3/25/14

Weakness
By Jesse Cramer


Saturdays require strength. Lenny wakes with the sun, just as it creeps over the hay line and heats his slacks. He brushes off soot and dew and smashes a thin, expansive spider. Sprawl has crept into Blairstown in recent years, now that the pipeline is down and folks in the periphery know what a little gem the town is. The urbanites arrive just after dawn, once the farmers set out their crops for market. Lenny intends to put up a fight.
            He walks from the awning outside the barn and tips his hat to the confused farmer.
            He says, I am no bum.
            Lenny pinches an ear of corn from the edge of the field and tosses it in the gutter.
            The crowd’s shape changes in each moment. Its volume remains constant, but the pitch bulges. Each person holds a credit card and believes in its value. Lenny stands at the entrance of the market and lets every sleeve graze his face. He allows his instinct to dictate.
            He enters the crowd and touches the covered heads of toddlers. His oil stains their caps.
            Lenny overhears a lady utter the name Christopher at the end of a laugh. The two stand together adoring a bunch of green grapes scattered in a barrel without their stems. Christopher lights two cigarettes and hands one to his lady. No smoke penetrates their lungs. He smiles at a joke without parting his lips. She tosses her wrist around his forearm, and he accepts it without affection.
            Lenny plans to take Christopher’s wallet and burn it.
            The crowd helps the cause by remaining thick and settled. No one senses danger. Heads dart around with stochastic delight, yet no one sees. Lenny easily ducks between bodies and avoids elbows. Christopher stands before a farmer carrying two bushels of apples. The farmer sets them on a table and speaks with his hands. His hands saysucculent. Christopher nods and places a bruised McIntosh in the pocket of his tweed jacket. He clutches his wallet with a feral grip.
            Lenny sinks his teeth into Christopher’s thigh.
            Christopher drops his wallet, which tumbles into a muddy footprint, and howls with ferocity. He tosses off the arm of his lady and catches Lenny by the knots of his hair. His knee thrusts into the sternum of the boy.
            Christopher grips the sleeves of Lenny’s jacket, carries him from the market, and tosses him into a bush with thorns.
             Lenny says, Attacking a boy is the act of a coward.
            “A boy becomes a man once he preys on the innocent.”
            A boy becomes a man through no fault of his own.
            “You have girth but no strength.”     
            I have guts.  
            “You have guts. But no stomach.”
            A wild cat yawns and cuts between them. It takes in a breath and shows its hollow, hollow ribs.
            “Beg,” Christopher says to his boy. 
            I am no bum.
            “Beg,” he says to the cat.
            The cat arches its back and turns. Christopher produces the McIntosh from his jacket pocket. He rips it in two in one motion – without grimace – and holds out half with an outstretched arm. The cat chews and mutters to himself with chirps and growls.
            “Beg for money next time. Or make your own.”
            I am no bum.
            “No.
            “You are alone.”
            Christopher walks away and his lady walks with him.   
            The cat prances on cocky male legs down Juniper street, towards a road full of curbside garbage cans, and Lenny wants it dead. He wants to press his boot on its guts until it bloats and perishes. Blairstown stretches its limbs outward and milks the sun of its strength. Suckling branches grow millimeters. Lenny crouches and skulks with sideways steps towards the cat. He fills his nostrils with air, but the air never reaches his lungs. Lenny and the cat move at the same pace; neither is willing to confront or flee entirely. The cat stops on the cross of an intersection and faces him. Lenny is a living example of evolution, but he does not understand or believe it. The cat rests on a crack in the macadam and curls its tail over its eyes. Oaks lining the street wink from the wind. Lenny’s boots create thunder as he stalks. The cat keeps its eyes hidden. Then, the cat bolts towards an oak tree as a Ford Truck races into the intersection. It slams Lenny across the gut. The top point of the Ford’s grill grabs the flesh between his ribs and tears. He spins and lands teeth first onto the double yellow lines. There is no defeat without competition. There is no strength in defeat. The Ford continues without stopping. The cat escapes and lives.

