“Time Zone Mountain Interchange” CNF by Adrian Belmes

On the sacred recommendation of the head chef in my kitchen, my best friend John and I traversed the breadth of Kansas state to the hum of Pink Floyd over the radio. Being immigrants, we were unfamiliar folk to the corn-sodden great midwestern expanse. For the satisfaction of our coastal curiosities, there seemed no method more appropriate to rectify this modern problem than the all-American road-trip, though in part too carefully curated with the technological luxuries of the 21st century. We bought a paper atlas, but even the desolate Black Hills are wired. 

When we left the better half of Kansas City, my phone guided us to the long west. His was plugged umbilically into the aux. There was a sort of alchemic equivalency to this that seemed only fair and natural, like Newtonian physics, or well-established inheritance law. We needed direction, so we needed a soundtrack. My chef recommended the 1973 album, so we were obliged to abide. 

I’m sure you’ve heard of it already, but don’t stop me. Let me have this moment. There’s the old rumor of non-causality that if you begin The Dark Side of the Moon at the same moment as the beloved Judy Garland film classic of 1939, a synergistic effect will present itself. Tornadoes tamed by screaming and brain damage resolved with basslines. Witnessing this act of alignment is something I have never done, fully intend to do someday, and lie about constantly that I already have. It’s a hyperactively celebrated rite of passage for era-hopping tab-eaters, the point of no return down the long-melting reality screen. What a load, right? Alan Parsons would agree with me. People microdose now anyhow and over-analyze these things. It’s not lost on me that we’re in Kansas. You can imagine it, if you squint. 

That’s how it goes, yeah? You’ve listened to it once, at least. It always starts with a double-take. Speak to Me came in so quiet that we had to check the cable, pulling it out a couple times and blowing in the hole like bad porn or an old Sega cart. Don’t bullshit, we all do it. The only person on this Earth who never does is my chef, and I can assure you that’s only because he spends eight hours of each six days of work hitting dislike on the shop Pandora if it queues anything out of the Peter Gabriel—Neil Diamond musical range. This man is my spiritual father. Mine did alright, but I like this one’s taste in music better. He agrees that The Chain should have been the first song on Rumors. My father does not. No contest.

Rising with the track, the low morning clouds began to leak. A storm had followed us hot from the church-crack Sturgis lightning to the sweltering and sudden outpour of Chicago that soaked our socks and pruned our toes with warm, wet moisture as we hiked down Michigan Avenue. The first screams of the album welcomed in the rain and shook it like a sieve above us. 

John rose from his slouch in the half-reclined shotgun seat and stiffened upright with messy angular contractions, the opening notes of a recognizable bit. Everything is a bit. His hands scrambled for purchase, slapping the center console, the right-hand handle, the child-safety lock, the glove compartment. His eyes widened, his lips tightened, he whipped his head from left to right, methodical and out of synch with the frantic ministrations of his palms against plastic. We have known each other enough, and I have yet to determine if this is social exaggeration or if this is as genuine as his anything. The adolescent textures of Roger Waters had his full attention.

The volume of falling water increased as the last chords of Breathe faded out and the driving beat of On the Run faded in. At the two-minute swell of distortion, my mouth began to creep along the edges of my face, rising up at the corners but never breaking its concealment of my teeth. The gentle drizzle had aggregated into a perpendicular firehose. The excitement in our carpeted Corolla was palpable in expletives. The death-portent of the Synthi AKS made us feel dangerous. 

Around the third minute, we exited the thundercloud with the deep force bass of an airplane impact, suddenly crashing through the wall of rain and into the open sky. We were running now along the Kansas highway with the pattering fallout footfalls of the bomb behind us. With no hope of recovery from our synchronistic amazement, the cacophonous arrival of Time sealed us into a suggestible hallucinogenic state. It could only have been psychosomatic, but does that really matter? Just listen. 

Sound never really dies. It exists in the aether, all around us, and under specific circumstances, it finds itself tapped and summoned. The same could be said of decades of collective hallucination, or that thing about if you crack your spine, all the acid you’ve ever taken will bubble right back up again. Nick Mason was guiding us down like Virgil through the rings, surrounded by the laughing ghosts of long-dead psychonauts and burners, all the way through to the frozen circle, where David Gilmour’s wrinkled fist punched upwards from the depths and loomed until it burst before us like a mortar.

Of a giddy shock, John pealed. I could see the little black pockmarks of his face expanding and reddening like an acidic vision. Certainly it was only the heat and our skin opened up like beggars’ hands to the atmospheric moisture, but the fantasy was fun to indulge. We spend more time dreaming about drugs than actually doing them.

Serenaded by overlapping reverb, the highway skipped us up and down, like the steady pulses of a waveform generator, bobbing us along the amps through to the sixth minute, where each respective lambda lengthened and trough shallowed until we were deposited again on level road. The grey canvas of the sky melted behind us, and Clare Torry began to scream, welcoming the reborn sun and splitting the west before us. I could catch in John’s eyes the frightened awe of God presented in the form of endless corn. She kept us tense for perceptive hours, brandishing a vocal knife and not quite sheathing it until we touched down at the bottom of the greatest gig there ever was: four seconds of silence. 

Startled by the slamming registers of Money, snipping my nerves at their split ends enough for the hair to grow again, I was bumped back into the confines of my skull. I hadn’t noticed it until I pressed a finger into each eyelid that we were slick, sweating like pigs. We had finally hit the clarity threshold of the trip non-trip. If I had learned anything of the many kitchens I have fried in, there’s always a moment like this. We’d get back shortly to the shitshow, after our milk-crate smoke break. John dabbed his tee up to his blistering forehead and carded back loose hair. He was smiling with his teeth, grimacing, bopping his chin to the wicked baseline. This was the booth at the nightclub at the bottom of Judecca. John laughs. Fucking Gilmore, what a prick. 

I should say here that John isn’t the shitbag that I am. He’s a good guy. Honest. His parents built their lives to take him home from school. I was emancipated for tax purposes. There’s a particular kind of insufferable that comes of prolonged close contact, and his I could love as fondness. Likewise, he chose me on the expectation that I’d offer a measure of wisdom to his developing deadhead sensibilities. I am not nearly the chaos wizard he presumes me to be, but he doesn’t need to know that.

What he did need to know is what I’d said the day before, responding to his orgasm in the dining room of Joe’s Barbeque about two hundred and thirty-six miles behind the state line. I wish I enjoyed anything in life as much as he enjoyed everything. Good food, better music. Chair cushions, air conditioning. The honest happy relish of no exaggeration. Is it the depression or is it too many lysergic daydreams and ketamine bathrooms? Am I doomed to a Charonic fate, psychopomping all my friendships through amping crests that I will never know again myself? Fuck these contemplations of a lifetime addict: ultimately futile, all the same result. I shouldn’t care so much. We’re ordering our last shots at five minutes fifteen. We’ve got to prepare ourselves for this shit, because we’re getting back into the heat any minute now. Henry McCullough tells us he was drunk at the time. 

Our thoughts dissolved in the drone of the Hammond organ and were sucked by the circulating car fans. My skull vibrated in F minor by the time the saxophone appears ahead of us on the highway, notes rising out of the distant spots of steaming asphalt, like tiny pools of water, ever out of reach. We had fallen again into a perfect silence. I was nauseous and without fear. This was a late-stage familiarity so truthful to me that I almost forgot that this was only music and that was only Kansas. In God’s country, I marveled at the power of belief. 

John surrendered himself to faith. Never in his life had I seen him lose that fine and anxious edge of an arm so ramrod straight against his side that the armpit ceases to exist. He relaxed in that moment, shoulders flush and curved against the cushion of the seat, slipping down until he was playing footsie with the gum wrappers and beef jerky in the abyss. I was pleased to be ferrying this Styx, but something nagged me as I watched him melt. We coasted all the way through Any Colour You Like, soothed by solos. It was long past the peak and we’d be alright. 

I didn’t put it together then, but hindsight is a bitter mistress, making an education of me always, and I know now what it was. I hope John never does drugs. I fear I’ll lose him if I put him into the business, one way or another. I’d sooner bear the burden of guilty paternal control than the exponential guilt of squandering a young man’s potential. I was just out of it enough that I kept hearing Crazy Diamond on the track and expecting a rise, but it never came. That’s the wrong album, and there was only the brilliant mirage ahead. The nearest ocean was six thousand miles away and I couldn’t say I wasn’t nervous with the thought. 

John didn’t notice me grip the wheel as we rolled into minute one second sixteen, Brain Damage exploding in our ears like the bewilderment at the end of the 8 hour ride. He looked like he should be gripping the wheel instead. Chill out, man, we’re almost at the bottom. We can go to bed soon, I promise. This, I can impart without remorse. We’re the only lunatics for miles around. 

We were a little more prepared for minute two second thirty. John took the drum line in, gently slapping the console to the toms, and we dove in for a last little high as we entered Eclipse, rubbing our gums with what remained on the plate. He’d gained a little experience. By the end, you always feel professional.

The last word of the name is the last word of the album. It’s poetic, and we felt smart in our silly, momentary analysis of the thing. There’s just so much more to it, probably. The Hammond coasted to a smooth finish, an extended note, and, just like that, it was done. It was over. We were silent through the last heartbeats of the album, listening to our own, looking at the corn, the sea of the fucking thing. It looked so lovely, after the rain. The American dream of what heaven must be, the sprawling sun in the wide open, golden west. 

That was pretty good, wasn’t it?

We put on Rumors. There were still thousands of miles to no place like home. 

On the sacred recommendation of the head chef in my kitchen, my best friend John and I traversed the breadth of Kansas state to the hum of Pink Floyd over the radio. Being immigrants, we were unfamiliar folk to the corn-sodden great midwestern expanse. For the satisfaction of our coastal curiosities, there seemed no method more appropriate to rectify this modern problem than the all-American road-trip, though in part too carefully curated with the technological luxuries of the 21st century. We bought a paper atlas, but even the desolate Black Hills are wired. 

When we left the better half of Kansas City, my phone guided us to the long west. His was plugged umbilically into the aux. There was a sort of alchemic equivalency to this that seemed only fair and natural, like Newtonian physics, or well-established inheritance law. We needed direction, so we needed a soundtrack. My chef recommended the 1973 album, so we were obliged to abide. 

I’m sure you’ve heard of it already, but don’t stop me. Let me have this moment. There’s the old rumor of non-causality that if you begin The Dark Side of the Moon at the same moment as the beloved Judy Garland film classic of 1939, a synergistic effect will present itself. Tornadoes tamed by screaming and brain damage resolved with basslines. Witnessing this act of alignment is something I have never done, fully intend to do someday, and lie about constantly that I already have. It’s a hyperactively celebrated rite of passage for era-hopping tab-eaters, the point of no return down the long-melting reality screen. What a load, right? Alan Parsons would agree with me. People microdose now anyhow and over-analyze these things. It’s not lost on me that we’re in Kansas. You can imagine it, if you squint. 

