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

The Fortunate Beasts

Posted on: August 17, 2016


Heights aren’t really my thing, so I only look down briefly. Just enough to get the gist. Some crazy motherfucker, spinning in circles, riding his bike on the walls. A blur that defies both gravity and sanity. I’m not here to watch a sideshow though.

I shift my gaze to the assembled crowd. A lot of families. Honest, wholesome people. Curiosity seekers who love the spectacle, the magic. The type who hold their breath and offer prayers even though basic physics says what these daredevils are doing is relatively safe. Especially for skilled professionals.

And there are the others. Gawkers, I call them. Those that want the rider to fail, that want to see the carnage. The type of people who get off on pain. A couple of them recognize me, they point and smile and whisper to each other and I know they will be here later too, after the fair closes to the public. They will be here to watch me.

***

The walls don’t look as tall from the bottom of the wooden pit. The air tastes like burnt rubber and gasoline. This is definitely a first for me, but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve fought in all sorts of places. Rundown boxing rings. Empty swimming pools. Old warehouses. Cement pits still slick and sticky with the blood of unfortunate animals, forced to fight for the amusement of the most fortunate beasts of all.

I look at the crowd. It’s mostly men, though there are some brave females sprinkled throughout. I see the guys that recognized me earlier and give them a nod. My eyes continue around the makeshift ring until finally, I find her.

We met at a party in L.A. a couple years back; both part of the evening’s entertainment. I was there to fight. She was there to fuck. It’s not pretty but it’s what we do, how we survive. We make our way with blood and sweat. It’s all we have, the tears dried up long ago.

She tries to smile. She doesn’t want to watch me fight. I know how she feels, the hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach that’s slowly creeping up her throat until it almost chokes her. It’s why I can’t watch her videos. But tonight, I need her here. I don’t trust anyone else, and neither does she.


* * *

My old man used to say that once you get used to the taste of blood, you’ll learn to like it. Maybe he said it as a way to cope with some deep down guilt about smacking me across the mouth. Maybe he had no guilt and just said it to try and toughen me up. Either way he was full of shit, I’m used to it, but I still hate the taste.

I hate the pain too, but there’s no getting used to that. The throbbing knuckles, raw and swollen and disjointed. The short, stifled breaths as my lungs try to expand and contract in a cage of broken ribs. The electric jolt as my nose breaks for the hundredth time. There are no romantic notions here. None of that Tyler Durden, fighting makes me feel alive bullshit.

I fight because it is my gift, beaten into me by a man who was supposed to love me, who was supposed to take care of me. In a sad, sick way, I guess he did. My gift will be my escape.

I glance back up at her. She gives me a weak smile. She understands. In the dark of night, she fell prey to her father too.

* * *

I stare across the wooden pit at my opponent. The last of the gypsy kings, champion of the Irish bare-knuckle brawlers. One hundred ninety pounds of pure gristle and bone. Stories of his fights have reached near mythic proportions in the dimly lit backrooms where such things are spoken of.

But most of this blood-thirsty crowd isn’t here for him. He isn’t the one with millions of views and thousands of followers on Youtube. He isn’t the one dubbed by the media as the “Lord of the Underground.” In this world, he is a relic, a boxer who has never studied the militaristic martial arts of sambo and krav maga, who couldn’t tell you the difference between jiu jitsu and a jujube. Tonight is being promoted as a crossroads, a generational shift, the passing of the torch from the old school to the new. 

The murmurs of the crowd begin to build. I hear the bookies screaming, taking last minute action. The odds have increased. It’s up to seven to one for me. I try to shut out everything and everyone.

The referee brings us together. He explains the rule. The only rule; we go until one of us can’t.

I study my opponent’s face. His scars are a roadmap of hell. I look into his eyes. I don’t expect to see fear, but it’s right there, in plain sight. Has it been too long? When was the last time he fought?

We shake hands and start to cirlce. My jab fires quickly, mashing his lips into his teeth. I jab again and swing for an overhand right but his uppercut collides with my chin. I crumple to the ground. He swarms quickly and I can do nothing but cover up as he rains down punches. His fists dance, finding their mark again and again. I look towards the referee. He won’t interfere until I’m out cold or I submit. Another punch lands flush. I tap and the ref pulls him off me. The crowd erupts, some cheering, most jeering. I look up and find her in the crowd.

I read her lips. “Are you okay?”

I spit blood on the ground and nod.

* * *

As we sign the papers on the RV, I look at her. It was all her idea. Not long after we met, I asked her what would make her happy.

“The open road,” she said as she weaved her fingers into mine. “Just you and me and the open road.”

“And how exactly do we do that?” I asked.

And so she figured out a way. The videos. The internet celebrity. All her creations. She saved every dime we made from exploiting our bodies and when the right time came along she bet it all.

On the other man.

Losing doesn’t hurt bad at all when it pays so well.




Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Where the Wild Went

Posted on: August 11, 2016


Flames lick at the leaves. Burning captured in photos. The pictures flash over the stage, stretched into obscurity, but Pike knows them. A forest eaten by fire, frame after frame. 

Light pools and melts over their guitars; Pike purchased his sister’s portfolio for this purpose.

He drinks in the darkness off stage, large lungfuls of dank air from the club. Tonight Helen and the Torches are the headliners and he is not Pike, but Flint. No longer labeled a Flynn Twin.

Beer on the shoe, in the mouth, alcohol slows…the…songs…down. Acoustics arc the soul into shape.

Pike wonders what’s happened to live shows. The painful beat in the ear, in the head. Understanding the lyrics like no one else. The beauty of lavender light from stage on skin. Hot kiss of melody sung just off-key enough to be endearing.

Now people want perfection.

Their filters are new and they are new and he wonders why they can’t trust their own memories.

He only trusts what he remembers.

Keeps the music his own.

* * *

Pike took a beer out past the tree line, walked until the bonfire burned like a lit match in the distance. He’d been led from town by the blaze; hot and thick and delicious.

“Thought you'd forget, Pember,” he said.

His sister joined after the beer was gone, sipped slow, can crushed in his hand.

“A promise is sacred,” she said, smiling through her discomfort.

Pike knew she didn’t like the past.

They unearthed the plastic Power Rangers thermos, which once fit into the matching lunchbox before Louis Alexander stole it during their third grade field trip to the Jell-O museum. Pemberley had kissed Pike’s forehead after, took him to bury the dead.

