ISSUE #20: Jeff Hart, Rory Hejtmanek, Emperor X

Posted: Monday, December 20, 2010 | | Labels:

Photograph by Rory Hejtmanek

by Jeff Hart

He was drunk again.

She found him lying on his back in the grass in front of town hall. The bars had closed hours ago. The automated sprinklers had started, soaking him. She honked the horn as gently as she could, trying to rouse him and not the mayor. It took a few tries, and she considered that he was probably faking it, but eventually he sat up, spit, and looked at her.

“I puked,” he said.

Issue #20 soundtrack: Emperor X "Go-Captain and Pinlighter"

He staggered over to the fence to rest his face against the cool mesh. She leaned out the driver’s side window, parked on the wrong side of the road.

“The fuck are you doing here, anyway?”

“You called me,” she exclaimed. “Crying.”

“Ha ha. Fat chance.”

“Do you want a ride or not?”


He made as if to curl back up in the damp grass, but she didn’t waste time humoring him. Stepped on the gas, started her U-turn toward home, and then there came the slapping of bare feet on asphalt and he was clamoring into the passenger side. She wished she had the forethought to put down a towel.

“Security was coming,” he explained. She started to drive.

“Where are your shoes?”

He didn’t answer. Slouched, knees shoved up against her glove box, sullenly staring out the window. She worried that he might pass out, didn’t want to go through waking him again, but then he started making his broad, animated gestures and she wondered if he was really as drunk as he’d let on.

“This never happened. If you tell anyone, they won’t believe you.”

It was the first time they’d seen each other since the last fight, the big fight, the fight to end all fights. The fight that drove him off to the city in shame and put her back with the old boyfriend, the one he hated, the steady and stable one that didn’t insist on using phrases like transcendent surrealism in everyday conversation. He called her some nights, breathing into her voice mail or turning up music in his apartment, yelling gibberish, pretending to be at a club. Other times he e-mailed, rants that got angrier and angrier by the sentence. It always boiled down to her being provincial, to him not understanding why anyone would want to live in a small town, get married, buy houses, have babies before their mid-thirties. It was like he expected her to chase after him or, at the very least, try to change his mind with offers of mortgages and fertility.

“What are you doing in town?” she asked.

“You’d know, but you stopped reading my e-mails.”

“I didn’t stop reading, just responding.”


“Because responding encourages you,” she said.

He looked out at the passing streets. “Where are you taking me?”

“Your house,” she answered.

“No,” he shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’ve misplaced my keys.”

“Then where?”

“Back to your place.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“Why not?”

He’d come around quickly, from the surly drunk to the impish flirt. Trying for clever and cute, what had charmed in the old days, she now found wheedling. Even with his so-called liberated intellect, he reminded her only of a skittish runaway. His hair was a mess, his legs too skinny to be so hairy and pale, dangling from his threadbare shorts. He smelled like wet grass and stomach acid. She felt at once charitable and repulsed, like a debutante in Africa.

“Come on,” she said. “Look at you.”

He snorted as if he understood and then began to fish around in his pockets, producing a soggy lump of cigarettes. He peeled one out of the box and eventually managed to light it. This was new, him smoking, and she viewed it as an affectation he had picked up for the sake of the city. She hated it, but in a better ending, it was his stink that had lured her downstairs. She found him in her living room without his shirt, idly thumbing through the guest list.

“Put your clothes on,” she whispered.

“I’m not on here, am I?” he asked. This was her house, and yet she felt like a prowler caught in the act. Her eyes darted around for escape.

“I didn’t think you’d want to come.”

“A courtesy invite would have been nice.”

She picked up his shirt and handed it to him, but he wouldn’t put it on. This would be years after the car, years after his maddening calls had tapered off. He’d grown a beard and acquired a mysterious surgery scar at the start of his ribs. He exhaled a jet of smoke away from her face. She was touched by the gesture.

“I don’t know where to begin,” she began.

“I climbed in the window, if you’re wondering.”

“If he finds you down here, he’ll want to kick your ass.”

“Don’t be childish,” he said, and again began to inspect the guest list. “Do you know how ridiculous it is for me to read about your engagement on that internet thing?”


“Is that what it’s called?”

“You know what it’s called.”

He shrugged.

“I always thought this could be us,” he said as he flicked away the guest list and untied the front of her robe.

“Now who’s being childish?” she replied as she shoved his hands away. “You’re freezing.”

And that brought to mind another time, an even better way for all this to have ended. It was winter when she’d come home from work to find him sitting in her yard, the little idiot again without a shirt, just a pair of snow pants and socks. He was turning blue. It’d been snowing for hours and by the look of him, he’d been out there for most of it. Hillocks of powder formed on his narrow shoulders. His teeth chattered so hard that his whole body shook, and when she tried getting an answer out of him it came in clipped, delirious fragments, thoughts as unique from one another as snowflakes, each disconnected from the next. As she pulled him inside, she got the idea that something horribly tragic had befallen him or his mother or one of his siblings – a lightning onset of inoperable cancer or some kind of flaming highway pile-up. In actuality, there was no wrenching tragedy, only a boy getting his acid cherry popped and suffering a frostbitten freak-out.

She left pink handprints on his back and chest as she shoved him into the tub, filled it with hot water, and poured herself in after him.

Or maybe it hadn’t gone like that at all.

“What do you want me to do with you?” she asked, slowing the car.

“I want you to admit you’re still in love with me.”

She laughed. She knew that wasn’t what he was after, not really. He was looking for an ending to all this that would meet his standards -- standards ingrained in him by all the literature and television and cinema that he had eagerly soaked up and critiqued. It was clear he wanted to either defy cliché or live it, but couldn’t decide which. The last fight had sent him into retreat to the city, and maybe it would have been enough if she had come after him, or if he had met someone new and better. But he hadn’t, and she hadn’t, and so here they were – him trying to mine material, and her trying to avoid getting sucked into this attempt at a final act.

“What’s funny?”

“I don’t love you.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not.”

“Then pull over. I want to get out.”

She jerked the car to the side of the road, maybe too eagerly. She felt him deflate beside her. He didn’t move, didn’t even speak for a moment.

“Are you serious?” he said at last.

“What’s the problem?”

The problem was that there were so many other, more interesting endings. In the snow or in the smoky sexualized future where they wanted one another again. She didn’t even have the decency to give him one last climax. Instead she offered dramatic impotence, a final humiliation in a non-descript car without even the radio turned on.

He forced a kiss on her, and she let him. She considered her options while his mouth performed desperate acts of resuscitation. She reached past him, opened the door, and shoved him into the street.

“Bitch!” he screamed from the curb. “Whore!”

The wind slapped the passenger door shut as she picked up speed. That was it, his famous last words. She was sure he’d be kicking himself later for not screaming ‘pedant’ or ‘philistine’ after her. It didn’t matter now. She chanced only one look in the rearview and could still see him in her tail lights. He was standing still, watching her go, hoping that maybe she’d turn the car around.

Jeff Hart lives in Brooklyn. His fiction has previously appeared in The Literary Review and The L Magazine. He recently wrapped up a serialized novel for The Awl and edits the pop culture blog Culture Blues.

Rory Hejtmanek is a documentary photographer who currently resides in San Francisco, although he grew up with a close-knit, upbeat family in Walnut Creek, California and El Paso, Texas. After his mother Pat died in 2009, Rory realized how important his documentation of her was. Since then, he has looked towards relationships within his family and among strangers for the sincerity that inspires his photographs. Rory is a transgender man, which highlights both the masculine and feminine touch to his images. Visit his online portfolio at

Emperor X is Chad Matheny. The song "Go-Captain and Pinlighter" was inspired by a Cordwainer Smith short story, and it can be found on Emperor X's last full-length album The Blythe Archives Volume Two. For more, visit

ISSUE #19: Allegra Frazier, Graham Franciose, Yellow Ostrich

Posted: Monday, December 6, 2010 | | Labels:

Illustration by Graham Franciose

by Allegra Frazier

The store opened on October 15th, 2010. We snuck into the private opening party and had the fabrics between our fingers before we’d even opened the cans of beer we’d smuggled in our purses. “This is quality stuff,” Rachel said to me, pressing into her chest a dress that was made of silver lamé and that was not her size. “They’re made here in the city. Someone in Tucson made this dress. You know? That’s why they cost so much.”

It cost one hundred and twenty-three dollars.

Issue #19 soundtrack: Yellow Ostrich "Fog"

Above the rack from which it had been taken I noticed one of Rachel’s photographs. It was blown up to almost two feet by two feet and was framed and cost five hundred and seventy-five dollars.

“What’s going on here?” I said, pointing up at it.

“Oh, that’s from the stocking series. You remember those.” She put the dress back and picked up another one. It was also not her size. It was the correct size for almost every other girl in the room, though.

“I didn’t know you had photography in here.”

“Oh, yeah, I met Emily a while ago at an after party at Congress. She needed something on her walls at the opening, and I offered some prints on consignment.” She looked up at her photograph, and then turned to admire another one from the same series hanging on the opposite wall. “I think they look great in here.”

“Who’s Emily?” I asked, opening a beer.

“The owner, of course.”

“You know the owner?”

“Well, I’m doing some business with her.” She laughed. “How else do you think we got invited to this?”

“You told me we were sneaking in,” I said.

She put the second dress back on the rack and said, “I never said that. What would I say that for?”

