Posted on: November 25, 2014

We last saw Anna being interrogated by Michael Cohen, the police detective assigned to a series of related murders that all involve the same ghost. Anna realizes that the only way she can stop the specter's spree is to help him. Read the whole Anna the Extractor Series--"The Extractor," "Bury Their Own," "Beloved," "A Tremor in Your Name," and "Stress in the Workplace," "Common Denominators," and "Calling" (an introduction)--to learn more about Anna and her supernatural adventures.

“Lucas, be still.”

The rabbi isn’t speaking to the man, but to the ghost that possesses him. Ten men of various ages surround Lucas with heads bowed and eyes closed, reciting a psalm in Hebrew, each at their own pace. Some of the men have their palms turned up, as if ready to receive a blessing. Others are nervous, unsure of themselves, merely mumbling the words and wringing their hands.

The ghost cannot flee as he has before, not when the rabbi knows his name and commands him to stay. His host begins to tremble, face flushed, and breath shallow. Lucas peers through the eyes of his stolen body, searching the faces of those around him, and noticing the silhouette of a woman just beyond the circle, sitting on the arm of a faded red couch. He knows her immediately, feels the chill of her spirit pressing toward him before she even moves.

“Anna,” he hisses.

She stands, sliding between two of the men to enter the circle. He recognizes the look of a plan hiding in the curl of her lips. Anna is determined, but he doesn’t know what will come next.

“Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?” the rabbi asks Anna.

“Yes,” she says, then swallows.

The rabbi licks his lips then raises the shofar, a bellow erupting from the horn as he blows. The man whom Lucas possesses shakes harder, falling to the floor as his eyes roll back in his head. The chanting grows louder as the rabbi raises his hands and Anna sits down on the floor. Lucas feels his spirit detach from his host, like the friction of velcro pulled apart. He is suspended in space, but cannot sail from the enclosure of religious fervor.

“Lucas, into Anna,” the rabbi says.

Like a beast forced into a cage, Lucas feels his existence fill Anna’s expanse. He can control her, but to a certain extent she can do the same to him. Their spirits merge, and the distinction between the two is hard to discern. He feels her parents’ absence and the light decay of her lungs from cigarette smoke. He notices the presence of another spirit apart from Anna’s, but he’s drunk with the sound of exorcism. Lucas can’t think straight. He doesn’t know what to do. All he has left is the flow of revenge that has sustained his spirit for decades. It makes him angry. It makes him lash out.

Some of the men take a few steps back, threatening to break the circle when Anna starts to beat her chest with her fists, a groan resounding from deep inside her. She’s doubled over, and her hair shields her face. The rabbi urges the men to keep formation, to continue the recitation.

“Anna, are you still present? Can you hear me? Tell me my name if you can hear me,” he says.

Anna shakes her head, barely able to turn her face in his direction.

“No, if I say it then he has it. He can take you if he has it,” she manages to utter.

Another wave of rage careens through Lucas as he throws himself against the walls of Anna’s body, her heart and soul. He digs her nails into the skin of her neck. He pulls her hair and slams her down against the floor. He needs a way out and he can’t find it. The only way out is through her, with her, to end her.

Despite her small frame, Lucas uses the force of his presence to strike down the man directly in front him. Anna headbutts his chest, and he falls to the floor in shock and terror. As the circle breaks, Lucas feels the power over him begin to diminish, like water seeping out of a crack in a porcelain cup. He notices that the rabbi is stunned, knows to go for him next. He feels Anna resist his control, but it’s already too late when she takes hold of the shofar and rails it against the side of his head. The holy man falls to his knees, losing focus only for a moment, but by the time he remembers the ghost’s name, he is gone and his host is gone, too.

Lucas can feel how lost Anna is as he uses her body to run down busy sidewalks, taking side streets, unsure of where he’ll go, but knowing he needs to get out. But something still binds him to her, as if a job left unfinished cannot be abandoned completely. The rage is building with every step, and he feels that other spirit’s presence build with ferocity. Lucas feels trapped, like the walls are closing in, but Anna is weak and she’s losing the fight. She can’t recover her body or her mind.

But then he feels her. He feels her spirit digging. She’s scratching at the walls of his past, peeking through the curtains of his motives. She’s going places where she shouldn’t, opening doors that he has kept locked for so long. And she isn’t alone.

“Lucas,” the spirit whispers.

And he remembers, the spirit of the little girl whose life he took years ago, using the hands of her drunken father.

