Current Issue - Summer/Fall 2015  (Oct. 15)

SUMMER/FALL

2015

Promise?, by John Biesecker

Nutland, by Craig Grafton

Curtain Call, by Anita Haas

The Looking Glass, by Anita Haas

Man in a Café in Arles, by John Hanson

Red, by Alan Semrow

Unplugged, by Don Tassone

Conference, by Bill Vernon - Editors' Choice!

 

 

Götterdämmerung, by Ed Ahern

enough to feel easy, by Robert Paul Cesaretti

If U Can't See Me, by Yuan Changming

The Street Sweeper, by Charles Hayes

Prey, by Kristin MacKenzie

cold caller, by Rob Walker

Hospice, by Julia Wang

FLASH FICTION
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Promise?

by John Biesecker

 

The screams of the blue jays cut the respectful silence, calling from the branches above me. Not a single bowed head turns to look.

 

It would mean looking at me.

 

You’d always promised it could end this way. In those quiet whispers in the hollow of night. I’d thought it an idle threat, a misplaced compliment. An attempt to flatter me.

 

At first your obsessive jealousy gave me legs to stand on, if not stand up. Knowing I was worth such desperate love. Worth two a.m. phone calls, frantic verification of my whereabouts. Worth a compressed hiss, a tug of my sleeve demanding attention should my gaze linger elsewhere.

 

Someone you couldn’t live without.

 

Your words built me. Piece by piece. This beautiful girl, wild and desirable, the object of every man’s fantasies, wanted me. Me. You made me.

 

Soft words float across the lawn. A practiced baritone soothing, rounding the edges of sharp pain in downcast eyes. I can’t understand what he says from my place in the periphery, the row of trees between green grass and barren field.

 

Your whisper might have made me. But it couldn’t keep me.

 

An inspired moment, my random comment becomes conversation, a brief interlude in Starbucks extended to lingering sips at a tall, unsteady table. More conversation. An exchange of numbers. Four days later, I’d called her. Three minutes became an hour, a promise to meet again. More coffee. More hours.

 

A hot breath of wind stirs the dust from the fields. Catches in my eyes.

 

You found her text messages on my phone left sitting on the counter. You can’t love her, you spat at me. Erupted in a flurry of nails and wild, reflexive punches and accusations.

 

I agreed. Said I’d been led astray, succumbed to an over-active libido. Sweet sweat and desperate breath. I’d confused lust with love.

 

And I had. The way you dressed, smiled, walked, lithe and limber, straight shouldered with a spring in the arch of your back, demanding my attention, my hands, my devotion.

 

The way you’d dragged me into the dressing room, thrown me against a wall, yourself across me with a flurry of roving fingers and desperate kisses. Confusing your need as love. My need as love.

 

So easy to fall into. A connection made, skin to skin, the intimacy of proximity.

 

So hard to escape.

 

A respectful silence follows his final word. An occasional sniff, a shuffle of feet or tug at a tie in the heat. Heads bowed.

 

My secret grew.

 

A Sunday afternoon, casual conversation in the park, soft spring sun and open book across her lap. Chance encounter after a Thursday morning jog, a quick smile, a few words. Perhaps ten minutes as the world woke and the birds found their voices.

 

Then you followed me. When you were supposed to be behind the bar, listening to life stories and clumsy attempts at flirtation, garnering looks and excessive tips with the flutter of dark lashes and careful, brief flashes of cleavage. Instead you slunk in the dark, back streets and alleys, my shadow, watched our briefest of embraces before she stepped into her car.

 

You fucked her! Screamed in the hollow of night, my neighbors’ lights answering the pounding on my front door.

 

I opened it to your wild, dark eyes. You waited, body tensed, hands ready to release in a flurry of wild, ineffective swings and accusations. A slight breeze cooled the air, pushed wayward bangs across your eyes. My answer hovered, balanced on my tongue.

 

I stood on the threshold; saw nothing but the peeling paint at my feet as my whisper escaped. Yes. Yes, I did.

 

You made good on your promise.

 

The earth swallows you. People turn, dazed, file slowly away. The sun sculpts beads of sticky sweat down the back of my neck. You deserved better. Better than this.

 

I never touched her.

 

 

 

John Biesecker writes from an undisclosed bunker in the hills of Colorado.  If you see him,  please don't notify the authorities.  His work has appeared both online and in print in Vine Leaves, Boston Literary, Liquid Imagination and others.

Nutland

by Craig Grafton

 

The old neighborhood was nearly unrecognizable. All this new construction work was transforming his old hood. Mitch Blade, private eye, drove down the newly paved road, sewer and water lines in the process of being laid parallel to it. When he was a kid here thirty plus years ago the streets were either dust or mud. No city sewer, just septic tanks or outhouses. No city water just sand point wells. The City recently annexed Nutland as its residents called it because of all the walnut trees. Non residents called it Nutland for other reasons. It had been an unincorporated white trash neighborhood next to but not in the city. City growth and progress made its annexation necessary. The concrete block homes, railroad box car homes, and shacks of 1940’s and 1950’s with their tacky add-ons were being demolished. He drove by the new mini-mall and apartment complexes under construction. The City wanted the land not the residents.

