Joey Fatone's Castle Mystery
By Jamey Strathman

The guests make their way through the treasure-filled lair only to encounter a sleeping Joey Fatone. Lightning strikes as Fatone stirs and awakens. His eyes are gentle but determined and he speaks with a voice that intrudes on the guests' minds. He says, "Hey everyone, I know it's been a long time, but there is nothing wrong with being addicted to parenthood."
The guide translates Fatone's foreign tongue. "Joey Fatone, the evil lord, will use the black cauldron to manipulate and control the soldiers of death."
Fatone says, "The meeting with Robert Englund and William Forsythe was collaborative as we defined ways to move our business relationship forward." Fatone then gouges his neck against the corner of a wall and collapses to the floor. The guests hear the sound of a whirring jet engine impacting, and then exploding somewhere.
Another door opens to an eerie hall that has the Cauldron Born lying on the floor in a pile of goo/ash. The guests are prompted to enter the hall. The sword of light is to the right and the Black Cauldron is at the center atop a pedestal. Fatone's silhouette materializes in a haze above the Black Cauldron. He whispers, "Sure, hey, I know what it's like being young. You're going to have fun. You're going to lash out. You're going to make mistakes. Everybody does."
The guide again explains Fatone's meaning: "Don't be afraid. It will all be over shortly. No one can escape from here and you'll be sacrificed to the Black Cauldron. Oh Satan's kiln... awaken and resurrect the soldiers of death! Rebuild an army without rivals! The Army of Death... rise!"
Fatone proceeds to summon the Cauldron Born, threatening to kill the guests and use the cauldron to make them join his army. "Looking at a gorgeous lady laying out at a beach can look like heaven to you. It's all about how you define heaven!" Fatone roars. The fear in the air and on the guests' faces is tangible.
A special guest is picked to wield the sword of light toward Fatone and destroy him with a powerful beam of heaven's energy. It is then directed at Fatone, who is ripped in half by its power. He lies crumpled up in a heap on the floor. He is bleeding from the mouth and his eyes are open but he is still dead. Fatone's corpse says, "I just feel like... humans are just a small speck in the universe," and is carried upward by a subatomic force.
The guests exit the cavern and walk to a nearby lawn. The guide makes a special presentation to the new hero, proclaiming that God is an infinite dimensional being and heaven is an infinite dimensional space. The guests feel obliged to quietly applaud.

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Jamey Strathman is a huge piece of shit, and is inherently without worth. Other than that, he's homeless and doesn't really care about the upcoming cold season. Other than that, he lives in Portland, OR and doesn't know how to drive. Other than that, you've wasted your emotional energy on him.


The Reviled
By Tony Conaway

You would think that, when both sides of a contentious issue are screaming for your head, you must be doing something right.
But when both sides have the influence to have your book pulled off the shelves, recalled, and pulped - well, it really doesn’t matter who was right. Publishing is a business, and all that the publishers care about is money. Nowadays, the big publishing houses are owned by multi-national corporations. As multi-national corporations, they have far more areas of vulnerability than the old, family-owned publishers ever did. And a boycott of their corporation in Germany or China would cost far more than their publishing subsidiary could possibly earn from a controversial book about the Middle East.
So they pulp the book and throw the author to the wolves.
Where do you go when they pulp your book? Home. The home you grew up in. Your mother’s house.


