Southern Framed Joy

Posted on: September 30, 2014

In the summer it gets hot. So hot that the temperature holds as the sun goes down, and even the moon makes us sweat.

This is where I live. It is not where I have always lived, though that place is not so far away either. That place, so full up of wheat fields and family; so full up of God. Filled to the brim and runneth over with churches that were once small and white and chapelesque, but are now behemoths, megachurches; congregations with mic’d up pastors and acoustic guitars, home to not only worship, but high school graduations, Starbucks, and daycares. You’ll find Catholics where I’m from, and Methodists, Lutherans, and dancing Baptists. You’ll also find angry billboards crowding interstates, their messages forged by hate groups masquerading as ones of hope.

Alas, I live there no longer. I left not because of God, not because of billboards or the Baptists. I left because that is what some people do. They leave where they are because they are curious and hopeful for the unknown future. They are not beat down by being human and raising family and following their dreams. They are not beat down by traffic and mass killings and car wrecks and breakups and heartaches, or whatever else. They are not tired. Not yet.

So they leave like I left and like thousands and probably millions of people leave the place of their birth, and maybe some of them go back to that birthplace, and perhaps it is something in the water that drags them there like the north star dragged gifters of frankincense. I learned to spell the name of the spice on a black chalkboard as a child. In the summer we decamped from our video game postures, from our aimless wanderings, from baseball fields and pool parties. We left those things behind for something called “Vacation Bible Study,” which was no sort of vacation I was interested in. They did, however, excel at spelling long-winded Bible names, and in retrospect perhaps there is some camaraderie to be gained from that time before I left; Wednesday night youth group, arms raised, free pizza. As if there really is a club. As if there really is support if you go to enough meetings.

I am not the only one who left, some of us choosing to make a home rather than being made by one. And of course, we never forget that we left. We might compare our places of past to that of our foreseeable future. In this practice we are looking backwards and forwards, always leaving out the present.

But enough about where I was and where I will be. I’ll have plenty of time to sit in the well of my past when I’m older, looking to the light above, smoking my pipe in a splintered rocking chair made of wisdom and wood, creaking along with the chorus of crickets in the evening.

Where I live it is so hot, but it is wonderful. And is that not a true southern sentence? To both criticise and cherish? Recognizing the imperfections of where you are from with a celebration and analysis that slip into romanticism. If you are from the south then you are born with this romanticism that runs like a red ribbon from your gut out of your mouth. I have dreams of someone pulling this red ribbon out of me, and pulling and pulling and finally when it is done, and I am on my knees panting like a thirsty dog, then it makes sense that I am southern. I am ecstatic and perturbed. Happy to be rid of it but always in longing for it. To be southern is to be addicted to this sentimentality.

Clarification may be necessary in even my term “southern.” I am not southern with accents, though ours is there as well. I am not southern with antebellum white pillars that are Greek in birth but sometimes still prejudice in practice. Blanche Dubois is as foreign to me as she is to Stanley Kowalski. I am not that kind of southern. I am not from there.

I am from cowboy boots and country music and mesquite trees and the fondling of B-B-Q, which can be spelled no other way but to look delinquent. I am from coyote howls at night and smoky casino floors in the morning, when the remnants of double-wide fortunes leave charred patches of red shame on the soul.

I am from a place of oil derricks that look beautiful and science fiction at the dawn or dusk of the day. A place that runs desert to the west and forest to the east, as you sink into the Gulf of Mexico, as you pay tribute to your southern neighbor, where Spanish is an absolutely breathtaking and beautiful language full up of breathtaking and beautiful people.

I am from line dancing where the term “honky-tonk” inspires nothing but agreeable nods. I am from campfires and peeing blindly into the woods and fucking blindly into the woods with girls named Mary Lou and sometimes girls named Kathy. I am from football and Friday night lights, where pickup trucks circle bonfires like summer Junebugs to a naked porch light, and country music mixes gleefully with booty dancing white girls and black girls and those aforementioned Spanish lovelies.

Where I’m from, people smile at one another and this is important for the sanctity of positive, glowing energy that moves with the wind through the trees and down past our tongues into the souls that the preacher has saved. Everything happens for a reason, they say, and that smile must surely be the reason.

And when you look back, when you ask why you left, it’s so that you can carry some of it along with you, in your briefcase, in your knapsack, in your fingertips and touch, and spread it around where all of us can have a drink, all of us can smile, and maybe when you’re done riding the trains, criss-crossing our home like the trappings and strings of a net, perhaps then we’ll have some purpose. Perhaps then we’ll catch a gleam of happiness, far out there, rising from the line of the horizon, silhouetted by the sun, riding a fucking horse.

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal


Posted on: September 25, 2014

Continued from "Tequila Sunrise" and "Salt on the Rim."

“Can I play on the monkey bars today?” Paloma asks.

The playground stretches in front of them: an ancient thing, untouched by safety concerns. Vibrant paint peels to reveal shiny metal. It feels familiar to Lori, and that’s why she insists on coming here, even though there are four other parks closer to their apartment. Familiarity is a luxury.

“If you can reach ‘em today, then sure,” Lori replies. “If you fall, just spit on it.”

“Gross,” Paloma says, then nods. She tugs at the hem of her favorite sweater, mustard yellow with a big teal dove embroidered on the front. It’s starting to pull, and soon she won’t be able to wear it at all. Maybe Lori can make it into a cute pillow. Better yet, maybe Lori can hire someone to do it for her. It’s something Beth would’ve done.

“Hey, is there anyone here you like?” Lori knows from Paloma’s expression that she hasn’t phrased the question right, so she tries again. “I mean, do you have any friends here you might want to invite over? Like for a play date?”

“I like everyone,” Paloma says, and runs off to join an in-progress game whose purpose is only understood by children.

Lori realizes that without Paloma, she is alone. A dozen mothers mill around the perimeter of the playground, their pristine New Balance sneakers crunching over the bark. Most of them wear tasteful pea coats in shades of coal, pewter, and cocoa. There are a couple of outliers — a jade and eggplant — but they still feel restrained compared to the bright pink blazer Lori wears over her favorite gray sweater.

