“A Thoughtless Name” by Kerry Lloyd

32374328030_cca93df9c5_o.jpg

We used to call it the construction site. A thoughtless name. Very simple. To the point. It was what it was. We climbed fences to get in at night. We watched for lights in the neatly arranged homes nearby to make sure that nobody would see us enter. I helped Ell over the fence. They had a harder time climbing than the rest of us. They lost their balance easily. I did too. I could always catch myself when I did. They couldn’t.

It was dark. We could see the shapes of the machinery. They were bigger than us. Fun to climb on. But we couldn’t ever quite see where we were going. We had to use flashlights. I stepped into one of the vehicles. It had a steel claw hanging from a long, bent arm. It was both sharp and blunt somehow. The door was unlocked. I tried to start it. I couldn’t start it. I looked for a key. There was no key. That was for the best. We kept walking.

We came to a hill. It was made of dirt and rocks piled up very tall. All displaced from other corners of the construction site. All of these machines, all moving around dirt and rocks. Like little ants. Ants in the construction site. Just clearing space before they build a colony. The construction site. At least, that’s what we called it. I was sure that it had a name. We didn’t need it. We climbed the hill.

Climbing was easy. Even easier than the fence. It was more like walking with longer strides. I was tall. My body was mostly legs. It was easy for me. It was harder for Reese. I helped him climb too. The moon had come out now. We could see without the flashlights. That helped.

We sat at the top of the hill. There was grass here, somehow. There wasn’t much. But enough. Any was enough. We looked at the moon. The sky was black, but illuminated. We could see stars behind the clouds. We could see the clouds. I thought one looked like a bird. Not an eagle. Something smaller, like a finch. I thought it was flying. Ell saw a shooting star. They swore they did. Reese didn’t believe them. That was fine. I believed them. 

There was a big tire at the top of the hill. We pushed it down. It bounced off the rocks and knocked dirt free into the air. I don’t know why we did this. It was satisfying. We didn’t get caught. 

We climbed down the hill. We kept walking. We played with more construction equipment. We kept walking. We hopped back over the fence. We kept walking. We didn’t get caught. We didn’t get caught. We didn’t get caught.

Kerry Lloyd is a nonbinary creative writing student lurking in the hidden and elaborate cave system under Manchester, New Hampshire. You can find them mumbling to themselves over at @razzkerry

“Motorcycle Emptiness” by Mileva Anastasiadou

39797697592_4849ea210b_o.jpg

Tonight we climb up the hill, aiming at the top. We’re a team tonight, howling at the moon, like a pack of wolves. Liam holds my hand, screaming his heart out, for he’s happy and loved at last. Adeline is a few steps behind me, beside Noah, who looks right into her eyes, ignoring the view. Next time, I’ll drive you to the top, he says, not just to Adeline, to all of us. We all nod for we’re too tired to walk farther ahead. We don’t know yet, but we’ve reached the top already, although mom claims it’s far too soon. We’re too young to have reached that far. 

I feel dizzy, approaching the cliff, blaming the height, or the video game, or both, for it’s as if I were still playing that game, where the hero climbs up only to fall all the way down and I somehow sense that this could happen today. Only that hero has three lives, while I only have one. Liam says that’s far enough. We don’t need to reach the top, he insists. No need to go higher. He’s been invisible for too long, he’s been a ghost and I breathed life into him. He’s now seen. And heard. He’s happy. It could be the happy pill he’s been taking though, the one that makes him yawn so hard, he can’t hear me. That’s how it starts, the downward spiral, I say, but he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t even see the void beneath our feet. Liam takes off his shirt and I see the tattoo on his shoulder, an eagle it is, he says, like he’s proud of it. I’m now free, he tells me, for being loved set him free, he doesn’t have to please his folks anymore now he’s found me and I feel proud too, like he’s my tattoo and we’re stuck together, I tell him and he nods. 

Adeline walks next to me and we’re now both standing breathless, like we’re at the top of the hill, or the world and we’re not only seeing the view, we’re also watching the best part of our lives playing like a movie ahead of us. 

