Issue 6.3

Yardstick Men

By Todd Easton Mills

BILLY stood at the sink, unable to see his reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. The room was filled with steam from the bath, but that wasn’t the reason for his invisibility. He wiped his feet on the bath mat, wrapped a guest towel around his waist, and went into the bedroom.

“Hey, Slitz, you awake? Get up, lazy bones.” Billy was ready to pull back the covers, when he heard a birdlike complaint.

“Gur-r-r-r-up.”

“There you are, funny man. Ready for breakfast?”

Slitzy was sitting up in the crib with his knit cap pulled down, rocking back and forth excitedly.

“Hungry are you, Slitz? I’m cooking eggs this morning, if that’s all right with you?”

“Neit,” came the answer.

“Don’t want eggs?”

“Neit.”

“Beans on toast?”

“Neit.”

Billy, a handsome man, well-proportioned but only four feet four inches tall, pulled out a yardstick and started pointing to cans of food on the top shelf of the pantry.

“SpaghettiOs?”

“Neit.”

“Cocktail wieners?”

“Gur-r-rl!”

“Wieners! I get it.”

“Yeit-yeit!” Slitzy’s voice sounded like a happy parrot.

Well, Billy thought, that’s what he had yesterday for breakfast. Funny little guy. Doesn’t usually eat the same thing two days in a row.

*

It was three o’clock and they hadn’t had a customer all day. Billy checked to see if he had forgotten to hang the OPEN FOR BUSINESS sign. Business was bad for everyone in Hollywood since they painted the curbs yellow for LOADING ONLY. Just then, there was a jingle like sleigh bells, and a young woman entered the store. She was pretty, slender, and pale and wore a tank top without a bra, but it was her muscular arms and the definition of her shoulders and collarbone that caught Billy’s eye. He remembered an aerialist from long ago with such a physique.

“I need a costume,” she said, looking up from the rack.

“For yourself?” Billy asked eagerly.

“For us, really. Something with sequins—”

“What color?”

“Gold would be nice.”

“I just might.”

The young woman smiled.

Billy jumped off his stool with a youthful spring and disappeared through the showroom door.

“Slitzy, do you remember where I put my gold costume? The one with the sequins? Is it in one of the trunks? Can you remember?”

The little man in the crib shook his head.

Billy bounded downstairs without holding the handrail. The trunks were stored on wooden pallets: the first one was filled with clown suits, big shoes, noisemakers, and a seltzer bottle with a squirt-bulb. In the next, Billy found the straps and braces he used to help Slitzy walk after his fall. He didn’t have time to fold the costumes—he had a customer! He ran back upstairs.

“Hey, Slitz. How would you like to entertain a pretty young lady?”

Slitzy nodded his head—he liked meeting new people.

“Gur-r-r-l.”

“Come on, I’ll introduce you.” She was trying on a feathered cap. “Young lady, this is my brother, Slitzy. Say hello, Slitzy.”

“Grrllip.”

“That’s very good, Slitzy.”

“He’s beautiful,” the girl said. “A microcephalic, isn’t he?”

“That’s right, Slitzy the Pinhead. The most famous microcephalic in the world.”

“My name is Gretchen,” the girl said, shaking the tiny man’s hand.

“Slitzy has entertained kings and presidents, haven’t you Slitzy?”

Slitzy grinned.

“Would you like to hold him?” Billy asked.

Gretchen looked him over like a doctor on a first visit.

“Slitzy had a stroke, so he can’t talk. He likes to be held—don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not,” she said confidently.

“He’s strong. I’ll show you.”

Billy held out his arm and Slitzy grabbed on. He pulled himself up like he was doing a chin-up—then did it again. “Pretty good, huh?”

“Impressive,” Gretchen said.

“I’ll let you two get to know each other while I look for your costume. You said gold sequins, didn’t you?”

“Gold sequins would be perfect.”

Billy had hardly left the room, when Gretchen peeled back the tiny man’s stocking cap.

“Grrllp.”

They had been aerial clowns at the circus. Billy was a superb athlete who could skip on the tightwire, juggling clubs, and climb the rope with Slitzy in the act’s false-bottom suitcase. When the circus closed, the two brothers joined a ten-in-one show, where Slitzy exhibited himself as the man with the world’s smallest head.

Where was the gold costume? He tried two more trunks. “Here it is!” He inspected the elastic bands and threads holding the sequins. “Found it!” Billy yelled. “Last one in the trunk, wouldn’t you know.” He held it up to the naked bulb in the basement, twisting it to make it glitter, then raced upstairs.

“What’s this? You’re standing up little brother! What the—”

Gretchen had improvised a harness with a leather belt and had looped it so that Slitzy could stand by himself.

“Well, look at you.”

With the belt wrapped around her hand, she reverse-curled the little man and placed him back in his stroller.

“That’s nice. All safe now, Slitzy?” Billy said.

“Very nice costume. My size?” She held it up. “Maybe a little short in the legs, but let me try it on.”

Facing him, she stripped down to a thin white thong. His heart beat faster as she squeezed into the one-piece costume, stretching it here and there until it fit like her own skin.

“Can you help zip me up, Billy?”

“Uh, sure, Gretchen.”

She admired herself for a minute in the standing mirror. “Can I have it?” she asked.

Billy wasn’t sure what he heard.

“I want it,” she said in a firm voice.

“I don’t understand, Gretchen.”

“I want the costume, Billy. If I don’t get it, it’s going to be bad.”

“You want me to give it to you? Is that what you want? If you don’t have money, maybe I can help you with, uh—”

“If you don’t give it to me, Billy, it’s going to be bad.”

“I can sell it to you, of course. The regular price for something like this would be $500—would $250 be fair?”

“I’m going to wear it out of here, Billy.”

“Well, Gretchen, let me see—why don’t you take it off and let me check if the sequins need mending.”

“No tricks, Billy. You know what I’m saying.”

“No tricks—of course not. Gretchen,” he stammered, “it definitely needs some work. Take it off, I will—”

“I’m taking it now, Billy. I’m taking the costume and Slitzy is coming with me.”

Billy’s face turned white. “Take Slitzy?”

“He’s coming with me, Billy.”

“That’s kidnapping, Gretchen.”

“No more rehearsals, Billy. This is prime time.” She pulled Slitzy out of the cradle by the harness. “Prime time, Billy.”

“Look, Gretchen, Slitzy had a stroke. He can’t go anywhere—”

“Gur-r-r-rl,” Slitzy said.

“Get back behind the counter, Billy. Don’t make a move for five minutes, or it’s going to be bad.”

Billy couldn’t take the chance. He waited a few seconds, then panicked and ran to the store window. He couldn’t see which way they went.

“Slitzy, where are you? I’m coming little brother.”

