t know... I don’t know cars. Something with the gear shift... like it’s always stuck in second gear.”

“Sorry I asked,” he says, eyes back on the road. “It’s not your day.”

“It’s not my month...”

“Or even your year!”

“That’s not funny.”

“Sorry,” he says, eyes on the road but I feel like he’s watching me from the corner of his eye, pitying me.

I don’t want your fucking pity! Goddam it! But I need the drive. I forgot what it was like to be without a reliable form of transportation. Carpooling doesn’t cut it.

I’m quiet for the rest of the drive. When Jaime pulls into my driveway, we both notice that the front door is open.

“You want me to...?” he asks.

“No, I’m sure it’s nothing,” I say, stepping out the passenger side. “Thanks for the drive.”

“See you tomorrow!”

I slam the door, cutting him off at “see you tom-” because I don’t want to hear it.

I watch him pull out of the driveway, wave with mock sincerity, and peel down the street. I check the front door. It appears to have been broken open. Inside, the house is in disarray. I step on shards of glass. I pass fist sized holes in the wall. My possessions, once carefully organized in drawers and shelves, now clutter the floor. But I ignore all of this, because I hear a faint sound, like static, coming from the living room.

The sound is coming from my wife. She is lying on the floor, fetal position, emitting the sound. I kneel beside her and listen. Through the static, I recognize The Rembrandts hit nineties song: I’ll Be There For You.

I put the rabbit ears on her head and wait for better reception.

- - -
Just as common people consume food and produce waste, Jack Rousseau consumes absurd details of everyday reality and produces irreal fiction. He lives and writes somewhere in Canada.


Beamers Anonymous
By Garrett Harriman

Dr. Anton parked the van outside a rippling Kansas cornfield. Fourteen people emerged: Gwen and Neil last, bundled in hoodies and mittens. Autumnal moonlight swamped the nameless dirt road. Salt-shaken starshine glimmered.

“This is it, gang!” said Anton. He moated their bodies, painting faces with a flashlight. “Marker’s maybe five minutes in.” He quickly consulted his GPS and safaried headlong into stalks.

His faithful followed, ensconced and jailstriped by acreage. Boots pulverized leaves--the only acoustics for miles.

“I don't like this, Gweny,” Neil grogged, head owling. “You sure this’ll help?”

Some eavesdropping groupies gave him the stink eye. Neil wasn’t a member. Wasn’t afflicted. Gwen’d probably begged the good doctor to let him hitch along. Some confidential concession that didn’t add up.

Gwen answered wide-awake. “Positive--it’s a breakthrough! None of us've beamed in weeks. Then Tuesday we all woke up marked.”

Neil caressed her handtop. Traced the engagement ring. “Meaning?”

“Meaning Roy thinks we can hail them now!”

The cowboy grunted. He’d refrained from detailing her his Jabba sex slave theories. To him the mark signified a pan-galactic peepshow branding. He’d shared her bed for seven months. Witnessed forced catatonia, dawn reconstitutions...that interspecies afterglow. Anything was possible.

Concerning Roy, however, skepticism was justified. Anton could prattle and charge without scruples. Implant false memories or precipitate guilt. His degree and outfit seemed...ulterior. You don’t lead maul victims to the cougar den.

Neil ducked, avoided leaf slaps. “Beard’s compensating. I don’t trust him.”

“You’re supposed to trust that I trust him, babe. Roy says fetishes are like phobias: everybody's got one.” Gwen raked her nutshell hair. “Just sometimes they’re one in the same.”

“You believe that? These maggots've violated you since you were fourteen, and here you are, silver platterin’!”

“It's our only chance, Neil. And it's consensual anymore.”

Disgusted, he flipped her around and ungloved her hand. “Was this consensual, Gwenneth?”

She reclaimed it, accosting him on tippy-toe: “It's not my fault I'm an addict!”

Neil clutched his belt. Heeled soil. “I know that, Gweny. I--I can't even imagine...”

She pleaded insomniacal eyes. “Allow me some hope then, Neil. We've tried everything, haven't we? Pills. Sutra. Vibrators and dildos.”

Neil checked his mirrors. “Gwen, please."

