ISSUE #76: Elisabeth Donnelly, Fabio Sassi, No Other

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013 | | Labels:

ISSUE #76 GUEST EDITOR Tobias Carroll was previously featured in Storychord as Issue 32 writer. Recently his work has been published by Joyland, Tin House, The Fanzine, The Paris Review Daily, Necessary Fiction, Underwater New York, and Bookforum. He is the Managing Editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn, and can also be found at and at @TobiasCarroll.

Photograph by Fabio Sassi

by Elisabeth Donnelly

Maddy wasn't very good at meditating. She started when her mother interrupted, glaring at her shoveling cereal into her mouth with the newspaper rolled out on the table, staining her fingers.

"When you're eating, just eat," her mother said. Maddy thought that her mom was full of it. What was the point to sitting very quietly and still with your legs crossed, sitting around trying to watch your breath and listen to your thoughts and then maybe end up thinking that they didn't quite matter as much?

Issue #76 soundtrack: No Other "Destruction Song"

Her mother cut a deal with Maddy - for every morning where she read the Globe and ate her cereal, she would have to meditate for ten minutes. Maddy was a cat sprayed with water; she didn't want to do it. But it took, it took enough so that when summer rolled around, hours of nothing to do just sitting, full of langour, on the green grass, Maddy heard the weirdest thing coming out of her mouth: "Yes, I will totally go to teenage meditation camp."

Maddy had hopes. She had no idea what sort of kids would be there. She was bored with the greater Boston area, the potato-faced boys with their hockey shirts and broad voices that were loud even when it was time to whisper. Perhaps the caliber of people could be something different and interesting at this weirdo hippie camp.

Small group put Maddy in with a whole group of teen meditators. There was Myk. Sebastian, Jennifer, Jessica, Tatiana, Aaron, Eric, Chris, and Allegra. Everyone had better names than Maddy. Eric was the guy who wore shorts year round, even in the dead of the winter. When it was thirteen degrees outside with a windchill of zero, Eric would wear shorts. "See, this is what meditation does," he said. "You may be feeling the cold outside, but I can feel through it. I know how I feel and the cold doesn't affect me in the same way. I'm warm in my core." He thumped his chest with his fist.

They had talked about a lot of things that week. How to be a good person. How to be aware of the outisde world. How to not listen to all the teenage messages blaring at our teenage heads about how to be pretty and popular and ultimately successful, and that the monkey brain is basically a constantly chatting little stereo that never shut off. And when it was just about to shut off, that's when the worst songs in the world, the bleat pop nightmares heard echoing past the silence of a buzzing grocery store refrigerator, that's when those songs would claim their hold on Maddy's brain.

So many inane words to so many inane songs about love, and butts, and fickle, crazy, sexually instaitable women, and they were all in Maddy's head. She learned that at meditation camp.

Every day in the last week of June, Maddy would be sitting in small group at 11 in the morning. Their group, the oldest kids there, had lost out on the best meeting place, the bowling alley in the basement. Instead, Maddy went over to the parlour room of the great estate, the place where the once-a-Brahmin owner would take in visitors, and now hippies gathered there. Despite her best efforts, Eric always sat next to her. He was disgusting, disgusting like a man, not a boy. He wore the same thing every day, day after day. Khaki cargo shorts, a hunter green fisherman's vest, and his long blonde hair was pulled back into a scraggly ponytail that stopped at his shoulder blades. He said he was a sophomore in college, but if he said he was a thirtysomething guitarist in a Swedish death metal band, Maddy would've believed him.

Sex hung in the air at teenage meditation camp, leaden and weary of all the permutations envisioned. The air hung pregnant with so many copulating possibilities. The first day, they were warned about the danger of sex by the camp leader, Michelle. You will fall in love, she said, wrapped in a blanket, her legs in lotus position on the small altar. You will fall in love, and the intensity will feel immense becuase you sit in a room with this person for hours, hours where your mind can take flight and you're nearly married. Maddy shivered. She wanted to fall in love, to see what that was like.

Michelle kept talking. Kids, she said, this room is like a womb. You're going to come out of it a different person. She rang the bell and the vibrations bounced off the windos. She continued. You have to leave a small wake in your path. Figure out how to be a calm boat, secure in the water, not ready to tip everyone else over with massive waves of something. It was a tortured metaphor, Maddy thought. But she had been meditating for two hours before it, stepping slowly in the labrniythn outside, feeling like a gallon of water, slowly pouring into her body. The balls of her feet, her calves, her leg, moving her hips so that her other leg would go forward.

Maddy had wanted to experience something completely new. Instead, she was learning how to walk.

By the last night, Maddy mave have been in love. She spent the week in meditation thinking about who she would do it with if she had the chance, if the world ended at this exact moment and the people in the room were humanity's only chance for survival. Maddy would do it, if she had to, with Aaron. He had mussed-up dirty blonde hair and glasses that made him look like an inquisitive owl, but he had a tendency to spend free hour sitting on the djembes, playing a relentless drumbeat for the camp. He was too much of a hippie. Then there was Myk, the boy who breathed loudly during meditation, big greedy gulps of satisfied air. He had a buzz cut and a wonderfully round head. He seemed pure. He spelled his name in a ridiculous fashion. What was so wrong with vowels? There were mutters in small group that he had gone to Burma and taken monk's vows.

Those boys would do, if Maddy had to. But Michelle was right: she had fallen in love. His name was Sebastian and he was perfect. Curly black hair that fell over one eye, eyes blue like a sky with no clouds. He had a smile you could build a life on. He only wore striped red pants that he had gotten in the village, somewhere. He was from New York City, and he was incredibly devoted to the pursuit of happiness, or enlightenment, or something.

Maddy sat behind him in every meditation. When we'd do walking meditation outside, Maddy clocked his every movement, as he clasped his hands behind his back and walked forward towards the woods, nodding like a bird on the hunt. Later in small group he talked a lot about what he discovered while meditating. "A mosquito landed on my arm, so I had to stop. I stood very still, and I was just filled with so much love for that little bug. It stayed on my arm for a while, and I let it hang out. We had a moment."

He was kind. He was always barefoot. He spent their spare hours curled up on a blanket talking with Jennifer, who sang jazz songs at clubs in Boston. She knew things. Maddy felt so many feelings about Sebastian. She wanted to make him hers in some way. She imagined that there would be a moment, a look, where he'd see her for the first time, he'd take her hand and pull her over to the woods. Seeing a soft, sun-dappled log covered with moss, in front of a bubbling brook, Sebastian would pull Maddy down and she'd sit next to him, their legs touching and every molecule on Maddy's body exploding with electricity. Ever so slowly, Sebastian would take Maddy's hand and stroke her forearm with his pointer finger. That sort of action was love, and that was the precursor to sex.

When Saturday night rolled around, meditation camp went on hiatus. It was the last night and the rules were different now. Instead of a night meditation, a silent tea, and quiet hours in the dorm, there would be a bonfire. Smores. Other things. Maddy didn't know what to expect.

The bonfire crackled and the camp edged their way around it. Michelle started the night with a speech. She made everybody circle around the fire and hold hands. Maddy was next to Myk, who grabbed her hand. "It's cold tonight," he said.

"Yeah," Maddy replied, scanning the crowd for Sebastian's head of hair. He was across from her, standing in the back, a white fisherman's sweater pulled over his usual red striped pants. He was holding a guitar. Maddy couldn't see anything else.

Michelle made an announcement: "And Sebastian's going to start us off with a song!"

Sebastian strolled to the log in front of the fire, the makeshift stage. He was barefoot, as usual. He pulled the guitar strap over his chest and said, "My mother used to play me this song. 'The River,' by Joni Mitchell."

He sang. Maddy felt like there were angels on the earth. She wanted to cry. There was feeling, nuance, experience in his voice. Myk poked her. "You know that song's about an abortion, right?"

Maddy shrugged. "Yeah? So?"

"Nothing wrong with it. It's really sad. I read a book and I think Joni Mitchell and James Taylor were a thing. James Taylor was a stud even though he sucked."

Myk's words cut through Maddy, blurring out the perfect tableau of Sebastian and the log and the kind sweet light of the fire, looking at his left hand with the fond, soft eyes of a lover. The world seemed easy for him. The way that he was cute, and charming, and had the confidence that magic would happen, like any sort of artistically minded New York City boy. He finished his song and Maddy clapped vigorously.

Next up, Tatiana sidled up to the log. "I want every girl in my small group here." Myk grinned and pushed Maddy forward. She took a spot towards the back, behind every amazing girl with every amazing name. "We're singing 'Both Hands' by Julia Brody," Tatiana said. "One two three." She hummed and started the verse. Maddy knew the song's chorus, but she had no idea about the torrent of words that made up every verse. Something about being dumped, phones and dial tones and walking and chests. But when the chorus came in, she joined in, sounding like a bleating cow on the beat, every line an exclamation: "Using both hands! Both hands! I am writing it down! Both hands, it's what they do, they tell you our story!"

The song went on, verse chorus verse, mumbly loud mumbly, and it ended and everyone clapped and Maddy ran back into the circle, next to Myk one more time. "Did you know that Julia just got married? To a guy?" It was surprising news. Julia Brody fulfilled that lesbian folksinger stereotype.

Spoken word poetry about being present in the moment. Someone got up to talk about their love of horses. Another girl sang, in a quivering voice, "Angel" by Sarah MacLachlan. It still sounded like a song about misery, a beautiful piece of sadness. Maddy had moved onto the smores, and she was ready to go someplace else. Maybe she could find where Sebastian had gone to, although she suspected he had taken Tatiana to the woods. They had been standing next to each other at the campfire. He helped Tatiana roast her marshmallow.

