“resume builder” by SR Gorski

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A2

I lay naked in the tub with my back flat and feet up on the wall underneath the shower head, while using my feet to turn the knobs. The water has not yet reached my ears—wait, there it is, the vacuum-packing sound and low rumble of water seeping into my ear-canal. I bear it. Then the island of dryface gets slowly enveloped. As the tide makes its way into my nostrils I try to resist the choking sensation of water passing through my nasal passage and down my throat. Everything but periscoping pursed lips submerged, and I know I must look ridiculous. I stop right as the toohot water begins tipping over my lips directly into my mouth. And in a low-grade, self-asphyxiated epiphany it comes to me. Right at this moment I get THE idea: the ultimate résumé builder…

B2

 “In the tub? No dearth of womb symbolism for you Tommy,” Dolly, my agent, says. She hadn’t looked at my face since I walked in her office. Cheap polyfiber carpet rapids mire her floor in homage to Dolly’s penchant for furniture rearrangement. Her intern, Josh, had bought mover’s gloves months ago after catching on to his boss’s obsessive tendencies. “Think about it Dolly.” It’s fool-proof, I’ll land a job within the month. Modern minimalism meets performance art meets stigmata. An indomitable work of genius,” I say triumphantly. She is fully on board. Dolly calls in Josh and he begins dragging an aluminum filing cabinet between our conversation as she pantomimes pointless directions. 

A2

Another bath-time revelation. I lay in the tub as it drains. The cheap rusted varnish on the spigot and handles, for some reason, is a combination of turquoise and tooth-paste-white. Sitting there, play-paralyzed and unthinking, I notice that the shadow of the faucet neck makes the shape of an arm and finger pointing down towards the drain. There is still a small amount of water funneling through the perforated metal, getting wider in circumference as it runs out. I choose to avoid the more obvious symbolism of seeing a shadow point down towards a dark abyss; instead, I concentrate on the vortexing water. Momentum and a downdraft create swirling medium surrounding a vacuum. Debris with the most mass gets taken to the outermost limits and is ejected. It is a most telling omen for tomorrow’s endeavor—as if physics had extended its laws to my mind— a curious and overlooked micro-phenomenon but, for this moment, for some reason just out of my grasp, it inspires.

B2

 “Okay, I’m ready, I think,” I yell. But Dolly can’t hear me from below. There’s an 8” x 10” paper rectangle five stories down on the asphalt and she is standing next to it holding the camera I lent her. She is wearing some nurse scrubs she also borrowed from a roommate in case this gets messy. I focus on my target while standing above the building’s logosign: Jersey City United Packing HQ. I’ve practiced the jump in my head and I know I can make it. My résumé, an insignificant target, until I land—then it becomes something entirely different. This will show everyone that I am to be taken seriously, and that all of those acting classes weren’t just hobbied pursuits. I take a few shuffles then a half-hearted fakelunge just to see how it will feel. Dolly winces, “Even I knew that wasn’t the one,” she yells just loud enough for me to hear. No more thinking, I lean forward to get a lateral bearing on my target and pushoff the building as if it is going to pushback. I free fall stiff legged and t-posed. You got this Tommy. The ground closes in and I barely make out some blurredblack ink on white background just below where I think my chin will probably land. 

C2

I think of pastbaths and instead decide to shower. Need to keep my head clear for final calls, interviewers can’t get enough of me. I had to take down all of the mirrors in my apartment because I got tired of staring at mangled mandible and torn velum. “It’s enough that I feel like I look good,” I say, holding in jutting collar bone so I can tighten my tie. As I leave, I pass my résumé, plaqued up on the wall. Dolly was right, it did look good up there, limned with bloodspray and some teeth indents (hallmarks of my good aim). It had been a stupid thing which always made me feel incompetent; anunfair judge—a funhouse mirror and tipped scale. “You landed just how you wanted. You landed it and they can’t get enough of you.” I exclaim with a brokengrin.

 

SR Gorski is the pen name of a person obsessed with thought. SR graduated with an english/creative writing degree and attends writing workshops regularly. SR is interested in speculative fiction, specifically the effects our era of access has on social interaction and cognition.

