Winter 2014 Issue
(Sorry...you'll have to scroll to go to each story)
Gale Tanner, God's Dog...............*Editors' Choice* (See Gale's "How Mac Got Promoted" in our
Winter 2012 Issue.)
Laura Wooffitt, Marriage Prospects..............*Editors' Choice* (See Laura's "Hosea"
in our Spring 2013 Issue.)
Marc Carver, The Test.............*Editors' Choice*
Will Dixon, Feathers
Craig Fishbane, Another Mirror
Kim Peter Kovac, The Racer's Edge
Lucinda Olmstead, Lust
Gerry Sarnat, Freerange
The Window on His World
by Michael C. Keith
Absence diminishes commonplace passions,
As the wind extinguishes candles and kindles fire.
The Wellington was the latest in a wave of high-rise residences constructed on the city’s upscale North Side, and all of its units had sold by the time of its delayed completion. It had been pushed a few weeks behind schedule due to an electrician’s strike but had finally opened with great fanfare. New occupant Brad Hadley had avoided the cocktail party marking the launch of the 37-story structure, preferring to quietly move into his penthouse condo a day after the gala event. He had considered places in several other new buildings but he had settled on The Wellington because of the stunning view it offered him, especially from the room he would use as his office. Indeed, he’d spend most of his time there while not in his corporate office downtown.
Brad hoped the move would signal a change in his life. For the last decade he had lived in a cluttered one-bedroom apartment near his downtown office. It didn’t matter that the rent was far less than he could afford, because he had spent nearly all of his time elsewhere, devoted to his career as a stockbroker. To succeed as he had, Brad had become something of a hermit, forsaking the companionship of his contemporaries. He also had also lost touch with his parents, who had moved to Arizona. His had not been a close family, so their absence from his life was no hardship. Once a practicing Catholic, he had also drifted away from the church. The sole focus of his existence had become the acquisition of wealth. Money was his surrogate God, and at 34 he now had more of it than he ever dreamed possible.
Yet, despite his achievement, he felt a growing void in his life. It was not that he craved anything in particular. He had done fine without close relationships and was very fulfilled in his professional life, yet he experienced a mounting sense of absence. It felt as if there was a hole in his world. A new environment might help, he thought, as he committed to buying the $1.7 million condo. His cash payment did not dent what he’d amassed as the result of his hard work and recent major windfalls. He further rewarded himself with a Maserati GranTurismo. While he derived a measure of satisfaction acquiring expensive material objects, the novelty of possession quickly faded, and that sense of something lacking in his life took hold again.
* * *
Brad now spent most of his workdays in his new residence, only appearing at his company’s main office a few times a week to address matters that required his physical presence. While his new surroundings buoyed his mood, it failed to take it to the level he’d hoped such a posh setting would. The most favorable impact on his frame of mind came from the spectacular view from his office window. From it he could take in most of the city’s considerable skyline. He had always been attracted to architecture, and the eclectic mix of old and new structures captivated him. He would stare out the window for hours, neglecting his work. At his lowest point, Brad wondered how it might feel to leap from his castle in the sky.
“Better get some window coverings, or I’ll be back to sweeping the floor of the Exchange,” he mumbled, turning back to his desk.
Yet, after only a few minutes, he was back gazing out of his 37th floor window. This time he noticed there was something slightly askew about the line of buildings that ran the length of the horizon on the other side of the park. Two of the tallest skyscrapers now appeared dwarfed by the lesser structures that had stood next to them. Brad rubbed his eyes and moved closer to the window for a better look. That can’t be, he thought, straining his eyes to confirm what he was seeing. They were the tallest, he mused, while continuing to stare out at the city. Okay, maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I could swear they were . . ..
Brad returned to his desk and peered at the large monitor’s flickering numbers and pulsating lines. For the next couple of hours he tapped at the computer’s keyboard nonstop. Finally, he stood and stretched luxuriously. It was twilight, and he turned his attention to the now vibrantly illuminated buildings filling the landscape beyond his window. Beautiful. Like a fantasyland, he mulled, in the glow projected by his computer. He sat back down and continued to enjoy the striking view. It’s like another world out there . . . unreal. It was then that he realized the buildings he had believed were the tallest had been restored to their previous height. Must have been seeing things this afternoon, he told himself, only half-assured by his words.
* * *
The next day Brad was convinced his eyes were playing tricks on him when those buildings across the green had now changed location, elevation, color, and design. “What’s going on with me?” he muttered in growing panic, while scrolling for the number of his eye doctor on his cellphone. He was given an emergency appointment and told not to drive to the ophthalmologist’s office. An hour later, Brad jumped into a cab summoned by The Wellington’s doorman and arrived at the doctor’s office ten minutes before his appointment.
“So you say your sight is distorting? That things don’t look right . . . changed?” inquired the eye doctor.
“I know it sounds really weird, but when I look from the window of my condo at the buildings across the park, they keep morphing. Their heights change, and this morning everything about them was different . . . all mixed up.”
“Well, their designs seemed changed and they weren’t even in the same place. It was like they’d been moved around.”
“Is it just the buildings, or do other things change?”
“No, I don’t think so . . . no, just the buildings on the North Side. This has never happened to me before, doc.”