That’s how it goes, yeah? You’ve listened to it once, at least. It always starts with a double-take. Speak to Me came in so quiet that we had to check the cable, pulling it out a couple times and blowing in the hole like bad porn or an old Sega cart. Don’t bullshit, we all do it. The only person on this Earth who never does is my chef, and I can assure you that’s only because he spends eight hours of each six days of work hitting dislike on the shop Pandora if it queues anything out of the Peter Gabriel—Neil Diamond musical range. This man is my spiritual father. Mine did alright, but I like this one’s taste in music better. He agrees that The Chain should have been the first song on Rumors. My father does not. No contest.

Rising with the track, the low morning clouds began to leak. A storm had followed us hot from the church-crack Sturgis lightning to the sweltering and sudden outpour of Chicago that soaked our socks and pruned our toes with warm, wet moisture as we hiked down Michigan Avenue. The first screams of the album welcomed in the rain and shook it like a sieve above us. 

John rose from his slouch in the half-reclined shotgun seat and stiffened upright with messy angular contractions, the opening notes of a recognizable bit. Everything is a bit. His hands scrambled for purchase, slapping the center console, the right-hand handle, the child-safety lock, the glove compartment. His eyes widened, his lips tightened, he whipped his head from left to right, methodical and out of synch with the frantic ministrations of his palms against plastic. We have known each other enough, and I have yet to determine if this is social exaggeration or if this is as genuine as his anything. The adolescent textures of Roger Waters had his full attention.

The volume of falling water increased as the last chords of Breathe faded out and the driving beat of On the Run faded in. At the two-minute swell of distortion, my mouth began to creep along the edges of my face, rising up at the corners but never breaking its concealment of my teeth. The gentle drizzle had aggregated into a perpendicular firehose. The excitement in our carpeted Corolla was palpable in expletives. The death-portent of the Synthi AKS made us feel dangerous. 

Around the third minute, we exited the thundercloud with the deep force bass of an airplane impact, suddenly crashing through the wall of rain and into the open sky. We were running now along the Kansas highway with the pattering fallout footfalls of the bomb behind us. With no hope of recovery from our synchronistic amazement, the cacophonous arrival of Time sealed us into a suggestible hallucinogenic state. It could only have been psychosomatic, but does that really matter? Just listen. 

Sound never really dies. It exists in the aether, all around us, and under specific circumstances, it finds itself tapped and summoned. The same could be said of decades of collective hallucination, or that thing about if you crack your spine, all the acid you’ve ever taken will bubble right back up again. Nick Mason was guiding us down like Virgil through the rings, surrounded by the laughing ghosts of long-dead psychonauts and burners, all the way through to the frozen circle, where David Gilmour’s wrinkled fist punched upwards from the depths and loomed until it burst before us like a mortar.

Of a giddy shock, John pealed. I could see the little black pockmarks of his face expanding and reddening like an acidic vision. Certainly it was only the heat and our skin opened up like beggars’ hands to the atmospheric moisture, but the fantasy was fun to indulge. We spend more time dreaming about drugs than actually doing them.

Serenaded by overlapping reverb, the highway skipped us up and down, like the steady pulses of a waveform generator, bobbing us along the amps through to the sixth minute, where each respective lambda lengthened and trough shallowed until we were deposited again on level road. The grey canvas of the sky melted behind us, and Clare Torry began to scream, welcoming the reborn sun and splitting the west before us. I could catch in John’s eyes the frightened awe of God presented in the form of endless corn. She kept us tense for perceptive hours, brandishing a vocal knife and not quite sheathing it until we touched down at the bottom of the greatest gig there ever was: four seconds of silence. 

Startled by the slamming registers of Money, snipping my nerves at their split ends enough for the hair to grow again, I was bumped back into the confines of my skull. I hadn’t noticed it until I pressed a finger into each eyelid that we were slick, sweating like pigs. We had finally hit the clarity threshold of the trip non-trip. If I had learned anything of the many kitchens I have fried in, there’s always a moment like this. We’d get back shortly to the shitshow, after our milk-crate smoke break. John dabbed his tee up to his blistering forehead and carded back loose hair. He was smiling with his teeth, grimacing, bopping his chin to the wicked baseline. This was the booth at the nightclub at the bottom of Judecca. John laughs. Fucking Gilmore, what a prick. 

I should say here that John isn’t the shitbag that I am. He’s a good guy. Honest. His parents built their lives to take him home from school. I was emancipated for tax purposes. There’s a particular kind of insufferable that comes of prolonged close contact, and his I could love as fondness. Likewise, he chose me on the expectation that I’d offer a measure of wisdom to his developing deadhead sensibilities. I am not nearly the chaos wizard he presumes me to be, but he doesn’t need to know that.

What he did need to know is what I’d said the day before, responding to his orgasm in the dining room of Joe’s Barbeque about two hundred and thirty-six miles behind the state line. I wish I enjoyed anything in life as much as he enjoyed everything. Good food, better music. Chair cushions, air conditioning. The honest happy relish of no exaggeration. Is it the depression or is it too many lysergic daydreams and ketamine bathrooms? Am I doomed to a Charonic fate, psychopomping all my friendships through amping crests that I will never know again myself? Fuck these contemplations of a lifetime addict: ultimately futile, all the same result. I shouldn’t care so much. We’re ordering our last shots at five minutes fifteen. We’ve got to prepare ourselves for this shit, because we’re getting back into the heat any minute now. Henry McCullough tells us he was drunk at the time. 

Our thoughts dissolved in the drone of the Hammond organ and were sucked by the circulating car fans. My skull vibrated in F minor by the time the saxophone appears ahead of us on the highway, notes rising out of the distant spots of steaming asphalt, like tiny pools of water, ever out of reach. We had fallen again into a perfect silence. I was nauseous and without fear. This was a late-stage familiarity so truthful to me that I almost forgot that this was only music and that was only Kansas. In God’s country, I marveled at the power of belief. 

John surrendered himself to faith. Never in his life had I seen him lose that fine and anxious edge of an arm so ramrod straight against his side that the armpit ceases to exist. He relaxed in that moment, shoulders flush and curved against the cushion of the seat, slipping down until he was playing footsie with the gum wrappers and beef jerky in the abyss. I was pleased to be ferrying this Styx, but something nagged me as I watched him melt. We coasted all the way through Any Colour You Like, soothed by solos. It was long past the peak and we’d be alright. 

I didn’t put it together then, but hindsight is a bitter mistress, making an education of me always, and I know now what it was. I hope John never does drugs. I fear I’ll lose him if I put him into the business, one way or another. I’d sooner bear the burden of guilty paternal control than the exponential guilt of squandering a young man’s potential. I was just out of it enough that I kept hearing Crazy Diamond on the track and expecting a rise, but it never came. That’s the wrong album, and there was only the brilliant mirage ahead. The nearest ocean was six thousand miles away and I couldn’t say I wasn’t nervous with the thought. 

John didn’t notice me grip the wheel as we rolled into minute one second sixteen, Brain Damage exploding in our ears like the bewilderment at the end of the 8 hour ride. He looked like he should be gripping the wheel instead. Chill out, man, we’re almost at the bottom. We can go to bed soon, I promise. This, I can impart without remorse. We’re the only lunatics for miles around. 

We were a little more prepared for minute two second thirty. John took the drum line in, gently slapping the console to the toms, and we dove in for a last little high as we entered Eclipse, rubbing our gums with what remained on the plate. He’d gained a little experience. By the end, you always feel professional.

The last word of the name is the last word of the album. It’s poetic, and we felt smart in our silly, momentary analysis of the thing. There’s just so much more to it, probably. The Hammond coasted to a smooth finish, an extended note, and, just like that, it was done. It was over. We were silent through the last heartbeats of the album, listening to our own, looking at the corn, the sea of the fucking thing. It looked so lovely, after the rain. The American dream of what heaven must be, the sprawling sun in the wide open, golden west. 

That was pretty good, wasn’t it?

We put on Rumors. There were still thousands of miles to no place like home. 

On the sacred recommendation of the head chef in my kitchen, my best friend John and I traversed the breadth of Kansas state to the hum of Pink Floyd over the radio. Being immigrants, we were unfamiliar folk to the corn-sodden great midwestern expanse. For the satisfaction of our coastal curiosities, there seemed no method more appropriate to rectify this modern problem than the all-American road-trip, though in part too carefully curated with the technological luxuries of the 21st century. We bought a paper atlas, but even the desolate Black Hills are wired. 

When we left the better half of Kansas City, my phone guided us to the long west. His was plugged umbilically into the aux. There was a sort of alchemic equivalency to this that seemed only fair and natural, like Newtonian physics, or well-established inheritance law. We needed direction, so we needed a soundtrack. My chef recommended the 1973 album, so we were obliged to abide. 

I’m sure you’ve heard of it already, but don’t stop me. Let me have this moment. There’s the old rumor of non-causality that if you begin The Dark Side of the Moon at the same moment as the beloved Judy Garland film classic of 1939, a synergistic effect will present itself. Tornadoes tamed by screaming and brain damage resolved with basslines. Witnessing this act of alignment is something I have never done, fully intend to do someday, and lie about constantly that I already have. It’s a hyperactively celebrated rite of passage for era-hopping tab-eaters, the point of no return down the long-melting reality screen. What a load, right? Alan Parsons would agree with me. People microdose now anyhow and over-analyze these things. It’s not lost on me that we’re in Kansas. You can imagine it, if you squint. 

That’s how it goes, yeah? You’ve listened to it once, at least. It always starts with a double-take. Speak to Me came in so quiet that we had to check the cable, pulling it out a couple times and blowing in the hole like bad porn or an old Sega cart. Don’t bullshit, we all do it. The only person on this Earth who never does is my chef, and I can assure you that’s only because he spends eight hours of each six days of work hitting dislike on the shop Pandora if it queues anything out of the Peter Gabriel—Neil Diamond musical range. This man is my spiritual father. Mine did alright, but I like this one’s taste in music better. He agrees that The Chain should have been the first song on Rumors. My father does not. No contest.

Rising with the track, the low morning clouds began to leak. A storm had followed us hot from the church-crack Sturgis lightning to the sweltering and sudden outpour of Chicago that soaked our socks and pruned our toes with warm, wet moisture as we hiked down Michigan Avenue. The first screams of the album welcomed in the rain and shook it like a sieve above us. 

John rose from his slouch in the half-reclined shotgun seat and stiffened upright with messy angular contractions, the opening notes of a recognizable bit. Everything is a bit. His hands scrambled for purchase, slapping the center console, the right-hand handle, the child-safety lock, the glove compartment. His eyes widened, his lips tightened, he whipped his head from left to right, methodical and out of synch with the frantic ministrations of his palms against plastic. We have known each other enough, and I have yet to determine if this is social exaggeration or if this is as genuine as his anything. The adolescent textures of Roger Waters had his full attention.

The volume of falling water increased as the last chords of Breathe faded out and the driving beat of On the Run faded in. At the two-minute swell of distortion, my mouth began to creep along the edges of my face, rising up at the corners but never breaking its concealment of my teeth. The gentle drizzle had aggregated into a perpendicular firehose. The excitement in our carpeted Corolla was palpable in expletives. The death-portent of the Synthi AKS made us feel dangerous. 