“portrait of the ‘artist’ sitting with a second tallboy  at the kitchen table in the dark listening to a random  youtube playlist” by David Henson

 

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portrait of the ‘artist’ sitting with a second tallboy 

at the kitchen table in the dark

listening to a random 

youtube playlist 

 

hello other spirits.

here we are again. breaking down doors. packing up the crib. pullin’ out babies. and broken boys. and busted brown shoes. we got knobby knees and heart veins, arteries, shoelaces, codex cola, cryogenic freezes, totally antonym spellings, let’s pull another track, not get hooked on language, why go from music to language, why not just divorce the words from the music, forget about chords, focus on the movement of hands, better yet let machines make it random and be totally surprised the first time you hear it, you are no longer the composer you’re like the maestro god, you’re like the god who accidentally set the world in motion and still delights in its idiosyncrasies, you’re like the boy shut in the closet and raised by dust bunnies, coming out thirteen years later speaking nothing but dust.

if someone gave you a laser as wide and strong as you wanted you would wave it around all drunk like a madman, splitting every heart from every mind. 

back to my second point, all this structure shit is structuring my thought process, which sounds healthy but is completely detrimental to ‘flow,’ to life in general. achievements should only be unlocked in video games. movies should only be made by those who are on a path to madness anyway. what path is this if you’re drinking and typing nonsense into your email in the pursuit of you don’t know what? no one will respect you if they don’t recognize the structure somewhere, if you don’t adhere…you’re already caught on a track. you want to be free of tracks but something else inside wants you on a track. 

we want the backsides of celebrity, well yes, but I mean we want underneath the hood, no we want the factory, no we want to follow the factory workers home and know what time they finally fall asleep. 

you can help relieve suffering. you can help nothing else. let me make a list – do dishes after dinner, push a car out of a muddy ditch, with taxes, with exams, get you the credit you deserve, build a nest(egg), fight the war…..if you help spread death or pain you aren’t really helping. if you are kind and present maybe you help without knowing it. i am on my way to giving up everything. is that healthy or suicidal?

if you could will the skin on your hands to open and drip your own blood in slo mo, you would feel powerful and maybe content. if you could be the most drunk and not hang-over then you would be better than god and more fun. 

piling snow, packing it down, hollowing it out=the most happy you’ve ever been. why didn’t you convince yourself to take that nap out there? 

is it bad karma to try to commodify your dreams? is that what I’m experiencing? 

how do you write a whole novel when there are no instruments to choose from?

what if your art was to leave not a trace of yourself the moment you died?

watch a show on the couch next to your spouse, tell her she is pretty, rub her back, tell her not to feel guilty when you watch another one, bring her the hot sauce, remember what it was like when you walked around in china, remember that it is better in your apartment where it is warm and your thoughts can swim and mingle and uh oh feedback loop, closed circuit, nothing new. 

why is new important? why grow?

i love the phrase ‘force quit.’

no one has asked me to do anything other than job stuff and to clean the apartment for many years. and most of that is intuitive and unsaid anyway. 

if you aren’t distracted by fighting a disease, you start fighting yourself. oh fuck, this song. i thought it was shouting outside. 

my smartest, most insightful friend makes cheese for a living. grows cheese? mongers cheese. 

i asked him in an email to convince me to have a baby soon. his response was no response, which is not uncommon for him, to take months to respond, but this was something i thought he would have responded to quickly, especially with the news of another one on the way. maybe he is teaching me something with no response. oh, i get it. 

fucking love the concept of a drum circle, have no patience or desire to be a part of it. maybe just scared. plus white dreadlock stigma. it feels. it always feels. 

it feels. feels. don’t pin it down. ethereal. dollar signs. uh uh. 

this song is not totally adhering, or maybe it is. but does not matter. 

to love chess but never get even one percent better at it. is that better than anything?

to be worthless and know it. is that honesty?

a present friend, but not particularly thoughtful. i mean me. 

 

David Henson’s short fiction has won multiple prizes and his short story chapbook, AN EXPLANATION, was published by L’Éphémère Review in 2018. He records music under the name Shadows on a River and makes comics and art at Kinda Zen Comics. He tweets @davidbhenson. 

“Jaywalk” by Mary Anne Bordonaro

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Jaywalk

It was the day of the Lincolnville Middle School Class Trip Car Wash. They were set up in front of his dad‘s tire store off Route 26. Georgie didn’t have anything to do. His father was running around the parking lot directing teenage girls in tiny tank tops towards their waiting customers. Most of the boys were just enjoying the view. Georgie looked in the same direction. He tried, not for the first time, to see what they saw and failed.

“You just gonna stand there with your dick in your hand for the next two hours? Huh?” His father’s face flooded his vision, blocking his view of Laurel Brolhouse, who, God bless her, wasn’t wearing her training bra. 

