“I Am Not My Skin” by Karen Heslo

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I’m bench pressing a personal record of 75 lbs when the hunger hits me. My skin is wet, clammy and itchy all at once. I lower the bar slowly and glance around the gym at the sparse late night crowd. As soon as I wipe away the sweat careening down my face, my pores weep anew. It’s my own fault for not keeping track of my scheduled quarterly feeding. I pray to the gods it is not too late to leave and forage through the homeless people around the corner. Even one of those meandering dogs would do.

I rise slowly but the ground becomes a swirling sinkhole beneath my feet nonetheless. It’s too late to leave the gym, I realize.

“Are you alright?” a gravelly voice asks.

I will my eyes to focus on the man whose hand is resting on my shoulder. His skin is a lighter shade of caramel than mine and I can see silver-grey eyes through my blurred vision. Pain burns through my body as quickly and as violently as an uncontrolled blaze. The nausea will set in soon, forcing the remnants of my last meal out of my mouth and possibly my nose.

“I…I need the restroom please.”

He places his hand behind me for support and allows me to rest my head against his shoulder. His warmth and the rhythmic pulsing of blood through his veins provide comfort but also causes saliva to pool in my dry mouth. Our clumsy tandem walk ends and he is hesitating before the large white door with WOMEN ONLY engraved in its centre. The letters jumble before my eyes and I grab a handful of his sweat soaked shirt while swallowing rapidly.

“Please…” I beg.

He mumbles something I don’t hear and pushes the door. Thankfully the room is empty and he leads me to one of the benches. As soon as I sit, nausea lances my stomach and vomit launches from my throat unto his shirt. He looks at me with equal parts of concern and disgust.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I mutter.

“It’s okay,” he says with a sigh and removes his shirt.

He is quick to forgive because he does not know the depth of my malfeasance. He is rinsing his shirt in the sink while casting furtive glances at the door when I sidle up behind him. There is a faint click as my jaws unhinge, a slight creaking as my body stretches to get close to my true height. His eyes widen in the mirror but I suck his head into my mouth so quickly his scream is reduced to a wet gurgling sound inside my throat.

I walk backwards slowly, dragging his body with me into a large cubicle and reach around his bulk awkwardly to close the latch. My throat expands further and its internal suckers pull the body down at a steady, even pace. The sharp teeth on my insides move back and forth, cutting the flesh into pieces my stomach can easily digest.

The restroom’s door squeaks open and my heart sputters. The stranger’s feet are upright and sticking out of my mouth like twin pillars. I pull on the feet frantically, stuffing the body down my throat faster than the suckers will allow and though I gag a little, there is no reaction from the person outside. I know this sound is not an unusual one in the restrooms of this realm.

My body starts to digest the body and he is a stranger no more. The brain is the most delectable and heart rending organ of a human being. As I savour Emerson’s intricate flavours, his memories flow into my mind. I see his smiling voluptuous wife with her kind eyes and infectious laugh, who I have now widowed. I see his now fatherless athletic twin boys who bring Emerson endless pride and joy. For the first time in a long while, I am consuming a blameless man. The memories will fade in a week but that does not stop guilt from twisting my heart. The last bit of Emerson makes it into my stomach and I am reaching for the latch when I hear it. It sounds like the slow opening of a Velcro closure.

“Oh no. Oh no. Oh…”

I know it is natural but still my chest clenches with unbearable anxiety. It reminds me of my realm of Carphantia and I hate to remember. I hate to remember my kind being hunted, imprisoned and bred for the consumption of my fellow Carphantians. When a member of the guerilla forces offered me the opportunity to escape before capture, I took it.

Fortunately the supply of my kind is so secure I am not worth the energy of combing through thousands of alternate realms.

I remove my clothes quickly and run my hands along the split skin at my sides. The gaps widen along an invisible seam and sensitive nerve endings disconnect before there is significant pain. I place my fingernails under the old skin and carefully pull it outwards. There is a slick, sucking sound as it comes away.

Soon I am holding the sheath that once held my body. Once detached, the skin’s camouflage disappears and I hold the iridescent scales of my kind, shimmering and soft as silk in my hands.

This skin is all I am to the hunters in my realm but here I am so much more. Here, I am Mayana – a valued woman in a profession where my opinions matter to those I see daily. There, I am nameless – a wearer of the skin eaten to boost the immunity of soldiers fighting a seemingly endless war. Sometimes they would wait for us to shed the skin, sometimes they would not.