In a couple of weeks, we’ll be waiting for Noah to drive us up to the top. Up to the point we haven’t reached tonight. Only Noah won’t show up and we’ll spend the night at the mall, the place that dies at night, when lights go out. We’ll no longer be a team next day; we’ll be lone wolves instead. Lone wolves are a myth, mom will say, claiming wolves don’t remain alone for long. It’s over, I’ll tell her and she’ll close my mouth with her hands, mumbling comforting words, like it was God’s will, which won’t help much. I’ve reached the peak, I’ll say, it’s all downhill from now on, but mother will advise me to not rush into the future, to not confuse my peak with Noah’s peak. 

Adeline will fall apart. Noah, who is now a fling, will be the love of her life after he’s gone. Poor Adeline will be the first of the gang to fall out of the safety net and into the black hole of loss. That black hole that’ll take her to a parallel universe where loved ones disappear and people certainly allow a certain amount of time for mourning, but expect her to move on like nothing’s happened. Only, to her,  Noah’s arc will be a dream forever lost. 

Liam will spend his time rearranging the future. He’ll be the opposite of the over-achiever he’s been for most of his life, as he’ll  blame that goddamn top of the hill for the loss. He’ll try to live alone, away from the city, or distractions. He’ll try helmets to resist mainstream ideology, to not let it penetrate his mind, only helmets won’t help. They’re permeable to ideas. So he’ll spend most of his time in the shower, rubbing his skin, to wash off invisible bits of ambition. Liam will prove to be a shape-shifter, slowly shrinking his ego, turning into the eagle he now has on his arm, until he flies away, never to be seen again. Not as secretly as Richey Edwards, Adeline will say and I’ll agree. 

Mom will say it goes like that; you climb and climb and you don’t know you’ve reached the top, until that first slip, that first loss. You can only walk down gracefully after that, she claims, emphasizing ‘gracefully’ to make the descent sound better than it does. I’ll be rolling down, almost gracefully, fixing my hair every now and then, stretching my clothes, checking my make-up, swallowing happy pills which won’t work but will only make me yawn harder, to the point I’m almost deaf and the world is conveniently incomprehensible, trapped in a sad Van Gogh’s painting, among ghostly ‘roots and tree trunks’, mom blocking the way, to keep me high enough, or push me higher, but I’ll keep rolling and I’ll tell her what the painter allegedly told his brother: la tristesse durera toujours. The sadness will last forever and mom will nod, but I’ll get used to it, she promises. 

However graceful the attempt, the descent sucks, but we don’t know yet. We don’t even know we’re about to find out. We form a circle, holding hands and we sway to the music  of Motorcycle Emptiness, only we’re not yet familiar with that everlasting nothingness we sing about. We’re standing now at this point, the world at our feet, flying high like eagles in the sky, or on Liam’s arm, at the peak of our togetherness, drunk on the future that will escape us, and we party like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t, exchanging glances of complicity, of promises we won’t keep, but for now it’s only another tender night, one of those nights you don’t suspect you’ll always remember, but we all will, except for Noah.  

 


Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist from Athens, Greece. Her work can be found in many journals, such as the Molotov Cocktail, Jellyfish Review, the Sunlight Press (Best Small Fictions 2019 nominee), Ghost Parachute, Gone Lawn, Ellipsis Zine, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Bending Genres, Litro and others.

“Dispatch from the Dollar Hot Dog Line” by Connor Goodwin

 

7981319450_8d47639532_o.jpgSaturdays at the ballpark were dollar hot dogs and two dollar tallboys. These two fronts, hot and cold, came together like a tornado, a tornado of undercooked anus and bottom shelf relief, to wreak havoc on Haymarket stadium. 

In the eye of the storm was our beloved Salt Dogs vs. the almighty Air Hogs. 

But first, we must traverse enemy lines. 

To be clear, lines are the enemies. 

Lines to get tickets. 

Lines to gain admission. 

Lines for dollar dogs. 

Lines for two dollar tallboys.  

Lines for the bathroom. 

Lines for tallboys. 

Lines for dogs. 

Lines to shake hands and say: good game good game good game good game. 

From an aerial view, an Air Hog view if you will, these lines formed a labyrinth maze of standing spectators. None of whom are in fact watching the game. Instead, each studies the progress of their respective line and measures it against other lines, wondering, always wondering, if they chose the wrong line.

But there’s only one line that matters. And that line has tripled by the time we doubled back. It’s the dollar dog line. It’s the two dollar tallboy line. It’s the only line that matters. 