Lori stands off to the side, afraid to break into one of the established groups. How would that conversation even go? ‘Hey, have you ever thought about who your kids’ godparents are, and what that means? My sister didn’t. How about one of your kids comes over for a play date? Draw straws. I’ll wait.’

Her cell phone cuts through the silence of the morning. She has to get a new bag, one that won’t swallow everything she owns. Everything about her feels loud and obnoxious.

“I think it’s in your pocket,” the mother with the eggplant coat gives her a helpful smile. Lori groans and retrieves her iPhone from her blazer.

“Got an email from one of our little lovebirds. Whitney wanted to make sure you were doing okay. What should I tell her?” Nicole doesn’t bother with pleasantries.

“That I’m fine, of course.”

“Really?” Nicole asks.

“I can’t stop thinking about how Paloma will never know how great her mom was. She’ll never taste Beth’s triple chocolate brownies, or listen to her read the Harry Potter books, or make snow angels at Christmas. I have to do all of those things, except I almost put Kahlua in my last batch of brownies, and I can’t get Hagrid’s voice right, and my last snow angel looked disturbingly phallic.”

“You won’t let anyone forget Beth, but don’t suffocate yourself with the weight of her memory. Plus, I’m pretty sure Kahlua bakes out, but maybe Google it just in case? No one can ever get Hagrid’s voice right except Robbie Coltrane. Make snowmen instead.”

The two women make small talk until Paloma falls. It happens in slow motion: tripping over herself and splaying out in the bark. Lori hangs up on Nicole mid-sentence, watching her delicate niece right herself, inspect the skinning knee, and spit on it. Paloma looks up and waves at Lori.

“I think it worked!”

Unfazed, Paloma skips over, dark hair a tangled mess. She has Beth’s button nose, but her dad’s light blue eyes. Her smile is entirely her own.

“Look what I found!” Paloma chirps, cupping her hands around a small wooden heart.

“Cool,” Lori takes it from her. “Uh, you didn’t put this in your mouth, did you?”

Paloma shakes her head.

“Good, ‘cause you’re not supposed to do that.”

“Can we get hot chocolate?” Paloma asks.

“Sure,” Lori says. Paloma grabs her hand and Lori doesn’t flinch this time. It feels like a tiny victory.

She looks back at the wooden heart and a long-buried memory surfaces. It is a happy memory, one with Beth. They buried treasure together, when Lori was a kid and did everything Beth told her to without a second thought. Why did they bury it when they could have gone looking for it?

Grief has taken root in her, a dull throbbing ache that resides under the surface of her skin. Its only benefit is that it offers her perspective, gives her new acuity with which to view past events. At the funeral, Lori experienced an odd revelation about why Beth stopped lending her clothes. Beth’s were too adult, too sophisticated for a high school kid, and then too professional for a college kid. They grew apart in yards of fabric and heel height.

They buried the treasure because others might need it more than they did.

“I don’t think we should take it home,” Paloma says, pointing to the heart. “It belongs to the park.”

They find a small patch of dirt near the pond. The earth is damp, and their hands get dirty from digging. Lori tucks Paloma’s hair behind her small, perfect ear, and leaves a smear of dirt behind.

When the hole is large enough, Paloma places it in with the stoic reverence of a child mimicking adult behavior.

“When you plant a garden, you start with earth and seeds,” Lori says. “We’re lucky, because we live somewhere with good soil and good weather. We’ll plant it here and love will grow.”

“What kind of love?”

“Does it matter?” Lori smiles.

“Can it be like the way I love Mom and Dad and you?”

Lori can’t look at her. Paloma has seen too many tears. She has watched Lori’s grief beach itself, an immobile leviathan. Instead, she takes the child in her arms and hugs her.

“Of course it can,” Lori whispers.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Pekka Nikrus

Common Denominators

Posted on: September 23, 2014

When we last saw Anna, she was battling a particularly difficult ghost who attacked her in a parking garage. The ghost came to Anna's attention through her client Suri, whom the ghost haunted for fourteen years, inhabiting a series of different men. With Suri recovering from the ghost's latest attempt on her life, Anna plans her next move.  
Read the whole Anna the Extractor Series--"The Extractor," "Bury Their Own," "Beloved," "A Tremor in Your Name," and "Stress in the Workplace," and "Calling" (an introduction)--to learn more about Anna and her supernatural adventures.

Anna leans against the cement wall at the edge of Allen Park with one foot propped up and her hands stuffed in her jacket pockets. Detective Michael Cohen called her yesterday evening to set up an appointment to discuss some of the facts regarding her previous client, Suri. The police found Anna’s profession amusing to say the least; it’s not everyday you meet a chick exorcist. After a few questions and making sure she wasn’t an accomplice for Suri’s attempted murder, they let her go.

A man with light brown hair and glasses approaches her from the sidewalk, an obsessive shine to his dress shoes and a too-crisp look to his windbreaker.

“Miss Hirsch? I’m Detective…”

“Cohen. Yeah, I know. It’s not like all my best friends are cops,” Anna says.

They shake hands and make their way over to a wrought-iron bench, which felt freezing through Anna’s skinny jeans.

“I wanted to ask you a few questions about Suri Mathis, just to make sure we didn’t miss anything.”

Anna does not make eye contact, but looks out at the river, breathing in the chill of an early morning. Detective Cohen clears his throat.

“Miss Mathis was your client, correct?”

“Listen, man. If you’re just going to ask me a bunch of questions that you already know the answer to…”

“Hey, I come in peace,” Cohen says, hands lifted in surrender.

Anna meets his gaze and folds her arms over her chest as she says, “She’s been haunted by the same ghost for fourteen years. She hired me to extract it.”

“And were you able to?”

“Not entirely.”

“Did Miss Mathis happen to mention any characteristics about her assailant? His lifestyle, habits, hobbies?”


“What about her previous assailants? There have been at least thirteen others, I’m assuming.”

Anna shakes her head. “She only described her dad. She said he drank. A lot.”

Detective Cohen nods, pulling out a large envelope from inside his jacket. He reveals a handful of photographs depicting dead women, all having suffered from different forms of violence.

