At The Hospital
By Saul Jennings

I'd first noticed something felt wrong At The Hotel. The receptionist and I exchanged pleasantries and I asked for my room. The girl on the desk confirmed it was available and gave me the keys. The whole thing was smooth but rather soulless and it got me thinking. At first I assumed the hotel had trained its staff to be friendly but bland. But then I recalled the odd conversation On The Plane. The man sitting next to me and I had exchanged pleasantries, both said our name, where we came from and then said what we did for a living. Then we didn't speak again for the remainder of the flight. It seemed odd.

It was still on my mind At The Restaurant, especially when the waiter suggested I ordered one first course, two main courses and several desserts. Just a small thing and I intended to raise it In The Reception with the couple I met. But after we'd explained who we were, what city we were from, what we were doing for a living and where we were going tomorrow, the conversation dried up.

It was still worrying me In The Office too, but my colleagues were not interested. Instead they explained what projects they were on, whether they had been a success or failure and which city they came from. When I pressed them for further information, they looked confused and just repeated a list of nouns.

It was In The Bookshop when I first got a clue as to what may be happening. After exchanging pleasantries and saying our names, I asked the shopkeeper for a book that might me help learn the language of the city I'm in. He explained that he would need to order one. I could see copies on the shelves so I pointed to them. He continued to take my order as I opened them up, read the text and panicked.

I decide to have a drink At The Bar and that was when I certain what was occurring. I had the same conversation twenty seven times with the barman. Each time I asked about his greatest fears, his first kiss or his life's ambitions but he refused to change his script. He told me about cities he had visited and cities he intended to visit. He looked more nervous each time we spoke.

I decided I could cope no longer. At The Gun shop I nearly faltered, until the man said that the gun had not been used in the past, but might be used in the future. I snarled at him and told him I was using it now.

I ran out the shop wild and crazy. I refused to accept my fate, forever re-enacting vapid conversations. I saw a cop, who was explaining he was a policeman as I let the gun roar. Then more cops arrived At The Shootout. We exchanged pleasantries and bullets for half an hour before I was overwhelmed. They all bade me a good night as the bullets ripped into me.

Now I lie In The Hospital, life ebbing away. A man and a woman approach. They explain to each other that they live in this city and that they are doctors. As I close my eyes for the final time, they begin to refer to me in the past tense.

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Saul lives in Greece and Switzerland and earns money doing undefinable things "with computers". After several decades of having unusual ideas that seemed like they might make interesting stories, he has taken the step of writing them down and letting them loose. So far five of the ideas have been re­homed in Corvus, Linguistic Erosion, the Mustache Factor, Abstraction and Apocrypha and Bartleby Snopes.


Habit rip (Abel Ferrara mix)
By Steve Isaak

gonna power pen drill
pod bromide minds
and buck wild nuns,
like Ferrara did, post-’79,
addictive dangerous invasions
lurid red
bluesy steel catharsis in
sleazy sub/urban disease cycles
and abrupt

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Steve Isaak, sometimes published under the nom de plume Nikki Isaak and Chuck Lovepoe, is the author of several poetry anthologies. He is the editor of the Reading & Writing By Pub Light site.


By Mike Epifani

Joe led me out of his house, into his back yard, and took a turn for The Worst.

He was wearing his grey zipper-down sweatshirt, hood over head, spray cans in both hands he had tucked into his pockets. Through the fabric, behind the bulges of his knuckles, I could see the curve of the metal cans.

He had texted me to come over as soon as possible.

We hadn’t been down to The Worst since the night we found Stevie’s body hanging like a flag in the aftermath of war. He graffitied the word Peace on the ground before he pushed off the ledge of the old elevated tracks. The word was still there as a sort of shrine.

The local paper spun it as a cry for world peace and labeling Stevie as some kind of dramatic protester. Like a Buddhist monk lighting himself on fire. Joe and I knew better. Stevie always said Peace before we split up at Cornelia Road. That was just how he said goodbye.

Dad said that the train used to rush over The Worst and would throw off your heartbeat. He also said that it would scare a hesitant fish back under a rock before the stream said Peace and dried up.

The stream left graffiti too. Flowing strands in a subtle indent that turned back and forth like the images on a heartbeat monitor.

