Posted on: January 16th, 2011 In The Deep Deep Sea There Is An Even Deeper Susurrus

by Ben Godby

“I’ll take you from Brazil to North Africa,” the man said, and something made me inclined to believe him. And it was a tough sell, mind you, because I live in Cape May. But he spoke like an Islander and he had skin like a Congolese, and though I was born economically distrustful of people looking like that, I’ve been inclined to believe them in mystical matters–ever since I saw Live and Let Die with Roger Moore.

Baron Samedi, am I right?

So I said sure, and sure enough, the mouth of the Amazon receded behind us as the old man shoved us off with his long wooden pole. (Do you call it a punt, or is that the ship? Because it wasn’t a punt; he was piloting a raft, did I mention?) Across the burgeoning swells of the Atlantic, we shook and we quailed; but I didn’t mind the jaded turbulence of the seas. Just so long as my pilot didn’t hand me a midget’s top hat and some bloody chicken feathers, I’d follow him from the ends of the Earth to the coasts of Venus and Mars.

He paddled with that stick, and I tell you, I never imagined the things you’d see crossing from Brazil to North Africa. On a Risk board, it all looks pretty bland: basically just a bunch of dots and dashes, y’know? But there were dolphins and whales, and gulls big as my torso–they must have roosted on whitecaps–and I suspect there were other things lurking below the surface that didn’t show themselves at all. Once, I thought I saw a castle, floating–floating!–on the water, all the way out to the south; but then it slid apart, like a mirage, or a glacier, and tumbled down into the sea.

So it was either a metaphor, or a glacier. The end’s coming, can’t you hear?

When we finally reached other side, it was just as I’d expected: brown earth and sand and palm trees, and golden-blue surf crashing against pristine beaches. The man set me ashore, pushed off, and waved goodbye, and left me to wonder how he’d brought me from Cape May to Brazil to North Africa–and then back again.

Do you remember, when everyone graduated from college, and they all went on stupendous travels–to help orphans in Nepal, to party like wild animals in Thailand, to absorb culture in Paris, to do ecstasy and fuck hookers in Amsterdam–but we didn’t? We hung out in Cape May, the town we grew up in, and lay on the beach, wondering where each piece of flotsam and dross that washed up came from. But maybe that’s because we never graduated; or maybe, if we bumped up on some distant shore, bloated bodies, rotted with age, in some patch of land yet unknown to us, they’d wonder where we’d come from–and maybe they’d pick us up like driftwood and hurl us back into the sea.

It’s not so sad, really. That old man? He never went on stupendous travels, either.

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Posted on: January 2nd, 2011 Serapis

by Fritz Swanson

When George Washington was a boy, he cut down 100 old cherry trees.

His sister, Betty, caught him.

“You’re smoked,” she said, and shook her head.

George stuck out his tongue. Betty ran off.

Sassafras, a young slave George’s father had just purchased, claimed to be from Egypt. He had written a word on a curl of paper for George.

With his knife, George carved the word around the trunk of the 100th tree.

When he came home, George’s father Augustine said angrily, “We’ve talked about cherry trees, George!”

But George just smiled.

George and Sassafras had all of the trees milled into lumber and George made tools from the wood of the 100th tree. He used these tools to carve a small bird.

*

After dinner, George sat by the fire and whittled tiny feathers and a blunt beak

“What’s that, Georgie,” mother Mary whispered.

“A present,” he whispered back.

Earlier, George had gathered dead twigs and branches from the trees. He had put them in vases all around the house.

“Oh, what a mess, George!” His mother had scolded.

He scratched strange letters on the bird, breathed on its neck, and tossed it into the air.

The wooden sparrow came to life, fluttering around the dead wood. The leaves unfolded green, and the blossoms bloomed pink.

Augustine took hold of George’s ear.

“We’ve plants to move, George! Wagons to mend, soil to prepare, not to mention an orchard of stumps!”

But Augustine saw George’s determination.

“One more day,” Augustine sighed.

*

George put Old Ben the carpenter in charge and had the slaves set to work on the still green lumber. Sassafras insisted they had to move quickly.