There are other, shorter lines. Lines closer to our seats. But those lines are for rich people. Those lines are for $5 drafts, $6 crafts, and no dogs. 

“No runs. No hits. No errors,” the announcer chimes, casting light shade over the sunny diamond. It’s the bottom of the second. 

One sadist cradling an armful of dogs and cargo shorts loaded with tallboys saunters toward the back of the line. He’s a rich man: unfettered by lines, warmed by dogs, heavy with beer. The sadist openly gnoshes into the radioactive pink-green dog and speaks loudly into his bluetooth. We might as well have rabies: we foam, we yip, we pant.

It’s the top of the fourth and we’re next in line. 

“No runs. No hits. No errors.” 

“No dogs,” adds the vendor, trying to be cute. Not. Cute. 

The line bristles. The line boos and heckles and waves its tickets as if they were a deed to hot dogs.

“Five minutes!” he shouts and waves his white towel in surrender. But a line not moving is an agitated line. Friction between particles increases. Collisions become more likely. The line is a nuclear explosion waiting to happen. And then it does. 

It erupts in joy. In the distance, lesser lines have parted to make way for an acned adolescent, sunburnt pink, looking as fine as any blistered hot dog. Balanced on his head is a pyramid of hot dogs looking as immaculate as Queen Cleopatra herself. My hero. 

I polished off my fifth dog and cracked my third tallboy when the announcer summoned everyone to their feet, “Ladies and gentleman! Boys and girls! Lagers and Buds!” 

It was time for the main event. 

In the sixth inning, little boys dress up as tallboys for a race around the bases. Whichever tallboy wins is a dollar for the seventh inning. It’s Bud Heavy vs. Bud Light vs. PBR. Bud Light won last time. Fuck Bud Light. 

“At first base, weighing in at 5%, we have Buuuuud Heavyyyyyy.” Red cans scorch the air. 

“Clocking in at 4.7%, hailing from the Great Lakes, P! B! R!” We cheers and shotgun our beers. 

“And now, you’re reigning champ, at just 4.2%, Bud Light, a.k.a Bluuuuuue Lightning!” The crowd thundered back in a chorus of boos and cans rained down onto the diamond. 

Obviously, we are team PBR. We’d be ok with Bud Heavy winning, but not Bud Light. Fuck Bud Light. I’m worried though, because Bud Light is taller than the others and suggests he is rightful heir to the tallboy throne. 

“Ready! Set! Chuuuuuug!” 

Bud Light gallops ahead to an early lead. PBR trails nearby and cuts inside rounding second and is poised to gain the lead. They are neck and neck approaching third when Bud Light shoves PBR, sending him tumbling into the dugout. Meanwhile, Bud Heavy is doubled over, heaving. Bud Light pumps his tiny fists in the dusty air as he trots home, unchallenged. Volley after volley of PBR and Bud Heavy cans rain down from the bleachers and litter the field around home plate, as if Bud Light had vanquished his competition into mini particles of themselves. 

The game is over. 

The final score remains unknown. 

We close down the stadium and head to the bar.

 


Connor Goodwin is a writer from Lincoln, Nebraska. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Poets & Writers, Los Angeles Review of Books, BOMB, X-R-A-Y,and elsewhere. 

“Kiling Humens and Baysbawl” by Chris Milam

19113980_6d5f48d959_o.jpg

Well, my mom slept with an alien. This was ten years ago, two years after the invasion. She met him on SpaceLove.com. His name is a bunch of squeaks and squeals and is spelled with weird symbols, so she called him Bruce Greenwood, who she said was an underrated character actor. Anyway, they met online. Bruce only listed two interests: killing humens and baysbawl. He’s not the greatest speller in the galaxy. She thought it was cute even though the aliens literally killed millions of humans when they first arrived. After a few dates, she introduced him to me. I took in his lobster claw hands and praying mantis head and told mom that I preferred she get back to together with Chuck because at least he wasn’t from another planet and looked somewhat normal in his khakis and vintage rock t-shirts.

