Posted on: January 29, 2015

Stale air and the painted face of a weathered stewardess greeted us as we entered the cabin. The inquisitive glares of the first-class passengers came next. One first-class debutant scoffed at my travel pants. My stained, hole-ridden travel sweats are essential for any long flight. Those of you who haven’t flown and those without man tackle may not understand, but there is nothing more frustratingly awkward than being stuck on a five-hour flight, in the middle seat, while wearing jeans and suffering from an inescapable case of scrotum stick. Travel pants make for discreet adjustments – enough said.

Coach. Stale air quickly turned to stale farts as we passed through the aristocratic curtain. The other passengers briefly glanced, as if every tile on a “Guess Who?” board was suddenly flipped up for just a moment. Like the board game characters, most of the passengers were old white folks with strange facial hair, but there was no Maria with a green beret. I’m glad we’re done with berets. I found my way to my seat, 26 B, and I forcefully wedged myself between a Bill and a Claire. The Bill was taking a nap, and the Claire was reading something that old spinsters might read. All signs indicated another lackluster flight, but at least I…

“This is bullshit! I used to blow three, even four guys a flight in my day, and now I can’t even have a god damned cigarette…” the Claire angrily muttered, completely shattering my travel-jaded train of thought. “I’ll tell you, flying used to be magical…”

“Seems like four blowjobs makes most things magical,” I interrupted. And suddenly, flying was exciting again.

“Ha. All things if I’m involved sweety. Joan,” she introduced while extending a trembling grandma paw.

“Hunter,” I replied while shaking said paw. The wrinkled shaker was clammy, and I immediately wanted a napkin or some kind of disinfectant wipe, but I knew she was probably the only one passenger that would have one. “So you used to fly a lot?”

“I was a stewardess,” she began to explain. “I was a stewardess when the title ‘stewardess’ meant something – none of that PC crap back then. Things were different. A man would slap you on the ass after you served him a drink and somehow it was charming. And we could smoke. In my time, this cabin would have been coated with the sweet fragrance of tobacco and scotch before the captain even hit the intercom.”

“God, that sounds perfect. I mean, I get it, not allowing the smoking, but…”

“You get it? Don’t be such a sally. Your generation, always all up in arms. ‘What about the little guy?’ you cry. Well I’ll tell you, he was run down by the real men that were smoking cigarettes and drinking bourbon on their way to the restaurant for a steak that was still kickin’. That’s how it used to be, and now I have to sit here and coddle this pussy generation until I kick it. Oh great, and there’s a black…”

“And I’m gonna stop you on that note,” I quickly interjected while noticing a young Hispanic man looking for his seat. “Anyway Joan, I thought your generation frowned on promiscuity?”

“What? Ha. Oh yes, peaked your interest there…” she began while reaching over to give me one of those comforting grandma knee grabs, “…didn’t I. Well, like I said, flying used to be magical.”

“Please, go on.”

“Ha! No, no. Those days are kind of like Vegas, but let’s just say there were plenty of boys that wanted to stay in Vegas, got me?”

Wait, my grandma was a stewardess. “Well Joan, it sounds like you were a pioneer in your field.”

“Heavens no! We were all doing it, but it was a better time. We had a lot of fun. Fun you couldn’t get away with now”

No, not Grammy. “Yeah, you can’t get away with much up here now.”

Silence. The Bill was snoring up a storm as I sat there, half enjoying the awkward silence and half suffering from thoughts of Grammy in her stewardess days. Awkward silence is only slightly more comfortable than coping with casual racism, but far more comfortable than coping with thoughts of your grandmother turning tricks on a commercial airliner. After a bit, I pushed the attendant button for some snack assistance.

“I’m sorry sir, but no snacks are provided on this flight. I can get you a bag of pretzels, but they’re running $4.50 a bag.”

“$4.50 for fucking pretzels?” Joan belted. “What the hell happened to flying? This used to be a privilege, a luxury, and now you have to fight some ugly-frigid-cunt-bitch ‘flight attendant’ for a bag of pretzels? I swear…”

“Please just go,” I instructed the stewardess. She glared at Joan as she continued to rant, and looked to the front of the cabin. I thought Joan was going to get arrested, and if the stewardess didn’t mistake me for some family relation, she probably would have been. But fortunately, she trotted off as if it never happened. Joan paid no attention – she was knees deep in profane, contemporary-flight-etiquette criticism. “This really pisses you off, huh? I mean, where’s my old-timey lap dance?” She paused mid-rant and smiled.

“You know, it does. When I did this job, I made it my duty to make sure that the flight was a special experience for everyone involved. And that had nothing to do with the sex stuff. Being up here used to be something special. Now it’s routine and tedious. It’s a shame. The things you have to watch society ruin as you age. You’ll know soon enough.”

“I hate smart phones. No one talks anymore.”

“Oh no, you’re in trouble if you’re already noticing it.”

I glanced out the window as we glided over a serene mountainscape. “Well, at least the view is still amazing.”

“Meh, the green used to be greener,” Joan remarked with a smile.

And suddenly, the flight was over.

Written by: Hunter Hirsch
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

This is It

Posted on: January 27, 2015

                                                                            continued from “West

The RV made it to Austin before it died, without fanfare, in the night. Dena and Chris didn't hear it breathe its last mechanical breath. It just refused to start when they woke in the morning, foiling their intention to check out of the Austin Lone Star Carefree RV Park.

