2 Pieces by Colin Lubner

Slapstick (14:59)

In this video (the kid says) he walks us through the foolproof steps to killing yourself. One: put

on a tune! (He puts on a tune.) The tune should not be melodramatic, but should (he stresses) stand up to postmortem analysis. (The tune builds. Synth, muted percussion. I walk around with a handglove, / shrugging my shoulders, / fucking up everything.) Two: video! Even though, well. Maybe this should be the first step? (He sighs.) Never mind! (At this a rehearsed smirk.) Three: text the ones you love. Ideally something simple. (He shows us his phone. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.) Four: turn off your phone! (He turns off his phone.) Five: attempt to kill yourself. Do your best to make it appear real! (Cross-legged on a baby-blue carpet, his back against a spackled wall. The light belongs to either an early morning or a late afternoon. The T-shirt he wears is ambiguously stained and bears C-3PO’s beaten-gold face. Now hold open the door so I can fall in. Hold open the door so I can fall in. Elsewhere, muted, someone laughs. The kid laughs, too. Then he lifts a knife from the floor at his side and horizontally slashes across both wrists.) Six (he manages): wait to be found. Do not cut too deep, if you choose to go this route. Perpendicular to the veins. Permit the blood to clot, the wound to heal. Or perhaps take pills. Less dramatic. Also less risky. (There’s no more sun, / and no more light shines through. The blood does not clot. And still the blood does not clot. He wipes his wrists upon his shirt, staining it further. Panicking, he attempts to rise, and sways, and falls upon the floor, face-first. Off-screen, muted, someone laughs. The video cuts out.)

Eros Lusts (22:51)

A familiar disorientation, this. One deriving from either the original Blair Witch or any of its sequels or copycats. A human face steals the scene from leaf-littered earth. Baby face. Flushed cheeks. Watercolored eyes the same color as the eggshell fragments we glimpse above and beyond him through warm-colored leaves. His breath smokes. It is cold. “I’m sorry—” he says, breathes. “But—it’s been a minute since I’ve gotten out. So if we don’t bag anything. Sorry. Anyway.” He breathes.

But he does. He bags many and without mercy. It is a crisp fall day and couples and families are out. They fall with hardly a sound. In another sort of film, one more traditionally shot, we hear a high whistle as the man’s missiles search out their marks, a satisfying thwack as they find them and sink. In another story, the hunter’s victims scream. A group of his would-be victims forms. They fight back. A couple (either old or young, old or new) survives, thereby asserting the importance and indomitability of love. But in this film we hear only the man’s heavy breathing, the steady progress of his heavy boots crushing fallen leaves.


Colin Lubner writes (in English) and teaches (math) in southern New Jersey. His work has either appeared or will appear, temporally speaking. Recent pieces can be found through his He is keeping on keeping on.

Twitter: @no1canimagine0.

“I Blew My Nose” by Levi Krain

I blew my nose this morning. I know it’s gross to say but it was a big honking load of snot. I opened the tissue afterwards, to examine my harvest. What had I reaped?

I mean, was that the locket I gave my high school girlfriend? Was that a ticket stub from the baseball game where I got drunk and fell down the stairs? Was that a ragged piece of my own body, snipped away by an arrogant surgeon?

There was this green army man I stuck in my pocket when I was eight, who went through the wash and lost a hand. I promoted him to the grizzled captaincy of my ragtag force (from Navarone). He punched a whole crapload of Nazis with those binoculars in his left hand!

A crumpled can of Natty Light, too. I bet it was from that liquor store. You know? The one you and Billy and I’d hit on the way to the “ugly” bar? We’d grab a six-pack and drink some but always donate one to the old guy slumped on the sidewalk outside. Joe. That’s what we called him, even if it wasn’t his name. Do you think he minded? Probably not.

There was a lot of sand. 

Was that the sand from the beach where Jules and I made out behind the palms? Or the one where the waves slammed me down and, I think looking back, I came away with a concussion? Was it the sand from all the beaches ever, all mixed up?

