I ask my sons about dogs. Today, dogs in paintings: why a dark tail curls out beneath the monk’s robe as he strangles a dog. My sons don’t eyeroll, even the living one. They look at me the way dogs do, wet and directly.
My live son asks what’s inside a dog and my dead son says shit. No one nods because we’re now in a sculpture room. The dog’s pelt grabs little spaces. Maybe he’s a going-to-sea-dog: his nails scratch at a saint’s knees, shellish pelt wrinkling. My dead son asks for a spear and I say no violence. I lift an apple again or a pomegranate but it doesn’t go anywhere because stones aren’t hungry.
Outside in the city someone’s posed between wings –this time blue for the endangered scrub jay. They’ve stopped in the kitsch, shoulder-high thin spot. My live son says this is stupid but he’d do it for his child. My dead son says well that’s it for the bloodline. I stitch blue to each boy whenever the paint flecks.
Little mouths in a river tingle or twitch. Back in the origin myth I nearly fall down the same step. Someone asks why even go to term with an accident/ stormstrike/ deathray/ baby, but it’s always too soon to ask art.
I ask my dead son if he’s feral now. Because even cities get lost, even a toddler saint’s head except for one lone stone curl caught in St. Isabel’s dress. My live son knows about cutting because he’s needed transfusions. My dead son knows other things. Someone with a nosebleed leaves 6 votive kleenex.
The devil asks why he wants to be loved by boot on his belly or hand on his neck so much. Moonfaced and sad as he chokes? Call flat dog. Gut-wrenched around another stone boot? Try tide-coming-in dog. My sons hang “gone fishing” signs though one’s really out scoring weed. What’s up, asks a stair. This is the elimination round, scrub jays, so whistle whistle into the last blue city.
Terri Witek is the author of 6 books of poems, most recently The Rape Kit, winner of the 2017 Slope Editions Prize judgedby Dawn Lundy Martin. Her poetry often traces the breakages between words and images, and has been included in American Poetry Review, Lana Turner, Poetry, Slate, Poesia Visual, Versal, and many other journals and anthologies. She has collaborated with Brazilian visual artist Cyriaco Lopes (cyriacolopes.com) since 2005–their works together include museum and gallery shows, performance and site-specific projects featured internationally in Valencia, New York, Seoul, Miami, Lisbon, and Rio de Janeiro. Collaborations with digital artist Matt Roberts (mattroberts.com) use augmented reality technology for smart phones to poetically map cities and have been featured in Manizales (Colombia), Glasgow, Vancouver, Lisbon, Miami, Santa Fe and Orlando. Witek directs Stetson’s undergraduate creative program and with Lopes teaches Poetry in the Expanded Field in Stetson University’s low-residency MFA of the Americas. terriwitek.com
Fate arrives in her mailbox. And with its arrival, a decision. Fate is a red matte lipstick, a special order that arrived for Nicole Masterton, the person who lived in 12A before Allie. Allie has lived in 12A for five months, and she still receives Nicole Masterton’s mail. Sometimes Allie takes the mail to the post office and leaves it. Sometimes she throws it away. The magazines and catalogs she keeps. She guesses Nicole must be a fashionable young woman with a formidable shoe collection.
She doesn’t generally open Nicole’s mail, except for she did open the heavy envelope, embossed, that turned out to be a wedding invitation. Allie doesn’t get invited to many weddings. The fancy envelope has been sitting on her end table for three weeks, the gilded RSVP card askew as if the person who opened the invitation to the nuptials of Sarah Jane Laux and Jeffrey George Bolingbroke couldn’t be bothered to hurry an answer.
Allie imagines Nicole waiting for a wedding invitation, wondering if she had been forgotten, if she should call and inquire, if she should just show up as if the invitation had arrived as expected. Or if she should be hurt, or angry. Allie has considered bundling it all back into the torn envelope – why hadn’t she used a letter opener? surely such an envelope warranted a letter opener? – and taking it to the post office with a murmured apology. Instead, the envelope sits there, silver-foiled and pretty.
And now Fate has arrived. Allie doesn’t think of herself as a red lipstick type of girl. But when Fate is delivered to your door, oughtn’t you to accept it? The lipstick is a good match for Allie. It complements her complexion. She wonders what Nicole looks like, if Fate looks as good on her.
Allie wears Fate on her lips and goes to Nordstrom’s. She walks through the women’s section, aimlessly trailing her fingers over the sale racks and she sees it, a dress red as Fate. A dress in her size, on sale so ridiculously low she’d be a fool not to buy it.
For two days the dress lays over the back of a chair, waiting, like the wedding invitation. But Allie has known since she held Fate in her hand that she was going to the wedding. She wants to see it, to see this wedding announced with such an elaborate invitation, sent to a woman with a chilly name like Nicole Masterton who buys a lipstick called Fate.
Inside the church it’s all flowers and tulle and crystal and candles. Extravagent. Allie doesn’t sit all the way in the back as she’d planned. Women with Fate on their smiles don’t sit all the way in the back. She sits on the groom’s side, looking on the bride’s side for someone who might be Nicole Masterton who surely came, who isn’t at home sad and angry, whose friends told Sarah Jane Laux about the lost invitation and she surely was sent another.
