The Killers, Part I

Posted on: June 30, 2016


Carl points his gnarly, yellow-nailed finger (cigarettes) at the graffiti and says:

“Hey, that’s pretty funny.”

The graffiti is Don’t Open. Dead Inside.

“Yeah, that’s pretty funny, Carl,” you say.

You’ve been killing people, you and Carl, long enough to know that the graffiti might as well be tattooed on your chest. When your time comes and they open you up under the fluorescent lights of the basement morgue, out of you will come a stink that smells like sulfur and gut rot. You’ve been thinking that each kill is you playing god, and that each loss of life measures out in some place unseen on the cosmic scale, and that in this invisible place beyond the horizon there are racks on racks on racks of unpaid tickets, crimes against humanity, and that eventually you will be responsible for those tickets.

Lately, you’ve been getting nervous about this whole death thing.

Next week, you turn thirty.

“Carl, do you remember when you were a young man?”

“I remember everything, honey. Remember it all like it was yesterday.”

You’ve been telling Carl to stop calling you “honey” for years but the old fool does not listen and now it’s honey, honey, honey, and goddamn, you cannot mess with things you cannot control.

“You ever worry about fate, Carl?”

Carl flips his half smoked cigarette out of the open car window and says:

“Honey, I don’t think too much on fate. That’s a mad man’s game, worrying about fate.”

It’s so hot outside that the open window doubles as an open oven door when you’re not moving, so you pull the truck slowly away from the graffitied garage door with the dead inside and the warnings to keep shit closed.

East Austin: ain’t like it used to be. There used to be dusty parking lots and shabby bars, Mexicans and blacks, a faint whiff of danger in the stagnant summer nights. Now, you ask, what’s left? Condos. Fancy restaurants always crowded. Hordes of tourists that move up and down the street like newborns blind to traffic or death. The Mexicans moved east, and the blacks, well, you don’t know where the blacks moved.

Carl is black, so you ask him.

“Gone fishin’, brother.”

He doesn’t say anything more, so either he doesn’t know or he doesn’t feel like sharing the information with a shithead young buck white boy, and you know both answers mean the question will drift down the street, out of town like an unwanted stranger.

It is funny, you think, seizing the hypothetical before it goes, that you can kill a man with Carl, an act of instinct, and one that is very intimate, and yet he still won’t talk about his race and color.

“Weird…” you mutter to no one; not to Carl, nor the faded blue paint on brick walls, sixth street, steel bones of prepubescent buildings covered in sun and burning to the touch; none of it is weird, none of it is much of anything, and goddamn if it doesn’t make you pretty sad.

You pull up to the coffee shop and Google Maps goes:

You’ve arrived at your destination! Happy killing!
The coffee shop is an old house with mismatched antique furniture in the front yard. There’s a wraparound wooden porch, home to a half-dozen white-painted steel patio chairs and their table partners, each one in varying stages of disrepair. Everything is manicured, the environment subjugated, the scene one of inflated good taste, the revelation of the cool.

Carl walks with a limp from the time he took a machete to the thigh. It clipped his femoral artery and there was blood, blood, blood. You remember you were close quarters with some whacked out Colombians full of crack and unpaid dues, tenants of your boss, in this little white house with white walls and a white staircase, and when a bleeding Carl tumbled down that staircase, dude left a trail of macabre painterly genius, like Jack the Ripper and Jackson Pollack came together and opened an art exhibit. You even took a picture with your iPhone after you shot the Colombians dead-meat dead.

Those days were a little wild, but Carl survived, and eventually everything went back to normal.

“What if he ain’t here?” Carl asks.

Even though he’s two decades older than you, Carl knows that you’re smarter than he is, and so he capitulates to your plans most of the time. But the old-timer still gets nervous around cell phones, doesn’t trust technology or GPS, has dreams about floating satellites beaming nightmares into his sleeping skull, and so he’s always afraid “the guy” won’t be where he’s supposed to be. That’s Carl’s mantra, motto, and creed: What if he ain’t here?

“He’ll be here,” you say. “If he ain’t here now, he will be shortly, and we’ll just wait and have a coffee and strike up conversation.”

Inside the coffee shop there’s a wooden bar with stools painted different colors of springtime pastel. There’s a glass case of muffins, a big fat tip jar full of pennies and nickels and one poor bastard fiver, and a chalkboard with: Today’s Specials! Vegan White Bean Chili! Split Pea Soup w/ Rosemary!

You’re in what was the kitchen of the house, and they’ve knocked down the wall to what was the living room, with windows that open out to Sixth Street, and dark couches with light floral patterns and millennials on them. Some asshole plays an acoustic in the corner and behind him the Texas sun is turning purple through the window and even from this distance, you can see flecks of dust rise and fall, disappear and reappear like electrons, with the in and out breath of the dozen or so young adults chatting and drinking coffee and carrying the fuck on.

You and Carl take a seat at the bar.

“Place looks faggy,” Carl mutters.

“Get you something?” asks the barista.

“Black coffee,” you say and Carl nods, one for me as well.

The barista looks at you like: French press or...? And then says:

“Anything else?”

“Not right now,” you say. “We’re waiting on a friend.”


Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Mirlitons

Posted on: June 28, 2016


CeCe’s nude heels clacked against the concrete sidewalk as she tugged on her black silk dress. It was the only funeral attire she owned, and it was too unforgiving for late June’s inescapable humidity. CeCe had gained ten pounds since the last time she had worn it, which meant it required constant readjustment. She had pulled her blonde hair into a ponytail, but tendrils still curled and stuck in the sweat against her neck. She reached out to pull the ponytail over her shoulder, exposing the tattoo of a chef’s knife on her wrist to her mother Bitsy’s glaring eyes.

The porch on the double shotgun house looked exactly as CeCe remembered -- bright and old and mismatched, just like the left side’s former inhabitant. Lester LeBones, the voodoo skeleton that Lorraine claimed brought the New Orleans Saints good luck, still held his place of honor right in the center of the porch’s sag. Having never made his postseason retreat to the attic, Lester sported a few strands of what had once been purple and green Mardi Gras beads, worn silvery by sun and rain alike.

The front door to the house was slightly ajar, and stanzas of gospel and the smell of boiling crawfish crept out from the living room into the street. CeCe and her parents paused at the front door.

“Remember about the knife and the books,” her father Louis said to her, loosening his tie and rolling up his sleeves. He was all business, but the droop at the corners of his mouth gave away his sadness.

One of Lorraine’s cousins had found a handwritten will dated five years back stuffed in a shoebox full of cash. She had bequeathed her chef’s knife and cookbooks to CeCe. CeCe had spent her formative years poring over those books, devouring the recipes as if they were sustenance. She knew she would take those, but taking Lorraine’s knife seemed too personal, like taking somebody’s arm.

CeCe stepped tentatively over the threshold, followed by her mother and father, and had barely rebalanced on her heels before a giant tree of a man hugged her so fiercely he almost knocked the breath out of her.

“CeCe! It has been a minute!” The boom of the voice coming from the chest it belonged to made CeCe’s ears ring.

She unearthed herself and pulled back to find a pair of green eyes set in ebony skin crinkled back at her.

“Kenneth!” she shrieked, and nestled back into his rib cage for another squeeze. He was Lorraine’s nephew, who had run off to Nashville with his brass band years ago. The last time CeCe had seen him was when she was fifteen and they were drinking illicit beers on the very front porch ten feet behind them.

“Bay...bee...GURL!” he cried, giving her a squeeze with each punctuated syllable. “You a Yankee now? Working at a big old restaurant in New York? Rooting for them Jets?”

“Screw the Jets.”

Kenneth gave Bitsy a gentle kiss on the cheek and Louis a formal handshake. He put his arm around CeCe’s neck and paraded the three of them through the house. Some of the people had frequented Lorraine’s kitchen table over the years and fussed over CeCe like their own long lost daughter. Other folks CeCe knew only from Lorraine’s stories. “Pleasure to meet you in the flesh,” she’d say, and they’d hug like they’d been acquainted for years.

CeCe made her way to the kitchen. She half expected to find it shrouded in black gauze. Instead, she found its formica table and chipped green tiled countertops overloaded with food, enough to nourish the mourners through their grief.

At the sink stood Lorraine’s best friend Doreen. “She loved you as if you were her own child, dear,” the normally gregarious woman said gently, patting CeCe’s cheek. CeCe nodded, tears finding their way to the corners of her eyes. CeCe wasn’t sure why people always assumed she needed mothering, but in this instance, she was happy to accept.

The evening was a funeral, a party, a family reunion, and a group therapy session. It was a blur of faces and names and stories about Lorraine walking through waist-high floodwaters to rescue her Mardi Gras costume box from her momma’s house and what everyone’s favorite meal of Lorraine’s was and how Lorraine had mended shattered hearts one by one, plate by plate. The summer air rolled into the room, coaxing sweat beads from eyebrows and sticking thighs to chairs and keeping stories lingering in the room, in hopes of drawing a complete picture of their subject. Louis laughed and clapped the backs of the storytellers. His sister-in-law had always brought out his most jovial side. Bitsy did what all Southern women do in foreign kitchens and pitched in with dishwashing duties.