He ran down Santa Monica Boulevard, then up Western and down on the alleys, but they had vanished.

Back in the store, he found the telephone line was cut. “Oh Slitzy, I should have fought for you,” he moaned. Then Billy remembered a variety show playing at the Fa-Fa Theater. Maybe that’s where they went?

*

Sixty years earlier the theater had been a granary. It was three stories with small windows on the third floor. There was a canvas poster, hand-painted, with people walking on stilts, some wearing feathers. There was a magician, giant masks on poles, and a young woman on a trapeze. Was it Gretchen? He banged on the door. “Open up. I know you’re in there! Open up.”

An old man opened the door a crack. “Nobody’s here. Beat it little man.”

Down the street Billy saw searchlights and catering trucks. Talk show host Tom Barker had promoted the event for weeks. It would be an evening of “high strangeness.” Tonight the mysterious caller would make a public appearance. Thousands of fans had gathered for the event. It was a street party: open bottles, fans dressed as movie aliens and monsters.

Barker was a serious man. On the subject of the paranormal, he was always willing to give his guests, no matter how unconventional, a serious forum. “Let’s get right down to it. Are you saying that you are from another world?”

No, she wasn’t saying that.

On the third broadcast she revealed her name—YOTI. She said she looked like a human, but there was a part of her that was unusual. She called it her protuberance. The word was provocative, but Tom Barker was too earnest to make an off-color joke.

“So you look like a normal human, but you have some, uh, auxiliary part to your anatomy.”

“You could say that,” she said.

“Alien! Alien! Alien!” the crowd outside Ted’s Market chanted.

“Show us your protuberance,” read a sign.

When the phone call came, the crowd was starting to riot. A bottle of beer exploded against the broadcast truck. Tom Barker took the call off the air.

“All right, I understand, I certainly understand. I would feel the same way, YOTI, but everyone wants to see you. Is there somewhere we can meet so that I can confirm—”

Back on the air, Barker told his audience YOTI was worried about her safety. “But folks, she has offered to meet me.”

“In the meantime, enjoy yourselves tonight. Ted’s is going to serve drinks and Hostess CupCakes to all the fans. I don’t have anything more. Sorry, folks. I’m in the dark, just like you.”

An hour and a half later, the phone rang and Tom left the parking lot. He went around the block several times to make sure no one was following him. Twice he checked his camera to see if it was working. The meeting place would be in a gray van parked outside a liquor store on Western Avenue.

Barker was met by a driver who rolled down his window and said he would have to be blindfolded until they got to the next location.

“In for a penny, in for a pound,” Tom murmured.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing.”

“How’s your heart?” the driver asked.

“Not so good.”

“Well, prepare yourself. This is going to be a shock.”

*

At two in the morning Barker’s producer called him at home. “I’ve been trying to reach you all night. What happened? There are people calling us from all over the world. What the hell happened?”

“I met her.”

“You met the alien?”

“When I saw her, I thought she looked human,” Barker began. “The room was dark. I had the feeling they took me to a bunker somewhere. They gave me a flashlight, but warned me not to use it more than once because it could hurt her.”

“What did she look like? Did you see the protuberance?”

“I couldn’t see it at first, but with the flashlight I got a good look. She had two heads!”

“A two-headed alien!”

“A normal human head, and a weird tiny head growing out of her neck. The little head couldn’t talk, but it made weird gurgling sounds.”

“Tom, this sounds like B movie stuff.”

“That’s not all. She had golden scales, and I don’t think she was wearing any clothes.”

“My God, Tom. Did you get the shot?”

“My hands were shaking, but I got it.”

“Does it show the head?”

“Yes, a clear head-shot.”

“That’s a relief—otherwise, who’s going to believe you? What did she tell you? What was her message?”

Barker took a breath. “She said the planet was about to destroy itself, and we don’t have much time. She said we must disarm, or every human on the earth will die. She wants me to invite representatives from all the nuclear-armed countries on the show.”

“Well, there’s always been a nuclear threat. Why now?”

“Too many weapons—and we’ve lost track of them. Kazakhstan has fourteen hundred for God’s sake. The Ukraine has five thousand! She kept saying if I don’t follow her instructions, it’s going to be bad.”

“Why is she calling you?”

“Why not? We’ve got the biggest audience in radio.”

“Tom, this is crazy. Why not the networks? Did she admit she was an alien?”

“She didn’t say. She could be anything—a time traveler, an interdimensional. She said I wasn’t capable of understanding all this.”

“Well, she’s got that right. What else?”

“That’s pretty much it.”

“Do you think it’s a hoax?”

Tom Barker was lost for words. He bobbed his head like a spring-loaded doll. “It doesn’t matter what I think, I just ask the questions.”

“The ratings went through the roof last night. You gotta get her on the show.”

“I don’t think she’ll come on.”

“Does she want money?” the producer asked, rubbing his thinning hair.

“No, she wants to save the goddamn—”

Before Tom Barker could complete his sentence, there was flash of light over Hollywood Boulevard. A mushroom cloud formed: a clown-faced Silly Putty with an overlarge grin, false nose, and fright-wig fringe. Soon, the Cinerama Dome glowed red, and all the folks with dreams went up: the Best Boys and gaffers, the insurance writers and movie stars. All the folks with dreams and all the folks who cruise the dream, those in baseball caps with cameras on their wrists and those making love in motel rooms with louvered windows. They all went up, even Tom Barker, who could no longer see himself in the reflection of the bathroom mirror. There was smoke in the room, but that wasn’t the reason for his invisibility.

___

Todd Easton Mills received his bachelor’s degree from Antioch University. As a young man he defined himself as a traveler, working his way around the world and supporting himself as a laborer, cook, and teacher in faraway places like the Highlands of New Guinea. Now, with his drifter days behind him, he lives comfortably with his Zimbabwean wife in Santa Barbara, California.

He cowrote and produced the documentary film Timothy Leary’s Dead. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Alembic, The Legendary, ONTHEBUS, Voices, The Coe Review, Yellow Silk, AUSB Odyssey, Sage Trail, RiverSedge, Paranoia VHS, Collage, Antiochracy, and in the anthology Poets on 9-11.

As the Shotgun Enters Hemingway’s Mouth, He Is Recalling

By Robert Aquinas McNally

that dawn over the harbor of Smyrna, where beaten Greek forces evacuating by ship take care of their mules before the Turkish army sweeps in. Turning the beasts loose would be the same as giving them to the Turks, the officer in charge tells him.

Hemingway records the quote in a reporter’s notebook nesting in his left hand. Right thumb and forefingers hold the copy pencil, the way they now cradle the trigger. He takes notes about light off the water slicing the low tide smell, slides his focus toward the quay. He trusts this technique, a progress from fringe to center, from harbor to wharf, from pencil to page, from his fingers testing the trigger to the double muzzle resting between tongue and palate.

