“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.

“Indian Springs, Nevada” Alex Weidman

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It was around midday when the car finally died. Elvis was surprised how far he actually made it. Hundreds and hundreds of miles of practical desert, hours of driving through a severe and unchanging landscape, he was surprised he didn’t start hallucinating. He had just kept drifting along, like a cloud of dust.

And then the car sputtered to the side of the road. The desert outside was a sunlit, sulfurous yellow, a military-chemical yellow, and for a second Elvis had been afraid to get out of the car. Who knows what kind of air they got around here? So dry, so arid, so raw. Who knows, maybe the military does things out here, tries things? But then he decided he was just exhausted, and that was making him paranoid, and he walked into town.

Indian Springs is small, tiny really, and built in the old Vegas style. Things haven’t changed since it was erected. All the signage is still neon. There’s plenty of parking. The streets are wide and the sidewalks are wider. Elvis wondered what it could have been like in its heyday, or if it ever had a heyday, or if it was even meant to have a heyday. Maybe all of it was built for nothing. Built to be sped past. Cities in the west aren’t like cities in the east. They don’t need purposes. They don’t die because they never lived. Maybe Indian Springs is just meant as a blur in the windshield, a brief change in the landscape, a flash between long, sleepy blinks. He was able to find a mechanic quickly.

The mechanic told him they’d fetch the car and to come back in a while, so Elvis went to a diner and sat. The waitress called him dear. She asked him what his business was.

Elvis told her he was on his way to Las Vegas. He told her he was an Elvis impersonator. “Well I can see that, honey,” she said. He told her he’d been born with the name Elvis, an act of homage from his mother who had been one of his millions of adoring fans, having found something intoxicating, even revolutionary in his voice and the way he moved, and that her simple act of naming had sealed his destiny from the get-go. What else does someone named Elvis do? His whole life led to Las Vegas. It’s not like there was anywhere in Idaho where a man could impersonate Elvis. Then the waitress asked what had brought him there, specifically, to Indian Springs. He told her the car broke down. She laughed. “Good luck,” she said.

When Elvis returned to the mechanic they had the car jacked up. A man with a handlebar mustache told him he’d better get a room for the night, things were pretty busted in there. Elvis closed his eyes. Pretty busted, he thought, prettyyyyyyy buuuuuuuuusteeeeeed. Eventually he opened his eyes. He said okay. He said he’d get a motel room and be back the next day.

The motel Elvis found was desert pink and off white. He got a room on the first floor. It was early evening. He had nothing else to do but practice his songs. For the rest of the night he stood in the middle of the room as the sound of Elvis washed around him, the sound of some kind of authentic truth, or authentic proof of what was possible in the search of truth. Was that it, was that what was behind the voice, the voice this Elvis only mimes, the search for truth? It wasn’t only entertainment. At this point it couldn’t have been only that, right?

There must be lights

Burning brighter

Somewhere…

Elvis sprang up in the morning and couldn’t remember where he was. It was so bright despite the curtains being shut. The sun is very powerful, very powerful, and really, only getting more powerful. Who knows just how powerful the sun is going to get. Some people worry about things like that. Some people don’t.

Elvis made his way back to the diner. The same waitress said welcome back darling as she poured his coffee. “Car not done yet?” Elvis shook his head. Later today he told her. “Always later today,” she sighed. Then she told him not to worry, it’s all the same everywhere else. Then Elvis finished his coffee.

The sun outside was intense. He squinted in the glare of the day. Some dust blew through the little town and he didn’t see anyone out. Things were quiet.

At the shop they still had his car jacked up, and a different mechanic came out to explain to him what was going on. This one had a hard time explaining what exactly was wrong with the car. His explanation ended up dissolving into a discussion on the Copernican conception of our universe and an Anthropic one, and about how life is really one big struggle to decide which you agree with based on the evidence at hand, and then what to do about it. The mechanic said seriously, when things can be entangled, when a multiverse is predicted, and when the rule of locality breaks down, what is one to make of all this? It’s either all meant for us or it’s not, which is more terrifying? In which scenario are we more in the dark about what’s actually going on? He tells Elvis that he understands why some people, including serious, cutting edge physicists, are starting to think this is all a computer simulation. It has more to do with decreasing the stakes than strictly explaining what’s going on. Everyone just wants to be comfortable he says.

