Legs – by Amiel Rossin

It was after the toilet scrubber was delivered that she saw them.  It was dark, save for the security lights, and Paula rarely went out at night to collect her online shopping deliveries.  But she’d been trying to find space for the cat tree, the Christmas ornaments, the sea salt, and the egg beaters.  And the attempted organization of her innumerable Internet purchases had left her so exhausted that she’d simply collapsed and fallen asleep for hours.  She’d considered waiting until the next day to open the front door and grab the package, but she’d seen a TV special on no-gooders who stole deliveries right from doorsteps, and she did not want to risk that the scrubber wouldn’t be there in the morning.

Paula ordered everything online.  She’d learned long ago, when she’d purchased her first book on the Internet, that the magic of placing an order without having to interact with another human being was one hundred percent priceless.  Other people drove her crazy.  They wanted to chitchat and make empty compliments and ask about her day.  Other people were a distraction and a detriment and an all around bother.  And – truth be told – she was terrified of them.

And so it was, with the rush of euphoria Paula felt when a crisp copy of 1984 arrived on her doorstep, that she made the World Wide Web her one and only source for trinkets, electronics, shoes, groceries, furniture, toothpaste, and — well, the list was endless.  One needn’t ever leave the comforts of home, and indeed Paula did not.  Oh she’d lost friends of course.  All of them.  Even her mother stopped making the arduous trip to Paula’s isolated cottage.  Mother had grown tired of slipping her frail body between the stacks of boxes and rolls of gift wrap and cartons of scented candles, just to find a few precious inches of space where she could rest her bones.  Then Paula and Mother would chitchat (uch!) about stupid things until Mother would inevitably turn the conversation to mental illness and psychiatry and oh they have so many wonderful drugs these days.  Unfortunately, Paula would say, none of those drugs could take her back in time to live a healthy childhood.  Zing!

So what of the toilet scrubber?  It was out there, so close, begging Paula to open the door.  My God, if she could grab it, she could clean the toilet RIGHT NOW.  This was the very definition of agony, and Paula wondered if it was a punishment, if it was karma, if she’d somehow offended God.  She had a box of porcelain Jesuses somewhere, but she’d forgotten where she’d put them and oh shit, had she put something on top of them and they’d shattered into Jesus dust and now Jesus was sore?

Stop it, Paula.  Focus on the box.  The toilet scrubber.  We need it.  We need that awesome scrubber!

“But those things out there.”

They’re not things, Paula.  You know what they are. 

“Legs.  They’re legs.  Human legs.

They can’t hurt you.  They can’t move.  They’re dead.

“Dead!  There are dead legs sticking out of the ground, and oh dusty Jesus, someone’s been buried upside down in my own front yard!”

Probably a mob hit.

“Here?”

It’s secluded.

“Why is he buried only halfway?”

Who says it’s a he?

“The khakis, the sneakers.  Those are men’s clothes.”

Until I see a face, I don’t judge.

“I have to do something.  I have to find a shovel.  Where are my shovels?  Oh no no no, what if I dig him up and he’s alive and he wants to talk?

If he was alive he’d be swinging his legs around, back and forth, back and forth.  Hey, I’m down here!

“I’m seeing things.  I must be.”

Know what I see?  A toilet scrubber that’s gonna change your life.

Paula leaned against the door, pressing her forehead to the wood.  She took deep breaths.  In through her nose, out through her mouth, like they taught her in the hospital.

She was hallucinating.  She must be.  She hadn’t had any Schnapps in hours and this was just withdrawals.  She could easily grab the scrubber and shrink back into the house.  Tomorrow morning the legs would be gone.

Or they wouldn’t.

“What if the police come?  They’ll think I murdered a man.  I’ll go to prison, and oh God, there are so many people in prison, people who love to talk, and you know I’ll want to keep all the little plastic spoons and the applesauce containers and things from the laundry, but they won’t let me and I’ll go mad.”

No.  No, she couldn’t allow that.  She had to do something.

Cut off the legs.

“What!”

Sever them where they meet the ground.  Plant daisies in the holes.

“What if he’s someone’s husband?  Or son?  They’ll come looking for him.”

Why would anyone’s husband or son come here?

“He means something to someone.  They’ll come looking.  They’ll ask questions.  They’ll want to talk.  And they’ll say, my those daisies look freshly planted and — ”

No one cares about a man stuck head first in the ground.  He’s a nobody.  He means nothing to no one and no one will come.  Maybe he’s a house burglar, ever thought of that?  Maybe he did us a favor and had a heart attack and died before he could steal your things.  Your things, Paula.  He wanted to take your things.

“If he had a heart attack, how’d he end up half buried?”

I don’t have all the answers.  Now get a chainsaw.

“All I’ve got are knives.  Lots and lots of knives.”

They won’t cut through bone.

Paula gasped.  “It’s the delivery man.  The legs.  It’s the delivery man.  I recognize those khakis.  And look, do you see it?  In the light.  His ID card.”

How could you know what that card is?  How could you know what it says or who it belongs to?

“Who else comes here with a name tag?”

Those refrigerator salesmen. 

“Don’t bring them up!  I told you, don’t you ever!”

Paula stormed away from the window.  She climbed over a mountain of bubble wrap and handbags and photographs and office supplies until she tumbled down the other side.  She entered the bathroom and lifted the toilet lid.

“No.  No, no, no.”

It’s got a ring.

“It’s not bad, right?  It’s not so bad.  Is it bad?”

You need that scrubber.

“I need that scrubber.”

KNOCK KNOCK

“Who’s that?  Is it him?  Did he get out?  Has he come for me?”

For what?  He already made his delivery.

“Shit!”

Paula hauled herself back over the mountain, then crawled on all fours to the front window.  She peeked over the sill.  A man was on the stoop — wearing khakis and an ID tag clipped to his shirt.  But he wasn’t covered in dirt.  This was someone else.

They’re gone.

Paula looked out at the garden.  Indeed, the legs were gone.  Only the tag remained.

KNOCK KNOCK

He won’t go away.

“Quiet!”

He’s looking for his colleague.  He’ll go to the police.

Outside, the man picked up the package and examined it.  He put it back on the stoop, then stepped over to the window.  Paula made herself as small as possible.  She realized how much she had to pee.

He’s leaving!

Paula snuck a peek.  Relief washed over her.  The man was walking toward the gate.  She’d been spared a confrontation, at least for now.

Then the man stopped.  He knelt and picked up the ID tag.  Examined it.  Looked back at the house.  And moments later —

KNOCK KNOCK

“Hello?” the man called.  “Anyone there?”

Paula fought back tears.  She pulled herself to her feet and peered through the eyehole.

The man peered back.  “Hello.  Hi, I’m – ”

“I just got out of the shower!  I’m naked!”

“Oh.  Well, we can talk through the door, ma’am, if it’s all the same to you.  It’ll just take a minute.  Name’s Leonard.”

“I’m so cold!  I’m not wearing a towel!”

“Ma’am, I’m looking for my employee.  Brett.  Now, he delivered this box to your home hours ago and this was his last stop.  Found his ID card right over — ”

“It fell off!  Maybe it fell right off and he didn’t notice!”

Leonard looked around.  “I guess that’s possible…”

“Oh it is!  It is possible!”

“Thing is…his family hasn’t heard from him either.”

Fuck.

“Ma’am, will you please open the door?”

“I told you I’m nude.  Now if you don’t mind –”

“I do mind, ma’am.  Maybe we could sit down, have a cup of coffee, chitchat –”

Chitchat.  Chit-fucking-chat.

” — maybe make some sense out of this.”

“I don’t even know where the coffee is.  Or the tea.  Or anything else.”

“I’ll take a glass of water.”

“No water.  The plumbing’s on the fritz.  No water I’m afraid.”

“I thought you said you took a shower.”

Paula was silent.  Leonard shook his head.  He walked around the garden, looking for other signs of Brett.  But the earth had swallowed Brett whole.  There was nothing left of him.  And he wasn’t coming back.

Leonard returned to the door.  “All right, ma’am, you give me no choice but to contact the authorities.  I’ll be back and a whole lot of people will be with me.  And they won’t give a damn whether you’re naked or not.  They’ll bust right in.”

