Monday, September 24, 2012

Insect Man by Jason Andrew

(Dedicated to Fyodor Karamazov)

Insect Man
Always blowing balloons of men
Too much!

Insect Man
I dream of you
Horrible, don't do what
People want you to
In the shadows
in the feint
virgin weak knees
taste your paint

Pop too much
Too Much

As though 
I were 

Little Betty by Michael T. Flanders

The girl comes to me every night before the witching hour,
creeping out of the walls like a shadow from beyond.
She always appears in grave dressings of dark burgundy and white,
dressings meant to match the paleness of her skin and the ruby droplets sliding down her face.
“Play with me,” she beckons, “play with me like daddy used to.”
A chilled wind takes hold of my person as her voice fills my ears.
Bleeding almost instantly into reality,
she takes eager steps towards my bed.
Never once does she acknowledge the trail of gore and darkness she leads from the walls,
the trail that brings her to my side for “play time” and leaves a mask of terror upon me.
She smiles through long, raven hair and crimson covered lips,
“Daddy used to play with me all the time,
at least until mommy found our special place.”
I stare on in horror as she recounts the story to me for the fifteenth time,
telling me of her father’s abuse and other misguidings.
“Daddy didn’t like mommy finding our special place,” she says,
“so he hit her with this, then he did it to me.”
More blood trickles down her cheeks as a small hand ax appears in her grasp,
 “and now I’ll do it to you!”
This time, this ethereal swing, this ghostly action will be my undoing.
At least this is what I think every night when she unsheathes the ax.
But it doesn’t, and the ax disappears, she disappears,
yet again passing the promise of Death clear through my skull.

Each time it never fails, it always ends the same,
fear caught in my throat and anxiety in my stomach.
Suddenly a noise catches my attention,
and I look to see Little Betty standing near the door.
Draped in her nightgown of dark burgundy and white,
she gazes at me through raven hair.
“Are you okay, daddy,” she asks,
“I thought I heard something.”
I shake off my stupor and reply,
“It’s nothing dear, go back to sleep.”
She yawns a longful sign of tiredness and asks,
“Can we play, daddy?”
My brow drops as my black, hungry eyes stay focused on Betty,
“Not tonight, my love. But in the morning, I’ll meet you at our special place.”
She half smiles and shuffles off to her room,
leaving me to contemplate the fun games we’ll play at day break…

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Crossroad by Steve Prusky

Sam’s crossroad was a swirling urban nether world in the slummiest part of Detroit. This intersection never evolved. Instead, it became an admission free museum of relics from a past Mob wars and the “Fix” once ruled. Layers of graffiti swathed the granite exterior of the gargoyle trimmed late Nineteenth Century bank building--now a smut store--opposite Sam’s cramped second floor flat. The first floor Roaring Twenties style diner in his building served stodgy Blue Plate specials from 6:00 PM until midnight. The noisy bar directly below his room on Calumet Avenue attracted as many cops as criminals. Fourth Street bellowed shotgun groans of semi trucks engine braking, wailing sirens speeding to a crime a fire or another smack

back drug fiend sprawled face down in the shadows of an abandoned wig shop near the corner. Progress relegated this decrepit part of the city into an obsolete narrow pinch point cross-town traffic must pass through en route to other blemished parts. Its final function was as an overused heart fighting congestive failure, yet it still struggled to pump lifeblood through its worn arteries to the distant appendages of the greater, equally unhealthy urban whole. Stark inner-city existence reigned on Sam’s corner of Calumet and Fourth.
           Sam prospered as well as a real estate agent trying to sell empty shacks in a ghost town. He kept a low wage night watch job at a shoe warehouse in the antiquated industrial district near down town. He managed well enough to stay only a few hours ahead on his weekly rent. The roach infested tenement he occupied; its sluggish toilet, weak stream lukewarm shower, radiated steam heat suggested the Great Depression never left his building while the rest of the world moved on. The thin lumpy mattress of his twin-sized hide-a-bed suited him fine. The one-man galley kitchen, a dripping faucet, chipped porcelain sink loaded with a week’s worth of unwashed pans and dishes kept his roaches busy and strategically located in one place rather than aimlessly drifting throughout his entire flat for
nourishment. The coffin-sized closet housed two pair of jeans, undone laundry, a few tattered tee shirts and a hill of twice read paperback books; the literary ghosts of his limited college education.  His flat was a warm womb that cloistered him secure with a front row view of the energy flowing steadily below him on Calumet and Fourth.
           Sam lived on this squalor-ridden corner by choice, not for an initial lack of ambition.  The GI Bill funded his college. Sam aggressively pursued a degree. He became an established institution on the dean’s list, a legend among professors that were convinced he was on the literary path to a PhD. Sam dropped out the last semester of his junior year; Smack and Wild Turkey coaxed him to their university; they became his intellectual heroes rather than John Donne or Mavis Gallant.  Drained cerebrally dry Sam pulled the plug on his future to earn his street degree.
          Heroin and a steady supply of sour mash whiskey fulfilled his simple needs. Emotionally exhausted, excessive compulsive, unable to vent his inward anger without violence; he adopted the lifestyle of a socially withdrawn recluse. He sought anonymity in bars swam in the wet warmth of an occasional nameless woman. He relished a no holds bared fistfight simply based on the wrong word said. Sam blamed his condition on the

