Posted on: June 26, 2014

As of today, there will be seven of us. Mikey and I are in the basement, like we always are on CPS days. We hate that stupid lady, Ms. Fowler, because she pretends she’s looking out for us, but really she doesn’t do crap. She comes in with her fancy suit and her clipboard and wanders around while Barb “yes ma’am”’s and “no ma’am”’s and shoves the little kids’ mess into the closets. It always looks real clean when Ms. Fowler shows up.

Sometimes if we’re lucky, Barb will be too tired to put the house back like it usually is, and Mikey and I will get to sleep on the sofa bed for a night.

On every other night, the sofa bed is folded into a lumpy couch, and that’s where Barb sits and watches her shows, and where Rex passes out drunk when he gets home.

Mikey and I sleep in sleeping bags on the dining room floor. But today they’re rolled up and hidden away. In the basement, we try to do the same.

Mikey’s on tiptoe peering out the half-window through the curtains.

“Is her car still out there?”

“Yeah, you dumbass. I can still hear her upstairs.”

He’s right. Fowler’s heels are click-clacking on the newly clean floor above our heads.

“Where you think the new kid’s going to sleep?” I want to know.

“Depends. If it’s a girl, I guess with Tisha and Brianna.”

“They’re going to be mad.”

“What else is new?”

I hope the new kid’s not a girl, because then there’ll be more of them than there are of us. Rex is right about one thing: Too many women in a house ain’t nothing good.

But at the same time, I don’t know if I want it to be a boy, either. Even with Barb and all her bullcrap, we’ve kind of got a good thing going right now. Mikey and I have this agreement. He’s allowed to mess with me because I’m younger and not as cool, but he’s also got my back. Mikey, I think, is the same kind of way as me—we’ve both had teachers and social workers slap us with some kind of “behavior problem” junk every once in awhile, but we’re not like kids who are really angry.

Some kids I’ve lived with—they’re angry all the way down to their bones. Their anger actually jumps into their arms and legs and takes over. And that’s the kind of kid I don’t want to see delivered to the house today. Because with anger like that, especially in a boy, one minute you’re playing video games or flag football or sleeping or eating knock-off Lucky Charms at breakfast, and the next minute you’re on the floor, and anger’s got its grip around your throat.

“There she goes,” Mikey says, watching Ms. Fowler’s car pull out of the driveway.

“Bitch,” I say, testing the word in my mouth.

“What’d she do to you?” Mikey says, imitating Barb.

“Nothing. And that’s why she’s a bitch.”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Mikey says, thwacking me on the forehead. “Come on, before Barb starts screaming.”

Too late.

“Mikey! Troy! Come meet your new brother!”

That drives Mikey crazy—how Barb’s always calling us brothers and sisters.

“Tisha is not my sister,” he always says, but I think that’s because he secretly has a crush on Tisha, and if they were brother and sister, that would be some pervert crap.

We get to the top of the basement stairs. The little kids are near the door, all scrubbed and happy, chewing on pieces of an alphabet puzzle Barb set out on the floor. Stupid Ms. Fowler probably thinks Barb’s educating them early. What she doesn’t know is that puzzle’s missing about half the letters because Tisha stole them to decorate her poster for Science Fair last month. Barb said she wasn’t about to spend money on craft supplies, and Tisha said, “Isn’t that what the government pays you to do? Support me and my education?” and Barb said, “The government pays me enough to put food in your mouth and not a penny more,” and Tisha said, “You call this food?” and flipped her bowl of tuna salad.

Tisha got grounded for two weeks, but she also got first place in the Science Fair.

“I like a girl who knows what she wants,” Mikey said.

Barb scoops up the little kids, one on each hip, and waves us all into the kitchen. Mikey grabs a couple of Powerades from the fridge and throws me one. I catch it with one hand.

The new kid is standing in the doorway. He’s tall and skinny, about Mikey’s age. All his crap is still in what Tisha calls a “foster kid suitcase,” a black trash bag clenched in his fist.

Barb starts on her house rules speech.

“Here, we are all brothers and sisters. We respect each other, and we respect this space. This is a drug-free house. Do not push me on this…”

The new kid, aside from the trash bag, looks out of place in Barb and Rex’s cramped kitchen. He’s white, which isn’t unheard of, but his clothes are too nice. They look new, maybe even from a department store, and even weirder, they look ironed. Somebody put creases in his jeans.

Brianna is sitting on the counter by the microwave swinging her legs back and forth. She has on foam flip-flops that are an inch too short for her feet. She, like the rest of us, is looking at the new kid like he’s an intruder from Mars.

“You will be home for supper every night, because I’m not giving you any extra money for eating out, and if you have extra money, you’d better be explaining where you got it…”

The new kid smiles and nods, but his eyes are glassy. Is he sedated? Mikey cuts me a concerned glance. What are we dealing with here? Rich kid, bad divorce? Somebody here by mistake?

“Now, you look like a nice young man, so I don’t think we’ll have any trouble. You’ll be sleeping in the dining room with Mikey and Troy, since we’re kind of short on bedrooms at this moment. Now go on, boys, and take your new brother to the basement to get a sleeping bag.”

“This way,” Mikey grumbles, and we lead the new kid down the stairs.