 

It was a tough hood back in the day and still now even as it changed. He was there to check out the crime scene at the Philpot home. Odell and Willa Mae lived across the street from where he grew up. It was Marcia Mae their daughter who hired him to find her parents who were missing for over a week now.

 

Yellow tape cordoned off the home and backyard. Mitch paid no attention to it as he lifted it a walked over to the area of blood stained grass. One big spot, no blood anyplace else.

 

“Get out of there! You blind or something Blade!”

 

It was officer Smiddy, not one of his favorites but then he wasn’t one the officer’s favorites either.

 

“Whadda ya got Smiddy old buddy?”

 

“You’re looking at it. No blood in the house, nothing taken or disturbed, no forced entry, no witnesses, nothing.”

 

“No blood off the property?”

 

“None. Now what you got for me Blade? Who ya gumshoeing for?”

 

“Marcia Mae their daughter.”

 

“Ain’t seen that broad since she left town twenty some years ago. Quite the looker she was. She still got it?”

 

“Ya she’s still got it even at age 43.” And that’s putting it mildly thought Mitch. When she came in his office he didn’t know if that dress had been rubberized or spray painted on. She exposed more leg that the law allows and those bulging udders had to have been super enhanced to put it mildly. This info he kept to himself.

 

“Worried about her folks huh?”

 

“You might say that.” Or you might say she’s worried about collecting on the million dollar life insurance policy on her mom he thought to himself. Can’t collect without a body. Find Mom and she’d give him ten per cent, $100,000. No hourly fee would earn him that. She knew Mitch from wayback. She knew the lure of easy money would bring him into her plan. Knew she and him were Nutland white trash from the same mold.

 

But Mitch knew he knew what she thought she knew. But she didn’t know Mitch knew what he knew about what she knew. But Mitch knew her. He wasn’t confused.

 

“Chief wants this solved quick like. This crime scene is holding up the whole project costing the developer big bucks. He’s all over us. Got any ideas?”

 

“No,” he lied. He knew where the body was buried. He knew who dunnit. Marcia Mae showed him the policy when he took the bait. It was less than a month old. He did a background check on her afterwards. Up to her udders in debt. He knew how to play this.

 

He confronted Marcia Mae the next day as they ‘did’ lunch for old time sakes. “Blood only in one spot. There’s a body on the premises. It’s in the septic,” he said.

 

“Mitch darling you’re a genius. I knew you’d solve this. Let’s get the police out there now today.”

 

“Might as well, no appetite for dessert now anyway,” said Mitch. You’re getting too anxious Marcia Mae honey he said to himself. Better reel it in.

 

The police lifted the lid. There she was Willa Mae floating face down in the sewage.

 

“Only body here chief, no Odell.”

 

“I bet they got into a fight again. They fought all the time for years you know. He finally did it. Finally killed her. I just knew this would happen.” Marcia Mae blurted out, broke down, buried her face in her hands and started sobbing, kind of.

 

Don’t over act thought Mitch. You’ll have your death certificate in two days.

 

Two days later the crime tape was down and the developer moved in and bulldozed the house. Next the septic tank had to be pumped and filled in. Septic Sucking Services came out. Found Odell weighted down with concrete blocks at the bottom of the tank. Concrete blocks were everywhere in Nutland, hell half the houses were made of concrete blocks. Anyone in Nutland was a suspect as far as the police were concerned. But so was Marcia Mae.

 

“Don’t leave town,” the police told her. She left anyway. They had no idea where she was.

 

The insurance company refused to pay her claim.

 

Mitch never got the $100,000 but he did get a nice fat check from the insurance company that was on the hook. He spilled the beans to them about Marcia Mae right after she hired him. Nothing wrong with playing both sides. Marcia Mae was right all along. He still was white trash from Nutland. The old neighborhood was changing but he wasn’t.

 

 

 

Craig Grafton is a retired attorney whose latest stories appear in Romance Magazine and Clever Magazine.

Curtain Call

by Anita Haas

 

After three curtain calls his fans waited for him at the stage door. “It’s him! Alexander! Alexander! An autograph, please! A photo!”

 

Lights, flashes, smiles.

 

He caught the number 27 bus, but it was euphoria that carried him on her shoulders, all the way home and up the five creaky flights that had seemed to lengthen over the years.

 

He pushed his way into the hall of his flat, stumbling over some beer bottles Old Sam had left outside his door. Betty’s T.V. was blaring from her room, as usual.

He snuck past the kitchen after he spied the broad back of Mrs. Dorn, his landlady.

 

“Alexander? Alexander!” She had seen him, but he was already safe, behind his door. Panting, he leaned against it, and looked around his tiny refuge, at the photos tacked to the walls. Many had been taken with famous people on other nights like this; nights of glory, other curtain calls.

 

Lights, flashes, smiles.

 

Now, if only someone paid him, he would be able to get Mrs. Dorn off his back. Literally, because there she was, pounding on his door. The thumping radiated through his body.

 

“Alexander! Alexander!”

 

 

 

Anita Haas is a Canadian teacher and writer living in Madird, Spain. She has published three books on film, and a novelette, as well as articles, poems and stories in both English and Spanish. She has also just received the Aldaia Cuenta award for flash fiction.

