Tag: Fiction

Revival – Mark Houston McLain

Revival – Mark Houston McLain

Mark’s writing for Revival is captivating. It tugs at you as much as it does envelop. The world he paints, along with its characters, is at once verdant and tragic. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Reader discretion is advised for physical and emotional violence.

___

REVIVAL

Ruth

When I was a girl, my Momma and me would sing together.  She would be working her hands on that washboard and look over at me and smile, singin’ that song as happy as she could while not knowing she was working herself to an early grave.  The winter after Daddy left, she got sick and died and left me all alone. I was sixteen and that’s when Irwin asked me to marry him. I guess he felt sorry for me because I had only met him a couple of times and had given him no reason to like me.  His family had a large farm and they said we could live there. Where else could I go? So, I said I would marry him, and we decided we could have a wedding at the end of summer and live with his Momma and Daddy until we could build our own house.

I went to church some, but Irwin and his folks were a Bible bunch and I reckon they thought since I was going to be part of the family, they had better start workin’ on me.  A couple of weeks after we told everyone we were going to get married, the whole family packed up in the truck and we drove down the highway about an hour to a hay field in the valley of a large farm.  We unloaded the truck and pitched a canvas tent next to a group of other families. In the middle of the tents was a haulin’ trailer with a big shiny microphone roosted on a metal stand. Hangin’ behind it was a white sheet with big red letters

HAVE YOU BEEN WASHED IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB?

That first afternoon we laid out blankets on the hay field in front of the trailer, and we were right in the front, as close as we could get.  In the evening, two women got up and stood on both sides of that microphone and began to sing and everybody that knew that song joined in. They sang two more songs and then left the stage.  Someone turned on a string of lights that hung right over the trailer, and a lanky man ran up the wooden stairs two at a time and onto that stage and grabbed that shiny microphone and yelled into it and said Hallelujah! Have you been saved? as he held up his hands high in the air.  He was young, and I don’t know if he had even shaved yet, but he was wearing a black suit and a white cotton shirt and that is the first time I ever saw anybody in a suit.  He had a head full of red wavy hair and it was all combed over and was the prettiest hair I had ever seen. It shined like a new penny when he walked under that string of lights.

He began preachin’ and walking himself back and forth across that stage.  Every once in a while he’d stop and look me in the eyes, and I figured it was the Lord talkin’ right at me.  After he finished, the two women got up and sang again, then the lights went off and we went back to the tent for the night.  Only I couldn’t sleep in that old hot canvas tent with all them family in there. Whenever somebody moved it woke me up all over again.  I told Irwin I was gonna sleep outside, and I don’t know if he even heard me. I took my pillow and went and put it down on that stage and slept like a baby under the stars.

The next day we all walked down to the river and Irwin’s Momma had packed some cornbread and greens, so we all ate and put our feet in the water.  That evening as the crickets started to chime, we went back to the trailer and the same two women came out to sing and I waited on the red headed preacher to come on the stage, but it wasn’t him but a big man in blue pants and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled way up.  He did some preachin’. He’d stop ever so often and say Amen and take his hanky and wipe all the sweat off his face.  I didn’t hear much of what he said, I was wonderin’ what had happened to that other preacher.

That night, when the family was all getting settled in the tent, I told Irwin I was gonna sleep outside again.  He said I was sure to get eat up by skeeters and rolled over. So, I went back out across the field to the trailer and throwed my blanket down under that big sky and the preacher with the red hair comes walkin’ up.  He don’t have his suit on and he sure looks different. He asks me what I’m doing out here. He takes his smoke and crushes it out on the metal edge of the trailer and asks me if I have ever been baptized. I shook my head no and he says we should go down to the river.

We walked down the steep bank to the river and sat on some big rocks along the side.  He kept talkin’ about cars and shotguns and whiskey, but he didn’t say nothing more about baptizing.  The moon was big that night and I figured I might as well sit and talk with him cause the sky was so bright, I wasn’t gonna see any stars anyway.  That red hair almost glowed in the night and I kept looking at his eyes when he talked and didn’t even realize that he had put his hand on my leg and slid it up under my dress some.  He went to whisper in my ear and I thought it was gonna be something about baptizing but instead he just kinda rubbed my neck with his mouth. It happened fast after that. I was lookin’ up at that big moon and pretty quick-like he stopped moving on me and just lay there and I figure that’s when he filled me with his spirit.

******

Irwin

I used to tell myself he don’t mean no harm.  But I’m an old man and now I know that sometimes you can see a thing for what it really is.  I come to realize that sometimes there is evil in the world and that’s all you can say. That boy come into this life screamin’ and I reckon he won’t quit ‘til they lay him in the ground.  He don’t look like none of my folk but I raised him just the same. I knew it as soon as I seen the little bastard. Damn boy come out with that red hair, how the hell was I supposed to think he were mine?  Raised him though, and claimed him for my own when I knowed he wasn’t. She let me name him and I give him my uncle’s name and I shore wish I hadn’t.

When that boy was just a little feller he was pure evil, I mean weren’t a decent bone in him.  Killin’ stuff around here just for the fun of it. Ants and spiders when he was knee high. Coons and possums later.  Once he killed him a huntin’ dog. A damn huntin’ dog.  Had a collar on it and everything.  I told him it were a redbone and some hunter would sure be lookin’ for him.  He didn’t care. He just kilt it to watch it bleed out. I told him it sure was a sin if I ever heard one to kill a man’s huntin’ dog.  He just stood there and looked at me with that red hair stickin’ up. I give up on the boy right then and there. Roof. Heat. Food. That’s all that youngin is going to get from me.  I said to myself thank God he ain’t from me, I ain’t got that evil blood runnin’ through me.

Ruthie and me don’t talk about him no more.  She never let me lay into him, whip him a few times.  It’s because she knows he ain’t mine. We he was about twelve or so, he got into trouble, something to do with cornering a girl after school and holding her down.  School principal showed up at the house and said Don’t send Parnell back down here, we don’t want him.  That boy gonna have to get his learnin’ somewheres else.   Ruthie told ‘em they was all damn liars but deep down she knew it was true.  Only time I ever heard her swear in her whole life. She tried all the time to get him some salvation, but he never seen the need for it.  Sometimes at night she’d read to him from the Bible and he’d sit there staring into the fire, listening to her reading all the thous and shalls, his cold eyes all fixed and he’d just have this little smirk in the corner of his mouth and sometimes right in the middle of a readin’ he’d bust out and laugh and she’d stop readin and look at him.  I mean right at him. I could see she was madder’n hell, but I knew she’d be right there on her knees that night prayin’ against all that evil in him. One night she just slammed her Bible shut and went to bed and cried all night and I figured that’s when she gave up on him too.