And perhaps the battle was given up, the war was over. The moon hung high in the air, bright and full and early, lighting up the night. Maddy wandered away from the campfire, back into the estate. The kitchen was full of workers, meditation camp counselors, diligent and doing their homework on the scientific production of popcorn, armed with just a pot. "Want some?" Garth asked.

"No, I'm going back to the meditation room," Maddy replied. They were allowed to meditate all night long. The offer was on the table. If the students hadn't become a completely different person yet, the meditation hall, with its shiny hardwood floors and single Buddha on the elevated platform, served as a place to rest and to recover. Maddy felt like that would work for her at this exact moment. She thought about Michelle's words, about how you can fall in love in a room. Maybe putting forty teenagers in one room resulted in a heightened, hormone-driven feeling of a one-and-only love. Perhaps. But Maddy didn't really know any other form of love. There were the ones that were passable and the ones you wrote poetry about. The ones you wanted to turn into 18th century poets in pirate shirts and bloomers, able to write the greatest words about Maddy's mere presence.

She walked down the hall to the meditation room. Before she could open the door, Jennifer burst out. "Do not go in there," she said.


Jennifer wrinkled her nose and motioned gingerly towards the room. "Somebody definitely just had sex in there. It smells like sex."

Maddy cocked her head and peeked inside. She took a whiff. It smelled like nothing to her. Cleaning fluid, something metallic, maybe. Jennifer narrowed her eyes. "I just think it's ... maybe kind of sacrilegous."

"I guess," Maddy said, feeling shy. She didn't know what sex smelled like, but Jennifer did. Jennifer knew all sorts of things because she sung at jazz clubs. "Just, find something somewhere else. It's gross in there," Jennifer said.

Maddy turned around, wandering back into the night. The estate felt grand and full of shadows. Like there were too many stories hanging around, too many spirits and too much energy. Back in the night, the ground was clean and the moon shone brighter than the carpet of stars. Maddy didn't know where to go. Maybe it was time for bed. But she still hoped to see Sebastian somewhere, the idea that maybe there would be one spark and suddenly he'd realize what was right.

Her cabin had a light on in the front. Maddy walked inside. Someone grabbed her leg and she hit the floor like a middling wrestler. The room went black. Heat surrounded her. "Argh! We got you!" She didn't recognize the voice. It was a sea of bodies in sleeping bags.

"Come join us! We're the hug club!" It was Tatiana and Allegra and a man's voice. Maddy saw the bright blonde hair, brilliant in its absolute lack of color. Eric.

"The hug club?" she said.

"Look, everyone wants to hook up tonight and make something happen and its the last night. But we're just going to stay here and hug. Join us!" Tatiana was talking. Allegra and Eric started to chant. "Join us join us join us!"

Another head popped out of the darkness, illuminated against the screen window. "Myk!" Allegra squealed. "We're in the hug club!" Mike stepped in. Maddy was feeling ambivalent. Eric rolled her over next to him. He hugged her. His arms were strong and he smelled of patchouli. It wasn't unpleasant. She felt the length of his body, and it made her feel small. Protected. Tatiana got behind her, hugging her, her breasts on Maddy's back. It was weirdly affectionate. Maybe sexual. Maddy didn't really know. Something hard pressed against her thigh. Maddy jumped up.

"I have to go to bed. I have to sleep." Maddy wanted to puke. She didn't want to think about Eric's erection. He was a man, and she wasn't at his level. She couldn't be there in the cold, uncovered. She needed a blanket and she needed to sleep. She didn't want to explore anymore.

"No!" The hug club protested. But air had turned. What was welcoming, affectionate, had become different. Metallic. Maddy didn't want to be there. "Sorry guys. Sleep now."

The next morning, Maddy's small group was silent. Everyone put their name on a piece of yellow legal paper, folding it up, and they passed it around. Sebastian rolled in looking sleepy, wearing the same sweater. Eric was in his fisherman's vest. Everyone silently wrote on each other's paper, saying their "real opinions" about each other. Maddy didn't know what to write for Eric. She thought the fact that he wore shorts all year was silly. She hated his ponytail. She didn't know whether he'd be attractive if he cut his hair. She wrote something long and verbose and really complimentary on how Eric was always himself, even when it wasn't necessarily cool, and she wanted to be like Eric when she got older and was in college.

At the end of the session, Maddy got her personalized paper with everyone's words. All those fancy names wrote nice things about her, her spirit, how well she tried to meditate. Sebastian said that if she was in New York they should get ice cream. Everyone signed their name, except for Eric. And all Eric wrote was one word, scrawled in caps: LOVE.

Elisabeth Donnelly is a writer in Brooklyn. Her essays, features, and interviews have been published in places including The Boston Globe, The LA Times, The New York Times Magazine, and The Paris Review Daily. She is the cowriter of the forthcoming Polis Books release The Misshapes, a YA novel about teenage superheroes with powers that suck, under the pseudonym Alex Flynn. Visit her online at and @heydonnelly.

Fabio Sassi is a visual artist from Bologna, Italy. He makes acrylics using stenciling techniques on board, canvas, or other media. In some of his work, he enjoys incorporating logos, tiny objects and other objects considered to have no worth by the mainstream, and he still prefers to shoot with an analog camera. For more, visit his online portfolio at

No Other is a Philadelphia-based trio formed by guitarist/vocalist Maria T. following the dissolution of her previous band, Bedroom Problems. Once she had a clutch of songs ready, Maria reached out to drummer Carly M., current member of Philadelphia’s The Pretty Greens, with whom she had played bass in a Go-Go's tribute band a few years back. Maria and Carly began rehearsing without a bass player in June of 2013. Not long afterward, Maria was introduced to Laura C., a Georgia native who previously played in stoner metal bands, notably Helmsman. Check out the band's full EP at

ISSUE #75: Erika D. Price, Sally Deskins, Illyin Pipes

Posted: Monday, December 16, 2013 | | Labels:

Art by Sally Deskins

by Erika D. Price

Let me explain. The college set up a webcam that peered over the entrance to the student-run sushi and sandwich place. Its gaze drifted across the automatic glass doors and grazed a window, into the bookstore. Unconcerned with the academic calendar, the camera ran all the time (though at night, all that could be seen was the blue glow from the security station, off-screen). And every day I saw you, between 9:30 and 10am, with that bright red bag swinging off your arm.

Issue #75 soundtrack: Illyin Pipes "Grasshopper"

You alternated which arm you used. Obsessed with fairness, you used to rotate which stuffed animal you brought to bed with you as a child. There was a stuffed chick with a button eye. A Snoopy dressed as the Red Baron. A blanket with a blood stain. And something else, a marmot? A beaver? I don’t remember. As an adult you alternated the side you carried your bag on, and switched between two different raincoats each day, one black and one khaki.

Sometimes I saw you with a foam cup of coffee in your right hand, bought at the diner two streets up. Google Maps hadn’t updated its view of the diner for a long time; I knew there had been a big remodel (it said so on Yelp), including a new facade on the front, but all I could see in Streetview Mode was the peeling green door that had been there before. The man sleeping on the concrete. The pavement stained with dead pigeons plucked from the sky by hawks.

Though I knew the view was outdated, I sometimes looked at the diner and wondered if you ever gave money to the man out front. I thought maybe you did so every day. I knew you took cash out of the ATM at least a few times a week, and that you charged most of your purchases. I had always wondered where the money went. I liked to imagine you taking out twenties, converting them to singles, and walking down the street with them crumpled in your jacket pockets, handing the bills out like Halloween candy to every disheveled person you saw. When I went to bed, as I forced myself to sleep, I imagined that charity was your greatest guilty pleasure.

It was a rare day that you didn’t pass the college webcam in the morning. On Sundays you came later, after calling a few friends from out of town and catching up with them in long bursts of conversation. You would stroll by the campus bookstore at 1pm, sometimes even as late as 3:30, with your hair down and unbrushed. But you never took a full day off. You worked too hard.

I was so thankful for that webcam. For years, you had lived in a one-bedroom above a Pho restaurant, across the street from a rental office. The rental company had a webcam, too, one pointed down into the street, and half a dozen old computers with flimsy security. I would steal glimpses of you stepping out and crossing in front of the rental office; on rainy days and banking holidays I hacked into the company computers and turned their cameras on you instead. From their tiny pinhole eyes, you were just a shadow across the chasm, only visible if the curtains were open. But it sustained me.

When you moved I was despondent. I had access to all the data I ever needed, but information was no match for the ineffable, momentary sight of you. It was for a new job that you had moved, I learned. A job that you described to your friends in deprecating terms, but which I could tell you were actually excited about. You loved those community college kids, and you adored how still and placid the library perpetually was. The pay was mediocre but you had state employee benefits. I was happy for you. And then I found the college had set up a webcam that grazed your path to work. Blessing of blessings.

Forgive me. I followed the rules; I never came close. There was a conference at Case Western, an important one in my subfield, but I didn’t go, despite the ramifications at my job. I knew if I showed up on your doorstep it would jolt you, so I stayed my hand. I hope you can appreciate that. I took only what I needed from you— slivers spread out thin, and rationed preciously. If you hadn’t broken the routine, you never would have known.

