Megan’s Journey Through the Labyrinth

Posted on: December 7, 2016


She’d searched for Ford that day and met Benedikt instead; at the end of the afternoon they shook hands…

It was nice meeting you

…but it didn’t end as Megan had hoped, because the following week she met Benedikt again. She’d been on her way to a quiet, empty table at Café Nikotín. She’d held a small stack of post-cards: for Mom and Dad and for a whole gaggle of friends. One significant postcard was going to Chris: she loved him, but didn’t know if she wanted to go on with the relationship. A trip into the cockles of Europe, she’d thought, might have clarified something.

“Hi,” Ford had said smiling from his seat at a buffed aluminum table centered with the pole of a green umbrella. “Care to join us?”

“It is good to see you again,” Benedikt said.

“You’ve met?” Ford asked.

“Last weekend,” Benedikt offered.

“Then you should join us.” Ford smiled. “We’re old friends it seems.”

And later, midway through her white coffee, Ford had turned the course of their halting, polite small-talk. “Have you been to the Labyrinth?” he’d asked. “We were heading there in a bit.”

She’d never been to the old stone-work maze, but it stared up at her from the face of a postcard: it was as ancient as medieval bloodshed, and as dark as this city’s history of alchemists and syphilitic, absinthe-addled poets. Romantic and spooky: it was just the kind of place that might shadow her nightmares for any long stretch of future decades, but she liked Ford’s eyes and the way his skin made her think of buffed pecans, so when he’d asked if she wanted to come along, she’d said yes against every bone-deep desire to avoid that part of the city. But it couldn’t have been such a great risk—could it?—with Ford’s skin color, and Benedikt’s off-kilter jokes and the invitation to drink škóy with him and with Ford. Though she couldn’t fathom the depths of Benedikt’s uncanny glacial gaze, she’d considered the invitation, because it would be a chance to be with Ford, to watch the movement of his hands, and imagine them touching her. If the Labyrinth was in a dicey part of the city, neither of them seemed especially worried about going there.

“You know the story of the Labyrinth?” Ford had asked

“No.”

He’d shrugged. “It’s simple, really. Once you enter the Labyrinth, the only way back out is the way home.”

She’d scoffed the idea of stepping into that maze and stepping back out in Cincinnati.

But nothing was ever as simple as it seemed: reality and symbol were different things in this part of Europe.

The Labyrinth was ancient stone and mortar cemented in patterns that only a mason might have understood. Now, she picked her way—alone—through narrow, switchback corridors of stone-work walls and flagstone footpaths. Last week, Ford had told her it was best to walk through the Labyrinth with bare feet, but she’d kept her shoes on. She cringed through the memory of Benedikt stooping down and unstrapping his sandals. Though lean, there was something stocky in his manner, as if he spent his days at work, strangling bulls with his naked hands. His toes were blunt, rounded, and dusted with scant, bronze hairs. Ford, beside him, had kicked out of his shoes and pulled off his socks and for just an instant, she couldn’t tell them apart.

She was alone, now, following the path they’d taken—together—one weekend ago.

The walls of the Labyrinth were stone and mortar, but the square heart of the warren was heavy with grapevines and earwigs. Here, she saw last Saturday in her mind’s eye: Ford and Benedikt standing together and laughing at some small joke. Though they’d done their best to be nice and to include her, the Labyrinth—as Ford had said—showed her something else. And maybe the Labyrinth remembered her this evening, because it was showing her Benedikt’s gray gaze with shimmers of blue in it.

Benedikts’s eyes, last weekend, had been spooky and unreadable; she couldn’t find the personality at home in them. Now, some unnerving phantom of Benedikt held her attention with a subtle smile tugging the corners of his lips. A breeze fondled his ragamuffin hair and he raked it back with splayed, pale fingers. She flinched, glimpsing Ford at home inside of Benedikt’s eyes, staring out at her. Benedikt smiled and reached forward, touching her face with the warmth of his fingertips.

“Ford’s your boyfriend.” She felt the words spilling before she could bite them back. “And you followed me here to tell me that.”

Saddened understanding flared in Benedikt’s gaze. “I’m not here. I’m at home with Ford. But you’re here looking for something….”

“I’m not—” but she stopped.

“Home isn’t a place,” Benedikt said. “It’s the one right person who’ll miss you when you leave.”

“I don’t even know if I want to stay with Chris.”

Benedikt shrugged and touched her shoulder, softly. “I see how you look at Ford, but you can’t live in his eyes. You have no choice but to return to the one you sent that postcard to. You are not finished back there. An affair with Ford cannot make you happy, but Ford and I can be good memories for you, if you want us to be.”

She closed her eyes.

Benedikt leaned close and planted a kiss on her forehead. “It is nice that you came back to our Labyrinth, but now, you should leave. If you want company before you go, you can come to our apartment; we’re not so drunk yet. You know the way there and we’ll hear you at our buzzer.”

“I don’t want to intrude.”

“You won’t.” Benedikt smiled.

“Okay.” Megan blinked; Benedikt was gone.

As quietly as she came, she turned around and fumbled her way out of the silent, ancient maze.

All the way to Cincinnati, she thought, hesitating before stepping out of the Labyrinth completely. 



Written by: J.C. Howell
Photograph by: Victoria Ostrzenski

The Catoptromancer

Posted on: November 30, 2016


I took a deep breath and picked up his phone. You have to do this, I said to myself.

My husband was watching a 70's action flick in our living room. It looked grainy and washed out on the flatscreen. I stood silently behind our couch, listening to the gunshots and watching the fake blood fly. I considered waiting for a commercial. Can we talk? I couldn't get the words out.

"Ezra," I finally managed. He turned around, saw my face, then clicked off the TV.

"What's wrong?" He asked.

I held his phone out to him. "Someone called this morning while you were asleep."

He looked disgusted as he took his phone out of my hand. "It's nothing."

So shut up about it already, Haidee. I felt hot and cold at the same time as I forced more words out. "They called 27 times."

He looked back at the TV. "I'm sure it wasn't 27 times." The disgust had dripped into his voice.

No, it was. I know, because the buzzing woke me up and wouldn't fucking stop. He wouldn't fucking stop.

"You're going out again tonight? And she'll be there?"

He snatched up the remote and turned the movie back on. Over the sounds of a fistfight, Ezra said, "Don't be like this. You're so much better than that."

***

Adam Tucker's ancient, rust-red convertible was parked on the side of his featureless adobe house. I rang the doorbell and thought about running away, but my feet didn't move before the door opened.

He looked like he always did: junkie-thin and arrogant, with grey bird's-nest hair and a neat, white goatee.

"Haidee Clark," Adam drawled. "I never expected to see you out here. What can I do you for?"

I felt nauseous. "I'd like to employ your services."

"Would you?" He asked with a leer. "I'd hardly think that would be proper, Mrs. Clark."

Proper. The word lit in my brain like a match. It felt like my whole being whooshed into flames while I stood motionless.

Should I scream at him? Punch him? What could I say that would wipe the condescension off his face? I'm not always proper...

The words stuck in my throat, like always.

"Do you take credit cards?" I managed. He laughed.

My jaw tensed. "They say you do readings. Tarot, or something?"

"Or something," he replied. Looking thoughtful, he opened the door further. "Come in."

He led me to a pedestal--a wide basin perched on a column as tall as my waist. Adam stood across from me. The basin was filled with water and our steps made it shiver, threads of light breaking over its dark surface.

"This is mirror-magic," he said. He spoke a strange word, and the water became bright. I could now see a mirror glowing in the bottom of the basin.

"Look into the mirror," he said.

I looked. I saw my face. Then everything went black as I felt myself start to collapse.

***

"You've been out for a couple hours," said a nurse in floral scrubs. She was standing over me as I woke, clearly in a hospital. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"Falling," I croaked.

"Did you fall when you were running from the fire?"

"Fire?"

"I'm sorry, miss," she said, "your house burned down. You and your boyfriend made it out, though."

"That's not her house," a familiar voice said from the end of the bed. "I don't know if Tucker is her boyfriend or not, but I'm her husband."

I stared at Ezra, waiting for some feeling to come over me. Nothing came.

I turned to the nurse. "My head is killing me."

She nodded. "You don't have a concussion, just a nasty bump. When you're ready, you're free to go." She left.

"You're alright," Ezra said. His voice and body were stiff.

I moved my limbs a bit, felt at the lump on my head. "Just a little sore."

Unspoken words twisted Ezra's face into something hard and furious. I felt like I should know what was coming next, but I didn't. I watched him and waited.

"Why were you at Tucker's house?" He finally asked.

Why? I tried to remember what happened after looking in the mirror.

"Let me guess," Ezra said. "The house burned down because you two set the sheets on fire."

"I didn't go there for sex," I said.

"You were so righteous yesterday, laying into me over some phone calls. Calls that don't concern you. And all the time you were whoring around--is he the only one? Or do I get sloppy seconds from this whole damn town?" He was yelling, but he seemed to be a little bit happy, too.

"He tells fortunes. I felt hurt and angry and betrayed by you, and I didn't know how to help fix us."

"You know what would help?" Ezra yelled. "Not being jealous or paranoid or whatever the hell you are all the time. Oh, and not breaking our marriage vows. That would really fucking help, Haidee."

Nothing he said made any sense. I felt like I would have known what he meant, before the fire.

"So tell me your fortune," he said. "What'll fix this whole mess?"