Around the third minute, we exited the thundercloud with the deep force bass of an airplane impact, suddenly crashing through the wall of rain and into the open sky. We were running now along the Kansas highway with the pattering fallout footfalls of the bomb behind us. With no hope of recovery from our synchronistic amazement, the cacophonous arrival of Time sealed us into a suggestible hallucinogenic state. It could only have been psychosomatic, but does that really matter? Just listen. 

Sound never really dies. It exists in the aether, all around us, and under specific circumstances, it finds itself tapped and summoned. The same could be said of decades of collective hallucination, or that thing about if you crack your spine, all the acid you’ve ever taken will bubble right back up again. Nick Mason was guiding us down like Virgil through the rings, surrounded by the laughing ghosts of long-dead psychonauts and burners, all the way through to the frozen circle, where David Gilmour’s wrinkled fist punched upwards from the depths and loomed until it burst before us like a mortar.

Of a giddy shock, John pealed. I could see the little black pockmarks of his face expanding and reddening like an acidic vision. Certainly it was only the heat and our skin opened up like beggars’ hands to the atmospheric moisture, but the fantasy was fun to indulge. We spend more time dreaming about drugs than actually doing them.

Serenaded by overlapping reverb, the highway skipped us up and down, like the steady pulses of a waveform generator, bobbing us along the amps through to the sixth minute, where each respective lambda lengthened and trough shallowed until we were deposited again on level road. The grey canvas of the sky melted behind us, and Clare Torry began to scream, welcoming the reborn sun and splitting the west before us. I could catch in John’s eyes the frightened awe of God presented in the form of endless corn. She kept us tense for perceptive hours, brandishing a vocal knife and not quite sheathing it until we touched down at the bottom of the greatest gig there ever was: four seconds of silence. 

Startled by the slamming registers of Money, snipping my nerves at their split ends enough for the hair to grow again, I was bumped back into the confines of my skull. I hadn’t noticed it until I pressed a finger into each eyelid that we were slick, sweating like pigs. We had finally hit the clarity threshold of the trip non-trip. If I had learned anything of the many kitchens I have fried in, there’s always a moment like this. We’d get back shortly to the shitshow, after our milk-crate smoke break. John dabbed his tee up to his blistering forehead and carded back loose hair. He was smiling with his teeth, grimacing, bopping his chin to the wicked baseline. This was the booth at the nightclub at the bottom of Judecca. John laughs. Fucking Gilmore, what a prick. 

I should say here that John isn’t the shitbag that I am. He’s a good guy. Honest. His parents built their lives to take him home from school. I was emancipated for tax purposes. There’s a particular kind of insufferable that comes of prolonged close contact, and his I could love as fondness. Likewise, he chose me on the expectation that I’d offer a measure of wisdom to his developing deadhead sensibilities. I am not nearly the chaos wizard he presumes me to be, but he doesn’t need to know that.

What he did need to know is what I’d said the day before, responding to his orgasm in the dining room of Joe’s Barbeque about two hundred and thirty-six miles behind the state line. I wish I enjoyed anything in life as much as he enjoyed everything. Good food, better music. Chair cushions, air conditioning. The honest happy relish of no exaggeration. Is it the depression or is it too many lysergic daydreams and ketamine bathrooms? Am I doomed to a Charonic fate, psychopomping all my friendships through amping crests that I will never know again myself? Fuck these contemplations of a lifetime addict: ultimately futile, all the same result. I shouldn’t care so much. We’re ordering our last shots at five minutes fifteen. We’ve got to prepare ourselves for this shit, because we’re getting back into the heat any minute now. Henry McCullough tells us he was drunk at the time. 

Our thoughts dissolved in the drone of the Hammond organ and were sucked by the circulating car fans. My skull vibrated in F minor by the time the saxophone appears ahead of us on the highway, notes rising out of the distant spots of steaming asphalt, like tiny pools of water, ever out of reach. We had fallen again into a perfect silence. I was nauseous and without fear. This was a late-stage familiarity so truthful to me that I almost forgot that this was only music and that was only Kansas. In God’s country, I marveled at the power of belief. 

John surrendered himself to faith. Never in his life had I seen him lose that fine and anxious edge of an arm so ramrod straight against his side that the armpit ceases to exist. He relaxed in that moment, shoulders flush and curved against the cushion of the seat, slipping down until he was playing footsie with the gum wrappers and beef jerky in the abyss. I was pleased to be ferrying this Styx, but something nagged me as I watched him melt. We coasted all the way through Any Colour You Like, soothed by solos. It was long past the peak and we’d be alright. 

I didn’t put it together then, but hindsight is a bitter mistress, making an education of me always, and I know now what it was. I hope John never does drugs. I fear I’ll lose him if I put him into the business, one way or another. I’d sooner bear the burden of guilty paternal control than the exponential guilt of squandering a young man’s potential. I was just out of it enough that I kept hearing Crazy Diamond on the track and expecting a rise, but it never came. That’s the wrong album, and there was only the brilliant mirage ahead. The nearest ocean was six thousand miles away and I couldn’t say I wasn’t nervous with the thought. 

John didn’t notice me grip the wheel as we rolled into minute one second sixteen, Brain Damage exploding in our ears like the bewilderment at the end of the 8 hour ride. He looked like he should be gripping the wheel instead. Chill out, man, we’re almost at the bottom. We can go to bed soon, I promise. This, I can impart without remorse. We’re the only lunatics for miles around. 

We were a little more prepared for minute two second thirty. John took the drum line in, gently slapping the console to the toms, and we dove in for a last little high as we entered Eclipse, rubbing our gums with what remained on the plate. He’d gained a little experience. By the end, you always feel professional.

The last word of the name is the last word of the album. It’s poetic, and we felt smart in our silly, momentary analysis of the thing. There’s just so much more to it, probably. The Hammond coasted to a smooth finish, an extended note, and, just like that, it was done. It was over. We were silent through the last heartbeats of the album, listening to our own, looking at the corn, the sea of the fucking thing. It looked so lovely, after the rain. The American dream of what heaven must be, the sprawling sun in the wide open, golden west. 

That was pretty good, wasn’t it?

We put on Rumors. There were still thousands of miles to no place like home. 


Adrian Belmes is a reasonably depressed Jewish-Ukrainian poet and book artist residing currently in San Diego. He is editor in chief of Badlung Press. You can find him at adrianbelmes.com or @adrian_belmes.  

2 Portraits by Donald Ryan

A Portrait of a Man Who Wanted to Be a Millionaire, Now Retired, Watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

The old man in apartment 254 settled into his recliner. It was 7:30 on a weeknight. The residents in the apartments beside, above, below knew this, without question, from the game show’s theme song penetrating the walls, the floor, the ceiling. This episode’s contestant was on his second night. Polka, and now with $300 dollars, on his way to a million. At commercial breaks the old man would mute the television. Closed captioning would scroll, and he’d watch for the stage to reappear, unmute the tv, in time for the bassline’s bombarding beat down throughout the second floor, parts of the first, parts of the third. The questions, like the banter, like the old man’s hearing, like the sounds seeping through the walls, the floor, the ceiling, were muffled, but the answers were always clear. Tombstone, $16,000, on his way to a million. The old man played along silently although he didn’t know many of the answers. However, this was alright by him because A) he felt he might be learning something in his ever growing fondness for game shows in these twilight years, B) he’d treated life like a game show with its chance for easy money based on skill, odds, and luck, C) this contestant’s name reminded him of that horror film the time he and Frankie laid low in that theater after a job well done on his own way to a million, or D) all of the above. D, final answer. That is correct. We’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. (An interlude quieted apartment 254, the second floor, the apartments below, the apartments above. The old man watched a woman mop behind the captions he couldn’t see to read. He had no children. Nor anyone for that matter. But it was the life he chose. Or did this life choose him? He’d known a few women in his prime, even if they didn’t know him, not truly, not by name. His lies and life bridged by f—) He, the second floor, the apartments below, the ones above, heard the return of the bass heavy melody, of muffled banter, a question, I.M. Pei, $500,000, one question away from a million. But only the old man heard his heart invigorate in excitement. Waves of dramatic tension washed over the complex like the lights on the stage. The final question read. The contestant, who needed no help, phoned a friend, called his father. No one had ever won the million, but he was about to be a millionaire. The old man shared this feeling, himself winning many years ago. A guard and a vault his host to the prize. And even though he hadn’t played since, a SWAT team battered down the door. He, his neighbors, beside, above, below, heard the crash of the television off its stand. The game was over, the jig up. A phone call now his only lifeline. He never heard the final answer. 

A Portrait of Don With His Best Friend In a Dimly Lit Dive Bar 258 Miles From Home 

They were halfway on their trip towards blacked-out memories in New Orleans, crashing where they landed for the night in nowhere. The bar a few blocks down, Foxes & Hounds, shared its name with a strip club back home. The one traveler, black, had tattoos from his chin to his knuckles. The other, white, had shot glass sized holes in each ear. They both wore plaid shirts. Back home in the city, they blended in nothing special. But halfway from home, only their attire didn’t stick out amongst the peanut casings on the floor and the equal amount of burnt out bulbs as cowboy hats (4) on the heads of these don’t fuck with us blue collars in a state of rednecks. The air smelled like heartland, musk and sweat, salty with spit and dip and shells. A woman in what else but her finest rhinestone blouse and frilly boots, hair teased closer to God, sang Loretta Lynn in the open space that was the karaoke stage. They sat at the bar, ordered beers, avoided the peanuts. The karaoke DJ thanked our Mrs. Lynn for her rendition of “Don’t Come Home A Drinking.” Darn tootin’. Claps passed around the bar like an offering at church. The guy with tattoos said he was going to vomit the lizard. The guy with holes in his ears didn’t see him sign up for a song on his return from the bathroom. A beer and a half plus whiskies, for the taste of ambiance, later, they were no longer avoiding the peanuts, when “Welcome to the stage…” showtime. Darn tootin’. The old timey twang on repeat since they’d entered was replaced with shredded guitars blurred to distortion. The guy with tattoos screamed into the microphone the inaudible words that bounced across the screen as if it was this trip’s sole mission to fuck up these speakers. The guy with holes in his ears felt the air shift heavy, could see hate churn like the cigarette smoke around the bar, could smell that lard fried scent of them getting their asses kicked. So fuck yeah he wanted in. He rushed the stage, didn’t follow the words, didn’t matter, belted alongside his bash bro like a true fucking D2 Mighty Duck. The honky-tonkers boot scootin’ boogied their way to the make-shift stage, fists raised like pitchforks, their voices joining the vocal chaos, as in tune as red, white, and blue bald eagles eating apple pie. The charge was led by a God bless America Loretta Lynn, horns up, in all her rhinestone glory. 