“Lydia,” he seethes.

Lucas feels her residing in the cross that rests against Anna’s chest, a place he cannot enter. The little spirit is just out of his reach, and her voice taunts him as she whispers his name, debilitating his hold on Anna’s body.

“I’ll kill her,” he mumbles with Anna’s voice. “I’ll throw Anna into the river. I’ll drown her. I’ll make her kill everyone she loves.”

“Lucas,” Lydia begins. “Anna doesn’t wish you ill. She’s trying to help you. Let her.”

“No one can help me,” he screams through his host.

He brings Anna to her knees in the middle of an intersection, cars squealing to a halt and spectators gathering about in horror and delight.

“She can,” the little spirit whispers. “She will.”

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

Biscuit Sings the Blues

Posted on: November 18, 2014

James ‘Biscuit’ Baker sat alone at a little table in his motel room, sipping on a bottle of Lone Star. The clock read ten til six. His curtains, like all motel curtains, would not quite close. Light seeped in from the red neon sign outside, bathing his room in a sanguine aura.

He felt like Goldilocks when he was out on the road these days, the bed two nights ago in Amarillo was too soft, this one too hard. With any luck, the one tomorrow night in San Antonio would be just right. He swallowed a Vicodin and waited for the pain in his lower back to subside. Once the opiate started to work its magic, Biscuit nodded off in the chair.

A knock on the door woke him from his slumber two hours later. He lurched his sixty-year old body out of the chair and lumbered towards the door.

There was more knocking, louder this time.

“Hold the fuck on. I’m coming.”

The hazy, morning sun blinded him when he opened the door, but he recognized his visitor as soon as she spoke.

“Morning, sunshine,” she said in an unmistakable tone.

Maxine, his ex-wife, had a huskiness to her voice that once reminded him of a young Lauren Bacall, but after a lifetime of cigarettes of whiskey, she now sounded more Johnny Cash.

“Fucking hell…what do you want?”

“Aren’t you glad to see me?”

“Oh yeah, you’re a sore sight for eyes.”

“Don’t you mean a sight for sore eyes.”


“Well, you’re not looking so hot yourself, old man. I see that you got that dickey-do disease going on.”

“Dickey-do disease?”

“Your belly is sticking out farther than your dickey do.”

She chuckled at her own joke. Her laugh sent a chill down his spine.

“Not that it would take much of a belly for that to happen,” she added.

“You know Maxine, I’m sure we could just continue this love fest all day, but what the fuck do you want?”

“Can I come in?”

“No… I’ll come out there. Hold on,” he said, slamming the door.

Biscuit splashed some water on his face, put on a fresh shirt and grabbed the pack of Parliament Menthols that were lying on the table. He closed the door behind him and lit one up.

“How did you know I was here?”

“In Austin? Hell, Biscuit, I do live here, you know. And it’s not like I don’t go to the Continental anymore. If you don’t want me to find out, maybe you shouldn’t be playing at one of the most popular fucking clubs in town.”

They started walking towards the sidewalk.

“I meant, how did you know where I was staying?”

“Because you always stay here. You’re a creature of habit.”

Maxine gestured at the big Austin Motel sign, almost pink in the early morning light, that shot up into the sky.

“I figure it has something to do with that sign. A dick for a dick.”

“Huh…” Biscuit took a long drag of his cigarette. “I wonder what old Sigmund Freud would say about that. I always thought of that sign as a hand, with a big middle finger. Kind of a giant ‘fuck you’ to whole entire world… And you think of it as a dick. Maybe he was onto something with that penis envy thing.”

“Not that you would have anything to envy,” came her retort.


“Seriously though, did you call Scotty and tell him you were going to be in town?”

“I tried last night when I got in, but he didn’t answer. I didn’t leave a message. I was going to try again today.”

“That’s convenient.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, that it’s convenient how you wait until the last minute to tell him, hoping that he has other plans.”

“That’s not true. I would love to see Scotty.”

“Bullshit. What are you afraid of Biscuit? Failing as father? You already did that.”

“Fuck Maxine, do you have to be so harsh?”

“What? Does the truth hurt, honey? You know what else probably hurts? When your father doesn’t make it to your high school graduation, or when he forgets to call you on your birthday. So if you’re looking for sympathy, you better find a dictionary, it’s somewhere between shit and syphilis.”

Biscuit stared down South Congress Street, searching his memory for anything other than hatred for this woman.