insanities he took part in during a war the previous generation dumped on his. He faulted his failure as a compassionate, loving man on all the women he allowed near enough to know him intimately. When string of lovers discovered how abnormal and self destructive he truly was most all of them surrendered to their inability to change him packed their make up kits and left. He credited his excessive alcohol abuse to his dysfunctional upbringing: an alcoholic wife-beating father, a blank eyed heartlessly cold as death mother. He blamed his off and on smack habit--a left over vice from his close proximity to the Poppy fields in Thailand during the war--for his inability to succeed. He placed the burden of his failures on anyone or anything but himself.
          Ten years had passed since college. During that period, Sam blundered and tripped through a litany of offenses: assault, resisting arrest, possession of drug paraphernalia.  He followed the backwash of lost humanity to this derelict dead end urban crossroad. Those instances he temporarily kicked ‘H’, he drank until his tracks healed, then predictably relapsed and anxiously pounded on his connects’ door.  He was a marginally functioning alcoholic when he wasn‘t smack back.  When playing with the needle and spoon, he was a waste of a human life.

          Sam’s bellicose boozy neighbor, Doc, was a retired dentist. Doc meticulously cultivated black creeping vine like hairs stubbornly protruding from his nostrils. His turkey neck and jowls wobbled when he talked or shook his head yes and no.  Doc’s unshaven wrinkly face and grey tainted stubble mirrored the flesh and blood image of an odometer that had spun too fast, turned over at least twice indicating it was more the miles Doc put on than age that made him appear twenty years dead and still standing in line for burial. Doc and Sam were friends of convenience with a consistent thirst for anything 100 proof or above in common. Although Doc disapproved of Sam’s erratic heroin habit, he let it go convinced Sam was more honorable than most, less dramatic than others.
          Doc came by with a fifth of Brandy. “Let’s drink and philosophize,” he slurred. Doc had a head start on the bottle.
          “I’m good with that,” Sam said. “We’ll go down to the bar when this bottle is gone.”
          “Done,” the old man said between swigs. Doc and Sam sat in the kitchen and propped their feet up on the table. They quietly observed the dregs of life pass along the opposite side of Fourth Street from the

permanently stuck shut nook window. Hookers with one foot in the gutter and one on the curb flagged down tricks. The corner rock dealer alertly stood by leaning against the liquor store facing Calumet with a baggy full of product ready for business.  His granite eyes darted constantly in every direction for trouble or a sale. He always had a preplanned route to take for a quick flight from the cops. Sam conjured an image of Prohibition Era crime boss Sam Gianolla stuck at the traffic signal on Calumet and Fourth fifty years ago, relighting his half-smoked Cuban Diplomaticos cigar, impatiently fidgeting in the back seat of his chauffer driven V-12 armored limousine. Inside of fifteen minutes, Sam and Doc emptied the fifth and stumbled down stairs.
          The neon darkness inside the bar below welcomed them to a simpler world of less. It was an alcoholic toilet. It smelled of anything drinkable that could possibly grow stale; everything drunk from that remained unwashed; everything that a wet, mildewed mop tucked head up in a corner near the men’s room could soak up; spilled beer, vomit, urine, soured wine. Sam and Doc were regulars, caste in stone drunks--no denying it. The bartender addressed them by first name. He fed them drinks on credit until Sam’s payday or Doc’s Social Security check came in. They drank Jack Daniels

shots with tap beer chasers, at times laid a bet on a game of eight-ball and studied the aesthetics of the world floating by the opened bar room door. They closed the place often on Sam’s nights off.  Tonight was Sam’s night off. 
          By the seventh round the old dentist bravely slurred, “What in the fuck are you lookin’ at?” to the tattooed, buff, bullish two-time felon staring at them from across the bar. Sam stood up ready to defend Doc, yet subconsciously weighed what mysteries may lay beyond his own death. The felon stood up and laughed. “Nothing,” he said grinning. He admired the inebriated hump backed old man‘s courage and recognized the dread in Sam’s owlish worn eyes.  Joey was also perceptive enough to spot Sam’s ‘I don’t give a fuck’ ready to die fighting posture. “I’m Joey.  Let me buy you both something.”
          Joey’s first conviction, after many previous misdemeanors, judicial warnings and probation, was Trafficking in a Controlled Substance--fifteen years. His second was Assault with a Deadly Weapon--ten. “All I did was pistol whip a guy for beating me out of my money.” Joey said. He wore a sleeveless t-shirt with a pocket for his Pall Malls, scuffed black biker boots and tattered jeans. Joey’s tats were all prison cell ink, including Arian

