‘Three Poems’ by A.H Lewis

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reminders

There is happiness and sadness all around us,
that is the magic of the universe.
Our moods are as fickle as the wind
and absorbent like clouds,

where our emotions throw us
into sunny tumults and skies of starlight.
Inspiration can come from
anywhere if you let it,

if you’re willing to find
the innerness of you
and choose stimulation over hurt
from the reminders of ruined things.

A nostalgic cartoon. A car horn.
A slow song. A made-up memory.
A sad hello. A green smile.
An open heart. A broken heart.

shrinking delight

The heaviness behind my eyes
gathers at the corners if I let it,
but today it stays where it is.
I am as small as a caterpillar
inching along a green stalk
with all dozens of grips
around the silky bridge.
I could bathe in a thimble
and find fullness from spilled crumbs.
No bigger than your thumb
or the buttons on your sweater
when I shrink like this.
It happens too often for my taste,
but down here next to the puddles of dew
there are pussy willows like skyscrapers
and dandelions like forgotten gods.
A butterfly flaps politely overhead.
Being small has nothing to do with my size,
as I sigh. It’s my best kept secret,
tucked under the mushrooms.
I examine my fingernails too little to be seen
and bury them in the ground beneath me.
The dirt smells newer when I’m this close to it,
like I can absorb its nutrients through my palms,
discover the earth’s age just from tiny handfuls.
The heaviness ebbs the filthier I get.
A slug oozing past lures a laugh out of me
that rings through hollow felled trees.
It’s rained recently,
everything is soft and squishing
between my fingers and toes,
wet with friendly remorse, welcoming me
if I choose to stay small forever.
This time, I just might.

the absence of things

Darkness and cold are not actually things,
but the absence of things. Darkness is the absence of light;
cold, of heat. (Scientists, I may have embellished.
Poets, humor the science.)

If something is dark, it is the amount of light
that is missing from a space. One says, “turn on
the light,” not “turn down the dark.” Darkness has
no measurement or unit on this planet.

Coldness is the heat being extracted from
another source. When you are cold, you are losing
your heat rather than gaining coldness.
Temperatures reflect heat and lack thereof.

So when you feel like darkness is too much or you
feel too cold, remind yourself that what you should say,
instead, is that you need more light and more warmth.
In fact, most times a single object produces these two things.

The scientist may be thinking of the sun.
The poet may be thinking of a person.
A poetic scientist, or a scientific poet,
knows they are the same.

A.H. Lewis is a 26-year-old poet from Pittsburgh, PA, with an English degree from Allegheny College and a Disney addiction cultivated since birth. Her first collection of poetry, The Smallness of Everything Else, is forthcoming from Dorrance Publishing in spring 2019, along with other pieces published in various publications and social media accounts. For Lewis, there is no weather too warm, no blanket too soft, and no bowl of gnocchi too big. You can follow her on twitter: @ahlewww and IG: @ahlewww

‘planet of the’ by Paul Hanson Clark

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kanye tweeted, they want to control us with money and mute the culture
i keep looking at presidential race info
democrats are war mongers too
being anti is doomed
i watched part of a movie about saddam hussein
thinking about john lewis not speaking at occupy atlanta
cuz of some guy trying to make a point
how one voice shouldn’t be more important
which, maybe?, but all that happened was
refusal of john lewis’s request to speak
when it seemed like most people there wanted to listen
for years i was lost in a fool’s gold desert, an oasis of acid trip epiphanies
i didn’t become god i became a dude w a more fucked up brain
i used to look at amber rose on insta
videos of her shaking her ass, sure, but also the story of her life
her son, her travels, her thoughts, her ideas
i have a positive opinion of her
& a conflicting feeling that celebrity gossip is a fucking scam
i tweeted, it’s good to always have yr house kim & kanye ready
tiff faved but we don’t follow each other anymore
she came at me for retweeting austin & i was confused
didn’t realize she had a problem with him
& had i known, i wouldn’t have retweeted him in the first place
we had a weird contentious back and forth
will probably never speak again
even though it was fun that time
walking around nyc
fucked up on drugs
me and rachel split from the group
wandered into a bumpin’ pizzeria at 2 a.m.
she bought me a slice and i was so happy
when you look at the most successful movies of all-time
it’s like “transformers 3, avengers 2, spider-man 4”
jfk got iced by oswald but also it was a vast conspiracy to destroy the world
the military industrial complex won despite general eisenhower’s stern warning
pete seeger is dead & his grandson is a fortysomething cokehead
i guess i shouldn’t folk music gossip either
dear mom, dad, & everyone i know
why did we love television more than each other?
i remember super mario on snes, working together
to figure it out, having chill times
but those ended
& order of operations became
i in basement on my tv
dad in living room on his
mom in bedroom on hers
everyone everywhere always on their screen
like they say, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
this is life in marvelous times
only time i ever heard that song come on at the bar
was mulligans this spot in boise idaho
i rapped along & a girl named virginia made fun
asked, why are you rapping about bed stuy 82
9th floor three tiny rooms one view
if you were born and raised in nebraska?
i smiled, or laughed, i don’t remember
i wanted to make out but she left
she texted kyle later asking for my number
but he didn’t give a fuck
was too busy partying on that ego sailboat
but yeah, we live in a super computer
i’m trying to escape from it right now but it’s cutting the shit out of my neck

paul hanson clark is a poet and multi-disciplinary artist living in lincoln, nebraska.

‘Les petites heures’ by Brad Liening

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One last figure
flees to the beach
the moon a glossy
white tomato
full of seeds
the collective dream
of bats flapping
into anvil-shaped
heavens blowing
through some eternal
afternoon en route
to one last sunset
one last nest
of presidents
digging into deaf hills
we espy from this
corridor of antlers

Brad Liening is the author of Deep State Come Shining (Publication Studio Hudson, Spring 2020). He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

‘Sadist Poems’ by J.T Edwards

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You Sweet Maiden

Girl you sing like flesh in a buzzsaw
I love the way you die
I wanna rot with you in a pale sky
Swallow my rancid semen baby
Let me inject you with my barbed wire sorrow
It’s a plague carnival of puppets
Honey don’t you cry
I’ll give you an ocean of morphine
And we’ll carve out each others eyes
Livin’ like dreams forever
Together we will FUCKIN’ FLY

Weeping Neon Skies

The cold dance of green flies
Swarming around a fresh suicide
Twitching beneath the serpents kiss
Sucking hard on bloodless fingers
She crouched down screamin’ and dreamin’
Pounding dead flesh in the kudzu vines
Fuck! It feels like chopping up dead babies
In a coffin full of dope and cockroaches
Tripping on blue sunbeams and eatin’ dead birds
Till mother comes bleeding from the fields
Bathed in gasoline screams in a techno whisper
KILL KILL KILL
CUT AND FUCK
Suck the universe through a straw
Till the stars come crashing down

Baby, why do you amputate my dreams?
I KNOW
I KNOW
I’m just cryin’ to be cryin’
Don’t you EVER let me stop dyin’

J.T. Edwards is a misanthropic hilljack hailing from Southern Appalachia. He’s had poetry published in Spectral Realms. You can find him on twitter @JT2688

‘Two Poems’ by Tyler Dempsey

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Distance

Mexico.

