Popping Pills – Tim Frank

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Photo: Joshua Coleman

Gregory was the only male in the Hadrick Women’s Mental Institute. He was a burly nurse of about six foot six, heaving several bowling balls worth of excess weight around his stomach, and in his fifteen years as a professional carer he had committed many crimes.

It was a normal day at the asylum. Gregory padded up the shiny white floors – so clean they were sticky – and he entered Gina’s room. She was in bed, duvet wrapped around her bare feet, cheek squished against an exposed mattress spring. Gregory poked her nose with his plimsoll. She sat upright and rubbed her eyes with her fists. She received the milk, the buttered toast and double the number of pills she’d been prescribed.

‘I can’t remember anything,’ Gina moaned. ‘Not even yesterday. Gregory, do me a solid, tell me what happened to me last night or, God damn it, I’ll end it all. Life’s not worth living if you can’t remember last night’s Yorkshire pudding.’

Gregory sniffed and shrugged.

‘What if I just stopped taking the pills Gregory?’’

‘That would just be stupid.’

‘Wild stupid. My vagina feels weird.’

‘I don’t… Need to…’

‘Something’s not right. Something’s been in it, I’m pretty sure. I need to know.’

‘Um? Forget about it?’

‘I’ve got a vibe, man, and I can’t let this one slide!’

Gregory decided not to indulge Gina any further and finished off the rest of his rounds. The other girls were maudlin, grey and placid. They ate the food that made them fat, and the overdose of pills that made them pliable. They didn’t struggle.

Visiting hours came, and Gina met with Jackie, someone she’d befriended in Hadrick a year ago. They sat by the expansive window, far away from reception, as Gregory was there analysing their every move, chewing on a soggy pencil rubber.

‘I broke into Gregory’s home. He has mother issues,’ Jackie whispered, ‘serious mother issues. He has shrines to her, pictures everywhere, dresses laid out on chairs and beds. He sleeps next to her ashes. He’s an acid freak too. That’s how we get him.’

An hour later, Jackie skirted around Gregory, eyes locked to the floor, and exited the building. Gregory turned his gaze to Gina, who was chugging on a cigarette in the smoking cage, peeking out of the corner of her eyes, sussing Gregory up, hatching a plan.

That night Gina felt the thick velvet fog descend upon her – the consequence of the obscene amount of pills she’d been swallowing. But tonight would be different. Jackie had slipped her some poppers and the pungent effulgent rocked her mind enough to stay alert through the night – with the added bonus of making her bowels a little more carefree.

At the strike of two in the morning Gina heard the squeaking of trainers on linoleum. In the light from the lamp by reception, Gina watched as Gregory bore down upon her singing ‘The Yellow Submarine’ and smelling of pork scratchings.

Gregory flung Gina’s duvet off her and drooled. He began to undress her.

‘Come to Matka, lovely baby boy,’ Gina said.

‘Matka?’ Gregory said, dumbstruck. ‘Mamma?’

‘Yes baby, don’t look at me, what we are about to do is shameful but nevertheless – we must. Our love shall be anointed.’’

Gregory stepped back and covered his eyes with his arm.

‘I want to mamma, so have I missed you. But I’m afraid. Can this really be true? No, it can’t be. Maybe I’m losing my mind. I am on a helluva lot of acid.’

‘If you can’t please your mother then who can you please?’

‘Please Matka, I’m very confused.’

‘Make love to me now, or may Beelzebub eat your soul!’

Gregory began to cry and, keeping his eyes shielded, stumbled out of Gina’s room.

The next day Nurse Fold gathered the girls by the sofas next to the TV and told them Gregory would be absent for a short while and she would now be in charge.

As Nurse Fold started to dole out the day’s pills, Gina made a beeline for her and smashed the tablets out of their containers causing them to scatter to the floor.

‘I dare you to pick them up,’ Gina said. ‘I dare you. From now on I’m in charge, otherwise I’ll expose you for letting Gregory get away with what he did to us.’
Days passed and the girls still refused their pills. They tuned into MTV and danced on the sofas. They smoked joints in the dining room and stubbed their roaches out in their mashed potatoes. Gina was high as hell and jumped onto her friend’s back like a footballer who’d scored a goal, and shouted, ‘You can’t stop us, we’ve got too much spunk in our veins! Knock us down, we’ll just come back for more!’

And then things turned religious. Many of the girls recited babbling scripture – making the sign of the cross after every sentence they spoke. A week off the pills and the fights broke out. Girls made weapons from toothbrushes and plastic spoons. They picked sides.

Then time stopped.

One of the girls killed a nurse. She slit her throat with a shiv. The nurse had refused to bow down to the girl who claimed to be the new messiah. In the hours that followed, before security bulldozed their way through the doors – blocked by chairs and beds -everyone, including Gina, quickly sobered and saw things clearly. They were nobodies. They had nothing, never did. Who could blame them for thinking they were gods, who could blame them for wanting to live large for once in their lives?

As Gina was tackled to the ground by security, she saw light sweeping through the hospital hallways – a kingdom of light. She’d never felt so alive and she knew life would never be so wondrous again. She was ready to go back on the pills.


Tim

Tim Frank specialises in the comic, the dark and the surreal. He has written a semi-autobiographical novel, Devil in my Veins, and is currently writing a sci-fi thriller novel.

the owls learned english a long time ago – lucy mihajlich

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Photo: Timothy Dykes

“Did you see her in the debates?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Maddy. “I made it into a drinking game. I drank every time she spoke.”

“She’s just so sexist,” said Kirby. “How can a woman be that sexist?”

“Hey,” she said. “We can do anything you can.”

We were in the Sic Bay. It was New York University’s unofficial student health center, which was preferable to the actual Student Health Center, because Kirby only charged for the weed.

Kirby was a grad student in the NYU School of Medical Technology. He was going to be a repairman for robot surgeons. “Until they learn how to repair themselves,” he always added.

He and Maddy lived in Rubin, a residence hall overcompensating with ivy so thick you could barely see the brick beneath its leaves. You could still smell it. Rubin was so infused with secondhand hops that, on a hot day, the bricks smelled more like loaves of bread. It was the cheapest housing on campus, because the antiquated structure couldn’t support central cooling. On a hot day, you were lucky if all you could smell was beer.