“He’s getting married.”

“Huh?” Biscuit turned to look at Maxine. “He’s what?”

“Getting married. She’s a real nice girl. I think he wants you to come to the wedding.”

“If I’m such a failure as a father, why would he want me there?”

“Because he still loves you Biscuit. I don’t know why, but he still does.”

Maxine put on her sunglasses and opened her car door.

“You know, despite all of our shortcomings, that is one hell of a good kid we have. And before you get all pissy, I’ll admit, it wasn’t just you. I was by no means mother of the year. But somehow he turned out real good. Give him a call, Biscuit. See you around.”

Maxine got into her car and disappeared into the Austin traffic.


Biscuit walked onto the stage to raucous applause. He sat down on the stool and picked up his trusty old Telecaster. Once the crowd quieted down he pulled the microphone close.

“Before I play tonight, I just want to say a few words. My son is here in the crowd, with his beautiful new fiancĂ©.”

A spotlight was turned on to a table near the back of the small room. A waitress was delivering a bottle of champagne to the young couple sitting there.

“So I just want to say to Scott and Sara, congratulations, and I know I was a shitty father…” Biscuit’s voiced cracked. “Hell, I still am a shitty father, but I love you.”

Scott smiled and wiped a quick tear from his eye.

“Now enough with all this feel good shit. If you want happy music, go to Nashville. My name is Biscuit and I sing the blues.”

“They say that time is money… well, I guess I’m broke as fuck…”

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Matt Crump

The True Test

Posted on: November 13, 2014

Max hesitates and looks up and down the antiseptic hallway, stark white and silent. Dozens of scanners glow next to dim portals, each leading to a bright exam room.

The watch vibrates an alarm. He’s going to be late. Max sighs and places his hand on the screen. The portal displays a series of numbers and biometrics, as well as the same terrible picture of a younger, pimply-faced Max. The portal spirals open and Max steps through.

A young woman with short, choppy hair is in his exam room.

“My name is Ren,” she smiles. “It was clear Dr. Rosen was not making any progress.”

“I wasn’t nice to Dr. Rosen. I didn’t know his name, though,” Max says, as though it makes a difference. Last week his test response was a thinly-veiled story about a clever boy imprisoned by a fat, evil king. Max has been paying for it all week with brutal drills in the SimRoom.

“I don’t expect you to be nice to me. Not when I look like the enemy.” Ren’s smile seems sharper, more pointed and ferocious.

“Don’t do that. You aren’t the enemy.” Max says. “You’re Japanese. Are you one of the survivors?”

“No,” Ren exhales and looks down at her notes. She drags her red pen across the paper, drawing sad loops.

They do not say the words they are both thinking, born from different memories of the same terrible day. Max does not ask her if she lost family during the Crimson Terror. Ren does not ask him if he joined the Academy because he was caught up in narrative driven by revenge.

Their expressions tell their stories: loss and hatred.

“I’m sorry,” Max says. “I didn’t mean — ”

“How did you know?” Ren asks. Her expression is a blend of sadness and curiosity. She wipes a stray tear away with an ink-stained finger, leaving a smear of violent red in its wake.

“My dad made me memorize the family tree back through the First Civil War,” Max says, “after World War II, my great-great-grandfather married a Japanese nurse named Ren.”

“Without that, would you have known?”

“Probably not,” Max admits. “But if you’re at the Academy, you have to be good, right?”

Ren does not respond. She taps on the table and dozens of blooms rise from its center. There are massive sunflowers and vibrant posies, curled fiddlehead ferns and drooping tulips in every shade Max can imagine. It is the most color he has seen in years.

“This is your thirty-seventh test, Max. Create a story,” Ren says.

“Wait,” Max says. He pulls a clean white screen cloth from one of the many pockets in his jumpsuit. He hands it to Ren, her wide brown eyes wet with uncried tears. She stares at it. Max gestures to her eye.

“You’ve got ink there,” he explains.

“Thank you,” Ren says, dabbing the stain until it disappears. When she gives the cloth back to Max, her fingers brush against his.

She pulls her hand away and taps on the table again. A wide ceramic bowl appears under the floating flowers. Max looks up and plucks different stems from the holographic network garden above him.

“He fell in love with the smartest woman he knew,” Max begins.

At the ninety-eighth test, Max requests a cipher.

“A cipher?” Ren’s voice is even, but her dark brown eyes light up. It is the only way they can laugh together.