His thermos had lost its twin.

“You’ll do the same when I die,” she’d said.

They’d sworn with paper cuts pressed together: “To be opened again, before we become different.”

College was coming.

They knew the world would change them.

Pike popped the lid, revealed old things inside. Their dad’s favorite matchbox car. Papers and pens.

Their secrets.

“Ever think, maybe, we were never the people we were supposed to be?” Pike asked.

“You think you’re so much smarter,” Pemberley said. The words arrived soft and sure, and they sounded raw. Too real. And it hurt Pike to hear this from his twin.

“Belongs to you,” he said, handing a piece of paper with her small, seven-year-old print on the lines.

“One secret for another,” she said, using her phone’s light. “Always Remember: Never trust dreams. They’re not real. Don’t show your emotions until night. Kids ruin you. Don’t fall. Always be strong.”

“That’s—Pember, do you—”

“Just give me your secret.”

“I don’t hate him,” he said, spinning the wheels of the matchbox between his fingers. He scrunched up his nose to keep himself from crying.

He knew, even as he said it, that the words weren’t the same for his sister. She’d needed their dad, and he hadn’t been there. Their father had left once when they were six, again when they were nine. He’d returned broken, and maybe Pemberley still blamed him for being weak, but he would never ask. And the silent way she still hurt had always been enough to keep him quiet, too.

“God, Pike. He’s not a parent. Not the way he should be.”

“Dad will miss us,” Pike said. “He loves us.”

He needed the words to mean something.

“Used to think that, too. But maybe he just loves the parts of us that belong to him. Your name, like some fucked up fishing trophy. My eyes. The way we fight. Whatever. But that’s not love.”

He wanted to write her a poem then about love being the wild within them, how he only felt it around her. But they walked back to the bonfire without words. Pike first, Pemberley a few steps behind.

* * *

Too often, he sees her in trees, the way leaves flutter. Pike uses her pictures throughout the set, his own paramnesia. The destruction. The death of it all. He believes this is his sister.

There are nights when he tries to find the only girl really watching. Other times, he searches for the one staring at anything but them. He can’t know how she’d watch, feel his music. But he hopes she wouldn’t want to sway with strangers who only see the show through phone screens. She might read about his band while openers calibrate voices and instruments to octaves she couldn’t care about. She’d still need him to sing some sense into her.

They’d parted ways; separate colleges on separate coasts where they’d needed to become separate people. The distance never meant anything. He knew they’d come back together for the important things.

After their dad died, she didn’t come home. She sent him a postcard, featuring a picture she’d taken on assignment. It was hers, words her own, too. But none of it was his sister. None of those things were real. Pemberley promised: see you soon. but not now. not for this.

The image of her first forest fire in Wyoming is obliterated by those words, projected on his face, in the song. He plays the opening chords of “Heart Attack,” croaks the first line: “She was obsessed with time.” But he doesn’t finish it, because he can’t. His father’s death is still too real.

He knows he could’ve been the one to go to her after.

But he is here now with music and words and the past trapped somewhere between them; the betwixt formed and fossilized from too many months of not speaking.

Now, when they open with “Of Embers and Pyres,” he understands her obsession with fire, bones breaking into dust; their father’s cremation too much like a Viking ritual.

Pike’s lyrics take the crowd to distant places: “Soon you’ll hear this song, and remember the fire. They will know your name. Sing of embers and pyres. Pemberley, Pember. All of us, liars…”

And they sing with him, voices in unison. Each of them calls her out instead of him, sets Pike free.

The blame should burn.

When Pike sings about her now, he gives her to empty people waiting to be filled, and they take her. He wonders if the crowd understands she’d burn down an entire town if given the chance. Watch it disappear.



Written by: Kayla King
Photograph by: Justin Maher

A Beautiful Place

Posted on: August 9, 2016


There are dead things in the whirlpool. On hot summer days you can smell the remains of fish and birds and other victims of the river rotting in the sun.

Today is one of those days. The sun has just entered the sky and already it’s baking the world. The dead things that have been thrown from the swirling water fester on the banks of the whirlpool. Other dead things are still caught in the current. They’re hidden from view by movement, by the white water churning and spinning. The current keeps them for a long time, but eventually all the detritus are tossed out and wash up on shore. I wonder if I’ll join them.

I never liked Niagara Falls. It’s the sort of place that lets you know how close we all are to chaos. Other cities do a better job of hiding the animal madness of us, the ugly, the mean, the horny. This is a place that you could easily imagine abandoned and falling apart. So much of it already I s. The restaurants and shops and churches, now empty for decades. No one cares to fix them up. Those who build in the area, build new.

I hear Sam grunting with exertion. I want to fight back but I can't. Something broke inside me with that last kick to the spine. I can't feel my arms trailing along the dirt path, or my ankles that he holds tight, pulling me through the forest.

There’s blood in my mouth. I can feel it but I can't taste it and that scares me more than anything. I know the taste of my own blood. Last night wasn't the first time Sam hit me. I want to think it won't be the last, but I'm afraid that would be a lie.

“You should’ve never talked to me like that,” Sam says. His voice is trembling. He’s scared. He isn't mad anymore like he was when I mocked him last night. I shouldn't have. I know it, but I didn't want him climbing on top of me with the chlorine stink all over him from his shift at the water park. I should have said I was sick instead of getting mouthy.

Sam was the first person I met in Niagara Falls. I hitchhiked here from Oshawa to see a wonder of the world and instantly wanted to say fuck this whole thing and thumb it back home. Only, I didn't have a home to thumb it too. My home was supposed to be with Aunt Jen and her pervert husband but neither of them were missing me.

I heard the rumble first. It was hidden under the sounds of cars and tourists. I kept heading down hill and the sond kept growing. Soon I could hear it over all the other sounds of this shitty little city. It was everywhere. Next I saw the mist on the horizon. It rose above the buildings, stretching for the sky, like a cloud, and I knew I was getting closer.

The roar of the whirlpool is different than the falls. It fills my ears as I'm pulled helplessly through the forest. Sam drops my feet and stumbles away from me. I see him leaning against a tree. I think he’s vomiting. After, he falls on his knees beside me.

“I’m sorry, baby. You know I didn't mean to,” he sobs into my hair.