Leonard turned to leave.

A whole lot of people?  Bust right in?  Oh no.  Oh no, that wouldn’t do at all.  Paula would die.  She’d suffocate under the talking and the scrutiny and the talking.  Sweet dusty Jesus, what should she do?

That’s when it happened.

As Leonard made his way to the gate, Paula could swear she saw the ground move.  The soil rippled and rolled back like a receding wave.  Leonard dropped into a hole right up to his waist.  Then the ground rippled again, and the wave came in, and Leonard was helpless in its clutches.  He might as well have been standing in cement.  No — quicksand, Paula thought.  Quicksand does that.

The more Leonard struggled, the deeper he sank, pulled down into the hole as if there were someone in a topsy-turvy underground world, tugging Leonard into a hell of roots and bugs and darkness.  Paula could swear he was crying.  Then he screamed.  But no one would hear him.  Not out here.  Not in this place.  Not this far from all the chitchat.

Then it stopped.

Once Leonard was up to his chin in dirt, everything came to a standstill.  Leonard’s head looked like just another gourd in the garden, as if it were planted there, perhaps to greet guests as they came through the gate.  Paula chortled.  Guests?  Ha!

“Help!  God, please!”  Leonard cried.  “Please help me!”

Paula swallowed.  “I should do something.”

Do what?

“I have to go outside.  I can’t pretend he’s not there.  I can’t listen to him scream all night.”

“Somebody!  Ma’am, please!”

Paula put her hand on the doorknob.  She shut her eyes.  The knob rattled in her palm.

You can’t help him.

Paula twisted the knob, threw the door open, and rushed into the dark, almost tripping on her new toilet scrubber.  She ran without thinking and she reached Leonard’s head and she looked down at the man.  This tearful, frightened man who was so firm with her only moments ago.

“Do you have a shovel?  Do you?!”

Paula nodded.

“Well get it!  Get the damned thing!  Dig me out!  What are you waiting for?!”

Paula dropped to her knees.

“Are you deaf?!  Fucking deaf?!”

Paula placed her hands on Leonard’s head, took a deep breath — in through her nose, out through her mouth, like they taught her in the hospital — and pushed.

“What are you doing?  Ow!  Oh no, what are you –”

Paula pushed.  And pushed.  And the soil rippled around Leonard’s head.  And his head descended into whatever nothingness awaited it.  He couldn’t scream anymore, what with his mouth full of dirt.  Then his nose.  Then his wild eyes.  Then — well, it was done.  He was gone.  And the soil settled.  And there was silence.

Paula surveyed the garden.  Then she looked up and down the narrow road that led to her home.  Just in case.  Just in case this was the miraculous night when a passerby saw her pushing a man deep into the earth.  But of course there was no one.  She was alone.  Gloriously alone.

And there was a toilet that needed scrubbing.

amielrossin

Amiel Rossin lives in Los Angeles with his wife and son and a box of assorted pastries.  He holds a BA in Theater, an MFA in Screenwriting, and a PhD in Lookin’ Good.  Connect on Twitter @amielrossin or via email at amielrossin@gmail.com.

Advertisements

The Sky is on Fire – by Angela L. Lindseth

The sky is on fire.

Bright oranges and deep reds collide with wisps of smoke that mark the location of our last camp. Every day they come for us. Every day we flee toward a prize marked with a flag of safe passage.

We’ve been lucky so far. Our group is flagrant with uncategorized gender, free thought, and interracial mingling. Everything the management hates. Why can’t they leave us alone? Hypocritical postures flank us on every side. Rewards and snitches percolate through the masses, each one willing to sell a soul for eternal salvation.

Fools.

The wind is burning.

In a way, it’s a blessing. I’m so sick of the judgement, tired of hate blazing from eyes that lack insight. Their blinding stares keep me awake with visions of fiery mountains and waterfalls ablaze. Hope lingers as drops of dew in the morning sunlight.

I can’t keep up. The speed of their hatred breaks my stride, makes me stumble over feet long mired in discrimination. My loins ache for a passion that will finally take my side. I know he awaits me, abound with a perspective that will set me free.

Forever.

The world stops turning.

 

We’re a stain smudging their idea of society with the devil’s poetry. There’s no hope of understanding. They lack the ability to form new opinions even when based on fact and observation. They know nothing about us, yet believe we are spawns from the deep aching to devour their children.

One day is all I ask. One day without the glares and self-loathing. They scream from their mantle of authority, while our voices are lost in an ocean of animosity. They suckle at power’s teat and touch themselves with wads of bills burning holes in their soul.

Fornicators.

The stars are falling.

 

We camp under the guiltless moon which hides our imperfections from those who watch. Sleep is a dream away, forgotten and set aside for another night. Morning will bring the same hopeless toil, same endless race we can’t afford to win.

Laws are made and opinions swayed to meet the needs of the masses. Their mood never changes, relentless in their pursuit to erase our existence. Their impatience for our demise blends with a stench seething across the prairie reaching past the skyline to the edge of the earth.

Foul.

There’s blood on the moon.

 

Another day on the run. Our tracks across the plain make us easy to follow, but our chosen path leads toward hope and freedom. They say there’s a sanctuary beyond the horizon, a place where destiny faces those who chase us. Its draw is undeniable and most likely unattainable.

A split-second indecision lays waste to the future at our fingertips. Their pursuit is impeccable, spun from self-righteous loathing, undaunted by our pleas for mercy. Our slaughter is perfection.

Flawless.

The sun has gone black.

 angelallindseth

Thirty years ago Angela played with the idea of a book while looking out from an abandoned fire tower in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Since that time, she has stumbled her way through life. She obtained her Geological Engineering degree, but ditched that for an electrician’s license. She’s worked a variety of jobs but never found the one that fit. Finding her calling has opened her imagination and a multitude of words have poured onto the page.

Today, she has a finished novel and a published collection of horror flash fiction called Sanity’s Threshold, Slivers of a Twisted Mind. For more of her work visit her website and Facebook author page.

Fool on the Hill – by Terry Barr

Two weeks after Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as the 39th President of the United States, I moved to Capitol Hill. I was a college kid from a small-town, not quite twenty-one.

Two months after I moved, on St. Patrick’s night, I found myself throwing up the various pints of green beer–consumed earlier at The Hawk & the Dove–into the bushes near my apartment house, Capitol Hill Lodge, on stately Massachusetts Avenue. I hadn’t eaten any supper after work that night. I had never drunk green beer before that night. And as a half-Jewish, half-protestant guy from Bessemer, Alabama, St. Patty’s Day meant nothing to me before that night. However, when one of my co-workers, a very preppy native of Boston, invited my fellow mail carriers and I to go with him to celebrate this green day with like-minded ale, what else could I do?

The H&D was jammed, the beer tasted fine, and the celebration was so heavy that I almost attempted two things that would have changed my simple life.

There was a twenty-nine year old woman at the bar that night, one of the congressional aides I saw four times a day as I made my rounds through the Longworth House building. On these rounds, I pushed a big-wheeled cart that had a high tray for “inside mail”—the stuff going from one congressperson to another within the three House buildings—and the “outside mail”—the letters to constituents that most of us discard unopened in our daily trash. This woman was black-haired with slight wisps of gray, and, I thought, pretty sultry even though she did have lightly-dark rings under her eyes. I knew she was twenty-nine because I had already asked her to go out with me one late afternoon as I was finishing my pick-up.

“How old are you,” she wondered.

“Twenty.”

She considered a moment my long sideburns, my semi-Fu Manchu moustache. Beards and long hair and blue jeans were taboo in House employment, so I did the best I could. I have long wondered where her considerations took her in those moments.

“No, I don’t think I better.”

My policy was to accept a girl/woman’s response point blank. I never pressed a woman or ever asked a woman who said “No” out a second time, except the woman who later married me and has now stuck with me for the past thirty-two years.

But on this night at The H&D, this woman pressed herself against my side, seemingly ready to laud whatever St. Patty had to offer. So I almost leaned in for a kiss. I almost had either an extraordinary night at her place or mine, or a quick slap in the face. Either alternative, I realize now, would have paid off oh-so-well over the next 240 times I passed her congressional doorway for the mail that most people throw away.

