‘The Meeting Place’ by Robert William Wilson

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A thick bank of cloud rolled slowly across the purple evening sky. It extended well past the horizon, moving forward like a giant grey continent gliding over the earth. The savage ice storm of the past winter had left traces of itself everywhere. The tallest trees had suffered most. Branches that had snapped beneath the weight of the ice still dangled dead and leafless. Dark silhouettes of broken treetops stood out sharply against the sky and made the forest seem like the ravaged wasteland of a corrupt forgotten place.

Martin pushed his way through the thick underbrush into a wide clearing. He stopped for a moment, surveying the countryside and taking his bearings. Most of it looked unfamiliar now. As a boy he had felt at home in the woods. He had loved the outdoors almost intensely. Now he wondered what it was he ever saw in it. There was only a strange aversion now. It was something he had moved on from, like an old relationship; something he didn’t want to go back to. Being outside anywhere made him anxious. He didn’t like the disorder, the randomness, the chaos. He preferred a roof over his head and walls around him; a separation from the world as much as possible where he didn’t have to be reminded he was part of it.

The thorn bushes scraped across his pant-legs as he brushed past them. He moved through the giant hogweed and wild parsnip and spotted water hemlock, – all the poisonous varieties he had once learned to identify stood out more prominently from the other plants. Up ahead he noticed a dense mob of bullrushes that had sprouted from the shallow water of a tiny pond. He walked around its muddy banks, vaguely aware of how its waters had greatly receded since he had last seen them. He went on through the abandoned apple orchard. Some of the trees still managed to survive in spite of the smothering weeds that circled their stout trunks and twined their branches. The inevitable fate of the living was illustrated in the hollow black husks of their neighbours. Scores of wasted fruit covered in bruises and apple scab cluttered the ground and gave off a sweet, putrid smell.

He picked his way carefully down an incline strewn with dead twigs and green moss-covered stones. Dry, brittle stems cracked beneath his feet as he stepped over them. In the distance he could see the enormous twin Maple trees that stood side by side in the centre of a clearing. Their long twisting branches floating and swaying and reaching for each other and appearing always on the verge of some dramatic embrace. He stood observing them from a distance; remembering the last time his eyes beheld them, the fleeting glance he had given them then, yet how they stayed in his imagination. A definable landmark in the ever-changing scenery. He walked between them, finding a kind of solemn majesty in their size and beauty. The sound of the furious wind howling through the branches gave them voices. It felt like they were trying to warn him away.

He strode into the wide field where the remnants of an ancient stone barricade made a border along one side. A long, thick furrow of stones scooped out of the field a century earlier to make the ground more suitable for planting. When the land was abandoned the forest honoured no such jurisdiction and swallowed most of it, shedding leaves and branches over top and leaving only a small portion still protruding out into the open.

A rustling sound across the field caught his attention. Martin slowed to a stop and watched as the branches of the cedar trees parted and a tall figure dressed in a long black overcoat pushed his way free, brushing the fragments of leaves and twigs from his clothing. Martin felt a vibrating fear rise up. He watched as the man’s movements halted abruptly and he stared out across the field in a way that told Martin he’d been made. They stood frozen for several seconds, both of them poised on the brink of an encounter that was something complicated and profound, feeling the weight of it; consciously giving the moment its due. Almost simultaneously both began to move forward, closing the gap that separated them, impatient to proceed. Martin heard himself being addressed across the open space, over the rustling grass, a deep voice, familiar, imposing, – spoke his name like a question. “Martin?” The man walked with a confident stride and his long black coat looked expensive and immaculate.

“Martin! It really is you,” he said as he drew closer. “You startled me.”

“Hello Bill.”

“You alone?”

“Yeah.”

“Me too. Christ! It’s been a long time.”  He slapped him on the shoulder and smiled.

Continue reading “‘The Meeting Place’ by Robert William Wilson”

Four Poems by Jeffrey Zable

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SELDOM THE CASE

Coming into the kitchen to eat my breakfast
I immediately saw a huge moth lying on its back
perfectly still in the middle of the floor.
And looking down upon it, I imagined that my own ending
would look pretty similar,
the only difference being that I’ll likely be lying in a bed
with someone looking down on me
who will then call someone
who will call someone else.
And not long after that,
I’ll either be buried or turned into ashes,
while a few may comment on how I seemed to be okay;
that lately I seemed to be in a fairly decent mood–
which was seldom the case. . .

