Categorical Slips into Bliss
By Bob Carlton

1. Honest cheese smells awful.

2. Bacon fat makes excellent soap.

3. Dandelion wine inspires wondrous mirth.

4. My lady is fair beyond reckoning.

These statements add up to what we call “the good life.” On any given day, one or more, and frequently all of the propositions will prove true. If i is a complex number, and we let l be life, then il will be a complex life. In this calculus, “division by zero” is a necessary sign. Which is to say with mathematical precision what can only be rendered ambiguously by conventional discourse as “nothing can come between us”. The logical consistency of a closed axiomatic system becomes irrelevant to the pursuit of unbounded joy. I am no mathematician, but this sounds pretty good to me.

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Bob Carlton lives and works in Leander, TX.


A Trip to the Moon
By Cathy S. Ulrich

When I knock at the door, your mother says you’ve gone to the moon. She speaks through the wood so she doesn’t have to see me. I get down on my stomach and direct my questions to the crack between the door and the jamb. I can see your mother has polished the toes of one foot, but not the other. Her little toes are crooked and ugly.
Did he say when he’d be back?
There’s a hesitation, and then your mother has gotten down on her stomach too, her plump lips filling my view.
He’s not coming back. Go away.
I scratch my fingers along the bottom of your door until your mother rolls up a towel and sticks it in the crack. I think she says again that I should go away, but it’s hard to tell with the towel in there. Anyway, I don’t go away. I go round to the back of your house, where your father keeps his things in piles. I hop up and down on a broken refrigerator until the handle comes off. Inside your house, your mother flicks the kitchen light on and then off again after I’ve held real still, so she thinks I’ve gone away, like she said.
There are pieces missing from your father’s things that we used to make our rocket. We were going to go to the moon together. I see my helmet hanging from the handlebars of a bike with a missing front wheel. Your helmet is gone, just like our rocket. My helmet goes on my head and the bike flips over backward. I want to kick it, but the last time I did, my foot got tangled up in the spokes of the remaining wheel and bent up my pretty toes. Now they’re ugly, like your mother’s little toes.
I wonder if you wouldn’t have gone without me if both my feet still looked nice like they did when we went wading in the puddles between your father’s things. They’re always dripping, like he got them out of a lake.
When we sat inside our rocket, it smelled damp, and you found a mushroom growing under the seat. The mushroom was going to come to the moon with us. It was going to be our baby. Mushrooms are better than real babies, you said.
Get it taken care of, you said, and I got mad and kicked the bike.
I rummage through your father’s things until I find a working flashlight. I pull off my shoes and go up on top of your house, one ugly foot, one pretty foot, empty on the inside, like you wanted me to be, and then I’m on the roof. I aim the flashlight into the sky and flick it on and off, and wait for you to see my message, and come back for me.

- - -
Cathy Ulrich doesn't really like looking at the stars, but she has always enjoyed the moon.


We-sters English Frictionary
By Adrian Fort

Oh, we roll, don’t we? Yeah, we jazz, you and I. We. Us. We jazz. We come together to swig ideas and pounce on rhythms. We loll on feelings and reel on beats. We jazz together and cum together and go back to our others. We jazz, you and I. We. Us. And then we other until we can we again. Tap-tap-tap slap-slap-slap on the forearm and I’m the needle, you’re the sweet, I’m the cold, you’re the burn. We’re the forearm, then the arm, then the thud-thump-thud-thump blasting we through the rest of the body. We we we.
Jazz man roll.
Spazz man loll.
And while we us, while we roll, while we jazz, there is no othering going. Yeah, while we swig and pounce, while we loll and reel, there is no outside to unjive.
And when you leave, when you un-us, I have to us with my other and I wonder if you do the same. Do you us with him? Them? Do you have others that you we with?
I’m in to it. You can do all the you you want when you other, but I’m always us-ing. You can you all the damn day long, but don’t you ever us with them, don’t you ever we without we. Because when I us while you other, I know how we I can make my other, and I don’t trust him to me. And I don’t own us, I didn’t patent we, but without me there is no us like you can we with me. Like we can. Because when we roll, when we rhythm, there is no bass like I beat. So while you can’t we, I skip
until our tack jazzes again.

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I am a writer from Kansas City, Missouri. My previous credits include Existere, decomP magazinE, The Bluest Aye, and Bareback Magazine, as well as upcoming issues of Gadfly ONLINE, Chrome Baby and Eunoia Review.


Death Cues
By Kelly Kusumoto

Max was damn good at a game of 9-Ball. When he stared down at the table, his eyes would fine-tune his hands as if they were mechanized tools. A missed shot was like wisdom in youth. He was so good he would forego the lag and let his opponent choose whether or not to break.

He never played for money and he never played intoxicated. If a challenger offered a wager, Max would forfeit. If the opposition offered to buy him a drink, he would pocket the 9-Ball mid-game and wipe the chalk from the tip of his cue. Cigars and cigarettes would prompt the same response. As he walked away from the table he would always hear, “What the hell is his problem?”

“Ah, don’t worry about him,” another would say. Then they’d wait until he was gone before saying what they really thought.

“Guy’s a stuck-up prick…” Tom, the house referee said. “…But he’s the best prick who ever played a game of 9-Ball, so we put up with it.”

“Why,” asked the challenger?

“He don’t play for money, so’s the same as havin’ a free lesson. You don’t need to buy him drinks an’ you don’t need no conversation. We lose every game but it’s a win-win if you ask me. He’s awkward to boot but he’s harmless.”

Max stood outside the pool hall. He was staring blankly at the wet street. Light from the lampposts reflected into Max’s eyes. The delicate, almost floating rain was dancing more than falling and seemed to put Max into a catatonic state.

“Hey partner,” said a man in an all black suit. “I’ve been watching you play.”

Max gave a nod as if acknowledging the man’s presence but did little else to engage.

“You’re damn good at a game of 9-Ball.”

“Suppose I am,” said Max.

“Your hands are like machines.”

Max looked up at the man for the first time and saw how out of place he looked.

“I’m sorry. Where are my manners,” the man said. “My name is Grimson.” He held out his hand.

“Max,” he said avoiding Grimson’s hand.

Grimson’s eyes were slow and methodical as if he were peering into Max’s soul. Max looked back down into the collected rainwater. Grimson stood there as if waiting for something. It was Max who now felt awkward.

“Don’t have a lot to say, do you?” asked Grimson.

Max shook his head and tapped his foot. Little did anyone know that Max was always the one who felt awkward.

Grimson lit a cigarette and let the smoke rise up into his nose. He had the appearance of a well-refined man; a man of culture and education, a man raised a world away from Spring, Texas. Yet here he was in a pool hall in the middle of nowhere on a Friday night.

“You aren’t from around here,” said Max.

“I’m from everywhere,” Grimson said.

“What are you doing here,” said Max?

“I heard about a kid in Spring, Texas who was the best 9-Ball player since Teddy Fitz.”

“Teddy who?”

“Teddy Fitz. Everyone says Alfred Mejia is the best but Teddy was right there with him in terms of skill. It was Teddy’s tact that put him on top, in my opinion. So when someone I heard some kid was knocking on the door, I get a little interested.”

“You play,” asked Max?

“I beat Teddy. Then he shot himself.”

Max looked up quite quick as if the thought of real competition roused a sense of drama he hadn’t felt since grade school. Grimson’s eyes were slowly peering into Max’s. Max felt exposed and vulnerable. He could feel his heart pounding from the inside of his chest like a new prisoner pounds the bars of his jail cell. His foot tapped faster than an up-tempo jazz hi-hat.

“You come from wherever you come from to play me,” said Max?


“I don’t play smokers.”

Grimson let his cigarette fall to the floor. The embers fizzled from the rain and smoke rose from underneath his foot. “I know.”

“I don’t play with drinkers.”

“I know.”

“And I don’t make wagers.”

“That’s what I’ve heard,” said Grimson.

“But,” asked Max?

Grimson pulled out a nickel-plated, thirty-eight caliber pistol from his jacket pocket. Max noticed he was wearing white gloves like the ones the Marines wear in full uniform. “If I win,” he said, “You meet Teddy tonight.”

Max could feel a knot in his throat but did not want to swallow. He did not want to give any indication that he was intimidated or even interested in taking this offer.

The funny thing was that Max was tired. He felt his existence futile, his life meaningless. This moment in time was the most alive he had felt in his entire life. He pulled out a black, nine-millimeter pistol of his own and held it out for Grimson to see.

“And if I win,” Max asked?

Grimson smiled. He looked up into the dark and cloudy sky. Raindrops landed diaphanously on his face. Methodically and very slowly, Grimson fixed his gaze back upon Max’s, his smile long gone. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Teddy. I guess tonight’s as good as any for a reunion.”

The two men walked inside. There might as well have been a spotlight on them. By now their weapons were again concealed, but the prospect of death was not. Patrons of the hall became onlookers. There was a weight carried with each step closer to the player’s table.

Grimson handed the cue ball to Max. “I insist,” he said.

Max took the ball and placed it behind the head string. He pocketed the one-ball, then the two. After pocketing the three-ball he said, “Tonight’s a good night.”

Grimson smiled and winked. “Sure is,” he said.

Max missed the four-ball. His heart sank. His skin went pale.

Grimson leaned over to aim and said, “There is no wisdom in youth.”

- - -
Currently a Marketing Associate/Graphic Designer, Kelly Kusumoto is studying at Full Sail University where he is pursuing a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing for Entertainment.
He has written articles for a handful of Los Angeles-based magazines and has recently published flash fiction stories on various websites around the world.
He continues to hone his craft, creating stories that accurately display the human experience.