******

Parnell

I had a girlfriend once.  I was about sixteen. Pretty girl.  Her neck and face as smooth and white as sweet milk.  I met her down at the river. It was summertime and hot as dammit.  One day Momma said she wanted me to see a preacher man. I asked her why and she stayed quiet for a real long time and I thought, well fine then don’t say nothin’, I don’t care.  Then she said she wanted to get me right with the Lord and I thought well hell, why not. Damn old truck bout didn’t make it over the mountain. We drove for a good long while before we pulled up in the dirt parking lot of this church.  I couldn’t read the sign, but I saw it had a steeple so I knowed it was a church. Made out of cinder blocks with white paint peeling and hangin’ off and that steeple on it were way too small looking and I thought this don’t look like no place to get any religion.  Momma said to stay in the truck and so I sat there while she went inside. After a while she came back out with this big bald-headed feller and they stood there in front of the door with Momma talking at him and him standing there with his arms crossed just lookin’ at me and noddin’ and I thought this don’t look good.  Momma waved me on and I walked up to them and ole baldy put his arm around me and kinda pulled me along into the church. We walked right up to the front, where all the preachin’ is done and he said I was a sinner and that I gotta get down on my knees, and so I figured we come all this way I might as well do what the man said so I kneeled on down and then he smacked my head real hard like and started screamin’ and then Momma started screamin’ and all the while I was the one bein’ smacked and I was the only one weren’t hollerin’.  After he popped me a couple more times and yelled some more, he laid his hand on my head and I didn’t pay no attention to what he said but he had my head under that big hand of his and it was a shakin’ like he was trying to send something down into me. He let it go all of the sudden and told me Get Up! and I did, and I could see Momma standing there with her hands all up in the air shoutin’ and the tears a washin’ down her face.  She durn near shook the hand off that old preacher and then handed him two dollar bills. On the way home, we stopped at a blue hole down by the river to eat our sandwiches and I saw her.  She was swimmin’ and she knew everybody was watching her, but she didn’t care. I sat right there and watched her swim. Her hair was all slicked back on her head. When she got out of the water and on the bank, I could see her pretty bottom in that swimmin’ suit and she knew I was lookin’.  She stood up and pulled at her top and bottom to make sure that nothing ain’t fell out when she got out on that rock, standing there in the sun. About that time, she bent over, and I said GODDAMN! and Momma commenced to start bawlin’ and said she reckoned the devil ain’t been out of me and that preacher must not be no good, and I started laughin’ cause I guess that’s the funniest thing I ever heard.

******

The social worker stood on the stoop of the tattered shack, tears flowing down her cheeks as her trembling fingers flicked at her cigarette.  The sheriff should be here soon, she thought. On the rotten porch steps, she could see Parnell’s bloody boot prints heading in the direction of the heavily wooded creek area.  In the open front doorway lay Irwin, his eyes open and fixed in the furrowed skin of his cold, white face. Only the handle of a large hunting knife could be seen, as the whole of the blade was entombed in the side of his chest.  In the shack, some cinders remained smoldering from a neglected fire and a heavy ash lay over the stone hearth. The room showed the leftovers of a violent struggle. In the rocker next to the hearth sat Ruth. She rocked in silence save for the runners of the chair creaking with each pass on the floor.  Her old hazy lensed glasses sat perched on her nose as she read from a well-worn Bible that lay open across her lap. Her craggy face showed no signs of distress or horror, but of serene peace and calmness. Along the worn floor, the blood that had drained from the wound in Irwin’s side wasn’t the bright red of a fresh cut, but a crimson as deep as the reddest of wines.  The blood had rivered along the knotted pine floor to pond at the low area beneath Ruth’s rocker where some of it had soaked up into the thick wool socks she was wearing.

___

Mark McLain loves to write short stories about the South.  A seventh-generation Tennessean, he is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and enjoys spending time with his family floating the Hiwassee River and hiking in the Appalachians. His work has appeared in Gravel and Mulberrry Fork Review.

The Food Upon Which Others Feast – by Thomas Elson

The Food Upon Which Others Feast – by Thomas Elson

This story carries a chilling note of the thought-provoking.

Please, enjoy the read. We certainly did.

___________

THE FOOD UPON WHICH OTHERS FEAST by Thomas Elson

We mapped this route generations earlier, and irrespective of origin, the path is the same for everyone. We also dictated a hierarchy: We, the vanguards, would watch the votaries whom the witnesses were told monitored them.

Two of our votaries perched thirty feet above the driveway in front of a limestone building constructed in 1868. Obadiah, the senior votary, impeccably attired in a dark blue suit, silk tie – the color of which befitted our calendar, and sunglasses, rested his hands on the polished railing. Ariel, young and eager to impress, hovered with his clipboard pressed into his gray sweater.

“Who are the two new witnesses?” Ariel looked at the older votary, bit off a piece of beef jerky, and waited for an answer.

“Take notes at the briefings the way I taught you and you’d know.” Obadiah smiled and looked down.

Ariel, by now used to such sarcasm, tapped his pen on the report form attached to his clipboard. “Humor me.”

Obadiah shrugged and continued. “That first guy, the red-headed one, is Herb Peavy. He used to sneak into second-floor bedrooms and stomp women to death with his climbing spikes. It’s his second time here. He’d be at the North Center if the vanguards didn’t still have some use for him.” He waited for a moment. “Just watch him. All he wants to do is get close to that thin kid. If he were anywhere but here, he’d get detained for-“ Obadiah waited a second. “Following too close.” Laughed at his own joke.

“That thin guy looks like an eleven-year-old girl.” Ariel pulled his sweater over his belt buckle. “Hell, he looks like a-”

“Don’t say it. Do not say it. That’s Kenny Dumars. Just two months ago, he was a part-time wheat farmer and full-time high school Spanish teacher livin’ the dream. Even set-up housekeeping with his girlfriend. But the sheriff caught a Cessna unloading marijuana on his property. Ol’ Kenny boy had himself a third job – being paid for the use of his farm land.” Obadiah grinned, added, “Poor guy’ll be eaten alive in here,” then shook his head and unbuttoned his suit jacket.

“He ought’a have a good time in this place with Herb tailgating him.” Ariel watched the red-head smooth his hands over the thin kid’s shoulders. “What’d they want us to do with ‘em?”

“Well, Herb’s bound to do what he did the last time.”  Obadiah adjusted his tie, nodded toward the driveway. “His only value to the vanguards is to see how Kenny reacts around him at the South Center. So, we are required to keep ‘em together after processing and watch what happens.”

When new witnesses arrived we required they remain alone for a short period of time. Alone and unattended, but not unobserved, and certainly not unrecorded. Their movements to be transcribed by votaries onto a checklist. Posture erect? Hunched over? Gesticulations made? People touched? Pockets reached into? Items extracted? Stepped out of line? Anything picked up? Rocks? Cigarette butts?

The witnesses stood as if transfixed. Blank stares. Clenched teeth and tight jaws. Minds working overtime. They stiffened as a scattershot wind hit their faces. Herb looked east toward the wide expanse of farmland and inhaled the scent of the harvest. Kenny stared at contrails swirling twenty-six thousand feet above. Both shuffled around on the gravel driveway. Their sounds alternated between crunching and hammering. Neither looked toward the North or South Centers.

Inside the South Center Processing and Orientation section a votary with a sore-knee limp walked toward the two witnesses, handed each a towel and small cup half-filled with delousing shampoo. “Well, Herb. I figured I’d see you again. What happened? You hear we got a new line of clothing?”  He pointed at the open shower. “You know the drill. And keep it in your hair for a few minutes.”

Amid echoes of “Fresh meat,” and  “Come over here and visit me,” Herb walked with his middle finger aloft. He abruptly shouted, “Looks like you’re working old three-pack pretty hard,” nodded toward the man laboring to stand – his left hand clasped three unopened packs of cigarettes, then hurriedly walked to his chair, lifted his pad and charcoal, resumed drawing.

Kenny held back until Herb returned, then clutched his towel where he thought it might do the most good, and, despite wet floors, rushed into the shower. He finished without drying, quickly headed back, and hurriedly dressed.

The votary handed each a paper bag and directed them to carry it in their right hand. “What you’ve got there is a toothbrush, toothpaste, and two hotel-sized bars of Ivory soap. Commissary takes ninety days to kick-in but most of you will be gone by then. So, other than your meals, that’s pretty much it.”