"I didn't even know she was going," Chris said, struggling to open the hood of the giant camper.

"So she's a she, now?" Dena asked with an eye roll.

"It's probably the transmission," Chris said.

He doesn't know a damn thing about transmissions. He doesn't even know the difference between regular gasoline and diesel.

"Okay," Dena said.

"I'll fix it," Chris said. "Go find us muffins?"

The Austin Lone Star Carefree RV Park was five miles from downtown. Dena shuffled out to the main road. She shifted her weight on one leg, thrust her hip out, and extended a thumbs-up to the passing traffic.

Is this how you hitchhike? Shit. I'm as much of a poser as everyone else.

After ten minutes of cars zooming past without stopping, Dena started walking. She Google-mapped the nearest bus stop. This is how it goes, now. Forget everything you've seen in the movies.

When the bus arrived, she boarded and made her way to the back. She slumped onto the last row of seats, avoiding an old woman with a bloom of grocery bags and a hipster with a baby strapped to his chest. The baby looked at Dena with big, sparkling eyes, but didn't wail.

At the next stop, a girl got on. She looked maybe nineteen, twenty at the most, and wore a work jumpsuit with LeeAnn stitched over the breast pocket. Her boots were enormous and caked with dirt and grease. Her hair had been dyed black, then grown out, and then the roots re-dyed camellia pink.

After her short-lived hitchhiking experiment, Dena was now sure that nothing happened unless you made first contact.

"Hey," she said to the girl, presumably LeeAnn, "Are you a mechanic?"

"Learning to be," the girl said. "Please don't tell me how badass that is. I already know." She rolled her eyes and lit a cigarette.

The hipster's baby began to scream.

“Shh, shh, Reagan,” the hipster crooned.

"Hey! No smoking on my bus!" the driver yelled.

"Whatever," LeeAnn muttered. She extinguished the cigarette on the dingy vinyl of the bus seat. It burned a glowing circle, which then blackened.

"Do you know anything about RV's?" Dena asked. She extended her hand. "I'm Dena."


Dena's eyes drifted to the girl's name tag.

"Hand-me-down uniform."


"So you've got an RV? What are you, eighty-five?"

"Something like that," Dena said.

She felt a jolt of realization that the RV, as much as she hated it, was the sum total of all she had in the world. She and Chris had sold everything to buy it, and now it was dead. The RV was her family inheritance, her car, her favorite vintage clothes she'd consigned at a loss. The RV was the re-fashioned, welded-together, Frankenstein’s-monster version of her life.

"It's at the RV Park a couple of miles back,” Dena said. “Won’t start. Any chance you could look at it today? Or know somebody who could?"

"I'm going to class now. I'm done at noon if you want to wait around downtown until then. You can pay, right?"

Dena promised she could.

They got off downtown, where Jennifer left her at a Starbucks. They exchanged numbers.

"I'll text you when I'm leaving class," Jennifer said.

Dena stood outside the Starbucks, watching Jennifer go. She walked with such purpose. Her bag of tools bounced against her leg as she moved. Her steel-toed boots clomped through the morning shadows of tree branches on the sidewalk. She was a rough goddess of Austin.

Dena's phone buzzed. It was a text from Chris: Muffinz? and a cat emoji.

This is my life, Dena thought.

No muffins. Mechanics, she texted. Back this afternoon.

Sad cat emoji.

Whatever. Dena pushed open the door to the Starbucks, where the burnt stench of bad coffee assaulted her. It was still early, and the line of people wound through the store, circling cutesy displays of seasonal beans and Keep Austin Weird coffee mugs.

She ordered a grande chai tea and barely flinched when her cup arrived with her name spelled "Dean."

It made her want to find some boots like Jennifer's. Who wears the pants, now?

"Is that the Oprah Chai?" a guy in a beanie asked her as she plopped down in a faux-leather chair.

Hipsters. Who wears a knit hat in Texas summer?


"The Oprah Chai. There's Tazo and Oprah. I want to try Oprah, but I kind of don't, you know?"

"Oh. I don't know. I don't think it's Oprah."

"Gotcha. Where you from? I’ve never seen you around here before."


If this guy’s going to hit on me, he could have at least bought my tea.

"Do you go to UT?"

“I graduated from college already.”

“Cool, cool. So what brings you to Austin?”

“Well, my dad died and now I’m an orphan, so I sold all my shit and bought an RV, and now the RV’s broken down, and I’m stuck here until the stranger I met on the bus gets out of mechanic-class.”


“You asked.”

“Well, good luck with all that. I gotta—“

“See ya.”

She watched his beanie-clad head pass out of the doorframe as Jennifer’s hot pink roots entered it.

“My whole class is like, in love with you now,” she said. “You got us a field trip.”


Chris stood on the sidelines, useless, as the head mechanic and his gaggle of protégés peered under the hood of the Chinook. Dena was there in the thick of them, handing Jennifer tools when she asked.

Jennifer’s whole class was women, all dressed in their matching jumpsuits.

“I know the whole point of fixing this is so you can go, but you should stay and come to the shop sometime,” a blonde named Shelly (nametag: Bridget) said.

“We’re going out West,” Chris said, knitting his eyebrows.

Dena watched the smudged, engaged faces of the women as they tightened valves and checked fluids.

She couldn’t remember the last time her life felt real.

