LETTER FROM THE EDITOR – DECEMBER, VOL. 1, ISSUE 3.

December’s Letter from the Editor

Kelly Fitzharris Coody

As you may have noticed, SLM has become quite theme-happy as of late. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun–we’ve expanded our team, publishing talented writers’ excellent, diverse work, officially dubbing SLM an “eclectic and quirky” publication.

Bravo to all of my “Poetry Week” poets and my “Flash Fiction Week” writers!

Since November’s open-submissions-call was such a success, I’ve decided to keep it open through December 31st. Submit to: kelly.fitzharris@gmail.com

I will get to the themes in just a minute. (I know, I know, I’m keeping you in suspense; but I really do have a few important things to say.)

Once when I was 15, on the way to the movies with some friends, the mom driving us there asked, “What’s your name?”

“Mary,” answered the girl to my right.

“No, no, not you. The mouthy one. You! What’s your name?” she asked, meeting my gaze in the rear view mirror.

“Kelly. Kelly Fitzharris. Why?” My voice was steady. My red hair was in its natural state of glossy curls that day as I cocked my head calmly to the side at her question.

Now it’s no big secret that I’m mouthy! I’m passionate and I believe in what we’re doing here, both for authors and for  writing. With the sky as our limit, we are crafting truly brilliant and one-of-a-kind literature that our readers feel a kinship with.

I’ve never been one to “go with the flow” or recede from our cruel world like a shrinking violet. I’ve been questioning the world around me and my own existence since I was old enough to utter my first words; snot-nosed, mop of red hair, chubby legs, clutching a teddy bear. I’d ask my dad, “How long has God been here?”

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He’d reply, “God always was.”

To which I then sat and quietly pondered the possibility of eternity.

As I grew, my questioning of authority became constant: “But why do we have to draw it that way?”

“Why? Why not?”

“Tell me why. Tell me why not.”

You can see why I despise automated rejection letters, canned company jargon, why I quit my job at a large corporation as a peon making no money despite my good degree, and why I chose to start Sick Lit Magazine in the first place.

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I quit my job at the end of August to stay at home with my kids; I’ve never done the Stay-at-Home-Mom thing before. Being a parent can make you wallow in self-doubt—it’s hard not to get stuck there. And the same can be said for us creatives and us writers. If you’re a fiction writer, especially, all you see, hear about and read about is “What NOT to do,” “Why Your Writing Sucks,” etc, etc, etc….

Here are a few gems I’ve found over the last few years:

  • Don’t use adverbs. (Well, why don’t you go fuck yourself?)
  • No longer is it acceptable for a book to “get good” ten pages in. (Courtesy of Writer’s Digest. Thank you for this amazingly shitty advice!)

Am I the only one sitting here thinking, “WHAT THE HELL?”

Whoever makes these lists must also own the publishing industry and control whose work gets seen and heard and whose does not.

If writers had been held to these ridiculous rules 50, 60, 70 years ago, books like Catch-22 by Joseph Heller  would have never been published. Or my favorite novel, Rebecca, by Daphne Dumaurier, would have been veritably tossed out the window by some kid in a suit, sitting tall, proud and brave behind their laptop. Why are we now expected to dumb our writing down and follow guidelines that only exist because of numbers and sales?

Back on December 4, 2014, I received an automated rejection letter from literary agent Jessica Faust from the agency BookEnds. You can bet your sweet ass I wrote back to this automated letter, asking as nicely as I could, and I will actually quote myself here, saying, “I know you’re insanely busy. But I would love some tips on how to present myself in a better light. Sincerely, Kelly Fitzharris.”

Jessica Faust wrote back an irritable letter that might as well have included an audible huff of disgust at the beginning. It starts with: “I’ve been writing about just this on the blog.”

The blog? Is this akin to the “The” in The Bible? 

It gets better. I continue her letter below: 

“I think though your idea is interesting, but your writing, not just the summarizing, didn’t feel that strong to me. In my mind it gave me the idea that your book might not be strongly written. If you wrote it fast my suggestion is that it might not be ready to submit and instead needs 30 days, or longer, of revisions before its ready.”

These are direct quotes; and I left her grammatical errors in there on purpose. That last line just kills me—its instead of it’s? And you’re the person in charge of my literary destiny?

It’s so maddening. It’s enough to make you want to throw your computer or punch your laptop screen—or, like our most recent contributor, Dee Lean, did, delete your entire hard drive.

This is why I started Sick Lit Magazine. I’m so fucking tired of this—I hate these rules. I hate that we’re made to hate our own writing. How is fitting into some sort of impossible mold groundbreaking or unique? Or extraordinary? At all? 

At Sick Lit Magazine, I am creating an environment like no other editor has done before me. I am no Jessica Faust; nor do I ever want to be.

And, guess what?

Dee Lean, who was actually told her writing was “hideous,” has gotten a ton of likes, and more reads and views on her Flash Fiction Week piece, “Fire,” than most of our other offerings.

Through believing in one another, we are fostering a community of powerful creativity that then leads to true literary excellence, in all forms. 