So instead, I called my friend Al Mattern over because I knew he was thirty-two and I considered him suave for a mail carrier because he spoke loudly and well and was the one who got to drive the electric pick-up cart. A few weeks later, Al invited me over to his place in Arlington to watch the NCAA semi-final basketball games, and we both enjoyed seeing Al McGuire’s Marquette Warriors defeat Dean Smith’s NC Tar Heels, making me a southern turncoat or something. After smoking too many joints, Al drove me back to my place, stopping first to pick us up some Jack-in-the-Box in those pre-botulism days. I never asked him what happened after I introduced him to a woman whose name I can no longer recall, and he never said a word about it either.

The other thing that almost happened–and this could only have almost happened to me after I had ingested four pints of green beer–was:

I leaned in to my friend Billy “Nitro” Freeman and suggested that we “just leave because the bartender is so busy, he’ll never notice and if he does, he’ll never be able to catch us.”

Thinking back on that night, I’d estimate that at least 200 people were crammed into the bar, every one of us demanding more green beer.

“I know he wouldn’t catch me, but it’s a bad idea man,” Billy said, and so we kept on drinking and grooving to that traditional St. Patty’s ballad, “The Lido Shuffle.”

Once, or actually several times in our friendship, someone asked Billy why his nickname was “Nitro.”

“It’s because for a fat boy, I sure can run,” and then for proof of something, he’d pull up his shirt and show you the stretch marks around his gut and armpits. “I used to be skinny, too,” he’d say wistfully, “but even now, I’m faster than you.”

My roommate, Peter Hackes—son of the famous NBC newsman—took Billy up on his racing challenge. After work that fine April day, each changed into a pair of shorts, but for some strange reason, they still wore their work boots. Peter’s boots were worn down on the outer edges of his heels for that was how he walked. Still, when someone yelled GO and they took off, running maybe sixty yards, Peter finished first, about three yards ahead of Nitro.

“Not bad for a fat boy,” Billy said as he ambled back, and it was the way he said it that made me feel like Billy had won after all. That was the Lido Swagger.

“So why are you called Nitro,” I asked.

But I didn’t get the real skinny until Billy and I drove one Friday night after work to Frederick, Maryland, with Billy’s older brother. There at a bar where we drank all the Falstaff beer they had in stock, Billy’s brother, hearing one too many “Nitro’s,” said to everyone listening,

Yeah, the real reason we call him Nitro is that when he drinks like this, his farts kill.”

I had never seen Billy giggle before that night, but he even did that with a swagger.

On St. Patty’s night, however, his cool saved me.

“It’s not worth it man.”

So I decided I should pay my bill, but before I did so, I decided I needed some air. As I left to go out into the night, the bartender grabbed me,

“Hey, you have a pretty big tab you know.”

“Oh, I’ll be right back, just have to get a breath.”

A few minutes later, I paid the man his $36 plus a generous tip.

Getting caught would not only have been primarily stupid, but secondarily so. I was living and working in DC with a patronage grant from my own congressman, Walter Flowers, who had contacted a professor of mine at the University of Montevallo—Dr. Jack Hamilton—asking if he would nominate someone from the college who also lived in the congressman’s district. That was me: a Social Work major carrying a 3.6 GPA who had also been chief editor of our campus newspaper—The Alabamian—as well as a SGA senator.

So given that I didn’t succumb to temptation on either count, you’d think that the Catholic God and saints would have taken pity on me. You’d think that at the very least they would have allowed me to make it into my apartment and vomit in my own toilet instead of breaking me down just a block from my destination. But I guess I should be thankful that no one saw me or did worse to my pitiful being.

I can tell you this, too: when you puke green beer, it loses none of its tone.

And in the morning, empty and now starving for some kind of food other than the sliced oranges I normally ate before heading to work, I retraced my path from the night before, back to work, and for the next three hours made my rounds, passing the aide I almost kissed, and waiting patiently for my lunch hour, craving that entire time what, fortunately, was being served as the feature dish in the House cafeteria: slices of premium rump roast, just like my mother made for all the Sunday lunches of my naïve youth. I ate that day with undisguised relish.

#

I remember when Jimmy Carter’s Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan, was exposed for snorting cocaine. While that act was nothing to relish, it wasn’t as devastating as, say, bugging your rival party’s headquarters, getting routinely high on jelly-confectioned beans and thinking trees caused pollution, appointing your son-in-law to your inner cabinet, or berating department store chains for their insensitivity to your daughter.

Carter was the first person I ever voted for. My college roommate, Keith Brandon, and I headed the Georgian’s campaign on the UM campus, which amounted to distributing “Gimme-Jimmy” buttons (with that caricatured grin), and arguing regularly with our dorm-mate Frank–an Irish guy who sported a full chin-beard, no moustache, and carried a beautiful hardwood cane to aid his polio-ridden legs–over gun control. Frank viewed registration as the slippery first step toward “confiscation.” Every other night, Keith and I could hear him coming, from the minute he left his first-floor room to the second he hit the staircase—no elevator in our modern facility—to the inevitable instant when he appeared in our doorframe saying, “Hey fellas, what’s going on?” If he had called us, I’m sure we would have saved him the struggle up and down those stairs, but I guess it was a matter of pride for him to come to friendly enemy land and argue us to a standstill.

“Why do you care so much about pistols anyway, Frank,” we’d ask. “What do you even need one for?”

“Target practice,” he’d say, though what target he was truly aiming for, we never discovered.

When we set up our campaign wares outside the UM Student Center, we’d engage in other arguments such as expanding or limiting welfare coverage. Some of my fellow social work majors argued vehemently over limiting benefits because, as they’d say, the poor just wanted to have more children and bilk the government for more money.

The poor could always “turn to Jesus,” others added.

There wasn’t much arguing, though, in the days following the Carter-Ford debate when President Ford declared that he didn’t consider Poland under Soviet dominance. It was strange using the Cold War to our advantage, almost thanking the USSR for being there.

Just as it’s funny today to think that one of the great knocks against Carter, or virtually any Democrat then, was that they were “soft on communism,” and too unwilling to face down the Russian Bear. Remember, too, how Carter was slammed for normalizing relations with mainland China, for recognizing that communist state as the true China instead of Taiwan?

Remember which president first visited communist China, though?

Or which president took Osama Bin Laden out of this world?

In any case, it is funny to me about Carter’s Georgia Mafia and Jordan’s cocaine use, because in the first two months of my job delivering mail in the US House of Representatives Post Office in the revered Longworth building, I participated in a cocaine deal, struck in the very basement of that building where our mail carts were sequestered. I, and the others participating, paid $70 for a gram, and my main qualm about this deal was that I had never spent so much money on one particular item before, except for the pair of Electro-Voice stereo speakers I bought for $69 each the previous summer. After taxes, I brought home about $1000 a month from the House PO, and given that Peter and I were sharing the $200 a month rent, utilities included, $70 was no big deal, really. Except that it was, you know, not very legal.

Guilt-induced, I later sold half my gram at face value to one of my cohorts, glad to rid myself of both product and guilt, though not so repentant that I didn’t have fun with what I kept. I’d think sometimes of my poor parents who unknowingly financed me to make such deals in our nation’s capital. Who considered every night, I’m sure, what a trustworthy and virtuous citizen I was.

Still, they’d be proud to know that I never made another coke deal in Washington, and that I never saw another such deal go down in the basement of the House, which is kind of like thinking that after you’ve discovered a rat living in the basement of your own apartment building and exterminated him, you’ve completely rid yourself of the pest problem. Or like thinking that the USSR saw Poland as a beloved, protected son.

I don’t know why I wasn’t paranoid about buying cocaine in a government building. Maybe it was because the cellophane packet was so tiny, that it fit so snugly in my corduroy pants pocket. It wasn’t like the guards sitting at every entrance to the building patted us down. As long as we displayed our ID’s visibly, we were okay to leave or enter. Okay, that is, as long as we weren’t carrying something with us, something opaque that needed to be checked. Something like a valise, a backpack, or…a toilet bag.

