skim milk – jack orleans

skim

Marie met back with herself after quite a long hiatus. She was sitting in the den, reading the paper and letting tendrils of smoke vine up at her wrists. She met back with herself after she decided to take up gardening and collecting old National Geographic. She met back with herself after realizing that she wasn’t the one she needed to escape from. She met back with herself after she dumped all the pills in the toilet, and swore not to reach down and take them one-by-one, dry them off, and save them. She did that to two, swallowed one, felt half, and let the rest go.

She was reading NatGeo after stepping inside to make tea. The magazines looked like an attempt to get back to the land. In it there were glossed pictures of African women and Siberian native men, seemingly happy, seemingly without knowledge of more intimate pleasures. The most she’d seen is pictures of a few factory workers—some Soviet, some Chinese—stepping out for cigarettes, or drunk after hours. But even the cigarettes looked otherworldly. Between the fingers of people that weren’t her, and in a place she couldn’t be, the cigarettes looked healthy even. Like Chinese Coke, bitter and more bubbly, less sweet. Like Russian Kvass; healthful for fun. As for the tribal folks, the most there was a shaman taking the strange brew, which looked less like fun and more like duty.

Marie thought of what a mistake it may have been to throw out the pills. How, they swam down the pipes and tubes in a moment of peace, and how she might wish she wouldn’t when times became less easygoing. And in some ways she was right to sense that she in the future would be scolding of her in the present. That thought alone brought some tension, some punctuations in ease. She tried to lose herself from it, hiding between the glossy pages, under people who knew better, and beside them as close as possible without kidding herself. She put down the magazine to grab a beer from the fridge. The cigarette in her hand had fizzled out, but it was burnt enough to even think about relighting it. She came back to the magazine with a pint glass of stout, watching the black middle get sandwiched between two shades of foam.

She took small bird-like sips of it, now cautious of anything that feels good. A substitution couldn’t be on its way already. Anything that feels good; enemy. But she kept sipping it and tumbling through the rest of the pages, looking for an answer after having found the camaraderie. She put the issue away and grabbed another from the magazine holster beside the armchair she sat in. This time, the ‘67 issue. It felt heavy, and a bit too holy to not have a few more sips of beer and a cigarette beforehand. She wanted to read it, but wanted to enjoy herself, so she huffed the cigarette until the ember was longer than the ash and took one huge chug of stout. She took a deep breath and opened to the contents. In it was an article: Skim Milk. The title reeked of incredulity. Invitation by title alone compared to the others that started with ‘how’ or ‘when.’ It described the end of the Civil War one-hundred years later.

When soldiers returned from battle, they also returned with morphine addiction. Those who’d survived survived with a slow illness, rather than quick ones. Even if they’d not been killed or severely maimed, they still returned for carvings for the good stuff. To which, they were either put in asylums, or slowly died from the addiction. A doctor treating them had grown infamous for his advice: “to treat morphine dependence, the afflicted should make in their regimen a cup or two daily of skim milk.” Meanwhile, people who went to him still had the disease. The skim milk didn’t save anyone. In fact, drinking skim milk doesn’t even cure calcium deficiency. But they drank the skim milk, still used morphine until death or cold-turkey.

She looked through the myriad of pictures of soldiers trying to stand still. They did a good job, but the slump rest just beneath their eyes. Their pupils were the size of pin-pricks, and for good reason. Eyes like that make the light dim. They maintained their rowdiness in candid shots. Gathering around a small table playing dice, drinking, smoking on pipes. They were distant, unseen, clouded in sepia and scuff marks on the thin glass panes that served as film. They looked like they did, everything normal, just with the weight of morphine resting on them. Everything they did or could do, they would have done. But they hunched over, going about the day-to-day, but weighed.
They didn’t stop drinking skim milk. Even though it didn’t do anything, they didn’t stop drinking the skim milk. They may have died from overdose or stress, but earlier that day they most likely drank a heaping cupful of skim milk. And they didn’t ask themselves why. It didn’t help, but it didn’t hurt. Her interest grew into it, looking glued to the article. She finished her cigarette so she could read more, and the beer was making her woozy. So she clasped the magazine in both hands and tried to dive in.

She couldn’t understand how a doctor—someone who’s in the business of help—could suggest something so bizarre. She couldn’t understand the logic. It wasn’t perfect but they had methods for every other thing. It wasn’t perfect but it was better than years before. It can’t be perfect but it’s always better. She thought that that sort of advice would’ve been outgrown by then, after the war, after most of history. She couldn’t understand it, but also didn’t mind going for a glass of skim milk.

hourglass

Jack Orleans is a Denver writer whose work has been featured in Birdy Magazine (‘Nobody Leaves,’), SUNY Hopewell’s literary journal, The Finger (‘Edward III’), and Suspect Press (‘Orchid’). He has also published a photo-essay in Stain’d Magazine (‘Paris Syndrome’), and an essay is forthcoming in Litro. Jack can’t seem to fall asleep. He takes the bus late to have coffee. While taking the bus, he’s happy until someone fucks up on the bus. After, he’s happy but with caveats. He knows that he’d be awake regardless of having had coffee. He prefers to be awake and alert over awake and tired. He just doesn’t know what he wants, but it better involve lots of undeserved perks or skymiles. 

Photo/Ceramics: Tom Crew

acheron – robert boucheron

acheron.jpg

At five o’clock, Arthur Lothbury put on a gray felt fedora, inserted a fresh white handkerchief in the breast pocket of his jacket, and stepped out the front door for his daily stroll.

The town was a cluster of brick and frame dwellings of the 1800s. Located in a hollow, on a railroad line that was no longer active, it had three churches, a dozen shops, a post office, a school repurposed as a senior center, and a white-columned filling station with a porte cochère. At the center, where two main streets crossed, the town hall boasted a mansard roof and a clock tower. The tallest structure in town, with a face on all four sides, the clock tower rose above the trees like a sentinel.

Arthur kept the clock tower in view, though he was unlikely to get lost in the town where he was born. He generally walked for exercise, but this afternoon he dawdled. His gaze wandered left and right. It was early spring, still bleak but mild. Buds swelled on the trees. Cold weather had delayed them. Slanting rays of the sun lit the quiet streets. No one else was about, which was odd for the end of a weekday.

He stopped to examine a flowering shrub that overhung a picket fence, as though eager to escape. The yard was unkempt, in a town that was proud of its gardens. How could such a thing happen? Who lived in this house? He knew many neighbors, but not all. In retirement, he was losing track of changes in the population.

This house must have a tenant, someone who did not care for the place. A deflated ball and a broken toy lay on the weedy lawn. Rolled newspapers littered the porch, dusty and yellowed. Maybe no one lived here.

Arthur moved on. It was an effort to put one foot in front of the other. Yet the day had passed in idleness—light housekeeping, some reading, an hour at his desk paying bills, a letter to a relative. What had he done to be worn out?

A single man with many friends and few responsibilities, he ought to enjoy this stage of life, an endless stretch of leisure. But contentment was elusive. He urged himself to walk faster. Chin up and eyes peeled! At any moment, a friend or stranger was likely to cross his path. He would need to say something cheerful, a word of greeting. But the town was deserted, as if Arthur had missed an order to evacuate. He looked straight ahead and spurred his flank. But his feet dragged.

Coming to an alley, he stopped to peer down its length. He seldom walked in this part of town. He knew it like the back of his hand but not this alley. It bordered the railroad track—that was the trouble. The sun trembled on the horizon. The alley was already in shade. Lined by sheds and fences, it promised things of interest—an old wagon, a gnarled tree, a forgotten bicycle like a sketch of lines and circles.

Arthur strolled down the middle, over gravel and grass. The alley was long—he could not see the end—and growing dark. He tried not to scuff his shoes. He hoped he would not step in a puddle. Not a living creature met his eye, not so much as a sparrow. Then a small shape shifted. A cat crouched a few feet ahead.

Cats lurked all over town. Some allowed him to pet them, some rolled at his feet, and some fled. This one stared coldly. Whoever said that cats were curious? Another step, and the cat disappeared, perhaps through a hole in a fence.

Dusk came on. Was it so late? Arthur looked around and did not see the clock tower. How long had he been walking? He had left his watch at home. Was this a blind alley? To turn around would be an admission of defeat. Despite fatigue, he pressed on.

The alley ended at last in a building with a passage through its ground floor. It was now night. At the far end of the unlit passage was a gate, with open space visible through the bars. Should he enter? What if the gate was locked? He was too tired to retrace his steps. Go forward and hope for the best.

The passage was empty. Beyond the gate was a street. He grasped the gate and pulled. In the hollow space of the vaulted passage, the rusty hinges groaned. Arthur flinched at what sounded like a voice, the drawn-out syllable “woe.” Arthur stepped through the arch, and the gate clicked shut. On impulse, he tried it. Locked.

The street was built up on one side. The other was open to the railroad. Arthur had not been here for years. Shops were closed or boarded up. The pavement was cracked and littered. He wanted to sit, but where? A short distance away stood the old train station, abandoned. A light burned inside, the only light in this gloomy wasteland. He trudged toward it.

A low rumble made itself known. The earth shook. The rumble grew and grew to a roar, until it was unmistakable. A train! Arthur reached the platform as the train arrived. In a stupor of exhaustion, he watched it slow. It looked like an excursion train from the century before, an antique restored to service for a single run. It screeched to a stop, a door opened, and a stair dropped at his feet. Where was the conductor? The side of the coach bore a name: “Acheron.”