I lived in the Bobst Library and Computer Lab.

NYU had recently gotten caught up in a ponzi scheme. It was the Pyramide Inversée of the Madoff scandal, which no one liked to talk about, so of course, it history repeated itself. Tuition went up. So did housing. I lived en plein air for a while, but it was hard enough being homeless in New York City even before Central Parking paved over the green roof to make room for more cars.

When the Bobst Library closed in the small hours of the morning, I hid in the bathroom. The security guards never swept the stalls. They never policed their butts either, so there was always something to smoke while I waited.

I slept during the day, but it was a college library, so they were used to that. I woke up screaming, but they were used to that too.

“You should hire a bodyguard,” said Kirby. Even Maddy looked confused by the non-sequitur, and she got an A in Non-Sequiturs I.

“They don’t have that category on Craigslist,” she said.

“Not Craigslist.” He started pacing. “The dark web.”

After Campus Public Safety found out about the death threats, they did a few extra bike-bys of our building. Kirby said that was bullshit. Maddy said it was “about as useful as cupping a corpse.”

She explained the idiom, but that led to a whole new series of questions, including how long she had been Jewish, and what exactly went on when her people sat Shiva.

I raised my hand. “What’s the dark web?”

“The dark web refers to any website hosted on an anonymous network like Tor. It’s technically legal, in a read-the-fine-font sort of way, but the websites that exist on it are not. You can buy anything on the Silk Superhighway with enough digitally laundered currency. You remember that girl who sold her kidney to buy an iPhone? It’s always harvest season on the internet. People who view this item also viewed drugs, guns, and kiddie porn. You can even hire an assassin. The Unicoder will make it look like an accident for anyone who refers a friend. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he’s totally dark net famous.”

“No, Miriam,” said Maddy, without looking up from her phone. “We aren’t hiring The Unicoder. He only has two stars.”

I lowered my hand.

“I could be your bodyguard,” said Kirby. “For the right compensation.”

“Don’t be a pig,” I said.

“Would your parents pay for one?” asked Maddy.

“I doubt it.”

To be fair, of all the ways I could have disappointed my parents in college, I don’t think they had considered “starting a cult.”

The Gift started as a side hustle. Kirby designed it for me, and coded it in BASIC, despite my initial confusion and offense. He had three side hustles: App designer, Uber Driver, and sous chef, or as he put it: the real triple threat.

The Gift was an app combining witchcraft with psychology. The name was a reference to DEAR MAN GIVE, an acronym from the Dialectical Behavior Therapy module on Interpersonal Effectiveness: Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, Mindful, Appear confident, Negotiate. Gentle, Interested, Validate, Easy manner.

After the Gift went viral, I had to Urban Dictionary my own slogan. Apparently “Dear man, give,” was a versatile expression that could contextually mean any of the following: Yes, no, maybe, and exclamation of victory, a greeting, an insult, or a request for sexual services.

I started full-fidelity Dialectical Behavior Therapy three weeks after my first panic attack. Three days into first module, my parents took me off their insurance. I didn’t qualify for the university’s health plan, because I was taking less than twenty-four credits per term.

Anyone could be a witch, but their persecution (and prosecution) had always been a feminist issue. Early witches were just women who said “no” to men.

The Salem Witch Trials were mostly the result of misogyny (and hallucinogens). Although only twenty people were executed in Salem, compared to the scores of thousands in France, Germany, and England (the Spanish Inquisition had insisted that ordinary standards of evidence be applied).

In 1967, the Yippies levitated the Pentagon. (Hallucinogens were probably involved on this occasion as well.) During the 70s, W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell) and other feminist groups chanted slogans such as, “We are the daughters of the witches you couldn’t burn.” In 2017, a neo-W.I.T.C.H. group was formed for the Women’s March.

Historically speaking, the popularity of witchcraft tended to peak during periods of social unrest. The Cold War brought Wicca, Dianic Witchcraft, and cultural appropriation. The Orange Scare brought emoji spells, and more cultural appropriation. After they took our health insurance, it was only a matter of time.

The Gift went from seventeen downloads to seventy thousand overnight, and the hits just kept coming. Per day, I averaged fifteen autograph requests, thirty kiss requests, half a dead animal, and two marriage proposals. My death threat count had dropped to five. They were very flattering death threats too. Most of them only wanted to kill me so they could absorb my power.

I had everything I’d ever wanted, except for sleep.

“How did you do it?” Kirby asked.

I blew a smoke ring. “It must have been the deal I made on Craigslist. This guy had a listing under Mobile App Promotion, but he insisted we meet at the corner of 5th and Couch, at night. Instead of payment, all he wanted was a picture of me. What was his name? Ugh, I’m so bad with names, and he had so many.”

“Prince?”

“That was one of them.”

Maddy blew a smoke dragon. “Your strategy seems to be working, Miriam.”

“Strategy?” I repeated.

“Your strategy.” She spoke louder, as if I was deaf or Siri. “Taking a break from social media.”

“Oh, that strategy.”

“The internet is calling it your vow of silence. You’re maintaining the air of mystery around the Gift. It helps that the only thing you ever post on Twitter are pictures of cats. Of course that won’t work forever. You may have to hire a ghostposter. Try to get the one who works for the Kardashians. I think they just won a Pulitzer.”

“I have a question,” said Kirby.

“Just one?” I asked.

“Is this all psychological, or do you actually believe in magic?”

I shrugged. “You can’t believe in nothing.”

Maddy snapped her fingers. “Enigmatic. Good. I don’t think you’ll need a ghostposter.”

“Of course I can,” said Kirby. “It’s called atheism.”

“No,” I said. “I mean, you can’t believe in nothing. There’s no such thing as nothing. Even in a vacuum, there are particles and antiparticles and they are inherently unstable, which is probably what caused the Big Bang, but we don’t know. We don’t know what happened before the Planck epoch. We don’t know why there’s no such thing as nothing. We don’t know why we exist, but we do, and we’re complex enough to question the nature of that existence. That implies inherent meaning. We may not know the meaning of life, but we can’t deny it. We are not an accident.”

Maddy snorted. “Speak for yourself.”

