“Noon at the Chicken Factory” by Sam Machell

7775343906_924eebb259_o.jpg
Solder
R u still at the chicken factory? Ive just finished conducting the autopsy so im gonna send a bunch of info. Call me when u can

 

Solder
The arsenic content found in the chicken itself was negligible and the contents of the stomach had barely begun to digest at the time of death. It was a botch job, they just sprinkled it in with the breadcrumb mix. Like this is barely even attempted murder – would’ve just given him some stomach ache

 

Solder
I also tested the chicken, fries, and gravy for any other kind of bacteria/contamination but found nothing

 

Solder
There are no contusions on the skin, suggesting he was alone in his car and there was no struggle or awareness

 

Solder
Cause of death seems 2 b asphyxiation. The trachea and lungs are bruised and blackened indicating smoke inhalation. Otherwise critical burns across the limbs, torso and neck but all below the surface? The burns seem to have affected the interior tissue and muscle, specifically the areas around the joints, but not the skin. If I didn’t know the circumstances I would say he died in a fire

 

Solder
But get this as well, his lungs were punctured from the inside. Black from smoke but one large gushing hole torn open, still red. The tear is smooth and precise. Almost as if something inside burned its way out. It’s v hard to explain i dont know if ive ever seen anything like it. Sorry being a bit unprofessional here im just a little freaked out

 

Solder
Im thinking it must have been something he ate?

 

Ramuli
Hmmmmm

 

Ramuli
im still here yeah

 

Ramuli
But youre not gonna like my theory

 

He returns his phone to his pocket and flicks a feather from his arm.

 

The factory floor is sprawling and brown and rattles like a steel cage where he stands alone, dressed sharp in that old coat, 6’ 3” and all, his commanding presence with gun bulge pointing the way like a dowsing rod, huffing, fingers on his chin. The workers all scurried when he asked for time to think. There flickles right now that tang on the tongue: his salivating sour guilt. But he enjoys the power and smiles. Huffs. On his hip the warmth of steel coffee raises heat.

 

Although devoid of life, the floor heaves like a lung wall or a wheat field when the ancient ventilation conjures up and rustles the years of defecation and cannibalism past, pecked raw feathers, rose-tinted glasses. The residue has been trampled flat by the thousands of claws over the years and the years, the poor swarms of concentration, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped the smell.

 

Strips of steel rods suspend intermittent feeding stations – wire domes that hold the grain and hormones like his office lamp holding fragile the light across his framed degree and crumpled conspiracies. This is free range and they get away with it. 100% British meat. Huffs up some gristle. He got KFC on the way. Irony never lost on him. They charge him when he’s not in uniform. It didn’t taste like he remembered. A blood vessel got lodged snapped electric between a canine and incisor plus mayo down his shirt.

 

He visualises the space to reconstruct the ordinary, eyes closed, detective instincts tuned: darker than he expected: bodies so close they merge as one, an organism… screaming, swelling, pecking, clucking… individual motion a mystery. Assuming of course these birds have capacity for such thought? Does it matter? The muscles swelling and screaming from hormones and pecking. He doesn’t eat beef but once tried a bite of a girlfriend’s steak.

 

He crunch paces across the shit stained feathers.

 

Ramuli
the chickens have vanished

 

Solder
what?

 

Ramuli
across the whole factory, Solder

 

Ramuli
est time of death?

 

Solder
Just after midnight

 

Ramuli
I asked to view the CCTV footage

 

Ramuli
at 23:30 the chickens are there

 

Ramuli
at 00:30 they’ve gone

 

Solder
???

 

Ramuli
and between 23:30 and 00:30 the footage is corrupted. It’s just a white screen

 

Crunching steps bring legs to the corner where the breezeblocks begin to slope. The camera is mounted 11 oclock facing his feathered absence expanse. In the fisheyed dark he notices other hangers on, threatening to fall. Bringing hands automatic he dusts his coat again and it snows, slowly; fast forward.

 

Darker stains on the floor sign the presence of blood. As always, his suspicions are confirmed. He’s a genius of course. These chickens were not debeaked. And that would be written on a poster with pride. Spits disgusted.