Eventually, CeCe snuck away from the kitchen into the dining room, which was festooned with Zulu coconuts and Lorraine’s gaudy souvenir spoon collection. The dining room also held Lorraine’s cookbooks, nearly fifty of them slung and stuffed haphazardly onto an insufficient bookshelf. CeCe pulled one off without looking, and out of habit the book fell open to recipe for shrimp stuffed mirlitons. She and Lorraine had made this recipe together once, a test run before a Thanksgiving feast. They had stuffed themselves with the results while talking about CeCe’s high school boyfriend. She had trusted her aunt with every little detail of her life, from who she kissed to what her dreams were. She ran her fingers over the mirliton recipe, turned the corner of the page down, and hugged the book close to her heart.

                                                                                                        ***

Back in New York City, not a day passed where CeCe didn’t wish she could call up Lorraine -- to make her laugh, to ask her what would go best with the beautiful carrots she found at the farmer’s market. But when the head chef asked her to help conceive a new dish at the restaurant that fall, she had an answer.

“Mirlitons.”

“What?”

“Shrimp stuffed mirlitons.”

Chef looked at CeCe for a minute. He cocked his head to one side and cracked his meaty, tattooed knuckles.

“Alright, Landry. I’m listening.”



Written by: Clancy Fink
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart

On the Other Side of the Mountain

Posted on: June 23, 2016


Trees grew at the mountain’s snow-covered base, left undisturbed by a less primitive race of people. To Jeannie, the summit didn’t seem so far away, but the path took a snake-like route, adding far more miles than a direct path to the top. The group paused momentarily to take in the view, then continued on the frosty trail.

“I can’t believe we’ve hiked thirty miles already and we’re only at the base of the thing!” Archer’s younger sister Amie laughed and shook her head.

Jeannie sat watching the sunset while the brother and sister built the fire. It didn’t bother her that she barely knew them or why they were willing to help her; the fact was, she needed help. Archer the navigator and Amie the nature expert, the perfect traveling pair. She was just the tagalong. She shivered remembering how cold she was when Archer had found her. How long this journey was taking her. Amie interrupted her thoughts.

“I can’t believe we haven’t had one blizzard! This might just be easier then I thought! Just think, the three of us fighting our way to the top of the mountain. Will we make it? That’s up to chance.”

What a flair for the dramatics--nothing like her brother, thought Jeannie.

That night, Jeannie dreamed of fireplaces and wooden walls, felt the utter joy when she saw…

“Sorry to wake you--” Archer’s head appeared in the tent flap. “We need to get going. There’s a storm coming.” He backed out then called, “You’d better hurry.”

Snow had fallen so thick they could barely pick up their feet. Archer half carried Amie over snowdrifts so deep her tiny frame sank to her waist.

Jeannie said nothing the entire three miles, and by the time the sky showed the pink signs of sunrise, she was exhausted.

“Please, can’t we just rest for a while?” she begged. For once, Amie said nothing and plopped down on a rock next to Jeannie. Jeannie tucked her icy fingers under her arms, looking for heat that wasn’t there. She had never thought she was crazy until now. Her goal had always blinded the insanity of her endeavor, and even when Archer saved her, she had thought she was being rational.

It was a miracle Archer had thought to look near the snow slide. She had thought the cave would be a good place to sleep until the snow stopped, but as she slept, the mouth of the cave slowly covered with snow. By the time she tried to dig herself out, the pile was too thick. If Archer hadn’t been there, heard her scream, she never would have made it out.

                                                                                                    ***

We must be nearly to the summit, Jeannie thought. They had covered only five miles in six hours, and the snow was still falling in sheets.

“What are we going to do? How can we go on in this weather?” she asked. Amie just smiled and Archer shrugged and pressed forward. I guess we just keep going and hope for the best, she thought.

That night, Amie told stories while cooking dinner over the fire. “We needed more money to travel. I was only working at the general store, and Archer was writing for the tiny paper back home.” She blabbered on, but Jeannie was hardly listening. She was dreaming about what was waiting for her on the other side of the mountain.

                                                                                                    ***

“There’s the summit!” They all looked at the mountaintop only a few miles away. It had been a long few weeks before the snow had stopped. Archer shared his sister’s excitement, but Jeannie remained silent.

Her mind drifted back to a boy waving as he boarded the train, his green army uniform still clean, his pack too big for his back. Then she remembered the call that he was gone. MIA, miss. I’m so sorry. But she knew he couldn’t be gone gone. She pictured the log cabin where his family had stayed when he was young, the times that he had told her about it, how it was it was his favorite place on earth. And now, finally, she was so close, just on the other side of the mountain.

Tonight, she thought. I can make it on my own now. Archer talked with Jeannie by the fire that night. She liked his company, the way he treated her like a sister instead of some girl he had picked up on the way. She knew he thought of her as one of them. But I’m not, I can’t be, she reminded herself again. No one can follow me.

The crescent moon was high and the stars in full shine when Jeannie began to steal away from the sleeping camp. Wind whipped her face as she crept through snow-covered trees. She turned toward a sudden noise.

“JEEAANNNIIEEEE!!”

Archer stumbled through the snow, shouting. She ran through the snow as fast as she could and hid behind an evergreen, knowing the darkness would hide her tracks. She nearly cried as she saw Archer stumble past, begging her to come back.

She wanted to call out to him, to tell Archer to come with her, but she couldn’t, she knew that. What would they do? she thought, What if they told someone? Deserters are not taken lightly. Who knows if I would ever see my beloved soldier boy again.
As Archer’s calls faded into the distance, Jeanie slipped out from behind her hiding place. As the night wore on, she became increasingly lost. The snow, gone for several weeks, returned so heavy she could barely see where she was going. She stumbled as the wind whipped around her. Just keep going, you’ll be there soon.

But by sunrise, she was still alone. “What have I done!” she cried, “Why did I think I could do this alone? Oh Annachie, I’m so sorry.” In her exhaustion, she lost her footing and tumbled down a snowy slope. That’s when she noticed the little column of smoke from between the trees. Her heart racing, she ran in its direction, half crying with joy. Tripping over herself, she fell face first in the snow.

“Stay where you are,” came a voice behind her. Jeannie looked up and saw the little cabin only a few meters away. She heard the crunching of snow and turned to see the end of a shotgun barrel only feet from her face. Her eyes traveled up the gun to the man holding it. “Three years,” he said. “It took you three long years.”

“Yes, Annachie, but I’m home.”



Written by: Tess Selby
Photograph by: Blake Bronstad

Illusion

Posted on: June 21, 2016


We smoke for the first time together in her attic apartment, the ceiling unfinished, hidden by tapestries that meet at a point in the center. One is pale purple and patterned with flowers. Another holds colors of a sunset.

She packs the glass bowl, and hands it to me. When she says the word, “Greens,” I watch her mouth open to reveal her teeth, and it looks more genuine than the smile I saw back at the bar.

“I never—” I say, and she adjusts my hands, and lowers the flame in front of me. I take a deep breath and cough and she laughs as the small amount of smoke I’d taken in fills the space between us.

I can’t stop myself from kissing her again, this time with tongues and teeth, which clink together like our wine glasses just an hour or so before.

I met Prue at a place called Gypsy’s.

She pointed to women dressed in thick petticoats, brocade blooms patterning the fabric. She told me they called themselves sisters of the sun, homemade henna tattoos on their arms to prove it.

“You have to meet the fortune teller,” she said, pulling me to a table near the back of the bar.

I waited in line while she drank more wine, staining her lips a deep red. I wanted to kiss her an infinite amount of times, but I didn’t tell her this. Instead I kissed her once, and proceeded to the table.

“You are faithful, a loyal man, true. But you see the colors, too,” the fortune teller said, tracing the lines of my palm. I wondered how they were visible beneath my callouses; if she knew I was a painter. I said nothing, just nodded and tipped her and walked back to Prue, who gave me her hand. I traced it the same way the fortune teller did without seeing anything but her in front of me.

She said, “Follow me.” And I did.

Prue kissed me from one street corner to the next until we reached her place.

Now, when she smokes, she seems to fall back against the world, and as I take another hit, I wait to feel the same thing. But I find myself distracted by the way the bowl gleams beneath the lights on the ceiling, so purple and pure and pulsing when I squint just right.

“The lights,” I say, because I can’t say anything else. I don’t know how to explain that the lights look more alive than I feel because maybe they are alive and I’m just here; an illusion.

“I strung them myself,” she says. And I kiss her for the lights, and the moment. I can’t remember ever feeling the world in such a monumental way.

She offers me another hit, holding the bowl in front of me, letting me go slow.

“You see the fortune teller,” I say.

“Where?” Prue asks. I trace the outline of the purple flowers on the tapestry above.

We find other shapes on the tapestry, too, like we’re cloud gazing, but the ceiling is the sky, and after a while, my eyes feel heavy, and I sink into the floor, falling back against the world.

                                                                                                    ***

The first few weeks together exist in a black hole; time tentative and unreal. At my place, Prue runs her hands over the half-finished people who live within my sketchbook.

She dips her finger in a bit of blue, same as the spring sky. She paints points on blank pages. “The mountains,” she says. “They’re calling me.”

“I’ve never been,” I say, my brush in the blue, letting it puddle just so beneath her eyes.

She explains time in the mountains changes people. “But I know I’ll never go,” she says. The words are clipped, as if she's cut her hopes before they feel too real. Her eyes wander, reveal her gypsy soul within that bathetic body; an unmoving juxtaposition between want and need.