I wrap the sheath around my chest and pull my clothes back on before leaving the cubicle. I stare in the mirror at my now unlined skin. I will now need a daily ritual to create the lines and wrinkles of a 45-year old face. Soon I will also need to add grey streaks to my ebony tresses. I know I must be careful as while human beings are not as ruthless as Carphantians, they are still suspicious of that which is unlike them. Even more so of a creature that must feed on other living beings every few months to survive.

I have many sheddings left in a lifetime which surpasses the oldest living human by a century. I am hopeful my entire life will not be a lie. I am hopeful there will be a time when I do not have to hide who I am. I wish to end my life being true to my inner self and being more than the skin that encases me.

 

Karen Heslop writes from Kingston, Jamaica. Her stories can be found in The Future Fire, Apparition Lit Mag and The Defiant Scribe among others. She tweets @kheslopwrites.

“Hatchlings” by Jerome Spencer

 

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This is all Mitchie’s fault. Or, more specifically, this is all the bugs-that-live-in-Mitchie’s-asshole’s fault. We wouldn’t be here, dealing with these pissed off cops and these inquisitive glares if Mitchie could have afforded to go to a doctor when the bugs first started nesting, though. So maybe it’s the government’s fault. I don’t know much about politics or healthcare, but I know that if a man has bugs colonizing his anus he should be able to see a professional without worrying about how he’s going to pay for it. When Mitchie first told me about the bugs I didn’t believe him. I didn’t even see the bites.

“You don’t see them?!” he screamed, stripped down to his boxers and clawing at his chest and stomach, “how the fuck can you not see them? They’re everywhere and I’m not fucking crazy.”

I thought Mitchie was crazy, though. Especially when he explained to me that some type of bug had obviously nested in his asshole and that the hatchlings were feasting on his skin while he slept. Bed bugs, right? Obviously, I was thinking my roommate had brought bed bugs into our apartment. But Mitchie didn’t have any actual bites. The only markings on his skin were the scratch marks from his incessant itching of the imaginary bite marks. I’m not a psychiatrist, but it seemed to me that it was all in his head. I just had to convince him of that so that he could think more logically about this dilemma. Mitchie had never done anything crazy before so I figured I could just reason with him. I never finished that book Catch-22, but I think the premise is that you can’t be crazy if you know you’re crazy. I just had to show Mitchie that he was crazy.

So I googled “bugs that live in assholes” and got nothing relevant. There was a rare case in Australia in which a fly laid eggs in a man’s ass and then he had maggots coming out of it, but that’s Australia. Crazy shit goes down in Australia. I told Mitchie what I didn’t find in my google search when he came down the hall from his fourth steaming-hot bath of the day. His skin was bright red from practically boiling himself in the tub. Here’s the problem with the internet: you can find anything you want on there. So when Mitchie searched “bugs that live in assholes” he found plenty of cases of just that. And, naturally, all of the symptoms matched his. This only confirmed his suspicions and now he had pictures, on the actual internet, to corroborate his claims. Now Mitchie KNEW he wasn’t crazy.

So I guess this is the internet’s fault.

For the first few weeks, it wasn’t too bad. In an attempt to get rid of the critters, Mitchie had become a bit of a clean freak. There was never a dirty dish in the house and the floors and upholstered furniture were vacuumed at least once daily. I had seen a carpet beetle or two, but nothing alarming. I didn’t mind the obsessively clean surfaces, though. Our neighbors complained about the hours he chose to vacuum once, but all we got was a stern text from the landlord. The toilet, obviously, was always spotless and the whole bathroom was bleached regularly. The water and electric bills were astronomical though, due to his compulsive bathing and vacuuming.  We were going through toilet paper way too fast for two men in their thirties, but it was nice to have a clean apartment. There was the flashlight, also. Mitchie had one of those super bright LED flashlights and he would creep around the apartment with and look in the corners or into the carpet fibers. I don’t know what he would’ve done if he had caught one of those little bugs, but he was determined to find one. He wore purple latex gloves and everything. It became commonplace to find Mitchie skulking around the apartment shining his light into all the cracks and crevices and getting in between me and the tv.

Mitchie noticed he didn’t itch quite as much at work and that’s when the problems became unmanageable. He was convinced that our living situation contributed to the survival of the seemingly microscopic culprits.  It started with things like throw pillows and spare blankets going missing. His bedroom quickly became stark and Mitchie replaced his bed with a Walmart air mattress and those special sheets for kids that wet the bed. He just tossed his perfectly good bed out. He wanted to burn it, but he didn’t have a truck to haul it from our apartment complex so he smashed it with a hammer until he could fit the pieces into our dumpster. This was fine with me until he started getting rid of items from our common areas. After the living room drapes vanished I had to start locking all of my personal belongings in my room so Mitchie didn’t send them to a landfill. I was constantly worried he was going to rip our carpet up and I don’t think that’s covered on the security deposit.