He looks out the window as Mikey digs around for a sleeping bag. While the kid has his head turned, I give him a good once over. His blonde hair is slicked back with hair gel, and the light shining through the sheer curtains lights up his face, peppered with freckles.

“So,” I say, puffing up my chest. “Who are you?”

The new kid turns his pale face to look at me. He opens his mouth.

I know then something is wrong. Where his tongue should be is a black V—his tongue is slit, forked up the middle.

“Holy crap--”

Ssssssssssss,” hisses the new kid. I jump back, and he cackles. And in a garbled, lisping speech, he spits, “Like the lady said. I’m your brother.”

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Erin Notarthomas


Posted on: June 24, 2014

I’m no stranger to disrespect. I’ve been verbally insulted, physically assaulted, slandered, abandoned, betrayed, pranked; you name it, I’ve been subjected to it. I thought my self-esteem would be impenetrable by now. And then, I got peed on.

I wish I could say it was a puppy or a baby or some kinky sex thing (not involving a puppy or a baby), but I’m afraid there is no logical explanation for this piss. There was only revenge.

But before I retell one of the most degrading moments of my life, I encourage you to ask yourself; “What would I have done in this situation?” Don’t answer yet! Give me at least a paragraph before you roll out your Jump to Conclusions Mat.

Scene: a dive bar in east Austin, the interior lined with damask wallpaper (possibly vintage, probably Target). A DJ spun the tunes you used to rollerblade to in the 90s. The bar was stocked with both liquor and cigarettes (because cancer’s only cool if you get it before your friends). A two-top in the corner housed an unfinished game of chess (more likely a photo prop than a battle of wits). Out back was a patio full of bearded men singeing their facial hairs with American Spirits. Beyond the smoke sat a row of trailers where stoners prepared food inspired by whatever pun was painted on the side of their truck. And in the restroom, there was me; straddling a urinal and checking my watch as locally-brewed beer, tequila, and H20 poured from my body.

It was a quarter till midnight, and like Cinderella, I was frantically looking for an exit. Unlike Cinderella, my only curse is the inability to have fun in loud, overpopulated, and perspiration-filled social settings. That’s when it hit me; that warm liquid that hasn’t dribbled down my leg since Kindergarten.

I initially blamed myself (as usual), until I noticed a golden torrent attacking my feet like an angry serpent.

“WHAT THE FUCK?” I yelled, jumping around like a cartoon character avoiding gunfire.

My gaze flowed upstream to find the monster responsible for this atrocity, but most of his body was hidden behind a stall wall. All I could see were his eyes peering down at me as his pee melted away my dignity like freshly fallen snow. My humiliation was magnified by his buddy cheering him on every drip of the way from the sink.

So that’s the crime portion of this story. You now have my permission to ask yourself, “What would I have done in this situation?” Got your answer? Good. Follow along and see if we chose the same punishment.

If you’re like me, you did NOT punch through the wall and rip his still-beating heart from his chest. You contemplated it, but your superego overpowered your id (as usual).

Instead, you fled, maintaining a clear line of vision between yourself and the men’s room. You hid in the sea of sweaty Millennials until your target emerged, both hands in the air like he just didn’t care.

“He must pay,” you whispered, still plotting vengeance. You stalked him from afar like the lovable serial killer you’re likened to every time you wear a dark-brown henley.

THAT’S IT, you thought, as he ordered a fresh drink. You placed yourself in his path and began a game of chicken he unknowingly agreed to play. Your inner Braveheart told you to, “Hold.” “HOLD,” he repeated. “HAAAWWLLD,” he howled one final time. “NOW!”

The moment your paths crossed you flapped your left elbow towards his drink as if someone tickled your armpit. You missed. Hellbent on retribution, you circled around like a bull taking a second pass at a matador. The target beckoned his friend to the dance floor by dangling his cup in midair like a cape.

YOU COULDN’T TAKE IT. You lowered your head and charged, sending his drink flying towards the DJ as you plowed through the exit. You stopped once you reached the sidewalk and pulled out your phone to let your friends know you left. And then ...


But I was so stealth, you assured yourself.

“You got a problem, BRO?” the pisser asked, cornering you with TWO sidekicks.

“What? No,” you responded, praying that would settle it.

“Then why’d you flip my drink,” he justly argued.

“Did I?” you answered, convincing no one.


“Oh, my bad.”

“Yeah, it IS your bad. So what’s your problem?”

You thought about mentioning the piss, but you feared he’d judge you for your passive-aggressive conflict resolution.

“He’s drunk,” one sidekick noted, potentially giving you an out.

You looked at him, and there was a sense of acknowledgment. He knew you were the guy his buddy used as a pee trough. He knew that’s why you spilled his drink. And he didn’t seem to fault you for it.

“He’sh right, shman. I’m drunksh,” you said, overselling the intoxication plea.

“See,” the sidekick responded. “Just come inside and buy my boy a new drink. There. Settled.”

The pisser accepted, gritting his teeth and shadow boxing all the way to the entrance.

“Come on,” said his sidekick, ushering you to the door.

You fumbled through your wallet, suggesting his henchmen go ahead.

“After you,” said the previously silent sidekick.