“Well, I’ve got good news and bad news,” Jennifer’s instructor said, slamming the hood. “The bad news is, it’s the fuel pump. The good news is, a part replacement on this baby is so outrageous that it would be cruel to charge you for the diagnosis.”

Dena looked at the grimaces on the faces of the mechanics, whom she was beginning to think of as friends. She looked at the hulking RV, her worthless everything. She looked at Chris, playing Candy Crush on his phone. This was it.

“Shit,” she said. “Should I order pizza?”

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal


Posted on: January 22, 2015

“Fred. Fred, wake up.”

He stirs from his wounded slumber as Amelia squeezes his shoulders, shaking him gently. Fred is leaning against the trunk of a palm tree, his eyes squinting at the dry blood on his pants. Every part of his body is sore and he protests from the inside, but Amelia is insistent. He looks up at her, feeling what remains of his existence spill out like water on a hot skillet.

“What is it? Are you hurt?” he asks in a gruff whisper.

“Can you walk, Fred? You have to see them. Their wingspan must be fourteen feet! They’re absolutely breathtaking!”

Amelia is giddy, with cuts on her face and hands as if she had walked through brambles. Without thinking, she kneels and pulls his arm around her shoulders, trying to pull him up to a stand. He wails, stomach churning at the pain. Unphased, she starts to hobble forward, but it’s no use. Fred falls to the sand, too weak to weep.

“Oh, do get up! We may never have another chance to see such magnificent creatures! To think, they live and we thought them to be the stuff of legend!”

Fred feels his consciousness as he rolls over onto his back, his right leg throbbing as pain rides up through his back and down to his toes. He cannot comprehend Amelia’s mania, her inconsiderate obsession with whatever winged creature she happened to come across while he very well might be dying.

“Don’t worry, Fred. You’ll see them. I’ll even bring one to you if I can!”

He doesn’t hear her run off when he blacks out.


The sun is high in the sky when his eyes flutter open. Amelia must have moved him because he is lying on a blanket next to a small campfire. He hears something boiling when he turns his head to look around. Amelia is squatting about ten feet away, covering her mouth with the back of her hand as she giggles. After some time, Fred realizes she’s speaking French. But there’s no one else around. However, the way she’s carrying on he nearly doubts himself.

“Amelia, dear, who’s here?” Fred asks.

A quick turn of her head in his direction, then she remembers the pot of boiling water over the fire. Amelia removes it, then crawls to Fred’s side.

“Captain, I’ve brought one to you. They speak French!”

Fred’s heart begins to race, jumping to the conclusion that they are rescued. The adrenaline gives him enough energy to sit up so he can behold their rescuers with his own eyes.

“Thank God, we’re saved,” he breathes.

“Fred, this is Malory,” Amelia coos as she gestures past the fire.

There is no one. Fred’s breath picks up and panic begins to set in as it did those first few moments after he crawled from the wreckage of their crash.

“Amelia, I see no one,” he says evenly.

She huffs and walks back to the spot where she had been squatting, pointing with both of her hands like knives to the space in front of her.

“Honestly, Fred. I know you’re not feeling all that well, but she’s hard to miss.”

Amelia speaks again in French, and Fred can feel his heart leaping toward his throat as a deep fear sets in. He searches his memory for clues. There was the crash. There were the attempts at radio communication from what was left of the plane. There was his weakening body as blood oozed from his wound, and Amelia stitching it up. And then there was a fish roasting over a campfire. He could not eat it, but she could. Fred remembers the cautionary tales of eating the heads, that you can lose your mind for hours, sometimes for days.

Fred’s terror gives him the strength to stand.

“Forgive me, Miss Earhart. My vision has failed me since the crash. I can barely see you at all,” he lies.

“Ah, Fred, you poor dear,” Amelia says as she leads him around the fire. “Perhaps Malory will let you see her with your hands.”

And she takes his left hand and runs it through empty space, touching nothing, but Amelia speaks with awe.

“Feel the wings, Fred? A single feather is nearly a foot long. Wings for arms, but they keep everything else. She is the truest representation of an independent woman - a harpy, a woman who can fly.”

It’s too much. The world fades, and Fred’s last thought is the hope to wake up saved.


Fred wakes up screaming. Amelia’s fingers dig into the stitches on his right thigh and her other hand is wrapped around his throat.

“So, was this your plan all along, Fred? To rip me from the sky as I closed the circle of the globe? Was this part of your plan?”

She rips the wound open and the blood oozes heavily. Fred wretches and weeps, too weak to pull from her, nearly delirious with pain, dehydration, and hunger.

“Malory told me everything,” Amelia continues. “She heard you radio FDR, tell him our coordinates, tell him that you were successful. That you thwarted me. That you failed me as a captain and friend.”

Fred can smell his own blood and the ocean. He can feel the wind and hear the crash of waves below.

“You won’t take my wings, Fred.”

Amelia kicks his body over the edge of the cliff and he tumbles down toward the ocean. She sneers down at the ring of foam on the surface of the water before looking up at the sky. The sun melts behind the horizon and the stars begin to peek. Amelia spreads her arms and breathes deeply, closing her eyes as she recites:

“For life is not the thing we thought, and not the thing we plan; and Woman in a bitter world must do the best she can - must yield the stroke, and bear the yoke, and serve the will of man.”

Amelia leaps.