Brotherhood thunderbolts under his upper left arm and a rose-colored serrated knife blade wrapped in grey barbed wire on his upper right bicep. His for-head just above the left brow cast the pinkish silhouette of a 4 inch poorly stitched scar.  Joey was 6’ 4” tall and weighed in wet at 250 pounds.  His shoulder long hair was streaked grayish white. His thumb length beard was moonless night black. Joey’s friends were friends for life, as were his enemies. Sam did not think a name like Joey fit a man with so threatening a presence. He imagined a handle more brutal, bruising, intimidating, disarming; something Italian like Rocco, or Latino--Marco, maybe Irish--Brogan; not Joey. The three palled up and got drunk while a zoot suit clad combination pimp pool shark behind them practiced his game alone.
          Joey turned round on his stool and watched the pro caress the table as authoritatively as he did his whores. The player caught Joey attentively watching him swiftly manipulate the angle of each shot with nonchalant grace. The pimp was a master of the game. After some teasing and badgering, Joey accepted the shark’s challenge at five dollars a ball. The con neatly lost all his money. Sam played him with the same result, losing all his rent money. Doc gave it all up too. Between games, while the losers racked the balls, the shark excused himself and sneaked to the can to take a few hit

off a rock pipe. After he sunk the last game winning eight ball, the smug shark sauntered up to the bar taunting, “Now, you boys look me up when you want some lessons on the proper way to play eight-ball.  I’ll charge you a nominal fee.” He peeled off a bill from a fist-sized wad of twenties for a double gin and tonic. 
           “That’s our God damned money you’re flaunting,” Joey said. “A friendly sportsman like shot or two from you won’t put too much of a dent in that roll.”
          “It’s a hard life.” The shark sneered. “It’s harder if you’re stupid.” 
          Doc jumped at him first, then Sam got up ready too brawl, confidently walked to the scuffling pair, got Doc off the pimp, slung the player over his shoulder and slammed him hard flat back on the pool table. His head thumped the slate like ice cracks. Sam got hold of the pimp’s lacquered, in-laid Mother of Pearl custom-made cue and threatened to pummel him senseless with the butt end of it. Joey stayed on his stool, ordered another shot and said, “You got him Sam.  You got him dude, “almost doubled over with laughter, slapping his knees, chuckling at the violent comedy.  Sam took their lost money, the pimp’s bankroll and his pool stick too.
          Joey turned to the bartender and said, “Any problems with this?”

          “Nope, never did like the son of a bitch anyway-- bad for business,” the shuffling bulldog face old man said. Now get the fuck out a here.”  He yelled to the shark. “You’re shit canned from this hole for good.” He turned to the heroic threesome for approval and said, “This round goes on me.” They drank free the rest of the night and the bartender got dunk with them.
          They closed the bar at 2:00 A.M. Sam tipped the bartender sixty dollars and split the shark’s money evenly with Joey and Doc. Although Joey lost the most, he was too impressed with Sam and Doc’s character to complain; the monetary loss was worth making two rare friends in one day. Sam, Joey, Doc and the bartender wobbled up to Sam’s flat. Doc and the bartender passed out on Sam’s fold out bed.  Sam and Joey stayed up, sat down at the kitchen table and gazed out the window.  They peered through the night shadows on Fourth Street. Sam leaned forward, clutching the shark’s cue stick upright between his legs as if it were a phallic growth. Thickening pre dawn traffic maneuvered through the crossing from all directions. The four-way light flashed its colors like cardiac valves sequentially passing the appropriate doses of plasma through each asphalt vein feeding distant extremities of the city their daily dose of life. Joey pointed out the jonesing pool shark they beat floundering across the

junction like a lost lamb in a snowstorm anxiously searching for a benevolent dealer who might front him a rock so he could get a grip. “Look at that asshole tripping over himself to get hold of a free rock,” Joey said.  Sam snickered and then refocused back from the street to his own reflection in the glass as if reading an incomplete rough draft narration of his directionless life. The paltry kitchen decor behind his glassy eyed face portrayed a blurry portrait of the bleak reality he refused to trade up for. 

What We Do Is Secret by Andrew Stone

Under night’s haze
I vomit integrity
and eclipse myself
with deprivation

I am
the scalpel
your corpse

this door
the children
are laughing

In Blue and Bone by A.J. Huffman

Wearing a dress,
ripped to show these scars,
is considered art.
Only if the ghost
of some beautiful suicide
stands naked.
To battle
for the right to hold
a folded tail
of my funeral shroud.

Imagination of Disaster by A.J. Huffman

I could see it clearly
in the glass.
The thin scar,
red as death,
sliding down my cheek.