“I was going to ask you that. Your annual eye exams have been fine, but let’s do some checking,” said the doctor, dimming the lights and shining a bright beam into his eye. “Looks fine in there. Nothing out of the normal, but we’ll do a scan, okay? Just take a few minutes.”
While Brad waited for the results, he feared that he might have something wrong with his brain, maybe a tumor. His eye doctor’s findings deepened his suspicion that something dire might be causing his bizarre visions.
“You’re clean. There’s nothing wrong with your eyes. Check out perfectly, Mr. Hadley.”
“But I’m seeing bizarre things, doc. Maybe I should see a neurologist.”
“Why don’t you give it a couple days? Stay off the computer and avoid bright lights. It may be a little eye fatigue. You do look a bit tired. Overworking as usual, right?”
Brad agreed to do as the doctor suggested, but he left his office with a sense that he had a problem that a little rest would not address. Then an idea raised his spirits. Maybe the glass in the window is warped like it is in a funhouse. Could be defective. It’s possible.
As soon as he returned to The Wellington, he conferred with the building’s superintendent, who agreed to check it out. And hour later he concluded that the glass in Brad’s office window was fine.
“I’d like it changed anyway,” responded Brad.
“That will be very costly, Mr. Hadley.”
“I understand that. Please have the glass replaced.”
While Brad waited for the work to be done, the permutations continued in the fashion they had been occurring. He finally resorted to taping a bed sheet over the window to decrease the anxiety that the ever-changing view was causing him. Finally, a new window was installed, and for several hours the scene beyond the window remained fixed. Okay, maybe problem solved, thought Brad hopefully
But it was not to be. When Brad entered his office the next morning, he despaired at the sight that greeted him: A huge gap appeared in the skyline. In the middle of the opening was the spire of a church he had not noticed before. “This is not happening,” he groaned, and then dressed and crossed the park to confront the sight tormenting him.
* * *
There was no evidence of the buildings Brad had seen so many times from his condo. In their stead were empty lots that reached as far as he could see. There was nothing attesting to their previous existence––no construction equipment or excavations. The ground appeared undisturbed. People streamed up and down the sidewalk without acknowledging the absence of the structures that had been there the previous day. When Brad attempted to ask someone about the bizarre transformation, he was ignored as if he, too, no longer existed.
He took measure of the imposing edifice of the church before him and slowly climbed its steep steps. St. Agnes? Never heard of it, thought Brad, reading the gold letters on the large entrance door as he pushed against it. Cool air and the scent of burning candles rushed passed him as he entered the dark interior. As he moved toward the altar, a voice startled him.
“You come to worship, my son?” asked an elderly priest, clutching a rosary.
“No Father . . . no. I don’t . . .. I mean I used to but now . . ..”
“Now you don’t believe? So what brings you here then?”
“What happened to the buildings? They’re gone. How can that be?”
“You believe the buildings are gone?”
“Yes, of course, they’re gone.”
“And that’s what brought you here?”
“Well, God acts in strange ways, doesn’t he?”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“You will, my son. You will,” replied the priest, who then vanished through an opening on the side of the altar.
“C’mon!” blurted Brad in frustration, “Give me a rational answer, Father. Buildings don’t just disappear.”
He received no reply from the cleric and after a few moments left the church, heading through the park back toward his condo. Halfway there, he looked back and was stunned to see that the vanished buildings had returned. Where the church had stood was the tallest of the structures extending upward through the clouds. While he stared in disbelief, the old priest’s words echoed through his head––God acts in strange ways.
The hollowness that had been plaguing him began to diminish during the remainder of his walk home. He finally thought he understood what had happened.
Very strange ways, indeed, he reflected, as a smile transformed his expression.
# # #
Michael C. Keith writes stories and teaches college. www.michaelckeith.com
The Age of Faeries
by DJ Swykert
AFTER THE AGE OF MAN came the age of faeries, a time of winged vapor. It had been inevitable systems as large as men would disappear — when space became prohibitive there was no space for them to live, no ground left to grow food, grange cattle.
The first law of thermodynamics states energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be altered, transported and contained. It wasn’t energy that needed to make room for the continuance of life — it was the bulk that had to go. Voices and thoughts take up little room. An edge can become a mesa capable of supporting life systems. The age of faeries came into being, as most things do, out of necessity.
The winged faerie cage to hold the soul, replete with an atomic particle or two for propulsion, a computer chip for a brain, a speaker for a voice, a camera for an eye, and the HPT, human particle transporter, became operational. The biggest obstacle wasn’t the science, but convincing the population to surrender the old ways to the new, the faerie world; the inevitable, invincible, and infinite world of HPT.
There were a few problems, initially, that needed to be worked out. For instance, having sex with no external or internal ports, it was just unfamiliar territory. But there was no need to procreate – HPTs were godlike, eternal, built to last forever, sex would be purely recreational, and certainly something could be devised to replace it. And love wasn’t going anywhere, just the physicality of love, the spiritual aspect of life would become primary, the focus of existence wouldn’t be duplication but inspiration.
“Kiss me, one last time,” Nadine said.
Jacob looked at his wife of fifty years. “Do you think it’s wise? We need to dwell on the future, not the past, it’s liable to give us melancholy going into the HPT. You don’t want that.”
“I want the memory of it.”
“You have to think of the positives, living into the eternity. We’ll be together for the rest of time.”