NOT MUCH INTERESTED

Hell, I would have gone into politics too
if I’d been better at faking a sincere desire
to help a lot of people: create jobs, lower taxes,
and keep the bad element from their doorsteps.
Well, even though I didn’t go into politics,
I’ve always supported people in small ways
by laughing when they say things that I know
they think are funny. And I pet their animals—
mostly dogs–as if they’re my best friends.
And I always say, “Great to see you again!”
even if I’ve seen them earlier in the day
while at the corner store, the gym,
or just walking in the neighborhood,
where I spend most of my time these days–
not much interested in going farther than that. . .

THE VERY SAME QUESTION

I think at this point I mainly keep living
for something to do, even though I’m bored
and don’t get much out of anything,
whether it’s talking to people, taking a walk
in the park, or eating a ham and cheese sandwich.
I do get some enjoyment petting animals
like cats and dogs and then responding,
“Yes, I too see a lot of road kill these days!”
or “Most certainly, it’s a dog’s life!”
which really means that not much makes any sense
except asking oneself why as we get older
it makes less and less sense,
until one can’t ask even that,
and then someone else takes over the space
that we formerly inhabited,
and maybe or maybe not will ask themself
the very same question. . .

THE UNDERSTANDING

I pick up the phone and it’s a guy with a thick foreign accent
who tells me that the IRS is suing me, and that his company
can help me avoid financial penalty and possible jail time.
Deciding to play along, I ask him what the IRS is suing me for
and he responds that I’m being sued for falsifying my tax return
and that the IRS considers this to be a very serious matter.
And when I ask him what his services will cost me, he states
that first he needs to see my latest tax return, and that in general
the cost runs anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000, which is very
reasonable under the circumstances. Then when I tell him that under
the circumstances I’d rather pay the penalty and go to jail because
I’m a poet who’s always looking for new and different experiences
to fuel my writing, I hear that familiar click, which makes me think
that he considers a poet to be a poor candidate for paying such a fee,
and not worth any more of his valuable time. . .

Jeffrey Zable is a teacher and conga drummer who plays Afro Cuban Folkloric music for dance classes and Rumbas around the San Francisco Bay Area. His poetry, fiction, and non-fiction have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and anthologies. Recent writing in MockingHeart Review, Colloquial, Ordinary Madness, Third Wednesday, Rasputin, Fear of Monkeys, Brickplight, Soft Cartel, After the Pause, and many others. In 2017 he was nominated for both The Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize.

‘Hemingway’ by Craig Rodgers

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The Hemingway I met was in 1959 on the southern beaches of some foreign locale.  He would sit in the window of a house that didn’t belong to him and all day long he would drink from a cheap glass and smile at pretty girls in frilly bathing suits.  Sometimes they would mouth something sarcastic and he would laugh like he didn’t understand and somehow the joke was always on them.

I knew nothing of the man’s works and I knew nothing of his life.  He was a name I had heard and a personality I enjoyed. He took me to parties and he laughed and he drank and he was the most interesting man I had ever met.  People looked at him even as he was doing nothing and the town was always at the table.

It’s days or more later and I’m alone at a cafe when a face I’ve seen around several times but still the face of a stranger takes me aside and speaks to me in hushed tones.  I shrug off his words and I shrug off those of the next man to say them, but it isn’t long before I can’t shrug them off anymore.

People would say to me he’s a liar.

“Hemingway is a liar?”

They would say he’s a cheat and a thief.

“Hemingway is a cheat?  Hemingway is a thief?”

No.  You’re not getting it.  

“He is not Ernest Hemingway.  That man is a bad man.”

It’s a party like any of the dozen others, the hundred others I’ve found myself in on this island of turmoil and beauty.  Hemingway is laughing and he is telling stories that don’t belong to him. He is looking at me and he is raising a glass.

“To life.”

I put my hand on his shoulder and I squeeze like an old friend.  I smile into the bearded face of a man I don’t know. I put my knife in his ribs.  I push and I feel cloth tear and flesh tear and something else underneath. His eyes grow wide and they grow distant.  

And I wonder, will the real Hemingway’s eyes grow wide when I stab him?  Will they grow distant?

Craig Rodgers is the author of stories that have appeared in Juked, Heart of Farkness, Chicago Literati, Not One of Us, and others. He has an extensive collection of literary rejections folded into the shape of cranes and spends most of his time writing in North Texas.