Twitter: @dryanswords

“Gord’s still right pissed” by Sheldon Birnie

Motherfucker tossed a 10-pin bowling ball through neighbour Gord’s windshield by mistake there. August long weekend. I mean, motherfucker had every intention of tossing it through the windshield. Only Gord’s Aerostar wasn’t the intended target. Oh ya, motherfucker’d been drinking. Everybody was. Long weekend and all. No excuse. But what ya gonna do? Motherfucker figured buddy was stepping out with his ex. Probably was. But she’s free to do what she wants, right? 2020, baby. Live laugh love eh? So, buddy says something and motherfucker goes off. Fuckin right off, bud. Someone kept ‘em from fighting there out front of the Inn. Sent motherfucker packing one way, buddy stumbling back into the bar—thank Christ—or who knows what woulda happened. Remember last time? Anyways, motherfucker fucks off. Only, he’s back an hour later with the bowling ball. Dunno where he got it. No idea. Don’t wanna know. Gord, he was sleeping, passed out hard, at the time. Shitty news to wake up to. No fuckin doubt. He’s insured, though. Sure. But there’s your deductible right fucked. Nevermind explaining to insurance why motherfucker put a 10-pin bowling ball through the windshield and all. Gord’s still right pissed about it. Oh ya. Big time.


Sheldon Birnie is a writer, beer league hockey player, and father of two young children who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada whose writing has appeared recently in BULL, Rejection Letters, Cowboy Jamboree, Riot Act, among others. Find him online @badguybirnie

“Chasing the Dime” NF by Chris Milam

I made it through. That’s the point of this story. Anything is possible. Perseverance and endurance are requirements. So is meeting a kind person. A helpful organization. Let me stop here and hit the rewind button.

January 2012

I’m fucking cold. Not it’s sort of chilly out. Not brrr or damn I need an extra layer. No, I’m talking bone cold. Your veins aren’t navigating the blood correctly. Your mind is a fucking ice block. Details: I’m in a parking garage. This is my current home. It’s connected to the courthouse. The temperature is in the teens. It’s early January in Ohio which means I’m freezing. I’m in the glass-encased stairwell, where it might be a couple of degrees higher than outside at best. I’m trying to sleep on concrete. I have no blanket, just a black peacoat which I received from a local church. Sleep is hard when you can’t get warm. And when you feel worthless. And alone. And scared. And suicidal because that’s always an option. It has to be when you have nothing, you are nothing. I fantasize about jumping off the top of the garage. Splat. Goodbye. My story over. Fade to black. But I didn’t actually jump or I wouldn’t be writing this. Let’s go a bit further back.

2009 – 2011

I’m a degenerate gambler. I love to bet the horses. And by love I mean the unconditional kind. Love gambling more than my children or why else would I spend every nickel to my name on a bet? Christmas gifts? Fuck that noise. Birthdays? A card with no cash. Everything else? I’m just a ghost at the track. A depressed ghost. A sick in the head ghost. A selfish piece of shit ghost. I am everything besides a good dad. I chase the dime instead of spending time with my tiny girl or older son. I care about nothing but exactas and trifectas and superfectas and longshots who are longshots for a reason. It’s a compulsion. I can’t stop nor do I truly want to. I sell my food stamp card to gamble. I con my mom out of money to gamble. I steal metal from factory dumpsters and sell it to a scrap yard for money to gamble. Like I said, chasing the dime, except the dime is an elusive rabbit and I’m an inefficient hunter. I’m awful at gambling because I honestly think I’m more intelligent than speed figures and breeding and past performances. I’ll chase that dime, that high until I land in a parking garage.

January 2012

I’m halfway asleep when I hear a car approaching. Headlights flash over my frozen body. Cops. Dammit. I get up and walk to the car. Two officers, but only one speaks. He’s young. He asked me what I was doing here and whatnot. I mumbled my usual bullshit answer and he eventually said something about we didn’t see you here. His way of saying go back to sleep, you’re not in trouble. I was relieved.

Roughly two hours later and another car approaching. I’m bathed in headlights again. Dammit. I get up and walk to the car. A familiar face, the young cop has returned in his personal vehicle. He has stuff for me. McDonald’s. A quarter pounder and fries. A gift certificate. Gloves and toboggan. A puzzle book and pen. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug him. He told me about a place where I could get help, Transitional Living. He knew the woman who ran it, gave me her card and told me to call her tomorrow. He also said he was going to call her. This place helped the homeless and mentally ill. He knew I was in trouble and he went out of his way to intervene. An absolute saint. He pulled away and I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. I kept thinking about the kind and caring police officer. A good man. A good human. The opposite of me. I also thought about Transitional Living. Hope on a business card. I would eventually get in touch with them and start the long process of getting better. Years of therapy. A case manager who worked her ass off to transform me. Medication for depression. A new chapter began. A new me was born. I became a real dad again.

I made it through to the other side because of a young cop. Because of Transitional Living. Because I was resilient and wanted to change. I embraced it. This story ends with me in my own home, warm and cozy, writing about the past. And hope. Because hope is real. Clutch  it like it’s a newborn and never let go. Hope saved me many moons ago. It can save you, too. You must believe in something you can’t see or touch but is always there.

Chris Milam lives in Middletown, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y, Lost Balloon, JMWW, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere, You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.Attachments area

3 Poems by Joshua Sherman

Swimming With Dog Sharks

There is an Asian man on the subway
He likes swimming with dog sharks
I know this because I just overheard him
He said this to his friend:

“I like swimming with dog sharks,” he said
“It’s nice,” he said

I have never been swimming with dog sharks
It is a regret I didn’t realize I had
I don’t even know what a dog shark looks like
I picture a German shepherd underwater
It is gliding towards me
with fangs exposed
The dog shark has tiny fins
and they are wagging frantically
like so many tails

I should have asked the Asian man
what dog sharks look like
if only so I could picture them better
and relay the details to you

If I was ever in the water with you and saw one
I could say, “Look, there’s a dog shark”
My knowledge of dog sharks would totally impress
(I hope nobody asks any follow-up questions about dog sharks)

I guess I’ll just search “dog sharks” on the Internet
but it’s not the same

I often eavesdrop—it’s something I can’t help
but I’d never overheard anyone
talking about dog sharks before
So I really should have asked that Asian man on the subway

I should have asked him about dog sharks
I think I would have learned something

Michael Crichton

I want to write the Jurassic Park
of Great American Novels
But I’m worried that might actually just be
Jurassic Park

Library 

I call the help lines on subway ads

Look for answers in phone books

I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of failure,

and I’m a glossary of defeat

What’s a synonym for all of this?

My life seems beyond definition

—only because nobody has come up 

with terminology so bizarre,

vernacular so flawed

I read Web MD entries to satisfy my neurosis

There are sick plot twists in books 

about the Bermuda Triangle

that I read as a kid


Josh Sherman does run the @iamdave_hello Twitter account.

3 Poems by Stephen Ground

Long Afternoon

light blowing through
slatted bamboo | across
faded carpet spotted with
reds | mustards | strands
of pale pup fluff and
shreds of shattered
leaves | washing tides
rolling and ebbing like
the years of
psychedelic trees
inconsistent in design
and direction
independent of the moon

Leftover Beer

the
last
warm sip
the next
morning
is even
sweeter
than
golden
nectar of
dreamed
up gods
luring me
again
inside a
predestined
quicksand
Wednesday
by hungry
overlapped
voids
unwilling to
be shuttered
unfed

Don’t Forget Breakfast

my nostrils flare & flap like dry
gills suckling air unsettled with
churning richness of butter-
drenched popped corn sagging,
stubborn, in its own congealment –
salty, lip-puckering & liquified
sunshine crème. or maybe it’s
the peeled & boiled eggs I left in
a foggy bowl next to the sulfur-
dank sink, steam twisting, oblique,
for the hills. I squeeze them
between finger and thumb like
plump cysts to be certain they’re
ready and, pleased enough, I
lock them away, droplets dangling,
tucked roughly on a too-tight
shelf that squeezes them like
shackles on a beauty awaiting an
unavoidable fate as the next scheduled
snack for a giant, drooling ape.


Stephen Ground recently packed his life in his truck and drove to the centre of the continent, where he makes movies and writes poems about the weirdness in the air.

“Stranger Therapy” NF by Abigail Swire

A few flakes still swirled down, danced on the nasty gusts of bitter wind that always flush city streets in winter. The parking garage across the street was dark, and most of the restaurants and bars had closed early because it was a weeknight, and cold.

I was catching a breath of air outside the Hyatt House in the Mosaic District of Fairfax outside Washington, DC. Probably I was trying to decide if I should walk a block or two to see if anything was still open, if it was worth it to brave the cold to eat alone, or go back up to my room and take the salad I bought at the fancy Super Target across the street, the one with the escalator, out of the mini fridge and finishing watching Beauty and the Beast.

Among the few stragglers on the street, there was a man smoking a cigarette outside the Hyatt who glanced at me once, twice, and made his way over.

Oh, here we go.

“Cold enough for you?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“From out of town? Here on business?”

“Yes.”

“Me, too. My name’s (insert name). I do sales. Travel a lot.”

Maybe his name was Larry. He looked like a Larry. I never remember names on the first or second go-round. Actually, I think he had a more surprising name, something hip or young, like Mike or Liam. He was a couple inches shorter than me, round beneath his expensive suit, probably 15 to 20 years older, bald with some graying hair around the edges.

“Yah. I travel all over. Been to Chicago, Grand Rapids, Dallas-Ft.Worth, and that’s just last month.”

“That’s fun.”

I waited to hear where this was going. It could be anything. It wasn’t that I automatically thought he was going to hit on me, although it was one possibility.

“Am I holding you up? Were you waiting on someone?” he asked, looking around like my phantom lover was about to appear. I looked, too.

“No. Just getting some air.”

He lit another cigarette, got a sad look in his eyes, kind of glanced across the street at the empty stores and sidewalks.

“So, yeah,” he said. “You travel all the time, kind of miss out on a lot. Aren’t always there for the family, wife and kids, you know?”

I thought of my own son at home, fending for himself for the first time, cooking ramen. 

“Yeah.”

“My wife has to put up with a lot on her own, you know? See, my daughter, she’s had some problems…”

Ok. Stop. If I’m alone in this, it’s a curse.

 In this case, it’s the fact that we are two travelers meeting in a strange city, alone. It’s the anonymity. He is never going to see me again. If I judge him for what he is about to say, it doesn’t matter much. I make a good stranger.

It’s part of the reason I avoid people. It’s also what will make me great at what I have come here to be trained to do. People ache to tell their stories. If you give them the chance, you don’t have to yank confessions like teeth. They just fall right out.

My card is The Fool. I’m just a weary wanderer stumbling through life, occasionally falling off cliffs. Somehow I come off like The High Priestess. I pick up my tramp sack and sling it over my shoulder, and it gets heavier all the time. I can’t set it down. It would leak secrets and those secrets are acid. They would eat a hole in the pavement right through the core of the earth. Maybe if someone could feel how heavy this pack is, they might carry it for a while.

There was a man who bought me a drink in a bar I used to frequent. I must’ve been about 19. He was quite a few under the table already. When I said I wouldn’t go out with him, he told me he just murdered his wife and buried her up off GA-400. His story turned out to be true. People tell me everything — people who’ve had things happen that never should have, people who have done things that you don’t ever want to know people actually do. People. The dark undercurrents of humanity flow like a cesspool into the steaming sewer called reality, while the citizens above walk the paradisiacal paved streets dressed in Armani and Louis Vuitton.