 

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I ate dinner by the campfire light. I had started the fire all by myself. For kindling, I burned dry branches. For tinder, I burned dry leaves. And my hair, but that was an accident.

Dinner was a life hack for campfire-grilled cheese sandwiches. I didn’t understand why they were called life hacks when they were supposed to be easy. Hacking was harder than it looked. There were only two windows, one progress bar, and no time limit. And the progress bar turned out to be Kirby’s music.

Although to be fair, I almost started a forest fire.

I stayed in the Catskills until the new president took office. Then I turned around and drove west. I didn’t even stop to eat. Drive-thrus seemed safer. Of course, Taco Bell backfired since I had to stop three times after that.

I drove until we ran into water or Border Patrol. Then, like a Roomba, I did an about-face and drove in the opposite direction. Along the way, there were rest stops, supply runs, and open road. The white noise of the electric van’s fake engine. The white noise of the news.

It started small. In Texas, a woman was refused service at Starbucks because she had a pentacle on her shirt. It was Captain America’s shield.

Her case didn’t even make it to the Supremes, but it was a benchmark. Witches had separate bathrooms and water bottle filling stations. They even had their own schools, which were not as nice as Harry Potter led them to expect.

Maddy led the protests, so she was the first arrest.

The president repurposed several government facilities to serve as correctional camps. They were supposed to “provide a remedial setting for aggressive therapies,” and that was the PR version. The camps used aversion therapy, administering drugs that made people sick and then showing them tarot cards. The suicide rate was off the roof.

The Kardashians’ Pulitzer-winning ghostposter got herself sent to the camps on purpose. She managed to release some footage before “committing suicide.”

I wanted to help, but it was hard to get a Twitter account verified when you were a fugitive from justice.

 

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I patted myself down before leaving the van. Wallet, phone, keys, knife, knife, knife, knife, knife. Drive-thrus seemed safer, but sometimes you just had to enjoy the supersized things in life.

Another old man was taking the ball pit too literally. The children were crying into their french fries— as if the sodium content wasn’t high enough already.

No one noticed when the Unicoder drew his gun. It was an antique revolver. A financial statement piece. Point and click.

No wonder he only had two stars.

“I’m going to sue McDonald’s,” I said.

“You wouldn’t be the first,” said the Unicoder.

I drew my athame.  The ceremonial blade was traditional in design, double-sided and black-handled.

“You really think you’re going to do any damage with that little pigsticker?”

“Let’s find out, pig.”

He ruined the moment by laughing.

“Hey, I have a question.”

“Just one?” he asked.

“Why do you do it?”

He shrugged. “It’s a side hustle.”

“I meant Uber.”

“Oh.” The Unicoder blinked. “Easy to make it look like an accident. A lot of people refer friends. More than you might think…. Miriam?”

I had that feeling— when you knew there was something that you were supposed to be doing, but you couldn’t remember what. In this case it was breathing.

“Miriam!”

I was having a panic attack.


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Lucy Mihajlich lives in Portland, Oregon. Her first book, Interface, was chosen for the Multnomah County Library Writers Project, where it appeared on the list for Best of the Library Writer’s Project 2017.

talking in bed – margaret erhart

Matt Clifford - Photo Credit Matt Diss ALOC Media

When we were kids we’d climb aboard my parents’ bed and sail around the world, our faces to an imaginary wind and on the lookout for danger. Slippers were sharks and piles of clothing were shoals. We took turns being captain and sometimes, if a whale was spotted, we’d lower a whaleboat made of pillows. Among the five of us, I was the best harpoonist.

The great ship of our parents’ bed adventured less and less as each of us left home, until finally my mother and father were alone on it and their journeys–if they ever left port at all–were unknown to us. When we came home from our other lives, the bed seemed an ordinary bed, though larger than it appeared in childhood. Was it possible it had grown? My father read the paper lying on the bed. My mother talked on the telephone lying on the bed. Beloved dogs roamed the bed and circled down to sleep on it at night. It became the docking station for my parents’ lives, and ours as well. Somehow if we lost them we expected they would always be found. On the bed.

When my father went into the hospital this past Christmas Eve, I didn’t understand that he might never come out. All I understood was that his side of the bed that night was empty. And the next night, and the next. The room he shared with my mother looked lopsided and wrong. It was clear what needed to be done and I did it, and every night since then I’ve slept in the bed where my father used to sleep. My mother sometimes wakes up in the dark and starts talking. We don’t talk of him, we talk about what time the dog needs to go out, and what we can put together for the next meal, and how much snow the city might get, and sometimes she’ll tell me a dream. In the morning she’ll say, “Don’t get up yet, it’s dark out,” or, “You snore just like your father,” and I wait for her to go back to sleep, then I set my feet down in the shark-infested waters around that great ship of a bed, and the day begins.


Margaret Erhart_Author Photo Headshot

Margaret Erhart’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and The Best American Spiritual Writing 2005. Her commentaries have aired on NPR. She won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize and was a finalist for an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She lives and works in Flagstaff, Arizona. You can find her at www.margareterhart.com

Cover Photo: Bastian Pudill

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drift – addison herron-wheeler

Matt Clifford - Photo Credit Matt Diss ALOC Media

As she opened the hatch and slid out into the starry night, she heard a scraping sound behind her. She didn’t have to turn around to know who it was.

Marika had been avoiding Dante the entire time on the ship. Ever since their breathless encounter in the ship elevator, the one Marika had pulled away from, Dante seemed to be stalking her around every corner. At night, she locked her door, waiting as quietly as possible until she heard his footsteps fade down the hall and disappear. She was constantly running.

But now, here in “the library,” their term for the spiraling vortex of levers that controlled the fuel tanks, there was nowhere to go, and Dante knew it.

He moved toward her, eyes flashing, and grabbed her arm. Even in her spacesuit, Marika felt he was seeing straight through to her naked body, then to her bones. She kicked herself away from the wall of the ship, her cord holding. Dante kicked off too, floating toward her, then grabbing both arms and pinned them to her sides.

Using all her force, Marika spun around and kicked hard, sending him flying further from the shop.

The tether broke. Immediately, the fear in his eyes turned to hopeless panic. He began waving his arms wildly, and then he started drifting soundlessly into space.