* * * * *

The avenue the store is on is a commercial accident, occurring in the middle of a residential area. The boutique itself, like almost every other business on the street, is in an old house re-zoned for business. It has hardwood floors and arched doorways and an average Arizonan residential yard: wide and flat, containing one citrus tree heavy with oblong lemons no one is interested in eating and bordered with a tall, dark picket fence so old that in certain parts the planks become mulch if you lean against them. Most of the reception was occurring out there: a dusty and glowing group of friends and local designers, standing near each other and talking over beers as the light from above them slipped away and the light from the candles on the tables below them grew up in the darkness.

Emily was leaning over a cooler, fishing for something to give to the person she was talking to. I figured she was Emily because she was wearing clothes that seemed to be taken from the racks inside (a long blue velvet robe dress with an enormous peach colored owl embroidered on the back) and she was saying Thank you, thank you so much, I know, right? I’m really excited much louder than anyone was saying anything else.

Because I had brought my own beer, I wandered away from the cooler line, where I assumed Emily stood serving because she felt that she would talk to all of her guests at least once if she had to serve their drinks to them. The shop next door served coffee and vegan seed cookies, and a girl was standing near the fence shared between the two yards, staring up into the light of the coffee shop windows. I went to her and asked her if she had ever been there.

She turned to me and laughed. “Yeah, I’ve been there. Small town, you know?”

“How small?” I asked. “I don’t know you.”

“Well,” she said. “I didn’t come with Emily, if you know her. I came with the street.”

“I came with the coffee shop.”

“I own the coffee shop,” she said. She held up her cup, a paper coffee cup. “I’ve got to be getting back in a minute. Just stopped by.”

“To say congratulations or to look at your shop from the other side of the fence?”

She leaned against the planks and the fence bowed dangerously under her, so she stood back up. It was dark, now, and the light from her shop window pushed our shadows almost all the way back to the rest of the party. “You know what they say about the view over fences,” she said.

“I don’t know Emily,” I said. “I just live around here.”

“I know you do,” she said. “You came with the coffee shop.” She brushed the clinging flakes of ancient wood from her jeans. “Nice talking to you. I’ll see you around the shop sometime.” And, after shaking Emily’s hand at the cooler, she left. Standing alone by the fence, I watched her walk out and imagined in a moment her walking into the coffee shop and into the room behind the window on the other side of the fence.

After finishing all of my beers, I found Rachel inside, standing with several wirey people beneath a large photograph of her own face pushed into a flesh-colored stocking. I had to admit, the pictures did look good in there. I told her so, and then I coaxed her into going to the cooler with me. I couldn’t do it alone. Rachel escorted me to Emily and to Emily's cooler full of Coors Light. Not knowing exactly the best way to get a beer without it seeming my ultimate goal, I told her congratulations.

As though it was a magic word, Emily bent down and fetched a beer out of the ice. Her right hand was bright red from digging through there all night, and she put the can in her left hand to shake the ice off of her fingers, leaving pocks in the dust on the ground.

“Hey, thanks,” she said. Her eyes were large and the whites were so white. She must not have had anything to drink, for her eyes to be so clear. She handed me the beer and shook my other hand and pushed her hair back over her shoulder with her left palm. She glanced past my head for a moment, as though to check for eavesdroppers, and then leaned down into my face. She said, “Do you like what you see in there? I’m so excited.”

“Hey, I really do. Congratulations, again.”

“Thanks.” She took my hand again. I wondered if she thought she knew who I was, if she was mistaking me for someone else she had met before. Her hands were bigger than mine. I could feel her fingernails against my wrist. “Thanks. Do you live around here? Please stop in anytime.”

“I will,” I lied. The dresses hadn’t really been my size, either.

By eleven, I was more than ready to leave, but I couldn’t seem to find Rachel. To kill the time until she reappeared, I asked people if they’d been to the coffee shop before. Most of them said yes. One girl said she had seen me there. “You’re always reading something,” she said. This seemed to impress her.

“And always drinking coffee,” I said. I finished off my beer. I felt a little drunk. I thought again about the owner of the coffee shop. She hadn’t told me her name, but I had not asked for it and I had not I offered mine. “Don’t forget about the coffee.” I tossed the empty can into a near by bin and turned to leave on my own. Rachel, I knew, would be fine without me.

Allegra Frazier is a writer, editor, and visual artist living in New York. She founded the Brooklyn-based literary magazine Soon Quarterly, and her work can be seen in 491 Magazine, in The Short Fiction Collective, or on her blog The Urban Obsessionist.

Graham Franciose an artist/illustrator living in Austin, TX. His work has been published in various art publications and children's educational literature, as well as in album illustrations and designs for local musicians. Graham has exhibited in a number of galleries from D.C. to California. Visit his online portfolio at

Yellow Ostrich is a duo. It consists of Alex Schaaf (vocals, guitar, keyboard, synth, sound manipulation) and Michael Tapper (drums). Originally a solo project in Wisconsin, the pair is now located in New York City. Visit them online at

ISSUE #18: Maggie Murray, James Hannibal, The San Remo

Posted: Monday, November 22, 2010 | | Labels:

Photograph by James Hannibal

by Maggie Murray

Eric is a woodchuck.

It wasn’t his choice. Last week in biology, Mr. Burley, white lab coat stretched across his midriff like a grin, passed around a beaker of white paper slips, folded lengthwise, each labeled with a woodlands creature. Rabbits, shrews, coyotes; herbivores, omnivores, carnivores. The class had learned that the animal kingdom is tiered, much like middle school. It hadn’t felt that way last year, or even a few months ago. But some meanness was afoot in his classmates, as the girls’ bodies softened and the boys’ hardened. In this sense, picking woodchuck from all the possibilities within, from all the bobcats and black rat snakes – woodchuck – seemed apt to Eric; he is, after all, the woodchuck of the fifth grade.

Issue #18 soundtrack: The San Remo "Ackley"

But now as he runs deeper into the woods, alone, the sound of his sawing breaths and the muddy thwacks beneath his feet growing, and what surely is the woodchuck’s predominant state – panic – sharpening and prickling with each passing tree, he can’t help but marvel: how random that choice was, a bit of paper, like that, clinging to his fingertips. And how cruel.

It’s the final day of Fifth Grade Camp. One week every year, the 11 year-olds at Eric’s small school – newly hairy, tender in strange places – scratch bug-bites bloody at Santana, a wilderness camp rented for retreats. Team-building activities, intended to develop trust, composed the previous days. Blithe teenage counselors consistently paired Eric with the Boys He Made A Point Of Avoiding; these boys blindfolded him and yelled directions, laughing when he smacked into trees.

Nights were campfire macaroni and Pop-Tarts while listening to Pankaj discuss girls. “Now, Marisa,” Pankaj said, etching circles into the dirt, “is a total beefcake.” Beefcake, thought Eric; the term sounded somehow wrong applied to girls. But Pankaj had a swagger, a stiff-necked certainty when he’d said it – beefcake – that Eric had to nod in agreement. Pankaj – taller, worldlier, and now a hawk – must know a beefcake when he sees one. Beefcakes: blonde girls who wear short tees, exposing soft, birthmarked breaths of belly. Later, in the cabin bed, Eric thought about Marisa, her shadowed, impossible midriff, and stared at the crude words carved into his bunk.

The Game, a camp tradition, occurs just before the buses head home. The class divides according to the wildlife lottery; the herbivores receive green shirts, the omnivores, blue, and the carnivores, red. The Game lasts one hour. The objective: run from the outstretched arms of those higher on the food chain and collect tiny apple stickers from counselors at hidden feed stations. Get fewer than ten stickers: you starve. Run past the trail bordering the woods: you’re road kill. “Survival,” yelled Mr. Burley, presiding at the trailhead, before blowing his whistle, three sharp toots, to signal the herbivores’ head start.

Sunlight flares through branches and leaves, freckling the root-mangled ground with shifting sickles of light. The other rodents’ faces, foreheads ridged from asthma, and the smell of fire on a cold spring morning push Eric on. He’s learned that success means not feeling. He runs to a feed station, a yellow cart in a gulch rich with wood nettle and sedge, and reaches his card toward the counselor, already crowded by mice and deer.

At feed station three, Marisa, rabbit, a head taller and smelling of shampoo, elbows him sharply in the shoulder. She mumbles, “Sorry,” and turns her back to him.

It occurs to Eric, with a thrill: a beefcake just elbowed him; in this game, a beefcake must also run for her life.

When he, edged out of line, finally receives his sticker, another two cheeps sound: the omnivores are loose.

He watches Marisa stiffen and clamber, up the gully, over shrubs and grass. This is when Eric feels it, seizing up like a fist: dread. It is like a sudden knowing, knowing that he will, of course, die in this game and, though he dreads his classmates who seem more adept at this strange, middle school life than he and who lead him blindfolded into trees, he dreads the prospect of being tagged alone, dreads dying alone. Marisa, too, must understand that; why else does she run? And, just like that, he takes off after her, focused on her hair, clean and golden, slipping deeper into the underbrush.

And now a time of darting blue shirts, of rushes and of screams. Eric, resolute, pushes words from his head. Eventually, the whistle blows once again – the carnivores, thirty minutes more. Near the trail, Marisa realizes that Eric is following her, and she slows and turns. “Quit it, faggot!”

Eric halts. His mouth goes dry: he only wanted to lead her behind a safe ridge, just to talk, maybe to touch hands, and now he feels the cold stupidity of that hope. No; Marisa is no rabbit. She would never be lonely, would never understand his dread. He watches her toss her hair and run, once more, away from the trail, to a small clearing where the sun renders her head a terrible white. His problem, of course, was feeling. Faggot. Faggot.

