“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.

PABST BOY STUNNA WINNERS

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PABST BOY STUNNA by Lindz McLeod
Dark liquid throttles past
his tongue; sweet carbon roars,
wrapped in black and white silk,
move into fifth gear.
Picking up speed inside a
crushed tin cage. Boy,
you sure do know how to dress-
wide grey tie like a safety ribbon,
topped by bewildered brows
coagulating into joy.

 

Method of Choice by Kyla Houbolt

Worked in a factory in South Baltimore when I was about 22.  Me and my girlfriend on our days off used to walk to the corner bar, sit around drinking Rolling Rocks and eating barbecue potato chips. Baltimore was a beer town. Lots of neighborhood bars opened at 6 am, guys would sit at the bar, have a few to take the edge off the day before their shifts.

Nobody we knew would drink Pabst though. It tasted like sour piss with sugar in it, watered down. Any bar that had Pabst on draft (and surprisingly there were a few) we’d buy a bottle of something instead. But much later I did find one good use for it.

I was living in San Francisco, and one year there was lots of rain after a drought. I was trying to garden. The snails were a terror that year; the sudden abundance of water must have made them overbreed. I watched dozens of them actually race toward the garden when daylight struck. Snails don’t much like tomato plants but that year they would eat anything. 

If you don’t want to use poison, the best way to control snails is to set traps. Beer traps. Pabst was real good for that. Cheap, and nobody wanted to drink it so a six pack could sit around longer than a day. Fill little cups with beer, leave them out for the snails to drown in. Which they did, en masse. Only problem with that method was occasionally forgetting the location of one of the traps. Leave a bunch of dead snails in a beer pool for too long and the odor will almost make you pass out. But it was Pabst, so you never felt like you were wasting good beer by letting all those snails rot in it. And there would always be plenty of the six pack left, to fill more traps with. Because nobody was going to drink that stuff. As for the snails, they died happy. Pabst was just fine with them.

Lindz McLeod is a writer and poet from Edinburgh, Scotland. She enjoys archery and picnicking in the moral grey area.

Kyla Houbolt’s debut micro chapbook, Dawn’s Fool, is available from IceFloe Press: https://icefloepress.net/kyla-houbolts-dawns-fool-a-microchap/ . Most of her published work can be accessed on her Linktree: https://linktr.ee/luaz_poet and she is on Twitter @luaz_poet.

“That Firecracker Summer” By Mike Lee

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That Firecracker Summer

By Mike Lee

“Ouch. Damn. Damn. Damn!” Sarah muttered, knocking her water jug against her thigh, as she walked toward the Farm and Market road that led to the town named for her mama’s family.

The grass blades cut into her bare ankles. Sarah wore half-broken flip-flops; borne from teenage hubris and indefatigable obstinacy. This was of no surprise: she is the one and only from a family where the principal rule was do as much as you can get away with. Getting by and over it while picking up what falls off from trucks, with drug store sunglasses and cheap makeup easy game when the cashier is distracted, the topper moments later getting extra cash at checkout with the magic of using fast talk, slicked with sweetness and distracting sparkling gray eyes expressing words in honeysuckle bullshit artist hailing from dirt road 

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I gave you a ten.”

“Are you sure, sweetheart?” The cashier was already self-questioning her actions, her wedding band hand already hesitating over the open drawer.

“Yes ma’am…. It’s five, six, seven, and ten. I think you are a little short. Yes, ma’am, I gave you a ten.”

Sarah lowered her forehead to maximize sincerity. Not using eye shadow was a nice touch: this made Sarah look younger and more acceptable to born-again Christians obsessed about being so good that getting into their heaven was greased on the rails of their gullibility.

Always works—until it doesn’t. In this little town doing the chump change shakedown you can only do once, because you know how the country ladies love to talk.

Sarah reached the hillock and clambered over the wire fence by the two-lane asphalt ribbon cutting toward the town. Summers with grandparents were at once an agony and escape from bullshit. It wasn’t as if she was missing anything. Her life at home was too controlled to do anything beyond early curfews and vetted friends. Daddy, dope paranoid and cop shy saw trouble in everyone.