The Looking Glass

by Anita Haas

 

It was Friday night at The Looking Glass. Flashing lights illuminated the room so the dancers looked like part of a slide show. A raised bar, a small stage for the D.J., and three seating areas, with plush red sofas and little tables supporting glasses of iridescent liquid, surrounded the floor. Smoky, flecked, mirrors lined the walls.

 

Three students inched their way through the crowd to the bar. A tall willowy red-head, a short, chubby blonde, and a thin brunette of medium height, all wearing different versions of the same little black dress. The red-head reached the bar first and ordered cocktails as the other two looked around shyly. Many students came here, especially foreign students from Africa and the West Indies, known on campus as the best partiers and also for their outrageous pick-up lines. The girls were already attracting the attention of several young black men near them. A group of three appeared, as if some unspoken agreement had been reached, just by a look. One beside each of the girls. The girls smiled coyly, giggled into their glasses, and shook their heads, “Maybe later.” The three young men shrugged and smiled, feigning great regret, and moved on to another group of girls.

 

Alone again, the trio lifted their gleaming cocktail glasses and toasted. The two shorter girls looked up at the tall red-head “Happy twentieth birthday, Connie!”

 

The red-head smiled and turned to move through the crowd, her two friends in tow. She nudged the brunette and, with her head, pointed toward a young man dancing wildly on her left. All three covered their mouths with their hands and snickered. Then it was the blonde girl’s turn to point out another young man. They took a sip from their cocktails, a drag from their cigarettes and continued their promenade.

 

The seating area right next to the bar was mainly taken up by groups of office workers gathering for a few drinks before heading home. Some of the men had removed their jackets and loosened their ties, taking long sips from their beers. The women, in smart skirts and blouses, remained more business-like.

 

The little blonde felt someone take her arm. “Dance?” It was an African student, slightly taller than herself, stocky, and with a friendly smile. She glanced at her friends. They both smiled approval and the brunette took her cocktail glass to hold. As the blonde was whisked off onto the dance floor, two more African students appeared beside her friends. The girls shook their heads, smiling, and the young men swayed back holding their arms out “Oh, you break my heart!”

 

When the blonde girl made her way back to her friends, her dance partner protested and tugged gently at her arm. Her friends bent their heads down to her, eager to hear about her experience. They listened to the vivid report, all three laughing, shaking their heads and rolling their eyes. They knocked back the last of their cocktails and followed the red-head’s indication to move on.

 

In the next seating area, they saw a group of about ten spectacular black women. Some of them wore their hair straight, with extensions, others wrapped their hair in colourful turbans. Their dresses, some white, some multi-coloured, and their chunky silver jewellery created an arresting contrast to their dark skin. They spoke little to each other, but watched their boyfriends on the floor picking up white women. An island of Amazons looking out to sea. Their facial expressions sent shivers down the little blonde girl’s spine.

 

“Wow! I wouldn’t want to cross one of them!” she shouted into the brunette’s ear.

 

“What I don’t understand is why the black guys keep running after us white girls when the black girls look like goddesses.” her friend shouted in response.

 

“Papers!” the tall red-head called back over her shoulder.

 

Unencumbered by their birthday cocktails, they moved onto the dance floor, forming a private little triangle. They closed their eyes to indicate disinterest, and undulated to the music. The brunette opened her eyes and saw her tall friend dancing with a striking black guy with dreadlocks and sunglasses, a gigantic gold cross swaying over his sinewy chest. He moved like a snake and when he smiled at her she had to gasp. She then looked over at her blonde friend who was having trouble keeping the hands of her new dance partner off her; she was waving her finger at him and smiling, a little frightened, “No. no.” Just then the brunette sensed someone manoeuvring his way into the triangle. She closed her eyes and smiled. She had not been left out after all.

 

The song ended and the three moved along toward the next seating area. The music slowed down and the lights dimmed. Couples oozed into each other, and they could see that most of them were formed by young black men, and older white women.

 

“See that?” the red-head frowned, “How desperate can you get?”

 

The brunette spotted a recently vacated table in the third seating areas. They raced, giggling, to claim it, each bursting to report some snatch of dialogue, some untoward suggestion.

 

“You’ll never believe what that guy said to me!”

 

“Wait till you hear what mine said!”

 

They gossiped and peered around as they waited for another round of drinks. This section was mainly occupied by groups of older white women and their young black companions. The girls had seen this before at university parties and clubs. The women were in their late thirties and forties, their hair dyed and puffed up, very made-up, and bellies squeezed into tight glitzy mini-skirts.

 

“Who do they think they are fooling?” said the red-head.

 

“I feel sorry for them.” said the brunette.

 

The blonde agreed. “They look like divorcées, or single mothers. Secretaries, dental hygienists, that type.”

 

“Yeah, nothing to lose I guess. Their last stab at some fun.”

 

“Still,”  said the red-head, sipping her fresh drink, and tossing her head back, “there is something called dignity.”

 

“Hey, take a look at them!” cried the little blonde, pointing at a group reflected in one of the smoky, flecked, mirrors. “They’re this far from having an orgy!”