Those with Faith, Their Reward (A Triptych)
By Jude Conlee

I went into the back room for what waited for me. Something there always waited for me. Never for you. It does not come for you because it senses inside you the impurity like necrotic flesh in your brain. But I, faithful with fewer such things in my brain and those few being worked at, will get what I will get. Never you, though. Never you, not ever. I get the things allotted the faithful, and you are allotted that which you can find outside the spaces of true reward.
But I. I will always find something if I go to that room, and sometimes it is tiny, fills the room itself. Sometimes I can hold it in my hand and sometimes it holds me in its own. Sometimes it fills me so I cannot see what is real and what is my reward. Usually it comes in the boxes. The boxes are made for that purpose; I set them there for that reason. And sometimes the rewards are words on scraps of paper, which I store in my pockets and treasure as Psalmic poetry. Always, though. Always a reward.
I work hard and then I work harder. There is nothing to do but to constantly do as you must. Do as you are told. Do what that which is greater than you tells you do to. Work with no expectation of reward. Only the faithfulest servants receive so much as praise. But I am faithful and receive reward. Always. Always.

Imagine a tree of life with three tiers,
little fruit but longwide branches
Life, and the Knowledge of Life and Death
it is the way humanity must damn itself
but it is considered glory, only when
we close our eyes
but we paint it for our cathedrals that
die and die but the holy live on
in eye-gouged spaces for worship is blind

we worship the gods that are not buried in whose burial fields lie no headstones
and whose orders are carried in strange glyph and whose orders are all there are
the deathless gods, above all others, all others are dead through metaphor nonexistence

the space allocated their burial is still, windless; sometimes one imagines a stirring sound
no man can bear it to stay very long, but it is never a place of exile for we know what honor is
we honor our men and we worship our gods and we never sacrilege their empty grounds

worships supplant scripture but proverbs remain, remnants of when words sufficed as faith
faith must be accompanied by it; war is one and a warship becomes worship, we are there
we are always there when what must be committed is done; we are only of action of only ever

They of the vineless branches,
drink and thou shalt not thirst,
eat and thou shalt not hunger,
toil and pray and grind thyselves to nothing,
thy reward is on this earth, but meager;
thy reward is in the after-all
and it flashes and stings and
excruciates and your
martyrdom is mundane in its sight

You are the faithless, so don’t bother searching the boxes for a gift-wrapped present with your name on it. There are ones given a faithful eyeless servant, but a godless many-eyed worshipper of the now and known gets nothing. You were always so, like a kid at Christmas, caught by shiny wrappers but always in regards to what they hid. I knew only patience and admiration for the package itself.
Crammed in spaces of paper I find what my god and gods dictate and all I can know is what they have told me, and it says eviscerate my mind and find what they take out and put back into jars, and if you wish to freeze in what is our makers’ cosmic sight, you will choose, you will go on as you always have but I choose to burn for burning is of the gods and I shall never die, I shall sear inside for always and I am becoming that, for today in the back room there was fire in the boxes and they burned not but I burned with them, and you saw and screamed but I laughed in holy joy and it shall be so again, it shall someday be so for always and ever.
My rewards will cease one day and I will rejoice, for my rooms overflow with both trinket and treasure, and I have swallowed all the praise, and my innards are scraped and emptied by both my servitude and its reward. I shall burn, as our gods burn, and if I am the mightiest in faith, I may be buried where the gods were never buried.

- - -
Jude Conlee puts words together and is fascinated by things like human minds, the universe, and other irregular subjects. The intersection of these two facts often leads to the creation of fiction and poetry, which has appeared in several publications including The Fast-Forward Festival, Otoliths, and The Inflectionist Review.


Bleeding Martha
By W. T. Paterson

From the outside, George had a good life and a good family. His wife Martha cooked dinner every night and his kids Annabelle and Sam did well in school. Annabelle sang in chorus and Sam played baseball as an all-star short stop. Even Martha, who had no job and stayed home all day, could not complain. She raised the children and walked the dog. She cooked and cleaned to make sure George was happy.
But George wasn’t happy. No one knew why. Often times he would find himself staying late at work not wanting to go home. He found himself feeling trapped and strangled. There were the nights where he’d work so late into the evening that by the time he returned home, the dinner would be cold and everyone would be asleep. Most times, he wouldn’t eat.
Martha worried about her poor George so she worked extra hard at making sure that when he got home, everything would be in order. But lately, this did not seem to work. Mornings would come and she would find last night’s dinner still in the kitchen without a bite on them.
Annabelle was in the paper for an outstanding performance at her school and Sam won a great big trophy after his team won a state championship. Both children had wanted their father George to attend their events, but he went to neither and had no real explanation as to why. When they showed him their achievements, he nodded his head and went into another room without a word.
Something was going on and no one could figure out what. No one, that was, except for George and his personal assistant Evelyn, for it was she that was the source. While George stayed late, Evelyn would come into his office and kiss him on the mouth. She made him do things with her that broke the sanctity of marriage and made him question his commitment to another. The worst part was, he allowed it to happen and thought he could hide it. Although George knew he was doing wrong, a part of him felt free.
Finally a day came when George returned to his house before dinner. There was separation in the air and he found Martha in the kitchen. She sounded like she was weeping with a sad and hollow grief, so George did not say a word. He watched as his wife took a sharp kitchen knife and cut off three of her fingers and, as the blood leaked into the sink, she cut off another. The sight was so ghastly that the man could hardly make a sound. Martha then took the knife and cut her face from her lips to her ear on both sides forever creating the mask of happiness.
“My dear love,” George screamed, “what have you done to yourself?”
But at that moment, Annabelle and Sam entered the kitchen through the south door and saw their mother bleeding.
“If mother cries so, then I shall share in her suffering,” Annabelle said. “I am her daughter, therefore I must become her pain,” and she took a knife and cut out her tongue. Her beautiful singing voice was now swept away.
Sam said “If they weep, then I must remain strong and become a man. For this, I shall sacrifice my childhood.” George could not believe his eyes as his son grew until there was hair on his face, and his clothes turned into a suit. No longer was Sam a little boy, instead a full grown man. All of the things he had yet to experience as a youth were now impossibilities.
George cried out, “My family! What have you done to yourselves?”
To which they replied, “Nothing that you haven’t already done to us.”
It was at this moment that George saw how much he had actually hurt them all. Most people never have a family who can manifest their inner and outer feelings as well as they could and knowing that he was responsible for the mess he banished himself from his own kingdom.
A year went by and George found he could not focus at work. He was soon fired and forced to move into a small and rundown apartment. With no job, there was little money and he quickly ran out of food. He could not afford to pay the electricity. His dreams became recurring visions of failure and his stomach cried out for the substance of a meal.
Many tears fell from the face of the once successful man. They fell into the bowls before him and became a soup. He drank this soup to ease his hunger. When the soup became scarce, he took a knife and began cutting out pieces of his own heart to eat. This caused much pain, but it was the only way he could stay alive. When he ate his heart, he wept. When he wept, he drank his tearful soup. It was a never ending cycle and he did this until he died.
Martha and her family lived on for many years later and tried to forget about the past, but so much had already been lost. The past is hard forgotten. They learned to carry with them the burdens of choice.

- - -
W. T. Paterson is a Chicago writer who's recent work can be seen in Maudlin House, Procyon Press's Anthology, and Whispers from the Past. Send him a tweet @WTPaterson


The Minutes Before The Grope
By Sarah Edwards

The boy standing on my foot, without airless gloves, “You are the cut-out grapefruit that lives in the elastic tower just around my bush?” I wanted to answer but my wisdom tooth was all out of metal exterior, the honesty your hand was poking for under the rear threads of my jeans short-shorts, was on indefinite leave to the pipe zipper on your khaki underpants. They had wrinkled saliva running through the ridges, every time you tried to zip up or down, a burdened bush tear fell between your protruding knees. I tried to catch it every hundredth fall, with my hallowed double lips, open and gaping, the raspberry flavored gelatin button you adore to clasp with wires. I let the currents run through my bagged mouth, then it was all pleasant that my loaded lips failed to feed on the glutinous drop, you sealed it every time with a dusting of a nod. It was just and all that my one gaze needed. In real time the pressurized foot was taking the form of a flat skin bread, you refused to wear the weighty fingers to cover your bald hands and kept staring in my entangled one eye, making agile water needed to salt the pores. The dawned question kept hitting the circular dot on my nose, in a 10 second constant pace. “O..Orr..Ore!” The yelp leaving my open flesh was unrecognizable. You twisted the heel of your arched brick, pale with bare cracked nerves. It was a mistake, a toe sprained wrong I had done and you were a stone figure, bathing in ashes. “Ore is just a material, the bush is what matters to any berry with grown hair.” I saw it without any eye prick. The immobilization of air that you gifted me was a direct response to the praise of over flowing hedges. I pleased you. This time the toe was non-feeling. You took the erased question, now visible and multicolored and nailed it, with the addition of your fingernails , to the sides of both of our cheek bones. And then the fingering was aligned with the question. We will forever sprout as shrubs of juiced pebbles.

- - -
Sarah Edwards is a writer and/or a poet. She likes to push boundaries of literature and language. Her work is experimental and somewhat avant garde. She breathes in Annapolis, MD for now.