So it was mornings with flapjacks and bacon on the griddle. Afterward, wanderings across the grassy fields with cedars and mesquite spit by the devil’s angels cut across by gravel tracks and trails, and the two-lane blacktop that began at Dripping Springs, with a junction with the main Hill Country route out of Austin at the town square, before terminating in Bourne. When she was a child, Sarah was on that road late at night huddled under the blanket in the back seat staring at the night sky driving back from picnics and extended family get-togethers.

Sometimes Sarah brought a book to read, and always she carried her teddy. This summer, though the bear was back at home, placed on her bed pillow directly below the poster of Robert Plant. She felt she was too old to bring it to her grandparents this time around.

Her parents were old hippies, and the music on the old Realistic cassette deck reflected that. Dylan, Janis, The Weight by The Band.

Ah, and Pure Prairie League. That song. Amie, whatcha wanna do? It evoked that day when Sarah waited out front of the school waiting for the boy she wanted.

Yes, Sarah standing there waiting for that boy, all the while soaking in the rain of her favorite dream. Yeah, that is what this was like, and remained so.

The heat turned Sarah pink before the sun burned her dark, and she walked along the road on the edge of the shoulder because the hot asphalt—even in late morning—would melt the soles of her flip flops.

She passed the tire yard, and the old stone-built gas station turned into an antique store that no one seemed to stop by to shop. Corrugated tin garages selling farm equipment and aging pickups, no beer joints because this is a dry county, no alcohol available except at the clubs Sarah was too young to be allowed to enter.

But the Baptists and the Seventh Days tolerated cigarettes, so Sarah got her smokes at the convenience store, lighting one as she walked toward the town square.

The paperback bookstore and the café beside it were Sarah’s haunts. The bookstore didn’t open until noon, so Sarah had an hour to sit in the shade outside, smoking cigarettes and thinking of getting a fresh stack of science fiction. Currently she was into Le Guin. 

She drank her coffee, the queen of the concrete bench when Bobby arrived. He pulled up in his black top, cherry red Buick Skylark. While Bobby wasn’t the boy back in Austin, he offered freedom from flapjacks, had weed and did stuff she liked well.

She thought he’ll do as he leaned for a sloppy kiss.

Amie, whatcha wanna do. She thought about the boy she had waited for. But—black top, cherry red.

“Hey baby, the firecracker stand just opened up in Blanco. I want to pick up some Black Cats before they run out,” Bobby said.

“No M-80s, please,” said Sarah. “They scare the fuck out of me.”

“They’re illegal,” he said. “They ain’t gonna have them.”

Sarah did not believe him, but watch can she do. Behind her she heard the bookstore door unlock.

She flipped her cigarette spinning to the pavement.

“C’mon,” Sarah said, nudging Bobby. “There’s a book I want to buy. Then, we can go get the firecrackers.”

“Boom,” Bobby said, spreading her fingers in front of his face and stretched his arms upward toward the sky.

With a shudder, Sarah had a premonition. But she forgot about it until she remembered later, for forever.

Boom.

“Pale Cobalt Blue” by A.S Coomer

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Nethers put in the lowest bid, by far, so he got the job of repainting the Philpot water tower. He’d overheard two county engineers talking about the project at Hattie’s Tavern and it felt too preordained not to be done. He’d spray-painted a dick on it some twenty years earlier and here then was an opportunity to not only work his idle hands but make amends for a previous transgression. 

He remembered stealing warm beer from his father’s boat then the long rickety ladder up to the top of the water tower, wrung after wrung of dissolving paint under his sweaty hands, dusk setting on quicker all the time. On top, he drank two of the beers as fast as he could then edged himself down the tank to the point where he just knew he’d slide off if he scooted another inch. Pinpricks of needles blossomed on the bottoms of his feet as he worked. He drew the five-foot dick slowly, carefully. He scrambled back up to the top of the tower then popped the tab of another warm Stroh, studying the cartoonish penis which glistened, still wet under the new moon. 