Mule by mule, the soldiers uncinch packsaddles and panniers, pull off blankets furry with dust and sweat. They lead the stripped mules to the brink, crack a crowbar hard against forelegs, push the broken, quivering animals into the harbor’s scum. Too crippled to swim, the mules thrash to keep nostrils in air. Fear churns the water around them into oily circles. One by one the mules tire, slide under. The surface goes still.

Hemingway watches, writes. He hunts for the right verb to anchor the final sentence, about this silent sinking into the deeper silence below. The word lurks just out of range, unseen, unheard, unnamed.

One finger pushes the trigger back to the set point, tenses. His mind settles around the pencil in Smyrna, the one that is waiting still for the right word, that has no idea what it is about to report.

 ___

A three-time Pushcart nominee, Robert Aquinas McNally has written nine nonfiction books and four poetry chapbooks, along with essays, features, and news stories in various magazines. His publication credits include The Alembic, Bateau, Blue Unicorn, Blueline, The Cape Rock, Carquinez Poetry ReviewConfrontationdecomP, Eclectica, Ecotone: Reimagining Place, Fourteen HillsHawaii Pacific Review, The MacGuffin, Minnetonka Review, Pembroke Magazine, Quiddity, Reed Magazine, River Oak Review, RiverSedge, Runes, Sanskrit, Snowy Egret, and Soundings East, among others. A graduate of The Ohio State University and the University of California at Berkeley, he has also studied extensively with the award-winning poet David St. John.

 

Fish Story

By Perie Longo

A fish is catching a man in a book

I’m reading to my granddaughters

who giggle that can’t be

 

I’m reminded of the day

he plucked me limp from

a roguish wave sputtering salt

 

slapped me on my back

and when I opened my eyes

to the hook of his gaze

 

forever I was his

followed him across various seas

should another swell threaten

 

even learned to dive beneath

the surface of light

deep into forbidden caves

 

When children came along

we bought a fishing boat

on Sundays rumbled off the coast

 

cast our lines for sport

always drawing up mackerel

shimmering silver

 

but tasting foul as oil

a friend said just rinse them

seven times before you bake

 

advice that did no good

a tease that sent us farther on

for bigger game

 

from behind a storm raged forth

a demanding fish we could not tame

that took him out

 

it was a Sunday I remember

and his lasting gaze

the grandchildren laugh again

 

a fish can’t catch a man

oh yes it can I say

and turn the page

___

Perie Longo has led poetry workshops for the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference since 1986 and leads her own three-day Santa Barbara Summer Poetry Workshop. In 2005 she traveled to Kuwait at the invitation of Kuwait University to speak about poetry in psychotherapy and conduct poetry workshops at various sites. She was selected as Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara, California, 2007-2009. Her poem “While Watching A Video Of The Dalai Lama,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2002.

Her work has appeared in Atlanta Review, California State Poetry Quarterly, Connecticut Review, descant, Eclipse, Edison Literary Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, International Poetry Review, Lullwater Review, Nimrod International Journal, Paterson Literary Review, Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, Quercus Review, Rattle, Reed Magazine, Sanskrit, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Slant, Solo, The South Carolina Review, Stand, Studia Mystica, and Wisconsin Review, among others. She also has poems in several anthologies including Breathe: 101 Contemporary Odes (C & R Press) and BabyBoomer Birthright (Poet/Works Press LLC). She has published three books of poetry: Milking The Earth, The Privacy Of Wind, and With Nothing Behind But Sky: A Journey Through Grief.

Low Tide at Mussel Shoals

By Pamela Hammond

Morning’s first light

whittles away

unleashed dreams,

nestles into rivulets

of sand, where underneath

night still churns.

I slip down

into this otherworld,

stroll on newborn sand,

wade in shallow pools

teeming with tiny,

swift creatures.

A fizz of salt water

under my feet,

a birthplace

bristling with life

elicits change,

cell by cell.

Our future,

whatever it holds,

oozes through

my toes.

 

___

Pamela Hammond received her BA from UCLA and taught high school art for a period of time before leaving to raise a family. Simultaneously, she earned an MA in art, then continued teaching part-time at the college level. About ten years later, she began writing for the start-up art magazine Images and Issues, but eventually resigned in order to found her own periodical, Eye International. She quickly learned that she prefers writing over publishing and spent the next decade as a Los Angeles-based critic for ARTnews while serving as director of publications and public affairs at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

She has traveled extensively, at one point taking a leave of absence to live on New Zealand’s South Island. Her poetry has been published in two chapbooks, Clearing (2011) and Encounters (2012), both from Red Berry Editions.

I Think He’s an Actuary

By Isabel Brome Gaddis

The Most Boring Man in the World

is more important than you realize.

It is his job to keep time

linear.

Under his influence,

seconds

and minutes

sit next to each other like lego blocks.

So if you meet him,

please do not do him “a favor”

and take him someplace “fun”

where time will “fly by”

or we’re all doomed.

___

Isabel Brome Gaddis earned her bachelor’s degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences from MIT and worked as a geophysicist at Shell, then as a technical writer and copywriter at Microsoft. She studied playwriting at Freehold Theatre in Seattle, writing for television at UCLA, screenwriting with Corey Mandell, and creative writing with Jack Grapes. She also holds four certificates in embroidery and design from City and Guilds of London.

Her work is forthcoming in OnTheBus.

Angle of Incidence

By Isabel Brome Gaddis

One ray of light,

with a sense of noblesse oblige,

filters in through my wooden blinds to illuminate

the crumbs and cat hair clinging to my living room rug.

I pretend to ignore it and,

with eyes straining sideways,

follow the beam up about

twenty light-years

(not so awfully far,

Orion would throw a ball farther than that for Sirius to fetch),

and oh, there I am, twenty-something,

and so slim, if only I knew then how flexible and healthy I was,

and so young,

still young enough to be anything,

and no friends sharing horrible pictures of their grandchildren

(grandchildren!).

 

Quick as a lie I step on the beam with my right foot, pinning it to the rug.

I grab the edge of the rug and slide it left, then right, looking up the beam for any reflective surface up there, about twenty light years away

(just a flash of time, really—I have pens older than that)

and there, just past twenty-four light-years, the beam bounces onto a frozen moon (hard to see, b Hydri is so bright)

(no, surely b Hydri is further south?)

(don’t distract me—my foot is beginning to cramp—you have to press down hard to hold photons in place)

and I shift the rug,

enough to send the beam shooting off

in a different direction.

Just to give her a chance,

that slender, funny twenty-something,

to go shooting off in a different direction herself

and maybe land

in a cleaner living room.