Calmly, Marika turned around and began her work on the controls. She ignored his silent screams, trapped in a pink bubble in the nebula they were floating in. She didn’t turn around to see his eyes begin to turn red or his veins bulge out, and she kept her gaze averted from the carnage that became his face as he died in space, just a few feet from their vessel.

She finished her work calmly, then floated over to his body and gave it a hard kick. It started to drift away. Her tether was extended all the way, and for a moment, she thought of following him letting her body drift soundlessly after him into the ether.

Then she slowly kicked off his body and propelled herself back into the ship. She landed soundlessly, crawled along the body of the ship, and reached over to open the hatch.


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Addison Herron-Wheeler is editor of OUT FRONT Magazine, web editor of New Noise Magazine, and an avid sci-fi and metal nerd. Her first collection of fiction, Respirator, will be out in 2020 on Spaceboy Books

 

 

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a sex toy shop – margaret reynolds

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“How’d you come up with the store’s name?” the director asks Marissa, our store manager.

Marissa and the documentary crew have set up in the BDSM corner today, their shot backdropped by feather ticklers and paddles. The other employees — Jay and Arman — and I are pretending to restock lingerie while secretly watching the interview.

“Well, we brainstormed a couple of ideas. Our first one was — A Sex Toy Shop for Misfits and Mutants. But then the sign people quoted us about a million dollars for that name,” Marissa speaks crisply. Smacks hard on her consonants. I’m guessing she’s spitting because the cameraman keeps backing away from her, only to bump into the mannequin sporting a strapon.

“Why would you call it ‘A Sex Toy Shop for Misfits and Mutants’?” the director asks.

“No one warned him?” I whisper to Jay.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” Marissa smiles at the director and then winks at us. Fuck, she knows we aren’t working. I hurriedly shove more knee-high stockings onto the shelf.

“Ok, I guess… What was your…” the director cuts himself off and throws his arms into the air. “Brett! Will you stop fucking moving. Our footage is going to be shaky.”

Brett, the cameraman, sulks back towards Marissa, glaring in turns at the director and the strapon mannequin.

The director sighs, “As I was saying, what other names did you come up with?”
Marissa smacks her lips again. I see Brett’s nostrils flare, but after getting a nasty side look from the director, he stays put.

“Well, we cut it to Misfits and Mutants, but then Jay said people are going to think we are literally selling misfits and mutants. Like mutant trafficking, I guess. He’s very dramatic like that,” Marissa’s shaking her head. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Arman’s eyes go wide. Probably picturing the director cutting Marissa saying “mutant trafficking, I guess” and using it for god knows what.

“I suggested just Dildos,” Marissa waves her hand across the air, like she’s presenting a Broadway play, before frowning. “But everyone said the name would be limiting. I mean, we have a fabulous dildo collection, don’t get me wrong. However, we don’t want people to think that we only sell dildos.”

“The other ideas were — Paddles for Non-Gendered Pussies, Misfit Magic ;), and Demons, Dildos, and Desire. Oh my!” Marissa counts the names off on her fingers.

“So why’d you go with Sex Toys.”

Marissa shrugs and pulls out her whiny, I’m mimicking corporate voice, “Oh, well, corporate called and said, ‘Franchises don’t get to choose their own name,’ or something dumb and uninspired liked that.”

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“So, Callie, what’s your favorite part of working at the store?” the director asks me.
Jay and I are in the breakroom, sitting across from the director. Jay’s arms are crossed.
Marissa told Jay him he had to give at least one interview for the documentary about the store. Jay told Marrissa she was essentializing trans dudes to improve the diversity of the documentary. Marissa told Jay that he was a self-centered twat, not everything was about him, and all employees were required to give at least one interview. Jay told Marissa he didn’t appreciate her using feminine-gendered insults like twat. Marissa told Jay she calls everyone a twat and then, to prove it, summoned Arman and called him a twat. Arman told Marissa he didn’t mind being called that, even though he was obviously heartbroken (his cheeks got all saggy and his lips got all sad duck). Marissa told us to go just get on with the interview for christ’s sake and then had to leave and apologize to Arman and tell him she didn’t really think he was a twat and that she actually considered him a very good employee.

So Jay and I were abandoned to the somewhat shell-shocked director.

“The support group is nice, I guess,” I respond to the director.
Director: “What support group?”

Me: “Oh, I mean there’s a couple, but the shapeshifter one is obviously helpful for me.”

Director: “What?”

Me: “I mean, the support group is like, helping me come to terms with my chameleon-ing. For so many years I felt like I had the worst power. Like when will I ever need to look like a paisley chair? Plus it just feels like the Shapeshifter Power Giving Gods, or whoever the fuck hands this shit out, gave me the most mysoginistic power they had.

Like Jay gets to change all of his body hair, and I’m stuck with blending in with my environment? Isn’t that basically underscoring the narrative that femmes should be invisible? Anyhow, I guess the Shapeshifter Power Giving Gods probs don’t really worry about gender stereotypes. But the Shapeshifter Support Group is, uh, helpful, yea. To answer your question.”

Director: “Wait, WHAT?”

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“So, welcome to the Shapeshifter Support Group!” Jay beams around the circle, gives a thumbs up to the doc crew sitting in the corner, and continues to read off the notes in front of him, “After after our discussion last week, we agreed to go with pronouns, powers, and pastries as our introduction?”

“We wanted something alliterative,” I say.

“We wanted something tasty,” Ella winks at us from across the chair circle that we set up close to the register.

“Well I’m Jay. My pronouns are he, him. I can shift my hair. All my body hair,” Jay winks at me. I roll my eyes. Done with today’s fucking winking trend. “And I like… bagels?”

“Bagels aren’t a pastry,” the new guy next to Jay mutters and folds his arms.

“What’s the definition of a pastry?” Jay makes a face at the new guy.

“Maybe it has to be sweet?” I say. A few people in the circle nod. Ella cups their chin thoughtfully. Aaron closes zir eyes. I check my watch. Aaron has never made it longer than three minutes into support group before ze disappears. Literally. We’ve made it seven minutes, so that’s exciting. I give Aaron a thumbs up, and the next second, zir chair is empty.

“Damnit,” I mutter under my breath.