Great, not only did this guy piss on me, but now I’m going to buy him a drink
, you thought, preparing to hand the doorman your driver’s license. And then, as if by divine intervention, a bicyclist parted the entry line with his fixie.

You stumbled out of the way, leaving a good ten feet of separation between you and sidekick #2. You smiled, pivoted, and disappeared into the night like a cowardly Batman.

You don’t know if they tried to find you, and you really don’t care. All you know is a man pissed on your leg, and in turn, you pissed him off by flipping his drink in his face. In your eyes, that’s justice, and one hell of a story.

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Chris Boyles

The Mission

Posted on: June 19, 2014

It's Tuesday, and today, The Mission Thrift Store will put its new merchandise on the floor. I make a point to stop in each week to browse the new goods. Rice cookers, unopened undershirts, mismatched sheets—I like to pick through the shelves. I'm amazed by what people give away.

Do you know how many picture frames are donated to The Mission? Hundreds. And nearly all of them still have photographs in them. I don't know why the staff doesn't take them out. Maybe they think it's too sad to discard the photos; maybe they hope someone will feel inspired to replace it with their own photograph. I've never purchased one of these frames, but I make a point to visit the back corner shelf where they're all stacked.

I visit every Tuesday, but I find myself at the store a few times a week. When it’s slow at the office, or I can’t watch any more TV at home, I make a trip to the store. Some people go to church to reflect and find peace. I go to the thrift store for the same reasons.

I would be lying if I said I didn't also go there to see Sara. She's been working there nearly every day since I moved here four years ago. She works at the processing counter. It's Sara's job to decide what stays and what goes. She seems to understand the needs of the town—who might need a futon frame or a prom dress or copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

I round the corner and keep my head ducked from the cold. Spring feels far away today. Last week, I stopped by The Mission wearing only a t-shirt and shorts. Today, I'm bundled in an overcoat I bought for six dollars last fall. I reach the store and enter it, catching the door before it slams behind me.

Sara looks up from the counter and waves.

“Mike!” She smiles. She always manages to sound surprised to see me, but thrilled that I stopped by. I walk up to her counter and survey the box of junk in front of her. “I was hoping you'd stop by,” she says, “New merchandise today.”

She digs through the box and pulls out a curling iron. The cord is frayed and crimped, and the barrel is covered in rust. “I mean, who wouldn't want this?” She laughs, tossing it into a trash can behind her. “It's nice to see you,” she says.

“It's nice to see you, too,” I say. I want to tell her about the cherry blossoms frozen to my windshield this morning, how I thought they were perfect and complicated. Something about the last trace of winter mingling with spring, something like that. I want to tell her how I thought the mix was sad and beautiful and confusing—like her. But I would never say that.

I wouldn't even tell her how I thought of her when the cherry blossoms first bloomed a week ago. How the surge of pink and snow outside my window was a surprise: a new color against the bleak winter sky. What I want to tell her is that she looks so cute in her green apron, that the color makes her eyes sparkle. That the fluorescent overhead lights makes her hair shine, that her perfume somehow cuts through the musty smell of old clothes and furniture.

I want to tell her how each Tuesday, I linger in the back corner of the store looking at each photograph she sends to the shelf, what she deems worthy of keeping. “It's nice to see you, too,” I say again. I tap my hand on the counter and back away. “I’ll be in the back, checking out what’s new.”

Sara's digging through the box, not looking at me. “Mmhmm,” she says. “Have fun.”

I walk to the home goods section and begin to pick through the linens and hand towels. It's all so familiar, the usual thrift store fare: pineapple tea towels, green and khaki plaid sheets, personalized pillow cases: Some Bunny Loves You, Jeremy.

I arrive at the art and picture frame area. The shelves are especially full today. I spot a red bound photo album, reach for it, and open to the first page. The book itself is beautiful, hardly marked. Inside, photos are tucked between the cellophane pages. A family smiles back at me; three children are tan, hair sun-bleached and wavy. I flip through the entire vacation, then I close the book, feeling guilty for looking into their memories.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a large, shiny frame. It's pearly and silver, like a frame for a wedding photo. I pull it off the shelf to inspect it. My throat goes dry. Looking back at me is a young woman with dark hair piled on top of her head. A long cathedral veil covers her face and drapes over her shoulders and strapless wedding gown. Her face is covered, but I know those eyes.

It was her idea to start coming to The Mission Thrift Store. She wanted us to have a ritual, she said. So, each week, we would get coffee, stroll the main drag downtown and end our evening browsing the shelves. Her favorite game was to make up stories about the people in the photographs. Kate could create a story from the top of her head—tangled, complicated stories of love lost and found, births and deaths. She would make me laugh so hard that Sara would have to shush us from the front of the store. We were married three years before she left.

Maybe she’s happier now. I always pictured her living out west—somewhere more dry and predictable than the east coast. I imagine her barefoot in a backyard somewhere, pinning clean sheets and undershirts to a clothing line. She has two children, maybe, and a dog that her neighbors tease her for. “He's too fluffy to live in the desert,” they laugh. She has everything she's ever wanted.

I peek over the shelves to see if Sara is watching. She isn't at the counter. I unbutton my coat and slide the frame under my arm. As I'm buttoning my coat, Sara appears. She says, “I'm sorry, Mike.”