The night sky has lost its pitch of years ago. Each passing headlight breaks off a piece of the darkness and carries it away. Now, the Blairstown night settles for a very deep blue. 
            Lenny begins to walk under that night sky, but his walk quickly becomes stilted. Despair forms at the corner of his eyes and falls downward. His arms tremble under the weight of adolescence. Blood does not leak from his insides but, rather, is drawn out. A trail of blood one centimeter thick lays uninterrupted for blocks and blocks.
            Then, a woman, a leftover. Her hair – flaxen. Her face – hidden, unknown. Skin – taut and round. Knee high hosiery – torn. Her fingers move as one, as if connected by string. She rests her veggies on the trunk of her wooden flanked station wagon. She says, “oh no no.” Her whimsy – suspended. His grief – suspected. She grips the collar of Lenny’s shirt with both hands. She attaches herself to him. They crumble. She cradles him. He cannot face any direction besides down.

Blocks and blocks away. A boy with narrow glasses mistakes a bloodied tooth on the road for a smooth white arrowhead. He keeps it as a memento and pedals away. Dried blood is as good as dirt. 


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Jesse Cramer is a playwright and fiction writer based in Los Angeles. His most recent full-length play The Strange Attractor received its world premiere in ay 2013 and was nominated for a Suzi Bass Award for Play Writing. You can read his most recent short story "Permanence," published by WordRiot at http://www.wordriot.org/archives/6130

3/18/14

The Urchin
By Casey Tingle


“What is it?” Sally asked, crouching over the edge of the clear blue lake that sat in the woods several feet behind her house, the tips of her long, curly red hair just brushing the surface.

“Don’t get too close!” her twin brother, Peter, said as he flung his arm out, slamming it against her chest and making her fall back onto the ground.

“Ow!” she yelled, shooting a glare at him. “What’d you do that for, jerk!”

“Jerk? I just saved your life!”

“Huh?”

Peter pointed toward the brightly colored red and purple creature floating toward the surface of the center of the lake. “That’s an urchin,” he explained, a wicked smile slipping onto his face as a plan unfolded in his head.

“What’s an ur..chin?” she asked, struggling to pronounce the foreign word.

Peter’s smile grew wider as he turned to face his sister. “You mean you never heard of an urchin before?” Sally shook her head. “Well,” Peter continued, his voice in a low whisper, causing his sister to lean closer, “an urchin is a creature that lives in bodies of water and feeds off unsuspecting humans.”

Sally’s eyes grew wide.

“Yeah, and you know what they like best?” Sally shook her head again. “Well, I don’t know how true this is, but I’ve heard that they particularly like little girls.”

“Not uh!” Sally shouted. “You’re lying!”

“Am not!” Peter replied. “Go out there and touch it if you’re so sure.”

“I would, but mom will be mad if I come back with my dress all wet.”

“You’re just scared.”

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

“Oh yeah? I’ll show you!” Sally stood and hesitated for a minute. She looked down at her new white and purple checkered dress before setting her eyes on the urchin and kicking off her sandals.

Sitting at the edge, she dipped her feet in and found that, even though the water was warmer than she thought it would be, goosebumps still crept up her arms and sent chills down her spine. Slowly lowering herself down, she was immediately in waist deep water. The ends of her dress floated on the surface before becoming weighed down and sank to her sides. The water was up to her chest by time she reached the urchin, which was still floating just below the surface of the water. Now closer, she could see that the urchin was oval-shaped with purple spikes protruding from its red body. She stuck out her hand, sending ripples across the lake, and left it hovering just under where the urchin floated.

She looked over her shoulder at her brother who was no longer smiling, but looking nervous. Her heart was racing as she closed her hand around the urchin, but it didn’t prick her like she thought. In fact, the spikes were soft and seemed to retract at her touch. Lifting the urchin from the water, she held it close to her face, where she could see an oily substance secreting from tiny pores on the urchins body.

Turning back toward her brother, Sally called out, “Told ya!"

