‘FATAL FAILURE’ by Matt Lee

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When I returned from the city I settled into a new routine.  During the day I slept, dreamless.  At night I walked laps around the basement, blowing smoke at the concrete floor, the cracks underfoot growing bigger.

In between I watched television, infomercials mostly.  For hours I sat on my mother’s couch, silently wishing I had the money for those four easy payments.  I wanted Billy Mays to solve all of my problems, but Billy Mays was dead.

I was without work so I started spending a lot of time in the woods, partly to get out of the house, but mostly to contemplate self-inflicted violence.

There was a spot up the ridge where someone else had done it before about ten years back.  A kid, still in high school, hanged himself from a tree.

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‘Josie’s Thread’ by Richard Greenhorn

There was one thin thread of flesh which was all Samuel really liked about her. Josie claimed it was a great embarrassment to her, from an unfortunate experience in high school and in the present day, when she wore tights or shorts. Samuel could only assign this to stupid vanity; to him, Josie’s thread was a manifest sign of his love for her. To simply set his tongue on her was to resolve that evening’s bitter dispute, was to soothe whatever qualm had set some unspoken barrier between them during the day. The messiness of morals, temperaments, and all the better angels of the universe could be subjugated beneath the mild application of pressure, and all life’s complications smouldered when Josie threw her head back and burst into a white flame.

Josie’s thread provided a linchpin in Samuel’s mental conception of her, and at times when his affection for her was waning, he could think of her thread and resurrect his former feeling. He could sit and think about Josie’s thread for a quarter of a hour at a time, behind his desk, not contemplating a particular motion, not immersed in any thrall of passion, but simply thinking of her thread in appreciation. Every moment they shared together was a movement towards her thread. All the attributes of hers he found unpleasing, from her vestigial religion to her yoga to her mercurial tears, were hollow ceremonies in the two great seasons of their relationship: Having her thread, when he was very happy, and fasting from it.

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‘Sugar Dinner’ by Jon Berger

I was driving to Gaylord. My mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, early-onsets, for about a year and wasn’t able to drive herself there, even though she thought she could. She wanted to visit an old friend from school, who she hadn’t seen in a few years. Her friend’s name was Jacqueline, she lived on a farm and I think she was a hippie. I only met her a few times when I was little. Leaving Saginaw and trying to navigate the change of the rolling green hills up north was like going from a beehive to the top of a big tree. We got into some arguments, Mom was starting to get mean, which the doctor said might happen. She sat in the passenger seat of the shitty minivan with her hands limp and cradled in her lap, looking out the window becoming harder to talk to.

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‘Farm’ by Calvin Westra

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I.

It was hot and humid and the air stung, more mosquitos than anything else. Screen door was full of gaping mouth holes that swallowed the night into the house, so it could keep biting us as we clung to our thermal blankets, lying on mattresses, curled up like adult babies trying to protect ourselves.

Well, this is home now, my friend told me and I grinned and shook my head because I’d be home—really home—in just a week, and he’d be here all alone on his stupid farm forever and I didn’t care too much because he was clearly happy with it.

He was fashioning a water pump, mostly out of PVC pipe and bushings and one-way check valves. Because why should I pay for water when I can get it right out of the ground, he explained. We were killing our data plans, huddling over our phones watching YouTube tutorials, buying wrenches and duct tape and Cokes from the Ace Hardware a half hour down the highway.

Not exactly sure how people did this shit before /out/ or r/homesteading, he said and I couldn’t tell if he was joking.

Looking for farm relics, nothing in particular, I explored drawers in the master bedroom and lifted a crumbling journal. Kept it next to my mattress, carried it with me, read a couple entries while my friend took a freezing cold shower with a hose, spent time with it when he drove to the nearest town for more tools.

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‘The Blue Dress’ by Samuel Stevens

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The couple sat in his room. He leaned on the wall. He had movie posters taped to the walls. Hiking gear and military surplus littered the floor. She sat with her legs crossed on his desk chair. She held her head with her left hand. The diamond engagement ring glinted in the light. Her eyes were deep and brown and her dark hair framed her soft face. The only hardness was around her eyes.

“We already have an appointment for the fitting.”

“You can’t wear white.” He crossed his arms. He looked at his icon of the Virgin Mary on the wall. She sat under it.

“My mom and dad are paying for this, and you knew—”

“Well I knew, but you can’t wear white.”

“What will the other people think? What about your family?” She looked down at the floor. “This is my special day. Please,”

He shrugged.

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‘Peach’ by James Nulick

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There’s something wrong with him, the girl thought. Her mother had told her to never go near him, that he wasn’t all there. Her mother didn’t elaborate, but the girl knew. They were neighbors, and the boy lived with his mother, a woman who drove an old car. The woman didn’t work – there was something wrong with her, too, and she didn’t work. Sometimes the woman yelled at children on the sidewalk, calling them terrible names. The words coming from her mouth were shocking. The children would scream at her, taunting her, calling her old and fat. The woman once threw a mop at one of the children, a boy, but she missed.

He had a very light mustache that was trying hard not to grow, more a suggestion. There was sweat caught between the fuzz on his upper lip, he looked nervous.

Your mama’s hurt real bad and she needs you at the hospital, he said, her name twisting in his mouth. The girls around her parted, calling her name, waving, telling her they hoped her mother was alright.

You gotta come with me – your mama asked me to bring you with me, to the hospital. His words didn’t sound right, sounded like he wasn’t comfortable with them.

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Two Stories by Andrei Dichenko

‘A Higher Form of Necrophilia’ (translated by Slava Faybysh)

Ivan and his babushka sat down in a dusty, half-deserted bus. It smelled of exhaust fumes and singed pigskin. Ivan and his babushka were lucky: they had a whole seat to themselves, where some rust-blond foam padding was making its way out of a hole. Ivan was tearing at the foam and putting bitter little pieces in his mouth. Babushka was looking out through the scratched-up window remembering her youth. They were headed to the last stop, which was called “Brick Factory.” Until then, it was traffic jams, red lights, road rage and hundreds of people who weren’t wishing you well.

Just beyond the gloomy factory (which looked like a medieval fort) there was a graveyard. Whenever babushka walked past the concrete pipes and inhaled the scent of burning pitch, she always had the exact same question: “How can anyone work like this?” She had spent her whole life working with biological materials behind closed doors at the state research institute.

Well Ivan was thinking about how he didn’t feel like visiting his dedushka since he could no longer whittle him a pistol and a walkie-talkie out of wood scraps, which the repairmen would leave lying about the driveway after a visit. Ivan didn’t like Chinese pistols in colorful packaging because all the kids had those. The boy just knew that more secret knowledge was within his grasp, so he wanted absolutely nothing in common with anyone else. Babushka did not support this tendency of his, and periodically she told Ivan he was egotistical. The boy didn’t quite know what that word meant, but just in case, he would get angry and try to appear as unhappy as possible.

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