 

“Where?” the other two twisted their heads around. “Oh God! And look at that hair and those clothes ... !”

 

What they saw reflected in the mirror were three women in their forties. Obviously tipsy, and enjoying themselves. One was a tall woman whose red hair dye looked grossly exaggerated, and whose sharp features had settled into an authoritarian look. Another one was pale and thin, with papery white pre-maturely aged skin and hair dyed a shrieking raven black. The third was an obese little platinum blonde squeezed into a strapless sequin top, black mini-skirt, and high cowboy boots. Each of them was accompanied by a dark young student kissing and fondling them.

 

“Happy birthday, Connie.” The blonde woman raised her drink, and they all clinked glasses.

 

“Hey, remember the first time we celebrated your birthday here?” said the black-haired woman. “How many years ago was that?”

 

“That was ...” the red-head furrowed her brow and, taking a sip from her glass, turned her gaze toward the mirror as if she were looking directly at the three girls. “ ... a long time ago.”

 

 

 

(See Anita's Curtain Call, above.)  Anita Haas is a Canadian teacher and writer living in Madird, Spain. She has published three books on film, and a novelette, as well as articles, poems and stories in both English and Spanish. She has also just received the Aldaia Cuenta award for flash fiction.

Man in a Café in Arles

by John Hanson

 

Throughout the period of his life that he now called his youth, he had operated in complete awareness that in the absence of a fatal venereal disease, a tragic accident, or suicide, he would die rich. Guilt once stemmed from this knowledge, and though he’d made no explicit effort to temper it, the passage of time had seen it fade beneath the horizon of his conscience. And what had he done with this charmed life, with this endless, even slightly grotesque smorgasbord of choice offered up by the circumstances of his birth? The past fifteen years seemed in his head to be blurred, entirely indistinct, swirling around pointlessly like the miniature whirlpool of emerald liquid he stirred with a spoon in his glass. There were sugar cubes lying beside it, but he hardly noticed them. He rested the middle joints of his left hand’s fingers against his cheekbone and gave up a long struggle with his eyelids, finally allowing them to droop a little.

 

The colours of the café were desaturated under the lights (or perhaps everything had simply lost its vibrancy) and he examined, without paying much attention, the white cuffs of his shirtsleeves. He was impressed by the texture of his cheeks, and shuddered at the thought of the scraggly, unkempt beards of the men arguing at the table behind him. Tendrils of smoke wafted between unpolished oil lamps, he began edging a loosely closed fist along the rim of the table. Its once-white surface was now greying in parts, and chips of paint had fallen off all over it. His mother had died eight years earlier; he’d been by her side as her soul (supposedly) left her body. The chipped paint reminded him of that particular day, and of his father’s face.

 

He himself had felt nothing particularly profound upon losing his mother- the most shocking part of the whole ordeal was his realisation that he had never actually known her. She had been, throughout his life, so bizarrely removed from him and from any form of genuine, hot-blooded emotion, as he perceived it, that for a relationship to have ever developed between the two would have been entirely miraculous. Had she once laughed joyously over jagged rocks and allowed the wind to ruffle the thick, chestnut tresses she later consigned to the straitjacket of a chignon? Had the ocean spray delighted her and made her heart soar alongside the swooping, cawing gulls? These were things he would never know, and here, in the old café of all places, he began to wish it were otherwise.

 

His father’s face, by contrast, had suggested he perhaps knew another side of the outwardly sterile, rigid and loveless woman. That granite complexion had given way, his jaw and double chin had wobbled uncontrollably, pathetically and he had covered his face with his fat hands when the physician confirmed the loss of life…

 

But the moment had passed, the curious flicker of restlessness and regret had died, and he lost all interest in the life that had been (needless to say the life of the present moment does not even warrant a mention). There had been women, surely, once upon a time. There had been a few, but too few, and perhaps at another moment he might be eaten up by longing, by the cruel, gnawing sensation that a particular time, a particular age had slipped beyond his reach, and that there would be no recovering lost days of carnal bliss, nor any chance to redeem their tragedies. Such a moment would strike, leave its mark- much like the thoughts of his mother and her life and death- but would never linger.

 

Visions used to excite him, in his youth. He’d see all manner of absurd, pretty things and would, in a divine frenzy (or so he told himself), rush wide-eyed to an easel, frantically squeezing colours onto his palette, desperate to somehow translate the tidal waves of feeling alive in his breast. Enchanted, he’d pursue the sprites springing forth from the same glass he had some minutes ago been stirring listlessly, surrounded by those who had believed as fervently as he. But the starred nights, the roses and crucifixions and ravens and green smoke and sprites had all vanished. Perhaps worst of all, he now sat in the same chair, in that same café, and could feel nothing, only a detached acceptance that the things he adored in life had taken their leave of him. He would turn forty three the next week, or the week after.