He has puke and mucus on his chin, and my blood on his hands. I want to move but nothing is listening.

When Sam brought me home I knew to be afraid of him – grown men who bring home homeless girls are trouble. He had a place on the edge of town, run down and faded like all the rest of this crap city. There’s no heart to this city. There’s a centre which fades to decay as you near the edges where it finally blends with the rural areas that surround it. Sam’s house sat, across from an abandoned warehouse and beside a forgotten train track. His place was near the whirlpool. I’d never heard of the whirlpool, but it was beautiful too.

Sam was old and ugly, but he took care of me so I didn't fight back when he started getting mean. I knew I could end up worse places. He didn't ask for weird sex stuff and when he was in a good mood he was funny. I know it's true—he didn't mean to kill me.

My first day in Niagara, when I finally found the waterfall, I was shocked by the colour of it. None of the pictures I saw ever captured the green of that water. I thought someone must have dyed it. I forgot that the falls weren't fake like the rest of this town. It wasn't made by man, but by thousands of tons of water crashing through rock and time. The river was real, and it didn't matter that all this ugliness had built up around it – the river was a beautiful place in the world.

Sam’s stopped crying and he's on his knees, rolling me over the rock. I know where we are. He brought me here once to sit on the ledge over the whirlpool. He wanted to hold hands, but I didn't want to hold his where tourists and families could come by and see us. I remember the view, the churning turquoise water and the forest all around.

I know now this is the end. I will fall from this cliff into the whirlpool and my body will be sucked into the current. I want it to stay there forever, bouncing around with the dead fish and raccoons and whatever else might be in there. I don't want to wash up and be found baking in the sun. I don't want them taking me back to Aunt Jen and her dick-head husband so they can cry over a grave and say they did what they could to help me. I don't want to think of Sam in a prison for the rest of his days.

My body rolls off the edge of the cliff and into the air. I don't want to think of any of that ugly shit while I fall through the sky. Instead, I think of the swirling green water, and I remember that the world is a beautiful place.



Photograph and Story by: Sarah Scott

Half Horse

Posted on: August 4, 2016



“Cygnus 731 preparing for contact.”

The ship’s voice is metallic and feminine. The crew calls her Marta, a common North American name after the collapse of the Great Wall between the United States and Mexico. Cygnus 731 has been in orbit for close to three Earth years, which seems paltry, but the days have crept by like a lizard trapped inside for too long, eager to feel the sun and the wind on her skin. When Marta announced the presence of another ship within their vicinity, they were terrified and overjoyed at once.

“Marta, can you confirm if the ship is Deneb 864?” asks the captain.

Captain Liza Frederickson stands with hands on her hips, staring up at the smart screen in the command center. Sweat beads on her upper lip and loose strands from her high and tight pony tail are pasted against her forehead from the ten-mile run on the treadmill.

“I will be able to confirm in thirty seconds, Captain,” Marta replies.

“Going after Deneb 864 has been like chasing a chihuahua back into the yard,” says Sergeant Ballard.

“Yes, Captain,” Marta beings. “The ship is Deneb 864. Establishing contact now.”

“Deneb 864, Cygnus 731 approaches. Do you copy?”

The static is soft and distant before a cavernous silence replaces it. Captain Frederickson closes her eyes, praying for a response.

“What is the worst case scenario? Everyone is dead?” she wonders aloud.

“We’d just hook ships and head home if that were the case. Maybe if visitors have control of the Deneb, but that’s unlikely,” Sergeant Ballard says.

“Copy.”

The crew approaches behind her, eyes wide as they stare at the screen, waiting for more than a single word answer.

“Excellent. What is your status? Is anyone harmed?” Captain Frederickson asks.

“All is well. The Half Horse flourishes.”

“The heck is a half horse?” Sergeant Ballard hisses.

“He’s talking about the galaxy, sir,” Officer Truno whispers, rolling her eyes and folding her arms over her chest.

For centuries, the Milky Way ripped apart another galaxy named Sagittarius, pulling its stars and planets into itself, making them orphans and claiming them as her own. Earth is one of Sagittarius’ orphans. Deneb 864 and her crew went in search of answers of humankind’s parentage within the remnants of the ravaged galaxy.

“I am Captain Liza Frederickson. Who speaks?”

“Larak Nergal, right hand of Ninsun Uras.”

Captain Frederickson narrows her eyes, then turns her head to look back at Sergeant Ballard. He shakes his head.

“I wish to speak with Captain Fletcher Gallo.”

“Fletcher Gallo met his end in orbit. We have tended to his remains so that you may return them to his Earth family,” Larak says.

Cygnus 731’s crew shifts, murmuring to one another. The command center in Guadalajara mentioned the possibility of the ship being overtaken.

“Is Ninsun Uras your captain, sir?” Frederickson asks.

“Ninsun Uras, may she live in our hearts, is Monarch of the Heavenly Region in place of her father Anu.”

“And the crew - are they well, Nergal?”

“Yes, lady. They have been escorted to the Heavenly Region to recuperate after an arduous and unfruitful journey.”

“Finding an alien race hardly seems unfruitful,” chimes Sergeant Ballard.

“We desire contact with you so that you may return the Deneb ship back to your home planet. Ninsun Uras recognizes its value and does not wish to commandeer it,” Nergal says.

The screen flickers once.

“Image calibrating,” Marta states.

Cyngus 731’s crew beholds Larak Nergal, a dark-skinned man who looks no older than twenty four Earth years, green eyes clear and illuminated by screen light.

“When will the crew be able to rejoin Deneb 864, Larak Nergal?” Captain Frederickson asks.

“They will not rejoin, Captain.” Nergal’s voice is matter of fact.

“Pardon?”

“Captain Frederickson, the crew has suffered much. They wish to be still. To root down. To remain at home.”

Captain Frederickson’s armpits start to itch from the accumulating sweat, her toes curling in her boots with anxiety.

“To remain at home?” she asks.

“Yes, Captain. You and your crew are welcome home as well. Suffering several incarnations in another galaxy takes its toll on sensitive souls.”

“Sir, Deneb 864’s crew as well as ours have families that await them on Earth. I have made a promise to reunite them.”