Elvis takes it all in, nodding, nodding, trying to understand, and when understanding seems unlikely he chalks it up to the influence of the military base nearby. There are probably some whacky ideas coming out of there he figures. He asks when his car will be fixed. The mechanic says check back tomorrow.

Back in his motel room Elvis practices his songs. He cranks up the lights and the Elvis. They flood the room, threating to burst it. It’s as if he’s trying to be overcome by something. It’s as if he’s trying to be overcome by sound, by the sound of the sound.

Are you lonesome,

Tonight?

Do you miss me

Tonight?

Are you sorry,

We drifted,

Apart…

Elvis blinks his eyes open. He’s in his motel room. The morning sears through the curtains. At the current rate of degradation, some estimates give human society until about 2030. Indian Springs, Elvis tells himself. Indian Springs, Indian Springs.

He goes right to the mechanic in the morning. It’s a third man. The car is still jacked up. The third man shakes his head, visibly sorry. “Not ready yet, son. We’ve got our best men working on it but, you know, it may help to think of this world as a stage, and to think that all we can do is play our part in this big play we call the world, and that right now you’re part, son, is to be right here in this little town of ours. The faster you accept it, the better, really.”

Elvis doesn’t see any other mechanic around. In fact, his car is the only car in the whole place. Honestly, if he were to think about it, he’s surprised he made it this far. Nothing is guaranteed in this life, so to make it this far is pretty good he thinks.

Outside his motel room Elvis notices some people sitting around. They sit in the shadows. They don’t say anything to him as he walks by, but when he opens the room’s curtains they’re still sitting around, watching him.

Elvis turns on his Elvis tape and begins to practice. He steps around the room under the harsh lights, strict and concentrated.

It’s now or never.

Come hold me tight.

Kiss me my darling.

Be mine tonight…

It continues on like this night after night. Elvis practices in his motel room, and night after night more people come sit outside his window to watch, to listen, and to reminisce about a time they no longer remember, or never knew, but either way a time that’s vanished and that can never return. Eventually the car is forgotten and begins to rust up on the jack. Slowly the idea of Las Vegas disintegrates in Elvis’s mind, until it’s just Indian Springs. Just Indian Springs and nowhere else. Elvis lives in Indian Springs.

 

Alex Weidman is 24 years old and lives in West Virginia.

“This Ringing in the Ears Won’t Wake You Up at Night” by Chloe N. Clark

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I had this boyfriend, a while back, who completely lost hearing when he came. I found out one night when he was deeper inside me than he’d ever been and each thrust made my toes curl up, I finally let out a moan that was actually a scream, loud enough that the dog barked from the other room. I apologized to my boyfriend and he asked for what, when I explained he said that he didn’t hear me, couldn’t hear me. I looked it up and it was a real thing, just happens to some people, but I still tested it out the next time by yelling someone else’s name when he was coming. He didn’t even blink. We broke up, eventually, but not because of that. That boyfriend was probably why it didn’t faze me when I started hearing voices in the middle of sex.

The first time it happened, I heard someone say my name. It was just a whisper, a hint of something out of place. It flickered and was gone. I didn’t dwell on it. The second time, a guy’s fingers inside me, a little rough but insistent in a way I liked, and near the edge of release, I heard someone say “you don’t know what you want.” I asked the guy, “what?” And he just looked confused. I looked it up that night, typing into Google: “orgasm and audio hallucinations.” There were a surprising number of hits. I wasn’t going to let it bother me. But the next time, it told the future.

“Watch out for red,” the voice said, and I almost didn’t hear it over the guy’s moans. I wanted to tell him to be quiet, but that seemed rude in that particular moment. The voice didn’t say anything else, anyway. As I was walking home, I went to cross the street but saw a red car coming over the hill. It was far away and I had the light, but I stopped and it blew through the red light, not slowing down at all. I chalked this one up to coincidence, even though that didn’t sit right in my gut.

The voice started telling me more, only when I was with someone else, only when I was about to come. It advised me on things to avoid, on things to prepare myself for. But sometimes, it just asked me what I didn’t want to think about, “what do you want?” “what are you looking for?”

When I met Liam, I knew right away that something was different about him. When I talked to him, I didn’t want to hang up the phone. When we slept next to each other, I’d press my body closer to him, needing some part of me to be touching him all night so I could sleep. The voice didn’t say anything when he was inside me. It was like he quieted everything. But still I couldn’t tell him I loved him. I didn’t want to say something so permanent into the air. The problem with feelings is that once you say them, they’re not just yours anymore. They float in the air, get tangled up with someone else’s.