 

He fought the urge to bend his forearm, lay it in front of him on the table and cushion his head upon it. He tried to admire the opaque blue flask of water before him but failed in this and instead turned his head, slightly, to look behind him. Slowly, lazily shifting his eyes to the corners of their sockets he watched Vietnamese men and women argue, gesticulate and become silent after a while; he found their voices and glaring clothes distasteful, but could hardly bring himself to worry over it. A sly, sad smile tweaked the corner of his lips as he saw a man resting on his arm, fallen prey to the temptation that he, for whatever reason, had resisted moments before. The smoke had not ceased drifting through the cafe, and three spheres sat still upon the surprisingly green felt of the rotting billiards table. A crooked red painting melted into the red of the wall, but before he turned away from the scene his eyes caught upon the white and black cat, sitting on its haunches, proud, observant, by a leg of a chair. He had almost forgotten his love of cats.

 

 

 

John Hanson writes:  "I'm an Australian/Croatian hostel factotum drifting around Portugal."

Red

by Alan Semrow

 

The other wives told me not to ask him when he got back, so I didn’t, though I really wanted to—thought maybe it’d make him feel better to say a few things. He really did seem out of it—like something had gone really wrong. I saw it right away. Even at the airport, he walked up to us, gave hugs, and it hardly felt like one.

 

Like most nights now, he sits there, on the couch drinking liquor that’s stronger than the casual beer he used to have on occasion. He sits there, drinking one after another after another. His daughter, Mavis, is growing old. She tells him often that she missed him when he was away. He smiles, tells her, “Thanks, Sunshine. I missed you as well.”

 

He cuddles on the couch with our pet Shih Tzu, Monique. He never liked her much before, but I guess it is that pets know best. They recognize who needs the biggest hug, the most comfort. And so Monique gives it to him and he takes it back, whispers things into her ear when he’s all drunk and out of it on the old couch—the TV blaring behind him.

 

We had sex once—the night he returned. I told him I’ve been waiting so long, I’m so horny, please just gave it to me. And he did. He gave it to me, but it felt a lot different than it had before. There was danger in his eyes. Something that had seen demons. And I knew it. I knew I just had to give him his space for a little while.

 

He lies there on the couch, drinking his whiskey on the rocks. I walk over. He’s holding Monique in his arms, laughing at some sitcom that I never thought was very funny. I try and sit down next to him, but he refuses to move his legs. I suffice for the edge of the sofa. I look over at him. He stares at the TV. “Honey,”

 

I say.

No answer.

 

“Danny.”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Danny.”

 

He looks up at me and into my eyes ever so briefly, grins, says, “Yep.”

 

“We need to talk about you maybe going back to work, getting out of the house a little bit or something. You know, it’s not good to be cooped up so long.”

 

“Yep. You’re right. I should get back to work.” Monique flips on her backside and Danny starts to rub her belly. He whispers into her ear, “You’re a cute little shit, you know.”

 

“You have a daughter too, Danny.”

 

“Yeah?” he asks. “And where is she?”

 

“Dance practice. I told you that. And Mara’s mom is bringing her home soon and I think it’d be nice if maybe you and her had daddy and daughter time or something.”

 

“And what is it you propose we do, Jolene?”

 

“Something. You’re her father. You guys used to go to the park and have movie dates and play baseball outside. I really think she misses that a lot, Danny.”

 

“Yep. Me too.” He stares back at the TV, puts his strong arm behind his head. I look at the TV with him. It really is not funny. He starts to laugh, rubbing the Shih Tzu’s stomach.

 

“Okay.” I stand up from my tiny spot on the couch and walk into the kitchen. The casserole smells ready and I think I’ll take it out and fix him his plate. He never was like this. He should really talk to me about it. He really should, the number he killed. I pull open the oven door, put my hands in and grab. I grab and, as I do, the casserole dish plummets to the floor, where it shatters and splatters like a gallon of blood. The burns sting up through my veins like wildfire. I scream, “Fuck me hard! Fuck!” Monique, frightened, jumps from the couch and runs into the kitchen. I close the oven door and then crumble onto the old linoleum floor. “I just can’t. I don’t know what…” I cry.

 

Danny yells from the living room, “What the hell you doing in there?”

 

I struggle off the floor, brush the food from my blue jeans. I shoo Monique out of the kitchen and race back into the living room. Monique hops on top the couch and maneuvers over to Danny. I stand in front of the TV, my arm outstretched at him. I scream, “Do you know what it was like not having you here, Danny? Do you fucking understand that?”

 

“What the hell you mean?”

 

“What the hell you mean? That’s what I get? What is wrong, Danny? Talk to me. Tell me what happened!”

 

“Yep.” He takes a sip of his drink. I run up to him, right up to his face and grab the drink out of his hands. I throw it across the living room where it smashes to ruin.

 

I tell him, “I’ve had it. You need to be a real person again. For this family, for me.”

 

Danny starts to laugh. He tells me, “Well, it’s a real good thing we got more glasses around here.”

 

I leave the room. I clean and scrub the two messes up. Mavis returns home, gives her father a hug. He asks how her day was. She tells him good. And that is the extent of it. I apologize to my daughter. I tell her that we’ll just have to do something microwavable tonight. She and I eat at the table, the dog below us waiting for scraps. I bathe Mavis. I tuck her into bed.

 

Late at night, I walk into our bedroom. Danny is asleep and the Shih Tzu is sleeping at his side. I walk up real close to his body and get down on my knees. I listen in to check if he’s breathing and then I hear, “Oh Rory. Oh Rory. Oh Rory.”