#

Billy lived in a garage apartment behind his parents’ townhouse somewhere on residential Capitol Hill. Once we knew each other better, sometimes he’d invite me for dinner. After a night of getting stoned and listening to Blue Oyster Cult’s “Agents of Fortune” or The Outlaws’ “Hurry Sundown,” I’d make the near-midnight, mile-and-a-half walk back to my place, taking a different route home each time. I remember when I first told my oldest friend, Jimbo, about moving to DC and being mildly shocked at his reaction since he was always the more adventurous one of us:

“Okay, but I don’t want you out on the streets late at night,” he said, as if he were my father or my lover or something. As if I would take such chances or throw up in the bushes or something.

As if I’d walk home alone, very late and very stoned.

On one of the first Saturdays after I moved to the district, I used the Yellow Pages to map out a walking route from the Hill to Georgetown with the aim of hitting as many used and specialized bookstores as I could. I was plush and heady with my first-ever checking account, ready to buy the books that would make me “political;” the ones that would change my life and form me into a Washington Post-style investigative reporter so that I might expose further presidential malfeasance or the drug rings in House office buildings.

Books like All the President’s Men, On the Bus, The Final Days, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.

In that latter classic, author Hunter S. Thompson, stoned on psychedelics or not, praises California congressman Ronald V. Dellums, a true Berkley radical whose House office sat squarely on my daily rounds. Only once, though, did I actually see Rep. Dellums, as I strode through his office door:

“Congressman Dellums, I really admire you. I read all about you in Hunter Thompson’s book!”

He sort of smiled, said “Thank you,” and excused himself to go enact some legislation, or look up my reference, or call the Post Office downstairs. Later, I told my good friend Ron—who mentored me back at Montevallo—what I’d said to Dellums:

“Was he happy or embarrassed,” Ron asked.

“You know, I really can’t say,” I replied. I wonder today at my own lack of viewpoint.

But before that wonder, that experience, before I bought and read that book, there was the Saturday of my designed path. I wandered through downtown D.C., trying to locate an obscure sci-fi bookstore, still hoping to enhance my political education through foreign bodies. But as I turned an otherwise nondescript street corner, other bodies interfered and asked that I give a quarter to pass by.

The four guys were big and, of course, not overwhelmingly friendly. How much was a quarter worth to them back in ’77?

“Sure,” I said as bravely as I could, and then handed the one who asked—a very big guy wearing a billed cap—my coin.

“You can pass,” he said, motioning down the street. And even though I wanted to go straight, I took that left turn and eventually angled back in the direction I originally wanted. I found the sci-fi place, too, and purchased The Man in the High Castle.

As entrance fees go, mine wasn’t too steep really, and really, that instance on a sunny street in the middle of a winter Saturday afternoon was the only time in the nearly six months I lived in Washington that anyone accosted or even stopped me on my way.

Still, I was relieved every time I re-entered my apartment after a night at Billy’s, considering myself smart or lucky or something.

Sometimes Billy would suggest that I spend the night, usually on a weekend. For some reason, though, once, we planned on my sleeping over on a weeknight. All I needed was my toilet bag containing toothbrush and paste, deodorant, and razor. And, of course, my quarter-bag of pot.

Life is funny, and much passion, hubris, and forgetfulness can be blamed on an extremely stoned man.

Except that when I packed that evening, I wasn’t.

When I packed, I wasn’t thinking of the morning, of the entrance to the Longworth Building. Of the guard awaiting me—the one who asked me to

“Open that bag and let me see what’s in it.”

“Oh. This? It’s just my toothpaste and toilet stuff.”

“I still need to see.”

At least I had known by pot-smoker’s instinct to keep the bag buried underneath the more legit goods. But at that moment, all I could see was my congressman, his gorgeous aide Beverly, my parents and my professors back home. All that shame when they’d get the call and when I’d return home months before I was due.

And in that moment, I did the only thing I could do:

I opened my bag.

To his credit and my relief, the guard looked in, saw my tube of Crest, and said,

“Okay.”

Thankfully, I’m not the sort who continues making small talk after he’s gotten away with something; not the kind to explain where I had been the night before, what I had been doing. That I, of course, was a small town Alabama boy, here in the capital trying to make good, and not listening to the corrupting influences of rock and roll and smoking the devil’s weed.

Instead, I walked on down to our basement, stashed my bag–with the weed I had bought right here a few days before–into my locker, and proceeded on my appointed rounds.

#

Of course, I did wander through the district, stoned, on occasion. My co-worker Dave, who at this time was eighteen and either taking a break before college or deciding where to aim his arrow, got us stoned after work one Saturday, and as we sat around his apartment trying to adjust, he jumped up and said, “C’mon.”

I followed him onto a Metro bus riding crosstown, and when we got off somewhere on Connecticut Avenue, I kept following him right into a bookstore that hadn’t made my list before.

Revolution Books.

That afternoon I bought a copy of The Communist Manifesto, which, actually, I had no idea you could legally acquire, as well as a Socialist Workers’ Party newspaper whose headline read,

“Britain’s Sacred Cow Visits America.”

Those crazy Trotskyites.

Standing in this dark space, I did feel revolutionary, and my feelings only grew deeper as Dave led us to a Cuban restaurant nearby. I had no idea what to expect from Cuban cuisine, but as I scanned the menu, I recognized items that sounded Mexican-restaurant familiar. Enchiladas, only with chicken, accompanied by black beans, a food that we didn’t eat much of back in Alabama, but that, in this seat of western capitalism, filled me with subversive pleasure.

It all seemed so “communist chic.”

The beans were exceptional, and I say that sincerely and not just as one who, that afternoon, was a slave to the munchies.

Recently, a Cuban café opened in our tiny college town, a former mill village, in rural South Carolina. Not bad for a population of 8000 that has shown that it will not support any form of local coffee house. It was not exceptional faire, and matters grew even grimmer when I learned that the mixed-race couple that owned it—she an American, he a native Cuban—also identify as Baptist. Maybe this is all apropos of the post-Castro era.

Back in ’77, though, Castro was still menacing the minds of many in western republics, and the $6.00 I paid for my lunch was, of course, a quarter of what I paid for my ounce of pot. In another few years our next president would declare a War on Drugs, the price of pot would increase ten-fold, and so it would become simpler and more efficient to go ahead and buy coke. But on this afternoon with Dave, the underground rage was still cheap pot, rare black legumes, and sacred cows in tiny dark bookstalls, all within walking distance of the world’s greatest power-seat, which we strolled past on our way back home to my apartment building, which was also near power. But at a cost of $200 a month—utilities included—I should have known the limits of its and my condition.

#

When I first called Capitol Hill Lodge to ensure that my apartment would be ready for occupancy, I’d have sworn to Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter, and even George Wallace that the woman I was speaking to on the phone, the apartment manager, was a Yankee white woman. Her tonal quality reminded me of Bea Arthur on “Maude,” though much friendlier. This woman’s name now escapes me, though Bernadette or Josephine keeps floating to the surface. In any case, I suppose she’s dead now, but on the late Saturday morning I entered her office in the Lodge (we had driven all night from Alabama), coming in from a snow that seemed to darken the atmosphere rather than lighten it, the person who greeted me was a very stout, bosomy, black woman.

“Must be the assistant manager,” I thought.

And then she spoke.

Damn, I know I was a stupid hick from Alabama and should have known better—like black people who are natives of Britain don’t speak in a Southern American dialect either—but until that moment, I had never heard a black person speak in such a voice.

Even “George Jefferson” sounded black to my ears.

So at that precise moment I knew I was immersed in the North. Whatever her name actually was, Bernadette or Josephine welcomed me in, gave me my apartment and mailbox keys, took my first month’s rent plus deposit, and set me free to ascend to the second floor and my new home. My studio apartment had one long window above the twin beds, which rested against opposite walls. A kitchenette adjoined the one living space, and just in back of it was a closet/hallway leading to the bathroom. My friend Ron and his girlfriend Lynne accompanied me on the move, and because Ron’s car was a Mercury Bobcat—a grandiose Pinto—I had to choose which of my precious things to bring. There wasn’t room enough, finally, for both the portable, 15-inch color TV and the stereo component set, and since I wanted talking heads to comfort me and since I also had the AM radio that my Dad and I formerly used to listen to Alabama football games, I chose the TV, even though when in use, I had to slap its sides every twenty seconds to get the picture back in focus.