“What?” Jay looks at me, and when I don’t respond, he continues, “Ok, fine, a strawberry bagel. I pick a strawberry bagel as my pastry.”

“Well…” new guy taps their cheek as they think.

“Does anybody make strawberry bagels?” Ella calls across the circle.

“So I think we should just move on to the next person. Jay, we’ll come back to you regarding the pastry part of your intro,” I sigh, staring at Aaron’s empty chair. I point at the new guy, “I think you’re next.”

“Fine. I’m Emmanuel. My pronouns are they, them. My pastry is toast,” new guy says.

Jay throws his hands into the air. His midnight skin flushes red, “You get toast?! And I can’t have a bagel?!”

“Toast with jam,” Emmanuel shrugs. “It’s sweet.”

Emmanuel glares around the circle. Ella nods supportively. Jay rolls his eyes. The air above Aaron’s chair seems to shift in a neutral way.

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The director appears one afternoon to show us some edited clips his documentary team has been working on.

“I think these clips will give you a sense of the documentary’s main mission: to humanize and normalize different sexualities, and uh, abilities,” director man says.

“To humanize and normalize dildos,” Jay smirks and lazily drapes an arm across the back of my chair.

“Could you be serious for one second?” Arman squints his eyes at Jay.

Jay squints back at Arman, “Could you be not-ugly for one second?”

Marissa squints at everyone, “I think we are losing focus here.”

“Anyway….” the director clears his throat. “I am first going to show you a clip of Callie describing an experience with your district manager, Alec.”

I swallow loudly and end up coughing on my own spit. Jay pats my back. His fingers linger on the nape of my neck, and I wish I could just enjoy the feeling of his well moisturized fingers on my skin. But no. All I can think about his Alec and his pelvis walk.

The director clicks play on the laptop he’s put on the table in front of us. It’s me, sitting in the breakroom corner, a fern close behind me. At one point, I lean back too far back, right into the fern, a leaf poking at the corners of my mouth.

In the clip, I shove the fern away before saying, “So one night, I had to close the store with Alec, the district manager. I was playing my own music, but during cleanup, Alec disappeared into the back. After a minute, a new song comes on, and the lyrics are, ‘TAPE me / TAPE me, my friend / TAPE me / TAPE me again’. It was awful. I was so freaking scared, and I can’t even report it! Because the person I would report to is Alec.”

“I didn’t realize you had such a, uh, deep voice,” Marissa raises her eyebrows at me.

The director shuffles his feet and pauses the video. Looking at a spot above my head, he says, “So we had to censor a few words, dub over them, to make it appropriate for our audience.”

Arman laughs. Doubling over his neatly crossed legs, clasping his hands on his knees, “So we can say ‘vibrator’ and ‘sex toy,’ but not ‘rape’?”

The director nods vigorously, “Yes! I’m so glad you understand. But see, if you need to say ‘rape’, you could instead just say, ‘tape’.”

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Arman tells Marissa he is “camera shy” (though, I guess not for Instagram photos?), so Marissa gives him permission to not do his interview.

“She said I just needed to provide some sort of representation of my experience working at the store,” Arman explains to me, smirking. “So I was wondering, do you know how to use a tape recorder?”

I raise my eyebrows before he hands me a series of drawings tilted, “An Illustrated Guide to Professional Clothing that Fits Over Wings: Arman’s Story.”

“Could you, like, narrate this or something? Then give it to the doc people?” he asks, converting his smirk to a smile I assume he considers sweet.

The next day, I hand him the following recording:

“Arman on Monday: Tight fitting, faux tux t-shirt with an open back.

Arman after Instagramming his outfit and reading the comments on his post for over an hour: ‘Do I have back fat?’

Arman on Tuesday: Detective cloak with two slits in the back. Fedora.

Arman after Jay looked at him: ‘What? It’s Burberry!’

Arman on Wednesday: Double suspenders over a backless button down.

Arman to me: ‘So the cloak was a knock-off, but don’t say anything to Jay…’

Arman on Thursday: Furry pink infinity scarf. No shirt.

Arman to Marissa’s raised eyebrows: ‘Is this against dress code?’”

The recording stops and Arman sighs for at least 10 seconds, rolling his eyes slowly,

“Fine, I’ll just ask Jay to do it.”

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“Callie, we got a new shipment in. I need you to do inventory,” Marissa reads off the clipboard quickly. Chomps on her gum loudly. Blows a bubble and lets it pop over her lips. She scrapes the gum off with her teeth. I’m half-asleep against a locker in the back of the workroom, and only stir because I hear my name.

Marissa continues, “Arman, you’re on register. Jay’s re-stocking. Got it?”

Jay’s leaning back in his chair and raises his arm lazily. Barely makes a right angle.

Marissa chomps her gum louder and sneers at Jay’s hand. Probably wishes she could give him a detention for slouching. Given that the documentary people are sitting in on this team meeting, she’d told us to, “Behave like good school children,” and I think we are all embracing that direction in our own way.

“What?” she narrows her eyes at Jay. “We have to get the store open.”

“People have been asking questions about the Jesus dildo.” Jay drapes himself smugly against the back of his chair.

“What fucking Jesus dildo?” Marissa smacks her lips at each of us in turn. Arman’s eyes go wide. He stares determinately at a spider web in the corner.

I clear my throat, fully awake now, and shoot Jay a nasty look. “They came in last week. I think Alec ordered them.”

“That little…” Marissa bites her tongue and straightens her suit coat. “What questions, Jay?”

“Like why do we have a Jesus dildo? That old lady from the nursing home, who’s always coming in on her days out? She was super upset about it.” Jay’s tapping his feet and bites his lip to keep from laughing. It makes his dimples turn down in a stupid cute way. Even Arman, fucking lick Marissa’s asshole Arman, is covering his mouth as if he’s yawning.
“So what do we say to them?” Jay continues when Marissa doesn’t answer.

She slides her glasses onto her head and rubs her hand down her face.

“Just say…. Well, I guess, just say…” Marissa sighs deeply. “Say some customers feel it brings them closer to Jesus.”

Arman gawks. “Closer to Jesus? Like in a spiritual way?”

“I mean, I think it’s pretty literal. Since it’s a dildo,” Jay snickers.