To be able to write in an environment that celebrates you rather than one that picks you apart and only provides DESTRUCTIVE criticism, is why I am here. And I will always, always, always stand proudly behind my authors.

OKAY, ONTO THEMES FOR DECEMBER!

The week following Thanksgiving will be Sick Lit Magazine’s first-ever genre-specific theme, which is: Tragedy and/or Comedy! I chose this genre because it encompasses other themes, such as revenge, romance and even tragic comedy (or tragicomedy for those of you out there who are inherently cooler than I am).

The second week of December, we will be running two themes (for obvious reasons): Women’s fiction & the writing genre of the Workplace Tell-All. For Workplace Tell-all submissions, you MAY SUBMIT ANONYMOUSLY AND SUBSTITUTE COMPANY AND INDIVIDUAL NAMES. 

For the third week, our theme will focus on Coming of Age. Feel free to interpret this loosely–You may see it as difficulties and challenges faced during adolescence, but it can also be interpreted as the struggles, pain and beauty of adult life that we face every day. 

I expect to see all of you challenge yourselves and submit during these three weeks! This includes all forms of writing, poetry and art pieces or photography. I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with. Oh, and please state the genre of your submission in the subject line.

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***Very important: During this time, you can continue to submit your regular, non-themed work to me. Again, my goal is to put out a special edition issue for January. But as of right now, I’m enjoying scheduling them during our “off-weeks” to give our readers some unique pieces to delve into.***

Come join the party and our publishing revolution. 

Drop me a line at kelly.fitzharris@gmail.com

Cheers!

Peace and love,

-Kelly on behalf of SLM-

(And like I said to our regular contributor, Hillary Umland, “Let’s kick some ass!!!”)

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Innocence – by ANTHONY SPROUSE

         Innocence

by ANTHONY SPROUSE

         Tommy rushed into the living room and immediately dived for his toy box, an enormous blue and green one his parents had bought him recently. He seemed to be getting a lot of gifts lately but didn’t understand why; not that he was going to complain. He reached into the box and pulled out his favourite bears. Fluff; who was the daddy bear. Cuddles; the mummy bear and lastly little Wolfy; who was their son, just like tommy and his parents. He sat down with them all and began to play.

Wolfy hated getting dressed up, but he had no choice in the matter. He had been forced into his best jacket, an emerald green with gold stitching, just like the one Fluff wore. Cuddles however was wearing a beautiful blue dress that swirled around when she turned, like leaves dancing in the air. Wolfy had been told that they were going to an important place called court, but it didn’t sound very exciting to him. Everything had been important recently, ever since that dragon had appeared, nothing had been the same. Cuddles had started growling at Fluff a lot of the time and it was entirely the dragons fault. They never used to be mean to each other; they used to spend loads of time together and tell Wolfy lots of magical stories. Now all he heard though were angry growls being exchanged and all because of that dragon!

It wasn’t as if she couldn’t be a nice, she was friendly to Wolfy and she was extremely friendly to Fluff, but she made Cuddles angry and upset whenever she saw her.

Before they had left home, Wolfy had been asked several times who he liked better, Cuddles or Fluff. But he loved them the same and didn’t understand what they meant. That was why they had to go to this court place today apparently.

When they finally arrived at the court, Wolfy saw a big black owl with long curly white hair; sitting behind a huge desk that seemed to take up the whole room. Then the owl spoke two words that Wolfy didn’t understand but would change his life forever.

“Custody hearing”

Tommy put his teddies back into his toy box and found his mum sat on the floor nearby. He walked over to her and gave her a big hug. Then tommy asked a question that made his mother let out a sob of sadness.

“When is daddy coming home?”

*******

Me recent

***Anthony Sprouse is a short story author, novelist, and poet. He has several pieces of work appearing or forthcoming in several publications. Currently he is studying a Bachelor’s Degree in creative writing, and when he’s not writing avidly, he’s most likely getting stuck into a new book with a big mug of hot chocolate.***

 

Synaesthesia – by PETE LANGMAN

‘Stop, look, listen’, said Agatha, feeling young Matt tug on his reins, impatient to cross to the services, ‘… pay attention.’ He had been humming the Marseillaise for the last half hour, bringing Agatha’s sense of impending disaster into sharper relief. More pressing, however, was the current action of her son’s rather excessive intake of fruit juice during the first two hours of this most interminable of bus journeys on his bladder. Not only were his hands sticky, but now that his hum was turning into a whine, like wine becoming vinegar, she could almost taste the bus’s diesel fumes being slowly infused with the salty aroma of his piss. Stop. Look. Listen.

Without warning, without her willing it, she slackened her grip on the reins as she felt a hand on her shoulder and a voice in her ear transformed from another’s whisper to an internal roar of indignation straining to be set free. A split second was all it took. The scream of a passer-by mingled with the screech of brakes and it sounded to Agatha like the smell of burning rubber as her senses overlapped and bled into one another and her heart stopped. There was silence. Numbness.  Then a warm, wet heat that spread through the tightness of her jeans as she screwed up her eyes in preparation.