In the six months I lived at Capitol Hill Lodge, I met no other tenants, though the ones I passed in the lobby looked much more prosperous than I. Many were much older, too, all were white, and most had The Washington Post delivered each day to their door. It was such a thrill for me to sometimes swipe one of their dailies, and then swoon over such luminous names as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein or David Broder affixed to front and editorial pages.

Other than sharing the Post at 200 Massachusetts Avenue, the other things that we tenants commonly held were the rats in our basement laundry facility and, I assume, the infestation of roaches in our private living spaces.

I didn’t cook that much and always cleaned up after myself if I did. No matter, those roaches were in the cabinets, under the counters, on the ceiling, everywhere. Though I never fully adjusted to their presence, I did sleep better each night after killing a dozen or so.

I couldn’t kill the rats, so after a few weeks, Billy offered his own washer/dryer for my use.

So when I heard our now current president cautioning John Lewis about cleaning up the mess in his congressional district—basically the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta—I wanted to suggest to the man in orange that he look to his own house or tower. Because all is not well practically everywhere. Roaches, rats cocaine users: they don’t care about the condition your conditional accent is in.

When I finally moved out of the Lodge, my parents insisted that I leave all plates and cups and every single iced teaspoon behind. For Peter. Another lost reminder of all my remainders.

#

My life on the Hill wasn’t solely composed of aides I wanted to date, buxom apartment managers, roaches on my ceiling, and friends who sold me drugs and let me do laundry at their parents’ urban townhouse. I met some famous people, too, like Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, from Texas. Once, a friend and I thought we saw Cy Vance speeding past us in a dome-lit limo. And then there was the day Andrew Young, recently confirmed UN Ambassador, came striding down the hall as I made my rounds on the fourth floor. He smiled at me, too, and I smiled back even though I knew that my Dad thought Young was a radical.

No one I met, however, could compare to the two men I worked for: the assistant postmaster, a guy named Elmo, and my immediate supervisor, Frank.

Elmo mainly sat in his “office,” a glorified cubicle, hoping no one needed him. Sometimes he’d walk through the room, always dressed in white shirt, black pants, black tie, and shoes whose laces were frayed, for all to see. He seemed mainly sober.

When my service was near its end, Elmo called me into his cubicle, the first time we had ever spoken:

“Well, Frank tells me your leavin’ us. He says you’ve done fine work, fine work.”

“Thank you Elmo.”

“Yep, fine work. So, we were thinkin’ that we’re gonna give you your last week off, with pay, to show you how much we appreciate you.”

“Wow. That would be great Elmo.”

“Whatcha gonna do with all that time?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go to New York. I’ve never been, and it would be great to see some shows there.”

“Yeah. You know you can get free tickets to those shows. All ya have to do is write to ‘em.”

“Really? Cause I heard they could be pretty expensive.”

“Nah, write to ‘em. They’d be glad to have you in the audience. “The Match Game,” “To Tell the Truth,” any of ‘em.”

“OK, I will Elmo. And thanks again.”

What would have been the point of explaining? After all, he meant well.

Frank was a Baltimore man, and I never knew men from Baltimore had specific Baltimorean accents. The only way I can describe it is to say that they pronounced their fair city “Bal-TEE-Moah.” Frank considered all of us guys in the mailroom to be his “boys,” and he treated us much like the father in the book I’m listening to now, Shit My Father Says: gruff, but with love. Frank was sixty-five at least, smoked the worst-smelling pipe tobacco I’ve ever scented, and wore flannel shirts and brown slacks every workday. “Grizzled” is the word that describes him best, and that attitude showed if any of us ran late, or got the inside/outside mail confused.

I’m guessing that Frank would have been irate and disappointed about the drugs. Worse, that some of us smoked at lunchtime, which meant that the afternoon mail maybe didn’t quite get to where it should have. Perhaps this explains the slow doom of the Carter presidency. I confess that when I worked at my Dad’s jewelry store, I spent similar lunch hours, which meant that the prices I attached to the jewelry after lunch might have been just a bit off, which I’m sure had nothing to do with the business’s eventual collapse into bankruptcy. Wasn’t that just the way wholesale was heading?

Frank and my Dad were contemporaries, and so out of displaced generational respect, I agreed to Frank’s request that before I leave for good, I train my replacement. Patronage jobs had time limits, and the guy I was training was the definition of a southern prep-school boy, heading to the University of Alabama the following year. He wore blue ivy-league shirts, khaki pants, and Sperry Docksiders to work. I could have told him that he wasn’t a fit, but then someone could have told me that, too, on my first day. As I showed him the rounds, explained the intricacies of sorting mail, and introduced him to the aides in various offices, he proceeded to take notes in the little folding pad he brought.

I mean, he took notes on everything: which elevator to use, whose offices followed whose even though the names were attached to each door, where to stash the mail cart, which aide was the nicest. I wondered if he expected me to issue a quiz on the following day, and I thought about it seriously over night.

I didn’t though, and when I returned a week later to say my final farewells to Frank and Elmo and Al and Nitro Freeman, Frank pulled me aside:

“Tehhy, the new guy havin’ problems. Couldja go with him one moah time?”

“Sure Frank. I’d be glad to.

And so we made our rounds, the guy still taking notes, still asking exactly where the inside mail belonged.

When we returned to the mailroom, Frank looked at me as if I had the power of impeachment. But I just shook my head, grabbed his hand and said goodbye. I never told Frank that I was a Yankees fan, but now, every time I watch the Yanks play Frank’s beloved Orioles, I wince only a little and look the other way if the Birds win.

Two months after I left, I was eating at our favorite restaurant in Bessemer, The Bright Star, and I ran into the guy who replaced me, the guy who cut my time in Washington short. The guy who would be enrolling in law school that coming fall.

“Yep, I’m back home. The job just wasn’t for me,” he said with a grin.

“Guess not,” I replied, thinking about the choices we so callously make, the chances we throw away, the deals we could have had.

The people we choose to defend our rights, and the votes we so calculatedly waste or never use in the first place.

#

Something else happened to me in those Washington weeks. When, and only when, I had friends visiting me, we often went to the movies. I don’t know why Jimbo and I chose to see Fun with Dick and Jane, but we did. I think it was a light-hearted romp, something of a caper film. Another caper film was Behind the Green Door, the infamous Marilyn Chambers vehicle that Ron and Lynne insisted we see. Being from Alabama and all, we didn’t get the chance to see real and famous hardcore sex films. You know, the ones where men grab women by whatever hair they can grab and where sex occurs in vivid black and white. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to go, but in the end, it was pretty boring, and not so pretty.

The film I remember most, however, was Robert Altman’s Three Women, a picture I saw twice with Jimbo and with Freddy. It’s a film you kind of have to see twice if you’re going to get all that happens, or at least give yourself a chance to. The personalities of the three women in question—played by Shelly Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Janice Rule—morph into and beyond each other within the confines of a remote and rundown Texas motel where Rule’s very pregnant character keeps painting grotesque scenes of alien beings with tremendous penises violating the supposed females of their kind. Rule’s husband, played I believe by Robert Forster, stands behind each woman, guiding their aim, to a great extent, making them what they are: heartbreakingly psychotic. It’s a film I’d see again today, that is, if it weren’t playing out nightly on my news feed. I won’t tell you what happens at the end, a) because I hate to spoil things, and b) because it might get some people’s hopes up, or conversely, reinforce their belief that women should be seen, occasionally, but never heard.

In the end, it’s funny what we remember about a certain time and place in our lives. And what I remember tells me how very fortunate I was, though in my own end, I never became the political reporter I thought I would be. I changed my college major to English, and when the next election arose, I did not vote for Carter.

To my shame now, I voted third party, which didn’t matter so much in 1980 since Reagan truly did win in a landslide, unlike….

#

Inauguration day 2017.

If I go to Washington at all, it will be under no one’s patronage but my own. By the time anyone reads these words, this cloudy day will be some sort of memory, too: strange or nightmarish or perhaps the word my Nanny used when I was little, when I had been sick with whatever stomach bug was circulating in our collective system; when I had thrown up all my vegetable soup or cornbread, or that lime green Jell-o they used to give me for dessert when I had been extra good:

“I’m sorry darling,’” she’d say. “Does your throat taste bitter now?”

