Posted on: April 5th, 2009 The Time-Share

By Fred Warren

They time-shared me to Chuckie Lee Wilson after he died. If you take a life, you give your life. That’s the law now. No excuses, no shades of gray.

Chuckie Lee car-jacked me at a dark intersection downtown. When he broke through my window, I stepped on the gas and dragged him for three blocks. The prosecutors told me I was lucky the upload crew got to him in time, or I would have spent the rest of my life in a cage.

“He was going to kill me,” I said.

“Nobody knows what he planned to do,” they said. “Chuckie Lee Wilson is dead, and you killed him.”

“I didn’t mean to kill him. He had a gun, and I panicked. His sleeve caught on the door.”

“You could have stopped the car. Instead, you took his life. Now you’re going to give it back.”

So, Chuckie Lee gets half my life in exchange for the life I took from him. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are mine. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are his. We trade off on Sundays. I wear a tracker locked onto my ankle.

Monday night, I ride the bus to Chuckie Lee’s apartment on the East Side. The state pays his rent and sends him an allowance so he doesn’t have to work. I clip on the wires from the upload box, lie on his bed, and press the button. It’s like getting hit in the head with a jagged rock. I go into the box, and Chuckie Lee goes into my brain. Inside the box, there’s nothing. I sleep, but I don’t dream.

Tuesday belongs to Chuckie Lee.

Wednesday morning, I wake up and deal with whatever Chuckie Lee did to my body the day before. I’m hung-over. My mouth tastes like road kill, and my clothes stink of cigarettes and weed. My face and hands are bruised and cut. I shower and take the bus to work. Anybody who talks to me stops when they notice the tracker.

I’m no good at my job anymore. I forget things. My company wants to fire me, but the court won’t let them. The judge says it would have an adverse impact on Chuckie Lee. After work, I order take-out and eat it at home in front of the TV. Then I go back to Chuckie Lee’s, and it starts all over again–Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and every other Sunday.

On my Sunday, there’s no upload that night, and I sleep in my own bed. I dream, but I don’t want to. I see Chuckie Lee’s face, pleading, twisted in agony. I hear him scream as the pavement tears him apart, over and over again.

I used to be married. Melanie was pretty, and we were happy together until I killed Chuckie Lee. When the time-share started, Melanie couldn’t handle it, knowing Chuckie Lee was inside my head. She was scared to be alone with me. Chuckie Lee came after her one Tuesday, and she fought him off with a kitchen knife. Friday morning, Melanie was gone. I think she went back to live with her folks. I don’t remember. I wear long sleeves to hide the scars.

I wonder sometimes what it’s like for Chuckie Lee. I left him a note once: “Please take better care of my body. You got a second chance. Do something good with your life.”  He didn’t reply. The hangovers just got worse. His friends sit on the apartment steps and laugh at me when I go inside to do the upload. “How’s it feel to be Chuckie Lee’s ride, Slick?  Serves you right.”

I passed another time-share on the street last week. His clothes were torn and dirty, and he staggered as he walked. He was a teenager, but his hands shook like an old man’s. When he saw the tracker, he stared at me like he was drowning, like I was the only person in the world who could understand, begging me to save him.

I turned away. Save him? I couldn’t save myself.

I want my life back, the part they stole from me and gave to Chuckie Lee, the part he beats up, and poisons, and wastes, one day at a time. I want to drive my car again and have dreams that aren’t nightmares. I want Melanie. I want to remember.

I’m tired of sharing.

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Posted on: March 29th, 2009 Celery Stalk

by Daria Patrie

Loading the groceries into the car, my roommate finds this jar of celery salt.  Hating returns, she just goes home.

That night I find her in the kitchen, hair soaked in sweat, clutching the celery salt, lips puffed, face flushed, snarling.

I run.

Cops show up.  She’s dead.  Anaphylactic shock.  Allergic to celery.  Who knew?  Open and shut case, they say.

Except twice now I’ve found celery salt when I’m paying for groceries, and the caretaker says this weed is outside my window.  Green, thick, straight stalks, bulbous white root.  Keeps growing back no matter what he does.