“A key,” Max replies, his blue eyes wide and bright. He almost cracks a smile, but bites his bottom lip instead. Ren blushes and glances at her notes.

“Please, Ren. I’ve been telling the story all wrong! Flowers have different meanings, and if the man is in love with her, he can’t send her flowers that mean friendship or sympathy.”

“In your story, you assume the woman cares about the meanings of the flowers instead of the overwhelming affection behind the man’s efforts. Why does she care?” Ren asks.

“Because she’s smart and he isn’t, and if she knows this and he never did, she wouldn’t want him,” Max explains, his voice rough and deep.

“You have been telling the same story in every test I have given you. Some days you pick different flowers. Your flowers mean the same thing to the man. Why does a key matter?”

“I graduate soon. I just want to tell it right.”

“There are no right ways,” Ren laughs. “Now, tell me a story.”


The transport hovers over the East China Sea, its belly swollen with recent Academy graduates, high off propaganda and nationalism and eager for action. Max sees something spiraling up out of the water, a swarm of flashes and a low hum he could feel deep in his gut. He jams on his helmet and screams for autopilot to take over, and the last thing he sees is a shimmering black sludge that coats his visor. He feels his stomach drop as he falls.


“Your progress is good,” the doctor says, “and you’re integrating with the new tech nicely. You’ve gotten a few pings for visitor requests. Now that you’ve got full range of motion, I think it’ll be best for them to start coming by, get used to your new look.”

“They have to get used to me?” Max says.

“Soldiers who signed up as tech donor recipients have an easier adjustment to their new limbs or organs - except for the silver skulls, and nobody can get used to looking like a partial Terminator, though I’m told it’s terrifying in Occupied Shanghai.”

“Terminator?” Max asks.

The doctor shakes her head and leaves.

His parents come the following day. His father stares at his arm and shoulder, his mother cries, and his little sister keeps saying “Cool” and asking the doctor varying questions about the specs.

Ren comes the day after with a tray of flowers: real ones, wilted and sweet.

“Pick one,” Ren says.

Max curls his new slender, silver fingers around a blossom. He liberates one of the white roses from the tray and hands it to Ren.

“He fell in love with the smartest woman he knew,” Max says.

Ren smiles and nods.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

Too Far from the Water

Posted on: November 11, 2014

It makes it more difficult, Mica tells me, if you transition into a human family that's too far from the water.

"In a land family," she says, “you'll have turmoil."

"Like the waves?"

"No. Like a world with no waves."

I can't imagine a world with no waves. The pulse of them is all I've ever known. They set our days here. The waves rising and falling tell us when to swim beyond the ocean shelf and when to go closer to the shore to feed on smaller fish.

"You'll get lucky," says Mica. "I have a feeling you'll be born to fishermen."

I know it isn't good to spend too much time speculating, but I hope she's right. I swim behind her as we head towards the reef. The sun cuts through the water and flashes against her scales, which shine silver.


On the day Mica is caught, I swim to the sandy bottom and bury myself in silt, like I've seen the crabs do. Lin finds me and tells me I should celebrate. That Mica’s been eaten by now, and soon will be born as a human.

"How can they eat her, knowing they used to be animals themselves?"

"Why do you eat smaller fish?" Lin asks. "You help them continue on their path. Besides, humans lose all memory of their past once they're born in their final form."

I stay on the bottom awhile longer, then rejoin the others as they swim towards the shallows.


When the net dips down, I try to lock eyes with the fisherman. Remember who you were, I want to say, but my lips move in strange patterns in the air. My gills burn like the time I was tangled in a jellyfish tentacle.

As the fisherman moves the net into his boat, I can hear the muted sounds of my friends below, still in the water.

They wish me luck. Then, they are gone. All I hear are the waves.


The waves change. They usually woosh at a regular rate, but today, they're faster. I can feel a deep thrumming of noise. Until today, the noise has been soothing, sometimes seeming to speak directly to me--but now it's loud and angry. The walls of the chamber where I've been floating expand and press in around me.

When I emerge, my gills burn again, but in a new way. I try to protest in my old language, like in the fisherman's net. But now, the noise comes from me. I am wrapped in a new net, this one warm and soft. I am wiped clean. My scales are gone--in their place, brown skin.

I look up into human eyes for the first time since the fisherman's, and at once, I forget the waves. I am born.


“Don’t you go near that pool!”