“Be a fucking man and help make some money.” With George Mitchell Sr.’s words came the slap of cardboard against Georgie’s bony chest. 

CAR WASH $5.00

The sign was lined with blue and yellow paint, and the girls had covered the yellow lines in glitter, making them shine like gold. He walked out to the curb on the far end of the Mitchell’s Tires parking lot. The light at the small intersection was red. His audience was captive, if only for a moment or two.

His body acted on its own, hands gripping the edge of the sign for a second before swinging it into the air, glitter flying everywhere. The sparkle clung to everything, working its way into his hair and sticking to the sweat on his arms. He could hear Rory Keener mutter something about him looking like a “fucking fairy,” but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

The sign flipped through the air, coming back to his hands every time. With every throw, glitter joined the yellow pollen covering the cars closest to him. He was Midas, turning their fenders into gold. With disgruntled sighs, bejeweled drivers pulled into the parking lot, where the girls relieved them of their shining messes.

As the sign spun in the humid afternoon air, Georgie threw his body back, legs leaving the ground, gravity ceasing to exist. It was only Georgie and the sign and the glitter that was now filling his eyes so that everything he looked at shimmered in the 3 PM sunshine.

He walked along the cracked pavement, sending smiles to his adoring fans. The marching band began to play, spit valves filling and being emptied with such speed that a puddle formed beneath them, saliva spreading through the black tar capillaries of the Mitchell’s Tires parking lot, mixing with the water and soap bubbles dripping from the line of sensible sedans and sudsy eighth graders.

Georgie twirled the sign with the beat of the drums, the roar of the trumpets, the stomping of feet, and the clapping of hands. The light had long since turned green, but aside from the glitter-covered cars pulling into the lot, no one moved. 

Mrs. Johansen, the organist at Mission Baptist Church, climbed out of her husband’s pickup and into the truck bed. She pulled the bobby pins out of her tight updo, waved her scarf over her head, and yelled for the whole crowd to hear.

“Yes darlin’! Show ‘em what you’re made of!” She was greeted with a fresh shower of glitter in her direction.

By now Rory had grabbed George Sr., who had been busy flirting with Mrs. Thompson, and turned him around to see the show.

George Sr. was not a very rational man. Georgie’s mother, Elaine, had divorced Senior when their son was four years old. Senior had come home and found Georgie dancing in his bedroom, his tiny feet in his mother’s bright red pumps. When Elaine returned from the grocery store, the babysitter was on the front porch, holding a sobbing Georgie, and George Mitchell Sr. was standing in the backyard in front of a bonfire. The crackling flame was fueled by every pair of heels Elaine owned.

The fight lasted for two weeks, but the bonfire that sparked it has been the last straw for Elaine. Since then, there’s been no trace of a feminine touch in the Mitchell house. What Elaine had left behind was burned in the same way her heels were. Georgie managed to save one photograph and a small diamond pendant necklace that had fallen out of her jewelry box in her rush to pack. He wore it under the football T-shirts his father bought him.

Senior put his son on the football team at age 7. Georgie was actually very good at the sport. And he didn’t much mind the short cropped haircut his father forced on him. His curls were unruly after all. And he liked being a Boy Scout and doing wilderness training and working in the tire store on Saturdays. But none of it mattered. The other guys would always see it. Whatever it was, Georgie didn’t quite know. But they saw it and his father saw it and he’s pretty sure his mother had seen it too. 

And his father saw him in the parking lot covered in glitter, diamond pendant in full view. Mrs. Johansen had wrapped her scarf around Georgie’s neck, her husband put his Gamecocks ballcap on the boy’s head, Mr. Jordan from Glensbury Farm had taken off his cowboy boots and put them on Georgie’s feet, and Miss Brown had wrapped her crocheted shawl around his shoulders. Some kids from the local high school were sitting on top of their cars, and they threw dollar bills as Georgie danced into the middle of the intersection, his father storming behind him, fighting through a tornado of gold dust to get to his son. 

The sheriff and the deputy pulled up to see what all the ruckus was about and found Georgie swinging upside down from one of the cables suspending the traffic light above the street. George Sr. was jumping up and down beneath him, veins bulging and curses flying. His son was just out of reach. 

Mary Anne Bordonaro is a creative writing teacher, writer, and traveler from South Carolina. She graduated in 2018 with a B.A. in English/Creative Writing. Since then, she has taught ESL, Literature, and Creative Writing in France and American Samoa. She has been published in Heavy Feather Review, The Roddey-McMillan Record, Taco Bell Quarterly, she has work forthcoming in BULL Magazine and The Poetry Question. 