But when you went missing, it popped up in my Google Alert the same day. At first I felt nothing. I awaited the onslaught, knowing it was about to crash against me and tear us both under. My stomach and intestines clenched. I opened your cell phone records. Airplane mode. No recent texts, except one the day prior, from your boss, bitchily asking “Are U Okay?" And I wondered: why spare the two letters in the word “you" if she was so hell-bent on spelling “okay" all the way out?

I scanned your bank records. 4am, at an ATM next to the only store that peddled hard spirits on Sundays. You’d taken $240 out. I racked my brain over the contingencies— maybe you had crashed into someone’s car, and they had no insurance, so you spared them the arrest and set your damage right. Maybe you had burst two tires, or a windshield. Or had met someone and needed money for a room. And food. And wine. And many prophylactics.

But that wasn’t you. I knew you— you went to work at 9:30 or 10am. Oatmeal from two packets for breakfast. Cherry tomatoes in a small soft-sided lunchbox. Your hair brushed and your eyes carrying no visible bags. Not like your father, whose eyes were always puffy when I imagine him, crying over you, digging up hysterics.

You were frugal, and in your instant messages you seemed happy. You always walked briskly to work. That Monday, your red bag would have been on the left side of your body. The scuff on the bottom would have been visible like a line of bone in a deep wound. But you didn’t show up.

After three days of that, I buckled. I must explain: I watched your records, sentry-like, for days, and held vigil over the webcam. I called the manager of your apartment building so often he began to air his suspicions openly. Seventy eight hours, drained of sleep, bowels emptied from top to bottom, I broke down, and I called everyone.

I’m sorry I did it— I’m sorry I disabused you of your ignorance— but there was nothing else I saw to do. You’d never done anything like that before. In fourteen years you had never surprised me. Except when you sent the protective order, that first time so long ago.

I’ve found you again, but I won’t stand watch over you this time. I didn’t mean to scare you, to make you flee. I begged them not to tell you what I’d been doing, but a sheriff told me you had a right to know.

"Imagine how it would feel, for her to discover that," I pleaded.

The sheriff’s eyebrow twitched. She thumbed her buttons. “The truth’ll get to her. Just like it did to us. Better this way, so she can protect herself."

And she explained to me how you’d made a lot of enemies. People who used to meet you in the library and slip you things hidden in books and jewel CD cases. People who slipped up the back of your old apartment building and asked for what they were owed. I didn’t know you were in such a bad way, sweetheart. Mixed up in such trouble! I would have slipped money into your accounts, paid your utilities in secret, whatever. I guess there are things that cannot be learned from such a distance.

I was glad to learn your disappearing act was just another protective measure. But like the protective order you sent me, it was unnecessary, pointless. And you could have sent me a card or flowers when I was in the minimum security, you know. Could have shown a smidgen of gratitude.

When they let me out earlier this year, I found you right away. Too obvious. Be careful sweetheart. You still have enemies, and you are far too easy to find. No, I’m writing not to frighten you or slip you up. I just want to clear the air. For fourteen years I watched you and kept you from discovering it. I just wanted to explain, and apologize, and make my recompense.

I am throwing my computers in the lake my grandad’s house. I’m burning my cell phone with the garbage and tearing up my copies of your birth certificate, student ID, social security card, and Walgreen’s loyalty program card. Consider my eyes plucked and my ears stuffed.

But please, my child— hide deeper. Hide better. For the sake of us both.


Erika D. Price is a social psychologist and writer living in Chicago, Illinois. Her work has been featured in Literary Orphans, Blackberry, Liar's League, and The Paper Machete, among others. Her novel, Corpus Callosum, is now available from all major ebook sellers. She writes regularly at

Sally Deskins is an artist and writer currently based in West Virginia. Heavily inspired by contemporary artist Wanda Ewing's work challenging society's definitions of femininity, Deskins' art explores womanhood and motherhood in her life and others'. Her work has been exhibited nationally and published internationally. Find her online at

Illyin Pipes is a Toronto-based band making down-tempo indie electronic music. Members include Jill Harris, Thom Varey, Mark Rynkun, and Chris Pruden. For more, visit the band on Tumblr, Bandcamp or Facebook.

ISSUE #74: H.B. Sizemore, Mickie Winters, Jamie Barnes

Posted: Monday, December 2, 2013 | | Labels:

ISSUE #74 GUEST EDITOR Leesa Cross-Smith was previously featured as Issue #25's writer. Her debut short story collection Every Kiss a War will be published early 2014 by Mojave River Press. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in places like Storychord, Carve Magazine, Word Riot, SmokeLong Quarterly, Little Fiction and Monkeybicycle. She and her husband run a literary magazine called WhiskeyPaper. For more, visit

Photograph by Mickie Winters

by H.B. Sizemore

I had to get out of town. My stomach felt like someone had set off a pack of firecrackers and closed the lid on it. My head throbbed like it had been shut in the car door. My vision was blurred from crying. I was fucked up.

I rushed home to grab my gear while the house was still empty-- a spur of the moment decision. I went to the basement, got my pack and filled it with the things that go with me to the woods. A few minutes later, I closed the hatch on the rat’s nest of clothes and boots and gear and hurried to get on the road. I thought I might feel some relief as I pulled away, but the phone ruined any hope for peace. She’d left six texts while I was inside the house.

Issue #74 soundtrack: Jamie Barnes "Vampire Movie"

You’ve destroyed me

You’ll pay

Fuck you

So. No response?


Talk to me!

My hands shook as I thumbed through the messages. There were two voicemails, and before I could decide whether or not to listen to them, another text arrived.

Where are you?

I couldn’t answer that question, so I switched the phone to silent and put it on the passenger seat, face down. I turned on some music and played it loud. It helped, even though I kept looking over at the phone like it might get up and smack me across the face like she had.

Aside from stopping for gas and a Diet Coke, I drove straight through and pulled into the trailhead parking lot just after ten. I love the way driving puts me in a trance, where the miles fly by and I can't remember how I got to where I was going—just that I made it. I was never so grateful for being numb as I was that night. I needed those hours.

I got out of the car and stretched. Hiked up the trail a bit so I could pee. I looked up, through the canopy of trees, and saw clouds that were almost close enough to touch. I wondered if I’d packed rain gear. I got my sleeping bag and went around to the passenger side of the car and got in. I picked up the phone to see that she’d left fourteen texts and six voicemails. My hand went back to trembling as I scrolled through each of her messages, which read like a map of the first four stages of grief.

If I slept at all that night, it was in short stretches, interrupted by bursts of fear and doubt.

* * * * *
I told her on the way to the airport, hoping she would go on to San Francisco while I stayed behind and figured out what was next. She could tell something was up the moment she got in the car, but didn’t push it. When I missed the exit to long-term parking, she turned to me and demanded to know what was going on.

It was supposed to be our big day. I’d been so sure, but I couldn’t do it. I drove up the ramp to where people were dropping off loved ones, hugging and smiling and saying their goodbyes. She asked again and again what was going on until I stopped at the Southwest drop-off point and told her I wasn’t going with her. It was over.

What’s the best way to break a heart? This question rose up from my subconscious one night as I watched her sleep. Once loosed, it grew, malignant and swift, until it pushed aside all other questions and forced an answer in the car at the airport on a sunny day in September.

“No,” she said, falling back against the door. “You can’t do this.”

“I’m sorry.”

She shivered at the sound of the words. Her right arm swiveled at the elbow and smacked me across the face like a sprung trap.

“How dare you.”

She hit me again, and then again. The fourth time, I caught her by the wrist and told her to stop. Tears rolled down each side of her face as she jerked her hand away from me.


I said nothing. How can you, when you don’t even know if you believe what you’ve said?

“Talk to me,” she said, leaning in and wiping away the tears.

“I can’t,” I said.

Before she could say anything else, a cop tapped the window. I hit the button to roll it down, and he looked at her, then me.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

We nodded. She reached over and took my hand in hers.

He looked at me. “You dropping her off?”


“Well, you need to do it and move on. You’ve been here a while.”

“Okay. I will.”

He looked at her again, then turned and walked ahead to the next car.

She let go of my hand and stared out her window.

“Look,” I said, but before I could say another word, she got out of the car, slammed the door, walked around to the back and opened the hatch where her bags were. I got out, knowing this was only a bit of theatre designed to provoke some begging. A chase. I said nothing. My heart hammered away at the inside of my chest.

She shouldered her purse and pulled up the handle on her rolling bag and turned and walked away. I called out, knowing she would ignore me. I called again. Nothing. When the cop whistled and motioned for me to move along, I got in the car and drove off, relieved.

I hadn’t driven fifty feet when she called my phone, screaming obscenities and threats at me. I hung up. She called back and screamed louder. I hung up again. The third time, she begged me to pick her up, so we could talk. I refused. The obscenities and threats returned, and I hung up again.

* * * * *
I awoke from a bit of sleep to see the clouds above me smeared with the first gray swatches of daylight. It had rained. I powered-up my phone and saw that she’d left two more voicemail messages during the night—the first was to tell me she’d taken a cab home and the second was to tell me everything would be all right.

There was also a third message from my wife and son. They told me they loved me and were praying for me. Hearing their singsong voices caused the muscles in my chest to constrict, as though someone had inserted a key into my sternum and wound it too tight. I’d gotten good at keeping them far from my thoughts, but now I had to consider them.

I stepped out of the womb-like warmth of the car to find that it had grown cold in the night. Fifteen minutes later, I was packed and changed and headed up a trail I’d hiked many times before.