And then, over in the clearing, Eric sees a red-shirted blur sweep upon Marisa and, poof, tag her. She screams – he distinctly hears “You creep.” When the two figures finally stand still, Eric realizes the red blur is Pankaj.

So this is death: Marisa passes her card to Pankaj, who can barely look at her. She rolls her eyes and walks off toward the trailhead, easy and slow. It seems, above all, like relief; she can go drink pop and yawn until everyone else joins her in death. The end: so simple, so certain, so fine.

And it occurs to Eric: why continue the lame hour – this glorified game of tag – when he could end the thing now and go, at ease, to tug at field grass, free of the brambles and shrieks? Why not skip this life part – the classmates’ terrible, pinched faces, this crash through dark branches that hid only death? He has three stickers; in twenty minutes, he’ll need seven more. By now red shirts surround all the food stations. They’ll find him if he sits and they’ll find him if he runs. It would be horrible, trapped by a mass of them – some of the Boys He Made A Point Of Avoiding lucked out as wolves, and they wouldn’t let an herbivore, shallow-chested and thin-boned, leave easy.

“Pankaj!” Eric yells. Pankaj, pocketing Marisa’s card, squints in Eric’s direction. He jogs over.

When four feet away, Pankaj stops. He looks perplexed. “Pankaj,” Eric says, “aren’t you going to tag me?”

“Well – Jesus.” Pankaj laughs uneasily. “You aren’t going to run?”

Eric feels a stab of annoyance. “Look, I hate this game. Just tag me already.”

Pankaj examines Eric, his neck craned. Slowly, he smirks, shaking his head. Eric’s stomach slumps like a diving board. “Hey,” Pankaj says, “hey, I’m not going to just tag you. I’m not going to let a sissy off easy.”

Eric takes a step forward and Pankaj jumps back, twice, then sprints away.

Eric is left alone.

All that’s left is the insects’ discordance. God, he thinks. The stupid thing wouldn’t end. It was, of course, because he’d been feeling again, because he’d wanted to be with people. What was the point? If only his brain could go blank and his blood could stop cold and he could be stiff and blank as a weed. If only he could just disappear.

And then he remembers: Mr. Burley, sipping coffee in his SUV, circling the trail. Road kill.

Eric runs again, straight, directed. His legs never felt so buoyant. He can see the trail from here, woodchips blanched and dreamy in the sun, like light, pure light, and he can feel himself slipping, so soon, from this animal body, this hairy, tender adulthood, and melting, impossibly, into space.

And so he runs to the edge of the world.

Maggie Murray is in her second year of a fiction MFA at Johns Hopkins. Her recent work has appeared in the Pacific Review and Wham City’s WORMS, and more is forthcoming in The Hopkins Review and in an audio project by an editor of Candor. She writes occasionally at

James Hannibal is a freelance photojournalist who photographs nature, portraits, sports, weddings, and anything that pushes the limits of what can be done with light and shadow. His photos have been published in over 20 publications and can be viewed at

The San Remo is an experimental, electronic group based out of Brooklyn, NY. Members also play in the band Tenements. Streaming and downloadable tracks can be found on their web pages: &

ISSUE #17: Tommy Dakar, Melanie Plummer, Sarah Jaffe

Posted: Monday, November 8, 2010 | | Labels:

Digital art by Melanie Plummer

by Tommy Dakar

Gene typed:
We are alone. We are born alone, and we will die alone. Even after we make love we gradually disentangle, gently pulling away from each other: an arm, a leg, one last caress. Our final contact before we drift into sleep, alone.

He saved it and then sent it out into cyberspace where maybe one day it would be found by another lost soul, like the capsules Humanity launches into space from time to time. He used one of his pseudonyms, for anonymity. He had no desire to be found and identified by like-minded people; people full of doubts, of ugly thoughts, of inexpressible fears, people trapped between a ferocious survival instinct and the absurdity of living. People like himself.

Issue #17 soundtrack: Sarah Jaffe "Better Than Nothing"

It was his twenty-fifth birthday, and so far he had received a text message from Kora, half a dozen emails, computer generated congratulations from the office, and a digital greeting card from his mother. She said she had tried to send a video, but had not been able to follow the instructions correctly. She would try again next time. In the meantime a photo of her smiling in a straw hat with her new husband, Heinrich, hanging off her shoulder. Lots of love from the other side of the world, and hope you have a great day.

Kora wished him luck and suggested a meeting, if he wanted, no obligation, whenever he liked. He understood her stunted text. She wanted to give the impression of desire, but not harassment, of attraction, but only if mutual. It would mean contact again, but it was worth considering.

Gene worked from home, and on this special day the first thing he did was erase the felicitations sent via the office software. He had helped design the message and it embarrassed him now to receive it himself. Somehow the fact that he had been part of its creation made it seem even less sincere, even more impersonal. If he remembered, he would take himself off the mailing list for next year. Or re-word it, perhaps. Then he opened up his instructions for the day and set to work.

Lunch arrived punctually as always. The door bell rang, and a young man in an orange uniform handed over the tray. There was no need for a signature or payment; it had all been processed through his account. Two seconds, not a word uttered, and he was back inside.

It was how he preferred it. Nearly all of the day-to-day administration of his life was managed in the same way. If he shopped, it was at the hypermarket where he could mingle with the hordes unnoticed, like a pixel in a photo. On the rare occasions he had to visit the office, he was fortunately no more than an identity pass, a number, and he could float through the installations like a ghost. Personal contact was thankfully kept to a minimum, and although he had read stories about shopkeepers and bar staff, had seen films and television programs with friendly postmen and nosey neighbors, he felt grateful that they did not form part of his modern world. To him they were things of the past, like picnics in the country or extended families. His life was different, individual, invisible almost, a single cell in the multi-organ city.

Over lunch he browsed through his personal emails. They were from his chat contacts around the globe. Happy Birthday Genie! from Stefan and Melinda, who had photos to add to their names, photos you could trust as actually belonging to the person behind the name despite the mandatory digital enhancement. The others used spoof photos, like Big Boy, whose picture was of an enormous bearded man in a checked shirt sitting at the wheel of an articulated lorry. Or Watchthisspace, who was a small blonde girl holding a dandelion clock and gazing up at the clouds. The others used constantly changing symbols or photos they had downloaded from the web. Gene used a photo of himself, but heavily made up and disguised by creative lighting effects. The Genie of the Shadows-- it was unlikely that he would be recognized.

He prepared a thank you message and sent it to all of them, except Kora. Today was a special day, so to her he sent a place and a time. All she had to do was return the message to agree. If he received nothing, some other time, then. But today was his birthday, and fifteen minutes later a tiny ping sound told him her reply had arrived.

That afternoon he tried to concentrate on his work, but found that he was less efficient than usual. He was not good at analyzing his emotions, but had he possessed this ability he might have realized that he was excited, excited about seeing Kora again, excited about celebrating his birthday in company, but also nervous, nervous about the contact, about what she might be thinking or feeling, unsure what it all meant, or if it may lead to something else, something less controllable. Or to nothing at all. As it was he just thought he felt uneasy, cause unspecific.

He had arranged to meet her at the Power House. It wasn't his favorite haunt, but after last month's drama at the Blue Chip, he had no desire to return. That night he had bought twelve pills-- a whole dozen!-- when one was enough to send you into another dimension for hours at a time. What had pushed him to do something crazy like that? He had ended up outside, kneeling against the wire fencing, trying to count the small, off-white pills still left in the palm of his hand, but was unable to get past three. There were more, surely, but try as he might he could not get beyond that figure, the rest of the numbers dancing around each other and refusing to stay still long enough to be counted. His memory of that night ended there. The hospital staff had been efficient but distant, the police official routinely rude. They had filled out the required forms and left him to get back home on his own the following afternoon.

There, it had happened. He did not have the ability to comprehend it. But now, like everything, it was in the past, which is our common destiny. Best not dwell on it.

The Power House was a mesh of swirling lights: blue, white, amber, purple. A huge sound system blasted conversation to pieces with rhythms in keeping with the off-white pills. They were easy enough to get once you had learned the ritual-- who to look for, how to approach, how to stand, to wait, to pay, to disappear. Swift, well-practiced maneuvers camouflaged under a display of lighting and twisting torsos. He made his way to the bar and struck a pose; Kora might have already arrived and be watching him from behind her heavy makeup.

She appeared suddenly by his side. They said nothing. For a while they nodded and swayed to the insistent beat, drinking. Eventually they turned to each other. Hi. Happy birthday. He slipped her a pill, and they took one together. Dialogue was impossible under that barrage of sound, so they danced, separately, staring at the floor where they could eye each other from the waist down. After some hazy footwork, they both stumbled outside.

Under the overhead motorway there were a number of arches offering a little intimacy. Under each arch a couple or a group. You didn't look, or stop, or make a comment of any sort, you just kept walking until you found a free arch of your own. Gene and Kora leaned against opposite sides of the narrow archway. She hitched up her skirt, licked a finger, and slid it into her pants. He unzipped his trousers and pulled it out. They began to masturbate. Kora opened her jacket and showed him her left breast. He made a move towards her, and this time she did not pull away, not abruptly, not immediately. He inched towards her until he cupped her breast in his hand. A few precious moments. Then she shifted, and he understood, slinking back to his own side of the arch. They finished in a muted mutual orgasm. It was time to go back and dance until dawn, or until the effect of the pill wore off. She vanished sometime around four in the morning, so he went back to his apartment on his own.

