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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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