"Catoptromancy." Where had that come from?

"What the hell is that?"

"Mirror-magic," I said, and then I remembered. My reflection in Adam's mirror had told me about catoptromancy and had said a word--fuganesydrac. Flames had spread across my reflection, circling my mirror-self. I had said the word out loud and Adam's house had gone up like it had been doused in gasoline.

"You aren't making sense," Ezra said. I ignored him. It had been so easy to say. Fuganesydrac. It would be so easy to say it again. I could burn the hospital down.

"Where's Adam?" I asked.

"Bitch," Ezra snarled. He left, wearing his anger like the cloak of a king. Watching him go, the emotions I had never allowed myself to feel finally came. Resentment, anger, pride, betrayal, joy, and loss all bloomed in me like teddy-bear cholla in the desert, native growth in the garden that was us.

But the feelings were wispy, and they dissipated the moment I recognized them. They were only memories, ash floating in the wake of the mirror-magic's fire. Purpose was what burned in me now. I would find Adam and he would teach me his catoptromancy. I had to learn everything about mirror-magic that I could.

I had finally found words that didn't get caught in my throat.



Written by: Manda Green
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Offers My Hand

Posted on: November 16, 2016

Mother always said I was destined to be married. I wish she could be here to meet you, I know she would have approved. A proper English gentlemen.

I lace my fingers in yours and stare at the simple rings we both wear. You may not have been happy about the wedding planning, cold and detached even, but how the heat of my skin warms your body now. The music working its crescendo in uninhabited heartbeats and razor blade teeth. I see perfection in your Milky Way eyes and absent limbal rings. I close my eyes and hear your voice, each syllable a volcano, erupting paradigms in my ear.

A violin plays in the background, the strings like the sinew between your bones. Amber lights flood through stained glass windows, refractions animate your monochromatic corpse. My black dress caresses the wooden floor of this church as I twirl around you. Its velvet ink billows like smoke, and the dust I kick up dances with me. Fingerless piano players, always missing C sharp.

I make my way down empty pews, thanking our guests for attending our union. Their imaginary smiles and handshakes of congratulations fill me with elation. I spent countless nights creating each guest, complete with ruffles and lace. In the midnight hours my only real company was the spiders, spinning their silken webs of envy. I tried making them tiny hats and ball gowns, but these were fickle creatures. They would attend simply in their Sunday best.

As I dance my way back up the church floor I see you sitting there, all alone, but happy. Ignoring the pleas to sit and chat. I take my seat beside you. I rest my head on your shoulder and bring your hand up to my lips. “Oh darling,” I whisper, “just a little more time, one more dance with our guests.” I place your arm back by your side, smoothing out your cravat. I straighten the top hat I picked out for you this morning and push the corners of your mouth up, trying to create a smile.

Walking up to the front pew I grab Mr. Blakesly’s makeshift hand and pull him to me for a dance. He’s been a nuisance, these three days past. We try to move in unison but his straw filled head isn’t staying upright and I keep tripping over his feet. I tried to fit his scarecrow body into my beloved’s clothes, but I had made our guests too small by comparison.

“Really Mr. Blakesly, is this the first time you’ve danced with a lady?” I scoff and smile at you from over his shoulder. Your head is tilted to the side in what I take as amusement. You were never much of a dancer. I try to twirl us around but my dress is getting caught in your stuffing and my arms are tired and sore. I let Mr. Blakesly find his own way back to his seat.

I flutter in feverish heat across the church, finally having a moment to acknowledge each and every guest. I comment on Mrs. Winter’s Brussel Lace. A gift from my cousin in Essex. Your lips are forming a thin, hard line. I’ve been so caught up in attending our guests, I haven’t offered you any food.

I offer you a plate of meats and cheese but you continue staring off into the void. “It’s quite good you know, the spiders even ate from this very plate. See here, see where their tiny mouths feasted?” I sigh in defeat, not even a single glance since I sat down. “Are you mad at me for dancing with Mr. Blakesly? He’s just a lonely, old man. His wife died last year I think.” My voice drifts off into the very space your eyes are consuming. The hours have again ticked by and the amber lights have turned silver.

The moon is bathing me in its mercury aurora by the time I’ve had my fill of food and guests. Masks and ball gowns are lucid moments in repartee. There are uninvited guests here, I see them sticking to the shadows.

It’s ok, we’re all vampires tonight.

I’m drunk on happiness and tired from the weight of our guests. Conversations that brought joyful smiles just hours before are now exhausting and labored. You’re lying on your side, limp in the throes of REM sleep, I’m sure. A cat nap, what a pleasant idea! My heart races as I curl my body up around yours. I sweep my arm in front of us and whisper in your ear. “Isn’t it so lovely all our family and friends could make it, my love?” I nuzzle your neck and the beautiful coldness that is your skin takes away my fever.

This fever came on months ago. Perhaps it was only weeks, but it’s so hard keeping track of time. I blame it on the stress of planning our wedding. Our families long since passed. You stopped helping me shortly after the fever came on, damn fine timing on your part, if you ask me.

My eyes are beautiful and glassy, filled with the stars of the night sky. My skin is alabaster white, but my cheeks are flushed without any rouge.The looking glass can’t hide the truth. With what seems like every passing day my corset is cinched tighter and tighter. I’m the envy of the town. I’ve heard their whispers behind gloved hands. A porcelain doll walking down London streets.

I try several attempts to get you to stand, but you’re too tired. I struggle, and as the room starts to spin with my effort, I’ve finally gotten you on your feet. Your body moves with mine as we make our way across the floor, your feet dragging behind you, your head lovingly resting on my chest. I lean down, my lips against your ear; “I knew you would be a wonderful dancer, husband.” I whisper, as the hours tick by. “It’s easier to dance once rigor mortis sets in.”


Written by: Tiffany Melanson
Photograph by: Erin Notarthomas

All Alone at the End of McNiven Rd

Posted on: November 9, 2016


Ancaster ladies don't wear black. For funerals they have suits of midnight blue and charcoal grey. Ancaster ladies prefer crimson and gold for the holiday season (Christmas is a big deal for mother and her friends). The rest of the time they dress in the colours of flowers. Pastels, lavenders, periwinkles, fuchsias and hot pinks. Lime green is a favourite in summer, worn with white slacks—both pressed crisp—a perfect ensemble for wedding showers and dock parties. Their daughters wear black. The girls of Ancaster wear little black dresses and Lululemon yoga pants. It's nothing like the black I wrap myself in.

My blacks are complete. I find black jeans and baggy black sweaters at second-hand stores. They are always too long for my limbs. I roll the cuffs and ball the dangling sleeves around my fists. I smudge black shadow around my eyes and paint it on my lips and nails.

I draw in black, too. Mother buys me pastels and watercolours, but I only draw with charcoal. 

“Why don't you paint something cheerful?” Mother says with her head cocked to the side. She doesn't like the drawing I’m working on; It’s of a deformed fetus in a baby food jar. She asks where I come up with these things.

Mother is on her way to book club in a tangerine tunic worn over denim capris. She has her notes scribbled in blue ink in her notebook, but I know each one of those ideas came from Internet searches. It doesn't matter really—all the other ladies will have similarly poached thoughts and comments from online reviews of the book. Mother dabs more blush on her cheeks and tucks her Coach purse under her arm.

“Why don't you hang out with Chloe anymore, Sweety? You girls used to be so close.”

Close. Chloe and I were close to something once. Now Chloe is a bitch with no taste and even less imagination, but I don't bother telling Mother that. I don't tell her that all Chloe cares about these days is cyber-bullying and giving blowjobs to popular boys. Instead, I tell Mother not to call me Sweety.

Down the end of McNiven road. there is a graveyard. It's old and no one goes there anymore; I doubt most people know it's there at all. To get there you need to pass through the remains of an old orchard. The trees are mainly apples, Granny Smith, MacKintosh and Golden Delicious, but there are also pear trees. In the autumn the pears hang awkwardly from the branches. They just don't fit in with the rest of the symmetrical fruit.

If you travel to the very back of the orchard the trees give way to tall grass and that's where you find the graveyard, hidden at the top of a grassy hill. When I'm here I can't see any of the world below. I can't see Ancaster and it’s fussy boutiques and coffee shops. This is where I come to draw and to be alone. I sketch the tombstones mainly. Some are so weathered that you can't read the inscriptions at all. They stand on the hill, crumbling and worn down by time.

Sometimes I sketch the bones that lay buried beneath. I try to imagine what they look like now. A shred of fabric hanging over the empty cavity that was once a pelvis. Long, white, fleshless fingers wrapped around some token of a life lived—a Bible, or a wedding ring. I imagine what these quiet bones once were. They were farm wives and daughters, wholesome and rosy cheeked. They had soft cascading curls, and smatterings of freckles. They would have been sweet and naive, protected from the world by a strong father and a brood of brothers.

The Ancaster girls have the rosy cheeks and freckles of my imagined farm girls, but none of their sweetness. I lie back in the grass and pull my long black dress above my hips. I'm bare. I am exposed for the tombstones, the sun, and the sky. A few meters away the Ancaster girls are walking home from school. They are kissing Ancaster boys in basement rec rooms. I think of them while I touch myself. I think of blond ponytails piled high on heads - perky, like the girls who wear them. I picture Lululemon stretched tight across asses round as apples. I see their breasts - soft and curved - bouncing as they head down Wilson street for their daily jog.