I reached
to touch its rough surface.
But it curved away.
In fear.
And spread
farther down.

It crossed my throat.
And opened
to touch my scream.
But my voice
had gone
years ago.
And the hole lay empty.

I tried to fill it.
With finger.
And fist.
And arm.

But still it mocked me.

Until I was gone.

The War Elephants by Mike Perkins

the peasants of today
are the angry ones
ignorant as Russian serfs
as superstitious as cave men
products of cable television
pseudo education
and fast food
with the oppressor
they are the shock troops
for the liberation
of capital
they will never see

it isn’t class warfare
not anymore
the war is over
we the people lost
then thrown into the pit
of economic fratricide
bowing low now to
the new pharaoh class
that marches by
who do not even glance down
upon our plight

showing no mercy
who have placed the golden crown
upon their own head
a plague upon the land
these false profits of capitalism
who have ridden into town
not on the humble ass
but the mighty war elephants
which they stole
from the public zoos

The Cat We Killed by Mike Perkins

we saw the cat today
by the side of the road
not far from where
we saw it three days before
when we took a walk

the first time
it was a diminutive yellow tabby
meowing nervously
in the ditch
I made up all the excuses
of why we couldn't take it home
knowing at the time
I was wrong

somebody dumped that cat off
it happens every year
when the students come back
with cute kiddies
or adorable puppies
that land lords wont abide
so they leave them
alongside the road
to die

I will go fetch the body
bury that cat
which should have come here
not as a corpse
but as a guest
and you my friend
who left it there
will reap what you sow
when that bad karma comes around
and kicks your ass

Fogged Perception by William Maier

     Joe Crites snapped awake; his arms flailed for, then grasped the wheel and cranked.  There was a short, sharp, screech as rubber went from gravel shoulder to paved road.  The high beams cut a swath to the left and back to the right, steadying as Joe gained control.  His heart threatened to pound a hole through the center of his chest, then slowly calmed—disaster avoided.  Cursing softly, he lowered the window, letting the cool night air rush in.  He was alert now, very alert.  As if dealing with his exhaustion wasn’t enough, the fog was growing denser.  It was always something; fog, rain, potholes, and kamikaze deer all added to the charm of Highway 2.  Driving the road at night just made it extra fun.

     Thanks, Stevens, you cocksucker.  If that self-righteous prick didn’t have his nose buried up the plant manager’s ass, he would still be day shift foreman.  Okay, sure he had fudged his comp time slightly, but other than Jesus and Stevens Almighty, who didn’t?  Seventeen years he’d given to the company only to end up back where he started:  Night shift.  He was too old for this crap.  Pushing fifty, it was probably a bit late for a career change, best to just grin and bear it.  Beside the recent blemish, the last three years of his work record had been squeaky clean.  Three years.  It wasn’t a coincidence that his last drink had been three years ago.  Forget it, they would keep him on nights for a year as punishment, then bring him back to days.  He had seen it all before.

     Things had definitely been going like shit lately, and not just at work.  There had been some bad years with the booze before he got himself right.  He knew in his heart he had still not completely made amends to Sarah.  He kept telling himself he was working on it, and he was.  But this morning, he had nearly bitten Sarah’s head off before leaving for work; damned if he could even remember what the fight was about.  There was a vague recollection of money needed for uniforms, baseball uniforms for the boys, maybe.  It had seemed important at the time, but now felt so trivial.  “Trivial shit, considering the grand scheme of things, Bomber.”  His father had been fond of saying that.  Of course, that was before the non-trivial bone cancer came to pay a visit, leaving twelve year old Bomber fatherless.  It had been some time since he thought of his father.  These thoughts weren’t making him feel better.  He would need to smooth things out with Sara; she didn’t deserve to have such a prick for a husband.  It was still hard for him to figure out why she had stood by him during his dark times.  He loved her for doing that, but hadn’t told her.  Not yet, anyway.  Things were going to change; it was time to put her and the boys first.Life is too short to bullshit around, Bomber.” His father had been right on with that prophecy.

     Despite the chill, he left the window cracked.  The fresh air had helped clear his head, and he didn’t want to risk nodding off again.  Especially with the fog—it was getting damn thick.  He checked his speed; at thirty-five miles per hour it would be a long ride home.  He had almost forgotten about his passenger; a glance over confirmed the man was still asleep.  The guy must be one hell of a sound sleeper.  Just as well, he could do without an awkward conversation with a stranger.  He wasn’t sure why he agreed to give the old man a lift.  This guy looked to be around seventy, impossibly skinny, a skeleton clad in blue flannel and dirty khakis.  He seemed to pose less threat than a toddler.  Maybe it was some kindred spirit thing, a poor bastard with worse luck than him.  Who the hell walks on Highway 2 at night anyway?  Whatever the case, he had told him to hop in.  He had mumbled his thanks, and name, before promptly turning to his side and falling asleep.  What was his name again?  Clyde, or was it Claude?  Pretty sure it was Clyde.  Do I really even care?