Was that the destination? Arthur grasped the metal railing and climbed aboard.

hourglass

Robert Boucheron grew up in Syracuse and Schenectady, New York. He worked as an architect in New York and Charlottesville, Virginia, where he has lived since 1987. His short stories and essays appear in Bellingham Review, Fiction International, London Journal of Fiction, Porridge Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines.

Photo: Adam Bixby

over the flood – terence hannum

flood

Black water and a reaper over the flood. Emery’s drone glides above the shallow layer of floodwater, past the towering hulls of the collapsed harvesters rusting in the shallow mire and over the collapsed barns with their decrepit rusted silos. Flying over tens of thousands of acres of what would be soybean or durum along this new contaminated shallow. Over the submerged stele erected to mark the passing of generations. Flying adjacent to the electrical poles, whose bases gleam obsidian and silver in the encroaching formation of salt and bitumen.

Standing on the island she built, watching the machine vanish out over the brine in Emery’s daily routine of assessment she monitors the cracked LCD screen in her crusted white hands. On the screen the fields of black water over the hectares of fallow flooded fields, broken only by horizontal glitches, lead out to the lines of pipelines that carve the outer reaches of the ancestral land, where a crew of workers swarm over the busted lines. Bakken, Enbridge, Plains, all were lines she approved continuing her father’s initial infringement on the massive farm land.

She calls the drone back over the acres to her house, her father’s house, which sits marooned behind a sand bag fortification in the middle of a new noxious sea. The drone lands in the dry ditch between the rampart and her home. In the cracks of the sand bags the black salt water forms ashen crystals like hell shadow.

 

Resting the rusted barrel on the top of a sandbag, Emery places the scope of the rifle up to her eye and aims towards the declivity of the highway. A black Ford F350 rests by the side of the road, where men from VTB Bank tumble down from the highway with a johnboat.

The flat bottom aluminum craft glints in the grey sun as they paddle towards her, disturbing the coagulated surface of the black water. Guns aimed away, like a hunting party.

In her scope a bag of money sits on the transom.

A man waves. She doesn’t wave back.

A large drone flies overhead surveying the waste for one of the companies.

“Emery.” The man shouts as she crouches in the pit of the hardened bags, not hiding, aiming the Mossberg at them, “We have the payment.” He says holding up the bag.

She pushes a small black raft attached to a tether out towards the visitors. The man places the money bag on the raft, steadying it with his hands to keep it from capsizing. He goes to push it back to her.

“No,” she says, muffled in her strange voice, standing up, brushing off flakes. The man jumps back slightly in the boat while the other men behind him look away from her, their guns across their chests in the johnboat. She gently pulls the tether, encrusted with fine salt crystals, towards the sand bag fortification.

Watching the men leave in the wide bruise of the afternoon, the bag of cash feels like lead in Emery’s hand.

The darkness inside the home is further reflected on every surface. Emery steps over these growing formations, her reflection bouncing off of the flat facets. Towards the center of the home, yawning where the broken tiles give way through the floor, through the ground, is a pit. Deep inside the hole, encrusted with the sinister sheen of bromide deposits flecked with the fading white of salt octahedrons Emery lowers the bag on a long oil stained tether with her leprous hands. Letting the bag rest on top of another bag of money.

 

Standing outside the home before the crystal wall, Emery holds the remote for the harvesters that loom as gray shadows in the rising mist. With the remote she tries to restart them, they light up blue logos like halos in the fog, but the light sputters off. The useless behemoths fall deeper lowering their idle threshers further below the flood. She curses herself before her grandfather’s home, and his father’s home, she feels failure seep into her like poison.

Out in the fields there are no more pea shoots, no more red-rising wheat, just the harvest of black connate brine rising at its own pace clinging to electrical poles, harvesters, anything and building sinister lattices of calcium and lithium. The spillage will never stop, the wastewater from each pipeline surges and presses against the island she carved out of this dead black lake solidifying with glints of radium in the mineral crystals.

Another black drone glides overhead.

 

Up on the highway Greystone surveyors take test samples, their heads dotted bright red with construction helmets. Emery thinks back to her studies in Agricultural Science at North Dakota State, and how ill-prepared she was for these intrusions her father started with the first exploratory ventures to strike oil that failed but brought the companies to their door with their money to let their conduits cross the land. How, after her father’s funeral she saw the first discolored vegetation brown and dead. Greystone brought her a cistern, they always had a solution in the aftermath of destruction.

 

Back inside the home, she thinks of making a meal but stands before the corroded mirror by the door. The mirror is a marled silver that still displays the growing white lesions that contort her face. She runs her dry crusted palms over the hard growths and raised silver spikes that cover her face and encrust her hairline with white mutations. She does not cry at her own appearance. She can see its progress, enveloping her left eye in a dull prismatic vesicle that spawns new pieces across her spectral face.

She goes to her bed and lays amidst the salt powder and inching crystals on the sheets. She tries to sleep as the night crushes down around the house, envisioning a time when the tide will subside, absorbed into the ruined earth when she can dig her own grave next to those before her.

It is not a dream, because she does not sleep.

 

Later, Emery goes out in the darkness, no more teams haunt the dark highway, no drones streak the sky. There is just the lamentable silence of the black expanse, glinting soft green iridescence below the surface.

She watches over it all, a lonely watcher over the flood.

cropped-dead-bird-clip-art.jpg

Terence Hannum is a Baltimore, MD based artist, musician and writer. His novella Beneath the Remains was published by Anathemata Editions, his novella All Internal was published this year by Dynatox Ministries, and his novelette The Final Days will be published in 2019 by Unnerving. His short stories have appeared in Burrow Press, Terraform, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Lamplight, Turn to Ash, SickLit and the SciPhi Journal.  (www.terencehannum.com)

Photo: Danny G

RATTY or the errands end – meredith counts

counts

An homage to Edward Gorey.

Their dad was running errands in town and insisted that the kids come along. They had been to the dry cleaner to drop off Wraddey’s dragon suit to see what could be done about the ink stains. They’d been to the butcher for sausage, the hardware for tacks, and the place that sold glow-in-the-dark soda. It wasn’t that their dad wanted their company, Wraddey thought, so much as that he remembered what a mess they’d made last time they’d stayed home unattended. Weeks later their father complained he still found marshmallow in crevices about the house, and he wasn’t happy that Wraddey had pasted over every reachable inch of her room with the funnies.

In the backseat of the station wagon, Wraddey felt so bored that she might disappear into the seat, that’s how sick of things she was. Her big brother Egor elbowed her to get her attention. As she reeled back to sock him for touching her she saw the stranger wading through the high piles of snow. Wraddey liked to fight her brother, but it had been a long and relentlessly dull winter. Both children were so hungry for something out of the ordinary to happen that the fight melted away.

“Do you see…?” Wraddey started to say.

“But who…?” Egor asked.

Wraddey shushed him.

Teetering through the dirty snow on the side of the road, whoever-it-was wasn’t wearing a coat or boots, but was cocooned in yards and yards of fabric. Every bit of the person was wrapped up, and except for a purplish brown velvet, most of the wrappings were clashing patterns. No nose or wrist or eyeball, no feature to be seen. As the car passed, the kids turned to keep looking.

“Huh,” Egor said.

“Wow,” Wraddey said.

“Huh?” said their father from the driver’s seat.

The person grew smaller through their wide rear window. Then they turned into a parking lot and the strange person was out of sight.

Their dad ran in to check on a watch he was having fixed. The kids waited in the car, admiring the neon line drawings of jewels in the window of the tiny shop, and listened to the radio. From her seat in the back, Wraddey put her feet up on the center console. Egor kicked Wraddey’s boot and started to scold her.

“Dad wouldn’t let you–“

“Shut up. Look!.”

“I’ll tell him you’re putting your – “

“Shut up and look, Eeg. Who is that?”

The stiff figure crossed the jeweler’s parking lot. Wraddey wondered out loud if they were walking backwards, the way she did when it was windy at the bus stop. Maybe that’s why they were going so slowly, why their knees didn’t bend.

She waved but the figure didn’t respond. It wasn’t possible for Wraddey to tell if she was unseen or being ignored. But you know how being ignored can stoke your interest.
Their dad returned, satisfied and whistling. He was old-fashioned even as far as fathers went – he wore a watch, their car didn’t drive itself, he whistled to an actual FM radio station. Then he whistled a song that wasn’t the song on the radio, then he whistled through the people asking for donations to the radio station. At one point Egor started whistling, then Wraddey tried too though she’d never quite got the knack of whistling (she was only eight) and their father told them to cut out all that racket.

They passed the strange person up ahead one last time. Even from a distance, the scraps and scarves and sheets covering the covered up person didn’t look homeless. From elsewhere, maybe, but not weathered.

Then their always steady, never-impulsive father was in such a good mood that he impulsively swerved over to the side of the road, rolled down the window, and offered that fascinating bundled-up person a lift.

The person was tall, and bent sideways to peer into the open window. The head, scarves on top and scarves on bottom sandwiching huge blue blocker sunglasses in between, seemed to nod. Their father leaned across the passenger seat, opening the door from the inside so the person could climb in.