Nadine had thought about it, all of it. “I still want to recall the past, remember our physical life before we have merely a spiritual one. The technology HPT life scares me, the endlessness of it, time without time, no future, no past, only the in between, just the present. Being alive will become meaningless.”
Jacob shook his head. “It’ll be heaven without the risk.”
“That there isn’t any.”
# # #
DJ Swykert’s short fiction and poetry have been published in: The Monarch Review, Detroit News, Sand Canyon Review, Scissors and Spackle, Spittoon, Barbaric Yawp and BULL. He is represented by LifeTime Media in NYC. Children of the Enemy, a novel, released June, 2012. Alpha Wolves, a novel, released May, 2012. He is a wolf expert.
by Gale Tanner
God was lonely, so She left and returned with Dog. Where She got Dog from, She never said. But since there was no one around to ask Her anything, it did not matter much anyway.
Dog was black, but not purebred. She had three white paws and a patch of white on her throat. God knew the white would spread as Dog grew.
Dog was very small when God brought her home. In fact, the first time God looked for Dog, She could not find her. Dog was hiding under the sofa. Her whimpers gave her away.
God moved the sofa and picked Dog up. God was shocked by how much Dog had grown in such a short time. But Dog still fit in the cup of Her hand.
God sat down on the sofa and unbuttoned Her blouse. She gave Dog Her nipple, but Dog would not suck. God took Dog into the kitchen and gave her water in a shiny bowl. Dog drank.
God went out again, and when She came back, Dog had made puddles and left droppings on the floor. She had pulled God's book down from the coffee table and was chewing it. God only had one book, and She liked to read it.
"Bad Dog," She said.
Dog kept chewing. God raised Her foot to stomp Dog out, but She did not. She knelt, petted Dog and took the book.
"Listen," God said, and read part of a page that Dog had chewed a hole in. Dog wagged her tail. God tore the page out of the book, wadded it into a ball, and tossed it to Dog to play with.
Behind God's house was wild. God liked wild. Sometimes, She put on Her snake boots and walked far into it. She never had trouble finding Her way home.
One day, God took Dog into the wild with Her. Dog ran away. God looked for Dog for three days and three nights before She found her. Dog was on a path, but not much of one, in the dark. At first, all God could see was Dog's eyes, reflecting yellow in the beam of God's light. God put the light down on the path and stepped into the beam. She knelt and called Dog's name. Dog came. God hugged Dog, and Dog licked God's face.
God built Dog a yard. She laid a low stone wall and set a fence into it. The fence was made of links of chain. The stone was there because God liked stone.
God planted a fig tree in a corner of the yard to go with the oak and the magnolia that were already there. She split a rock with the blade of Her hand so that water ran from it for Dog to drink. She made a gate in the fence for coming in and going out. Then She put Dog in the yard, and went back into Her house.
God stood at the kitchen window and watched. Dog ran along the fence, sniffing. When she stopped running, she started jumping. She jumped many times, but the fence was too high. She came, sat and looked up at the kitchen window as if she could see God's face behind it. She barked. God smiled and went deeper into the house.
When the white patch on Dog's throat had spread far enough, God left the house again and this time came back with Buddy. Buddy was like Dog, but bigger, golden and male. God opened the gate and let Buddy into the yard. Then She went into the house and stood at the kitchen window. Dog and Buddy sniffed each other, but did not snarl or snap. Wind blew. A limb fell from the magnolia and broke into sticks. Buddy took a stick in his mouth and ran around the yard. Dog chased Buddy until she caught him and took the stick away. Then Dog ran around the yard and Buddy chased her. But Dog was very quick and Buddy could not catch her. Dog stopped and dropped the stick. Buddy picked it up, and Dog chased him again. God went into Her study and read Her book.
God built a shelter out of wood in an unused corner of the yard. It was big enough for Dog and Buddy, and if the day were hot or wet, both would retreat into it. But at night, God brought Dog into the house and Buddy slept in the shelter alone.
One morning when God let Dog into the yard, Buddy was gone. Under the fence was a tunnel. One of the stones was marked with hair and blood where Buddy had scraped by. God filled in the tunnel and left Dog in the yard by herself. Dog ran along the fence. She did not find Buddy. She picked up Buddy's stick and ran some more, but Buddy did not come back.
Dog's belly swelled, and in time, she delivered. She bore her whelps in the shelter on a hot day. Only one survived the travail. Puppy. God buried the others in the wild. At dark, when God opened the gate and called Dog, Dog did not come. She remained in the shelter and nursed Puppy. God closed the gate and retired.
Puppy grew. It was golden like Buddy and had white stockings like Dog. Puppy liked to splash in the fountain of the rock and run around the yard with Dog. Dog brought Puppy Buddy's magnolia stick to play with, but Puppy could not pick it up.
God was at Her window watching when Owl swooped down and seized Puppy in his talons. Day was almost dusk. Puppy had been drinking at the fountain. Dog lunged at Owl, barking and snapping, but as quick as she was, she was not quick enough. Owl rose above the trees, flying to the wild. Puppy struggled and yelped. Dog howled. God rushed out Her back door, and Owl dropped Puppy. God went into the wild to find her.
Puppy lay at the foot of a hollow tree. She was without blemish, but she did not move. God picked Puppy up and stroked her head. Then She buried her with her brothers and sisters.