I paint Prue with perfect lips, covering the canvas with her arms and covering those in small swirls, which remind me of the sun and our first date and the beginning of everything.

“What’s your favorite season?” I ask. “For the background, you know?” I try to imagine the color scheme she’ll choose before she says it, but I can’t.

“The In-Between. That’s what I love,” she says. “One sprout through frozen ground, not quite thawed. Dandelion snow. The just-there-crisp as the first leaves fall; days disappearing,” she says.

When I finish, Prue looks at my work, stares at herself, and the faint hint of mountains beyond. I wonder if she recognizes this version, almost sad. She kisses my hands despite the paint, and I think she understands; I know her.

                                                                                                    ***

Most nights we sleep and smoke beneath my painting of Prue, her acrylic eyes protecting us from the world. I kiss my Prue and see her in shades of yellow: butter and daisies and faded henna and honey. I don’t remember when I start to see her this way, until one day, her jaundiced skin is all I see.

                                                                                                    ***

Prue sleeps and sleeps and never wakes. I’m not sure where she goes, but when I look at her, I feel trapped in the sun’s rays, eyes blinded. Sometimes it hurts too much to look at her, so instead I kiss her, and ask if she believes in the future. When she doesn’t answer, I roll a joint with thin sketch paper from the book she bought me for my birthday. While she sleeps, I smoke, and I wait for everything else to disappear.

                                                                                                    ***
One month later, Prue disappears.

They take her body and leave me with her painting. And for days after, I paint her. I surround her with pale purple flowers, eyes clouded with something I could never see.

I pack her few belongings from the attic apartment, and bring them back to my place. I take each of the tapestries, and the purple lights, which burn out.

                                                                                                    ***

I’m arrested outside her building.

The officer waits until I finish the henna lines on Prue’s arms, which I’ve painted on the side of the building.

She exists for everyone now, the brick bleeding through her skin. Her lips are dark red and everything else is pale and pure and if I squint just right, she starts to fade at the edges; only a ghost.

                                                                                                    ***

I’m released the next day, and I return to her building because I need to see her.

From the alley, I smell fresh paint.

Prue isn’t here.

Painted over.

Disappeared.


Written by: Kayla King
Photograph by: Tiffany Melanson

Too Much

Posted on: June 16, 2016


It is March, and the salt-bleached sidewalks pull me in a familiar direction. I know this road well. I have walked it often in preparation for the events that are about to transpire. Today is a Tuesday, it is 8:17am, and so the white Tesla will pass me within the next few minutes. It will be traveling at approximately 45 kms/hour. The driver— a woman in her forties like me—will be sipping a coffee. She will disappear around the corner just minutes before the door of the squat, brick house that is her home, will open and a young man will exit. He will be wearing a warm coat, but no hat or gloves. He will be carrying a blue canvas backpack. He will not be wearing a bike helmet today, as he will leave his bike behind and ride the bus to attend a class downtown.

I know that this will happen because I have been meticulous in my planning. I know he will be alone and I know he will be on time—the bus schedule demands punctuality. He rides the bus though his Honda Civic sits unused in the driveway. He is no longer allowed to drive that or any other car. Not since that night two years ago when the streets were dark and slick and his senses had been dimmed by consumption of too much … too much everything. He is too much. A boy—no, a man—who has too much, demands too much. He takes too much for granted. He has taken too much from me.

Across the road, I take in the view that hangs as the backdrop of their lives. The lake, pale blue; the forests, soon to be green again; and the sky that hangs serenely above it. The highway—always congested with transport trucks—and the train tracks, invisible unless you know they are there. They are the closest these people will come to connecting with the blue collar soul of this industrial city. They don’t know us, the people who make up the backbone of their home. That we collided at all was an accident, one they would sooner forget. An accident that is never out of my thoughts.

My feet crunch through the detritus of winter, the white salt crystals snap under my heavy tread. I walk with steps that echo a confidence my heart does not feel. I want my feet and my legs to lend their strength to the rest of me. I want the strong rhythm of my gait—a rhythm which suggests determination—to hide that I am a weak creature. Today I need to belie that weakness, to find a strength that typically evades me.

The white Tesla sails smoothly and silently past me and I avert my eyes, as I do every Tuesday morning. My face would be recognizable to the woman driving. It would be alarming for her to see me here, since she has left me behind. My face should only occupy the space in her memories that she would rather not look at. I should remain in the courtroom where we once sat on opposite sides. We fought—ferocious as mother bears—arguing for the judge, desperate for his agreement. We fought for our young.

I quicken my pace as I approach the house that the Tesla has just pulled away from, and my palms sweat with anticipation over what I am about to do. I picture it in my head, though I know the scene is all wrong—it is fiction. The weight of the bat in my hand is too easy, the crack it makes when it connects is a cartoon version of the sound I expect to hear. In reality, the sound will not be the sharp crack of the crust of crème brulè as it fractures under my spoon. It will be the flat thud of raspberry pie fallen to the floor, a wet sound, anticlimactic. A sound I heard once that told me something I loved had been irreparably broken. I know the sticky red syrup that I picture spilling across the asphalt is also wrong. It is nothing like the the dark black blood that I remember seeping into the snow as her body turned cold.

The door opens and the boy—no, the man—appears. He fusses with the keys. He has cut his hair since I watched him cry by the side of the road as my daughter died. It was even longer when he pled his case, begged for leniency because he had so much potential and he felt remorse, and he still had his whole life ahead of him. My daughter does not.

His keys drop into the slush and he bends to retrieve them, cursing under his breath.

I grip the handle of my bat firmly as I walk forward. I hear the crunch of the salt under my boots. Snapping and cracking.

He must hear the sound too, for he looks up, right into my eyes. There is a moment of recognition. There is a moment of confusion. There is no time for fear as I bring my bat down against his skull. He does not cry out. He does not fight back. I am strong, and my aim is good. He stumbles as I raise the bat and bring it down again. This time the impact knocks him to the ground. I raise my bat again. And again.

There is no blood.

There is only a broken man—once a boy—and an irreparable woman—once a mother—on a salt-bleached stretch of sidewalk, wrapped in cruel memories—wrapped in cold March wind.


Photograph and Story by: Sarah Scott

2 Drink Minimum

Posted on: June 14, 2016


The bar is small, dark, and trite, nestled in a strip mall between a prosperous and garish Korean nail salon and the upscale Gourdough’s Public House. This bar is not upscale. It survives precisely because it’s a hole people can climb into and pull over themselves.

It’s as anonymous as porn theater sex. It has no windows, no sign over the door, no chipped and faded little cigarette-company decal with a penguin proclaiming Come on in, it’s KOOL inside! The metal door is old and rusted, dented here and there, with two punctures that let in rain. It works with a scream of protest, just like most of the bar’s patrons.

The place has weathered barn wood nailed to the wall at the far end, and a few dart players of unreliable skill throw feathered projectiles at a target hung from a nail. A ragged color printout of someone’s ex-wife is taped over the ten-ring, encouraging accuracy. Most of the darts embed into the barn wood anyway.

As a celluloid Nick the Bartender said to the you-never-existed George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, this too is a place where men, and now women, are hard customers who come to drink hard liquor, and get drunk. If you can’t drink at least two, you are out of your league here. Go next door to Gourdough’s where there is better lighting and you can order your fucking Mojito.

Coincidentally, the bartender here is also named Nick. He hasn’t mixed a White Russian in two years. There was that Manhattan last month, but it was served to a regular who followed up with a triple Lagavulin neat. The woman’s date never showed—married prick, got cold feet. After almost two years on that bar stool, she never came back.

This is a destination bar, where men and women often meet with others not their spouse. Couples huddle in booths around the perimeter of the main room. A few more sit at booths and a few tables in satellite rooms even darker than the main area. There are other regulars, too. You can buy or sell information here, or plan some deal, but don’t get caught with dope or it’s your ass. If someone calls in looking for a customer—a frantic wife, an angry husband—no one is ever there. Sorry, really busy. Take a message?

Detective Inspector Douglas Lee Pavlichek is distinguishable from the other customers only to the bartender. Nick has served the cop booze since he came on the job; through two marriages, three killed partners and six promotions. He does a very passable simulation of a businessman, with his Abboud suits and Burberry trench coat. The homicide cops are well known to be natty dressers, and Pavlichek does his part. You need nice suits when you go to your partners’ funerals. Pavlichek doesn’t have a terrible average, though, for his thirty-two years. That works out to less than one dead partner per decade. But after he lost Mooney, Pavlichek decided he’d rather work solo. He’s on the glide slope to a disappointing retirement anyway, so the bosses agreed.

He also doesn’t care about any two-drink minimum, because Detective Pavlichek hasn’t had two or fewer drinks at a sitting since 12th grade, when he partied so hard that he barely graduated. Only Mrs. Ellsworth had saved that, allowing a retake of the final exam over the angry objections of Mr. Crawford, the so-called “guidance counselor” who hated Pavlichek since he was a southmore. That’s how they say it here, southmore, not sophomore. So he passed with a D-plus—still hadn’t studied—and drew the Logan green cap and gown to make the high school perp walk with almost a thousand other seniors that year.

Here’s a piece of info for that next lull in class reunion conversation: Today, a man named Logan Green is the co-founder and chief executive officer of the ride-sharing service Lyft.