They lived near a prison and never picked up hitchhikers, let alone wobbly mysterious persons wrapped up like fragile treasure with no single centimeter of skin to be seen.
The figure sat tall in the passenger seat, head skimming the roof, looking forward. Winter air flooded the car, for the person hadn’t closed the door after climbing in. Dad stared at the person. The person stared ahead, making no moves toward the door or otherwise.

“Um, allow me, I guess,” their father said, exiting and going around to close the door.
Wraddey giggled. Her brother belted her for it, but their father’s guest didn’t seem to notice.

The car filled up with the smell of an apple orchard past its season and also of mothballs like at their aunts’ house and wet wool and something like cheap warm cheese.
Dad asked “So where can we drop you off?” but the person only looked forward, so Dad filled the car with chit chat.

“Cold enough for ya?”

“Been a hell of a winter.”

It was a chattering sort of aimless talk, their dad was filling silence and gaining no answers. The children kept a very close eye on the stranger, but they offered no response. Not a word.

“Yes, sir-ee.”

“Where’d you say you’re headed?”

Nothing.

Their father was unsettled. He couldn’t tell if the person was stupid or deaf or dangerous, or scariest of all – silently judging him to be not worth a response.

“Are we, uh, headed in the right direction for ya?”

From the backseat, Wraddey thought she heard a faint scratching sound.

“Well, uh, say, we’re close to home. We can drop you off there, or, uh…” He paused for a moment, then finally said “Would you like to come in and warm up?”

The person’s head fell violently downward. The one harsh nod sent a puff of that rotten apple smell into the cold air of the backseat.

Impressive! Wraddey thought. By ignoring their father, the stranger had bullied him into an invitation inside. They hardly ever had a visitor. If someone did come over, it was in sensible parkas and those visitors had faces.

In the driveway the person sat stone still again, so that father told Egor to go around and open the passenger side door and let “their friend” out.

“I can do it!” Wraddey yelled.

She was closest, but moreover she wanted to be the one to do it.

While father went ahead with the dry cleaning bags to unlock the door, Wraddey opened the passenger side door to let the stranger out. Both feet swung out together like the tines of a tuning fork, then they found purchase on the snowy drive and the whole body lurched up and out. Wraddey said “follow them,” pointing to the guys, followed, watching closely. Wraddey followed the tiny footprints in the snow that looked more like a deer’s than a person’s.

In the house, the stranger clomped over to the davenport and sat, imperiously, down.

“Make yourself at home,” father said with some sarcasm.

The stranger didn’t even look at him.

“Maybe I’ll, uh, put a snack together then?”

The figure nodded that violent nod.

Feeling he was being had, the children’s father disappeared into the kitchen, searching for some unstale crackers for their silent guest. Wraddey thought that she was going to try the stranger’s approach the next time she wanted something.

Egor stood shuffling by the door in his thick winter socks.

Wraddey sat down on the couch next to their guest.

“Hello,” she said, in her soft voice.

It was only when she reached out and laid a hand on its leg that the figure jerked around and pointed its head at her. When it raised its arm, Egor knew it was going to pull his sister’s brain out through her nose, but the arm stopped short. It didn’t strike Wraddey but hung in front of her, inviting a shake.

She accepted, taking the end of the arm in her own hand. Around where a wrist should be, she felt a tassel. She felt it between her thumb and forefinger. She couldn’t help it. She pulled.

It was the end of a scarf, which came off the stranger’s arm in a great spiral, like the curly paper wrapper of a China marker. Under the scarf was a folded blanket, which Wraddey unfolded, the stranger oddly kicking one leg out but not moving the rest of its body at all as its arm was revealed to be not an arm really but two thumb-thick sticks stabbed into a withered apple where an elbow would be. When Wraddey peeled off another layer, leading to the abdomen, the smell of rotten apple grew stronger.
Then when she pulled a hank of Pendleton plaid from under the collarbones, two shocking things happened. First, the head, still pointed at her, tipped clean off and landed on the floor with a thump. At the neck was a pair of broken sticks, and when she wrenched one out it uncovered the chest.

There sat a large rat, in a wicker sort of ribcage, concentrating hard and pulling at the levers of its failing body with all four feet and tail.

“Oh!” Egor yelled in disgust, for he was becoming adult enough to be wary of rats.

“Oh!” Wraddey repeated, in a different way, because she was a lover of animals and it wasn’t the ugliest rat ever, not really, and it was so clever.

“Oh?” Their father said, coming from the kitchen with a platter of finger foods. Then he bellowed, and dropped his cargo, dehydrated apricots and wheels of sliced summer sausage bouncing on the heirloom carpet.

“Tssss!” Shrieked the rat, pointing his ratty face this way and that.

Then it leaped out of its seat in the rib cage, neatly landing on its hind legs.
Another ancient apple fell out of the body, landing with a muffled plop in the piles of shed fabrics.

The rat looked directly into Wraddey’s eyes. It cocked its pointy head toward the door, and Wraddey nodded.

Wraddey took the rat by the paw, helping it out of its wrecked body. She slipped her feet into her boots, grabbed her coat, opened the door and vanished with him out into the cold bright day.

Her family watched from the big picture window, the girl and the large rat, running through the high snow, past the station wagon, down the driveway, down the road, never to return. Over their years together Wraddey and the Rat travelled and saw amazing things. They rebuilt it’s human body better than ever, using common kitchen implements Wraddey was able to produce a more convincing gait and her fingers could tie much sturdier knots that an animal could. What the rat lacked in terms of getting its protegee into college it made up for with adventure. With it’s keen sense of smell the two never went hungry, and after a year of trust building the rat would give up its wrappings on cold nights so that Wraddey could use the fabric as blankets and the rat would cozy up into her chest, it’s fast rodent heart beating twice for every single beat of hers.

cropped-dead-bird-clip-art.jpg

Meredith Counts has an MFA from the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago. Now she’s studying archives at the University of Michigan. She’s had work in Traverse, Portage Magazine and Quail Bell Magazine. Her story on poet Jim Gustafson and Detroit Tigers baseball, originally published in the Detroit Metro Times, was named notable by Best American Sports Writing 2018. She’s always loved Edward Gorey.

Artwork: also by Meredith Counts

the psychoaffective realm – kesi augustine

window

“The first thing which the native learns is to stay in his place, and not to go beyond certain limits. This is why the dreams of the native are always of muscular prowess; his dreams are of action and aggression. I dream I am jumping, swimming, running, climbing; I dream that I burst out laughing, that I span a river in one stride, or that I am followed by a flood of motorcars which never catch up with me.”

Now
Bedstuy, NYC, 2016

He lays alone in his cramped apartment. Tipsy cars are his soundscape. The yellow of a streetlight hits his dark skin like the promise of rainbows to come.

In bed, one of his legs dangles outside of his covers. The other cradles underneath. An army of sweat marches down his spine.

When he finally falls asleep, his face is a frown.

In Dream, he is walking down an alley. Blunt in mouth. Not knowing from where he came, or to where he goes, he walks.

Suddenly, he hears a familiar crescendo of footsteps behind him. The rattling of nuts and bolts.
He spins around on his heels, briefly seeing the world as a blur of pink and purple.

He stops.

The creature crouched in front of him is part flesh, part metal. Its boxy muscles are boulders. Black voids of eyes. Its chest heaves in and out with each calculated breath.

This creature is an old program, but a stubborn one. The newest creatures can morph into the subconscious. Embody the beliefs that roam in the shadows of the colonial subject. A model citizen at terrorizing Black people.

But this old technology still patrols Dream streets. For many, its physical ugliness cannot be stomached. It can catch and cradle them in their choking itches of fear. Suck the optimism from their hearts. Render them worthless.

“We meet again,” the creature howls, its voice a synthetic sound bite of virus. Its teeth, digital chips. The tone, a caustic, racist disgust. “Motherfucker.”
This time, man and creature draw their weapons. He manifests a sword. The creature, a laser gun. Something of a different dimension. The gun fades in and out of materiality.

It shoots.

In a split second, he makes himself jump. He wields his sword and brings it slashing through the fleshy part of the creature’s neck. Just as he has practiced. Night after night.

The creature drops dead.

He clutches his stomach, feeling warm blood spurt into his hands.

He laughs viciously like the thunders of a torrential downpour.

“There are maleficent spirits which intervene every time a step is taken in the wrong
direction, leopard-men, serpent-men, six-legged dogs, zombies—a whole series of tiny
animals or giants which create around the native a world of prohibitions, of barriers and
of inhibitions far more terrifying than the world of the settler.”

Then
Montgomery, Alabama, 1964

He lies restless in bed, both legs under the covers. Surrounded by an army of toys. A GI Joe. Cars. Even a teddy bear, still.

There are protests outside of his window.

“Mama,” he cries. Shaking. Still seeing the shadows of ghouls pressed against his eyelids. Still hearing their demonic squeals of joy. Still feeling the bony fingers pressed around his throat. The sensation of waking up with a choke.

She comes in.

“Again?” she asks. Weary.

“They’re everywhere,” he says. “I can feel them in my sheets.”

She places glass of water on his nightstand. To swallow the spirits. Then, a hand on his forehead. To soothe the imagination.

“Make it stop,” he cries. “Please, Mama. I’m scared.”