She turned her gaze towards the future ground zero of her memories, tears already flowing. But there, looking directly at her, smiling, was her son. Unharmed. She stepped forwards to envelop him in her arms, scoop him up to safety, to right all the wrongs …

She didn’t see the lorry. She didn’t hear the lorry. She didn’t feel the lorry. But she smelt fear, and tasted death.

© Pete Langman 2015

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pete langman

***Pete Langman would have been one of the great Dickensian ne’erdowells had he been born in Household Words rather than Hitchin. One-time professional guitar slinger, he holds a PhD on Francis Bacon (the other Francis Bacon), an ECB level two Cricket Coaching certificate and a White Fish swimming badge from prep school. Oh, and Parkinson’s disease. Author of Slender Threads, Black Box, and The Country House Cricketer, he blogs at petelangman.com and tweets @elegantfowl. Pete lives in Brighton with a recalcitrant ginger cat. *****

Magic Madness & Wine – by ROB TRUE

 

Magic Madness and Wine                                                         Rob True

 

 

 

He couldn’t understand the TV.

He could tell it was English words, but they just floated meaninglessly around in his head.

Like something familiar, only he couldn’t quite put a finger on it.

He’d seen the program before, but it didn’t mean shit.

The image blurred out from the screen, colours flowed into the room. Pointing at it, he saw coloured beams of light come from his fingertips, like lasers.

He flicked his hands about like a wizard, firing laser beams round the room from all fingers, then got up and turned off the telly.

The room disintegrated into patterns, black, white and grey swirling patterns and he sat back down.

The sofa was pushed up against a wall and he must have had his face pressed hard against it, or maybe he had pushed the sofa away from the wall with his face. He didn’t know, or couldn’t tell. The wall had gone.

Looking over the back of the sofa into an abyss of mad animated black and white geometric shapes, shouting into it, laughing, his voice echoing back to him.

He lay down and the patterns so crazy, the room had vanished.

Out from the centre of swirling black and white madness, came a giant hand, grabbing just short of his face, as he laughed and fuckin’ laughed. Strange, haunted, screaming faces broke out of the patterns, open mouthed, screaming agony, one after another, moving left to right, and he laughed and laughed at it all.

He stood up, fell down, stood up again, bouncing off the walls, spinning round and round, laughing and laughing.

Hysterical, maniacal laughter like a madman. Only God can laugh like that and it was God laughing through him, in him, out through his mouth, crazy laughter, laughing with God, powerful laughter that knew the meaning of something, everything, which was nothing.

Fuck knows what it was that he knew in those moments, not something he could rightly tell about after in words.

That kind of knowing is lost in the moment and at the same time, known forever.

The rest of the week, he stayed home from work, sitting in a dark room, drinking beer and rum.

When she came home from New York, she saw him on the sofa, spaced-out, unwashed, unshaven, dirty looking, with ashtrays full of spliff ends and empty beer cans all around him, the curtains drawn.

“Oh for fuck sake. I’ve kept you straight for six years, I leave you alone for one week and when I get back, you’re exactly how I found you when we met!”

He smiled an idiot’s grin at her and she laughed shaking her head, sat down and gave him a kiss,

“You’re useless without me. Go and have a bath, you stink of stale rubbish!”

******

 Nimbus

***Rob True was born in London 1971. He left school with no qualifications, dyslexic and mad, in a world he didn’t fit into. He got lost in an abyss, was sectioned twice and spent the best part of a decade on another planet. He returned to earth just in time for the new millennium, found a way to get on in life, married a beautiful girl and lived happily ever after. She taught him how to use paragraphs and punctuation and his writing has been a bit better ever since.***

Oreos and Areolas – by JENNIFER OBI

Oreos and Areolas: by JENNIFER OBI

            “So what’s this about Crystal?”

I dabbed my finger in what was left of my whipped topping that topped a sinfully calorific hot fudge brownie. Crystal’s treat of course. Treat for what, I hadn’t figured out yet.

“Not that I mind a free meal, it’s just that I can’t help but feel like maybe someone died or is about to die and you need me to hide the body.”

“Don’t be so morbid, Stephy. It’s nothing like that, it just that—I need to ask you a favor.”

My longest and oldest friend, Crystal Daniels is the only one who still calls me Stephy and when she needs to ask me a favor, I know it’s going to be for something ridiculous.

“Go ahead, ask. I’ve already been calorie guilted.”

“Now before I ask, I’m going to need you to remember something. Do you remember Corey Tepton?”

“That guy who played the tuba in the band? The one with the nose?” Because of course there was also Corey Handler—the one with the hair, and Corey Trent—the one with the toes, which I could explain but you’d have to had been there for that one.

“Yes, that Corey. Do you remember when I almost lost my virginity to him freshman year?”

“I remember you complaining about the grass stain rash you got from lying on your back behind the bleachers. You bitched about that for about a week.”

“Focus, Stephy. This is serious.”