“Yes, and we shall give you the body of Captain Fletcher Gallo; he died in the Heavenly Region so he will reincarnate in the Sagittarius galaxy. Your comrades have chosen to remain; when they pass, their souls will sanctify those of their families. All souls will reunite in Sagittarius. I understand this is troubling news; we will give you letters and recordings made by your sister crew alongside Captain Gallo.”

“It’s not just troubling, Nergal. It is hard to believe. I wish to board at once,” Captain Frederickson says, followed by her crew’s soft protest behind her.

“Of course, Captain. Ninsun Uras expected nothing less; she is eager to see you.”

When Cygnus 731 and Deneb 864 merge, the ships tremble. Captain Frederickson and her crew stand in the transfer bay.

“Sergeant Ballard, if I do not return, disconnect and retreat.”

Blue and white lights illuminate the transfer bay. Captain Frederickson walks forward, Cygnus 731’s doors closing behind her. Her footsteps and heartbeat are loud in her ears as the lights dim and her breath quickens. She is no longer alone.

“Liza. I am Ninsun Uras,” says a still, soft voice in the dark. “I implore you, come home to us. You have endured seven incarnations in the Milky Way; seek respite in the Heavenly Region.”

Captain Frederickson can see nothing, but she feels suddenly weary. So many lifetimes, so much suffering. Oh, to lie down. To find peace. To be still.

She feels Ninsun Uras draw her close, but she is not afraid. Captain Frederickson wants nothing more than to shed the fragile skin of this lifetime, and release the karmic turbulence of her previous incarnations.

“Welcome home, sister. I have missed you so much.”



Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Rob Gregory

Live a Great Story

Posted on: August 2, 2016


Dakota Foreman faced the bright orange brick wall, staring at the eye-level sign. Underneath the words LIVE A GREAT STORY would be an ironic place to die, but that is what she thought she might do.

The middle-aged man behind Dakota reburied his pistol into the twenty-two-year-old's lower back. The barrel was hot from the warning shot he had just fired. It burned Dakota’s skin through her shirt.

The man had startled Dakota, jumping into her backseat as she was leaving the gym. She was trying to text the boyfriend she wanted to break up with that she had quit her job. The man’s gun was up before she could dial 9-1-1.

He made Dakota drive to the outskirts of Charleston. Now they stood in front of an empty building in an abandoned part of the commercial district.

“You’re the final piece to the puzzle I’ve been putting together for the past twenty-four years.”

Dakota felt the pistol barrel dig deeper into her lower back, pushing her forward towards the wall. She had cried the entire drive out to this location. But her nerves had calmed since she parked the car and climbed out.

“Peel off the sticker,” said the man.

Dakota hesitated for a moment.

“Three seconds,” said the man, raising the gun to poke into Dakota’s rib cage. “I don’t have all day.”

Dakota jumped forward and dug her fingers into the brick at the left edge of the sticker. The adhesive held at first. Dakota felt the brick scratching away her green nail polish while the sticker refused to budge.

Eventually, Dakota successfully pulled the sticker away, revealing a circular stone carved to resemble a screaming face. There were two dots for eyes, a big mouth and three slits on each cheek.

“What is that?” asked Dakota.

She partly asked because she had no idea why there was a screaming face cut into the wall – or why it had been covered up by a sticker. But she also asked because the face had an unexplained effect on her. For the first time in years, she felt at home.

“A doorway.”

“To where?”

“That’s for us to find out,” the man replied. “Push it.”

Dakota’s gut told her to oblige. Her mind screamed in protest.

“Why me?” she asked, biding time to settle her internal conflict.

“Because I’ve seen enough Indiana Jones movies. And I have the gun.”

“Fair enough,” replied Dakota.

Like the man, Dakota had seen plenty of Indiana Jones movies. She knew what happened to the no-names who messed with secret doors and mystical objects. But her gut told her she was far from a no-name here.

Dakota took two deep breaths and slammed her palm into the stone face. The rock resisted at first, holding its ground. Then there was a soft click and the piece slid back into the brick wall.

A soft hum started behind the stone face. It quickly turned to a louder buzz. Dakota peeked over her shoulder at the man behind her, but he looked just as perplexed by the sound.

Then the buzzing intensified.

“What’s happening?” asked Dakota.

“The door’s opening.”

“What door?”

Dakota had confirmed multiple times there was no door. But as she turned around, she saw that was no longer true.

The buzzing was thunderous now. The ground shook and the bright orange wall that had previously rested before them was splitting and folding away. When the rumbling stopped and the wall settled, there was now an empty doorway leading to pitch black mystery.

“I was right,” said the man, stepping up next to Dakota. “You’re one of them.”

“One of what?”

“An Atlantean,” he said. “I found the way to Atlantis.”

Suddenly, the smile was gone as a spear flew from the darkness and tore through the man’s midsection. In horrified shock, he looked down at the back of the spear protruding from his stomach. He dropped the gun, collapsed to his knees and then fell to his right.

Dakota froze next to the man. She wanted to run, but her legs refused.

A mountain of a man scooted through the doorway and stepped out in front of Dakota. His dark brown beard was thick, bushy and stretched down past his chest. His hair was pulled back into a braid that extended down the same distance. The man did not wear a shirt, revealing skin bronzed as if it had never missed a minute in the sun. His muscles were ripped – taut, holding another spear, ready to throw at Dakota.

The man’s expression quickly shifted from anger and questioning to recognition. Then a smile appeared.

In a deep, rumbling voice, he stated something in a language Dakota did not understand.

Chills rushed up her spine. Chills of relief.

“You’ve arrived,” the man said in English. “The princess is home.”

Dakota’s eyebrows jumped at the word ‘princess.’

“Follow me,” said the man, waving for Dakota to follow him.

She followed. The other side of the doorway was not the dark cavern she expected. Rather, Dakota found herself in awe of a white marble walkway lined by a majestic ceiling, grandiose walls and Greek-like columns.

“Where are we?” asked Dakota, walking along the Atlantean’s side.

“This is a portal station. A bridge between our world and theirs.”

“Our world?”

“Yes,” said the Atlantean. “Ours. Including yours. Heirs to the throne spend their formative years above so they can better understand the land humans. So that you can empathize with them.”

“I’m from Atlantis?”

“Everything will come back to you once you’re home.”

“And who was that?” asked Dakota, peeking back over her shoulder to where they had left the armed man.