“Yes,” I’d nod, not completely understanding how she knew or why she was asking.

She’d give me some Canada Dry then, to soothe me and wipe the taste from my mouth. If only it were always so easy. If only she were here now to comfort me and, perhaps, you too.

terrybarr

Terry Barr’s essays have appeared in journals such as Full Grown People, Sinkhole Lit, Drunk Monkeys, Hippocampus, Left Hooks Journal, South Writ Large, and Lowestoft Chronicle. His essay collection, Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings from My Alabama Mother, will be published in a second edition this May by Third Lung Press. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family.

The Walk – by David S. Golding

When I’m tired enough that I think I can lay down to sleep without having any thoughts, a woman enters my mind. She’s been waiting for me, I imagine, waiting her whole life behind her dark hair, although it might just be dark because she’s looking at me from the shadows. But I know it’s not really me who she’s waiting for, it’s the man who just climbed off the last train. He wears clothes with no design under the yellow streetlight. From the windows they watch the way he stands on the platform long after the train is gone. Where did that train come from? Why does he travel without any bags? Is this the person who is going to rescue me? They think he might save the women, probably from their husbands, just like the movies where the woman is always in peril. But he’s not going to save any of them, he’s come to save the town itself. He’s come to set things right. He walks slow through these streets he’s never been to, his stride with the ease of a soldier who is doomed to wander because he can’t remember where he came from. He walks straight to the back door of my house, which I didn’t lock, and down the hallway. I hear him pause before he steps into my bedroom, and there he is, the shape of his shoulders as solid as my heartbeat. He knows. He knows and he’s making it clear by the way he stands there. He wants me to know too, but he doesn’t just let his posture do all the talking. He raises a pistol that catches no light, the only thing he brought with him, and aims at my chest so I can hear the first shot.

***

David S. Golding grew up in the lowlands that stretch between Seattle and Portland. He now teaches peace studies and development geography in Sri Lanka. He is a doctoral candidate at Lancaster University. His fiction has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, Mithila Review, Jersey Devil Press, and elsewhere. Read his work at www.dsgolding.com.

We All Buy Our Meat Somewhere – by Taylor Lea Hicks

Whit had been standing in the frozen meat aisle for a few minutes before he noticed her, reflected in the glass of the freezer door he was analyzing meats through. She was large, enormous even, her image taking up the entirety of the door’s glass and leaking over into the frames beside it. Her clothes were at least three sizes too small and her hair, shown in crude detail as she turned to study her own meat selection, was thinning in some patches and unevenly overgrown in others. Whit paused in place, held by the image mirrored in the frost, amazed at the arduousness of her movements and the scrutiny with which she treated each slab. Backwards, her likeness picked up and tossed aside countless ribs, breasts, and tenderloins, urgently scanning each one for some level of perfection, perhaps some sign of juiciness, which they each, in turn, appeared to be lacking.

Coming to the bottom of the shelves, she bent over, an impossible angle that all but mooned Whit as he gawked with sickened fascination at the creature—because she could only be a creature, squished into the garb of what she perceived humans to look like, her creature-skin spilling over the edges of the fabric and suffocating it, preventing it from doing its duty providing some sort of coverage, some kind of protection in the land of cold cuts. At the very last piece of freezer-burned flesh seized from the back corner she sniffed in ecstatic pleasure, her large nose pressed into the flimsy wrapping and coming away covered in icicles. Without bothering to open the sealed container, the she-creature fell onto the floor with the sound of slapping skin, the misty door stuck against her face and the ever-spilling tissue of her form as she tore into the piece of meat, massive teeth ripping and chewing and devouring the icy rack of ribs from the foam base. When the meat was consumed, she dumped the foam down her throat, torn wrapper and all, licking her thick fingers in delight. Her eyes, which had been closed throughout the eating process, now opened and zeroed in on Whit’s.

Black holes, bigger even than her mass, bleeding into each other and drowning Whit in their waters. He swung around to face her, the corporeal her, to fend off the darkness of the hunger of the she-creature.

He swung around and there was no one there. No one in the frozen meat aisle but himself. The freezer door in front of him was closed, the chunks of meat untouched in their places. He exhaled and his breath was frost in the air.

As White exited the store without purchasing any meat, without purchasing any food at all, he stopped to tear a clear wrapper from the sole of his shoe, tiny melting icicles dripping from its ripped surface and clinging to his shaking fingers.

taylorleahicks

Taylor Lea Hicks is a writer, editor, teacher, and proud Whedonite hailing from the south. She has her MFA from Stony Brook Southampton, and in 2016 she was the runner-up for the SNHU Fall Fiction award. Her work has been published in Gandy Dancer, The Portland Review, and TSR – The Southampton Review, among others. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @taylorleahicks or email her at taylorleah8@gmail.com.

Southbound – by Carly Zee

The road didn’t change, strangely enough, the further south that she drove. Same dash lights inside the car, and same songs on the radio, she’d switch stations and cities, but the songs stayed the same. Same gas station selling the same coffee, same bleary-eyed clerks working nightshift ready to take her money for a top up and a lousy cup.

She drank it black, he always remembered that. But he was gone now.

She thought about him as she drove, as the first stars appeared on the horizon, frosty air crashing through her window, and trying to stay awake; she thought of him. As the road bucked and turned and wrapped around bends real tight so she didn’t peek down for fear of driving off the hillside; she thought of him. And when the night air turned warm and heavy and the taste of the coast and palm trees met her lips; she thought of him again.

Miles ticked by and thoughts of him slowly disappeared, pieces left scattered along the roadside as she swept past; no longer wishing he was there, or dredging up memories of both of them together, but he faded, as thought lost in the great distances of time and space.

She drove into the night, and beyond, turning into something else. A person with no place, no time, only now.

Still, she drove, and the road didn’t change one bit, smooth asphalt gliding into darkness, always just out of reach of her headlights, she drove into it; and in doing so, she changed.

Into herself.

 ***

Carly Zee is a writer and thinker of strange things. Her work appears in Shot Glass Journal, Twisted Sister, and countless poems and prose pieces are scattered in around the web. You can connect with Carly through https://carlyzee.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

Long Live the Tsar – by Joshua Scully

The Tsar was alive.

His wife and children were alive.

The story about their deaths in Yekaterinburg was fabricated by those hoping to liberate – rather than liquidate – the imperial family. Rescued by sympathizers from the basement of the Ipatiev House on a warm July night, the Romanovs were secretly handed over to the Czechoslovak Legion.

The Whites desperately desired to save Tsar Nicholas II. Following the abdication, the imperial family sought asylum as far as possible from fermenting revolution in the fatherland. The Whites allowed the murky tale of their execution to spread and assured the Romanovs that arrangements were in place for a comfortable exile.

The Czechoslovaks controlled the Trans – Siberian Railway and whisked the imperial family toward the east coast of Russia. Reports of a lone, antiquated locomotive leading a string of dilapidated passenger coaches over the Siberian plain reached Red leadership a few weeks after the rescue of the Romanovs. The Tsar and his family could not escape. The wave of reform required their deaths.

Attempts to intercept “The Train of Special Purpose” at Krasnoyarsk and Tayshet had failed. Irkutsk was firmly in White hands, so the last opportunity for the Reds existed along the shores of Lake Baikal. Despite the harsh feelings of the Russo – Japanese War lingering in the east, the imperial family could melt away into Manchuria or Japan once beyond the vast Siberian lake.

The Reds controlled the lake after arming the former railroad ferry, Baikal, with cannons and torrents. Nikolai Medvedev captained the militarized ferry and his orders were very specific: destroy the train and any imperial cargo within at all costs.

On a warm August morning, Medvedev and his first mate, Alexander Sednev, scanned the mottled green, gray, and brown cliffs near the point of the western shore where the Angara River drained into the lake. Both men were pleased that the lake had cooperated with their intention. The waters were relatively calm, there was little in the way of fog, and the brightening sky was a beautifully azure blue.

The Baikal was already in position, with her starboard side facing the delta and her bow directed southwest. As soon as the locomotive rounded a curve near the delta to run parallel with the shore, Medvedev planned to shell the train to splinters.