No, that doesn’t mean anything. Nothing does.

Pavlichek doodles on a bar napkin. When he looks up, Nick is already watching him. The detective waves an index finger in airy, imperfect circles, ordering another round. Nick pulls a Stroh’s from an ornate tap and then pours an extra-double Johnny Walker Black while the beer foam settles. By the time Pavlichek survived the summer after high school, he could drink a whole fifth of Johnny Walker Black and still be just walking-around high, could drive and everything. That time he wrecked his car down the street from Griff’s house, where Griff’s mother always bought the party alcohol, the local uniforms didn’t even know he was wasted. That was the first time Pavlichek thought about a career in police work.

Police work is how he describes it, because cops will tell you honestly, in quiet moments, that “law enforcement” isn’t the same thing. Rookies do law enforcement; veterans do police work. Police work maintains order and keeps people safe and free, keeps the jackoffs in their own districts, at least. Those lofty goals are not always the purview of laws, so most cops don’t enforce laws. They do police work.

Pavlichek’s phone buzzes in an inside-left coat pocket, but he doesn’t have to look at it to know who it is. His personal cell is in the inside-right pocket, but it never buzzes. He downs the scotch at once, then powers down the beer.

“Gotta run, Nick. Work,” he says. He leaves a fifty on the bar, because if you tip a bartender well now, he tips a cop well later. Pavlichek gets only two steps away before turning back to Nick.

“Hey, you havin’ a good day, man?”

Nick shrugs. “Yeah. I guess. You know, it is what it is.”

“You are right about that.” Pavlichek waves a two-finger salute and turns to the door. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“Okay, Inspector,” Nick says. He wipes wet rings from the polished surface of the bar and picks up the napkin. Pavlichek has carefully torn up the business card of the department psychologist and left it in a perfect teepee of matte pasteboard on the bar.

On the napkin, Pavlichek has drawn the crude image of a handgun shooting a bullet through a cartoon badge, and all around it, over and over, he’s written the words Kill me now.



Written by: Daniel Charles Ross
Photograph by: Chris Boyles

Meddled

Posted on: June 9, 2016


My entire body is numb when I wake. I stay sprawled on my back as feeling slowly crawls down my neck and tingles up my arms until I’m able to wiggle my fingers. Each tap of my fingers sends a bolt of pain that deepens the dull ache in my skull.

As I regain feeling in my body, a sharp pain in my chest shallows my breathing. My tongue feels swollen, as if it can barely fit in my mouth. My skin is covered in little scratches from my straw bed, and my pale skin is bright red.

Deep down, I know I should be panicking. I’ve been trapped and unconscious for what could be hours or days—I don’t know. Yet all I can interpret is the exhaustion weighing me down and the pain in my body.

I wipe away the crust caked on my lashes. The movement torments my shoulders, and I whimper. My throat burns with the sound, and I cough from the dust coating my tongue.

I need to ignore the pain and focus on what I know. I know the murderer is a man who has pale blonde hair and clear gray eyes. He was wearing a jacket and jeans in the humid, hot Massachusetts summer. Boots, even. I had been melting in the shorts and tank I’d worn to go biking. Is he even human? Does he come from the center of the earth?

I wonder if my coworkers or roommate would call for help—if they even notice I’m gone.

Managing to prop myself up on my elbows, I look around. The only light filters in through little cracks in the roof, revealing thousands of dust particles. My makeshift bed is situated beside a thick wooden pole with a heavy chain looped around it several times. The path of the chain leads to a wide metal cuff around my right ankle. A padlock with a six-digit combination keeps me locked in place.

Apparently he didn’t want to risk losing me.

Thinking about that man makes a new pain blossom in my chest. He is the man who killed my parents. After years of being tossed around in the foster care system, I had finally been able to call a place home.

But he ruined that for me.

I guess I’m not allowed to have a happy ending.

Slowly, feeling drifts down to my legs. Now that I can move them, I’m able to sit up. The movement sends a wave of lightheadedness that crashes through my head and settles as a lead ball of nausea in my gut.

The only sound I can make is a raspy whimper when I attempt to call out. The birds continue to chirp. Twigs snap in an unsteady rhythm, probably from a small animal. Aside from that, my prison is silent. I am alone.

Shit.

I don’t want to die.

Maybe my roommate’s right. I should have believed the police when they said my parents’ deaths were an accident. Just a coincidence. I shouldn’t have put it all together, tracked him down. When I discovered he was one of my foster brothers, my blood had run cold. He could’ve been jealous or vengeful. It doesn’t matter, anymore. It’s too late to find out.

I shouldn’t have followed him to a boarded white barn in the middle of nowhere on my bike. I shouldn’t have tried to break in. I should have stayed home and watched Friends reruns while drinking wine.

I shouldn’t have tried to meddle.

Meddle. Meddle. Meddle.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Stupid enough to get myself killed.

The door’s closed several feet away, with no visible way to open it from the inside. Aside from me and the pole, the small shed is bare. Nothing is here except the microbes and me.

My legs wobble after I pull myself up with the pole. I dig my nails into the cracked wood until blood rushes down to my extremities, and I can stand with little support. I breathe out a small sigh of relief as my body begins to feel normal again. I can do this. I can survive.

I need to.

My chain gives me about four feet of distance I can wander. It keeps me just out of reach from the door, and only lets me in far enough to scrape my nails on the next pole holding up the barn. All of the walls are out of reach. The boarded up windows are feet above my head. And as weak as I am, I won’t be able to climb worth a damn.

A clang of metal startles me from my thoughts. I whirl on my heel, nearly tumbling over from the sudden movement. The door slides open as I blink my eyes to try and calm the vertigo making me sway on my feet. The man clucks his tongue at me and closes the door behind him. I watch him closely as he turns his attention to me and assesses me with cool gray eyes.

“I’m impressed,” he says. “Most couldn’t stand in your state.” He walks towards me, swinging a pistol dangling from his fingers. He pauses an arm’s length from me and tilts his head. “I really didn’t want to kill you. You should have left well enough alone.” His voice is chilled and flat, with no hint of remorse or regret. Although his voice is soft, it still intensifies the throbbing in my head. I wobble on my feet and slump against the pole, closing the distance between us.

“You took my parents.” Somehow, my voice comes out strong enough to make words. He braces his free hand on the pole beside me and lifts the gun to my face. After tracing a line down my heated cheek, he tucks it under my chin.

“They weren’t even blood,” he says and scoffs. This presses the metal harder into my jugular. I wince and shy away from the weapon, but he straightens up and wraps his other hand around the back of my neck. I freeze.

“You took them,” I repeat. “Go to hell.”

He takes a step back and raises the pistol to aim at my head. I squeeze my eyes shut against the sight. Panic rises up in my chest, but he speaks before I can quell it.

“Keep it hot for me.”

The gunshot is the last thing I ever hear.



Written by: Jeanine Kleist
Photograph by: Kayla King

Validation

Posted on: June 7, 2016


People used to tell me I was a good writer. I worked on some flashy accounts in my 30s. But being able to write isn’t much use to a copywriter since a Twitter feed became an acceptable body of work. I took this freelance job because, well, they offered it to me. No one has done that in a while.

I know they saw my portfolio because the thing I paid a 19-year-old to add to my website told me so—one new view from a mobile device lasting two and a half minutes. My face gets hot just thinking about it. A recently promoted creative director scrolls through my life’s work at a stoplight on the way home from the office at 3am. He watches my commercial for Pennzoil and doesn’t laugh. Why would he? His dad still takes his car to get the oil changed for him. Fucking millennials.

Cruising from level to level, every parking spot in the garage is the size of a portal leading into John Malkovich’s brain. Do this many compact cars even exist in America? I park my 8-seater like a complete jerk and hustle to the elevator. I catch my reflection in the stainless steel doors. Is a 40-year-old woman wearing high tops hip or hilarious? A young man appears next to me wearing the kind of suit that looks too small but isn’t. He wants me to see his socks, right?

I walk into the office and look around. There are no cubicles, just rows of desks topped with shiny technology. I pause at the receptionist’s desk. Her age and outfit appear to be violating all sorts of labor laws.

“Welcome to Pop, how can I help you?”

“I’m Margaret Kay, the freelance writer you called.”

“Totally. Welcome. We’re swamped so I’m so glad we found someone who is available.”

Unfolding from behind the desk like a newborn foal, she leads me through the office.

“Great timing because they just kicked off a Gogo.com brainstorm.”

We arrive at a conference room where a vertical garden covers the entirety of one wall. Everything smells like parsley.

“Hey team! This is Margaret. She’s the writer helping us out.”

Their heads bob up from various screens, they mumble hello, and their heads drop back down. I sit and open my thick, white MacBook. A handsome guy wearing a tank top is leading the meeting. He looks at me and suddenly the light above me feels twice as fluorescent as all the others.

“Did they email you a brief?”

I nod and pull a piece of paper out of my laptop case. Everyone seems confused by its tangibility.

“Any questions before we get started?” asks Tank Top.

“Am I right that the gist of the campaign is, Gogo.com is the new and better Amazon.com?”

He smiles and I forget about my crow’s feet.

“You’ve got it.”

Then a young woman, broadcasting mixed messages with her neck tattoos and Nancy Reagan-esque tweed suit, speaks up.

“Well, we can’t say Amazon.”