God opened the gate and called Dog. "Come," She commanded. Dog did not come. "Come," She called again. Dog came out of the shelter but only as far as the open gate. Dog sat on her haunches, looked up at God and howled. "Come, Dog," God said, "let's go inside." Dog turned away and went to where Puppy had left droppings. She lay down and rolled in them. God closed the gate and went into the house.
Dog howled all night. God did not rest. When the sun rose, God went into the wild without taking time to put on Her snake boots. She removed the stones with which She had covered Puppy's grave and thrust Her finger deep into the mound. Puppy clawed her way up out of the grave. But Worm had done its work. It had taken one of Puppy's eyes, and Puppy's smell was not good.
God carried Puppy to the yard, opened the gate and put her inside. Puppy staggered toward the shelter. Dog came out, sniffed Puppy, and bit her. Puppy yelped. Dog howled. God entered the yard and took Puppy away. In the wild, She twisted Puppy's neck and put her back into her grave.
Dog grew old. White spread across her breast and under her chin. She lived in the yard, drank from the fountain, and slept in the shelter. But every morning, God brought her into the house and fed her from the shiny bowl.
On a Spring morning, when leaves were falling from the magnolia and the fig showed promise of the first nub of fruit, God went into the yard and found Dog dead. Her body was in the shelter. Her head lolled from the opening, and her tongue hung pink. God knelt on both knees, reached out and touched Dog's face. It was cold. God howled. She leapt to her feet, tore off Her clothes, and rolled in Dog's droppings. She sat on Her haunches and howled until Her throat hurt too much to howl any more. Naked and reeking, She lifted Dog's body and bore it into the wild. With Her hands, She tore a hole in the earth and laid what remained of Dog into it. She covered the mound with stones. She stood before it and wept. The first finger of Her right hand ached with desire to plunge into the earth and bring Dog back.
"No," God told Herself.
She turned away from the grave, went into the house, and cleaned up. She put on fresh clothes. Then She sat on the sofa and read Her book.
# # #
Gale Tanner honors The Zodiac Review with yet another brilliant piece...a sort of companion piece to his How Mac Got Promoted, published in our Winter 2012 issue.
Gale lives in Forsyth, Georgia. His fiction and poetry have been published in River Walk Journal, Press 53 Open Awards Anthology, and 14by14. He has a story forthcoming in J Journal: New Writing on Justice. Gale is married to Isabelle, and is the father of Jessica and Justin.
by Phil Temples
Meenox ended his scheduled rest period. By his reckoning, it was the beginning of the 4.358 x 10^64th cycle of his existence. Meenox "willed" some of his unlimited store of nutrients to enter into him through an outer fissure. It felt good; he imbibed until he was satiated.
Of course, Meenox knew he had existed for far longer than these numbers of cycles. But this was his epoch time—the beginning of his conscience existence, as Meenox understood it. Meenox wasn't sure if someone—or something—created him. The data were far from complete. It was even possible that Meenox had created himself. A part of him doubted this, however. As Meenox collected and processed more raw data each cycle, the more he was convinced that a different hypothesis might be in order: that Meenox existed to serve some grander "thing."
Meenox set aside this particular thought process, scheduling it for lower priority. He would devote only a small part of himself to the contemplation of this process over the next cycle. Later, he would combine it with previous threads of the same class and reprioritize the new collection to a higher sub-level during the next rest period.
Meenox began processing some new data that had arrived 1.8 x 10^2 cycles earlier. Although he was a logical being, Meenox would pick and choose data in an almost random fashion. For example, during this cycle, Meenox had chosen the data from a being's sunny walk on a winter afternoon in a park. The richness of the multitude of sights, sounds and smells were duly recorded along with unconscious impressions from the person's psyche. Meenox replayed the string at several different rates to ensure that every detail was authentically stored and categorized. Then he moved on to other data.
Meenox had processed the births of nearly infinite numbers of sentient beings of a countless variety of species on a multitude of worlds. He had processed assassinations of clan leaders and interstellar monarchs. He had catalogued myriad instances of recreational and procreation activities. He had recorded life-and-death battles in minute, stereoscopic detail: the smell of the opponent's sweat, the taste of a bloodied lip, and the last precious thoughts of loved ones before unconsciousness ensued followed by the end of bodily functions. Each processed thread from the raw data was a minor triumph for Meenox; each memory re-lived was a glorious victory for the powerful being. Yet, cycle after cycle, he was still denied what was becoming truly important to him: Meenox yearned to know the answer to The Question--the meaning of his own existence.
Billions of cycles later, during one of his rest periods, Meenox formulated a new hypothesis—one that he hoped would finally provide an answer to The Question. It was quite simple, actually. The idea came to Meenox through a particular strand of data from a being that lived on a bleak, lifeless world. He was a nameless, forgotten being who was imprisoned against his will. The being was protesting his destitute existence to his captors in the only manner available to him.
Meenox allowed himself a small fraction of cycles for self-congratulation.
Only superior beings possess the ability to form hypotheses, conduct experiments and—ultimately—modify their existence—do they not?
Meenox hypothesized that only by bringing about his own demise could he ever know the answer to The Question. One possible scenario involved someone or something interceding to prevent Meenox from destroying himself. This assumed, of course, that Meenox's reason for being was, as-yet, unfulfilled. If this were not the case—if Meenox had completed his mission long ago, then he would simply be fulfilling his own destiny by self-destructing. Or, if the Creator existed in another dimension or plane of thought, Meenox might be invited to join with the Creator after termination. It seemed like a sound hypothesis.