Every once in a while someone says or does something that shakes me to the core, something beautiful, innocent, surprising. Once in a blue moon. I never wanted to be this jaded. Every time a new dark secret gets added to my bag, I feel like I’ve been robbed of something else.

So the wind still bites and I’m sure Beauty has run to save her Beast from the villagers’ torches by now, and it’s kind of disappointing that he is actually a handsome prince when she was just getting used to the Beast.

The man standing beside me, Mike or Liam or Larry, blinks back tears because of his daughter’s battle with anorexia. If I were a better person, a more honest person, I would probably say exactly what I’m thinking which is maybe he should send her out to the bush because anorexia is a culture-induced entitled white girl problem and if she had to go survive on her own without attention or comfort or food for a few weeks she would be eating grub-worms quick enough and quit breaking her father’s heart. But, instead, I feel sorry that he is sorry, so I don’t say anything.

“You’re shivering,” he says. “Better get inside where it’s warm.”

I slip under the stainless white comforter in my suite and prepare to fall into a dreamless coma, wonder if there is anyone on earth who I could trust enough to tell my stories to.


Abigail Swire is just a wandering stranger, and only dangerous sometimes.

NF Prose by Josh Olsen

Spontaneous

My partner recently told me that she can tell I was mostly raised by my grandparents. She called me the oldest young person she knows. Or was it the youngest old person? Either way, her point was made. And I can’t deny it, as much as I’d like to try. I do appreciate a quiet night at home, devoid of surprise run-in or unscheduled interruption. Even when I make plans, well in advance, no matter how much I’m looking forward to it, whether it’s a concert, a baseball game, a poetry reading, or a live pro wrestling event, when the day of the show comes, I’d rather stay at home, and even after I’ve convinced myself to go, no matter how much I enjoy it in the moment, I’m happiest when it’s over. Katie told me that I lack spontaneity, and my response was that I experienced enough spontaneity in my childhood to last me the rest of my life. Katie rightfully groaned and rolled her eyes, her response whenever she felt I was playing the victim, and I said, “I lived in 20 different houses before I was sixteen!” My mom and my stepdad were spontaneous, spontaneous with their jobs and their bills and their fidelity and rent, and as a result of their spontaneity, we would spontaneously move to two or three different apartments in one year. During the first grade, I attended three different elementary schools (one of them twice that year), a fact that still makes my mother cry when I bring it up. All three schools were within the same school district, in Holmen, Wisconsin, a village with fewer than 10,000 people, but for a first grader in the mid-1980s, they might as well have been on different continents. For one of the schools, I was only enrolled a couple weeks, while I temporarily lived with my maternal grandparents (hardly the first or last time). I barely remember anything about it, except for pissing my pants one day because I was too shy to raise my hand and ask for permission to be excused for the boy’s room, but it turns out that my brief presence evolved into a bit of an urban legend for my classmates. One evening, in my early 20s, I was approached by a group of drunk college students (granted, I was also then a drunk college student) and asked if my name was “Josh Sather.” And, well, the answer was yes. “Sather” was my legal last name before I was adopted by my stepdad, when I was in the second grade, but for these strangers to know me by that name, it meant they would’ve had to know me before then. So, yeah, I am Josh Sather, I confessed, and my answer was met with an explosion of laughter and profanity. “Holy shit, where the fuck did you go?” one of them asked. “What the fuck happened to you?” another slurred. “I told you he existed!” said another. As it turns out, this gathering of intoxicated individuals had all gone to school together, from kindergarten through their senior year of high school, and my two weeks in their classroom, in first grade, was like a blip in their collective memory, like a shared delusion. The weird, quiet, ambiguously ethnic apparition who showed up, unannounced, in the middle of the school year, and then vanished without a trace, just a couple weeks later. Did that even happen? they’d joke amongst themselves, Was he even real? And finally, it was confirmed, like the existence of Bigfoot. Josh Sather lived. “And that,” I proclaimed, “was the result of spontaneity.” Katie just looked at me and yawned, and then so did I.

At the Drive-In

I told my mom that Katie and I were at the drive-in, and she had plenty of romantic advice to give. “Buy her some popcorn, put your arm around her shoulder, hold her hand, and kiss her on the cheek,” she told me, as though this was our first date, and Katie and I hadn’t been together for over 18 years, and raised two kids and a dog. I read my mom’s text to Katie, and she sarcastically gave me the finger.

“Do you remember when you took me to American Werewolf in London?” I asked my mom, and she immediately began to apologize. When I was about 2 ½ years old, my mom took me to the drive-in theatre, with her then boyfriend/friend who was a boy, to see John Landis’ American Werewolf in London. I was obviously too scared to watch the whole movie, and almost immediately began to cry at the sight of Rick Baker’s groundbreaking, Academy Award winning horror effects, but it was one of the most formative memories of my childhood, and likely why I’m such a horror fanatic to this day. “Your grandparents weren’t always so perfect,” my mom said, attempting to change the subject. “They took me to the drive-in to see The Graduate when I was 7 years-old,” she said. She said watching the love scenes in the car with her parents was one of the most embarrassing experiences of her life, and she still hates Dustin Hoffman for that very reason. “That’s great,” I said, “you should ask grandma about that,” and once again the texts began to pour in. “You can never do that!” she said. “Grandma would be so mad. She would deny it. Don’t ask her about it. Promise me you won’t ask!” she begged via voice-to-text, and I promised her I wouldn’t ask.

“What a shame,” I said to Katie, “to be almost 60 years-old and still not feel comfortable talking to your only living parent like an adult … Remember when Jackson puked at the drive-in?” I suddenly recalled. Our son was barely one year old, and we had taken him and his then 6-year-old sister to the drive-in theatre, to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Katie had just finished feeding Jackson a bottle, he had just recently stopped nursing, and when she sat him up on her lap, to be burped, his entire stomach full of breast milk emptied onto the dashboard. Perhaps needless to say, we didn’t stick around to watch Johnny Depp’s performance as Willy Wonka, with Katie and Jackson soaked in hot, curdled breast milk, and his sister, Gabriella, throwing a crying fit over having to leave the movie early.

Well, on the night of July 3rd, Katie and I didn’t have any kids with us at the drive-in. It was just her and me, our first movie together, alone, in god knows how long. It didn’t even really matter what movie was playing, it was just good to be out of the house. “In the car, but out the house,” Katie posted on Facebook. All around us, even while the movie played, thunderous fireworks lit up the horizon. “Next time we’ll bring booze,” we promised each other, and sighed in relief when the credits rolled and it came time to crank the air conditioner.


Josh Olsen is a librarian in Flint, Michigan and the co-creator of Gimmick Press.

2 Liver Mush Poems by Graham Irvin

I WANT A LIVER MUSH WEBSITE 

i want a liver mush website 

www dot liver mush dot com 

i don’t need to build it myself 

anyone can build www dot liver mush dot com

i just want to read liver mush dot com every morning 

after i read pitchfork and a blog about jeans

i want liver mush dot com to replace twitter dot com

the headlines will read “liver mush dot com is the most popular website ever”

“liver mush dot com in works to purchase facebook dot com” 

liver mush dot com tastes like selling your soul to make a friend and i’m here

for it 

once liver mush dot com exists there will be subcultures on liver mush dot com

ingroups and elites and innovators making liver mush dot com their own

weird liver mush 

alt lit liver mush 

podcasts hosted by liver mush personalities

a new yorker article getting it embarrassingly wrong 

quote liver mushes on liver mush 

re liver mushes 

sub liver mushes 

“the creator of liver mush dot come deserves the guillotine”

everything runs its course

“the creator of liver mush dot com is hiding at a mountain retreat meditating 

on the vaguest bullshit you can imagine”

the creator of liver mush dot com abandons all thought of liver mush 

we have to deal with it now

good luck 

CHRIST’S BODY BROKEN FOR YOU

a slice of liver mush crumbles

under the spatula’s pressure

as i try and flip it


Graham Irvin lives in Philadelphia, PA. His column, SOUTH x SOUTH JERSEY, is at BULL: Men’s Fiction. He has other writing at The Nervous Breakdown, Maudlin Press, and the Neutral Spaces Blog. His twitter account is @grahamjirvin.

“The Unraveling” by Maggie Petrella

The unraveling began when the barstools I bought on craigslist were too short for the counter. I laughed at the thread rustling out of the side of me. That was a sign, but I didn’t know. I just tucked the string back into the seam and the stools under the ledge, and went about my day.

The loose thread rippled my fabric gently, quietly. I felt the cloth twisting in my ribs as I held my breath in the middle of the night, wide eyes staring into blackness, trying not to move. The whiskey tugged at the strand mildly at first, but pulled harder and harder every night. In time, molten liquor burnt reckless holes in the swatches.

I wove apologetic patches. “Sorry” makes everyone feel better, even if it wasn’t my fault. I would hem delicate sheer shrouds with heavy yarn, thick and sweet. I could tell that something was off, but it held me together for a time.

The last stitch unwound itself on the day I moved out. My new apartment is an unwrinkled bolt of whatever I want it to be – wool, lace, twill, joy. I hang silence like bunting on the walls, to brighten up the place. I took the barstools with me.


Maggie Petrella (she/her) is a poet based in Buffalo, New York, but currently probably lost somewhere in the continental US. Her poetry has appeared in Detritus Online, dreams walking, and The Daily Drunk Mag. She tweets @maggie_425.

2 Poems by Kim Kishbaugh

I like my life but it’s unexpected
After Erich’s tweet

college degree, $100,000 in debt, slinging coffeehouse lattes at privileged mommies and daddies whose kids want cake pops and won’t be quiet till they get them

scan the job ads looking for a way to put four years of rhetoric and econ and history classes to use but there’s 1400 other college grads and laid-off middle managers competing for every one 

I want to do good in the world, make change, care for my parents when they grow old – but right now that looks more like someone else’s future or maybe no one’s

look around it’s the same for everyone, nothing special about me, a whole generation getting skilled at punching cash registers and clearing drinks from tables, thank you ma’am just happy for the work

my best buds have had bad jobs, no jobs, gone back to school hoping it’ll be different the second time around, most of us still living with our parents, sleeping in the same beds we had before puberty

friday nights I’m cleaning locker rooms at the high school picking up the left-behind jock strap of some kid whose future I can predict cuz I’m living it now

don’t get me wrong – I like my life 
but it’s unexpected

RIP Munchkin

Spoon-feed a sick hamster
from a jar of baby food
and you, too, will form a bond

Days later, when she dies on the table
during surgery you never imagined paying for,
you, too, will cry

Then you’ll stifle your sobs and sniffles,
collect your child from school,
and prepare to break the news

Later, you’ll gather your family around the dining table
still mourning, and draw together, 
pictures of hamster memories

One will become the memorial card
your child hands to friends
to harness his grief and theirs


Kim Kishbaugh is a former journalist whose poetry and other stuff has been published in some places, including here on the Back Patio. She wanders through the world looking for magic and sometimes finds it. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @kkish.

“The Congress of Wonders” by Mike Lee

That morning, her birthday, Nina went to pull the curtains back and open the window to the backyard.