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Posted on: March 25th, 2009 The Kissing Bug by Daniel Scott Buck

The Kissing BugEraserhead Press’ first foray into children’s book publishing (under new imprint, Spunk Goblin Press), remains faithful to Bizarro lit’s absurdist aesthetic done kid-friendly. Told in neo-Victorian style and elegantly illustrated by E.B. Harris, the book’s protagonist is Kristopher, a sweetly-drawn hero and blood-sucking assassin bug.

Kristopher is not your run of the mill kissing bug. In his secret Studio of Solitude, he paints portraits (in blood carefully portioned from his own feedings) of the human object of his affection, the mysterious Lady in the Room, and her daughter, the Girl in the Meadow.  He lives, in other words, a life of quiet contemplation.
 
But when the Girl in the Meadow is killed by the other kissing bugs, Kristopher’s peaceful and clandestine world is shaken. He must decide whether to bravely defend love and art, or be swept away by dark events that threaten to tear his universe apart. Tragic, funny, and charming.

Buy your own copy of The Kissing Bug

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Posted on: March 22nd, 2009 Prairie Star

By Cat Rambo

“All right. One tube of Airborne. Kleenex. Two fashion magazines and one book of Sudoku puzzles. Advil and Dramamine just in case the flying doesn’t agree with you. Some chocolate truffles,” Jess told me.

“They do still feed us in first class, don’t they? It may have been a few years, but I do remember that.”

“Yes, but I thought you might like to have a snack handy,” she continued, undeterred by the crankiness in my tone. “Here are your plane tickets. Someone will meet you at the Wichita airport, there at the exit to take you to the retreat center. Are you sure you don’t want me to come?”

I packed away the travel supplies Jess had brought. She stood there, fussing over me. I resisted the urge to pat her on the head. She looked like a Scottish terrier we used to have, Rags, who’d stand there with just that same expectant head tilt, leash in her mouth.

“I don’t want company,” I said.

“You need a driver, you can’t drive yourself.”

“Jess, look, I’m willing to go to this Prairie Sun Center…”

“Prairie Star. They did amazing things for that French rocker, Etienne – he came out of there and laid down half a dozen tracks that got him a platinum recording.”

“I’m willing to go to this Prairie Star Retreat Center and try to get my music back, if it’ll shut you up, but I don’t want a nanny going along with me, I don’t want a friend to hold my hand, or a keeper to make sure my eggs are scrambled right, and I particularly…” I broke off there before I said anything that pissed her off. “Look,” I said, “I’ll be fine. You stay here in NYC and enjoy some quality time with Brian.”

“It’s Ry-an.  And we broke up three months ago.”

It’s always a mistake to pretend you’re interested in other people’s lives.

On the plane, no murmurs, let alone shouts. Sometimes there’s a whisper, an old fan who never fails to ask what I’m working on. I hide from them. It used to be worse.

At 20,000 feet, the stewardess comes by with another round of drinks. “Ma’am?” she says. And again. “Ma’am?”

She’s not the reason I turn away from the cold, blank window. Rather, it’s the crackle of the Captain’s voice telling us to fasten our seatbelts.

“Shit,” he says to someone before the intercom shuts off.

The turbulence hits hard and fast – the plane’s a rat being worried and shaken, flung up in the air and caught to be shaken again. There’s some screaming back in coach and from the sound of things, someone knocked out or threatened with being knocked out, so loud that most people miss the first engine’s failure.

I eat my chocolates one by one, though not too slowly. I return my tray to its upright position and put my half-finished Sudoku puzzle away.

When the second engine goes out, we know for sure we’re falling. And it’s in those moments, those last long and suspended moments for which Jess has packed no anodyne, that what she said would happen, does.

A new song comes to me, quick and splendid as a lightning bolt, and I sing it. That’s what I sing, all the way down.

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Posted on: March 14th, 2009 Ye Pickl’d Miners

by Mike Norris

Captain’s Log: February 12, 1688

Trade Winds SSW.  Seas becalm’d o’er Middle Passage.

‘Tis a dreary morning our casks be broken, and ye pickl’d miners therein, be awaken’d.

At dawn, we hoist’d the gratings, and lo, not a wail nor cry from below; not a draught of that common stench so brutal upon a Guineaman. ‘Twas then I did realize how fortunate are we, to be employ’d on this most uncommon slaving vessel.  Aye, peaceful, she be.  No drumming of shackled Hands upon the timbers.  No champing for Yams and Palm Oyl. No dusky heads with a rage for insurrection beneath our feet.  Nay, none of this fain occur aboard The Redlowe.