He did not check his mail before he fell onto his bed, but if he had he would have read this:

We are not alone. We shall be reunited. Join us.

* * * * *

The following morning he awoke with an empty feeling that was all too familiar. After the drugs, reality appeared drab and lifeless, drained of color, of interest. After Kora, Gene felt that way too. It was difficult to put into words, and that meant it was difficult to understand, he knew, and therefore to combat. After various incidents as a child his psychologists had explained to him that it is essential to name the problem, to isolate the emotion, and to comprehend the inter-connectivity of human relationships. He had never managed to grasp those lessons, and now his failure to express himself could only help worsen the situation. Empty was the only word that sprung to mind.

Through the afternoon he entertained himself with music and videos, the curtains drawn, the computer turned off. He wanted to be entirely alone so that his emotions could rest undisturbed, untarnished by contact. Perhaps if he lost himself in idle activity he would not think that Kora was a drug, or that sex was painful, or love impossible.

It was late in the evening when he eventually saw the message. He read the text over and over again. We are not alone, it said. A bold statement. We shall be reunited, it promised. But above all join us, it pleaded. Join us. There was a link to follow at the bottom like a door begging to be opened.

He felt uncertain, like the first time he had undressed before Constantine, her flesh so white, with dark hairs running up to her navel. (One day she had sent him an SMS-- it is over-- and he had seen her no more). Or like the time he had taken his first pill, expectant but reluctant, unsure what lay ahead but determined to find out. If he just clicked on the link, one tiny movement...

The site was a black screen with these words: Access by invitation only. He clicked once more, and was led to a short questionnaire. They required a user name, a password, and acceptance of their internal rules, which he agreed to without bothering to read. He was then allowed to pass into the forum, where a conversation of sorts was slowly being developed.

At first he was unable to grasp the meaning of the interchanges, they seemed disjointed and full of strange references to events of which he had no knowledge. It felt like he had walked into a room where a heated debate was taking place, but in slow motion, full of pauses, like when passionate politicians try to communicate through interpreters.

He scrolled down, trying to follow the thread, and little by little it dawned on him. This was a suicide group. He double checked. Yes, it all added up. As far as he could see there were five members. He would be the sixth, a reasonable number for what they had in mind. Their plans were quite advanced by this stage, and it appeared that all they needed was to decide where and when-- the method had already been discussed and agreed upon.

Gene stood up. His mouth had become suddenly dry and he needed to drink something, water preferably. A suicide group. He had heard of these before, but had assumed they were an urban legend, possibly based on an element of truth but embellished as passed from mouth to mouth. Except that now he had been invited into their midst.

He had seen their names, or at least their aliases. Lucy, Akira, Goran, Doris and Wesley. Who were these people? Why did he imagine that these were indeed their real names? Why had they decided to invite him along? Was it really that obvious?

That indecision again, that insecurity. He stared at the computer as he drank, as if by scrutinizing it he would be able to unravel its mysteries. It would be simple enough to click out of there and never return. He was anonymous still, having used no more than HalfEmpty as his user name. Or he could become a voyeur, and observe from a safe distance as the group finalized details and carried out its somber plan. But it was the third route that unsettled him most, for he knew how easy it was to go from one small pill to a whole dozen. The screen saver kicked into action and the forum was hidden behind the dark immensity of the universe.

Two weeks later Gene typed.

I believe it is our natural state. It is our destiny. We are always, in the last instance, terribly alone.

He was not sure why he signed this entry under his real name.

There was no immediate reply, which was frustrating. He watched the screen for what seemed like an age until at last these words appeared.

Yet you send out your messages, because you hope to proven wrong.

He had read some of Akira's messages before and for some reason imagined he was the ring leader. There was always an air of mystery about his posts that reminded Gene of himself. An hour or so later he read.

Don't fight it, Gene. There is nothing to fear. Be at peace with yourself.

The spiritual one? It was hard to say. He had a picture of her in his mind. She was pale, fussy, nervous, yet also strangely calm, as if the idea of her suicide had given her some kind of peace at last.

Goran came online.
You must be sure. There must be no pressure. The decision is yours only to make.

Goran spoke clearly, even tactlessly. He wanted it all dealt with as soon as possible. He had no time for philosophy or emotions.

Is that for me?

It must be made clear.

Much later.

Gene, is that your real name? I trust you, and I am sure you know what you are doing. If you decide to join us, welcome!

"Welcome to our suicide group!" he was tempted to reply, but held his hand.

Eventually Wesley chipped in. He did not participate much, but when he did it was usually to make light of it all, as if in reality what they had in mind was of absolutely no transcendence in the slightest.

Don't listen to them, Gene, they are all mad. We are all mad! Is Wesley my real name? Ha, ha. I don't even know myself!

Gene signed out.

* * * * *

As their staccato conversations stumbled on over the next few weeks, Gene learned how to interpret his new colleagues. Akira was not the leader, they had no need for such a figure, but he took it on himself to personally address Gene's soul searching. In response to Gene's comments he would ask-- are we naturally alone, or do we contrive to be alone? Or-- alone, or unique? Or worse still-- alone, or in hiding? However he never attempted to answer these questions, nor gave away anything about himself, as if his existence were no more than a response, a reaction. Each of the others in their own way lay open their hearts, expressing their innermost thoughts and beliefs, albeit in the succinct, curt vocabulary of internet chats. So he learned how Lucy was at last at peace after so much suffering, or how Goran in his no nonsense manner was keen to drive ahead and be done with this vacuous life for once and for all. He thought he could understand Doris's reluctance to go into detail, to explain her situation. She requested respect for her intimacy and it was granted. Wesley the joker hid his anguish under a mask of humor and acid wit, though every so often he would unveil himself and admit it was all facade. Here, thought Gene, was naked Humanity, where there was no need for pseudonyms or misleading images, where emotions could be expressed without ulterior motives. It was bare-chested Humanity devoid of the vanity and stratagems of the future.

Gene had accepted their invitation, had accepted the rules, and he now accepted that he belonged to the group, formed part of their plan. His capsule had been intercepted and contact had been made. Perhaps after all he had been wrong, and we are not alone.

* * * * *

He would have preferred to have left no loose ends, to have bid farewell to his mother, his email contacts, Kora, but he could not compromise the confidentiality of the group. If they were discovered now, they would all face internment. Suicide is never a socially acceptable option and must be carried out secretly, with subterfuge, but above all in private. The city had been designed to avoid such rebellious attitudes. Motorway bridges had been fenced in, the stairwells of office blocks swathed in fine meshing, security windows sealed, access to roofs denied. To succeed they would need to be cautious and meticulous.

It was four-thirty in the morning, dark and threatening rain when Gene arrived at Central Station. Lucy had hired a camper van, and would be parked at the rear. According to the plan she would already have picked up Goran and Wesley, but Akira, Doris and himself would arrive on foot. The place was all but deserted, so it was not difficult to imagine that the plump blond girl in a plastic raincoat was Doris. He watched as she scoured the car park for the van, reluctant to approach her.

"Gene?" asked a male voice, and he turned to see a short man, with jet black hair. Akira.

Gene nodded and followed him to the camper.

They greeted each other with serious smiles, but there was no conversation. It was strange how much they knew about each other whilst at the same time being perfect strangers. Each member took up a position then fell into silence. Lucy, a middle-aged woman in a dull brown headscarf, started the engine and headed up towards the wooded heights above the city as it stared to rain steadily. Gene, seated between Doris and Goran in the second row, stared out at the wet tarmac, unable to let himself catch furtive glimpses of his companions. He had not imagined this cold reality, had expected some camaraderie, some introductions, a handshake at least, some real contact. As it was they traveled on in silence and fearful respect, like the passengers on an underground train.

The streets and highways were empty, and it was not long before they pulled up and parked under some willows in a secluded area well away from the picnic areas and playgrounds. That had been Doris's idea, as she did not want children to stumble across the van later in the day. They waited quietly for a while until Wesley got out and attached the tube to the exhaust whilst Lucy protected him from the rain with her umbrella. The tube was pulled back into the van through a small side window, then sealed off with plastic bags and masking tape. They were ready.

There were no speeches, no mutual farewells. Each member of the group sat immersed in their own thoughts, patiently waiting for the engine to start up once more.

Just before Lucy turned the ignition key Gene leaned across Doris and opened the sliding side door.

"I'm sorry. I, I... I'm sorry."

He closed the door gently behind him. They watched him walk away, but nobody spoke. There would be no recrimination, they had all signed that.

Gene stood under the trees in the rain and watched the scene through the zoom lens of his pocket camera. The windows of the camper van were by now covered in condensation, but he could just make out Akira's jet black hair, and Lucy was still partially visible in the driver's seat. All of the passengers were gradually fading, dissolving into grey, until he could see them no longer. He turned and began to walk back along the deserted streets towards the city.