The Lime Rat Probe
By AE Reiff

First. Thousands of prod cells are undetected at the macro mart.
To call them cells is inaccurate in the plural.
Just one prod makes a cell.
Second. In the world of six,
prod cells contingency plan with the mind of prods
but are not a mind.
When those cell(s) form the number odd, three young,
they immerse themselves in the language, geography, skills, and goals
of prods and plan as prods plan, or not,
for prods may not plan as they ought,
or as their leaders would.
Three. Expect the ensuing prod act to take
documents and official tactics to infiltrate non-scenes.
Here the definition of non-scene is difficult.
Four. Because three means six
it is impossible to identify cell numbers.
I fell asleep at midday once and woke to see
Prods in a van at an army school. This was beyond belief.
Hope that the prods fell asleep again.
Five. You would think you could call out to the In
in them, that is, to the prods diffuse, divert:
“Come now you prods,” you would assert, but….
Six. We are being innerwhelmed.

Note: They got their name from their port of entry, Point Produgal.
Or Prodicul, or Protigull. Analysis shows either and all explains it.
Prod Probe


The Lime Rat Probe had nought to do with pigs. You get tired of explaining everything.
A captured prod would shed some light. Who can't make that claim? The Swine.
Di prado ate the pig. Did prodos eat the pig? Huh? Hardly!
Among different kinds exist a droop, a jack, and a prod. Prod’s ruse all right.
This message was found on their doors: Prods dance.

Now you're saying, that’s clear, but what’s the proof a prod’s mine? A Lapsed Pers or a Return Thig? There have always been three issues here:
First. Thousands of prod cells have been undetected at the macro mart. To call them cells is inaccurate in the plural. Just one prod makes a cell.
Second. In the world game, if you form the six prod cells that contingency plan with the mind of prods, do not say, what mind? The mother loves the mind of prawn.
Incidentally, when those cell(s) form the number six, three odd brothers, three young, they immerse themselves in the language, geography, skills, and goals of prods. They plan as prods plan, or not, for prods may not plan as they ought, or as their leaders would.
Three. Expect the ensuing prod act to take documents and official tactics to infiltrate non-scenes. Here the definition of non-scene is most difficult.
Four. Because three means six in their league, it is impossible to identify cell numbers. I fell asleep at midday once and woke up to see Prods in a van at an army school. This was beyond belief. Hope that the prods fell asleep again.
Five. You would think you could call out to the In in them, that is, the prods diffuse, divert: “Come now you prods,” you would assert, but.
Six. They got this name from their port of entry, Point Produgal. Or Prodicul, or Protigull. We are being innerwhelmed. Analysis shows either and all of these explains it.
That is the story of the Lime Island prod so far as last heard.

Prod rockets island dust
Swore Villa Triggerstone.

Sure I could.

- - -
AE Reiff runs a balaklava bakery in Marfa turning fiction into pastry.


Etymology of Zoe Farm
By Matthew Beach

They talk of radical renewal, but radical, you say, is from the Latin radix, which, like radish, has to do with getting to the root of things, so I dig my fingers deeper into the soil. Knuckles the color of beets, as cracked as carrots.

They say I need to be righteous, but I’m no measuring stick. You tell me the root of righteousness is the Old English riht, meaning upright or straight, as in, to fit a particular form, so I prune my auxiliaries and measure not the right of my angles, but the color and light of my fruit.

They say sex is the prime mover, but sex, as you remind me, is from the Latin secare, meaning to move apart, as in, from whole to halves, so I lie next to you, elbows in the dirt, like a pea pod split down the seam, closer to the roots than to myself.

They say I’m only as good as the company I keep, so we wait in the dark for the flea beetles to descend and bite our knees like cabbage and for the morning wind to scatter our hands like seeds over the earth.

When we’ve finished, the dirt under our fingernails will tell us we’ve been here before. The zucchini prickles in our palms will say we’ve only begun.

- - -
Matthew Beach is a high-school English teacher, writer, and visual artist from Canton, Ohio. His poems and stories appear in The Prose-Poem Project, Metazen, Weave, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere.


By: Kaila Allison

- -
It’s the hottest night of the year.
Men wipe sweat from lips with hankies. Women fan themselves with brochures. We are young and in New York. A buddy of Miles’ from Philly is performing with his group, a free-form jazz quartet, in an Aikido dojo at 307 East 92nd. We walk up a narrow staircase and Miles cracks the door slowly – not sure we’ve got the right address. But it is, Sensei greets us and tells us please if we didn’t mind taking our shoes off, this is a dojo after all. A slight Asian man holding a beer comes over, tells us his name’s Ken. We all shake hands. Miles says he’s a buddy of Elliot’s from Philly. Not from Philly but he goes to school there, studies jazz guitar. He says, this is my friend Kaila, she’s a writer. Ken smiles. He has nice teeth and he laughs in the right places. He says there’s sake and beer if you like. I’m a little nervous about being barefoot, what if I picked up a fungus or something. Then I decide to forget about it. Miles and I take a tour of the little studio, we look out a window and see a picnic table decorated in weed memorabilia. That’s psychedelic, Miles says. We sit on a rocky wooden bench and Miles sees this guy behind us with a camera, Pete. Are you a jazz photographer, he asks? Just a bass player with a camera, says Pete. We all laugh. This guy Pete knows his stuff. He has a 1958 Nikon around his neck. Still works, but you gotta wind the film by hand. Miles says, This is my friend Kaila, she’s a great writer. I tell him I go to NYU. Great school, he says, I went to Columbia then Fordam by Lincoln Center. I say I know it. We talk about how brevity is the greatest challenge of writing. Pete says Mark Twain thinks writing is like slitting your wrists and bleeding onto the page. I say I’m more into poetry because it’s brief. Our culture is filled with people in a rush to get on to other things.
Elliot comes waltzing into the room with a rusty old baritone sax and a flute. He’s a looker, Miles says, reminds him of a pirate. Certainly has the right beard. Also has this long Dred wrapped in red ties coming out the back of his black Euro-beanie. He’s dressed in a black tank and sweats and socks. All the musicians have their shoes off, in respect of the dojo. The keyboard guy has a mop of black curls and glasses, looks vaguely Middle Eastern. He faces away from the keyboard and presses his palms together over his heart and closes his eyes, like he’s some sort of monk. The bassist tunes his 5-string and does some licks to warm up. Ken tells us, here we are on this hot night but hopefully we cool it down with some of this jazz. If someone else had said it, it would’ve sounded corny. He sets himself up behind his playbox of percussive toys and the music starts. And boy is it like ecstasy. Like sex. Pure, dirty sex. The room is hot. Men wipe their faces and women fan themselves. They press their beers against their foreheads. Miles slaps his legs and stomps his feet like a loon. He rocks back and forth, shaking the bench. I feel the rhythmic vibrations go through my legs and my chest and my head. It is sex, this music, that’s what it is. Then Elliot fishes through some papers under his chair and reads his sex words and we sway and we yeah and we moan, we are certainly not human we are animals. I close my eyes and feel the heat on my skin, the damp moisture of the room. It smells like beer and rubber. People drink sake out of small mason jars. There are kids and they fall asleep on the floor. The keyboardist takes the tube out of his melodica and bangs it between the legs of the keyboard. The tempo increases, the musicians are at a presto, if they go much faster they might have heart attacks. We might have heart attacks. We are on speed. We are on ecstasy. We are on drugs that we didn’t even know existed. Elliot slaps the keys on his sax without air, he takes a swig from his water bottle, swishes, swallows, then blows into the bottle and makes cooing sounds, like doves.
At intermission I buy Miles two CDs and Elliot’s book because he’s out of cash. He’s grateful. I say, It’s for the art. We talk to the guys and Miles is delirious with pleasure. He says, This is my friend Kaila, she’s a writer and she’s really into bohemian poetry. We talk about the Beats and musical telepathy. I am tired and hungry and thirsty but we stay for the second set. We talk to Ken about the heartbeat of the music. We need the heartbeat, otherwise how can we live, Ken says. He gives a little laugh and flashes his teeth. He stands close to me and I back up a bit. Ken talks about polyrhythms and Africa. Miles says, You guys inspire me. Ken invites us to eat with them after the show. We sit on the floor with couscous, falafel, hummus. It is good. They are gracious and kind people. They can make music out of anything.

- - -
Kaila Allison is a senior at New York University studying Creative Writing and Psychology. She has published fiction and nonfiction in Potluck Mag and Mr. Beller's Neighborhood.


Love And Marriage
By Christine-Marie L. Dixon

The problem, darling, is that if I married you, you’d expect me to go to church every Sunday and iron your ties and while you wouldn’t expect me to cook dinner every night you’d hint about how nice it would be to have a home cooked meal every so often. And after a while we’d stop having sex because I’d be tired or you’d be tired or we wouldn’t want the kids to hear and sooner or later we’d stop spooning in the middle of the night and I would complain about your snoring so you’d move into your own bedroom down the hall. We’d grow old together like a spinster sister and a bachelor brother and leave the bathroom door open and I would stop shaving my legs and you’d stop working out and I’d develop a chronic shopping habit and you would become addicted to watching football and we’d stop making margaritas and sidecars and just stick to beer because opening a bottle is easier than mixing a drink.

It’s not your fault, darling, that you’re just the tiniest bit dull. In your last life you were a monk and you only masturbated twice, once when you were 16 and once when you were 57 and other than that your sexual experience was limited to the dirtier parts of the Bible and a night spent at your brother’s house when you overheard him fucking his wife who may or may not have been a lesbian but that’s beside the point

We would have been a good couple if we were farmers and I could churn butter while you planted crops and we could grow old and gray like that painting you like so much (you know the one I’m talking about) the one where the man is holding the pitchfork and the woman looks like she’s constipated. But as it is, I’d rather not drive a minivan and I think I might be a little embarrassed to take you to my high school reunion because of the way you laugh. It might be cute now but after a few years I suspect I would stop saying anything funny just so I wouldn’t have to hear that helium-propelled giggle that seems to fall out of your nose.

