top of page

Search content

58 items found for ""

  • The Frog Blessing

    In a village nestled high in the mountains of Southern India, a pregnant woman went to catch a magic fish. She carried with her three things: a fresh coconut, a gold bangle, and a fine net woven from her own thick hair. First, she ventured deep into the forest: past where the old banyans fringed the fields on which the village cattle grazed, past the well with vines snaking from its mouth, past the ancient stone temple where the queen of the cobras dwelt. She walked until she reached a clearing of thick grass with a deep pool in the centre. Then she put a stone in her net, cast it into the water, and waited. The sky grew ripe and the sun began to dip. Birds stopped calling, and a chorus of silence filled the air around her. Still she waited patiently, until the air was black as ash and she finally felt a tug on her net. She heaved, and up the net rose, and a large luminous fish the colour of moonlight lay prone inside. Carefully, she laid the net flat, cracked the coconut open on a nearby rock, and poured the sweet liquid into the fish’s gaping mouth. “I have come to ask for something,” she said. “Oh?” the fish asked, and it was no longer a fish but a being with skin like ripples. “It must be a very small thing, to fit inside one coconut.” “I’ve brought more,” the woman said, and held out the gold bangle. “Your husband gave this to you,” the spirit said. “That’s not all he’s given me,” the woman replied. The spirit saw the lines on her forehead and the set of her teeth. “You want me to curse him,” it said. “Yes,” the woman said, “but I won’t ask for that. Laying a curse is like holding a flame in the palm of your hand. Instead I want you to bless the daughter in my womb.” “Very well,” the spirit said. “What will you have me do?” The woman told the spirit, and if it was surprised it gave no indication. Instead it nodded once before disappearing into the water once more. Then the woman quietly burnt the net and the coconut shells, lit a branch to serve as a torch, and made her way back to the village. Three months passed before she gave birth to a daughter, and named her Kayal in honour of the magic fish who had helped her. The joy she felt upon seeing her child was so great that she did not mind the pain, or the fact that her husband had already slipped out to see beautiful Sunai, whose belly had begun to curve despite her lack of wedding bangles. In due time the rains came, bringing a bloom of green to the fields and the first bubble of laughter to Kayal’s lips. But when she clapped her hands in joy, a frog leapt from them, astounding everyone present––save for her mother. “That must be from my side of the family,” she said calmly. “It always skips a few generations.” Kayal’s father clenched his jaw. “You are a cursed witch,” he said. “I only married you because I owed a favour to your father. If you do not leave the village by nightfall, along with the creature you have birthed, I will throw you both into the well where frogs belong.” Kayal’s mother did not protest. She held her daughter tightly in her arms and walked out of the hut, past the line where the old banyans fringed the fields, past the overgrown well filled with vines, and to the ancient stone temple which marked the farthest bound of human memory before the deep forest took over. There she sat down and began to rock her daughter, singing and pulling faces until the baby’s wails turned into laughter and clapping. First one frog, and then another and another, jumped from Kayal’s hands and began to hop around. There was a whisper of scale on stone, and then out of the shadows slid the largest cobra Kayal’s mother had ever seen. She was bigger around than two men put side by side, and even with her head raised off the ground she stretched from one end of the enormous room to the other. “I smell food,” she hissed. Kayal’s mother was trembling, but her tone remained even as she held her child aloft. “When she claps, frogs leap from her hands. That is what you smell.” “How unusual,” the queen of the cobras said. “It was a blessing from the forest spirit.” “I remember that evening. You walked past my temple without fear. Tell me, if it was a blessing you sought, why not have her drip with gold or fragrant flowers?” “I wanted to leave my husband. If my Kayal could produce gold or exotic flowers, he would never have let me take her away.” The cobra’s hood flared as her great head tilted. “Why not simply leave? Why take the trouble of asking for such a strange blessing first?” Kayal’s mother stood with her back straight. “When you catch a mouse, O queen, would you let it go free of its own will? Running would have driven him to cruelty in the name of saving his reputation. Better to give him an excuse to discard us without pursuing us. Besides,” Kayal added, “I wanted to repay you.” “Me?” “I have no husband and no family to take me in. I thought you might let us stay here if I offered something in return…” Kayal’s mother had never heard a snake laugh before. “You are a clever woman,” the cobra hissed in a voice embroidered with amusement. “I have known men like your husband, and I would have let you stay anyway. But the frogs are certainly a nice touch.” That is the end of this story. Others exist, but they must wait to be told under a different moon. Aditi is twenty-four years old, and her dream job is to haunt a pond in the woods. Until she becomes the forest spirit she's destined to be, though, she'll stick to software engineering and writing fiction. Her work has been published in The Dillydoun Review. Serge Lecomte was born in Belgium. He came to the States where he spent his teens in South Philly and then Brooklyn. After graduating from Tilden H. S. he worked for New York Life Insurance Company. He joined the Medical Corps in the Air Force and was sent to Selma, Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. There he was a crewmember on helicopter rescue. He received a B.A. in Russian Studies from the University of Alabama. Earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in Russian Literature with a minor in French Literature. He worked as a Green Beret language instructor at Fort Bragg, NC from 1975-78. In 1988 he received a B.A. from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Spanish Literature. He worked as a language teacher at the University of Alaska (1978-1997).

