“No One Can Figure Out Why John Fed Himself to a Bear” by Benjamin Davis

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I was thirty years old. I had money. It moved around me. It didn’t grow as I wanted it to, but it didn’t run away from me like it used to. I could afford a car, an apartment, and an assortment of smart gadgets.

I called my friend Carl and said I’d drive him to the zoo. “There is a new superhero exhibit,” he’d told me a few days earlier over a club sandwich. “I really want to check it out,” he’d added, before the day spiraled into sidewalk therapy about our friend John. John had fed himself to a bear.

“Thanks,” Carl told me as I paid his entry ticket. We made our way to the exhibit and I tried to make small talk as we went.

“How are things going with Angie?” I asked.

Carl shrugged. “She keeps wanting to work through everything.”

“Oh, poor baby.”

“No—it’s nice, but I mean, I am just in no shape to be getting serious with someone. I’ve
got too many things in my head and I am falling apart,” he said. He looked up. It was a nice day.

“Anyways, how are things with Y?” he asked.

I nodded. “Yeah, good.”

“Good.” He sighed. “Good for you.” Carl was quiet as we passed through the gateway and
stopped at the first enclosure: Victor Jaws | Alias: Bite Doctor

“My penis fell off last week,” Carl said.

I turned away from the scene. It was littered with great chewed-through blocks of concrete. I tried to look sympathetic.

“Damn, man.”

“I put it in a little bag.”

Carl reached for his pocket.

“I don’t need to see it!”

“What? No. No-no.” He unwrapped a piece of gum and put it in his mouth.

“No—it’s at home.”

“What’d Angie say?”

“What do you think? She said we’d work on it, that it’d be okay—everything will be okay,
okay?”

I nodded.

Carl chewed his gum and we walked.

It was a fascinating exhibit, though most of the heroes didn’t come out to where you could see them. We passed a group of teenagers banging on the window of Mark Storm | Alias: The Whirlwind and crying, “BLOW ME!” Carl watched them.

“Remember when we went to the aquarium and John pressed his bare ass into the glass on the tank—sharks or something, right?”

“Sharks or dolphins or something, yeah,” I said.

Carl laughed. “His mom was pissed.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Have you seen her?”

“His mom?”

“Yeah.”

“No.”

We watched the kids. They laughed and laughed and called again, “BLOW MEEEE!” At
least someone was having fun, I thought.

“I just still can’t understand,” Carl said.

Here we go, I thought.

“Why would he do it?”

“I don’t know, man.”

I always hoped I’d have a better answer for him, but every time I just said, “I don’t know,
man.”

“Like even if he’d just been normal about it, like a gun or something, or pills. He was happy, though. Right?”

“Yeah. I don’t know, man.”

“But why that way,” he sighed. “You know, when we were young, it felt like the world made a lot of sense. Now, it’s like -” He looked over to the kids—they were beside themselves, laughing.

“Enjoy it while it lasts!” Carl shouted to them.

The kids looked over. “What’d you say bro?” said the largest of the three.

Carl narrowed his eyes at him and said, “I said enjoy it while it lasts. You’re young and you’ll laugh and you’ll plan all of these things and then you’ll grow up and some of you will succeed, a little, maybe, but two out of three of you, one if you’re a real bunch of shits, which from the looks of it, you are, will fail because the world doesn’t have enough for all three of you and you’ll fuck up everything you touch because that is all anyone does is fuck things up and then make some money and—and, buy a car!”

He looked at me.

I looked up at The Whirlwind.

He was in midair on the other side of the glass, tights rolled down, masturbating with the
angriest goddamn look on his face.


Benjamin Davis is an ex-fintech journalist and folklore addict living in South Korea. His work can be found or is upcoming in *82 Review, Defenestration, Cease, Cows, and others.