Or was it just the sand from every empty lot I ever crawled through and every worksite I ever sweated over? That gray-brown sand, not the good white stuff.

There was a rusty chunk of my honor, a jagged piece of my dignity, and plenty of tarnished copper hopes. 

And there was so much more. I wanted to save some of it but, in the end, I just folded the tissue and tucked it into the garbage can, pushing it deep down under other, bloodier tissues and lengths of rancid floss. Easier that way.

Still the questions linger, though. Am I the hero of this play? Or its villain?

EXEUNT


Levi Krain rose from a clear, cold northern lake and enveloped a small midwestern city. Since then, he has moved on to greater things and now resides in the heart of Lovecraft country where he spins tales and refuses to drink the water from the well. His fiction has twice placed in The Molotov Cocktail flash contests.

Twitter: @LeviKrain

“The Good Eye” by Levi Krain

There’s a hole in my eye. I don’t think people notice it but that’s probably good. It might freak them out, especially if they got close enough to look through the hole to the other side.

My good eye sees the people talking to me, clear as day, like you see me now. But through that peephole in my other eye, I can see the coming darkness. The creeping doom and crawling chaos set to engulf us all.

Yeah, all of us.

It’s not pretty. And it’s not a fun power, or whatever, to have.

“Goodbye,” I think to myself, as people talk about new cars, new homes, old girlfriends, rich husbands, medications, and jobs.

Do they notice the sad set of my mouth when they talk about their children? I hope not. I don’t want to bum anyone out. You know?

“That’s so sad,” I say to myself when they talk about the future, about dreams and aspirations. I have to concentrate on not shaking my head and pursing my lips. 

Does that sound fun to you?

Plus, it’s hard knowing what to say to people. I don’t want to lie, of course, but I don’t think they’re ready to hear about the end, either. I’ve opted to be polite, like when someone asks you if their new haircut looks good or when someone shows off a new car. You say something polite, right? Even if you hate it.

So, like, when my brother told me he and his wife had decided to have children, I said, “Won’t that be wonderful.” It’s not going to be anything, of course. But I can let them enjoy the thought of it. I even smiled to add to the moment. He’s my brother.

Or, when a colleague said she was pursuing her dream of starting her own business, I told her, “That’s going to be great.” Didn’t do me or her any harm, pretending like that.

One day, my friend Frank told me how bad things have gotten with his wife. She kicked him out. He never saw his kids anymore. In a dark moment, half-drunk, he said, “Maybe I should end it all. No one would miss me.”

“No. Don’t bother, Frank,” I said. I patted him on the back, tried to be reassuring. “It’ll all be over soon.”

He didn’t seem reassured. But he took my advice, so maybe I was helpful without saying too much.

I have looked into the mirror, you know. To satisfy my curiosity. I looked closely. Right down into that hole in my eye.

I wasn’t going to tell you this but I think I figured something out. Remember when I told you I can see what’s coming, the end that’s coming? Now I think I know where it’s coming from.

I’m not proud of it. It’s just a fact. Like when you’re the fastest runner in your class. Or you did really well in the stock market. I looked inside there and now I know it’s getting bigger and there’s no stopping it, so don’t bother trying.

Well, this isn’t something I feel the need to brag about, that’s all I’m saying. 

No, I’m not winking at you! Ha-ha! I’m just trying to get one last good look at you, that’s all.

With the good eye.


Levi Krain rose from a clear, cold northern lake and enveloped a small midwestern city. Since then, he has moved on to greater things and now resides in the heart of Lovecraft country where he spins tales and refuses to drink the water from the well. His fiction has twice placed in The Molotov Cocktail flash contests.