Unlike the countless life forms whose knowledge base he had processed, Meenox placed no value in the concept of faith. Nor could Meenox ever allow for such a possibility. To him, everything in the Universe was simply data. Data could be perceived, processed, catalogued and categorized. Data produced threads of information. From this information, one could form hypotheses. One could not prove the purpose of one's being, or the existence of the Creator on something as shaky as faith.
Over several work cycles, Meenox ignored all the incoming data streams. Instead, he concentrated on cataloguing and storing his own information threads. Meenox reasoned that such threads could prove quite valuable should some other sentient being happen upon his remains some day and perform a post-mortem.
* * *
At first, there were no visible changes in his existence. Meenox performed within optimal parameters while alternating between work and rest cycles. But 10^3 cycles later, several minor internal systems had failed, resulting in degraded data processing. Still, Meenox continued to purposely deprive himself of the nutrient store. He felt no sensation or pain, only the nagging internal alarms noting shutdowns in systems. Later, Meenox knew the end was near when actual errors crept into the data store. In Meenox's recorded memory, this had never, ever occurred. Meenox noted this with a mixture of surprise and melancholy.
Meenox also duly noted that he was no longer able to even command himself to imbibe nutrients. Meenox was literally committed now to proving (or disproving) his hypothesis.
At 0.7494 elapsed time through cycle 5.312 x 10^87, Meenox's consciousness began to lose viable integrity. It was no accident that his final, remaining parent process halted while reviewing an ancient ritual performed by an indigenous tribe on a long-dead planet. In it, the peoples gyrated around an open fire and sang praises to the Old One; the One who had created all things everywhere.
Meenox was at peace with his Creator.
# # #
Phil Temples has written flash and short sci-fi/fantasy for nearly twenty years for his own enjoyment. This is only his second submission. He works as a computer systems administrator and lives in Watertown, MA.
Greatest Apes, pt. 1
by John Matthew Whalen
A light wind is flowing over Allston, Massachusetts. It finds new direction with each swaggering gust, singing in a hundred voices, forming eddies as it tumbles over the clots of red brick buildings. The April night hangs heavy and languorous in all areas but the east, where dawn pokes up behind the cityscape like tulips in a pot.
The air is imbued with a mellow saltiness that will soon be stifled by the carbon emissions that herald the approach of the regional workforce, brought into Boston on a pilgrimage as rhythmic as that of blood into a heart or krill into the mouth of a whale.
* * *
Kaitlin Brennan walks a back street parallel to Commonwealth Ave and approaches the small half-duplex that she shares with her father. She has spent most of the night at the library, studying for classes, reading for pleasure, and looking at real estate ads in southern New Hampshire. She intends to move there. A thin blue hood fails to keep her hair safe from the breeze, which whips it into tendrils that wrap across her face. She is feeling giddy from the smell of the sea in the air, from the impish wind, and from staying up too late.
As she nears the duplex, she reminds herself to take care not to wake her father—he hates to find that she’s stayed out late. She pulls back the hood, smoothes her hair, and pinches the tip of her nose in a mitten to warm it. Then she sneaks inside and begins to prepare a snack. The noise wakes her father after all.
“Kaitlin, are you usin’ the fackin’ toasta down theh? You makin’ fackin’ toast right now, Katy?”
“Well what the fack, Kaitlin.”
“Sorry, Daddy, I—”
“Ya turnin’ into ya no-good brotha. GO TO BED, Katy.”
Studying and snorting may both be late-night compulsions, but the likeness between her and her brother ends there.
She opens a drawer without looking and grabs a pair of red plastic chopsticks that she bought on Beach Street. Holding them incorrectly, she flops a limp, oily HotPocket onto the rim of the toaster like gaffing a buoy out of the water, and she prods it into a folded napkin, which it immediately stains. The grease is the color of old transmission fluid.
One of her chopsticks has grazed the toaster’s heating element. Grimacing, Kaitlyn curses quietly and tries to fan the smell of charred plastic out of the air before it floats up the squat half-staircase into her parents’ room. Her father smells it anyway.
“Jesus Christ, Katy.”
“Yes, Daddy! I’m sorry, Daddy.”
She falls asleep on the couch for two and a half hours, and then they’re both awake again, bleary-eyed and lightheaded, and her father is using a baby spoon to stir a mug of instant coffee.
He’s wearing steel-toed work boots, jeans, a grey hoodie, a maroon hoodie that pokes out from under the grey one, and a ratty blue Patriots cap. Tiptoeing out of the bathroom, Kaitlin hugs him from behind, over his arms and across his rotund midsection, squeezing as hard as she can.
“I CRUSH!” she grunts in her deepest voice. Coffee and grounds splurt out of her father’s mug and onto the dirty ceramic tiles.
“Ah, my fackin’ eyes are gonna pop out!” he rattles as if suffocating. Tilting his wrist to avoid a second spill, he dips the baby spoon into his mouth to clean it and then, laughing, jabs it blindly over his shoulder at her: “Wha! Hah!” He pauses for a moment, and she lifts her head, thinking the onslaught concluded; “Blah, Gotcha!”