I see Chloe with her mouth—pink and warm and wet—framed by her always pouting lips. My breath quickens as I imagine biting one of her lips. I see my tongue jabbing into her mouth while I hold her head still by the ponytail. I pant at the thought of it. I imagine that bitch’s mouth tastes like bubblegum—the wave hits and I moan into the sky—into Chloe's mouth. I don't worry that anyone will hear me. I'm all alone at the end of McNiven road.

I walk home after with my drawings tucked under my arm and my thighs smeared with charcoal fingerprints. As I turn the corner onto my street, Chloe runs past, ponytail swinging from side to side. She doesn't look my way, she never does, and I don't care. As she passes I know if I reached out at the right moment I could catch that swishing ponytail and jerk back the pretty, vacant head. I could hold her by her hair and kiss her bubblegum mouth with my black lips. I don't though. I let her run past.

She’s on her way to becoming one of the ladies who dress like flower petals and have nothing to think about beyond book clubs and silent auctions. And me? I'm on my way to becoming a woman who wears black.



Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Roger Leege

The Women of Harper House

Posted on: November 2, 2016


Her mother would tell you she’d never been good at climbing; a false hope. At twelve years, Wren Harper mastered ascending the ancient white poplar just beyond the garden gate of the Harper estate.

She climbs now despite her dress, aided by the pair of Docs she found in the back of a closet. She doesn’t know they once belonged to her mother, Sophie Harper, before she graduated high school. 

“Pass it up,” she says to her friend below.

Wren laughs at Atticus as she jumps, trying to hand off the net. The girls are a collection of once-hipster names their mothers magicked back into existence.

Sophie watches with generations of Harper women who've passed before as her daughter climbs above.

The women of Harper House have been held within the tree despite their deaths, bodies buried elsewhere. They exist in earth and root and branch; a punishment for brutality and blood spilled on the property.

Had Wren’s mother known of her fate, she never would’ve slipped her toes over the edge of the roof, arms extended like wings.

* * *

Sophie’s need grew by the day, cradling her newborn. Too often, she wondered what it would be like to spread her arms wide. Would it be like that rhyme? And down will come baby, she sang, always gave Wren those sugared lullabies.

When she was pregnant, Sophie thought about the bedtime stories and the beautiful things she’d teach her child to believe in: kindness, love, the world, herself.

She wanted to mend a broken heart.

But when the baby was born, it broke her. Sophie didn’t feel the connection like she knew she should, but she’d smiled and kissed Wren over and over to prove she could.

The child was a creature who cried and writhed and didn’t need a story or a song, but wanted only breastmilk and blankets. Sophie had a hard time nursing, and in swaddling she felt the tenuous breath slip from herself into the babe, a tiny wraith; she sucked Sophie’s soul and her milk and her everything.

The day of her death, Sophie took the steps barefoot. Her toes curled over the shingles, which had cracked in the summer sun.

Now, she resisted the urge to name the green of the leaves. The backyard trees would outlive her.

Sophie spread her arms, and she flew.

At first, she soared, and then the breaking seared through.

Her dying started slow, breaths weakened. Toward the last, Sophie no longer tasted the sweetness of the almost-autumnal air, instead there was the tang of earth and rain and the gum of worm macerated in her mouth.

“The fall fractured the femur, ruptured the femoral artery, and she bled out.” Someone, the coroner perhaps, told Sophie’s husband in hushed tones: voice soft, succinct.

Sophie’s eyes stilled to glass, but she saw them take the woman she used to be, swaddled in the body bag, bones broken beyond repair. Her thoughts seeped from the roots of the poplar back to the branches above.

* * *

In the years that followed, Sophie never visited her grave because cemeteries were for the living, not the dead, and there was no escaping the tree.

* * *

“What are we doing, Wren?” Atticus calls from below the tree.

The women of Harper House wonder the same thing.

“I’ve named her Ophelia,” Wren says. “And we all know Ophelia fell.”

“That’s a made-up name,” Atticus says.

“Read a book,” Wren says.

Atticus asks her phone about the validity of the name. “But Shakespeare’s just, like, dead,” she says, skimming the wiki.

“So is my mother. But she was probably like this Ophelia and that’s why,” Wren says. She lifts the net above her head and plunges it down, scooping the bird from the branch.

“But the babies, Wren. What about the baby birds?” Atticus’s voice shakes.

“We’ll take care of them,” Wren says, climbing down from the tree. “We have to protect them now.”

Wren’s mother watches as she pulls pins from a pocket in the dress. The pins had belonged to Sophie’s mother, but the heads were still bright red despite their age.

The youngest Harper instructs her friend to hold the bird, and she tries, but it fidgets, and attempts to fly free.

“I have to do everything,” Wren says, holding the squirming shape in one hand, pin in the other.

The first pin stills the bird.

Blood pools in the palm of her hand.

Atticus runs from the yard, sobbing, while the women of Harper House stay silent.

The crimson cools as night descends.

Wren strokes the wings and sings the name, “Ophelia. Ophelia. My Ophie. Sophie. Sophie.”

Her mother would tell you blood never touched the earth, and so the fate of the women of Harper House would not befall her daughter.

But Wren rips feathers from each wing, bone from body; the insides spill like jewels beneath the star-infested sky.

When her father calls from the garden gate, she smiles down at her work.

She buries the bird beside the tree.

Wren climbs back up to the branch, takes the nest. The young cry with her as she carries them back to Harper House.



Written by: Kayla King
Photograph by: Heather Parsons

Election Day

Posted on: October 26, 2016


My nostrils register the stranger before my eyeballs get a chance. The morning breeze, warm for early November, wafts a musky scent, along with a faint hint of woodsmoke, across the mountaintop. My fingers head straight for the canister of bear spray attached to my belt as I scan the clearing. About twenty yards away I spy the origin of the odor; a man, perched like a bird, on a decrepit old log. He stares off over the eastern rim, the sky awash in swirls of pinks and reds, as the sun gets ready to peek out over the horizon.

I take stock of his clothes and gear. His pack sits next to him, covered with the grime and dust that one can only get after serious time on the trail. Matted hair sprouts out from under his knit hat. Though filthy, it all appears to be top of the line, expensive stuff. I have no idea if he knows that I am there. I try to figure out whether or not to beat feet back down the trail when he jumps up, arms outstretched, like some sort of crusty-chic Christ, his crucified silhouette a sharp contrast against the sanguine sky.

“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains,” his voice booms and cascades down the valley in front of him.

I turn to run. The snap of a twig under my foot sends him spinning around.

“Oh, shit.” He tumbles backwards off the log, his face turning a shade of pink not altogether dissimilar from the early morning sky.

“Are you okay?” I ask, my hand still on my bear spray.

He responds with a cackle as he claws his way back onto his perch.

“I think so,” he says. “Nothing busted but my pride.”

As I approach I get a better look at him. White male, probably early forties. His eyes dance behind Burberry frames and his beard, brown shot through with flecks of gray, frames a beatific smile. There is something oddly familiar about him.

“How about you?” he asks. “Sorry for my little outburst there. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.”

“I’m fine.” I decide that I like this stranger. “What was that? Thoreau?”

“Not a bad guess, but no. John Muir. The grand old man of these hills. And boy did he get it right. Not a better sunrise in the world that the one up here. It hits me everyday.”

I glance again at his gear. It has seen a lot of miles.

“You doing a thru-hike?” I ask.

“Nope. Just kind of wandering.” He bends over and reaches out, his fingers gingerly caressing a delicate orange flower that I hadn’t noticed until now. He pulls it close to his face and buries his nose in it. There is something about his innocence that is staggering. “You?”

“Just looking for a little peace and quiet.”

He inhales deeply from the flower again.

“And you had the misfortune to run into a crazy like myself.”

“You’re a whole lot less crazy than what’s going on back down there today.” I jerk my thumb towards the metropolis I fled well before dawn. “It’s election day. Time for the people to roll their bones and cast their stones and decide the fate of the free world.”

The stranger stands up, his face switching from serene to sullen.

“Oh wow. I guess I lost track of time.”

He looks at me and it suddenly hits me who he is. The face staring at me, sans beard, had been plastered all over every screen I’d looked at for the past month. A high ranking official in the Democratic Party, his disappearance had fueled wild conspiracies from both sides of the campaign. Especially when his car was found, ransacked and vandalized on a lonely stretch of Highway 30 up near Big Bear.

Before I can say anything, he speaks.

“My first job after college was in car sales. And man, I was good at it. It got to the point that when a real pile of shit car would come onto the lot, everybody bet on how long it would take me to unload it onto some hapless rube. And then one night, I’m driving home, I see this young girl on the side of the road. I recognize the car as one I’d sold. And I remember her dad, how he’d scraped together everything he had, all to buy her a ‘dependable’ car so she could get back and forth to college. I remembered the look of pride in his eyes, and the look of love in hers. And I remember the laughter in the sales office after they left.”

He reached out for the orange flower again, his fingers tracing the petals.

“Seeing her stranded, I got this pain in my gut. Worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life. So I pulled over, wrote her a check for two thousand dollars and never went back to the car lot. And the pain eased up. I decided to dedicate my life to public service, to help people instead of fleecing them.”

He takes a deep breath and continues.