Twitter: @LeviKrain

2 Portraits by Donald Ryan

A Portrait of a Man Who Wanted to Be a Millionaire, Now Retired, Watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

The old man in apartment 254 settled into his recliner. It was 7:30 on a weeknight. The residents in the apartments beside, above, below knew this, without question, from the game show’s theme song penetrating the walls, the floor, the ceiling. This episode’s contestant was on his second night. Polka, and now with $300 dollars, on his way to a million. At commercial breaks the old man would mute the television. Closed captioning would scroll, and he’d watch for the stage to reappear, unmute the tv, in time for the bassline’s bombarding beat down throughout the second floor, parts of the first, parts of the third. The questions, like the banter, like the old man’s hearing, like the sounds seeping through the walls, the floor, the ceiling, were muffled, but the answers were always clear. Tombstone, $16,000, on his way to a million. The old man played along silently although he didn’t know many of the answers. However, this was alright by him because A) he felt he might be learning something in his ever growing fondness for game shows in these twilight years, B) he’d treated life like a game show with its chance for easy money based on skill, odds, and luck, C) this contestant’s name reminded him of that horror film the time he and Frankie laid low in that theater after a job well done on his own way to a million, or D) all of the above. D, final answer. That is correct. We’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. (An interlude quieted apartment 254, the second floor, the apartments below, the apartments above. The old man watched a woman mop behind the captions he couldn’t see to read. He had no children. Nor anyone for that matter. But it was the life he chose. Or did this life choose him? He’d known a few women in his prime, even if they didn’t know him, not truly, not by name. His lies and life bridged by f—) He, the second floor, the apartments below, the ones above, heard the return of the bass heavy melody, of muffled banter, a question, I.M. Pei, $500,000, one question away from a million. But only the old man heard his heart invigorate in excitement. Waves of dramatic tension washed over the complex like the lights on the stage. The final question read. The contestant, who needed no help, phoned a friend, called his father. No one had ever won the million, but he was about to be a millionaire. The old man shared this feeling, himself winning many years ago. A guard and a vault his host to the prize. And even though he hadn’t played since, a SWAT team battered down the door. He, his neighbors, beside, above, below, heard the crash of the television off its stand. The game was over, the jig up. A phone call now his only lifeline. He never heard the final answer. 

A Portrait of Don With His Best Friend In a Dimly Lit Dive Bar 258 Miles From Home 

They were halfway on their trip towards blacked-out memories in New Orleans, crashing where they landed for the night in nowhere. The bar a few blocks down, Foxes & Hounds, shared its name with a strip club back home. The one traveler, black, had tattoos from his chin to his knuckles. The other, white, had shot glass sized holes in each ear. They both wore plaid shirts. Back home in the city, they blended in nothing special. But halfway from home, only their attire didn’t stick out amongst the peanut casings on the floor and the equal amount of burnt out bulbs as cowboy hats (4) on the heads of these don’t fuck with us blue collars in a state of rednecks. The air smelled like heartland, musk and sweat, salty with spit and dip and shells. A woman in what else but her finest rhinestone blouse and frilly boots, hair teased closer to God, sang Loretta Lynn in the open space that was the karaoke stage. They sat at the bar, ordered beers, avoided the peanuts. The karaoke DJ thanked our Mrs. Lynn for her rendition of “Don’t Come Home A Drinking.” Darn tootin’. Claps passed around the bar like an offering at church. The guy with tattoos said he was going to vomit the lizard. The guy with holes in his ears didn’t see him sign up for a song on his return from the bathroom. A beer and a half plus whiskies, for the taste of ambiance, later, they were no longer avoiding the peanuts, when “Welcome to the stage…” showtime. Darn tootin’. The old timey twang on repeat since they’d entered was replaced with shredded guitars blurred to distortion. The guy with tattoos screamed into the microphone the inaudible words that bounced across the screen as if it was this trip’s sole mission to fuck up these speakers. The guy with holes in his ears felt the air shift heavy, could see hate churn like the cigarette smoke around the bar, could smell that lard fried scent of them getting their asses kicked. So fuck yeah he wanted in. He rushed the stage, didn’t follow the words, didn’t matter, belted alongside his bash bro like a true fucking D2 Mighty Duck. The honky-tonkers boot scootin’ boogied their way to the make-shift stage, fists raised like pitchforks, their voices joining the vocal chaos, as in tune as red, white, and blue bald eagles eating apple pie. The charge was led by a God bless America Loretta Lynn, horns up, in all her rhinestone glory. 