She sighs, seeing a white bubble of light surrounding his black body. Whispers a protective prayer. Feels his body for knots. Soothes the mysterious scratches.

She says, “It’s not real.”

“It feels real!”

She sits on the edge of his bed. Wipes the sweat from his brow.

“Stay centered, baby.”

Shouts seep into the room from between the drapes.

“Someday, you’ll know how to push those fears away,” she whispers. “You’ll learn how to fight back.”

“During the period of colonization, the native never stops achieving his freedom from
nine in the evening until six in the morning.”

Quotes are from from Franz Fanon’s “On Violence” in The Wretched of the Earth (1961).

cropped-dead-bird-clip-art.jpg

Kesi is a writer and a teacher of literature and creative writing for teenagers and adults. Her writing has appeared in Winter Tangerine, USA TODAY, on the New York City Subway, and in collections like haiku narrativo and ancient futures. Kesi received her Ph.D. from NYU in 2018 and wrote her dissertation on Black writers who are working to correct the lack of diversity in children’s literature. She lives in Queens, New York. You can find her at kesiaugustine.com

Photo: Teddy Kelley

holes – hillary leftwich

holes

They lay down on the bed, his head inside her chest. He thinks of how a heart is like an engine, if the oil runs out it will seize. He saw a broken engine at his mechanics once, right after their daughter Lily disappeared. See that? The mechanic said, pointing a socket wrench at the hole. If you don’t check your oil, that’s going to be your engine. That’s going to be his heart. Too many cigarettes, too much booze, and love tethered then clipped. She slips him inside of her, asks if he wants it faster. He answers in heavy breaths. When the shaking subsides, she doesn’t touch him. They fall asleep and wake to an Amber Alert on his phone, flashing like a neon sign. He shuts his eyes and dreams of a little girl stolen. The girl is in a car with a man speeding down a curling highway. The trees lean in on either side of the road, straining to see inside. The man tells the girl the engine sounds funny, and if she isn’t careful he’ll bust a hole right through her heart. He hands her a gallon of strawberry milk and she drowns herself in pink, erasing her face. The man whistles to the music on the radio as he drives, the trees in the rearview mirror folding like two dark wings.

When he wakes up, the dog outside is barking, the coffee machine is grumbling, and she’s gone, a hole on the side of the bed where her body used to be.

cropped-dead-bird-clip-art.jpg

Hillary Leftwich currently lives in Denver with her son in The Murder House, a registered historical landmark and notorious 1970’s flophouse. She is the poetry and prose editor for Heavy Feather Review and curates At the Inkwell Denver. In her day jobs she has worked as a private investigator, maid, repo agent, and pinup model. Currently, she freelances as an editor, writing workshop instructor, guest instructor for Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash Workshop, and writer. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in print and online in such journals as Entropy, The Missouri Review, The Review Review, Hobart, Smokelong Quarterly, Matter Press, Literary Orphans, Occulum, and others. Her book, Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock, is forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms/The Accomplices in October of 2019.  Find her online at hillaryleftwich.com and on Twitter @hillaryleftwich

Photo: Fancycrave

struck horse – ron burch

Struck Horse

Coal-black mare. Solitary in the darkened field, its crooked, broad teeth grasping green strands. Gray clouds heaped upon one another, a thunder inside, one strike, two strikes, the mare on its front knees, slow-motioning as it tilted on its side, thick muscles shaking as the large body smacked the wet earth, mouth open, singed, a thin drift of smoke rising from the trembling haunches, tongue out, eyes wide.

A lone farmer ran through the field toward it, yelling its name. His green hat flew off in the rushing wind that embraced him with arms of rain.

The farmer dropped knees-down, wrapping his long arms around the mare’s head, its eyes all white. Spittle dribbled out of its agonized mouth.

“Please,” he pleaded, “don’t die.”

The horse rested in his arms, breaths like unanswered questions. The eyes returned to their normal state, the eyes of the mare meeting the eyes of the farmer, firmer breaths as the farmer’s hands stroked the dark horse head, until the mare asked, “What the hell just happened?”

The farmer, astonished, stuttering, “You, you, you were struck by lightning.”

The horse, whose name was Mare, leaned back its large head, the nostrils flaring, “Did you just talk to me?’

The farmer, more astonished, “You talked to me first.”

“Holy fuck,” replied Mare. “I guess I did.”

Once the miraculous had been accepted by the farmer, his immediate thought was, naturally, commerce. With this in mind, the farmer approached the mare who declined his offer of public performance.

“I wouldn’t like that at all,” she said.

“It’s no different than the conversation we’re having now,” the farmer protested. “You just have it with other people.”

The mare neighed in response, saying, “Other people may not be as kind as the farmer.” The farmer laughed.

“Nonsense,” he said, “I’ll be with you the whole time.”

Using his phone, the farmer recorded a short video of he and the mare discussing the weather while standing in the farmer’s north pasture. The video lasted less than 30 seconds and the mare completed three complete sentences and expounded on what she believed tomorrow’s weather was going to be like – crappy again. The uploaded video went viral, making the major social media sites, with ongoing arguments from the viewing community as to whether it was really a talking horse or not.

To confirm, the farmer and the mare were invited to one of the national televised morning shows, followed the same day by visits to two late-night shows. One of the late-night shows had on what they were calling a “Talking Horse Expert,” some guy dressed like a country rube with a straw hat and a pitchfork, a joke until Mare unmasked the man as someone knowing nothing about contemporary farming. The actor dropped his pitchfork realizing that the horse was actually talking.

Mare’s fame exploded. Her likeness was put on coffee mugs, t-shirts, plates, and hundreds of other trinkets. Even her own calendar. Crowds greeted her at the events she attended whether it be the opening of the local county fair to television shows. She was even asked to do the play-by-play for the national horse-racing derby, which she turned down, citing that she believed that humans racing horses for money was wrong. The derby representative, a stern, pasty old man who was a local politician, complained to the farmer, who apologized but felt the same way.

She didn’t understand why she had to do a dog-food commercial. “I don’t even eat dog food,” she said. “Do you?”

The farmer shook his head and said that it was just for the money. Mare complained that too many humans only cared about money. The guy holding the boom said she didn’t know any better because she was only a stupid horse. Mare cantered over to the boom operator, backing him up against the wall and said that if it wasn’t for humans and their slaughter of innocent animals to feed their overweight, smelly bodies, that this world would be a much better place.

You could hear the hum of the background lights.

They finished the shoot but the atmosphere was tense. As the farmer led out the mare, she said to him, “I’m only telling the truth.”

The farmer nodded his head. “I know.”

Later, that night, someone leaked a shaky video of Mare’s comments from the commercial. The comments were excoriating, and the farmer didn’t see the need to tell the mare about it. This was bad press and perhaps, the farmer considered, that they had made enough money to live happily for a number of years.

In the living room of the farm house, where Mare was now living, he told her it’s time to retire.

“Thank god,” she replied and nuzzled his neck as she once did when she was much smaller.

They still had one more talk show to do and decided together that it would a great way to say goodbye. The farmer would say that the mare woke up silent again, and she would merely stand there while the camera pushed in on her face.

Minutes before she was to go on live television, the farmer couldn’t find her in her assigned dressing room. He asked a couple of the people backstage if they’d seen a horse but nothing. He heard a shot – he knew it was a shot – he was a hunter, he knew. He ran toward the direction and out an emergency exit. A white car pulled away. She was on the ground behind the building, crumpled across two parking spaces, her body broken on the cement dividers, her mouth bound with white rope, her blood, from a gunshot, pooled around her mane. He held her still head in his arms and even as the grief broke across him, he refused it, so it would feed him for a long time, never letting him forget.

cropped-ghost-january.jpg

Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including Mississippi Review, New World Writing, PANK, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles. 

Photo: Erin Dolson

challenger – corwin moore

challenger

In eighth grade I became an addict. I was addicted to masturbating and porno. The addiction really wasn’t in that order, the porno came first, and jerking-off was the cherry on top. I got so good; I was able to jerk-off during my favorite television shows. One time, during an episode of Different Strokes, I beatted-off every commercial break. Before I was addicted to masturbating, I used to wonder if Arnold would get into trouble during the commercial breaks, but during my jerking-off era, I blocked everything out and got down to business.

I had control, Johnson magic, and loved my power. I didn’t need any sex material with me either. I had the ability to look at the porno days before and play back the flick in my mind.

In a porno I watched, there was one white guy that had a special move where he would count down his money shot. Like clockwork, when he got down to 3, 2, 1, 0; he would let the load loose. His move became my move. With this skill I became a master. I could blow loads anywhere at top speed, in my bedroom, in the bathroom, in the basement, even on the roof. I was a like a superhero in disguise, I had great power but I couldn’t tell anyone.

“Craig, you better not be playing with yourself. I ain’t raising no damn whore-mongers.”

“Whore-monger” was some church word my mother heard. The house of the lord told her that sex was bad and then she hit us with the craziness. She was the one with all the kids. She needed to hear the church madness more than me. My mother said the whore-mongering thing all the time but I wasn’t scared. She wasn’t going to get in between me and my superhero powers.

“I ain’t raising no ‘funny boys’! Them ‘boys’ are the only people that be playing with themselves.”

For a while I thought masturbation had something to do with being gay. If there ever was any person that confused me about sex, my mother was the one.