Tommy Dakar was born in England but has lived and worked in Granada, Spain since 1982, where he taught English as a foreign language before breaking into translation and interpretation work. Currently he is putting finishing touches on a novel of literary humor entitled 'Balls', and preparing a collection of short stories. Visit him online at

Melanie Plummer is a self-taught digital painter whose works have been shown at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art. She lives with her husband and two children in Catawissa, Missouri. Visit her online portfolio at

Denton, Texas-based Sarah Jaffe has been writing songs since her early teens, long before she could even enter the clubs where they are now performed. "Better Than Nothing" is a track from her 2010 release Suburban Nature from Kirtland Records. For more, visit her online at

ISSUE #16: Joe Kilgore, Hollis Hart, worriedaboutsatan

Posted: Monday, October 25, 2010 | | Labels:

Painting by Hollis Hart

by Joe Kilgore

An hour from now, I am going to be hanged. You probably think I deserve it. Most people do. They’ve let me see the newspapers. The stories, particularly the headlines, painted an awful picture of me. MONSTER ARRESTED. STRANGLER FOUND GUILTY. PREDATOR FACES NOOSE. I wouldn’t blame you for assuming I’m getting what I deserve. But the truth is, I didn’t do it. I’m innocent.

An hour from now, I am going to hang a man. You probably never think about the executioner. Most people don’t. There are no stories in the newspapers. No headlines proclaiming SWORD OF JUSTICE WEILDED, or AVENGER STRIKES AGAIN. I wouldn’t blame you for feeling a bit ambivalent about me, for wondering why anyone would go into my profession. You probably wonder if I’ve ever executed an innocent man. Is anyone ever totally innocent?

Issue #16 soundtrack: worriedaboutsatan "Heart Monitor"

I do not deny I’ve taken lives. At least, I think I have. I was in the war. Sometimes, the man I was shooting at would fall. But it was all from a distance. We never went in to make sure they were dead. We were moving too fast. Hurrying to take ground. Trying to stay alive. Maybe though, that’s what this punishment is for. Maybe that’s why I’m really going to hang. Perhaps you pay for everything you do, eventually. I don’t know. I just know I didn’t kill her.

I freely admit that I have taken lives. No one has forced me. I chose this profession knowing full well what it entailed. I have methodically planned and carried out the killing of human beings. But I’ve done so because I’ve always believed in certain things. Things I’d like you to know about. In the hope you won’t think me some sort of sadist. There are particular jobs most people regard as distasteful. But where would society be if no one carried them out? It wouldn’t be a pretty picture. Not pretty at all.

I saw her in this bar near my apartment. I’m not a lush or anything. It was close, so I’d go there after work for a drink or two. Just to pass the time, you know. Anyway, I saw her sitting at the end of the bar. She was pretty. Not in a hard way, like some women are. Women who pile on the makeup. She wasn’t like that. She was somehow fresher, healthier. You don’t see a lot of women like her alone in a bar. That’s what got my attention. The fact that she didn’t seem to be with anyone. She was just sitting there with a highball in front of her. She kept ringing her finger around the top of the glass. I remember her finger looked thin and sort of elegant. It had red polish on the nail. She kept circling it over and over. It was like she was inviting me, kind of motioning to me in a way. Just walk over here and sit down, her finger kept saying. At least that’s what it seemed like to me.

I believe in balance. Life demands it. The balance of day and night. The balance of hot and cold. For every action there is a reaction. That sort of thing. Weather eventually balances itself via the seasons. Nature stays in balance through survival of the fittest. Good and evil must be balanced, too. If evil is not made to pay a price, eventually there would be chaos. And what is chaos really? Life out of balance. No one wants that. No sane person, anyway. That’s why wrongs are righted. That’s why punishment follows crime. Balance must be maintained. I help provide that balance. It’s essential that it be done. There’s nothing personal in what I do or why I do it. The fact is I seldom have any detailed knowledge of the wrong I’m making right. I say seldom because this time, strangely enough, I’m rather well informed about the crime, the criminal, even the victim.

Most of the time I find it hard to talk to women. But she was easy to talk to. She said she didn’t mind at all if I took the stool beside her. Even asked my name, right off. And she told me hers. I didn’t even have to ask. Gwenn. That was her name. I had never met a Gwenn before. It sounded sophisticated. At least to me it did. I asked her if she was waiting for someone. She said she was. So I said I wouldn’t bother her. But she said it was no bother. She liked company. Liked having someone to talk to.

It’s been my experience that evil attracts evil. Often, the individuals I send to their just reward killed someone who was as bad as they were. At least that’s what the papers say. As I said, I generally don’t know the individuals involved. But I read the papers like everybody else. And more often than not, it’s one gangster rubbing out another gangster. Generally over turf or something like that. Of course, that’s not the case this time. This time it’s different.

She told me she had been seeing someone for a while. The guy she was waiting for. But she said she was going to break it off. There was something about him she simply couldn’t get over. I asked if it was his looks, or the way he treated her. It wasn’t either one, she said. He wasn’t a bad looking guy. And he treated her okay. But she said that one day he told her what he did for a living, and since that day she couldn’t get it out of her head. Every time she looked at him she thought about it. Even when she wasn’t with him she thought about it. And particularly when he touched her, when he put his hands on her, that’s when she thought about it the most. Obviously, I was dying to ask her what he did. But somehow, I didn’t think I should. I thought I should just wait and let her tell me, if she wanted to.

There’s this girl I’d been seeing. Very attractive. I sensed that we were simpatico soon after meeting her. We seemed to get along quite well. I avoided telling her my profession for some time. Finally, after constant questioning by her, after hearing her say again and again that what I did for a living made absolutely no difference to her whatsoever, and would not affect our relationship in the slightest, finally, after all that, I told her what I did. She seemed incredulous at first. Assumed I was joking. Once she understood I was telling her the truth, she released an odd little laugh that really isn’t a laugh at all. One of those sounds people make when they don’t really know what to say or how to respond. It’s an involuntary reaction used to pretend they’re not shocked. But they really are. And she was too. From that moment, things went downhill.

She never told me what he did. In fact, she changed the subject. Said she didn’t want to talk about it anymore, and that we should talk about something else. Anything else. All I could think to talk about was how pretty she was. So I did. Not very well, though. I’m no Romeo. I just told her that I thought she was lovely. Her hair, her eyes, her fingernails with the shiny red polish. She said I was sweet. She told me that she wished we had met before she started seeing this guy she was going to break it off with. I said, well, if you’re going to break up with him anyway, we should just get to know each other better. Maybe have a date in the next day or so. We could do that, couldn’t we? Then I saw a tear in the corner of her eye. She tried to smile, a little bit, I think, before the tear began to slide down her cheek.

I saw them sitting together in a bar where I was supposed to meet her. He was talking, and she was crying. That can only mean one thing. I had never seen him before, but it was obvious he was upsetting the balance. Women only cry with men they care about. She had never cried with me. Now here he was, destroying everything. He had no right to do that. Granted, I knew she was bothered by what I did, but she would have gotten over it, eventually, if he had not inserted himself where he didn’t belong. Why do people do that? Barge in where they’re not needed or wanted. People like that upset the order of things. The natural balance that always evens itself out. I couldn’t let him get away with that. Or her either, for that matter. They both were guilty.

She explained that she was a little afraid of this guy. Afraid that breaking up with him might set him off or something. But she said she was determined to do it. And that maybe I shouldn’t be around when he arrived. On account of what a weird guy he was. He might be violent, she said. I said I’d leave her alone. If that was what she wanted. But I added, I’ll stay at the bar, just down at the end. In case he does get out of line. That way I’ll be able to help. Then she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. Her face touched mine. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how she felt.

I saw her kiss him. I saw the look she gave him as he moved to the end of the bar. It was the kind of look she used to give me. The kind of look I hadn’t seen in a long time. I waited a minute before going in. I didn’t want her to think I had seen them together. I was about to say that I was going to give her enough rope to hang herself, but that might seem particularly snide. Let's just say I was going to give her the opportunity to be honest with me. She didn’t take it. She gave me some convoluted tripe about having made a mistake. We just weren’t compatible, she said. We should go our separate ways, she told me. I asked if there was someone else. Some other man she’d fallen for. She said no. There was no one else. Obviously, it was a bald-faced lie.

I saw the guy come in. I saw them talking. She seemed to shake her head a lot, as if saying, No. I didn’t see any tears in her eyes, like I had seen when we were talking. He didn’t make a fuss. No yelling or anything like that. He just talked a little bit, listened, then got up and walked out the door. She didn’t try to kiss him goodbye, like she had done with me. Just watched as he left, then turned toward the bartender and ordered another drink. When it was clear he wasn’t coming back, I went over and sat down beside her. She reached out and touched my hand.

I was barely out the door before they got together again. They couldn’t see me standing behind the car, but I could see them. Talking. Touching. It made me sick. Who did they think they were to treat me that way? What made them think they could lie and scheme and destroy the order of things? When they started to smile and laugh, I knew they were making fun of me. You can’t let that sort of thing go. So I waited for them to leave.

I had never met anyone I felt so good about. I could tell she felt the same way. So we talked a lot longer. Then eventually decided to go back to my place. She complimented my apartment. Said it looked clean and uncomplicated, like me. I thanked her and asked if she wanted a drink. She said she did, but then I remembered I had finished my last bottle and didn’t have anything to offer her. I’ll run down to the corner, get something and come right back, I said. She said fine, she’d wait there. I left, feeling that maybe the best part of my life was just beginning.

I followed them from the bar, being careful not to be seen. I wasn’t surprised when they took the lift in an apartment house. It had those lights over the door that illuminate the number of the floor where the elevator stops. When it did, I took the stairs. I got to the top and the hallway was empty. But I heard a door opening, so I took a step down where I couldn’t be seen. He came out of the apartment, closed the door behind him, and got back in the elevator. I walked over to the door and knocked. The look on her face was priceless.