Twitter: @dryanswords

“Gord’s still right pissed” by Sheldon Birnie

Motherfucker tossed a 10-pin bowling ball through neighbour Gord’s windshield by mistake there. August long weekend. I mean, motherfucker had every intention of tossing it through the windshield. Only Gord’s Aerostar wasn’t the intended target. Oh ya, motherfucker’d been drinking. Everybody was. Long weekend and all. No excuse. But what ya gonna do? Motherfucker figured buddy was stepping out with his ex. Probably was. But she’s free to do what she wants, right? 2020, baby. Live laugh love eh? So, buddy says something and motherfucker goes off. Fuckin right off, bud. Someone kept ‘em from fighting there out front of the Inn. Sent motherfucker packing one way, buddy stumbling back into the bar—thank Christ—or who knows what woulda happened. Remember last time? Anyways, motherfucker fucks off. Only, he’s back an hour later with the bowling ball. Dunno where he got it. No idea. Don’t wanna know. Gord, he was sleeping, passed out hard, at the time. Shitty news to wake up to. No fuckin doubt. He’s insured, though. Sure. But there’s your deductible right fucked. Nevermind explaining to insurance why motherfucker put a 10-pin bowling ball through the windshield and all. Gord’s still right pissed about it. Oh ya. Big time.


Sheldon Birnie is a writer, beer league hockey player, and father of two young children who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada whose writing has appeared recently in BULL, Rejection Letters, Cowboy Jamboree, Riot Act, among others. Find him online @badguybirnie

“The Congress of Wonders” by Mike Lee

That morning, her birthday, Nina went to pull the curtains back and open the window to the backyard.

Her heart throbbed as she crossed the fake wood in the house she just bought, stepping barefoot across the living room. The floor was cold

She had a secret place in her heart where the rain cannot enter: a chamber to place every emotion from happy moments to the tightly wound up heartbreaks locked away for her to sometimes massage.

As she went about her business, from brushing her teeth in the morning to those occasional rough nights clutching her stuffed koala bear, well-loved since babyhood, at night, Nina felt every trace memory deep inside, stashed away in that place.

On most days, now counting into five digits Nina filed something away. Some weighed lightly, others not so.

She does not remember when she began putting these things away. Maybe six or nine years old, perhaps five or three, but whenever it began, something was put away. 

Today was her birthday. Lucky her, she thought. She glanced at the framed poster from a rock show in San Francisco the year she was born.

It was called The Congress of Wonders. At the performance, Kenneth Anger showed films. When Nina was older she loved Puce Moment, wanting many colorful clothes like the actress, and many big dogs to walk down the stairs from her magical bungalow in the Hollywood Hills.

Her parents met there, or so the story goes. She has no photos of them on the walls. They are in two boxes, one on a shelf in the hall closet.

The remaining images rest deep inside that box.

She began to part the curtains, saw the bluebonnets were in bloom. They got lively early. The winter fled early this year. The yard needed work, especially the fence. The weathered planks were coming undone and falling away. Looked bad. Tawdry. Didn’t want the neighbors to talk behind her back any more than they already did.

Nina did not like her neighbors. They were from another time, triggering bad memories of her parents. Violent at worst, passive-aggressive and neglectful at best, Nina felt unburdening relief when first, then the other, died.

They crafted the box in her heart. Parents do that, you see, she would tell therapists over the years, sitting on comfortable couches, or lying down staring at chartreuse ceilings. Going over every slight, at every level of painfulness, always tying to breakthrough, hoping to break open that box deep inside and dump everything out.

Just never quite got there.

She sometimes called herself the saint of the abyss. Her standing at the edge, visualizing suicide but never quite got near the point of actually doing the act, instead occasionally musing on the concept. One psychoanalyst finally convinced her otherwise that it was an act of murder only to hurt others. Nina took it as a reminder that she didn’t want to hurt her parents—only make them admit fault.

At the time she came to that conclusion, it was too late for them to see. They had died long ago. There was no point, so Nina resolved to plow through, while continuing to add near-daily memories to the box.