He’d never gotten caught for the dick. Nethers finished high school, by the skin of his teeth, then moved away immediately, first: a four-year stint in Louisville, then: eight in Nashville, the rest: wandering place to place always looking but never finding. He got word of his father’s passing at a truck stop in Tucson and rushed home to spend three years in a single February at the poorly insulated house, the one in which he was raised, in Philpot, settling his father’s affairs. His father left him the house and since Nethers didn’t have any place better to go he moved back home. 

Nethers decided he was going to hand-paint the water tower. He’d gotten a rock-climbing harness and set of rappelling ropes off Craigslist. He knew it’d take longer than spraying but he’d seen a video on the internet that got him started thinking about pollution and his carbon footprint; it’d showed oil covered chicklets and baby turtles. Nethers imagined the sun shining down on each of his languid brushstrokes cleansing the murky slate of his heart. He’d taken for so long he’d forgotten the healing power of giving. After snorting the Xanax, Nethers felt more comfortable with his place in things. He was making amends. 

Nethers cringed and shook when they lowered his father’s casket into the ground thinking of the growing population and all the space cemeteries wasted and the fact he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his father, not entirely. They’d both been drunk, Nethers to the dripping inkiness of another blackout, his father probably not far off his own self. Nethers thought they’d embraced, a rare show of physical affection, but wasn’t sure. 

His hands were shaking. Though he acknowledged his boredom with life, had wondered why he kept on living when he had nothing to hope for, still he was terrified of falling from the water tower. He popped a Klonopin, washed it down with a sip of warm Stroh he’d found in the cooler of his father’s john-boat, then adjusted the harness. He made sure the ropes were in order then took each tentative step backwards slowly, his heart hammering around in his chest. He leaned forward in the harness and realized he had not thought things through. He was going to have to affix the can of paint and paintbrush to his overalls because he needed the use of his hands for repelling. He tried this, then that, finally deciding to put the can of paint inside the front of his overalls, the paint brush would be carried in his teeth. Before he started, Nethers smoked half a joint just enjoying the view and trying not to think about how high up he was.

On the way down for his initial coat of pale cobalt blue, his legs became entangled, the can of paint shifted inside his overalls, and he nearly cried out in absolute terror. Nethers regained control of himself and got the first brush strokes of the job on there. He’d painted something like a tenth of the water tank’s surface when the first can of paint ran dry. He pulled himself up, decided to smoke the other half of the joint before starting back again.

Nethers woke twisted in the harness. The moon had long been in the sky. He couldn’t feel his legs; he tried to move them but couldn’t get a response from either leg. Panic gripped him, yanking him out of his benzo haze. 

Nethers looked down; he couldn’t help it, and for a moment he felt held in place only by some cosmic accident. He’d nearly slipped free from the harness; it was slung almost off his thin hips. He punched his left thigh but felt nothing. 

He yelled but no one came to his aid ‘til the morning.

Nethers spent a few weeks in residential treatment then, long story short, he left AMA. He went back to his father’s frigid house, his now, the wheelchair making coming and going a problem. Nethers waited for the use of his legs to return, the doctors unsure why it hadn’t already happened. He spent his afternoons writing, wheeling himself onto the little back patio for smoke breaks, where he could see the progress of the painting of the Philpot water tower. 

At the base of the tower, Nethers looked up at the scaffolding, afternoon sunshine hitting the huge droplets of paint that hung and dripped. There was a robin’s nest at the foot of an oak, knocked down by the powerful paint-sprayers the Dressel brothers used. Three of the eggs had cracked but one appeared unbroken. Nethers wheeled himself closer, reached down and plucked the egg from the nest. He turned it over and saw that it’d been half-sprayed pale cobalt blue.

 

A.S. Coomer is a writer and musician. Books include MemorabiliaThe FetishistsShining the Light, & otherswww.ascoomer.com 

“I Just Don’t Get the Hype Over the New Star Wars Movie” By Madison McSweeney

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The last half hour has been nothing but flashing lights, neon lines and retro zings of defanged future bombs and swishing lightsabers. The villain, redeemed but not forgiven, flees to the mountains where his former mentor once hid. His troops, however, fight on. 