“Ow, daddy! You stabbed me in the fucking ear.” She lets go of him and rubs the spot with her palm, pouting. “So do you want some eggs today or no.”
He takes a deep pull from his mug.
“I’m too tired for eggs, just coffee is fine, Sweety. Some punk interrupted my beauty sleep last night, but boy, did I straighten her ass out.” He kisses her on the cheek, and her nose crinkles at the corners at the feel of his whiskers, rough as a yard rake. Draining the coffee in two gulps, he leaves. The pneumatic screen door wheezes once behind him, and then it slams like a cough.
“You forgot your thermos, Daddy!” She pours a bowl of reheated soup into a metal thermos and meets him at the door with it.
“Love you, Katy,”
“Love you, Daddy.”
She watches his posture as he walks away—she hopes he’ll agree to move up to New Hampshire soon. More fresh air and less taxes would do him good. It kills her to see how his boots drag on the ground as he steps, how his thermos swings loose like a hung body, bumping into his leg, limp in his listless hand like a letter from the state. A change would do him good.
The relocation will not affect Kaitlyn socially; in fact, it might be nice to go to a high school where everyone didn’t already know her last name before they’d met her. She watches her daddy’s doubled-layered hood waggle in the breeze for one more moment, and then she’s back inside, shouldering her backpack, turning off the lights, and locking the doors as she prepares herself to leave again.
# # #
John Matthew Whalen is an ornery New Englander. He travels a lot, and he likes to think that writing about the different sorts of people he meets encourages dialogue.
by Laura Wooffett
It is the first ball after the war. Mama stood behind me, eagerly pointing out the men in uniform. The ball is in their honor, and so they must wear their military dress for the occasion, even though the war is over. Mama says I’d be a widow soon enough, taken care of with enough to bargain for a richer man. I try not to make a face, but most of the men look terrible, terribly old. Terribly older than me.
One doesn’t look too bad, standing aloof in the corner. Well, over by the piano. They’re all standing aloof in the corners, the deep red drapes doing nothing for their pale complexions. None of the other girls are vying for this one’s attention. Probably because he’s shaking like deliciously cold sorbet. I put on my most beguiling smile and curtsy as deep as I can without falling over. Mama says to make sure the quarry gets a good first look at “everything.” He ignores me and turns to look out the window. I look back at Mama, and she motions for me to keep going.
I wet my lips, nervous at what I am about to do. I talk. I talk, talk, talk, talk, talk! Before the war, I wouldn’t be caught dead talking to a complete stranger without being introduced. But it’s the South. We don’t have many men to go around, with lots of young girls now come of age. The competition is pretty steep, unless a girl wants to end up an old maid. Mama is constantly reminding me that she and Papa won’t live forever.
He still doesn’t pay attention to me though. I look back at Mama, but she’s busy talking to one of her friends. Now what do I do? If I could just get him to look at me. I touch his arm, and—suddenly—he grasps my wrist, pulling me close to him in the process. My wrist is hurting. But his eyes are what scare me. They look cold and vacant, like he doesn’t see me at all. Ow, you’re hurting me, I tell him. He twists harder. Hold. Your. Ground. He growls in my ear. A hand lands on my shoulder and another on the soldier’s arm. It’s Mama. She clears her throat several times, talking fast and nervously sing-songy.
Gradually his grip on my wrist lessens, and I tear it away, glaring at him. His eyes turn watery grim and the shaking returns. Mama walks me back to the other side of the room. What about those other ones over there? Mama is determined. I cradle my wrist, the skin around it already bruising, feeling sprained. Those cold, vacant eyes swim before my mind, and I look Mama dead in the face. I tell her, I’d rather be an old maid.
# # #
Laura Wooffitt is a graduate student at EKU in creative writing fiction. She is currently working on a novel for her thesis with plans to graduate in the Spring. Starting in January, Laura will serve as an intern for Folio Literary Management. Her first story "Hosea" was published by The Zodiac Review with others published by KY Story. She and her husband live in Middletown, Ohio.
by Marc Carver
I SAT THERE
JUST ABOUT FINISHED
AND ASKED FOR ANYTHING
ANYTHING AT ALL.
AND ALONG SHE CAME
THE TEST HE KNEW I WOULD FAIL
AND OF COURSE IN THE END I DID.
BUT FOR THAT MOMENT IN TIME
IT KEPT ME GOING.
# # #
I write because I have to write and if anybody else gets something
from what I do that gives another reason to continue. -- Marc Carver
by Will Dixon
I awoke to find an angel in my room last night---
Of course, I realized that this was just one of my usual dreams that would end in a moment.
But I saw my lit computer screen and that the television was still on.
I could even hear Jack, my big dog, snoring on his dogbed in the hall.
I sat up and looked around but saw that there was only one angel
sitting in the chair at the foot of my bed with wings wrapped tightly around itself.
Its wings appeared gray and the feathers seemed almost disheveled---
Some feathers were torn, some seemed to be missing, and some were tinged with blood.
Now what to say to an angel or should I wait for it to speak to me?
After waiting what seemed a polite amount of time,
I softly and slowly began to speak to the angel.
First I asked if it was alright and if I could do anything to help-
I could try to help it with its cuts or wounds,
if in fact, angels could have those.
No response at all, so I reminded it that it was in my room but I really didn’t mind.
I would help it however I could.
At that point I wondered if it was
a good or a bad angel.