“Blast Pattern” By Alex Miller

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Walmart toy aisle.

T-minus three days till Christmas.

Today I am a grown man staring at a plastic military-shocktrooper-gunship playset. Looks pretty rad. Action figures sport big muscles and oversized rifles. Bright orange missiles snap onto the side of the chopper. I recognize it as just the thing mom and dad would have given me for Christmas when I was a kid. My folks were something else. They laughed at those other parents, the ones too precious to let their honor-roll darlings play with toy guns. Mom and dad loaded me up with G.I. Joe tanks and up-armored hovercrafts, life-sized plastic M-16s, WWII-style combat helmets. I’d spin circles around the driveway in a camo-patterned Big Wheel tricycle decked out with gun barrels, scanning the backyard for creeping Russian soldiers, sweeping the sky for bogeys. 

Today I am eight years old. I stuff a G.I. Joe into some random plastic car. When it comes to toys, I mix and match. He-Man rides into battle atop Optimus Prime. Barbie goes on dates with all four Ninja Turtles. I pretend the car runs over a bomb. Boom! I flip the car into the air, watching it spin circles before slamming against my bedroom floor. I fish the brave soldier out of the vehicle. Disaster. The rubber band connecting its legs to the torso has snapped. My G.I. Joe is an amputee, split cleanly in half. 

I rush to my father. Wake him from a Sunday afternoon nap. Dad can fix anything. He’s that type. Square jaw. Reliable. He fought in Vietnam. Infantry. Volunteered for it. I don’t think he saw much action, but he received the Purple Heart twice for wounds suffered when landmines detonated nearby. For the rest of his life, a pattern of dark blotches remained visible on his arms—a grim pointillist masterpiece, black marks from the heat and debris of explosions. If you’d glance at his arms and didn’t know, you’d just think it was a million freckles. Faded black globs, seeming to flow, combining into some kind of super freckle. Only they aren’t freckles. They are the fingerprints of landmines.

Dad examines my bifurcated toy. Fiddles with it, tries to loop the split ends of the rubber band around a small metal hook in the torso. He asks what happened. I tell him about my game, the imaginary bomb. Dad shakes his head like he understands. Tells me it’s fine. His voice sounds strange, like he’s speaking from far away. He tells me he saw the same thing in Vietnam. Some guy he’d known. A bomb. Explosion. Dad was right there beside it. When the smoke and noise cleared, the guy lay on the ground in two halves. 

Dad fingers both pieces of my toy like an old woman with a Rosary. Frowns. Hands them back to me like he doesn’t want to touch them anymore. Tells me he can’t fix this one. Sometimes people break, he says. Sometimes you can’t put them back together.

Today I am a grown man writing a story about my father.

 

Alex Miller is a writer and graphic designer who lives in Denver. His fiction has appeared in Pidgeonholes, Maudlin House and Rabbit Catastrophe Review. He is the author of the short story collection, “How to Write an Emotionally Resonant Werewolf Novel.”

“Fell Out of the Car” by Lanny Durbin

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Fell out of the goddamn car. Can you believe that? Really made me think, honestly. Made me think, man, what the hell am I doing anyway? The things I did to lead me to tumbling out of my 1994 Ford Taurus and eating shit on the pavement—I probably shouldn’t have been doing all those things. Maybe I deserved it then? As I walked in the ditch by the side of the road towards where the car finally stopped rolling and hit a tree, I really wondered if I deserved it.

Driver’s side door didn’t latch all the way anymore. You gotta pull this stretched-out coat hanger through the door handle and then spool it around the steering wheel or something to get it to stay shut. But I was a zombie and I forgot about the coat hanger. Leaned my head against the window, for just a second you know, and I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and then—baddabing—that’s how I fell out of the car going thirty. A thump, my gut slamming against the pavement, then some scratching and thuds as I rolled like a stupid baked potato into the ditch. 

I felt a little relief when no cars passed me by as I walked, a bloody scuffed up mess. I was embarrassed to be seen, for one, but it also had me thinking of this episode of Unsolved Mysteries I watched with my mom back then. This lady had a flat on a two-lane like this one. Guy in a Wrecker pulled up, bam, shot her in the gut. Didn’t rob her or touch her or nothing—just wanted to shoot someone. She didn’t die, just lied there and bled until another wrecker showed up and didn’t feel like shooting someone. Never found the guy. And this lady was a nurse or a veterinarian, can’t remember, and I’m just some bum who pours my paycheck into the video poker machines. My episode of Unsolved Mysteries wouldn’t make the cut!