“These women died within the last two weeks. There isn’t a common denominator that makes them targets. We’ve detained five of the six assailants involved in their murders. And you know what, Miss Hirsch? They’re the ones with stuff in common.”

Anna frowns, brow furrowed.

“Each one suffered from temporary amnesia when they committed the crime.”

“I didn’t realize that was a thing…”

“At first, we thought they’d all been drinking, blacked out, and then killed their girlfriends, wives, daughters. It was especially compelling when alcoholism came up in some of their histories. But when the blood alcohol concentration wasn’t matching up, it made things a little strange. We couldn’t just call it domestic violence under the influence.”

Detective Cohen puts away the photographs and leans back, draping one arm over the back of the bench.

“Suri’s boyfriend didn’t remember trying to kill her,” Cohen continues. “Neither did any of the others with restraining orders. I checked.”

“So, you’re telling me that the police department is willing to follow a lead suggesting possession by ghosts?” Anna asks through a scoff.

“Well, not the department. Just me.”

Anna scratches the back of her head and sighs, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees. Detective Cohen folds his arms over his chest and sighs.

“My dad beat my mom once when I was in high school. He’d never hurt her before. And he’d never been a drinker, but all of a sudden he couldn’t keep enough Icehouse in the fridge. One night, he just started wailing on her. I got between them and punched my dad square in the eye. My mom screamed his name and was the strangest thing. It was like a light turning on. He didn’t know what he’d just done, only that it was horrible.”

“What’s his name?” Anna asks.

“Huh?” Cohen murmurs, wading through the memory.

“You said he came to when your mom screamed his name.”

“Oh. Yeah. Lucas. His name’s Lucas.”

“Fucking hell,” Anna breathes, standing up and pulling out her cigarettes.

“What’s wrong with Lucas?” the detective asks, startled by her reaction.

She turns on him with a cigarette dangling from her lips and says, “That’s the goddamn ghost’s name, Cohen. The one who’s been haunting Suri. Your dad snapped out of it because your mom said the ghost’s name. That’s the power. She cast him out.”

“Jesus. This is unbelievable.”

“Listen, man. You better start believing real quick if you want this shit to stop.”

Anna finally gets her cigarette lit and sucks in, closing her eyes like it’s saving her life. It’s supposed to be so simple. Get the ghost’s name. Ask what he wants. Give him what he wants. Collect the money. But Lucas is playing a game. He’s making men kill the women they love most in their lives, and they end up alone.

“Just like me,” Anna whispers, remembering what Lucas said when she encountered him last.

Detective Cohen watches her, a question forming on his lips.

“That’s what he said. ‘All alone, just like me.’ He’s reliving something,” she says. “He’s reliving what he did.”

“How do we make him stop?” Cohen asks.

“He’s raging. We’ve gotta calm him down. I’ve gotta talk to him, but I need him to trust me. If I can get him to show himself to me - to haunt me - then I can help him.”

“Anna, he’s a murderer. He doesn’t deserve help,” Cohen states.

Anna grabs the collar of his windbreaker and yanks Cohen toward her with her fists. She looks him in the eye, noses touching.

“Look, asshole. No one deserves anything. We don’t deserve mercy. We don’t deserve justice. But if you want women to stop dying, then I need to help him.”

“And what happens if you help him?”

“He’ll cross over,” Anna says, letting go and stepping back. “And then whatever god you believe in will deal with him.”

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Nathan Mansakahn


Posted on: September 18, 2014

“When life hands you lemons…” the old man says, offering me a smile as sweet and sugary as the pale yellow liquid he poured into two glasses. He slides one across the table and I notice his eyes crawl across my body, savoring every angle and curve.

Lemons indeed, you sick old perv.

While he mentally undresses me, I glance around the house, taking stock. Obviously a bachelor pad, the place hasn’t seen a woman’s touch in years, if ever. The kitchen is tidy, though outdated. A battered and stained plaid couch dominates the small living room. The only decorative touches are a few pieces of rudimentary taxidermy that hang upon the wood paneled walls. A dim hallway leads to the back of the house. High up in the Hollywood hills, sitting on a piece of land worth millions, it is not what I expected.

“Ahem.” My little cough grabs his attention. Red-faced, his gaze jumps from my tits back to my face.

“Thank you again, for saving me,” I say.

“You’re welcome. It’s a lucky thing I came along when I did. You could have been stuck out there all night. You really should have a spare tire.”

He may be talking about my car, but I can tell that he’s thinking about my ass. These pigs are all the same, let me save this little damsel in distress and I’ll get some.

Well trust me pal, no one is getting lucky here tonight.

I take a sip of the lemonade and put my hand in the pocket of my jacket, feeling reassured by the cool touch of the Walther 9mm that I had retrieved from the glove box before getting into his car.

“You don’t happen to have anything a little harder, would you?” I ask.

My question touches a nerve. His face bunches up and for a moment it looks as if he is going to cry. We stare at each other, the silence as uncomfortable as the plastic chairs we sit in. Finally, he shakes his head.

“I’m sorry dear, but no.” He manages a little smile. “Those days are long past for me.”

He gets up and pours himself another glass of lemonade, gesturing out the window to the sprawling mass of lights that is Los Angeles at night.

“I used to be kind of a big deal down there, producing movies and TV shows and whatnot. I had it all. The money. The fame. The fortune. Surrounded by young, beautiful women like yourself. But I drank it all away.”

He stares down at the lights of the city below.

“I tried the whole sobriety thing down there, but I couldn’t take it. Pardon my language, but that’s a pretty fucked up town. It’s amazing what people will do to each other to get ahead.”

You are preaching to the choir my friend.

“Once I wasn’t living inside a bottle I found out that my skin wasn’t thick enough to deal with it. So now, I just want to be left alone up here, living the simple life and communing with nature.”

Communing with nature?

A shudder passes through my body and my eyes are drawn back to the taxidermy that adorns the room. I fixate on the owl that is sitting on a shelf above the TV. His eyes are bright, fierce; not the usual muddied, opaque marbles.

