“The Next Number” by Kyla Houbolt

4422400127_88d090912e_o.jpg

The Elvis impersonator sings to the jungle. It is the only place he can go to practice undisturbed because neighbors, also family. The jungle does not provide feedback, instead it swallows the music in great wet silent gulps. It also makes him sweat through his costume, but this is a dress rehearsal so he must soldier on. He must get really good because he craves that applause. Here is a rehearsal for hecklers. The monkeys and birds threaten to drown him out so forget crooning. The trees continue to drip on him and fill his eyes with alien water. Not his, not his at all. Come on, he tells himself, sing the next number. A snake slides along a tree limb above. He does not see it, already thinking of chemical relief, his personal porcelain ending.

 

Kyla Houbolt writes, mostly poetry, though she is old enough to know better. She has a micro chap coming from @IceFloe Press and is Best of the Net nominee 2019. You can find her work in Mojave He[art] Journal, Barren Magazine, Burning House/The Arsonista, Neologism, The Hellebore, and elsewhere. Most of her published work can be found via her Linktree, here: @luaz_poet | Linktree and she is on Twitter @luaz_poet.

“Nashville Shirt” by Josh Olsen

375664746_f4a6e0739c_o.jpg

I bought a western shirt in Nashville
I now refer to as my “Nashville shirt,”
because it’s so resplendently ugly
it should only be worn in Nashville,
but I’ve taken to wearing it in Detroit,
because Detroit can appreciate
an ugly shirt, too.

Our last night in Nashville,
outside the hotel,
there was a highly intoxicated woman
in an NSYNC t-shirt.
“I ain’t got no shame,”
she was saying to the doorman.
“I like to party.”
The next morning,
we saw her at the hotel
continental breakfast,
clearly drunk from the night before,
and still in her NSYNC t-shirt,
but silent now,
and stuffing her mouth
with scrambled eggs.

On the drive home,
from Nashville to Detroit,
we paused at a truck stop
in Lebanon Junction, Kentucky,
where I saw a t-shirt that read
I’VE BEEN HAULIN’
SINCE YOU’VE BEEN CRAWLIN’,
and I desperately wanted to buy it,
but didn’t feel like I earned it,
having never been a long-haul trucker,
just an adjunct writing instructor
turned academic librarian
who drives 140 miles per day
to work and back.

My first day back to work,
at a library in Flint, Michigan,
I proudly wore my Nashville shirt,
but no one commented
or asked about it,
good or bad,
which made me think
it was probably even more ugly
than I originally thought.

Josh Olsen is a librarian in Flint, Michigan. He’s the author of two books, Six Months and Such a Good Boy, and the co-creator of Gimmick Press.

“The Pale Boy” by River Rivers

275402356_1acc80a7db_o.jpg

Have you ever seen straw brains lay at a pale boy’s bare feet?
His toes digging deeper into the soil that raised him?
Mimicking some mindless game he saw the grown men play on T.V?
The primer’s ignition makes a noise, but there is no sound.
It’s less disturbing to him then the tin’s clinking in the trees.
The decoy stuffed into an old red flannel, muddy boots,
and a green army helmet never stood a chance.
To his father’s revolver, a bullet, and the Pale Boy’s tears.
The crow’s inching closer, familiar with the fearful faces.
They caw and rattle a question amongst each other:
‘How could a Pale Boy be the only child brave enough to play?’
But deep down the Pale Boy knew he wasn’t so brave.
When Scarecrow lost the game, he still got to play.
If the Pale Boy lost then there wouldn’t be a game at all.
Have you ever seen a Pale Boy’s brains lay at some Scarecrow’s muddyboots?
I have.

River Rivers, is a werid-fiction writer from Southern Oregon, US. He’s been published in a number of literary presses and anthologies since he began writing. He is Modoc and Klamath Native American Indian. Spends his days working on a legal cannabis farm and dispensary. 

Twitter: @Catch22Fiction

“Trailer Park Bandits” by William Falo

3086649873_ae9c332aee_o.jpg

Nobody wanted to deliver mail to the trailer park, but I got stuck with it. There was a reason nobody wanted it. Danger lurked here; I was already robbed twice, bitten three times by stray dogs, and I also saw overdoses, fights, possible fugitives, a lot of guns, old missing children posters hanging on telephone poles, numerous rats, and the worst raccoons in the world. 

I was at war with the raccoons. They chewed up letters, ripped open packages, destroyed mailboxes, and caused me all kind of trouble. They often out-smarted me.

I drove down the street and a few kids hit the mail truck with eggs, which smeared across the windshield when I ran the wipers. I sighed.

If I could find a mutual transfer, I planned to move far away from here. Maybe Alaska, I could be alone there. My health has deteriorated here, my stomach hurt, my hands went numb from carpal tunnel, and I was flirting with depression. I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed or even cried for that matter.