“Just go open the store,” Marissa points at the door and taps her foot until we file out.

Ten minutes later, the bell rings, and a regular walks in. He’s middle-management at some corporate office across the street, and he has an impressive collection of pink polos and prostate stimulators. He does his regular loop then heads to the register.

“Why’d you start carrying a Jesus dildo?” he asks Arman.

I look up to see Arman stare at Marissa’s office, waiting for a save. When nothing comes, he shakes his head and says, “Well some customers say, it uh, brings them closer to Jesus.”

I can only see the back of Middle Management’s balding head, but I can see that he doesn’t respond. The register is having a slow day. Taking a full minute to process credit cards.

As the silence stretches out, Arman begins to sweat. Swipes his forehead. Scratches his ear. Eventually he clears his throat.

“You know. Closer to Jesus. Since you put Jesus inside yourself. Because its a didlo. So, uh, yea. Closer. To Jesus. I mean it’s kind of literal, I guess…” Arman begins to ramble.
“Got it. Thanks,” Pink Polo says quickly, grabbing his bejeweled butt plug and making a beeline for the door.

Jay hoots, looks over to where the doc crew is situated, and says directly into the camera lens, “We’re a regular fucking church! Hallelujah!”


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Margaret Reynolds is a genderqueer author and educator based in Colorado. They enjoy writing queer romance with a sprinkle of ghost. You can find their fiction in The Thought Erotic and Danse Macabre. WEBSITE | TWITTER

Cover photo: Michael Prewett

 

 

 

 

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lali & the void (a love story) or, he gives me gifts -yesica mirambeaux

Matt Clifford - Photo Credit Matt Diss ALOC Media

Last night I dreamed I had a torrid love affair with the void

 

Sometimes it would take on its true form and everything around us would blur        tip       and slide inside it

awash to points unseen

 

I would stand impassive and watch it consume piles of matter and aether alike

 

all things that were once thought to be lost were certainly found              here

 

it would gaze into my eyes nakedly, lovingly, and select a sneaker-clad leg from a pile of refuse

 

so I would watch the bones crunch in its enormous maw

and admire it for being so fully                                            itself

without a hint of self-consciousness

 

just the quietly, unabashedly rapacious beast   it really was

no shame

no real evil, even                        in its deliberately passive

elaborately encompassing                  self singular

wu wei

 

 

sometimes it takes on another form

of a beautiful young lover with messy curls that hang to his shoulders

all dynamical plenum, a sleek frowzy heroin chic slinking about him

languid and passionate all at the same time

 

in this form he laughingly chases me            through white-walled apartment complexes

slamming me up against the doorways and

pressing up against me

in long,                             interminable halls

my very own aphairestic machine

 

he is the void and it consumes me fresh each time

 

still no matter how many times he visits

or how long I stay

 

I still remain to tell the tale

naked                                     and    unscathed

 

the only trace of our trysts a certain wisp of a peaceful       and       lasting              wu wei

 

that    braids   and    sinks itself               into my wide-open dna

a stubborn  keepsake         of  a  sudden    calling


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Yesica Mirambeaux is a longtime writer with a passion for the written word in all its many and diverse forms. At the age of 16 she won the Walter J. Suskind Award for a short story and has continued writing, both in her personal and professional life. As a content manager, information architect, tech writer, and corporate blogger, she enjoys the challenge of understanding a company’s story and finding the best way to share it. As a perpetual storyteller to her loved ones, she is happiest when crafting personalized poetry and entertaining snippets for the circle of people she loves most.

Cover Art: Mohamed Nohassi

Best of 2019

South Broadway Ghost Society’s favorite pieces of 2019.

hungry ghosts

Hungry Ghosts :: Chris Moore

“Hungry Ghosts” by Chris Moore defies being put in any box of genre. Ranging from poetry to storytelling to essay to letters, Moore’s piece is maybe best described as the field notes of a breakup.

SOUP-BILLIEEILISH

Ten Macros From ‘The Depressed Barbie Series’ :: Alexandra Naughton

Alexandra Naughton’s meme collection range a series of borderline shower thoughts that you didn’t know you needed to hear until you read them. 

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Three Poems :: Sam Pink

In less than 100 words overall, these three poems by Sam Pink find insight in strangely mundane places, leaving you per his instruction, in his cartoon.

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Five Poems :: Lana Bella

These five poems, stationed as days of the week, show a dark sense of intimacy with captured moments.

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On Bones :: Shelby Yaffe

This poem paints a beautiful story in three parts, all of which revolve around something very dear to us, bones.

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Challenger :: Corwin Moore

“In eighth grade I became an addict,” begins Moore’s story, “I was addicted to masturbating and porno.” This beautiful memoir-esque piece goes on to explore childhood, shame and racism and other themes all alongside the story of the Challenger spacecraft.

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The Washing Machine Sang :: Jane-Rebecca Cannarella

Cannarella’s “The Washing Machine Sang” is an incredibly piece about playing pretend in other people’s lives and the stories of inanimate objects.

Related: South Broadway Ghost Society: 2018 in Review

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did they forget – nick perilli

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Those bones piled on the chairs at table twelve weren’t always bones. They were three people, once, hungry for salads and eager to experience the rest of their lives. They had a movie at 10. Some new picture at the old theater up the street. It wasn’t the best theater, but it was close enough to their house for them to walk.

David doesn’t like to talk about it, but he let them starve to death. It’s not entirely his fault. He was new. The bones never spoke up. Sometimes customers blend with the art on the walls. Plus, the bartender working that busy night had given him some poor advice.

“If they won’t complain, they’re at the bottom of the chain.”

That was Francis. He was a dick and was fired the next week for skimming from the register. He tried to burn the restaurant down the week after that with all of us inside, but he couldn’t do anything right.

Technically, the bones’ check is still open. When the staff wants a little more than just a meal for their break—like a dessert, which aren’t covered—they’ll put it on the “skeleton tab.” It must be up to a few thousand dollars by now.
Right before closing, David will put three garden salads at the table and sit with the bones. He adjusts the skulls on the table so that they appear to be speaking with him.