She had her “I mean business” face on, which usually meant she meant business, or needed to pass gas and was trying to divert focus by wearing her “I mean business” face. I’m not completely sold on which side of line she’s falling on today.

“Go ahead, Crystal. So what about Corey?”

“So, you know I don’t like to talk about it—you know—about what happened when we almost,” Crystal paused to move in and whispered, “had relations.”

I rolled my eyes, “You mean had sex?”

“Stephy!” Crystal looked around to make sure we hadn’t caught anyone’s eye, “Don’t be so loud and vulgar.”

“Crystal, if we’re old enough to have it, it can’t be vulgar. Besides, there are about a million words I could have said that are far more vulgar than sex.”

“I know, it’s just, you know how I feel about that word.”

Crystal, ever the prude.

“Well, anyway, you remember what happened when we tried, right?”

“No idea.”

“Stephy!”

“What? Crystal, that was like ten years ago. I can’t be expected to keep a biographical account of every single thing you do.”

“This wasn’t just some thing. This is something I’ve had to deal with every day of my life since. It’s been scarring!”

“Just what could the Corey with the nose have done to scar you for life?”

Truth be told, the Corey with the nose was likely the least threatening of the three Coreys. Now the Corey with the toes was the one you might’ve wanted to keep a look out for, but again, you would’ve had to have been there to be clued into why.

“It’s what he said, Stephy don’t you remember?”

My blank stare told her “no.”

“I can’t believe you forgot,” Crystal moved in closer and lowered her voice, “he said they looked like pancakes.”

My blank stare told her “go on,” but I guess this one got lost in translation.

“What looked like pancakes?”

“You know.”

“Crystal, I’m not a fucking mind reader.”

Crystal let out a sigh, “Stephy, sometimes you’re just—you’re making this so hard!”

Dropping her voice even lower, Crystal mumbled something.

“What?”

Now she was wearing her “nervous and I’m frustrated” face. It could have also been her “I need to pee” face, but I’m fairly certain it was the first one. She mumbled something again, and I could just barely catch something.

“Huh, Oreos?”

“Oh for crying out loud, Stephy not Oreos, areolas! Areolas for cripes sake!”

Now everyone was looking at us because of course Crystal looked incredibly crazy screaming about areolas. Her face flushed a deep color of red velvet. How I could go for some red velvet cake.

“Corey said your areolas looked like pancakes?” I stifled back a laugh.

“It’s not funny, Stephy.”

“Actually Crystal, it kind of is. It’s kind of super fucking hilarious.”

“You don’t get it, Stephy. After I revealed myself to him, he laughed for five minutes straight because of how big and dark they were. He said they looked like pancakes with a tiny dollop of butter on top. I was so mortified, I ran away before we could go any farther. It’s haunted me ever since. I refuse to get intimate with a guy with the lights on. If I can get away with not even taking off my bra, it’s a relief. Do you see how this has taken over my life? Not so funny now is it?”

Crystal, ever the drama queen.

“Nope, still funny.”

Crystal was wearing her “I’m glaring at you face,” as she glared at me, hard.

“Don’t be mad, it’s just, I’m just surprised you’ve let this take over your life like this. It’s a little silly if you think about it.”

“Well, it’s not silly to me. It has taken over my life, so I’ve decided to do something about it.”

“So what, are you going to therapy or something? Areolas anonymous?”

“Stephy!”

I let out a laugh. She makes this so easy.

“Okay, okay, so what are you going to do?”

“I’ve booked an appointment. I’ll be getting surgery.”

“Surgery? What kind of surgery?”

“It’s purely cosmetic, but it’ll make me feel better about—you know—my situation.”

“What is it?”

“Areola lightening surgery.”

“Come again?”

“It’s all the rage in Asia. They go in and lighten your areolas. For me, it’ll be a bit different though. They’ll be lightening some of the skin around my areolas so it matches the skin of the rest of my breasts. It’ll be like they’re surgically shrinking them.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I’m serious, Stephy. I’ll finally have my life back.” She clasped my hands in hers, it was like she had witnessed a miracle.

“Well, if this what you want then I’m happy for you. Good for you Crystal. Go get your life!”

Crystal should get her life and unless another hot fudge brownie was going to materialize on my plate, we should get the check.

“I knew you would be happy for me Stephy, and that’s why I wanted to ask you this favor.”

“That’s right, you wanted to ask me a favor. That’s why you’re bribing me with sweets. So what is it?

“As my best friend, it would mean the world to me if you could come with me to my surgery.”

“Really Crystal? I’m sure you’ll be find.”

I couldn’t imagine there was much of a history in botched areola surgeries.

“Please, Stephy. Anything could happen. Just think about it. What if the surgeon decides to have an off day and forgets to sterilize his instruments and I wind up with Aids, or hepatitis, or cancer!”

“Crystal, you cannot catch cancer from unclean utensils. Aids and hepatitis, sure, but not cancer.”

“That’s not the point, the point is I’d feel so much safer and more secure if you were there.”

I let out a sigh, “Okay, well when is it?”

“Friday, 2pm.”