One of a kind be our vast machine.  For not a slave be fetter’d to her empty ringlets, all a-swinging freely in her tenantless hold.  What queer freight be seven-hundred casks of salt for a slaver.  And aye, slavers in deed we be.  Like the wombs of as many maids, our seven-hundred casks be a-swollen with child.

But for the sluice of waves at waterline, the creak of bleach’d Timbers, The Redlowe‘s stillness be test’d only by the clatter of a Cooper’s Hammer upon those strange Casks, and the scooping of shards from the hold.  ‘Twas a merry Birth Day we celebrat’d for all ye stillborn creatures, whose desiccat’d forms weigh’d but as much fold’d sailcloth.  It makes a man thirst but to look upon their shrivel’d Husks, so caked in brine and a-wanting for water, they who be seal’d nigh eighty days ere their rebirth.

Employ great care in their usage, ye Hearties, as their limbs be brittle as soda crackers.  Gently, ye lift them, all a-swaddled in nets, up to the deck where they be shaved and bath’d for sale in the Spanish Mines.

Should Death take them again before landfall, then reviv’d again they’ll be, with another fine dram of Ye Corpse’s Vigour.  Snatch’d from Death’s embrace, see how their shrivell’d hides swell plump again in the scuttle tubs, yet that stricken aspect of the grave don’t much abate.  Their ghastly faces do appear as tho the bitter taste of my medicine, or perhaps the prospect of an eternity in the mines, don’t agree with them.

Swift then, the Reborn be taken below deck and fetter’d there until landfall, ere they awake to those chains they so abhorr’d in that life they depart’d when I poison’d the lot of them.

Tho cheap to transport these extraordinary labourers be, they are a sad freight in deed, for no scripture can promise salvation for a snatch’d soul, whilst an eternity of torment awaits their bodies.  But they shan’t suffer a glimpse of that Airthly Hell to which they’re destin’d, as no amount of Vigour can undo the salt’s damage to their eyes.  But methinks it not much matters what sights be depriv’d them, when that New World of theirs be a lightless one.

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Posted on: March 8th, 2009 Sky and Sea

By Vylar Kaftan

There was a time when the Sky ruled us, O my love, and everything was in its place. The Sky above, the Sea below, and we of this island loved the stars. You’ll remember your round blue beads, love, that you threaded into a necklace for our wedding day. I admired them as you straddled me, glorious, and we joined as man and wife. Sky and sea. Those beads have returned to their origins in the depths. Are your hands and feet dry, love? Because I want you to be comfortable. You must listen to my story.

When the Sky ruled–and this story you will not know, love, as men have passed the lore to each other through generations–we men were fierce fisherman, spearing the long gray eels and snatching them with our free hands. The Sea was our hunting ground, spread for our pleasure. In those days, Sky was closer to us, love. A man could stretch his arms and touch father and mother at once. We knew when a woman bore our child and we chose our women by our own desire. Does that surprise you, love? Do you wonder if I would have chosen you? The answer is yes, a thousand times yes. But hold still. Listen.

You’ve been told that Sea saved our people, love. When Sky raged against us–his children born of fallen stars–Sea hid us and nurtured us under the clouds. Sky threw lightning and thunder, but could not strike us. Sea cloaked us in greens from her belly, with seaweed that fed us and warmed us. For this we thank Sea in our prayers.

But love, do you know the true story of Sea? She tricked Sky into birthing us at all. She tempted the stars with their own reflections, glittering in her waves. The stars cannot resist their own, my love. They dove for their visions, and Sea caught them and birthed our people. Thus Sea made us without Sky’s permission–yet Sky must watch over us and cannot leave.

Do you not think she deserves punishment, love?

I know you’d answer me if you could. Silk absorbs all sound.

And so over time, Sky hated his reign and his children, and ascended further and further until we could no longer touch him. Sky left us, love. And this is the doing of Sea. Once Sky left, we men became weak, and women rose to run the tribes. Now men care for the children while women wage war. And women choose men for fertility, beauty, or any other reason they please. The only power left to men is our seed–which women may tease from us, and create children without our consent.

As you have done, love. I know what you’ve done.