I start to speak, to wave off her apology. How could she have remembered about Kate after all this time? I shake my head, but before I can speak, Sara says, “I'm sorry, Mike, but you can't just take that.” Our eyes lock, and I clench my hands into fists.

“Excuse me,” I answer, my voice low. I shove past Sara and push through the front door, and a blast of cold air hits me. I march down the street, the frame still stuck under my arm. My heart races, and I feel the sweat on the back of my neck as the wind whips around me. I look over my shoulder, but Sara isn't following me.

Written by: Whitney Gray Schultz
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

New American Dream

Posted on: June 17, 2014

You don’t ever get used to it. You think it’s a nightmare. Anytime you wake up suddenly, that’s what it is: a nightmare.

You’d be wrong. You’re not waking up from one. You’re waking up to one.

You almost wish the virus resulted in something more. After all the horror films and tv shows and novels, you were expecting zombies or vampires or at least a dystopian society. It would give you something to fight against, instead of this anticlimactic coda.

It doesn’t matter that you watched your wife and kid succumb to a plague that’s like the Black Death’s big bad-ass motherfucker of a brother. Life’s just there. An undesirable Everest. Existential manifest destiny.

The only salvation is natural resistance and immunity. Hey, you’re one-in-a-million, kid. You won the genetic lottery. Your prize, other than life, is to stand watch over your family as they bid adieu to the living world. To sit in stony silence as they scream and writhe at the end. You keep hoping they’ll get better, but when the seizure starts it’s time to put Old Yeller out of his misery.



The voice is loud but distant.

“Give it to me!”

You walk toward the parking lot, skirting the edge of the trees.


Don’t think about who it is.

Don’t think about your youngest, still growing out of his lisp. Your namesake, fruit of your loins, proof of your virility.

‘Help me, Daddy.’

Don’t think about her, the one you love and make love to - oh, but not now, not with the blood and sweat. Did you know the last time you had sex it would really be your last?

‘Please, baby. Please help me.’

Then the shrieking horror. The shut-the-fuck-up of it. Are you really putting them out of their misery?

Maybe you’re just selfish. A selfish bastard who wants some peace in the apocalypse. What gave you the impression the apocalypse would be peaceful?

You want to swallow a gun, but you’re not strong enough to pull the trigger.

Strong enough to live, though. Ha. To have God look at you under his holy magnifying glass and say, “Yeah, that one - he’ll do.”

Strong enough for that bullshit divine intervention.

Not strong enough to squeeze that trigger when the barrel’s pointed in your direction, no sirree.

You are a survivor. It’s your curse: to be able to survive, to want to. You are your own Achilles's heel.

There’s a hissing voice in the back of your head, one that says maybe you wanted to shoot them. Maybe deep down in the very core of you, in the base, the id, the part unearthed by the End of Days, you longed for a solitary life. For the new American dream: peace in the apocalypse.

Because it was too easy, wasn’t it?

And you can’t confront that. Can’t look at it full-on, which means you can’t stay in your house, where memories are replaced with the stench of decay and the strange sounds of corpses. You don’t have the heart to stay there, to debate mercy and murder until you’re blue in the face. Just like them.

Sorry, lover. Sorry, offspring. This is one vacation we can’t take together. Are we there yet? Well, some of us are. One of us didn’t make the cut.

You close the door on that life.


Two men argue.

“It belongs to me!” The bearded one says. His hair is gray, but he looks like he could’ve been thirty a year ago.

“Fuck,” you whisper. You spot the source of the fight.


You get out of the city. You think of proportions and odds, the density of urban life compared to others. You decide it’s time to go loot the local Costco and say goodbye to modern living.

Now every morning you wake up with a start, the sleeping bag rustling as you spasm into consciousness.

You walk as far as your feet will carry you. And when you find a bike, you ride until your thighs cramp and the tires blow. You avoid cities like the plague (ha ha ha!), but small towns are fine. Towns are nice. Quiet. Beautiful, in a sad sort of way.

Some people make pilgrimages, traveling in packs to start a new life in some destined place.

Too many are like you--carrying on without a plan, without an ending in mind. It’s like you all decided to just go on a walk to get some fresh air, and you’ll keep going until you find it.

Or die trying.


“Help me!” The woman screams. She looks around, her eyes wild and large. They fall on you, and her yell becomes primal and desperate.

You take in the bruises on her face, the clubs the two men carry.

Even Neanderthals are deadly.

“Please!” Her voice ends in a sob, and she wails louder as you turn around and walk farther than you have before.

You still hear her.


Don’t be stupid. That’s the gist of it.

Don’t drink the water without sanitizing it.

Don’t go into old buildings.

Don’t eat wild mushrooms.

Don’t start fights you can’t win.

But you’re a survivor, so all these rules are common sense. They are easy to follow. And in the days and weeks and months, you age like it’s been years, decades, centuries. You’re an old soul traversing an ancient world.

You want to ask God to throw you a bone. Give you the peace you need. Because you were going mad in that house at the beginning, and you weren’t thinking straight, and you didn’t want to kill them, you really didn’t, and you know that now, because it’s all you ever really thought about since, and can you go home now?

Wouldn’t it be nice, to close your eyes and have everything tangible fade to black forever? To fall asleep and let death embrace, and in that embrace you find them?