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Matt Crump

The Hallways of Always

Posted on: January 20, 2015

I remember thinking to myself that we shouldn’t be doing this, that even though the weather forecast said no rain, the ominous thunderclouds gathering in great bunches to the south were singing a different tune. I remember wishing I had worn my other shoes, the ones with the good rubber souls. I remember cursing out whoever decided that the trail should follow the thin shelf along the ridge. I remember the panic in my friend’s eyes when the first raindrops hit us, heavy and cold.

I remember falling, the wind whistling past as I outraced the rain on our way to the valley floor. I remember the sun starting to peek out from behind a cloud. Then nothing.

It wasn’t like I had always imagined. Images of my life didn’t flash before my eyes. There was no tunnel, no bright light. There were no voices of loved ones beckoning, calling me home. There was no choir of angels and no pearly gates and no clouds. There were none of the things I had been taught to expect.


I am in a long corridor. Angular and sterile, it looks like a Museum of Contemporary Art. Doorways open at odd intervals, each emitting a light of a different color. I wander down the hallway and come to an intersection, each direction the mirror image of the others. I choose the left. I come to another intersection, same as the first. This time, I choose right.

I have no idea how long I amble down the labyrinthine passageways before I start to see and hear them. At first they are just murmurs and shadows, vague notions that something else is here. Then they start to come into focus. The first one I see is a medieval knight, clomping down the hallway in his armor. I try to talk to him, but he doesn’t seem to hear me. I motion to him, but he passes me as if I don’t exist. I turn around just in time to see a small Asian girl in a school uniform running straight at me. I brace myself for the collision, but she darts right through me. I come to another intersection and panic as a tiger, snarling and ferocious, rounds the corner.

“Don’t worry. It can’t hurt you.”

The voice is cool, serene. But I don’t know where it’s coming from.

“Excuse me? Who said that?”

“I did.”

I follow sound the voice and turn around. Standing in front of me is a human form, but unlike any that I have ever seen. Radiant and shining, as if made by pure light, the being seems neither masculine nor feminine.

“Who are you? Where am I?”

“I am Sidpa. I am your guide to the Hallways of Always.”

“My guide to what?”

“This place you have entered. This is the Hallways of Always. It is where souls go to transmigrate as they pass from one body to another.”

As Sidpa speaks the corridor grows ever more crowded, like the hallways of a high school in between classes. But instead of teenagers, it’s filled with people of every nationality, every age, from every time period. There is every type of animal. And there are the other things, fantastic Dr. Seussian creatures, like the seven-legged, two-headed beast shuffling it’s way towards me.

Sidpa sees the look on my face.

“In an infinite universe, you don’t think that life only exists on one minuscule planet do you?”

“I… I guess not.”

“I know. This is not easy to wrap your head around.”

“So I’m dead?”

“Yes… And no. Your soul is everlasting. It has been here before, an innumerable amount of times. When you are done in one body, you come here and choose another. See, watch him.”

Sidpa motions towards a man sauntering down the passageway. Clad in the rigid, formal wool uniform of a Russian World War II soldier, the man pauses at each colored doorway, as if window-shopping. Some he walks away from quickly, others he stays at longer, as if pondering whether or not to enter.

“He’s getting a feel for them, choosing where he wants to go next, and who, or what, he wants to be. Time and distance do not exist here. You can go wherever you want. You can be your favorite leader from history, your favorite animal. You can even be the parent of the person you were last time. The only life you can’t choose is the one you just lived. Unless you were taken before your time.”

The soldier comes to a another doorway and peers into it. Electric blue light reflects on his face. He exudes peace and understanding. We both know this is the one. Right before he steps through the threshold, he discards the incarnation of the soldier, leaving it on the doorstep like a snake shedding its skin, revealing the luminous soul beneath. I watch in awe as it disappears into the neon-tinted void.

“But what about you?” I ask. “Do you ever go through a doorway?”

There is no answer. I look around, but Sidpa is gone. I stand and watch as others slip through doorways. I gaze into the closest portal. Through a vibrant orange haze I see a collection of yurts on the Mongolian Steppe. I see a man and woman and immediately feel a pang of familial love. I walk to the next and I feel like I’m transported underwater. I see a pod of dolphins swimming all around me. I hear their squeaks and am surprised that I understand what they are saying. I continue down the hallway, surveying each door, and each life contained within.

Down the long corridor, I see a vivid green doorway that seems to pulsate. As I get closer I feel it pull me in, like a magnet. Before I even get there, I know. This is the one. I let the emerald glow swallow me up as I walk through.


I see a bright, white light. I hear a voice with a slight Indian accent. A shadow cuts across and a man’s face comes into focus. I try to lift my head, but can’t.

“Don’t try to move,” the man says. “I’m Dr. Sidpa. You were pretty lucky to survive a fall like that, we thought we lost you.”

I lay there, my mind wandering, trying to separate truth from illusion, memory from myth.

“Yep, pretty lucky.” Dr. Sidpa continues, giving me a wink. “Or maybe it just wasn’t your time.”

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

No Console for Old Men

Posted on: January 15, 2015

Cliff watched in horror as his grandson stepped out of the car and jump kicked a scantily-clad woman in the spine, laughing maniacally as she plummeted to the ground. Once she was sprawled out on the pavement, he pulled out a baseball bat and proceeded to bash her skull in until money spilled out of her purse like the blood streaming out of her head. he collected the wad of cash and returned to his vehicle, but not before throwing a grenade at the lifeless body, extinguishing the flames with a round of ammunition from an automatic rifle.