Got to my car. It was toast. Some drippy hissings coming from the hood, some smoke, front end absolutely creamed against a tree. I grabbed my wallet and the handful of change out of the center console and the sack lunch I’d brought to work and left the car. The sandwich was fucked but the can of Sam’s Choice Cola and the bag of Cheetos were both doable. Not all bad, considering. Left my dead car and dead sandwich there in the ditch and kept walking.

Knew I wasn’t far from town proper, could see the lights of the little strip of a neighborhood that sat on the cusp. There was a NASCAR bar there. Figured I could lay low there for a while. And they’d have to have a couple video poker machines. The sun was still up when I fell out of the car but I couldn’t tell you how much time had passed. Was for sure night time. I got into Duffer’s and I was right—a couple video poker machines. A lot of things I thought would always be around, well, they weren’t around anymore. Things like helpful friends, self-worth, ambition, or a clear signal to a good feeling. If not gone—hell if I know where they were hiding. But there was still something I had that, at least, gave me something to focus on for a while. Video poker machines. The Slots. You put the money in and maybe some more comes out if you press the right button, or land on the right number in the algorithm. There’s nothing else to worry about when sitting in front of The Slots. The Slots were the last thing I had around.

The Slots and booze.

Maybe you come out in the black. Maybe you win big as hell and drift on that high a while. Also, maybe you really shit the bed and have to work doubles for a month to climb back out and then you fall asleep at the wheel and fall out of the car like a stupid baked potato. But that can’t be the norm. Plus, how the hell else was I gonna get a new car?

I started hot, like red hot. Stayed in a groove for a couple hours. Started greasing up, ordering gin and tonics for myself and rounds for the few patrons that shuffled in and out. Hey, thanks, pal, they might’ve said. Some looked at their free drink sideways. What is this about? It is kindness friend, kindness that exists only when my hand is HOT and I’m lining up the little treble clefs inside the Rock N Roll Dice game. I was the king of Duffer’s Bar and a benevolent one at that. Duffer himself came out from behind the bar to marvel at my winning ways. Slapped me on the shoulder and laughed, said what are ya gonna buy my bar with those winnings? 

I said, maybe! 

We laughed again and then he left. I sat and waited for my own personal wrecker to roll by—a slug in the gut or a ride back into town. Was just like the Slots. Who knows what was gonna happen! 

And I thought about the next car I’d buy for 1,200 bucks and in which ditch it would look best, rotting away.

A stupid carcass.

A real worthless thing.

“My Left Eye Was a Mistake” by Steve Gergley

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“So yesterday I asked my dad what he regrets most about his life, and he pointed at me and said my left eye. He said my left eye was a mistake. I’m not sure what that means though, because as far as I can tell, there’s nothing wrong with my left eye. It’s fine. It always has been. But when I asked him what he meant about my eye being a mistake, he just looked away and said that he had always tried to be the best dad he could be for me, but this is just how things worked out.”

It’s Thursday evening, and I’m talking to my therapist, Devon.

“Interesting,” Devon says. “How does that make you feel?”

Devon’s been my therapist for the past five years. In addition to being my therapist, she’s also my good friend.

“Which part?”

“Any of it. All of it. The thing your dad said about your eye.”

To this I wait a beat, and then I say:

“I thought we were talking about you?”

We laugh at this, because, like I said, we’re good friends. We kid. We banter. She even lets me pay on a sliding scale because I’m poor and still live at home. For the past seven years I haven’t been able to hold a job for more than three weeks at a time thanks to my propensity for getting incredibly sad and crying in the bathroom while I’m supposed to be working, so the sliding scale is a lifesaver for me. As for the crying, we don’t know why it happens, but Devon thinks it might be related to my acute fear of getting yelled at by adults, a fear that developed during my difficult and confusing upbringing as an undiagnosed autistic child. Lately Devon has presented the theory that my dad might be an undiagnosed autistic himself, which would actually explain a lot.