But… have a nice life and all.

- - -
Christine-Marie L. Dixon is a writer and musician from Detroit.


After The Wedding
By Jessie Marie Widner


Be gentle and strange, these are the things you tell yourself until the day you remember the suicide you planned three years ago, the suicide planned with the hand of the artist, the whole thing based on the idea of blood on white silk. But it had to be nice silk, expensive, raw silk. Once when you were younger you cut your hand and let it drip into a bowl of milk. You think about this often. It was fleeting of course, because once there was too much blood the milk went pink and it was no longer romantic. But no one wants to hear about that.

The night before your wedding you go to your sister’s house. She lives alone in a bungalow only a ten-minute walk from the apartment you and Edgar share. Your sister is a more tragic woman than you; she was pregnant once, and painted her house in pastel colours. It was three days before the baby shower that they told her the baby had died. They had to induce it, stillborn. You weren’t there when this happened; you were spending the summer in Paris with a man you no longer speak to. Your sister’s husband had left two years after the baby died. He told your sister that she was too different then from the woman he had married.

The walls are still pastel. Elaine never speaks of her sadness, in fact she smiles more than you do. You suspect she is easier to get along with than you are. You love her; she is the kind of person anyone would find hard to criticize. When she opens the door and sees your face she takes your hands. She takes you into the house. You sit on the sofa while she makes tea and when your voice comes it comes from far away.

“It’s not that I don’t want to marry Edgar, I do. I love Edgar. I don’t see why he would want to marry me.”

Elaine sits next to you. She’s your sister but she’s much older than you and you don’t look alike. “You can’t be serious,” she says, “You know he loves you. You’ve always known that.”


“It was in the fitting room at Holt Renfrew,” the police officer says. Elaine’s hands are shaking, “They found her quickly. I’m terribly sorry for your loss.”

“It’s my fault,” Elaine says after a little silence, “I encouraged her to marry him.”

The two police officers, a man and a woman, both white, both wearing paint-by-numbers sympathy on their faces, stand up. Elaine is sorry to see them go, even though she doesn’t know or particularly like them. She is aware of her loneliness, her sudden fragility like a yolk within her. Karen was a girl made of eggshells. Elaine opens a window to let the cold air in. The police officers are still sitting in their car. She wonders if either of them have ever lost anyone dear to them. Surely everyone has at some point or another.

Elaine doesn’t like to feel sorry for herself, but she feels in this moment that she’s been dealt a bad hand. She thinks about Karen, younger, prettier, dead. She thinks about how her own life has become contained, in this house, in the drawers of her desk, the books on her shelf, the food in her cupboards. She doesn’t go out very often. One forgets there are many ways to die.


“I won’t be a minute,” Karen is standing in the darkness, her hair longer than last time, dressed in a white pantsuit, an outfit she would not have been caught in before she died.

“You’re dead,” Elaine says, “What are you doing here?”

Karen moves soundlessly but she looks more or less flesh, blood, bone. Elaine takes her forearm as Karen moves past her into the house. She is warm to the touch.

“I don’t mean to burst in on you like this,” Karen says, in the living room now, her hands buried wrist deep in the couch cushions, “It’s just, I think I left something last time I was here.”

Karen cries out softly and draws her hand back out of the sofa. There is a thin line of blood across the side of her index finger. She smiles, “oh, I found it.” She reaches back in and pulls out a long razor blade, holds it up in front of her face.

“No,” Elaine says, stepping forward, “that’s not yours.” Karen appears to not have heard her. She walks towards the door. “You can’t leave,” Elaine rushes after her but Karen’s already standing at the door, one hand holding it open.

“I really must be off,” she says, head turning towards the night, “I’m sorry to bother you in middle of the night.”

Elaine watches her sister walk down the garden path, open the front gate, shut it behind her, and continue across the street. Before she disappears she turns and waves, smiling wide. The smile fades last, a glint of white teeth in the dark, empty street.

- - -
Jessie Widner is a writer based in Toronto, Ontario. Her work has appeared in the University College Literary Journal, Shorthand, and Lantern Magazine. Additionally, she is the founding editor of Klipspringer Magazine.


The Islamic State and The Third Reich:
A Contrast in Efficiency

By Donal Mahoney

- -
As any capitalist knows,
you must spend less
to make a profit,
which is why I admire those
running The Islamic State.
They're efficient
compared with those
who ran The Third Reich.

Who can forget the Nazis,
a terrorist group other nations
observed for years before
anyone did anything.
The Nazis gobbled up
land and people until
other countries stepped in.
Millions died, most
of them not Nazis.

The term "terrorist" wasn't used
when the Nazis herded Jews,
Gypsies and Gays into camps
and then into gas chambers.
The Nazi way cost money.
The Islamists know better.

Islamists take no prisoners,
have no concentration camps,
spend no money to gas victims.
Islamists chop off heads
or shoot infidels in the back.
Heads, torsos, bodies bake
and return to dust in the sun.

Once they're finished in Iraq
the Islamists may go to Gaza
and show Hamas how to win
without buying rockets.

Islamists get the same results
the Nazis did for less money.
They may not be capitalists but
they know how to cut expenses.

- - -
Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, Donal Mahoney has had work published in various publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com/.


Square Not
By Paul Smith

I’d been kidnapped by Isosceles Sam and his Hypotenuse Gang. They’d been looking for me. They thought I knew too much, or more than them, or just enough or something. They’d been running numbers, triangulating the geo-grid, doing binomial expansions (which is by no means easy), running the old sum-of-the-squares swindle, La Place functions, partial derivatives, every angle known to man. Finally they stubbed their collective toe on the Bernoulii equation when they found it had some complications they hadn’t foreseen.
I think it was a case of mistaken identity. They mistook me for someone who knew the ins and outs of mathematics. They thought they’d found someone as crooked as them.
But they were wrong. I was straight.
Straight? I was a perfect square. Sure, I’d passed differential equations. Sure, I got through complex variables and even aerodynamics. For what? To know the square root of minus one? Is that all there was to life? I doubted it, but I had yet to find out what else there was, unless it was maybe the jokes and stories and tales we spun when we should have been studying. Maybe the whole college setup was a scam, and all along we should have been mastering the ‘Ballad of SUNY Jim’ and the mystery lyrics of ‘Louie, Louie.’ I ruefully admitted I had no answers.
They took me to their secret hideout at Six Corners, where Milwaukee Avenue, Cicero and Irving Park convene. This hideaway is so secret that most people believe that Six Corners is the intersection of Milwaukee, Damen & North. But these are the things only Isosceles Sam and his gang knew.
They don’t know much else.
They took me to a basement where they tied me up. My wrists wrestled with the wobbly knot. ‘A square knot,’ my wrists told me. In all the lousy cities of the world, in all the lousy basements, it had to be a square knot. It couldn’t be a Sheepshank, A Clove Hitch, an Ossel or a Clinging Clara.
Wait a minute. I couldn’t get out of those either.
Yes, I have long conversations with all of my body parts – my wrists, my ribs, my tailbone, my abdomen. They all speak up from time to time. The only quiet one is my brain. He’s the strong, silent type. If I could just get him to talk more.
“So, what’s the gig, Sam?” I asked. ‘Gig’ was a special word I learned from my abdomen when Earl Hooker’s blue guitar kicked me there.
“Gig?” he asked. “This ain’t no strange beauty show. We need something I think you got.’
“I got the blues,” I admitted.
“You got something else. You passed complex variables. What’s this thing about the square root of minus one we hear about?”
He was referring to the Bernoulli equation, the thing that makes airplanes go up and then holds them there so they don’t fall. So maybe he never heard of Orville and Wilbur Wright and wanted to invent the airplane. He needed to get out more. Or maybe he just wanted to pass his final exam.
“Yeah,” I sneered. ‘The square root. The imaginary plane. That ring a bell?”
“Start talkin!”
“You first, Sam. Sure, I can talk, but so can you. What are you getting at?”
Sam looked at his gang, and they looked back. He licked his lips. “We’re going to build the biggest, baddest submarine there ever was. We need to know what makes it go up and down in the water. Eddie over here said it works like an airplane, an airfoil, so we all took aerodynamics but haven’t gotten around to going to class yet. Tomorrow’s the final. We know there is something about the square root of minus one involved. Once we get past that part, we can build the damn submarine. Eddie and us have worked on cars our whole lives. Now spill the beans!”
I stammered. “I, uh.”
“That’s it!” Eddie shouted. “i.”
“What?” Sam shouted back.
“i,” Eddie repeated. “The symbol i. I saw it in Cliff’s Notes.”
“Who’s Cliff?” Sam shouted.
“i is the square root of minus one,” Eddie said jubilantly. “Now we can build our sub.”
Then my brain spoke up. ‘Ask them if they know what you get when you take the ice out of ice cream. Maybe they’ll let you go if you stump them,’ she said. What a dame. She was really under-appreciated.
So I did.
“Cream, “Sam replied.
“What do you have when you take the water out of watermelon?”
Here was the coup-de-grace. “And what,” I asked, “Do you get when you take the f*** out of onions???”
Dead silence.
“There ain’t no f*** in onions!” I shouted.
Out of embarrassment they were forced to release me. Sam’s street cred shrunk to zero. He got it back the next week, though, when he busted a hexagram into two triangles and recruited them into his gang. And he passed his final exam and went on to build his submarine.
I got wind that big changes were coming so I headed to the airport. And I took my brain along. She turned out to be a wonderful conversationalist.
We had a plane to catch.

- - -
Brief bio: Paul Smith lives near Chicago with his wife Flavia. He belongs to the Rockford Writer’s Guild, who occasionally accepts his poetry/fiction. He believes that brevity is the soul of having something to say and then cutting something in half with a butcher knife, a meat cleaver, an axe or whatever else is handy.