The dead didn’t give a shit, so neither did she.

She moved to the sliding glass door. The magnolias were blooming early, too.

As she bent to pull the pole that locked the door she felt the box. It felt burdensome more than usual this morning, rustling restlessly. She felt heaviness in her chest, and she caught her breath. This happened sometimes, presaging a panic attack.

She struggled to slide the door, reared forward and coughed. It was one deep heave, and what came out felt like fire.

When came to, she was on the ground, surrounded by bluebonnets. The wind had picked up, and she saw her hammock swinging in the breeze.

She felt light, and immobile. Nina moved her fingers to her face, sliding them down across her cheek. Finally, she moved on her side, caressing the bluebonnets with fingertips. She was taught never to pick them. Too unique, and they don’t last very long in bloom.

A square, hand-carved cedar box was beside her. Small, and very old; Nina recalled it was on a nightstand in the house they lived on St. Elmo. All she could recall from then was the curved stucco entries.

But the box–that she remembered well on her parents nightstand.

Isis winged. Freed.

Later, after placing the box with the photo albums and loose papers, placing them back on the closet shelf, Nina took a shower. She dressed, grabbed her journal and drove to the coffee shop to write.

Her friends planned a karaoke party for her later. She looked forward to it. Put on a puce dress she hadn’t worn in a while for the occasion.


Mike Lee is an editor, photographer and a reporter for a trade union newspaper in New York City. His fiction is published in Back Patio Press, Trampset, Lunate, Ghost Parachute and others. Website: www.mleephotoart.com. He also blogs for Focus on the Story.

“Permanent Punctuation” by Tex Gresham and KKUURRTT

Shovelling handfuls of sand into my mouth like it’s going out of style. It ain’t headed anywhere, but I’m straight up starving. Somehow this is upsetting my stomach worse. Chugging ginger ale to ease the pain of living, laughing, and loving, and yet it’s all supposed to be good in the hood. So why can’t I stop? Shirt bursting at the seam, buttons hand-sewn in Hawaii popping off like a party at Mike DiRenzio’s house. Talk about an hourglass figure. You’ve got to be kidding me.

The man steps off the beach for the last time. He can’t help but think of his life as a sequence of moments in a plot, the string connecting those moments nearing its end. The handgun shifts.

It’s ironic. The idea of driving a hundred and fifteen miles just to sit on a patch of grass (except minus the grass (and the dirt) and replace them both with miles of miles of sand even though we’ll never really know how deep sand even goes, digging through without it just falling back in on itself is one of life’s great impossiblities) to look at the ocean and say ‘good job’ before getting shot in the head pow pow two bullets to the back hitman style (you gotta check out this movie Boondock Saints it’s sick as fuck, bro). I’m falling, sand filling the whole above, limbs flailing, this shit taking a full on eternity. I think I get it now.

The man doesn’t think of himself as a man, but rather a space that occupies spaces. Something in between, something that stops––a force other than self. Maybe he isn’t a man. Maybe he’s a woman. Or maybe he’s neither, a being without center. Imagine being so determined by one event that your identity becomes the event and all you are is the thing and not the person outside the thing. Thirteen in the magazine. Imagine only categorizing your life by an event. One in the chamber.

The obituary read something like this: 

Don Williams was born and raised in Middleboro, WA. It’s not known by this reporter if he enjoyed getting shot in the head or not, but we are forced to assume that he did not. Was it his dying wish, or perhaps, more complicated than that, something he never even considered? There are limited resources at our disposal without a social media account with which to determine a lifetime lived. Shortcomings must bid adieu in the case of the senseless beach death. He might be missed. He might not. Our sincerest apologies; this is not our finest hour.

The man––or the shape in the shape of something coming––looks at the address in their hand. Written on the back of a napkin for a nearby gas station that serves fish tacos in the back room. An address passed to the shape like a bad idea you can’t shake. A secret never to be intervened against. The shape looks at the houses on the street, titled shacks with addresses hidden behind tropical overgrowth, the chaotic music of a flock of green parrots hidden in the palms towering above the healthily cracked street. Cars half-rusted by salt heavy air. Then the shape sees it, a little yellow one-room, front door open to let in the breeze. Sounds of splashing from the backyard. This is the moment the shape takes the handgun from the waistband of pizza-print swim trunks.

