3/26/13

Stargazing
By Ian Kappos


The Kid wasn’t really a kid. He was maybe sixteen; that was my guess. We still called him the Kid.

We all sat around the living room: Ludo, in his breakers and a dark mood, but always generous with a crooked smile; Leo, shaving the roughness from a pair of chopsticks (he’d finished his Chinese food hours before, but insisted on being prepared for his next take-out); Lonnie, who, for all intents and purposes, was trying not to keel over from the line of whatever it was that he’d just put up his nose (it had been one of many); and Lit, who catered to a customer. I sat next to Lit, fussing with my beard.

The Kid was in the Hole.

“Here,” said Lit to the customer, and handed over something. This was procedure.

“Thanks,” said the customer, receiving what Lit handed over and also handing something over to Lit. This, too, was consistent with procedure.

The customer left.

We sat in silence for a minute or two, save for Lonnie, who had evidently recovered from his battle with gravity and now hunched over a pile of white, dividing it into geometrically immaculate smaller portions of white. He breathed very loudly, did Lonnie.

Ludo, his voice baritone, said, “I’m bored. What’s up with the Kid.”

So we checked the Kid out.

The Kid was up to his chest in urine. The Hole was porcelain and there was no drain, so the urine had nowhere to go but up. A stain of urine around the circumference of the hole indicated that the Kid had drunk some of the urine. What a kick this Kid was.

Lonnie was reading the newspaper now. It was a few days old. He looked up from the newspaper, down at the Kid, an eye lazy: “Hey, Kid,” he said. “They’re lookin for you, Kid.”

Well, now, at least someone was staying up-to-date.

Ludo proffered his crooked smile. “You’re famous, Kid.”

We all got a kick out of that. Except for Lit. He was taking a call.

“No,” he said (Lit). “No--hey, listen, no. Not interested. Nope. Not interested. Listen, listen--the sooner, look… Look, he ain’t shit to me. He ain’t shit. Naw. Hey, that’s his problem. Look--I ain’t gunna talk about this no more. Shit, well, that’s what he gets. Glad someone did the right thing.”

Lit was a real moral champion. We all trusted Lit. Lit was good people.

Meanwhile, I fussed with my beard. I tended to fuss with my beard a lot.

Leo, who’d remained pretty quiet up until now, asked me, “What’s up, Lillard? You worried or something? You seem worried.”

Leo was definitely the sweetest of the group.

“Well,” I said, shuffling my feet. Everyone was looking at me now, the Kid included. He gripped the edge of the Hole with his fingertips, peering over. Nonchalantly, Ludo scuffed the Kid’s fingers with the edge of his running shoe and the Kid fell back into the Hole. “Well,” I said again. Lit was off the phone now, and looking at me with the rest of them.

“Yeah?” they all said. They all were very patient with me. I was grateful for such good friends.

“Well,” I said. “It’s just that there’s supposed to be a meteor shower tonight, at eleven, I think. I was really planning on seeing it, but I don’t know the time. I lost my watch.”

Lonnie released an atonal whistle. Ludo kicked at the Kid’s fingertips again (this Kid was real persistent). Leo patted me on the back consolingly. Lit said, “I’ll check my phone,” and he did. He looked up at me. “It’s 10:58,” he said.

I smiled. Leo clapped. Lonnie and Ludo leapt over to the window, Ludo jogging, Lonnie swaying. Lit and Leo and I joined them at the window. We pulled back the blinds. The sky twinkled, not unusually. Then there emerged from some clouds a vanguard of meteors, but these meteors had wings. As they flew past, gradually descending, I was able to make out some of their finer details.

“Hey,” said Lonnie. “They’ve got tits.”

“Yeah,” I breathed. “They sure do.”

We all watched, mesmerized.

Then Ludo said, “Hey, we should let the Kid check this out.”

“Yeah,” we agreed, and Leo went to retrieve the handheld telescope to give to the Kid.

But when we turned around the Kid was not in the Hole. The urine rippled slightly, adjusting to the Kid’s absence. From the edge of the Hole began a trail of drops that led to a window at the other end of the room. The urine was bright orange.