Some nights, a cloying wind will rush through the kitchen when David sits with them and the bones will reassemble. They pick their bare skulls up from the table and connect them to their spines. It makes a sound. Like a dead stick when you knock it against a tree. I think this whole thing happens when the moon is a certain way, but I’m not sure exactly what way because I was late the morning David and his mystic friend went over it. I’m dealing with my mom at home. I have to leave for college, but she wants me to stay. You know how it goes.

David eats with the bones on those nights. Their conversations are lively. David tells them about the latest movies until he inevitably breaks down into apologizing for what happened to them. But the bones must be forgiving, because they all hug him together, in the only lit corner of the dim restaurant. Then they collapse into bones again. David piles them on their chairs, with the skulls on the table.

He made a joke to me on my first night closing that he was working up the courage to starve himself to death in the fourth seat. I laughed hard. He laughed harder.

But he’s manager now, so I shouldn’t say much.


ireland_perilli

Nick Perilli is a writer and librarian living in Philadelphia with loved ones who have yet to watch Gremlins 2 with him. More work of his can be found in Breadcrumbs Magazine, Bending Genres, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, Short Edition dispensers worldwide, and elsewhere. He tweets @nicoloperilli and spared no expense on his cheap website: nickperilli.com.  

Top Photo: Mathew Schwartz

generational curse – miss jody

Hiding The Ghost Of My Favorite Lover From The Others

I am a fourth generation Piscean, on my mother’s side. My grandmother’s eldest and youngest of four were both Pisces, and my mother’s eldest and youngest of four were both Pisces. My Grandma Buffalo, my Granny, and my Mom: all storytellers. And so it was passed down to me, the awkward sort of storytelling that has so much truth to it that it must be fiction.

Most of the stories I heard as a child came orally, but some were only told in dainty, precise cursive on yellowed pages because they were too dreadful to be told out loud. One such came from my great grandmother, known to me as Vida, who married a John E Byrd and after him a John E Buffalo. She had a type. It was she that wrote down the story of her sister’s death.

They were six and four, and it was tasked to her to keep watch over the young girl. It was the winter of 1907 or 1908, in a rural town in southwest Missouri, and the pond was almost as frozen as the ground. Almost. They travelled out onto the pond, Vida coaxing her small sister farther and farther out. By the time she was able to get back up to the house and drag her parents to the pond her sister had already begun to freeze under the shattered ice.

With the ground being too far gone to allow for a proper burial, they had placed her into a coffin made of stone and situated it into a corner of the north barn. Alone. There it sat until the warmth of spring began to melt away the protective layer over the hill Vida’s mother wanted her daughter to sleep. They had briefly opened the coffin to place into it items that the girl had loved, and that’s when they learned the truth. Vida’s sister had only been in a coma. When she awoke to find herself trapped in stone she had done everything in her power to claw her way out. Only it hadn’t worked, and she perished seemingly a second time, worse for wear.

A great horror settled over me the first time reading these words. Granny could not confirm that Vida had a sister by that name, the old family Bible did not appear to list the child’s name in the genealogy of the family during that time. Was it simply a story she had written, though a great deal different than the poems about her children and grandchildren and her hymns to the Lord?

I try not to think about it, afraid that I too will write stories wishing my sister dead.


itsmeWhen you feel homesick for the colors you don’t have words for, that you saw once in a dream, that’s miss jody. She has two cats in her home, named Alfredrick “Alfie” Boris Karloff the Sea Captain, and another named Nereus “Nereus” The First Mate. Her favorite goddess is Freya, and her favorite place to live is in her home in Centennial, CO. Find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

Art: Hiding The Ghost of My Favorite Lover From The Others by Miss Jody

con job – marcelo duran

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A Young Man was walking down 17th street towards Union Station. His eyes fixed on a sign, “railroad ticket office” about a block away.

He was unbothered by the chaotic chorus of horse-drawn carriages and trolleys pulling businessmen in dapper suits and dirt-caked workers alike up and down the streets of downtown Denver.

As he got closer he saw another sign to the right of the door with an enticing advertisement, “ticket to Chicago $5,” which seemed too good to be true since it was $50 for a trip to the Windy City.

This would be good to bring up, he thought as he made his way closer to his destination and meeting with Soapy Smith.

He stepped through the plain pine door and asked for Mr. Smith. An affable gentleman with a feathery smile glanced over at the young stranger and asked, “Which Mr. Smith do you wish to see? It so happens that we have two or three Mr. Smiths in here.”

The affable gentleman behind the bar was one of Soapy’s lieutenants and tasked to size up those who came in about the tickets.

“I’m here to see whichever Mr. Smith can get me the best ticket price to Chicago,” the Young Man said. “I saw the sign out front and it piqued my interest.”

After a few minutes, the affable gentleman learned that the Young Man was looking for a ticket home to Chicago to give his father a report on mining prospects.

“Let me go get the Mr. Smith you’re looking for, but first do you want to take a chance at big money? You look like a lucky man…”

“No thank you, but maybe later after I square away a ticket for home,” the Young Man replied.

On one side of the dusty, square room, one of the games made up of a box with large envelopes, each containing varying amounts of bills where you can bet a modest amount to win big. But most of the time the suckers would be lucky to walk away with half of what they bet.

On the other side of the office was another dapper businessman. Before him on the dark wood desk sat a large ore sample from a claim up in Leadville. That was what the Young Man was really looking for. He had been warned about the gambling games in the ticket office and how they were prominently placed to more easily part a hapless man from his money.

Just like clockwork, Soapy appeared from a back room across the way.

“Young Man,” he drawled, in a voice as smooth as an oiled thunderbolt. How may I help you this fine morning?” He came from Georgia, but his voice was more than just Southern: it was the voice of a man confident in his place in the world, and intent on building it up.

For the top con man in Denver, this unassuming man’s look was more unkempt than one would expect.

He wore a homespun vest, free of any ornament, a dark, heavy cotton shirt with a cravat under the collar, and plain brown pants. His neatly-trimmed beard finished the look, which was unremarkable, unmemorable, and notably humdrum.

He looked more like one of his victims than he did the man running the biggest con in town. But maybe this was his aim. In looking like a man leading a humble life, and not the rich con artist he was, people would be quick to think, “How can anyone dressed like that pull one over on me?” And then, before you could say, Jack Robinson, this nondescript, smooth-talking fellow is taking the hard-earned gold dust you laid down moments before.