I am four. It is hot. So hot, my feet burn on the concrete that surrounds the swimming pool. We’re on a roof deck, and Mom is talking to Jay and Shelby. No one is swimming in the perfect, turquoise water. Women and men lie on chairs all around us. Some reading, some drinking. Some sleeping. I don’t know why you’d want to nap when you could have a pool all to yourself.

Mom is helping Shelby get drinks out of the cooler. I sneak closer to the pool. I can just set my foot on the top of the water. Just enough to cool off the burn from the concrete. Ahhh.

I lose my balance.

I’m part of the water, now, bobbing up and down. Mom and Shelby and Jay are still by the cooler. I can see them as if through a sheer, sparkling curtain. No one is coming. I close my eyes, and when I open them, I see darkness creeping in.

And then, Mom’s in the pool, pulling me out, still wearing her long dress with the pink flowers on it. She’s crying. I’m crying.

On the pool deck, she spanks me, then squeezes me so tight I think I’ll black out again. She spanks me again, then kisses the top of my head.

“What did I tell you about the water? You are not a fish,” she wails.


“What’s your sign?” Michelle wants to know.


“Your sign. Your astrological sign?”

She has a thick purple book on her desk. The pages are rimmed all the way around in silver, so when she closes the book, they shine.

I don’t want to admit I don’t know what she’s talking about. All morning, Michelle and her friends have huddled around that book. I didn’t expect to be included. Mom’s grand idea to move to the suburbs has left me the new kid in the middle of the school year. These kids ride horses and wear name brand clothes. The girls all have miniature leather backpacks that they’ve stuffed with glittery lip gloss and scented lotion. Mom bought me my backpack at Wal*Mart three years ago, and it’s falling apart. I don’t wear makeup. But now Michelle is talking to me. She wants to share the contents of her magical book with me.

“Helloooo? You in there, new kid? What’s your sign?”

“I can’t remember,” I say. “I knew one time, but now I forget.”

“When’s your birthday?”

“March 1st.”

“You’re a Pisces,” she says.


When Mom gets out of rehab for the second time, she takes me on a trip to the beach.

“You hate the ocean,” I say, when she calls me at college to propose the plan.

“I never did enough for you when you were little,” she said. “It can be a fresh start.”

I’m not sure I believe in fresh starts, especially from Mom. For her, it’s always more about disconnection from the old. “What’s past is past,” she’s fond of saying. And when the new is an escape rather than a decision, I can’t trust it to last.

“It’s nice here,” she says. The water is clear and calm. Bluer than I remember. But what memory do I have to go on?

“Did we come here when I was a kid?” I ask her.

“I don’t think so. You never liked the water.”

“That’s not true,” I say.

“Well, we just didn’t. We went to the mountains, though. Remember camping?”

“Uh huh.”

Mom’s taken her sandals off, and she cries out when she steps on something sharp.

“It’s just a shell,” I say, bending to pick it up. It’s shimmery, like mercury.

“Why does it look like that?”

“I think it’s called mica,” I say, unsure how I know this.

“Whatever,” she says.

I put the shell in my pocket, knowing I will have to make my own home.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Vrinda Agrawal

Push Yourself

Posted on: November 6, 2014

Candace pushed the paint roller up and down the sanded surface that was previously covered in faded paisley wallpaper. Her matte-blue trail stretched from the living room entrance toward the picture window that overlooked the back of the property. It was in front of that same window her mother would sprawl out on a chaise lounge and read novels about war-torn lovers, using the end of each chapter an opportunity to check in on young Candace as she played on the swing her father built her before answering his call of duty.

Candace used to spend hours watching ants march beneath her feet, the rest of her body draped over the wooden plank like a dress hung out to dry. She would make up stories for each the six-legged soldiers, imagining where they were going, what they were doing, and how many children they left behind. She was comforted by the thought of a larger being looking out for her father in the same way she was watching over the platoon of insects.

Candace stopped painting and placed the roller in the pan, resting the handle against one of the cloudy panes of glass. She searched for a place to take a break from her duties, but with all of the furniture either in storage or sold, she had nowhere to sit but the untreated floorboards that were speckled with carpet fragments.

She knelt down until her hands reached the tacky surface beneath her, using her arms as kickstands for her upper body while she extended her legs toward the window. She tapped the platinum ring on her right hand against a stray carpet staple while assessing her progress. The pings of her jewelry were as uniform as the lines of paint along the wall.