___

Isabel Brome Gaddis earned her bachelor’s degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences from MIT and worked as a geophysicist at Shell, then as a technical writer and copywriter at Microsoft. She studied playwriting at Freehold Theatre in Seattle, writing for television at UCLA, screenwriting with Corey Mandell, and creative writing with Jack Grapes. She also holds four certificates in embroidery and design from City and Guilds of London.

Her work is forthcoming in OnTheBus.

 

Borders

MIKE saw the hand-printed ad because his mother had sent him to the food mart for artichoke hearts. She was making her lettuce-free salad and could not do without the acid-soaked chunks. It was also her way of saying that since he hadn’t bothered to line up a job for the summer, he was fair game for the endless tasks she could find to save him from idleness. His dad just got on his case each evening for fifteen minutes after a day at the arsenal, where they had been gearing up for the past three years to incinerate the stockpile of chemical weapons. He knew the lectures would grow longer as the summer passed, but at least they would be contained and predictable. At some level his father sympathized over this last season of uncommitted existence. There was no telling, though, what his mother might cook up to make the nest a bothersome place best flown.

A few jobs were still available in town, even three weeks into summer. The tire shop always needed a warm—no, overheated—body to fix flats and charge batteries roadside. Or he could supervise activities for a herd of ADD offspring at the Boys and Girls Club. His friend Kirby lasted two weeks in the position the previous summer. Parents complained about his improvised games, like West Nile fever, in which the kids formed pyramids while being hosed down.

Small-town life could be a series of dead ends when it came to jobs and maybe even relations. That truth had lately come into focus for him, now that the high-school track was running out. College could give him a new ticket, but for some reason he hadn’t gotten around to applying. Lack of interest in learning hadn’t stopped some of his classmates from staying in school. But he didn’t want to waste time and money just to party with frat brothers and scrape by in his courses. It was beginning to look like his best chance lay in landing a halfway decent job in Little Rock. If he could live at home and commute for a couple years, he might even save enough to get himself properly launched.

On his way into the mart he glanced at the mechanical horse he had ridden as a kid. The paint was flaking off in places, but the face still had that expression of galloping ardor, as if it weren’t simply bobbing up and down but carrying out an urgent mission. And it was still just a dime to ride, a token of a small town’s attempt to lasso time.

Out of habit he also glanced at the bulletin board inside. From it he had gotten odd jobs and stuff for sale, including his ten-year-old pickup, for which he still owed his folks a few hundred. There he spotted a new poster saying a driver was wanted for $5/hr plus gas. None of the phone-number tabs at the bottom had been torn off; just the chance he had a jump on everyone else made him feel the gig was his for the asking. He imagined some old lady needed to be driven regularly to the drugstore and the old-lady hair salon. If nothing else, he could pick up some pocket change and claim a good-faith stab at employment with a minimum of effort.

The girl at the register set him straight, though. She said this guy that was new in town and spoke a little funny put up the ad. She seemed to recall he was staying at a local motel. As for his character, she would say not-from-these-parts-strange but short of creepy.

Mike decided to give him a call with a list of questions to feel out the terrain. He didn’t want to end up a clueless mule for some drug runner. Sure enough, he got connected to a room at the Continental Motel, and a somewhat formal voice with a slight accent answered, “This is Jerzy.” For every question Mike asked, though, his potential employer had several, inquiring into his driving record, his insurance coverage for passengers, even the make of vehicle he drove. The fact that this guy was so cautious and deliberate could either mean he was a wary criminal or someone on the level trying to cover his bases. Mike leaned toward the latter, so agreed to meet him the next day at a diner attached to the motel.

*

Most of the customers were regulars, either locals or big-rig drivers, with the occasional budget traveler in the mix. Sometimes Mike and his folks came here on Friday nights for the bluegill special.

The man across from him, with his sharp features and shaggy black hair, might have blended in, except for the pair of half glasses that he slipped on and off a hawkish nose. Everything about him seemed casually, almost furtively, attentive. And while he didn’t smile or laugh more than ordinary, a fixed expression of amusement lurked somewhere behind his face. Just now he was chatting up the waitress as if bantering with an old friend. She took care to keep his coffee topped. Mike guessed he was a generous tipper.

“I chose this establishment,” he confided to Mike as the waitress went to cut him a slice of pecan pie, “because it advertised itself as American owned and operated. One wants authenticity in one’s travel experiences, even if they do betray a certain self-conscious promotion. As the proprietor so frankly put it upon my arrival, ‘You won’t smell no curry in this office.’ Then when he saw my surname on the registration card he faltered slightly, uncertain whether he had given offense. I remained affable to ease his mind.”

After some talk about the professional niches that various nationalities had carved for themselves in America, Jerzy turned to his own business. He wanted a driver for the next four to six weeks while he completed a writing project. In Europe he had gotten into the habit of writing on trains, but the American rail system was patchy and undependable in comparison. Besides, with the advent of cell phones, public transport had grown more nettlesome. The schedule would be that of a standard American workweek, nine to five daily. He understood that young males in this country were fond of driving for its own sake, so Michael (a name that fell somewhere between the English and Russian pronunciations) might be just the person for this job. That his young acquaintance did not seem overly given to talk was a point in his favor; though he himself was a capable raconteur, when writing he required silence, or at least the productive drone of road noise. Unfortunately, this meant the radio must not be played, and music devices with ear buds or headphones were also unsatisfactory. As for each day’s itinerary, that he would leave to his driver’s discretion. He need not consider it a sightseeing tour of the NaturalState, but might vary the routes for his own diversion. Should these terms be agreeable, they would start the next morning.

Mike was relieved to hear about the silence part, except maybe for the ban on music. If the guy talked this much all day in the truck, he would have to drive off the nearest bluff.

*

That night he got to thinking how all he knew about this Jerzy Dubilas was what he himself had said. Well, that and his card, on which he identified himself as author, translator, and vagrant. A little Internet research seemed in order. The name led him to over two hundred sites, most of them in foreign languages. First he had to set aside a couple guys with the same name, one of whom seemed to be a labor leader in a shipyard, the other an owner of a chain of pawnshops. The remaining sites did deal with an author. By Mike’s count, he had written seven books and translated four others. Three of his own had been translated into English.

Biographical facts weren’t so easy to find, and seemed to conflict. He did come across a long interview, in some Eastern European language of course. But the scraps he could assemble indicated that Jerzy was born to a Polish father and a Czech mother in 1952 or ’53, that the family moved around a lot when he was a kid, that he somehow managed to attend universities in England and West Germany (or France and East Germany), and since then had traveled and written, often under the radar. There was one group picture at a writer’s conference in Budapest from the 1980s. The guy identified as Jerzy did look like a younger, even shaggier version of the guy he now decided was legit, or at least somewhat less shadowy.