“There!” Sednev shouted. He handed a pair of binoculars to his captain.

Medvedev peered through the lenses and discerned thin columns of smoke and steam in the distance.

“That’s the train,” the captain confirmed. From the bridge, he rang a bell alerting the soldiers positioned throughout the ferry that the target approached.

Medvedev grinned when an ancient locomotive and a series of four coaches came into view. The dated appearance of the Tsar’s special express was almost comical. He imagined the Czechoslovaks had taken the locomotive and the cars from the scrap yard in Bogdanovich. If the Whites had wanted the train to appear inconspicuous, the Baikal captain thought that perhaps their efforts were too good. He rang the bell again. This was the signal to open fire.

“Would have been dismantled anyway, right?” Medvedev joked.

Sednev smiled and nodded to Lavr Gorbunov, the pilot of the ferry. Gorbunov prepared to engage Baikal in a chase if necessary.

“Keep up with it,” Medvedev said to Gorbunov over the thunder of artillery fire. The captain rushed to a starboard window.

Medvedev opened the window just as shells hammered through the last coach. The shattered remnant disconnected from the third coach and promptly derailed.

Engines on the ferry roared to life as Baikal lurched forward to keep pace with the train.

“The Tsar is in no hurry,” Medvedev jested. Sednev and Gorbunov both laughed dutifully.

The Baikal gunners overcompensated for the movement of the ferry, firing the next round of shells ahead of the steaming locomotive. The projectiles exploded against a cliff face. Boulders and rocks tumbled down toward the track. Medvedev thought these falling chunks of granite would derail the locomotive, but the train slipped passed the blasted stretch just before the larger pieces of earth reached the rails.

Shells had landed too far behind and too far ahead of the locomotive. Medvedev was confident the next volley would be decisive.

Although the locomotive was some distance away, the Baikal captain was certain that the engineer made an obscene gesture as he and the fireman leapt from the locomotive. This gesture was not uncommon from the opposing faction, especially in the few situations where Medvedev had watched the execution of captured Whites.

“Long live the Tsar!”

That’s what the captain imagined the engineer and fireman shouted just before their jump.

True to Medvedev’s expectation, the next round of shells was wonderfully on the mark. Several hit the locomotive, exploding the boiler and derailing the coaches. One of the coaches was catapulted into the lake. The engine and remaining cars burst into flames.

A wave of cheers swept over Baikal. Medvedev turned and shook hands with Sednev and Gorbunov. Others on the bridge congratulated their captain.

During the pursuit and subsequent jubilation, no one on Baikal noticed teams of Yakuts pull two ragged wagons away from the Angara River delta and to the northeast. The “Train of Special Purpose” was destroyed, and the Tsar was dead.

***

An autumnal rain quieted the streets of Juneau. A raucous faro table in Hotel Alaska was the only definitive sign of life.

A shabbily dressed man with a paradoxically proud refinement joined the game. He didn’t speak much at first, but, after winning a few dollars and kicking back a few tumblers of vodka, he occasionally shared his heavy accent. When he was able to buck the tiger, he joked with the other punters about his eventual need to pay for four weddings. When the bank beat him, he sorrowfully recounted the health of his son.

“What’s the name, stranger?” the banker finally asked.

“Nick.”

Those at Hotel Alaska took to calling him “Shorty”.

joshuascully

Joshua Scully is an American History Teacher from Pennsylvania. His speculative fiction can be found at A Visit to the Idea Factory and  @jojascully.

Staying Alive – by Eva Rivers

Six months. Maybe a year.

I thought, make up your mind. When you’re teetering on the edge, the difference between six months and twelve months really matters. Did I have the extra six months or didn’t I? Did Mr FRCP have any idea what that meant? It meant an extra twenty-four weeks. An extra one hundred and sixty-eight days. An extra four thousand and thirty-two hours.

The bus should have arrived at 11.14.  It was 11.27 before I saw its top deck glinting in the distance. The thing about buses is you can think things through. Work things out. Make decisions. But I’d made my decision even before swiping my Oyster card and now time was running out.

When Alistair arrived home I was tipsy and singing along to Stayin’ Alive. Somehow that horrendous falsetto didn’t seem quite so bad. One of his junior partners was with him. I waved.

Ah…ha…ha…ha…stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.

‘Rather inappropriate behaviour,’ he said when the junior had gone.

‘I’ve got something to tell you,’ I said.

He wasn’t even looking at me. He could conduct a whole conversation without looking at you once.

‘Tomorrow, I’ll be gone.’

‘Gone where?’

‘I’m leaving.’

That made him look up.

‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning I’m not going to waste any more time.’

Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.

The crossing from Holyhead to Dublin was ferocious.

‘Would it help if I prayed to the Gods of the Irish Sea?’ I said to the woman who brought me a wad of paper towels.

Fecking eejit is what Dad would have said. But nothing could have appeased the sea that day. By comparison, the train to Killarney was like the Orient Express.

Mary met me at the station. She’s the eldest. Then there’s Lizzie. And then me. The Three Graces Mum called us. We stopped by the cemetery. Mum’s head stone was leaning in towards Dad’s just like she always did in photographs. I tugged at the weeds that clogged up the few inches of soil that separated their graves.

They couldn’t have been better parents. You don’t have to marry him, they’d said all those years ago.

‘You’ve a lifetime ahead of you, Aisling,’ had said Mum. ‘Come home. We’ll manage between us now.’

Dad said he’d take a flying kick to anyone who so much as raised an eyebrow. But I didn’t go home.

On my second night every member of the family came to dinner. Even Auntie Colleen who rarely left her purple Lazy-Boy.

‘So where is the hotshot?’ she said.

‘I left him behind.’

Colleen spent the rest of the evening sucking on a crubeen, or even talking to it now and again. I pictured Alistair doing his lemon-sherbet face. He’d always accepted cooking killed the germs a trotter may have picked up in its former life, but he said it could never destroy the image of what the pig had trotted in. I think it was crubeens that turned him against the entire Irish race. It was Colleen’s crubeens he’d once called revolting. She never forgave him.

My half-formed plans for the next six months-maybe a year are pretty modest. I’ve a limited desire for adventure. And forging a whole new set of memories doesn’t interest me. It’s the old ones that I need to fall back on. I’ve been home just three days and I’m being shamelessly selfish. Time’s passing at half the pace and there’s no need to rush it. For the moment, no one knows why I’m here or for how long. But I’ll tell them soon. There’s time enough.

***

Eva Rivers writes short stories and flash fiction about the ways in which life affects ordinary people. Among her literary influences are Lydia Davis, Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Penny Shorts,The Drabble, Fictive Dream, Firefly Magazine, Storgy and Scribble. She lives and works in London.

Fine Print – by R. B. Wood

The sun was just setting when a car with heavy tinted windows pulled up to the dilapidated plantation at the end of an overgrown private way. A beefy, dark skinned woman wearing a secondhand flowered dress stepped out of the car into the sweltering August dusk, beads of sweat immediately appearing on her forehead. She mopped at her brow with a lacy handkerchief, grabbed a worn leather briefcase,  then beat a path through the overgrown lawn to the paint-pealed and termite infested porch of the old manor house. Florence Moses knocked tentatively, afraid that a pane of glass from the oak front door might come crashing down as the lead sealant had all but worn away.

Florence heard a snapping, crashing sound and turned just in time to see a gator dive into the swamp ten yards from the house. There was a second one and it stared at her hungrily. She shivered in ninety-degree heat.

“Whaddya want?” croaked a male voice so old it sounded as if it were covered in dust. Florence, who had been distracted by the large reptile, gasped and jumped back slightly, the porch creaking dangerously.

Florence tried to compose herself. “Mister…Rehnquist?” She asked tentatively.

“I don’t want no encyclopedias,” scratched the voice. “No vacuum cleaners neither.  Now go ‘way.”

“No,” Florence said, confidence returning. “Nothing like that, sir.  I’m here from Miss Dupree’s office.”

The door squealed open a fraction of an inch. “Dupree?  My solicitor? Guess you better come in, I suppose.”