“When I catch your butt I’m going to beat the black off of you.” Then she would cut out my light and close my bedroom door. She said that every night before I went to sleep. I knew I was getting too big for a bedtime story but I didn’t want to hear threats of physical violence; I had so many nightmares of my mother beating me half to death because she caught me in the act, my mother whaling away, while I was whaling away. She worried me even more because she was talking about knocking me down a couple pegs on the color scale, “beat the black off of me,” I’m dark, so that would have been a lot of hitting; well, that was my thinking back in eighth grade.

Looking back, she had to know I was playing with myself. To tell the truth, I gave myself away sometimes. I was never caught in the act but damn I was jumpy. I would hop out of my skin when someone came into my bedroom, I would act like I drank ten cups of coffee. If I wasn’t watching TV, I was laying in bed, stiff as a board with the blanket lumpy in the middle of my body, right in the penis area. Oh, that poor blanket. I think about how many times I hid my hard-ons’ with that blanket. If that cover could talk, I think, “Get the pee-pee off of me,” would be the words. I would do this three o’clock in the afternoon sometimes. Ma had to figure that if I wasn’t jerking-off, or I was doing something I had no business doing. What kid is in the house, in the bed, before the streetlights came on? But I never got caught; I just looked guilty as all hell.

I had a crew. We formed a posse that was held together by porno.

The crew was the other three coolest dudes in my eighth grade homeroom class and me. We used the hottest slang and dared anyone to try to sound like us. We called each other “Duke, Troop, Money,” and put the word “Big” in front of our first names.

Each of us had a part to play in our porno posse. I was the brains of the operation; I thought up the schemes and stunts. In other words, I did most of the talking and didn’t do too much of anything else. Fritz was in charge of the dirty magazines. We didn’t know where he got them from but he had a private collection that was crazy. He had over a hundred and fifty magazines, and we tried to read them all too. He also looked old, real old. He always got looks when he walked with us down the street. “Why is that adult with those eighth graders?” He was damn near a hundred and sixty pounds and 5’l0 in the eighth grade. Whatever little money we got, we sent him to get the newest magazines.

We had a special spot. We went to this newsstand on the other side of the park, where white people lived, the spot was owned by some old Greek man. He was blind as a bat but a mean son of a bitch. He watched everything like a hawk but he couldn’t catch us. We had Fritz. The old fool was more concerned about blacks stealing than checking I.D. We would wait across the street for him. He was so professional and smooth about picking the dirty magazines. He skimmed through them all and took his time. Watching Big Fritz made me so jealous of size. I was four foot nothing then and seventy-pounds wet. I wanted to be big so bad.

Next was Ricardo, Big Rick to the crew. He spoke Spanish but was dark ‘like me’; well, that’s how I saw it when I was an eight-grader. People swore we were brothers, I didn’t mind when people said that we looked alike, Ricardo was cool. He was in charge of the actual porno tapes. He would get up late at night and record the porno that came on the adult channels, W.H.T, H.B.O. They were called soft porn. That’s where they cut up a real porno flick; they showed the tits, butt, and other private parts but not all at the same time. The soft porn got on our nerves, we were eighth graders, and we wanted all the smut. That was what we had mostly in our stash, soft porn. His family had a VCR and cable television. I used to think Ricardo’s family was so rich. They weren’t, they were on welfare like me but his father lived with them in secret. He worked off the books because he sneaked in the country from Panama. The mother got public assistance and took care of crazy people on the side. They were beating the system and had a little extra. Ricardo told me all this one-day at the pizza shop. It was crazy, two young kids talking about being on welfare, not girls or sports, but poverty.

Last was Maurice, Big Moe, the real leader of our crew. I had a better mouthpiece than him but he had more heart than all of us. Whatever thoughts we had in our heads, the dirty deeds were good as done by Maurice. Steal girls’ telephone numbers out of the attendance book, done. He even didn’t have a problem calling them up and talking dirty; no matter who answered the phone. He reminded me of my brother Malcolm but Maurice was a version of Malcolm that I could stand. He was fearless and didn’t doubt himself one bit. He was all the things I wasn’t. I was afraid to be free.

“You trying to tell me Troop that her cootie-cat is hairy then hers. You straight- bugging Money! You could cornrow her cootie-cat hair if you wanted to.”

“You not looking, this lady with the black hair got a lot more hair on her cootie-cat then any of these chicks, Duke.”

Fritz and Ricardo had the same argument everyday. Who had the biggest tits? Biggest butt and hairiest vaginas, the subject really didn’t matter; Fritz and Ricardo just banged heads when we started reading the dirty magazines. Fritz was usually right.

“I know about hairy cootie-cat.”

“Fritz, how you know about hairy cootie-cat, you got one, Money,” asked Ricardo.

“My mother and my sister got hairy ones.”

That was our lunch breaks at school, eating our food at top speed and then sneaking off to the bathroom and laughing at Fritz. All four of us cramming ourselves in a stall and looking at dirty magazines that Fritz would bring to school, hiding them in his science book.

I asked Fritz, “Why you looking at your moms like that. That momma-cootie-cat watching is crazy, Duke!”

“It’s just my sister, my moms and me in the house. They just be walking around the house in their underwear. I could see that they hairy through those cotton draws they be wearing. And let me tell you Troop, my moms is hairy scary.”

“Like Bush Gardens?” asked Maurice.

“My moms cootie-cat hair be like, ‘I feel like busting loose-busting loose,’ trying to jump out of my moms draws”

“And you just be looking, Troop?” asked Ricardo

“My whole house be late in the morning. My moms be rushing to work. My sister be rushing to school. They don’t even know I be in the house sometimes. They don’t know I be looking.”

Then I asked, “And that’s alright with you?”

“Hell yeah! So I know about hairy cootie-cat, Money.”

We all just shook our heads. He looked like he was telling the God’s honest truth about his mother’s vagina, but what he was saying, we knew, had to be a lie. I think that’s why he was so funny to us; he believed what was coming out his mouth more than anybody else. After laughing at Fritz, what usually happened was a whole bunch of ‘sex-with-ya-mothers’ jokes. ‘Snapping’ on one another closed out our dirty magazine reading.

“Yo bust it-yo bust it, I had sex-with-ya- mother Fritz and when I bust off on her head she tasted the bust-off and said, “I can’t believe it’s not butter.” I usually set the ‘sex-with-ya-mothers’ off.

“Yo I had sex-with-ya-mother Cee and I told her to go to the store to get me two heroes, the Bitch came back with Batman and Superman.”

“Rick’s moms, she put her pussy on her hip because she wanted to make some money on the side.”

The sex with each other’s mothers went on until the bell rang and time to go back to class. I loved spending time telling my best friends how much sex I had with their mothers. Snapping with them was so fun because they were. Where we came from, most kids would fight you if you talked about their mothers. Especially the venom we were spitting. We weren’t like most kids in the hood. We were a crew, friends.

Every once in a while we would get a half-a-day at school. This particular half-a-day was for the space shuttle Challenger. A black guy was going up to space with the NASA crew and our principal wanted to celebrate him, honor the brother’s accomplishment. The year was 1986, January, and Ronald E. McNair was his name. He came to speak to our entire school when I was in sixth grade, two years before that half-a-day. “Whether or not you reach your goals in life depends entirely on how well you prepare for them and how badly you want them. You’re eagles! Stretch your wings and fly to the sky.” Every teacher at the school made us memorize Mr. McNair’s words. I heard my science instructor tell the gym teacher, “This is the thing these little animals need to hear, a guy like them, that’s doing something, telling them to work hard; for once. Their drug addict parents never will.” It was bad what he said about our parents, but what made what he said worse was he didn’t say ‘guy.’ The word sounded like that ‘word,’ the word us blacks say to each other with so much affection-that word that hurt so much flowing from white lips. He called us Niggers. They were white and cocky, they didn’t think I overheard, but I did. After that, I hated those two white teachers and I hated the space program.

This half-a-day I thought of a plan where we skipped the whole day all together and go somewhere and watch some porno. I kicked the idea to my boys and they loved everything I was laying down but we had one problem, ‘where?’ We couldn’t go to my house, my mother wasn’t working, and she was going to be home. Ricardo’s mom was home during the day because that’s where she took care of the crazy people. Fritz lived too damn far. Fritz was always late for school because he had to take two buses and a train to school, seemed like he lived in Queens or something like that.

That left Maurice, Big Moe, the wild child; Ricardo, Fritz and I knew he was our only shot at porno heaven but was afraid to ask. Maurice was crazy, we weren’t too sure about going to his house, alone. Maurice was the one that stole our homeroom teacher’s pocketbook. Her name was Mrs. Tate but we called her Mrs. Titty Tate. She was a black woman from the south and her breast looked like two duffel bags filled with bowling balls. Sometimes she wore these bras that pushed them up and pointed out. She looked like she had two missiles pinned to her chest. I came up with the name and every time I called her that behind her back, my boys died laughing, so I always made sure to say Mrs. Titty Tate at least twice a day. The joke never got old.