He printed out the most relevant pages and showed them to his folks. The arrangement seemed odd to them, but they were willing to let him try it as long as he took a cell phone. Knowing Jerzy’s ground rules, he said that he could only call them when he stopped for gas or lunch. The next morning, right before he left, his mother slipped him a canister of pepper spray, just in case.

*

Jerzy settled himself in the passenger seat with a thermos of coffee and a legal pad. Apparently he was in the middle of something, as he flipped over a dozen or so filled pages. Then he sat vacantly, neither looking at the scenery nor entirely ignoring it. Mike had started to slip into his own thoughts when he noticed Jerzy’s pen moving. The space between them, the angle of the pad, and Jerzy’s irregular penmanship made it difficult to tell whether the writing was even in English.

This first day Mike thought he would drive his passenger around Little Rock, though not as he would a visitor. It was more a convenience for himself, a place he knew, but not as much as he would like. Some of the curving, unpredictably intersecting streets always confused him. This time too he got a little disoriented, but it didn’t matter because he wasn’t trying to get anywhere in particular. He did stick to the main thoroughfares, because driving through neighborhoods would involve too much stop-and-go.

After lunch he crossed the river into North Little Rock, but exhausted its main features by mid-afternoon. So he headed for PinnacleMountain, then took a long, arcing path around the capital toward home. When not absorbed in his surroundings, he noticed that Jerzy’s writing grew more sustained the fewer the interruptions in their movement. He figured it was part of his job to help make the words flow. The daily itinerary would obviously require more planning from this point.

Back at the motel lot, Jerzy handed him two twenty-dollar bills and declared the start a qualified success.

*

With a map of Arkansas before him, Mike realized how little he knew of his home state. Outside of a few parks, some scattered towns, and the well-beaten path to Fayetteville for Razorback games, much of it was a blank to him. Driving it every day for the next month or so would probably fix that, especially if he went about it systematically. So he divided the state into rough quarters and decided to cycle through them clockwise. That way he wouldn’t be chasing up and down the same pavement as the day before. The interstates and rural highways would give him quick access, and as he became more familiar with each region he could branch out to lesser routes and roads off the map. It struck him that in eight hours he could reach the farthest corners of the state and get back in time for dinner. And at the end of this gig he would be able to talk knowledgeably of Ink, Nail, Oil Trough, and Possum Grape.

*

Mike admired Jerzy’s ability to converse with anyone. He seemed to have a fund of assorted information at his call. Without patronizing, he could tailor the subject to his audience. Over pulled pork and fried okra he and some old vets discussed theories on Glenn Miller’s disappearance, then the little cultural slips made by German agents, like the one who couldn’t identify big-nosed Kilroy peering over his wall.

At a gas station in the Ozarks he was delighted to find a bait machine. For his two dollars he got a bucket of worm-laced soil, whose denizens he promptly liberated. Mike expected this detail would wind up in his writing.

Jerzy didn’t miss much. One day a couple weeks into their travels he started in on town names like Canaan, Gethsemane, and Zion, proceeding to muse aloud on American religion. “Your country’s Hebraism is understandable. The early settlers would have seen themselves as delivered from the ecclesiastical dynasties of Europe. This was a place of fresh beginnings for a chosen people. As a wilderness, however, it also sapped religion, which consequently required buttressing. Of course someone would eventually come down the mountain with a homegrown testament for American saints. Granted, too radical for most tastes. And the pluralism of the country made circling the wagons an ever more complicated maneuver. What looks like the embrace of Christianity to many is the fuller flower of the religion of Americanism. Once in Kentucky I grew impatient with the sanctimony of a man who insisted that the U.S. was the world’s only truly Christian nation. He held up one coin after another in proof. ‘Yes,’ I retorted, ‘but the god in which you trust is your financial might. You should also inscribe this motto on your bullets and bombs, the holy things of your co-god.’ Normally I am capable of greater tact, being after all a guest of the nation.”

Mike could follow enough of the argument to tell how offensive it would be to the average flag-and-cross-waver. It said a lot more forcefully things he had stumbled around in semi-drunken bull sessions with friends. He saw himself as a freethinker on religion ever since his dad gave him the choice of attending church or not. If he still went now and then to make his mom happy, that didn’t mean he bought what they were selling.

This issue was always in the background of his relation with Sara, too. She probably thought if she was kind and understanding enough he would finally see his error and maybe even join her church. Her whole family, generous as it could be, always seemed to be recruiting somehow. The problem had raised its horned head at the lakeside picnic they’d hosted the previous weekend.

*

It began with Sara’s mom saying she had never cared for the term deviled eggs. The older brother and sister, each already married by the early twenties with tykes of their own, started suggesting alternate names. They weren’t being funny, just painfully sincere. So he suggested angel cradles, which everyone applauded, except Sara, who cast an injured look because she alone knew the true depths of his heathenism. Okay, so he had made a small joke at her family’s expense. Now he could spend the rest of the day feeling like a heel.

As much as he liked, maybe even loved Sara, he couldn’t help feeling a little resentful over her gentle, patient, insistent expectations. Admittedly, she often had an improving effect on his character. But he didn’t want to be fast-tracked into any kind of life. It was good odds if he proposed to her—and agreed to marry in her church—she would skip college and settle right down to start a family. Money wouldn’t be a problem because he would be taken up in her father’s successful insulation business. And by forty he would be a grandfather and something close to Sara’s version of his best self. He thought of his own dad happily riding a mower around his acre of lawn on a Saturday evening, with a beer in the cup holder as a sign of his independence.

There had to be other choices.

*

Jerzy had noticed the tape player in the truck and wangled his own music, the kind he could write to. So they passed log trucks at the urging of Dvorak, threaded deep hollows to Chopin or Scriabin, and confronted the Delta with the support of Cossack singers. Mike didn’t suppose Jerzy was writing about Arkansas, or America for that matter, but the world gliding past could still have some relation to the flow in his head. He recalled Jerzy’s comment about getting sufficient distance to enter his subject intimately.

When it came to personal matters, the vagabond author maintained distance. His ideas on everything from communism to amusement parks he shared liberally. Details about his life came glancingly at odd intervals, like a connect-the-dots picture with too few dots. As far as Mike could make out, his father was attached to various embassies in Eastern, and later Western, Europe. After early years of struggle, Jerzy had come to get by on a small bequest, modest royalties, and writing grants. He mainly published overseas, as American editors didn’t understand him. There seemed to be a son about Mike’s age being raised by a former mistress.