Three Poems by C.S. Fuqua

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Artesian

As a child, I spat watermelon seeds,
seated on a picnic table under a mimosa
twenty feet from the artesian well
that fed the pond behind the house.
When he’d see a turtle head
break the pond’s surface,
he’d order, Get my rifle, boy,
and yell, Before I whup your ass!

After his parents died,
he capped the well,
discarded the table,
and cut down the tree.
The pond’s stagnant now,
and frogs that once croaked
a deafening chorus through dark nights
have succumbed to pesticides.

Cancer took his wife a year ago
with the smoke he still enjoys
in a house whose skin encases
a skeleton of rooms
where he spent his youth,
rooms in which his parents died.
If he ever wonders what happened
to the boy who spat watermelon seeds,
he keeps it to himself,
secure in the silence
the frogs left behind.

Assisted

Propped in the wheelchair,
glazed gaze toward
the wall across the hallway,
he realizes in increments
that his hand is in mine.
His head turns slowly,
some vague recollection
stirring in his eyes.
You seen Mama? he asks.
Do you know me?
Ray.
Who’s Ray?
Recognition flickers.
His face twists, tears form,
then the moment’s gone.
You seen Mama?
He sighs.
I know you,
and he places my name upon his lips.
He nods, says, I’m proud,
and I think I’ll hear
what I’ve craved a lifetime.
I’m real proud of my life.
I’m sure you are, I say.
He nods.
I love everybody.
Nods again.
Everybody loves me.
You seen Mama?
She’s waiting, I tell him.
You should find her.
Six days later,
he does.

World Without

The difficulty
is to visualize the world—
at least your part of it—
without you.

Each visit presented new tortures:
the turtle in the bucket
I tipped over to allow escape,
the day you used your rifle
for the hell of it
to obliterate tiny heads
breaking the pond’s surface,
the horse you whipped bloody
because it didn’t want
your sorry ass on its back,
the dog whimpering under
the patio table,
terrified it’d done something
worth a beating.

On second thought, visualizing
your part of the world without you
isn’t so difficult after all.

C.S. Fuqua’s books include White Trash & Southern ~ Collected Poems, The Swing ~ Poems of Fatherhood, Walking after Midnight ~ Collected Stories, the SF novel Big Daddy’s Fast-Past Gadget, Hush, Puppy! A Southern Fried Tale (children’s), and Native American Flute Craft, among others. His work has appeared in publications such as Year’s Best Horror Stories XIX, XX and XXI, Pudding, Pearl, Chiron Review, Christian Science Monitor, Slipstream, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, The Writer, and Honolulu Magazine.

‘Voyager’ & ‘I Gave Up My Sword To The Black Hole’ by Lindsay Flanagan

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Voyager

Siphon the ink and I will pack my bags
and leave without you. Re-write the story
of sword fights, and of us smoking long drags
of life, close escapes, and forgotten glory.

Embellished tales of our near encounters
with blue-wild devils and red-wild wounds;
blocked by barricades of old reminders
that years, as knights, fall away all too soon.

But warring with the past never resolved
Novembers that bled into Decembers,
scarlet snow of which we’re never absolved;
Hail Marys we’d rather not remember.

But no retreat, I’ll implore; forget fear.
I’m unpacked, it’s revised, and you are here.

I Gave Up My Sword To The Black Hole

I cut open the sky with a vengeance.
It bled stars, clouds, and time—

but the black hole stole my sword,
blew stale cigarette smoke in my nose,
and snarled at me with a graveled tongue.

I was watered-down, decaffeinated,
I wanted only to recollect time.
I was stretched from the first century to the last.

The bleeding sky stretched out his hand,
shining silver, aching azure:
I touched his fingers, refilled my coffee cup with his stars,
and stitched the sky’s wound with a romance.

Lindsay Flanagan writes poetry, short stories, and fantasy novels in the times between working as an editor for Eschler Editing and acquiring manuscripts for Immortal Works Publishing. She earned her Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing and spent over a decade working in higher education before committing to the editor life. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Mused Literary Review, Page & Spine Literary Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and more. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s chasing her favorite rock bands around the country or riding motorcycles with her husband. But the thing she loves the most is being a mom to her two brilliant and beautiful daughters. You can find her tweeting about writing at @LindsFlanagan

‘Armageddon Rhapsody’ by Adriaan van Garde

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And they gathered them together into the place which is called in Hebrew Har-magedon (Book of Revelation).