“That makes sense because they’re a competitor,” I reply agreeably. “So it’s more like, Gogo.com is the new and better place to shop online.”

Now Chubby Ex-Frat Boy has something to add.

“We can’t say ‘new’ because the site launched over six months ago.”

“I think ‘better’ is off limits, too,” says Tattoo Nancy. “We can’t back up that claim.”

“So where are these ads going to run?” I ask, scanning the brief.

All of a sudden Tank Top addresses me like I’m a dementia patient.

“At Pop, we don’t create advertising. We create stories.”

“I see. Where are we going to share these stories? Facebook? Times Square?”

Chubby Ex-Frat Boy seems bored by me.

“The campaign is running exclusively on Snapchat,” he says.

“Isn’t that the one that disappears after 30 seconds?”

“10,” Tattoo Nancy says without looking up.

I stare at the garden wall and wonder if they would let me take home some herbs. Bon Appétit has a recipe for parsley risotto I really want to try.

“What if we show a guy surfing on a credit card and in the waves we see things he might buy, like a bike helmet…an electric razor…that kind of thing?” says Tank Top.

This gets Tattoo Nancy going.

“Yeah, and maybe it ends with a line like, ‘Deals that won’t wipe you out,’” she adds.

So puns are acceptable again. That makes sense considering how kids these days seem to be fascinated by the 1980s. I manage to be both too old and too young for this crowd.

Tank Top jumps up, grabs a dry erase marker, and plants in front of the whiteboard. He starts scrawling the surfer idea.

“That’s good, that’s good. What else?”

Chubby Ex-Frat Boy sets down his array of devices.

“Maybe there’s a cheerleader—a hot cheerleader—and she’s jumping around with this sign that says, ‘Shop for your team at Gogo.com!’”

And just like that, another gem on the whiteboard. I start sweating. I need to contribute something, that’s what I’m here for. Yesterday, I spent the entire day cleaning out our garage and now, like some sort of miracle, both of our cars can fit inside. I should start a garage-organizing business. I clear my throat.

“What if there’s a cute puppy—like a golden retriever—and he’s tearing up a shoe. We hear a woman’s voice over say, ‘Come, Gogo, come!’ Then a line comes up: ‘Great deals on shoes and more at Gogo.com.’”

Silence.

“We could do a series of them starring Gogo the dog and he’s always chewing on something different that you can buy at Gogo.com.”

Silence and then…Tank Top starts writing.

“I love it,” he says. “That kind of story has share value.”

Are those like stock options? I decide not to ask.

“Cool,” I say coolly.

An hour later, I get back in my car. They asked me to come back for another brainstorm tomorrow. When I pull up to the parking garage attendant, I realize I forgot to get my ticket validated by Bambi the receptionist. The woman in the booth tells me it’s going to be $30. That’s how much I charge per hour, so basically I was never here. I hand over the money and stare at the attendant. She looks to be about my age, with long, thin hair and spotty teeth. A book called Love at Sea is sitting open across her broad lap. I realize I’m jealous. I wonder how much she makes an hour?


Written by: CE Jordan
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Blood & Water

Posted on: June 2, 2016


I have lost a great many things, including the manse that sits behind me, nestled along the riverbank. The cold water tickles my toes as I peer into the expanse of gray sky, mourning the loss of it too. This land, this sky, this river will be stripped away and sold for pennies, leaving me naked and alone.

As children, we were never allowed to play here. It was too close to the water whose current lurked beneath. Now there are no parents to warn me or siblings to play with. They are gone too.

I unlace my boots and edge further into the water, letting the sounds of executors and vultures slip away as the babbling flood fills my gaping heart. They pick through my home, my things, my family history as if it can be itemized and sold at auction for anything close to what we owe. These things are priceless. But does that mean they have too little or too much value to count? I suppose it depends to whom you pose the question.

My skirt is pulled into the river, and the sneaking current picks it up and tries to drag me away by my petticoat, but my feet stand firm on rock. I peruse the tree line looking for answers among the evergreens, but they are as quiet as the sky.

“Miss!” A squawking vulture calls from the back staircase.

I know precisely where he stands based solely on how his voice echoes against the stone. I know every breath of this land and it knows me, but that is not enough to keep it. The lawyers insisted on an estate sale, saying it was the only way to help correct the debt my family accrued and subsequently left me.

I turn to face Mr. Forrester, careful not to lose my footing on the rocks. To him, I am the very picture of grief: long, black dress, high collar, and birdcage veil. I am in mourning, but it seems a shame everyone should dress the same when the act of mourning is so different to each soul. In the Bible, men mourned in sackcloth and ash, erasing their individuality in the name of despair. I, however, want everyone to see the aching chasm in my chest where my heart once rested. I want them to know and suffer. Instead I am just another young woman in black. No one sees any difference from one plight to the next. Grief is grief and the more elegant, the more palatable it will be.

“Yes, Mr. Forrester. How may I assist you?”

“Miss Davenport, it is not safe for you that close to the water. The river has risen since last night’s storm. Please come back to the house.”

The house, not my house. We both notice the difference in the strained silence that follows, a silence in which we wonder if his words should be corrected, but we decide not since they are true.

I am inclined to listen to him, but I want to stay a few moments longer, just to feel the crisp water against my stockinged ankles one last time. I do not know where I will be after today, and I do not know if I will ever see a winter river again, surrounded by the protection of rock and evergreen. I feel its protection too and it calls me to stay.

“Your concern is most kind, Mr. Forrester, but I am quite well, thank you.”

When awful things happen to people, they either live or they die. It does not matter which. The awful thing does not stop to ask ‘What would you have me do?’ It simply happens, and the unfortunate soul either stays or leaves. It did not ask if I cared when my mother was taken by fever, or if I minded when Father drank himself into the grave. It was bothered none by my shame when my brother absconded with the remnants of our fortune to settle his gambling debt. It did not consult my disposition when my lover left on the eve of our wedding, or when the infant inside me threatened to abandon me too.

I place a warm palm over my abdomen. It has not yet betrayed me, but it will in time. The breeze turns angry as it whips and roars in my ears. My veil blows back off my eyes and I see clearly.

Tragedy begets tragedy until the white capped wave crests and crashes, leeching the breath and happiness from my body in one rescinding pull of the tide. It will not stop, and I will either live or die.

My cheeks flush with anger as I think of what little control I’ve had over my entire life. No tragedy that befell me was brought on by my own misdeeds. I deserved no part in the mistakes of others or the gluttonous lives they lived. My fiancé wanted more: more women, more freedom, more time. The Davenport men had a love of money, and they too wanted more, squandering what they had. Why, then, can I not have the same control over my future and fortune?

I step further into the river so the raging current pulls at my knees. I can choose to stay or go. I am more powerful than tragedy itself, a mockery to the tribulation and anguish with which God has plagued us.

“See?” I shout into the roaring wind as it sweeps down the river. “I, too, can take away.”

I step into the current and let the water, my only true companion, sweep me away to heaven.


Written by: HG Reed
Photograph by: Michael Ken

Still Life: Moving the Jobs to Mexico

Posted on: May 31, 2016


As Tom and Millie packed their home into boxes to move into her grandparent’s rental unit, they struggled with the furniture. Not much would fit into the smallest U-haul trailer which Tom had rightly said was not big enough, but he also eventually admitted the smallest was the only one they could afford. They promised each other they would come back for the rest of their things.

Millie had heard the gossip around town for weeks. “They’re moving the plant to Mexico. All the jobs. Everyone will be let go.” For a couple weeks, she pretended she hadn’t heard a word. When the whispers reached the Sunday school class, she decided to ask Tom. On the way to his mother’s for Sunday dinner, she squared her thoughts to ask about it after the meal. “You’re quiet, darlin’,” he said.

She smiled, “Oh, well I’m just thinking about the week ahead. The kids have so many things going on I’m hoping I can keep up with it all.” She hoped her face did not betray her white lie, and she willed herself to smile at him.

Millie and Tom had been an on-again, off-again couple since they started dating her sophomore year of high school. Tom had already graduated and was working at the factory in town. They had met at a football game when her brother Rob punched Tom’s friend Dan over the discovery Rob and Dan were dating the same girl.

Tom’s job at the factory was pretty good. At least it was steady money. He made enough for the two of them, but by the time she dropped out of school, it was no longer enough since the family had grown to five. She had a son during the summer between her sophomore and junior years. When she started her senior year, she learned she was pregnant with twins, and that was most of the reason she dropped out.

They lived in a rental house in an older part of town; they did the best they could to make a home for the kids. They had five children now, and Tom worked odd jobs with his brother on the weekends when he could. There was a time when Millie had watched a few children besides her own, but that was before she had the fourth.

During dinner at his mother’s house, Tom’s dad pulled out the topic Millie was holding back. “So, Tom. What will you do when the plant closes?”

“Well, we don’t need to worry ourselves with talk about things that aren’t going to happen,” Tom insisted. Tom’s mother signaled her opinion by clearing plates and asking for Millie’s help in the kitchen. Millie walked away carrying a bowl containing the leftover green beans and heard his father insisting, “Tom, that plant is closing. You will not have a job come…”

“Now, Millie, honey. I know you are taking good care of those kids. But you need to prepare yourself for this,” his mother pushed. Millie stood amidst the partially filled dishes feeling as if she had better eat something more. Then again, she felt fiercely defiant. If Tom felt concern, he would have said something. As if this issue were not enough, Millie felt the rising tide of doubt; she recognized it as the same nagging uncertainty that had visited her since they started dating all those years ago.