“Tiffany, I don’t want Jacob playing that game any more,” Cliff said entering the kitchen.

Tiffany sighed and continued peeling potatoes, her charm bracelet jingling as the curls of coarse skin rained down on the garbage disposal.

“Save it, Dad.”

“No, Tiffany. It’s your son who needs to be saved.”

“He’s just a normal fifteen-year-old boy.”

“A fifteen-year-old boy who brutally murders prostitutes!”

“In a video game.”

“Does that make it any better?”


Tiffany turned around to face her father, tightening her fingers around the partially shaved vegetable like a prison shiv.

“You’re right,” Cliff conceded. “It’s certainly better on the TV than in the streets, but it’d be best if he didn’t do it at all.”

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t have bought him that game for Christmas.”

“THAT is the game I got him?”

Tiffany smirked and returned to her duties.


“Then I’m taking it away.”

“Good luck.”

Cliff returned to the living room to find Jacob’s eyes transfixed on the screen as a curvaceous woman wearing practically no clothing threw two blades into the torso of a man in a blue mask, sashayed across the room, grabbed his face, ripped off his head, and pulled down the thin purple veil covering her mouth to reveal a set of demonic teeth, which she then used to gnaw through his face like a competitive pie eater. Once her appetite was satisfied, she spiked what remained of his head into the ground and rubbed his blood all over her body, emitting moans of pleasure as her hands traveled below her navel.

“Jesus H. Christ,” Cliff uttered.

“GRANDDAD,” Jacob said, quickly covering the controller and his crotch with a throw pillow.

Cliff walked over to the gaming console and began searching for an off switch.

“Granddad, seriously, what are you doing?”

“How do you shut this damn thing off?”

“YOU don’t shut it off,” Jacob said, standing up from the couch.

Jacob grabbed hold of his granddad’s bicep, which maintained a surprising amount of the muscle he gained during three tours of duty and several decades of construction. Cliff ignored Jacob’s grasp and began unplugging the cords from the back of the machine.

“STOP,” Jacob yelled, tugging on Cliff’s arm with all of his might.

Cliff remained perfectly still, save for the hand he sent darting towards Jacob’s wrist. Jacob’s nostrils flared as Cliff’s fingers plucked his veins like guitar strings, forcing him to loosen his grip. Cliff began rotating his hand until Jacob was on his knees pleading for mercy.

“I SURRENDER,” Jacob yelled.

“You would,” Cliff responded, setting Jacob free to cower on the sofa.

Cliff finished unplugging the game console and tucked it beneath his arm.

“When you’re done crying, meet me in the car,” Cliff said as he marched out the door.

Tiffany poked her head out from the kitchen with a grin on her face.

“You heard him,” she said. “Get out there or I’ll tell all your friends you just got your butt kicked by a senior citizen.”

Her eyes followed Jacob to the door. He scowled back and shook the pain from his arm while reaching for the knob.

“I’m calling Social Services,” he threatened.

“So you can tell THEM a senior citizen kicked your ass?”

Jacob answered by slamming the door.

“Oh good,” Cliff shouted from behind the wheel. “I was afraid natural sunlight might kill you. You know, like a vampire.”

“I get it,” Jacob scoffed, climbing into the car.

“Oh, cheer up. Before you know it, I’ll be dead, and you can go back to beating up prostitutes and touching yourself to warrior women.”


“Sure you weren’t.”

Cliff put the Oldsmobile in reverse and pulled out of the driveway. They rode in silence all the way to the park where grandparents and grandchildren regularly fly kites together.

“SURPRISE,” Cliff said after pulling into the parking lot.


“Come on, give me an hour and you can kill all the hookers your heart desires.”

Jacob pulled his phone from his pocket and set a timer.

“Tick-tock,” he said, flashing his granddad the screen.

Cliff gathered the kites from the trunk and handed them to Jacob, along with the mission to find a patch of clean airspace while he takes a leak. Jacob walked towards the field with two kites beneath his left arm and a smartphone in his right hand.

Cliff exited the bathroom and scanned the sky for the Spongebob Squarepants kite he had given Jacob on his eighth birthday. To his surprise, he found the yellow and porous diamond fighting against the wind about fifty yards to his left.

He walked towards the spot and traced the string with his eyes, soon discovering that Jacob wasn’t manning the handle. He stopped and looked around the lawn until he saw another Spongebob kite facedown in the grass. Beside it was a scraggly-haired teenager with his head pointed straight down at a phone he was gripping with both of his hands.

When Cliff was close enough to see the screen he saw something he’d been trying to forget for the better part of his adult life. He saw an earth-toned helmet, he saw crosshairs, and then, he saw Jacob tap his thumb against the glass, making the helmet and its occupant vanish behind a puff of blood.

“I surrender,” Cliff murmured, gathering the kites and retreating to the car.

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph By: Sophie Stuart

Anatomy of the Inhuman Heart (Tales from the Academy)

Posted on: January 13, 2015

Ren became an orphan and a soldier in the span of twelve hours.

It started with the bright white light of her tablet, the notification a signal flare arcing against a starless sky.

Groaning, she tapped the blocky red letters and closed her eyes. He’s forgotten about the time difference again.

Ren settled back into the covers, the comforter warm and soft against her chin. She felt sleep embrace her, but the call light cleaved through the darkness.