“I’d have to leave Kingman’s early, who knows if they’ll let me.”

“Oh, you just have to come. You can tell them you’re attending Geraldine’s funeral.”

“Christ, Crystal, why would you wish death on your dog?”

“She’s been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She’s got one paw in the grave as it is. I can’t be responsible for her life choices, Stephy!”

“Life choices? Crystal, you’re the one who feeds her!”

“Stephy, I just can’t deal with semantics right now. Are you going to come or not?”

She was staring back at me with her puppy dog eyes not unlike the ones Geraldine would give Crystal right before Crystal would cave and slip little Geraldine some bacon.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll come. It’s not like number one checkout girl at Kingman’s doesn’t give me some pull.”

“Stephy, you’re a real friend.” Crystal started to waive down a waitress to get the check, but I stopped her.

“Wait, we’re not done yet.”

“What is it?”

“Well, this calls for a celebration. Oreo milkshakes on me to commemorate your new areolas.”

I was wearing my Cheshire grin because she knew I just had to.

“You know, Stephy, you’re a real jerk.”

*********

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****Jennifer Obi is 2nd year MFA student in creative writing at Northern Arizona University. Her primary focus is fiction, but she does enjoy dabbling in creative non-fiction as well. She currently heads as Co-Editor in Fiction at her university’s literary magazine Thin Air. When she’s not writing or tearing into a good book, she enjoys good friends, a good workout, and great food.*****

Blueberry Muffin by WESLEY COOKE

          Blueberry Muffin by WESLEY COOKE 

 

I got a pet dribbler.

My pet dribbler is a man mountain, with hands like bunches of bananas. Strangler’s hands.

My pet dribbler is called Dudley.

I call him my pet dribbler because that’s what he says to the others in there whenever I go and see him.

I met him one Wednesday when I popped round to see Mum. We always settle down to watch a film on a Wednesday – preferably a ‘shit kicker’ Western. Me and Mum were out in the back garden at the time having a cuppa when we heard this almighty racket – proper blood-curdling screams and aggy shouting. I had a quick Mr Chad peek over the wall and saw some big fella on the floor, curled up in a ball and on the receiving end of a right royal kicking from two sturdy-looking, middle-aged blokes. Now, I’m no have-a-go hero but the shrieking and howling coming from this poor fella was something else – almost childlike. It went right through you.  I climbed over the back wall and ran over there shouting for the two of them to pack it in – “he’s had enough!” The two of them spun round fast as you like, but their angry screwed-up faces soon smoothed out and went all wide-eyed when they saw who it was (in small and insular south-coast towns like ours nicknames quickly do the rounds – my nickname is Stabby Wayne; a nickname well-earned and well-upheld over the years), and so they both buggered off without any fuss. I could’ve laughed out loud when I looked down at him; the way he peered at me through those bunches of bananas covering his face. I peeled them off, helped the great big blubbering lump to his feet and took him round Mum’s to get him cleaned up.

The look on Mum’s face when we shuffled into the kitchen; I hadn’t seen her that angry with me in years. I didn’t laugh when she got back – still in a huff – and told me all about Dudley. I roared and I guffawed and I slapped my thigh like they do in old black and white films.

It turns out me and Dudley are the same age. It turns out my Mum and Dudley’s Mum know each other. It turns out that ever since the day Dudley’s stocky-little-barrel-with-a-big-beehive-hairdo for a Mother gave birth to him – at home – she’s kept him shut away indoors, under lock and key. Caged up like an exotic, twenty stone songbird. I didn’t find any of this stuff funny – but it also turns out that every now and again this exotic, twenty stone songbird somehow gets out of his cage and goes for a little fly about. The trouble was that Dudley liked to fly about with his flies undone and his pink and red courgette hanging out for the world and his wife to see.

Meet my pet dribbler, Dudley.

 

I forgot all about Dudley and his pink and red courgette until one Wednesday, about two years later when Mum mentioned that his stocky-little-barrel-with-a-big-beehive-hairdo for a mother had passed away.  Sheila her name was. It turns out that a few Fridays ago, on her way to buy blueberries (every week she’d bake Dudley a fresh batch of blueberry muffins, put a candle in each one and sing Happy Birthday to him) Sheila just dropped down dead. It turns out that Dudley has been put in a home, just outside of town. It turns out that my Mum and Dudley’s Mum know each other because they’re sisters.

It turns out that I bake a bloody good blueberry muffin.

 *******

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***Wesley Cooke is a Mother’s first son. Wesley Cooke was born to test & experiment. Wesley Cooke lives in London. He tweets at: https://twitter.com/art_brute

PS: Don’t kill me for including your twitter, Wes.***

Duty of Care by OWEN CLAYBORN

 

Duty of Care

Owen Clayborn

 

The boy of seven stole another glance at the sleeping man.

Now.

The boy got up and walked over and stepped over the man’s legs. He would have to be quick.

The sun was slanting straight in through the grimy window, and the glare made it hard to see. The boy was sure there had been paper and a pen somewhere in one of the drawers.