3 Stories by Dylan Gray

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Solar Purification

He keeps all his water in jars beside his window. He wants to capture the sun. He tends to his garden. He gathers acorns. Water molecules bind with the photons emitted by the sun; these photons contain restorative properties. He is a young man, already considering life after death, excited for whatever shape comes next. He hopes to be a tree, growing tall, stretching closer towards the sunlight with each year, one day seeing the light travel atop his brethren against the blue mountains and aqua sky. He lays outside on his naked back to absorb all the light he can, rolling over occasionally on the soft grass. He thinks of his future kids. They will tend the garden after he is gone. He will teach them how to harness the sovereignty of the sun. When he is older, he will live inside a glass house.

Ornaments

She kicked her TV habit, now she didn’t know what to do with her life. Reading disturbed her sleeping pattern. Music was a bore. Instead, she bought all the discount Christmas ornaments from the dollar store. She would drive an hour into the country at night and toss the cheaply ornate bulbs into an abandoned quarry. The shimmers of moonlit water coalescing at the bottom with an explosion of scintillated shards of glass enthralled her for hours. She bought hundreds of baubles over this time. Eventually the quarry sparkled brilliantly, even on the clearest nights, so much so she could enjoy the tableau
promulgate without input. It would take her years to realize it was the moon she was watching, not the glitter. She kicked that habit too.

 

You and I are floating on

My butt is sucked into the center of my inner tube. You are floating on an inflatable lounging chair with the back raised. You are slightly sitting up. With our sunglasses on, we both stare at the sun. I ask what time is it. From the sun, you say, I imagine one. I dip my fingers into the cool water. My body is warm. I pull my hair out of the water and let the droplets fall on my chest. The bleary sky is empty except the sun. Fringes of water inflict my peripheries. You reapply more tanning oil. I think I’m starting to burn, I say. You can get out whenever you want, you say. The water feels so nice though. It does, doesn’t it? I tilt my head back, returning to my angst, across the inner tube, my hair slumping back into the water. I hear the splashes of water against the elastic. What is that sound? Squeaky? I hear the sound in my head – its squishy beginning, the supple pulling of the middle, the bouncy end like a loose rubber ball – and think yes. I sink my whole scalp into the water. Tangles of hair squiggle around me like a halo. I am happiest in water, I think. I am aquatic. A seagull lands between you and I. I pet its small head before it takes off. I watch the bird become indistinct from the hazy sky. I feel emotional then but am unsure why, which makes me feel more emotional. I begin to resent the seagull for having ever enter my heart. I can’t think straight, I say. You are texting on your phone. How can I relax when my brain won’t shut up and I feel so emotional all the time for reasons I  don’t know? Try actively not thinking, you say. Build a psychic barrier for your feelings from your thoughts so you can think without the input of subjective sentimentality. The restless mind will stay occupied as the flow of consciousness filters in unabashed. To quell the monkey mind is a full-time operation, but by assiduously assuaging your mind, you train yourself to resist the rational and accept the irrational, the absurd, the void. I try this out. I’m bored, I say. You can get out whenever you want, you say. I dip my hands and feet into the water. But the water feels so nice. The sun is hot. But the water is cool. I consider reorienting myself. With some effort, I am able to slide my other half into the water. I nuzzle myself via my armpits onto either side of the inner tube, stare out onto the horizon, gazing at the nothing around us.

Dylan Gray is a writer from Indiana, currently residing in Phoenix, AZ. He works at the library. Follow him @dylanthegray but don’t tell his boss.

Push to Exit by Nick Perilli

 

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Push to exit: a new button to limit intrusion into the break room and create a clear distinction between
useless and productive hours in the minds of the workers. It’s green.

O

The workers have already stopped pushing to exit. They mill around the door, their hands hovering over the delicate button. It is difficult for them to choose to work because they know work is bullshit. They build a colony in the break room and it thrives. It is self-sufficient with its own economy and robust
culture.

Push to force exit: a new button to limit abuse of the original button. Administration pushes it. The door blows open, sucking all but one worker into the endless vacuum of responsibilities. They can’t breathe out there. They go limp and choke. The blue light of the planet glows across their sad faces.