     Since the dash on the clock had not kept time for two years, he grabbed his cell to check the time.  It was dead as a doornail.  Of course, why wouldn’t it be?  I only fully charged it an hour ago.  With, or without a clock, he knew normally he’d almost be home by now, probably staring blankly into the fridge or television.  And where the hell was that yellow line?

     He eased off the gas a bit more.  Holy shit, this is ridiculous.  Gets much worse I’ll have to stick my foot out and feel for the road.  He remembered joking with Sarah, that after seventeen years he could drive to and from work blindfolded.  Ha ha, funny man.  He began watching for his mental marker: a signpost for county road T, signifying he was halfway home.  Even at this speed, he should have passed the sign by now.  It was entirely possible to miss the sign in this fog; however, there was a big curve a quarter mile past it.  It would be pretty hard to miss that.  Everything seemed a little off in this fog; the road seemed too straight, too smooth, and too vacant.  Where were the cars?  He shivered and put the window back up.

     “Did I miss anything?”

     Joe jumped at the deep timbre of the voice.  Oddly, he hadn’t remembered his passenger having that voice.  “Startled me, hope I didn’t shit myself, thought you were sleeping,” he forced a nervous laugh.  “Damn fog, hope you weren’t in a rush.”

     “Not a problem, got plenty of time,” the man replied.

     “Said your name was Clyde, right?”

     “Sure Joe, I like that just fine.”

     Okay, that’s kind of weird.  He shifted his gaze from the road.

     Clyde flashed him a smile, showcasing absurdly white teeth.  Lifting a hand, he pointed a long finger at the windshield.  “Best keep your eyes on the road, Bomber.”

     He felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck.  Did he just say that?  How?  Okay, relax, you misheard and now you’re creeping yourself out.  “Excuse me?  Sorry, didn’t catch that last part.  Don’t hear so good out of the right ear.  Desert Storm, long story.”  Desert Storm? You’re too brilliant, Joe.

     “The road, sometimes it’s easier to drive when you watch it.”  He may have winked; it was hard to tell, the faint glow of the dash lights seemed to cast a blurring affect.

     Joe frowned as he focused back on the road.  Looks closer to fifty than seventy, and was that a mustache?  Would have sworn he was clean shaven.  This was turning into a bizarre night, and Joe had never been a fan of the bizarre.  His desire to get home to Sarah had increased substantially the past few minutes.  He pushed on the gas pedal.

     He drove onward through the fog for several minutes, the road never dipping, climbing, or bending in the least.  He no longer trusted his senses—it was impossible.  He pinched himself, and was disappointed when he didn’t wake up next to Sarah.  It had been worth a shot.

     “Joe,” said a smooth tenor.

     He didn’t want to talk to Clyde anymore, but couldn’t think of an excuse not to.

     “Yeah Clyde,” he said, turning to face a stocky man of thirty-something.  The hairs stood on his neck again.

     “You dig the ponytail?  I thought it was a nice touch,” the improved Clyde asked.

     The road forgotten, Joe could only stare.  He watched as Clyde rippled, like heat dissipating off a hot surface, then smoothed.  A younger Clyde—Hispanic, with a goatee, and wearing a Dallas cowboy jersey—filled the seat.

     Joe stomped the brakes, skidding the car to a halt.  He squeezed his eyes shut.  Please wake up.  He threw up a desperate prayer and opened his eyes.

     “Surprise,” Clyde laughed.  “Still here.”

      I’m insane. I must be.  Quit drinking only to go bat-shit a few years later. 

     “You’re not insane, Joe.  Really.  I should apologize for all this,” he waved a hand down his form.  “It’s harder to do than it looks.  Can only hold it for so long, then I got to switch before my true form comes out.  And I just don’t think you’re up for that, Joe.”  Clyde rippled again.

     “Who are you?”  Joe heard himself ask.  He reminded himself that this was a dream; it simply had to be a dream.  Even so, he wasn’t sure he wanted Clyde the mind-reader to answer his question.

     “Who is probably not the question.  It’s pretty complicated--let’s just say I am here to help facilitate the next step.”  Clyde gestured toward Joe’s window.  “Look, Joe, the fog is rising.”

     Joe peered out the window; indeed the fog was rising.  The retreat of the fog brought familiarity.  Not only did he recognize this stretch of road, but also the car across the ditch, embedded in an oak along the encroaching tree line.  The red glow of the taillights was just bright enough to make out a bumper sticker—“Honk if you are an asshole!”  Sarah hated that bumper sticker.  He had promised to scrap it off a long time ago.  He had promised so many things.  Sarah…

     “Don’t beat yourself up over this, Joe.”  Clyde had somehow moved to the back, behind Joe.  His voice now had a hoarse resonance about it.  “You were tired, nodded off, happens all the time.  What doesn’t happen often—say, maybe one in five million—is someone as balanced as you, Joe.  Your souls make things difficult for both sides.”