I called an exterminator out to ease Mitchie’s mind. I thought if a professional could tell him that there were no bugs that he would be able to accept it. Worst case scenario: they would really find bugs and we could get rid of them. I found an exterminator online called Kill ‘Em All and their logo was a replica of the Metallica album of the same name, but with a bug. I thought that was pretty clever and they were affordable so I had them check out the apartment. When the guy came out he didn’t seem to have anything scientific or moderately professional with him; just a flashlight like Mitchie’s except it was clipped to his hat. He just walked around the apartment, shining his light around the beds and baseboards and asking a few questions. He took off his hat, scratched his scruffy head and told me he didn’t find anything. The way he emphasized the word anything gave me the impression that we were more than just bug-free. He had turned it into a five syllable word to really get his point across. It seemed to imply that Mitchie had transformed our apartment into a negative zone for anything that crawls; an insect black hole. Mitchie just said that the guy was a hack and stoned out of his mind. I couldn’t disagree on the stoned part, but what can you expect from a heavy metal-themed exterminator?

It was the day I pulled in our parking lot and saw the remnants of our sofa – an unmistakable pale yellow and maroon plaid – that I decided I had to do something. I stormed through our now cavernous apartment and barged into the bathroom without knocking. It was like a shameful Russian bathhouse in there and I had to wait until some of the steam escaped the door I had just busted through before I could see Mitchie in the tub. He reminded me of the scene where Bugs Bunny is being boiled alive by some natives and he’s just in there, scrubbing his back while they season him and cut up carrots and whatnot. Mitchie didn’t even look startled.
“Look, Mitchie,” I said, “we’ve got to go to the ER right now. These bugs have got to go.”

Mitchie just nodded and reached for a towel, one he would throw away after one use. He had recently become the proud owner of a bulk box of hotel-grade towels; I’m not even sure how he found something like that. I was pacing our empty living room waiting for him to get ready when I felt it. I can’t really explain it, but it was kind of like a little tickle in my butt, like something moving or burrowing. First a tinge or two, but it quickly became constant. In not even two minutes my thighs started itching. But not just a regular itch. It was as if hungry fire ants had consumed my lower half. I couldn’t scratch enough. I couldn’t get to the right spots and it was moving up to my stomach as well. Mitchie came in the room and saw me there, writhing around and scratching and poking my hard to reach places and he smiled. This sunuvabitch smiled at his vindication.
“We gotta go!” I said, “We gotta go right now.”

I get why the intake nurse called the cops. I’m sure Mitchie and I looked pretty terrifying running into the hospital emergency room, both shirtless and ranting about invisible bugs while we aggressively tried to reach our own anal cavities. I would have called the cops, too. I would think that in our frantic state a doctor would have rushed out to see what the commotion was, but no medical professionals came to our aid. Not even a nurse or medical student. Everyone else in the ER just pretended they weren’t glaring at us while they glared at us, howling like banshees and demanding that we get to a doctor right away. The lady at the desk was pretty calm, too. She kept asking us to fill out paperwork and calm down, acting as if she hadn’t already called the authorities. She simply glanced at us when the two officers came in and they quietly escorted us outside. She felt pity and I appreciated that in the moment, I really did.

It was cold as fuck, but the brisk air calmed the itch. I immediately wondered why the fuck Mitchie was taking hot baths. I would have been in an ice bath every fucking moment of my life if I could. What if I had different anal bugs than Mitchie? It suddenly occurred to me that it probably wasn’t a contagious thing. There are probably dozens of different species of assbugs creeping all over the country and no-one has notified the CDC yet. This really freaked me out; that the majority of the population – like me just hours ago – didn’t or wouldn’t believe in these insidious little insects until it was too late. This is how full-scale invasions start. Disbelief is a weapon.

The cop was a husky guy with a fresh face, probably right out of academy and he was being exceptionally nice to me. Mitchie was with a tall, older cop that seemed a bit more frustrated, but I overheard him asking Mitchie the same thing I was being asked:
“Did you two take anything tonight?”
We kept reassuring them that we weren’t on drugs and I could see on their faces that that was the wrong answer. They would have known what to say or do if only we were on drugs. I’m sure there’s nothing in the police handbook on how to handle two irrational grown men attempting to get anal invaders out of their bodies.