“Doctor Higgins has spent the better part of three decades hunting proof of our existence.”

“I’d say he found it.”

“He has found proof before,” said the Atlantean. “But he was obsessed with proof he could share.”

Dakota and the Atlantean stopped at a set of tall stone doors, having reached the end of the long walkway. The man banged his fist on the door in front of him three times.

“I hope he lived a great story,” he said. “Or at least a good enough story for him.”



Written by: Kevin Treaccar
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart

Abandonment Issues

Posted on: July 28, 2016


We stopped across the street from the building and got out of the basic white rental car, economy-sized, like my budget. I remembered what an Arizona July was like when my hand touched the chrome door handle. “Dammit!”

”What's wrong?” asked the real estate agent. The building was already mine, along with the forty acres of land it stood on. He told me a woman shouldn't be out on the highway alone, and insisted on coming with me. I think he was afraid that, after I saw the place up close, I would stop payment on my check. I wasn't afraid of going thirty miles out of town--I had backpacked alone in areas more remote than that.

“Nothing.” I stared at the building. Most people would bulldoze it. I would rebuild it.

I stood across the street, digging for memories I didn't have. All I knew of my beginnings was a street address on a two-lane highway, Route 66, in the middle of Bumfuck, Egypt. Just being there made me think I should remember my past, but, like every other time, there was nothing but wasted dreams.

I wondered why my mother abandoned me here, at a soda fountain, outside in the August heat, wearing a diaper and a onesie. She must have known I'd grow up to be too tall, skinny, and awkward to be adopted, or for a man to take home to his mother and claim me as his own.

My heart felt a strange kinship with the building, a certain kind of loneliness mixed with pride. Neither of us needed anyone. Yet, we both wanted love and care. Its doors and windows had been boarded against the elements, a wall of protection put up to keep others out. That protection was eroding and, before it was noticed, the building would be taken, reclaimed by the earth. I wondered how long it had been abandoned. For me, it had been forty years.

The cement signpost had crumbled and fallen. There used to be neighbors on either side, a gas station and a curio shop. Both were gone. Not far down the highway stood the crumbling remains of the Sleep Tight Motor Motel. There was a time when Route 66 was an essential, well-used route across the country. Now it was the middle of nowhere and no one would come for a blue-plate special and homemade pie.

It was time to get closer. I didn't bother to look both ways. We'd been out there for ten minutes and had seen no cars. I strode across the street, leaving Mr. Real Estate standing next to the car. He watched me walk toward the building. Rejects like me can feel staring eyes. He'd done nothing on the drive but clear his throat and chain smoke. He was one of those people who smoked and twitched like he didn't need any caffeine, but couldn't get enough nicotine.

Standing at the door, I shifted from one foot to the other, looking down and picking out little pieces of the cement step with the toe of my boot. From across the street the two big windows and shredded awnings glared at me like two hooded eyes. Maybe mysteries would be revealed when I opened the door. Chances were good it wouldn't be the one I wanted, but never needed, to solve, the identity of my mother.

I peeked over the edge of the plywood that covered the glass door. Amazingly, part of the soda fountain was still there, the stainless steel backsplash and counters dusty and dulled by time. Poles stuck out of the cement in front of the main counter. I imagined them topped with red and white vinyl seats to match the deteriorated upholstery in the booths. A jukebox would have played the latest Beach Boys hit, maybe the Turtles or Herman's Hermits. The plastered ceiling had fallen into the middle of the room, all but blocking access to the rest of the building. There had to be a kitchen, at least one restroom, and a back door for disappointed boys to run away through.

I took a deep breath. The door knob turned easily, inviting me inside. My eyes scanned the interior of the building. I imagined the smell of the breakfasts my mother would have made had she worked here. I would have liked eggs and bacon with white bread toast. She would have cut off the crust just for me, her little girl. Today, it smelled like hot dust kicked up by a car speeding away. I reached up and pulled down more of the ceiling. A scorpion fell from above and scurried through the weeds that had sprung up through the tiled floor. With the heel of my cowboy boot, I crushed it with murderous nonchalance and kicked it out the open door with the same attitude. I glanced outside. The real estate agent still stood by the car, twitching. The only thing that didn't move was his helmet of black hair. He didn't engender respect or trust. He made me nervous. I was glad he was no longer needed for my adventure.

I half-crawled over the fallen ceiling, and found two bathrooms and the kitchen. A large and lonely tumbleweed stood in for the bottom half of the back door. Wires from the old lights still hung from the ceiling. I would hang new lights, the color of red lipstick my mother may have worn. I took photos with my cell phone and measured each room with a measuring tape. My mind spun with plans, opportunities. I would make the building alive again, for her, for the two of us together. For the first time that day, I smiled. It didn’t matter that I felt a dusty grit on my teeth.

Contractors would do the complicated work. I would do everything else myself. This wasn’t the first time I had gutted and rebuilt a building, but it was the first time I cared.

I walked back to the car and the twitching agent. “Let's go?”

“Okay.” He got into the car, waiting for me.

I took my time getting into the car, thinking of the vintage, neon sign I would hang outside.

Once we were on the road, he relaxed into the passenger seat. “So, what are you going to do with the place?” Without looking at me, he threw a butt out the window and reached his nicotine-stained fingers into his shirt pocket.

“Make it my home.”



Written by: Julie Hodges
Photograph by: Matt Crump

Heuristic

Posted on: July 26, 2016


My dear, Trevor. My obedient, idiotic, heuristic son, Trevor. You lived my dying words for all they were worth. And what were they worth? A fastpass to our reunion.

“Life is an experiment,” I said. “Be a good scientist,” I said.

Well, Trevor, you certainly listened. From the day my remains were placed into that sparsely decorated urn, you wore your ill-fitting suit jacket like a lab coat; twirling your pointer finger around in my ashes, and worst of all, TASTING IT. My God, son—is what I would’ve said if that was anyone else bonding with your saliva and sloshing around your tongue. What troubled me most was your playful laughter, as if you farted in a confessional versus technically becoming a cannibal. From that moment on, I knew watching you debauch my overwrought attempt at an eloquent ending would be as painful as it would be entertaining.