“And so it went for a number of years. Just like at the car lot, I found my niche, and I leapt up the rungs of the ladder, all the way to inner workings of the party. I felt like I was making a difference. But then one day, a couple of months ago, I opened my eyes and the message seemed to have changed. Somewhere along the way we switched from being a beacon of hope to a machine that churned out nothing but fear. And my job went from telling the world about the good we were trying to do, to feeding into some sort of collective anxiety. And all of a sudden, the pain returned and I felt like I was selling used cars again.”

“So what are you going to do now?” I ask.

“I guess that depends on you,” he said. “Are you going to go running off and tell people you saw me?”

I laugh.

“There’s a reason I hike alone,” I say. “I’m a man who values privacy.”

He smiles and picks up his dusty rucksack.

“Well, if that’s the case, I will once again quote the estimable Mr. Muir, 'The mountains are calling and I must go.'”



Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Fabrice Poussin

Last Christmas in the Desert

Posted on: October 19, 2016


It was a damn beautiful sight, being home, Theodore Saunders and the rest of The Cosmic Cowboy Gang, home for the holidays, top of the charts to happiness, with a bullet. Christmas in the desert was Geronimo in boots stepping on rattlesnakes, Sticky Fingers with a new floozy, dressed in rags, sans-makeup, and him saying over and over again, mantra-like, “She’s as beautiful as a sunset,” so much so that surely he was on something. “Give me some,” I told him and he handed me purple pills, which I gulped down with a tumbler of Rye as Sticky Fingers’ girl winked at me. “What’s your name?” I asked her. “Phyllis,” she said. “Really?” I laughed. “What’s so funny?” “Nothing,” I said. “I guess I just expected something different.”

MacDougal Franks, Theodore Saunders, Geronimo, Sticky Fingers, and me, myself, I - The Cosmic Cowboy Gang, home for the holidays, like I said. Franks turned up the radio and The Castilles played groovy chords, CGE, over and over again, and then THEM came on the radio and finally, lastly, last song before the sunrise, was “Feeling Like a Million Bucks,” by The Albatross Society, guest vocals by Raymond Feelgood.

We’d all stacked into the car like canned tuna, a beat-to-shit Corolla that someone’s mom had bought used, cash-only, on Craiglist. It was born red, but the desert had its way with it and now it was pink in its old age. Sometimes it smoked, and it always jarred and buckled like a mustang from the nineteenth century, but most of the time it rode and this time it rolled us down the slope of Old Man’s Bluff, to the Valley of the Dead Crickets where Geronimo once claimed to have seen a UFO, and to where I can attest to seeing roughly one million dead crickets in the early morning hours of November 9th, the first of many plagues to wipe shit-eating grins off orange oompa-loompa motherfuckers and their disciples.

All the crickets were gone now and in their stead was red earth, blue sky, yellow sun - all of it so settled into a cosmic grace that it was impossible to disturb, it’s fantastic indisputable, it’s hypothetical smile beaming and clean, bright and shining, tie-dyed in the colors of the desert. It was a beautiful sight in an ugly world.

The purple pills took over and blanketed us all in a hazy gospel of good-times, and Sticky Fingers went off with Phyliss to howl wolf to the sexual skies, and Geronimo stumbled into The Valley to find rattlers, and Macdougal Franks and Theodore Saunders and myself climbed up Old Joe’s Bluff to paint our masterpiece on the blank sky. Cowboy boots lack traction so we slipped and slid on loose rubble from age unknown until we reached the crest, and looked out over The Valley of the Dead Crickets, where the sun came up on the good side of the world. It was Christmas official, and in the muted sunrise it began to snow on us, trinkets of grey gold, acid and mushy on the tongue, and with the snow it became impossible to forget that the world around us burned, that on our tongues was no doubt someone’s arm, eye, shoulder blade, breast or heart, lungs, someone’s face or even someone’s tongue - the last meaning that in our version of these end days we’re french kissing with dead strangers.

For years our radioactive society had been scheduled for disintegration. The Lord works in mysterious ways, but each Christmas will be our last, until there are no more places like Old Joe’s Bluff, no more Cosmic Cowboy Gang, no more time for creatures, cultures, or cunt, it finally, at the end, being more convenient to list the things that remained than the things we’d lost. But what do we know? We’d still ride the rollercoasters of our purple highs, we’d still pack the Corolla, we’d still fancy sunrise over sunset, refuse to bury the optimism that comes with the beginning of a day, the freedom of future, and an unlit matchstick. There’ll come a time to burn, but not yet baby, not yet.

I emerged from my druggy reverie just as Sticky Fingers, Phyllis, and Geronimo reconvened the circle of us on the top of the bluff. The sun was high up in the sky then, and afternoon approached. “Why’s the sky blue?” Phyllis moaned, stretching her arms out to meet it, to sink her slender fingers into a cloud. I told her that Aristotle believed that all air was blue. But it was a wispy blue. A slight blue. And only when all air stacked on top of itself did you get the colors of our overhead skies. “If you go to the top of the world, above the clouds,” I said, “the sky would get paler and paler until finally it gets close to white, and that’s when you get to heaven, not a white, just the lightest shade of blue.”

“That ain’t it,” Geronimo said. “It’s the refraction of sunlight. That’s why the sky is blue.” Phyllis shook her head. “That’s how the sky gets blue,” she said. “I’m asking why.” Geronimo started to speak but stopped, unable to corral whatever epiphany lay dormant inside himself, and nobody talked for a good while. I decided that I wanted to believe Aristotle’s reasoning, and that we were seeing the best sky, as it lived its bluest self, science be damned.

When it came time to go the others hopped in the Corolla and I stood outside it, my body a shadow on the desert rocks, silhouetted by the Corolla’s single headlight. “Let’s go,” they chorused, but I waved them off. “I’m going to stay,” I said. “Someone needs to stay outside.” A few of them laughed and asked what I was talking about. But how could I explain to them what I could not even understand myself? Some neolithic organ inside my gut, some nameless constituent of my soul, knew then that it would be our last night, and that as the birth of that day’s namesake marked the beginnings of our Anno Domini epoch, its death would come then, same day, new hour, two thousand-odd years in the making, and that for us, for everyone, it was the last Christmas in the desert.

As they drove away I could see a growing fire stretched across the whole of the horizon, getting bigger. It changed the color of the blue sky and turned it black. I stayed outside.



Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

American Terror

Posted on: October 12, 2016


Vincent is breaking up with Jack.

He sits in the car, staring at the green doors of his high school. Jack will be done with track practice at 6:30 PM, and Vincent will drive him home. Jack will blabber on about Demi Lovato supposedly quitting music while Vincent bites his cuticles and steers with his left hand. He will pull up in front of Jack’s house, and Jack will try to kiss him. Vincent will not reciprocate, and then he will end their relationship.

Because it’s that easy.

Vincent and Jack grew up going to school together. When they were in eighth grade, Jack asked Vincent to be his date at the winter formal. Jack wore an ice blue tie with a white button down shirt and navy suit. Vincent wore a red suit and black button down because why not? They shared their first dance and their first kiss. They went to Waffle House with some friends after the formal, and then they made out in Vincent’s car until curfew at 12am.

Jack’s father was some big shot at a steel plant, and he’d hire Jack to work during the summers. He would take Vincent up to the rooftop of one of the abandoned warehouses, and they’d drink root beer and eat beef jerky. That’s where Jack said, “I love you,” for the first time, and Vincent said it back even though they were only sixteen years old. You gotta fall for somebody sometime, right?

Jack opens the passenger door and sits down, his hair wet from a locker room shower. Vincent half expects a peck on the cheek, but it doesn’t come. They pull out onto the highway as the sun starts to set. Vincent asks if Jack would like to get something to eat, but he declines. The silence is palpable; Vincent’s heart pulses a little faster because he feels like Jack knows he’s going to break up with him.

“Vince, I think we need to talk,” Jack says.

Vincent forces his eyes not to widen as he asks, “What about?”

“Us.”

Jesus, he does know, Vincent thinks.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what our future looks like,” Jack begins. “We’re juniors now, and senior year is gonna be so busy with college applications and SATs and all that.”

He’s going to do this for me, Vincent thinks with George Costanza charm. He nods, furrowing his brow to show he’s hurt, but understands.

“I just think - Vince, stop. STOP!”

A skunk is walking across the road, taking its time in the dark. The beams from the headlights reflect off the white stripe down its back before Vincent runs over it. They feel the skunk collide with the bottom of the car, and then the odor pours in through the vents. Vincent does not slow down.

The silence and stench held onto each other for what felt like hours.

“That was horrible,” Jack says.

“Ugh, yeah, that smell?” Vincent replies.

“No, Vince. That you killed it. You fucking killed it when you could’ve stopped.”

Vincent stares ahead, unsure of how to respond. He’s thinking about the blood that might be on the car, and if the smell if going to go away anytime soon.

“I thought the car was higher. I wasn’t trying to kill it.”

Jack scoffs, folding his arms over his chest and shaking his head. “You thought the car was higher.”

“Whatever. God, I’m sorry.”

Vincent turns into Jack’s subdivision, driving past the neighborhood pool and clubhouse. There’s an older couple out for an evening walk with their golden retriever. He pulls up to Jack’s house and puts the car in park. Jack doesn’t say anything, and he doesn’t move.