The votary raised his palm. “Ya’ll gonna be buried under the mass of senior witnesses. Just know that you have no rights here. Only privileges. The rest you gotta figure out on your own.” He looked at Kenny in his practiced manner. “Consider that your orientation.”

The votary knew Kenny was too frightened to remember what was said, but his perspective would change after the doors slammed. When it became apparent that he could never again open or close a door, walk from one room to another, chose when to eat, what to eat, where or when to sleep without first asking permission. When Kenny had the look of an animal that decided to stop running, we would know he had learned our Rules: Eyes down but stay alert – Don’t look but see everything –When you walk hug the wall but do not touch it – There are no gifts; accept anything and you are in debt. – Ask for permission before you do anything.

The votary led them into an area the size of a basketball court with a walkway surrounding a chain-link enclosure. He assigned both witnesses separate bunks within fifteen feet of two exposed toilets and one rust-stained sink. Then he repeated what he said each time, “Good luck. And don’t come back.” He locked the gate and walked away.

As Kenny waited in line that evening, his eyes moved from witness to witness. He watched how each held two utensils under a stainless-steel tray, and silently moved toward a wall opening, then placed the tray on a small ledge, and remained motionless as meat and green beans were plopped on it. After a half-pint carton of milk hit a tray, a voice barked, “Next!” and the line moved forward.

Kenny set his tray on a table near the stage. Herb pulled a chair out, turned it slightly, dropping his tray next to Kenny. Herb looked at Kenny, “What’cha need from the commissary?” Then skimmed his tongue across his upper lip and moved his hand under Kenny’s. After a moment Herb raised his fingers slightly, pulled his hand back, and left a list of commissary items under Kenny’s palm. “I can get you ramen noodles, pens, paper, stamps, cigarettes, peanut butter, pretty much anything. What’cha want?”

“They told us we can’t use it for ninety-days.” Kenny moved his hand away.

Herb pushed a package of gum between their trays. “But I can. I’ve been here before.”

Silence.

“Why me?”

Herb stroked Kenny’s hand. “You’re my friend.”

Kenny leaned forward, gently raised his hand, gracefully rested it on the back of Herb’s head, and whispered.

Herb’s eyes flared. “We’ll see smart guy.” Then, contemplating his next move, said, “We’ll see how you’re taken care of from now on.” He grabbed Kenny’s half-pint of milk, shoved it into his coat sleeve, stood, left the package of gum on the table, and walked toward the stage and the line of witnesses waiting to be frisked.

A votary bent to frisk him – calves first, then thighs and hips. Herb, with a one-arm motion, slid the milk carton from coat sleeve to palm and onto the stage. When the votary found nothing, he turned to frisk another witness. Herb picked-up the milk carton, raised his arm, allowed the carton to drift inside his coat sleeve, cupped his hand, lowered his arm, and walked away.

An hour and a half later sounds and smells reverberated inside the enclosure. Toilets flushing or not flushing. Bodies unwashed for days. Scattered loud voices. Small groups talking, shuffling. Bunks creaking.

A votary wheeled in a console television. “This will remain on the channel it’s set to.” He paused. “That safety razor on top the t.v. has one blade.” He pointed to the razor. “You have one-half hour to shave,” he said to everyone. “When I return at eight o’clock, that razor will be right there.” He struck the top of the console with his knuckles. “With the razor blade next to it. If I see anything other than that, I will respond.” Tapped the console and left the enclosure.

Herb rose from his bunk with three other witnesses, walked up to Kenny, blinked slowly.      “You busy?”

No reply.

“You too busy to spend some time with us?” Gestured toward his bunk, then pulled Kenny’s head closer, “You owe me.”

“The hell I-”

“Shut up. Shut the hell up. You owe me. I gave you something. And now you owe me. Don’t renege or I’ll make sure they yank your privileges. Send your ass down behind them damn white doors.” Within moments he laughed, raised his voice a decibel below a yell.   “You want that? You wanna be b’hind them doors downstairs?”

The three witnesses from Herb’s bunk surrounded Kenny, then tightened their circle. Kenny’s head jerked back. Pain descended from eyes to mouth, then came guttural sounds, and he was on the floor in a fetal curl. He knew he was leaking – red or brown – but did not know which. One of the witnesses set a blade on top the television.

The next afternoon Kenny waited in yet another line of witnesses to be told what to do, where to go, yelled at about something, lined up to go somewhere or lined up to come back. It didn’t really matter. His knees ached, everything ached, and he was ashamed of the stains between the hip pockets of his jeans. Herb cut in. Within seconds Kenny was again encircled.

“You.” Herb spit on the floor. “You do not say ‘no’ to me.” When he signaled, the circle blended away, and Kenny was on the floor with blood on his shirt darkening yesterday’s stains.

A votary meandered over. “Get off the floor.” He raised his voice. “Get over to the infirmary.”

We now knew Kenny had learned the Rules.

Late the next day, when he awoke, Kenny’s eyes followed the white infirmary wall toward a metal desk at the opening of the ward. He blew at the detritus descending from the ceiling, watched it float away, then concentrated on the liquid dripping through a tube attached to an elevated bag. When he pulled down his sheet, he saw stitches below his rib cage and several blood stains.

A nurse from Honduras walked up. “¿Como estás?” Kenny asked.

She eagerly responded. “¿Pero, como estas?” Then smiled and touched his shoulder.

A witness two beds over pounded his mattress. “Hey, lady, get the hell over here and take care of my bedpan.”

She rolled her eyes, stooped slightly, walked toward the demand. When she returned, Kenny continued with questions about Honduras, her hometown, his difficulties. In an environment where she was held in less esteem than children’s pets, she lingered. On his third day, she handed him a gift – a Hershey’s candy bar.

“No te puedo pagar,” said Kenny.

“No need to repay,” she said. Then added, “You don’t look like you belong here.”

Kenny laughed, then winced. “Gracias.”

On his final morning, the nurse placed the Spanish edition of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” on Kenny’s bed. “When you go back, read it,” and tucked it under his pillow, then patted the pillow as if fluffing it. “Wait. Open then.” She knew when he left the infirmary he would not be searched.

A week later Kenny was strong enough to walk the circumference of the enclosure. He moved carefully. His head down just enough to seem disinterested – as if passing through on an assignment.

#

Kenny had waited almost six years since his transfer to the North Center’s third floor when he heard a votary’s clipped accent call his name for the first time, “Du mars.” The sound seemed to extend. “Kaaaa-neee Duuuu-maws. Somebo’y lu’ ya.” He pitched a nine-by-twelve manila envelope on the concrete floor. Kenny hustled down iron steps to retrieve the package.

Back on the third floor, he flipped to the last page, saw the final word: DENIED. But when he read the preceding three words his body constricted. “… the same fate.”

He reached for the book the nurse had given him. Opened it to the section with the indentation. He did not understand why they allowed him to keep the book. Kenny closed his eyes. His contours hardened as if chiseled. DENIED, that last word on the final page told him whether sunny or dark, summer or winter, held no relevance for him. He knew what came next.

He would soon be inside a metal building, past racks of the North Center’s food items – cans of peaches and lard, bags of rice and beans, five-gallon bottles of ketchup and mustard – walking toward unmarked doors, then into a building connected to a small concrete warehouse, and through an opening the width of a garage door. When he stopped, the door would descend.