O

An administrator descends the emergency elevator to the break room. They can’t stand the air down there, so they wear several breathing apparatuses. They prod the lone straggling worker – holding fast to the edge of the break room door – with a broom handle. The worker fights back, grabbing the handle and pulling the administrator with the rest of the workers into the howling vacuum.

Administration doesn’t know what to do. We sit in silent penance and grief. In time, the emergency elevator snaps back to life. We do the same, tearing webs from our crusted eyes.

We welcome the admin back as a hero. They are changed; shifted; they look nothing like their employee ID. Before they even remove their breathing apparatuses, they install a new button.

Push to pizza party: a new button in administration to be slammed all damn day, filling the voids of this place with radiant pizza.

But the admin pushes it too much. There is only so much space for the pizza and we are concerned. The pizza filled this place and has begun to encroach on our person. A few of us fight through the impossible amount of cheese, of sauce, of dough that’s not too chewy or crispy but just right, to reach the lost admin in their office.
Some of us succumb to the lack of oxygen and the pressing weight of the pies growing against our chests with each push to pizza party. I don’t just yet.
The admin sits at their desk, slamming their raw fist down on the button. They see me enter, a knowing look on their stark worker face. I am already suffocating. I tell the “admin” to look out over the company floor. The workers are dead, consumed by the product of this endless button. The admin knows this already. The workers died happy, they tell me, a party all around them and pizza in their lungs. Perhaps a new company—a new world—will be born from the sauce-soaked remains of this one. Until then, the admin will push to pizza party.

I cannot speak. My mouth is dough. My blood is marinara.

Nick Perilli is a writer and librarian living in Philadelphia with loved ones who have yet to watch Gremlins 2 with him. Links to more of his published work are on his discount website nickperilli.com. Sometimes he tweets as @nicoloperilli. That’s it.

All Created Equal by Bud E. Ice

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I stood there looking at this hole in the ground. Six feet deep with walls made of dirt. That’s where Soapy was going. Everyone at the job called him “Soapy” because we came to the conclusion that he never took a shower. We found humor in the irony even though it wasn’t that clever.

I decided to attend the funeral because I was off from work that day and Soapy had never given me a particular reason to dislike him. I was one of three people there, with the exception of the priest and those working for the cemetery.

Soapy’s gravestone was so small that it could have easily been stepped on had there not been a big ass hole dug up in front of it. The priest said some prayers and I blessed myself once I saw everyone else do it. Then it was over. The whole thing took about ten minutes. The groundskeepers stood off to the side, waiting, so they could lower the body in and cover it up with the excess dirt.

I walked up to the gravestone as everyone began walking back to their cars. One last look to take it all in and see what the inevitable future was headed for. Apparently Soapy’s real name was Bernard. He was also a lot younger than I thought he was. Aside from the bad hygiene, I didn’t know much else about him. But I still ended up paying my respects somehow. There were probably people out there who had known him much better than I, but they were nowhere to be found.

“You almost done here?” I heard a voice say from behind me. It was one of the gravediggers, an elderly man who looked five seconds away from burying himself.

“Yeah.”

“Sorry for your loss.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Thanks.”

I didn’t know what else to say. It wasn’t really my loss. But there was no point in explaining any of that to him. He was on the clock and had a corpse to bury.

“How do you guys get the hole so perfectly squared?” I asked.

“We get a lot of practice,” the old man replied. I almost forgot that people die everyday. And that other people get paid to bury them.

I looked around and scanned the cemetery. I saw a group of men constructing a rather large monument a few yards away.

“What are they doing over there?” I asked.

“That? It’s called a mausoleum.”

“It’s a lot  bigger than my friend’s little plaque, here.”

“That person probably had a lot more money than your friend.”

“Even in death you can tell who the winners were.”

We may have all been created equal. It’s just a shame we don’t always get to live or die that way.