When I got back, I opened the door and walked right in. I never got the chance to close it behind me. When I saw her lying on the floor, I was stunned. I ran up to her and knelt beside her. There were red and blue marks on her neck, and her eyes were still wide open. I lifted her head and kept saying Gwenn, Gwenn, over and over again. Maybe I was yelling, I don’t know. I just wanted her to breathe. I just wanted her to be alive. Then I heard the scream behind me. It was the old lady from across the hall. She was shouting, “Murderer, Murderer!”

As I said earlier, I read the papers. Like most of you, I keep up with current events. Particularly events that might one day require my services. The details of the arrest, the trial, and the conviction, were pretty cut and dry. A crime of passion they said. But nevertheless, a young life had been snuffed out. Justice demands retribution. At least that’s what the jury thought. And the judge agreed.

No one believed me. People in the bar remembered seeing me, but no one recalled seeing her with him. I was there a lot longer, I guess. My neighbor, the old lady, she said she didn’t hear anything until she heard me shouting Gwenn’s name. She’s virtually deaf. Probably wouldn’t have heard anything if my door hadn’t been open. I remember the prosecutor saying circumstantial evidence is still evidence. I guess the jury remembered it, too. Didn’t take them long to reach a verdict.

Life is unpredictable. I didn’t pull any strings to get this particular assignment. It’s just the way things worked out. Some people believe in coincidence, others chalk everything up to fate. Doesn’t really matter I guess. As long as wrongs are righted, and all is kept in balance.

I can’t figure life out. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it lately. Alone in this jail cell, I’ve gone over all the things that might have worked out differently. If only someone had remembered seeing him there, maybe it would have created what they call reasonable doubt. If only I hadn’t left her alone, maybe I would have been able to protect her. If only I hadn’t walked over and sat beside her in the first place, maybe she’d still be alive and I wouldn’t be about to die.

Each condemned man reacts differently. Some wail and moan. Some whimper and cry. Others admit their wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness. Occasionally one will assert his innocence until his last breath. There was even one fellow who said he forgave me, and held no malice for what I was about to do to him. I don’t think that will be the case this time.

It’s almost time. I have to get ready. Get a grip on myself, you know. I just have to accept it. Yes, I’m being hanged for a murder I didn’t commit. But I didn’t live a perfect life. Nobody does. In the end, we all die. Does it really matter how, or why, or whether it seems fair or not?

There’s very little time left now, so you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I bring things to a close. Everything has been prepared, secured, checked and double-checked on the gallows. I always like to arrive in advance of both the officials and the witnesses. I think it makes them all feel better when they see that I’m standing at the ready to perform my duty with the utmost attention to detail and respect for the gravity of the situation.

I better stop now. I need to get ready for the walk down the hall. I hope my knees don’t buckle as I’m climbing the stairs to the platform. I wouldn’t want to make a spectacle of myself and lose whatever dignity I have left.

I wonder if he’ll even notice me. Most just look at the noose, and the people watching from below. Perhaps, as I slip the hood over his head, I will turn him slightly to see if he recognizes my face.

At the very end, right before they slip the hood over my head and tighten the noose, I hope I can be strong. I hope I can look the hangman in the eye, show no fear and forgive him. He won’t know he’s executing an innocent man. How could he?

At the very end, I hope he does recognize me. It will instantly shock him and questions will leap into his mind, making him unaware of the lever being pulled and the trap door falling away. That will be more humane. Don’t you agree? What? You assume I don’t concern myself with such things. What do you think I am, a monster?

Joe Kilgore's short stories have appeared in The Creative Writer, Writers' Journal, Bartleby Snopes, Ramble Underground, The Wilderness House Literary Review, Moonlight Mesa, Nth Word Magazine, and The Writing Disorder. He has a novel in bookstores entitled The Blunder. Visit him online at

Hollis Hart is a student and voice over actress living in the greater Los Angeles area. Her favorite mediums are acrylic and colored pencils. Visit Hollis's online portfolio at

worriedaboutsatan began in 2006 in Leeds, UK, as a way for members Gavin Miller and Tom Ragsdale to meld electronica with their more guitar-based influences. "Heart Monitor" appears on benefit album Go Set Go: Playing For Pakistan, and is also the lead track on worriedaboutsatan's new EP, a follow-up to their 2009 album Arrivals. Visit the band online at

ISSUE #15: David Backer, Conor Simpson, Mission to the Sea

Posted: Monday, October 11, 2010 | | Labels:

Photograph by Conor Simpson

by David Backer

We're driving down 95 south to wreck my car on purpose and I remember Robert's name for us. Not just the four of us in the car, but the people like us, our friends and their friends and the people we all meet at parties where the friends of our friends get together and laugh and drink and listen to the same music.

He calls us the Impressives.

Why does he call us that?

Issue #15 soundtrack: Mission to the Sea "Pearl For A Heart"

We were sitting together on a hillside when I came up with the idea to drive my car south to our nation's capitol and have a charity event where people could pay money per minute to hit my car with a sledgehammer. I had seen this kind of charity event before at a Presbyterian Church in our town and it amazed me to see how long the line for the event was. I asked a volunteer, a fat kind of woman selling brownies with sprinkles, and she said that the church had bought an old car from a used car salesman and that they had been doing this for years because they make four times the amount of money they spend on the car. I stood and watched for an hour while people took the sledgehammer from an old man's hand, paid him, and beat the hell out of a Dodge Caravan, an old model with the crystal in the hood piece. Teenagers, tweenagers, twentysomethings, middle-aged men and women, and even some older men sent themselves into the car, denting the doors and cracking the windows and beating the hubcaps until they flew off.

One guy who looked a little older than me seemed to lose control of himself and smashed the windshield until pieces of it were everywhere. There was a moment when the glass hadn't shattered but was cracking and cracking after every hit that the man screamed this primal kind of scream, and when he did it the glass shattered and went everywhere and people in line started clapping.

Anyway, I had found out that day, the day the four of us were sitting on the hillside, that my parents wanted to get rid of our old Nissan Pathfinder truck to get a newer one, and several days before that I’d read in the newspaper that Washington, D.C. has one of the largest homeless populations in our country, that about one in five children living in the District of Columbia don't have a house and only eat one meal a day. I thought: How unjust that in the most powerful country in the world, the capitol of that country has the most homeless people? We were sitting on a hill where my Dad's office building sits looking out over the Danbury Airport and the Danbury Fair Mall. I had my ankles crossed and little twigs were itching at the back of my legs and I groaned because it was annoying and I had to keep scratching and that and the mall and the airport and the four of us sitting there
next to the old Pathfinder all made me think of the homeless children in Washington, D.C.

Why did all that make me think of them?

* * * * *

My father is a real estate and zoning lawyer and works on that hill overlooking the mall and the airport. Robert’s father is a chemical engineer. Patrick’s father is a lead salesman for a chemicals corporation in town. Maya's father is a third-term congressman that represents our congressional district. My mother is a corporate writer. Rob's mother owns her own international music business. Patrick’s mother is a sales representative for a drug company in New York City. Maya’s mother is a middle school teacher. Danbury is located in Fairfield County. Fairfield County is considered, at this time, to be the wealthiest county in the United States.

Why does any of this matter?

* * * * *

Robert, Patrick, Maya and I go to Danbury High School where we are in the honors program. Right now I’m working for Maya’s father's re-election campaign, Maya is working in my father's law firm, Patrick is interning with Robert’s father at his engineering firm, and Robert was going to be an assistant in Patrick’s father’s company but instead he started working at a nursery hauling mulch onto mulch trucks. He said he wanted to work with his body.

Why did Robert decide to haul mulch instead of intern somewhere, and why does this make me nervous?

* * * * *

Robert has had a rough year. He told me a couple days ago that he had a nervous breakdown while visiting colleges because he couldn't hide the fact that he wasn't eating anymore except maybe a piece of bread during the day because he felt that that was the only way to feel like he had any control over his life. Robert and I are very good friends. He’s seemed weird over the past few months, but I couldn't sense anything was wrong. Actually, there wasn't a lot of time to talk between our classes and homework, and he was going away every weekend on college trips with his parents so I didn't really see him.

But he said that on the last college visit he went on, the weekend before we were all sitting on the hill, that he woke himself up screaming and that he was sweating and had clenched his nails into his fists so tightly that he was bleeding from little slits in his palms and his parents ran over to him and asked him if he was alright he looked around and he said he didn't know.

Why did he wake up screaming?

* * * * *

We're passing through Princeton Junction on 95 south and Maya says:

"I don't think I'll get in."

"Where?" I ask.


Robert sighs.

"You'll get in," Patrick says.

"I don't know, you know? I mean, I didn't do great on my SATs and my grades aren't that great."

"You've always gotten A’s!" Patrick retorts.

"I wonder if my grades are good enough," I say.

"Oh my God you're so smart, Dave," Maya says.

Robert exhales again.

"You'll definitely be a shoe-in," Patrick assures me.

"But Maya, you're really smart, I mean, like, you're the one who tells me what to write in Mr. Jordan's class all the time, you're not my lab partner, you're like my lab answer."

"Yeah, but Dave, you won all those science fairs when you were just a freshman."

"Yeah, but, like, you've got those debate team things and that history competition, plus aren't you on varsity tennis?"

"She's number two or something," Patrick adds.

"Our problems are not real problems," Robert says very loudly into the window.

There's a silence between us, and we look at him. None of us knows what to say.

"Do you guys remember when Mr. Jordan hit me in the head that one time?" Robert says.

"Yeah," I say.