Pico de Orizaba

country high point

17,800 feet

girlfriend vomited blood

Pad Thai.

The other

on rope hacked phlegm with

blood in it.

So reluctantly I turned around.

People asked

where we’d been.

Said Orizaba. They go, “Muy frío!”

In the States,

I say, I’m from Alaska,

people immediately cross their arms, grabbing bicep with opposing
hand,

“Eww, cold.”

Understanding

what’s wrong

with me.

The Hippie

We collide.

ropes connect dogs to folds

of clothing.

Licking greasy wrappers.

In a hurry, his head’s

bleeding,

and he can’t light his joint right.

“You’re hurt?”

“It’s rad.”

Tyler Dempsey won the 2nd Annual The Tulsa Voice/Nimrod International Journal Flash Fiction Contest and received honorable mention in Glimmer Train and New Millennium Writings competitions. His work appears, or is forthcoming in, amongst others, Soft Cartel Magazine, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Gone Lawn. Find him on Twitter @tylercdempsey

‘Pimp Land’ by Mirabella Magno

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Perhaps all children growing, that is, all children, like to play with their nails, to imagine them long and sharp, and dangerous, powerful with some weight to them, white like milk-fortified bone, while, at the same time, translucent, or even invisible, made of energy, electrically charged.

Matilda, if that is really her name, was one of those children. She imagined her nails black as the night with tiny white spots like stars, and when she stroke her beastly paws through thin air, she would rip the very fabric of space and time, and she would try to peer into these rips, but they never lasted long enough for her eyes to adjust to the seemingly light-less interior, or, in this case, exterior, perhaps. What was that? Space? The Nothing behind it all? She always wanted to know, but never did.

Eli, in its own way, preferred its pink nails to not slash anything open, it would be better if not. Not because it would hurt something, but because nails were not made for that, they were not made for anything in particular, they just were. So why not make them as beautiful as they could get? That seemed more interesting, not to say more promising.

However they used to imagine their nails before, it was not how they were now. And, by now, what is meant is the moment after the embrace of said hands, one cold as ennobled marble, the other as warm as fresh pavement during sun season.

“It’s always good to make business with you, ochibi-chan.” Said Matilda.

“And with you, too, Tara Morgana.” Said Eli.

“Where did you find this one?”

“It’s actually mine.” Said someone else.

“And who are you, o great artisan?”

“Well, I don’t know about great. I am the sculptor of some of these pieces string-lined by a theme, a series, to be more exact, a thematic entanglement I’ve been developing around a concept, which, in its own way, is itself a subversion of…”

While the young prospect artist summarized the complex web of intentions and hopes behind his masterful work and the many others to come, Matilda, with a calm smile and eyes of quiet and patient perversion, signaled with two fingers to a bulky figure in the corner behind many other pieces, particularly close was a high solitary pillar, which he was hiding behind, close to a classic fountain where the water was replaced by a mucosal substance that even seemed to flow better than water, but that more resembled a residue of something else rather than a pure thing in-itself like water, and where the little complimentary statues of winged babies bathing joyfully were either drawn over – grimaces, glasses, tattoos, gang signs, the ephemeral represented in the stone’s flesh with permanent markers – or replaced by plastic-looking mutants not even like baby demons, but altogether otherworldly in their blank stare looking nowhere, but, nevertheless, not blind – perhaps seeing something beyond the nowhere which they seemingly stared at so intently. The bulky figure quickly understood the sign and disappeared behind the pillar without a noise of crumpling leaves or smooched moist mossy grass.

Eli tried to hint away the floating mouth to stop moving by itself when Matilda finally said “What about the price? Name yours.”

“Oh, we usually passively wait for the bidder to open negotiations.”

“I know. But look around, what do you see?”

“I… I see an experiment, a big one, a huge one, indeed, a magnanimous work of art in itself that I… would love to see mine as a part of.”

“You see a corpse.”

“Excuse me?”

“Here we go again.” Said Eli.

“This, my fellow artist, is not a garden. An experiment, yes, maybe, but art? What even is art? No offense, I loved your work here. But are you one of those artists, the general type that comes here?”

“How, what type?”

“The type to say that art is alive, that creating art is like breathing life into something that wasn’t, like having a baby.”

“I…”

“Yes, you. Are you willing to sell this child, your child, this life you natured and nurtured, for just a quantity? Or anything else, for that matter. Even after seeing this place, this labyrinth of abandonment?”

“When you put it like that…”

“So, name your price.”

The young man loosened his tie and swallowed dry – it was a weird place, very, in fact, and it seemed endless, how big could this property be? He heard these lands stretched long, ever bigger than some countries, some yet undiscovered or undisclosed sites. But he had many an immaterial mouth to feed, maybe this was his chance, a shadow buyer of this caliber, a patron, and he landed that so early, that was beyond unexpected. Yes, this sounds fucked-up, but that was it, that was art, it would kickstart his career with just one piece of the many he had done or planned to do. That was it.

“Fifty… thousand…?”

“Fifty thousand for your child.”

“One hundred and fifty thousand!”

“Too late.” Said Eli.

“My associate is arriving with the legal formalities, the deposit was preset. I need a non-disclosure, are you comfortable with that?”

“…Sure…”

“Bring it.”

That was it, he thought, he got it. Maybe he could get more, but that was already more than he would ever dream for the first of his big sales. He looked one more time at the sculpture. What a masterpiece. Indeed, how talented he was. What an addition she would be to that weirdly lovely garden, exquisite, look at her perfectly shaped lips – my chthonic muse, the goddess-to-come, the sight of the future bleeding into the present, the ideal of more than just beauty, and that she was. What an astonishing two meters of woman.

“Here he comes.”

“Hey, what is that big hammer for?”

“Again this one?” Said Eli. “Already saw this too many times.”

“If you want new, win.” Said Matilda.

Her smirk almost came alive, slowly drifting off from her face into the air.

“Sign here, sir.” Said the bulky figure that had come back with the papers and a big-but-fashionable hammer.

The young artist looked not-so-confused at their faces, Tilda, Eli, the bulk holding the papers and, ultimately, his goddess. What was that? A trace of melancholy in her unperturbed, almost tyrannical, expression of virtue? Hesitantly, he grabbed the pen.

“All done. Do you want copies, sir?”

“Ahm, no, no need.”

“Sir, you are legally obliged to receive and maintain copies of these.”

He looked one more time to Tilda’s face. “Ok.” He said. She quickly proceeded to pick up the hammer, getting into position. “What are you doing?”

“Oh, you know. You already knew.”

“I thought it was a test, you know… an experiment… for your project. I saw the cameras…”

“My project? I’m no artist. The cameras are for security reasons.”

“Then…”

“Then it is how I told you. This is my corpse, and your life here is already beginning to infest it.”

“Wait!”

Too late. The blow landed perfectly, severing the poor image’s head a little below the neck – it always crumbled. The head fell right next to the rest by some meters, head a body, but not together.

“Do not pick it up.”

“Yes, madam.”

“Let the grass around this piece grow until I say so.”

“Yes, madam.”

“That will be all.”