The wind blows hard outside, whirling and whistling, and the woody fingers of a naked elm tap against the window of the townhouse we’re sitting in. We’re on the third floor, with a good view of the Taco Bell across the street. It’s January and gray out there, with a cold that will freeze your asshole shut. Staring into the neon glow of the Taco Bell sign, I consider asking Devon to get some tacos with me when we’re done. I know this would probably be a violation of the boundaries of our friendship (or, professional interaction, as she likes to put it), but still. I often wonder how she would act in that situation. What would she order? Would she get hard-shell tacos or soft? And what about the sauce? Based on her calm, patient, easy-going personality, I’d guess she’d go for the mild sauce. Mild-type sauce for a mild-type girl. Or woman I should say, since she’s still very pretty and looks to be somewhere in her mid-forties. Either way, I don’t think she’d go too crazy with the hotness on her tacos. But then again, maybe she’s like me, and she makes up for an empty life by spicing things up with some fire sauce. I don’t know. So I ask her.

“Hey so what kind of sauce do you put on your tacos?”

Without missing a beat, she answers, as if this is a completely normal question to ask someone out of nowhere.

“Medium,” she says. “I like a little spice, but nothing too crazy. Everything in moderation, you know? Including moderation. But let’s get back to you, Ben.”

This sounds like something my dad would say, one of those clever-yet-shallow things he’d rattle off at a family gathering to get a nice laugh out of the relatives, and in thinking this I suddenly get a random idea of what he might’ve meant when he said that thing about my eye.

“Wait so do you think my dad was talking about himself when he said that thing about my eye? That the reason I’m all fucked up is from the half of my body parts I got from him? Do you think he blames himself?”

“Could be.”

“But that’s crazy! The way I am isn’t his fault, this is just me. I’m the one who’s fucked. He’s a good dad.”

“When was the last time you told him that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I think you should tell him that the next time you see him.”

“That’s a good idea, I’ll do that.”

“Good. I think he’d like to hear that from you.”

The wind tears past the window like a low-flying dragon. I look out at the Taco Bell again.

“Do you want to get some tacos with me after this?”

“Why don’t you ask your dad?”

“But I already know what kind of sauce he likes. I want to know what kind you like.”

“But you already know. You just asked me.”

“Oh yeah. I forgot.”

Now Devon crosses her arms and leans back in her creaky computer chair.

“We’re almost at time,” she says, “but what about you? What kind of sauce do you use?”

“Nothing but fire, baby.”

At this she bursts into laughter, but not in a mean way. The way she laughs, high-pitched, girlish, uninhibited, her small hand shielding her wide mouth, it always seems like she’s on your side in everything.

From here she smiles to herself and looks at me. For a moment it feels like she’s the only person on this planet who can see the real me.

“That’s time,” she says, swiveling around in her chair. Looking at her back, I try to force myself to finally tell her that I love her more than anyone on earth, but at the last moment I stop myself, like I always do.

“So next week, then?” I say, placing three twenties on her desk.

“Yup. I’ll be here.”

“Okay. See you later, then.”

 

Steve Gergley is a writer and runner based in Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in A-Minor, After the Pause, Barren Magazine, Maudlin House, Pithead Chapel, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. His fiction can be found at: https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/

“’63 Ghia” by Sheree Shatsky

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The speedometer hits 80 mph with no sign of slowing down.  My Karmann Ghia, it’s old and not in a collectible way. I bought the car for 400 bucks scraped together from working the credit desk part-time at a furniture store on the weekends.  The engine block sat covered in sand and the doors flew open every corner I turned, but I considered both mere details. I knew my grandfather could clean it up and fix the doors and he did with slide bolts, installing an extra set on the passenger side the day I almost dumped out my grandmother on a grocery run.

     I pull over at John Deere and throw the car into neutral.  The engine roars like twenty lawnmowers ready to explode. I switch off the ignition and grab a roll of black electrical tape from the glove box, my go-to fix to keep this heap running. 

     I lift the hood and fiddle with the simple engine.  Someone yells, need help?  A guy walks across the parking lot wiping his hands with a grimy cloth. He’s outfitted all John Deere.

     He tips his hat with the trademark stag and I step back, giving myself a clear getaway, lesson learned post-Ted Bundy.  Even though the creep is locked up in the state pen, a girl can’t be too careful about inspired copycat killers. The guy leans in and I tell him the car won’t slow down, even when I lift my foot off the gas.  Be right back, he says and returns holding a large paper clip.  More trusting now I’ve witnessed his interaction within the actual John Deere building, I step up and watch him fasten the paper clip in and through some thingamabob and give it a tug.  Start it up, he says.