 

Bud E. Ice is a functioning alcoholic and part-time lowlife located right outside the ratchet grounds of Southwest Philadelphia. His work typically involves a comedic take on social etiquette, race, class, morality, battles within the self, family issues, death, vulnerability, and whatever other realities seem relevant at the time of the writing. It’s HIS reality, but a reality nonetheless. So the reader can either RELATE to it or LEARN from it. After all, isn’t that what this is all about? There’s far worse ways to waste time. Follow him on TWITTER: @BudEIce

“Under One Minute Remaining” by Lucy Zhang

Mixed Media Painting (Detail) by Choichun Leung / Dumbo Arts Cen

Under one minute remaining. In theory, fifty-nine seconds, fifty-eight seconds, fifty-seven seconds…

It has been at “under one minute remaining…” for about half an hour now. 

Here’s how this came to be:

A father has a daughter who just started ninth grade. He didn’t grow up in the United States so he’s only now learning about college applications and National Merit scholarships, AP exams and extracurricular activities. This father comes into work at seven am and buys a bowl of oatmeal mixed with raisins and almonds, a habit that has endured for over two decades. Today his task is to animate the progress bar from start to finish, as accurately as possible. He figures he can divide everything into operations: each operation takes a constant amount of time, equivalent to some portion of the bar, and he’ll let progress move at constant velocity until it reaches the next operation where a new velocity will be defined. Or, he can hard code a time–like thirty minutes–and have the progress accelerate towards the end should the real work finish early. And if not, stalling at ninety-nine percent until everything finishes might be viable. But ninety-nine percent looks rather close to one hundred percent and people might think that’s good enough when really it isn’t. Because that last operation? Without it, you end up with a mutant system where launching Microsoft Word triggers the simultaneous destruction of the internal clock, roaring of spinning fans, and a defunct security mechanism whose original purpose was to save you from this very situation but now all it can do is write files to a directory forever. Perhaps he should make an indeterminate progress bar with flashing blue and white stripes, but he is certain the higher-ups wouldn’t approve a user interface without a time estimate. He is also certain the last operation will not complete in under one minute, but these are just semantics, the “nuances of language” so his high school English teacher liked to say, and all of this seems superior to “Under an infinite amount of time remaining…”. Plus he enjoys wasting millions of people’s time–time they could be spending making the world a worse place, so he’s probably a hero of sorts. He clicks into the text file, fingers rapidly hitting keyboard buttons for two or three seconds, saves his work, and pushes it to production with privileges he acquired back when the company was small and really someone should’ve redacted these godlike abilities because him hitting the “return” button is, at least today, surely a violation of corporate democracy.

Somewhere else, in a poor country where only one person has enough money to afford products meant to elevate the life experience beyond basic physical sustenance, this person stares at a progress bar moving neither forward nor backward, even though it seems so close to completion. Well, if it’ll take under a minute, it may be worth the wait. Governing a country can come later.

“coyote sunset” by jordan pansky

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i lay in bed, saying my simple prayer
lord please help me, to stop my dumbfuck ways in this dumbfuck world,
amen.

the desert heat beats my brow. sweat dribbles down my back. i shut the plastic door of my car, and lock it. 

i’m in the waiting room, and everyone’s getting mad at the tv. i can’t see it, but it sounds like the guy from wheel of fortune, discussing that which concerns celebrities and their followers. i sift through the magazines and pamphlets. long spreads of lipstick glossed over, with a sun hat. a man at the front desk talks on two phones at once. his smile radiates. 

i finally get in to the doctor, and he tells me to pull my pants down, so i do. 

moved here a few years back. telling myself i’d build a cardboard house in a cardboard town. with a silly putty wife and a silly putty dog. stars made of cellophane.

she makes flapjacks, as the dog does jumping jacks as i play solitaire with a deck that’s missing the jacks. the clock strikes bonanza and she pours the pink mist. i think about what the doctor said about my hemoglobin. he said it was looking fine, everything in order. i went because i thought i’d vomit up blood if it ever got that far. if it got that far, that i’d vomit at all. 