“But—“

“Always a pleasure making business with talented young prospects like you. You can see how I pride myself a kind of curator. And I see a bright future ahead of you, you are brilliant.”

“Maybe too brilliant, let some of that dank for us, too.” Said Eli.

“He will show you the way, follow him.”

Then the young artist, following the man, also disappeared behind the lone white stone pillar, but not before checking his bank account with his phone. They could not see his reaction.

“And I lose again.”

“You always have the next time.”

“Put it in my tab.”

Mirabella Magno lives in the region of Cariri, a liminal space and natural reserve in Brazil. She works as a nomad-like type of linguist and does metaphysical research at the Federal University of Cariri. She is part, along with her surname-sharing accomplice, of the AF arts collective.

‘Praying Hands’ by RJC Smith

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If I had been born right, I would’ve been born out the bottom of my adoptive mother—not out of some anonymous woman, probably on the non-sanitized floor of a mobile home.  But Mother hadn’t been blessed, health-wise.

We were killing time, walking the insides of a museum not far from the hospital.  It was a perfect time for my father to hammer home a sentiment he held, and expressed repeatedly, as though he thought I was too stupid to pick up on it.

The museum we were in was an art museum.  It was called The Museum of Ephemeral Art.

The universe presented my father with opportunities to belittle me because it loved him.  The jury was out on how it felt about me, though I had vivid dreams—premonitions, I thought—of living alone and dying in a one-bedroom apartment.

I wanted to look at the paintings and I did my best to look at the paintings.  Father walked forward with his shoulders up high—his head like a turtle’s going into a shell.  I did not have time to look and linger at the paintings much.  I tried.  It was difficult to meet my own needs while abiding by his authority, and I did know Father had other things on his mind.

Mother was really sick and it was a shock to me that that could happen to her.  I thought we were Loved.

I was so taken by the building’s labyrinthine design: its multiple levels, its high ceilings, its hallways, its nooks and crannies, and little rooms where perhaps only one piece, if anything, was hung.  On its bottom floor, we walked a long hallway where only big sad clowns looked down at us from their frames.

“Is this the sort of place you’d like to be commemorated,” my father said, frowning like one of the wall’s clowns.  “You want to put yourself up for everyone to gawk at, huh?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “maybe.”  Though I could tell, looking around, that artists were clearly defective in some ways known by God and foreign to medical science.

Our car was parked on the curb outside the museum.  From the top of the hill, the street sloping down from the museum, I could see much of the museum and hospital’s city—mostly alien to me.  I could see moving cars and building lights beginning to flicker on against a background of waning sunlight.

I thought, what’s so great anyway, about being kept alive through art?  I didn’t want to exist anywhere at all, let alone in something so abstract and potentially unending.

In that dusk, before the street lamps lit up, with my adoptive father of ten years finagling with the car door a few yards ahead of me, I thought about bolting.  But I didn’t.  I walked to the car and got in the passenger seat.

I had just turned sixteen years old.

I had been praying to God for something to change.

I would say to Him, “Please God, deliver me from here.  Cast me to a new home, or let me be free, at least, of these people.”

I looked out of the car window at the rows of rectangular city buildings we passed.

Every night my adoptive parents fought.  They stormed up and down each of the house’s levels, fulfilling their seeming need to occupy each room with their noise.  I couldn’t take their yelling—or rather, Mother would yell, and after she had yelled for a few minutes, Father would speak in a hushed scathing tone, that burbled louder and louder until he shook all  the area surrounding him like a booming subwoofer.

A road sign indicated we were nearing the hospital.  I imagined what my father would do once he got in there.  I imagined him stomping his feet at the front desk, yelling at some nurse for being made to wait.  He would always make a stink at any minor inconvenience that could be attributed to someone nearby.  Mother was the same way.   They were always angry all the fricking time.

I couldn’t even escape their hatred in the basement—my sacred grounds.  No one  went down there but me.  Down there I would paint.  Mostly pictures of animals that I drew from reference books.  But it was my art—mine.  But even down there I couldn’t escape the sound of Mother’s high-pitched feverish ranting, or the terrible vibrations of my Father’s voice.

We walked out of the automatic hospital doors with Mom in a wheelchair.  She was very still and wasn’t talking.  Her grayish blonde hair was fallen around her shoulders, looking dirty like a wet mop.  He whispered to her in her ear, I couldn’t make out what, his body bent over the chair as he pushed it forward—his ass swaying back and forth in my lower nine o’clock.

We stopped and stood on the curb.  One large hospital employee moved Mother, while retaining her sitting position, into the passenger seat, while another folded the wheelchair and stuck it into the trunk.  I got in the back and Dad got in the front.

He started up the car and we pulled out of the hospital and headed home.

“BILLY LOVED THE MUSEUM,” Father said, saying it loud like it would help Mother hear, but really so I could hear in the back, “HE LOVED ALL THOSE WACKY PICTURES—YOU COULD IMAGINE.”

When we got home, the workers had finished installing the stair lift on the railing and were pulling out of our driveway.  We both stood facing the staircase watching Mother travel upstairs.

The staircase was in the big marble foyer when you first walked in.  It was a spiral that went up to the landing on the second floor.  I wondered, why isn’t he going up there to get her?

He was looking right at me, I noticed, when I looked down.

“Are you going to help me here, Billy?” he asked, under his breath as if it were possible Mother could hear even if she wasn’t sitting on the chairlift, idle, at the top of the stairs.

“What?” I asked, flatly, giving him the side-eye.

“Are you going to help me here, Billy,” he said again.

Coming back downstairs later I found Mother sitting in the kitchen outside the sliding glass door that opened out onto the veranda.  Sunlight framed her around the frame of her wheelchair.  She sat perfectly still—her eyes aimed forward.

“Hi Mom,” I said, walking up to her.  She looked past me.

Father was sitting out on the deck.  I could see him in profile through the wall-length windows in the foyer. Father was sitting with his head back, sunglasses on—ambiguously asleep.  The wooden patio hung over an intensely sloped, nearly vertical hill, filled with brush and thorny bushes to be snagged on if you were to fall down it.

“Ian?” Mother asked.  She lifted a weak hand slightly, towards me.  Her mouth hung open slightly.  Her eyes were far off somewhere.

“Ian?” I said. “Who’s Ian?”

She put her hand down.  Her eyes returned to nowhere.  I felt something sink deep into my chest and a brief prickling all over my body.  I turned around and exited the house out the back door.  I did not go out the front door.

The backyard was half an acre.   It was barren except for the overgrown grass.  High sheet metal fencing enclosed the property—my father said it was the only really effective way to keep out deer.

I sat down on the grass and gritted my teeth and opened my lips and breathed through my gritted teeth.  I ripped out patch after patch of the half tall grass while nearly hyperventilating.  After a while I got tired and I laid down in the sun and fell asleep for a bit.

We sat around and ate at the dining room table. My father was teaching himself to cook, for obvious reasons.  We were eating some kind of chicken stir-fry.  It was okay.  The chicken was a bit overcooked—little bland tough overcooked chunks in the bed of vegetables on my brown plate on the brown table.

My head hurt and I drank Pepsi from a clear plastic glass with circular ice cubes in it.

“So you really loved that museum, huh,” Father said.