He opened the top one – slowly, so slowly – and looked again at the sleeping man. The beer can resting on the man’s stomach had tipped, held loosely in one hand, and formed a dark circle of damp on his drainpipe trousers. The hand – nails black with dirt, a tattoo of a swallow between thumb and forefinger – was an instrument of horror for the boy, and he quickly looked back at the drawer.

Its contents included bottle openers, unopened bills, empty cigarette cartons, matchboxes, a tangle of wires attached to a smashed pocket transistor radio –

The boy quietly – oh, so quietly – pushed the drawer closed. He slid open another. This one, being slightly less accessible than the top, was less full of junk. It contained a bundle of terry towelling nappies (there were no babies in the flat, so the boy was slightly mystified by their presence), a packet of safety pins (unopened), half a pen (the useful half, the boy noticed with a leap of his heart), and, right at the back, a spider web. He felt the feathery, sticky silk brush his fingers.

The boy grabbed the pen and whipped his hand out of the drawer. He slid the drawer closed, terrified that the spider might get out and scurry across his hand and up his arm towards his face.

The next drawer down held a stiff, crumpled pair of knickers, a cardboard album cover spilling black shards of shattered vinyl, and – the boy’s eyes lit up – a writing pad, still in its clear plastic wrapper.

The boy took out the pad, closed the drawer – slowly, slowly – and clutched his treasures to his chest. Now he tiptoed over the stained, threadbare carpet, avoiding bin bags full of rubbish, catching his awkward reflection in the black glass of the television, stepped over the sleeping man’s legs, which terminated in two massive, stinking, winklepicker-clad feet – a sudden snore from the man made the boy’s throat squeeze shut and his eyes flash wide open and his little palms sweat – and went into the corner where a filthy duvet formed a kind of nest.

He sat down and took the wrapper off the notepad, taking great care not to make a noise. It was difficult because the plastic was so crisp and crinkly. He opened the pad to reveal the top sheet and he stared at its solemn blankness for a second or two. Then he took the pen between thumb and fingertip and began to write.

‘Dear Daddy.’

He stopped and thought, the broken end of the pen in his mouth.

‘I love you so much,’ he went on, the effort of the work crumpling his brow. ‘I want to come home. They are mean to me here. I am lonely. Yesterday the man told me to come here he sed he had something for me and he told me to cloes my eyes and put my hand out –’

The boy began to cry; some of the tears fell on the page and he tried to rub them away.

‘– but when I did the man burned my hand with his sigret and they all laffed and I screemed. I have to sleep in the corner because they sed my room is to full of there things and they woodnt take the things out so I could sleep in there –’

He had peeped into that room once – the room he had thought would be his. It had smelled bad. It had smelled terrible. There were rubbish bags heaped on a bed and flies batting against the window. There was a shape under the bed sheet – a large doll, the boy had thought. The shape had given him a horrible feeling, and he didn’t look at it again. A pile of junk by the window: wheels, sun-warped boards, splintered wooden bars.

But then they had come back, hooting and guffawing and banging into things, and he had clicked the door shut and rushed back to his place in the corner, little more than a frightened animal.

‘I have to sleep in the room with the tv I am hardly ever alowed to eat they say they are to tired to cook sometimes and I feel very hungrey all the time the man says I have to be his foot stool and he puts his feet on my back wen I sed no wons he hit me in the mouth and it was bledeing and it made my tooth wobly.’

He was crying again, and trying not to sob, so he quickly wrote, ‘Please come and get me Daddy. I love you. I will do enething to come home and be with you and Mummy agen I will be good I promis Just please please come and get me. You are the best Daddy in the world.’

The boy already had an envelope. He had been carrying it around in his pocket for days. He took it out and tried to flatten it on his knee. He addressed it in his large, childish letters, folded the letter lovingly, and slipped it into the envelope. Then he licked the gummed edge – it tasted horrible  – and sealed the letter inside.

He went back, stepping over the legs (his heart was pounding in his chest now and his head was swimming) and put the half-a-pen and the pad (he had slipped the wrapper back over it, though it didn’t look quite right) exactly where he had found them. Then, over the monstrous legs again, his whole body trembling.

The door had a strange kind of lock on it. He had watched sneakily how his foster mother put the door on the latch by clicking down a little round button. The boy went to the door now and, standing on his toes, unlocked it. He clicked down the little round button and put the door on the latch so that he could get back in. He opened the door – quietly, quietly – stepped through, and pushed it shut.

The hall was empty. He regarded the rows of closed, unfriendly doors. He walked and then raced to the lift at the end of the hall and pressed the button. While he waited, he peered across at the other tower blocks.

When it came, the doors sliding open with an inhuman clank, the lift smelled of stale urine (as it always did) and there was a cigarette butt still smoking on the floor.

He stepped in and pressed ‘G’ for ‘Ground’.

The lift took forever to get to the bottom, and as soon as the doors opened and let in the hot, bright afternoon, the boy shot out and tore down the road, almost gasping at the freedom: a rush and noise of summer people; a yellow ice lolly, white miniskirts, the mystery of attaché cases, glimpses of sea-blue sky, big red buses slowly sailing through the city traffic; all in the blink and blaze of the sun.