After estimating how long it would take her to finish the room, she shifted her weight to her right arm and checked the watch on her left wrist. The beams of light coming through the window bounced off the diamond-accented hands, filling her pupils with explosions of color that were snuffed out once she rolled her eyes.

She stood up and trudged toward the window, each step echoing through the empty room like her shoes were lined with packaging tape. As she reached for the roller, she caught a softened glimpse of the swing dangling on the other side of the glass. The subtle swaying of the unoccupied seat taunted her from across the yard. She disregarded the time on her outstretched wrist and headed for the back door. She pushed opened the creaky screen and tiptoed down the steps, being careful not to disturb any creatures that may be lurking in the shadows beneath the concrete slabs.

Her silence was broken once her right foot crunched the brittle weeds surrounding the base of the steps. The decaying lawn reminded Candace of her mother’s current state of health, reaffirming her decision to move her into a retirement community and sell her childhood home.

Candace crunched across the prickly turf until she was reunited with her Rosebud. She placed her right hand on the plank of wood and pushed down to test its durability, taking the familiar squeak of the screws as permission to climb aboard. She grabbed one of the weathered ropes with each hand and walked forward until the wood rested flush across her flat stomach.

She gave the fraying cords a final tug and hopped upward, letting the forces of gravity take hold. The swing’s true age became apparent once the wood stripped from the nails, sending Candace face first into the trail of barren dirt that was formed by the repetitive dragging of tiny feet.

Candace laid still for a moment, waiting for pain to identify any injuries she sustained in the fall. The only sting she felt was coming from the circular indentation around her left ring finger. She lifted her hand to find a crimson insect crushed in the trench of flesh, its jaws clinging to her skin.

She picked up a twig with her right hand and made a tiny groove in the dirt. She then plucked the lifeless ant from her finger and placed it in the hole, covering it with the displaced earth. She patted down the mound with her thumb as a tear fell from her nose, strengthening the bond of the soil.

“You fought bravely, your family will be proud,” she said to the grave.

She sat on her knees, clapped the dirt off her hands, and reached for her phone. There were no signs of damage, but there were three voicemails.

“Hi, Ms. Shruggs. It’s Zach. I feel dumb calling you about this, and I know you have enough to worry about right now, but I’m having a hard time with the Garrison report. If you could give me a call I’d re …”

She deleted the first message.

“Hi again. Just wanted to see if you got my call. I’ve made a little headway on the report, but I could still use a som …”

She deleted the second message.

“Okay, disregard everything I’ve said up until now. I figured it out. The report is almost complete, and I will have it to you first thing tomorrow. Sorry again for disturbing you. Please don’t fire me.”

Candace laughed and saved the third message. Then she composed a text.

See what you’re capable of when you’re left to your own devices? P.S - you’re not fired … yet.

She hit send, put her phone back in her pocket, and got to her feet. She wiped the moisture from her eyes with the back of her sleeve and blinked until the house came into focus. She saw her reflection in the window, standing in the same spot where she waited for her father to return from the war, where she waved for her mother to come give her a push, where she learned what she was capable of when left to her own devices.

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Anna Westbury

The Warden

Posted on: November 4, 2014

Sometimes your dad wakes you up way too early, and in that fumbling darkness as you put on your contacts, there is a moment of clarity. After you stick those weird little lenses onto your eyeball there is a second where the world shifts from dream to reality.

Then sometimes that moment ends and you realize that your contacts have been soaking in disinfectant -- not cleaning solution, but rather that old school, hazardous shit. Sometimes panic comes before pain. Sometimes you set your eyeballs on fire.

Your dad comes into the bathroom because he hears the yelling. He finds you in the fetal position, and because nothing could have possibly happened at this moment to warrant such a response from his oldest son, he begins to laugh.

“Son, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

You want to tell him that the pain is real, but all you seem to manage is, “arrrrrgh, no, eeeeyyyyyyess.”

You hear him walk down the hall and yell back to you in that familiar drawl.

“Well, get the hell up. We’re burnin’ daylight.”

You end up sprawled in the back seat of a maroon suburban with your eyes squeezed shut, trying to think about what it would mean to literally burn daylight. It would probably feel like your eyes right about now.

This is how your trip begins. You’re going duck hunting with your old man.