“We gave him too much coffee,” said Leo, and we all agreed.

“Well,” said Lit, and for once he sounded like he was out of ideas.

“Well,” we all said.

“He’s famous now,” said Ludo, and we all nodded.

After a while we all retreated back to the window to catch the last trickling of the meteor shower, but when we did there was nothing left in its wake but a faint cloud of bright orange that read: You like what you see, don’t you?


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Ian Kappos's short fiction has appeared most recently in Crossed Out Magazine and Grim Corps Magazine. An art school dropout, he lives and attends community college in Sacramento, California.

3/19/13

Warding Off All Predators
By Patrick Hueller


When it was all said and done, and it was determined that their little girl had taken her last unassisted steps, and Hoern Health Insurance had repeated the phrase “pre-existing condition” for the last time, and their agent had repeated Sorry for the last time, when their debt had become so heavy that it bowed their backs and prevented them from seeing more than a few feet or minutes ahead, Tom and Sarah didn’t—couldn’t—blame their health insurance, or their health insurance agent, or even the doctors (who, really, had done all they could).

           
Instead, they blamed the horned toad.

           
They blamed the horned toad for continuing to plug their so-called health insurance on TV. They blamed the horned toad for making promises he couldn’t keep. They blamed the horned toad for not being what he said he was (according to their research he wasn’t actually a toad but part of the lizard family). They blamed the horned toad for behaving like a human being who had human feelings, when clearly he wasn’t and didn’t. They blamed the horned toad for acting as though he was warm-blooded when in fact he was cold-blooded. They blamed the horned toad for being cuter than the rest of his horned toad brethren. They blamed the horned toad for taking some struggling human actor’s big break. They blamed the horned toad for spelling his name differently than the product he represented (horn was not the same thing as Hoern; were they the only ones who could see that?). They blamed the horned toad for eating restaurant food instead of ants. They blamed the horned toad for having a human-sized wallet with a big wad of discretionary spending money inside. They blamed the horned toad for having better vision than they did, for being able to pick up ultraviolet light, for being able to foresee technicalities and loopholes that they had previously overlooked. They blamed the horned toad for being able to stand on two legs.


They simply couldn’t forgive him for being able to stand on two legs.


Until, that is, they realized that that’s how they’d find him.


Sure.


They would wait for him in the parking lot in front of his studio. At some point, they knew, he would have to emerge. At some point, he would have to be alone. He’d feel comfortable on the hot asphalt parking lot. They were counting on that. He’d feel at home, and let his guard down, and in that moment his life would be snatched away. One second he’d be strolling around on two feet as though it was the most natural thing in the world; the next he’d be lying flat in an emptied out Kleenex box, bouncing around in the backseat and then up the still-unfinished ramp leading to their front door, into the living room where the video camera was set up and ready to go.


They could just see it.


The camera would be on, the tape running. What do you want from me? he’d ask, blindfolded, scared.


Whatever you have to give, they’d say.


Money? he’d say. I have money. I have lots of money.


More, they’d say. Because while this was definitely a ransom video, money wasn’t all that they were owed.


Stock options?


More.


A house? Property? A company position?


More. More. More.


Nothing would be enough, of course. They knew that. Everything, after all, was limited to the present and the future. It didn’t, it couldn’t, include the past.


Or could it?


After the video, they would return the horned toad to the desert where he originally came from. They would strip him of his human clothes.


Better yet, they’d let him strip himself. Sooner or later he’d have to.


In order to fit in with his fellow reptiles, in order to avoid detection by predators patrolling from above, he’d have to cut the whole human act. He’d have to chirp instead of talk. He’d have to spurt blood from his eyes. He’d have to walk on all fours.


The horned toad, for once and forever more, would have to do all the things his given life required of him, and hope against reason that it was enough.


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Patrick Hueller has an MFA from the University of Minnesota. He's against instant replay in sports.