Literally. That’s the word I’ve been thinking of. Couldn’t remember it for the life of me. Literally the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Such a simple word, how could I forget it? Something’s wrong with my brain, losing bits and pieces through a hole in the back. How am I supposed to remember the details when I’ve never even known–fuck–forget the thread again. That fear of not remembering your locker combination but it’s my home address and all I’m able to do is wander these streets for nigh on a hundred years. Only dogs can see me now.  

The shape follows the narrative string to the inevitable, unable to step away or remove themselves even if they wanted to––forced into this by an unseen hand typing each next step. Typing, the sound pulling the shape toward the backyard. Old typing. Not the modern weak click of laptop keys, but the heavy mechanical thud of vintage history. Smith Corona or Royal. Ink to paper through violent punctuations. Permanent. And the splashing, shallow and playful. And the laughter––or giggling, someone who’s just tricked the warden into an all-you-can-eat last meal. The handgun’s a Glock G23 Gen 4 with a shortened trigger distance, Trijicon red-dot sight, trigger pull of less than 5lbs, extended suppressor, Longhorn slide pull charging handle, and a magazine loaded with jacketed hollowpoints. A dog barks somewhere close. A child laughs somewhere far. 

The shape looks over the fence and sees him––the writer. Sitting in a kiddie pool, naked, portable Smith Corona typewriter in his lap. He types a set of phrases, says “Literally” and giggles to himself again. The shape points the handgun at the writer, a forensic string connecting the end of the suppressor to the back of the writer’s head, evidence to later map the bullet’s trajectory, an effort to find a killer who’s already a ghost. Five pounds of pressure against the trigger. The shape takes the inevitable shape. All this is is sound and silence.

Oh shit wait what’s happening? Uhhhh… hello?


Tex Gresham is the author of Heck, Texas (Atlatl Press). He lives in Las Vegas with his partner and kid. He’s on Twitter as @thatsqueakypig and online at www.squeakypig.com.  

KKUURRTT is glad you read his thing. His novel Good at Drugs is forthcoming
from Alien Buddha Press. He can be found on Twitter at @wwwkurtcom.

“Happy Accident” by Crow Jonah Norlander

I honestly don’t know how my son wound up inside the redeemables deposit. I guess he climbed in while I wasn’t looking. He weighs about as much as a bag full of glass bottles, but I still would have noticed him synched up in that flimsy green plastic.

We ran out of the barcoded stickers that label the bags and scan to unlock the hatch, so I had no choice but to leave him inside the yeasty shipping crate. I crossed the parking lot, went into the grocery store, and printed out a new reel of tags from the kiosk.

When I got back, he’d torn through some of the flimsy plastic and had thrown recyclable material everywhere. He’d latched onto a Heineken can, tonguing whatever dribble was left in the rim, and his hands were sticky beyond belief, though that’s par for the course with my little condiment lover.

I scolded him a bit, just because we’re still working on boundaries, and then convinced him to tidy up as best he could. The virginal reel of white squares on its wax paper backing fluttered in my breast pocket just beneath my chin. It gave me the idea. While he was in there, he could make the most of it. Like fishes and loaves, our bounty miraculously multiplied.

“Just put these over the ones already on there. Cover ’em right up,” I instructed. His love for stickers came in handy. Usually a scarce good, I encouraged him to be liberal with them. Lining them up just right was good practice for his fine motor skills.

When I invited him to climb out, he protested. He was having too much fun, but I was getting paranoid so I retrieved him, maybe too hastily, because his tears attracted some looks, though nothing people weren’t used to ignoring.

A couple days later I went to check our balance. All those nickels really added up quick. It was tempting to withdraw it all, there were lots of places it could’ve wound up, but I found the self-restraint to leave it there to redeem against grocery bills. We ate good that week, worry free.