 

“Have you ever seen a smiling robot?”

With that question my grandmother opened a gate to a world I had not been aware of, a world in which she had played an important role. It all began during my last visit. When I arrived nothing indicated that my opinion about my gran needed a total re-evaluation. As usual she greeted me with enthusiasm and asked me for a big granny hug. As usual I did what she asked, with loving feelings, because I liked my grandmother very much.

It was my gran who had taken me in when my parents died. She was already living on the island then, where most things happened a lot later than on the mainland. Thanks to the help from her excellent robot she still lived in the old house, despite the ongoing deterioration of her muscular functions. If she had been younger the process could have been stopped, but because of her age she was beyond repair as her robot said. She didn’t complain, she had seen enough, she told me.

“Gran, robots can’t smile, you know that,” I answered. “Now tell me who this woman is and what she is doing with all these soldiers.”

I was looking intensely at the picture that was on her side-table for the first time. I had never seen it before, of that I was sure.

My grandmother sighed. “I guess it’s better to tell you the truth. After all, it’s a long time ago and all people involved are dead now.”

Her words set off a chain of deductions that led me to the only possible conclusion.

“That woman was you?” I exclaimed. “What were you doing there?”

“See that extremely handsome guy to the right of me? That was David Buffet, our president at that time, surrounded by his generals.”

I was stunned. David Buffet surrounded by his generals? Was this picture taken at the most important event in the human history, the day the earth stood still? And had my gran been there? With the Antichrist of all people. How was that possible? Why had she never mentioned it before? I asked her.

“Well, as if Armageddon is something the world likes to talk about.”

She was right. Even in the school history books you couldn’t find much about it. There were some spectacular books with wild theories circulating, but everybody knew that they were another conspiracy theory at best. It was as if humanity as a whole had decided not to talk about it, as if the whole world was ashamed. If my gran hadn’t taught me about Armageddon, I would never have heard any detailed information about it.

“You don’t know much about that period in our history, do you?”

Continue reading “‘Armageddon Rhapsody’ by Adriaan van Garde”

‘All My Halloweens: a Trick, a Treat, or Just Plain Crap?’ by Nick Sweeney

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When I was a kid we didn’t do Halloween in England. It was an American thing, something I read about in American comic books, or saw on the odd TV programme, and that was all, or so I thought till I went to live with my aunt in Dublin. They had Halloween there, for sure: it was Guy Fawkes Night, basically, but with Guy Fawkes luckily absent from the pyrotechnic proceedings, such as they were – few bonfires, and with fireworks rare. I didn’t realise it till years later, but of course it’s because Guy Fawkes was a Catholic, and not just any old Catholic, but one who’d tried to blow up the Protestant king and government of England. They were hardly going to celebrate barbecuing him in Catholic Ireland.

Fireworks were also rather hard to get in the Republic. Southerners, it was said, went on mysterious missions ‘up north’, enacting their own Gunpowder Plot. Those who refused, in those days, to contribute to the British economy, might well have regarded it as treason.

I date Halloween in Britain to sometime in the 1990s. I was living abroad by 1990, and we didn’t have it in Britain then. When I got back in the late 90s, we did, for some reason – pure commercialism, I guess; it was imported and forced on a mostly willing public, unlike, say, income tax or the death penalty. I think it had something to do with the growth of festivals, and how lots of people got the taste for dressing up funny and partying and getting out of it, with any excuse. And why not? I mean, one thing London really needs is yet more pissed people wandering around looking wacky. So now we have the virulent anti-Catholic cat-scaring whiz-bang of Guy Fawkes and the crazy dressing up of Halloween all together in the space of five days. Perfect. If you like that kind of thing.

My wife is from Northern Ireland. She tells me that when she was young, kids there did a thing they called Halloween Dunders; it involved knocking on people’s doors and legging it. I mean, we used to do that all the time in London, or, at least, anytime we were bored. We called it Knock Down Ginger, for some reason; poor old Ginger, whoever he ever was. I can’t see the point of Halloween Dunders – it’s all trick and no treat. They’re pretty hardcore in Ulster.

Continue reading “‘All My Halloweens: a Trick, a Treat, or Just Plain Crap?’ by Nick Sweeney”