“I am inquiring about a ticket to Chicago and your sign caught my eye.”

“Oh yeah are you one of these kids that came out to Denver and heading back home because you’re flat broke” Soapy inquired.

“Not at all, I’m in a good spot and can buy a first-class ticket home, but my dad told me never spend a dollar where 50 cents would do just as well so I figured a $ticket will get me home as well as a $50 ticket.”

After a few more minutes of jostling between the two, talk about the $5 ticket faded away and replaced by talk about the piece of ore on the counter the Young Man saw earlier.

The two men wandered over to the counter with the ore with flecks of quartz, sandstone and broad gold streaks running along the sample.

The Young Man let on how he admired the sample, but Soapy refused to sell any of the stock of that mine unless the prospective buyer took home literature about the mine and promised to share it with his father.

“This will be the first thing I’ll talk about with my father when I get home,” the Young Man replied.

Soapy got up and walked to the bookshelf to pick up a few copies of the prospectus.

“What I’m about to give you is very valuable,” Soapy said as he shuffled the pieces of paper before putting them back on the shelf, “Perhaps too valuable to leave my office.”

“Maybe it would be more appropriate for your father to come out to Denver to see the mine’s value himself instead of leaving it to chance that others might learn of it first and buy up the shares.”

This awakened the Young Man’s suspicion. He stood up and walked over to Soapy near the bookshelf to make another plea for the pamphlet one more time.

“I can assure you that nothing will happen to the literature you give me, but my father will be interested with or without it.”

“It would be best if your father came out on such a big decision, but he shouldn’t take his time,” Soapy said. “Excuse me for a moment; one of my men is motioning me about something urgent.”

As Soapy stepped away, the Young Man saw that nobody was paying attention to him. Seeing his chance, he feigned a sneeze and copped a copy of the valuable prospectus.

“I apologize for leaving you in the lurch, but an important matter has come up that requires my attention,” Soap said in a hurried manner. “I’ll leave whatever matters you have to my able barkeep and I hope to see you and your father in my office soon.”

In addition, just like that, Soapy vanished as quickly as he appeared. And so did the bartender. The men left so quickly after realizing the Young Man was not going to be the catch of the day.

The only person left in the drafty room was an old man sweeping out dirt and debris onto the sidewalk. The Young Man felt so much like dirt and debris as he stepped outside with nothing.

The sun overhead was dipping into twilight possibly reflecting the down mood of the Young Man. However, little did anyone know, other than a few well-dressed gentlemen men in town, the Young Man walked away with the final piece of a puzzle to bring down one of the most powerful men in Denver.

The man that Soapy and his gang thought of as a lout and a waste of time was a new cub reporter for The Denver Times. Mere minutes after the uneventful meeting with Soapy he was at his desk on 15th and Lawrence scribbling down his encounter for the exposé.

The Young Man moved to Denver after receiving word that his old friend was the Managing Editor of the newspaper. This gave the Young Man a shot at writing for a daily and his arrival gave the managing editor a chance to bring to light the seamy underbelly of Denver.

“I want you to seek out the vilest men in town, get to know them, earn their trust or invisibility from their scheming eyes,” the editor told his friend. “Be watchful for their contacts in the police and city government, find out their names so we can crack the depravity of this town like a peanut.”

Therefore, he went about his work on the streets, with the look of a rube making his way through town. The reason why the Young Man had a chance at this is the story is his anonymity. There was an understood edict among the con artists not to steal from residents of the town. Denver was small enough that it was easy for them to discern a local citizen from a hayseed fresh off the train.

It really is amazing what a few ounces of whiskey will buy you from the local drunk holding down the bar at the Tivoli Tavern on 17th and Larimer. That is how he learned about the “gold mine” scheme and then planned his ploy to get his hands on a pamphlet.

The trip to the ticket office was the last piece to puzzle and a few hours later the reporter, with the pencil in hand, completed his story and turned it in.

With victory at hand, the Young Man sauntered down Larimer Street wherein front of the arcade, another man motioned to him in salutation.

It was Bat Masterson, formerly the famous marshal of Dodge City, an acquaintance of the reporter. They were talking with one another near the curb when the Young Man looked behind his back and saw, standing in the doorway with a look on his face as if he had seen a ghost, the affable man whom he had met at the ticket office earlier that day.

The Young Man immediately crossed the street, but he knew that his identity discovered. The affable man vanished. He was probably running directly to his boss to tell Soapy what he had seen.

By the time, the reporter got back to the Times office, Soapy and his entire gang were in the managing editor’s office. Soapy was reading the front page story for tomorrow’s edition, composed of the article contained their methods, their haunts, their names and even information about the heavily-guarded prospectus of the rich gold mine.

Nothing was left out; the police and government were implicated in the story. The article spelling their doom was mere hours away from being etched to ink and paper. There’s was no way the gang could stay in Denver if the jig is up. But Soapy had one more card to play before he would abdicate his throne.

“Mr. Manager,” he began in a strong, earnest tone and manner “we are all here, for I could not believe what I was told; now I have read it and I know.”

“When you publish that, these men you see,” indicating his followers sitting about “and I will not be here:”

Leaning impressively towards the editor, in a low intense voice, he offered his terms of capitulation:

“If you want anybody beat up, we’ll do it; if you want any papers destroyed or stolen, we’ll do it; do you want a force in politics, we have it. If you want a ballot-box destroyed, we’ll destroy it pronto. If you wish to dispose of anybody permanently, we shall make his disappearance absolutely final. If there is anything want to be done, we’ll do it. But not publish that story.”

The exposé about Soapy and his gang was omitted from next day’s edition of The Times. The cub reporter received it back.

We’ll never know the real reason behind the Managing Editor’s decision to suppress the story. Maybe the real con was for the Managing Editor to have the upper hand on Soapy and the covenant of a favor tucked in his pocket, and the promise of being able to cash in that valuable chip at any time.


Marcelo Duran is a former journalist, born and raised in Denver who grew up on the North Side of town before it was cool. He spends his free time scrolling through microfilm at the library researching local Denver history. His stories and knowledge about Denver history has been featured on several podcasts in and around Denver.