Lights would illuminate five unsmiling votaries in dark suits and one senior witness. At this point, Kenny would need assistance. We knew it required an element of irrationality to voluntarily continue. “Let’s go,” a votary would say. “Lean on me.”

Kenny’s shallow breathing would be familiar to these votaries, as would the next sequence – exam table. White sheets. Straps. No needles. No tubes. Eyes never averted. No request for last words. No more time.

Our Rules dictated that Kenny remain awake while the senior witness held the toothbrush the nurse had secreted inside the book. The same sharpened toothbrush Kenny shoved__ into Herb Peavy’s carotid artery.

The senior witness would press that toothbrush into Kenny’s neck until there was no longer a pulse.

– THE END –

 

______________

Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, Pinyon,Lunaris Journal, The New Ulster, The Lampeter, Blood & Bourbon, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Adelaide Literary Magazine. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.

Our Hands by Katelyn Hogue

Our Hands by Katelyn Hogue

I groan as I walk home and look down at my nails. The black paint is already chipping off even though I just painted them the other day. I angrily adjust the pack on my back as I continue walking down the sidewalk, my boots crunching the fallen leaves that litter the path. I look up from my nails and notice a crowd of about twenty people gathered outside a house in my neighborhood. I hear them talking before I see what they’re discussing.

“What’s going on?” says some man in the crowd.

“Why’s he up there?” asks a young girl.

I walk up the path and to my horror, I see a boy standing on the rooftop of one of the homes. I know that house, it’s one of the few brick houses I pass on my way to and from school. I can’t tell who the boy is, but he’s standing on the ledge of the roof. My stomach drops, fearing the worst. I join the crowd hoping to get some information about what’s going on.

“Just some guy on the roof. Maybe suicidal,” explains a big bald guy. Thirty seconds later, at least ten more people join to watch. A few call 9-1-1, but most are just talking about the boy and asking question. Glancing at the crowd, I make my way to the back of the house. No one pays attention to me as I leave the group and enter the home. I climb up to the attic and find an open window. Assuming this is how the boy got to the roof, I squeeze through the small square space.

“Luke!” I exclaim, recognizing the boy. “What are you doing up here?” We’re both seniors in high school, and we’re in the same civics class. I would never have guessed he would be doing this. He’s on the football team, girls seem to like him, and our civic teacher can’t stand him because he talks all class period. I mean, I’m the weird girl who wears dark clothes that sits in the back of the class. I’m the one who doesn’t seem to pay attention. If you looked at us both, you would guess I would be the one on the ledge of a roof.

“Tiffany?” He looks a bit puzzled. When I try to walk to him, he warns, “Don’t come any closer,” The crisp autumn air turns heavy as my fears become reality.

“Okay, Luke. I won’t, but talk to me. What’s wrong?”

He’s not facing me, but he must have been crying because his voice comes out scratchy. “Everything,” he mutters.

“Like what?” I asked, edging my way closer to him.

“Everything! My mom passed away from cancer, dad’s depressed, I don’t have any real friends. I barely feel anything anymore…except the pain.”

“I know how that feels, Luke. The pain. When life’s too real. I get that,” I say to him. I work my way closer until I’m a few feet away from him.

“Stop Tiffany! I’ll jump!” He shouts at me and glares back angrily, but in his eyes I see nothing but depression and desperation. I freeze.

“Luke, I get it, but I know that it gets better. It really does. You just have to push through this. I could help you!”

From down below, I hear the same man from earlier yell, “Jump already!”

Sickened, I beg, “No, Luke, please don’t!” I cry, “This doesn’t have to be the end!”

“No, he’s right,” Luke whispers. My eyes widen as I realize what he’s about to do. My heart aches as he chokes out, “It’s too late,” He leans forward, accepting his fate. Tears stream down my face and before I can even think, I run up, reach out, and rip him back from the ledge by his shirt. With a loud thump we both crash back on the rooftop. I look at his face; He’s not angry… he’s scared. He opens his eyes, looks at me, and sobs deeply. I move to my knees and hug him. He wraps his arms around me and continues to cry on my shoulder.

“It’s going to be okay. I’ll help you,”

That’s all we say, and we just sit there.

Eventually, he looks to me, signaling he’s ready to go. I stand up and reach out for his hand. The person in front of me is a young man preparing for adulthood, but all I see is a scared little boy. He reaches out and grabs hold of my hand. Our hands lock together, his rough and shaking, with mine small and soft. For that moment, I think, Luke isn’t the type of guy you think would end up on the roof contemplating ending it all, and I’m not the type of girl you think might end up doing anything important with her life, but I realized people aren’t who they seem to be. I’m not just some girl, I’m… a hero?

I pull him to his feet. Hand in hand, we walk from the roof to the attic door. As we make our way out of the building, the crowd applauds us. The police try to take Luke away, but I don’t let him leave my side. It’s not until I give Luke my number and tell him to call me whenever he needs help, and the police assure me they’re going to get him help that I let go of his hand. As I turn to leave, he grasps my hand again.

“Why?” he asks.

“Why what?” I respond, confused.

“Why did you run up there? Why did you save me?”

“Because…” My eyebrows furrow together. Why did I? I didn’t have to, but I never second guessed myself. It was natural. “Because it’s who I am,” I answer softly.

He nods, and with one final glance, I walk away.

Katelyn Hogue lives in a small town in Pennsylvania. She spends her times as a junior in high school and tries to make time to read and write.

World Tree by Kevin Hoover

World Tree by Kevin Hoover

Kevin Hoover

World Tree

 

 

The boy watched as Grandfather stoked the fire-pit dreamily, his old age and wisdom a wonder among men. He knew the wrinkled man was calling deep upon memory, preparing one of his many stories for telling. The boy waited impatiently, letting his gaze drift behind Grandfather, back and back, past the plains of cherried-wheat, beyond grey hills and shadowed ranges of snow-capped mountains. There imposing upon the pink dusk of the sky and leagues higher than the other mountaintops, rose the Great Mountain. The single, conical behemoth, though faded by distance, filled the majestic vista of the boy’s world, and his eyes went captive to it. The mountain’s colossal heights were veiled in eternal clouds, forever hidden. What the summit must look like, the boy could only wonder. None had ever known.

“Your face is fixed upon Ceivva, I see…” whispered Grandfather. “As it has always been, by all men.”

The boy continued to stare at the mountain. “Isn’t it beautiful, Grandfather?”

“That it is, child. That it is…” the old man’s voice sang softly, like hushed secrets. “And what would you ask it, boy, if it could answer you?” He continued to poke at the embers under the fire.

“What lies beyond the clouds, at its peak…”

And here a hint of a smile turned the corner of the old man’s lips. “Ahh,” returned Grandfather. “Then I shall tell you, for the mountain cannot.”

The boy looked to his Grandfather with astonishment. “You know?”

“I do at that, for despite what folk now say, men of ages past-many, many great ages past and nigh-forgotten, came down from its heights. They were our ancestors.”

“Tell me! Is it true Grandfather?” The boy sat across from him, eyes wide with the magic of possibility, the crackling fire spitting between them, and the Great Mountain beyond.

“Indeed,” said Grandfather, “And remember this most of all, boy. They were not so unlike us!” and his voice bespoke the truth of it. “It has been said that Ceivva has no summit, at least, not one that can be reached. But this is only partially true. It is also believed that the Great Mountain is our connection to the heavens. Do you know what ‘Ceivva’ means?  Hmm?”

The boy found it curious to think on the question, and realized that he did not.