Father had reached the point of his eating where he was no longer shoveling food into his mouth, and this allowed him to speak in this way while still eating intermittently.  I continued eating at my own pace.

“You should have seen him in there, Mother, he was so enamored,” my father continued, in some kind of affect, “You’d think he might start painting clowns and midgets and crop circles.”

We were sitting at the dinner table and Mother was doing nothing but sitting there in her wheelchair staring at something behind my shoulder.

“Is that where you’d see yourself hung, Billy?”

“I think you liked it there,” I said, in a rush of energy.

My father looked at me and my mother did not look at me, obviously.

“Yeah,” I said.  I went on autopilot.  “I found him in there, Mother, in a little alcove completely by himself.  It was just a small cube of a room like my room upstairs.  The whole museum was like a maze and I had lost him.  He was against one wall, completely out of it.  I had to shake him awake.  I don’t know what came over him.  The only thing in the room was on the opposite wall, it was a framed drawing of a bear on loose-leaf paper.”

I laughed at him.  For about five or six seconds he looked mortified.  Then his entire face contorted in a kind of fitful rage before he began laughing himself.  It was convincing sounding but I had stopped already.

When I lay in bed that night I replayed what I had said at the dinner table.  I thought of my father slumped against a wall, maybe sitting on the floor, in a kind of stupor.  Maybe when I found him, before I nudged or shook him, there was some spit trailing out from one end of his mouth and onto his shoulder.

My room was small and cubic.   There was an attached bathroom and room enough for a small couch and a TV set.  I had it made, really.  I wondered why I was so miserable.

On the wall opposite my bed was a poster of a photograph of the musician Johnny Cash flipping off the person taking the photograph.  I hadn’t heard his music but I’d seen the poster once in a television show about high school students.

The more I thought of finding my father at the museum near the hospital, the more it seemed less like something I was making up in my head and like something that actually happened.

I heard Father skulking around downstairs.  This had been happening recently.

I was lying in bed.  I had turned the TV to face my bed and not the small sofa.  I was watching a digital cable channel that had been skipped over in the mass parental block.  Late at night it played a program that interviewed women in bikinis—models—and was intercut with shots of them walking around a pool and white cement patio, palms of palm trees hanging above them.  Watching it muted with closed captioning, every so often black boxes of text covered up their bodies.  Even though I was there to look at them I felt bad not to hear them out, and in the end no one was the winner.  A drawing I had made, an approximation of what a woman looked like naked, though I had no idea where the nipple went on the boob—which spanned three torn out pages of yellow legal pad paper for attempted accuracy’s sake—was missing from my dresser drawer when we returned from the hospital.  I found this upsetting.

I imagined that Father was up these nights because of Mother’s condition.  I imagined her lying in bed, in the same position she sat in her chair but facing the ceiling: her legs up and bent at the knee, her arms straight out with her hands down like they were falling off the ends and edges of her arm rests.  Maybe it unnerved him to be lying next to someone like that.

I could not sleep much.  I turned and turned in bed, glancing intermittently at the digital alarm clock on the dresser a foot from my head.  The last I remember it was nearly four in the morning.   I woke up early, at 6, before I would normally get up for homeschooling at 7:30.  I had done this before and I did this so I could have time to work on my paintings, which were in the basement.

The basement was less redone, less taken care of then the rest of the house.  There was one room that housed an unmade bed—just a mattress on a frame—for the company that was never there.  The other room had a couch and a Ping-Pong table, but was mostly used for storage.  Boxes of crap and old books were piled around.

Centipedes scurried everywhere down there.  Sometimes on the walls.  Sometimes they’d even find their way upstairs, and onto the walls up on the main floor.

I walked downstairs to the basement, in my socks, careful not to make noise, to miss the squeaking step.  I walked through the short hall past the bedroom with the empty bed.  I walked into the Game Room.

In the Game Room, so named because it had the Ping-Pong table—though there was never anyone there playing on it—was my easel covered in a sheet, and all of my completed or abandoned paintings stacked up against one wall.

There was my father.  There was a towel draped over his head, and a comforter wrapped around his body.  His body rotated slightly, in an unconscious way, like he had been spun at one point and was now finally running out of momentum.  It seemed like it was something the body does when it feels itself to be alone.

“Oh, hello,” he drawled, turning slowly to look at me, “Billy.”  I’d been standing there ten seconds.  He got up and walked past me in a slow gloom.  I watched him disappear up the stairs, dragging the comforter up behind him.

I went to the corner where I painted.  My finished paintings were stacked against one wall.  I never looked at them.  I decided I hated what I was currently working on.  I was painting a picture of a pregnant seahorse, using an encyclopedia picture as reference.

I stared at my freshly placed blank canvas and what came to mind was the little boy who was staring at me in church.

I had dreaded going to church with Mother in the wheelchair.  It wasn’t because I was ashamed it was because I didn’t want to have all the eyes on me.  I didn’t want everyone gawking because then I felt like they were gawking at me.

I remember I was wearing a very creased button-up.  It was buttoned all the way up.  My hair was still damp from the morning shower.  It was mostly dry at the top of my head but I could still feel the moisture in my scalp.  There were very wet patches around the back at my neck.  It had grown long, and the sensation of it brushing against my neck made me shiver a bit in disgust.

And it looked so awkward.

And all those hairs growing on my upper lip, oh God.

I was at the end of a cramped pew with Father next to me, and Mother on the other side, in the aisle.  The day’s minister stood on the stage up front, which was only slightly elevated from the ground.  She was a short middle-aged woman in a red pantsuit, tiny glasses and bun hairdo.  She said something into her microphone that made my father scoff.  It was about praying not only for the American soldier but for the enemy soldier as well.  For he was one who had been led astray but was still a child of God.

Father said something like, “Please,” or, “Come on,” or, “Give me a break,” under his breath.

When she was done she got off stage and the projector screen came down.  Christian rock music played.  We all had to stand up on our feet for half an hour.  People put their hands in the air.  Some people shook their bodies and fell to their seats.  I stood there with Father while Mother was still sitting there and it felt awkward.  Father had his hands clasped while mine were at my side.

I looked around at the light pouring in from behind the panes of stained glass, which had made the projected lyrics faded and harder to read on the screen.  On the second floor of seating was a little boy looking at me from between the wooden posts of the railing.  He stood at a diagonal to all the people around him that were faced the screen and singing.  The light bounced off the top right side of his black bowl-cut hair.  He stared at me.  He was wearing a button-up shirt, white with green lines.  He was wearing khaki pants.

It turned out I didn’t need to wake up early anymore—Father had decided not to continue Mother’s homeschooling regimen.

My father had a second stair lift installed, this one to the basement.  My mother was put in the guest room.  In the nights following I imagined the centipedes crawling all around her, and on her.  I hoped that at least fresh bedding had been put on the bed.

Every day, the door to the guest bedroom was locked.  Every time I went past it, it was locked.

A doctor made a house call and went into the locked room.  I walked past it to get to my painting.  My father was standing outside the door in tremulous worry.  I was painting when the doctor came out, and I heard the hushed tone of the doctor and the blubbering of my adoptive father.

I was close to completing my painting.  There stood the little boy again, staring out from between the posts of the railing.  But there was something about approaching completion of this piece that made me incredibly tired.  I made eye contact with the little boy as I had in church that day and felt just as drained of everything.