That’s when it occurred to me that I was standing there, in mid-January winter without a shirt and trying to convince a cop that bugs had moved into my asshole and were feasting on my flesh. It was like an out-of-body experience; hovering there and watching myself talk my way into the basement of a psych ward. I was crazy and knew it. My eyes were darting wildly; my voice was rising, my words coming out too fast and frantic.  If I could have just lied to this cop and told him I was on meth or bath-salts or whatever, I could just take whatever kind of misdemeanor charges they have for that and slept it off. But I couldn’t. I needed them to know about these bugs because they had to stop them before the entire city, state and country’s assholes became nests for these devious little invaders. I needed them to know so we could burn all of those things Mitchie put in the dumpster to destroy the colony. I needed them to know so I could get back the apartment and get rid of my bed and all of the other things these bugs could be hiding in. I had to warn my neighbors and anyone else that could be in danger. I needed them to know I wasn’t crazy even though I knew I was crazy. As soon as I saw that look in that young cop’s eyes, though, it was too late.

I never finished that book, but it must end with everyone being crazy. Because there is no catch-22.

Two Flash pieces by Jack Caulfield

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“VERTIGO”

Even though I have since outgrown him, I still always imagine my father a head taller than me, enfolding me in his big arms as we embrace, or looking down kindly as I address some naive question up to him. His imaginary size does not frighten me, on the contrary I take immense comfort in it. To know that he is still there, to picture him still bigger than me, is to feel that the world is still what it always was, that it has not become some other alien thing.

There is a conspicuous silence between us, when it comes to death. At least, I think it is conspicuous. It is quite possible only I notice it. An absent presence. The question, what will it be like when he is not here any longer? For now, it seems to me that if I do not think about it, it cannot possibly happen. When death looms large enough, I suppose this belief will become unsustainable. How long will the pension have to last him? When shall we draw up the will? Who will make the arrangements? The big question insinuates itself in little pieces. It maintains plausible deniability until the last moment, but you get used to having it in your skull. I think this is the true purpose of all pre-mortem deliberation; if I were to suffer his death having never before held its image in my mind, the sudden vertigo of gaining a foot in height would be too much for me.

 

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

 

“THE ATTEMPTS”

Every night I go up to the roof and try, but I find that my body rebels at the final step. I think it’s body and not mind rebelling, because I’m pretty sure I have made up my mind. Sometimes I manage to put one foot over the edge before hurriedly retreating to solid ground. More often I try sitting, feet dangling over the edge, and tell myself how simple it would be to push off with both hands and slide easily into the air, as if at leisure.

At a certain point I got hopelessly out of sync with my peers. I had never been exactly at ease among people, but waking one day I could not escape the realisation that something had gone quite badly wrong, that the distance between myself and the median had become unbridgeable. The lives of others seem full of mysterious and fantastic experiences of which I know nothing. A powerful unhappiness has dislocated me from the remainder of my species.

I sometimes feel that I am not myself, that I am only raw longing trapped under skin, disturbing the surface but never breaking it, all my frantic violence producing no perceptible outer movement: trapped in a dead body.

It seems to me there is a great deal of evidence I cannot come back from this, however frequently I am told by concerned parties that it gets better. The way to avoid madness is to find a way of looking at the overwhelming evidence without coming to the obvious conclusion.

So every night I go to the roof and think about it for a while. I do not rule out changing my mind, though I am not truly expecting to. I sit and wait for an epiphany or a strong gust of wind. All this time I have spent up here trying to summon up the willpower to fall, you would think it not statistically unlikely for me to have ended up doing so by accident. Plenty of people have fallen by accident. Unwilling feet dangling over the edge, inching as far forward as I can stomach, I am well-placed for an accident. It would take only a happy miscalculation, an inch too far, and I would lose my balance never to regain it. But chance has yet to take my part in things.

Every night I find my reason refuses to desert me entirely, my instinct for self-preservation keeps me still. The ritual itself has become something of a buoy for me, a special sort of meditation. There is always some wind up there at night, and I entertain the impression that the comings and goings of the wayward air determine the direction of my thoughts. The occasional noises which float up from the street—a dog barking, a car engine, a cry of indeterminate import—seem to me omens. Looking out over the countless yellow spots of light which make up the cityscape, I try to defocus my eyes far enough to transform them into one great sun. I take deep, even breaths, and imagine myself falling into that sun. I feel warm, even on the colder nights. I feel embraced. Eventually I get up and go back to bed.