i was having waking dreams, of some woman i used to love. sweating.

i kiss the silly putty wife, florence. i kiss her and tell her i’ll be home by six. i tell her to be ready by six. she says i’d better be ready, too. i will, i assure her. better run, engine’s gettin cold. 

out the door, into the car and down the windy roads. styrofoam cactuses darting past. thick greens set against the orange, and some sort of effigy enclosed by mesas made of salt. jutting out, on the outskirts. the news man says we’re reaching a heat wave. the hottest in 38 years. i roll the window down for a smoke. cotton lazily seeping out the tip of my stick. that’s much better.

great serenity washes over me as i sharpen my pencil. my boss walks in, his red comb is droopy. he’s been crowing since he was three, and now he does so at me. i yap back a bit, and head to the cooler. lester sips from a straw. 

i’ve been working on an expansion for the house, something that’s really gonna stick. i bought some chairs, finally. oh, they look nice in the bulb room. sometimes the neighbourhood bullfrogs come round, and i give them a pop, and they scoot. always prankin. always riding their high wheels down the bend, to the creek. 

it’s 5:30, and i punch the clock. i go to pick florence up, and silly dog must stay. we park on the main street. a slight wind causes the buildings to sway like they’re dancing around the fire. i can see embers and sparks if i think hard enough. 

corner booth, noise dampened. our tronic waitress scoots over to top up the pink mist. she sends idle chit chat. i ask her to call me mad dog, she commits it to memory. 

florence mashes her face, frowny. i ask what’s wrong. oh, nothing. the night goes on.

we put a dime in the robot and it emits frequency for us to drink to. the pitch is higher than normal, but palatable. maybe even a bit more roomy than normal. i pretend i’m on safari.

i see the cutouts in the sky. jfk and fdr and bogart. at the beach, a train line running over stars with cars backed up for miles and miles. miles davis in the window, frozen. and the dandelions swaying in unison with the monolith.

i ask the teller what’s playing. real cinema, he insists, taking token. i buy some buttered biscuits, and sit with florence. the lights go down, and it’s quiet. there’s only about 5 other people in here, tonight. the commercials were nothing to write home about. some value cream, and linked sausage. 

it begins. the flickering light, and running tone. blank screen, changing brightness intensities. i am in awe. at one point i notice the exit door has been left open. i’m having a hard time taking my eyes off the screen, but best i can tell it’s a smudgy gentleman. his walking cane is propped against the frame. he unbuttons his shirt, and buttons it back up. over and over. 

used to be we could tune in to soft core porn on friday nights. there’s a message on the machine waiting for me, once i get home. 

hey derrick, thought i’d give you a ring, but i must’ve missed ya. the waterboards all done. up in the shop. you really wore it in, didn’t you? i’m taking the fish to the lake if you wanna join, let me know. bye.

florence and i sit, staring at the cotton candy sky as it turns all shades of red and orange and pretty pink. those hues, cutting me deep. some memory tucked away, in a plain, unlabelled box. it’s summer, and not enough light is getting through the blinds. frequency is soft in the distance. the sprinkler is on. it’s some great buried sadness. like the world won’t be here tomorrow. i desperately want it to end. for it to become dark. but deep down, i know i’d rather live in this singular point in time, for the rest of my life, than ever have it leave me. was some time during the foggy years. when things took longer to form. 

the bulb dips beneath the tarmac, and it’s over. 

we slowly make our way back to the street. passing the laundromats, and dunk diners with their low hum. some people seldom sleep. sometimes i wish the same. 

 

——————————-

Jordan Pansky is a writer/video person. Currently editing Angels in the Outfield in the style of David Lynch. His videos can be viewed here.