It was also the most beautiful thing I had ever painted—a willfulness and stylishness to it, while still being startlingly accurate to my memory.  I looked at it while my father held his head in his hands behind me, out in the hallway.

I was left in the dark about everything, as I had been my entire life.

My father made filet mignon for dinner.  I said it was good.

“Oh you like this, huh,” he asked, or said, I wasn’t sure.  “You like the good stuff.”

“I guess,” I said, “I like this.”

“Hmm,” he said, and we ate the rest in silence.

For two weeks we ate filet mignon.  Halfway through the second week I had become disgusted by the cut of meat—how it would fall apart in my mouth as I was eating it.

That TV channel fuzzed out completely, but I had become too depressed to masturbate.  My father started buying me video games, which I had never been allowed before.  I played them one after the other, every day of the week.  There was something dumbly meditative in occupying crude, pixelated worlds instead of my own.  Still, I prayed to God for anything to give, especially when lying awake.  I couldn’t imagine going on another year.  I couldn’t do it.

My father rented some sentimental movie from the TV one night.  He forced me to sit and watch with him.  At the end of it, when the lady was taken off life support, he shed a single tear and got at it with his finger.

“I’m sensitive, you know,” he said, “I’m sensitive even if it doesn’t seem like it.”

I looked at him.

After the second week of filet mignon, my father switched to some bland whitefish he had bought in bulk and kept in the freezer.  It was nearly as bad.

“I’m not a fan of this,” I said, one night.

“It was cost effective,” my father said.

I shoveled a bit more into my mouth.

“You can’t expect me to keep buying steak for you, night after night,” he said.

My eyes were burnt out from the video games.  I lay awake in bed until I’d reached a half sleep.

It was as if the entire house was shaking around me.  I then perceived myself to be floating outside, watching from the sky above the street, past the metal fencing.  I watched as the house was ripped from its foundation by an invisible hand and lifted in the air.  It was segmented like a Rubik’s cube.  Its segments spun as if it was being effortlessly solved.  I could see the basement it had become detached from in the ground.  I could see my paintings and my mother and the Ping Pong table.

Then I was back in my bed and I was waking up and it was morning.  I didn’t feel like I had slept at all.

I went downstairs and to the dining room.  I was confused to see Father dressed in his work suit.  It was blue with a blue tie and he was wearing a dress shirt under the jacket, too.  Then I saw the spread of food out on the table.  Mother came out wearing a long floral dress, beaming.  We all pulled out our chairs and made scratching noises on the hardwood and sat down.

There was none of the simmering resentment I had come to expect from the two of them, which was intermittently applied to me.  Instead they were happy—earnestly happy.  They started talking about starting up my homeschooling again.  Also, were they supposed to be paying for my art supplies, as well as these video games, now?  Sometimes it was the time to put these childish things behind us.  Father was looking forward to getting back to the office, after being away so long.  To get back in the swing of things.  Mother was looking forward to getting back to the paperback she had left with its spine cracked.  To have a drink with this object in the chair out on the veranda.  And though it seemed like everything was fine—possibly better than before, even—I felt so angry that I simply ate in silence.

RJC Smith is from New York and New Jersey. His work, published in X-R-A-Y and other places, and forthcoming in Post Road, can be found on his website: https://neutralspaces.co/rjcsmith/

“BEARMIND” by Will Bernardara Jr

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The human mind is like a honeycomb: dripping, taunting – that is how nightmare bears see it. If you’ve not heard of nightmare bears, well, lucky you.

This – my account, my story, my warning – isn’t about me. Not principally. The key mover in this sad, grisly (and grizzly-stuffed) tale is a little girl by the unlikely name of Auriferous Bangs. I promise to get to her in a moment. First though, a bit of data on nightmare bears:

Nightmare bears paw and scratch inside people’s skulls, wreaking havoc, rooting around with their hooked, obsidian claws, oftentimes compelling their hosts to commit horrendously deviant acts. They’re interdimensional. They lumber from universe to universe, trudging through both physical, metaphysical, and indescribable planes of unknowable makeup.

Auriferous, a rather morbid little girl, once told me that nightmare bears had been responsible for the “bodies-in-barrels” murders in Australia, the rape and killing of Tori Stafford, 9/11, the 1999 Hello Kitty murder in Hong Kong, the unimaginably brutal “Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs” killings in Ukraine, as well as a ghoulish bunch of others I’d rather forget.

I met Auriferous at Corkboard’s, a children’s-book store that sold handsome, colorful volumes as well as bookworm-friendly arts & crafts. I’d gone there to chat up the owners, whom I knew rather well, and to inspect the H section to insure that it had a healthy stock of my latest book. I write children’s books for a living, and my ex-wife Enid illustrates them. And before you jump to conclusions, I’ll tell you straight out: I’m not a senile, doddering storyteller so far as this account is concerned. I’m no dotty prevaricator. This is as true as the air you breathe, this short tale I’m going to unravel.

My name is Duncan Hounding. If you have children, perhaps you’ve heard of me. I wrote Cathead Manna, for which I won the Newbery, as well as Scarf’s Gigglefest, Goblin Loam, and the popular pop-up book Mimsy’s Farm & the Lollipop Enigma.

I first noticed the girl by the C’s. She was pensively scrutinizing a large annotated edition of Carroll’s Alice, her elfin face scrunched into a portrait of keen concentration. She dressed like that TV character Punky Brewster: red sneakers with yellow laces, pink-plastic reading glasses, multicolored barrettes in blondish-brown hair that had gnarled some time ago into dreadlocks – Auriferous had a phobia of shampoo. Her jean jacket was rackety with buttons and pins for cartoon beasts and silly computer music.

“Do you enjoy Carroll?” I asked, standing nearby with my cane poised, wearing my token gray trench coat.

“Dodgson,” she said, not looking up from the book of discussion. “Charles Lutwidge. I don’t acknowledge pen names.” Knowledgeable, I thought, for a girl of, at most, twelve or thirteen. A touch ironic too, considering the probable fictive nature of the name Auriferous Bangs. (“No relation to Lester,” Auriferous would often quip in a deadpan tone.) Much later, the newspaper would inform me that Auriferous’s birth name was Autumn Lowe.

She seemed to want solitude, so I quietly hobbled over to the shelf supporting my work to find, satisfyingly, a healthy stock of Hounding titles. I was a second away from heading to the front of the store to ask Vera, my favorite cashier, if Clay, the owner, would be interested in my doing a reading and signing in the near future, when the girl turned to me and said, “You’re Duncan Hounding. The author. You live in this neighborhood.”

Pleasantly surprised, I smiled and said, “Guilty as charged.” Among local moms, I was a minor celebrity. Auriferous, though, was not a mom and a little old for my books. She must’ve read about me in the paper or seen my photo on a dust jacket.

“Do you like books, young lady?” I asked, and found myself feeling oddly fearful of her response. She seemed to hum with a kind of cold intellect. I suspected criticism from her could be ugly.

“I’ve never read you. I’m a little old for pop-ups.”