Millie tried to keep a brave face but wasn’t sure what brave faces really looked like. Smiling felt wrong. She also tried to keep listening to her mother-in-law whose tone was no longer one of conspiratorial planning or maternal concern, but instead one of insistence for acting resolute, and Millie did not have resolve in her wheelhouse.

“Now, Millie. You and Tom must think about how you will care for these children when he is out of work. Unemployment will be coming in, but it won’t start immediately, and it certainly won’t be enough for all of you. How will you keep up with the rent and the grocery bills, and heaven forbid what if one of you gets sick?” Tom came into the kitchen as his mother made this final point. He took Millie’s arm as he glared at his mother, “Come on. Get the kids and get to the car. We are not staying. Let’s go.”

Fortunately, the children chattered the entire way home across town. Millie believed she could keep her tears at bay until she could be alone. Tom’s jaw fluttered from the gnashing of his teeth, and she knew by now to leave well enough alone.

When the children were hungry, Millie made them bologna sandwiches on leftover hamburger and hot dog buns. The children ate while Millie folded laundry and Tom watched television. Bath time happened despite Millie’s detachment, and the children found their beds without incident.

Instead of going to bed to lie in the darkness beside Tom’s frustration, Millie sat on the tattered sofa to wallow. In the event the plant closed, she imagined it would be some time from the announcement of the closing until Tom would be pacing the floor. Six months came to her, and she grabbed at the certainty it promised. Six months would give her time to save up some extra. Maybe she could start keeping kids again. They’d have to move. Her grandparents had a house they could rent. She knew they would be cramped, but she also knew her grandparents would be reasonable. She could work with her grandmother and earn a little extra money. She could start now, and in six months, they’d be ready. Just as she felt she had a sense of how this could work, the sun rose and the day began.

She heard Tom’s alarm clock, so she headed to the kitchen to make the coffee and his lunch. She heard the shower, so she changed her clothes in the bedroom. She found her courage in the children’s tousled awakenings and met Tom in the kitchen to wish him a good day. He left without speaking, but he did manage to kiss her forehead.

After the four oldest children caught the bus to school, she turned on the television expecting to hear a recipe on the local morning news. It was then she heard, “Plant officials wrapping up production and closure details. All jobs moving to Mexico. Employees receiving details. Plant to close in eight weeks.”


Written by: Elizabeth Savage
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll

A Proud Grandfather

Posted on: May 26, 2016


The smell of freshly brewed coffee lures me out of bed. I pour a cup, grab my wedding magazine, and walk outside to join Ken’s grandfather, Mr. Hamilton, on the porch. I sit down next to him on a handmade porch swing. I turn my head in the direction that he is looking and see a tall, broad shouldered, tanned man wearing a faded blue swimsuit. He is standing along the shoreline while the waves collide with his ankles. There is a blue board beside him, held up by his muscular arm.

“Ken was an amazing surfer. I wish he would give the waves a try again. His accident has scared him from returning to his passion, but I think if he went out there, everything would come back to him and he could take any wave that came his way.” Mr. Hamilton’s voice brings me back to reality. I try to concentrate on the conversation.

Mr. Hamilton shares Ken’s adventures of surfing. He starts with Ken’s first wave and hesitates at the tragic part: Ken’s accident. Mr. Hamilton’s eyes tear up, and I squeeze his hand.

“It’s okay, Mr. Hamilton, Ken has already told me about it. I’ve read the articles. You don’t need to share this part.” I give him a soft smile.

He puts his hand up in objection, “No, no, no. You don’t know the real story. I must share this with you.”

I sit back on the porch swing nod for him to go ahead. I look through the railing poles to observe Ken’s figure as I listen to Mr. Hamilton’s story of the accident.

“He took a magnificent wave. As he was about to escape from the billow, the lip of the wave slammed his head, knocking him off his board. The strength of the wave enveloped him and drove him head first into the coral reef. The lifeguards ran out to help him. When they brought his unconscious body out of the water,blood streaming out of his head from the gash, I never thought he would live.” Mr. Hamilton pauses to take a deep breath. “I thought Ken was dead.” His eyes shimmer with tears. I twist my engagement ring and thank God for Ken’s life.

I wish Ken never had to experience this part of his life. It ruined his fearlessness and left him with horrible symptoms that come and go. I think about the month after the accident--sometimes he couldn’t remember my name. He’s always tired now. He used to be the first one out of bed each morning, brewing the first batch of coffee. Now he naps during the day to try to fight off the fatigue and confusion that hits him by afternoon.

“He used to be brave and excited for where life would take him,” Mr. Hamilton adds, “but the accident ruined that. I believe if he swims out and takes a wave, he will remember his journey and all his success, all the medals he won.”

“Well, I think today might be the day,” I say, stretching my hand out to him to help him up. We walk towards the railing and Mr. Hamilton squeezes my hand in excitement. He can now see Ken swimming out into the ocean.

“Do you know why his parents named him Ken?” Mr. Hamilton asks while we wait for Ken to find the right wave.

“No, why?” I ask, eager to hear the story.

“Because ‘Ken’ means clear water. My daughter thought that it would be a perfect name for her baby boy. From the day he was born I could see it in his eyes, he had so much potential to be a great surfer. He could conquer any water he wanted to.” Mr. Hamilton smiles, his eyes glowing.

Ken floats in the water, the sun kissing his skin, and Mr. Hamilton keeps talking, about the Triple Crown, about the Mavericks Big Wave Surf, which he won at just seventeen.

As Mr. Hamilton continues his praise, I stare out at the ocean and notice a different movement in Ken. He’s sitting broadly on the board. I watch him shift his body, open his arms, and start swimming. Then I notice the large wave that he is trying to catch.

Ken turns his muscular body around, facing inland, and starts to swim toward us. Mr. Hamilton points out toward Ken and we descend the porch stairs to move closer, onto the sand.

“He’s going to do it!” Mr. Hamilton exclaims.

Ken swims faster and faster. He embarks on the wave, stands on his board, and sails through the barrel with a familiar confidence and control. Mr. Hamilton is ecstatic. My heart swells with pride for Ken, and I realize that this is the day that will change our lives forever. A feeling of relief washes over me. We can stop dwelling on the past and move on with our lives.

Ken clears the wave and throws a fist up in the air as he hollers in excitement. As he celebrates his victory, I notice his body rocking back and forth on the board. He slumps forward. My body tenses.

Ken falls sideways off his board into the waves. A lifeguard runs into the water, calling for others to help. I break away from Mr. Hamilton and run, burning the soles of my feet, and throw myself into the water. The waves splash over my head, making it difficult to reach Ken.

A large man pulls me out of an overpowering wave as it pushes me down. He carries me out and sets me on the shore. I look up and see a lifeguard’s bronzed, stern face looking down on me.

“Leave it to the professionals,” the man says in a deep southern accent.

He grips my arm so I can’t return to the ocean. His fingers dig into my sunburned skin, and I try to escape when he lightens his hold. Over and over again he stops me, and tells me to stay on the shore.

“Let me go!” I seethe, but in return he pushes me down on my knees. I am helpless on the scalding sand.

A few minutes later, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I look up and see Mr. Hamilton pointing toward a figure in the ocean. It gets closer and closer. Now it is so close to me that I can touch it. It’s Ken.


Written by: Kimberly Kupres
Photograph by: Blake Bronstad

Faerie Road

Posted on: May 24, 2016


A peculiar path wound through the fields behind Beaugenveu Estate. It was a long path that no one ever walked for fear of never walking back. Despite never being used, the grass on the path was always cut while the grass surrounding it grew vigorously. As was the way of Faerie roads.

The youngest Beaugenveu daughter, Alice, had grown up hearing horror stories about the Faerie road. She used to watch the path from her bedroom window night after night and wonder if what her nanny said was true. This sort of thinking was what drove Alice to walk the path one sunny, Sunday afternoon, and her cousin was either stupid enough or courageous enough to go with her.

"This is it?" Lena sighed. "I thought it would be more impressive."

"This is it," Alice confirmed. Lena gave it another disapproving look. Doubt crept up Alice's spine the longer Lena stared. "Come on. Staring doesn't do anything," she said, stepping onto the path. Lena was quick to follow.

High tendrils of grass swayed around the path like a green ocean. Like gleaming golden rays of sunlight, dandelions stood out against the green. The air of unease that had surrounded them slipped away with each step as the house grew smaller and smaller, leaving them smiling and laughing. Everyone was wrong; there was nothing scary about the path. Nothing at all.

The path stopped where the old family cemetery began. Both stared at the ancient iron gate for many moments before Alice spoke. "Let's have a look around," she breathed. Lena shrugged.

The cemetery was small with crumbling graves. "No one's been buried here since the path appeared," Alice whispered. "Said it was too dangerous."

They danced around gaping holes and fallen stones before coming to the center of the cemetery. A large brush cropped out of the ground and loomed over their heads. They stopped and stared at it for several moments.

"It looks like you can go inside," breathed Lena. A small fissure, more open in some places than others, ran between the two bushes. Beyond was darkness.