Grandfather continued, and he carried his story in wisped, reverent tones…

* * *

…Though it is a mountain, ‘Ceivva’ means ‘World Tree.’ It has always carried this name, in our ancient times and in the times before time. As it is with you, boy, the first people of this world cast their adorning gaze upon the Great Mountain, and were captivated by its mysteries. Soon our every ancestor set their desires upon learning the secrets of Ceivva. It became their sole purpose—and a curse.

Every advancement, every progression, every momentous step of ancient man’s evolution through history, every lunge toward civilization was centered upon the Great Mountain. The fathers and mothers of our arcane heritage became obsessed by reaching its summit. Every piece of history now lost to us, good and bad, played out with that common goal in mind. Wars broke out among the fractured tribes as they claimed the vast slopes of the mountain as their own; still they climbed higher. Dangerous expeditions into its freezing heights were waged, all for the honor of being first to reach the top. Men and women died by the thousands along its unforgiving faces. Still, they looked upward toward Ceivva’s elusive summit.

Soon, delayed by the mountain’s unyielding rigors, attentions among men went to the design and building of many great and wondrous things, inventions beyond our understanding today. They used these creations at first to keep each other from scaling higher than themselves. But they soon found they could master the skies with their intellect, and were free to roam the winds like great birds.

Eventually, aided by the power of flight, they reached the very top of the mountain. What was found there was a curious thing, as enigmatic as the mountain itself. Upon the summit, a great tree grew forth, leagues upon leagues in circumference. Here then, was some truth to the Great Mountain’s name, Ceivva- The World Tree. How this coincidence might have occurred baffled our ancestors, but it brought forth, for a time, an era of peace and unison among them, for surely there was some divine work now in play. There was little doubt they were fated to reach the summit, and to ascend the Great Tree toward the heavens.

And so, with wheated-plains, lush forests, and grey hills of their origins long behind them, these first people pushed ever upward, seeking out their destiny. The air grew thin, and thin, and thinner still. Nevertheless, they continued to launch daring campaigns of exploration, climbing up the gargantuan surface of Ceivva, for they had surpassed the heights whose winds afforded them the gift of flight. Such heights had these people reach that the invisible force that holds us tight to the bosom of the world was less and less, until the only force still upon them held them to the tree itself. Looking back now, they saw the world for what it was and what it had always been—a perfect sphere. They began to think of Ceivva not as ‘ascending’ atop the world, but rather as ‘growing outward’ from it, reaching into the expanses of the starry beyond.

And here there was a great split among the first people, for so strange and foreign was this existence that many gave up their eons-birthright, letting go the quest to seek Ceivva’s ultimate end. Those many ancestors turned around, wanting the memories of the past, which told stories of fertile lands, rivers and forests, and fields of red-amber wheat, of kingdoms of animals now long forgotten. And so they returned to the firm stretches of the soiled world, and became  known as ‘The Grounded.’  Yet, many more committed themselves to their lust for discovery. They chose to continue venturing outward along Ceivva, always wondering at its extent what lies but a little farther, and so they became known as ‘The Seekers.’  They believed, in all their hearts, the legends that Ceivva would one day link them directly to the Divine.

The path of The Seekers was at first difficult, bereft of the fruits and substances afforded to The Grounded, but Ceivva’s skin yielded the way onward. Soon, her bark of vast valleys and dense foliage became ecosystems unto themselves. Through great toil and a plentiful life provided by this newfound paradise, the achievements of The Seekers eventually surpassed anything The Grounded had hoped to reach. Finally, The Seekers had mastered the flight of the heavens themselves, thus the meter to which their exploration along World Tree progressed had increased a hundred fold, and colonies by countless dozens sprung up ever outward.

The connections and conversing between The Seekers and The Grounded became less frequent and less still. That dialogue, which did reach The Seekers, spoke tales of hunger and strife among their old brethren. The sprawling eras of time bestowed upon The Grounded alternated between curses of disease, war, and famine. Word came of the desperate pleas for aid by The Grounded, begging The Seekers to share their good fortune with them. But The Seekers thought on their ancient kin as an arrogant, backward and foolish people. Sadly, they turned their backs on them, and looked instead toward the ends of Ceivva.

Resolved in leaving the ill fortunes of their cousins behind them, they advanced their designs of an idyllic life yet farther along Ceivva’s incalculable reaches. And idyllic their life was, for eons it would seem. They lived out their lives, each generation, like gods. But despite all this blessing, and all their relentless exploration, they lacked the one thing, which had always eluded them. Outward again, and again, and again, desperately trying to fill their need to know, to fathom where Ceivva might lead them, but she was unwilling to yield this to the minds of men, for men they still were, and soon paradise became a fleeting thing. They had progressed so far away from the world, and here along the infinite regions of World Tree, she began to bare fewer and fewer bountiful areas. The Seekers would push past an immense expanse of deadness, only to reach a quaint vale of struggling life; past countless leagues of inhospitable tree-land, only to find a pitiful spattering of near-dead life.

Whole colonies were lost to these dying regions. Likewise, the once fruitful settlements, which had come before them, were also in loss of their providence. A slow, withering impotence began to overtake the surface of the Great Tree, and the loss of life among The Seekers became an aberration of horrors.

Eventually, at such peril were The Seekers in, they made the unthinkable decision to turn back. So back they went, and back and back, clamoring down Ceivva’s colossal trunk, hoping to gain the firmament of the once-forgotten world beneath their feet before the last of them died out. They would rejoin their kin, and trade with them their secrets of knowledge in exchange for home and sustenance.

Finally, with so very few of them left, they reached again the land of their distant origins. Now, descending the slopes of the Great Mountain and passing through the barrier of constant clouds, they looked down upon the world, and what they saw caused a great sadness among them. Our ancient ancestors saw, at long last, the sums of their past. Or, perhaps, it was the future they glimpsed, and the sight of it nearly stole away their will to live… 

* * *

And here, Grandfather’s eyes glazed over, the light of the fire danced across his face, and a few stray tears went unchecked down his leathered cheeks.

“What did they see?” asked the boy. Grandfather sat, stalwart among his thoughts, his gaze lost upon the flames between them. He said nothing. For a long while, it seemed, the boy waited for more, but curiosity and impatience won out. He went around to the other side of the fire-pit, knelt before his Grandfather, and reached for his hand. “Grandfather, is that it?  Is that the end of the story?”

The old storyteller blinked through his tears, as if coming out of a long sleep, and turned to look at his grandson. Trapped in his thoughts, he realized the boy had asked him a question. His eyes asked the boy to repeat it.

“Is that the end of the story?”

Grandfather shook his head slowly. “Oh no…  Not the end,” he managed at barely a whisper. “Not the end at all.”

“Well, what did they see, beneath the clouds?” the boy asked.

Grandfather moved a hand up to rest it on the boy’s shoulder, and caught his eyes with his own. “The land was neglected. No—not neglected… Devastated! The land was devastated! The Seekers knew, without ever having seen the world for themselves that what lie before them was a vile, horrid rape and mutilation of the land. Hardly a tree remained standing upon the scorched surface. The fabled plains of cherried-wheat were gone. The grey hills were black and ravaged. The snow-capped mountains had lost their snow, standing bare like solemn witnesses. It was an unnatural plight, and they understood then that the wars and desperation of their once-brethren people had brought the soils of the world to the brink of death, and so too had caused the dying of Ceivva.

“But the great sadness and burden that our ancient ancestors, The Seekers, would forever onward carry with them is their part in it—their share of the blame, for they too caused the death of Ceivva. And their kin. And nearly the whole of the world. They who thought themselves like gods, and turned their back on The Grounded, leaving them to work with what was now seen before them.”