Los Angeles is not the only thing fucked up around here.

“It’s getting late. You can sleep in my bedroom, I’ll take the couch. Don’t worry--we’ll get you fixed up in the morning.”


I almost feel a twinge of guilt as I stand over him, his nostrils flaring with each soft snore. It’s so much easier to dispatch them when they’ve been pawing at me with their lecherous hands. But, decent man or not, he made it too easy, and too worthwhile.

Once I was sure my host had fallen asleep, I had done my recon. The top of his dresser was littered with bank statements, and the plethora of commas and zeros on them was enough to make any girl swoon. I found his wallet and the keys to the Cadillac on the table. Only one thing remained.

Sorry bud, it’s nothing personal, but a girl’s gotta eat.

My finger starts to tighten, taking up what little slack there is in the trigger. I take a deep breath and prepare for the recoil of the silenced handgun.

A piercing shriek cuts through the air behind me. I spin around and the gun jumps in my hand, lodging a bullet in the couch next to the man’s head. He screams and kicks at me and I tumble over the coffee table, ducking just under the owl as it swoops down on me. The pistol flies from my hand and slides across the living room floor. The enraged raptor redirects its attack and lands on my back, beak and talons tearing into my flesh.

I manage to get to my feet and make a break for the door and, owl still in tow, we burst into the cool, quiet California night. I race to the Cadillac, fight free from my tormenter, and slide in, slamming the door on one of the bird’s wings. It thrashes about, struggling to free itself, a writhing, screeching mass of blood and feathers.

I fumble with the key, trying to slip it into the ignition. Out of the corner of my eye I see the man lurch through the door of the house. The car finally starts and I speed up the steep incline of the driveway. Just as I am about to turn onto the road, a hulking black shadow appears in front of me. I slam on the brakes and skid to a stop just as the bear rears up and brings its crushing weight down on the front of the car.

I sit there frozen and watch as more animals: deer, coyote, fox, skunk, raccoon, opossum-- emerge from the shadows and ring the car, their preternatural eyes aglow in the beam of the headlights.

What the fuck?

The car door opens. The owl flaps away and lands on the hood, glaring at me and nursing its injured appendage.The old man raises the gun, my gun. I stare down the barrel, and wait for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Anna Westbury

The Original

Posted on: September 16, 2014

Alfredo is one hell of a big guy. He’s at least 6’5” and has a body like an upside-down triangle—all beef at the top and nothing in the hips. To be honest, he kind of looks like a Street Shark, if you remember that show.

I say all this because Alfredo is the boss of the window washers, and I cannot for the life of me imagine a dude his size up fifteen stories balancing on a swing-stage.

“You ever clean windows?” he asks me, crossing his arms over his barrel chest.

Si, yes, but from the inside. I did janitorial at ChronoCorp?”

“So you cleaned windows with two feet on the ground,” he humphs, unimpressed.

“I get the job done. And I’m not scared of heights.”

“Washing windows takes upper body strength, balance—“ he says, looking me up and down. “Trial basis.”

I’ll take it. I heard you can earn up to twenty-five bucks an hour if you made it to skyscrapers. That’s almost three times what I was making at ChronoCorp, and with fewer—complications.


That’s what I tell Dusty, my new coworker, when he asks me why I left my last job. He’s fitting me for a safety harness—“OSHA compliant,” he says.

“You got to interview me, too?”

“Nah, man, just curious. You got to watch people who want to get into this line of work, you know? Some people—kind of like reality shows—in it for the wrong reasons.”

“How do you mean?” I ask him.

“Well, take this one guy we had last year. Thrill seeker. Tried to drop down the building too fast, just to see if he could. Fredo fired him quick. And then, there’s the funny guys.” Dusty shakes his head.

“Not ha-ha funny?”

“You know,” he says. “Funny in the head. They think if something happens up there, everybody’ll guess it’s an accident. Let your family off easy, you know? So they don’t think you’re in hell for killing yourself.”

Mi dios—"

Si, partner. Your dios. Or somebody’s. So I take it that’s not what you’re after—but why leave the time machine? That’s some high tech shit they got over there.”

I shrug and give the straps on my new harness an experimental tug. I consider griping to Dusty about The Man, but decide not to. He watches reality shows, after all. He wouldn’t get it—pushing a broom is bad enough, but it’s worse when you’re cleaning up after ChronoCorp’s customers: perfectly normal-looking middle-aged people hemorrhaging money to get their skin tightened and their fat blasted. And I’m eating off the dollar menu for dinner. Again.

All the commercials call it “the Time Machine.” Take you back to the you of your youth. But every day in that place, I could feel myself getting older and older. And then I stumbled down a restricted hallway one night, looking for the good floor buffer. Some things, once you see them, you can’t un-see them.

“Bills, man,” I say.


Life dangling from a rope turns out to be chill, once you get past the terror. I think maybe this is why people like surfing. The balance. The rocking. The wind in your face. And the view, if you’re into that.

Alfredo chews out one of the younger guys for taking selfies on the scaffold.

“You screw around, you get killed! You get killed, I’m out of business!”

“But man, did you see that sunset?”

Alfredo is not amused. Alfredo is not a man impressed by nature blushing all over itself or some shit. Alfredo puts Mr. Instagram on bucket duty for three whole days.

I’m a quick learner. Dusty only has to show me a few times before I get the rhythm of things. I swipe the mop and squeegee at the windows, down and across, across and down.

“Okay,” Alfredo says. “I guess you’ll do.”

We do office buildings, mostly. Sometimes hotels. One day we do a building at a college, and all the students gawk at us like we’re magical acrobats.

“You see that video of that Spiderman window washer?” Dusty says. “They think we’re Spiderman!”

I saw the video. It was at a hospital for sick kids. I think Dusty kind of missed the point. But I don’t care if the people on the inside stare. I’d rather be on the outside than trapped in a fishbowl. It’s alright out here. Best of all, even with the blinds open to the inside, there’s nothing happening. Nothing to un-see.


What I’m dreading finally happens: we’re doing the windows at the Time Machine.

“I’ve got that thing—I think it’s called vertigo,” I tell Alfredo.