I realized that it was between me and the door.
I really didn’t believe hiding under the covers would help
So I would wait.
And slowly it unfurled its feathers and sat its feet carefully down on the rug
in front of the chair.
I could see that it had long curly red hair;
when it lifted its eyes,
they were glowing bright green.
And then the eyes seem to dim and I could see
the beautiful, fair-skinned face of what appeared
to be a young woman.
As she moved slightly in the chair I could see her worn robes and that
she did look like a female angel.
Like I would know.
I smiled at her and slowly she smiled back at me.
I introduced myself and asked what her name might be.
She hesitated and then she laughed almost like music and said,
“Will, it doesn’t matter, you couldn’t pronounce or spell it anyway.
Why don’t you just call me ‘Friend’,
for indeed that is what I am to one that offers me shelter.”
I told her that she was welcomed to my chair as long as she wanted
or even a sandwich or drink,
if she might want that.
Even more of a smile from her.
“I thank you the only way I know how
but they would not sustain me.”
And she was silent again though she returned my steady stare.
“You are welcome here, as I said, and can stay as long as you want or need to---
But can I do anything to help you?
Do you want anything from me?”
Her smile broadened.
“My friend, I think you are supposed to ask me for something,
Everyone else does.
Don’t you wonder if I am the Angel of Death?
Perhaps, a Fallen One?”
“Yes, the thought did cross my mind
more than a few times.
But couldn’t you be my Guardian Angel instead?
I always thought I would have a beautiful one of those.”
“Oh, you mean with the flaming sword,
lead you from a burning house,
smite your enemies,
get your cat out of the tree,
whisper the lottery numbers in your ear?”
She smiled and shook her head---
“You might have one of those -maybe- but forget the lottery numbers
And most of us don’t like cats.”
Silence for a few moments---
“So why are you here?”
“Because I’m tired and I saw your empty chair before I saw you---
“No, please, can I help you with your wings?
I mean, the blood and all.”
“No, thank you, they will heal
or they won’t….
It doesn’t really matter.”
“I know I am talking to an angel and I don’t know what to say,
Do you know me?
Am I just a place to rest?”
“And what’s wrong with being a place to rest?
Perhaps you could give me sanctuary.
Safety from a mad world that grinds up goodness
and finds out a way to make a profit at it.
there’s an idea, if I gave you the right words---
Would you consider being my prophet?
Hmmm, it does have a nice ring to it.”
“And what could I say?
I am but a man who is probably about as world weary as you are.
Which is why I am here talking to myself in a dream.”
“So Will won’t?”
She smiled and whispered something to herself.
“Forgive my rudeness, I was just thinking out loud.
It’s been so long since I have been anyone’s dream or
Even in a dream.
I like that, so if you wake up, I’ll be gone.”
“Yep, that’s the way it always happens.”
“All right, so if I climb onto your bed like this
And wrap my dirty wings around you.
You should feel safe and wake up
You should feel fear and scream
Or something to that effect---
But wake up anyway---
Dramatic, I like it-
And it worked,
Just like she said---
I woke up,
Unfolded my dingy wings
And flew away.
Trailing drops of blood.
Listing to the left,
The side where I was missing the most feathers.
Looking for sanctuary.
Same old dream.
# # #
I am a perfect example of how someone is molded not by the years, but by the mileage--having lived in four states, and having spent time in the Outback of Australia, the SchneeEifel of Germany and several surrounding neighbors. Home is still Tennessee, being a fifth generation native, but currently I live on the Space Coast of Florida. All of this has produced a trunkful of characters and blessings of bits and pieces of stories waiting, maybe even wanting to be told.
-- Will Dixon
by Craig Fishbane
She is at the edge of the mattress, squinting at another mirror. A cockroach darts across the plastic frame. She takes a balled-up sock and throws it. She misses. The bug scrambles into a crack beneath the socket of an exposed bulb. She kicks bare feet against the map unfolded on the wooden floor. Each of her locations has been marked with colored ink: Paris, New York, Sydney, LA. Now Bangkok.
Bangkok is a wall of mirrors glimpsed through dusty windows, a maze of distorted light filtered through cheap white fabric, a pair of shoddy curtains parted by pale fingers. She watches animated billboards flicker in the dusk, characters from an alien alphabet dancing through the haze of a darkening sky.
The contours of her silhouette hover in the tempest of pink and green neon, a shadow contained in the glass. She leans against the sill, waiting for a face to appear: one she can recognize.
# # #
Craig Fishbane’s short fiction collection, On the Proper Role of Desire, was published by Big Table Publishing. His work has been featured in the New York Quarterly, Opium, the Boston Literary Magazine, Night Train and The Nervous Breakdown, as well as the Flash Fiction Funny anthology. Please see his other fine piece, “On the Proper Role of Desire,” published in our October 2012 Issue (on our Archives page.) He can be contacted at his website:
The Racer’s Edge
by Kim Peter Kovac
-She dealt her pretty words like Blades—/ How glittering they shone—/ And every One unbared a Nerve/ Or wantoned with a Bone--
-Emily D., Amherst, MA
‘Call me Ree’ lopes down the country road in the pre-dawn haze.
Typically coltish and awkward, her stride is lithe and fluid.
Though the shank of summer, she wears sweatpants, long-sleeved tee,
ball cap tugged low.