Max Junior.

To hear your own name on your wife’s lips?

I love you, Max.

I love you, Tiffany.

Phantom voices fill your head.

Help me, Father. Help me, Husband. Help me, Stranger.

But hey, cheer up.

It’s gonna be a beautiful day.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Whitney Ott


Posted on: June 12, 2014

If someone walked out of the kitchen, she would see me sitting on the floor in front of the record player, weeping over a paring knife. But she would not see the thoughts darting behind my eyes. She would not see that I am afraid to live, but too scared to end my own life. She would not see that I wonder if I looked pretty. She would not see that I hope she would come across me like this, hope that she will be startled and concerned, hope that she will kneel down and wrap me in her arms. She will not see that something about that made me want to laugh, but my depression makes me feel guilty for ever feeling happy.

Someone did not walk in.

I take a shower, put on my clothes, and walk the mile to the restaurant where I work as a hostess. I smile at passersby, and forget how sad I am for a few minutes, but then I remember that I am depressed and I’m not allowed to feel joy. It delegitimizes my condition and gives someone the right to say, “See? It must not be that bad.” I clock in, take my post at the door, and start wiping down menus as I contemplate whether I should tell my boyfriend that an acquaintance handcuffed me to his stove last night, leaving the key just a toe’s length out of reach. When the guy returned three hours later, he was drunk with a girl hanging on his arm like a Christmas ornament, glittery and hollow.

“Why the fuck are you still here?”

“I couldn’t reach…”

The girl picked up the key and crawled over to me, taking off the handcuffs, reeking of Red Bull and vodka.

“Do you wanna stick around and play with us for a little bit?” she asked. “Maybe you could handcuff me…”

My loneliness ached for promiscuous company, anything to keep me from going home to an empty apartment, but the acquaintance made it clear that I was unwelcome. I guess I misunderstood his initial invitation to come in for a drink. Maybe I overstayed. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him about that time I felt the devil hovering over me, telling me I belonged to him. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that I had a boyfriend.

“Hey, Lacy.”

Tim, the manager, summons me out of my chronic ruminations as he approaches the hostess’ stand and refills the business card holder.

“Hi, Tim.”

“How was your night?”

“Okay, I guess.”

Tim lifts an eyebrow and folds his arms over his chest.

“What’s up?” he asks.

“Do you think I should tell my boyfriend that a guy handcuffed me to a stove?”

Tim’s jaw drops and his brows knit together. I’m not sure if he’s shocked more by what happened, or by my nonchalance.

“Lacy, you should tell a family member. Like your Dad? Or an uncle? Or the police. Jesus, are you okay?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine. He’s a friend. I’m just wondering if it’s something my boyfriend needs to know.”

Tim rubs his face with his hands and shakes his head, “Oh my God, please don’t do it right now. Wait until after work.”

But I’m already texting Mark: Hey, we need to talk. Something happened last night. I’m at work right now. Talk to you later.

The restaurant phone rings. And rings. And rings because Tim is standing guard. When he finally answers, he can’t even get a word in before Mark starts yelling, “Lacy?! What the hell happened?” Tim’s face is red when he tells him not to call the restaurant, that we’ll have to talk later. When he hangs up, the phone rings. And rings. And rings. For the next two hours, Tim has to answer and then hang up. My phone keeps lighting up, but I don’t read the texts because I have customers to seat.

There’s a lull in the action when my co-worker Mina comes up with some menus and asks me how I’m doing. Tim has all but disappeared, and I feel a little bad, but I’m mostly thinking about how angry Mark probably is with me.

“I’m all right.”

“What’d you do last night?”

How can I resist? I tell her. She’s got this look on her face like I’m crazy. I tell her that I’m in love with my boyfriend, and there’s no one else for me. I’m gonna marry him.

“But you decided to go in some guy’s apartment for a drink?” she asks.


“You know what, Lacy, you sound like two fucking people sometimes.”

She turns on her heel, ponytail nearly whipping me in the face. I’m trying to understand what she meant when I unlock my phone and see the notification for thirteen messages from Mark. My heart starts to pound in my chest, and I know that physically I’m having a panic attack, but I’m so used to it that someone wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at me.

Lacy, what the fuck happened?
You can’t say something like that and then ignore me.
Tell your boss to eat a dick.
What the hell did you do?
Did you cheat on me?
Lacy, I swear to God, if you cheated on me, it’s over.
Call me as soon as you can.
Who was it?
Do I know him?
How could you do this to me again?
This is such bullshit.
You know what, forget it.

I’m sitting in front of the record player when I get home from work, listening to Damien Rice. I tried to call Mark, but he didn’t answer. I kept calling. And calling. And calling until he must have turned off his phone, because it went straight to voicemail after a while. How long can I watch this record spin? How long until someone walks in and notices that my sadness is a thick skin, and I don’t feel much of anything anymore? Lord, how long?

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Sydney Singhass


Posted on: June 10, 2014

The word moves up and down the line of men, from one to the next. They might as well be playing the game Telephone.

“Gas,” they whisper.