I stopped to eat lunch then heard a scratching sound coming from the back of the truck. I got out and checked, but nothing was there. 

When I turned to go back, a raccoon ran out of the truck with my sandwich. It ran under an old fence and rumbled into the woods.  They tricked me and it wasn’t the first time.

Now hungry and angry, my blood boiled over. 

I passed a few rusted out cars and saw a gang of raccoons. They watched me and I swore they were laughing. I gritted my teeth and stormed after them with my dog spray canister in my hand. They scattered into the woods, but this time I kept going. I was so determined to get them; I lost track of how far I went. 

I noticed an old shack covered with branches. Why was nobody else here? I knew the answer; fear. I wasn’t that smart. My mind drifted to a possible horrific discovery like a body or a hidden chamber holding missing children. I remembered the missing posters. I yanked the door open. Inside, I saw a bunch of packages and when I lifted one up it slipped out of my hand. When it hit the ground, white powder spilled out. Drugs. I dropped it and went into a panic; I turned and tripped over a loose piece of wood spreading the white powder around the floor. There was no way to hide it, I could be killed. My hands shook as I tried to hide the powder, but it still showed, outside of the shed I erased all my footprints, but I missed some since I was in such a hurry. Drug traffickers would kill me if they knew I was here, then I heard voices getting closer.

I ran back to the truck. Later, I realized something was missing. My dog spray was nowhere in sight. I might have dropped it in the shed and it clearly states it was for a letter carrier on it. I could call the police but snitches usually ended up in a grave and I would be easy to find. I hoped it fell on the street somewhere.

I passed two girls on skateboards, one of them grabbed the bumper of the truck to get more speed. Suddenly, a black jeep stopped in front of me and two men got out. I noticed the black metal of gun handles at their waists. One of them held out my dog spray.

“Did you lose something?”

I looked around. I really didn’t care if they shot me. What did I have to lose? Nobody would miss me, but the two girls on skateboards could be in danger. I ran away from the truck knowing the traffickers would follow me. I heard their footsteps pounding behind me. 

I turned the corner and a raccoon I recognized as one that is usually aggressive let me run by, then jumped on the trafficker closest to me. A gun went off and pain shot through my leg and I collapsed. I heard one of the traffickers cry out then another gunshot. I stopped running and looked back. The raccoon was on the ground and not moving. The traffickers walked toward me. 

“There they are.” The two skateboard girls pointed at the men. A group of residents flooded into the area, some of them carried bats, some knives, and one pumped a shotgun. It was a stand-off until a siren in the distance got closer and the two men ran away. 

One of the skateboarders held a rag to my leg.

“Thank you. What’re your names?” My eyes began to blur.

“I’m Sophie and that’s Melissa.” She pointed at her friend. “You saved us.”

“No, you saved me.” I managed to say. “What about the raccoon?”

Sophie shook her head then I blacked out.

♦♦♦

The hospital made me feel isolated, nobody visited me. Why should they? Having a rural a mail route in a small post office limited your coworkers to a minuscule number. I needed

surgery to remove the bullet and would be here a while but will be okay in the long run. The police told me that the traffickers were still on the run and the drugs were gone.

The next day, I heard wheels rolling down the hallway.

“No skateboards in the hospital.” Someone yelled.

Sophie and Melissa came in followed by their parents along with a few other people I recognized as residents of the trailer park. 

They handed me a box of cookies and a pile of cards. 

“We have a picture to show you.” Sophie handed me her phone, and I stared at the picture then laughed for the first time in years. 

“I can’t believe it.”

It showed a group of raccoons under a mailbox. One of them looked like it was eating a sandwich. She added the words, Trailer Park Bandits. 

“I think they’re waiting for you,” Melissa said and then she laughed.

I couldn’t stop laughing then I fought to hold back tears. The raccoon that died saved my life. It moved the shooter’s arm just enough to prevent a lethal shot.

“We buried the one who got killed.”

“Thank you. That raccoon was a hero.”

“So are you.” 

“No, I’m not.” I wasn’t.

“I’ll save the picture for you. Hurry back.”

They both hugged me and left. I cried for the first time in years, but it wasn’t only because of sadness. 

 

William Falo writes fiction. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Newfound, Back Patio Press, Vamp Cat Magazine, Elephants Never, Clover & White, and other literary journals. 

3 Poems by Josh Olsen

6777107315_430cb87bd9_o.jpg

Haiku After the Nasty Boys

I much prefer it
when fat professional wrestlers
don’t shave their armpits.

Tombstone

I’m not proud
of any of my scars

except for where
the love of my life
busted me open

with a frozen
pepperoni pizza.