This concern with privacy or authenticity appeared in his work too, at least the example Jerzy left in the truck without comment three weeks into their arrangement. It was a story he had originally written in Polish, then translated into Czech and English. Mike seldom read anything out of school, and only some of what was assigned there, but his curiosity was aroused. Not like the prying of one character though, a neighbor with a can opener for a nose. Everyone wanted to discover the secrets or corner the views of “Citizen Butterfly,” a Mr. Lepidop, who signed petitions in disappearing ink and politely abstained from committee votes when not drafting his own resolutions thanking military statues on behalf of birds or endorsing studies to determine the most common spots in town where people had felt inexplicably happy. His fellow citizens finally had him declared insane and chased him with nets, quill pens, and chloroform-soaked hankies, but he shed layer after layer of clothes and skin on his way to the nearest vanishing point, so taxing his pursuers’ limited depth perception that they ended up bagging and drugging one another.

Jerzy had probably given him one of his stories for beginners, but Mike appreciated that you had to suit the lure to the fish. In it there was something of Jerzy, and something anonymous, like graffiti or a fairy tale. He figured he was one of the three people in Arkansas to have read it.

*

His conceit was checked a few days later over at Sara’s. Dutiful soul that she was, she had already bought her books for the fall. Mike sat idly paging through her English text when he came upon Jerzy’s story. The shock of recognition made him utter a profanity he normally stifled around her. So at least one American editor got Jerzy. Then it struck him that a writer good enough to be taught in college was holed up in a motel in his town. And he had been chosen to assist in the writing process by driving him around. Maybe what he was working on now would end up in some other anthology.

In his excitement he got Sara to read the story, a mistake as it turned out. All mildness as usual, she couldn’t say she had enjoyed it. When he pressed the point, she finally issued some vague criticism of people who live in cocoons. His defense of the story got a little heated, and the next thing she was accusing him of sniping at her family. The argument ended with her tearily declaring if he wanted to break up with her, he should have the courage simply to come out and say so.

That was how he spent his weekend.

*

How Jerzy spent his free time was a matter of some guesswork. At first Mike pictured him reading or surfing the cable in his room. Several times though when driving in the early evening he had seen the dark-clad figure loping through town. Someone like that stood out because only those without wheels ever walked. But he was meeting people too, and impressing them enough to become a topic of talk. Had he kept to himself, the townsfolk might have thought him suspicious. Instead, they warmed to him. A deputy he’d befriended took him on patrol with her. The bakery manager gave Mike a bag of sweets for them to snack on while crisscrossing the Fourche LaFave. Jerzy had even agreed to pronounce the words at a spelling bee for adults, a fundraiser for the local literacy council.

While the town couldn’t keep a store that sold new books in business, the used-book store, which mainly traded in harlequin romance and murder mystery, did have a small selection of what English teachers would call literature in the window. For the second time in as many weeks Mike was drawn up short by Jerzy’s name. The owner had ordered a collection of his essays, which Mike snapped up with a fervor he had previously felt only for sports cards and graphic novels. It was a compendium of Jerzyisms on such things as the history of facial hair, Russian circuses, mandrakes, and the concept of unreality.

He seemed obliged to know more about the man and his work than others did. Some of Jerzy’s luster had rubbed off, and people around town started regarding him as an overlooked prospect, a boy with a future. Or was he only to be a guy in insulation who once as a teen had chauffeured a foreign author?

*

Jerzy indicated this was the last week he would need Mike’s services, as he was leaving for Utah before his return to Prague. He had nearly met his writing quota, thanks in large part to his young friend’s assistance.

Mike felt as he often had in the previous weeks when roughly charting the day’s route yet leaving room for spurs and byways. In the process he had covered a lot of ground, so much that an image of the state had begun to form in his mind, its mountain ridges and river valleys gradually settling into woody bayous, then flatlands given to cycles of drought and flood. Much of that land was farmed, soy to strawberries, cattle to catfish, and chickens galore, raised by Hmong, processed by Hispanics, and served in Anglo down-home-cookin’ restaurants. A thousand towns, mainly small, sometimes dying, declared their existence with cast-plastic Victorian lampposts, or festivals to pickle and toad. These things and more he knew firsthand now, carried with him, and didn’t want to retreat from for the sake of security or comfort. It was time to decide.

*

That last Friday Jerzy simply observed as Mike traced a carefully mapped loop through all four quarters of the state. He had finished his self-assignment and could set aside the writer’s imperative for doing. And there might be cause to break the relaxed silence between himself and this young man who seemed to have gained a productive tension of his own.

“A few weeks of summer freedom left. Will you then join your father in ridding the world of dirty bombs?”

Mike smiled, aware of Jerzy’s interest . Since hearing of this work, he had studied the process in detail. “No, I’d probably drop one or unscrew it wrong and gas the state. Actually,” he added, more tentative, “I’d like to do something for myself.”

“Ah, a personal venture. The best and riskiest kind. Tell.”

“Well, I’ve been doing some research, and it looks like there are ways to travel the country and eat too. For one, you can drive rental cars from towns where they’re not much needed to cities where they are. Or you can be a courier and take valuable packages across country.” He stopped there, unsure whether all this was some green kid’s fantasy.

Jerzy looked at both sides of the small dam they were crossing and said, “This thing is worth trying. You must not mind hardship as it comes. And do not shy away from solitude.”

They threshed the subject further, Jerzy offering tips on living cheaply. As for persuading the parents, he could point out the travel and work experience without the adverse effects of joining an army. Mike didn’t say it, but it was Jerzy’s blessing that meant most to him.

*

The next day, the day Jerzy left town, a package came addressed to Comrade Michael Pearl. Inside was an envelope with $300 “for new tires” and a notebook in the front of which Jerzy had written, “Fill this. Be faithful.”

Anticipating the road ahead, like a darkroom photo just before the image appears, Mike thought of an aspect of his travels with Jerzy that had become a standing joke between them. Whenever he approached the state line, he pulled over, paused, then turned around, as if the road gave out on the other side. The six surrounding states just seemed out of bounds. Now, though, the idea would be to cross lines, as Jerzy had been doing from his earliest years. He had started at home with the help of a man who made him rethink what it was to be at home anywhere. Some people mounted a religious figure on the dashboard to oversee their comings and goings. The vigor of a Cossack choir would translate him across windswept prairies.

___

James Fowler teaches literature at the University of Central Arkansas. His stories have recently appeared in Line Zero, Paper Nautilus, The Chariton Review, Elder Mountain, and Rockhurst Review.

 

Special

By Jeremy Courville

EARNHART’S footsteps echoed heavily in the cool, dim hallway. The place had a fancy, yet not quite prestigious look to it; fine art decorated the burgundy walls, all depicting classical paintings. And, he noticed, each and every one contained nude women. The floor was wooden—some dark and sturdy class of tree, he imagined. The doors he passed, all closed, were of a matching wooden finish, decorated with simple yet fetching inlays of gold. He felt more like he was in an upscale hotel rather than . . . well, rather than where he was.