Without warning, the urchin flung itself at Sally and latched itself onto her neck. A high pitched screech emitted from her as she grabbed at it, trying her best to rip it off, but it only buried itself deeper into the nape of her neck.

“Sally!” Peter screamed.

She could feel the urchin pulsing, sucking at her skin, trying to get under it. What she thought was oil turned out to be acid, and it burned her skin as the urchin released it on her. Within seconds her vision became blurry and her head grew light.

Peter watched from the edge of the lake as the water swallowed his sister up. “Sally!” he screamed again. Falling to his knees, Peter stared into the depths of the lake, but the once clear water was now foggy with a mixture of his sister’s blood and the urchin’s acid. “Sally!”

He sat there until well after the surface of the lake became still once more. It seemed as if hours had passed, but it really couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes.

“Sally,” Peter said again, his voice weak. Tears stung at the corners of his eyes and his throat was tight. “I was only joking.”

He was trying to figure out how to explain to his mother exactly what had happened to his sister, when her pale, slightly purpled, hand reached up from the depths of the lake, dragging him down.


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Casey Tingle (nee Murphy) has been writing since the fifth grade. She currently has several short stories published in print and online. In 2013, her work was featured in HelloHorror, The Were-Traveler, and The Siren's Call: Women in Horror edition.

3/11/14

How about this?
By Gary Zenker


She pulled her blouse open to expose her breasts to the stranger in the dimly lit back room. “Well, how about this?” she asked, clearly confident that she already knew the answer.
Men spent so much time focused on them, she thought, stealing glances and even copping a feel (like that guy at the bar last week who was much less drunk than he tried to make it appear). Hers had attracted a great deal of attention given their size and her small frame. For the nearly 20 years that followed puberty, her one constant goal was to make people appreciate her value without it being directly related to the size of her chest. That wasn’t easy. Boys from school had entire conversations staring down at them. She’d catch work associates pretending not to do the same thing. Even her bosses had trouble looking her in the eyes.
She’d gone through extraordinary efforts to hide them, using thick sweaters and shapeless tops, and at one point even (painfully) strapping them down; everything short of having actual reduction surgery. All that her efforts succeeded in doing was to make her look frumpy and unattractive. She cried a lot even as her girlfriends revealed how they secretly wished that theirs were like hers and they were the recipients of all the attention she received from the boys.
Virtual strangers would ask her “are they real?” It made her angry. Of course they were. Who in their right mind would do this to themselves on purpose?
But in her thirties, she became more comfortable with herself, her talents and the girls. She would never give them actual names, like guys do with their dicks. That seemed weird and schizophrenic, as if the genitals lived a life of their own. Well, maybe for guys they do…but the girls seemed less offensive and less medical-sounding than breasts. Chest seemed like the right word for guys, not girls. And why the hell would anyone call them boobs? Unless it was for the effect it had on guys who looked at them.
With the comfort came confidence and more attractive clothing. And after a while, a show of just a little cleavage. Then, more. Instead of feeling embarrassment, she discovered the empowerment they seemed to give her in situations.
“Not bad,” the greasy man squinted and cracked a smile.
“Not bad? Really…maybe I should just put them away,” and she reached to close her blouse.
“No, Good. Really good.” And he continued to stare at them.
She slowly released a practiced, innocent smile revealing her perfectly straight and very white teeth. He didn’t see them or the money her parents had spent on their straightening. She pulled her blouse open again and, this time, shook them a little for effect. The man had a stupid smile plastered on his face. His parents should have spent a few bucks on his teeth, she thought. She continued to smile anyway.
“So we should talk about price.”
“$400.”
“$400? Really? I don’t know why I even came back here with you. I think you can do better.”
“Okay…$375.”
She started to close her top. “I know you can do better. I don’t think you really appreciate this.”
“Oh I do, I really do, but there IS a limit.”
“Well, think about that limit better and we’ll speak again…some other time. Well, unless I find another taker across the street,” and she closed the top.
“Wait, I could do $300.”
“That’s more in the neighborhood. Which reminds me, you know where to show up?”
“Yeah, I have your card.”
“Good. Thursday. 3 pm. I’ll be there waiting.”
“Normally I need a two-hour range…”
She laughed at his unintentional play on words. “Sorry. I have a busy day, you know. Be there at 3. I’ll be waiting for you, honey.” She blew him a kiss, secured the last blouse button as she left the back room, and walked across the crowded floor to the expected stares of men trying to hide their preoccupation from their wives. She crossed the parking lot to her waiting car. The passenger door was unlocked and she slid into the seat.
“So you finished up in there?” the man asked.
“Yep.”
“How much?”
“$300.”
“That was $100 lower than what they offered to me when I was in there yesterday.”
“What can I say. Big Tit Discount. You aren’t built for that. The oven will be delivered on Thursday. Something tells me that store owner will make the delivery himself. You may want to hang around and watch his disappointment when he sees you there, too,” she giggled.
“I love you.”
“Look me in the eyes when you say that, buster.”