I’d parked at the base of a mountain where the trail cut through old growth hemlock, rhododendron, mountain laurel and big, thick ferns. When I was a kid I thought this is what it must have looked like at the beginning of time, with Adam and Eve, before everything went to hell. A bridge got me over a swollen creek, and just as the trail rose steeply into its climb, I stopped to pull off my jacket.

I found a comfortable rhythm and fell into a kind of autopilot as I watched my feet negotiate the roots and rocks of the trail. The trance jogged a memory of the coldest I’d ever been in my life, at the top of this mountain. I was thirteen. Dad and I came down during spring break, and did a series of overnighters throughout the park. The last one was this hike—up to LeConte and back.

* * * * *
As we pulled our packs from the back of Dad’s Civic, he told me to lighten my load and make the climb easier on myself. I did as I was told and left everything but my food and water and sleeping bag and pad in the back of his car.

On the way up, it started to rain. As we climbed higher, the rain turned to sleet, and then snow. This was 1980, and we wore denim and cotton. We were soaked to the bone. By the time we got to the shelter at the top, a few inches of snow covered the ground. The temperature had fallen into the teens.

Usually, the first thing you’d do in a situation like this is get out of your wet clothes as soon as possible, but I wore the only clothes I had. A guy not much older than me watched as I stared into my empty pack.

“You’ll get hypothermia if you don’t get out of those wet clothes.”

No shit, I thought. But I looked at him and said, “Yeah.”

I was shocked to see Dad pulling dry clothes out of his pack.

“You brought extra clothes?” I asked.

He gave me that look of his that made me feel stupid.

“It rains one out of every three days in the Smokies,” he said. “Yeah I brought extra clothes.”

The other guy laughed. I hated them both.

Dad told me to get out of my clothes and into my sleeping bag, which I did. He laid out my things near the creek rock fireplace, but couldn’t get a fire going. I sulked the rest of the night, silently hashing out revenge fantasies against Dad and the anonymous smartass who snored at the other end of the shelter.

In the morning, my flannel shirt and jeans were like corrugated cardboard. I had to beat them against the side of the shelter to make them flexible enough to put on. I’d slept with my socks in the bottom of my sleeping bag, and they were cold and wet. My boots, curled and frozen like elf shoes, hurt to put on. It was pure misery, but I pretended not to be bothered. We packed in record time and raced down the mountain, where it was sunny and in the 60’s.

* * * * *
I wondered if I’d make this trip with my son in another ten years when he’ll be thirteen. I wondered if he’ll seek my advice about his problems, or if he will be like me and bury them beneath a façade of cocksuredness. Life, which had always seemed so fixed and predictable, now felt as fragile and unlikely as the spider webs that stretched across the trail before me.

I pulled off the trail to let an elderly couple approach and pass. They stopped, and we spoke a bit. Unprompted, the husband proudly announced they were seventy-three and celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. They’d spent the night at the lodge at the top of the mountain.

I asked about the weather up top, and the old man told me it had rained all night and was likely still raining.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Just up and back, I guess.”

He looked me over and nodded. “You've done this trail before?”

“Many times. You?”

He looked at his wife, and they shared a laugh. He told me this was an annual pilgrimage for the two of them that stretched back to their college days. They’d done this trip every year of their marriage, except for last year.

“Cancer kept us off the trail,” he said.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Me too. It was a bitch,” he said, nodding. “We had a good streak going, didn’t we?” He looked to his wife, whose laughter had disappeared at the memory of his illness, and took her hand. “I figure we’ll just start a new streak and see how far we can take it.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” I said. “I hope you make it to fifty.”

He laughed. “I’ve learned that plans will only take you so far. You’ll see. You have to learn how to improvise. To live on the fly and be okay with uncertainty. That’s the trick.”

I studied them and sensed a deep and abiding love that had been protected and rehearsed daily. They seemed completely at peace, and I was insanely jealous of it.

“Well,” the old man said. “If we stand around here too long, I’ll stiffen up, and one of you will have to carry me down this mountain.”

“Well. You all take care,” I said. “Congratulations on your anniversary.”

“Look for us next year. If the cancer doesn’t come back, maybe we’ll find you out wandering around these hills.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

We shook hands, and I watched them until they disappeared into the woods below. Even then, I could hear their happy talking rising through the trees—spectral and temporary.

* * * * *
With every step, visibility shrank as I rose higher into the clouds. A jumble of images, words, and accusations swirled around my head as I made my way. The questions piled up like the mountains around me, but the answers were lost in the fog. The rain fell harder.

I stopped and pulled my rain suit out of my pack. I pulled on the pants, hopping around first on one foot and then the other as I shucked off a boot and jabbed a foot through the leg hole. I got the right leg on fine, but as I was putting my left foot in, it got caught up in the crotch of the pants, and I fell into some rhododendron, cursing and yelling like a madman.

When I finally got back on my feet and put the jacket on, I remembered that the zipper was broken, which led to more cursing. I dug around my pack and grabbed the rain cover and a Ziploc bag filled with Band-Aids, moleskin and duct tape. I took the duct tape and did a few loops around my torso, making sure the jacket was bound shut. It wasn’t pretty, but it kept me dry. Jerry-rigging that jacket felt like the first right thing I’d done in months.

* * * * *
Even though I’d cut things off with her, I wasn’t convinced it was the right thing to do. Despite what she’d said to me, I wasn’t mad. I could see her before me, as though she were there, and I desperately wished I could comfort her somehow. Wished I could split myself in two and let one half of me run off with her, while the other half stayed with my family. Two happy halves.

I thought of the first weeks we spent together, getting to know one another. Exploring. Probing. The happy obsession of discovery. I thought of the excuses I made, just so I could pay her a visit, and how she called me on it one day. How she said she liked it.

Things weren’t bad at home. Only stale. We’d gotten into a rut that I hadn’t even recognized until I was shown another way. My life was like the black and white part of “The Wizard of Oz” until I met her and got to see the world in Technicolor.

We believed we were special, and that somehow, the Red Sea would part and we would walk blithely into a new life together, without any negative fallout. It was a beautiful fantasy, but over time that’s exactly what I came to see it as. I knew it couldn’t possibly work, even though I prayed that it could.

* * * * *
I stepped out of the trees to find myself at the base of the giant cave, which was actually a rock house. With one step, I went from pouring rain to dry as a bone, and I had it all to myself. I walked up to the top, where some rocks were, and dropped my pack and took a seat. Sitting there was like being in a great amphitheater. A gauzy curtain of mist hung between me and the mountains just across the valley below.

I ate a Clif Bar and tried to see the Peregrine Falcon that sounded like a banshee flying around in the fog, screeching and raising hell. I wondered by what act of grace it was kept from crashing and dying when it moved so fast in such a sightless and dangerous space. I never saw the thing, but enjoyed knowing that it was there, like it always was, doing its thing.

After a while, two women popped out of the woods and into the sanctuary of the cave. As they pulled the hoods of their jackets off and looked around, they waved to me and started up.

Sisters. The younger one was a grad student at UT, and the other was visiting from Colorado. They were thin and pretty in a plain, bookish way that I liked. I immediately preferred the one from Colorado, with her blue eyes and high, chiseled cheekbones.

We talked about the weather and the falcons and my duct taped jacket, which tickled them to no end. They were spending the night at the shelter up top, then heading on to the AT and Davenport Gap, where the UT sister’s boyfriend would pick them up in three days. I’m embarrassed to admit that I wished I were going with them.

I watched them disappear into the rocks above me and waited a good long while before rising to follow. As pretty as they were, I wanted to make sure I’d be alone. I stepped out of the dusty cave and back into the rain, where I had to climb up some rocks before getting back onto the trail. The rain sounded like popcorn on my hood, and before I could’ve gotten a bag of it microwaved back home, I fell into deep thought.

Talking to the two sisters triggered an odd chain of thought where I imagined the two women in my life standing before me, the three of us engaged in the same kind of placeholder conversation I’d just had. I was able to see them as real as if it had actually occurred and I was remembering it. It’s weird what the mind can do.

Gradually, I thought only of my wife and the weekend we spent at the lodge a few years ago. It was our first weekend away from our son, and she worried about him the whole time. Despite that, it was a beautiful respite from our normal routine. We’d planned to explore every trail leading to the top of the mountain, but once we got inside the cabin and got undressed, our plans changed. We only left the cabin to see the stars late Saturday night and eat breakfast Sunday morning, and we only dressed for the breakfast.

Remembering the two of us sneaking around the outside of the lodge naked, except for our shoes and the bed sheets wrapped around us, lifted my mood for a while. It was a warm, windless night, and I wanted to make love beneath the stars. We’d drank nearly two bottles of wine, and she was up for anything. It was a miracle we didn’t walk off the side of the mountain. Instead, we made it up to the point, and as we were getting comfortable, another couple, with flashlights, had the same idea. We rolled up in our sheets and sheepishly ceded the point to them, despite their apologies and repeated invitations to stay.

We laughed all the way back to the cabin. Happy, horny ghosts.

* * * * *
I realized I was crying and wiped the tears from my eyes as I walked along, wondering what was wrong with me. I thought of my wife and my son and the happy life we’d had together and wondered how it was possible that I could convince myself that it was not so. How could I have mistaken a good life for a bad one?