“And I’ve got that thing—I think it’s called we’re understaffed and have a job to do. Don’t give me this crap, Ramos.”

We take the elevator to the fifteenth floor, then climb the stairs to the roof, where Dusty and I secure the ropes. We’re using the two-man swing-stage today.

The blinds are closed and shut in the fifteenth-floor windows. Dusty’s singing the jingle for some car title loan place—“Get cash fast with Zippy Cash!”

“It should be ‘Get hash fast with Zippy Cash,’” I say.

“What do you mean?”

“Why else do you need a title loan?”

Dusty looks a little confused, but laughs, faking understanding.

The fourteenth floor is corporate office space. Through the few uncovered windows, I can see a meeting in progress and a fancy waiting area.

Then there’s the thirteenth floor. The blinds, as I feared, are wide open. Even though the windows are tinted, you can see inside—row after row of metal doors.

When we reach the last window, I see a man—the head janitor—opening one of the doors. He presses a few buttons on a panel on the wall. And then a man steps into the room.

“Look at that! Dude in there could be your twin,” Dusty laughs.

“Huh,” I say, hoping that’s all he notices. We’re about to finish this floor, and then we’re onto twelve and eleven, where all the rich people have their evaluations for experimental rejuvenation treatments.

“Wait a second—do you see that? There’s people in there. Lots of them—Ramos, what the hell?”

And I know then that Dusty, dim as he is, will never un-see. To ChronoCorp, to the rest of the world, it’s an endless supply of uncomplaining laborers. They could be programmed to have any number of fake memories—or maybe no memories at all. But to me, all I see is my face, Maria’s face, the face of the teenage kid who did the bathrooms—over and over and over again. What they told us was a simple test for drugs was really a free genetic sample to clone for their secret inventory. Their experiments.

But I am not them. I am the original, and I got out. And nothing is going to mess that up.

“I’m sorry, man,” I tell Dusty. I pull the knife from my belt and slash his rope. I give him a shove.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

1:1 - Logan Theissen

Posted on: September 11, 2014

Interviewed by Erin Justice
Over the next few weeks, 1:1000 will take you behind the scenes with our core writing and editorial team. We'll show you more about what makes these writers tick (or maybe twitch).

In our final interview, Erin Justice sits down with Logan Theissen, the author behind “What the Factory Makes” and “Wind Howl Hold Steady.” A fan of Breaking Bad and Kanye, he finds inspiration in many forms.

1:1000: This is such a dumb first question, but inquiring minds want to know. The paella in Spain...why was it amazing? I've wondered about it since I read your bio on our contributors page.

LOGAN THEISSEN: Haha. That is most certainly not a dumb question. I had paella in San Sebastian, Spain on a summer night by the beach when I was about 22. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to Europe with some friends of mine, and Spain was the end of our trip. I had a romantic notion of San Sebastian based mostly off Hemingway, and was in no mood to have that illusion shattered. We heard of this restaurant down an alley right off the beach, searched for it for hours, and upon finding it we had their paella along with a hefty dose of sangria wine. It was served on the biggest dish I've ever seen in my life. I'm a philistine when it comes to food, so in the end, my love of that particular Spanish paella has nothing to do with how it tasted. Of course it was delicious; fresh, spicy, unlike anything a twenty-something Oklahoman had ever experienced. But ultimately, the memory and nostalgia of that night and that trip, has inexorably been linked to a simple Spanish dish that I'll never experience again.

1:1000: That sounds like an amazing experience all around. You mention (by name or description) a variety of settings and locations. Do you like to travel?

LT: I have a love/hate relationship with traveling. I love being new places, and experiencing new things. I think it can make you a wiser individual. But on the other hand, I'm not a fan of crowds, airports, lines, etc. (Who is?) Like anyone else, I can get frustrated with the process. Recently I saw a Louis C.K. joke where he implores you to remember how fortunate you are to be flying (or traveling) at all, so now I try to keep that in mind. I've been very, very lucky to go to some pretty cool places, so it's important for me to remember that it's a gift to have these experiences, and I shouldn't spend them stressed or bitchy. I should be happy to be in the Louvre at all, regardless of the global bump and grind of my fellow tourists. They're just trying to do the same things I am.

1:1000: You write with a range of genres, tones, and subjects (just read “The Ballad of Maria” and “The Memory Assassin” back-to-back) but there's always gritty, raw emotion captured. Is that something that emerges in the first draft, or does it build over time (and revisions)?

LT: It usually emerges in the first draft. With flash fiction, I don't usually do much revising. I've found that when I'm on a roll and feeling good, most of what I want to say comes out that first time. If I'm not satisfied with something I'll of course tinker a bit to get where I want to be tone/emotion-wise, but (for better or worse) I've completely trashed first drafts before. When that happens I'll try again with a new story; a new plot or device to frame the tone and idea I'm trying to get across. Ultimately, if the story isn’t working it’s the fault of the writing, and I’m okay giving up bad writing and trying something new.

1:1000: Wow. I applaud you for that. It’s taken me years - literally - to give up bad writing. Is there anything you discarded that you’ve ever considered coming back to, or found elements creeping into other pieces?

LT: Sure. I don’t think I have a habit of recycling sentences, paragraphs, or anything that specific. But I’ll often write a completely different version of a story or idea I have. I like messing with tone so that the plot points are the same, but the story is something new.

1:1000: How do you select images for your stories?

LT: I usually have a pretty good idea of the story I want to write, so I find photos that I think are cool and could fit the mood that I'm trying to create in the writing. From there, I usually select a detail from the picture and incorporate it into the story somehow. Occasionally, I'll write the story first and then find a picture that I think accompanies it. It's just a personal preference on my end.

1:1000: In terms of the process and those details, what was your favorite piece to write?

LT: “Buggies.” For sure. I saw the picture and immediately thought “alien ship.” I had been wanting to write something about aliens, but I tried a few different angles, futuristic type stuff, World War Z type of stuff, and it just wasn’t coming out. A week or so later I was driving back to Austin from San Antonio at like 2am, and I was listening to a history podcast called Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (which is great). The episode was on WWI and the introduction of chemical warfare. There was a journal entry from a soldier on the ground that Carlin read very dramatically. Anyway, the idea hit somewhere on I-35, and I liked the notion of old school soldiers in a futuristic, alien, sort of environment. From there the writing of it was pretty easy. I just had a good time with it.