He got a job offer in another state, hours away, and asked me if he should take it. I shrugged, said he should do what he wanted. He nodded back, shrugged. Neither of us wanted to blink first. He took the job.

The night before he left, we fought about the stupidest thing I could think of—the way that he buttoned his shirts which lead to other things and bigger things. I always picked the most ridiculous fight with people right before I didn’t think I’d see them again. The sillier the subject the easier it was to keep amping up, leave them off guard until they didn’t realize how angry they really were with me. It felt like the best way to say goodbye, to leave them not wanting anything to do with me. But in the middle of the fight, he kissed me. And then we were on the bed, still angry, but also our bodies unable to not connect. He turned me onto all fours, fingers in me, and then he was. I braced myself, thankful for years of yoga and tabletop position so that my arms didn’t shake as he moved inside of me harder than he ever had before. I felt the flush of heat creeping up my throat, the trembling in my thighs, I was saying his name over and over, my voice rising a little louder with each iteration. And the voice said, “this is what you want.” Both our bodies shuddered, as we collapsed onto the bed. He reached his arms around me, pulling me closer to him.

“I love you,” I said. I waited to see if he’d reply, for any voice to break the quiet.

 

Chloe N. Clark’s work appears in Apex, Booth, Glass, Little Fiction, Uncanny, and more. Her chapbook The Science of Unvanishing Objects is out from Finishing Line Press and her debut full length collection, Your Strange Fortune, will be out Summer 2019. She is Co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes

“Soloist Remembers West Virginia” by Matt Gillick

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He took the Peter Pan bus away from the festering gangrene hills. Coal dust wasted away Appalachia. He wanted to believe he could turn back, that he would eventually settle into himself but he was already headed to the Super 8 two counties over.

Those hills. They wind, they linger. They are hardened veins with crystals leaking out at the wrists, exposing rocky track marks in the lunacy of night. The time was 4:30 p.m. Around this same time, his father would tell him to refill the ice box. But now, daddy was checking his watch, wondering why his son hadn’t shown up yet; thinking, Kid said he was getting change from the bank and I gotta take the Cherokee downtown for a pickup.

The son had left the Cherokee at the bus station. He lowered his head as the bus went down the main drag. He had Vivaldi playing in his headphones and it felt like a real goodbye. He fingered the violin case and convinced himself he was born to play.

He couldn’t lie anymore. The air that inked the lungs, steamy bars at the bottom of those lingering hills. Fellas went outside the Torchlight Club to bum cigarettes off that one friend while the pool hall crackled. Trying to quit, but one more. Cumbersome as elephants in fine china shops, overalls bump around in the black dirty. Like leftover patchwork from an unfinished evening. They drink to forget what could be tomorrow’s last elevator ride down the big hole. His mother would say, Wave bye-bye to daddy.

The bus brakes shrieked and he saw Alan smiling, resisting to move the hair from his forehead so as not to garner attention in the Super 8 parking lot. That same smile he saw outside the community center after the talent showcase last February. That same smile that turned a snowy face into windswept, rosy cheeks. Hot and tender. They wrestled in the back of the Cherokee a week later, always telling themselves they were doing this just because. When they were finished, they listened for cracking ice in the dark, slushy river.

Next week was the conservatory audition, tomorrow would be a bus headed north, two tickets. It was always a hobby to Mom and Dad, until he got a technician gig at the gas company. Dad would come back home from work in a wake of volcanic dust, creaking and cracking. Saying, You mind if you hold off practicing til’ tomorrow? It was always tomorrow, even after his knee got busted in a cave-in and the pills gave him insomnia. The time was 6:30 p.m. and the soloist looked at his phone.

They didn’t call, not from their side road pump station on local route 25 where Dad would meet the postman around back to collect his disability check. 30 customers a day: Jim with the Camels, Todd with the Skoal, Trent with the spicy fries, Don with the 40 oz. before he too would wait for the postman around back. No, they knew he was gone by now. They’d found his letter, Goodbye.

A cold sweat, an unfamiliarity of waking up not in his bed. He crawled out of the itchy sheets of the Super 8, room 32, and watched Alan’s sleeping chest rise and fall.

 

Gillick is from Northern Virginia and is pursuing an MFA. 

twitter: @matty_gill