     He didn’t acknowledge Clyde.  Instead, he sat with his thoughts exchanging thrusts and parries.  He had no idea how long the battle had raged before being interrupted by a voice.  This was not a Clyde voice, but a far off voice.  He couldn’t make out any words, yet it felt as if it was calling to him.  Calling to him from somewhere up the road—somewhere too far to see from here.  That far off voice had pulled his attention towards it, and then he felt a very heavy hand upon his shoulder, its long bony fingers squeezing slightly.

     “It beckons you, I know.  You could surrender to it and go to whatever is beyond.  But, there is another option, Joe.  As I said, you are unique.  This is why I can give you this opportunity.  This is why I am here.”

     It was hard to follow what Clyde was saying.  The other voice seemed familiar in some way, and he could almost make out the words.

     “Time is very short now, Joe.  You can go back to Sarah and the boys.  You can live out the rest of your natural life.  You’ve earned that right--one in millions, Joe.”  The bony fingers squeezed quite tightly now.

     The mention of Sarah brought his attention to Clyde’s words.  “What are you saying?  I’m dead, but you can send me back?”  Joe asked, suddenly hopeful.

     Clyde chuckled; the sound of it made Joe shiver.  “No, Joe.  You’re good as dead, but not dead yet.  You will be very shortly, so I would advise haste with your decision.”


     “You won’t remember any of this, Joe.  Ever seen those people on the tube, talking about walking into a bright light, or a field of beautiful flowers, and so on: those are now my people, Joe.  They took the deal; they went back to finish their lives.  You can too.”

     The far off voice was closer now; he thought he understood.  “My father’s calling me, Clyde.  It’s been so long I barely recognized his voice.”  Joe didn’t realize his hand had found the door handle.

     Clyde’s hand left Joe’s shoulder.  “Perhaps it is your father; after all, he is dead.  It all comes down to whether you want to be.  We’re out of time, Joe.”

     “You said, ‘they took the deal’.”

     “Everything has a price.  Is Sarah worth it?  Are the boys?”  Clyde’s voice, still behind, seemed much further behind him now.

     Joe opened the door and got out.  He looked down the road, from where he could hear his father’s voice, “Come on Bomber, you know what’s best.  If it looks like a turd, and smells like a turd, then it’s a goddamn turd!”  He turned to the old Taurus with the stupid bumper sticker, crunched against an oak tree.  He sighed—looking back up the road, towards the voice, his father’s voice—and made a decision.


     “…just floating outside my body, watching the paramedics work to revive me.  There was really no pain at all; in fact, there was an overwhelming sense of comfort.  Like no matter what, everything was going to be alright.  Almost like a guardian angel was with me the whole while.  It’s why I’m no longer afraid of death, or what comes after.  I know it will all be alright.”

     “I imagine that would be reassuring to know.  I’m just glad I didn’t lose you, Joe,”  Sarah told her husband.  “Someday you should go on one of those shows.  You know where people share their death experiences.”

     “Really?  You think so?” Joe asked.

     “No,” she answered, breaking out in laughter.

     Joe laughed too.