He gripped his suitcase tightly, eyeing the man who led him forward. The manager had not asked to look inside yet; Earnhart could only hope he wouldn’t.

A strange, muffled sound came from one of the doors as they passed, and he glanced at it awkwardly. Something was going on in those rooms. He really preferred not to think about it.

“This your first time?” the man in the lead asked, turning sideways to look back at him.

“Of course not,” Earnhart replied as if mildly offended. “If it were, would I have known how to contact you?”

“That’s not what I meant,” the manager said apologetically. “I mean, is this your first time with . . . one like her?”

“Oh . . .” Earnhart bowed his head a moment thoughtfully. “Yes.”

“You nervous?”

“How could I not be?” he asked sincerely. “This is a very unusual thing for me, in concept and act. But the thought of it . . . and the pictures were inescapably enticing.”

“Wait till you meet her in the flesh,” the manager noted with a wicked grin. “Perfection, my friend, feminine perfection!”

Earnhart gave the man a worried look. “And she’s not dangerous? You did say she was the hardest catch you’ve ever made.”

“She was,” the man agreed. “Took us ages to find her, longer to catch her, and that was only by chance. But . . .” the man waved a dismissive hand, “no need to worry. She’s totally harmless, now. Couldn’t hurt a fly.”

“I guess that explains the price tag,” Earnhart muttered, though he’d no intention of hiding his words.

Sure enough, the manager overheard. “You’ll find that she’s worth it, sir. Not many can pay the price, true, but for such a fine specimen? And besides, she killed eleven men before we caught her, and severely injured several others. The pricing is unavoidable.”

 Earnhart gave the man a frightened look. “If you don’t want me to be afraid, don’t mention the head count!”

The manager laughed. “Sorry about that! Seriously, she’s harmless now. Not exactly obedient, but she won’t fight you. Ah, here it is . . .” The man paused before one of the doors, this one with a special lock on it. “Now remember, you’re free to do whatever you like over the next twenty-four hours, but if you leave the room your session ends: The door locks when it closes and only I can open it from out here.”

“I understand.” Earnhart nodded seriously, hoisting his suitcase for comfort. “What if she were to try to escape?”

“She can’t,” the manager replied simply as he pulled out a card and slipped it through a slot in the door. “The entire room is covered in barriers. The only way she’s getting out is if someone holds open the door for her.”

“Ah,” Earnhart nodded, “I’ll be sure not to do that, then.”

“Even if you did, she wouldn’t get far,” the manager observed, opening the door quietly. “I don’t see why you would want to; there’s nothing you can do out here that you can’t do in there.”

The manager stood aside, gesturing for Earnhart to go in, but he held his suitcase and stood still for a moment, eyeing the door. After a couple seconds the manager, smiling encouragingly, gestured again. “Well, go on. She’s waiting for you.”

Earnhart eyed him uncertainly, then slowly stepped into the room. It was a large bedroom, with dark red walls to match those in the hallway and dark wooden furniture. The floor was carpeted, soft and in a red color similar to the walls. He glanced about, ignoring the massive bed and other furnishings. Where was . . .?

There. She was sitting on the floor in the corner, tucked into a ball and head hidden by her knees. She was wearing a yellow sundress with red highlights, barefoot, skin pale. Her hair was white . . . with just a hint of blue. He could see the metal collar wrapped about her neck, and the chain that extended all the way to the foot of the bed. A victim, trapped in this twisted place. He couldn’t help but shiver with delight at the prospect of what was coming.

“Does she have a name?” he asked, glancing at the manager curiously.

“No names,” the man replied directly, his face serious. “People have names. Our products are chattel . . . and those like her less than that.”

“I see,” Earnhart replied thoughtfully, giving the girl a long, studious look. “Well, we shall see what she can offer. One question, though: What on Earth made you decide to start selling . . . girls like her?”

The man smiled lightly, almost sinisterly. “Well, there is a small niche. But honestly? People aren’t looking for girls who are dead. Nobody misses her.”

“Ah,” Earnhart whispered, “I see. Can I remove the chain?”

“Of course,” the man nodded. “You’ll find the key in the dresser, top drawer on the left. We only keep it on her as a reminder of what she is.”

“Very good, then.” Earnhart walked to the massive, red-quilted bed and set his suitcase down. “Twenty-four hours, is it? I’d like to get started.”

“Alright,” the manager agreed, turning for the door. “Have fun, and don’t worry about harming the merchandise; another great thing about dead girls? You can’t spoil them.” The door closed with a quiet click.

Earnhart stood, hands atop the suitcase. He remained there for several seconds, waiting to make sure the manager wouldn’t come in to note some rule or obligation. He did not want to be disturbed at all once he’d begun.

At last certain of his isolation, he turned quietly to the girl in the corner. For that was all she was . . . a girl. A teen, to be certain, but definitely too young for this situation. At least physically. “So . . . no name, huh?”

The girl did not move, only remained huddled in her little ball. He approached her, slowly, nervously, and knelt beside her. “You really don’t have one, do you? Even before all of this, before you became what you are. Just a nameless girl.” He reached a careful hand forward, touching her hair. It was cool and soft like silk; she turned her face away. Her hair was long and straight, reaching down to her shoulders. Her bangs too were long, covering her eyes so that they were impossible to see. He tried to move them, but she shifted away again, trembling.

He sighed sadly and pulled his hand away. “I know all about you,” he whispered quietly, soothingly. “They found you on some pier in Nova Scotia, but nobody knew who you were or where you came from. All they knew was that you were dead. They tried to bury you—civilly, properly—but you wouldn’t stay down in the ground. A dead girl . . . who is responsible for the deaths of over fifty people in the past twenty years.”

The girl said nothing. Still nothing.

“The people who brought you here,” he whispered, glancing toward the door darkly for a moment, “they say you shouldn’t have a name. I disagree. It’s not dignifying.”

He stood and walked back to the bed, carefully opening his suitcase. He went on, conversationally, as he began to remove the strange objects. “These people, they think I’m here to ‘play’ with an obedient little female body.” He set the objects aside, uninterested in them. They were only there in case the people decided to search his belongings. They hadn’t, and they would regret it. “I’m not here for that.”

He reached into the suitcase, which now seemed empty, and found the hidden latch. The bottom opened after a hard jerk, and he set the fake piece aside. He stared at the object within quietly for a few seconds. “Oh, I almost forgot.”

Earnhart walked to the dresser and looked through it. He found a number of clothes, all female, all clearly designed so that he could dress the girl up in whatever fetish he desired. He tossed them aside, disgusted, and found the key the manager had mentioned. “Ah, here it is. You can’t do anything without this.”