The ceremony is beautiful, of course. The bride could grace the pages of Vogue and maybe she does. Allie dabs her eyes, caught up in the couple’s first married kiss. She finds herself in the receiving line, and she hugs the bride, who glows with happiness, and she hugs the groom who says, “It’s so good to see you again, it’s been so long.” It has, she agrees, but he doesn’t really know her. She leaves a touch of Fate on his cheek. It’s ok, she brought Fate with her in the tiny purse she dug out of her closet from prom years ago (from prom! seriously!) and she’ll keep Fate with her all night.
Because of course she attends the reception. The tables are set with name holders. There are two tables for those who have not RSVP’d. Allie wonders if she’ll be seated near Nicole Masterton. She doesn’t catch all the names as introductions are made, but Nicole is not one of them. She gives her own name as Tiffany Smith and hopes she remembers it later, if necessary. When she’s asked how she knows the bride, she says she knows the groom, but it’s been a very long time, not since they were quite young and the blush that warms her cheeks at the lie makes her wonder if people will assume they were lovers. She imagines what it would be like to have been his first love. Someone clinks a glass and the happy couple kiss. Allie smiles with her Fate lips. The table she is at is far from the wedding table, this table reserved for those without reservations.
Allie leaves a mark of Fate on the cloth napkin, reapplies in the Ladies where every moment she expects to run into Nicole Masterton, whose invitation she usurped. Allie smiles at the mirror. Fate looks good on her. So does the dress of the same hue, the only one like it she owns.
She watches the couple’s first dance. She leaves traces of Fate on more than one champagne glass. It’s past 11 when she decides to leave. The reception shows no sign of slowing down, and Allie wonders if it will end at midnight or continue until the sun rises.
Allie walks past the cloak room, past the bathrooms on her way out the door. The groom emerges from the men’s room. “Wait,” he says to her. “Don’t leave yet. I’ve wanted to talk to you all night.”
Allie turns, smiling with Fate on her lips.
Epiphany Ferrell lives and writes on the edge of the Shawnee Forest in Southern Illinois. Her stories appear in New Flash Fiction Review, Third Point Press, Newfound and other places. She recently received a Pushcart nomination, and has a story forthcoming in Best Microfiction 2020. She blogs intermittently for Ghost Parachute and is a fiction reader for Mojave River Review.
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 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.
Dani Ferrara is a poet, writing teacher, and self-proclaimed ‘pataphysician. She proudly graduated with an MFA from the School of Disembodied Poetics alongside some of the most incredible writers she’s ever met. Her work has been featured in Dream Pop Press and Black Sun Lit. She is in three garage bands: Warm Dad, Bad Bath, and The Spellmans. She is also part of the extended Black Market Translation Orchestra. Dani lives in Denver. [Daniferrarapoet.com]
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Fifteen years old was when Shane Allison wrote his first poem. Since then his poems have appeared in countless kick ass literary journals such as Chiron Review, West Wind Review, The Brooklyn Rail, and others. He is the author of four collections of poetry. His new collection Sweet Sweat is out from Hysterical Books. He is also the author of two novels. Harm Done and You’re the One That I Want.
Body Autonomy sits next to M & I at a bar named Vesuvius. The kind of place people sit facing north, & maybe each other when the weather is right. Josie the bartender is chatting up a couple a few stools down, shows them a video of Johnny Marr playing a Clash cover to her in Los Angeles. “You are very magnetic,” M says. Josie free-pours silver tequila into cold glasses, says “I know.” Body asks for a remote to the tired TV, flips through channels, mumbles mention of the news headline, a mother pleading for assistance in finding her 17-year-old son, who left in the night to a city she can’t quite name or find on a map. “The heart leaves when we don’t make a home for it,” he whispers into his whiskey lemonade. I don’t feel the need to leave.
M & I stop to stretch our legs in a tiny town named Big Sur but isn’t actually named Big Sur. A town of stasis, of pausing movement while inertia presses forward in form of rented RV & restless toddlers. A town built on trinkets & organic oils & overpriced rooms. I light a smoke, stretch— one in the same, these days— M snaps analog photos of flowers that sway palm tree green. Body walks by in overalls & combat boots, long blonde hair. She places time-worn lips together into red highway line, hums, “Yummmmmmmm. You don’t see enough people smoking these days.” Swings her bag of chips like a little sis as she continues seaside.
My parents haven’t seen Body in years. Met them once at a corner on Baker Street. In aisle 5 shopping for Frosted Flakes. A sticky interaction, one worn like memory, like cut-off jean jacket hiding in the back of the closet. When M & I leave for Highway 1, they feel the grief. Miss Body, wish their children could have seen the swag of their grin, heard the sharp cuts of Body’s laugh. They want to tell us these things, want to postpone the distance, but say “Be careful” instead.