“Hell” by Daniel Eastman

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I don’t think it’s really all fire and pain like they say. I think everyone’s got their own thing coming. Some guys, they get their dicks chopped off for all eternity. I dunno. My version of Hell? Well, my dick’s still there. The sun’s shining over the lake. Temp’s a comfy 75 during the day but drops to a cool 60 at night. We build bonfires out of dry branches when the sun goes down. Everyone I’ve ever loved is with me. Every friend. Hell, even some enemies too. We take the boat out sometimes or we just sit back in Adirondack chairs. We drink but we never get drunk. Cheap beer in an endless cooler. We’re forever in that sweet spot right after the first or second drink when your belly gets warm and you can talk about anything. Sleep is optional. Night comes. We share a furnished cabin with those green 70s countertops and pine needles in the carpet. Jealousy does not exist. Someone always plays a half decent guitar. Doesn’t suck at all, really. We circle the fire and listen to owls and the hush rippling of the shore. A column of smoke reaches the stars and all of our secrets are carried off and dissolved within it. People harp on cheap coffee but you ever have it in the cool good morning of a calm lake? We do that in Hell. Still, in spite of the eternal beauty of earthly nature and leisure at our disposal, none of us can escape the unspoken feeling that this is not enough.

“i am dave” by @yuhhboy2clout

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Jeremy is listening to sum gangsta shit from Shoreline Mafia “Gangstas & Sippas”. It is a nice song “bout that fuckin life” that be slappin. Jeremy looks at mirror to reassure himself of his beauty and that he is beautiful. He is so very beautiful. He is a perfect beautiful boy. His name should be Dave like that statue ass hoe in Italy all made up of chiseled marble n shit. “My name should totally be Dave cuz I be the epitome of male perfection.” The Shoreline Mafia song be deadass goin hard. Jeremy vibes. “GANGSTAS. SIPPAS. PACK FLIPPAS.” His phone has text from his girlfriend Krista. She always be textin. Jeremy likes her, enjoys her company, but hates that she be texting so much. “Damn, she always be texting me. I def have to break up wit her before Senior Year.” 

Jeremy sprays his bare chest with Axe body spray. He sprays Axe all over his chest. He sprays so much Axe Body Spray he creates a cloud of Axe mist. The mist mesmerizes Jeremy. Time pauses. Jeremy sees the truth. Jeremy understands now. He understands the universal theory of everything. The Axe mist slowly evaporates before his eyes, Jeremy watches, and contemplates the nature of his existence after he sees a microscopic wormhole leading to the outer edges of our Milky Way. “If I had the ability to fully stop time, and unlimited supply of Axe Body Spray; I could travel the cosmos.” Jeremy looks at himself in the mirror again. He adjusts his hair. Jeremy inhales the Axe fumes permeating from his body. “What the fuck just happened, yo?”

 

“Jeremy! Can you hear me? Clean your room, please.”

“Ayy mom, I can’t be worrying bout that shit right now. I’m headin out.” 

 

Jeremy finds a Champion heritage tee with the wrap around logo to wear. Jeremy picks up his phone. Krista wants to know when he’ll pick her up to go to Nathan Miller’s pool party. “Damn, you always be textin. No wonder I be breakin up wit yo textin hoe ass.” Jeremy walks out of his room.

 

“I know your room is not clean. Jeremy.”

“I heard you mom. I heard you. But I gotta dip.”

 

Jeremy goes to the kitchen to get a Coca Cola. His mom is in the living room watching Top Chef. She is dressed in a Martha Stewart robe over her sweatpants pajamas from Macy’s. She almost never goes out on the weekends. She watches TV and barks orders at Jeremy. “Clean your room. Do your homework. Say hi to your grandma. Help Mrs Clarkson next door bring in her groceries, she’s an old woman, Jeremy, a widow. Don’t you have any compassion? What is wrong with you? You’re becoming your father. A spoiled entitled frat boy. I’m at my wits end with you. No, I am not hiring a maid. You’re nuts, mister.”

Jeremy is sick and tire of chores. 