Her heart throbbed as she crossed the fake wood in the house she just bought, stepping barefoot across the living room. The floor was cold

She had a secret place in her heart where the rain cannot enter: a chamber to place every emotion from happy moments to the tightly wound up heartbreaks locked away for her to sometimes massage.

As she went about her business, from brushing her teeth in the morning to those occasional rough nights clutching her stuffed koala bear, well-loved since babyhood, at night, Nina felt every trace memory deep inside, stashed away in that place.

On most days, now counting into five digits Nina filed something away. Some weighed lightly, others not so.

She does not remember when she began putting these things away. Maybe six or nine years old, perhaps five or three, but whenever it began, something was put away. 

Today was her birthday. Lucky her, she thought. She glanced at the framed poster from a rock show in San Francisco the year she was born.

It was called The Congress of Wonders. At the performance, Kenneth Anger showed films. When Nina was older she loved Puce Moment, wanting many colorful clothes like the actress, and many big dogs to walk down the stairs from her magical bungalow in the Hollywood Hills.

Her parents met there, or so the story goes. She has no photos of them on the walls. They are in two boxes, one on a shelf in the hall closet.

The remaining images rest deep inside that box.

She began to part the curtains, saw the bluebonnets were in bloom. They got lively early. The winter fled early this year. The yard needed work, especially the fence. The weathered planks were coming undone and falling away. Looked bad. Tawdry. Didn’t want the neighbors to talk behind her back any more than they already did.

Nina did not like her neighbors. They were from another time, triggering bad memories of her parents. Violent at worst, passive-aggressive and neglectful at best, Nina felt unburdening relief when first, then the other, died.

They crafted the box in her heart. Parents do that, you see, she would tell therapists over the years, sitting on comfortable couches, or lying down staring at chartreuse ceilings. Going over every slight, at every level of painfulness, always tying to breakthrough, hoping to break open that box deep inside and dump everything out.

Just never quite got there.

She sometimes called herself the saint of the abyss. Her standing at the edge, visualizing suicide but never quite got near the point of actually doing the act, instead occasionally musing on the concept. One psychoanalyst finally convinced her otherwise that it was an act of murder only to hurt others. Nina took it as a reminder that she didn’t want to hurt her parents—only make them admit fault.

At the time she came to that conclusion, it was too late for them to see. They had died long ago. There was no point, so Nina resolved to plow through, while continuing to add near-daily memories to the box.

The dead didn’t give a shit, so neither did she.

She moved to the sliding glass door. The magnolias were blooming early, too.

As she bent to pull the pole that locked the door she felt the box. It felt burdensome more than usual this morning, rustling restlessly. She felt heaviness in her chest, and she caught her breath. This happened sometimes, presaging a panic attack.

She struggled to slide the door, reared forward and coughed. It was one deep heave, and what came out felt like fire.

When came to, she was on the ground, surrounded by bluebonnets. The wind had picked up, and she saw her hammock swinging in the breeze.

She felt light, and immobile. Nina moved her fingers to her face, sliding them down across her cheek. Finally, she moved on her side, caressing the bluebonnets with fingertips. She was taught never to pick them. Too unique, and they don’t last very long in bloom.

A square, hand-carved cedar box was beside her. Small, and very old; Nina recalled it was on a nightstand in the house they lived on St. Elmo. All she could recall from then was the curved stucco entries.

But the box–that she remembered well on her parents nightstand.

Isis winged. Freed.

Later, after placing the box with the photo albums and loose papers, placing them back on the closet shelf, Nina took a shower. She dressed, grabbed her journal and drove to the coffee shop to write.

Her friends planned a karaoke party for her later. She looked forward to it. Put on a puce dress she hadn’t worn in a while for the occasion.


Mike Lee is an editor, photographer and a reporter for a trade union newspaper in New York City. His fiction is published in Back Patio Press, Trampset, Lunate, Ghost Parachute and others. Website: www.mleephotoart.com. He also blogs for Focus on the Story.

2 Poems by Based Mtn

Blade Runner 2069
Our sleek, candy and blue lit, forged-cast titanium pizzas are mind meltingly mouthable and come with your choice of sides, like fried spanners, everything the wired doll needs. Necromancy in case of malfunction is not advised.


Aqua Vitae
Emotionally numb, I walk, down, down, down, into the ocean. The vampire squid are in bloom. I can’t extract soluble oxygen. Don’t wait up for me. 


based mtn is a poet manque from Sydney, Australia

“Do Aliens Paint Their U.F.O.’s?” by Logan Roberts

When I was in high school, my friends and I were vandals.
We talked about burning down a house, 
spray painted penises on dumpsters,
and on more than one occasion,
a crowbar would scream into a mailbox.

One time, we filled a milk jug with old paint
we found in the basement.

We put it out in the middle of a busy road
really early in the morning.

We hid in the bushes for like,
20 minutes.

Just as we were losing hope, something happened.

It was straight out of a science fiction film—

a tractor beam started dragging the jug into the sky
towards some hazy blue lights hidden in the clouds.

I still wonder today, why?

Why do aliens need paint?

I thought they liked butts and corn.


Logan Roberts is an artist and poet from Ohio. He tweets @hello_im_logan.

“1984” by Jason Love

In 1984 we watched music videos of 
Van Halen on MTV.  
1984 was the year of  
Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Farrah Fawcett,  
and Andre the Giant.  

Eddie Van Halen died today.  
Like the King of Pop, Reagan, Farrah, and Andre,  
Eddie no longer walks the earth.  
He was 65 years old  
and a rock & roll giant.  

1984 was only 36 years ago   
(which is essentially a lifetime).  


Jason Love still lives in New Jersey. 

“Permanent Punctuation” by Tex Gresham and KKUURRTT

Shovelling handfuls of sand into my mouth like it’s going out of style. It ain’t headed anywhere, but I’m straight up starving. Somehow this is upsetting my stomach worse. Chugging ginger ale to ease the pain of living, laughing, and loving, and yet it’s all supposed to be good in the hood. So why can’t I stop? Shirt bursting at the seam, buttons hand-sewn in Hawaii popping off like a party at Mike DiRenzio’s house. Talk about an hourglass figure. You’ve got to be kidding me.

The man steps off the beach for the last time. He can’t help but think of his life as a sequence of moments in a plot, the string connecting those moments nearing its end. The handgun shifts.

It’s ironic. The idea of driving a hundred and fifteen miles just to sit on a patch of grass (except minus the grass (and the dirt) and replace them both with miles of miles of sand even though we’ll never really know how deep sand even goes, digging through without it just falling back in on itself is one of life’s great impossiblities) to look at the ocean and say ‘good job’ before getting shot in the head pow pow two bullets to the back hitman style (you gotta check out this movie Boondock Saints it’s sick as fuck, bro). I’m falling, sand filling the whole above, limbs flailing, this shit taking a full on eternity. I think I get it now.

The man doesn’t think of himself as a man, but rather a space that occupies spaces. Something in between, something that stops––a force other than self. Maybe he isn’t a man. Maybe he’s a woman. Or maybe he’s neither, a being without center. Imagine being so determined by one event that your identity becomes the event and all you are is the thing and not the person outside the thing. Thirteen in the magazine. Imagine only categorizing your life by an event. One in the chamber.

The obituary read something like this: 

Don Williams was born and raised in Middleboro, WA. It’s not known by this reporter if he enjoyed getting shot in the head or not, but we are forced to assume that he did not. Was it his dying wish, or perhaps, more complicated than that, something he never even considered? There are limited resources at our disposal without a social media account with which to determine a lifetime lived. Shortcomings must bid adieu in the case of the senseless beach death. He might be missed. He might not. Our sincerest apologies; this is not our finest hour.

The man––or the shape in the shape of something coming––looks at the address in their hand. Written on the back of a napkin for a nearby gas station that serves fish tacos in the back room. An address passed to the shape like a bad idea you can’t shake. A secret never to be intervened against. The shape looks at the houses on the street, titled shacks with addresses hidden behind tropical overgrowth, the chaotic music of a flock of green parrots hidden in the palms towering above the healthily cracked street. Cars half-rusted by salt heavy air. Then the shape sees it, a little yellow one-room, front door open to let in the breeze. Sounds of splashing from the backyard. This is the moment the shape takes the handgun from the waistband of pizza-print swim trunks.

Literally. That’s the word I’ve been thinking of. Couldn’t remember it for the life of me. Literally the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Such a simple word, how could I forget it? Something’s wrong with my brain, losing bits and pieces through a hole in the back. How am I supposed to remember the details when I’ve never even known–fuck–forget the thread again. That fear of not remembering your locker combination but it’s my home address and all I’m able to do is wander these streets for nigh on a hundred years. Only dogs can see me now.  

The shape follows the narrative string to the inevitable, unable to step away or remove themselves even if they wanted to––forced into this by an unseen hand typing each next step. Typing, the sound pulling the shape toward the backyard. Old typing. Not the modern weak click of laptop keys, but the heavy mechanical thud of vintage history. Smith Corona or Royal. Ink to paper through violent punctuations. Permanent. And the splashing, shallow and playful. And the laughter––or giggling, someone who’s just tricked the warden into an all-you-can-eat last meal. The handgun’s a Glock G23 Gen 4 with a shortened trigger distance, Trijicon red-dot sight, trigger pull of less than 5lbs, extended suppressor, Longhorn slide pull charging handle, and a magazine loaded with jacketed hollowpoints. A dog barks somewhere close. A child laughs somewhere far. 

The shape looks over the fence and sees him––the writer. Sitting in a kiddie pool, naked, portable Smith Corona typewriter in his lap. He types a set of phrases, says “Literally” and giggles to himself again. The shape points the handgun at the writer, a forensic string connecting the end of the suppressor to the back of the writer’s head, evidence to later map the bullet’s trajectory, an effort to find a killer who’s already a ghost. Five pounds of pressure against the trigger. The shape takes the inevitable shape. All this is is sound and silence.

Oh shit wait what’s happening? Uhhhh… hello?


Tex Gresham is the author of Heck, Texas (Atlatl Press). He lives in Las Vegas with his partner and kid. He’s on Twitter as @thatsqueakypig and online at www.squeakypig.com.  

KKUURRTT is glad you read his thing. His novel Good at Drugs is forthcoming
from Alien Buddha Press. He can be found on Twitter at @wwwkurtcom.

‘Birdshit’ by Laurie Welch

Birdshit

There is a canary
trapped in the mind.

But can anyone tell
if he’s alive yet?

Well, are you
having any ideas

about what dying isn’t
wanted for?

Birdshit

Isn’t what you thought was
how can I fake my own death
when I am probably already dead?

(I found a great canary
and he was so great
in the faked-up backdrop with me…)

Maybe a fake death is more painful.
You have to keep waking up
to plan for it

Eulogy for A Great Canary

He couldn’t replace himself
in a language famous for

making up mistakes. So he kept
all of his receipts on the nightstand

wondering oh how yellow
they get, and wrinkled.

You can’t return anything
to what it was

no matter how fake it was
trying to make it count.

Birdshit

I’m thinking the sky is
one coat on a hanger.

In a closet?
Don’t know.