The alien desert has been ravaged by shelling; through the dust that pervades the atmosphere, we can just barely see the outlines of airships swirling in combat. On the ground, the expendable villains and indispensable heroes fight hand to hand. Limbs are separated from bodies in kaleidoscopic bursts. 

Former Stormtrooper Finn cowers before one of his former colleagues, before Poe swoops in to blow the soldier’s head off with a blaster. The men embrace. Meanwhile, the film’s female lead – Rey – is fleeing the battle. Unbeknownst to her comrades in arms, she’s just been entrusted with her most vital mission yet. She holds the fate of generations inside her.

Seconds before she can reach the escape pod, an explosion rattles the blasted earth, and she hears the ominous whirring of an Empire shuttle. Tears in her eyes, she scuttles underneath the shattered wreck of the pod. The sky above her is choked with dust.

Our heroine cowers as the enemy ship passes over her, a slender hand resting protectively on her stomach.

Cut to black.

The picture fades back in, not the crisp neon cinematography of a 21st century Star Wars movie but the slightly faded blur of a dated period drama, like one of the Historica Minutes that the government of Canada makes. A balding man with curly white hair is sitting at a heavy oak desk, writing with a quill pen. Based on the last scenes before the time jump, he’s some sort of great grandchild of Rey. He looks familiar. 

The theatre falls into reverent silence as the man on the screen bends over his notes, his hands at work but his mind elsewhere, dreaming of doing great things, if he has not done them already. Railroads. Unity. New beginnings and new nations. 

He doesn’t look up before the screen once again falls dark. As the credits roll, I look around to see how everyone else is reacting. There’s not a dry eye in the house.

I’m confused. 

At the risk of appearing ignorant, I lean closer to my movie companion. “I don’t get it – who’s he supposed to be?” My friend, a history buff as well as a Star Wars nerd, upbraids me for not recognizing Sir Wilfred Laurier, Canada’s seventh prime minister.

“That’s a strange and very Canadian-specific ending,” I say, gathering up my coat from the folded seat beside me. As we shuffle out of the aisle and begin to descend the stairs, a man in a cowboy hat going the opposite direction locks eyes with me. “Like, how are Americans reacting right now…?”

My friend is scandalized. “The man was Prime Minister for fifty years!” 

“Yes, I know,” I retort, although I’d forgotten that Laurier had served for that long. I haven’t brushed up on my Canadian prime ministers since middle school. “But I just don’t see what it has to do with the Star Wars ennealogy.” 

My friend looks at me like I’ve grown a third head. “How do you not get this? Rey embraced the light, and her descendants went on to greatness.” 

“But why Wilfred Laurier?” I cry. “In all the annals of history, why would a major international production decide to use Wilfred Laurier as a self-explanatory symbol of greatness? And are these movies even set in the same universe as us?”

My friend raises an eyebrow. “You just don’t get Star Wars, do you?”

I sigh. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just more of a Planet of the Apes girl.” 

“I bet you are!” calls the man in the cowboy hat, fighting his way the wrong way through the crowd to get a spot in the emptying theatre. I look his way, surprised, and he gives me a look that wouldn’t be out of place from a fading rocker at a backroad dive bar. But the crowd pulls me inexorably forward, and his leering eyes are off me. 

Meanwhile, my friend is trying to make me understand why this ending was so impactful. Laurier, he says, was a beloved side character in one of the crossover novels that came out in the 90s, into which the Canadian government pumped a lot of funding.  

Around us, people are still sniffling. They clearly see this as the love letter that it is. 

“Do you get it now?” my friend asks.

“I guess,” I say, looking back up into the theatre. The cowboy is leaning against the stair railing, his body silhouetted against the star-dotted screen, which is still blasting a subdued version of John Williams’ iconic score, snippets of the national anthem skillfully interwoven into the melody. The cowboy winks at me.