1:1000: What inspires you?

LT: I have always been inspired by other authors and books. Certain writing has meant something to me throughout my life, and I'm always striving to create something that inspires someone else. Like a lot of writers, I also love movies, so they are a constant source of inspiration as well. Lastly, I would say hard work really inspires me, and having grit and determination to get what you want. Sometimes I'm a bit lazy, so I try to surround myself with people that are badasses; people who get shit done. They inspire me in ways that go beyond writing.

1:1000: What's the best thing you've read/watched/listened to all year?

LT: I'm not very good at these questions, as I usually really like a lot of stuff. I recently read George Saunders' Tenth of December: Stories. It was my first time reading Saunders. It was really incredible. I've been into short stories lately, so I also read Kurt Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House. It was my first time with Vonnegut's short stories and what he does with such a limited amount of time is astounding. I don't know if it's this year, but the last bit of Breaking Bad was really, really great; pretty much perfect in fact. My favorite film of the year has probably been Richard Linklater's Boyhood, which was incredible on a technical scale and I like it when artists push themselves to try something different. Musically, I try to be as eclectic as possible. There's SO MUCH good music out there, so many great artists. I always feel like I'm missing out on something great. Sturgill Simpson's new record Metamodern Sounds in Country Music has been my favorite this year. It does absolutely everything I want a great record to do. It's been my summer soundtrack down here in Texas. Of course, if Kanye releases anything this year that will take the year-end crown. I had to get a Kanye reference in here. Ridiculous but necessary; just like Yeezy.

1:1000: That’s a perfect description. Got a favorite lyric to leave us with?

LT: Soooo… I definitely took longer to answer this question than the others combined. Is that bad? (Thinking…) Of course it’s not bad! It’s Kanye! Anyway, I have two that are suitable for print:

Roc-A-Fella chain, yeah that’s my rapper style
Rosary piece, yeah that’s my Catholic style
Red and white Ones, yeah that’s my Kappa style


I’m ahead of my time, sometimes years out
So the powers that be won’t let me get my ideas out
And that make me wanna get my advance out
And move to Oklahoma and just live at my aunt’s house

-Also Kanye

Mom and Dad? You’re welcome.

The Imperialist

Posted on: September 9, 2014

Like any old man, I was young once. Each morning I attacked the day. Down the stairs to the subway platform, slipping through the doors like a bandit, I rode the rails and got my fill. Then one day I realized I could no longer move fast enough. Like any old fool, I waited. But the train passed me by, one car after the other, until I found myself alone and used up. I had collected many years, and eventually that was the only part of myself that made sense anymore; I had always been a collector.

In my youth, before I collected all these years, I collected flags; flags from the women I slept with. This is not a euphemism. Let me explain.

I was a handsome young man, strong-jawed, stout, standing nearly six foot with wavy brown hair. I had an easy-going smile and nice teeth. More importantly perhaps, I possessed a quiet confidence. I didn’t speak often, but never gave off the scent that I had nothing to say. I found out early enough that this package was appealing to most women, and as long as I didn’t find myself saddled by too much commitment I could move freely from one sexual encounter to the next. I never believed that this made me a bad person.

I was eighteen when I slept with Miyu, and for the first time, I fell in love. She was from Japan, and had black hair and porcelain skin, not unlike many other Japanese girls. She was petite and not altogether handsome, but I loved her smile, and the love of a smile can go a long way for an eighteen year old. My favorite part of her was her hip bones, which jutted out like cliffs from her thin body, and I found myself enamored, clutching on to them as if I could somehow fall off those cliffs.

And then one day, out of the blue, she decided it was over. I was heartbroken. It was like she had burrowed herself into me, into my deepest recesses, and planted a bomb. Pulling herself out of me on a day in the summer, she triggered the remote and watched as I imploded from the inside out. In retrospect, though I believe she did this intentionally; I do not think she understood the magnitude of her actions. She had destroyed a part of me, an innocence, and the repercussions would be felt for years to come like clouds of ash following a volcanic eruption.

There was a convenience store down the street from where I lived, and upon first entering it, I was taken aback by the collection of flags available for purchase. They were folded tightly and packaged in plastic, hanging alphabetically. Why the store sold flags I’ll never know. I never saw another soul purchase one. There were never any empty racks, they were never sold out of a flag, and I never thought to ask the clerk.

The first one I bought was astronaut white with a single, blood red dot in the middle. I used clothespins to clip it to a hangar in my closet, and my collection began.

After that they came in rapid succession. There was Cosita from Panama, whom I met while sitting on a bus. She was a few years older than me with brown hair, and dark skin that she constantly moisturized with an azul container of lotion, the name of which I cannot recall. She had a large birthmark in the shape of Florida on her left thigh. After two weeks, I made my way to the convenience store and purchased the Panamanian flag, hanging it next to Japan.

Through the years there were many of them, and now I only remember snapshots of our time together, like I’m flipping through polaroids with the names and dates scribbled on the back. There was Rosalita from Cuba, who liked to make love while listening to Bruce Springsteen. Katja was from Germany, quiet as a mouse until in the bedroom, who between her two front teeth had an endearing gap. Camille was one half of a Filipino twin-set, the other half going by Christian. He followed me after I left his sister crying on the steps of some university academic hall and gave me a black eye as I walked out of the convenience store holding the Philippines flag. I remember shouting at him that he wasn’t very Christian at all.

Su-Jin was from Korea, studying abroad, and loved Elvis Presley so much that she cried when I told her he had died on the toilet. She reminded me of Miyu and the affair was short-lived. There was America, from Mexico, who aside from the irony of her name also had a particular affinity for French fries and anal sex. Even now it’s sad that this is all I remember of her. Klara from Russia spelled her name with a “K” and would introduce herself as such, “Klara with a K,” in stunted Russian wherever she went. She too loved Elvis Presley.