Fun Facts When Drawing Blood
By Travis Roberts

A workday. The stained canvas draped along the overpass rail features Think in mottled lines of black spray paint.
I consider it. My brain behind a classroom desk.
A woman once told me she preferred fiction in violent weather. I associate her memory with barroom lights, dim and red, suspended above pictures of smoking dogs playing cards, framed in plastic. Truth is, she slept in my house for a time but I never saw her naked. I think because we loved each other.
Nobody stands next to the stained canvas. It simply hangs, limp and rain worn. A distraction. Like kids playing basketball, or a woman jogging. You look, as long as you can, and then you look elsewhere.
After the exit my drive consists of a shopping mall, a Burger King, and a nail salon tucked behind a low hill.
Three lights, one turn.The margins of a universe.
Live in your own time, a man told me once. This is a truly exciting era.
My customers recite stories about how the theater in the mall used to run Ingmar Bergman films. Back before you were born, they say. I explain that I know all about the God trilogy, that I've even seen Wild Strawberries. There's hope, they say.
Occasionally I impress someone. These moments weave around corners and often require alcohol. One took shape in the early hours of a college Sunday. We were at a birthday party and I mentioned Bergman's God trilogy.
This is why college is so much better than high school.
There was only High Life. I rubbed my hand between her thighs until she fell asleep.
In high school I chose cello. Fourth chair. My stand partner, a senior, was three years older. She looked the part. Showed up late to class like a pioneer. Like it was her idea. Jeans torn at the knees, t-shirts tight around the chest. I listened when she spoke.
These next three years are the ones you want. Trust me, cutie.
The God trilogy. Jesus. Too serious. Too quiet. And where's the color? Our kids don't need lectures, just bullets and sequels. And for Christ's sake, English.
Park and catch the bumper sticker in front of me. Tell the truth, there's less to remember.
Called in sick yesterday. Spent my shift on a pleather stool with red lights and popcorn. Happy hour and a full memory.
A coworker once mentioned a man on the Greyhound. A cook from northern California who wouldn't shut up about servitude. Said he'd just quit a gig in the San Juan Islands because the host made him feel like a lackey. Said he couldn't wait to get home. See his girls. Go a round with the wife.
I make a lousy indentured servant.
I greet a woman with fake red hair at the entrance to the store. Pearl's name tag reveals a commitment of twenty-four years. One more and the badge turns silver. Pearl smiles like I'm trying to sell her something.
Good morning, how are you?
Good, thanks, how are you?
My tag is different. Far from silver. I prefer to consider myself unique. Uncommitted. A stopgap.
From behind the counter I scan your groceries. I smile and so do you.
Good morning, how are you?
Good, thanks, how are you?
Drift among endless rows of fluorescent bulbs dangling from the warehouse ceiling.
Frozen meatballs. Meatless grind. Chicken nuggets shaped like Mickey Mouse.
Good, thanks, how are you?
I overhear a customer two registers over waiting for her husband, adrift in search of forgotten butter. A baby in her shopping cart waiting to sleep. Two small boys at her feet, arguing. They can't wait to blow this place, huff one of our discount take and bakes and forget it happened. I'm waiting, too. First break. Lunch break. Last break.
She looks at her watch.
Where is your father?
The baby adjusts, unnoticed. Grabs the rubber handle.
Will you two please leave each other alone?
On her heels. A shift in weight. Forward, headfirst.
A poster I saw once in a doctor's office: Fun facts when drawing blood.
The silence in bone and concrete.
A cat's ear has thirty-two muscles.
The hush. The howl.
Chewing gum while peeling an onion prevents you from crying.
Breathe. Move. Impress.
The time we went shopping and the baby flew away.
More dogs playing cards. Another woman jogging.

- - -
Travis Roberts holds a bachelor's in creative writing from Western Washington University, where he studied under Jack Duluoz and the Glass family. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Albion Review, the Eunoia Review, Black Heart Magazine, and the Molotov Cocktail.


Dating Pool
By Brenda Anderson

Brad wept frog tears. The instant he’d checked □ pools and □ girls, Dream Dates had turned him into a frog and dumped him here, beside this chocolate pool. His green skin itched like crazy under the midday sun. What girl would look twice at a frog?
A single arm, hacked off just below the shoulder, broke the surface of the pool. The chocolate left streaks on the still-pink flesh. Brad blinked. A single leg broke the surface at the furthest edge of the pool. He gulped. This was no chocolate pool. Individual body parts? It had to be Army Replacements. Only they ran immersion tanks like this: nutrient-rich pools for body parts, grown to order. Brad studied the reinforced perimeter fence shimmering in the sunshine. Yep, definitely the Army.
He should surrender right now before they shot him, stepped on him, or whatever else the Army did to intruder frogs. Brad leaked more tears.
The warm breathy voice made him leap and spin round. A girl in a long, silvery dress crawled towards him, wearing a sparkling tiara. She reached out to touch him. He edged away. Was this some escaped nutcase? Army Recruitments?
“So nice to meet you. I’m Olivia.” She flashed a dazzling smile. If only he weren’t a frog.
He waved a webbed front leg. “I’m Brad. You’re with Dream Dates?”
Olivia nodded. “I checked □ princess, □ chocolate and □ pool. Look, they matched us here, together. I get to kiss you now, right?”
Oh God, if only he weren’t a frog. She did sound ditzy, though. How was he going to wriggle out of this one? Maybe let her down gently. “Smart work, getting past the perimeter fence. I heard they don’t like intruders.”
She sniffed. “D’uh, the guards let me through. All princesses get Lifetime Pool Membership, but they did tell me to keep a low profile. 1.5 metres from the ground, something about security. Hey, I’m poolside with you, froggy. How about a dip?”
Swimming with dismembered body parts, breast-stroking in her chocolate? No thanks. He tried to edge away. She giggled. “How about skinny dipping?”
His eyes bulged.
She grinned. “Brad baby, settle down. I’ll strip and get into that wonderful pool.”
“No! Seriously, it could give you extra bits.” Brad eyed his own four fingers. He was minus a digit, himself, and his skin felt like old cardboard. He edged closer to the pool. To hell with it, he needed liquid and fast.
Olivia reached for him but he leapt free and sailed up in the air. Zip, an arm rose from the pool and caught him. Hefting him high, the arm bobbed up and down. Brad breathed easier. At least the choc-sticky hand supplied him with much-needed moisture. A head bobbed up, that of a young girl, her mouth pouting, her wide-set blue eyes blinking at him.
Such a cute smile.
“Hey, cool disguise.” Her voice felt like balm on a hot day. “I’m impressed.”
This was more like it. “I’m Brad.”
“Beatrice. Call me Bea.”
Oh yeah.
“Bra—a---ad.” Behind him, Olivia’s voice rose to a shriek.
“That’s your girlfriend? Ok …ay.” Bea sounded amused. “Brad, that arm is going to go under any minute. Could we hook up sometime later? We should be out of here in a month.”
“Reconnected, with the rest of my body, you know.” Under the chocolate he could swear she blushed. “Then I’ll be back in uniform, ready for deployment.”
At last, his big chance. “So, how about a date?”
She grinned. “What’s your girlfriend going to say about that?”
Brad thought hard. “She was just leaving. About that date?”
“Mmm. Let’s say, Bar ‘n Grill, Main Street, 7pm, a month from today. But how will I recognise you? You won’t be in disguise, I guess.”
Please God, no.
“I’ll, uh….”
In the background, Olivia’s wail changed to a scream.
“Well, wouldn’t you know, the gardeners are back.” Bea gave an exclamation. “Look at that. They’re spraying the ground. Ooh, you’re right. She is leaving, at speed. Wait, she’s dropped her tiara. They’re calling her back … too bad, she’s gone. Well, Brad, I’ll be seeing you.”
Her adorable head sank back into the chocolate, and didn’t come up again. The dismembered arm laid Brad gently on the edge of the pool and sank back down, too. The pool basked in the noonday sun.
Brad heard heavy footsteps and froze.
A gloved hand scooped him up. “Aw, will you look at that. A frog. I’ll lob you over the fence, buster. Special security pass for frogs, haha.” The gardener lobbed. Brad whizzed over the fence and splat, landed on the grass outside the fence. Zap, he changed back into his twenty two year old, naked body. Brad got up and ran for his life.

* * *

7pm, the Bar ‘n Grill. Dim lights. At the bar sat drop-dead gorgeous Bea, draped in something slinky, her pale skin dusted with freckles, her red hair cascading round her shoulders, her full lips curved in a welcoming smile.
At last, his dream date.

- - -
Brenda Anderson’s fiction has appeared in places like Andromeda Spaceways, A cappella Zoo, Punchnel’s and Penumbra. She lives in Adelaide, South Australia, with her husband and two children, and loves the offbeat.