The boy and Grandfather remained silent for a time, locked in their thoughts and buried in their emotions.

Finally the boy spoke, “What did they do, The Seekers?”

Grandfather blinked back his slow, impending tears. “From thence… thence came a time of great struggle, and great hardship, when our ancient ancestors were forced to turn all their attentions to the re-nurturing of the world—to rekindle what had once been forgotten.” 

The boy looked on the landscape around them. His gaze pierced the evening shadows, swept across the hills and the wheat swaying slowly in the wind.

“Yes,” continued the old man. “After a time, a long time, they succeeded. In doing so, they lost much of the knowledge they had once gained, but they succeeded.

“Now it is time to return home I think, and to bed. I am growing very tired.”  Grandfather stood up, slowly, as old age would permit him, and began to make his way from the fire-pit, Ceivva fading in the twilight behind him.

The boy took one last glance at the snow-capped mountain ranges, and The Great Mountain rising above them all, then turned to help his Grandfather.

The old man yawned, then spoke again, as if in afterthought to all he’d said tonight. “Tomorrow, boy… tomorrow, you will tell me the story I have told you today.”


Trolls Are Hot by Chris George

Trolls Are Hot by Chris George

Chris George

Trolls Are Hot

I knew he was the one the moment I laid eyes on him. I loved his silky hair, his chiseled abs, his big, soulful eyes, and his velvet toned voice. He sat alone at the lunch table across from me in school. I just had to talk to him.

“Hi!” I said.

“Hey,” he replied.

“My name’s Megan, and…and…ohmigosh I think you’re really cute.”

“Oh. My name’s Alvin. Alvin E’hoar.”

“I like your name! Is it Irish?”

“No, it’s Troll.”

I just couldn’t believe what this dreamboat was saying. “Troll?”

“Yes, I’m a troll. My whole family is.”

“You are not! You’re so silly Alvin!” I giggled at him and left.

“I’m being serious!” Alvin told me as I left.

Later that day, as I was walking home from school, I noticed something strange. Under the interstate overpass I go by every day, I saw furniture. Brand new sofas, a flat screen TV, bureaus, a dining table, beds, even a bathtub. It looked like a house, except everything happened to be outside. As I approached this curious place, I saw You-Know-Who again.

“Megan, is it? I told you I wasn’t lying. This is where my family lives.”

“Alvin, my boy, who’s your friend?” his father asked. “Come over here and introduce her to me. We’re just about to sit down for dinner.”

Alvin took me over to his parents and they graciously invited me for dinner.

“What’s your name, child?”

“Megan,” I replied.

“What a lovely name. I’m Gordon. I know, it’s hard to believe that we’re Trolls, but we’ve always looked just like humans. It’s just that your kind has always portrayed us as ugly in their stories. We’re decent folk, really.”

“Our family used to live under the bridge on Old Route 94,” explained Alvin.

“You mean the bridge over Little Hampton Creek?” I inquired.

“Yep,” chimed Gordon, “we used to charge toll for going over that bridge. That’s how we made a living. But when the interstate was built, people stopped driving on that road. So we moved here and tried to do the same thing. Lemme tell ya, it just ain’t the same. Trying to collect toll from people going 70 miles an hour is a mite bit tough unless you’re the Transportation Department.”

“So what do you do for a living now?”

“I work as a freelance web designer. No one suspects a thing, since Trolls look just like humans. There are certain habits I need to remember to keep in check, but I’m getting ahead of myself now.”

“That’s funny, because on the Internet, there are people called ‘trolls’ who post on websites to make people angry. Do you ever have to deal with them?”

“Only when I work for high profile clients. Occasionally I’ll do some work for the government, and a few hooligans will crash the site just as soon as I have it up. I really wish people would stop calling them ‘trolls’. It defames our people. But such is the state of affairs between us and humans.”

“Mr. E’hoar-“

“Please, call me Gordy.”

“Thanks, but, it’s getting late. My parents don’t know where I am and are probably worried by now. It was nice talking and eating with you, though.”

“Oh, no trouble, Missy. Here, take this,” Gordon handed me a book about Troll culture. “This has everything you’d ever care to know about trolls. And if you have any other questions, just drop me a line. Okay?”

“Okay.”

I gave them a smile and started back home, but not before winking to Alvin. He just stammered at me. How cute.

That night, I read the book Alvin’s dad gave to me. It was the most engrossing thing I’ve ever read. All aspects of the Trolls were laid bare to me. Did you know that a Troll’s skin hardens in sunlight? They don’t even need sunscreen! That’s so hot. And there’s a reason why they collect tolls. The coins are like status symbols. The more coins, and the shiner the coins, mean the higher the status for the family. I wonder how many coins Alvin’s family has?

The next day at school, Chelsea, the resident mean girl, came up to me.

“Hey, I heard you went out with that Alvin kid,” she said while chewing gum. “That guy is mine. You’re too much of a dork for him!”

“Hey, shut up!” I shouted. “I did not go out with him! We aren’t ready for that yet.”

“Oh! Did you hear, girls? Megan’s ‘not ready for dating’! Oh, how precious!” Chelsea said maliciously. She and her posse began jeering.

It was then that Alvin walked by.

“Hey Megan,” he said in his customary aloof manner. “I really appreciate you coming to visit me yesterday. Are you friends with Chelsea?”

“As if!” I said.

“Hey Ally boy, why hang out with this loser. Come with me, I’ll show you a good time!”

“No thanks, Chelsea.”

“What did you say?”

“I don’t want to date anyone right now. What’s important is that I graduate from here so I can start providing for my family.”

My heart sank a little when I heard that. But I was confident I could change his mind. Chelsea, on the other hand….

“Fine! You’re such a slut anyway! Who needs you! Come on girls, let’s get outta here.”

And with that, she left.

“Did I hear you right, Alvin? You don’t want to date me?” I asked, my voice quivering ever so slightly.

“It’s not that I don’t want to date you specifically. It’s just that one day my Dad will no longer be able to care for himself, and he’ll need someone to look after him. If he went to a nursing home, they’d realize he’s a Troll sooner or later. There’s no telling what would happen then. So I need to study hard so I can get scholarships and earn enough to support him. Maybe one day, if I’m ever famous, I can show people Trolls aren’t bad at all. But that’s way in the future. I must keep my eyes ahead while focusing on now. Do you get it?”

“I think so…”

“You seem like a very nice girl. Maybe someday, something will happen between us. But for now, I’m happy just being friends with you.”

“Yeah, thanks for being a friend.”

“You’re welcome.”

Alvin then winked at me and left. I spent the rest of the day thinking about Alvin, how even if he is famous one day, we’ll still be friends. I dearly hope he keeps that promise. He’s too sexy for me to lose.


Untitled by Antoine Merriweather

Untitled by Antoine Merriweather

Antoine Merriweather

Untitled

Girlfriend friend friend of girl can I be that to you again you’re who I miss sexy four sexy four wheel driven friends I miss being your 5th wheel I never felt like a spare my brain ran a flat trying to run you down be my triple A tow me back into your lives I can survive the impound forgive this boyfriend for being a no friend but an ass in the end the “s” on this Superman chest stands for sorry and I am I need back in your super sexy soul sista circle because Charlie can’t fly without his angels girlfriend friend of girl can I be that to you again you’re who I miss.