 

 

 

Alan Semrow is a writer, playwright, painter, singer-songwriter, editor, copywriter, and poet from Wisconsin. He is a graduate of English from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and his work has been featured in over 25 publications. Semrow spends the majority of his free time with his boyfriend, friends, family, and Shih Tzu, Remy. Find his blog at: http://alansemrowriter.wordpress.com.

Unplugged

by Don Tassone

 

The early morning sun shot through the cracks in the blinds on her bedroom window and jolted her awake.

 

For a moment, she struggled to get her bearings. Then, as the sunlight burned through the fog in her brain, she realized she had overslept.

 

WTF! Why hadn’t her alarm gone off? She reached for her phone and pressed the on button. “6:37 AM" flashed up. Crap! She had missed her bus.

 

“Mom!” she yelled, sitting up in bed. “Why didn’t you wake me up?!”

 

No answer.

 

“Mom!!” she yelled, even louder.

 

“We’re downstairs, honey.”

 

Holy crap! Why wouldn’t her mom have woken her up? Now she’d need to find a ride to school and wouldn’t have time to shower and do her hair. And today was Picture Day. Damn! Now she imagined always being known as the girl with bed head and sheet marks on her face.

 

She threw off her covers and stalked down the hallway to the top of the stairs. Her mom and dad were in the family room below, and the TV was on.

 

Everything seemed strange. For starters, her dad was usually gone by now. And the TV was never on in the morning. In fact, they hardly watched TV at all any more. Why would they? They all had tablets.

 

But now her parents were watching the news, her mom sitting on the sofa, her dad pacing around the room.

 

"What's going on?" she asked, stomping her way down the stairs.

 

"The internet's down," her dad said testily. He stopped pacing and looked down at the dining room table. His tablet was open there. He hunched over it and, with his middle finger, started tapping the screen. Then he stopped, put his hands palms down on the table, lowered his head, closed his eyes and mumbled something under his breath.

 

"What?" the girl asked curtly. Her tone did nothing to relieve the tension.

 

“I mean,” said her dad, “the internet’s down, all over the world.”

 

"WTF!" she blurted out, drawing stares from both of her parents.

 

"Sorry," she said.

 

“It’s OK, sweetie,” her mom said, patting the sofa. “Come over here and sit down for a minute."

 

“You mean it’s not working at all?” the girl asked, sitting down next to her mom.

 

“That’s right,” her mom said. “I know it’s hard to believe.”

 

“How did this happen?”

 

"Nobody knows," her dad replied. "Maybe a virus. But until somebody figures it out, we're all offline."

 

"And it means you won't be going to school today," her mom added. "The President has just declared a state of emergency. We’re all staying put.”

 

"What a bunch of crap," her dad said, sounding disgusted. “What an overreaction. It’s only going to make things worse.”

 

"I don't know," her mom said. "Everything that depends on computers, it's all down."

 

"And so now we're supposed to be prisoners in our own homes?" he snapped back.

 

"It’s only for a little while," she said coolly.

 

"Really? How do you know that?" he fired back.

 

And so her parents continued, arguing, not out of a lack of affection, but out of fear, fear of the unknown or at least a world they had not known for a long time.

 

And the girl sat there, listening. She too was anxious. A day without going online? Talk about being out of your comfort zone.

 

But then, listening to her parents snipe at each other, sitting with them in the family room, a place they seldom gathered these days, at a time of the day they were never together anymore, she grew even more uneasy because she realized just how disconnected they had all become. Everything felt so strange not just because of a global crisis that morning, but because, at some point, they had all lost touch with each other.

 

Eventually, her parents stopped arguing. Her mom stared blankly past her at the TV, and her dad sat down in his favorite recliner. His hands gripped the well-worn, soft leather arms, as if he were trying to steady himself.

 

Then she caught a glimpse of a picture on the mantle, just over her dad’s head. It was a photo of the three of them standing on the shore of Lake Michigan, the sun rising behind them. The girl was nestled between her parents, her little arms holding them tight. She looked so small, and they all looked so happy.

 

It was her favorite vacation. She remembered walking to the store with her mom for groceries. She remembered sitting next to her dad in a rowboat, as he patiently showed her how to pull her oar in sync with his. She remembered eating breakfast with her parents in the kitchen of the musty, wooden house they rented on the lake.

 

Then she stood up, grabbed the remote and turned off the TV.

 

“Hey!” her dad yelled. “Why’d you do that?”

 

“There’s no more news, Dad,” she said. “And there won’t be until the internet gets fixed.”

 

"So what are we going to do now?" he asked.

 

Coming from him, the man who always had a plan, the question seemed absurd. But she gathered herself and answered.

 

“Let’s have breakfast.”

 

“What?” he replied, looking puzzled.

 

“Yes,” her mom joined in, also rising to her feet. “I’ll make pancakes.”

 

The girl looked at her dad and smiled.

 

“Daddy, let’s have breakfast.”

 

He looked at his daughter and then at his wife. He looked at the faces of the two people who meant the most to him in the world. And suddenly all fear left him, and every trace of concern fell away from his face.

 

“OK,” he said, standing up.

 

And the three of them went into the kitchen, where they made pancakes and ate together, as they used to, caring not about the time or the news and looking not at devices, but one another.