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Gary Zenker is a marketing professional by day and writer of funnier things by night, He runs the Main Line Writers Group in King of Prussia, PA and co-authored Says Seth: Life Observations from a Six Year Old Perspective with his son, Seth.

3/4/14

Accord
By Joseph J. Patchen


I was born on a trans-Atlantic bus with a cord wrapped around my neck. Cradled in a shoe box, someone found me with tissue paper on my lips. I don’t know who turned me in, but when I was found they institutionalized me.

For a lifetime since, I’ve labored through an endless parade of introductions and pleasantries - flowered with promises and paved with rejections. Along the way there have been lulls for rape and abuse. Disappointment, fear, deceit, anger - I’ve courted them all. It was only when I reached the age of majority that I settled squarely on hate.

It has been a whirlwind romance, a starry-eyed fling, but ever since hate found me, my life has become easy. No issue is ever complex. No relationship leaves baggage. I never exert myself belaboring thought, patience or redemption.

I never need to break a sweat cracking my back to bury lies at the feet of others’ feelings. I never have to check my blood pressure when a donut oozing flatfoot makes sport of me. Hate has ordered my life, made me decisive, and streamlined my time.

And time I now possess in abundance to apply to recreation.

I devour phone directories like cheap best-selling novels. I snack on obituaries. Maybe a name or a photo will jog me. Or a map – in a library or post office - will give me a street or county or a park to wake me. But to date, nothing has felt right and nothing appears on the horizon to dissuade my seemingly endless trek for an origin.

Each passing day, I feel a little farther from home, but my hope is forever searching.

Where am I now? I’m not sure. I can care less. It simply doesn’t matter. This place seems nice, like any other midsize city. The people are many and anonymous, and to that aspect, I feel akin. Their faces betray their ‘dowerness’, their sourness and their confused and muted disgust.

Death begins at birth
and ends at death.

And in between
you assess your worth
and make your next bet.

Then it begins again
with a like kind of breath,
a new way to ends,
but without the same old debts.

In my next life I will kill more, regardless of the score birth gives me. I know what I like and I like giving others that cosmic chance.

As a child, I stole three Cadillacs and from a variety of merchants, and at no time was I ever pinched. As a teen I hustled in alleys and penthouses and to many a man I was their King all while making them feel royal. The work was honest, paid for, and sealed with consent.

All through the night - God, they seemed to love the cloak of night - we would snuggle hand in hand, cash rubbing against their thighs, and the sweet smack of success on my lips. Then I would bow to them as my maker, with a toothy smile and waving tongue, allowing the streams on
my face and around my mouth to shine and sparkle like bulbs on a marquis, all the while as I plan ahead to my next performance.

But tonight the clouds shorten the sky. I stand on a stage of old rotting crates, a cord wrapped around my neck. The boxes sway lightly and softly - like the tip of a blade of grass. At some point they’ll snap and crack and be rendered to dust and I’ll twist and swirl as if in wind.

At some point they’ll find my body, with blood and foam on my lips, but by then I’ll finally be on my way home.


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