They made desks, chairs, card tables, chests, cabinets, secretaries, canes, cases, boxes, and picture frames.

Sassafras and George set aside a pile of the wood for themselves. Under Sassafras’s direction they had this carved into little animals. There were cows, goats, sheep, pigs. But they also made leopards and giraffes. There were crocodiles, turtles, all sorts of snakes. And then strange deer with twisted horns. Finally there were men and women with the heads of animals. As soon as each piece was done, a slave child would start playing with it.

The last thing George had made was a door.

*

“Are these toys?” Betty asked. She and two slave girls pushed cherry-wood bulls through the dust.

Sassafras checked each creation.

“What about the door?” Betty asked.

Old Ben leaned the door against a willow. Sassafras opened the door and out rushed a hot dry wind, strange music, and the bellowing of unknown beasts.

When the wind struck the nearest wooden animals, they leapt from the hands of the children. A leopard, like a kitten, mewed as a little boy held his tail. Six tiny elephants stampeded to the open door.

Sassafras held open the door and looked to each slave.

One of the old men looked up to George’s father who stood away at the door of the house on the hill.

A mother cried and pushed her little son to the door, but he wouldn’t go.

Sassafras sighed and went through the door, closing it after. When the door shut, it fell forward, dead upon the ground.

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Posted on: December 19th, 2010 Today’s Fish Is a Very Fine Fish

by Nancy Stebbins

Rob Barron delivers a lecture on fish. Yesterday he knew almost nothing about marine life, but facts now multiply in his mind and he experiences a passion strong enough to muscle its way upriver with spawning salmon. He envisions a series of lectures, each covering a different species.

“Today’s fish is a catfish.” Rob, who isn’t wearing pants, paces as he speaks, spanning the raised platform in five strides. Its newly-waxed floor squeaks under his bare feet. Fifteen years as a Spanish professor and he has finally discovered his true calling.

The students are accustomed to half-naked professors. They would think it gratuitous and impolite to point out the obvious. Besides, it never does any good. A joke occurs to Rob about a leprechaun and a flounder. As he delivers the punch line, he realizes it isn’t funny. A female student in the front row doubles over with snorting laughter.

Rob says, “Found in all sorts of freshwater environments, catfish are named for their–”

A man in the back raises his hand and shakes it so violently, Rob fears it will come loose and fly across the room. Rob calls on him, but the woman in the front row is still laughing and he can’t hear the man’s question. “What?”

The man shouts, “The weather, sir?”

Rob says, “Same as yesterday,” and picks up his lecture. “Catfish are named for their prominent barbels, which look like–”

A student in the front row, not bothering to raise his hand, says, “Barometric pressure, sir?”

Rob says, “Catfish have no scales. Catfish are bottom feeders.” He becomes aware that he is holding a live but cooperative catfish, so he lifts it high for the class to see. Other students begin bombarding him:

“Humidity, sir?”

“Visibility?”

The catfish yawns. Only now does Rob notice the flashing neon sign in the lecture hall that says “Meteorology.” He sidles off the stage, covering himself with the fish as best he can. “I’m truly sorry. Forgive me.” Being in the wrong classroom is far worse than forgetting one’s pants, which happens to professors every day.

***

The new semester will start soon. Despite all his years of teaching Spanish, Rob is having the dream again. It’s so real that after he wakes up, Rob can still feel the smooth skin of the fish. He can smell it on his hands. He consults sleep specialists, internists, acupuncturists, even chiropractors. They say nothing can be done.

His fiancée, Haley, teaches math. She tells Rob that she used to have anxiety dreams, too, until she learned to trust herself as an educator. “Everyone has them at some time or other. I’ll bet even your chairman has had them.”

Rob can’t imagine his sleepy buffoon of a chairman, who delegates everything except naps, suffering from any sort of anxiety.

“It’s all about self confidence,” Haley says.

***

The foreign language faculty gathers in the language lab to learn about the department’s new interactive audio program. On a table in the front of the room is a cardboard box full of headsets. The chairman instructs one of the new lecturers to distribute them.

Rob sits between Ada Martin and Gwen Jones. The two women lean forward to talk across him as they extract their headsets from the plastic wrapping. The noise sounds like static.