Maurice took her pocketbook one day, without her knowing. The lady was looking all over the school for her pocketbook, and we were in the third floor bathroom, ripping through the damn thing. Big Rick, Big Fritz and me were looking for the report cards and the permanent record book but Maurice was eating a bag of grapes she left in there. The grapes were next to Mrs. Titty Tate’s shoes. She always had two pairs of shoes. A pair she walked to school in and a pair she taught in. She had bad feet; she even told the class one day while she was changing them. “These bunions are on fire.” We all laughed and called her nasty. She had a deep southern accent, so she sounded like one of my mother’s relatives. Our classroom was wild like that, fights, funny routines by students, and Mrs. Titty Tate being ‘down-home’ and talking about her foot problems, we were a little school in the ghetto, nobody cared.

When Maurice started eating her grapes, which were next to the ‘Bunion Shoes’, we went crazy.

“What are you doing, Duke? Them grapes was in this smelly bag next to her fungi kicks!”

“I don’t care! I’m crazy!” If that’s what Maurice wanted us to think about him, well, that’s what we thought; one crazy eighth grader, one thing to steal your homeroom teacher’s pocketbook but a whole other thing to eat her grapes that were in her bag with her smelly shoes.

Another problem with going to Maurice’s house was, we didn’t know where he lived. Everyday after school we would play basketball and when we started to go home, Big Moe would make this mad dash around the corner. “Don’t try to follow me.” Maurice sounded like a bad guy in an action flick. The first couple of times we tried to chase him but he was quick. He could run all day; he loved when people chased him. After a while we just all agreed, “That boy is crazy.”

“Meet me in the school yard at 8:15, we going to my house y’all.” We didn’t even ask him, he just told us.

I guess he knew that he was our only and last chance. He had this crazy look in his eyes too. The three of us was nervous. We didn’t know what to expect. Maurice always had scratches and marks on his arms. That scared us. Maurice had us believing there was a wild beast in his house. I didn’t want whatever got him to get me.
Maurice met us right on time in the schoolyard. He was wearing a t-shirt that read, “Don’t squeeze the Charmin.” Soon as we saw the t-shirt we laughed. It was January and all he had under his coat was that t-shirt.

“Ain’t you cold Money?”

He didn’t answer me; Big Moe just started walking. We followed him up Franklin Ave. I thought he was taking us to that crazy block next to the Shuttle train. That was the block ma always told me not to walk down. There were abandoned buildings on that block. She told me that there were junkies that took kids off the street from those buildings. I didn’t want to be taken. I was hoping Big Moe didn’t live in one. I couldn’t enjoy my porno in an abandoned building with junkies all around. I looked over to Ricardo and he seemed like he was nervous too. I had asked him to bring his VCR. The machine was in his book bag, he just held on tight; he was scared that someone was going to rob him in Maurice’s crazy house. Getting the VCR out of his house wasn’t any big deal. His parents didn’t speak English, at all. They only knew America through their children’s eyes, so if he told them that ‘that’s what they did here’, they took his word.

We wanted to ask where we were going but as soon as we could think to ask the nut, he stopped in front of Tiffany Towers. The Tiffany Towers was probably the closet thing to Central Park West in the hood. The towers were like skyscrapers, the tallest in the borough. Tiffany Towers had a tiny city surrounding two tall buildings; well, that’s what I thought. They had a dry cleaners and grocery store in there. All this was closed in with giant concrete walls, to keep us out, the poor people; I guessed. We went into building A and there was a security guard. I never saw that before, someone to protect your building while you were gone.

“I don’t want to see you running in the garage today Mr. North.”

That was Maurice’s last name but I never heard his name like that, with mister in front.
“I be having all the security guards in Tiffany Towers chasing me.”

Fritz asked, “What you be doing, Troop?”

He just gave us a devilish grin and said, “I be doing stuff.” We didn’t ask any more than that because ‘I be doing stuff’ could have meant anything with Maurice.

His house was on the fourteenth floor. I never rode up an elevator that high before. “The elevator has a two person bench;” I never saw anything like that, taking a seat while you go up. Tiffany Towers was the richest place in the world to me. When we walked in his house the place had orange and black carpet everywhere. His house didn’t have carpet that was hard and made noise when you dragged your feet. They had soft carpet, like you were walking on a mattress.

The three of us walked in his house hesitantly, we were looking for the dog, the dog that scratched Maurice, giving him the bruises on his arms, the bruises that we saw everyday.

“Yo, you put that dog away, Money?” asked Fritz.

“No, it’s right behind you!”

As soon as Maurice yelled ‘you’, the three of us jumped out of our clothes. We turned around and nothing was there.

“Yo, you ain’t got no dog, Troop!”

“I never told you I did, dummy!” And Maurice was right when said that; he never did tell us he did. We just assumed.

There were framed pictures of Maurice everywhere, pictures at church, at school, when he was a baby. Maurice was the only child, so all the walls were dedicated to him. All the furniture was leather, no plastic, like the couch at my house. Big Moe’s couch was soft and brown.

“If y’all want something to eat, just go for yours, Money.”

I never heard that when I went to somebody’s house. They usually made you a plate or gave you something to drink. They didn’t want you to take all that they had, so they gave you how much they could afford to give.

“Where we watching this Duke?”

“In my room.”

“You got a TV in your room?”

“Yeah,” he said, ‘but of course’ was more how the words came off.

“Word! That’s where mines is in my house.” I was lying.

“Ricardo, why you got a VCR?” asked Maurice.

“To watch the tapes.” Ricardo replied.

“I got a VCR and better tapes, Money.”

I thought to myself, ‘luxury building, sweet elevator, and a badass crib. Who in the hell is Maurice North?’

We got to his room and his area was spotless. The bed was made up and every thing was put in perfect place. My mother would have loved Maurice.

“Wait here y’all.”

“Where you going, Troop?” I asked Maurice.

“To my moms and pops room.”When he went to his parent’s room Fritz, Ricardo and me just looked at each other. We didn’t say anything but if we did, ‘Damn’ would have been the word. Maurice came back to the room with a bottle of Absolute Vodka, some cigarettes and six VHS tapes.

“What’s on the tapes?” asked Ricardo.

“Porno, stupid!”

Fritz said, “In your moms and pops room?”

“Yeah, she don’t think I be knowing but I be knowing.”

We all laughed.

“Where they keep’em at?” I said to him.

“Under the bed, the vodka be out. Fritz go to the kitchen and get some cups.”

Then I asked, “Your pops gonna kill you if he find out.”

“He ain’t here, well, he don’t stay here. He ain’t stay with me and my moms in a long while. The crazy illness be, my moms still be acting like he here or like he coming back.”

I wanted to say how sometimes my mother did the same thing with my father but Fritz came back with the cups. And like that, we were smoking cigarettes, drinking vodka and watching porno owned by the mother of a wild child. My chest was burning from the vodka and my nose was stuffy from the smoke but I was having the greatest time of my life. Maurice’s mother had the hot stuff. She had movies with Black people in them. The Black women had big dark nipples; one lady’s nipples were so long, they looked like Tootsie Rolls. Every time a hairy, nappy, vagina hit the screen Fritz would yell out, “That’s how my moms and my sister be looking, Troop!” he really was funny that day. Taking puffs on Newports and watching hardcore money shots, that was our dream and we were living it.

After every movie we rewound each tape to exactly where Maurice’s mother left off. While rewinding, Fritz wanted to turn to cable TV, he wanted to see if “Back to the Future” was on H.B.O. Fritz and me didn’t have cable; our families couldn’t afford that luxury. So getting to watch cable television and porno was a double treat. He couldn’t find the movie. Something was wrong with Maurice’s channels. Every station had the same thing on.

“What wrong with your TV, Duke? Every channel got weather.”

Each station showed the sky with long white clouds but we didn’t care, we had porno to get to.

“How many movies we got left?” I said.

Maurice answered, “Two more Troop.”

He had his cigarette cocked to the right side of his mouth with his right eye closed, to avoid the smoke. He looked cool. Then he looked at me and gave that devilish Maurice grin. When he did that, I pushed him in the head. Not hard, just a slight push.

“You crazy, Money.”

What I really wanted to say was, “I love you Maurice, you’re my friend” but that would have been too much for us in eighth grade.

Ricardo grabbed his bookbag and said, “You heard that?”

Fritz turned the TV down and we all put up our antennas.

“Yo! That’s your front door, Money!”

“My moms came home early, damn!”

If any people in this world panicked, we were them. As soon as Maurice said “early” all four of us did a mad dash nowhere. All we did was run around in circles. Fritz and Ricardo ran right into each other they were so nervous. Ricardo bumped his forehead into Fritz’s chin. They fell right on their backs. I wanted to laugh but we had to hide. Maurice was running around looking for the cap for the vodka. I passed him the tapes, along with the cap that was under my foot. I helped Ricardo off the floor and Fritz got up on his own. As soon as Fritz got up, he stepped on Ricardo’s bookbag and fell again.

“My VCR Fritz! Got to be broke now, aaah!”

“Be quiet!” said Maurice. “Hide! Don’t come out no matter what.”

Ricardo grabbed his bookbag and hid under the bed. Fritz and me went into the closet. That sweatbox was so tight because Fritz was so big and Maurice had so many clothes.

“Maurice got some nice clothes. I wonder why he don’t wear this.”

“Be quiet Fritz.”

He did have some nice stuff but I didn’t want Fritz talking too loud and getting us caught. Maurice had that kind of closet with two doors with blinds. We watched Maurice run around and open his bedroom window to let all the smoke out. Still holding the tapes he ran out of the room.