Finally, there was Mariella from Cuba, with Cuban hips and Cuban lips, Cuban thighs that could wrap themselves around you like a boa constrictor. She sang lullabies in her native tongue while doing the dishes and was the most passionate woman I have ever known. She was the last of my conquests, if you want to put it that way. All of these women bookended by my two true loves, and still their flags hang in each end of my closet.

When they put me in this place - with it’s awful shag carpeting, it’s water-stained walls festooned with mawkish, gold-plated picture frames, it’s frozen lake home to ducks in the wintertime, it’s patios home to little concrete statutes of children in overalls and artificial plants, all imprisoned by steel bars and a locked gate - they told me I could bring one suitcase full of clothes. But clothes can be purchased, and the convenience store of flags closed down years ago, so my closet is home to my collection, my life-long pursuit, and perhaps one or two Hawaiian patterned shirts that they sometimes make me wear during the mandatory Friday socials.

“What are you writing?” asks the nurse. She is a big, black woman named Susan, who is kind and sometimes lets me sleep through bathtime.

“My history,” I reply.

“Our history?” she says, “Well, that’s nice.”

No, I think, not ours, but mine.

“I’m confused,” I mutter. “I don’t remember.”

I look at this page in front of me, at all these scribbles, and I don’t understand. I don’t know what they mean. I don’t remember writing them.

“Don’t fret,” she says, “Sometimes, it’s not so bad to forget the past. It lets you focus better on the future.”

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

1:1 - Sam Chow

Posted on: September 4, 2014

Interviewed by Logan Theissen
Over the next few weeks, 1:1000 will take you behind the scenes with our core writing and editorial team. We'll show you more about what makes these writers tick (or maybe twitch).

In our latest interview, Logan Theissen talks with Sam Chow. Pardon me, the indefatigable Sam Chow. Writer of excellent stories such as "Tithonous" and "After The Storm." Lover of Murakami, and Raymond Carver. Master of law. Simply put, a Renaissance man for the ages.

1:1000: What are you currently reading?

SAM CHOW: I'm just finishing up The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I wasn't a huge fan of The Secret History, which was her super popular novel from 1992. But I really liked her writing style and after she won the Pulitzer, I decided to give her new book a chance. I'm really glad I did, because so far it's fantastic. It's really a perfect amalgamation of her writing, her seemingly unlimited knowledge of the art world, and classic mystery - the mystery element being the big draw for me.

1:1000: Tell me about your first experience writing or being a writer. How old were you? What were the circumstances?

SC: I've always written, we all have. In school, for work, I usually only ever wrote when it was demanded of from me. Most of my early writing attempts were stop-and-go, and I never really put together a full piece. My first and only full piece prior to 1:1000 was a short story I wrote out of sheer boredom. I was at work - I was a host at my parent's restaurant - it was spring break in Myrtle Beach, and lunch rush had just ended. Everyone was out having fun, and I was miserable, bored out of my mind. And in my misery, I wrote my first ever short story, "The All-American Grill."  I have no idea where that short story is now, lost in digital purgatory on one of my old laptops, but I distinctly recall my sense of accomplishment for having written my first story. Who knew that boredom could be such a creative muse. I think I was sixteen, maybe seventeen, at the time.

1:1000: What were some books and authors that you liked when you were younger? Do you still read them?

SC: Like a lot of growing boys (and girls), The Catcher in the Rye stands out as one of the first books that ever left a lasting impression on me. Since reading it for the first time, I've gone back to it several more times and it still reads brand new to me. I also read my first Haruki Murakami book when I was in high school, and I still eagerly wait for his new books to come out in the States, though I was a little disappointed in 1Q84. Another book that really stands out is The World According to Garp, which was a book introduced to me by my high school history teacher. I think that was the first book that made me realize how eye-opening literature could be and that there was a world outside of the school curriculum. It's one of the few books I've read more than twice.

1:1000: Writers love to talk about habit. What is your writing habit like? Daily? Morning or night? That sort of thing.

SC: I wish I had a writing habit, it would make scheduling it into my day a lot easier. Writing is incredibly sporadic for me, and I tend to write during lulls throughout the day. A little in the morning, maybe some at lunch, or when I just need a break. Having a full-time job that demands a lot of my time makes my writing "routine" incredibly difficult to maintain, which is why I haven't been able to contribute as much as I would like in recent months. But I'm not the type of writer that can set aside a block of time to write.

1:1000: Do you have a particular genre or type of reading and writing that you like? Do you find that going outside of that genre (fiction to non-fiction, etc.) can help influence your writing? For example, when writing a piece of fiction, do you usually read other pieces of fiction in the same vein? Non-fiction? Where do some of your everyday influences in writing come from?

SC: I love reading everything. Classics like Frankenstein and Huckleberry Finn, non-fiction like Homage to Catalonia, science fiction like Kazuo Ishiguro and Ray Bradbury, westerns like Cormac McCarthy, magical realism, short stories...I could go on. I don't really prefer one over the other. As far as writing, I try to explore genres, but really enjoy writing mystery-esque stories (e.g. "The Outer Borough"). My writing does tend to be influenced by what I am reading at that moment, so I try and go back to my regular fixtures for inspiration if I need it. My go-to muses are usually The Great Gatsby and Hemingway and Raymond Carver's short stories. Though, I love flipping through whatever I have available to me too, just thumbing through and reading random passages from a book without context is a great exercise for writing. And of course I find most of my influence from the brilliant photographers that have lent their talents to 1:1000.

1:1000: How did you get started with 1:1000?

SC: Well, my buddy and fellow writer, Mark Killian, is always coming up with kooky ideas. I remember him bouncing the idea of what would become 1:1000 several years before its actual inception. It's great working with Mark because he has a mind for these projects that really force you to exercise your creative muscles. It's really given me an incredible opportunity to work with an amazing collective of writers and like-minds.

1:1000: I'm pretty new to flash fiction. What do you think of it? Do you like it more or less than more long-form writing?