     The car idles in typical sputter.  Rev the engine. He listens and nods.   OK, foot off the gas. The engine slows. Yup. The throttle return spring snapped.  The paper clip will do you for now, don’t wait, get it fixed.  He slams down the hood and thumps an all set. I slide bolt my door locked and ease away, back in the groove of responsive RPMs.  Later, I secure the clip with two slivers of electrical tape. I never take the car to a mechanic, but I do buy a box of large paper clips.

 

Sheree Shatsky writes short fiction believing much can be conveyed with a few wild words. Her work has been published in a variety of journals including Anti-Heroin Chic, Fictive Dream, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bending Genres, New Flash Fiction Review, KYSO Flash and The Conium Review with work forthcoming at Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art.  She is twice-nominated for Best Microfiction 2020 by Fictive Dream and MoonPark Review. Read more of her work at shereeshatsky.com.

Twitter: @talktomememe.

“Myrmecia Pyriformis” by Chris Milam

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In the backroom of an exotic pet shop, a gentleman from Australia handed the owner a sealed box. The man was excited, he had been waiting for this package for months. He peered into the box and smiled. “Welcome to America,” he whispered.

Two days later he took the box to a nearby wooded area in southern Ohio and set them free. Now, all he needed to do was wait. He was a dark-minded man with twisted thoughts who wanted to cause mayhem because he believed the town had persecuted him whether it was real or just in his head. Time will tell, he thought, as he walked away, climbed in his car, and drove away.

 

•·•·•

 

Fairfield, Ohio. 3 months later.

All was quiet at 924 Catalpa Drive on a boring Thursday night. Wayne Richards was dozing on the couch in the living room, Dateline playing on the TV. He was worn out from his shift at the steel factory and fell asleep after a dinner of meatloaf and green beans. 

Outside the front door a line was forming, a tiny buzzing coming from within the pack. The bulldog ants began to enter the home beneath the front door, over the threshold. There were thousands of them, maybe a million. A swarm of death. They crawled onto the couch and all over Wayne. The ants made their way to his nose and eyes and ears, rooting themselves inside and biting him, releasing their venom. He was eventually covered in bulldog ants like a live blanket. They bit into him at every part of his body, eventually reducing him to a red-stained corpse. 

Next, the giant line moved through the kitchen into his wife’s bedroom. Becky was sleeping, a book open on her lap. She was tired from her job on the assembly line at Metal Sales Manufacturing. After dinner, she had put the toddler to bed and went into her room to read for a while.

The bulldog ants found her. They climbed up the legs of the bed frame and violated her, biting her as they formed a massive ball around her head. They injected their deadly toxin from head to toe. She briefly woke up, but couldn’t yell because the ants filled her mouth. She died a fast death. The ants were not satiated.

 

•·•·•

 

Across town, the exotic pet store owner, Tim Rivest, read the local paper. He laughed out loud at the article about the invasion of deadly ants native to Australia. Seal your windows and doors, the article read. They can kill a human in a matter of minutes. Tim thought about everyone in Fairfield who snitched on him for having illegal animals at his store and house. This was his revenge. He drank his beer as he finished reading, a smile never leaving his face. 

What Tim didn’t know was that his front lawn at that precise moment was filled with hungry movement.

•·•·•

 

The swarm left the body of Becky Richards and marched to the next bedroom. They inched their way up the crib. Little Joshua was still awake. The ants moved in, their legs moving quickly across the boy.

The last sounds coming from inside 924 Catalapa Drive were the horrifying screams of “Mommy, Mommy.”

 

Chris Milam lives in Middletown, Ohio. His stories have appeared in JMWW, Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Bending Genres, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter: @Blukris.

“Conduit Was Two Couples Blathering” by Tyler Dempsey

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Person 1

“Judgements of “others,” of our minds when we consider what one would think? Animals do it—our dog reddens when she slipped and you saw it. The Network-of-Feeling-Looked-At death-gripped Earth’s nut sack. It’s evolution’s engine.”

 

Person 2

“Two winters Marla and I watched a house in Felton. Like you’d been left a film producer’s in-law suite; when Marla moved furniture from storage essentially that’s what it was. I’d frequent a concrete square out back—trying not to blow bong-sized smoke-clouds into the home’s ventilation system. Smile at larger-than-life-Redwoods, California sun suspended in shafts. Wonder aloud about circumstances bringing me here. So foreign to my dirt-farmer origins. My murmurings aimed at the lemon balm growing at concrete’s edge, little friends, who over two winters spilled over concrete and explored nether-regions of three-foot air. Attacked nostrils if you looked toward the back door. The only difference, from lemon balm one-foot away, is I talked to it. Payed attention. Asked questions. Stupid things you do with people, because I was a kid who was lonely lost and profoundly stoned. Maybe, the lemon balm asked these questions: “Am I lovable?” “What do I have to do?”