“What you doing home! And in my Goddamn room!”

We heard Maurice’s mom from the hallway of the apartment. I was so scared I wanted to pee. I wanted to pee in that closet in front of Fritz and Maurice’s nice Polo shirts. Then we heard a loud smack and what sounded like the tapes falling on the floor.

“Oh God!” said Fritz.

“Come on man! Be quiet.”

I saw Ricardo under the bed, stiff as hell. He looked like a dead body. Then he started to mumble something out of his mouth and shook his head. At first I thought, “Who in the hell Ricardo is talking to.” Then I realized he was praying.

Maurice came back peddling into his room, with his mother walking in front of him.

“You was looking at my tapes! You’s a nasty little boy, ain’t you? Take off all your clothes.”
Fritz looked at me. I didn’t turn to him but I just knew he was looking at me.

“No ma, please. I’m sorry.”

“You going to be sorry in a minute. You’re touching things that don’t belong to you. I got to do this to you all the time, for your Black ass to learn.”

She started taking off Maurice’s belt.

“Take off those damn clothes.”

He did what he was told. As he took off his shirt and pulled of his pants she would let the belt fly and hit his body. By the time he got completely naked she already hit him about five or six times. When he got naked we saw that he already had a bunch of black and blue marks on his chest.

“Everyday I got to whoop you. Everyday-with you!”

I felt bad for Maurice. He was naked in front of his friends and was getting beat by his mother. She didn’t’ stop, she kept on hitting him with that belt. Then she but the belt down and beat him with her fists. I never saw a mother punch like a man, but she did. I kind of wanted her to go back to the belt; the belt seemed less ruthless compared to the fists. She beat him for over an hour. Well, that’s how long his beating felt like. She really beat him for fifteen minutes. I would look over at the clock on the VCR. I didn’t think fifteen minutes could be so long. I think that’s what made the beating so long to me; every hit-every swing hurt just so much. You could just see that blows were hurting Maurice inside and out. She was so ruthless to me. The blows did so much to him and nothing to her. Well, that’s what the sight seemed like to me, in the closet, scared.

The beating got to a point that he didn’t even cry, or yell. Maurice was on the floor, on his side, and he took the beating, and he took the pain. I seen beatings before, I been beat but this was different, this one was more than a whipping, this was more like hate. My mother got on my case and gave me hell but she never seemed like she didn’t like me. The way she was hitting him I thought she didn’t like Maurice. While I was in the closet there was several times I just wanted to step out and say, “Stop hitting him like that.”

Fear was what kept me in that closet. I think that was the same thing that kept Ricardo and Fritz still but what was Maurice’s excuse? Was fear the thing Maurice was scared of, making him the way he was, a bad eighth grader that would steal his homeroom teacher’s pocketbook? For fifteen minutes she punched and whipped, and his closest friends hid and watched.

After she finished she made him take a bath and do his homework. We knew he didn’t have any homework but Maurice sure looked like he had some. He opened up every schoolbook we had. He was flipping through every page.

“My stomach hurt.”

“Be quiet Fritz.”

“We ain’t going to ever get out of this closet!”

“Be quiet Fritz.”

“We been in here for hours!”

“It’s only been forty minutes.”

Then Fritz burped and his breath smelt like that vodka we were drinking.

“I think I’m sick.”

Before I could turn around, Fritz started to throw-up. We both flew out the closet, but way too late. Fritz threw-up all over my back and Maurice’s floor. Then he grabbed one of Maurice’s nice Polo shirts and tried to clean off my neck.

“What you doing Fritz? That’s my shirt,” said Maurice.

“I’m sorry; I needed something to clean this up. You got a sponge or something?”

“Come on, man. You killing me Fritz!”

Then from the other room we heard Maurice’s mom, “Who in the hell are these kids?”

Fritz was so loud Maurice’s mother came back into his room. With a back and neck soaked with vomit, she looked at me. She poked her head under the bed and saw Ricardo sleeping.

“This Nigga is in here sleep! Get the hell from under that bed, boy!”

Once Ricardo saw us he said, “Oh god, that’s nasty. Is that vomit?”

“Anybody else in this damn house,” Maurice shook his head no.

“You got two minutes to get the hell on out of my house before I give you some of the whipping I’m going to give Maurice.”

Then she punched him in his neck. He went down to his knees. His eyes were about to pop out of his head. He looked like he couldn’t see. She hit him really hard that time. The three of us rushed out of the bedroom but I stopped for a second to see his mother cock back her fist again. Before I could see her land the punch, Fritz grabbed me and dragged me to the door. “Let’s go, Craig!” I didn’t see the second punch, but I heard the damage the blow did.

We got outside and everyone was pointing and staring at me. I smelt bad. I smelt like vodka, cigarettes and everything Fritz ate for breakfast. I had too much vomit on me to put on my coat. So I carried my coat in my hand and had Maurice’s nice shirt around my neck. I smelt like vomit and I was freezing, I thought I was going to die. Ricardo started crying, his mother didn’t know English but she knew what broke VCR meant.

When I got home ma wanted to yell but she didn’t. I had vomit all over me and she didn’t believe my story of a wild dog jumping on my back and throwing-up all over me. My story was weak but the smell of Fritz’s vomit was so strong my mother went along with my lie. She cleaned me up and gave me my dinner. I just stretched out in my bed and tried to understand how a person could not like Maurice, I liked Maurice, and I thought he was funny. I couldn’t understand why his mother couldn’t see that too. Then I thought about if my father liked me or if my mother liked me. I didn’t want to not be liked by them, like how Maurice’s mother didn’t seem to like him.

“Watch them crazy dogs and them crazy people in the street. You hear me.” ma said.

“Yes.” I replied.

“ ‘Cause this world is going to end, wild dogs throwing-up on people. Them people dying in that spaceship today.”

“Huh.”

“Child! Where you been. That space…”

“…Space Shuttle Challenger.”

“Yeah, blew up in the sky. Been on the news all day.”

What we thought was the weather report was the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding in the sky seconds after blast off. Seven people died while my friends and I cut school and watched porno.

“You got to watch yourself out in these streets. You got people dying in the sky.”
Then she kissed me, turned out my bedroom light and closed the door. That was the first time in a while that she kissed me good night. Felt good when she did that. For a second I thought if Maurice mother ever kissed him goodnight, she gave him everything else, why not a kiss good night. I didn’t think on Maurice too long. I thought more about my kiss good night, then those people in the sky. Then I fell asleep.

 

When I woke up in the morning Maurice’s shirt was cleaned, ironed, and folded, neatly on top of my book bag.

“Ma, Maurice’s shirt?”

“I washed the thing in the tub. Didn’t take me long either, I put the shirt right on that broken-down fan, dried a couple of hours ago.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was happy.

“Now, you could give that nice shirt back to that boy. Boy, you got a good friend to give you a nice shirt like that when you got dog throw-up all over you.”

I wasn’t surprised that my mother cleaned the shirt. I was glad she did. I felt like Maurice needed something and I wanted to be the one that gave him that something. I owed him that. I felt guilty.

I couldn’t wait until Maurice came to class. I had his shirt, Mrs. Titty Tate and ‘sex-with-ya-mother’ jokes all ready for him when he walked through the door. While we waited, Ricardo talked our heads off.

“Yo, my moms and pops yelled all night. I can’t look at TV or cable for a while. They was cussing so fast in Spanish; I didn’t know what they was saying.”

“You just knew your butt was done.” Fritz added.

“I thought you speak Spanish?” I asked.

“Not the Spanish my moms was saying. Even my father didn’t know what she was saying and he from Panama too. That VCR was what I recorded all her Spanish Soap operas on; she was pissed-off, Duke.”

I laughed as Ricardo talked about his parents but from time to time I would look over at the clock-then at Maurice’s chair-and then at the door. My laughter was with Fritz and Ricardo but my mind was on Maurice. After a while we started to repeat ourselves. The stories were already told and the laughs were all belted out, still no Maurice. School had started and the teachers demanded our attention, so we had to start the day without him. Maurice didn’t come to school that day or the next. He missed ten straight days of school and his empty chair killed us. Nothing was the same. By the third day we gave up our ‘sex-with-ya-mother’ routines. By the fourth day we gave up dirty magazines in the bathroom. We were too afraid to call or go by his house. We knew how his mother could be. He was gone and there was nothing our porno crew could do.

On the fifth day Mrs. Titty Tate started to walk by our table. She knew we were bothered by him being gone, so she would put her hand on our shoulders like we were her children,

“I’m going to call his mother tonight. He’ll be in school soon.”

Then she would smile, but her great grin didn’t help, we still felt bad without him. I guess we felt that way because we saw how he lived and what he had to live with. I carried his shirt with me everyday to school while he was gone. Each day I tried really hard to not let the shirt get dirty or messed up. I wanted what was his to be perfect, for when he did finally come to class.

The tenth day, Maurice still didn’t show but his mother did. She walked in the classroom looking like a robot. She had her hair perfectly pinned back in a bun. She was wearing a business suit, so she was either going to work or coming from work. She had no wrinkles in her suit. Seemed like she didn’t sit down all day. From the back my boys and I watched, as she spoke with Mrs. Titty Tate.

Ricardo pointed and said, “Yo, Duke ain’t that Maurice’s moms.”