 

 

 

Don Tassone lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches public relations at Xavier University. His latest stories have appeared in the Olentangy Review, TWJ Magazine, Red Fez, Five 2 One Magazine and Ray’s Road Review.

Conference

by Bill Vernon

 

Dr. Suzanne Carter has lectured the young man during class sessions, written helpful and encouraging notes on his first three compositions, asked for revisions rather than awarding low grades, but nothing has worked. The student has also missed all three appointments for consultations with her teaching assistant. There is a history, in other words there are some facts the Professor knows when he does show up for an appointment with the professor herself.

 

“Please,” she says, indicating a chair.

 

He sprawls in it, crossing his ankles, almost becoming prone. A cigarette lies above his right ear. A ring with a diamond teardrop suspended from it dangles from the lobe. His black hair modulates like a rainbow with stripes of purple, red, yellow, then white.

 

She asks what she can do to help his performance improve, and he says, “Nothin’.”

 

She says he’s not achieving college-level work, and he shrugs.

 

“Would a tutor help?”

 

“If he writes the stuff for me.”

 

“Can’t you do the work?”

 

“I did do it.”

 

“I mean acceptably. Do you want to fail?

 

He shrugs, which she interprets, “I don’t care.”

 

“It is true that you’ve turned in every assignment. That suggests you want to learn. Or at least that you want to pass.”

 

“So....”

 

“So you have earned some credit for that effort,” she finishes for him. “But frankly, the work is too vague, too disordered. You have to get better control.” In fact, she thinks, it is incoherent, nearly inarticulate. “Did you bring it? I’ll show you.”

 

“No.” He won’t look at her now.

 

Then she sees the problem. Aha! It’s attitude, not academic ability.

 

“Excuse me.” She telephones Shirley Atkins, who can see him now. Just before hanging up, the Professor says, “Good. I’ll send him right over.”

 

“Where?” he asks, suddenly staring at her.

 

She writes down the name, office and phone numbers, and hands the student the stick-um piece of paper. 

 

He glances at it. “Who’s this?”

 

“A counselor. Her help will cost you nothing, and she is very good. Has helped many of my students in the past. A very nice and competent person.”

 

“What kinda counselor?” He sits up straight and glares at her.

 

“Personal. Psychological. Just try her. Maybe she will be of benefit. You can arrange sessions at your own convenience and at no charge, as I said before. Cost is covered by your student registration fee.”

 

“A psychologist?!” His face goes from red to ashen.

 

Then he moves so fast she can’t understand what is taking place. He jumps up, slams her office door shut, comes around her desk, grabs her throat, yanks her to her feet. She goes almost immediately into shock and is hardly aware of his fists, pounding her face.

 

 

 

Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.

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Götterdämmerung

by Ed Ahern

 

Vampire paramours but no more brides of Christ.

Allah as warmonger but Zombies building nations.

Fashionable witches but unremembered saints.

Buddha as bracelet charm but adulated machete murderers.

 

Peculiar

To abandon Gods

And fixate on monsters.

 

 

 

Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He's had over ninety stories and poems published so far, and two books; his collected fairy and folk tales "The Witch Made Me Do It" from Gypsy Shadow Publishing and a mystery/horror novella, "The Witches' Bane" from World Castle Publishing. He has his original wife, but advises that after forty eight years they are both out of warranty. Ed dissipates his free time fly fishing and shooting.

enough to feel easy

by robert paul cesaretti

 

some lonely, some crazy, some wanting more. two guys were playing pool, the guy who had the stone working business, ted, and the other guy working for him on a job. seems they were old friends. there were some good laughs, not much, but enough to feel easy. and so they played pool, enjoying the game, listening to the music and looking at the women. this other guy, ted's old friend, had a gift with rock work, form and color, it was inside his hands and eyes. but there was a poison in his spirit, it trickled down into his heart. he was working it out and laying stones. "go this way and that" he said to ted, about the billiard balls and about his mind. the guy with the stone working business, ted, he did well, he was doing ok. there were uncertainties he had to face down, day by day, but he was moving in new hopes and promises. his old friend, not the same story. "your work is good," ted said to his old friend before he struck a billiard ball with his cue, "and your life is good." it just came out like that, with the shot. a clean shot. a blessing. this old friend had been doing good work for him, he was still there with that, and it was good to see. like honesty. stonework is real, you know, it is a part of your body. rock, earth, sky, same things. it was a good game, the movement of hands and touch of hearts. "god gives you a lot of yourself right when you don't know it" said a drunken man, not meaning to say it so loud. his face was granite.

 

 

 

Robert Paul Cesaretti has published in Plain Brown Wrapper, The Atherton Review, Gambling the Aisle, SN Review, Dark Matter Magazine, Mad Hatters‘ Review, Commonline Journal, and Avatar Review.  He is the founding editor of Ginosko Literary Journal, http://GinoskoLiteraryJournal.com and a native of the San Francisco Bay Area.