He meant to call someone else.

She pressed the red letters and rolled onto her back. Anxiety gnawed at her, ground away her desire for sleep and Ren found herself grabbing the tablet and tapping away until her father’s face was there, washed with worry and fear.

“What’s wrong?” Ren asked, and a dozen possibilities turn over in her mind. Her mother, her siblings, his job. But Occam’s Razor has no place in war. There is no room for simplicity among hatred.

“An attack,” her father said. She slid her fingers against a slender glass tab and activates a wider, brighter screen across from the bed. Ren saw images her mind refused to reconcile.

Her country. The iconic snow-topped mountain. A mushroom cloud. Cherry blossoms fluttering in a radioactive breeze.

She slid her fingers again. Light left the room, save for her father’s face, small and weak with its own darkness.

“But you are not in Tokyo,” Ren choked, knowing what he would say.

“It is not just Tokyo.”

“Tell me,” she demanded. She listened as he explained what the news outlets will spend weeks covering in detail, with bold, colorful interactive maps and graphics: analysts standing in the middle of renderings of Kyoto Ground Zero and Tokyo Ground Zero, anchors charting the bombings across Kyushu and Shikoku. Damage dealt by China, all pretense of positive relations smoldering.

With her father, it was black and white. He stayed home, sick with flu, and he could not get in touch with her mother and sisters. He has tried to use the locator app, but — and he would not look at her as the words spilled out in a sob — no user connection.

“Leave,” Ren said.

“It’s too late.”

“They’ll come,” Ren insisted, though she isn’t sure who “they” are and when and how they will arrive. “Someone will come. International aid, survivors’ camps — ”

“Ren,” her father met her eyes. Across a war zone that did not exist yesterday, across an ocean, they saw each other for what they are: a father and his favorite daughter, a dying man and a survivor.

“No,” she said. Her jaw trembled, oscillating between rage and mourning.

“I called to say goodbye.”

They spoke for another half hour, until the signal ended — tragically? Mercifully? Ren can never decide.

Ren looked around the room, Spartan with its single large screen. She felt like a caged animal, breathing stale air and circling, ready to attack. When she unlatched the door she felt cool freedom, tears drying into streaks of salt on her cheeks like war paint.

Ren tallied her losses. She tallied the losses of those who could not.

The recruiting office buzzed with jingoistic rhetoric, electric currents of pride and racism pulsing around her. Ren wanted to shake the men, women, and children who glared at her.

She remembers learning about the internment camps during World War II and how magazines published ways to tell Chinese and Japanese people apart. There were buttons with big bold letters: I AM CHINESE.

Ren considered making one of her own, one that might light up with flashing neon letters, lowercase in the style of the microblogs and pop journo sites: i am japanese-american!

Or better: i hurt, too <appropriate emoji>!

But not what she felt, never the words she wanted to scream at them as they stared and hated and judged: I lost something, and you want only to gain.

When her turn came, she signed on the line and enlisted like the others.


The campus sprawls over forty acres, though Lieutenant Colonel Chisholm assures them additional funding has been approved to purchase more land, build more facilities, remodel staff quarters. Nervous chuckles ripple from the new recruits, men and women responsible for the success of the Academy and its progeny, like this place is a living organism.

They walk into the main building, a massive umbrella sculpture of fabric and seams welcoming them in shades of orange and vermillion.

The heart of the Academy, Ren thinks. It feels like her own: ripped open and inverted, rearranged into something macabre. It beats not to sustain life, but to avenge the dead. Vessels that once constricted and pumped blood have been fashioned into spikes pulsing poison.

Ren tastes bile and the room swims before her, the heart of the Academy throbbing, pounding in the atrium. She hears the blood rushing in her ears and it sounds like the drums of war. She breathes long and deep until she feels weightless, drained of the fever that boils her blood and makes her see red and hatred everywhere.

Temper your rage.


“I like your hair. Not many women going for the traditional crew cut.” Desh’s mouth spreads in a delicate grin. It’s different from the too-wide garish smiles the others have given her, the words of a compliment betrayed by the ticks of the disingenuous. Ren decides to trust this man, even though her CO warned otherwise.

“Thanks, but I think I went too extreme. It needs to grow out. And I kind of miss my bun.”

“Did they tell you why I was here?”

“Reporter for pop journo site New New Republic,” Ren says.

“I’m writing about the success of the Academy, getting perspectives from different people in the trenches. We’ll give everyone pseudonyms. Lieutenant Colonel’s orders,” Desh says. “Tell me some things about you. Give me a sense of Specialist Ren Mori.”

“I manufacture murder,” Ren says, “and I try to live with that choice.”

Ren looks at Desh, who has sad, dark eyes like her father did. She continues.

“Some days are easier than others.”

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe


Posted on: January 6, 2015

They sold Dena's car, Chris's bike, their used textbooks. They sold the dresser Dena's father had given her before he died, the one that belonged to Aunt Elizabeth. The one she swore she'd keep in the family.

"You Craigslisted the dresser?" she squawked at Chris.

"Chill! We got a hundred bucks for it!"

Dena felt a little catch in her lungs, or maybe in her heart. She remembered her father’s body, the sticky tape sealing tubes and needles to his skin, pushing and pumping, trying.

Her father was dead. Aunt Elizabeth was dead. A dresser wouldn't fit in an RV anyway.