His dad would pay for a maid to do Jeremy’s chores, but his mom refused. His dad sends money every month in alimony and child support, but she refuses to take the money. Its in a savings account stacking up while they live in total squalor. The money is there, it is on the table, all she had to do was pick it up. Jeremy is not a butler. Jeremy has the best dick in the bizz. Everyone in town talks about Jeremy and the way he slangin dick. “Yo that Jeremy kid be slangin dick heavy. You know he fuckin runnin it.” His mom is just completely oblivious to how much of a fuckin smoke show Jeremy is. 

 

“Don’t drink soda. It’s not good for you.” his mother say.

“I don’t care. I have the best dick in the bizz.” Jeremy say.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Clean your room. I am watching Top Chef.”

“I have to go to a pool party and slang dis dick.”

” I can’t relax knowing that your room is a mess.”

“Moms – why do I have to clean this shit? I hate cleaning. I hate everything. I hate this apartment. I hate working at Pizza Hut. I hate not being respected by bum ass muhfuckas when I be slangin dick heavy and erry bitch around town be fuckin wit me. I’m like a greek god reborn. It’s so weird too because you and dad aren’t even Greek, and I’m practically Zeus’s son. I am Zeus’s son, Dave.”

“Zeus’s son? Hercules?”

“Whaa?”

“Hercules; Zeus’s son.”

“No, not Hercules. I’m Dave. That statue in Italy. Zeus’s son Dave from Italy.”

“My goodness, Jeremy. That’s Michelangelo’s David.”

“Whatever moms, I’m Dave.”

“It’ll take you 20 minutes to clean your room. Just do it. You’ve completely ruined this episode of Top Chef for me, but it’s OK. I’ll rewind. We have DVR.”

“DVR these nuts, yo.”

“On Top Chef, these chefs compete with each other to be the Top Chef. It requires commitment and the spirit of a champion. These people are champions. Do you think the Top Chef has a maid? If you want to succeed in life, Jeremy..” his mom sighs. 

“Fine, mom’s. If it’s that motherfuckin’ important.”

 

Jeremy walks back to his room. Jeremy makes his bed. Jeremy picks up clothing on the floor. Jeremy picks up an empty can of Axe and puts it into a wastebasket. Jeremy vacuums the carpet. While he is coiling up the vacuum cord he looks at his reflection. “I’m not Dave, I’m David.” 

That was the last time Jeremy and his mother argued over chores. A few weeks later Jeremy would lose his mother to a car accident. A drunk driver plowed into her car, flipping it over, and caused it to explode. After his mother’s death, Jeremy moved in with his father and stepmother in their fancy home with a maid service. But, like a good mother’s son, Jeremy insisted on doing his own chores. When he would do his chores it felt as if he was with his mom again in their tiny apartment. He would clean his room and talk to her with a big smile. “I’m making my bed, moms. No, I won’t forget to wash my pillowcase.” The alimony and child support that his father paid all those years wasn’t going into a savings account like Jeremy assumed. Rather, his mom had every cent of that money put into a trust for Jeremy. Over $100,000 was in the account, along with a message from his mother: “Be your best self, Jeremy.” Jeremy’s girlfriend, Krista, helped him immensely dealing with the tragedy of losing his mother. He thought he would break up with her but he fell very deeply in love with her. They were together all senior year, planned to go to the same college, and talked about marriage before Jeremy himself got shotgun blasted in the fuckin face yo when that crazy ass tried to flip his 100k into a milli buying packs off the cartel. The game is the game yo. You either play or get played.

 

2 Clout be writing screenplays and short stories. You can find him on Twitter (@yuhhboy2clout) makin those dope moves. 

“Bed Bugs” by Josh Olsen

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I was headed towards a garbage can, to throw away an empty cup of coffee, and suddenly caught a strong whiff of mint. Before I even saw the young man brushing his teeth over the garbage can, I had smelled his toothpaste, and there he was, in faded blue jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, a full backpack slung over his shoulder. “What are you doing, you fucking bum?” an assertive male voice inquired from a distance, and the young man brushing his teeth took a swig from his water bottle, spit a mouthful of foam into the garbage can, and laughed so hard he nearly choked. “What the fuck does it look like?” the young man replied. “You’re gonna be late for class, dude!” the distant voice chimed in, and the young man who had been brushing his teeth jogged away from the garbage can to catch up with his classmate and disappeared in the crowd.