“Yeah, you think she came to beat us too, Troop?”

“I don’t know Fritz,” I really didn’t know.

“Crazy nut, I hate that lady.” Fritz started to get mad.

“Yo Money, I think she came to get us in trouble because we messed up her house and watched her porno,” Ricardo looked like he wanted to run under the table and hide when he said that.

“Oh my god, why did I throw-up everywhere?”

Fritz started to get nervous as well. Things got intense when Maurice’s mom and Mrs. Titty Tate started walking towards us, in the back.

“Just be cool y’all,” I damn sure didn’t mean what I said. I was scared too. I couldn’t take my eyes off Mrs. North.

“Boys, this is Maurice’s mother, Mrs. North. Mrs. North, these are the boys your son spends most of his time with, while he’s here at school.”

“Hi boys it’s so nice to meet you.”

“She wanted to know if Maurice left anything back here?”

We all three looked at each other. We were confused. She did meet us. At her house, while she beat the hell out of her son.

We all said, “no.” Mrs. North looked inside his desk anyway.

“And Mrs. Tate you said I can get his transcript through the mail.”

“I believe so, yes.”

I thought, ‘transcript’? What’s that?

“You want me to give you the homework Maurice missed, Mrs. North?” I asked.

“No, that’s alright. Maurice is going to go to a new school. We’re moving.”

My heart just sank when she said that.

“I’m surprised that my son never brought you over to the house. You boys are so well-behaved.”

She was getting on my nerves with the not remembering who we were stuff. Then she patted me on my head. Her smile was big but fake, like grinning was her job. Then I recognized a smell coming from Mrs. North. The funk that came out of her was the same smell when Fritz burped in the closet, the vodka without the throw-up. She was drunk; I just knew that she was; one Christmas I remember my Aunt Sallie being drunk, acting all nice and polite. Mrs. North reminded me of my Aunt Sallie that day, drunk with a smile. That was probably why she couldn’t remember who we were.

“Thank you.”

She was taking away our best boy and I hated her for that. Just like before we ever went to his house, we went back to wondering where he lived and how he lived. I was more in the dark at that moment than I was before. As she walked out of the classroom, I looked and remembered that I had Maurice’s shirt in my bag. I grabbed the shirt quick and said nothing, I stood-up holding the shirt, the last of Maurice for me. For some odd reason, Mrs. North turned and looked my way. Then she walked back to us.

“Did I forget something?” she asked me, looking at Maurice’s shirt in my hand. “Is that my Baby’s shirt.”

“I was in the closet.”

“Excuse me, Darling?”

“Fritz and me was in that closet.”

“I don’t know what you talking about, Boy. What are you talking about?”

I didn’t answer her. I stood strong. I was scared but I didn’t care. She could have hit me if she wanted. I wanted to fight. I was ready to go. If she slapped me, I just would have taken the blow. I told myself that I wouldn’t let her see me tear. Fear was what kept me in that closet for such a long time. And it was love for my friend that made me stand. I wanted to be like Maurice, free and not afraid.

“That shirt looks like my son’s.”

She reached for the shirt. I squeezed the shirt tighter and pulled away. She wasn’t getting that shirt. She took enough from me. She did a lot of hurt. She was getting nothing that day.

“That’s not my boy’s shirt,” she said

“This is mines,” I said.

I could feel Fritz and Ricardo looking at me. They must have thought I lost my mind but I didn’t. I just had enough. I wished I could have seen my own face. So if I ever saw Maurice again. I could do the face for him on cue, like the Mrs. Titty Tate jokes. Her smile got musty, stiff and old; she lost our standoff. That day in class, she got beat.

I let her leave without her having what I had; what was really his. I didn’t think she deserved a son like Maurice or a shirt that would be worn by him. Nobody ever wore that shirt. I took the shirt home and put it in a milk crate, in the bottom of my closet. And that’s where Maurice stayed, for a long time.

ghost january

Corwin Moore was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.  Being the youngest of five, Corwin quickly realized that comedy was his best way to receive attention in his large family.  Corwin first got his taste of the stage by enrolling in a stand-up comedy class in High School.  The top five students were elected to perform at a real comedy club; Corwin was not one of those students.  Still wanting to support his fellow classmates, he went to the comedy club anyway.  Once a real paid comedian failed to show up, Corwin got a chance to perform and shine, which he did, receiving a standing ovation.  Corwin got a manager and agent the very next week.  Corwin later honed his stand-up skills at comedy clubs such as Comic Strip, Improv and Stand-up New York.

He has been featured on “Showtime at the Apollo (Guest performer),” “Family Matters” and a cast member of the sketch variety show, “Uptown Comedy Club.”  Corwin also has film work consisting of “Race,” starring Paul Rodriguez and “Juice,” starring Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur.

But what makes Corwin a true triple threat is his writing.  Corwin is an Emmy nominated writer, working for such shows as Saturday Night Live, The Tracy Morgan Show (pilot) and VH1’s Hip-Hop Honors.

Corwin currently is an Assistant Professor of English as well as, shooting his project, ‘Brothers on The Phone.’

Photo: Ajeet Mestry

South Broadway Ghost Society: 2018 in Review

blackbird

South Broadway Ghost Society was founded in October of this year, and that already feels like a lifetime ago. Over the last three months, there has been a plethora of amazing poems, fiction and non-fiction among other magic on the journal. I wanted to take a minute to look back at some of the highlights of the year.

a specific hell

A Specific Kind of Hell: Writing and Survival in America’s South

In “A Specific Kind of Hell: Writing and Survival in America’s South” Blake Edward Hamilton gives us an in-depth look at what it was like to grow up in the South as a young gay man and an outsider. Through his creative non-fiction essay, he paints an important picture of American climate that continues to be challenged today.

3

Three Poems by Sam Pink

In three short poems that seem to belong together, Sam Pink captures the magic of mundane moments of life, leaving it up to you to decided where between existentialism and nihilism they fall.

ghost selfie

Ghost Selfie by Alexandra Naughton

Alexandra Naughton combines selfie videos with paranormal activity in only 82 seconds. Watch it with the closed captions on.

bird

Girl Gone by Natalie Sierra

“Someone fed me nostalgia through a tube and I thanked him with my cunt…” begins Sierra’s poem and the momentum just keeps on from there. Sierra herself feeds us nostalgia through an undeniably strong, sardonic voice.

taco bell

Best Title of a Piece on The Journal

Recognition for best title of a piece on the journal has to be a three way tie between:

“Put Me on a Dog Leash and Make Me Eat Taco Bell of the Floor” – Nate Perkins

“A Wink May Be The Same as a Nod to a Blind Man, But That Doesn’t Mean He’s Going to Lend You His Credit Cards to Get a Bunch of New Spongebob Squarepants Tattoos Unless You’ve Got Some Pretty Serious Collateral” – David S Atkinson

and

“I Got Drunk and Pissed on the Side of Buffalo Exchange” by Ghost #62.

In “Put Me on a Dog Leash…” Perkins sends us barreling through the anxiety of money, relationships and depression at roughly 300 miles per hour.

In “A Wink May Be The Same As a Nod…” Atkinson gives a quick glimpse at the end of the world – where it’s really not that big of a deal.

In “I Got Drunk and Pissed…” anonymous Ghost #62 looks at self-destructive behaviors and seasonal depression.

I’m thinking there might be a correlation between long titles and apathy.

matchstick

Three Poems by Ahja Fox

In three poems, Fox looks at her relationship with her mother, her identity and God, giving us a better collective idea of where the poet is coming from and where she is headed.

There was so much great work on the journal this year. This is by no means a complete list, but really just a quick look at some of what really stood out to me. I highly encourage you to take a look back through the pages of the journal at all the amazing voices we’ve had the opportunity to share.

 

Thank you all for making 2018 a great year for South Broadway Ghost Society. I cannot wait to see what 2019 brings.

Brice Maiurro
Editor-In-Chief
SBGS

a wink may be the same as a nod to a blind man, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to lend you his credit cards to get a bunch of new spongebob squarepants tattoos unless you’ve got some pretty serious collateral – david s atkinson

raw pixel

“The world ended today,” Carl told me as he sat down to watch TV.

“What?! How?”

“Dunno.” He cracked a beer. “Everybody was talking about it after the staff meeting, but I didn’t listen too close. Didn’t seem important.”

I sat up on the couch. “How could it not be important? It’s the end of the world!”

“Well,” he said, considering, “it doesn’t seem to change anything, does it? We’re still here. Plenty of stuff happens that doesn’t affect my life. Why would I care more about this than any of that?”

“I understand,” I replied, “but particularly in view of that, how are we still here? We couldn’t be if the world ended, right? Maybe it didn’t.”

“Nah, it did. Everyone was pretty sure.” He took a drink. “I’m betting they’d know. They aren’t the sort to get that kind of thing wrong.”

“Hmm.”

So that was that, the world was gone. There was nothing else for it but to watch Will & Grace.

SBGS December

David S. Atkinson is the author of books such as “Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from my Pockets While I Sleep,” “Apocalypse All the Time,” and the Nebraska book award winning “Not Quite so Stories.” He is a Staff Reader for “Digging Through The Fat” and his writing appears in “Spelk,” “Jellyfish Review,” “Thrice Fiction,” “Literary Orphans,” and more. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/.

submit to sout