The sounds of the party downstairs barely reached Casey in her old bedroom.
Not that it even looked like a bedroom any more. Her ruthlessly efficient mother had turned it into an exercise room. Her bed, her vanity, her desk were gone: sold off. Her clothes and other boxable possessions were stored away.
There wasn’t a single chair in the room. Casey sat on the treadmill. It made an uncomfortably low seat, but, in the part of the world she just came from, she had often sat on floors. She finished her drink and put the glass down beside her. It made a ring of condensation on the rubbery treadmill surface.
Footsteps on the staircase.
An old high school boyfriend stuck his head in the door. Ted? No, Tad. They had rarely seen each other in the years since graduation. She had gone as far away as possible. Tad stayed. In a way, he never left high school; now he worked there as a phys-ed teacher and coach.
“Wondered where you’d gotten to,” he said.
“Now you know.”
Tad had always had a self-satisfied affect. He still looked like an athlete. He looked good.
He sat down beside her on the treadmill. She wasn’t surprised that he carried a full bottle of champagne. He filled her glass. “You hiding from your party?”
“Getting used to being back home. Culture shock, being out of the Muslim world.” She raised her glass. “I can use my left hand again to eat or drink.”
“Here’s to left hands, then. Cheers.” They drank, she from her glass, Tad straight out of the champagne bottle.
Tad wasn’t comfortable sitting on so low a purchase. He shifted. Or maybe it was just a ploy to sit closer to her.
“Did you have to wear one of those tent-like outfits?”
“A burka? No, but I often had to dress differently. You know what’s a relief? Just sitting here, cross-legged. When I was in the field, in a camp, in a cave in Afghanistan - if I sat cross-legged while wearing jeans, I had to pull a shirt-tail over my crotch. Otherwise, the crotch seam of my jeans would remind the men that I had a vagina, and that wasn’t acceptable.”
“Here’s to vaginas, then.” They toasted. Casey wasn’t used to alcohol, not any more.
Tad sprawled across the treadmill, behind her. He started massaging her shoulders.
“I should be having a book release party in Manhattan. But with this…controversy, no one in the business wants to have anything to do with me.” She felt the need to justify her work, herself, to Tad. “My book reports on the entire Muslim world. Only two chapters are on the Israelis and the Palestineans. And the words ’compromise or genocide’ only appear a few times, in those chapters. But thanks to the protests, the publicity, that’s all that the book is about now.”
“If the Palestineans hate you, don’t the Jews – “
“No, both sides are protesting. The Palestineans accuse me of supporting genocide, the Israelis of making them look like potential mass murderers.”
“Bad publicity.”
“Yes. It’s not a subject you want to get on the wrong side of.” Tad’s hands started roaming down her back. “You know, when I was in college, a creative writing professor wrote a short story called ‘Four Arguments for the Destruction of Jerusalem.’ That was just a work of fiction, but it raised such a furor that they denied him tenure.”
She saw that he didn’t really understand. Tad probably hadn’t read a book since he graduated from the local community college. But his hands felt nice. He was married now, though, wife and kids. Would he still come on to her?
Yes. His hands slipped around from her back to her breasts. It felt good, so she left them there.
“Well, you’re home now. Among people that love you.”
She didn’t know if that was true at all. She hadn’t gotten along with her mother for years. She was about to say something, but as she turned her head, Tad kissed her.
The treadmill really wasn’t comfortable, with its hard rollers under the flexible surface. They stood to undress. She unrolled her mother’s yoga mat, and lay down upon it. Tad closed the door, locked it. It had been a bedroom, after all – it still had a lock.
There was a tinge of guilt, knowing that there was a Mrs. Tad, and a pack of little Tadletts. It didn’t overcome her need.
And as he entered her, she thought of her mother’s advice: anyone worth having probably belongs to someone else.

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Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tony Conaway has written, co-written, and ghostwritten everything from blogs to books. His fiction has been published in two anthologies and numerous publications, including Clever, Danse Macabre, qarrtsiluni, and the Rusty Nail.
His story "Bustles Went Out of Fashion by 1905" appeared in Linguistic Erosion on Thursday, August 8 of this year, and generated 11 comments.


The Boy in the Box
By Daniel Gonzalez

She put me in a drawer, a silverware drawer, which was odd because little boys did not belong inside drawers. She lowered me gently into a sectioned chamber full of butter knives with slight, serrated edges and curved, almost feminine length. I preferred them to the more beastly collection of pointed knives with thick handles, honed edges and the capability to commit brutality. As a young boy, I found it difficult to fit in with knives.

Occasionally, some of the children’s silverware pieces would nest together like a puzzle and form a frog -- missing a leg, a lost spoon -- and tickle me. They didn’t have sharp edges. They’d been used to haul small pieces of meat or pasta to a child’s mouth, but they’d also been lost under dollhouses. They’d been inserted experimentally into noses and ears, used to stir “soup” of mud and rocks and grass and twigs and pine cones. But most of all, they were sure that they would never hurt anyone. The sharp knives had only one job -- to cut.

I was a little relieved when she removed me from the drawer and placed me atop a pile of papers on a roll top desk. My protests that a little boy doesn’t belong in a stack of papers on a desk felt hollow as I uttered them. The desk was old and although the roll top still worked, it was frequently left open. I could watch the seasons through a dirty window. The occasional bird or squirrel peaked through the glass and then bounded off, disinterested. The pile beneath me contained a child’s drawings. Long, triangular bodies with crookedly smiling heads stacked on top. No limbs. I had a sense inside me that I may have been the artist, that I once understood the purpose of scratching out these shapes. But that purpose was lost on me now and as time went on it bothered me more and more to look them without understanding what they were for. I was almost glad to move on to the cardboard box.

Inside were books. Some had even been read. As a little boy, I had trouble explaining myself to them, what I was for. The books relished the fingers that had tickled through their pages, the eyes scanning their guts, hoping for something. Next to the books lay instruction manuals. I didn’t like them much as they had only one topic of conversation. Worse, they really wanted you to understand them in a way that silverware or novels did not. They prided themselves on communicating clearly and were relentless in their efforts to get you to understand every aspect of what they had to offer.

Under the manuals and a layer of dust, photographs lingered in an envelope. They peeked out now and again and sometimes tried to convince me that they knew who I was. They were so insistent that I eventually came to believe them and so I asked them why a little boy like me would live in a cardboard box? They didn’t know, but said they would always remember me fondly.