The Las Vegas Strip Disappeared This Morning
By David S. Atkinson

The Las Vegas Strip disappeared this morning, leaving a large number of pasty white vacationing Midwesterners blinking bleary-eyed confused at the morning sun. It happened suddenly, monolithic towering casinos and flashy digital nickel slots evaporating like people's money normally did there. No lights, no bells, no 'thwacking' of stripper cards advertising girls that would come to your room but depicting girls who were young in the eighties.
No 'you bring the booze, we bring the girls.'
Apparently, that Joshua tree out on Interstate 15 that dreamed Las Vegas took a break for the first time since that Honeymooners debacle back in the fifties. Pulled up root and got itself a room at a motor lodge and pinewood derby car museum near Baker, closed all the blinds and watched countless hours of HBO original programming. Without its dreams, Vegas was nothing more than a single story collection of housing developments, gas stations, and Speed Racer themed massage parlors.
And a mass of bewildered tourists wandering around in the empty desert like Lawrence of Arabia that time he lost his GPS unit.
Fremont street was still there, of course. Binions and Golden Gate. Four Queens. That place was too ugly to be a dream, too greasy to disappear. It lingered, like herpes or DVD collections of Alf.
The casino conglomerates ran to the mayor. The mayor ran to the mob, which was a short trip. The mob sent Dean Martin and Robert DeNiro to knock on the Joshua tree's motor lodge room door with 1967 World Series commemorative softball bats, break a few kneecaps if they had to. Joshua trees don't have kneecaps, but Martin and DeNiro managed to be convincing anyway.
It would have been a terrible thing if the rains never came again, or if someone were to release the Joshua tree's credit card information online.
Regardless, the Joshua tree went back to its place on Interstate 15 and resumed dreaming. Put down desert roots again. Raised a family of adopted Belgian refugee children.
And the dream of Las Vegas bloomed from nothing again, like the resurgence of bell-bottoms. Neon and two hundred foot tall cement. Cocktail waitresses dressed like reflective genies. Cocaine and thalidomide in the bathrooms. A Cirque du Soleil version of the Gettysburg address with an all bonobo monkey cast. The tourists went back inside.
And they spent money. Sometimes their own.
Luck was a lady again, an eighty year old lady wearing a gold lame track suit covered in Faberge rhinestones and an LED tiara seventy feet tall filled with the blood of male atheist virgins. All was right and well once more.

- - -
David S. Atkinson is the author of Bones Buried in the Dirt (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, first Novel less than 80K in length) and The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes (EAB Publishing, spring 2014). His writing appears in Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Interrobang?! Magazine, Atticus Review, and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.


There's No Funny Farm for the Likes of this
By jacob erin-cilberto

fair game Detroit crazies
burning buildings and brains hot against
the time's sentiment
not the NY Times, although some sophisticated
ivory white writer might try to position his article
in the right column,

one untouched by the flames
as he thinks he has captured the guts of the nuts
throwing TV sets through windows
and throwing windows through decades
of sparkling clean glass hate

Walter Cronkite flying through the air
his necktie unwound as the tempers
flaring, the sirens glaring
it's 1968

and we were ate up
by discolored hate
and colored fate
with mandates
and planned dates

for moving in
and moving up
forcing issues down others' already raspy throats
from the protests
and the protests
of the protests
of the protestors
with black faces and white faces
and no other places
to go,
because it was the sixties
and those years trapped us within our subconscious
without our conscious
but with deep conscience

that fair game Detroit crazies
weren't so crazy after all...
and that NY Times news blues paper

needs to print a retraction
about the action
of the crazies
who maybe just changed the world,

(at least theirs)

for at least
a one moment
when the flames
were finally extinguished
even if the burning minds
were not.

- - -
jacob erin-cilberto, originally from Bronx, NY, lives in Southern Illinois and teaches at two community colleges. He has been writing and publishing poetry since 1970. erin-cilberto's 13th book of poetry Intersection Blues is available from Water Forest Press, Stormville, NY.


The Box
By Sommer Nectarhoff

He kept it in a glass case that sat on a black granite table in the middle of his bedroom. It was crafted of a jet-black wood. Its surface was perfectly smooth and polished. The metal of the lock was black as well; the metal had doubtless come from deep beneath the earth. My father wore the key to the lock around his neck.

And so had his father before him. The box had been handed down from father to son for as far back as the family could remember. It had always been with us. One day, when my father decided that I was ready for it, he would give the box to me.

However, he told me that I could never open the box.

I had looked at it with eyes of avarice my entire life. And he told me that I could never open the box.

But I wanted to; we all want to open the box.

I couldn’t wait. I tried to force open the box without the key, but I couldn’t crack it open.

I tried to smash the box when my father was gone from home, but the box would not break. I could neither dent it nor scratch it. My attempts were useless.

I could not pick the lock. I could not burn the box.

It would not open.

Night after night I lay in bed thinking of the box and what was inside of it. I could not sleep. I could not dream. When I closed my eyes all that I saw was the box.

I could wait no longer.

I crept into my father’s room while he slept and I climbed on top of him. He was breathing softly. I grabbed the chain around his neck that held the key to the box, and then I gritted my teeth and drew it as tight as I could.

My father slept on his stomach, and I pressed his face into the pillow as he suffocated. The blood from the chain biting his neck seeped into the white linens and dried on my hands. After he was dead I took the chain from his neck and put it around my own.

I took the box under my arm and went up to the attic. I removed the key from my neck and placed it in the box’s black lock. I twisted the key and heard the solid click of the mechanism inside. I opened the box.

It was empty.

The box was always empty.

- - -
Sommer Nectarhoff is a twenty-two year old writer from Chicago. He is the author of “22”.


By Dalton Day

God is found napping in a tree & some folks folks find this disrespectful. I am brushing my teeth when I hear this on television & you are pouring dog food in the dog bowl. We run down to the tree in question so we can see God with our own eyes. God is wearing a dress the color of coral. God is being freckled in the afternoon sun. The folks who find this disrespectful are standing beneath the tree & discussing the best course of action. Somebody wants to yell until God wakes up. Somebody else wants to cut down the tree God is napping in. What they don’t realize is, while they were outside talking, all of their homes have caught fire. Had they been inside, they probably would have died. Had they been inside, they probably could have stopped it. You hold my hand. I watch the small hairs of your head tingle in the breeze. Our dog falls asleep at our feet, and dreams about a field so large, that she’d never see the end of it.

- - -
Dalton Day is scared & an editor for FreezeRay Poetry. His poems have appeared in Heavy Feather Review, The Good Men Project, and Hypothetical, among others. He is the author of the collection Supernova Factory, released by On the Cusp Press. He can be found at myshoesuntied.tumblr.com, and on Twitter @lilghosthands.


Running Late
By Gary Duncan

and you're supposed to meet him at half-ten, but you're late and you're in one of your moods because Maggie's not returning your calls and you're pretty fucking sure she's left you for good this time, and then some fucking idiot in a Jeep deliberately cuts you off on Gold Lane Square and you get out of the car and you're going to kick the fucking shit out of him and his stupid fucking Jeep but he pulls away just before you get to him and beeps his horn and gives you the finger, so you get back in the car but you stall it and the bloke behind you starts shaking his head and looks like he might start beeping his horn too but doesn't so you pull away and drive down the high street and try to find somewhere to park, but it's Saturday morning and it's busy and you have to park miles away, way over on Bridge Street, because the fucking council in their infinite fucking wisdom have decided to pedestrianise half the fucking town, so you stop-start it all the way down the high street, then along Castle View, then down the hill and into Bridge Street, and you look down at your phone and you wonder if Maggie's ever going to call you again, and think maybe you should start calling some of her friends but you know they never liked you anyway, so they can all fuck off as well, and you chug along Bridge Street to the car park and when you get there it starts to rain, proper rain, and within seconds you're soaked right through and when you finally see Larry he's leaning against the wall outside the coffee shop, in a world of his own, in the pissing rain, and when he sees you he asks how's it going and you tell him everything's fine but you really need a coffee so let's get inside and out of this pissing fucking rain and it's only when you're inside, at your favourite table in the corner, that you look at him properly and you say to him what the fuck happened to your eye and he shrugs and he says it's nothing, even though you know it's something, his eye all red and puffy but he tells you not to worry about it because he knows what you're like and he knows you'll only do something really fucking stupid like last time.

- - -
Gary Duncan is a freelance writer and editor based in Northumberland. His short stories have appeared in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, The Pygmy Giant, Shotgun Honey and Alliterati.


Home Invasion Encore
By Donal Mahoney

- -
This time Wilma
is ready for the bastards
jimmying her front door,
coming back for more.
The first time she was asleep,
the bedroom light on,
the Bible open at her side
to John, Chapter 6,
"Do this in remembrance of me."
Tonight, however,
Wilma's lying on the couch
with the lights out,
the rosary in one hand,
her late husband's pistol
cocked in the other.
Jack taught her how to use it
when she was a bride
and tonight she will pray
for the men now
coming through the door
and then she will use it
in remembrance of Jack
and call the police.
With all the commotion,
she'll probably miss Mass
but it's a weekday,
no sin involved.

- - -
Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, Donal Mahoney has had work published in various publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com/.


Office with an Ocean View
By Eric Suhem

“I want to welcome everyone to the grand opening of our new corporate headquarters! We will make this company a top manufacturer of aquarium equipment!” said the CEO, Ben Aqua. There was a smattering of applause from the group of employees as the steel tower loomed above, casting a shadow over the oceanfront vicinity. AquaCo corporate headquarters was built near the ocean to afford majestic views for executives in select offices, despite a history of periodic tsunamis and flooding in the area.

Nobody was clapping louder than Debbie, who worked on the aquarium water pump assembly line. Due to her relentlessly cheery attitude and cutthroat maneuvering, Debbie would soon move up the ladder at AquaCo, to the position of Administrative Assistant for the Manager of Aquarium Gravel. “If we all work hard, then maybe we too can have an office with an ocean view, just like Ben Aqua!” said Debbie to some of her co-workers, who rolled their eyes, considering Debbie to be ‘just another piranha in the tank’.

A few days later, the energy of the nearby ocean could be heard outside the steel tower as the Manager of Aquarium Gravel gave the status report to upper management. Upon finishing, he was elbowed in the ribs by his administrative assistant. “Tell them, tell them!” urged Debbie, brimming with excitement, clutching her manager’s arm as a goldfish looked at them forlornly from its bowl.