Alice nudged Lena in the back. "Go on then," she said. Lena stared at the gap, hesitant. "What are you waiting for? An invitation?" Alice laughed. Her cousin's mocking was not something Lena would put up with, so she brushed away the thoughts of danger beginning to cloud her mind and stepped into the bush.

Alice followed close behind and the two girls spread out in the small area. "How very mysterious," Alice laughed, looking around. Lena glanced around as well but her eyes stopped as they landed on a gentleman kneeling before a gravestone. "Do you think faerie-"

"Alice," Lena hissed. Alice quieted and turned to see what had disturbed her cousin. Her eyes quickly found the gentleman. He was watching them with eyes the color of silver and hair a glowing gold.

"Miladies," he greeted, slowly standing, brushing dirt off his opulent clothing. The unease Lena had felt before stepping in the bush washed over her again. There was something dangerous and also delightful about him. Lena wasn't sure which scared her most.

"I'm sorry, we'll leave." Lena grabbed Alice's wrist but her cousin wouldn't move. She was staring at the man as if he was the only thing in the world.

"You needn't." A shiver of terror raced down Lena's spine, and she tugged on Alice.

"We have to go." Alice didn't budge.

"In fact," continued the man. "I was just looking for a partner. I was on my way to a ball at my brother's kingdom." He smiled at Alice. "Do you like to dance?" A smile broke across Alice's face.

"Yes," she breathed, stepping towards him.

"Then come with me." He offered a hand and Lena pulled back on Alice, terror fully consuming her now. Alice kept walking, reaching for the man's hand. Lena felt her fingers slip from her cousin's arm, and she fought for grip. As Alice's fingers wrapped around his, she disappeared. Lena stared at where her cousin had just been standing with wide eyes.

"Would you like to come to the ball too?" the man asked Lena. His charm did not fight through her fear, and she whirled, tripping out of the bush.

Lena raced back to the path. Her pounding feet matched the frantic beating of her heart. Alice was gone, captured by a faerie. The path was just as dangerous as the stories said.

Clouds gathered with alarming speed and lightning shattered the sky. Rain began to fall in torrents and the world blurred until Lena didn't know up from down. She pushed forward, unsure of where she was, or where the path was, but determined to keep going.

Suddenly the rain dropped away as a canopy of leaves sheltered her. The forest unveiled itself around her, dark and foreboding. Lena jogged slowly down a random path, her waterlogged skirts weighing her down. She needed to get back to the estate, to tell Uncle Pete that Alice had disappeared, to send people out to find her. Could anyone be rescued from a faerie, though?

The forest was unfamiliar territory and somewhere in her heart, Lena knew she was hopelessly lost. She wouldn't let that seep into her mind, though. There was hope somewhere. There had to be.

A stick snapped behind her, and she whirled. She couldn't see anything through the murky light of the forest. Lena started on when a growl rumbled behind her. Again, nothing revealed itself to her. Lena remembered the hunt's master talking about wolves that lived in the forest. The thought continued to fuel her fear.

As if on cue, a giant wolf lunged from the shadows. Lena reeled back, screaming. Two other wolves followed the first. They slowly began to circle her. Ragged sobs began to rip from Lena's throat. She was going to die, in the middle of a forest, no one knowing where she was. She closed her eyes and waited for their attack.

Silence filled the forest clearing and Lean slowly gathered the courage to open her eyes. The wolves were gone. Lena felt her legs give out, and she hit the ground. Hopelessness filled her and she sobbed.

As she sat there, a hand patted her on the shoulder. "The ball would be much more fun than this." She looked up, finding the faerie man behind her. Lena nodded despite herself. "Come with me."


Written by: Cameron Mitchell
Photograph by: Kyle Hemmings

The Opposite of Fall

Posted on: May 19, 2016


Cara never got used to the uneven cobblestones. This city has been around since 753 BC, you’d think they would have mastered pavement by now. Her thoughts echoed in her mind as she navigated the narrow, sloped alley way. She couldn’t afford another fall. She gripped her messenger bag with one hand, while the other cradled the black knit scarf around her neck. The early morning chill in the March air already had soured her mood.

She emerged from between two brick buildings and noticed that the light above the Pastores’ door was on. I’ll have to remember to check on Signora Pastore tonight. Since moving to Rome eleven months ago, Cara and her husband had become close with their elderly neighbors, Signor and Signora Pastore. Signora Pastore joked that Cara was like the daughter she never had. Their two sons, now grown, had gone to live in America. Cara and Gregory’s presence balanced out their universe.

At the end of their vialetto, Cara exhaled as the sunlight touched her cheeks. Glancing at her watch, she realized that she could slow her pace—a rarity. Morning wasn’t her moment to shine. Though she loved her job, she had not adjusted to the schedule of nine-to-five work and doubted she ever would. Cara’s background in both art history and translation had made her the perfect candidate for her position. Her tiny office at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica was her sanctuary: by staring at documents related to old things, she could avoid thinking about new ones—or their absence.

                                                                                               ***

Gregory savored the smell of coffee in the morning. He carried a cup to his first class nearly every day and sipped it as his students meandered in. Though Rome reminded him of Manhattan in its aggression and masculinity, the eighteen-year-olds he taught did not carry the same frenzy in their bodies that their New York counterparts did.

Clapping his hands together once, he addressed today’s group of seventeen. The class reached capacity at twenty, but one thing Gregory’s Italian students did share with others around the world was the propensity of a few select people to be absent on days when quizzes were being given. “What did you think of the ending of The Dead? Was it satisfying? Did Joyce tie up the loose ends in the ways you expected?”

“Professore, what are these lose ends, as you say?” Alberto’s English was not as strong as that of the rest of the class. The class was to be taught in English, but Gregory often had to explain colloquial American phrases to the locals in their native tongue. Gregory sometimes marveled at his own situation—born and raised in New Jersey, but now teaching Irish literature to Italian undergrads.

“It is an expression, Alberto. Did Joyce give all of the information that you, as a reader, desired? This is something for you all to keep in mind, classe, as you do today’s quiz. In two pages, explore what Gabriel and Gretta can teach us about the nature of love. Begin now.”

                                                                                               ***

Cara’s cell rang just after lunch. The corner of the empty pizza box dangled over the edge of her desk, taking up more space than warranted by the single slice it had housed. Her notes were splayed in a fan-like pattern across her desk as Raphael’s La Fornarina eyed her curiously through her laptop screen. She hesitated just long enough before grabbing the phone. Only she would notice its multiple rings.

“Hey...” Her tone softened as she redirected her attention.

“So, I was thinking, how about I make that quinoa dish you like for dinner and we can catch a movie?” Gregory’s deep, calming voice had always had a slightly hypnotic effect.

“Uh. Yeah…that would be great. I won’t get home until seven though,” Cara responded.

“That’s fine. Your feast shall await,” he said with a laugh.

“Oh by the way, can you check in on Signora Pastore? I meant to see if she needed anything.” Cara’s mind drifted to their neighbor who recently had had surgery.

“Sure, see you tonight, love you,” Gregory replied.

“You too.”

He never asked why it took her an hour to get home when they lived ten minutes away and she finished at six. She never volunteered. Cara had been the nurturer until last fall, always giving and trying to please. Fate had reversed their roles. Grief is not an equalizer, but a reorganizer.

                                                                                               ***

At five after six, Cara left work and headed in the same trajectory as she did every day. At seven after six, Gregory knocked on Signora Pastore’s door. At six fifteen, Gregory’s phone rang. It was Cara’s number, but not her voice. Instead a woman said in broken English, “Signor, your wife has been injured. She promise she is okay, but we wait for you. Come to Chiesa degli Arcangeli.” Later, Gregory could not remember hanging up his phone, whether he said goodbye to Signora Pastore or running towards the church.

                                                                                               ***

Cara hadn’t seen the two teenage boys run up behind her. Their first meeting was one of physical connection. One slammed into her left side, knocking her to the ground. Her knees throbbed as she heard one of the boys laughing. Her palms stung. She remained frozen on the ground as they made their getaway. She began to weep, not only for this fall, but the one that came before, the one that took her future, their future.

Gregory dashed up to Cara and a middle-aged woman sitting beside her on a bench, handing her tissues. Cara started sobbing again when she saw him.

“Some kids pushed me and I fell. It caught me by surprise,” she explained. Gregory examined her wounds, and confident they weren’t serious, placed his arm around his wife. She rested her head on his chest, his chin nuzzling the back of her wavy hair. They sat wordlessly for an eternity of moments.

“She would have almost been here by now.” Cara’s whisper broke the silence. Michaela had been due on the first day of spring.

“I know, I know. . .” Gregory said softly, kissing the top her head. “Let’s go home.”

As they walked up the uneven cobblestone alley into the darkness, Cara noticed that Signora Pastore’s light was still on. A tiny green bud in the flower pot by her door stood like a sentinel, a harbinger of all that was yet to come.


Written by: Lauren Jonik
Photograph by: Jennifer Stevens

When Nothing Counts

Posted on: May 17, 2016


Gore wants to be a stuntman. Delilah wants to come with. Gore keeps telling her it’s not like that, none of the guys were bringing their girls. The policy is a strict No-Girlfriends-Allowed.

The two of them are on the Ferris wheel. It’s stuck again.