I hemmed and hawed a bit. “Well,” I said. “I’d like to think my little tales can be appreciated by certain older readers as well as the tykes. They have some subtext, you know, a little meat stirred in…” I trailed off, sensing the girl no longer cared to hear my blather. She retrieved her powder-blue backpack from the floor. The pack had four stuffed animals sewn to its outside. Ratty, aged things with button-eyes dangling by string, brown fur torn and bleeding white cotton. Teddy bears.

“You sewed those bears on there yourself, did you? My ex-wife liked to sew. She made quilts.” I had no idea what I was trying to accomplish with this inane small talk.

“It’s not art,” the girl said, hiking the pack over one shoulder. It looked heavy. I didn’t know it then, but she’d filled the backpack with books from the shelves. Auriferous was a chronic, efficient shoplifter.

“Decoration then, not art. It’s very, um, cool. Boss, I mean,” I said, feeling deferential to this kid, and not mock deferential either. There was something otherworldly about her.

Auriferous stared at me with her honey-colored eyes. I imagined flies frozen in those eyes like amber. Her look bordered on hateful.

“The teddies aren’t decoration, Hounding. They’re charms. Apotropaic talismans.”

My chin must’ve bonked my loafers. I am a professional writer and had no clue as to what apotropaic meant. I supposed the girl was a child prodigy or spelling bee champ.

I should’ve left then. Unfortunately, I didn’t. And had I left, would things have gone differently? No way to know. I doubt it would’ve mattered.

“They’re after you, aren’t they?” the girl said in an urgent whisper. I was alarmed. Her neutral, apathetic demeanor abruptly turned into a kind of horrible compassion, as if she were a cancer patient detecting the disease in another. I felt frightened. Perhaps the child was mad? One of those death-worshipping tots you see on the nightly news, skipping into a school building with an AR-15 and blowing holes in their classmates.

“Who, my dear?” I smiled, hoping to calm her. “No one’s after anybody.”

The girl’s intensity dissipated then. She seemed to shrink by several inches, tension gone. “Oh,” she said. “It hasn’t happened yet. It will though, Hounding, it will. I can always tell.”

“Tell what?”

“The plagued know the about-to-be-plagued, Hounding. I was where you are once, you know. Before.”

The girl unzipped her pack and ferreted out an orange cube of Post-it-style notes emblazoned with Japanimated neon-green, black-sunglasses-wearing lizards. She scribbled down her name, address, and phone number with a glitter-enhanced marker/pen thingy. I reluctantly took the proffered note.

“Call me when it starts,” she said, turning to leave the store with her stolen goods. Then she stopped, remembering something, and, in a confessional tone said, “You’re the third. They mark you like you’re territory. Just like any other animal does. You’re marked. Like a tree. I can smell them on you.”

I looked at the noxiously colorful note: Auriferous Bangs.

“Is this a prank or something?” I said. “Something you kids do these days to befuddle grown-ups?”

Auriferous shot me a lithic glare that silenced me instantly. She strode over to the shelf that held my books, deposited one of each title into her pack, and said, “Call me, Hounding. You’re going to need my help.”

Of course she left Corkboard’s without paying a dime.

I should’ve wadded up the note and tossed it in the trash. I was going to. Though an author of children’s books, a lot is made these days of child predators. I’d never accepted a child’s information unless the info came from the mother. And yet something made me hesitate; I pocketed the note.

A week later it started.

 

The subconscious is the Black Forest. In the subliminal murk is where the bears shit, fuck, growl, hunt. This is not metaphor. Your brain, your spongy gray matter, is a woodland, and the neurons’ electrical impulses are its lightning storms. The bears like the dark and the moisture in there. They like it a great deal.

Over the years, I’ve discovered a few defenses against them. Celestial Seasonings’ Sleepytime tea – yes, the box with the pajama-clad, snoozing bear on it – dulls the bears’ nighttime activity. Do not consume honey or have porridge in your fridge. And of course, keep a lot of stuffed bears around your house. They act as decoys, somehow. Distractions. None of this is infallible, but it’s better than nothing.

 

One week after meeting Auriferous, I stood in my sunlit kitchen. It was 7 AM on a Tuesday. My coffeemaker burbled and gargled, its black oil rasping into the pot. I splayed the morning newspaper out on the counter and skim-read a poignant editorial about victims of bird flu. The tops of my hands on the paper were illuminated by the bright sunlight spilling through the alcove’s window. I thought about all the death in the world, the disease and famine, and that is when my hands dimmed to a shade of gray. Inexplicably, the kitchen had darkened. The sun still shone boldly through the glass, yet it no longer affected the inside of my house. This defied certain photonic laws. The sunlight seemed to stop dead at my windows as if by some invisible tint.

Beneath the aroma of fresh brew, I detected a hint of wet leaves, damp mulch, soil, earth. And, growing in strength, a foul wave of rot and filth.

I turned from the counter to the kitchen and the connected living room. The whole house was cobwebbed in a very strange, indefinable darkness. The light bulbs hadn’t dimmed. They, like the sun, seemed to have simply lost their effect. Some bits of darkness were more disturbing than others. The chairs around my kitchen table began to resemble eerily gnarled trees. I spotted adumbrations of branches blotting the ceiling. I believe I whimpered. My heart felt pinched.

There is not a thing cute or natural about nightmare bears. They’re resoundingly un-Pooh-like. Their hot breath reeks of moldered flesh and bluebottles buzz forever about their bloodshot eyes, wet-black snouts, and diseased heads, like halos of putrefaction. They are covered paw to head with a revolting layer of feces and spoiled blood.

That morning, when reality first showed itself to me to be disreputable, I didn’t, thankfully, actually see a nightmare bear. I’ve seen them since, at a distance, but not that morning. I did, that morning, smell them, however. I gagged at the rancid-honey-and-dead-blood stink caked to their hides. I heard the buzzing of the flies. They were horribly near.

I broke out in a fear-sodden funk, certain I was going to suffer a heart attack. Dizziness nearly toppled me. I braced myself by planting both hands on the countertop.

Then, quicker than it had come, the darkness and inklings of forest vanished, along with the reek of the bears. The kitchen was again glorious with light and the odor of fresh coffee. Or so I thought.

When I raised the cup of coffee to my lips to sip from it, I noticed the bottom of the mug was filthy with dirt and leaves.

 

I did not sleep well that night after the kitchen incident. I had a nightmare of being pursued through the woods by colossal, furred beasts. They cornered me in a small hole in a tree that I’d squeezed myself into. The hole became like a blender as the black claws frenzied in and began tearing me to bits. I woke in a state of absolute horror.

What’s worse, I had a signing to do the following morning at a bookstore called Springtime of Life, a forty-five-minute drive from my house. I felt drained and shaky, completely unenthused about meeting the public. I knocked back a few energy drinks (the coffeemaker gave me the creeps) and hit the road with a box of my books.

The bookstore was located next to a Ramada Inn. It was a horridly stressful signing. All I remember is sweating and shaking, my mind frantic, feeling as though this ordinariness was a distant memory, a shade of a former life that had been altered forever by the incident in the kitchen. I felt they were waiting for me to come home. To feed them.