 

 


Jack Caulfield lives in Amsterdam. You can read his other writing on Medium: https://medium.com/@sparks.falling

“Streetwise” by Tyler Dempsey

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Mind empty, body fit, currency. Kicking out“gypsying,” the term parents use. Street-people are harmless. Ditched Trinity two days back, peachy escape. San Diridon Station. Gus claims to have DMT. I figure, what the hell?

“Spread those legs a little,” he says. A cockroach. My practiced-look, “What’ll you do about it?” I get this feeling but the acid sets in.

Hike my skirt, skootch in. Gus peeks, and others. Crystal dissolves, herb crackles, eyes rotate in keep-hitting-it colors. A ninja rips the wall, does a stance at me.

I ask Uncle Mom and Satan about their greatest-most time, out there. I point out there.

“Salinas. Carton of cigarettes. Cop didn’t see us, them cigarettes’s talismans. The greatest. Cig-a-rettes night an day.”

“The worst?”

“Now.”

“Why?”

“Ran out.”

I ask Trainer.

“Asheville. Anabelle. Steam risin from everything. Felt good, be moving. Hunnerd n two west of Memphis. Hotter-n-hell. Night, east of Dallas, round Tyler. Drippin with crickets. Cold. But Anabelle.”

I take two Dexedrine, three Gradumets, fourteen Adderall. Still, I’m high as fuck. And sad. Satan notices, “Round Salinas, cigarettes”Trainer, “Asheville, Anabelle.” They crowd trash-fires, drinking, yelling where they’ll go, whatta bunch of girls’ll be there.

I ask this stranger if he has anything to get a girl up?

“Everybody’s papers. Canada, quoted wrecks on the highway. Things cleared, back to California. Did time, t’ween missions, wait in lines. Uncle Sam, goddammit!” His chin lurches, slides in his coat. “Was a Church-man. She said, GET OUT! That’s not all you can do! Said, bitch, I’m HUGE!”

“I’m gonna go,” I say. “Get out.” I look out there.

“You go . . .” he falls silent.

“Married?”

“Comb this, brush that.” He burps. “Much work.” (He’d screamed at a woman on a bus, but she didn’t listen.)

My body’s arousedworked up. I think, what the hell?  

“You want me?”

He snores, violently.

 

Tyler Dempsey was a finalist in Glimmer Train and New Millennium Writings competitions. His work is forthcoming in Soft Cartel Magazine and appears in X-RAY Literary Magazine, Five:2:One Magazine, Buck Off Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review, and The 3288 Review, amongst others. Find him on Twitter @tylercdempsey or at:http://tylerdempseywriting.com.

Two Flash Pieces by J. Edward Kruft

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“Oh, Christmas Tree”

My father brought home a Sitka spruce.

“Jesus, Randy! A fucking spruce? Do you know how sharp those needles are? Didn’t you feel them? You might as well have brought me a crown of thorns.”

I didn’t mind; it was the most wonderful time of the year.

While I put on the Yentl soundtrack and lit a fire, mom went to find our ski gloves to protect us from the prick.

 

 

“Dean”

He sits each session, every session, with his Month-at-a-Glance opened across his lap, speaking mostly non-specifically about what he did on each day of the intervening week, tapping his ballpoint pen on what I assume is the day in question. When I tell him after 45 minutes that our time is up, he closes his calendar and puts it in his burlap bag.  He then searches the bottom of that same bag for his checkbook. Upon finding it, he opens the polyvinyl cover, pauses as if in thought, and then asks me: “What is today’s date?” Each session. Every session.

 

J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College. He is a Best Short Fictions nominee, and his stories have appeared in several journals, including Crack the Spine and XRAY Literary Magazine. In restaurants, he orders his manhattan with a twist instead of the traditional cherry, because the lemon cuts the sweetest of a heavy-handed vermouth pourer. He lives with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha, in Astoria, NY and Livingston Manor, NY. His recent fiction can be found on his Web site: http://www.jedwardkruft.com

twitter: @jedwardkruft

Two Flash pieces By Helen Armstrong

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THE FIRST TO KNOW

There’s a little crick behind the house where the crawdads live and there are always frogs (Lizzie says they’re toads). I was about thirteen when I went back there and made best friends with a frog who I named Gregory. I was sitting on the bank with my shoes off, my feet in the water. This was something I did quite often because the water would stroke my skin and then head off somewhere else. I thought it was incredible.

Gregory came right up to me which is strange because that’s not usually something that frogs do. Usually they’re a little more shy about it. Even if they want to be near you, they’re scared.

Gregory came right up to me though and ribbited and I looked down at him and ribbited back. I was speaking his language and with that I could imagine he was speaking mine.