If U Can’t See Me, I Can’t See U: A Parallel Prose Poem (sign at the back of a truck)

by Yuan Changming

 

Outside the picture, if you can’t see me, I can’t see you; under a pile of words, if you can’t see me, I can’t see you; behind a big truck, if you can’t see me, I can’t see you; that is, since I drive in front of you, if you want to pass but can’t see me in my driver’s seat, or in my front rear mirror, you are in my blind spot, so don’t follow me too closely, don’t try to pass me, but stay calm behind my shadow; otherwise, you would kiss my big ass in a bloody way.

 

And so, when you communicate, wait and make sure you see the right person first –that’s for your own safety, pal. When you are cursing, singing, dancing, playing or fighting, it’s best to have the real person in view: if she can’t kiss you, you can’t kiss her; if you can’t put up with me, I can’t put up with you; if fame can’t grow out of you, you can’t grow out of fame; if money can’t find you, you can’t find money; if the politician can’t trust you really, you really can’t trust the politician.

 

Look, what I point out is, if you can’t see me, I can’t see you, whether it is in a book, at a cemetery, on a plane, or behind a truck. Drive safe, you asshole.

 

 

 

Yuan Changming, an 8-time Pushcart nominee, grew up in rural China, started to learn English at 19 and published several monographs on translation before moving to Canada. Currently co-editing Poetry Pacific with Allen Qing Yuan in Vancouver, Yuan has poetry appearing  in 1009 literary publications across 31 countries, including Best Canadian Poetry BestNewPoemsOnline and Threepenny Review.

The Street Sweeper

by Charles Hayes

 

Sweeping the street is ok with me. Glistening from the hoar, the chilled debris follows my broom like a disciplined lot.

    

Order, in the wee hours a remarkable thing, compared to the daily grind. Watching the damp trash run with my push, gives nurture that most gather at noon, and call lunch.

    

Wrapped in down, the punk chick always has a joke for me, as she opens the coffee stand, her punch line a silver studded tongue. Old and new, nice to meet in the grey blue hue, when thoughts are part of speech.

    

You have your morning chase as Jimmy Dean dances by, I’ll have my winks. For when you are gone, I’ll sweep the street.

 

 

 

Charles is an American who lives part time in the Philippines and part time in Seattle with his wife. His writing interests centers on the stripped down stories of those recognized as on the fringe of their culture. Asian culture, its unique facets, and its intersection with general American culture is of particular interest. As are the mountain cultures of Appalachia.

Prey

by Kristen MacKenzie

 

Talons dig in deep, beak gouging out bits. I wake before I feel the rip, but hear it in the quiet, flesh-canvas, tearing free. I can hope he took the part of me that holds you still, hands empty.

 

I slip from sheets wet from dreaming and find the window open; black breeze and salt move though. It smells of death tonight, creatures stranded at low tide and the moon turning away. Heron’s blade slides into a sleeping fish and I taste the brine of you.

 

Next time, I will be the bird and you will be the prey.

 

 

 

Kristen MacKenzie lives on Vashon Island in a quiet cabin where the table faces the ocean, waiting for a writer to pick up the pen.

cold caller

by rob walker

 

i had a funny call the other day he said you don’t know me i’d like a few minutes of your time i’m not trying to sell you anything just give me two minutes ok

 

well i had two minutes i was waiting for the coffee to brew and i thought what the hell he said we’ve never met but i’ve been interested in your work for years perhaps it was the flattery i’d had a lot of rejections recently and the ego was in need of some gentle massage he mentioned something i’d performed years ago before a small audience in another city how could you know about that i asked my interest aroused   i know everything about you     your career your personal life your most intimate thoughts      hey who is this i asked i was getting angry     i told you     you don’t know me     remember when you were in hospital a few years back? i wanted to visit you but they wouldn’t let me.

now this guy on the phone really irritated me i’d already worked out that it wasn’t one of my so-called friends trying to pwn me but i was curious and i wanted to know more.     can we meet? it slipped out before i’d really considered the implications     you don’t want that he said we can never meet you can’t see my face at least you can but only once     we’ve never met but you know me    my name is death    just the one name    i have no family    i have no friends    i just wanted to touch base. we’ll chat quite a lot over the next few years and one day we’ll meet.       take care.

 

 

 

Rob Walker is a South Australian writer of many genres. He has published 5 poetry books in Australia, the latest being tropeland (Five Islands Press, 2015) with two more upcoming, and appears in journals and anthologies around the world. He began short-story writing while living in Japan in 2008 and has had work published by Short & Twisted, Transnational Literature, Stringybark, Anonymous Adelaide Short Stories and Verity La (all in Australia), and Bewildering Stories (US). His official website is robwalkerpoet.com.

Hospice

by Julia Wang

 

Can you just imagine father as a kid, whittling at the tree branches and sanding them smooth into poles for the parallel bars out in the field, where he says the reeds are wilted and sing as they rub against the wind, and the other kids are all strong and golden, stinking wildly from exertions, doing their kid-like wrestling and kid-like chattering, all laughing, like father does now, stationed near the corner of the table, holding his bowl of rice and easing a sliver of salmon into his mouth.

 

 

 

Julia Wang has a Creative Writing MFA from American University and a Children’s Literature MA from Hollins University. Her stories have been published in JMWW and Pulse Literary Journal.

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END OF ISSUE SUMMER/FALL 2015

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