 

Person 3:

“The best way to communicate to the world and people on it I loved them the tiny time I was here.”

 

Person 4:

“. . . transcribed “Love Languages,” when we left Yosemite, or maybe driving into Yosemite—we saw the river otter?”

 

Person 1:

“Inadequate communicating you occupy the forefront of my heart. The throne. Give life meaning. (Among other things.)”

 

Person 3:

“Writing’s another language. More room to roll around by.”

 

Person 4: 

“Rabbit-hole—words, and phrases, in ever-shrinking “Common English” neglecting communication, intelligent humans facing shear inadequacy because our whale of emotion isn’t capturable with a butterfly net of language we’re . . .”

 

Person 3.

“Tendency to get watered-down. Lazied away.”

 

Person 2:

“Existing in this elevated room with you. We hover.”

 

Tyler Dempsey got a form rejection as a “tortilla” from Taco Bell. He ate it and his stories fell out. If you’d like the stories as a book, and possess that magic called “making books,” contact him @tylercdempsey. 

“Dig Harder” by Kevin Richard White

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After I crashed the car I went into Tom’s for a nightcap. I mulled over the thousand lies I was going to tell to my wife about it. I loved lying. I crashed the car just so I could lie.  There’d be angry sex afterwards, when I told her I lied.

“Why did you lie to me?” She would say between moans, on her back, hands digging into my neck.

“I’m going to come,” would be my response.

I took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer.  When the bartender passed it over, I turned, facing the inside of the room.  Funny, all those guys sitting at the bar staring up at some bullshit TV with some bullshit game on it when the real show’s inside. 

I sipped the shitty beer as I watched a young couple at a table playing cards. Looked like rummy. Hot girl, douchebag guy. They probably had bad sex. I walked up to them. 

“Whatcha playing?” I said.

The girl ignored me, the guy shot me a look because he had to.

“I used to be real good at rummy,” I said.

Neither one seemed to care. 

A wave passed through me. I was twenty one again. The broken jukebox, the shards of the pool cue in the guy’s eye, the handcuffs, the meat-whiskey vomit on the cop’s shiny shoes. It’s all coming back and all I have to do is tighten a fist, break glass, go for the balls.

“Hey buddy,” I snarled.

The guy slammed down his hand and the girl jerked back.  I put my watered down beer on the table.

“Wanna go?” He said. 

“Who talks like that?” I said.

“I said, you wanna go?”

My knuckles have worn over the years, the chiseled face has gained weight, but the void is still there, unfulfilled by anything else except this. 

“Yes,” I said.

The girl ran off to tell the bartender. I let the kid go first and we walked to the parking lot. He turned to me in the dark and I realized why I wanted to talk to him. He threw a punch.

“Stop,” I said, but it connected.

I fell and he said, “Fucker.”

“Wait.”

He held up another fist. I stumbled up to my feet, looked past him and pointed to the reason I wanted to talk to him. “Look.”

He didn’t.

I wiped my mouth. “I ain’t gonna hit ya, Christ, look.”
He turned.

I came up behind him, smiling with pride and blood. “That’s my car.”

There it was, the wrecked Elantra. Smoke streamed out, the color of a stout.

“That’s my wife’s,” I said.

He opened his mouth to say something, maybe ask me a question.  But then he closed it and we both stared at the car.

The bartender was about to come out.  I knew that. He’d have his baseball bat, threaten to call the cops.  The douchebag’s girl would cower near the door, maybe throw an insult or two my way.  I’d walk into the dark toward a home I’d get to much later. Dig around in the fridge for a beer.  Lie to my wife about the car and then try to fuck her. 

The future can be bright.

But he left me there and walked back into the bar. I guess he didn’t have a question after all.

I guess the fun was over. I wiped the blood off of my face with my shirt. I couldn’t find my keys. I walked into the road and waved at every car that blew past me.

“Help me find my keys!” I shouted.

 

Kevin Richard White’s fiction appears in The Hunger, The Molotov Cocktail, Barren Magazine, Hypertext, decomP, X-R-A-Y and Ghost Parachute among others. He is a Flash Fiction Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine and also reads fiction for Quarterly West and The Common. He lives in Philadelphia.