 

Without the brooding of a hen chickens do not learn what not to peck:

 

breasts become boneless bites
wings under heat
gristle molten gravy
bit dippedive fries to
sweetness soaked clothes
and celluloid ovals
rosypinned through the nose.

 

He doesn’t have to tiptoe to find the roots, where the wires enter the wall like parasitic spinal worms, partway melted where it must get hot. Acrylic camera casing seems spotless… but he finds evidence of tampering with the connection: beneath the socket a distinct mark, about two inches in length, three scars scratched deep. An accidental trace? Curiously animal in intent. Could a chicken have really carved concrete so sharply?

 

Where he then takes a rubbing

 

and somewhere sonorous
a rooster sounds.

Ramuli
I’m going to be here a little longer

 

Ramuli
looking for a certain witness…

 

She removes the latex gloves once she’s closed the car door. Her father insisted it when she flew the family Focus through medical school, when post-dissection blood prints pinched at the handles or wheel, and it has since become ritual. A man obsessed with cleanliness. He threw a highchair across the room when her mother once spilt gravy.

 

In the rear view she reapplies lipstick and halfway wedges her paperwork into the passenger seat.

 

PRES HER

 

Truth manifests in void.

 

Yesterday wasn’t a whole lot clearer, either. Where did sense go? Never in her career had she seen household bleach behave in such a way. To corrode the organs to a coagulated curd? And the smell! The smell! In what could have only been a few hours? Chemically impossible… let alone the husband whose cause of death remains a mystery.

 

The 9-5 corpses’ mutilated material seem more alien than ever – fumbling with her keys – one day smeared into the next dismembered sliced fat layer peeled back across the weekend.

 

More bodies wheeled in throughout the rest of the week too:

 

frozen
shot
hung
dissolved
spent
dessicated
deep fried
chewed

 

And however many days ago she had to scream down the phone at her superior when some deranged picnic basket pork chop cannibal came knocking at the windows of the morgue with ketchup round his mouth. The pharmacy shut down. Her husband’s medication slipped into her handbag from the stockroom. Everything sweating. A tower beginning to bow. Plus the paperwork incomplete and near nonsensical not to mention her psychological / physical suitability checks just around the corner…

 

She clutches the silver crucifix through her lab coat

 

and her draining image of self rumbles as a truck rolls by: pig snouts snuffling from between the slats, and straw in the wind spread West down the road.

 

Solder
Catch up with me tomorrow my head is all sorts of messed up

 

Solder
I really don’t know if I can keep doing this Ramuli

 

Solder
This is beyond me now

 

Solder
I’ve been losing hair at an increasing rate

 

Solder
It’s not just a streak anymore I’m grey

 

Ramuli
Hey come on I need you you can’t quit

 

Ramuli
What would I do without you?

 

Ramuli
And I think I’m onto something anyway

 

But what though? What this time? As always? This is what he always says before dragging her, shedding, into some glistening/puffy room of weirdos. Pray to God it won’t be aliens this time.

 

She pushes down the handbrake and lets the car roll back into the grassy knoll where it softens still. The car park like an unfilled form dissects the tarmac into boxes. No insects anywhere. The titanic pylons across the fields buzz and crackle. The land drops away. She can’t stand those piercing LED headlights, violent blue. Like the one facing her from a few boxes away, engine idling with a menace she imagines she can hear through the windows. The car practically trembling with predatory adrenaline. Metal veins pumping gas and fumes. No flies on the windscreen…

 

revving…

 

revving…

 

She feels obliged to reorganise the facts.

Solder
I’m heading home

 

He breaks into a run.
Sam Machell is a multidisciplinary artist based in Plymouth, UK. He’s interested in post internet confusion, the eerie projected self, and collapse.

“Guilt Trip” by Zack Peercy

16058281216_98bccccb36_o.jpg

My train of thought is derailed as the emergency door swings wide for a man shaking a cup of change. He drags his bloated leg along the walkway; pants ripped to accommodate the bruised appendage’s girth. He speaks labored breaths. His eyes cast down.

A renegade with his gut hanging over sweatpants man-spreading across two seats points to the leg and says to a female stranger, “See that’s what happens when you don’t take care of yourself.”

He moves to the next car and I drift again. But he’ll circle back through, ignoring my warning signage, until I acknowledge him.