“Ahem…” he said, “Well…with the help of my administrative assistant Debbie, we have come up with a bold new initiative to merge the Aquarium Gravel and Miniature Replica Castle divisions.” There was a gasp in the room, not in response to the manager’s proposal, but rather to the water that was rushing through the conference room doors. The ocean had risen, and was starting to flood the 1st floor of AquaCo. Debbie was indignant that she and her manager wouldn’t be able to make their presentation, which she felt would have propelled her career forward like a torpedo.

“Not to worry everybody, the water will let up,” said Ben Aqua, gathering his papers amidst the onrushing kelp, and leading everybody upstairs to the 3rd floor. The flooding indeed stopped, but not before leaving the entire 1st level filled with water. “We’ll make the 1st floor into an aquarium, I think that would be appropriate for AquaCo!” declared Ben Aqua in a flash of inspiration, as the ocean sound roared on the hallway speakers. Debbie nodded eagerly in agreement.

After the 1st floor was converted into an aquarium, Debbie often spent her lunch breaks staring through the glass windows at the swirling blue water and green seaweed. Late at night, she put on scuba gear and got into the 1st floor aquarium, enjoying the immersion. She thought back to her childhood when she’d poured household cleaning solvents into her father’s aquarium, killing his prized tetra fishes. “Debbie, don’t you ever go near my aquarium again!” he’d screamed, his fish-like eyes bulging, “Stay out of my aqua life!” After an unspeakable disaster involving a Koi pond, Debbie’s father would never speak to her again, but AquaCo was like a new family.

Suddenly the water roared in an onslaught independent of any organizational policy. In minutes, the corporate headquarters of AquaCo was washed out to sea, the ocean reclaiming the landscape. Thinking quickly, Debbie found her scuba gear in a utility closet and put it on.

As she swam through the water-filled offices of AquaCo, Debbie looked fondly upon the drowned, bloated body of Ben Aqua in his office. “He was a great man, my ‘work dad’!” she said chirpily from under the scuba mask, displacing him in his undersea ergonomic leather chair.

Debbie finally got that office with an ocean view.

- - -
Eric Suhem lives in California and enjoys the qualities of his vegetable juicer.


Pork Snorting Dave
By Ross Peterson

Pork Snorting Dave trembles, looks at the cash register and security cameras. He rubs the bill of his visor, itches his ear, his nose, his lips. He straightens his name-tag. "H-hey, Bruce," he says into the kitchen.
"What is it?" the fat fry cook says, pulling a basket from the grease vat.
"Y-you know w-what t-time uh, uh--"
"What time WHAT, motherfucker?"
"What t-time C-catherine's c-comin' b-back."
"Do I--" He slams the white paper bag full of fried chicken on the stainless steel cook's window. "FUCK . . . No." He takes off his apron, says: "I'm gonna smoke."
Pork Snorting Dave grabs the bag. "O-order fifty seven," he says, turning around, placing it on a plastic tray. "F-fifty seven."
A white haired woman walks to the counter. She stares at Pork Snorting Dave, who can't tell where her pupils begin and irises end.
She's probably a witch.
"A-anything e-else I can g-get for y-you, m-ma'am?"
She says nothing. He studies her leathery lips, her tight, wrinkled skin. He sees her hand as she takes the tray. He notices a silver ring on her left index finger, and Pork Snorting Dave has listened to enough Slayer to know: it's a pentagram ring. She hobbles to a table by the window with her fried chicken and potato.
"Okay," Dave whispers. Time for it: the presumed witch is his sole customer, Bruce smokes outside (cigarettes, crystal meth, and marijuana with 105 mg of crushed Vicadin in the bowl of his crack pipe), and Catherine has driven to the restaurant suppliers' to pick up the sour cream they've run out of.
Dave reaches his hand into his pocket for his phone. He takes it out, types the text message: "Now." A car door slams outside. Porky Stacy, Pork Snorting Dave's fiancee, comes through the glass doors, hip first, brandishing a .45, wearing a black ski-mask and mirrored sunglasses.
"Let's go, motherfucker!" she says, aiming at him, grimacing. Pork Snorting Dave opens the till, scoops up the cash. "H-h-here you go," he says. "D-d-don't h-hurt me." He's a shitty actor.
"Shut up," she says, tossing the money in a black garbage bag. She then runs to the parking lot, gets in Pork Snorting Dave's '94 Pontiac Grand Am, and drives off. Pork Snorting Dave looks at the old woman.
She sits, staring at her potato. He picks up his cell phone, begins to dial 9-1-1, but, seeing the presumed witch stand and approach the counter, pauses.
"Where's my sour cream?" the presumed witch hisses.
"I . . . have a baked potato . . . and no sour cream."
"Uh-uh-uh, w-we're ou-out of sour cream, m-ma'am. I'm sorry. B-b-but th-the m-m-manager went t-to g-get some m-more, a-a-and sh-she'll b-b-be right b-back."
She turns, whispering Latin.
Bruce comes back inside. He walks into the kitchen, picks his apron up off the floor.
"B-bruce, man. Y-you're n-never gonna believe what j-just h-happened. W-we g-got robbed, man."
"A-a-at g-gunpoint. I-I'm g-gonna c-call the p-police."
He drops his apron. "I--I gotta get the fuck outta here, man!"
Pork Snorting Dave is about to dial 9-1-1. Bruce slams the back door.
"I-I'm g-gonna c-call the p-police now," he says to the presumed witch.
She turns her head, opens her mouth, exposes an accordion of sharp, feral teeth. She's still speaking in Latin. Then a flame springs from the grill in the kitchen, igniting a grease fire. "Shit!" Pork Snorting Dave says. And from the flame-enveloped kitchen, a grease tornado hurtles at him, strikes him and his polyester polo shirt melts into his flesh and he sinks to the linoleum. His body turns red and pink and he drips goo, his name-tag infuses with his pectoral.
But at least he and Porky Stacy have enough money to buy some more pork now.

- - -
Ross Peterson is a writer from Montana. His work has appeared in Pulp Modern, Yellow Mama, Bong is Bard, and Ambannon Books' In Mint Condition 2014 (forthcoming). He also reviews low budget horror movies for Horrornews.net, and dabbles in VHS collecting.


Riding The Empty Island
By Amir Ziai

It was close to sunset on the island. Edgar could find little warmth in it, just a sun, painted like an open casket. He turned his head. As much as he enjoyed mulling on the way the stars would send off this day, he had business on the island.
He moved the tailored suit slowly, all too aware of how many heads had been spilt by the fickle nature of these cliffs. Even so, pebbles and dirt made the journey through rocks and thorns to whatever the tide was spitting back.
He looked at the man who was edged on rockwork far less stable than his own. He had been sat there, tear stains on a cheap shred of sartorial incompetence, at the tipping point of the cliff face for a long time. Edgar didn’t remember his name, but he knew the situation, why he had dragged the man out of the deep of the night, dragged him here, beaten him, put the fear of some god in him and bound him to a bright, pink, plastic, toddler’s rocking horse.
Edgar tightened his tie with one hand, the other firmly kept to a little something he left in his inside pocket. Walked a little closer, enjoying the rhythm he’d built over the past few moments. He could smell the urine, the sweat, the joy of the hand they were playing. Edgar cocked his neck and let Madam Elouise’s elocution lessons do the rest.
“I would like my £20,000”.
The rider spoke through chattered teeth and salted tears. His body convulsed with a highly rational fear of everything.
“I… I paid you. All of it. And the interest. I PA-“
“No. I lent you my £20,000. I lent you those specific notes. All in a very nice leather briefcase that someone’s uncle once gave them. Where is that £20,000?”
The rider shifted however much he could, as if imploding would be preferable. There had been logic in their dealings so far. This he could not comprehend. He turned his neck, slowly. The pain dug deep. New tears. He looked to his banker, the man who had offered him a smile and a life line a long while ago. The man who stood above him now, filling the air with nothingness. Once again, he severed his lips from each other;
“I paid you. All your money. I have the watches too. Take them. And the money. Please. Just… Please.”
“Take what?” Edgar came in close, almost whispered, just enough weight from his diaphragm to let the sweet nothings carry through the wind and the trees. Just enough for his audience.
Edgar pulled out the 16th laugh, in the standard tone. He wasn’t crouching. In a pre-ordained theatrical notion his body had snapped into a straight line up. Chest out. Hand on his inside pocket. The memory of a laugh he’d patent yet, moving through the trees. His subject whimpered some more.
“Anything. Everything. Tell me what to do.”
Edgar put a hand on the shoulder of a whimpering idiot.
“Do you have the £20,000 I gave you? Those notes had sentimental value to me. Untold sentimental value. They came from a stranger.”
He shook his head, whimpered something the dictionary couldn’t hear.
“Well then. You’ve lost me a lot. Those were my notes. I stole them myself. You asked to borrow them, no one said anything about spending them. I’m hurt. So here’s what we’re going to do. Look at me.”
Bruised skin looked to the suit. The suit showed fingers wriggling beneath the seams.
“Since the moneys gone, our options are narrower. One, I draw. Two, you ride the horse down to the beachfront.”
A swollen eye of pus looked out. It saw figures above the hill of reeds, distant, undefined. He could see a cigarette burning, a phone idly handled. He saw the man he had once called a hero. Who had come to him and offered him a way to victory from between the lions teeth. He saw a hand hidden, gripping something.
“…I’ll die if I ride the horse”
“You might.”
“…And the draw will”.
“It might”.
Edgar had crouched again. The two of them, away from the audience, at the edge of the cliff face. Edgar could see him, learning the last of the rocks. Through the thorns and the brambles, the 70 degree angle and a beach front of tide washed rocks. He let the bruises on his lungs stretch out. The adrenaline had gone on for too long now. It had rushed him through his five stages. Dried him out, so he was a cheap bit of fun on a cheaper toy. He looked at the audience, he looked at Edgar.
Edgar smiled, pouncing up. A god from the black sea of white lights above, delivering punishment to a faithful subject. He wrapped his hand tightly, glimpsed his audience. He drew a handkerchief. He smiled.
“I drew”.
The wind drew the cloth across his digits and he lifted the fool by the skull.
His shadow rose above the cliff face, into the ride, skull first, into a streak of red and a crack of plastic.
Edgar the entertainer turned to applause and told them where to wire his £20,000.