Merge/Collide by Kaye Branch

“You’ve got to get back!” Ms. Wyatt yelled, facing Kira but close enough to the open door that someone might walk by and assume disaster when Kira knew her English teacher’s tone implied only displeasure and she had no desire to please her English teacher. Especially not on that day, when she’d come in dressed like a teenager in a tight cerise polo shirt, khaki mini-skirt and a pair of two-inch patent leather high heels that served as the only professional aspect of her ensemble. She’d tapped her left heel during class, waiting to kick them off for white tennis shoes and go to a country club where she would vie for the attention of a millionaire, seeking a last name she could drop for privileges. After earning a degree from Stanford, working as a high-profile journalist, obtaining a master’s in education at Berkeley and working a position at a high profile prep school, she needed only a husband, so she could rest.
“Back to what?” Kira asked, searching for the dedication that the school’s brochure had promised her.
Ms. Wyatt sighed. “To applying yourself.”
“To what? My grades haven’t changed. Last week, you gave me my eighth percent score on your eighth quiz.”
“Yes, but you were intoxicated. I would have pulled you aside then, but I assumed you’d be more receptive sober.”
Kira shrugged. “I drank more today.”
     Ms. Wyatt looked shocked and Kira examined her, wondering how many things her teacher tuned out. “Well, I was your age not so long ago and I remember very clearly telling lies just to look cool. It took me years to learn that top students, like I was and like you are now, should never lie because they have a responsibility to lead their peers.”
     If Ms. Wyatt had ever paid attention, she would have noticed that Kira’s peers never followed her. Even sober, she scared them.
     “What is this- a horse race? I can gallop drunk. That’s not an issue, but if you’re looking for conduct, it’s just too bad I’m the best this school could afford.”
     “You are not an animal and this school didn’t buy you! We are here for your future. Any other school could provide you with an education, but this program will mold you into the best person you could be in and outside of your profession. I really wish I’d had it growing up. I succeeded, yes, but I had to do it on my own with no one to guide me.”
     “I don’t need a guide because there’s no direction left to go in. My family’s done it all. My mother was a beauty queen, my father’s a billionaire and my sister is the beauty queen turned professional. Success is relative, based on what the past generations of someone’s family have done and no matter what I’ll be taken care of and no matter what, I can’t succeed.”
     “We all have to work in life.”
     “For what?”
     Kira took the flask from her uniform jacket, opened it and brought it to her lips, expecting another spiel.
     “I’m going to do you a favor and assume that’s water,” Ms. Wyatt said. “I really have to get going.”
     She couldn’t miss the country club. If it hadn’t been for the alcohol, she would have missed Kira, absent parents and all.
     “Don’t worry honey,” Estelle said in the tone Faye thought she’d graduated from when she’d turned thirteen in the previous August. “Your mother will get here soon.”
     Estelle, one of the more compassionate instructors, darted into the studio before Faye could reply. Estelle was preparing for college dance auditions in addition to the end of the year recital, leaving her with little time to care, even about Faye, who had to worry about a drug over-dose every time her mother was late. Even if she cared, there was nothing Estelle could have told her because Estelle would go home to a mother who would re-heat dinner in a kitchen covered with her kindergarten art work and ask her how her day went. Drug addiction existed in Estelle’s household only on a television screen. Or so Faye assumed. She’d never seen Estelle’s mother. For all she knew, Estelle was an orphan.
     “I never lie,” Kira said, swishing her screwdriver in her left hand.
     “You sure?” the dark-haired acne-covered man in a college sweatshirt seated at her right, between her and an empty stool, asked. “How old are you?”
     “Then you’re underage and you shouldn’t be here.”
     “Who do you think you are? My dad?”
     Empty stools meant he wanted to talk with her. To sleep with her or save her or both, Kira imagined, if she’d let him. She knew the drill.
     “Listen,” he said, turning to her. Kira met his gaze dead-on. The sooner he realized that she was just as human as he was, the sooner he’d give up. “You have no idea what you’re messing with. I would give anything to go back to fifteen.”
     “If you did, you’d still end up alone in a bar on Friday night.”
     He sputtered. “Well, women shouldn’t go to bars alone. As a rule. Do it now and you’ll end up someplace worse.”
     Kira shrugged. “I’m already in hell.” She finished her screwdriver in a single noisy gulp.
     Faye’s father arrived to collect Faye forty-five minutes after the end of her class. He told her two things in a rushed tone: he was on his dinner break, so they had to hurry and not to worry about her mother.
     In the studio, when Jewel, Faye’s instructor and Julie to all but her students, asked if they had plans for the weekend, Faye shook her head because she had plans but they weren’t worth sharing. She’d stashed chocolates, an unspeakable offense for an already overweight thirteen-year-old, and taken an R-rated movie, a contemporary movie that stole conventions from the film noir genre, from her father’s study.
     Watching the movie while eating chocolates didn’t distract Faye from her mother or the social commentary on screen. Men were old and grizzled or young and dashing. The older men served as role models for the younger men while the women were gorgeous wives or stunning femme fatales
with names like Jewel.
     If she told her, Jewel, who was only three years older than Faye, but a role model, would tell her that hard work was all that mattered. She could get ahead with what she had if she tried. But Jewel wouldn’t divulge her plans for the weekend, which Faye knew, included nothing but dance or mention that she didn’t have a boyfriend. Jewel’s students should idolize and not pity her.
     Kira’s would-be savior looked up when she passed the bartender a wad of twenty-dollar bills.
     “Going somewhere?” he asked in the stern intonation of a sitcom father.
     “After-hours hub.”
     “Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
     “With you? Never!”
     “I’m only trying to help.”
     “And get laid.”
     Kira snatched a cigarette from the mouth of the man at her left. He looked at her then lit another one without a word. The prettiest girl at the bar could take.
     “Don’t do that!” Kira’s savior yelled. “It’s stealing!”
     “Stop me.”
     Kira walked into the parking lot and pulled her car keys from her Italian leather messenger bag with her right hand while holding the cigarette in her left. She brought the cigarette to her lips to unlock the door on the driver’s side of her mother’s Corvette then used both hands to rest her messenger bag on the front seat.
     Kira mulled while she finished the cigarette. If her would-be savior cared, she surmised, he wouldn’t have let her into the car. If women like Ms. Wyatt, who could support, hadn’t rejected men like him, who were trying to make themselves into someone for older men who inspired awe, he would have left her alone.
When Kira reached the end of the cigarette, she threw the butt of the cigarette into the parking lot, keyed the ignition and dialed Dr. DiChitto’s number into her cell phone, wondering if her rescuer would end up like him, a doctor with a drug-addict wife.
“Hello?” asked Faye, Dr. DiChitto’s unfortunate daughter.
“Hi,” Kira said with her eyes locked on the rearview mirror as she backed up. “Can I speak to your dad?”
     “Sure. May I ask who’s calling?”
     “Kira Ross. I’m calling regarding Jenaya Amethyst’s appointment tomorrow morning.”
     “Could you hold on a minute please?”
     “Sure thing.”
     Kira used the moment to merge onto the freeway. She didn’t have her license, but she knew tight spaces. As Dr. DiChitto greeted her, she merged into the fast lane.
     Kira shook Jenna awake. When she opened her eyes, she looked at Kira, trusting, like a child although Kira was younger.
     “What’s going on?” Jenna asked.
     “You’re going to see a doctor today.”
     Jenna blinked and the trust evaporated. She just looked lost.
     She followed Kira to her Corvette anyway. While she’d kept her looks, Jenna’s mind was fading as a response to disease and drug use. They weren’t friends but Jenna had to trust someone.
Jenna shot heroin as Kira drove to the address she’d gotten over the phone. She expected an office building with at least a few protestors, but found a nondescript warehouse instead.
     After she’d parked, Kira extracted Jenna from the front seat with a single tug and walked her to the door where Dr. DiChitto greeted them, smiling.
“Kira,” he said.
Kira wondered why and pointed at Jenna. “Her appointment.”
“Aren’t you a good friend?”
“I’m not. She’s in deep shit.” Jenna smiled, demonstrating the only social grace she’d remembered from her social workers. “She’s pregnant, HIV-positive, schizophrenic and unsure of the father.”
“Greene.” Dr. DiChitto knew Greene, but Jenna didn’t know that.
“Could be,” Kira said.
“How far along?” Dr. DiChitto asked Jenna.
“Six weeks,” Kira replied for Jenna.
“I see. I’ll get you started right away.”
     Kira found Faye in the waiting room, which was marked off by a set of curtains with a stamp for a local hospital on them. Faye was doing her homework, a textbook open on her lap in a folding chair.
     “Hey,” Kira said, taking a seat.”
     Faye looked up. “Kira Ross?”
     “You knew I was coming. I called last night.”
     “Girls don’t usually come with other girls.”
     “She’s desperate.”
     “She isn’t strong like you.”
     “I’m not strong; I’m invisible.”
     “Invisibility is a rare and amazing trait in children from broken homes-.” Kira was cut off by a gunshot. As Faye vomited, sensing that life as she knew it would end, Kira leaned in, pulled back Faye’s hair and whispered: “Keep going.”