“I have to get out of here,” Delilah says, kicking the air as though it were water. “My mother’s driving me crazy. Bessie’s leaving for the convent next week and busy with her replacement sisters, so now it’s just me and Mother…you know last week, she dipped soybeans in bleach and had me hide them in every corner of the house? To kill off the critters, she said…but of course, critters don’t eat soybeans, so now they’re just sitting there, browning, these little rotten poison pills.”

Gore looks out over the fields. The line where the hills meet the horizon looks like it’s been drawn in by a paintbrush. The square red barns, haystacks singed orange, cows on trim green grass—all of it could’ve been inside a production studio. Brought to you by technicolor.

“I’ll make sundaes for us every day. You love my sundaes, Gore.” Delilah takes his arm and nuzzles it. “Sundaes with lime and coconut swirl for dinner, chocolate mousse for dessert.”

The boys in the carriage below are trying to get their attention. They’re banging against the glass with their fists. They’re making lewd signs with their hands. They’re thrusting their hips and wagging their tongues and waving their arms like monkeys.

“Oh, Gore,” Delilah says, her face now buried completely in his chest, “take me away.”

The fire department is assembled at the base of the Ferris wheel. Before the firefighters can begin their rescue, they must raise the ladder—before they raise the ladder, they must navigate the fire truck through the amusement park. Obstacles include: lake-sized patches of mud, roller coaster tracks, two adjacent tilt-a-whirls. Their biggest challenge is the crowd of booths near the entrance—inside these booths, pinstriped employees sit like puppets, looking up at the Ferris wheel as they spool cotton candy out of floss, dip hot dogs in corn batter.

Next to the firefighters stands Ms. Bristol, Gore’s teacher. Ms. Bristol recently advised Gore’s mother to hold him back until he could read at an eleventh grade level. When Gore learned of this, he walked straight to the fairground and played the high striker game until his arms went limp. It was a nice feeling, the hammer coming down. The bell shivering once it was hit. The puck rocketing up, speeding skyward, a ball of mercury in a fever-pitched thermometer.

Ms. Bristol was responsible for today’s last-day-of-school field trip. Over the years she’s chaperoned this event, she’s had to be counselor, arbitrator, nurse—now all she could do was wait, clutch her hands to the rim of her sun hat.

They should’ve closed the ride the last time this happened. The youngest Wilson boy had been alone on it, right at closing. For weeks after, he had nightmares of the circle detaching from its lateral support arms, rolling down the hill, gaining traction like some great hamster wheel. A rumor got around that, since then, the Wilson boy was sleeping with a blankie; the boys who beat him up are the same who, in the carriage below, are pounding heavier. Mouthing more aggressively.

This wasn’t the first time they’d taunted Gore, though their preferred target was his brother with the spine brace. If Gore’s father ever found out about the teasing, he’d show them. Gore’s father, a mechanic, could lift anything. One time he came home late and, arms swinging, scooped Gore in one hand and his brother in the other. Gore remembered his father’s fingers spreading under his ribcage, fitting into the trenches between the bones. When his brother started moaning about his back, and his mother begged for them to be put down, his father only raised them higher—almost to the ceiling, Gore stretched out every muscle in his body, testing his wingspan.

“We can be real adults together, Gore.”

Gore looks at Delilah, startled. Reality’s pretend, he wants to say. A real-life stuntman had once come to the auto body shop, and that’s what he’d said. Gore could tell he was a stuntman just from his muscles—the man could’ve lifted a whole Chevy if he wanted to. While Gore worked on the car, the two of them talked. The stuntman had lots of advice, about Hollywood, about agents, about executing a perfect backflip. At one point, the stuntman tossed some nuts and bolts on the ground like jacks and said, When nothing counts, might as well take a risk.

Delilah draws a heart on the corduroy of his pant leg. “Let’s have a baby, Gore.”

Gore leans forward and presses his hands against the glass. He’d done higher. The fences were around ten. The willow tree in the school ground was about this height, so was the telephone pole. The window of the silo had been even higher, though that leap had ended badly.

He looks back at Delilah—Delilah looks real pretty and plush, there, facing the sunset. They’d been an item for so long, he’d forgotten how nice her features were. Those soft creases on her lips. The rosebuds under her cheeks. Was it the light, or had she started wearing makeup?

The boys below had fogged the glass and, in the cloud, drawn two stick figures—one small Gore-boy, one small Delilah-girl—engaged in something obscene.

Gore looks out and stands. He takes a small step forward, pushing his weight against the glass door until it opens. Wind rushes against his face and neck. He reaches above to steady himself and slings one leg over the sill, then another. Positioning his feet squarely below his shoulders, he tenses his calves for impact.

Last step, Gore thinks, is to close your eyes—close them tight enough to see little stars behind your lids.

“Watch me, Delilah.”


Written by: Frani O'Toole
Photograph by: Siyan Ren

Refuge

Posted on: May 12, 2016


Naamah stood atop the city wall, gazing out over the hills and the sea. She was twelve years old, the age of gifting. She waited for her mother to summon her.

The night before, she had a dream that a giant egg cracked open and the yolk spilled out, flooding the land and many cities. She saw people drown in rivers of gold, reaching for the sky as they cried out to God. Naamah was frightened when she awoke; she wrapped herself up in a blanket to find comfort in sunrise. Dreams are important, but Naamah could not bring herself to tell her mother or father, for she also saw them die in the dream.

“Naamah, the Ziz requests your presence. It’s time to go,” her mother said, hands resting on Naamah’s shoulders from behind.

“Mama, has Jubal returned from the Ziz?” Naamah asked. Her half-brother had ventured out to receive his gifting some weeks before.

“He returned last night, but he is overcome. Your father says that he has been consumed with crafting strange objects from string and bone. He has not revealed the nature of his gifting to your father or his mother.”

They held hands as they descended from the city wall and approached the small caravan of traders that would lead Naamah part of the way to the Ziz.

“My gift was given by the Leviathan, so I cannot tell you the nature of the Ziz, but she is known to be kind to those who come to her with an open heart,” her mother said.

Naamah’s other brother, Tubal Cain, helped her into a cart. Naamah noticed her father, Lamech, in the distance with his other wife, Adah. He looked away from Adah for a moment and locked eyes with Naamah, offering a smile and a nod before disappearing into their home. She tried not to be jealous of Adah, who possessed most of her father’s attention now that she was pregnant.

Naamah watched Tubal Cain and her mother embrace, then he climbed into the cart with her, taking the reigns.

                                                                                                   ***

It took three days to reach the trade town by the sea. Tubal Cain was an artisan; he created beautiful figures from copper and iron. People came from far and wide to purchase his animal renderings and statues of the Great Creatures. Their family lived well because of him.

The caravan came to a stop on the northwest side of town where they would pitch their trade tents. Naamah hopped down from the cart and gazed out over the sea, at the mountain on the other side of the harbor.

“Are you taking me to the Ziz, brother?” Naamah asked.

“No, you will go alone,” he said.

“But how will I know where she is?”

“You’re looking at her. She is the mountain, Naamah,” Tubal Cain said with a hushed voice of reverence.

Naamah looked back at the mountain.

“The Ziz knows you are here. She will come to you, but you must meet her halfway.”

Tubal Cain led her to a small boat with a single oar and held her hand as she stepped inside. She took the oar in her hands and watched the ripples form on the surface of the water, dread setting in.

“Mother’s blessing from the Leviathan extends to you. You will be safe.”

Tubal Cain gave the boat a shove and Naamah dipped the oar into the water and made her way toward the mountain.
                                                                                                   ***

The Ziz, the great bird of heaven, stood in the middle of the sea. What looked like a mountain was her body, and she extended ever upward past the clouds. She could not see the great bird’s head. For a moment, she felt dizzy and grasped the sides of the boat to keep from falling forward.

Then, the Ziz lowered her head from the canopy of clouds. It seemed to take hours for her to dip down toward the sea, the tip of her beak touching the surface of the water and rocking the boat with waves. Her eyes were the size of wagon wheels and the feathers of her orange crest blocked the sun. There was a voice that resonated in Naamah’s chest. The tears fell from her eyes and she smiled, her heart full.

“What is this sound, this beauty welling up inside my soul?” Naamah asked the Ziz.

“I give you the gift of song,” Naamah heard the Ziz say. “You will sing of creation and of heaven. You will sing of dreams and of what will come to pass. You have already seen, have you not?”

Naamah recalled her dream, the golden flood drowning cities.

“You must sing to one who is coming, to one whom you will love. He is not yet born, but you will hear his cry soon.”

Naamah thought of Adah’s swelling belly, and the jealousy dissipated. A feeling of love and responsibility took its place.

“When will I give him the song, holy one?” Naamah asked.

“When he is gifted, but he will not come to me nor will he receive his gift from the Leviathan or the Behemot. His gift will come from on high, but you must sing it over him.”

The sky began to shift from blue to orange to a deep, dark pink before violet spread a blanket of night and stars.

“I will lift you up to the throne of the Creator, and I will teach you to sing.”

The Ziz took Naamah into her beak with care and lifted her head from the sea up toward the sky. Naamah felt her soul tremble within her, felt songs begin to well up in her throat. She could feel her half brother’s song growing like a vine from her heart as images of the great flood played behind her eyes. Naamah closed her eyes, feeling heaven envelope her with a sacred chill, and the first note of that song left her lips. The first note would be his name.

“Noah.”


Written by: Natasha Akery
Photo by: Anthony Delanoix

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