The privacy of the basement made it the scene of arguments. I overheard all kinds of things a boy should not hear and came to see the darkness of the box as not a bad thing. The arguing increased all the time, until finally it exhausted itself. A tense silence took its place. Then she unfolded the top of the box, shoved me carelessly to the side and removed the envelope of pictures. The photos became palpably excited, even as heads were cut from shoulders. They seemed to consider this simple rearrangement, not violence. I was shoved in an adjacent box of toys.

I shifted on top of old dolls with dirty hair and half broken limbs, erector sets missing so many parts as to be unable to erect anything, board games in crushed boxes. These toys had been buried next to dead pets and resurrected. They’d spent hours floating in baths as their limbs fell off and their paint disintegrated. They’d spent months hidden between a mattress and a wall. They never asked me why a little boy was in the box with them.

So I played with them, and my favorite toy became death.

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Dan’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Pravic, The Fiddleback, Icebox, Hobo Pancakes, Defenestration and Eunoia Review. He lives in Evanston where he sometimes brews his own beer.


A Gathering of Generations
By: Donal Mahoney

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An old man, a poet of the generation of Kerouac, Corso and Ginsburg, is at the lectern tonight in the auditorium of a small college nestled in the Ozarks of Arkansas. Although widely published for many years, both in the United States and abroad, he has never done a reading of his work. He attended a reading once, back in the Fifties. It was held in San Francisco and given by Gregory Corso. All the literati of the day were there, a number of them under the influence of one thing or another. But the reader tonight was so bored he swore he would never do a reading himself.

Not one to fraternize with other writers, the poet usually stays home with his African Grey parrots and Scarlet macaws. He writes at an old roll-top desk in what a romantic might call a garret, which he says is just a drafty attic over his old garage, part of an estate he inherited from his parents. He writes, off and on, day and night because he sleeps very little--two hours here, two hours there. He disdains liquor and dope but is a souse when it comes to milkshakes.

Tonight his friend of many years, an old professor at a local college, has asked him to read. The professor, almost as old as the poet, assumed the man had read his work often at various venues. The old poet for some reason agreed to do the reading. Maybe the money was attractive, although the honorarium was small. Long ago the poet's four books had been remaindered and now money in any amount helps. Seed for the parrots and macaws adds up. He lives on Social Security and an annuity given to him by his parents long ago because they figured he would never be able to earn a living. They were right.

"I can't do a thing other than write verse," he has often admitted. "Maybe a little prose if no poem pops into my mind. Sometimes I find a poem works better as a short story. An editor tipped me off to that not long ago and I make the switch when it's obviously the right thing to do."

At the lectern tonight, however, the poet is in his Sunday best--bib overalls and a stovepipe hat set off by a white beard that drops far south of his crotch. He is--as his first and only wife once said--a sight to see but not too often.

"I would never have married the man," she said in an article in 1962, "had I any idea of his habits. He can write but that's about it."

Many of the students in the audience, almost six decades the poet's junior, have never heard of him nor have they read his work. If they had Googled his name with quotation marks around it, they would probably have been amazed at the number of major journals his poems have appeared in since the Fifties.

His work has been published more than a few times with those major writers now remembered as The Beatniks. Most of them are dead now but this man continues to write and publish not only in print but also online. Hundreds of his poems, first published in print years ago, can be found swimming on the web because he sends them out by email when he can't sleep.

"Print is in hospice now," he told the professor. "Maybe if I get enough work out on the web, a hundred years from now someone might bump into one of my old poems."

The students in the audience are there because the old professor who arranged the reading asked them to attend. Besides there are other professors in the front row the students want to impress. Could be the difference between an A-minus or a B-plus.

After being introduced by the professor, the old poet begins to read in a voice laryngitis would enhance. Since the students do not have a copy of his poems in front of them, they can't follow him and they remain unimpressed. Some nod off as the hour wears on.

At the end of the reading, the reader says he understands that many students in the audience write poetry and he wants to tell them something someone told him when he was young and new to writing poetry.

Clearing his throat, he removes his stovepipe hat, leans into the microphone and says in a loud, clear voice absent during his reading:

"A noun is nothing more than a limousine waiting for the right verb to drive it where it needs to go. Without the right verb the noun goes nowhere.

"Adjectives and adverbs are dead weight, unnecessary freight, a drag on fuel economy, an impediment to any poem in gestation or out and about as an adult.

"Worse, adjectives and adverbs are cyanide ingested to any writer hoping to create art.

"The secret, if there is one, is to write the first draft of a poem and then dive back into the text like a surgeon and excise adjectives and adverbs no matter how much you want them to stay there.

"Next, replace any impotent verb with one that has muscle, a verb that can move its noun forward until the noun ahead of it is almost forced off the page.

"Remember, a poem is not an essay for rhetoric class or a report in a newspaper. A poem is a living thing. The first draft is a fetus no one should abort. You should work on that draft nine months if you have to and then bring it to term."

When the old man finished speaking, applause broke out among students and faculty alike. The poet bowed and smiled. And then he stepped back from the microphone, put on his stovepipe hat, turned his wheel chair around and rode off the stage. On this night he would have two milkshakes before going home to feed his parrots and macaws.

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Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

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