Tolkien’s Fever by John Little

Tolkien’s Fever by John Little

John Little

 

Tolkien’s Fever

 

A legion of days has marched past me thus far in this war. I have counted every day, with baited breath, hoping that one among the thousands would end my entrenchment in these murky, blood-filled pools. Unlike some of my fellows, I do not harbor any hatred towards the boys across the way, the Germans, for they suffer as we do. Those in control are dastardly creatures for sure, and deserve no less than a bullet to the brain or a bayonet to the heart, but I do sympathize with the men. The simple men who would rather plow their land and tend to their families than be bunkered down with the vermin and the parasites. Those are the things we share the most, a fondness for our homes and revulsion towards these filthy creatures. The rats seem large enough to give a terrier a good fight, that is, if one assumes a rat would fight fair. No, the rats are easy enough really, dreadfully afraid of noise and have at least some sense of self preservation. No, the real demons are the lice. I have not had the misfortune of dealing with the blood sucking beasts for more than the time it takes me to brush them away. Some men however have extoled the horrors at dealing with lice, and have even fallen ill to their incessant march on human flesh.

 The battle went well last night. A German dugout was captured and a few men, myself included, are being sent to inspect and determine its suitability for our troops. In crossing the war torn earth to the dugout, I saw numerous bodies littering the field. Most of these bodies were of departed German soldiers; this was not due to an overwhelming victory on our part. We were permitted to bring our dead back. The Germans had no such luxury for the dead cannot carry the dead.

 We reached the dugout, physically no worse for wear. After a close inspection we determined the place suitable for our troop’s occupation. As officers, our belongings were not long behind us. We decided to stay as a sign of good faith to the regular army men and bunkered down for the night. As I lay down and closed my eyes to rest, what felt like a wave of the lightest electricity washed over me. For a time I sat idle, believing the strange sensation to be a settling of the nerves that would soon pass. When the sensation did not cease and instead gave way to a series of thousands of pin pricks, my eyes flashed open. I sat in a sea of lice. I arose almost in panic and brushed most of the vermin off. None had penetrated my clothing. Of that, I was thankful. I visited our medic and asked if there wasn’t something he could give me to repel the creatures. He prescribed an ointment and gave me some pills to help me sleep. I returned to my bed roll and after applying the ointment liberally, and taking twice as many pills as I ought to have, I dozed off. Within moments the lice had renewed the attack and seemed only invigorated by the ointment.

I awoke to screaming. I rose quickly to see what caused the alarm and was struck dumb by what I saw. I had lost my dugout and was standing in a field in which war was breaking out as it never has on this earth. Men of the strangest assortment of sizes were clad in armor and wielding every sort of sharpened weapon imaginable. Swords and spears, daggers and axes were being wielded with such a deftness that does not often grace our modern society. In fact if it ever graced our civilization, past or present, I would be amazed. What seemed like legions of these men, ranging from average height to what surely must have been dwarves, and if one looked carefully a people of even smaller size, almost that of half a man, could be seen fighting for their lives. The creatures they fought were almost too horrible to imagine. With sickly green flesh, mangled teeth, and eyes fixed with madness, they lurched like a sea of venom against the men. Both men and creatures were falling at an equal rate. As one group would seem to gain a lead, the other would redouble its efforts and gain the field once again. Men falling to beasts and beasts falling to men, it went on for what seemed an eternity. One of the green, evil, fanged creatures saw me standing alone and seemingly defenseless. As he began his charge towards me, I went to my sidearm. To my horror it had vanished. I had so set myself as the onlooker of this terrible battle that I had not seen the mortal peril I was in. The beastie lumbered toward me with great strides, carrying what I could only describe as a scrap of wickedly sharp metal, and when he came close enough to strike he went for my throat. In the moment that I was to acquire my first and last taste of death I was saved by the tiniest of happenings. A fellow of no more than a meter or so in height appeared as if swept there by some unseen force to bury his blade into the bowels of the beast. After slaying the brute and promptly removing his sword he turned to me and gave me a look I will never forget. In his eyes were so many uncertain feelings, feelings of joy, hope, of pain and despair, of battles won and lost and friends found and fallen; it was the look of a man who has seen the truth of the world. I waited for a word, a statement, a scream, a roar, anything that would let me know who or what this little man creature was, but instead he did the most uncommon thing I have ever seen. He smiled, turned, and charged back into the fray to join his friends, all of which seemed unbelievable glad to see him. Before I could begin to contemplate this any further a great thundering began in the lines of the men, dwarves, and tiny man creatures.

Within moments, a great white light began to form on the side of the men. As it came together it formed into the shape of what I can only imagine God would look like: a being of immense age and knowledge yet living untouched by time. Joined by a small gathering of every kind of warrior on the side of the men it marched across the field as if to deal the final blow to the horde of grotesque creatures. I found myself wishing with all my might that this would be the case. As the figure was about to deal an earth shattering blow that surely would have changed the tides, a wisp of black appeared, then a flame, and then a shadow began to loom over the battlefield. As if from the dark hearts of the creatures themselves a being of fire and shadow emerged from the air and collided with the brilliant figure of the men. It roared, and raged, and bellowed fire and darkness across the field enveloping all those in its path. From within this darkness emerged a blinding light echoing from the form of the figure in white. The darkness receded and the two sides seemed to be holding their breath before the final plunge. The creature of fire and shadow roared, the white god stood shining brilliantly in the sun, and then the world crashed in around me.

I awoke, feverishly, to being shaken by my fellow officers. The lice, after their feast, had left me with an illness and an enduring fever. I had the vaguest recollection of what I had dreamed, but within minutes none of the details remained. No, that is not quite right, I did remember one thing. I could not get the image of those small men out of my mind. Why such a small people would be participating in what I vaguely remember to be an extremely important battle, I did not know. I began to ponder how a person of that stature would see the world and I must admit I have become rather obsessed with the idea, in the way that someone who is suffering amnesia obsesses over their memory. I just couldn’t seem to let it go.

The war is not nearly over but I do imagine that if and when I return home I will still have plenty to think about concerning these most unlikely adventurers.


 

Battle of the Memories by Jeremiah Sater

Battle of the Memories by Jeremiah Sater

Jeremiah Sater

 

Battle of the Memories

Explosions rang out all around the man. Rifle in hand, he rushed across the battlefield, his closest friends and family beside him. A noticeable, but indescribable difference appeared between him and his companions. Multiple explosions impacted the ground around him, knocking him to the ground. Crawling forward, he stopped behind a small hill. His comrades dropped to the ground around him, each holding rifles and other assortment of weapons.

Peering over the hill, the enemy remained unseen. Only the explosions showed they remained in the distance. An elderly woman moved across the hill toward him. “Hold on. Don’t let go. You are so close.”

Standing up, he began to run again, his comrades close behind once again. The woman started coming closer, before an explosion hit the ground in front of her. Never stopping, the man continued to move forward as the smoke revealed the woman gone. Another explosion knocked the man off his feet again, but he managed to remain balanced to continue forward.

An elderly man ran forward, knocking him to the ground before another explosion blasted the earth behind them. “Keep your head up. Eyes forward at all times. Mind open, don’t forget. Don’t let go.”

Getting back to his feet, he began to run again. Stumbling, pain shot through his legs, but he ignored it. The words of the woman and the man resonated through his mind. He couldn’t let go, he couldn’t forget. Forward, he must go forward. As the old man continued behind him, an explosion originated from the ground, blasting him from existence.