Ada says, “I hear the new program corrects a student’s pronunciation.”

“Thank heaven,” Greta says, “They won’t have to flounder anymore.”

“What did you say?” Rob asks her, but now Greta is talking into her microphone.

“Pez.”

“Pescado.”

“Tiburon.”

An unfamiliar language issues through Rob’s headset. He raises his hand for the chairman’s attention, and that’s when he notices: the chairman is naked and holding a trout.

***

Haley cocks one eyebrow. “You had the dream for your chairman? That’s pitiful, Rob.”

He smiles. They’ve just woken up from a Sunday afternoon nap, and are lying on their sides, facing each other. Classes will start tomorrow and the dream will disappear until the spring semester. He says, “You really used to have anxiety dreams?”

“Oh, it was awful.” She shakes her head. “I would hear the same joke over and over. It was never funny, but I couldn’t stop laughing.”

He says, “Did you hear the one about the minnow and the priest?”

She raises her hand. “Rainfall, sir?” she says. Her laughter is familiar.

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Posted on: December 5th, 2010 The Ballerina & The Priest

by Tina L. Jens

The ex-ballerina and soon-to-be tonsured priest waited, order pads poised, to take the monster and angel’s orders.

The monster was a humanitarian…in the way the ex-ballerina was a pescatarian and the pre-priest a meatatarian. The angel, one of God’s henchmen, ate dreams and sin. Neither the chicken quesadillas or the ham and cheese panini appealed.

The Bistro’s terrace overlooking Lake Michigan was the perfect place to watch the rise of the blood-red moon.

“Snookyookums,” the monster cooed, “you could have the creme puffs with fudge sauce. I’m sure it’s sinfully delicious.”

The angel caressed her fur. “Fuzzyuzzums, I’m more worried about you. Cows are fed human growth hormones…could you eat the corned beef?”

“I suppose the Bloody Mary…”

“Is a metaphor,” the ex-ballerina assured them.

The angel paid.

The priestlet — busy wondering if he was duty-bound to report the company the angel was keeping — gave them the wrong change.

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Posted on: November 21st, 2010 Don’t Look

by H.L. Fullerton

Felk glided along the fourth ring of hell, making good time. He’d retrieve his family’s honor and return home before the dead could smell him.

The Anghelescus–acrobats all–prepared their sons well. Felk trained from birth for this moment: uncles tossing him blindfolded from platforms to land on fence posts; cousins trying to distract him with shrieks or thrown sneakers as he balanced atop wires, hung from rafters, skated circles on thin ice. He succeeded when other Anghelescus failed by always following the family motto: never look down. That was how you fell and abandoned honor.

Felk hand-walked the rim of five, rappelled six, easily ignoring the insidious lies. The damned had nothing on his cousins. He should thank them for their creativity, right after he handed grandfather the family honor. A chorus of fallen Anghelescus shouted, “Don’t look!” as he passed. He didn’t, but smiled at their applause.

Seven, slicked with blood, required a controlled skid. So close now, one ring left. Honor swelled towards him, almost in reach. Shining brightly, begging him for rescue.

He looked.

And, prideful, fell.

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Posted on: November 7th, 2010 Rough Night

By Kate Marshall

The angel sat down next to Moira at the bar and touched a single finger to the sticky tabletop. “I’ve been out of the world too long,” he said. “I do not understand his jest.”

Tommy strangled the mic on stage, lurching in and out of his jokes with half-brayed laughter. He was the only one scraping up so much as a chuckle.

“You’re not missing anything,” Moira said. “He’s just not very good.”

The angel relaxed, nodded. He wore a black t-shirt with a logo too faded to read and a fake leather jacket with Frankenstein stitching mending one shoulder. Scars knotted the skin on the backs of his hands.

“He’s yours?” he asked.

“Guess so.” She’d been debating that very question. “You’re here for the open mic?”

He dug into his pocket and produced a crumpled half-sheet flier. TELL THE WORLD, it said, the block lettering cramped and off-center.

“What do you have to tell?” she asked.

“You’ll have to listen.”