At least, we believe it’s gas. We soldiers of the night, brave and not long for this world, look to the west and watch the gas bear down on us. It is thick and ominous. By now, we know not what we think, but this…this…thing; this thing is death. It has no smell, and it moves with the lethargic quality of a goddamn turtle. In this way, it is not at all like death. Death for us is not slow and deliberate. Death will sneak in the night, tiptoe behind you, hold It’s breath, and then slit your throat with a 12-inch bayonet blade.

Oh, those were the days. Simple hand-to-hand combat, is that too much to ask? Is it really too much to ask to look your murderer in the eyes?

As a boy I daydreamed of combat, of the historical battles of Napoleon and Normandy (For some reason my daydreams were tres French). I longed for the romantic wars of our elders. I desired masculinity, not in the homo-way, but in the Hemingway.

Pardon me, pardon me; it’s just a joke. A little play on words. Here, laughter is more valuable than water. More valuable than shit-pots or tissues you can stick up your nose to protect from the smell of decomposing flesh. Here, bodies are stacked on top of each other. We call them The Towers Of David. Or Freddy. Sammy. The Towers Of William. There are hundreds of them and we’re starting to run out of names.

“I think the wind is changing. It’s gonna…maybe it’ll blow over.”

Parsons barks when he talks. I thought it odd until I visited his family over leave last Christmas and his father barked, and his mother barked, and his sister, who must have been only twelve or thirteen, she barked. They had their Christmas card picture held to the refrigerator door by a magnet, so I stole it. It’s the four of them in matching sweaters looking rather dour, other than the sister who is all braces and freckles. It reminds me of home, any home, and since there aren’t many homes left I think we adopt the faces and families of others. Things disappear and we try to replace them. It’s only natural.

Anywho, I stole the magnet picture and in black marker wrote The Barking Parsons on it. Now, I keep it in my pocket and look at it when I’m feeling ill.

The gas continues to waft in our general direction. I don’t know where it’s coming from, as we haven’t seen hide nor hair of the Buggies for a few days. That’s what we call them, Buggies. It’s not very technical or anything, but it’s accurate. They are bug-like creatures from another planet. Fuck, from another solar system. I’m sure the big brass band up top has a more professional term for them, but for the guys on the ground, Buggies works just fine.

“Masks Up!”

There’s a shout from down the line and in unison we all dawn our demon masks. Really, they’re just gas masks, and they look pretty much the same as they’ve always looked, right on back to the days of WWI. I used to read stories about The Great War. Whoever termed that shit was way off, obviously, as there was another Greater War just down the pipeline and a handful of Not Great Wars not far off. Though, as someone once said, it’s no use crying over spilled milk.

Or blood. Whatever.

I read stories about the mustard gas used in that not first, and certainly not last of global conflicts, and how the whole goddamned war was this giant clusterfuck of old and new technology and strategy. The part that stuck with me the most, and why I’m rehashing this shit now, was the instances of gas mask-wearing cavalry units unleashing holy hell on anything and everything. Just imagine it. You’re sitting there, minding your own business, trying to survive and not vomit your guts up (because of the gas), when all of the sudden this heaving beast of a horse bursts out of the fog like a fucking Dodge Charger, all bleeding eyes and spit. Its rider is staring down at you from behind this fucking steampunk mask, a wall of fire and gas behind him. I don’t care who are you, you’re losing your lunch. That shit is scary. That shit is demon-scary.

There’s some whooping and hollering down the line. And then…

WHISTLE. Whistlewhistlewhistle. WHISTLE.

Two hundred years removed from The Second Battle of Ypres (Belgium, 1915) and still with the fucking whistle. Still with the fucking gas masks.

Some things never change.

We rise as a mass of demons. Over the ledge and out of the pit, to grandmother’s house we go. We do not know what is on the other side of the field. We do not know where the Buggies are. You could fill an ocean with the amount of shit that we do not know. I think to my long-dead comrades, those of that Great War ilk, and the word Solidarity appears, etched in the mud at my boots.

I step over it.

The fog or gas (or whatever) is thick, though nothing compared to the cacophony of screams and shouts coming from my fellow soldiers. It would appear that there were not enough demon masks to go around.

Someone jumps on my back and I’m down to my knees. Sausage fingers pry at my mask and face, trying to rip them both off. If they must pull my head off with it, they will. This is friendly fire. War is Darwinistic in its pragmatism.

My attacker/comrade is too strong. He rips the mask off my face and falls down somewhere behind me. I am on my knees and I lift my head to the sky. I see the lights.

Not one light. Not one shining, blinding, comforting light. No, I said lights. Plural.

They are what they appear to be. Thank god for that.

The Buggy ship rises on top of us, bigger than a building, masked in a cloud of fog and smoke and night. Only the lights on the bottom of the ship are clearly visible.

There they are.

So much noise it feels like the world isn’t big enough to hold it all; like we’re going to blow a fuse.

As I fall forward, face to mud, grasping at my burning throat, the alien ship continues its ascent into the night sky.

It’s beautiful.

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Hannah Chertock


Posted on: June 5, 2014

“I’m not trying to go over to Bruce’s tonight,” I told him.

“You’ll go if I say you go. And I say you go. The girls can wait. They won’t run out of vodkatinis or shit. You go to Bruce’s first.”

“I don’t like his friends.”