Your teens were nothing short of a horror movie, with “DON’T” being my constant refrain: DON’T try to jump onto that trampoline from a third-story window, DON’T sneak into the girl’s bathroom to see the tampon machine, DON’T play ding dong ditch in a trailer park, DON’T text a picture of your pubes to your friends, DON’T spike the prom punch with peach schnapps, and definitely DO NOT be the guy who streaks their high school graduation. Alas, you ignored my protests like the naive characters beaming from a theater projector, and I had no choice but to watch as you narrowly avoided catastrophe time and time again.

My teenage years were spent dominating spelling bees, conquering quiz bowls, cultivating an Elite Tauren Chieftain—it’s a World of Warcraft reference, and I know by your extracurricular activities you wouldn’t get it—not a single demerit to my name. As a matter of fact, I was the valedictorian of my graduating class, and if one of my peers did decide to disrupt my speech by exposing their privates, I was prepared to unleash the perfect quip; “The only thing funny about you, sir, is the size of your genitals.” I assumed it would be a male. I don’t know what I would’ve done if it was a girl. Regardless, no one did, and my speech was flawless. I wish I could say the same for that bright young woman at the top of your class.

I thought maybe, just maybe, you’d grow out of your exploratory phase by the time you reached college—or I’d be used to it by then. HA! Now who’s naive. I expected you, the same kid who tried to get high by smoking pencil shavings and lost their virginity to the sleeve of my old goose down parka, to squash your self-indulgent trial and error in an unsupervised smorgasbord of mind-altering substances and sexually-aware coeds? You know how kids feel awkward watching a sex scene with their parents? Imagine how I felt watching you contort your way through a mixed-gender fivesome—on multiple occasions, mind you. It’s amazing you even made it past your freshman year, with all the drugs you were ingesting and all the sex you were having. But then again, it’s amazing you got into a college in the first place.

To your credit, you did learn one thing during your three semesters of higher education that I never really got the grasp of; the value of friendship. Whenever you were late for class, there was always someone there to give you their notes or knock on your door or forge your name on the attendance sheet. When the dean of admissions sent you packing—saw that coming—your buddies set you up with a job and a bedroom in less than twenty-four hours. And every year, when the anniversary of my death rolled around, you were surrounded by smiling faces deeming you, “The World’s Greatest Scientist.” Yes, those words were emblazoned on the back of your ceremonial lab coat—nice touch, by the way—but I’ve been watching you long enough to know that most of those people were truly there to chase away the lingering sadness of my premature passing.

Hell, you’ve been shown more love and support as the son of a dead man than I experienced on my death bed. To be fair, a bar is a much easier sell than a hospital room, but I would’ve had just as much trouble filling a Super Bowl suite. I’m sure you, me, your mom, your grandmas and grandpas, your aunts and uncles, your cousins, Jim and Judy Johnson, and Stephen from my office would’ve had a blast, but that was about the extent of my friends list. And even some of them missed my funeral—which is probably why you were able to get away with your cremation taste test. Point is, you had a lot of friends. I just wish they were a little less supportive.

Maybe then you wouldn’t have had the money to go to Taiwan. Maybe then you wouldn’t have been introduced to Taiwanese snake whiskey. Maybe then you wouldn’t have bet that gangster you could jump through fire. Maybe then you wouldn’t have tried to collect your winnings? Maybe then, you wouldn’t have a knife in your chest.

What are you going to say to me once your heart stops beating? Are you going to curse me for giving you the thoughtless piece of advice that led you to an early grave? Are you going to berate me for being such a bore, you couldn’t help but take it?

I can’t believe you are LAUGHING. Don’t you realize you are dying? There is blood spurting through your teeth with every chuckle. There is no one around who can save you. This is game over. Every plan you made for the future is no more. Every milestone you hoped to achieve is officially out of reach. Everything you have been working toward your entire life—your career, your family, your retirement fund—will cease to be.

Oh. right. 

See you soon, Trevor. We have some catching up to do.


Written by: Mark Killian
Photo by: 
Blake Bronstad

The Blue

Posted on: July 21, 2016


“You sure you want to do this? I can wait,” Jack glances over at her, and the hunger in his brown eyes betrays him.

“I’ll be fine,” Natalie swallows bile rising in her throat and throws a half-hearted smile at her younger brother.

But Jack isn’t even looking for the tell-tale signs he has always been so careful to accommodate. His desire surpasses her comfort, and Natalie closes her eyes tight and counts to ten. She’ll have to get to “fine” pretty soon.

Natalie curls her tremoring hand into a thumb down before kicking her legs out and plunging backward into the water. It is the only way she can go in: without looking.

Once she is in the water, her anxiety subsides. The sea is warm, a crisp, sheer blue that wraps around her like Jack’s baby blanket. There is nothing scary down here. It looks darker from the surface, like something could be hiding, waiting.

It is easy to imagine Cthulhu lurking when you’re standing on the boat. In reality, the monster would be as out-of-place in the sea as a grizzly bear at a tea party.

Natalie kicks her legs, propelling herself forward. She glides through the water like she should be down here, like this is her world. Jack darts next to her, his slim body a dark streak against the blue. His hand forms a circle.

Okay?

Natalie returns the signal, her circle smaller, somehow dainty in the black neoprene gloves.

Okay.

Jack takes the lead down to the Coin.

He discovered the Coin on an ill-advised solo dive two weeks ago. When he returned, he dropped the GoPro on Natalie’s stomach, savasana interrupted with a startled belch of air.

‘You have to see this,’ Jack said. They watched the video together, hunched over the miniature screen. Natalie’s back had begun to ache by the time the Coin appeared.

At first, it was a faint light, a glowing pinprick in the distance. As Jack got closer, the video revealed a narrow circular passage in the gray rock wall, the water illuminated so it shone a brilliant blue in the dark.

‘You have to come with me. We have to see where it goes,’ Jack had said. And Natalie had simply nodded, not sure to what she had agreed.

As they dive deeper, the water shifts to a thick, sapphire blue. Jack’s headlamp cuts on ahead of her. Natalie clicks hers on as well, startling a nearby school of fish that glint silver in their exit.

Jack called it the Coin because he said it was more metallic in person, and because he felt lucky finding it. Like it was a penny, heads-up. Natalie asked him why he didn’t call it the Penny, and he rolled his eyes and said it wasn’t orange.

Natalie sees the glow ahead of her and understands what her brother meant. It is still that brilliant blue color, but shot through with an earthy shimmer, like looking at the inside of a geode.