I signed book after book, all mothers and their children. I don’t even recall what the bookstore looked like. When I glanced up to see a bear through the bookstore’s large front window, I nearly suffered a coronary. The bear lumbered through the parking lot toward the Ramada, followed by a human-sized squirrel and an equally large unicorn. It wasn’t until later that the owner of Springtime of Life, a woman named Acacia, informed me that the Ramada Inn was hosting what is called a Furry convention. Furries, as you may know, are a subculture of oddballs who dress as anthropomorphic animals and I suppose have sex with each other. The bear, squirrel, and unicorn were merely costumes. I felt like a fool.

 

I met with Auriferous a total of three times during the week after the frightful kitchen experience. We would meet in nearby Penny Park and she would school me about the nightmare bears, telling me what little she knew. I’d really rather not recount our meetings in detail. It’s simply too painful in light of what happened.

Sunday morning I woke to a neighbor’s lawnmower – I’d been dreaming and mistook the mower for a growl. A bear’s growl. I kicked off the sheets and went to the kitchen to look around for some tea. The kitchen and living room by this time were cluttered with protective teddy bears. I have a landline, and as I brought a pan of water to a boil I noticed the answering machine’s single red eye blinking silently. I had a message. From Auriferous.

Thinking about the message now makes me cringe. I took it for understandable paranoia and not the precursor to impending tragedy it turned out to be.

This is her message, verbatim, copied from the answering machine tape:

She spoke in a terrified whisper, which was unlike her, for she was a fearless little girl. She sounded as though she didn’t want anyone to hear her –

“Hounding, you need to come here. Don’t… no. Don’t come. Don’t come. They’re in my head, Hounding. They got in. My fucking mother bought something, some honey or something. I don’t know. I don’t know. It isn’t safe here, Hounding. I feel them behind my eyes. The flies that are on them all the time – I feel the flies buzzing behind my eyes. In my head. And I feel claws in my head. Claws and teeth, Hounding. They’re doing something to my brain. I won’t… wait. Wait. My father has – “

She hung up midsentence. I didn’t call because I didn’t want to aggravate the poor girl’s state – we rarely discussed anything other than the bears. I drank my tea, hoping she’d settle down and call back later.

But then I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Something about Auriferous’s tone, its frayed perturbation, made me dress and rush out of the house to my Datsun. I fumbled the car keys and had to stoop to retrieve them. I drove recklessly for the first time since turning seventy.

 

 

The Lowe house was a blue ranch-style house with white trim. A bit rundown but welcoming and comfy. I’d never met Auriferous’s parents.

I parked across the street along the curb and walked to the driveway. The house felt unoccupied. I can’t explain why. Have you ever sensed emptiness in a structure prior to entering it? That is the feeling I had then.

I called hello through the front door’s screen. “Is anyone home?” I said, knowing the answer. I knocked several times before deciding to let myself in.

The house was dim. I passed through a laundry room, in which the washer was churning. I smelled burnt toast and, beneath it or mixed with it, rather, something sharp and smoky. I came to a living room strewn with leaves and rocks, as if someone had dumped shovelfuls of forest into the house. Flies droned and whizzed about the room. I hurried through the living room and into a hall, my heart hammering. “Auriferous?” I called. No answer.

In the first bedroom on the right I found their bodies. Auriferous’s parents, May and Bram. They’d been in bed when they were killed. From the neck up, Bram’s head had been obliterated into a ruined pulp. A sheet of blood highlighted the wall behind the headboard. May, beside the body of Bram, had two holes in her stomach the size of grapefruits. Two hoses of intestine protruded grotesquely from the lower of the two wounds. The sheets and mattress were splattered, soaked in blood. The room stank of cordite and shit. A 20-gauge double-barrel shotgun lay on the carpet at the foot of the bed. Three spent cartridges were visible beside it.

I stumbled backward into the hall, mumbling “no” repeatedly, like a mantra, unconsciously. “Auriferous!” I screamed, and shakily made my way into a smaller bedroom. Inside was a crib. The mobile above it was bloodied from arterial spray. I peered into the crib to find the butchered corpse of Auriferous’s one-year-old brother, Caleb. The baby looked like a psychopath’s idea of a pin cushion – every knife and fork and peeler from the house’s kitchen drawer had been stabbed into the baby and left there, the utensils projecting gruesomely upward at skewed angles.

I screamed again and pounded my shaking palms on the crib’s rods. As hyperbolic as it sounds, I felt my soul shatter.

Auriferous’s bedroom was littered with chunks of tree bark and the flies were heaviest there. The stuffed teddies had been shredded to fluff and scraps. There was no sign of the girl. There was a box of shotgun shells on the nightstand.

I phoned the police from the house’s landline. I waited for them on the porch, unable to stand being in that abattoir of a house for a moment longer. I was questioned at length down at the precinct and released four hours later. I went home, drained and queasy.

 

The homicide detectives determined that May, Bram, and baby Caleb had indeed been murdered by Auriferous. How that little girl managed to wield that ugly shotgun I’ll never know. What isn’t known is who (or what) killed Auriferous. The investigators found Auriferous’s body – what was left of it – in the woods behind the Lowe house, about a mile in. She’d been torn to pieces.

The murders at the Lowe’s have become the subject of much local speculation and macabre interest in the last year or so. Children point at the house on their way to school and tell ghastly tales about the mad little girl who shotgunned her parents and stabbed her baby brother to death in his crib.

As for me, I’m hanging on. I drink my Sleepytime tea every evening and buy new stuffed bears each week. These safety measures are starting to lose their effectiveness though, I’m afraid. I’ve begun seeing them in the corners of rooms, in the dark. They’re slavering and breathing their rank breath into my bedroom. They hunch over me while I sleep, eager to root around in my mind and compel me to do horrendous things to the children in town.

I don’t know how much longer I can resist them. They’re terribly hungry.

 

Will Bernardara Jr. is an artist and co-founder of the occult, criminal collective The Tender Wolves Society. His stories have appeared in places such as Broadswords and Blasters, The Society of Misfit Stories, Underbelly Magazine, Grotesque Quarterly, and elsewhere. His debut novel, America, was published in 2018 by voidfront press. 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bill.voynich.5

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kat0n9000?lang=en

“Pantomath” by Andrew Davie

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“Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

       – Thomas Gray

 

 

Frank’s power of telepathic perception was no longer in his control. Initially, he needed to be close to someone; however, the radius of his ability to read other people’s minds had grown exponentially, and he was bombarded with overlapping fragments of thoughts coming from neighbors. Emotions now come inexorably linked to each outside thought. Anger, pain, loss, happiness; it fluctuated, and Frank latched on crying or laughing involuntarily.    

The sonic vibration left him a spastic mess careening around his apartment. To the outsider, it would appear he was the disciple of some Pentecostal preacher speaking in tongues and writhing around as an embodiment of “Himself.” All that was missing were the venomous snakes and strychnine.

Frank awoke at four in the morning covered in a foul sheen of body fluids, a carcass of used thoughts and emotions.

He decided he needed help to battle his condition.

Curtis always imagined the song Deterioration, by Noothgrush.

   “Worthless, lifeless being, beaten beneath the strain.”

The ominous first few words entered Frank’s mind and resonated within his auditory canals. It was as if the song was a product of his own synaptic firing. The tempo increased as Curtis made his way closer to the door. The intensity filled Frank’s head.   