How had it happened? How could my mind suspend disbelief long enough for the kind of pretzel logic that made that affair possible? Was it possible that I wanted out, or was it a mid-life crisis? The thought of being so mundane and clichéd made me shiver, but was I just a garden-variety husband having a garden-variety mid-life crisis? Or was this something else? More proof of my normalness? Proof that I wasn’t a snowflake, but a number. A predictable chain reaction of chemistry and impulses that has been going on since the dawn of man. The thoughts hurt as they burst out of my subconscious, like little grenades going off in my head and heart and soul. It hurt to know that my wife, who thought I was perfect, would soon learn that I was just like every other guy. It hurt to know that with this knowledge, my son might grow up with a full-time stepdad and a part-time me. It hurt to think of the look my father would give me, like that look he gave me all those years ago when I wasn’t smart enough to pack extra clothing in a place where it rains one out of every three days.

The trail leveled, and I entered that section of dead pine trees just before the top, that stand like tombstones of the beauty that had once been this copse, but was now only a ragged tinderbox, waiting a spark to set it off.

Improvise? How do you improvise a disaster? No uncertainty there. I’m certainly fucked.

I wished the old man was with me so I could ask him the questions. What would he have said? Had he ever cheated on his wife? Never. I used to judge guys who cheated on their wives. Why was that? Was I seeing me in them? Was I afraid of what I must have known was inside me? Dormant as the pines, waiting for that spark that would set things in motion? Or was it just a random thing that everyone is capable of, given the right alignment of circumstances? No. I don’t believe in randomness; that life is just one spin of the carnival wheel after another. That’s bullshit.

A little further, and I looked up to see a doe step into the trail from the right, followed closely by a spotted fawn. I froze as she looked my way. We made eye contact and I slowly reached for my phone, which was in a Ziploc bag in a pocket of my pack. It was an old habit. Normally, I’d have already shot a couple hundred frames by this point in a hike. As my hand felt the shape of my phone, I changed my mind about the photo. I don’t know why, except that maybe I wanted to be in the moment for once in my life. I simply watched, as the doe bent her head down to drink from a puddle in the trail, the fawn imitating its mother.

I don’t know how long I stood there. It seemed like forever. I didn't care—I was determined to live in that moment, as long as it lasted. The doe eased on to the other side of the trail, without a bit of hurry, the fawn following playfully behind. I watched them both until they disappeared down the flank of the mountain. As time resumed and the moment passed, I looked ahead to where the lodge sat off to the side of the trail. Just beyond it was the shelter where I was supposed to sleep. I didn’t know what to do. Finally, I wept like never before. After a while, I wiped my eyes and pulled the hood from my head. I turned and started back down the trail I’d walked, knowing that my only hope for forgiveness would come from a broken heart.

H.B. Sizemore was born in Clay County, Kentucky, and grew up in the south end of Louisville, where he learned to tell stories from uncles, bullies, and his parents’ books and records. He chose New York over college, certain he’d be the next Mickey Rourke. Instead, he wrote daily, a habit that continues in a variety of mediums.

Mickie Winters is a photographer specializing in editorial, documentary, alternative process, fine art film photography and art education. Her work has appeared in places like SPIN, Louisville Magazine and BRIDE. For more, visit the artist on Facebook.

Jamie Barnes is a sinner/sufferer/singer-songwriter from Kentucky. Find more @

ISSUE #73: Donna Vorreyer, Charalampos Kydonakis, Bear Grass

Posted: Monday, November 18, 2013 | | Labels:

Photograph by Charalampos Kydonakis

by Donna Vorreyer

Martin had never been given anything except a cheap digital camera on his eighth birthday. Since then, it had been his constant companion, his third eye. Empty beer cans crushed in a heap beside a threadbare couch, what once was a floral fabric faded and stained into a blur, one hairy arm hanging over the edge. Click. “Portrait of Dad.” Day-old canned spaghetti stuck and crusted to a bowl in a cracked porcelain sink. Click. “Home Cooking.” Dandelions drooping in a mason jar, a store-bought cupcake with a lit match. Click. “Happy Birthday to Me.”

Issue #73 soundtrack: Bear Grass "All in All"

To Martin, the camera made everything insignificant, made it seem like it was somewhere else. It broke reality down into tiny rectangles that could be edited, manipulated, rearranged into a life that was not really his own. Martin shuffled through each day, looking at only two spots -- his shoes and the viewer of his camera. He took pictures of everything. His camera gave him excuses when teachers asked about the black eyes and the bruises -- “I fell trying to take a picture from” -- the bridge, the roof, just about anywhere you could fall from. He usually had the pictures to back it up. And, though he didn’t know it, his camera would bring him a great discovery. It would come quite by accident, the way one discovers money in the pocket of a coat not often worn. It would surprise, disgust, and delight him. It would change everything.

After his dad left or died or just plain disappeared on Martin’s thirteenth birthday, his mom didn’t lose any time in picking up boyfriend number one. A scrawny, balding department store manager, Number One ignored Martin completely and was enamored with his mom and her drinking only until she threw up all over his leather loafers. Click. “Still Life with Italian Shoes.” Boyfriend Number Two was a different story. He was a drinker and a hitter, leaving Martin’s mom silent and fearful and leaving Martin with broken bones that never saw a doctor’s care. Martin had asked her several times why she put up with him. Her answer was always the same.

“Baby,” she said, “you just don’t understand.” She lit a new cigarette with the smoldering butt of an old one and blew a smoke ring. “He has a good heart, he just loses his temper sometimes, that’s all. I love him, Martin, and he loves me, too. You just can’t see it ‘cause you’re always getting in the way and making him mad.” Click. “And put that damn camera away. I look a mess.”

So Martin avoided them both, getting a part-time job at the Valumart photo center by lying about his age. It barely paid minimum wage, but it kept him away from home and Boyfriend Number Two after school. Martin spent his additional spare time studying photography books at the local library, and before long, he had replaced the old camera with a second-hand 35 mm that used real film. He practiced shot after shot, even selling a picture to the local paper when he happened to witness an accident (click) while riding his bike home from the library one Saturday afternoon.

Between school, work, and the library, Martin saw very little of his mother and Number Two. When he did talk to his mother, she often wore sunglasses to cover her bruises (click) and reassured Martin again and again that this was love. But it was just like his mother to be fickle.

Martin’s first clue that his mom didn’t love Number Two anymore was when he came home to find her sitting on the kitchen floor next to his hulking mess of a body, stabbed in the neck with a paring knife. Martin had never seen anything dead before, except maybe a bug or some roadkill, and those hadn’t been lying in a pool of fresh blood in his house. Martin turned to vomit, stumbling out to collapse on the back step, the sight rolling over and over behind his eyelids like the revolving red lights of a police siren. That’s when it hit him.

If they took his mother to jail, he’d be shipped off to some foster home or some boys’ school where everyone would want to know how he was feeling and buy him stiff new clothes like in those shows about orphans on television. He’d have to be cheerful and pretend he was happy, or they’d send him off to therapy where he’d have to look at ink blots and talk about his childhood. That would never do.

So, trembling and slick with terror, Martin painstakingly dragged the corpse out into the woods and dug a shallow grave, all he could manage, and covered Number Two with rich, black earth. Muscles achy and knotted with the effort, Martin crept to the screen door to see his mother calmly preparing dinner, having already cleaned the kitchen and the paring knife and changed her blood-stained clothes. She turned as he came in and muttered, “You’re a good son, Martin.”

And that was that. They never spoke of it again, and Martin had almost forgotten it ever happened. He might have truly forgotten it altogether without the rainstorm several months later. The storm came up quickly, caught their shabby little house by surprise. When Martin could no longer stand the smacking of the screen door against the siding, he threw on an old jacket and went out to take it down off the hinges before it blew away completely. That’s when he saw it – something gleaming, shimmering in the rain.

He rushed over to the spot he recognized as the grave. The rain fell mercilessly, and his feet sunk almost to his ankles in muck. The shining spot turned out to be a hand unearthed, the product of his labor so many months ago. But the hand was transformed after its time in the earth. What was left was something not beautiful, but intriguing. The bones showed, the earth having greedily taken what it could from the body. The evidence of this triggered something like a revelation in Martin.

The earth eats and leaves the scraps. The earth is not just the bottom of the sky. This surprised him, the thought that what he had tread upon every day of his life was a creature that ate. Every step he had ever taken was a delicate dance on the lips of something that could swallow him whole. A shiver raced the raindrops down his spine. He knew now what he had been waiting for, why he had been given his camera. He began planning, taking his time, collecting filters, buying equipment, readying himself. He would chronicle this miracle and in doing so, he would finally break free of everything he hated and everything that hated him.

* * * * *
Martin slammed the crooked screen door on the way out, not bothering to tell his mother he was leaving. She never took much notice of Martin anymore, and he neither despised nor mourned their lack of affection. At this point, Martin viewed her as a means of food and shelter, the only two things he needed from her until he turned eighteen and graduated in a few short weeks.

He stomped back toward a clearing of stumps, left behind by Boyfriend Number Three in a fit of domestic labor. Martin shifted the weight of his backpack as he neared the clearing, his camera equipment poking uncomfortably into his ribs. He checked his cheap plastic watch -- only twenty minutes or he’d be late for school again. That would mean a detention, and that would mean missing his afternoon shots. If he did that, his whole photo sequence would be ruined.

He approached the clearing, working quickly now, routinely. He reached a circle of stumps, each numbered crudely with black paint and covered by an anchored wire cage to prevent tampering. He began with number one, swiftly undoing the cage, snapping two black and white pictures, and moving on until he had taken twenty-four pictures, two of each stump’s still life. Satisfied with his morning’s work, Martin did his best imitation of an athlete and made it to his first class just before the bell, disheveled and sweaty, but happy. The giggles began around him, but he was immune. He had learned it long ago. At lunch, he’d develop his film, alone, and at three, he’d put in his after-school hours at the Valumart and still be home in time to catch the evening light for twenty-four more pictures.