Zack Peercy is a legally blind playwright based in Chicago. He has work in Memoir Mixtapes, XRAY, Occulum Journal, formercactus, and others. He is a resident playwright at Three Brothers Theater where his full-length play “That’s Fucked Up” premiered in May 2019. His plays are available on New Play Exchange. Audio versions of his published prose can be found on soundcloud.com/zpreads. This specific piece can be found here.

“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. 

“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

“Wild Goose Hunt” By Molly Gabriel

34533537141_6e2d9b2d42_o.jpg

He spots me alone at the party and hands me a beer and tells me the story of the cement goose.

The goose resided on his next-door neighbor’s front porch. It dawned outfits to match occasions. The obvious being a red Santa coat and hat for Christmas and bunny ears for Easter. But it also celebrated obscure milestones: a yellow rain slicker for April Showers and a tuxedo for the local high school prom. 

Actually, he remembers, the tux had only just been removed a few days before his abduction. This detail was highlighted in the neighbor woman’s letter to the local editor. She pleaded that the goose served as the family’s only pet and cherished heirloom. She titled the letter, “Who would do such a thing” with an exclamation point instead of a question mark.

I actually still have the clipping at my parents’ house in Ohio, he adds.

I do not question this.

He says he wrapped his arms around the goose and pushed it from their porch. He struggled the bird into the car and drove to a friend’s—after slipping a pillowcase over its head. When they arrived, he ripped it off. Two guys wrestled the bird from the car. The gander crashed to the drive with such force that its head cracked clean from the body. 

He says he scooped the head from the pavement and drew Xs over the eyes. 

He says he decided they couldn’t afford to keep the body. 

You need to dispose of the body, he reminds me. No body, no crime.

They loaded the goose’s body back into the car. They drove to a bridge. They dragged it out and dumped the flightless, faceless bird into the river. 

You know the river? The Cuyahoga. He says Burned through Cleveland. 

I imagine him then: pulling a crisp, white pillowcase over the cement goose’s head and driving, serenely, to his friend’s house—the 

He sets down his beer. I move up the stairs. He follows. He’s not talking about the goose anymore.

mounting hysteria in the backseat: the flapping of wings, desperate hissing, shitting and  struggling—his throwing open the door and fighting the body from the seat with his          weight in his heels;

I step into an empty bedroom. I don’t know how I know. No, I’m sure I’ll find it. 

the head freed from the body, black blood pooling on the pavement; the new silence of      the gone bird; motionless cement wings shoved and cajoled back into the car.

He takes the tuxedo. He changes quickly. He grins. I lead, pull him back down the stairs by the hand. I open the front door. He follows me through.

I study him: sleeves too long, pants dragging beneath his sneakers, and the limp, dangling bowtie. But I put my arms around him. (He gasps at my pressure.)

And I push.

 

Molly Gabriel is a writer and poet from Cleveland, Ohio. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Queen Mobs Tea House, After Alexei, and Jellyfish Review. She is the recipient of the Robert Fox Award for Young Writers. She has been selected for flash readings with Bridge Eight Literary Magazine and the Jax by Jax Literary Festival. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband and toddler.

Twitter: @m_ollygabriel.

“Special Attention” by Ryle Lagonsin

374985408_22805db75a_o.jpg

At one point, I had resolved that it was something to do with my face. Perhaps I looked as if I beckoned, it seemed, like I was pleading for attention.

The first time I noticed someone staring it frightened me. I was four. Maybe three and a half. I was in a dress shop for children with my mother and it frightened me. The way his eyes bore into me, pierced through me with an invisible red light like laser beams. My mother didn’t notice. Whenever I brought it up here and there, she’d say I was probably imagining it. 

“Yes, Hannah, you were probably simply imagining it. Wouldn’t I have noticed if there was a man glaring at you that time? Wouldn’t I have— and, anyway, I remember it differently from how you tell it. Yes, differently because from what I remember, you were screaming and kicking and crying your eyes out.”

Then, she’d laugh and say ‘it’s fine,’ as if a screaming toddler anywhere was cute and acceptable and nothing at all like what it actually is, which is annoying. Then, she’d plant her palm on my cheek and she’d look close to crying and I’d both love and hate her because of that sudden change in her face with her hand on mine.