What about these sequins
in our fists like it meant

we would probably have
ten billion mirages for an exit?


Laurie Welch earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of Nebraska. Her poems have appeared in LA Review, Forklift, Ohio, and others. She lives and teaches in Omaha.Attachments area

“Happy Accident” by Crow Jonah Norlander

I honestly don’t know how my son wound up inside the redeemables deposit. I guess he climbed in while I wasn’t looking. He weighs about as much as a bag full of glass bottles, but I still would have noticed him synched up in that flimsy green plastic.

We ran out of the barcoded stickers that label the bags and scan to unlock the hatch, so I had no choice but to leave him inside the yeasty shipping crate. I crossed the parking lot, went into the grocery store, and printed out a new reel of tags from the kiosk.

When I got back, he’d torn through some of the flimsy plastic and had thrown recyclable material everywhere. He’d latched onto a Heineken can, tonguing whatever dribble was left in the rim, and his hands were sticky beyond belief, though that’s par for the course with my little condiment lover.

I scolded him a bit, just because we’re still working on boundaries, and then convinced him to tidy up as best he could. The virginal reel of white squares on its wax paper backing fluttered in my breast pocket just beneath my chin. It gave me the idea. While he was in there, he could make the most of it. Like fishes and loaves, our bounty miraculously multiplied.

“Just put these over the ones already on there. Cover ’em right up,” I instructed. His love for stickers came in handy. Usually a scarce good, I encouraged him to be liberal with them. Lining them up just right was good practice for his fine motor skills.

When I invited him to climb out, he protested. He was having too much fun, but I was getting paranoid so I retrieved him, maybe too hastily, because his tears attracted some looks, though nothing people weren’t used to ignoring.

A couple days later I went to check our balance. All those nickels really added up quick. It was tempting to withdraw it all, there were lots of places it could’ve wound up, but I found the self-restraint to leave it there to redeem against grocery bills. We ate good that week, worry free.

Then I got a call. My account had been flagged. They had my boy on camera. No mention of me, for some reason, but they’d tied the suspicious deposit to our usual Hannaford and figured it out from there. I considered denying it, but no plausible alternative explanation presented itself to me in time.

I agreed to repay them, or rather, I had no choice but to wave goodbye to what remained of the credit on my account. They revoked my program membership, and took down my son’s name to proactively ban him from their system. Fraud is such a harsh word, it sounds so deliberate and nefarious.

My bottle deposit days of convenience are over; we’re back to Redemption on Forest where the proprietor levies an unofficial tax, pilfering odd containers on the grounds that they’ll  clog his machines. It’s low-tech, but the human element keeps it interesting. Probably more efficient than the corporate surveillance at the other place, but my son keeps finding ways to wind up places he shouldn’t be. We always make the most of things.


Crow Jonah Norlander lives in Maine with his wife, child, and two retired racing greyhounds.

“GATEWAY 2000 & Other Poems” Excerpt by Mike Andrelczyk

This book of poetry is available for pre-order from Ghost City Press. For more information click here


Gateway 2000 

our first computer  

came in a big box 

that looked like a cow 

like a computer disguised as a cow  

a computer harvested from a farm 

I guess it was their marketing thing 

it was supposed to be the computer of future back then 

the name was even futuristic   

Gateway 2000 

it was like Christmas 1994 

we also got an Encarta ’95 encyclopedia CD-ROM 

what even was time back then  

we also got a chess game and a golf game and a skiing game 

there was also a fighter jet game that made flying stealth fighter jets 

seem very boring  

until you were pelted with missiles  

and you exploded 

I mostly played the chess game 

the CPU was named Ziggurat 

in the beginning I liked Ziggurat 

because on the Beginner level I could win 

and Ziggurat explained the openings 

there was the Giuoco Piano, the Queen’s Pawn Gambit 

the Ruy Lopez, the King’s Fianchetto 

I liked the Fianchetto for its dramatic sweeping bishops 

and you could even occasionally catch Ziggurat off guard on Beginner 

that’s when I felt smarter than the cow computer 

(and if you ever feel smarter than a computer that’s a bad sign) 

(to outdo a computer with emotion is another story) 

after a few weeks on Beginner I skipped right to the Grand Master level 

then Ziggurat wasn’t my chess pal anymore 

Ziggurat got deadly serious 

its moves were instant, efficient and played with menacing intent 

it was a wolf in a cow suit in a computer suit 

I never won again. 

soon I switched to the golf game or searched the Encarta ’95 CD-ROM 

I fell absently into a portal to infinite information 

I searched for Rutherford B. Hayes because my dad’s mom’s like great- great-grandmother 

was Lucy Ware Hayes, the First Lady 

they called her Lemonade Lucy, I think it was because she liked  lemonade and hated alcohol 

I liked lemonade and hated alcohol too, but I was like 10 

the article on Rutherford B. Hayes said he was considered an average  president 

it seemed weird to me that a president could just be considered average,  but I was like 10 

I wondered if being related to a president made me anything special 

but no I was not anything special 

I wondered who the last president would be, probably nobody that special  

the last man on earth  

might not be all that great either  

(I wonder when men will stop 

needing someone to tell them what to want and to do) 

I wanted a lemonade and I was bored of Rutherford 

I played the skiing game 

the skiing game started slow and got faster as you slalomed further    

down the slope and you could jump on the jumps and do tricks  

like flipping through space  

until a big furry monster inevitably gobbled you up 

then that was the end 

the randomness of the ending bothered me, but I was like 10 

then like a bunch of years went by 

ok 

then I was in college and tripping on psilocybin  

absently accessing a portal to ancient info 

I was alone  

and I had my head on my pillow  

and my head was like exploding onto my pillow, but, like sweetly and  softly exploding 

and everything was a pale purple 

a white and black pyramid grew out of my brain 

and it kept adding levels and levels and  

anxious levels 

and I knew it was Ziggurat  

a wolf dressed like computer dressed like a mushroom growing  

from inside cow shit (my brain) 

and I still sucked at chess 

and Ziggurat was probably like three moves away from 

gobbling me up furry monster-style 

checkmate 

but it was different now  

it was cool  

because I could just open  

my eyes whenever 

and everything would disappear 

and I could just keep flipping through space  

just like this 

until 

the end  

The Paranormal Enthusiast Frat Boy Sees a Ghost Palindrome  

Bro! Orb! 

A Disembodied Voice Makes a Command Regarding Muffins (chill out mix) 

I stopped at the grocery store late one night  

And I heard a computerized female voice say: 

Enter your muffins.


“Venice” Novel Excerpt by T.J Larkey


I don’t like the sound of it.
“Group interview.”
But I need a job.
It’s getting pathetic.
I’m living off a credit card and the very little money I have saved. Money I made working back home in Arizona and money my father gave me right before I moved here, in the hopes I’d make something of myself.
What I’m saying is, I’m broke.
Useless.
And still pretty soft.
I looked online, using my neighbor’s internet, and found that a movie theater not far from me is hiring. I sent over a resume and the manager responded a few hours later, telling me to come in tomorrow for a group interview.
And the first thing that goes through my head is NO. I’m not ready. Can’t handle groups, let alone group interviews. I don’t even know what they are. Am I to become part of a group, or are they?
I type it in on my computer and read and read and read, preparing.
If I know what to expect, then I have a chance.
My favorite article that I find is called “How to Nail a Group Interview: Tips, Questions, and Work Simulation Exercises”.
I study it.
I let it become part of me.
I read it again and again until I know every question by heart.

“How do you work in a team?”
I grew up playing sports, so I am very comfortable with the concept. I live and breathe for the team. I love the team. I am the team and the team is I.

“If one of your team members asked you for help with their work, before you are done with your own, how would you react?”
Fuck yeah. You need me to sweep the floor? I’ll sweep. I’ll pick that popcorn up with my bare hands. I’ll slurp that nacho cheese right up. You need help with the bathroom? On it. One of the urinals broken? Easy. I’m the new urinal. For the team, I will serve as a human urinal.

“What is your biggest weakness?”
Well, sir, I’ve got to be honest here. I am too hard on myself. A perfectionist.

“Why do you want this job?”
Ah! I’m glad you asked. One word: Film. I have been a student and lover of film my whole life. Just to be close to it — the magic, the prestige and pageantry — it would be an honor.

And I’m still playing it all in my head over and over as I walk to the interview the next day.
I’m wearing my best t-shirt and my hair is combed back.
I look like an asshole.
Hopefully though, an asshole with a job.
I can see the movie theater ahead of me and a mixture of hope and sickness fills my head like cold wet fingers pushing in through my ears.
Employment.
Responsibility.
Money.
I look down at myself, run my hands through my hair, inhaling that magical Californian air, and cross the street toward my destiny.
Ahead of me, a young man in a tucked-in button-down shirt is walking in to the theater. He’s college age, my age, but he looks younger than me somehow, more alive. I watch him as he talks with an employee, smiling confidently, thanking the employee by putting his hands together and bowing slightly.
Then I watch as he walks through a door next to the snack bar.
He’s here for the group interview.
He’s my competition.
And I think, good.
If it were easy, I wouldn’t want it.
Someone once told me that men are like sharks, that when they stop moving and competing, they die. And I am (essentially) a man. A shark. A competitor.
When I get closer to the theater door, I see my reflection. My nicest shirt isn’t so nice and my eyes are sunken in and red and there is a big juicy pimple in the center of my forehead—couldn’t be more symmetrical, pulsing and ready to explode on my fellow interviewees, so noticeable I feel like I’d have to address it.
But that’s okay.
I’ve done my research.
I can do this.
I walk in and head for the door the nicely dressed young man went through. As I pass the snack bar, I can hear two employees talking. They’re saying something about the actress in some new movie.
“If I was that hot,” one of them says, “I’d be in movies too.”
“Yeah, like, she’s not even a good actress!”
“Fucking lucky bitch.”
“Exactly. It’s all luck,” the other says.
And I start to feel physically ill.
The voices of the employees seem really sharp.
The smell of stale popcorn is all around me.
The floor is sticky and my shoes are making a crunching sound as they rip away from the soda-soaked tile.
My mind starts to drift off. The confidence is fleeing along with it. And for some reason my whole body feels hot and starts moving on its own. I’m walking out the door and then I’m on my way home and then I am home and then I’m on the phone with Fresh asking if we can meet up. I find myself in an alleyway behind a smoke shop. Fresh appears and he takes the cigarettes out of my shirt pocket and lights one, then sticks a small bag in the cigarette carton and hands it back to me. I realize it’s my turn so I take out the money from my pocket and we slap hands and bump chests. He says, “later bruh bruh” and then I walk home with the image of the nicely dressed young man smirking at me, like he knows something that I don’t and never will.

“Venice” is available for pre-order and will be released on October 15th,
for more details please visit: https://backpatiopress.bigcartel.com


T.J. Larkey lives in Arizona. He is doing much better now. Also his name really is T.J. He has been called that his whole life. It’s not abbreviated to hide something dorky like Timothy.