SC: I'm not sure I am capable of long-form writing, given my sporadic writing habit. I would love to write a novel or something at some point, but flash fiction is the perfect medium for me at this particular stage in my life. It's a creative outlet that I crave and I get to work with a group of peers that help me improve as a writer.

1:1000: How do movies/film and music influence your writing? Do you listen to music when you write?

SC: I love music, but I can't listen to music when I write. It's too distracting, my mind tends to wander as it is. When I listen to music, it's because I want to listen to music. Movies, on the other hand, are an endless source inspiration. In fact, I think a lot of my writing is dictated by how it would appear on the big screen. What would this scene look like if it was happening in front of me? I visualize a lot, and it's usually in movie-form.

1:1000: Some people think this is an unanswerable question, but I think it's a good one, so I'm going to finish on it. Why do you write?

SC: Writing has always been in the background for me, it's always been there, even if not always on the forefront. As I kid, I was a huge doodler...still am to be honest. No matter what I'm doing, if I have a pen and paper in front of me, I'm compelled to draw something. And I think it was because I am constantly looking for a creative outlet. 1:1000 is perfect, it's like doodling, but with words.

The Devil We Know

Posted on: September 2, 2014

The thick curtains were drawn against the afternoon sun so that the room on the third floor of the Santa Dympna Hotel felt set in night. A thin thread of light beneath the front door was all that penetrated the darkness. The stagnant air hung heavy in the room making the distant murmur of the city viscous, as if it were passing through molasses before reaching Bernard’s ears.

And so he waited, seated on the edge of the threadbare skeleton of a bed, metal springs exposing themselves through the fabric. Bernard’s sweat-soaked cotton button-down clung stubbornly to his chest, and his hands shook as he tugged at the opening of his shirt. The radiator hissed and clicked and whined, scolding Bernard and punishing him with its overpowering heat.

The darkness will help, he thought, to calm his nerves. And for a moment, it had. The stillness of the black had washed over him like a cold tide on a hot summer’s day. But the events of the preceding weeks came rushing back, each time sending him into a state of renewed fear and anxiety.

Time to go.

Bernard had bought an antique European flop when he arrived in the city, a compact two-door hatchback in sky blue, like a rusted homage to the Argentinian flag. Cheap and inconspicuous. The car was parked in an alley behind the Santa Dympna and, with only a leather-bound suitcase that now held the entirety of his worldly possessions, Bernard took off, navigating through the narrow, cobblestoned roadways. Though the winter air outside was frigid, a healthy pulse ran through the twisting veins of Salta’s colonial-era streets. By the time he made it out of the city limits, the sky had darkened and Salta had devolved into a rocky desert wasteland. The mostly silent drive was broken up at random intervals by howling winds that rattled Bernard’s tin box of a car, both his hands clutched on the metal steering wheel at each gust.

And then for long awhile, it was still, and the dreamlike landscape, awash with the same crags and cacti and coarse sand, sent Bernard drifting into a timeless vortex. The exhaustion from his lack of sleep was finally catching up with him, and the dull hum of the wheels against the semi-paved desert roads left him in a trance. Several hours (two? five?) drifted by when a dust-like snow began to fall. Bernard squinted in disbelief, unsure if he had fallen asleep and was now dreaming. Though it was cold, and though it was winter, the snow appeared paradoxical against the arid backdrop. Soon, it was coming down in sheets. Visibility dropped to zero as Bernard turned on the windshield wipers, which groaned, useless as they swiped across the glass. But just as suddenly as the snowfall began, it stopped, like a curtain lifted. The gray of the sunless sky cast a ghoulish patina across the desert, now covered in a layer of what looked more like volcanic ash than snow.

Ahead, Bernard saw a burgundy SUV pulled over to the side of the road, the elderly driver waving his arms as he saw Bernard’s car approach. Bernard hesitated, but pulled over just ahead of the old man, who, with his wild tuft of white hair and grey cardigan, reminded him of his grandfather.

“Um...habla ingles?” The old man mumbled gesturing with his hands, as if it would help in the event of a potential language barrier.

“Yes, what’s seems to be the problem?” Bernard replied, approaching the man and his SUV cautiously.

The old man sighed with relief, “You’re American?”

Bernard smiled.

“Glen,” he said, offering his hand to Bernard.

“Cary,” Bernard replied, shaking Glen’s hands.

“Well Cary, I pulled over when that snowstorm passed through, couldn’t see squat. When I tried to start the car up again…” Glen shrugged.

“I would give you a jump, but I don’t think I have any cables in my car. Do you?”

Glen shook his head, “I have a cellphone. Batteries are dead though. Mind if I give it a quick charge in your car? I can give my hotel a call and have them send a tow truck or something.”

Bernard was reluctant to linger around longer than necessary. Two stalled cars on the side of the road might attract unwanted attention. But Glen’s presence and that peculiar moment of normalcy in what had been a whirlwind few weeks was grounding and comforting in a way he desperately needed. And besides, Glen’s had been the first car Bernard had seen in several hours. It was unlikely another would pass anytime soon.

“So, where you headed Cary?” Glen was seated in the passenger side of Bernard’s cramped car waiting for his cellphone to charge. He spoke genially, reminding Bernard more and more of his grandfather, affectionate even among strangers. He felt cautiously at ease with him.

Without thinking, Bernard replied, “Not sure yet,” instantly regretting his honesty.

“Ah,” Glen said knowingly, but without judgment. “I won’t ask you what you’re running away from, that’s none of my business. But let me tell you kid, and this comes from experience, 9 times out of 10, it isn’t worth it. These roads you’re going down now, they will just lead you right back where you started. If you run away from a thing, that’s all your life will ever be.”

There was a pause. “I made some decisions…poor ones in hindsight.” Why am I telling him this? “My life hasn’t exactly gone to plan since then.”

“Life never goes to plan.”

The tow truck came and went and Bernard moved on, less certain of his intentions then when he had set out on his journey.

The dense clouds set low were unfamiliar. His eyes burned from fatigue and he squeezed them shut, desperate for relief. When he opened them again, it was pitch black. He was back at the Santa Dympna, metal springs digging into his pants.

Written by: Sam Chow
Photograph by: Becky Lee

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