With the garbage can no longer occupied, I dropped my empty cup into the foamy puddle of spit that had already begun to attract bees. Several of them lazily flew up out of the can, and when I felt something crawling on the lobe of my right ear, I tried, at first, not to panic, but being deathly allergic to bees, couldn’t stop myself from swatting wildly at my head. Luckily, it was only a ladybug. “Another fucking ladybug!” I said out loud, to myself. They were coming off me like spores. Already that day, I had found at least five of them on me. Or maybe it was the same one, returning after I brushed it off the sleeve of my moth-eaten sweater.

Later that afternoon, while walking with my partner, one of those rare moments when we were able to synchronize our schedules and grab lunch together, I mentioned that ladybugs were flying out of my orifices and was deftly corrected. She said that they were more than likely Japanese Stink Beetles, which didn’t sound nearly as magical, but did, in my opinion, seem more appropriate. “And speaking of bugs…” I grumbled while nudging KT’s elbow and nodding my head in the direction of a large, white truck being loaded up by men in coveralls and rubber gloves. Two by two, they paraded from a student apartment complex a series of twin-size mattresses wrapped in plastic. “Bed bugs,” KT gasped. “Ugh, that’s gonna give me nightmares,” I said, and it did.

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

“A Little Herbal Remedy” by Elliot Harper

Hot pepper tea, chamomile tea and dried fruit teas

Jeff stares at me blankly. I look from him to the herbal tea bag in my hand and then back. I try again. “A little herbal remedy, ayeeeeee.” 

Nothing. Surely, he knows what I’m talking about? I point at the gently swaying tea bag hanging from my raised hand. “You know, herbal tea, herbal remedy, like Ali G.” I wait apprehensively for some recognition. “Who is Ali G?” 

I’m crestfallen. The younger man has asked the question I feared the most. “You know the character? A chav. Always asking daft questions and talking about smoking marijuana? Me Julie?”

 I suddenly realise I’m still holding the camomile tea bag in the air. I slowly lower it down to a respectable height. Jeff’s still blank. “Never heard of him, mate. What was he? Some reality TV star or something?” 

This isn’t going the way I planned. “You must know him, the character of Sacha Baron Cohen?” 

This seems to click. I see recognition in his eyes. “Oh, you mean the guy from Les Mis? Yeah, I know him, he’s funny in that.”

I smile uncertainly. Les Mis? Does he mean Les Misérables? I’ll just agree. It’s safer that way. “Yeah, that’s the guy. He did a comedy character back in the late nineties. Hilarious stuff.” Jeff smiles and grabs his coffee. “Sounds good, mate. Anyway, I got to get back.” He quickly departs, leaving me alone. 

What just happened? I drop the bag in the mug. It bobs around, slowly turning the water brown. I slump in a comfy chair in the breakout area near the kitchen. I need a moment to compose myself. The gravity of the situation has just sunk in. 

I stare down at my mug. Chamomile tea. Not normal tea, not coffee. Decaffeinated chamomile tea. I drink it because I don’t like to have caffeine after midday. I’ve never thought about it until now. It’s obvious. I’m past it. I’m slowly marching into middle-age with a cup of chamomile tea in hand and quotes from long-forgotten televisions series. 

I sigh deeply and whisper as I stare into my mug. “A little herbal remedy, aye.”  

 

Elliot Harper is a bloke with a ginger beard who writes fiction. He’s also the author of the dark science-fiction novella “The City around the World” published by Sinister Stoat Press, an imprint of Weasel Press.