Vincent has been spending time alone, pouring over news and Wikipedia articles about guerilla warfare. It’s hard being seventeen and feeling like the only way you can change the world is through violence. Vincent was breaking up with Jack because tomorrow he will detonate the bombs he planted beneath the stage in the gymnasium of their high school. Republican vice presidential nominee Governor Sarah Spoke will be there, and her death will be a great victory for the LGBQT community. How could he ever forget the leaked audio recording of her hatred for “fags and their ilk?” His classmates and teachers will be a necessary sacrifice.

“Hey, I really am sorry for hitting that skunk. I didn’t mean to, I swear,” Vincent says.

“Vince, we need to break up. It’s not just because we’re going to be busy next year. It’s because you’ve been really weird. I mean, I know you’ve been at the school in the middle of the night. What the hell are you doing?”

Vincent feels his heart pounding in his throat. His palms are slick with sweat and he presses them against his thighs, staring at the clock of his dashboard.

“Why were you spying on me?”

“Spying?” Jack asks. “Why the fuck would you share your location with me if you didn’t want me to know where you were?”

Vincent had completely forgotten that they had toggled their phones to share their locations. After months of preparation, he never once thought about Jack wondering what he was doing.

“Forget it. You’re right, Jack. We probably don’t need to see each other anymore.”

“Are you even going to tell me what you’ve been doing at school at fucking four o'clock in the morning for the past two weeks?”

“I’ve been hooking up with Sam Guest,” Vincent blurted out.

Another immeasurable silence before Jack says, “I see. Well, no use crying over your backstabbing ass.”

Jack gets out of the car and shuts the door, stuffing his hands into his pockets as he walks up the driveway to his house.

Vincent thinks about Jack’s dad’s plan to surprise him tomorrow with a trip to the mountains, and how they’ll be three hours up the interstate when the bombs go off and make Vincent a hero in the war against intolerance.


Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

The Apartment

Posted on: October 5, 2016


The rickety elevator reached the ground floor with a noise reminiscent of the carriages on the train station. Afra stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the eleventh floor. The elevator started moving upwards with a mighty sound.

Zahir sat at the edge, with his legs dangling pondering about what sort of work would he have to start looking for in the coming days. He had come across the abandoned, naked building while walking on the western fringes of the city that was once known for its skyscraper-studded skyline.

The door moved with a crashing sound. Afra walked into the room with a view that even the best penthouses could never afford.

"I managed to get enough food for the next two days. We just need some hot water to heat it up", Afra said while putting down the bags on the floor.

“Did you get enough rest today Zahir? My work was deadbeat. I had to transport some goods from one end of the city to another. The pay wasn’t bad. It was enough for food at the trader’s place.” She sat down on the deteriorating couch and started fiddling with her screen.

"Why don't you go and get some hot water from the people at the top floor like last time, if you don't feel like going down all the way." Afra knew Zahir hated the topic but she was in no shape to do anything after a day’s work.

"They might not let me in, Afra. I messed up their computers last time when I tried connecting my devices to their network."

"They don't know it was you."

"Who else comes to this building anymore? Have you noticed anyone around? It's obviously one of us that tried connecting to their network."

Afra sat down on a couch, torn all over the place. "What do you think they have up there exactly?”

"I'm not entirely sure, but they do have a strong satellite web connection. I worked for them a few times before you came here. They would ask us to code stuff in an extremely modular fashion. It was a bit difficult to make sense of the overall aim of what they really wanted us to do."

"What made you stop working?"

"I didn’t. They just stopped asking people to work. That's when the others started leaving the building. I waited long to see if they would hire again. They are very different than us Afra. They can’t seem ever to be satisfied.”

* * *

The night was cold and dark, but the sound of the sea crashing into the shore put both Afra and Zahir to sleep. There were no sounds of distraction tonight.

Zahir woke up and took a quiet walk to the elevator, then ran down the staircase. The ground floor was empty except for the sleeping dogs. He picked up his bike and rode to the nearest light post. There were some bodies huddled together under the light. He approached them, switched on his storage devices, took out his screen, connected to the mesh network and started syncing data on the storage devices.

The older unmarked data would be removed to make space for the new stuff, so he quickly reviewed all the older batches he had marked for deletion. It took close to twenty minutes for the data to get synched.

Zahir started westward toward the abandoned building. On his way, he stopped at another spot and synced some more data.

While climbing the staircase of the building he took note of the fact that the top floor with the furnished apartment was not drawing generator power. The silence of the generator was rare.

"Afra, sync your devices, I have fresh batch data." She woke up at his request and took out all her storage devices from her bag and started switching them on.

"Did you manage to go through last week's data?" she asked, while reviewing her existing data on her screen.

"Not really. Most important thing I came across was news about establishment of some sort of a socialist state in the north."

"Okay. I'm going to review what you got today. You can go to sleep if you want," said Afra.

Zahir laid down on one of the mattress and turned towards the dark sky as he fell asleep.

Afra's storage devices blinked the green lights as the network completed syncing with Zahir's. She started going through the data. There was a ton of video footage, some low res, some hi. She started sorting the videos by geo-location. Nothing interested her much. She entered the directory containing news pages, articles, and reports. She quickly did an analysis of the text and found that Masdar was trending heavily in the news.

The city-state of Masdar in the west had sustained some sort of carbon footprint attack. The news suggested that unknown groups or individuals had let massive oil spills burn in the desert within the territory of Masdar. Masdar had lost large amount of its wealth in blink of an eye as its carbon footprint soared. In a news connected to this incident she read about rogue groups profiting from the carbon trading speculative market.

Reading these pieces stirred something in Afra. She woke Zahir up, "What is it exactly that you would code for the guys up there?"

"I don't know Afra, it mostly had to do with a lot of number crunching."

"What kind of numbers?"

"Various sorts. Sometimes I only worked on trade histories of essential commodities, then I did menial work like cleaning, reviewing weather data every day, and some other days I did server maintenance. It wasn't always coding precisely."

“They must have access to data that the street meshes simply could never have right?” Afra couldn’t help but think about all the reports she read throughout the night. They always seem to have fragments and nothing more when collecting data from street meshes.

She held Zahir's hand and told him "I'm going to work for them, whatever menial work it may be."

Before Zahir had the chance to respond, she fled up the staircase and knocked on the door of the apartment. It opened.

"I want to work."



Written by: Debarun Sarkar
Photograph by: Matthew Wiebe

Stranger in Paradise

Posted on: September 28, 2016


"Damn dark glass. I was convinced these were at least half full." Tom sighed and replaced the bottles carefully in his pack. He looked down at me, concern all over his face. "I'll go get a new one from the truck. I'll just..."

I could tell he was reluctant to leave; he sat next to me in the sand and tied and re-tied his Jamaican-flag bandanna over his beaded dreads until I punched him on the shoulder and said, "Go on, mate, I'll be fine."

"Yeah, that's what they all say in the movies - but the dude always winds up D-E-A-D!" He grinned, but I could see he was still uncertain.

"We're not in a horror movie, man." I glanced around at the tropical greenery that clicked and whirred with jewel-bright insects, at the tree-tops where birds of paradise darted to and fro, at the pool of crystalline water - its fabulous waterfall glittering with a million liquid diamonds.

I dredged up a smile for him. "This is quite possibly the least spooky place I've ever seen. I'll be right here when you get back."

"All right. But, Luke, you better be... You know. 'Kay?"

He took my thin hand in his powerful one. We interlaced our fingers the way we always used to when we were kids. Black on white. White on black. Just as it should be.

Swiftly and self-consciously (even after all these years), he leaned in to kiss me.

"I'll be back."

I listened to his footfalls growing fainter until all I could hear was the endless, organic hum of creatures going about their lives. I leaned against the nearest tree and closed my eyes.

I must have drifted off because I was woken by the sound of giggling and splashing close by.

As if in a dream, I walked until I could see the source of the disturbance: a young couple chasing one another around the edge of the oasis' pool. The man was making what he probably thought were tiger noises. The woman fled before him, shrieking. (I stifled a smile; she was taking care not to flee too fast.)

I tried hard not to stare, for neither wore a stitch of clothing.

The man spotted me first and stopped being a tiger in order to come and say hello.

He ambled up to me, quite unabashed. "Sorry about that, old thing," he said, extending a hand.

"Didn't spot you there what with...other things in view!" He waggled his eyebrows at me. "Sir Michael Smith. At your service."

I tried to pretend this was all perfectly normal. "Well! Another be-knighted Smith!" I beamed.

"Dad was ‘Sir Michael,’ too! I'm Luke, by the way. Doctor Luke Smith."

We shook hands as the woman - as unselfconscious as her companion - bounced up to us, shooting me curious glances from beneath her long fringe.

The erstwhile tiger introduced her with a flourish: "This beauty here is Julie Dempsey - my fiancée." Some deep emotion I couldn't fathom crossed his face. "I'm... really pleased you're the first to know."

I returned Julie's enthusiastic handshake. "Charmed, I'm sure."

"When did you find our little paradise, Doc?" she giggled.

"Oh, only a few minutes ago. The other half's around here somewhere."

"Aha! The more the merrier!" roared Sir Michael. (He put me in mind of one of those larger-than-life Victorian Major-Generals; I honestly couldn't tell whether he was hamming it up or not).

He continued: "So, what in Glory's name is a place like you doing in a man like this?" (Julie rolled her eyes - I supposed she'd heard this line many times before.)

I tried to explain. "This place has been on my bucket list for a while, now."

They looked blank.