He had a glum look about him. Too pretty for her taste, not like Tommy with his constant stubble and knobby nose. She could have stood handsome, but Tommy didn’t manage that either. The angel, though, had a Clark Kent jaw and blue eyes. Granted, those eyes were glowing like LEDs, but they had a charm to them.

“Where’d you get those scars?” she asked.

He lifted his hand as if examining them for the first time. “You’ll have to listen,” he said again, and then Tommy was stumbling through his last joke. She remembered to clap and cheer, and the angel slapped his palms together a couple times.

Tommy jogged through the audience, cheeks bright red and a shiny glaze of sweat on his brow. He mashed his lips against her and swept his tongue around her mouth a couple times. He tasted of rum. She was a tequila girl, herself. He’d have a couple more drinks before the night was out, here or at home. He always did, when it hadn’t gone well, and it never went well.

“Thanks for stickin’ around, babe,” he said. He flung his arm over her shoulder and squeezed her against his side. Her ear scraped a button. “I know you’ve got an early day. We can head out now.”

“I want to hear this guy,” she said. The angel was up on the stage. He lifted the mic from its stand and held it cupped in both hands. His head bowed over it. Silence set its nails against Moira’s skin and scratched at the nape of her neck.

“Why? Who is he?” Tommy asked. She hushed him, and the angel spoke.

His first word flayed the skin from a woman’s bones, and the second sent crackling sheets of salt across the floor, like spreading frost. His voice rose, and a lily burst from the bartender’s mouth. Moira’s blood turned to resin, then boiled away, and a hornet’s nest built itself inside her skull. The stars plunged through the ceiling and drifted down to settle on shoulders and tangle on hair. Moira caught one on her tongue.

Tommy reached into her wrist and took out one of the small bones. He presented it to her; she took it like a morsel of food, then hooked her fingers behind his jaw and reshaped it. Clark Kent now. She swiped the stubble from him and planted briar seeds in its place. A thicket curled from his cheeks, and he laughed.

Then the angel stopped speaking, and they were sitting in a dingy bar with their hands white-knuckled, gripping each other. The angel stood, head still bowed, and the quiet piled up in drifts.

Then they roared. They leaped to their feet, they beat their hands raw against one another, screamed wordless adulation from hoarse throats. The angel slid the mic back in its cradle and stepped off the stage.

He sat on the stool beside Moira, not bothering to cross the distance between.

“That was amazing,” Moira said. “But I didn’t understand it.”

The angel sagged. “You’re not missing anything. I’m just not very good.” His voice thrummed with whale-song melancholy.

Moira covered his scar-crossed palm. “You like tequila?”

“On me,” Tommy said, with all the solemnity of a soldier. The angel blinked, nodded.

The three of them hunched their shoulders and hefted dusty glasses in well-worn ritual, and hardly noticed the film of salt still clinging to their fingertips.

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Posted on: October 24th, 2010 Share Everything

by Sean Vivier

He stroked her arm and it brought stray thoughts like sparks. Nerves touched nerves. Where they met, messages passed as they would between nerves of the same organism. Skin on skin completed a circuit from his brain to hers and her brain to his. Touch became a bridge between their minds.

It had never happened with either of them until they met each other. Their first handshake at the political convention had dizzied them both. Kevin felt Sharon’s hunger. Sharon felt Kevin’s overstimulation and retreat from the crowd. In a heartbeat, they both knew to leave for food.

At the diner, their words only echoed the thoughts they shared by holding hands. The importance of intelligence, the need to help other people, the drive to work hard and the contempt for the centrality of money in people’s lives. The love came fast, for no couple had ever had a connection like the one they shared.

They went to her place without saying a word. As they kissed, they shared their beliefs and the arguments behind them. They were so alike, separated only by nuance. The hindbrain and the forebrain both lit with bright flashes of thought.

He took away her shirt, as the need to draw close became overwhelming. Lips touched nipples, and the sensitive nerves reached deeper. Dreams crossed the distance from one to the other. Kevin’s dream of a non-profit health insurance company. Sharon’s longing for a family she could raise without coercion, only loving guidance.