They hover in front of it, and the circle exceeds their shared width. If they spread their arms out as wide as possible, the Coin would still eclipse them. It has grown since her brother was down here. In Jack’s video, they would have had to swim one following the other. Now they can swim side-by-side.

Or they could have, if Jack had not already gone into it.

Natalie follows him, but he is moving too fast. She is closing the distance, but she will not be able to catch up and swim next to him — at least, not without overexerting herself and using too much oxygen.

Jack’s body arches back and he pauses, floating in a kind of bent crouch. Natalie swims closer and his eyes grow wide, terrified. She shakes her head, confused.

His hand goes flat, the fingers spread wide. In a slow, stiff arc, Jack moves it back and forth.

Something is wrong.

Natalie reaches out, her grip tightening around Jack’s wrist. She pivots as an electric current pulses into her. Her body contorts and Natalie shivers with that pins-and-needles sensation, like she has gone numb and feeling has just returned to her body.

Next to her, Jack remains limp. His eyes dart in fear, long eyelashes fluttering. He floats, tethered only by Natalie’s hand. She drags him behind her, pulling the two of them back through the passage in long, labored strokes.

Her left arm feels like it will seize and give out, but the rest of her body quits before it gets the chance. Natalie’s vision comes to a point as the blue fades and the world shifts to a white, cotton ball haze.

*****

Something bubbles near the shore. Lii’s sharp face snaps to attention. Her icy eyes sweep over the surface of the cove until she spots the shapes in the gray.

Two figures stand near the rocky point. They wear tight, oily black clothes and turn in drowsy circles, gauging their surroundings with muffled shouts. Wrangling tubes and canisters, the two figures look bulky against the smooth surface of the lake.

The smaller one points at the forested hills on the other side of the cove. Lii can tell from the noises that they are confused, frantic. They grow louder when they remove their masks, their screams echoing. They are sharp and painful, like the bloody bellows of wounded game.

Lii has never seen interlopers emerge from the portal before, but she is ready. She scans the horizon and turns, eying the forest close to her section of shoreline. Birds caw in the dense trees and she is still safe. The beast has not yet heard the interlopers’ call, but soon it will. And it will answer in death.

She picks up her spear and marches forward.


Written by: Erin Justice
Photo by: Victoria Ostrzenski

Climax

Posted on: July 19, 2016



“It just looks so … sexual,” Allison said from behind the camera monitor. She looked to her director of photography, who nodded in agreement with one eye shut as he peered through the lens. “It’s supposed to be a horror flick, Brad,” she hollered to her actor in the bathroom. “So could you like … pretend to be scared?”

“How?”

“Well for starters, don’t slowly run your hand down the shower curtain.”

”I’m standing naked in a shower, Alli. I don’t know how else to be.”

“You don’t know how not to be sexy in a shower? Am I hearing you right?”

“Uh…yeah, okay,” Brad replied.

They had only been working together for a week, and Allison was running out of time to complete her senior project for her film studies class. She could kick herself for casting her roommate’s boyfriend in the lead role, but he swore he had film experience. Now she wondered what kind of film experience. She shook her head, cursing herself for not recruiting from the drama program first.

“Keep it rolling this time,” she said to her DP. He nodded. Silent and efficient, he was her ideal crew member. “Whenever you’re ready, Brad.”

Brad began whistling from the shower. It sounded oddly like “Rubber Ducky” from Sesame Street.

“What are you doing?” she yelled, standing from her makeshift director’s chair, which was nothing more than a rickety wooden barstool with the word “Director” painted down one leg-- a present from her overly optimistic parents.

“Trying to be casual. Not sexy, remember?”

She pressed her fingertips into her eyes, trying not to take her anger out on him. It wasn’t Brad’s fault she’d waited until the last minute to start shooting.

“Hey, the library needs this equipment back by eight,” her assistant director whispered.

“I know,” Allison huffed. “Let’s just give this one more go.”

Brad’s voice sounded from the overly acoustic bathroom. “So uh, what’s my motivation in this scene exactly?”

“Oh my god,” she grumbled. “Scared. You’re scared. Just take it from the top, everyone.”

The crew reset and Brad’s silhouetted form looked deep in thought.

“Quiet on set.” A hush fell over the apartment. “And go.”

The camera panned in from the left and began the slow zoom in, focusing on Brad’s silhouette. In Allison’s mind, the eerie background score was reaching its climax, building to the pinnacle moment of her short film when--

Arf! Arf arf arf!

“Margie, cut it out,” Allison growled, trying to get her yapping terrier to pipe down. The cast and crew held their positions, hoping Margie’s interjection didn’t mean starting over. “Keep rolling. We’ll fix it in post.”

The dark, imaginary orchestra resumed its playing in Allison’s head. The view from the monitor looked great. Never had her pieces looked this high quality before, and the building crescendo in her head made her stomach clench with anticipation. She held her breath, waiting for Brad’s pivotal line in the scene.

His shadowy figure froze. “Shit, what’s the line again?”

A disfigured clown stepped around the corner behind the assistant director. “Come on, man, you’ve had the script for a month now. Get it together.”

“Thank you, Tom, but I can handle it,” Allison said, scrounging up the last of her patience. “Okay, let’s keep going, people. Take it from Brad’s line, ‘Who’s there?’ Do you have it?” She asked him.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

“Okay, whenever you’re ready.”

The figure repositioned, and Brad’s voice rang out like a bad Keanu Reeves impersonation.

“Who’s there?” His shadow shook its head. “Probably just my imagination.”

Even Allison jumped when the dark form of Tom passed in front of the camera. It was all coming together.

“Wait, what the hell is that?” the DP whispered.

“What’s what?”

He pointed to a black blob descending from the bathroom ceiling. She heaved a sigh, rolling her eyes. “Take it back to Tom’s entrance, everyone. We’ve got a boom in the shot.”

“No way,” the sound tech called from the bathroom. Allison had nearly forgotten Jerry was there. “I’ve had this thing at the same level the whole time,” he said, as the boom mic trembled with rage.

“Just keep it out of frame, okay?”

“I’m standing on the back of a freaking toilet. How much more out of frame can I be?”

“Dammit, Jerry. Make it work!”