“They won’t mess with you. Just drop the stuff and leave. Turn around, I’ll zip your dress.”

He pulled the zipper up my spine. I adjusted my boobs and pulled down my hem.

“You owe me, honey,” I said, stepping into my gold heels.

He caught my chin between his thumb and forefinger and turned my face towards his.

“Not quite, baby. I own you.”


A cloud is nothing solid—you can walk right through it. On ground, we call it fog. But it's solid enough to stop you from seeing where you're going. It's solid enough to cast a shadow.

On the stand, I said I was in a cloud. I said my thoughts were soft—that the world had a film over it. That nothing felt real. My car’s AC had been broken for months.

“Maybe it was the heat,” I said.

“And what did Officer Cortano say when he pulled you over?”

“He said—I was speeding. He asked for my registration—I think. His voice was quiet.”

“Because of the cloud?” asked the prosecutor, rolling her eyes.

“Because of the cloud.”

“And then what happened?”

“I—that’s where it gets really fuzzy.”

“How convenient.”

They wheeled in one of those boxy tube TVs from the 90’s and rolled the tape.

Here comes the cloud: that tape, low quality, but clear enough, recording through the window of Cortano’s car parked behind mine. I’m nothing but a dark shape in my car, then an arm, holding out my documents. There’s Cortano, walking back towards the camera. He’s opening the car door; running my license. There’s Cortano walking back to my car. Me getting out. Him pointing to the curb where he wants me to sit. Me sitting as he goes through my car, as he finds my purse. Me standing when he finds what’s in it—the corner-cut sandwich baggies of meth, which he lays out across the hood of my car in a circle, like a fairy ring. His lips are moving, but the tape doesn’t have sound.

The shadow: There’s me, still standing behind Cortano. I’m reaching down and removing my gold stiletto. I’m swinging my arm. The stiletto makes contact with Cortano’s neck. There’s blood. We’re both on the ground, him fumbling for his gun, for anything. My arm, still swinging, again and again. Me, standing, reaching for the keys on the hood of my car. Launching myself behind the wheel. Tearing away.

The prosecutor let the tape run—Cortano’s still down, not moving. For awhile, that’s it. Then a second set of lights flash across his limp body as backup arrives on the scene.

The prosecutor stopped the tape.

“No further questions.”

My lawyer called expert witnesses, defined my behavior as “a dissociative state” caused by flashbacks to my abusive childhood with my father, who beat me. Who did all sorts of awful things she can’t even summon in court, because I can’t put them into words.

But the shadow has no sympathy.


Bruce opened the door before I could knock.

“Well, look who it is!”

“I’m not coming in,” I said, reaching in my bag.

His hand latched over my wrist.

“Not on my front step. It’s still light.” His lip buckled in contempt. He yanked me inside. “Give the boys what they want. I gotta take a leak,” he said, and headed for the back of the house.

His friends were sitting around the table, halfway to loaded.

“You wanna give me some of what you got?” one said. His eyes were sunken and bloodshot, making him look like a sick demon.

“You got the money?” I asked. I tried to duplicate Bruce’s snarl. “I’m here for your delivery. That’s it.”

“Hey mama, we don’t have to be that way,” he crooned, rising from his chair and snaking toward me. “Can’t buy love, right?”

He wrapped his arm around me, pulling me against him and cupping my ass.

I twisted my face away from his, seeing one of Bruce’s other boys fumbling with his belt buckle.

I shoved him away and ran for my car.

The cloud started rolling in as I punched the gas pedal. Just go, get away. They’re all too high to follow. I rolled up my windows and locked the doors when I cleared the block, just in case, even though it was a million degrees with the humidity trapped inside.

Then I saw the blue lights behind me.

I’m saved. I’m—still carrying. I yanked at the top of my dress and twisted my hair to the side. I slowed my breathing, trying to embody the classy girl headed out for a night on the town with her girlfriends. I prepped myself for the doe eyes, for the speech about being sorry for speeding. They don’t search you for a speeding ticket.

Then I saw him in my rearview mirror. He’d changed into his uniform. I didn’t know he was working tonight.

“What did I say to do?” he said, hitting each word slowly, as if speaking to a child.

“What are you doing? Bruce’s friend—he—”

“We’re going to play this by the books. You’re going to hand me your license and registration now. And give me the keys.”

“Honey, what are you doing?” I whispered again, my breath catching. I passed him my paperwork and turned off the car.

“I think you need to be reminded who’s in charge,” he said. “You’re done.”

As he walked back to his car and ran my license, going through the motions, I couldn’t see where this was going. Where I was going.


We get an hour a day in the yard, which is really more of a dog run. Just dry dirt and a narrow rectangle of fence. We’re not allowed to talk, but I don’t mind. What’s there to say? Who would believe me? I’m just a meth head who paralyzed a cop.

In here, we all wear soft, criminal-orange clogs as light as styrofoam. They’re not gold stilettos, but at least they’re free. I’m free. No one owns me now but the state, and they barely know my name. Overhead, the sky is blue and completely clear.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg

Photograph by: Vrinda Agrawal

The Living Dead

Posted on: June 3, 2014

Beth slammed the bathroom door and thrust her shoulder against the worn sheet of wood. She suctioned her ear to the textured surface and listened for footsteps climbing the stairs. Tears cascaded down her cheeks as water droplets trickled out of the faucet; the one she always forgot to have fixed.