His other friends and family began to spread out around him. Each wiped off the battlefield by random explosions. The man dropped to the ground again, holding his arms over his head, his body filled with pain. Looking ahead, a bright light reached his eyes. Struggling to his feet, he began to run as his legs went numb. Dropping to the ground again, he pulled himself forward by his arms as multiple explosions blasted the area around him. Most of his family and friends now lay dead or disappeared off the battlefield.

A young woman dropped to his side. Helping him to his feet, she pushed him forward. “Go! Don’t forget! Reach the light and hold on!”

The feeling returning to his legs, he propelled himself forward as the young woman disappeared in a cloud of fire. As he grew nearer to the light, an explosion blasted the ground behind him, propelling him into the ground in front of the light…

“Hello, my name is Dr. Stevenson. You are in a hospital. What is your name?”

He stared up at the man in the gleaming white clothes. “What? Who am I…?”

Always Them by Amanda Hart Miller

Always Them by Amanda Hart Miller

Amanda Hart Miller

Always Them

(Previously published in Apeiron Review)

Little girls can be stolen, especially a little girl with sad, heavy-lidded eyes and a too-small jacket, a girl who carries a stuffed unicorn in the crook of her arm and rubs it against her lips again and again. She waits all alone at a bus stop by a patch of winter-gray woods. The few houses on the street have cardboard taped to the windows and junk on the porches. To put a bus stop here, Johnny feels, someone must have been asleep at the wheel.

Johnny has been watching her now for 41 school days. He marks off the days in his notebook, which he then tucks away. Johnny’s head doesn’t work as well as it used to, so he can’t remember these things unless he writes them down. He writes other things about her, too:

 

Girlie has ribbons in her hair today but they fall out she keep putting them back in. Girlies hair don’t cover that bruze. Girlie got candy bar today. Girlie stares and stares at the moon this morning I want to be there too Girlie.

On his most daring of days, he trills a bird call and she turns around to see nothing because he’s behind the trunk of a big tree. He rests his cheek against the bark and listens to his heart scurrying back down his throat.

He wears trash bags and rides his bike along the main drag in what is a small town. People say it’s because his wife got burned up in a house fire and he went crazy. He’s written this down. He doesn’t remember that happening, but he does remember lying with Bea after love, her skin silky and scented like almonds and sex, don’t ever leave me but he doesn’t know where she is now. And sometimes he remembers the men under the overpass tying him up and lighting him on fire Ooh-wee… he’s lit up like a Christmas tree but usually this stays deeper inside him in someplace that can’t be remembered but eats him up just the same.

Girlie sometimes tries to trick him, he thinks. She brings chalk and draws pictures on the sidewalk, and she works on them so hard that she has to press her lips together tight so she can think, but suddenly she’ll look up quickly, at his tree. The mornings are getting darker, though. It will soon be the longest night of the year.

After the bus comes and takes Girlie away, he copies her chalk drawings into his notebook. She mostly draws hearts and flowers, and he likes to pretend she draws them for him. When he copies them into his notebook, they are for her.

On January 20th, the sky is much more gray than white. A van pulls up to the bus stop. When the man inside puts down the window and says something to Girlie, she stands up from her drawing and cocks her head. She takes three steps back from the van, and Johnny feels like he’s one of the tiny hairs on her skin—just as bristled and scared. She takes another step back and then looks toward Johnny. He forgets to hide because he falls into her eyes for years before she looks back to The BadMan, who is opening the van door until he, too, sees Johnny.

The man shakes his head and mutters something angry that Johnny can’t hear. The van purrs as it rolls away.

Girlie is smiling at Johnny, thin lips closed and dimples showing. Now there’s this thing linking them, hurtling him through a rabbit hole of jittery nerves so he comes out the other end pumped and fretting at the same time.

The bus comes then and Girlie gets on. He can see her through the window, through her clothes to her skin and even deeper, to her heart sending all that blood around, and even deeper than that, to what it all means. The world has always been just the three of them: Girlie and The BadMan and this block of flesh that is Johnny’s to place between them. With trembling hands, he pulls out his notebook.


Escape from the Siren’s Lair by Stephen Barber

Escape from the Siren’s Lair by Stephen Barber

Stephen Barber

Escape from the Siren’s Lair

The ancient who first told the story of Athena’s birth from the skull of Zeus must have had a hangover like this. I may not be the mythic god-king of Olympus, but I surely feel a tiny enraged person trying to burst forth from my head. My mouth feels like it is lined with a particularly old and ratty carpet, and my stomach is a churning maelstrom of cheap booze and chicken wings.

As the world became clearer in the morning light, I realize that the smoke stained, floral print wallpaper and wrinkled pink bed sheets were unfamiliar. There was also a gently snoring creature under the covers to my left.

 

What had happened? How had a quiet night of libations at the Badger’s Den led me to these odd surroundings? Who or what is this comatose form lying next to me, and for the love of God, why am I naked? All of these thoughts bounced around my already aching skull. Recollection of the night before was still fuzzy; my brain was trying desperately to shift out of first gear.

There was something about Popov and a hint of shame but a more complete picture was not quite forming. An investigation of this sleeping being under the covers next to me was in order. I leant over and pulled down the sheets to reveal the sum of my indiscretions.

Oh unmerciful Bacchus, what hath you wrought upon me!

The naked wrinkled visage of the Badger’s Den’s most storied and reviled barfly, DeDe, lay before me, a woman old enough to be my mother and in no way the sexy Miss Robinson type. If Helen of Troy’s face could send a thousand ships, DeDe’s distorted mug could sink twice that number.

With this jarring discovery, my synapses began firing and the mortifying memory of the night before began to invade my tortured mind. What began as a quiet evening of beer and billiards had turned into a debauched foray of plastic bottle vodka and reckless abandon.

While the vile liquid was disarming my inhibitions, DeDe had closed in like a hungry wolf to a wounded lamb. With a devilish toothless grin, she put her hand on my lap and asked if I could buy her a drink. Unlike wise Odysseus, I veered right into the siren’s boulder-like breasts. The unmercifully vivid memory of her telling me that I looked like a young Marlon Brando before slamming me into the cigarette machine and latching her gaping maw onto my mouth flooded back. I was not even spared the recollection of how her tongue was the flavor of bubble gum martinis and halitosis.

I began to shudder as the fuzzy details of the events after we stumbled back to her dingy apartment materialized. How she grabbed my crotch with a level of aggression that would have made Michael Jackson uncomfortable. It then proceeded to a coital experience comparable only to being caught in a fat, drunk crocodile death roll.

The decision to flee came quickly; I snuck into the bathroom, finding my crumpled clothes. Glancing at the mirror, I saw that my neck was covered in hickeys that looked like they must have been created by some sort of industrial vacuum. After leaving the bathroom, I went to make my final escape, only to be met with a sight of abject horror. DeDe had awakened and positioned herself between the door and me. Her whole shamelessly bare body jiggled menacingly.

She gave me a leer so filthy that it encrusted my very soul with its profane grime. Before my terrified mouth could make words, DeDe turned around, put her hands against the door, and jutted her megalithic ass towards me.

“If you want to leave, you’re going to have to unlock my door with your key one more time, honey.”

Vomit began to swell up my throat as I stared into the infernal abyss stretched open before me. Wildly looking about, I could see that all the windows had bars and that I was trapped. There was only one option left, and it certainly was not to use my “key,” as DeDe so euphemistically put it. I let out the war cry of a man who had nothing to lose and charged with all my might into the bovine buttocks blocking my path. With a tumultuous crash, the weight of DeDe’s vast carcass splintered the door from its frame, sending me tumbling to my freedom.