Twitter: @Tjlarkey

“Time. Wow.” Excerpts by Neil Clark

What Would Happen If The Speed of Light Simply Changed

I knew the speed of light had slowed down to a snail’s pace when I looked across the street. The people I saw on the other side were from weeks ago.
I knew it when I looked down at what I was eating and saw breakfast, even though I was actually eating dinner.
I knew it when I first laid eyes on my true love, even though our children were already born.

[Unfinished]

Every morning, I’d ask this barista how he was, and he’d always say the same thing — “I’m here.”
Then one day, he wasn’t.
That was years ago. But I still think about that guy, all the time.

What We Can Learn from The Death of Mr McKenna

They found my old high school history teacher, Mr McKenna, dead behind a bookcase in his home. Neighbours had complained about the smell.

I looked into his cause of death. Apparently if you drop something behind a bookcase or a wardrobe, you should never lean into the small gap between it and the wall to retrieve it. If you lose your balance, you might get stuck. If nobody finds you, you might die. Apparently, this is very much a thing.

Instead, move the bookcase or wardrobe first. It might be a bit of a pain, but then again, so is slowly dying alone.

I don’t remember many lessons from school. Only those from Mr McKenna’s.
I remember him spending a whole afternoon convincing us ‘however’ and ‘therefore’ are two of the most powerful words in the English language, and we should always consider using them in any conclusion to any essay. I remember someone asking him what the point in learning history was. He told us, amongst many other things, history presents us with an opportunity to learn from our mistakes of the past.

It must have been awful for Mr McKenna. All alone, lodged against a wall as his last breaths left his body. The bookcase that killed him must have been stacked with so much amazing literature. Books about wars, scandals, revolutions, migrations, all kinds of hardship.
In all those pages, I bet there was nothing warning about the potential perils of getting stuck behind a bookcase. Maybe if there was, he’d still be alive today.
These words are going to be in a book. These very words, right here.

Maybe this book won’t stop any wars. However, maybe it will end up on someone else’s bookcase. Maybe when that person gets old and they live alone, they won’t die stuck behind it as a result. Therefore, these words about Mr McKenna’s death would have saved someone’s life.

I think Mr McKenna would have liked that.

“Time. Wow.” is available for pre-order and will be released on October 15th,
for more details please visit: https://backpatiopress.bigcartel.com


Neil Clark has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions anthologies, as well as longlisted for both the Wigleaf Top Fifty and Bath Flash Fiction award. His work was included in the Best British and Irish Flash Fiction of the Year 2019/20. His debut flash fiction collection is now available from Back Patio Press.

Twitter: @NeilRClark

“NUMBSKULL” Novel Excerpt by No Glykon

“NUMBSKULL” is a novel by No Glykon set to debut October Fifteenth from Back Patio Press. It is currently available for pre-order by clicking here.

▲▓I▓▲

After getting paid, Goya drives to Walmart hoping to purchase a gun and spending an hour looking at guns and picking one out and filling out all the necessary paperwork and handing her background check to the clerk.

“So, it will take a week for the background check to process?” Goya asks the clerk.

The clerk turns the forms to read them, and he makes little reading sounds under his mustache, and his eyes go back and forth across the paper, and he breathes a deep breath in to his mouth and out through his nose.

“I can tell you right now that it probably won’t pass,” he says, turning the form around and pointing to a checked check box that reads, I have been diagnosed with a mental illness. “They cannot sell guns to people who have been diagnosed with certain mental illnesses.”

“Okay,” she says, taking the paper from him and walking through the parking lot to her car and driving down the highway and pulling into the parking lot of a different Walmart and filling out another background check without checking the box called, I have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

▲▲▼▲▲

As Goya tells David about how she wants to buy a gun, he imagines Goya accidentally shooting him through the wall between their rooms.

The sequence of hazy mental images starts where he can visualize both of their rooms at once. Goya is in a nightgown, and it has a geometric-shape print. The shapes are fluorescent yellow and fluorescent orange. She holds some hand cannon. He stands up to put his pants on or something banal. Her room fills with smoke. The images cut to where the point of view is behind the bullet. Everything is in slow motion. His daydream follows the bullet to his brain. His body falls away. It reveals blood splattered on the wall behind him.

David focuses on the red liquid, and the blood on the wall in his mind becomes the pasta sauce he is gazing at. The room tone takes on a dead-channel quality. The buzz sits on top of all other sounds in the room.

IIRRRR

David squints. He feels nauseous. He moves a wooden spoon in the pasta sauce. It pushes chunks of vegetables around in the red liquid. Goya watches him.

IRRRRRRRR

The dead-channel tone reaches its highest point of tension.

“Smells good,” Goya says.

“Thanks,” David says.

She laughs. He cannot figure out why she laughed.

“Have you ever shot a gun?” she asks.

He focuses on her briefly. He goes back to watching the pan, and the sauce boils, and he leans over, and he checks the size of the flame, and the flame has fingers, and the flame fingers pulse.

“Blanks for some films I worked on in college,” he says. “Why?”

“I don’t know, like… I’ve never shot a gun, but I’ve been wanting to for a long time.”

She brushes her hair out of her face. She pulls herself up to sit on the countertop.

“…”

“I led some generic-type guy on for months because he kept saying he would take me to shoot guns,” Goya says. “We broke up, because it was like… never going to happen.”

“…”

“We would just play chess all the time, and I never won,” Goya says. She is starting to digress.

“Months,” David says. “That seems committed. That seems quite committed. I think you can just go to a range and shoot pictures of people with rented guns.”

“I feel like I am really good at chess. I must not be because I never win,” she says in the digression.

“…”

“Yeah… well, a shooting range doesn’t seem very meaningful,” she says.

“I feel like I am good at chess because I beat someone with a chess tattoo,” he says following the digression.

She laughs. David laughs. They laugh for different reasons.

“…”

“Not sure if I look for emotional significance in a shooting experience.” David walks away from the stove. He gets the colander ready. He gets something else ready.

“That’s unbelievable to deal with,” she says.

“…”

“But you’re not looking for a shooting experience, David.” The sauce begins to bubble, and Goya turns the stove off for David. “This is important to me.”

“I would only get a gun to live out some following-in-William-S.-Burroughs’-footsteps bullshit.”

“That seems meaningful.”

“Yeah, I need to get a gun,” he says. He continues in a nasally, William S. Burroughs voice, “Time for our William Tell routine.” He mimes placing an apple on his head, and he bites his lip as though placing the idea of the apple with care, and Goya holds some invisible hand cannon, and she takes the idea of the apple in her sights, and she fakes recoiling with its implied kickback, and he moves his hand behind his head as though his brains were being splattered on the wall behind him, as though Goya just shot him in the face.

“…”

“Or whatever.”

“I’ve been thinking about purchasing a gun, but I just feel like… it is not a good idea. Seems like a joke that turns out not to be funny. Like joining a cult.”

●█●●█●

With a magazine over her face is Goya lying on the couch. There is supermodel wearing deconstructed jeans on the cover with a featured article about the You’re Worth It campaign. A little light leaks between the magazine and her face. It illuminates images, but they are too close to focus on. Fluorescent colors are on trend. Out-of-focus fluorescent colors fill her entire field of view. When she breathes out, the pages curl and crinkle. She holds the sound of crinkling paper in her thoughts, distinct like a sound effect for a film. Crinkling paper becomes her favorite sound. She can conjure this sound at any moment in her thoughts, and again she conjures the sound in her mind, and she breathes out, creating the sound with the magazine.

CREAK KUNK

As Hunter walks in, the first thing he sees is Goya on the couch sleeping, snoring quiet breaths, making tiny crinkling sounds. He leans his skateboard against the couch, of course it makes a scraping sound as it begins falling, his hand reaching out towards the skateboard, the skateboard staying just out of his reach.

THWACK

The skateboard smacks into the hardwood floor. He picks up the skateboard. Maybe, somehow, Goya slept through it. Goya lays still with the magazine over her face, so Hunter begins walking toward his room.

“Err,” Goya says through the magazine.

Hunter brushes his long, black hair out of his face revealing his sparse mustache, and he says, “Sorry for waking you.”

Goya does not respond, not moving, not speaking.

“…”

Hunter starts to walk away.

“Hunter,” Goya says. “What’s your favorite sound?”

He pauses and turns around, and he says, “Umm,” and brushes his hair out of his face again. “Something frying in a skillet.” He laughs.

She smiles beneath the magazine.

“…”

“…”

“What’s yours?”

“I think mine is crinkling paper.”

  

Goya comes up behind David. She stares a getting-someone’s-attention stare at him. David stops focusing on his phone. He scans the room. Every horizontal surface has beer cans on it.

“Hunter and I are walking to the bluffs,” Goya says.

She asks if he would like to come with. He agrees. He grabs his camera. They walk toward the bluffs. Their neighborhood is close to downtown, and most of the homes are standalone, and they have small, unkempt yards. The neighborhood is mostly impoverished households, and the occasional new home with a manicured yard stands out. A passerby nods at them. Hunter and David and Goya wave. Another passerby yells at them from across the street to ask for a cigarette.

“Sorry,” Hunter says.

“Fuck you,” the passerby says.

“…”

They walk between some houses to the bluffs. Hunter and David and Goya sit. Their breath vaporizes. They cannot distinguish between cigarette smoke and their breath. They look through the vaporized breath at the distant mountain. It is snow capped, and it vomits a jagged forest into polluted waters below.

“Can I bum a smoke?” Hunter asks.

David is the only one with any cigarettes left. He sets his camera down. He reaches into his pocket. He pulls a pack of cigarettes out. The pack is black, and it is beaten up, and all the cigarettes are bent. David opens the pack. He hands it to Hunter. Hunter pulls one out. He lights the cigarette. He hands the pack back. David places the pack beside his camera. He leaves the lid open as if to say, They’re fair game.

Vaguely in David’s direction, Goya touches her mouth with a soft touch and a distracted gaze. She reaches out, grabbing the camera and bringing it to her face and pointing it at David. His hands cover his face. He makes an anxious expression behind them.

Hunter’s eyes shift from David to Goya and back to David.

CLICK

The camera flashes. As Goya pulls the camera away from her face, David pulls his hands away from his face, and they reveal their faces almost in unison.

“Did you get it?” David asks.

“…”

“…”

“…”

Goya smiles as she sets the camera down, and they go back to looking at the view from the bluffs. “I think we’ve found it,” Goya says.

“…”

“…”

“Found what?” David asks, and he believes he already understands, but he asks in hopes of hearing her speak. He hopes she will speak romantically. He hopes she will speak romantically about this moment.

“I wish I hadn’t said that… seems silly now,” Goya says.

“…”

“I don’t know… like that intersection of comfort and novelty and connection with the people around you.”

“It seems nice,” David says, and he may have destroyed the sentiment by acknowledging it. Hunter and David and Goya sit quietly for a while.

Everything slows down, and they never realize how slow they live.

“Numbskull” is available for pre-order and will be released on October 15th,
for more details please visit: https://backpatiopress.bigcartel.com

No Glykon is a writer, designer, and musician based out of Providence, RI. They are stretched upon the plain and covering some nine acres of ground. Two vultures on either side of them are digging their beaks into their liver, and No Glykon keeps on trying to beat them off with their hands, but cannot.

Twitter: @NoGlykon