* * * * *
Martin had the camera on its tripod by six, ready for his evening shots. First, number one. The mouse had been easy to catch, so it fed his first plant, a dwarf sunflower. It had taken him a while to figure out how to bury the animals in the ground so they would decompose, yet still be seen. He had arrived at the solution of a bottomless plexiglass box, carefully placed over each creature. The mouse gave him trouble at first; the box collected condensation and fogged up. But soon he figured out that a few holes in the corners would let the box breathe and allow clear photos. Piles of large wood chips covered the boxes during the day, and they were easy to brush away and replace. The process was routine now. Martin composed his shot, the decomposing rodent curled just in front of the flower’s stem. Then number two, the squirrel and the rosebush. Number three, the rabbit and the cluster of black-eyed-susans.

The animals and their parasitic plants both grew larger with the numbers on the stumps. Martin had borrowed a pellet gun to get the smaller specimens, but the larger ones had been provided by the plentiful traffic in the area. At first, the idea of picking up dead animals had repulsed him, but once they became a part of his circle, they became beautiful. He had found his prize, a German Shepherd with no collar, at the side of the road. The majestic animal was now sleeping contentedly near a small boxwood which Martin had purchased at the local nursery. He was feeding the earth now – he was at peace.

Three more days would complete the cycle of pictures he had begun months ago. Three more days, and he would have incredible proof that the earth was a magnificent carnivore, a force to be worshipped, a force that consumed carrion ugliness and returned botanical beauty. He knew the photos were good. He had used a few of the less gruesome ones, unblemished by blood or maggots, to get high marks in photo class at school, a move that had given him free access to the darkroom and recognition in several student competitions. This success had opened him up, his once-dead heart now pulsing, emotions all mingled like holiday punch, fizzy and unpredictable. Apathy had turned to confidence, control, even happiness. And in three days, after graduation, he would complete his cycle and move on to a new life.

* * * * *
Martin peeked into his mother’s bedroom and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hmmm? Oh, Martin. I’m so sleepy -- rough night last night.” She hacked the heavy cough of a smoker and reached for a bottle beside the bed. “Hair of the dog, baby. Now, what do you want so early in the morning?”

Martin pulled open the shades as his mother hissed and covered her eyes against the light. “It’s one o’clock, and it’s graduation today. I just wanted to let you know I was leaving. I know you’re tired, so you don’t have to come.”

She gazed blearily out the window. “Thanks, baby. Sky’s pretty today, isn’t it? I’ve always loved to look at the clouds. Wish I could fly sometimes, don’t you? Just fly away from everything.”

“Sure, Mom. Listen, I’m taking this bottle out to the kitchen, and you’re going to drink this coffee I brought you instead. You’ve got to work tonight.”

“All right. You’re a good son, Martin. You are, you know?” She took a sip of the coffee and flopped back against the pillows. “And pull the shades again, will you, honey? I’ve got one hell of a headache.”

* * * * *
Martin stared at the grass and weeds struggling to grow under the bleachers where he sat. That earth needed to be fed, he thought. He listened absently to the ceremony, waiting for the end, for his chance to leave this place which didn’t appreciate the earth and all its power, for his chance to leave these people who couldn’t see beyond their typical notions of knowledge and beauty and realize that someone as unremarkable as he held the most important secret of the universe. He sleepwalked across the stage to grab his diploma, walking straight off the platform and down the aisle to his bike, shedding his cap and gown on the way. He arrived home just as the evening light faded behind the horizon, a thin red line that kissed the earth. He spared a quick glance at the final item in his circle, a mature pine that had cost him his last six paychecks, already taller than he and waiting to be fed.

He creaked open the screen door and checked that everything was in order. His luggage was packed, meager and ragged except for the shiny black leather of his new photo portfolio. He hadn’t had much to get ready -- his clothes, his camera equipment, and his portfolio were all he would need. He had registered for the summer session at the university and secured a dorm room weeks ago. He had emptied his bank account the day before. When the teller had raised an eyebrow, he had pasted on his most charming smile. “Leaving for college tomorrow,” he cheerfully explained. She wished him good luck and handed over a thick envelope full of bills.

He checked his pockets now. He had the envelope, the keys to his mother’s old Chevy, and the credit card he had applied for last month. He only had one more thing to do. He held and released a long breath and pushed open the door to his mother’s bedroom. She lay sprawled where he had left her, serene and still. Martin tiptoed closer to the bed, checking to see if she had finished the coffee he had brought her that morning. She had.

Just to be sure, he leaned in close to her face. She wasn’t breathing. It was done.

He wrapped her tenderly in a blanket and carried her out to the newly-planted pine tree, another hole freshly dug beneath its evergreen branches. He arranged her body carefully around the trunk, taking one last picture with his eyes, knowing that this completion of the cycle could not be documented with his camera. He shoveled the first scoop of dirt over her with his hands, finishing with a shovel, burying her body deep in the earth, certain that no one would find his last still life. Martin was satisfied that beauty would thrive here at last in this ugly place, a new life from the ashes of his old one, a secret sighing here forever at the bottom of the sky.

Donna Vorreyer, though primarily a poet, has had fiction work featured in such publications as Notes from the Underground UK, Extract(s), Salt River Review, and Up the Staircase. Last month, Sundress Publications released her first poetry collection, A House of Many Windows. Donna lives and writes in the Chicago area, where she resides with her husband, two dogs, and a son, when he is home from college. For more, visit

Charalampos Kydonakis is a photographer from Rethymnon of Crete, who originally studied architecture in Thessaloniki. He has edited and released two books of contemporary photography -- Colour Candids and Black & White Candids. For more, visit the artist online at

Katie Hammon has been writing music as Bear Grass, mostly as a solo act, since 2007. She enlisted guitarist Stephen Stanley, bassist Mitch Masterson, drummer Ian White, and Tommy Krebs on backing vocals, synth, and percussion to make Bear Grass a full band. Recently, the group played alongside Man Man and Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned at the Capital Region’s Annual Restoration Festival before embarking on a regional tour -- including a CMJ showcase -- in support of their new full-length album, Stories in Books. For more, visit

ISSUE #72: Christine Barcellona, Eugenia Loli, Tiger In My Tank

Posted: Monday, November 4, 2013 | | Labels:

Digital collage by Eugenia Loli

by Christine Barcellona

The demons were a problem.

They came to David late at night, when the neighborhood was asleep. Outside, the whisk of the automatic sprinkler was the only sound. He imagined the dark empty lawns, plastered like postage stamps across the brown plains of north Texas. He jumped when an occasional car sped past, a breaking wave on the silent shore of midnight. David knew when the demons arrived. He felt it in his tingling fingertips. The Bible grew warm between his palms. No matter how many times he looked over his shoulder, he could not see the man standing there, directing the demons, blowing them onto him like radioactive smoke rings. But still, he knew the figure was there.

Issue #72 soundtrack: Tiger In My Tank "Inverted People"

They called his name in voices that no one else heard, speaking languages that David had never learned but still understood. He felt the demons descend like an inky cloud, their claws grasping. They threatened to turn his skin inside out, to reach and scratch out the eyes of his soul.

He knew they came because he had sinned. He clutched his Bible, hugging it as a child would a teddy bear. He committed entire chapters of the Bible to memory, so he could recite them as a ward against evil. Even when his lips stilled, somewhere in the hollows of his Adam’s apple, he continued his refrain: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil.”

It was a lie, of course. But he tried not to think about that.

* * * * *
“If I wanted to, I could blow up the school,” David said when he met Julie in September. They were assigned seats next to each other in art class. Their first project in Drawing II was to sketch a skull. It was a still life; a plastic replica of the human skeleton sprawled in front of them.

Julie didn’t take her eyes from the translucent form in front of her. “How?”

David wrote on a slip of paper and put it in the pocket of her hoodie. “Look up this chemical online and you’ll find instructions.”

“I don’t want to make bombs,” Julie said, though she once put together an Estes rocket from a kit. “Do you make them?”

“Sometimes. I explode them at the greenbelt by the middle school.”

“Will you blow up the school?”

“I don’t think so,” David said. He turned to the blank page in front of him. He looked back at Julie’s drawing, where a skull was starting to take form. “You’re a good artist.”

“Thank you,” she said.

* * * * *
A month later, Julie wasn’t surprised when the phone rang. Her phone number was in the school directory. Someone probably wanted last-minute help on the history homework. She answered it midway through the first ring, so it wouldn’t wake her family.

“This is David. From art class.”


“Meet me at the mound, will you?”

David had hung up by the time Julie tried to reply. She didn’t have a choice.

Julie was not the kind of girl who snuck out of the house. She neither drank, nor smoked, nor cursed. She said her prayers every night and went to Bible study on Tuesdays before class. She won first place at the high-school art show every year and always made the A honor roll.

She pulled on her blue jeans, laced up her sneakers, put up the hood of her jacket, and punched out the screen of her window so she could climb through. She carefully placed the frame on her bedroom carpet and slid the window shut behind her. She looked back into her own dim bedroom and felt that she could see herself sitting at her desk. An afterimage of a thousand studious nights.