After a few months, he moved in with us. But one good thing came from their union, my brother Jacob. He also has lobster claw hands but his head is human, though his feet are webbed. The alien is an attentive father, unlike my own, who left years ago to chase alcohol and other women. Bruce walks Jacob to school and vaporizes anyone who makes fun of him. My brother is untouchable when he is around. They also share a love of baseball, the Yankees to be more precise, and they always play catch in the backyard. I watch from my bedroom window wishing it was me and my dad out there bonding and throwing curveballs.

When dad found out that my mom married Bruce, he stormed over and demanded that she divorce him immediately because no god damn alien was going to be a step-father to my son. Bruce clicked his tongue three times, which was alien speak for I’m about to kill you, so dad backed off, said screw it, I need a drink and took off. I haven’t seen him since.

There are others like us in the neighborhood. It started slowly, a mixed family here and there, then over the years over half of the families had an alien in the household. Even Jason Preston, the saddest guy I ever met, found love on the internet. He calls her Rosamund, after Rosamund Pike, who he said was really hot. We all get along and have cookouts every month or so. Aliens love grilled chicken for some reason, maybe it tastes like whatever they ate back on their planet. There will always be peace in the suburbs because we know the aliens could kill us any time they want to. So we behave around them, give them our respect which is a disguise for fear. 

Bruce Greenwood tries to fit in. He wears skinny jeans and slim fitting Polo shirts. He bowls on Friday nights. He even dresses up as Santa Claus on Christmas, though most children know he’s just an alien in a red suit. I do admire his efforts, to be honest. I hated him at first but lately, I’ve grown to like him in a because-he-makes-my-mom-happy-in-more-ways-than-one way. He dotes on her, buys her little gifts, though he doesn’t totally understand the concept. He’s brought her a bag of crickets, a dead rat, a box filled with dog poop. He buys her things like Bic lighters and mulch and toothpicks. She says it’s the thought that counts and she loves him because he tries so hard to impress her.

I met a girl recently in the neighborhood. I call her Jennifer after a middle school crush. Even Bruce Greenwood gave me a tree branch to give to her on our first date. We are going to the ice rink at fountain square. I just hope her huge webbed feet fit into the ice skates because I really like her. I really do, alien or not.

 

Chris Milam lives in Middletown, Ohio. His stories have appeared in FlashBack Fiction, Molotov Cocktail, Lost Balloon, Bending Genres, WhiskeyPaper, and elsewhere.
Twitter: @Blukris.

“In Conversation with a Recurring Character from the Nighttime” by Jessalyn Johnson

21807757013_d654b1264a_o.jpg

This is a ride at an amusement park. It has a red lap bar and a pouch to store my belongings. I am questioning whether or not it will exit through the gift shop or if someone will offer to sell me a photo with an appropriately themed border frame. I take the photo but cannot find the gift shop and no one asks me for any money. 

When I walk outside I am unsure of my whereabouts, curious as to how I might find my way back to the amusement park ride that has somehow disappeared. I see a house that is completely upended, but stepping inside I realize it just seems this way because I am alone, and all the books are still facing the right way. The air smells faintly of last night’s lasagna. 

A man I may have met before approaches me and asks that I notice his wardrobe, which mimics mine exactly, and in return I ask him what’s going on but he doesn’t respond for several minutes. Instead he offers me a piece of fruit I don’t recognize and I take it to be polite. 

I say thank you and he looks me in the eye and says to me you cannot measure numbers with love and you cannot measure love with numbers, and he says this over and over and over again until I promise to believe him. 

Jessalyn Johnson is a writer from Central Florida currently living in Brooklyn, New York. She has a degree in English Literature and currently attends The New School’s MFA Creative Writing Program. Her work is featured in Maudlin House, Barren Magazine, and Soft Cartel, among others.

Twitter: @jessalyn451
Instagram: @jessalynjohnson
or visit her at: jessalynjohnson.com

 

“Black” by Calum Armitage

31275859057_33e40f36d1_o.jpg

You stand, undressed, in front of the fogged bathroom mirror. The shower has been running for nearly five minutes, but you haven’t got in; haven’t even really noticed it’s been on. 

You have been staring at your reflection, unaware of any time passing. You know that it’s you in the mirror, that those eyes you’re gazing into are yours (who else’s could they be?), but it just doesn’t feel like you, anymore. There’s something off, something not quite right about what you’re seeing, what you’re feeling. 