Their bodies needed to be as close as their minds. There was no stopping it. The gestalt of their minds had them both naked before either individual could make the decision. He moved inside of her, and both knew what the other wanted without any need for awkward tests or breathless words. And as they shared every inch of their bodies and their most sensitive places, their deepest secrets reached out to one another.

Kevin saw Sharon’s need to be defined by a man. Sharon saw a montage of Kevin’s many unfulfilling conquests overshadowed by his certainty that no woman could truly love him. Her abusive father. His contempt for the overweight. The fact that she’d only started to talk to him because of his biceps. The fact that her lips reminded him of Jen Miller’s from college, and that alone had first drawn him toward her.

Each mind recoiled. They had worked hard to keep the barriers of these thoughts from themselves, let alone others. They tried to pull away from each other, but the oldest biological need would not be denied, not in media res. Their bodies kept moving with one another with an instinct older than language or conscious thought, even as it bound together the darkest corners of their minds more and more.

The plagiarized papers that got him his degree and his cushy job. The men that she took home to feel better about herself. The poison he’d slipped into his grandmother’s fluids so she wouldn’t suffer any more. The dog she’d give small invisible cuts whenever her father hurt her, only to cuddle and whisper her love after. The boy he’d bullied because he was the one kid weaker than him. The girl whose reputation she’d destroyed just to see if she could. His secret fear that if he didn’t make enough money, it meant he wasn’t a worthwhile person. Her life as an escort to pay for college. His first time with an ugly woman he didn’t even like, just to get it done. Her need to work so hard because she feared she was ugly and could never get ahead otherwise.

They couldn’t look each other in the eyes when they came to climax. Their bodies rejoiced at the tension unleashed, even as they shivered.

They slept that night on opposite extremes of the bed.

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Posted on: October 9th, 2010 The Ice Cube Man

By Eliyanna Kaiser

Your heels stick to the pavement. All the shit of car exhaust and dust is a solid lattice. You don’t walk; you wade, and can’t bear the heat of a match to light a damn cigarette.

You’d fuck anyone for an ice cube. So when he isn’t altogether ugly you give him a blowjob, bite on the head, and make a show of swallowing. His wallet is full of ice. Your ice.

You don’t suffer, so they can tell you fucked the ice cube man. When they lust after what melts down your thighs, you almost forget to act ashamed.

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Posted on: September 25th, 2010 Keshav 2015

By Garrett Ashley

Keshav gurgles. VRUUU.

“Come Christmas we will get you a real dog,” says Rajesh. “The kind with four hairy legs and a tail that really wags. We will name him SHATTERING SOUL just like your grandfather.”

Yamu frowns. She likes her new pet just fine. Even if he is covered with rust and city grime. Even if he has five metal legs on each side and tall thin eyes that see in every direction. “But what about Keshav? Where will he go?”

“Back where you found it,” says Rajesh. His forehead wrinkles when he is anxious. And arguing with little girls exhausts him. He is a wrinkled, tired old man. “How many were there?”

“Not many,” says Yamu. She crosses her fingers when her father isn’t looking. “He has creaky joints; I want to take care of him.”

“You cannot even care for yourself,” says Rajesh. He picks Keshav up. Fleshy cold beneath the machine’s overcooked belly. Grunt. “And too heavy for my daughter.”

Keshav tried to break free. Its ten kicking legs reminded Rajesh of a freshly speared crab. No no no no, cries Yamu. Where are you taking him?

“You’ll see,” he says.

He locks his daughter inside. He can hear her inside the house kicking and screaming. A child trying to break free. She is not ready, he thinks. But he starts the car anyway. He drives towards the scrap plant but the streets are backed up like always. There are a million people just on Siddipet Road alone. When the car is completely stopped Keshav moves across the torn leather passenger seat and crawls up the window to look out. Its iron claws peck at the glass and annoys Rajesh.

“Get down,” he says. First kindly and then in anger. “People will see me with you.”

Keshav cries. It is more of a steady buzz but Rajesh recognizes machine jargon better than some humans. He sees out the passenger window an elderly man selling young pugs. He goes to the man and asks which is the best with young children.

“None,” says the vendor. “But they are all good with old men.”