The air outside was muggy, and the streetlamp cut the fog like a spotlight. Julie’s neighborhood was an empty maze. As she passed each house, she smelled the kind of laundry detergent the family used. Tide. Downy. Cheer. She smiled, glad that such clean smells existed in the grimy darkness. She imagined they were clues leading her to the mound, even though she needed no clues. Julie had known the landmark’s location since before she could spell her own name. The lights from the strip mall nearby stained the sky a dull brown. She walked past her old elementary school, where cranes and demolition devices crouched like sleeping grasshoppers, waiting for the morning to spring back into action. The district was remodeling a wing of classrooms near the library.

Dark houses reclined, Sphinxlike, guarding the neighborhood with glossy stares. Julie saw her reflections in passing windows, her body so slight that it looked like a mistake. No one could see her out in the street because she was not really there. She was in bed. She was studying at her desk. She was brushing her teeth, preparing for bed.

According to town lore, the mound had once been a place sacred to the Comanche. Any structure built there would topple. The legend was proven when everything built there was destroyed: An old schoolhouse fell in a tornado, a farmer’s shack burnt to the ground, and a barn’s foundations cracked in the summer heat. These days, people had given up trying to build on the mound. Instead, they erected a fence around it. On one side of the fence, developers planted Julie’s neighborhood of identical houses like a well-groomed garden. On the other side, they put up a Tom Thumb supermarket, a StyleAmerica hairdresser, and a Blockbuster Video.

The mound was the highest point for miles, sprouting like a zit from the flat land. Once Julie wiggled through the gap in the metal fence, she waded through the tall grass toward the figure that was silhouetted against the floodlights from the Tom Thumb parking lot. David held a small case at his side.

“There’s a drought,” Julie yelled. “You shouldn’t be shooting off bombs. It could cause a fire.” She cupped her hands around her mouth so he could hear her from a distance, but she jumped when her voice sounded too loud in the empty night. She wished she could reach out her hands and smooth out the jagged sound waves. She didn’t want to wake anyone.

“I wasn’t going to,” David said. He wore a dark T-shirt. The seam was torn under the armpit and Julie wondered if that was from wrestling practice.

“Good,” Julie said. She waited for David to explain. They had spoken in class and online over the past few weeks. David talked most of the time; Julie always preferred to listen. She was now an expert on his church, the wrestling team, and the alternative metal band Chevelle.

He didn’t say anything. He seemed to listen to the wind, but there was no wind. Julie also felt the imaginary chill; she shivered and tugged her hood closer to her cheeks.

“Did you ever use a Ouija board?” David said. He had dark hair and dark eyes to match; his pupils flashed as they turned toward her.

“No,” she said. Her mother had told her to stay away from Oujia boards. When her friends had taken one out at a sleepover the year before, she had left the room. While she waited for them to finish, she had lingered by the closed door, wondering if they could actually summon spirits. She wondered what the spirits would tell her if she could talk to them—maybe they would give her more guidance than her youth group leader or the DJ on the Christian rock station.

“Good,” David said. “You know that invites the devil in?”

Julie nodded. She slouched as she watched a police car pass a quarter mile away. Julie and David were out past the town’s curfew for minors. Until the cruiser’s taillights vanished, she felt more worried about getting in trouble with the town than running into the devil.

David had been watching too. He turned back and unzipped what Julie now realized was a Bible case. At first, Julie thought he was going to quote scripture. But as he spoke, he leafed through the pages without looking at them.

“You never do any of that occult stuff, do you?” he said. Julie shook her head. “Good. You’re a good Christian?”

“I try,” Julie said.

David paused and stared ahead of him, as if reviewing his thoughts before revealing them.

“Sometimes demons come for me,” he said. He watched Julie to see if she believed him. She didn’t move except for a fidgety hand that turned over something in her pocket. Her eyes were hidden by the shadow of her hood. Her lips moved as if she was chewing her thoughts before speaking them.

“What happens?” she said.

“It’s like a thunderstorm inside my room. But I can’t hear it or see it. I can only feel it. But the windows shake and I feel electrocuted. I can’t stay in bed. I go downstairs to the living room. I have my Bible and I hope God keeps me safe.”

“How do you know it’s not God?”

“What do you mean?”

“How do you know it’s not God visiting you?”

“Don’t you think I would know if it was God?” David said. He didn’t sound angry; he spoke as if correcting a small child who couldn’t know any better. “You know Ezekiel: ‘Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

“Sure, of course,” Julie said. “Did you call me because of the demons?”

“I was afraid they would come again.” He pressed his Bible between his palms as if he might squeeze out a morsel of comfort. He sank to the ground, dwarfed by the high, dry grass. Julie sat too.

“You’re a good listener,” David said. Julie had heard this before from people who needed something from her.

It was almost one in the morning. Julie stretched out and looked up at where the stars should have been. But the sky was light polluted, milky as a blind eye. Out of her peripheral vision, she watched David’s knotty wrestler’s knuckles shift against their sinews as he caressed the rough edge of the Bible.

* * * * *
When Julie awoke, she was so surprised by the yellow beginnings of dawn that she almost didn’t feel those wrestler’s hands shaking her awake. David sat cross-legged, as he had the night before. She wondered if he had moved at all during the night. She wanted to ask him about demons and if he had been all right. But something about his hollow-cheeked expression made her stop—he seemed to be biting his cheeks in anxiety, as if anticipating an event or recovering from trauma. She waited to see if he would say anything. She tapped his shoulder, and he looked at her, his eyes red.

Julie stood, brushed the twigs from the seat of her pants, and walked away. She slipped through the fence, leaving David alone on the mound. She went the long way home, past the two churches that stood across the street from on another, just outside her neighborhood. Creekwood Christian and Grace Baptist. She had never been inside either church, and always wondered what the difference was between them. Or how they differed from the Catholic church in the next town over, which her family attended.

* * * * *
On the bus the following month, Julie turned to her friend Beth, who looked at her as seriously as she could with puffer-fish cheeks. Julie knew Beth held her breath every time they passed a cemetery. She never said what would happen if she did breathe, but Julie always breathed normally and had not noticed any repercussions. After another ten seconds, Beth exhaled.

She turned back to take another look of the gravestones before the bus turned a corner. “You’re superstitious. Do you believe in demons?”

“Sure,” Beth said, smoothing the collar of her ROTC uniform.

“Ever seen one?”

“Just my little brother,” said Beth.

“Funny,” Julie said. She didn’t laugh. She was thinking of the late-night phone call she had received from David the night before. His trembling voice still rang in her ears; it was a convincing performance of terror and she had believed it. She trusted that he was scared but could not stop wondering whether the demons were external or inside his own mind. She also could not decide if it made a difference either way.

“So I talked to this guy a while back,” Julie began, watching Beth’s face. “He said he could blow up the school.”

Julie thought Beth would look shocked, but she didn’t. She just shrugged. “Well, couldn’t anyone? If they had a bomb I mean. Did he say he wanted to?”

“No,” Julie said.

“So what, who doesn’t joke about blowing up the place?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“He didn’t have an actual bomb, did he?”

He’d talked about blowing up bombs plenty, in an undertone during class and on the phone. But he had never shown Julie one. “No, not that I’ve seen,” she said.

“Well, there you go then,” Beth said. She adjusted her bun. “Take a look for me, is my hair touching my collar? Don’t want to get in trouble during inspection.”

“You’re fine,” Julie said, glad not to be in ROTC. She didn’t think she would stand up to close scrutiny, especially today—a harsh look might make her shatter like a crystal glass. She longed for the dark art room, where at least she could be sure of the charcoal marks on her paper.

* * * * *
Before class, Julie sought her friend Wayne in the cafeteria, where he sat at a table of students who, like him, dressed all in black and wore shoes with heavy soles. Wayne had been her best friend in middle school, though they had not seen much of each other recently. He was a good friend to have. Though he seemed surly and took great joy in teasing Julie, he was surprisingly social. He knew practically every student in their grade. As an added bonus, he wanted to study psychology in college, and fancied himself a sort of junior psychologist.

“Do you know David Gilroy?” Julie asked.

“Sure, he was in my bio class,” Wayne said. He flipped through a deck of cards; Julie saw they were Tarot cards. She took an unconscious step back.

“What do you think of him? Is he all right?”

“As a person? Sure. You know those wrestlers are weird folk. All those laxatives they eat to make weight really takes it outta ’em.”

Julie wrinkled her nose in disgust. “So you don’t think he’s depressed, or crazy, or anything?”

“Just a crazy Christian,” Wayne said, smirking. Julie was too distracted to notice the jab. “Want me to do a reading for you?” He fanned out his cards.

“Keep those away from me,” Julie said, flinching at the Tarot deck. She left, muttering something between good-bye and thanks.

* * * * *
Every night was darker than the last. Even when David called Julie to talk him through the hours of terror, he couldn’t tell her everything. And he couldn’t keep her on the line forever. Eventually, she had to go to sleep. And once her voice vanished from the room, the demons returned. Sometimes they sounded like rushing water flooding the room, filling him with chills and drenching him in a cold sweat. He thought this must be what it felt like to drown. David sank into fear once the warm telephone receiver was out of his hand, a life preserver swept beyond reach. As he sat with his Bible, the verses he had committed to memory echoed through him like a pulse, but he still couldn’t keep the demons away.

He stared back over his shoulder at the far corner of his room. He had read that he should never engage a demon in conversation, but as he stared at the empty air, he couldn’t help it.

“Why won’t you show yourself?” he said in the direction where he knew the man stood. He could feel the other demons grow closer; their psychic screeches reached a higher pitch. David felt as if the man had raised a commanding finger, pointing straight at him.