She did feel a little sorry for the guy. Jerry was indeed standing on top of the water tank of a toilet in her tiny apartment bathroom holding a boom pole overhead. Maybe his arms weren’t shaking with frustration, but fatigue.

“Alright everyone, let’s take a breath and go back to the evil clown’s entrance.”

Whether or not it was what she envisioned, this was it. The crew was tired, people were starting to get sloppy, and the film would either be her best work, or it wouldn’t. There was nothing more she could do to stop the deadline’s determination to crush her.

“This is going to be the last run of the night,” she said, feeling somehow she was admitting defeat. The entire set sighed with relief as the cast and crew reset. “Whenever you’re ready, Brad.”

“Who’s there?” he said, the line sounding oddly better than before. “Probably just my imagination.”

The cloaked form of the evil clown darted in and out of frame. Everyone was on mark. Allison held her breath, the demonic orchestra rising in her head again.

“Cue, clown.”

Tom followed his mark perfectly and lunged in front of camera one, running down the visual corridor the DP had just created, straight for Brad. He wrapped both arms around the hero, pulling the opaque shower curtain down around him.

The camera zoomed, quick and precise as the DP stepped into the tiny bathroom. The two actors wrestled and writhed just as scripted, as Brad delivered his best blood-curdling screams. Allison watched the monitor with excitement and anticipation, waiting for something to go horribly wrong, but it didn’t. Brad’s screams died and the clown gave one last terrifying look to the camera above him, a maniacal laugh escaping his painted face. Even Allison shivered.

She had done it.

“And cut.”



Written by: HG Reed
Photo by: Erin Notarthomas

The Power of Water

Posted on: July 14, 2016


Maddie crouched at the riverbank on a small overlook. Brown water hissed around the rocks in front of her, foaming white, choking the edges of the river heavy with recent rains. She was never leaving. She would become a hermit, fish and hunt for game; the latter would provide food as well as warmth. Never mind that she had no taste for venison or bobcat or coyote. Loners – outcasts, weirdos – did what they must.

A balmy November wind blew at her back, rustling the weeds. Dead leaves curled around her toes. Maddie’s sneakers and socks lay behind her in the grass. She hadn’t meant to take them off. Somehow, though, she felt freer without them, unafraid, like her high school self, the barefooted camp counselor who’d taught the younger kids how to start a cook fire and purify water in this very park. Confident. Admired. Self-assured.

Nothing like the idiot who ran from Kevin earlier today.

Maddie loved Thursday evenings, the only nights that she and Mason both had free. After deciding to meet at five at a local restaurant, Maddie hung up and left the student center. She would shower, change, and finish some homework before leaving. She pushed the door open; cool air rushed around her jacket. In the entryway, a few feet from the door, stood Kevin.

They’d ignored each other since the spring. Maddie pretended he was a ghost, a figment of her imagination, the fading image of a nightmare, but today, she nodded to him.

Kevin slowed. “Oh, hey, Matt.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“You’re all alone. Scared away your new boy toy already?” Kevin stopped. “Must’ve been the lesbo haircut.”

“Fuck off.”

“He’s probably undressing a real girl right now.”

Always, always, always it came back to gender with Kevin. Here at the park, Maddie could fire off a hundred replies: I am a real girl; Mason wouldn’t lower himself to your standards; even if he hurts me, you can’t have me back.

But at school, her words decayed like a dead fish washed up on shore; the noxious fume filled her mouth, her nostrils. Maddie fought a gag reflex.

Kevin laughed. Maddie didn’t stop. She passed the library and the dorms, feet pounding against the sidewalk in a steady run. What kind of god allowed Kevin to corner her like that, with no witnesses?

The same god that made her, obviously.

In the parking garage, Maddie didn’t wait for the elevator; she ran down the stairs. On one jump, she skipped two stairs. Her foot caught the edge and slipped. Her hand wrenched from the railing, and Maddie stared into the abyss -- at the eight remaining steps and the concrete landing below.

If she let herself fall, would she melt into the concrete and disappear like water through a crack?

Maybe it was good balance, from the broken, dead trees over which she crossed rivers, or maybe it was luck, but Maddie stumbled down two more stairs, banging her hip into the metal railing. Breathing hard, she paused for only a moment before hobbling to her car and driving forty minutes to her woods, her river… Home.

Clouds hung in the sky, darkening the river as it lashed against the rocks. It was a battle, the water fighting for more space while the rocks, unmoved, stood in defiance.

Gender was supposed to be easy. But Maddie had always felt more comfortable outside – hiking, swimming, mountain biking, or mowing the lawn. She couldn’t do high heels or make-up. Not a girl, not a boy, Maddie was in between, fluid.

And Kevin hated that. Especially when she’d wanted to shave half her head and trim the other to a bob. “You can’t,” he’d said from the comfort of his dorm bed, leaning against the wall, his legs crossed. “I already feel like I’m dating a lesbian.”

Maddie rocked herself side to side in his wheelie chair. “What are you talking about?”

“You used to wear all those pink, lacy shirts for me. Why did you stop? Don’t I try for you? Don’t I dress up and bring you flowers?”

“You’re not dating my clothes.”

“All of a sudden, you dress like a man, and now you want to cut your hair. It’s like you want to be a guy. I date girls, Maddie.”

“You’re supposed to love me no matter what.”

“Don’t my needs matter to you?” Kevin asked.

They did. He wouldn’t be happy with her, so Maddie broke up with him. In his taunts afterward, Kevin made sure she knew about the “real girl” he cheated with.

The current attacked the boulder before her, bearing a stick; wayward water splashed onto the bank, dribbling across the dry dirt before seeping back into the river.

Maddie’s phone vibrated in her pocket. She’d blocked Kevin months ago, right? He couldn’t harass her, not here, not when there was nothing to stop her from staring into the abyss. The river water churned below her.

It was Mason. Where are you? his text read. Call me. It was five thirty, half an hour past their date.

Ahead was a bend in the river. The water beat against the rocks, brown frothing white before mixing back into the unrecognizable bulk of the river. Maddie stood. Her hip ached, and despite the balmy weather, her bare toes had numbed. On her phone, she typed, I’m sorry. It’s a long story.

But it didn’t matter. In the battle between the water and the rocks, the water – in its everlasting crusade for space, its attacks gentle or crushing depending on the current – won in the end.



Written by: Natalie Schriefer
Photo by: Kayla King

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