Sky is too far, love, but Sea is close. I’m sure you understand why your bonds are so tight. The gag is so you’d listen to my story. The Sea remembers you, love, and will reclaim her daughter with only a splash. And someday we men will bring the Sky closer once more, and reclaim the stars as our birthright.

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Posted on: March 1st, 2009 Patmos Like Pink Elephants

by Nick Mamatas

“Did you know,” Rob said to me as we waited for the sweaty waiter-slash-owner of the little pillbox kafenio to come take our orders, “that the only question about Revelations is whether John of Patmos ate the magic mushrooms purposefully in order to have a vision, or whether it was an accidental ingestion?”

“Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it?” I found Rob boring. He had attached himself to me earlier that day, when the cave tour was cut short for safety reasons. He’s of the type who is ready to go anywhere, do anything, put anything in his mouth, but really only feels comfortable among white people who speak perfect English and say “Please” and “Thank you.” Tough luck for him on the Greek isles. Plus, the day was very hazy from the fires, and the air smelled funny.

“Are you supersti–religious?”

I shrugged. The waiter saved me. “What you like?” he asked. Rob ordered the yiouvarlakia avgolemono. “That’s finished,” the waiter said. Yiouvarlakia kokkino? Also finished. Beefsteak? Finished. Strapatsatha? Finished.

“Well, what on the menu is available?” Rob finally asked, flustered.

“Whatever you want!” said the waiter. He owned the place; he could talk like that to paying customers. Of course, so could an ordinary waiter. Lamb yiovetsi it was.

“It’s a lucky dish. People eat it in August, for the holiday,” I said.

“Is there any mushroom in it?”

“No. Not a lot of mushrooms in Greek cooking. Old ladies go picking them sometimes and use them for flavor.” Rob looked very interested in me just then. “I’m half-Greek.”

“I thought so,” he said. He opened his mouth, then shut it, then opened it again and complimented my hair. He was probably going to say something about my nose at first. “Are you here for family? A pilgrimage?”

“Work,” I told him. “International relations.” Our waters finally came. Mine had a scoop of banila in it. “You?”

“I’m into,” he said, his lips in a tiny smile, “extreme experiences.”

I just started laughing at him. I slapped my hand over my mouth, then snorted, then took a long gulp of water. “Sorry, sorry,” I said. I leaned forward. Men like that.

“That’s okay. I’m looking for Amanita muscaria.”

“The mushroom. Should be easy enough,” I said. “Just take a walk into the hills. Nibble on what you find. If you get a stomachache, wrong mushroom. That’s the Greek way.”

“Have you done it? Why don’t we go together? Get some wine; make a day of it. I hear there are good swimming holes up on the mountain.”

“Really? You heard that?”

“Heh,” Rob said. “No, I guess I didn’t. Something about water. Nerro, right? Must have been about the firefighting.” Our lamb came. I didn’t wait for Rob to start eating first. He stiffened in his chair.

“So,” I said between two bites. “Are you religious?”

“I’m…a seeker.”

Luckily my mouth was too full of lamb to laugh again. “Don’t you know that you only find what you’re looking for when you stop looking for it?”

“Do you really think that’s true?”

“It works for my car keys all the time.”

He laughed, then coughed.

“Hazy.”

“Yes.”

“Do you have family on this island? Are you worried about the fire?”

“Oh no, my father’s family is from Samos. And I helped start the fires. Like I said, I’m here for work.”

He put down his fork. “I thought you said you were in international relations.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And you set fires? What are you, a terrorist?”

“Anti-terrorist,” I said. My water was gone. The owner had swung his legs over the sill of the only window in the small café to smoke a cigarette and was slumped over, giggling. I got up to get my own water from the pitcher. Rob was up, trying to tower over me.

“If you were some kind of secret agent, you wouldn’t be telling a stranger. I could be…I dunno, a German spy.”

“Well yes, I hope you are,” I said. “That’s the whole point. We’re taking care of it. Gene-splicing. Aerosol technology. Crazy stuff.” Rob had noticed the owner and turned to me, fists up.

“No more fighting,” I said between sips. “There are lots of mushrooms in the hills, and lots of Amanita muscaria all over the world. It grows in Siberia, Central America, the Hindu Kush. Man, I’m glad I wasn’t assigned to the Hindu Kush.”

Rob’s knees began to buckle. “Wow,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. Then there were dragons and 1000-foot-tall whores everywhere.

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