“Go away! Leave me alone!” David said as loudly as he dared. He clutched his Bible and felt its pages bend between his arms. He had wrestled plenty of people, had lifted weights, been trained in close combat. But he could do nothing as his inner ears echoed with resounding screams that he felt sure could not be heard by someone outside his head. He wondered how Jacob could have ever won his fight with God, when he himself couldn’t dream of winning his match with the demons.

He felt his own breath grow short and ragged, as if he was being strangled slowly. His heart beat too loudly, now—its pounding was enough to block the Bible verses from his mind. He struggled to speak the words he could now barely remember, but couldn’t be sure that he had succeeded.

* * * * *
A hard rain pounded the windowpanes, the first rain the town had seen since July. Julie watched the windows of the classroom and felt as though the entire school was driving through a car wash. Traffic was backed up outside; cars and busses inched forward in the unfamiliar rain. She had been lucky to make it to class before the storm hit. It was too late for tornado season but she kept checking for a green sky anyway.

David was not at school yet. Julie felt nervous, even though she had just spoken to him the night before. She put her hand in her pocket and found the piece of paper David had put in her pocket more than a month before. She knew it wasn’t a chemical name for making bombs. It just said Ecclesiastes 2:11.

She unfolded the paper and smoothed it under her shaky fingers. She traced each of the letters with her fingernails. She had looked it up weeks before and knew what the verse was: “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

No one else in class noticed the note spread in front of her on the table. Julie watched the clock and waited.

Christine Barcellona is a recent graduate of Fordham University, where she studied English and creative writing. A native of north Texas, she now lives in New York City.

Eugenia Loli is a California-based filmmaker and modern vintage collage artist. Her work has been featured in publications such as UTNE Reader, Curve Magazine, Lola Magazine, Le Mile Magazine, P-oint Magazine, Motive Magazine, and Kneon Magazine, as well as within The Age of Collage 2013 art book. View more of her work online at

Tiger In My Tank is Sebastian Castillo, a musician and writer born in Caracas, Venezuela, who is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. He's published things in Metazen, shabby doll house, HTMLGiant, and elsewhere. For more, visit him on Twitter, Tumblr, and Bandcamp.

Posted: Monday, August 5, 2013 | |

Storychord will return with new issues in September. In the meantime, submissions are actively being reviewed -- so right now is a great time to check out the site guidelines and send in your art, short fiction, and songs for consideration!

Autumn will also bring a fresh batch of Guest Editors to the site, as well. This series was a brand new inclusion for 2013. Feel free to revisit these first six installments to tide you over until September's relaunch:

ISSUE #60: Kelsey Ford, Jocelyn Spaar, Single Ben
Guest edited by Michael Barron

ISSUE #62: Carianne King, Kelly Shee, Mal Blum
Guest edited by Leda (Heidi Vanderlee and Amy Klein)

ISSUE #64: Katherine J. Lee, Eve Biddle, Astronauts, etc.
Guest edited by Miles Klee

ISSUE #66: Kat Asharya, Niki Boghossian, Weed Hounds
Guest edited by Strawberry Fields Whatever (Elizabeth Barker, Laura Jane Faulds, and Jen May)

ISSUE #69: Jooj Brooks, Zac Thompson, Bdlnds
Guest edited by Steffaloo

ISSUE #71: Edan Lepucki, Regina Mamou, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
Guest edited by Amanda Bullock

ISSUE #71: Edan Lepucki, Regina Mamou, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper

Posted: Monday, July 15, 2013 | | Labels:

ISSUE #71 GUEST EDITOR Amanda Bullock is the director of public programming at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, a nonprofit bookstore, cafe, and event space in downtown NYC where she runs the public events and social media. She is the co-creator and co-organizer of Moby-Dick Marathon NYC, the co-organizer of the Downtown Literary Festival, and in at least two book clubs at any given time.

Photograph by Regina Mamou

by Edan Lepucki

August, two weeks in, was popsicles-for-breakfast hot. Sweat soaked the cleavage I didn't have, and my ponytail hung woolen on my neck. Mara and I lay on our bedroom floors, hers or mine, it didn't matter which, both were stifling. We were fifteen. The world had to be ending.

We’d invented a game called Fake Phrases; the words meant nothing, that was the point, but they might in another, better place, one we were headed for.

“Blood headband,” Mara said.

“Ambulance of boys,” I said.

She rolled over and smirked.

Issue #71 soundtrack: Lady Lamb the Beekeeper "The Nothing Part II"

“Come on,” I said. “It’s your turn.”

Mara raised an eyebrow.

“What is it?” I asked. “Penciled wattage.”

“I’ve got another dare,” she said.

The Dares. We’d been at them all summer: making each other do stuff, alone or together, just for the fun of it. Girls like us, with high GPAs and not a single boy looking our way, needed a little danger to get us through the summer.

“Finally,” I said. “What is it?”

“Breaking and entering. Tom’s place.”

* * * * *

The dare was her idea, but we both wanted it. To sneak into the apartment of my sister’s boyfriend, count the piles of records and books, the few sad T-shirts in the closet. It wasn't just anyone’s place we were breaking into, but a man’s: here is where he slept, and undressed, and was alone—unless he was with my sister. My sister: 23 and wild, her beauty the thing everyone mentioned. She never let me in her bedroom.

On a night that Tom was working at the bar—the bar where he’d met my sister, bought her a drink and choked it with extra cherries because she’d asked too sweetly for him to deny her—we’d stay up late and walk over: he didn't live far. We’d copy his address from his driver’s license, and steal the spare key my sister kept in the zippered compartment of her purse.

“We have to fuck with him, rearrange his stuff,” Mara said. “He’ll feel weird, but he won’t know why. And we’ll steal something.”

“Mint noose,” I said. The heat was making me woozy.

“Ink helmet,” she said.

* * * * *

A few nights later, we stole across the city in silence. We passed a gay bar pulsing with voices, two men talking in the doorway. We passed a hillside of dead plants, and a man asleep beneath a payphone. The sky was greenish. There were no stars. The setting sun had brought some relief from the heat, but L.A. still felt muggier than usual, as if a weight were pushing against the air.

As we turned onto his street, Mara grabbed my hand. Tom’s building was a stucco box not far from the corner. A streetlamp hummed in front, and I wondered if the light shined into Tom’s bedroom window.

Like a game show host, I said, “Door number two,” and we headed upstairs.

The key turned so easily, like I lived there.

Of course there was no bedroom. Tom lived in a studio, a catch-all space with a bathroom and kitchen sprouting off one end. The place was stuffy, nearly empty. A sleeping bag lay like a body below two large windows (the lamp outside would stream over Tom’s head, I realized, hitting the bathroom door). The room smelled like a gym, sweat and sneakers, but also like cinnamon. Everything looked exactly as I thought it would, and I felt both disappointment and relief.

Mara poked around the room as I headed for the kitchen. Tom had a cheap fold- out table, but the cabinets were nearly empty. In the sink, a single plate, freckled with crumbs, waited to be washed.

I went to look in the fridge, but stopped before opening it. There was a photo on the freezer door, held up by some pizza parlor magnet. My breath shortened and, to calm myself, I thought of all the places that were parlors: pizza, beauty, tattoo, massage, ice cream, funeral.

It was a picture of my sister. She looked about thirteen or fourteen, before she’d learned to calm the frizz in her hair, when her boobs were only hypothesis and potential. The picture stopped at her shoulders, but I recognized the straps of her old lavender-colored bathing suit. She’d worn it every summer afternoon until it lost all elasticity and pilled at the butt and across the back. My mother threw it out in the middle of the night. In the photo, my sister stood in front of a wall of ivy, and her smile suppressed a laugh, as if once the camera clicked she’d be open-mouthed with hysterics. I didn't recognize the ivy, and I could tell by her expression that my mother and I hadn't been there. Her eyes were too unguarded.

Who had taken this, I wondered.

I wanted this to be what we stole from the apartment, but Tom would notice immediately. After all, my sister must have searched through her old pictures to find it, and had probably presented it to him as a gift. “Here I was,” she might have said, as a way of telling him, “Here I am.” But still I wanted the photo. I’d known her at that age. Tom hadn't.

I was too scared to take it, and I didn't want to show it to Mara anyway—it seemed so private. From the living room she said, “Hurry. It’s fucking hot in here.”

She was right. Tom had left the windows closed, and the heat crowded us.

“What do we take?” she said.

A broom leaned against the wall. “Here’s this,” I said, joining her in the living room.

“A broom?” Mara whispered. “Please.”

I shook my head.

“What then?” Mara asked.

I knocked the handle hard against the window pane. It broke cleanly. A wind blew through, and I pretended it could cool me.

“Jesus!” Mara hissed.

I picked up a piece of glass, held it up like a prize.

“I’ll take this,” I said.

Edan Lepucki is a staff writer for The Millions and the author of the novella If You're Not Yet Like Me. Her first novel, California, will be published next year by Little, Brown. Find her online at

Regina Mamou is a Chicago-based visual artist working at the intersection of photography, writing, and research practices. In 2009 she received a 15-month Fulbright Fellowship to Jordan to explore navigational methods and memory in Amman. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Visit her online at

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper is the musical moniker of Aly Spaltro. Spaltro began her music career writing and recording songs in a DVD rental store in Brunswick, Maine, using the store as her studio after finishing her midnight shift at the cash register. She anonymously gave out free samples of her first demo CD under the name Lady Lamb The Beekeeper, and quickly gained local popularity. Her debut record Ripely Pine is out now on Ba Da Bing Records. For more, visit