There had been other examples, but historically these manifestations of telepathy had been diagnosed as symptoms of previously existing ailments. The afflicted people had been locked away and studied by covert paramilitary organizations, executed during religious persecution, or worse.

Curtis had been a friend, but any benevolence he may have had had long since vanished. Over time, he had been able to shield his thoughts and manipulate Frank through commands.

The previous night, Curtis made Frank do an interpretive dance by merely imagining it. Imposing his will, he flung Frank around the room. “Nijinsky in Captivity,” he called it. Two nights before, he had Frank re-enact the Russian roulette scene from The Deer Hunter. Frank’s anguished cries and pleading were his own, not fabricated by Curtis’ ruminations.

Now, however, Frank’s usefulness had come to an end.

As a child, Frank thought it would be euphoric; the ability to read people’s minds, know all of the answers; see the truth. He discovered, quickly, the horrors of knowing the truth.

Half-asleep, exhausted, Frank stirred. Mental and physical faculties were operating at a single percentage, he barely processed the new information. A few houses down, from where he was stored in Curtis’ basement, Frank sensed the thoughts of Mr. Smith, recently back from an excursion to Africa.

Trouble differentiating reality anymore, in his weakened state, Frank suddenly felt the satisfaction which accompanied Mr. Smith’s nicotine buzz at the intake of his Marb Red, the co-opted sensations register in Frank’s cortex. More importantly, within milliseconds, he was able to draw upon Mr. Smith’s other abilities: small arms, edged weapons, hand to hand combat, tactics. Mr. Smith, practically a manual for an efficient soldier. Frank felt a sense of renewed vigor.

Memories of atrocities perpetrated in Rwanda, Kosovo, Columbia, were so clear Frank could have been the protagonist of those envoys. Executing Mozambique drills, laying suppressive fire, compromising for wind resistance; all now seared into the subconscious.

   “Worthless, lifeless being, beaten beneath the strain.

The tumblers fell into place, and the door opened.  Curtis turned on the light, and his smile disappeared. Frank’s newfound confidence, his Metamorphoses, is not lost on Curtis who though he can’t tell for sure the details sees the change.

Curtis attempted to enforce his will. Frank felt enveloped in quicksand and burst blood vessels in his face maintaining the connection with Mr. Smith. Like a mime fighting against a strong wind, Frank slowly made headway toward Curtis.

Initially annoyed, now fearful, Curtis realized Frank’s will was intact. He lost some of his grip and allowed Frank to gain ground. Curtis attempted to flee, but his legs were swept out from under him. He landed on the floor with an audible thud and cried out in pain. He fully relinquished his grasp. Frank felt Smith walk away, so he grabbed Curtis’ leg and dragged him down the hall in the same direction.

Curtis looked up at Frank and begged for mercy.

For a moment, Frank imagined granting clemency.

The thrashing which followed continued for a full minute even after Curtis was dead and Smith long gone from the vicinity.

Frank cleaned himself up. It took a Herculean effort to maintain focus. The symptoms have nearly rendered him in a vegetative state. Thoughts bombarded him from every direction an orchestration of pure sound. On more than one occasion, he dropped to his knees and clutched at his head; blood flowed freely from every orifice. Out the front door, energized by the cold air he trudged forth into the night.

Eventually, the circle will grow big enough to the point where he will not be able to escape his ability. Freed from his captivity, for now, he knows he’s living on borrowed time, and the victory against Curtis was of the Pyrrhic variety.

Stopping on a street corner, unsure of his direction, he finally spotted salvation.

It will be quick; Frank does not know if it will be painless, but at this point he just desired peace. His footsteps slowed as he got closer to the building. Random thoughts entered his mind crashing like ocean waves. He stumbled. The pain was unbearable. With one last effort, Frank the telepath climbed the steps leading to the front door of the building.

He readied himself for death and opened the door to the public library.

 

Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. He’s also taught in New York, Virginia, and Hong Kong. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His work can be found on his website: asdavie.wordpress.com

“Five Trees” by B F Jones

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The neighbours aggravated him a couple of years ago, implying he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box. He had put barbed wire on top of his chicken wire fence to prevent wildlife from getting into his garden and they had mocked him. Completely unacceptable.

So he’s been getting his revenge, in installments, one sporadic act of vandalism at a time.

This month, the trees are taking it.

There are five small trees at the front of their house, screening it from the road.

He takes the first one down on a Friday evening. The house is empty, he’s seen the neighbours walk out with another couple, all dolled up.

He waits till night falls and then, under the light of the full moon, starts sawing, excitement spreading through his limbs, pumping him up to all extremities, including the tip of his very small penis. An erected man, dealing with an erected tree. Hard wood and hard wood. Oh yeah. It takes under 3 minutes to saw it, snap it and ditch it into the ravine across the road.

He rushes back home and tears off his Y fronts. He’s feeling so tough; Marcia is about to get it real nice. She might not be in the mood but hey ho, who’s the boss.

She’s not looking her best under this pale moonlight and he doesn’t care for her chin, or absence there off, or the slight oniony smell coming out with each of her sleepy exhalations.

He flips her over. Much better.

He comes back for the second tree a few days later, much later in the night, after having made sure the neighbours are asleep. He’s looking forward to the noise of the saw as it bites into the wood, the poking of his penis against his trousers, and doing Marcia again. 


Saw, snap, ditch, boink.

The third tree doesn’t provide as much excitement as the first two, mainly mild irritation to have to wake up in the middle of the night again, and painful arms from dragging the tree across the road. And Marcia is away for a few days. She hasn’t bothered calling to say what her plan was and he hasn’t checked on her. Not his job. He wanks thinking of anyone but her and goes to bed.


He decides to come back for the fourth tree the following night as he’s seen the neighbours taking pictures and hovering over their front lawn. They might be onto him so he needs to act quick and finish the job before they have time to do anything else.

When he gets to the fourth tree, it’s already gone. Neatly chopped at the base, just like he’s been operating. A thick cloak of confusion wraps around him. What is happening? This is in no way fun. He walks across the road and inspects the ditch. The fourth tree is there, nestled with the others in their open grave. He comes back home aghast. Did he take this tree down already? Is there a copycat in the neighbourhood? He wishes he could ask Marcia but she hasn’t come home yet and still hasn’t called. Bitch.

Better stay put for a week, looks like someone might be onto him. So he goes back to his writing of complain letters to various industries and hassling other neighbours, wishing he hadn’t punched Marcia the other day, wondering when she’d come back. She always did.

The Perkins have been watching their trees disappear with a mix of startlement and fascination. Retrospectively, they wish they hadn’t taken the fourth tree down. Though they enjoyed the idiot’s sheer confusion, they do regret the delay in his return. They wish he would come back already to find the note pinned to the fifth tree, reading: “We have your wife, replace the trees if you want to see her again.”


They’ve been stuck with the unpleasant lady wailing in the cellar for a couple of weeks now and that extra mouth to feed and that piss pot to empty have been nothing but a burden.

B F Jones lives in Surrey with her husband, 3 children, and cat. She has stories in (or soon in) STORGY magazine, The Cabinet of Heed, Soft Cartel, and Spelk Fiction.