"That's, like, a list of things you want to do or see before you die? I've...been stuck at the Minverabad hospital all year, but I've always wanted to visit the oasis because, well, I was curious. Dad was posted out here. After Mum died, that is. And local patients had some weird stories about this place..."

There was an awkward silence.

"Do you come here often?" I added, more cheerfully than I felt.

"Wouldn't be seen dead anywhere less classy!" winked Sir Michael, breaking the tension.

"You'd be seen naked pretty much anywhere, though," returned Julie, tartly. "We went to your hospital, I think, Doc." She turned to her fiancé again. "Is that where they took the bodies?"

Curiosity got the better of decorum. "Bodies? What happened? Um, if you don't mind my asking?"

Julie suddenly found the sky quite interesting, but Sir Michael was not lost for words: "We were on a day trip out here with some other tourists. Julie slipped on the rocks above the falls-" he pointed- "and broke something very important, didn't you, Silly Bean? As for me, I got bitten by one of those damned blunt-nosed mambas whilst trying to rescue her."

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "One minute we hadn't a care in the world, the next we were in some dreadful melodrama!"

I nodded. "Gosh! Brave of you to return!"

To my astonishment, Julie started to cry.

Her fiancé put a comforting arm around her. "Don't, darling... Just think...we're so lucky to be here! Together. In our youth..."

"But we can't leave!" She wailed. "Ever!"

I wanted to question them further. What DID they mean? Who had died? But it didn't seem to be the moment.

We were interrupted by a crashing in the undergrowth. I turned, scanning the bushes expectantly.

"I... had a little boy named Luke," murmured Sir Michael, behind me. "Never saw him, though. My biggest regret..."

"Quite the coincidence," I replied, distractedly. "But you're forty years too young to be my old man. Also, you're alive."

I waved. "Hey, Tom!" Help me out, here!

Tom sloped past us, eyes eerily blank. Thorn-torn. Ignored us all. Something very wrong.

"He can't hear you. Not anymore..." Whispered Julie.

"THOMA-A-S!" I yelled.

I rounded on the others. “What’s happened to him?!”

“He’s just lost someone.” Replied Sir Michael, flatly. “That's morphine he's carrying. You were a patient, Doctor Smith?"

"Yes, but what did you mean earlier, when-"

"I mean we died that day. Hence, ‘not alive.’ Neither are you, by the look of it."

His eyes bored into mine. "...Son."

I watched in horror as Tom dropped the bottles in the sand and sank to his knees.



Written by: Alex Preece
Photo by: Blake Bronstad

I Am the Leprechaun

Posted on: September 21, 2016


Wedding anniversaries are challenging for anyone, but perhaps more so for my wife and I. We have been married since 1940, and what can you buy for a woman who literally has everything she wants? I hustled around Manhattan to a few stores we liked, but without success. It’s harder for me, because I am the Leprechaun.

Yes–the Leprechaun.

It wasn’t always so.

Walking down these crowded Manhattan sidewalks, I remember my life before the conversion. One day I was a modestly successful New York advertising man, going about my day of quiet frustrations like everybody else. I loved walking in Manhattan then on a hot day, deliriously anonymous and carefree. Then, up in Westchester, it was early June 1940, and the war hadn’t started for us yet. We had a picnic in the cool shade of a huge maple tree, Sadie and I, having a grand time on a classic red checkered tablecloth, minding our own business. And our business was us. We had dated for about seven months, with never a single whisper of argument between us. She was beautiful, I adored her, and I intended that day to ask her to marry me.

A wild storm blew up from nowhere and we took cover in a park shelter. It hadn’t rained for more than two minutes, probably less. The sky cleared to intense blue. The birds returned to chirp in time with raindrops falling from the shelter to the concrete. Sadie laughed and my heart smiled. And there it was.

You never see them in front of you, do you? Always far away and behind trees or skyscrapers. But it landed in the grass right next to us, so I went to look at it. Had to go out and touch it. Of course I did.

The end of the rainbow.

In conformance with the legend, there was a sizable pot of gold coins bathed in spectral Neapolitan glory there on the grass, validating the rainbow’s end (apologies to Vernor Vinge; read his book). It was soundless, but it pulsed in the color bands, just a barely noticeable glow that waxed and waned. And beckoned.

So, short story long (pardon the expression), the first thing I did was scoot out of the park shelter and go to the pot of gold. I stood in the rainbow, face and outstretched arms upturned to the azure sky and bathed in color. I felt warm, happy, saturated somehow in⎯what? Love? No, joy. Flooded with joy and the irrational certitude that I was in the right place at the right time.

The gold was like a magnet. The very moment my fingers closed around a coin, I received a mild electric shock, like you might get pulling clothes from the dryer. Just a tingle. Then the gold and the rainbow vanished, like flipping off a light switch. Instantly, my dark brown hair became Technicolor red, my tan skin became fair and freckled. Even my clothes changed into a green frock coat over green breeches, and a green top hat on my head with a Puritanical buckle. Poor Sadie, shocked, screamed and fainted dead away.

There are rules, I have learned. Some I can bend, some I must submit to. However I amend them now, my successor someday will have them back in place to discover on his own. Yes, regrettably, his own. Have you ever seen a legit female leprechaun? Neither have I, just drunk girls dressed up on St. Paddy’s Day. I tried to convert a few, through various means, but only one such wish ever took. This is a mystery of the rules I think I’ve figured out.

I can change my appearance from the default red-hair-and-freckles, though changes can only be temporary. If I don’t restore the default look within ninety-six hours, even for a moment, I snap back like a green rubber band. I set my watch timer with a margin to avoid surprises.

You’ve seen classic leprechauns, about three feet tall, more or less, all dressed in the team green uniform? They’re usually hawking a St. Paddy’s Day sale down at Mattress Warehouse, but they gotta eat, too. Those are traditionalists. Purists. I choose to be six-three and dress like a regular guy. I mean, I was six-one before, so the extra inches are just harmless self-indulgence. In all respects.

I needn’t hold the obligatory coins in each hand, but I must keep them ready in left and right pockets. In compliance with legend, I spend the left-side coins and they later are returned to my pocket. I spend the right-side coins, and they later turn to dust or stones. If anyone knew enough to “catch” me, they couldn’t make me do jack, actually. My subordinate leprechauns get “caught” from time to time, but that’s a game they play with humans to practice outwitting them.

I embraced the fair skin peppered with light freckles, and I really like the red hair in a Danny Kaye kind of way, but I’ve gone into bars as short as Peter Dinklage and to Renaissance Fairs as dark as Idris Elba, so I have a range of expression. I did discover, after too many Old Bushmills shots one night, that my transformative powers extend to gender. I tried that once. It was pretty exciting to run my hands over that body, because I didn’t hold back. I was freakin’ hot. But I made the mistake of getting a final check-out in a full-length mirror on my way out the door, and it was just too strange for my struggling 1940s sensibilities. God bless my human brothers and sisters struggling with gender identity, but mine is pretty set. I stayed home that night to satisfy some curiosities, but I’ve been my regular self ever since.

That’s enough for now, then. I succeeded in granting Sadie her wish in October of 1940. Turns out the magic ingredient is genuine love, something every songwriter knows. We’re celebrating its anniversary tonight with dinner. I love her red hair. We will grant each other’s wishes somewhat later.

That’s all, lad. May ye be in Heaven half an hour before the Devil knows ye’re gone.



Written by: Daniel Charles Ross
Photo by: Taj Lewis

Red Sky at Morning

Posted on: September 14, 2016


Carey stared at me from the corner of the room, chiding me for reading (The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde, which I never finished). I ignored her while she paged through my parents’ coffee table magazines: Nantucket Yacht and an untouched Parenting. She slammed them shut, stood up and glared at me.

“What’s the point?” she sputtered, exasperated and wild-eyed, watercolor sunburn splotches down her legs from a haphazard sunscreen application the day before. I looked up from my book. In her left hand, she held a plastic beach toy: a forlorn purple profile of a fish. It was a sad, bloated shape that ballooned and bulged a misshapen tumor tail, its lips puckered in expectation like the punks at our last middle school dance. It looked frozen in shock, with a final one-eyed look of powerless recognition of fate: Caesar’s final gaze as Brutus dealt the hardest blow.

Come on, Hen!” She shook my arm. Carey was strong: a skin-and-bone arm wrestling champion. “Hen”, short for Henry, simultaneously belittling and endearing, which she loved. She was older by a month and taller by two inches, information volunteered unprompted (“cross my heart it’s closer to two-and-a-half inches”) with enough vigor for both of us. Once, while eating our split ham and cheese on the beach, I pointed out a drip of mayonnaise on her chin. She replied that she intended it to be there and refused to wipe it off for the rest of the meal.

I smirked. “Fine.” Book closed. “What are we doing?” But we did the same thing every day. Summer vacation. Too young to do much of anything, too old to sit at home.

She clapped me over the head with the fish. “Follow me.” She spun on her bare feet and walked out with face-forward determination, knowing I’d run to catch up before she walked halfway down the street.

* * *

The beach was our kingdom. More accurately, Carey’s kingdom and she was king, not queen. With seaweed crown and driftwood staff she carried herself with an awkward, spasmodic regality, shouting orders and castigating her subjects: banishing pearl-less oysters, relegating king crab to court jester.