 

Madison McSweeney is a Canadian author and poet interested in the macabre and fantastic. She has published horror and fantasy stories in outlets like American Gothic, Cabinet of Curiosities, Unnerving Magazine and Zombie Punks F*ck Off. She blogs about music and genre fiction at www.madisonmcsweeney.com and tweets from @MMcSw13. 

2 Flash Pieces by Cody Pease

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MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION

The conversation resembles how a professor introduces a new topic: with great enthusiasm, fabricated and pandering, until a student interrupts with a crude though fair joke, and then the professor must deride the joke (and sometimes the student) to regain the students’ attention (and approval). The professor, for a brief moment, feels useless and questions the decision to become an educator (when he could have been a librarian like his brother). The student who made the joke will see this humiliation in the spasm of the professor’s lower lip, the pinch of his eyes, until frustration settles. The student will understand his own embarrassment (and frustration) when the professor harasses him, his choices, and (sometimes) the way he dresses. Their mutual destruction exists because the two men (though different in age and lived experiences) are the same man. The student will grow up to become a professor; the professor will die being able to count on one hand how many students he slept with. 

 

TWO BOTTOMS IN A TOP’S WORLD

In preparation for their fourth date, both men avoided caffeine, showered twice, drank a pineapple and mango smoothie, trimmed their toenails, popped a little pill. A normal routine for bottoms in heat. Both men wanted to be fucked. I mean, tonight was their fourth date, which is too many without seeing each other naked. It should have happened sooner, perhaps the second or third date, though neither one would have opposed it if it had been the first date. If it didn’t happen tonight, then it would never happen, and they’d leave disappointed, testicles throbbing, in search of another last-minute cock.

 

Cody Pease is a senior B.F.A. Creative Writing student at Truman State University, where they serve as a news writer for the university’s radio station. Their work is forthcoming in the March Issue of Brilliant Flash Fiction. 

Fine by Sam Woods

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Clothes litter the floor. A beer sits half drunk on the table, lukewarm, but it’s fine. You’ve been taking small sips from it. 

You need to drive. 

“What about this?” Your friend pulls a blue dress out of her closet. It’s fine. The colour doesn’t remind you of anything. Not the ocean or the sky or a song. “It matches your eyes,” she says. 

It doesn’t, but it’s fine. 

“Have you guys talked at all?” 

Not even a little bit.

“Yeah, we’re fine. He’s just been busy with the band.” The smile on your face is tighter than the fit of the dress but your friend has a belt to fix that.

“We’re going to be late.” 

It’s fine.

“They never start on time.” 

The parking lot is full. Familiar faces smile and ask how you’ve been over and over and you repeat that you’re fine until the word starts to feel like a stranger in your mouth. 

A beer finds its way into your hand, paired with a side of sympathetic eyes. 

They ask how you are, and you repeat that you’re fine. 

They hug you and you repeat that you’re fine. 

You feel a small crack in the makeup you carefully applied, and you repeat that you’re fine, and the music starts and there he is, and you’re fine and the lyrics wrap around your head and you mouth along with the words that have memorized themselves and you take sips of your beer and you’re fine. 

The song ends and everyone claps and you’re fine and you sing a long with the next song and the next and you’re fine, and a new song comes on. 

And you’re surrounded by friends. 

And you realize what the song is about.

And you’re fine.

And you listen to the lyrics and he’s thinking of leaving. 

And you’re surrounded by friends.

 And you’re fine until your friend asks if you’re fine, until another splash of beer hits the back of your throat, until a sea of eyes turn and look at you and you see so many familiar faces that haven’t been home in months trying to drown you in sympathy. 

And you’re outside. 

And you’re fine.

And you’re crying.

And you’re fine.

And you’re told it’s just art.

That it has no meaning.

And you’re fine, 

until you’re not. 

 

Sam Woods lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Her work has appeared in Road Maps & Life Rafts, and Space by The University of Regina. You can find her on Twitter @SamLynn_Woods