He knew exactly where the pillar box was. He had paid careful attention when he had been out with his foster mother to get things for the ‘house’ that wasn’t a house.

And there it was: the pillar box, glossy-red and reassuring, the object of his obsession. Panting and sticky, his hands shaking so much with adrenaline and exhaustion that he could barely lift them to post it, he raised the envelope to his parched lips, tears blurring his vision, and kissed it. Just before he pushed it into the pillar box, its crisp whiteness against the red, he looked again at the writing on the envelope.

‘He’s sure to come and get me once he sees how neat I’ve written it,’ the boy thought as he dropped the letter inside and turned and ran back to the tower block as fast as he could.

All the way up in the lift, he daydreamed of being back home, his real home; of sitting on his father’s knee, or going about on his shoulders while they both laughed. The happy times before Mummy had hurt herself.

At the bottom of the pillar box, the letter lay. On it was written, in the careful handwriting of a child, ‘To my Daddy’.

*****

***Owen Clayborn is a British-American writer of poetry, full-length fiction, and short stories. His work usually features roguish characters in unusual situations. Owen is currently working on a picaresque novel. Follow Owen on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/claybornwrites ***

Fire by DEE LEAN

Fire by DEE LEAN

Fire.

Flame engulfed me.
I would have died if not for the amount of alcohol I’d consumed.

Bright lights from the hospital blind me.

I get up and fish around my melted handbag. Find a cigarette and walk toward the doors, dragging a drip with one hand and holding a fire blanket around me with the other.

I light up.

Hearing frantic yelling, I glance back the way I came. I’m being told to go back inside.

I nod and hold up the hand with the needle pierced through a vein. Showing five fingers. There is no pain. Not yet. That comes later. When it comes, it’s unbearable. During surgery I wake up while the skin is being stripped from my thighs. They quickly knock me out again but not before I let off a blood-curdling howl that can be heard down the hall.

For three months I was drugged so heavily I could barely bathe myself.

A morphine and drug addict. Up to 37 pills a day. I sometimes wished for death to take me in my sleep.  But he never did, the selfish prick. The nightmares would wake me up crying. The daily pain was beyond comprehension.  Then later the beginning of withdrawals almost left me for dead again.

Most of this I’ve blocked away in a safe place to keep me from living it over and over again.

But my insecurities will creep back occasionally to remind me that I’m broken.

Sometimes I think about my life draining out of me and wonder why it crept back in.

******

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***Dee Lean believes that a writer that doesn’t write is like a soul without a mate; aimlessly wondering without a purpose. Born in Belfast, Ireland, Lean currently lives in Melbourne, Australia and is a single mother to two gorgeous kids that get her up and inspire her to see and seek the good in all. When people ask her what she does, she simply says, “I write.” She tweets at: https://twitter.com/Dede18  ***

Return of the Wild Duck – by RON GIBSON

Return of The Wild Duck by RON GIBSON 

I walk into a forest, beaver ponds of night pooled between treetops,
stars firing the surface like uncatchable trains. As dawn slowly
uncrosses itself and shadows lengthen, the forest is strange. I don’t
recognize certain trees or foliage. And the ones I do recognize, I
don’t know the names of. This scares me. Memories of snowflakes
migrate from the mouth of Jack London, tumbling down river valleys and
mountain passes and freeze my steps. I check my pockets. No phone. An
app would tell me how to live. I would laugh at that, but instead I
feel the plunging front of nature’s what-if loop explode transformers,
shut down logic centers and encase me in glass.

This is what life turns into — long, dark stretches of time. Whole
cities bathed in amnesia. I don’t know how long I stand. Cartoon-red
wolves eyes for nightlights. They surround, howl creation stories too
beautiful to be remembered, bristly hairs etch escape plans on frozen
skin with each swipe as the pack chases after unanswered phone calls
echoing in the trees from my lost phone.

Without answering it, I know it is you. I miss you, I miss us, but I
know I have not written a word. I know that somewhere in the moving
world deadlines keep passing without a whisper. I know the shame of a
job not done at all. And though this pack of starving wolves hunger
for escape, for you, for that love scene where we are two wild animals
without words, I can’t forget that I’m a writer without words. Even as
incisors and rough tongues destroy ice and crumble time, shortened
days pass into night within milliseconds. The sun becomes a cursor,
blinking impatiently for my return.

*******

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***Ron Gibson, Jr. has previously appeared in Pidgeonholes, Cease,
Cows, Maudlin House, Word Riot, Exquisite Corpse, Spelk Fiction,
Soundzine, etc…, forthcoming at Story and Picture & Ginosko Literary
Journal, been included in various anthologies, and been nominated for
a Pushcart. Ron tweets at: https://twitter.com/SirAbsurd  or simply, @sirabsurd ***

God Bless America – by TOM GUMBERT

God Bless America

by TOM GUMBERT

I feign interest in the introduction while using my peripheral to scope for groupies. I see one in the cheap seats in the back, if you can call a five hundred dollar dinner cheap. She’s practically drooling as she stares at me, her eyes filled with adoration, her breast spilling out of her sleeveless gown. Out-standing.