Gregory understood me. There was something in his eyes that told me. He saw my feet in the water and he could see the hunch of my shoulders beneath my t-shirt from peewee soccer three seasons ago. I was still small enough to fit in it and was waiting for a growth spurt I now know would never come. He saw my Adam’s apple bob up and down and he probably knew I was nervous. Not just to be in his presence, though that quickened my pulse, but to be here.

To be anywhere.

Gregory didn’t judge me so I laid down with my back on the soggy grass, my feet in the water still, and Gregory sat next to me. I told him everything. I told him about Sean at school and how I woke up in the morning with a hard dick thinking about him, just come off a dream where he was naked and so was I.

It was vulgar but Gregory didn’t say anything. I think that’s what I liked most about him. He was quiet but he didn’t leave. That’s something a lot of people do, I know now, when you tell them this kind of stuff.

The cicadas sang in the trees all summer long that year and they were singing that day, and the southern moss hung from above us, but Gregory didn’t have anywhere better to be than with me. He didn’t have anyone better to listen to than me.

I thought that was incredible.

 

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

 

DO YOU WONDER ABOUT SECOND LIVES?

We adopted a cat after May died at the beginning of the year. It was January in Arizona which is to say it was like June back home and dry to boot. At May’s funeral everyone cried and the whole landscape changed. Rivers of our grief flowed through the valley that the cemetery squatted in, and on the way home, Jason decided we would go by the Humane Society.

May had always said that cats were the only ones who understood her, never called her a dyke or any of those things. Her family cats growing up were Oatmeal and Gravy, named by her at age 10. She said they’d always known, and they were always fine with it.

At first we didn’t know what to name the cat we brought home. We pulled out an old notebook of May’s and wrote down everyone’s ideas – Pickle, Spot, Orange. Nothing was good. We weren’t so good at naming cats, and decisions were hard in the fog of everything that day. And it was true that the cat was orange, and had a white spot above her eye. She was ten, had been a stray, picked up by someone and brought to a kill shelter, then rescued and taken to the humane society. She did not yield a name to us.

Eventually we took a cue from the calendar hanging on May’s wall with an X through the date she ended it, and named the cat January. January was a new beginning.

She roamed back and forth between our world and theirs. We installed a cat door so she could go out into the backyard, and she started to bring in all kinds of things. She had special gifts for each of us. She would bring twigs to Jason, leaves that had long since fallen from their branches to Jess. For me she brought a mouse, still twitching.

I named it February and the month changed.

Spring in Arizona is more of the same and each mouse that January dropped at my feet was given a name. I ran out of months and began to name them after gods: this was Zeus, almighty, as I swept him into a dust pan and carried him back outside, dropped him in the big black trash can behind the house.

The next mouse was alive so I named it Ares and set it free to fight another day.

We put an ad out for another roommate. The three of us couldn’t cover the rent anymore, plus we had to buy food for January. By April we had another person and she lived in May’s room.

But it was still May’s room and January spent most of her time there.

The new girl Annabelle felt like someone out of a teen novel, one I’d get at the book sale for 50 cents and devour in a day. She had long straight brown hair and worked at the movie theater. She came home smelling like popcorn and this was something that January liked very much.

The feeling was mutual. Annabelle spent most of her time at home brushing January, or playing with her, or curled around her as she slept on the floor.

I wondered sometimes about second lives and where Annabelle had come from. If you do something wrong or live just right, do you get to live again? Do you get to choose how?

By July Jason had decided to kick his old broken air conditioner to the curb and move back north to Seattle, and we needed another roommate.

January, why don’t you pay rent? Annabelle would ask from the floor, and January would yawn in her face, and Annabelle would press her lips to January’s head and whisper something the rest of us couldn’t hear.

I picked up another shift and we made ends meet for awhile but when September came around and nothing had changed, we found a fourth – again. Liza was 17 and her parents had kicked her out. She was scared and didn’t have much, but she got a job at McDonald’s and paid half her share of rent. I walked into the living room one night and Liza and Annabelle and January were all lying on the floor, sleeping, their chests rising and falling.

Soon Jess decided she’d rather live in California and barely make it there than here. So she left, too, and then it was only me who even remembered May.

Jonny moved in, a flamboyant kid fresh out of high school, and he tried to make it as an actor in Phoenix. It worked out the way it always does, but January, he said, January is my biggest fan.

And she was.

Eventually I moved out, too, but I left January with the house. The night before I left she brought me one last gift. I named her Demeter: the goddess of life and death.