M & I stop for gas in North Lake Tahoe. We barely make the sunset, water lava-lamp-like, holding ground as we stumble over twigs & tired feet to catch a glimpse. We find the cheapest gas in town, only two options. Fill the tank slowly. A busted black Corolla drives in slowly. The teen boys inside open the door, speak slowly. Say, “Hey! Slow down, baby.” M & I move quickly. Body watches from the next pump, filling up his baby blue Bronco. Shakes his head slowly, says nothing.
Body agrees that being locked in a car-sized cage & being licked by Kevin Spacey for a year is better than living out every “would you rather” scenario in alternate dimensions, but not by much.
M & I stay with our friend L in San Francisco. L takes us to their neighborhood bar. Tells us the first time they really felt their legs was when they took rose-oil-infused-ketamine with Queens at a Pride party. Body sings “We Are the Champions” with the karaoke DJ as we take boomerang videos of our apricot beers clinking.
M, L, & I talk numbers, how they follow us. M says 5 is her favorite, a sign of luck when she drives the 12 hours from Minnesota to Denver, & then back again. L says seeing 22, 23, & 24 before their 28th birthday lets them know when to leave someone behind. I have an affinity for 32, my first jersey when I was 9. Tell them about the time K told me about my palm. Told me that I’d meet Body when I was 32. Said, “This uncertainty will be gone at 32.” Body passes us on the sidewalk, crosses south to head down Hyde. We head east, back to the car before the meter runs out at 12:45.
For Marie, who played 1,632 games of Would-You-Rather with me while we remembered Body’s face.
Shawnie Hamer was born in the heat & dust of Bakersfield, CA. Her first book, the stove is off at home (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018) is an experimental art & poetry book curated through a community ritual which focused on the identification & exorcism of trauma. Hamer is the founder of collective.aporia, & a co-conspirator of the off.collective. Her poetry can be found in publications such as Bombay Gin, Tooth n Nail: practical advice from and for the everywoman, The Birds We Piled Loosely, SWP Guerrilla Lit Mag, & Tiny Spoon Lit Mag. She is currently living & creating in France.
The books were dumped from a box when I moved out of the house love from jersey built to make room for more books in the box which were dumped on top of the books first put in the box and set on the bottom where the consequences would be obvious I am alone as an ego trapped in a book pile. I have not read a book in one hundred years. I see so many words. They scroll past me at two thousand years per hour. Everybody is a prophet with a platform standing over attention yelling at old men hear me in four corners I am high on the definition of right now. I did not write it down. I slept a sound, dreamt of better saints, temporary, telling stories of what just happened, today we make our own news out of the dirt beneath the dust that gathered on ink left picked up blew off there is a storm coming I can sense it in my eyes. Information it has been reported, sides, who hurt? The corners do not hurt so much if you lay on a side, I am laying on the side facing you, it is comfortable, beautiful, we have built a circle from rectangles, there is no getting out of, the outer language of rhythmic desire, expression at the limit, how to say what is over there, what is over there, escape me. Be here now let us pray. In the beginning, word, then in the end, book, I am looking for a way to begin the book, I haven’t got a word and never want it to end, feeling, lord make me a channel of your objects, lord make our channel an object send someone else to name it, what is that sound? Do I rise and follow its call, is it calling at all, how would I know, it did it again. Want me like a pattern, over over, form never repeating, you are coming to close the covers, I could lie in the dark call it the new thing, it feels better than the last time, it feels together with the last time, it feels like the same thing, like the first day of my life is still going, like I’m a different person than the baby I used to be, that I perceive myself to be, wish, why is my body so sore and when did you get here? Cannot sleep as peaceful as when I was young with these ghosts to stand above, they cannot live like I do and I am not as important. I am an idea the history surrounding me had already. Adapted for TV. With commercial breaks. Write a check Facebook, I am selling mindspace to the highest outbreak for wallets, you should get in on this, we’ve got six hundred pages burning a hole in the budget and five paragraphs to change. I introduced myself in a rage by the thesis opinions were facts the mob concluded, colluded with schoolchildren in the conspiracy of education. Why do they want me to know these things, why do I want to know anything, will it make my dreams more interesting, will I sweat harder, do they hold the cure for fevers? I believe to addiction in a world rewarding faith. I believe in being scared and sickness. Read deep between the lines of idols and practice self-medication. I am talking to myself again when I should be writing. Sometimes it’s more fun not to fuck.
…………..stained glass watercolor ink old soul new testament
you look like you know the answers
…………..there’s a finality an apocalypse a heaven-hell-dichotomy to your tone
you found me alone in the elements, dressed in black
…………..hand-held through your opening, hat off hair tucked back
I want to ask so many questions, like what are we—
…………..you rest a finger to your lips, shh it’s time for a baptism
I find discomfort in your pews but kneel, kneel always
Kylie Ayn Yockey is a queer southern creative with a BA in Creative Writing & Literature. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Glyph, Meow Meow Pow Pow, Night Music Journal, Gravitas, Ordinary Madness, The Stray Branch, Not Very Quiet, Prismatica, Gingerbread House, Butter Press, honey & lime, and Capulet Mag. She has edited for Glyph Magazine, The Louisville Review, Ink & Voices, and is poetry editor for Blood Tree Literature.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
I was having a panic attack.
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.
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’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