3/12/13

The Last Concert
By David Edward Nell


Aliens Exposed”, flashed a neon billboard hanging above a circus tent standing desolate next to a Nevada highway, the lights glowing ever sharper with the sun's decline. At the entrance, a pale man in Indian garb sent the last guest down a long, descending stairway. Inside, the chatter was loud, the company cramped, a standing-room-only assembly of awkward observers in wait. Finally, the curtain opened. There stood, in front of a microphone, a man in a suit, Greg, who hadn't finished combing his hair. Quickly, he withdrew his self-nurturing and tweaked the receiver. It let out a shriek, deafening enough to be followed up with boos and spits.

“Ladies and gentleman, thank you for coming and being patient. My apologies for the delay,” he said, having to shield his eyes from the bathing spotlight.

“Refund,” someone in the audience was already jesting. The spotlight appropriately dulled, soon rendering them quiet. Testing his breath one last time, Greg began the show introduction.

With a deep-voiced fervour, he breathed into the mic, “Ladies and gentlemen, a new discovery has been made. For the first time ever, we have direct access to a tube shuttle connected to a great source of corruption. We built this stage on top without anyone's consent, so we hope that you appreciate the great risk we have taken, and it is only fitting that the door behind me be opened in front of an audience. Never before has any man dared to venture in the lair of the great unknown. One week ago, we found what is purported to be a tunnel into the infamous Dulce Base. The existence of this underground facility is one of myth. It's believed that therein, visitors from another planet are working in cooperation with a secret government in the name of science, a science so evil, it is unfathomable to think an alliance of such impossible proportions could exist behind closed doors. The only evidence brought to the surface thus far has been the word of brave whistleblowers who have strangely vanished, passed. But the age of darkness ends tonight. All will be revealed. Witness history.”

Greg drew open a curtain behind him, revealing a metallic door indented on a wall. A sound effect played on the speakers to exacerbate the sense of wonderment. Curious stares were passed in the crowd. Greg flaunted a shimmering key.

“What could possibly thrive beyond? Could it be a being from another galaxy? Will I, Gregory Siebert the Third, perish brutally by some devil's wand?”

The key went in, and then he cradled the knob and twisted to loose an ancient creak. Then they were looking into another room, its smoky, closed-off confines containing a poker table in the middle, a ladder reaching to a rooftop hatch. Seated on one end was a glamorous-looking man with sunglasses and a sizeable mop of dark hair, his jumpsuit shiny-white, riddled with glitter. Greg stammered out some indecipherable nonsense, drawing an equally stunned reaction from the visitor. The man in the room climbed up from his gambling comforts and hunkered over onto the stage with an oddly rhythmic swagger. At first, he merely gawked around, and was as silent as the audience matching his confused expression.

“Aw, shucks, Ma'am. Looks like you caught me,” he said after a minute.

“I happen to be a fully-grown male,” Greg replied. “Who are you, then, humanoid?”

“What you on about? I'm a musician, part karate master. Or used to be. Some call me Elvis.”

Greg pondered for a bit. “I'm afraid I don't know of this name. Is it of any significance?”

“Not anymore,” said Elvis, sadly. “How did you even find the King, baby? Ain't got money, if that's what you're seeking.”

“No. We're after extraterrestrial beings, and you were...you were not what we expected.”

“I get that a lot these days,” Elvis replied. “So y'all want a song or what? One more time, huh?”

“A tune, a melody? This is a ufologist exhibition, sir, and you have questions to answer.”

“Song, song, song,” cried the audience, giggling like little girls.

“That's what I like to hear. Thank you very much,” Elvis said, eagerly assuming the microphone, pushing Greg off the stage.

“This is something sweet I came up with a long time ago, back in the golden age. I call it I Want To Be Free. There's no joy in my heart...” But before he could get the first verse out, Greg returned and grabbed the microphone away, raising his fist toward the raging audience, who chucked bottles left and right.

“What the hell, man?” Elvis said. “Relax. Crowd wants a show.”

“Arrogant twat. This is my show, not yours. Now you will answer my questions, or leave.”

“Don't be cruel, baby.”