She by Glenn Armstrong

Her lips are crimson, glossy with paint
As she whispers in your inner ear.
Her timeless voice is immeasurably faint
But you cannot help but hear,
“Money is worthless to the penurious saint.”

Her temple is festooned with skulls and bones
Which dangle and sway to and fro.
Various blood types give the walls different tones;
The attendants shimmer, gibber and glow
And the feast consists of starving roans.

A pendant of the bluest jadeite
Rests between her powdered breasts.
The soul of a holy man who in his fright
Renounced the sacred ritual tests
Is trapped within the mineral and out of sight.

If you hand her an hour, she’ll spit back
A minute. Try and beg her for time
And she’ll give you the rack.
Daily she sups on prose and rhyme
Immortality is something she does not lack.

She’ll squat on your grave and let out a stream
Of disdain and liquor from a crystal chalice.
You are damned to rot slowly, fixed on one dream
Filled with worry, anxiety, boredom and malice
While she distills your soul and laps at the cream.

Blood Sport by Glenn Armstrong

In the garage I whet my knife
For the feast of blood it will drink.
Then I rinse my face in the kitchen sink
And prepare to snuff a random life.
I walk the streets seeking strife,
And search for a crippled weak link.
The sun goes down on the collective stink
Of humanity wearing the face of my wife.

The old man with the slight limp,
The young girl with the mini-skirt . . .
Which one will be the lucky simp
To take the blade between the breast
And shudder like a cardiac arrest
While I clean my knife on a bloody t-shirt?

Dirt by Glenn Armstrong

Clenching my hands the fingers grip
The neck of my enemy pearly and pale;
And though I may end up wasting in jail
The death of the fiend merits the trip.

Traveling solo through every small town,
Never supplying my legal right name.
Avoiding the law is my daily game;
My crime has achieved widespread renown.

Life will never resume where it paused.
A murderer’s lot is to swing from a rope
Until the crowd sighs with the unified hope
That the killer has paid for the suffering caused.

Bury me in a pauper’s graveyard
Without the service that’s customary.
Leave me no marker in the cemetery;
My name is dirt, the ground granite hard.