Then I got a call. My account had been flagged. They had my boy on camera. No mention of me, for some reason, but they’d tied the suspicious deposit to our usual Hannaford and figured it out from there. I considered denying it, but no plausible alternative explanation presented itself to me in time.

I agreed to repay them, or rather, I had no choice but to wave goodbye to what remained of the credit on my account. They revoked my program membership, and took down my son’s name to proactively ban him from their system. Fraud is such a harsh word, it sounds so deliberate and nefarious.

My bottle deposit days of convenience are over; we’re back to Redemption on Forest where the proprietor levies an unofficial tax, pilfering odd containers on the grounds that they’ll  clog his machines. It’s low-tech, but the human element keeps it interesting. Probably more efficient than the corporate surveillance at the other place, but my son keeps finding ways to wind up places he shouldn’t be. We always make the most of things.


Crow Jonah Norlander lives in Maine with his wife, child, and two retired racing greyhounds.

“Venice” Novel Excerpt by T.J Larkey


I don’t like the sound of it.
“Group interview.”
But I need a job.
It’s getting pathetic.
I’m living off a credit card and the very little money I have saved. Money I made working back home in Arizona and money my father gave me right before I moved here, in the hopes I’d make something of myself.
What I’m saying is, I’m broke.
Useless.
And still pretty soft.
I looked online, using my neighbor’s internet, and found that a movie theater not far from me is hiring. I sent over a resume and the manager responded a few hours later, telling me to come in tomorrow for a group interview.
And the first thing that goes through my head is NO. I’m not ready. Can’t handle groups, let alone group interviews. I don’t even know what they are. Am I to become part of a group, or are they?
I type it in on my computer and read and read and read, preparing.
If I know what to expect, then I have a chance.
My favorite article that I find is called “How to Nail a Group Interview: Tips, Questions, and Work Simulation Exercises”.
I study it.
I let it become part of me.
I read it again and again until I know every question by heart.

“How do you work in a team?”
I grew up playing sports, so I am very comfortable with the concept. I live and breathe for the team. I love the team. I am the team and the team is I.

“If one of your team members asked you for help with their work, before you are done with your own, how would you react?”
Fuck yeah. You need me to sweep the floor? I’ll sweep. I’ll pick that popcorn up with my bare hands. I’ll slurp that nacho cheese right up. You need help with the bathroom? On it. One of the urinals broken? Easy. I’m the new urinal. For the team, I will serve as a human urinal.

“What is your biggest weakness?”
Well, sir, I’ve got to be honest here. I am too hard on myself. A perfectionist.

“Why do you want this job?”
Ah! I’m glad you asked. One word: Film. I have been a student and lover of film my whole life. Just to be close to it — the magic, the prestige and pageantry — it would be an honor.

And I’m still playing it all in my head over and over as I walk to the interview the next day.
I’m wearing my best t-shirt and my hair is combed back.
I look like an asshole.
Hopefully though, an asshole with a job.
I can see the movie theater ahead of me and a mixture of hope and sickness fills my head like cold wet fingers pushing in through my ears.
Employment.
Responsibility.
Money.
I look down at myself, run my hands through my hair, inhaling that magical Californian air, and cross the street toward my destiny.
Ahead of me, a young man in a tucked-in button-down shirt is walking in to the theater. He’s college age, my age, but he looks younger than me somehow, more alive. I watch him as he talks with an employee, smiling confidently, thanking the employee by putting his hands together and bowing slightly.
Then I watch as he walks through a door next to the snack bar.
He’s here for the group interview.
He’s my competition.
And I think, good.
If it were easy, I wouldn’t want it.
Someone once told me that men are like sharks, that when they stop moving and competing, they die. And I am (essentially) a man. A shark. A competitor.
When I get closer to the theater door, I see my reflection. My nicest shirt isn’t so nice and my eyes are sunken in and red and there is a big juicy pimple in the center of my forehead—couldn’t be more symmetrical, pulsing and ready to explode on my fellow interviewees, so noticeable I feel like I’d have to address it.
But that’s okay.
I’ve done my research.
I can do this.
I walk in and head for the door the nicely dressed young man went through. As I pass the snack bar, I can hear two employees talking. They’re saying something about the actress in some new movie.
“If I was that hot,” one of them says, “I’d be in movies too.”
“Yeah, like, she’s not even a good actress!”
“Fucking lucky bitch.”
“Exactly. It’s all luck,” the other says.
And I start to feel physically ill.
The voices of the employees seem really sharp.
The smell of stale popcorn is all around me.
The floor is sticky and my shoes are making a crunching sound as they rip away from the soda-soaked tile.
My mind starts to drift off. The confidence is fleeing along with it. And for some reason my whole body feels hot and starts moving on its own. I’m walking out the door and then I’m on my way home and then I am home and then I’m on the phone with Fresh asking if we can meet up. I find myself in an alleyway behind a smoke shop. Fresh appears and he takes the cigarettes out of my shirt pocket and lights one, then sticks a small bag in the cigarette carton and hands it back to me. I realize it’s my turn so I take out the money from my pocket and we slap hands and bump chests. He says, “later bruh bruh” and then I walk home with the image of the nicely dressed young man smirking at me, like he knows something that I don’t and never will.