Kimbra came over to buy the last of the pot.

"It's not the good stuff. I won't lie to you," Chris told Kimbra. "But we really need the money right now."

"I think what you're doing is totally rad," Kimbra said. "It's just like On the Road, right?"

Dena watched Chris fold the money into their thick stack of cash.

"Yeah. Just like On the Road."

She knew Chris hadn't read Kerouac. Couldn't speak to the tradition. Couldn't know to be afraid of it.

"Don't eat any poison plants, 'kay?" Kimbra said.

Into the Wild, not On the Road. Is everybody I know full of bullshit?

Kimbra gave them a ride to the used car lot and wished them luck, already pawing in the marijuana baggie as she waited for them to climb out.

The day was hot. The last crisp cool of Kimbra's AC deserted Dena's skin. She could feel the back of her neck begin to sweat, her baby hairs curling into insistent ringlets.

"You ready?" Chris asked. He didn't wait for her to answer.

Louie barely looked up when they entered the shack that housed the dealership’s office.

"Still want the Chinook?" Louie asked.

Chris handed over the money. Louie counted it, licking his fingertips to separate the bills.

"Now, she's definitely your vintage model, but I added some freon for you this morning. You should be good to go. Where y'all going, anyway?"

"West," Chris said.

That was all he ever said when people asked, as if the answer was meant to evoke the spirit of adventure. Lewis and Clark. The gold rush. More likely, Chris was thinking Oregon Trail. Living off the land. Hunting and gathering. Dying of dysentery after attempting to caulk the wagon and float.

Dena climbed into the RV first. It smelled of cat urine and mildew and something worse—a lingering cloud of lavender Febreeze. At least Louie had tried.

"Fucking home sweet home," Chris said, pumping his fists above his head.

Dena climbed into the bed tucked over the cab. The mattress cover had a hole in it, and underneath, she could see that the foam was dried and rotten. She thought of her father’s hospital bed, starched and sanitized, even the railings coated in copper to kill germs.

"Are you thinking about how sweet it's going to be to sleep up here, in the middle of a national park, listening to the wolves howl?" Chris asked, climbing up beside her.

“Yeah,” Dena said. “That’s pretty much exactly what I’m thinking.”


They spent their first night parked at a rest stop in Mississippi. The RV had made slow time, groaning when Chris pushed it over sixty miles an hour.

“It’s not about the destination anyway,” he said.

In the bed over the cab, Dena tossed and turned as Chris snored. The radio had only been able to pick up country music through Alabama, then finally a dubious R&B station. Chris had hummed along to a song in which a guy croons that he doesn’t mind if his girlfriend’s a stripper as long as she makes money. They’d eaten McDonald’s for breakfast, Burger King for lunch, and Waffle House for dinner.

“We are human grease,” she’d said to Chris.

“The body is an amazing thing. It can get used to almost anything, after a while.”

“Yeah. Like cancer,” Dena muttered.

He’d rambled on about accumulating callouses, about sun-tanned skin, about a new awareness of nature. But now the rambling was replaced by snoring.

And then, a howl.

At first, Dena rolled her eyes. It was too much. There were no wolves on I-22. She heard it again. A high-pitched howl. Definitely not her imagination.

She rolled out of the bed and guided herself to the floor, sneaking towards the door. She slid on her flip flops and went outside. The air was still hot, even in the middle of the night. Lights washed the rest stop in an orange glow.

She heard the howl again and moved towards the noise.

On the other side of the parking lot, a man in a baseball hat was dragging a dog towards a green pickup truck. The dog, some kind of hound mix, howled and struggled, lurching towards the rest station building.

“That your dog?” Dena called.

“Yeah,” said the man in the hat. “Sorry—it’s just—he’s after the raccoons.”


“They’re smart. They’ve figured out how to rob the vending machines.”

Near the entrance to the women’s bathroom, two raccoons were scuttling near the snack machine. One had snaked its arm inside and was grabbing at the food trapped in the black metal coils. The other paced behind its companion in obvious anticipation.

“Shit,” Dena said.

“Resourceful little critters,” the man said. “Get in, Riley.”

The dog resisted.

“Want a hand, there?”

Dena helped the man hoist Riley into the cab of the truck.

“Thanks,” he said. “Can’t blame him, right? Hey, is that your camper over there?”

“It’s my—friend’s.”

“Where you heading?”

Dena paused. Her lips had almost formed the word West, but instead she said, “Away.”

“Great American adventure?”

“Something like that.”

The man in the hat grinned at her. In the great American adventure story, he’d say his name was Bill. He’d offer her a beer or maybe some ill-advised hallucinogens. They’d stay up all night as Riley slept in the cab of the truck, as Chris snored in the Chinook. Maybe he’d try to kiss her. Maybe she’d tell him all about her father, about feeling so lonely you’d sell everything you owned to ride across the country with an unlovable optimist. They’d watch the sun rise. Maybe she’d leave with him, drive north, slip another untraceable layer between who she was and who she could become.

But this was not a story. There was no such thing as real reinvention.

“Your front tire there looks a little flat,” the man in the baseball hat said as he climbed into the truck. “Might want to find someone to take a look at that before you hit the road.”