She pressed her back against the door and slid to the ground, watching a bead of moisture lose its grip on the steel spout as she made her way to the floor. The water droplet splattered against the porcelain bowl just before she reached the molded tiles. She snapped out of her hypnosis once she heard sluggish steps scaling the hallway staircase.

Beth covered her ears with her hands and squeezed so tightly, a puff of air ruffled the graying hair covering the back of her neck. Tears rained on her lap as she rocked and hummed, trying to drown out the nearing groans reverberating through the door.

A knock from outside sent chills down Beth’s spine, turning her hums into howls and her rhythmic swaying into violent thrashing. She writhed about until the back of her head collided with the metal knob beside her, leaving a speck of blood clinging to the vertical lock as her limp body slid to the floor.


“What’s wrong with her?” Chris asked as his mom disappeared at the top of the staircase.

“Gee, I don’t know, Chris,” answered Robyn. “Maybe it has something to do with two strangers showing up on her doorstep, insisting they’re her children?”

“We ARE her children.”

“Not in her mind, we aren’t.”

Robyn opened the screen door for Chris and followed him into the foyer.

“But I spoke to her on the phone just last week,” Chris said as they ascended the stairs. “I told her we were coming by today.”

“And I’ve been trying to tell you for months now that she has dementia, but you seem to forget that pretty easily.”

“You don’t know it’s dementia.”

“You’re right, she’s probably just trippin’ balls.”

“Is that some symptom you’re studying? I don’t know what that means?”

“What, there wasn’t a lot of acid dropping going on at divinity school?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“There probably wasn’t much laughter either.”

Chris ended the conversation with a scoff as they reached the top of the stairs.

“Christ, is she humming?” Robyn asked.

“Mom?” Chris said, tapping the door with his knuckles.

“Mom, open up,” Robyn said, followed by a firm strike with the side of her fist.

Chris cupped his hand between the door and his ear and listened for a response. Their eyes widened once they heard the crashing of bone against brass.

“MOM,” Chris yelled, jiggling the handle. “Shoot! It’s locked.”

“Shit,” Robyn muttered as she rifled through her hair for a bobby pin. “Didn’t I tell you this would happen?”

“This isn’t the time for I-told-you-so’s.”

“Only God can judge you, right?”

“Condescending remarks aren’t going to unlock this door.”

Robyn rolled her eyes and removed a pin from her bun. Her brown hair unfurled over her shoulders as she straightened the curved piece of metal and slid it into the narrow hole in the center of the knob. She fidgeted the instrument with surgical precision until the latch clicked.

“God dammit,” Robyn grumbled.

“What? it sounded like it worked.”

“I know, but the door won’t move. She must be leaning on it.”


Chris pushed Robyn aside and rested his shoulder against the door. He pushed off the ground with his leg until a tiny opening started to form.

“FUCK,” Chris shouted. “Call 9-1-1!”

“You said ‘fuck?’” Robyn noted.

She glimpsed through the opening while taking her phone out of her pocket. She spotted the top of her mom’s head lying in a puddle of blood on the bathroom floor.



“Good, she’s awake,” Dr. Bachman noted.

“It’s Alzheimer’s, isn’t it?” asked Robyn.

“I’m afraid so,” he replied.

“Happy?” Chris asked.

“Yes, Chris, I’m fucking ecstatic.”

She looked down at her mom to see how she was taking the news. Beth was wearing the same bewildered expression she wore when she answered the door.

“Mrs. Carlisle,” Dr. Bachman interrupted. “According to the brain scans and what your children have told me, it appears you have Stage 4 Alzheimer’s.”

“How many stages are there?” Chris asked.

“Seven,” Robyn answered.

“I was asking the doctor.”

“Which one?”

“You’re not a doctor yet. You’re still in school.”

“I’m in my residency, dick. That means I have an MD.”

Once Robyn stopped talking she could hear her mother sobbing.

“Will you two please step outside for a moment,” Dr. Bachman interjected.

Robyn stormed out of the room without saying another word. Chris gave his mom a kiss on the forehead and followed his sister’s lead.

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” Robyn continued as soon as her brother appeared in the hallway.


“Her lucidity.”

“How can you be so cold about this?”

“Because I know how Alzheimer’s works, Chris. Back in med school we used to call it the Zombie Disease. It could take months or even years, but one of these days, mom will be nothing more than an animated corpse.”

“And then what, we shoot her in the head?”

“No. We take her off medical support and let nature run its course.”

“If we’re not doing everything in our power to save her, we’re killing her.”

“And if we let her become a bed-wetting, pants-shitting, incoherent shell of herself, we’re killing every laugh, every smile and every wonderful moment we’ve ever shared with her. MEMORIES are life after death, Chris; not some fucking gated community in the clouds where she and your dad will reunite and live happily ever after.”

“I don’t appreciate you belittling my life’s work.”

“Yeah? Well now you know how mom feels.”

Robyn’s wall of words broke like a dam holding back a flood of tears. She turned towards the window and stared at her mother until she became blurred beyond recognition.

Written by: Mark Killian

Photograph by: Vrinda Agrawal

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