- - -
I am a person called Amir Ziai. I have hair and I have gums.


By Jon Wesick

After winning a hundred dollars at the horse races Jack Econski drove his VW Beetle north on Pacific Highway. About a half hour after maneuvering his VW past Coffs Harbor, he felt a beer shit coming on. There was no way to hold on until he made Byron Bay, so he searched for an exit. What he saw on the green and white freeway sign was as welcome as an angry landlord on the third of the month. Waggawolla! Jesus, he hated Waggawolla!

Econski took the exit and saw a bar not far from Waggawolla Land the amusement park he’d vowed never to enter. He drove around looking for a place to park and got more desperate every minute. Finally he found a spot under the purple glow of a mercury vapor light on an abandoned side street. The bar was mostly deserted except for a few hard-core regulars, who’d traded careers, lovers, and dreams for glasses of cheap whiskey.

“Hey!” the bartender yelled. “Restrooms are for customers only!”

“Give me a beer, then!” Econski muscled through the men’s room door. His beer was waiting on the bar when he returned.

“That’ll be nine bucks,” the bartender said.

“Nine bucks for a beer?” No wonder Econski hated Waggawolla.

After taking the money, the bartender disappeared into a back room. Econski had planned to drink up and leave, but after paying nine dollars he decided to stay and drink in the atmosphere to get his money’s worth. It was a quiet place except for the crunching of ice and sound of breaking glass coming from the back room. No one wasted money on the jukebox glowing in the corner. The woman sitting in a booth by the door could have been pretty, if alcohol and bitterness hadn’t made her features brittle. Econski smiled at her. She stubbed out a lipstick-smudged cigarette and turned her back.

A large wombat dashed through the door. He wore a tuxedo and a big stupid smile. The wombat’s eyes darted back and forth and settled on Econski.

“Hey buddy, can you hold these for me?” He tossed Econski a plastic bag and ran for the bathroom.

A policeman entered moments later. “Anybody see a short guy with long, digging claws come in here?”

The woman pointed toward the back, and the cop gave chase. Econski opened the bag. It contained a half-dozen pink pills shaped like wombat heads. He swallowed all of them and washed them down with beer.

“He’s the one!” The giant marsupial led the policeman to Econski’s stool. “I saw him selling drugs to the children outside the Gum Tree Forest.”

“Let’s see what’s in the bag.” When the policeman found it empty, he grabbed the wombat by the scruff of the neck and hauled him outside.

The bartender returned from the back room.

“You get many five-foot wombats in here?” Econski asked.

“What are you talking about?”

Econski shrugged and ordered another beer. By the time he finished it, he was beginning to feel strange. The pills made the colors brighter and the room seem flatter, as if drawn on an animation cell. The woman by the door now wore a long black dress and a gold crown. Econski made his way outside.

“Hey, watch where you’re going!” A kookaburra shoved past and stepped on Econski’s foot in the process.

Econski wasn’t sure he could find his car. He wandered past castles, wicked stepmothers their smiles dripping venom, and singing platypuses. A group of kangaroos looked in dumpsters for bottles and aluminum cans to stuff in the garbage bags slung over their shoulders. Some guy had a mermaid in the alley. He’d gotten her top off but didn’t know what to do with the rest of her. When Econski finally made it to his VW, the wombat and a goose in an ANZAC hat were waiting.

“I think you have something that belongs to us, mate.” The wombat tapped a cricket bat against his palm.

“I ate them. I had to when you ratted me out to that cop.”

“Then you owe us fifty bucks,” the goose said.

“Buzz off!” Econski reached for the car’s door.

He heard a whoosh and ducked. The cricket bat whistled past his head and dented the car’s roof. Econski spun, knocked the bat away, and grabbed the wombat by the balls. Strangely the wombat’s scream was no more high-pitched than his speaking voice. Econski heard an agitated honking, sidestepped, and caught the charging goose under the bill with an uppercut that knocked him off his webbed feet.

Econski stepped over the unconscious cartoon animals and reached for the car door. He felt a shock and a pain, as if a hundred cherry bombs had gone off in his skull. He hadn’t seen the six-foot koala come out of the shadows with a tire iron.

A fly buzzed and tickled his cheek. Econski brushed it away, sat up, and opened his eyes. The sunlight made his head hurt. He was sitting in an alley behind a green dumpster. A used condom lay by his left foot, and the air smelled of rotting fish. Econski struggled to his feet and patted his pockets. The hundred dollars he’d won at the track was missing. He bent over, vomited, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before stumbling out of the alley. Waggawolla! He hated Waggawolla!

- - -
Host of the Gelato Poetry Series, instigator of the San Diego Poetry Un-Slam, and an editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual, Jon Wesick has published over seventy short stories in journals such as The Berkeley Fiction Review, Space and Time, Zahir, Tales of the Talisman, Blazing Adventures, and Metal Scratches. He has also published over three hundred poems. Jon has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest.


The Sky in Winter
By James Babbs

The sky in winter looks gray and metallic.  The sky looks close enough for me to touch.  I convince myself I really can touch it and I know how crazy this sounds so I don’t tell anyone else about it.  I just sit quietly thinking about the sky. When I’m alone I reach up and touch it and the sky feels just the way I thought it would.  It feels smooth and it’s cold. It freezes the ends of my fingers.  I shove them into my mouth, sucking on them, trying to get them warm.

Did you see the sky? I asked her later that day.
We were sitting around the kitchen table.  She was reading a book.
What about it? She said without looking up.
I already regretted mentioning it.  Oh, nothing really.
She looked at me.  What do you mean, nothing?  She let her breath out slow and heavy.  I hate it when you do that.
When you start talking about something, she said.  But then you stop because you think I’m not interested.
Okay, I told her, picking up the glass in front of me and taking a drink of water.  She closed her book and sat it down on the table.
I glanced at the picture on the cover.  What? I said.  I was still holding the glass watching the ice cubes bobbing up and down in the water.
The sky, she said.
Oh.  I put down the glass.  I don’t know.  It just looked kind of strange to me.  It reminded me of a painting or something.  You know, beautiful looking but not real.
She didn’t say anything.  She just leaned back in her chair.  She started biting her lip and looking out the window.

I remember the sky in winter looking stark and beautiful. I could see it through the window without getting out of bed. I remember the warmth of her body lying next to mine.  The way she suddenly shifted and started murmuring in her sleep.  I remember turning to look at her face.  How empty I felt inside but couldn’t explain why.  Listening to the sounds the wind made in the dead of night.  Every now and then convincing myself the wind was calling my name.

You forgot your gloves, she said.
I was taking my coat off and hanging it in the closet.  I know, I said.  I always forget them.  I guess I need to put them in my coat pockets.
She was sitting in the chair next to the window, the open book lying in her lap.  She had her hand lying across the page she’d been reading when I came in.  I walked to the kitchen where my gloves were still on the table.  Sounds like we could get a lot of snow tonight, I said.
I came back into the living room and shoved the gloves into my coat before closing the closet door.  Oh? She said.  I hadn’t heard.
Yeah, maybe four to six inches.
That’s not so bad, she said.  I just don’t like it when the wind blows.
Yeah, I said.  I know what you mean.

And that bright and frozen morning when I climbed out of bed and saw the ground covered with snow.  The way it deadened the sound of my footsteps when I trudged out to the car.  And after I got it started I didn’t go back into the house.  I just sat there in the front seat shivering.  My breath like tiny wisps of smoke until the car grew warm.  When I pulled out of the drive I thought I caught a glimpse of her standing near the window.  The sky in winter trying to smother us while love was sleeping in another room.  I gave the car a little more speed trying to see what I could do.  I felt the rear-end fishtailing a little bit and slowed back down.

Did you remember the milk and bread?  She asked as soon as I got into the house.  I looked down at my hands.  I was wearing the black gloves.  I held them up and showed them to her.
No, I said.  But I remembered my gloves.  She didn’t laugh and I really wasn‘t trying to be funny but it must‘ve sounded that way.
Never mind, she said.  You don’t have to go back out there.
She touched my arm and I must have looked surprised because she quickly pulled it away.  Hey, I said and she waited for me to continue but I just shook my head.  Nothing.  I went into the living room and pulled the gloves off, stuck them in my coat pockets, then removed my coat and hung it in the closet.

The sky in winter looks stark and beautiful.  The sky in winter pretending to be something it’s not and when I walk outside the wind is full of teeth and it keeps biting at my hands and feet.  The wind tearing at the places on my body I’ve left exposed for too long.  I keep putting on more and more layers trying to keep myself protected but I, still, feel cold.  I’m convinced, one day, the wind will eat me up completely until nothing remains.  The sky in winter soft and wavering.  I feel like all I want to do is sleep.

- - -
James Babbs continues to live and write from the same small Illinois town where he grew up. James has published hundreds of poems over the past thirty years, both in print and online. He is the author of Disturbing The Light(2013) & The Weight of Invisible Things(2013).

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