Her clothes: grey or black, save lime green running shoes.
What’s hidden: fresh cuts, healing wounds, scars,
a chronological multi-colored map of pain redoubled:
the pain from the cuts, and the pain that caused them.
Her tool-kit, eclectic: scissors times three; safety pins; needle-tipped tweezers;
nail file; box-cutter blades, new and used; Grandpa’s straight razor, complete with strop; Gillette single-edged blades for delicate work.
Not content with abstract slashes, dashes and lines, a recent addition is carved words. Ree knows that every scar tells a story and perhaps she and the blades need more clarity – words like ‘ugly,’ ‘shame,‘ ‘help.’ There’s one word in Sanskrit – ‘om’ – and a single full sentence: on the inside of the upper left forearm is, “I have more scars than sense.”
The day reaches civil dawn, the full light just before sunrise, Ree’s cue to push her left sleeve to the elbow. She slowly rubs the scar-words with the first three fingers of her right hand, back and forth, back and forth. Braille scars, eloquent and loud.
The fingers rest for a moment, then pull the sleeve over her smooth wrist. As the sun snaps over the horizon, a sliver of a smile appears. Ree pushes the bill of her hat up, slants east, starts running faster.
# # #
Kim Peter Kovac works nationally and internationally in theater for young audiences with an emphasis on new play development and networking. He tells stories on stages as producer of new plays, and tells stories in writing with lineated poems, prose poems, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, haiku, microfiction, and three-line poems, with work appearing in print and on-line. He is fond of avant-garde jazz, murder mysteries, contemporary poetry, and travel, and lives in Alexandria, VA, with his bride of many years, two Maine Coon cats, and a Tibetan Terrier named Finn. www.kimpeterkovac.tumblr.
by Lucinda Olmstead
His touch sent electric shockwaves through her body,
awakening a desire she hadn’t felt in years,
and though it was a slight touch, a feather touch,
his black hand on her white skin,
it stirred in her a realization of her need for more
while at the same time disturbing her sensibilities
because it was taboo
this infatuation with such a young man, her student,
who had already professed his love for her,
gazing from afar with sick puppy eyes
while promising to be discreet if she would just meet him
somewhere where they could share forbidden
intimate moments of passion she craved so silently
and he more forcefully, the chemistry so strong at times,
almost too much to bear,
and so the longing stares from across the room,
the pretense hanging in the air with
lips quivering, “do we dare?”
# # #
Lucinda Olmstead currently teaches English at a small college in upstate New York. She has written for local publications in the Albany area and has been a finalist in The New Yorker cartoon caption contest, a contest she hopes to win one day. Most recently she published But Not On My Ice Cream, Please , a story about vegetables, for young children. She enjoys dabbling in poetry on a wide range of subjects when she isn’t correcting student essays.
Freerange Homesick Blues Redux
by Gerry Sarnat
“Mixing up the medicine
I'm on the pavement
Thinking about the government”
-- Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues, 1965
Failing the Embryology class final exam, nearly flunked out,
country boy got egg on his face after freshman year at Stanford Med...
Draft card torched, hitchhiking north to Petaluma, The Egg Capital
of the World, to rendezvous with the sublime teen Egg Girl of my dreams,
I pull trous on as Rose’s dad (not as billed safely on vacation)
blasts through the bedroom door to celebrate Independence Day with us.
Right on cue, the Egg Man’s brown and speckled oval missiles welcome me,
Son, there’s hell to pay if the likes of you gets our little queen preggers.
Back of a pick-up truck, British Columbia’s Mounties turn me around.
Dumped by the flowerchild, dozing off a last half tab; I’m aroused by
kindly folks who offered a ride before rolling my butt from their van
with no backpack, wallet or jacket with what’s left of our Egg Money.
Drugged, mugged, shivering; lucky not to have slid over the embankment.
Twilight, I rip open the last Egg McMuffin crushed in my pocket.
Couple of minutes took a couple of months till the Kesey bus stops.
A hippy chick eggs me on, Wanna go party up on Mount Shasta?
Snowcapped dawn broke in a blue geodesic dome where the commune folk
passed the hat to raise enough cash for Greyhound fare down to Beserkeley.
Doing banned natural childbirths, Frisco’s Panhandle acid squalor
through the back of flatbed trucks near the Russian River, I delivered
an unGrateful Dead's child in a glitz Mill Valley home while everyone
else there snorted. Cavorting fuzzy lines, distressed newborn tossed around,
the baby was dropped and got a concussion. Seduced by percussion
as a hyperactive youth, since Jerry's habit, the mostly deaf girl’s
healed wayyyyy off the grid as a Dylanesque perpetual tour groupie.
# # #
Gerard Sarnat is the author of two critically acclaimed poetry collections, 2010’s "HOMELESS CHRONICLES from Abraham to Burning Man" and 2012’s "Disputes." His poetry and short stories have been published in over 60 journals and anthologies. Harvard and Stanford educated, Gerry’s been a physician who’s set up and staffed clinics for the disenfranchised, a CEO of health care organizations, and a Stanford professor. For "The Huffington Post" review of his work and more; visit GerardSarnat.com.
"Sulfurous Fridays" may appear in my third collection, "17s," in which each poem, stanza -- or as in this case, line -- has seventeen syllables.
END OF CURRENT ISSUE - WINTER 2014