The truck pulled onto the interstate. The light by the rest station flickered. As Dena crossed the parking lot towards the Chinook, the two raccoons ran across her path. Each one carried a bag of honey mustard pretzels in its whiskered mouth.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Tell Satan Be Patient

Posted on: January 1, 2015

Keaton D’Amato once asked me if I’d heard of Robert Johnson. Sure, I replied. Old blues man. That’s right, replied D’Amato. Went to the crossroads, sold his soul to the Devil so he could play the blues. Hmm, I said.

Years later I’m staring down the crossroads. I’ve come to sell my soul to the Devil so I can play my own type of blues, an endeavor that might prove useful thanks to my precarious position on God’s existence. There are however some hiccups in this logic, the old chicken or the egg question of the Godly folk. Can you have the Devil without God?

The blind gypsy man that sent me here said, sure. He said, I don’t know much ‘bout God but me n’ the Devil is real close. He had a cackle laugh and wore a bracelet made of turtle bones. He who’d spent too much time in the Louisiana bayou, too much time with his handmade-dolls whom he called his kiddies, one too many fried gator tongues for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. After I meet the Devil and make the soul-transaction, I plan on writing a short story about the gypsy man -- Wallace was his name.

So like some southern gothic Odysseus signpost, old blind Wallace pointed me west further into the swamp. Out there innit! He pointed and cackled and we both disappeared into the darkness going opposite directions.

As I sludged deeper I thought of my mother. She was dead but once she’d been grand, beautiful like purple clouds spitting lightning during a summer storm, a chill in the air, a breeze on your cheek. She was a believer and a good person, but she died too young. Ain’t nobody say it’d be like this she wheezed, her last words on a bed with bad springs, in a room with yellow water stains on the ceilings and harsh light. Oh well. So it goes.

The surrounding sounds had a life of their own, given my imagination. The wind played tricks with my mind and my senses went spinning in all sorts of misshapen directions, like my inherent fear was dealing with a nasty bout of vertigo. After some time in the dark, as the sky got light and the day’s engine choked to life, I turned a corner and saw three lovelies.

Three, my favorite number. Rolls off the tongue like honey. Better than a pair and stronger than a group. An equal balance with one in the middle, the trio was tied to a whipping post, wearing black scraps that once looked like clothes. Help! they cried, so I went and took my knife, bent low and released them. I gave them water and they were grateful. My name is Mary Lou, said the most beautiful. She had ringlets of blonde hair matted with blood red mud, and in the morning light the swamp was like a church of crimson, a mysterious mist of burgundy that I had not encountered before nor since. The remaining pair were lookers as well with red hair like fire that stood out even from the scarlet swamp. They were named Suzy Q, and Jenny Boo. Respectively.

It’s a fine mornin’ for a rescue, said Suzy Q. We appreciate you kindly. I asked them what had them all tied up and they looked to the ground like little girls, and rubbed their toes in the mud like they was ballet pointing, and finally Jenny Boo - speaking like Nabakov’s Lolita - said, It’s the Devil that done us like this. I told them that was awful unjust, however, I had dealings with the Devil and if they could point me in the right direction I would forever be on bended knee in great appreciation. Mister, asked Suzy, What kinda business you got with that ol’ rascal? I told them of my plan to barter my soul, and they all three shrugged and said in a ghostly chorus, Ain’t no weight in a soul misplaced. I got the shivers right down to my little toe when they pointed me west, but I thanked them kindly and went on my way. I could hear them giggling for miles after that like they had been carried by the wind.

The sun hung up in the sky like a lightbulb, and it musta’ been damn near noon when I came across the building with the peeling paint walls. I came upon a long hallway feeling fine until I heard a noise of rustlin’ at the far end like a creature coming out of the brush, like when me and Daddy went pig hunting, and at that moment the sky went dark and the sun got all eaten up by the hungry sky. It was dark and chilly and that rustlin’ kept getting louder and I was truly afraid.

That darkness seeped into me, and from it came a voice like a thousand crying angels and it said, I’ve been waiting for you, boy! I couldn’t see nothing, but I could feel a presence on the other end of the hall moving slow and sure towards me, creeping and crawling like a rabid dog. There was breathing through a stopped up nose like after Momma used to get the allergies real bad, and a smell most akin to sulphur leaking from the bowels of the world.

I’ve come to make a proposition! I shouted. I’ve got one good soul for a life of fine art! It was then I could see the beast’s eyes floating in the dark. Of what use to me is a good soul? asked the Devil. Well, I replied, I s’pose it’s one less to worry about when the deal goes down. I suppose it is, said the Devil keenly. And what do you want in return for this one good soul? he continued. I want to create great works of art, I said. Works that espouse the human condition. Works that inspire and transcend the cages of the form in which they are binded by. I want to be an artist of great reverence, a genius of Einsteinian proportions. Recognized, is what I want to be.

The devil laughed a shrill laugh and said, I can’t give you that boy. But what about the others that came to the crossroads? I asked. Myths that romanticize - a human condition, answered the Devil. Only so many ways to escape all that drudgery. I nearly began to cry, but the Devil spoke, Neither madness nor lust can get you what you want, though they might have brought you here. Stalwarts of your humanity that they might be, they do you no good in your mission here today. But if you please, the Devil continued, I will tell you the secret of creation.

Awake! he bellowed and fire pierced the darkness and seemed to engulf me. But I felt no heat. I felt no fire. And when I opened my eyes the Devil was gone, the sky was bright and blue making love with the sun, and the crossroads was an empty hallway with peeling paint.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Jennifer Stevens

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