Helen Armstrong is a queer fiction writer living at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Her work has been published in Cleaver MagazineCatfish Creek, and Quiddity. She lives with her girlfriend, her cat Persephone, and several dying houseplants. Find her on the world wide web at helenarmstrongwrites.com and between the tweets at @hkawrites.

“Wolf Blitzer’s Basement” By Matthew Dexter

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Puffing a canoeing blunt of Bob Saget OG, Skippy Super Chunk Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter camouflaging my anus, Sarah Jessica Barker licks. I’m a doomed man. I suck bulbous condoms, donning ski mask, nitrous oxide oozes from tonic tamponade tonsils, slaloming esophageal varices, flaming inertia of dangling chairlifts. Dr. Pepper cracks marijuana seeds duct-taped to my scrotum.

Vamanos,” I say to the cockatiel.

“Shine on you crazy diamond,” Dr. Pepper says.

Dr. Pepper dances on constellations of scarred shoulders. We swagger to the fridge, bobbing our skulls to homemade rockets vanishing into cumulonimbus. I stand naked, marooned, camouflaged by freezer frost—ripping fat hits from a rusty can of Reddit-wip. Families explode, but we barely notice. They don’t swallow the sky with flames. Kaleidoscopic funerals inking wretched origami ships; crumbling rainbows. Fortunate souls make it aboard the mother ship, commandeering fancy cabins and shuttles to the moon.

“You never know, Dipshit,” Grandma says.

I suck mildew nozzle. Adam’s Apple sweating in tonic tributaries, Sarah Jessica Barker moans. She’ll be dead soon. Mushrooming cirrhosis consumes my poor whippit. Heaven is wielding humongous tumors. Groggy dreams, phantasmal maggots rotting, insomniac frogs moaning cacophonous oblivions. Yesterday eats ether and stardust—momentarily blocking oxygen from our brains while getting a rim job from “the poor man’s race horse.”  

“Soon we’ll ooze bloody shit and shark bait,” Grandma says. “Lake Isle of Innisfree.”

Sarah Jessica Barker wags her tail. Pupils larger than flying saucers, lysergic acid diethylamide kicks in. Porcelain veneers on the nightly newscast shimmer.

“We’re losing it!” an anchorwoman says.

“Should I rock my steel butt plug?” I ask Sarah Jessica Barker.

She’s tripping balls. I slide them deeper down her throat.

“Gotta warm it first, Dipshit,” Grandma says.

The old lady bleeds blind and deaf. She winks…squinting rheum, puffing Alaskan Thunderfuck from a canoeing blunt wedged in her tracheotomy hole. Propaganda weeps from fingerprinted Teleprompters. Collaged with coagulated boogers—angels blown to serrated shrapnel. Technology ripples from feeble minds to bleeding eyeballs and nipples.

“Connect your neocortex with the cumulonimbus,” Grandma says.

We dance with death—selling souls—bubblegum dust on a butterfly’s wings.  

“Scrape the bong for resin,” says Dr. Pepper.

I curl an aluminum hanger as if preparing to ambush a fetus. I stuff it into my hookah and all the schwag and buds and oozing nectar. Grandma commandeers raunchiness. Resin balls dampen handkerchiefs. I snort a Trojan Ultra Ribbed Ecstasy Lubricated Condom and yank it out the other nostril. Rockets swallow thunder. A convoy of starving sex robots is honking as space stations plummet into the Pacific. I peer out the doggy door beneath the glory hole we built for Grandma. Their hydraulic whips worm around the barrio.

“Not today, Dr. Pepper,” I say.

My neighbors shun vehicles. Most are modest about cataclysm. Meth heads melt into obstinate sunshine, skull-shaped saguaros, stars shooting from donkey-hollow eyeballs. I bid goodbye to Sarah Jessica Barker. I shove me legs into my favorite rocket ship tighty-whities. Grandma munches mushrooms and peyote while programming atavistic sex robots to catapult old ladies into shopping carts in the frozen food aisles of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. The abandoned Walmart whimpers, walls of feces, a fortress of misfortune. Home Depot parking lots puke splintered sunshine.

“Not today, Dr. Pepper,” I say.

My steel butt plug makes me shoplift. I am dynamite in a bottle, a dying glint of sunrise. A single mom and her daughter careening across bowing cobalt sky—bursting into flaming fuselage—borne by the inertial giddiness of felony theft—a dust cloud draping our desert metropolis. Remember the way it makes you feel. How it sucks sand eddies into grimy ears, draining the silence of dying.

“Sky is the limit,” Dr. Pepper says.