I chuckle on cue, having already heard this spiel three times this week. I’m getting pretty good at the game, appearing amused, sincere, righteous and/or indignant as the situation calls. When he finishes, I rise to thunderous applause, flashing my best smile, showing off my bleached teeth, compliments of the PR firm hired by the deep pocket party puppet masters.

At the podium I ask the audience to join me in the Pledge of Allegiance. This is one of my favorite photo op moments, and later, perhaps when lying naked with Ms. Groupie, I’ll scan social media sites, admiring these images. Cameras flash and whirl as I put my hand over my heart and recite a poem written by a Socialist and edited by Congress at the height of their Communist witch hunts. It amazes me when I consider that people somehow associate this pledge with patriotism, as if a spy—or perhaps a terrorist, would never utter these words, and that those who do are unimpeachable.  God Bless America.

I launch into my speech, covering all the points my backers are paying for. My ideals? Does it matter? In this partnership they get a candidate they can sell to the public—a God fearing, pull yourself up by your bootstraps military hero, and I get the spoils of office. I’ll be your Howdy Doody.

I finish to a standing ovation. Moving from the podium toward the receiving line I see a pathetic looking Vietnam War vet in a wheelchair. Man, they think of everything! I stop, come to attention, and salute him. Cameras flash and whirl. Fucking genius. “Thank you,” I say, and of course everyone thinks I refer to his service. What I actually mean is for setting the table. This guy probably got spit on when he returned home, and the national guilt over that has swung the pendulum to where vets returning home today are practically demigods, throwing out the first pitch at major league baseball games and being Grand Marshals of parades. God Bless America.

Just before the receiving line I see her, causing me to stumble. I flash my pearly whites. “First day with the new feet,” I joke, and those within earshot laugh.

Pushing my hair back from my forehead, I straighten my tie as my eyes attempt, and fail, to locate her. It was just my imagination. After all, she’s dead.

I take my place in line and for the next hour, shake a few hundred hands, allow a dozen or so pictures and assure my constituents that I absolutely share their convictions on any number of issues that I care nothing about. If I had to guess, I’d say at least twenty people told me how honored they were to meet a true American hero and maybe a half dozen called, “Oorah,” to which I responded in kind.

What? Oh, you think the hero remark referred to my military service? Yes and no. I have been branded a military hero, not for my service in general but rather for a specific act that occurred during my time in the sandbox. Not familiar with my story? Are you kidding? Have you been living in a cave?

Iraq, 2010, I, along with a good friend of mine, found ourselves reassigned to a unit in Tal Afar after a Sand Queen complained about the attention we were giving her. Inappropriate? Not in my opinion. Convoys are ultra-stressful and what better way to relieve stress than a little post convoy sexual healing? Instead of crying to the C.O., that bitch should have thanked us.

Anyway, long story short, my friend was attacked while on patrol and I shot and killed his attacker. The locals claim she was trying to avenge her seventeen year old sister, who my friend allegedly raped and killed. That story was reported on Al Jazeera. That’s not my story. My story was that an extremist, recruited by Al Qaeda and attempting to inflict mass casualties on our patrol, was killed after wounding a Marine. That story was carried on Fox News, and that, my friends, is how I became an American Hero. God Bless America.

In the limo I sip my scotch and gaze out the window while my aide checks the polls. He blathers about trailing in Cleveland but locking Cincinnati and Columbus—when I see her standing on the corner. I turn around in my seat as the limo speeds past, losing sight of her when we turn a corner.

“Easy, boss,” my aide says. “There’s one waiting in your room. You can’t have them all.”

I drain the scotch, then two more, trying to rid myself of her image, those eyes—those fucking accusing eyes.

I hear the shower when I enter the room. Pulling off my tie, I toss it on the bed and grab a bottle from the mini bar. The shower stops and my eyes shift to the bathroom door.

When it opens, she has a towel around her torso while drying her hair with another.  She flips her hair back and smiles at me and for a second my heart stops. It’s not the Groupie looking at me—it’s her.

Blind rage replaces shock and I honestly don’t know what happened, only that once again she looked up at me with those eyes—those dead, accusing eyes.

A few discreet calls, a few cash transactions and none of this ever happened. In a couple weeks, if all goes according to plan, I’ll take the oath of office. A nice, influential State office that could lead to…who knows? God Bless America.

**********

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***Tom Gumbert lives near Cincinnati, OH with his wife Andrea (Andy) in a log home overlooking the Ohio River, in an area that was an active part of the Underground Railroad.  An Operations Manager by day, he has been writing for over a decade with an eclectic taste in what he reads and writes.

 His work has appeared in over a dozen publications in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. He co-authored the anthology, “Nine Lives,” which was published by All Things That Matter Press in March 2014, and he is currently editing his novel. He tweets at: https://twitter.com/TomGumbert  ******