Besides, I remembered neither screaming nor kicking. I didn’t remember ever doing that. I only remembered the man staring at me when I was four or three in the dress shop. He wasn’t staring maliciously, no. Not menacingly, sinisterly, or treacherously, really. No. His stare was merely intent, I would say. As though he was digging, searching for something inside me for no particular reason that I could think of, and that frightened me.

Over time I suppose, I learned not to mind it. I wasn’t friends with anyone in school. None of the other children thought me worthy of company but the teachers loved me. I knew they did. They adored me. I wasn’t the smartest or the prettiest or the most useful in class but the teachers stamped stars on the back of my hands, never called on me if I didn’t know the answer. Gave me candy whenever I failed a test. They loved me. Many adults seemed to.

One time this girl sat in front of me out of nowhere. I was fourteen then and she looked fourteen. My Dad and I went out for burgers and he had gone to the restroom, so I was sitting alone in the booth and this girl just appeared in front of me. She started talking in this foreign language – foreign, well, because I couldn’t understand it – and contorting, pulling her face in different directions and I heard snickers and muffled laughs behind me. She left before Dad returned. She carried the snickers and laughs out the door with her. The old waitress smiled at me afterwards. Said our meal was on the house and several times, while we ate, I could feel her eyes on me. I was uncomfortable. Dad ordered another milkshake.

From time to time, I saw them, adults, wince once or twice from afar before they approached me. Before they smiled. And the look in their eyes would suddenly changed as they approached. Even my grandparents used to do that. My Aunts and Uncles would do that before they dragged my cousins over to say hello. It happened at every family reunion, and I guess it felt good that I was always given the third best place to sit, after my grandparents. I guess it felt good that my Aunts and Uncles doted on me while they hissed at their children to get their own food. I never became close to any of my cousins.

Anyway, I just turned eighteen tonight. I’m meeting this guy I met online. He’s 21 so he can drink and go to casinos and do whatever. He asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I said ‘to never ask for permission again.’ 

“no rly wut do u wnt? ill get u smthn.”

I asked for a lighter and a bottle of cheap wine. He texted back: weirdo :))

His car pulls up and it’s half two AM. I’m five streets away from my house.

“I’m coming back tomorrow, okay? Family’s coming over,” I tell him.

“No problem,” he replies. Sniggers. Tilts the rearview mirror down a bit. “Here’s to adulthood then.”

I catch my reflection. I see my face. I find nothing special.

 

Ryle Lagonsin is a writer from Laguna, Philippines. Currently, she is working on a novella-in-flash, although she thinks it might morph into something else. She still finds social media “quite creepy,” but has learned to tolerate it “to a certain extent.”

“Declaration” by Stephen Ground

6060624375_3b1fc6cf26_o.jpg

I used to see my whole family – Mom, Dad, little sister, a couple cats – hanging by their throats from rafters in the garage. Twice-weekly, sometimes more. Always after pounding the door code two, three times; first-try success hampered by warm Colt 45 and shake rips off pop can pipes, testing the limits of my Bambi-legged tolerance before curfew at eleven. Buzzed, sausage-fingered, I’d eventually crack it – the door half-up when I’d see them, mind’s eye but crystalline, tangible, dangling stiffly. I’d watch the door creep higher, awaiting toes pointed at the floor; shins, knees, ribs, necks wrung like dish rags. 

It’d nudged the end of the track; the roar paling. Mucousy light from the bare bulb coating the empty garage. I’d rush inside, lock up, and kill every light; trot upstairs to distance myself from a bad feeling, knuckles rapping wood railing in frantic beats, all three sides of my doorframe – inside, out – then each side of my dresser, the posts of my bed. Only then I’d feel safe, the last tendrils of dread releasing.

It felt normal – tricks of a tired mind, triggered by what I’d ingested recently in friends’ damp, half-finished basements: Silence of the Lambs. A Clockwork Orange. The Matrix. Imagination was easily blamed – it brought sleep, surrender to neon hypnagogia. I’d slip under the surface but didn’t need air, and sink, deeper but unknowingly closer to the beast leaving corpses strung in a declaration of war.


Stephen Ground is freshly-freed. His work has appeared in The River, Soft Cartel, antilang, and others which can be found at stephenground.com.