“Venice” is available for pre-order and will be released on October 15th,
for more details please visit: https://backpatiopress.bigcartel.com


T.J. Larkey lives in Arizona. He is doing much better now. Also his name really is T.J. He has been called that his whole life. It’s not abbreviated to hide something dorky like Timothy.

Twitter: @Tjlarkey

“Time. Wow.” Excerpts by Neil Clark

What Would Happen If The Speed of Light Simply Changed

I knew the speed of light had slowed down to a snail’s pace when I looked across the street. The people I saw on the other side were from weeks ago.
I knew it when I looked down at what I was eating and saw breakfast, even though I was actually eating dinner.
I knew it when I first laid eyes on my true love, even though our children were already born.

[Unfinished]

Every morning, I’d ask this barista how he was, and he’d always say the same thing — “I’m here.”
Then one day, he wasn’t.
That was years ago. But I still think about that guy, all the time.

What We Can Learn from The Death of Mr McKenna

They found my old high school history teacher, Mr McKenna, dead behind a bookcase in his home. Neighbours had complained about the smell.

I looked into his cause of death. Apparently if you drop something behind a bookcase or a wardrobe, you should never lean into the small gap between it and the wall to retrieve it. If you lose your balance, you might get stuck. If nobody finds you, you might die. Apparently, this is very much a thing.

Instead, move the bookcase or wardrobe first. It might be a bit of a pain, but then again, so is slowly dying alone.

I don’t remember many lessons from school. Only those from Mr McKenna’s.
I remember him spending a whole afternoon convincing us ‘however’ and ‘therefore’ are two of the most powerful words in the English language, and we should always consider using them in any conclusion to any essay. I remember someone asking him what the point in learning history was. He told us, amongst many other things, history presents us with an opportunity to learn from our mistakes of the past.

It must have been awful for Mr McKenna. All alone, lodged against a wall as his last breaths left his body. The bookcase that killed him must have been stacked with so much amazing literature. Books about wars, scandals, revolutions, migrations, all kinds of hardship.
In all those pages, I bet there was nothing warning about the potential perils of getting stuck behind a bookcase. Maybe if there was, he’d still be alive today.
These words are going to be in a book. These very words, right here.

Maybe this book won’t stop any wars. However, maybe it will end up on someone else’s bookcase. Maybe when that person gets old and they live alone, they won’t die stuck behind it as a result. Therefore, these words about Mr McKenna’s death would have saved someone’s life.

I think Mr McKenna would have liked that.

“Time. Wow.” is available for pre-order and will be released on October 15th,
for more details please visit: https://backpatiopress.bigcartel.com


Neil Clark has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions anthologies, as well as longlisted for both the Wigleaf Top Fifty and Bath Flash Fiction award. His work was included in the Best British and Irish Flash Fiction of the Year 2019/20. His debut flash fiction collection is now available from Back Patio Press.

Twitter: @NeilRClark