It’s been like this for a while now. This feeling of being underwater, almost. This feeling of life not so much happening to you but more around you, and you’re just an observer looking on.

If you could compare it to anything, you’d say it’s a little bit like a video game you’re a character in; someone else is controlling your movements: what you say, do, eat, drink. The places you go. 

You watch yourself through this unknown player’s eyes in the mirror: raise an arm, turn your head, wiggle toes, fingers. 

The buckle on your belt rattles as you do this last movement, the wiggling of your fingers. You look down to your left hand which is gripping it and slowly, very slowly, raise and hold the belt out in front of you. You study its shape: the metallic clanking silver buckle, the feel of the faux brown leather, faded slightly where you pull to tighten it. Cheaply made. You’ve only had it a couple months. 

Then you throw it behind your neck, like you would a scarf, and do it up. Just to see how it feels; how much pressure this player can withstand. 

You pull it hard, cutting off your air supply completely. Eyes begin to water after only a handful of seconds. Then, a little after that the bathroom takes on a vibrant, pulsating red glow at its edges. It throbs in time with your heartbeat. Lungs burn, crying out in desperation for a fresh breath of oxygen. 

Once you let the belt go slack you fall forward, coughing and gulping air. Your palms cling to the cool white porcelain of the sink. A hand moves towards your neck, rubbing gently the rough red line left behind. 

You press your forehead against the steam covered mirror, breathe deeply. You step back, push greasy hair behind ears; sigh. 

Step into the shower and let the warm water rush over your face. 

 


Calum Armitage is a journalism undergraduate from Northern Ireland. He is a writer of short stories, flash fiction, and articles. He runs his own blog at: https://medium.com/@calumwriting67

“A Meaningless Exercise in Self-Discipline” by Scott Litts

4243602955_37f9ed2281_o.jpg
He was eating cloves of garlic next to me on the subway, and he was struggling. It wasn’t even peeled. But he was really powering through it. He was not having a good time, and it was pretty brutal to watch.

He shook his jug⁠— he had a jug— and some ice chunks rattled around inside. He tried to get some of the ice, first with his fingers, then with his tongue. He shook it really violently. A woman nearby got up to move. I closed my eyes.

He was grunting too. His thirst was audible. The ice was not melting, and the shards that he was able to get by rattling the jug were insufficient. He needed real water.

I didn’t have any water, so I held my eyes shut.

He ate another section of garlic. I knew this because he chewed it very loudly and made noises of suffering. It sounded like a really big piece. He was torturing himself in front of me all these people.

The smell was overpowering. The whole train reeked. I don’t think he noticed any of it, but people were getting upset.

And I don’t know what came over me, but I opened my eyes, and turned my head to him. He was crying. Or his eyes were watering— he wasn’t sobbing. His eyes were watering, and the tears were running down his cheeks onto his chin, which was steady in stoic forbearance.

His face was expressionless, and now his eyes were closed as he chewed. And the garlic was there in his open hand.

I reached into his hand, took a clove, and crushed it between my molars. He didn’t seem to notice. I chewed, and the taste spread all through my mouth and nose and throat. And then my eyes were tearing up, so I closed them and continued chewing. It was everywhere, and it was burning. And I couldn’t help myself so I started laughing with my mouth closed.

But I had to open my mouth to breathe properly. You don’t understand what it’s like to eat a raw clove of garlic. You have to open your mouth.

So I opened it and couldn’t suppress the laughter. And my eyes were burning, so I had to open them too. And when I opened them he was looking at me. He was chewing and smiling. He tilted his head and looked at me knowingly. His open hand was in front of me.

That was when I really started laughing. I put the unpeeled piece in my mouth, and then he was laughing too, really loudly. His mouth was wide open, and he was laughing so hard that garlic was falling out of his mouth all over his lap and the seat. The smell was awful. Every time I breathed in the air was hot with garlic.

I closed my eyes really tight, to concentrate, and I forced down the puree that was in my mouth. I got it down, and I coughed and laughed some more after I did. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I opened my eyes. He was looking at me, tears streaming down his face. His mouth was still wide open, and he was shaking with laughter. He was holding out a bag. He moved it towards me, nodding and urging me to look into it. I looked, and inside there were so many more cloves of garlic.

Scott Litts is an angry young writer in NYC. You can follow him on Twitter @Scott_Litts_