"I don't even remember what I did, I just remember him walking up to me from behind his desk and hitting me in the back of the head. It was so unreal."

There was another pause. I check the rearview mirror intermittently to see Robert. His forehead is pressed into the window so his left eyeball almost touches the glass. His mouth is slacked open and I can’t tell if he’s smiling or grimacing.

"I hate chemistry," Patrick says.

"But didn't you get a 5 on the AP test?" Maya asks.

"Yeah, he got a 5," I say, growling a little bit.

"What'd you get?" Maya asks.

"I got a 4."

"But you're not a math person, Dave," she assures me.

"And you are?"

"I always did well in math," she says.

"I hate math," Patrick says, "I always get B’s."

"I guess I'm more of an English person," I say.

"Yeah, you are. You can write," Maya says.

"I don't know what kind of person I am," Patrick says.

Robert snorts and laughs when Patrick says this. I look back at him, and his face is still pressed up against the glass. He doesn't stop laughing.

Why does he laugh?

* * * * *

After he woke up screaming, Robert said his nose bled and that he passed out and woke up in the hospital. I asked him why he thought all that happened, and he said he didn't know. He said his parents took him to his doctor back in Danbury, and the doctor said he was in great shape, that he was a "healthy young man." He doesn't smoke. He gets exercise. He doesn't drink. He said:

"My stomach felt like it was crashing in, like there was this tightening, like had I had to go to the bathroom. I got hot chills up and down my arms and I started having trouble breathing, like my chest hurt, stung in the middle. Then I started crying because it hurt so much and I passed out. I woke up on my side in the hospital and someone was looking at my butt or something and my eyes were heavy like I was still crying. My parents were there and I passed out again and then I woke up and no one was there, I was still behind the curtain, but I felt fine, like nothing was wrong. I was tired and my stomach felt empty. But I was okay."

I asked him if anything had happened since then.

"No," he said. "Not at all. No one could figure it out. The doctors said I was healthy. They said everything was fine. That there wasn't anything wrong with me. My parents looked scared and asked me all the time how I was, they still do, but I feel fine. Well, not totally fine. I feel a little scared sometimes that it'll happen again, like I’m just sitting there and wham! I'm terrified and can't breathe. But it's been like a week and I'm okay."

I asked him why he thought this happened to him.

“I don’t know, I mean, we’re expected to be so much and do so much. We’re supposed to take the tests and study and do these internships get into college and go to college and no one really cares why. No one asks. No one thinks. We’re expected to be impressive for the sake of being impressive, so other people will think we’re great and think our parents are great. That’s what we are, we’re the Impressives. But why?”

* * * * *

Maya's dad helped us set up a venue near the capitol building. Patrick’s dad got permission from the city. My mom and dad helped get the word out to friends and paid for fliers. Robert’s parents found a company that would take the Pathfinder away after it got destroyed.

* * * * *

We make it past Baltimore and we're going through a tunnel that our Internet directions say will get us to D.C. The fluorescent lights inside the tunnel are over us and we drive in a steady stream of cars going about sixty miles an hour.

"What are we doing?" Roberts asks the window.

We all look at one another.

"We're going to help people," I say.

Then my stomach clenches, it tightens, and I feel a stinging in the middle of my chest and my throat closes and it feels like my arms are asleep and I can't breathe and the last thing I see is the wall of the tunnel, dark and electric yellow, coming at us and my friends screaming and then nothing.

Why did this happen to us?

Because we’re the Impressives.

David Backer is currently pursuing a PhD in philosophy and education. He's had fiction in Metazen, > kill author, and Emprise Review, among others. David edits, and blogs at

Conor Simpson is a filmmaker and photographer working freelance in Chicago. Currently he is writing a feature screenplay that he later plans to direct. Visit Conor's online portfolio at

"Pearl For A Heart" is from Mission to the Sea's new album Tranquilo which released last week. The band is based in Dallas, Texas. For more information, visit

ISSUE #14: Richard A. Sanchez, Gilda Davidian, Night Manager

Posted: Monday, September 27, 2010 | | Labels:

Photograph by Gilda Davidian

by Richard A. Sanchez

“You don’t really look like someone named Eduardo Montez,” Beady says. His Dad’s not home right now, so he’s pouring gasoline from a plastic spout onto the small strip of concrete outside his bedroom. The smell burns my nose when I breathe, and I hold my breath watching the ants shake and roll over. I stand back a few feet on the dirt of his backyard, because he’s about to pull a box of matches from his pocket. “You know that, right?” he says, his eyes squinted, focusing on his work.

Issue #14 soundtrack: Night Manager "Blackout Sex"

My Mom and I move around a lot, and people are always asking me about my name. Teachers stop in the middle of roll the first day at new schools and look at me funny, like someone’s playing a joke on them. During breaks, most kids act like Beady, say I can’t be Mexican, that, yeah, I have dark hair, but that my skin’s too light and my eyes are blue. A Mexican kid always asks if I speak Spanish, and is disappointed when I can’t. Nobody cares either way after the first few days, and I get used to being ignored until we pack up and leave again. I like moving. Schools and kids are the same most places and I don’t have to worry about them or what they think of me too much, because there’s always someplace new to look forward to.

We’re not moving this time, though, or so Mom says. It’s hot here and there’s nothing for me to do, but mom just sees a place where rent is cheap and work is steady. So this small California desert town is it. “Don’t get any of that on your pants,” I say to Beady, shielding my face with my arm.

“What, are you nervous?” he asks.

In Yucca Valley, summer lasts until Halloween. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway. I’m a week into my junior year, they’re playing the first football game of the season tonight, and it’s hotter than I can stand even now, at dinnertime. Beady’s lived in the desert his whole life, and today’s like any other day to him in his long shorts and combat boots like always, his ripped up Black Flag shirt and all his necklaces. He has some nearly destroyed dog tags you can only read a letter or two off of, a bunch of linked safety pins and a few others. He goes to a lot of trouble, Beady, but he’s not exactly the most popular kid in school. He’s tall and skinny and pretty uncoordinated, for one thing. He can’t shoot a basketball and can’t play video games, either, from what I’ve seen. I think his Dad hits him. I’ve known him only three weeks, long enough to hear about three “skateboarding injuries” and a fall from his backyard fence. He’s always picking a scab or showing me a new bruise like it’s a trophy. He seems to like his nickname, too, squinting at everything all the time like he’s pissed off. I guess it’s better than Dwayne, the name teachers call him; I think he just needs glasses.

“You look more like an Eddie Martin,” he says. “Or an Edwin something. Ha.” Beady scrapes one of the long wooden matches along the rough side of the box and it lights up with a sound like a Fourth of July sparkler. He never laughs when he thinks something’s funny. He either just nods if it was something you said, or says “Ha” if it’s his own joke.

“My name’s not Eddie, it’s Eduardo. My father’s full-blooded Mexican.” I wait for some kind of reaction, but he doesn’t look up. “My mom didn’t just invent my name,” I add. I always end up fighting for this, for a Mexican-ness that I really don’t know anything about. But I can’t be just one thing or the other, which is what people always want; I’m both. My face is my face, and my name is my name, and whatever that adds up to is who I am. I keep waiting for Beady’s eyes to meet mine, but he just watches the lit match burn down to his fingers.

The thing about Beady is, he tries to make normal things seem more dangerous than they actually are, like when we walked home from the bonfire the first week of school. We live two houses apart, about a mile from the high school we go to, and as we headed home, Beady said we had to be careful not to get busted for curfew. I’d never heard of curfew, other than one a parent made up, and growing up in cities, I’d never really walked the streets at night. In the black desert night with Beady, though, I jumped behind every bush he said to jump behind, and put my head down so my eyes wouldn’t reflect the headlights of oncoming cars like he said they would. According to him, every car on the road could’ve been a cop waiting to give us a ticket. What did I know? I was used to sidewalks and paved roads and streetlights, riding an Orange County Transit Authority bus home with a friend after a night out. When I got home all scratched up with torn and dirty jeans and Mom asked what happened, all I said was, “You moved us here.”

“So you’re halfabeaner,” Beady says, flicking his wrist so the match blows out. “Big deal. I look more Mexican than you.”

I kick at the dirt and a small brown cloud puffs up. “Would you just get this over with?”

Beady slides open the box and lights another match. Holding the flame up as high as he can with one hand, he sets the open box of matches on the concrete with the other, in the middle of the pool of gas.

“Don’t,” I say, but in a quick motion, he drops the match in the box and jumps back. There’s a noise like the screech of a big cat, a puma or a jaguar or something, and Beady and I watch as the three squares of concrete on his back porch light up. The flame burns out a few seconds later as we stomp the concrete and sweep the burnt ants onto the dirt with our shoes. “You’re an idiot.”

“Ha,” he says. “Smells like chicken.” But it doesn’t, it smells like a car engine, like your hands smell after playing basketball outside all day. Like the color black. “Did you ask your Mom if I could stay over tonight?”

“The couch is all yours. I told her we’re going to a party and we’d be back late. She doesn’t care.” My Mom works at the old folks home, taking care of the “residents,” as she calls them. She comes home tired and goes to bed early. The deal is, if I don’t get hurt or killed, I can do what I want. Sometimes, like tonight, when I’m just going along for the ride, I wish she didn’t trust me so much.

“We better get out of here,” Beady says. “The game’s gonna be over soon.” Neither of us care about the football team, but in this town you have to go to the game. That’s where everyone is, and that’s how you find out where everyone’s going. At least that’s what Beady tells me.