It was hard to distinguish most days from others. Sunshine, honeysuckle and turquoise sea glass; convincing my mother to pack lunch for two (one sandwich, a party-size bag of chips, a carton of OJ, two fun-size Twix bars), bruises that seemingly appeared from nowhere, round rocks we tried to skip but that often plopped in refusal, the smell of sunscreen and sweat.

We sat atop the steep sand throne and looked down below, across the stretch of beach and water. It was early in the season, a cool day in early June. I don’t think I would have jumped in even if my bones could stand it.

Carey paced the peak of the dune, surveying her dominion as if it were a hundred feet below. I made sad fish imprints in the sand with the toy; mute and purple with that cyclops eye wide, unable to warn you about the sea monster behind your back, impossible to change its hopeless view of things.

“Henry,” she commanded, inflection rising on the last syllable in a proper British accent. Wind swept the paint-splattered patches of seagrass along the dune. I looked up from my petrified fish platoon to see the staff lifted high above her head. I winced and held up my hand in defense. How had I offended the king today? And it was only 10am?

A moment. She rested the driftwood on the crown of my head and said, “Sir Henry, for courage so pure and deeds so bold. Knight of my Kingdom.” I smirked and grabbed the staff, throwing it aside (“Treason, Sir Henry! Treason!”) and jumped on her. She fumbled for footing, my arms wrangled around her neck and feet around her waist (“Guards!”). I seized her crown in hasty revolt and placed it askew on my head. She careened to the edge, left leg tangled up in right; we fell in slow motion (did my lips graze her cheek?) and thumped on impact, plunging down the hill.

We barrel-rolled, tangled, swirled images of sea and sand bled into one another. Blue sand, white ocean, red sky.

I landed with a muffled thud, the right side of my face glued to the beach. Lifting my head, I sputtered laughter, sand-spit spewing from my mouth. My right rib panged, and I looked down to see a viscous trickle of sand-blood flowing down my abdomen. I winced.

Carey lay limp beside me. I prodded her. “Carey.” Lifeless. I observed her. “Not funny, Carey.” I threw half-broken sea shells at her back. Nothing. Repeating, louder, “Carey.” And I wanted her name to be longer, to have a fuller sound, as though perhaps a third syllable would be the one to wake her.

The ocean continued to splash sea and salt, low waves crashing in a white noise that accentuated the silence on the beach.

I shifted to look back to the towering dune. Lifting my legs from my seated inspection, I stepped back, climbing the dune backwards to face toward Carey’s contorted form. At the top, I retrieved the plastic fish, my imprinted fortune-telling fish legion staring at me: “We tried to tell you.”

Back at the shoreline, bedsheet of white foam erasing my footsteps, I flung the fish into the water and watched the piece of floating purple plastic wash out to sea. A fish that couldn’t swim, only drift, climbing the crest of a wave in a dead man’s float.

I walked home alone. An unnaturally wide smile shined from the toddler on this month’s Parenting on the doorstep.

And then gray bedroom, blue fog sleep. Numbness: something and nothing, my entire body like a fallen-asleep foot.



Written by: Gregory Duffy

River in Time

Posted on: September 7, 2016


The river calls and I heed Her, my addiction. Once, a human load of clothes set to life-or-death. The spillway ravages my teenage body. I fight, but can’t win; sweet surrender. Then my hand bumps a rock. A hateful, unapologetic rock that put me into my predicament. One last fight to gain the murky light. I grab Gibraltar and propel myself to air, to heaven, to life. A sandbar oasis; August heat from a Midwestern sun. Her lust be damned.

* * *

The river summons and I gravitate to Her, my sun. Another time, a swan dive. Head first into quicksand. Stunned into stupor and paralyzed. I float downstream—a dead tree uprooted by tornadoes. Recovery, I’m not paraplegic. I’m sanctified, I’m whole, I’m vindicated.

* * *

The river begs and I barter, my sanctuary. A toppled tent, torn down by sweaty desire. Our voyeurs, a fisherman and Her. I can taste Her jealousy, Her fury, Her might. This time She’s indirect.

My beloved lab, Pardner, sucked into Her vortex.

Chelsea screams, “If he goes under, he’s dead.”

The water envelops me. His claws rake my shoulders and blood seeps from the gouges. I thrust him up into outstretched hands. Immense suction tickles the hairs on my legs.

Chelsea nurses my wounds. “You’re fucking insane.”

I reset the tent. A brown, furry lump lies in the sand; worn out. Does he know?

The tent collapses again. More sweat, more want, more flippancy. We lie under the vision of ten-trillion stars and She gurgles. A sultry siren crying out all night long. In the morning, dense fog. I pack up the Dasher, on edge. Her fishy eyes on every inch of me. Chelsea and Pardner cavort in Her wicked reach; She relents. We drive away without further incident. A mirror pond reflection in my rearview.

* * *

The river beckons and I run to Her, my abyss. Drunk strangers playing with danger. An infamous back current; their death between my fingers. She waits for Her meal, a crocodile in the shallows. Time to learn, to sort out transgressions, to let bygones be the truth. The early edition reads as day old news: Two Visitors Drown, One Local Teen Hospitalized.

* * *

The river commands and I obey Her, my true directive. A moonless night; revelers dance. Four old tires burn hot—Hades in July. On dare I take the fridge, rusted from age, for a canoe. It sinks into Her open maw, but not before I’m in too deep. A bootlace catches; turbulent water in turmoil. At the bottom, a loud thud. Then, whispering silence. Thousands of sounds muted; listening to intercourse through a wall. I scream, I thrash, I assail until my boot comes free. Surfacing onto a distant planet—salty, foreign, cool.

I crawl out of Her watery grip hundreds of yards downstream. Back in the throe I’m a god, a titan, the river lord. They chant my name; vulcanized rubber drifts skyward into blankness. The party rages and I fuck my first fuck, dab my first dot, fill up an unused tumbler, mark time; a legend begins.

* * *

The river cries out and I ignore Her, our separation. Houses blur, cars die and time recedes; an arrow to nevermore. At night in faraway lands She babbles. A brook bursting its banks. During the day a teasing allure, happy hour to an alcoholic. One day I’ll go back, return to sender, the melting ice of headwaters. How long have I been gone? Years, decades, but not a century that’s for sure—or is it? The call, the summons, the command nothing works. She cries out for me, a mournful moan. Wretches in heat, dinosaurs in bone, the whispering coughs of vagabonds.

I cheat. Swimming pools, lakes, seas and every ocean in between. My body’s escaped, but my mind’s shackled. It’s not my father that built me, nor the clergy, not my betrothed, not even every misstep along the way. The river, that damned North Platte river shaped me. She forged my soul, fired my loins, fed my hunger, and sustained me. In death’s embrace, life isn’t sweeter. It’s necessary. An ageless mandate, the ultimate order that causes chaos—a spark that ignited cosmic fire.

* * *

The river swoons and I come home, full submersion. Fishing pole, bait and a six-pack. On the bank under a searing summer sun, I’m scared and at ease. Things have changed, but it’s me…all me. I’m older, a shell emptied of all its turtle meat, a dead beaver bloating in the sand, the fleshless carp at the bottom of Her rapids. Still, She pumps me up, inflates my sails—the Hindenburg before Lakehurst. She flows downward and up, outward and inward; heaves to and fro. The windswept furrow blown back into a perfect line. Always in perfect alignment; Amazon, Yangtze, Mississippi, Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates.

The shiny lure skips across Her bosom and sinks into Her caveat. I tug the rod and then reel, tug and reel, tug and reel. Wham, fish on. Surprised, I stumble and slide down Her bank. Up to my knees; a wet, sloppy hello-kiss. I yank back the rod, but it’s a big one. Waist deep—a quick tryst under the oaks. One more attempt to land the monster. My head goes under, the pole drifts away. She’s there in front of me, behind, beside, every point of the globe.

* * *

The river lulls and I swim through Her, my reprise. My arms are fins, my feet the lateral line. Gills, if I had gills, I’d swim upstream to spawn. I stroke and it propels me downward. I stroke again—harder, downward more. I’m not disoriented or confused. Another stroke, deeper into the depths and then another, another, another. I hit the sandy bottom, my fist jams into the gravel and silt. Go with it; the other hand jabs even deeper.

I hold myself to the bottom, I’m a kid again. Her rushing current above, peace and serenity below. Pretend I’m Aquaman, pretend I’m leviathan, pretend I’m Neptune. Pretend … pretend … pretend.



Written by: David Grubb

Photo by: Daniel Vidal

The Secrets of Bayou Galafete

Posted on: August 31, 2016


Meg needed money. She had graduated in the spring with a degree in journalism, and though she had been on more than a dozen interviews, stiff competition was making it tough to land even an entry-level position. With dwindling options, Meg took a short-term, temporary assignment filing reports, test results, and memos in a cramped, windowless storage room at a local research facility, Sidero BioLabs, Inc. There was nothing exciting about it—until she discovered a handwritten note stuck to the back of a report.

Heart pounding, Meg raced home that evening and booted up her laptop. Still trembling from her earlier discovery, she opened a search engine and typed “Bayou Galafete news articles.” The results included various human interest stories, articles on local history, and reported ghost sightings. However, two stories in particular looked promising. In the first, nearly a decade before, residents reported strange activities in and around the bayou including unmarked vans coming and going in the middle of the night. Others stated seeing fish disfigured and five times their average size, birds with only one eye, and aggressive behavior in animals typically considered docile.