The man—Rehnquist—shuffled away from the front door, leaving it open. He was wearing little more then a stained nightshirt and a pair of moccasins.  Florence went in quickly, snapping the door shut behind her.  “Yes, thank you sir for inviting me in.”

But Rehnquist had kept walking, turning the corner at the end of the foyer.

Florence followed, looking at stacks of yellowing newspapers and dried animal feces littering the once opulent reception area rug. Careful not to step on anything, she turned the same corner Rehnquist had to find herself in what remained of a large kitchen.  There was a camp bed in the corner, and rickety card table with two folding chairs piled high with empty TV dinner boxes, and an old rotary phone.

Rehnquist pulled out one of the chairs.  “Sit,” he said, turning to face her. “Miss Dupree done what I asked then?”

“Yes sir.  I have the paperwork here,” she said patting her briefcase. “The manor house, 107 acres of property.  The old mill down by the river.  It’s prime Charleston area real estate—we have already found a buyer, willing to pay cash.”

Rehnquist held out his hand, Florence quickly took out a sheaf of papers from her briefcase.  Multicolored post-it note arrows stuck out at random intervals.

“I’ve already marked where you need to sign…”

Rehnquist took the papers with a dismissive gesture. He signed without reading.  “Miss Dupree’s pappy and I go way back. Helluva solicitor.  He and I…well, we used to feed you sorta folk to the gators out back.”

Florence took back the paperwork slowly as Rehnquist handed it over with out looking at her.

“Thank you, Mr. Rehnquist. I’ll see myself out.”

Her lip only trembled once as she got out of that house as quickly as she could.

 

#  #  #

 

It took nearly an hour to navigate around the flash floods the summer evening torrential rainfall caused.  The windshield wipers beat at full speed to little effect on the car that pulled up to a smart-looking triple-decker. Dupree Solicitors was on East Bay Street in the professional district of Charleston near the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon.

Florence shut the engine off, got out of the car and hurried up the front steps clutching her briefcase. She didn’t bother with an umbrella—wouldn’t have done much good anyway. The main entrance was still open and there was a light in the hallway.

She shivered a bit as she crossed the hallway to Ms. Dupree’s office; her soaked shoes squeaking on the hardwood floor.  She opened the heavy oak door without knocking. The acrid smell of burning tobacco permeated the office.

Ms. Dupree, an anorexic waif of a woman with dirty blonde hair tied up in an elaborate bun, was sitting at a large desk that had been hand crafted from the timbers of a sunken steamboat. The desk was sparsely used; only a laptop computer, it’s bluish light washing out the lawyer’s features, sat on its surface. An expensive rubbed-oil bronze floor lamp illuminated the rest of the office with a soft yellow glow. The luxurious blood red carpet already had towels down to mop up rain water brought in by visitors, and mahogany bookcases filled with leather-bound law books lined the walls.

A smoldering cigarette sat with it’s burned out cousins in a glass ashtray.

Florence hurried over to one of the chairs facing the desk, careful to stay on the towels.

“Don’t sit,” said Dupree, never looking up. “Is it done?”

“Yes. The old bastard never even read it.”

“Good work,” Dupree said, looking at Florence. “This calls for a celebration. Be a dear and pour me a drink.”

Florence put her briefcase down on the chair she’d been told not to sit in and walked over to the matching mahogany mini-bar across from the desk. She poured a generous portion of a rich amber liquid into a glass.

Florence smiled.

“Here you go, ma’am,” she said turning. Dupree had gone into Florence’s bag and already had the deed transfer papers in her hand. Dupree began to read the papers, absentmindedly holding out her hand for the tumbler.

Florence handed her a drink.  She remained standing while Dupree sat.

Dupree downed her drink in one quick motion.

“Wait.  What’s this?  These aren’t the documents I gave you,” said Dupree, irritated.

“No, ma’am. They aren’t,” said Florence calmly.

“You bitch!  You put your name in! You had Rehnquist sign over the deed to you!” Dupree threw the papers at her.

Florence stood impassively, watching the papers scatter across the carpet.

“You’re fired.  And I’m going to have you arrested…” Dupree broke off, her eyes bulging. She began to cough as white foam appeared at the corners of her mouth.

“Guess you should’ve read the papers too, ma’am.”

Dupree had fallen on the carpet, her breath coming in wet-sounding rasps. It was over in less than a minute.

#  #  #

 

It didn’t take long for Florence to tidy the office, pour the poisoned bourbon down the toilet, and move Dupree’s towel-wrapped petite body out to the trunk of her car. In this rain, there would be no witnesses. She locked the office and got in the drivers seat.

The dashboard clock read 9 PM.

Pulling out her mobile, she dialed a number.

“Mr. Rehnquist, Florence Moses here, from…yes that’s right. Sorry to disturb you. I realized I forgot one last bit of paperwork…my fault completely, yes. I can pop out tonight if you…” There was a buzzing sound on the line.

“Appreciate it! See you in a while.” Florence pressed the off button.

She checked her briefcase and found her snub-nosed .38 next to the papers recovered from Dupree’s office. Florence put the car in drive and headed back toward the planation. She left just as the first tongues of flame began to lick at the curtains of Dupree’s office. The fire chief’s report would list the cause of the blaze as a poorly discarded cigarette.

The plan was almost finished. Along with the body in the trunk, there remained one last loose end. As for the bodies, well, Rehnquist’s gators were going to eat good tonight.

rbwood

R. B. Wood is a technology consultant and a writer of speculative and dark fiction.  His first novel, The Prodigal’s Foole, was released to critical acclaim in 2012.  Mr. Wood is currently working on the second book of his Arcana Chronicles series, multiple short stories, a graphic novel and a science fiction trilogy that he dusts off every few years. Along with his writing passion, R. B.  is host of The Word Count Podcast – a show that features talent from all around the globe reading original flash-fiction stories.

R. B. currently lives in Boston with his partner, Tina, a multitude of cats and various other critters that visit from time to time.

Around the web:
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon’s R.B. Wood page

Daylight – by Alex Smith

The woman was awakened by the sliver of light that peeked through the crack of the window, where the tattered sheet was unable to cover. Drawing her knees closer to her chest, she shivered in the morning chill. She turned over to her side to see if the child was still sleeping. Its eyes were closed and its chest was still moving slowly, up and down. They had survived another night.

It had been almost two weeks since they had arrived at the shelter, and money for a thicker blanket was scarce. Winter had been rough, but she was grateful to have a place where she and the child would be out of the cold. Slowly, she sat up and stretched out her limbs with a yawn. Her frame was slight but strong, and her eyes were glossed over with a coldness about them. Times had been tough on her, but she still survived.

There were many in her life that had come and gone once before. Empty promises just like empty pockets, never made the grade for making an escape. Some couldn’t handle the harshness of poverty’s stinging misery, yet were so quick to laugh and scold her for what she lacked. Sometimes she thought it best to pity those who couldn’t see her strength, and the love that she had for her child. It won’t always be like this, she thought often to herself.

She reached over to touch the head of the baby, laying in the crib covered with  an institution blue slipcover, and paint-chipped sides. The baby slightly stirred at the touch of its mothers fingers against its temple, but remained asleep. The woman wiped a lone tear that had managed to escape from her right eye, betraying the stoic expression she too often held. The sun was up, and all too soon there would be the knock at the door. Inspections of the shelter space she and her little one currently resided in, albeit temporarily, were coming again.

It was funny how the staff that manned the shelter, seemed annoyed and bemused that there were no signs of neglect, cigarette butts or baggies strewn about, or other reasons that would get her evicted. She faced the narrowed eyes and the saccharine words with respectful but monotone responses, but her eyes belied her lips. She was an unrepentant fool to be hated and pitied all the same.

She made her way into the bathroom, to wash up for the day. As she splashed her face with water, she looked up from the sink basin to study her reflection in the mirror. Her eyes traced the lines at the corners of her eyes, and paused at her brow where the rose-colored scar still lingered. The woman’s rare moment of solitude ended abruptly. 7AM arrived with a knock at the door.

alexsmith

Alex Smith is an emerging writer who hails from the Midwest. When she is not thinking of short stories or poems to write, she enjoys spending time with her family and cooking. Alex can be found on Twitter @gritnvinegar