“You gotta pay the price if you want to ride, Beady,” says Elizabeth, a girl with curly long hair and black fingernails. This is the friend Beady promised, who would be at the game and could give us a ride to the after party. She’s taller than me, and she stands with a foot out, chewing gum with one hand on her hip and the other dangling her car keys. Another girl stands beside her, rolling her eyes at Beady and me like we’re kindergartners.

“I’m fine, how are you?” Beady says, shoving his hands in his pockets. “This is Eddie.” He gives me a look so I won’t say anything.

“Hey, Eddie,” Elizabeth says to me. “You’re Beady’s new Mexican friend, huh? You don’t look it.” She turns to Beady. “So?”

“I can get you some gas money,” he says, and looks at me. “Right?”

“Don’t need it,” Elizabeth says. “Full tank. But there is something else you can do for us.”

We walk to her car, which turns out to be a truck. A small one with only two seats up front. Beady climbs into the bed and lies down.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say.

“Air conditioning’s better back there,” Elizabeth’s friend says.

I lie down next to Beady and we both look up at the dark sky. The stadium lights over the football field hide everything else. As the truck gets on the road and the sky goes dark, the air feels even better than I thought it would on my face and my fingertips. Beady and I have our arms crossed over our chests so we don’t touch one another.

“You do the stupidest crap,” I say, loud enough so he can hear me. We must be on the highway now because it seems like we’re flying. The girls listen to loud reggae in the cab.

“Why are you still here, then?” Beady asks.

“You knew they were going to do this.”

“You can leave anytime you want. Tell her to stop the truck. Walk home, go ahead. I’m going to the party.”

“What do they want, anyway?” I ask.

“It’s nothing,” Beady says. “Don’t even worry about it.”

The car stops around the back side of a minimart. Elizabeth’s friend slides open the back cab window. “Get something light,” she says.

“You better get at least a twelve pack,” Elizabeth says. “And don’t take too long, the truck’s running.”

“You got a full tank, remember?” Beady says, jumping to the ground from the truck’s back bumper. A single, twitching light shines against the building’s wall and gives the two of us short shadows as I follow behind him. It’s quiet. “Come on. I told you, this ain’t nothin.’”

“This is stupid is what it is. What do you think we’re going to do?”

“Grab and run. It don’t get much simpler.”

The door dings when we walk in, and I see Beady and myself on the security television hanging over the entryway. I guess I won’t be able to come in here again, wherever this is. The slushee machine hums from the corner, and classic rock buzzes at us from a small black stereo behind the cashier’s counter. Everything is bright and yellow and cool. The place is empty.

“He’s in the bathroom or something,” I say.

Beady heads for the refrigerators in the back. “Let’s do this quick then,” he says.
“He heard the door. He’s gonna be out here any second.”

The glass door on the refrigerator holding the liquor sticks when Beady pulls on it. “Locked,” he says. “Damn it.” He opens the next door over and tries to reach his hand through, but there’s not enough room to pull anything out. He looks at me for a long time, and I can tell he’s trying to think of what to do next.

“Let’s just get out of here,” I say. “There’s nothing we can do.”

Beady’s eyes get big as he glances back over at the entrance. Twelve-pack boxes of beer are lined up against the front wall. We grab one each and we’re out the door.

“Good job, guys,” Elizabeth’s friend calls from the passenger window.

“What’s up?” Elizabeth asks. “You’re not even running.”

“We handled it,” Beady says.

“Yeah,” I say. “No problem.”

Faintly, I hear the front door of the store ding again, and the scrape of shoes on cement. Someone calls loudly from around the corner. Elizabeth floors the gas, and the girls are gone. The tires don’t squeal, but they might as well have. Beady doesn’t have to tell me to run, I just do.

There’s a residential area behind the store, and Beady and I head for it. I look back once to see an older guy in sandals and a red vest slowing down where the blacktop of the parking lot turns to dirt. We keep running full speed, past some small houses. We make a couple turns, and there’s no way the guy kept following us this far, but we don’t stop. I think about dropping the beer, but instead I put it under my arm like a football. Beady carries his with both hands out in front of himself, until he slips at the edge of a gravel driveway and the beer breaks his fall. He cusses under his breath as he walks over to me, his shirt soaking and dirty, the skunky smell of warm beer all over him and in the air.

“I think we can stop running,” I say. “Where the hell are we?”

“Fucked is where we are. We’re in Joshua Tree.” He looks at his hands, which are dark and slimy, covered in beer mud. “I can’t believe they just left us.”

“Joshua Tree,” I say. “You’ve lived here your whole life, and you don’t have one friend who will just give us a ride to a party without making us do something stupid like this?” I push the beer into his chest. “Here you go. It’s all yours. I’m out of here.”

“Where do you think you’re going?”


“Do you even know which way to go?”

“That way,” I say, and point west. If I follow the highway, there’s no way to get lost. “I should get there sometime tomorrow morning.”

“You’re just going to leave,” Beady says.

“Yeah,” I say. “I am. I’m sick of your crap.”

“There’s gotta be a payphone somewhere along the highway. I can call Elizabeth’s cell phone. She’ll come back. We can still go to the party.”

“I’m going home,” I say, and start off down the street.

“Fine,” he calls after me. “Just leave. Like your Dad left you. Stupid bastard.”

I walk back over to him and grab him by his wet t-shirt. He’s taller than me, so I have to look up to grit my teeth at him. I don’t mention that at least my dad’s not around to beat the shit out of me whenever he has a bad day at work. “Call me what you want,” I say. As I say it, I feel the anger leave me. With a little shove, I let go of his shirt. “I am who I am.”

“Fuck you,” Beady says quietly, backing away from me. When he’s far enough away, he says, “You go on home, Eddie. I’m going to party.”

“It’s Eduardo, Dwayne. Good luck finding a place to sleep.” He doesn’t say anything. He just walks down the street away from me. I stand in the middle of the street in front of somebody’s house, until a porch light flashes on and I start walking in the direction I think home is.

* * *

The high school is dark at what I guess is two or three in the morning. The football lights are off, and all the entrances are fenced shut. In the middle of the night, the buildings look like a bunch of brick squares, like the school is just one long fortress. The crickets are loud and constant all around me, but I’ve gotten so used to the sound I only hear it every once in awhile now, when I’m not thinking about anything. All of a sudden I believe my Mom: we’re staying.

Headlights beam down the street from behind me, and I can tell that a car is turning off the highway. I cut across the street, where there’s nothing but desert and a big ditch – everyone here calls ditches “washes,” I don’t know why-- that runs to the next block. I jump into the soft sand at the bottom and lie down, hoping that the car will pass and I can go home. But then I hear a car door open and close, and a bright white circle begins to shake on the ground in front of me. A woman’s voice tells me to stand up and put my hands in the air. Dirt tastes like metal in my mouth as I push myself up from the ground. The light makes me turn my face away as I climb up the steep hill.

“Why were you hiding from me?” she asks. It’s a cop, and she’s pretty. Her hair is tied into the tightest ponytail I’ve ever seen, and her shoulders are pulled back as if they were attached to ropes, but she’s got long eyelashes and small hands and fingers. She’s either really mad, or trying to make herself look that way.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I didn’t want to get in trouble.”

“What are you doing out here this late?”

“My friends were going to a party. I didn’t want to go, so I’m walking home.”

She turns the flashlight off. “We have a curfew in this town, you know.”

“I just moved here.”

“Well, you’re getting off on the wrong foot with this nonsense. You don’t run from the police, no matter where you live. You got that?”

I say I do. She pulls out a big pad with carbon copy sheets, and I remember again that I’m in trouble.

“It’s stupid,” she continues. “It makes us run. And it just pisses us off all the way around, if you want to know the truth.”

“I’m sorry.” And I really am. I’m not a bad kid. Anywhere else, nothing like this would’ve ever happened to me. I never had to make friends with a guy like Beady before, because it didn’t matter if I had friends or not. I was always just waiting to leave town again, to see the next place.

“Why don’t you tell me your name and your address.”

“My name is Eduardo Raymond Montez,” I say, feeling my voice crack. I realize I don’t have my address memorized yet. I don’t have anything else to say, but she waits like I’m supposed to keep going. “I live around the corner. The street’s got an Indian name I can’t remember because all the streets have Indian names. My Mom brought me here. I didn’t want to but I had to come. It’s hot all the time and there’s nothing to do, but this is it. We’re staying.”

I wipe my cheeks and feel really stupid, because I’m crying and because she’s so pretty. She frowns at me-- not like she feels sorry for me, but like she just doesn’t understand. “My name is Eduardo Raymond Montez,” I say again. “That’s all I know.”

The lady cop’s eyebrows push together on her forehead. She hasn’t written anything down yet, she just keeps looking at me. The pen is still in her hand, but she’s biting her bottom lip, and doesn’t look mad anymore.

Richard A. Sanchez's stories have appeared in Tin House and The Pacific Review. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Yucca Valley, California, where he is working on a collection of stories and a novel. Visit Richard online at

Gilda Davidian graduated from CalArts in 2006. She lives in Los Angeles and is part of the art collective From Here to There. She was most recently shown in Humble Art Foundation's 31 Women in Art Photography exhibit in New York City. Visit Gilda online at

Night Manager is a four-piece band formed this year in Brooklyn, made up of vocalist Caitlin from Paris, drummer Ezana from San Francisco, and East Coasters Tassy and Tim. For more info, visit Night Manager's Myspace profile.