The second, more recent article—dated two years earlier and buried in a small-town online newspaper—reported that evidence of illegal dumping in several waterways pointed to members of the Gedeon Clan, local swamp folk going back generations. Men further down in the clan pecking order were arrested and charged, but when questioned about dumping into the Bayou Galafete, a high-priced lawyer materialized arguing that the evidence was circumstantial at best and proclaiming his clients’ innocence. He brushed aside all of the accusations as unfounded ramblings by local drunks. He was quoted as saying, “The Gedeons are upstanding citizens with legitimate business interests in the community. They stand firm that these allegations are baseless and only meant to tarnish their reputation.” The judge quickly dismissed the charges and the clansmen were released.

Meg’s journalistic instincts kicked in.

***

“You want me to do what?” Jack said.

Meg had briefly explained her concerns about what she found but felt it best not to go into too much detail with her anxious roommate.

“Aren’t you overreacting just a bit?” Jack added.

“No, I’m not. Something weird is going on out at Galafete. This could be the break I've needed. If there is something to that note and I have the exclusive on it, then the sky’s the limit. Please, Jack. I don’t want to go by myself,” Meg pleaded.

“You know I would do anything for you, but that place freaks me out just thinking about it. Besides,” Jack said with a flip of his hand, “I’m busy tonight.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll have you back in time to watch ‘Housewives of Atlanta’,” Meg replied, rolling her eyes.

“Hey, that show happens to be an important sociological commentary on women’s role in a male-dominated culture.”

“Of course it is. So will you go?” Meg persisted.

“Fine, but you owe me. Big time,” Jack said.

***

The soupy bayou, entangled in ghostly vapors, slithering evil, and the raucous cacophony of bullfrogs, cicadas, and screech owls unnerved the young couple. Sunset was still an hour away, but deep in the bayou, darkness was already upon them as they wound through towering bald cypress and ancient oak trees draped in Spanish moss.

Meg’s flashlight beam caught on the weather-worn cottage as they made their way down the overgrown path. “Just a little further,” Meg whispered.

The crumbling stucco and rusted tin roof were clear indications the small house had been abandoned long ago. They stepped inside through a collapsed wall. The current residents – cockroaches and a family of mice – shared the mildew-covered room with containers of various sizes labeled SIDERO BIOLABS, INC. and marked with a crudely drawn skull and crossbones.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jack said, backing straight into a spider web. “Eew!” He screamed, flapping at the sticky tangle wrapped around his head.

“Shhhh. Be quiet,” Meg said.

“I’m outta here,” Jack huffed.

“Let me get a few pictures first.” Meg pulled her phone from of her back pocket and snapped photos of the containers.

A loud splash drew their attention.

“Omigod, was that a gator?” Jack said.

“Mmm, probably,” Meg replied, heading out through the hole in the wall.

“Meg...Meg....” Jack called out in a hoarse whisper.

“Not so loud,” Meg said. “Come on, just a quick look and then I promise we’ll leave.”

“Two seconds, that’s it,” Jack said stomping after her.

They crept onto the wobbly wooden pier, conscious of their every move as it swayed beneath them. Meg skimmed the water with her flashlight. A large shape breached the still surface twenty feet from where they stood, its disfigured tail fin slapping the water as it dove out of sight.

“What the hell was that?” Jack whispered, stepping forward.

Meg grabbed his arm. “I don’t know, but stay back.”

“Man, that was no gator.”

“Do you still think I’m overreacting?” Meg said.

“We need to call... Wait, who deals with something like this? EPA, FBI?” Jack said, watching for signs of the creature’s return.

“EPA I guess,” Meg replied. “But we have a problem.”

“What now?” Jack said, his voice jumping up an octave.

“No reception,” she replied, turning in circles, tilting her phone. “But I’ll get a few photos of this area, plus I have you as my witness, in case— “

“In case what?” Jack demanded.

“Never mind, let’s just get out of here.”

They turned. A dirty bearded man, menacing in head-to-toe camouflage, with his pistol drawn, blocked their path.

“You ain’t goin’ nowhere.”


Written by: Enid Cokinos
Photo by: Kassie Ritman

The Dictator's Lemonade

Posted on: August 24, 2016


The Dictator was exiled to a small island in the Pacific, somewhere between Hawaii and Australia. The parallels to a famous, short, French dictator were obvious. But The Dictator, Our Dictator, stopped reading that biography around the halfway point.

“Why’d you stop reading?” I asked him under a blistering South Pacific sun.

I was writing a magazine article - a human interest piece commissioned by a now-defunct periodical - designed, I guess, to humanize him, my editor thinking, surely, exile must have done him some good.

“He’d just won a great victory,” he told me. He took a drink of lemonade. He smoothed his beautiful hair with one, heavily-jeweled hand. “It was very well done. He did very, very well. And you know what? I’d learned all I needed to know about him.”

“I have a gift,” he continued. “I know people. I really do. And I knew when I read of his victory, his great victory, very well-earned, I knew it then, I knew…”

He trails off as a very beautiful woman, very tall, exceptionally tan, approaches and puts her hand on his shoulder.

“I found your sock,” she says in a heavy, foreign accent. “I didn’t think I would find it, but then I looked again and...wow! There it was.”

“Wow!” he says.

The Dictator shifts his focus to me. “Did you hear that? She found my sock!”

“Fantastic,” I say.

“I thought it might be lost,” the woman says to me. “But then I found it. Later. At a different time.”

“That’s very good,” he says. “Very, very good.”

He pats her backside and she slinks off down steps behind the infinity pool, so that it appears she’s disappeared into the ocean.

The Dictator and I sit on the back porch with the ocean and a sweating carafe of lemonade as our only distractions. The house is all open white doors that hope to corral what’s left of the breeze after the heavy humid air shakes it down. There’s a television the size of a wall playing old Scooby Doo cartoons in the living room, and through our conversation the bizarre patois of slobbering Scooby bookends any silence found in our conversation.

The Dictator has had work done on his hair, his face, his hands, but peculiarly not his body. His paunch is a personal TV dinner tray under his button up white shirt. The shirt is too small and has somehow collected crumbs, though we haven’t eaten anything since sitting down. He’s wearing white linen pants. His tan is fluorescent even under an afternoon sun. He once joked, with his counterpart of some vaguely European, nuclear-powered dynasty, that, “If they turn the lights out on me I’d glow like a fucking night light,” and even now, years later, when you look at him you believe it.

“That’s what they don’t understand,” he says unprompted. “That’s the thing about guys like me!”

I wait for him to supply some context to his outburst, but he waits for me to respond. He does this all the time. It’s like he’s been interrupted by silence and he holds it against you, and more importantly, he wants you to know that he holds it against you. In conversation with The Dictator, you are responsible for the uncouth interjections of silence, so get used to it.

“How has your life changed since you’ve been exiled?” I ask him.

“Oh, I love it,” he says. “Look around. I’ve done very, very well here. Did you see that woman earlier?”

“You know I did.”

“That woman,” he leans in to whisper, “that woman is a treasure. I found her here. She was buried in the holds of an old Spanish galleon, The Conquistador, that’s wrecked a few miles that way.”

He points towards the open ocean but locks his eyes on mine.

“Under lock and key,” he continues. “17th century. Hundreds...hundreds of years she’s been there waiting for a guy like me to dig her up. Centuries. I went down there myself. My good friend, Billy, the director - you’ve heard of him - he has a submersible. A submarine. It has claws, and I went down there myself. And I tell you what, pal, I saw her down there shining like a billion Spanish coins, and that’s what she does...she lights up my life.”

He leans back and takes another sip of lemonade. I know he’s joking but his eyes don’t seem to agree. It strikes me, seriously for the first time in years, that perhaps he’s had a break from reality. In the beginning, of course, it was easy to think that way. He made it easy. It was his greatest trick. The Devil and The Dictator...

“The finest trick of the devil,” he says to me, somehow (no... surely not) reading my mind, “is to persuade you that he does not exist.”

The Dictator sits back in his chair, satisfied. “Shakespeare.”

I grin. “I think it was Charles Baudelaire,” I say. “French. Nineteenth Century. He was a poet.”

“Listen, Charles…?”

“Baudelaire,” I say.

“Right,” he says. “He might have said it. Technically, he might have said it. But it was Shakespeare that came up with it. Will Shakespeare. Greatest writer the world has ever known. Smart guy. Very, very smart guy.”

In certain circles, particularly circles of The Revolution, there once floated tales of arguments and consequences; a word cloud of disappearance, strangulation, poison, torture - all orbiting The Dictator, sucked in by that gravity of Power.

I keep my mouth shut about Baudelaire and Shakespeare.

“You see those boats out there?” he asks me, pointing towards anchored yachts not far off the coast of his island. “I’ll let you in on a secret.”

He leans in and whispers, “One day. Soon. Someday soon. Very soon. Those boats are going to take me back home. Back to my people. Back to where I belong. And when I get there, I’m going to do very, very well. Because they love me. They really do. It’s easy to see.”

“This,” he gestures to everything - the lemonade, the house, the ocean - “It’s rigged. Really. They know it, you know it, I know it. Everyone knows it.”

He leans back in his chair, and takes a long drink of his lemonade. “Jesus, fuck.”

After I leave his island, but before this story goes to print, The Dictator is found dead in his bath. The official causes are au naturel, but the country whispers, “Poison,” and then, even softer, “Lemonade? Really?”



Written by: Logan Theissen

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