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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.