One bottle hit Greg in the head, so he cracked it open and pointed it at the throat of Elvis in retaliation. “You want to see cruel? That's cruel. How do like me now?”

“Whoa, whoa, you're too close--” And saying that, the glass had already nicked his jugular. Elvis immediately fell to the ground. Horrified gasps erupted from the crowd.

“Oh, dear,” Greg said, guiltily eyeing the restless painting. “Well, folks, thanks for coming.”

Anarchy was loosed. Greg tried to duck his way out under the flying barrage, until a hand grabbed his ankle. Elvis' hand.

“Not so fast,” Elvis said, standing up, having his name chanted.

“I just wanted to put on a show about aliens!” Greg remarked, getting a punch to the nose. And another, and several times more, and then Elvis was stabbing him. Right in the heart. Until Greg had no more blood to give. Elvis threw his crimson fists in the air in victory, receiving an uproarious ovation. At last, he was able to sing.


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Having spent years trying to evade the Equestrian mafia, David Edward Nell now writes from a nameless hideout in Cape Town, South Africa. By night, disguised as numerous pop culture figures, he can usually be found scouring the African plains for loving. Stalk him at http://davidedwardnell.blogspot.com, but keep this a secret.

3/5/13

Home
By Melanie Boeckmann


He is wrestling with tiredness while the wife packs her blue overnight bag. Will she take the pretty pencil skirts? See-through underwear? Anything to transform her into a non-mother, a non-wife. Just Julie again. He blinks twice and what she packs now is a non-fiction book on urban gardening and her running shoes. His interest wanes. As he finishes his dinner on the couch, she calls her friend and tinkers with the keys on their piano for a second. She closes her eyes while playing. “Ready to be a single dad for the weekend?” she asks and laughs. He nods solemnly, they kiss, and then she leaves. He turns on the TV and dozes off for a minute. Right on cue his daughter starts crying, tucking at his fatherly heart. They have grown accustomed to each other, his deep voice and her piercing screams complementing each other. Most nights are spent like this: His large hand encompassing her entire arm, almost. He picks her up and hums a song. His girl calms down and he wishes for a film crew to be here here and witness this moment while it lasts. His exercise in humility before their power relations will shift again. And they will. They always do: not once since she was born has he outlasted her incessant crying. “We’re getting there, right sweetheart?” he whispers into her ear.

But when he tucks his child in again, just as he makes sure the red fleece blanket is securely fastened around his baby’s body, suddenly all he can think of is using an ice pick to drill a hole into her skull. Or a hammer, a regular one will do, to smash in her tiny brain. He smells blood, touches his nostrils but his hand comes back dry and pale. His hands are shaking. This is not my story, he thinks, I have only read about this. It is a stolen version, plagiarism of intrusive thoughts. Probably read too many violent novels. An illusion is all. I should make tea, he tells himself. He pours bourbon into his glass. Tea can wait. “What is happening?” He slams the glams on the kitchen table and closes his eyes. Hands over his ears. He hears whispered instructions drowning out the screaming from the nursery: “Strangle her, rip out her extremities, just throw her out the window. It will be nice and quiet, always. Julie will be just Julie and let you in her pants again.” He starts slapping himself in the face, just slightly first, then with more focus and more determination. He must be sick. He must have eaten something rotten, the chemicals messing up his brain. Shut up, shut up! He must be crying, or why is his shirt so wet? And the throbbing pain on his forehead? His head is bloody, now, he vaguely remembers banging his head against the door frame. Why is he holding the knife in his hand? “Please, shut up” he begs as he stabs himself in the arm and slowly cuts into his face.


The neighbors call the police after the baby has not stopped screaming for over an hour and nobody answered the door.

When the wife returns from her trip without her bag but with a harrowed look of fear on her face, called in by a police officer who gently hinted at the option “to speak to somebody”, she rushes towards the hospital and picks up her unharmed child. The precious little girl stops sobbing as soon as she hears the familiar humming of her favorite song.


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I am working as a PhD researcher in Public Health in Germany. I write both flash fiction and long-form short stories and go running in between the two.


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