“They’re not ashamed, Neil,” she reassured, hugging him. “Neither am I. You’re sweet for trying so hard. But there’s no substitute. Everyone in the program accepts we have an unearthly itch. Xenonymphomania.” She kissed his cheek. “Now we can confront it together.”

Neil embraced her. Tight. “Don’t leave again, Gweny…”


They jogged, soon stepping from endless corn halls into a plank-flattened crop circle thirty feet wide. The design paralleled Gwen’s laceration. Anton waited off-center; abductees dotted the circumference.

Neil’s fiancée whooped. “Beautiful recreation, Roy!”

Anton bowed. “Much obliged. Kinda cockeyed, but its serves our purposes tonight.” Roy signaled his flashlight vertically, monkeyed his GPS too long. He heaved in heartland air. “We're a true encounter group now, aren't we?”

Laughter, nervous--

--before disembodied floodlights erupted overhead, sieving sea-deep foulness through corny partitions.

Prepared to fallback, Neil lunged for Gweneth’s hip.

Nothing reacted. A futile lash in the storm’s eye, he idled horribly, blood-choked.

Light belched and churned like summer heat wave snakes. Bass vibrato squalled. The hapless hopefuls paled and floated, ascending into formless incandescence.

Neil screamed impotently--Gwen levitated from his side. Her veteran face held serene, confident. “See you soon, baby! Our relationship’s on track!”

Gwen lofted into sky fire, itself fizzling into vegetable shadows. Neil’s tear ducts seized and stultified.

Anton saluted the departing vessel…rounded Neil’s immobile shoulders.

“So,” said the good doctor, maggoting up, “what's your phobia?”

- - -
Garrett Harriman was reared in southwest Colorado. He's determined to double-major in English and Psychology. He plays tenor sax, too. He's lived in Vermont. His stories have appeared in Collective Fallout and on 365 Tomorrows. He upholds that bios enumerating the author's domesticated animal friends are irrefutable wastes of the English language. He has two dogs and cats.


Walking Home
By Mike German

Was I seeing things? No. No I wasn’t. She was dressed as a Christmas tree. It’s that time of year; the last Sunday before Christmas and people are doing strange things. For me it’s the morning after a party and I’m just trying to get home. One foot in front of the other. Desperately trying not to fall over on the ice and snow. It’s cold and my hands hurt. I don’t mind. Frankly, I’m too drunk to care. I’ve got this bottle of Jim Beam in my hand and I’ve been swigging from it as I walk. It’s been a welcome change from the usual rot-gut whiskey I pour down my neck. I walk on. One foot in front of the other. Staring at my shoes. Daydreaming. Repeatedly telling myself not to fall or slip (I might be drunk, but I don’t want to embarrass myself). My hood is up and it’s keeping me warm. With my earphones in I am separated from the world. Tom Waits is singing to me with his wild take on jazz, beat poetry and his voice. “For I am a Rain Dog, too”. That voice! It is a voice made of gravel and nails and I cannot get enough of it. “You’ll never be going back home”. We’ll see about that, Tom. But I have always been out of my mind. I walk on. One foot in front of the other. I take another drink and let out a small, quiet growl. It tastes good but it burns. I don’t know if I am more drunk or hung-over. I can’t be sick though. It’ll freeze in the snow and never go away. I don’t want that on my conscience as well. My feet are consuming all my thoughts and I don’t want to take my eyes off them. I have to though. I look up just in time to realize I’m about to walk into someone. A guy with his beautiful child nestled in his arms. I feel bad and apologize profusely. He just smiles, places his hand on my shoulder and says “Don’t worry, it’s okay. It’s okay.” That makes me feel worse. I would’ve been happier if he shouted at me, told me to watch where I was going and try to make me feel bad. He tried to be understanding. Sympathetic. I reeled in his pity. I hated him for it. He couldn’t be nicer but I hated him for it. I guess I’m just a bad person, but then again, I don’t want to care about that and I’m not going to. I’ve just got to get home. It’s too cold to be out on the streets. I walk on. Take another drink. One foot in front of the other. I’ll get there eventually. I walk past a prospective employer and he looks at me in disgust. So much for that job then. Life is just one foot in front of the other and we’ve all got some place we need to be. I take another drink.

- - -
Mike German is a young writer living in London and trying to find his way in the world.

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