I shut the door and dance into churning dust. Monsoon looming, a marshmallow swooping from mountains where cannibals feast on toothless coyotes, earthbound asteroid. We’ll be orgiastic stardust by the end of October. Fledgling colonies on the moon flourish, beaming holograms of suffering, torture, famine, death—to persuade us to remain on our dying planet. They are eager to watch our orgies of flames, dust blotching into blackness breathless. Adolescents give birth in bellies of baby elephants in urine-warmed craters. Tanning salons ornament red rocky landscape. I ring the doorbell in the belly of the cul-de-sac.

“Good afternoon,” says Wolf Blitzer. “Welcome to the situation mansion.”

Drunk on whisky, Wolf ushers me toward the French casks where his mural waits–bursting with wrinkles and fur. Wolf’s nude personage looms, monstrous, labyrinthine, ominous, foaming, consuming the chunky cameras watching Wolf spank his monkey. That’s not a euphemism. Wolf owns a spider monkey. Little Booty Ham Sandwich keeps Wolf company. He cut her from the parachute of a splintered rocket and yanked her into his mansion.

“Shall we begin, Mr. Blitzer?” I ask.

This is what I get for being a reality star.

“The end is near,” Wolf Blitzer says.

Wolf watches me, mural spinning. Little Booty Ham Sandwich rides her tricycle, smoking a Cuban. I inhale depravity and voluminous bundle of vulnerability in the man once trusted to deliver the truth. Brushing teeth together, flossing spittoons of blood, a toothless madman grinning on filthy futon. Wolf Blitzer made me feel safe.

“I was only a boy.”

Wolf smiles, spanking his monkey harder and faster as the basement weeps. Little Booty Ham Sandwich begs for mercy. Wolf succumbs. She climbs the mural, juggling bowling pins—swinging upside-down, strung-out to the marrow.

“We were all children,” Wolf says. “Sixteen is legal in some countries.”

Little Booty Ham Sandwich somersaults onto Wolf’s head—chewing—an avalanche of fur—anchorman howls as the mural melts and chunks of flesh and blood catapult from cobwebbed corners to cattycornered crevices where mice make love in pyramids.  

“Holy shit,” I say.

Little Booty Ham Sandwich is sucking Wolf Blitzer’s carotid artery. Fur in the throat and esophagus of the spider monkey, Wolf howls.

“Relax, you beast!” Wolf Blitzer says.

Little Booty Ham Sandwich humps Wolf Blitzer’s beard, bloody tail spinning in elliptical orbits with the inertia of a supermassive black hole. Little Booty Sandwich, eyeballs flaming, floating with wisdom of flying saucers, glowing, Little Booty Ham Sandwich—camouflaged in Wolf Blitzer’s beard—Chief Correspondent for singularity. I take one last look at Wolf Blitzer—shredded testicular beard exposed through bloody scrotum.

♦♦♦

Mom worked in the ICU. She got fired the night her PornHub video from the morgue went viral. Wolf Blitzer broke the news. They blurred out her breasts, ballooning bubbles swallowing dueling penises, scrotums, buttocks.

“Sick,” Grandma said. “Like the Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb!”  

When I was eleven, Mom instructed me how to shoot myself “properly.” One of the penises in her PornHub film operated on a dwarf, an elfin man who attempted suicide with a sawed-off shotgun. The poor bastard couldn’t reach far enough to pull the trigger with the barrel in his mouth, but he reached far as he could. Problem was the barrel in the back of the throat repositioned and the angle altered. He blew off the front of his face and a good chunk of his head. Angels pray to burning altars of human error. If you listen hard enough, you can hear them weep.

“How ya feeling today, Chuck?” I ask.

Chuck smiles. Or maybe he frowns. Nobody knows. Chuck cannot talk. He frightens children in the corridors. Most hideous moment of a thousand childhoods is looming in the shadows beneath this door.

“Looking good, Dude,” I say.

I change Chuck’s bandages.

“Stay inside, Dude,” I say.

Chuck ganders through the window in the door. His smoldering soul, skin glowing, golden goose burning in weeping rain. Rockets soar into exploding atoms.

“Don’t do it, Chuck,” I say. “They’re just kids.”

From childbirth to hearses, Grandma makes an apple bong from the serpent.

“I mean it, Chuck,” I say.

Dude somersaults through shattered glass and sprints down the hallway, howling. I stare through wet walls where burning bodies crumble to dust as Wolf Blitzer moans.

 

Like nomadic Pericu, American expatriate Matthew Dexter survives on a hunter-gatherer subsistence diet of shrimp tacos, smoked marlin, cold beer, and warm sunshine. He lives in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He is the Lil Wayne of Literature.