He pays the vendor and returns to the car with the smallest pug. “I will call you Sophia,” he says. Keshav squeaks. Rajesh winces. “What?” he says. “I think Sophia is a good name. What kind of name is Keshav? Not a robot name. A real animal needs a real name. Who named you?”

Keshav used eight legs to spell YAMV in the air.

“Stupid girl,” says Rajesh. His forehead wrinkles.

At home Yamu plays with her hair and draws pictures of her dead mother. She dreams that her father will not cry himself to sleep at night. She is sorry for all of the kicking. And purple is not a good color for hair. But that is the only crayon she has. The skies are purple. The trees and the dust and the clouds. Soon Yamu will be sick of the color.

After school ends she wants to be an astronaut. But Rajesh says she will never grow that old. That young children only go to the moon before they die. Rajesh says she will never die. That he will not let her as long as he is alive.

Yamu loves her father but she isn’t sure about what love really is. Or if her love really matters. She wonders if the old man would be any different if she didn’t hug or kiss him before going to bed. If she was just an object of his mourning curiosity. One day she will ask Rajesh before running away.

A knock at the door. Her father is home. He lets himself in and picks up his daughter. “You are heavy,” he says. He looks down into his shirt pocket. Sophia peeks out at the little girl and makes her scream.

“What is that?”

“A present for me,” says Rajesh.

Keshav walks through the door behind him. “And if I let you keep Keshav you have to change his name first.”

Yamu loves her father. She thinks she truly does. She kisses his icy cheeks and smiles.

“And you have to tighten his bolts and varnish his shell and oil his joints immediately. If you don’t do these things often he might break.”

“We’ll change together every day,” says Yamu. She calls Keshav into her room and they play until nightfall. Rajesh takes Sophia into his and does the same.

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Posted on: September 12th, 2010 A Whispering Voice

by Elizabeth Creith

Goldilocks stalks the forest walks in ragged socks, regretting the courage that made her so bold as to pillage the cottage of porridge, too hot or too cold. Now she wanders alone the Grimm landscape of story, weary and sorry. Her tattered dress hangs on wasted flesh, her spirit trapped buzzing in marrow-hollow bones.

That spice that so enchanted her tongue, was it cinnamon, ginger, allspice? No spice, that flavour, but a spell like a mace. Whose bed has she slept in, to rise so changed?

Now that no-spice is all she craves, her hunger raves, her gluttonous appetite cannot be salved by poisoned apples or stepson stew.

Autumn winds rise cold, leaves fall, red and gold. Forest falls away behind, before her feet the road unrolls, a king’s road, flagstoned, clicking on her foot-bones. Thymey banks on either side, purple flowers long dried, bees fled, sleep under snow instead.

The road winds lower, a bridge passes over. She hears a hoarse whispering; is it a troll?

“Ah, Goldilocks, there thou gangest! If thy mother knew thy fate….”

That hoarse whispering, a horse whispering, the skull nailed to the bricks below the bridge. When winds wind under, a whistling whispering voice calls out.

“Come near, child, come listen. On you I smell the spell once worked on me as well; we cannot die, you and I. I am Falada; my princess has left me alone. She bound me as her witness here, then gained her throne, forgot these bones. No burial for us, my dear; we will diminish, year by year, until we are nothing but a voice, a whisper, a moan in the air; unless we bare ourselves of our bones, we must bear our immortality as whistles for the wind. Alas, I am nailed to mine.”

“Bare ourselves of our bones? I am hardly more than bare bone already, rags of dress on shreds of flesh.”

“You must bare yourself three times – flesh from clothes, bones from flesh, soul from bones. Unharnessed, unfleshed, but nailed to these stones, sheltered, preserved, I cannot shed my bones.” Falada ground his teeth. “No freedom for me. But you can be free.”

Goldilocks shook her tatters of dress to shreds in the road, her flesh and her bones to shards on the stones. A voice on the air, she chuckled and said,

“Wise Falada, thanks. I will visit you again.”

Now she whirls through the world, stalks where she will, walks in the dark, in forest and park, a whispering voice that might be in your head. A flickering flash at the edge of your eye, a sigh, a grinding of bones into bread, a creak in the floors, a breath behind doors.

Who’s sleeping under your bed?