Trust Us (A Truck Stop Restroom Found Poem)

Don’t use
the hot water.
It stinks and
so will you.
Trust us.

Josh Olsen is a librarian in Flint, Michigan. He’s the author of two books, “Six Months” and “Such a Good Boy”, and the co-creator of Gimmick Press.

“VERSUS” by Alessandra Occhiolini

14683519176_0f892e4b25_o.jpg

There are only a few stories
There’s man against man
Man versus animal, animal versus man
(the order is different, it means different things)
Man versus woman, woman versus man,
Woman versus a lot of men (familiar), a lot of men versus a woman (too familiar)
Patriarchy versus matriarchy (think Zeus’ takeover of Olympus)
The matriarchy strikes back (unfamiliar, please write)
Man versus concept, concept versus man,
Reagan versus the AIDS crisis (a fiction in which disaster does not exist, too common)
Kangaroos versus the court, the court versus the kangaroos
The Russian government versus the uncertified bones of Anastasia and Alexei
The bodies at the door versus the coercive government (where will we bury them)
Man versus body, brains in bodies, brains that won’t die (we loved this in the ‘50s)
Mummies versus the tomb raiders (I only want to see it ordered this way)
Mall goths versus the elephant seals down at the beach
A genderqueer orgy versus the RA down the hall
Dionysus arrives in Thrace, battles city
King Kong and Godzilla versus the skyscrapers, King Kong versus Godzilla
Monster animal man body matriarchy versus those thunderclouds over there
The body in the corner of the classroom versus survival
That’s the thing, there’s only a few stories, If you’re not a mummy, an orgy, a kangaroo, how to tell yours? 

 

Alessandra Occhiolini is a writer and academic at UW-Madison who needs to learn to be more pretentious and stop talking about Godzilla. Her work has been published in Palo Alto Weekly, The Claremont Review, and The Swarthmore Review. 

“Dispatch from L.A Public Transit” by Joshua Hebburn

46153009445_eaa6e9efaa_o.jpg Valentines day. Down below Union Station a subway car has released people. There is a subway in Los Angeles. It undergrounds from D.T.L.A to Hollywood and Westwood. Connectors, buses and a couple other light rail lines, attach and lead into many other counties of this city. 

I will take either train down below a couple of stops today to no Valentines special, just a scheduled meal downtown and some chatter. It happened to fall on this discrete day. Neither of us thought.

The concoursing of people out-from and in-to the shopping area, down and up the stairs to the Red and Purple lines, is disrupted. I have taken trains and buses for years, I have acquired a feel. It’s in how people are different in density, grouped less tightly, having been pulled back by something. It’s in their attitude, how they look backwards, or occasionally are making remarks to one another as clear strangers, a violation of good conduct under normal circumstances. Privacy is the sovereign value on the metro. 

I take the first de-escalator, down, anticipating.

This is one of the few places and times in Los Angeles you see a flow of people, rather than a gleaming bump or glimmering swish of cars. It is always a sight, populated like Los Angeles the city, by all human variation. Here all the people are again, today. There is the disruption, excitement backwards to it, but there is also Valentine’s day in the crowd. It can’t have been too bad, whatever it is. People are mostly calm. I look around more.

My heart rises in my chest. I am in an instant love sliding down the escalator and looking. It’s not with somebody, but with all these people in love with somebody, or at least in affection. Young and old, dark brown skin, tan skin, pale pinkish and whitish skin, holding hands, pecking rapid kisses, grasping boxes and bags and big bright bouquets, roses but also some sunflowers, a bunch of lillies, a bunch of tulips, one ridiculous orchid up-sticking, and people laughing. It is abundant. The focused or gently disturbed faces of regular commuters only sharpens the contrast like sand that a bar of gold is laid on. 

There is a landing between the escalators and the underground true, the tunnels. The disruption is on the landing, and approaches me as I approach. There are the chest-high yellow cones, tight pyramids, separating with their yellow yell. They have caution tape wound around them at the top to prohibit a zone. The darker yellow of the tape, the blocky san-serif lettering, holds a hand up. People move around, looking in.
A policeman stands off to one side, fat blueblack, with no definite aim other than his authority. The altercation is over. The cleaning crew is arriving off to another side, orange vests on baby blue metro shirts.

Inside the cones and tape is an almost empty space. On the tile are rose petals and thick drops of blood. Somebody has really gotten the thorns. 

I get on another de-escalator. There is an unpleasant humid wind in this open underground part of the station. It is caused by the displacement of air when another train arrives. I get on a train. That, I think, is the best fuck you I’ve ever seen. And what a day.

 


Joshua Hebburn lives in Los Angeles. His fiction is in Lazy Susan, X-R-A-Y’s Boneyard Issue, Maudlin House, and Hobart.

Twitter: @joshuahebburn