To embark on this masculine pastime of bird-killing you must wake up very early. The weather will be very cold, and there may even be snow on the ground. You’ll need to wake up early enough to get to the partially frozen pond, don your camouflage waders that look like giant rubber overalls, and set up the decoys in a very particular pattern that changes based on the wind and maybe some other variables; all before the sun comes up. You’ll then hunker down in a camouflage blind, wearing your camouflage coat, hat, gloves, pants, and even long-underwear. You cannot wrap your head around the concept of camouflage underwear. You will then wait. And wait. And wait. You’ll begin to fall asleep from all the waiting and because your eyes hurt from the disinfectant. Your dad will blow a terrible honking noise out of a strange tube-like device that is also camouflaged called a duck call.

You asked your pops if you could bring your Walkman with you, so you could pass the time with the new Smashing Pumpkins cassette Siamese Dream, the one that has the song “Silverfuck” on it. The one that your mom took away because it has the song “Silverfuck” on it, but then you went and bought another copy and now you listen to it in secret and obviously this makes it better.

Ironically enough, the fact that your mom tried to pull a Tipper Gore on your music collection means that of all the cassettes you owned, and all the songs you listened to, the one you remember the most is a song with the amazing title of “Silverfuck.”

“Pops, can I bring my Walkman to listen to music?”


“Pops, can I bring, like, a book or something? To pass the time?”

“Son, we’re going hunting. You’re not going to read a damn book.”

“Pops, can I bring…”


It’s really cold in the blind, and even with all the clothes you’re feeling pretty miserable. Your dad says to shut up, that you’re talking too loud. There are no birds anywhere. Even your dog, the black Labrador named Beauregard, he for whom this rodeo be not his first, even he looks up at you silently teasing, “Sucks, right?”

After more honking and your dad checking his watch, then looking up at the sun, grumbling something under his breath and checking his watch again, finally there is a bird.

You stand up and your dad immediately sits your ass back down.

“The bird!”


The bird does not appreciate your antics, spots the waiting ambush, flies away.

“Goddamnit,” mutters the old man.

Before long, another bird appears on the horizon, making a beeline to your trap. This time you stay put. Dad honks his duck call and the sounds escape the device in jagged, jumpy intervals. You’ve learned that you have to wait for the duck to cup its wings, wait until it slowly begins to drift toward the frozen pond, and then as it’s hanging in the air, as if by a string, you take the shot.


The twelve-gauge recoils against your shoulder as you fire. The duck falls. Beau bounds out of the blind, ripping through the tall grass, his black tail curled up like a shark fin above the reeds.

Your dad is grinning at you, and his blue eyes shine in the sun. The barrel of his shotgun is smoking.

“You fired too?”

“I missed. That was all you.”

You don’t see another bird all morning, but the waiting is somehow now invigorated like its been struck by lightning. Even the silence is electric.

Around noon you begin to pack up your gear. On the way back to your grandparent’s house you sit up front with your dad, and ya’ll listen and sing along to Garth Brooks cassettes. Your dad tells you for the hundredth time how he really wanted to be a game warden, but he wanted a family more, and it was tough to raise a family on a game warden’s salary. You can hear in his voice dreams of a road not taken, one of hunting trailers and lonely, straight roads at dusk. But then he looks at you, and it’s as if the dream was only a passing thought. His voice changes and he tells you that it’s probably for the best that he’s not a game warden.

“If it was my job, if I did it all the time, it wouldn’t be special anymore. It wouldn’t be the same.”

You stop at a little roadside diner to get runny eggs and bacon. Black coffee for your pops. Other hunters dressed in camouflage uniforms populate the diner, and they speak to your dad in what seems like a foreign language.

“Set up near Ponca, out near Vance Riggins’ place.”

“Went out there once with Jim Caldwell.”

“From Enid?”

“Okarche. Didn’t see shit though.”

You get back to the house and the cousins are playing a football game in the front yard; a Christmas tradition. You play all-time quarterback for a bit, then head inside and lounge on the couch, prepping for a nap. The Spurs are on television and your uncle from San Antonio yells at the television as you drift off. Your mom walks by and ruffles your hair.


“My butt itches.”


“Did you have a good time with your father?”

“Yeah. It was cool.”

She smiles and kisses you on the cheek.

“Uh huh. So I guess that means you’ll be getting up and going again tomorrow. I’ll go tell your father.”

The meaning lags behind the words, a case of tape-delayed brain, and then it hits home and panic ensues for the first time since the contact incident.

“No! Jesus, Mom!”

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

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