He walked over to the girl and knelt beside her once more. He reached forward, but she again pulled away. She pressed herself against the corner, as if it might provide some protection, and the chain rattled quietly from her movement.

He reached forward and grabbed the chain just below her neck, moving gently. “I don’t know if it’s true that you can’t feel pain, but please: I do not wish to harm you.” The girl remained silent, but he thought he heard a slight whimper from her throat. “I know,” he whispered, reaching forward with the key, “you’ve heard that before.”

His bare wrist touched her shoulder as he set the key inside her collar. She was cold . . . but not as cold as he’d expected. After a moment the lock snapped open, and he pulled the collar off her neck. “You’ve no need for this anymore.” He tossed the collar aside, the chain clunking loudly on the carpet.

The girl reached a hand for her throat, as if reaching for something that wasn’t there. Still she kept her face hidden from him with her hair.

Earnhart frowned and reached a hand, touching her cheek. “Won’t you at least look at me? Just a glance?” When she didn’t move, he slowly, gently pressed her face toward him. She trembled, biting her lip, as he reached up and carefully brushed that strange hair away.

Her eyes were brown. A soft, gentle brown, and for how dead her body was they were very alive. For a crazed, murderous dead girl, she appeared very afraid. If she could cry, he suspected she would at the moment, but there were no tears. Only a deep, fearful sadness.

“My,” he confessed upon seeing her soft, pale face and eyes, “but you are pretty.”

The girl pulled away, her face pained as she turned from him and let her bangs fall back over her eyes.

Earnhart sighed, his heart saddened. “They’ve done terrible things to you here, haven’t they? That man, how many men has he sold you to?” She only trembled in response, curled up in her tight little ball.

He stared at her for a moment, pity and sadness overwhelming him just a bit, but then that sadness shifted to something else. Something darker. He leaned closer to her and whispered conspiratorially, “I know what you’re capable of. I know what you’ve done, and could do, if only you were allowed to. The manager himself admitted that capturing you was nothing short of blind luck. So tell me something: If you had the opportunity for revenge, would you take it?”

The girl’s trembling stopped. Slowly, so very, very slowly, her face turned to his. He couldn’t see her eyes through her bangs, and her mouth was set in a frown of mild suspicion. But the message? It was there.

“That’s what I thought,” he noted seriously, standing up once more. He returned to the suitcase and retrieved the object hidden within. He came back to her and knelt once more; she was still facing him. Though he couldn’t see her eyes, he had the distinct and rather creepy impression that she was staring at him.

“I have a name for you, my special little dead girl,” he whispered, raising his closed hand before her face. He opened it, and a necklace dropped into the air. He held it up by the tiny silver chain, displaying an oval pendant at the end. The thing snapped open as it reached the bottom of the chain, revealing a family of four. “That name . . . is Charon.”

The girl’s face lowered, as if to stare at the pendant, and he heard a gasp from her lips. She gaped at the thing, transfixed. He reached his free hand forward, catching her chin gently, and raised her head to face him once more. “Do you know where that name comes from?”

For a few seconds there was a long silence between them. And then, slowly, the girl nodded.

“Please,” he whispered, grasping her cold hands, “avenge yourself, and my sister, and all those who have been brought to this place. Be my Charon.”

He set the pendant in her hands, then stood and walked to the door. When he turned around, the girl was on her feet, slowly sliding the necklace about her neck. For a moment she stood there, grasping the pendant as if it were something precious that she’d lost long ago. Stolen was the better word, though. Finally, she looked up at him. Her motion suggested . . . disbelief.

He reached for the door handle and slowly opened the door wide. “Go on,” he whispered coldly. “Do what you want to do.”

He turned and sat down on the bed. He didn’t watch her, but he could sense her presence. It was no longer that of a frail, trembling girl. The thing that he felt now was ominous, sinister . . . powerful. He felt fearful, for this was the one part that he’d been terrified of; what if she turned on him? But he wouldn’t blame her for anything. She had a right to be furious with the world. If this meant he’d have his revenge, he’d accept it.

At last he couldn’t help himself; he glanced to the door. The girl stood there, halfway outside the room. She glanced about as if uncertain, then turned to look at him over her shoulder.

And then she gave him a slow, warm smile.

She was gone. Earnhart sighed heavily in relief and laid himself on the bed. He didn’t want to move, or think, or remember anything. He wouldn’t feel comfortable until he’d heard proof that his actions were vindicated. He closed his eyes and listened in silence for something. He hoped very much that the first thing he’d hear would be a pitched scream.

Time ticked by. Slowly, quietly, nervously, Earnhart waited.

Ah, there it was.

It was such a sweet sound.

___

Jeremy Courville was born and raised in Southwest Louisiana and spent most of his young life traveling around the world with his family. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Louisiana Tech University and worked as both a research assistant for an engineering firm and an English tutor at Louisiana Tech University. He very recently moved to Japan to pursue a teaching career in Osaka.

Something Else

By Chanel Brenner

You always wanted to be something else.

A cheetah, Santa Claus, a butterfly.

You were never still.

It was like your feet barely

touched the ground.

You were not rooted to the earth.

You floated like a cloud

low to the ground, changing shape

moving unpredictably.

Sometimes I could almost see through you

like a bubble and I feared you would disappear.

Or float to where I could no longer see you.

What are you now?

A flicker of light?

An unexpected surge of water?

A false alarm?

I look into the sky for you

but not through my eyes

and time dissolves

like the gravity of two worlds

has pulled it all together

and we are something else.

___

Chanel Brenner is a writer living in Los Angeles with her husband and their four-year-old son. She is the winner of the national “Words For Riley Poetry Contest” and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Caveat LectorCultural Weekly, L.K. Thayer’s Poetry Juice Bar, Memoirs Ink, ONTHEBUS, and The Coachella Review. She studies with the poet Jack Grapes and is a member of his L.A. Poets & Writers Collective. The poem, “Something Else,” is part of her collection of poems and essays about the death of her six-year-old son. The collection is called “The Christmas Boy Will Not Disappear” and was written during the first year of grief. Her hope is that her writing will help others heal and realize that they are not alone in their pain.

Scars

By Mark Belair

Only a knife fight

could have given his face

scars like that, this elderly, portly

Chinese man absorbed with the path of

some migrating birds so far up in the sky it took

a careful study of his watch to find what it was he was

watching with such soft, tender, distance-closing attention;

a gentleness earned, as seems written in faded script on his face,

over long years.

___

Mark Belair is a drummer and percussionist based in New York City. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Atlanta Review, Fulcrum, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Poet Lore, Slipstream, The South Carolina Review, The Texas Review, Sanskrit, and The Sun. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his chapbook collection, Walk With Me, has recently been published by Parallel Press of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. For further information, visit www.markbelair.com.