“Listen, man,” Joe said without turning around, leading the way through the uncut grass and brambles of field that went from Joe’s backyard to The Worst. “Stevie always came off as the type that really appreciated life, you know? Almost as if he knew something we didn’t.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I was thinking,” he continued. “Fuck that article. Screw the Peace tees, the vigils and the flowers and the stupid fucking memorial video with him throwing up the peace sign in slow motion at the end. He was just saying goodbye.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’m looking out my back window today, watching this hummingbird drink out of the feeder, and past this thing’s wings I can see the tracks, you know, through a couple of the trees, off in the distance. And I swear to you I can see this yellow glow and I just know it’s that fucking word. Like it’s signaling to me or something. I don’t know.”

We reached the dried stream bed and the tracks as he finished talking. He started up the left side of the hill, closest to the side of the tracks where Stevie had been.

I followed.

He stopped at the Peace and waited for me to catch up the few paces behind.

I stood next to him and looked down at the word. I blinked a few times to be sure, but it really was glowing. It was dim, not nearly bright enough to be spotted from Joe’s back window 300 yards away in broad daylight, but it was glowing, penetrating the dusk with a bright and fluttering reverberation.

“Holy shit,” I said. Peripherally, I could see Joe whip out a spray can and start shaking it. “What are you doing?”

“It’s so obvious, dude. It’s so fucking obvious what needs to happen here.”

“Dude, what...” I started but Joe squatted down and started covering up the glowing tombstone with black paint. I lunged to stop him but he tossed me over his back and continued. I wrestled with him, struggling to grab the paint, even attempting to block it with my hands, but he covered Stevie’s Peace up so that just a few sparkles remained.

“What the fuck, man!” I screamed at him. My voice echoed into the emptiness. He pushed me away and covered the last few specks of light before standing back up, throwing the can off the other side of the bridge, and retracing his steps back down the slope.

I followed but seethed with anger and confusion.

He approached the bank of the stream, knelt again, and got the second paint can out and shook it. He sprayed into the dirt carefully, approaching each letter like a second grader.

When he finished the word, he stood up. Peace glowed in yellow like it had at the peak of The Worst.

He stepped slightly to his right, knelt again, and wrote peace a second time, it glowing too.

He continued his path down the bank, writing peace in that same careful way, and I watched him and the line of peace beacons in their winding path across The Worst. Then he started a second line away from the stream bed and headed back to where I stood and waited.

When he reached a foot in front of the first Peace he had put down, he stood and tossed me the can. I caught it and stood without moving for a moment, staring into his unreadable eyes.

I knelt down and started the third line, each peace written glowing in that neon shade of yellow. I made my way down the path he had started and then back again. The fifty or so feet of the bank was outlined on one side by four rows of the word peace and the shine would have made us squint if our eyes hadn’t already adjusted.

We continued the rows all night, lining both sides of the dried bed, covering the four hills and the entirety of the bridge that they led up to. The only spot beside the stream we didn’t touch with lit words was the blacked out Peace Stevie had scrawled to say goodbye.

When we finished, we stood where Stevie must have crouched, right in front of the blacked out spot, and stared out over the massive glow that made the curves of the stream stand out with new prominence.

“He just knew something we didn’t, you know?” Joe said and threw the empty spray can into the newly dawned field.

“Yeah,” I said.

And I did.

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Mike Epifani is a starving writer and comic in Chicago. He is a Syracuse native and graduate of Columbia College's Creative Writing program. He loves living vicariously through his imagination and the imagination of others.


Raspberry Hives
By Donal Mahoney

The ancient man
with raspberry hives
on his cheeks
since childhood
will live alone
no longer.
He’ll marry, he says,
the first woman who’ll have him.
Till now
he has wanted
to die
as he’s lived,
alone in his room
with the radio playing,
the water in the bathtub
The drone of hours,
however, has become
the drone of years
and the ancient man
with raspberry hives
on his cheeks
since childhood
fears death will convert
his hives into pocks,
take his body
but reject his soul.
For reasons
he can’t articulate,
he believes
if he weds
the first woman
who’ll have him,
death will have reason,
for the first time,
to do the job right.

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Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

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