  • "Witch Sonnet" and "The Coat of Pockets

    Witch Sonnet Sometimes a chicken bone is an olive branch is a bundle of twigs refusing the kindling is the snowbird calling and the streak of a cat is the sigh of flight—just in time is filtered light as the trees loosen their shapes is a fleck of sea on a dampened breeze from a faraway dream that is not yours and the whisper at the window is not the tread of booted feet is not the lift of the door latch is not the flare of a match is not the swell of heat as the oven yawns wide to take the fledgling, which is to say: what has always been its due. The Coat of Pockets It is always winter in the woods so the girl wears her woolen coat, though its sleeves are two seasons too short. Her hands she keeps in her pockets, for they’ve always been empty, and here she believes they always will be. She doesn’t see that with each step, a pocket appears, then deepens on the back of her winter coat, into which are slipped the forest’s gifts: acorns heavy with tree-might, felt-soft leaves and those crackled-crisp, and spider-sacs of insect hope from summer spent— all stowed within the girl’s deepening pocket. And now dormouse and bat, stoat and hare nestle in. The weight of these gifts marks her path— deep and through to the forest heart where one ought never go with empty hands. Patricia J. Miranda writes fabulist and fantasy fiction for adults and children. She was the 2016 finalist for the Fairy Tale Review prose contest and the 2017 winner of the Katherine Paterson Prize for Middle Grade Fiction. Her poetry has been featured in apt, Frontier Poetry, Heron Tree, Hyphen, Into the Void, Kitaab, and other literary journals. She just emerged from a three-year revision of a middle-grade novel about a girl and a goblin who join forces to repair their Splintered world, and she now has hope the same healing process can begin in the real world.

  • Gloria Valentine and Samson Power Hour

    For Kurt In 2025, it became legal for someone convicted of a crime to pay someone else to go to jail for them. The reasoning was that since the criminal justice system was based entirely on numbers, it didn’t matter who did the crime and who got punished for it, as long as those numbers remained consistent. You could literally get away with murder. For some people this became a very lucrative way to make money. In 2026 the country was dealing with massive food shortages. The global temperature exceeded 2°C and a new dust bowl was brewing. The livestock weren’t getting enough to eat and shriveled in the sun. They looked like wilted lettuce. In 2027 a team of international scientists met at a summit in Paris. They announced a new term for changes in the earth’s atmosphere: Clusterfuck. They said it was too late and there was nothing they could do except head to Mars while earth crumbled into a fine powder. By 2030 Antarctica had evaporated and a heatwave killed off most of humanity. The fabulously rich moved into enormous glass dome cities where the air was cooled and you didn’t have to worry about low income students muddling your kids' test scores. The scientists built a space shuttle called Samson’s Ark to colonize Mars. It was named after the Archdiocese of New America, Drew Samson, who led the mission. Everyday people sat in their mini-dome houses and watched him talk on TV about God’s plan to preserve humanity. “Fuck, he said. “Fuck as much as you can. We need babies, damn it.” Gloria Valentine and her husband Glenn were at home watching the Samson Power Hour from their mobile deluxe dome, which cost three times as much as most people’s domes. Gloria used to be the star of a daytime soap opera and they lived off her royalties. But now Gloria was pregnant again, and popping them out like a human baby factory. So far they had thirty-eight, and if luck would have it, at least one would make it onboard Samson’s Ark. The one they hoped for was named Leo. Leo Valentine was ten now, growing big and sitting alone in the living room and watching Diddley-Doo Finds Out What His Doohickey-Do. He was smarter than his other brothers and sisters, which wasn’t saying much. For instance, he couldn’t tie his own shoes, or spell his own name, or differentiate between the cat and the cactus. Once a day either Gloria or Glenn would have to pull the needles from his face and feed him a Nicorette so he wouldn’t throw a shit-fit. Gloria and Glenn were waiting to hear back about Leo’s application. If he got accepted, they would get to go too. Mars was all the rage. Earth was getting dated. And they hated their neighborhood. Something about seeing all the mini-domes lined up next to each other was depressing. It reminded them of snow globes on the half-off shelf after Christmas. The doorbell rang. “Shit,” said Glenn. He knew it was that damn lawyer again. He got up from the couch and answered the door. “You missed your court date,” said the lawyer. He was a former personal injury lawyer and in the midst of prosecuting Glenn for a recent DUI. Glenn had gotten drunk off his ass and plowed his car into a neighbor’s mini-dome and killed their dog. “But I paid Rodriguez to take the blame,” said Glenn. Mr. Rodriguez was the neighbor who Glenn paid fifteen thousand dollars to accept the blame for his little incident. “Mr. Rodriguez is already incarcerated for another crime,” said the lawyer. “For performing an illegal home abortion. Punishable by life imprisonment. You know the rules, Mr. Valentine. Only one charge per person.” “Shit,” said Glenn. Quickly he scanned the living room and caught sight of Leo putting his doohickey in the vacuum cleaner. At ten he was just old enough to accept the blame for his father’s indiscretion, since they lowered the age to be a legal adult. “Get over here, Leo,” said Glenn. Leo dropped the vacuum and ran to his father like a shelter puppy. He would do anything for his father. Once he swallowed Glenn’s lit cigarette butt when the ashtray went missing. Glenn got down on one knee and said “Leo, how much do you love your father?” “So much,” said Leo, who stretched his arms out as wide as a ten year old could. “If inches were miles, I would love you this much.” “Good kid,” said Glenn, pushing his arms back to his sides. “How would you like to go away to camp for a little bit?” “Will you be there?” said Leo. “Haha, no,” said Glenn. “But I’ll visit at least twice. And you’ll make new friends, and they have art class, and there’s a big cement yard to play in.” “Big cement yard?” said Leo. At that moment Gloria came into the living room and dragged Leo away by the hand. “Absolutely fucking not,” said Gloria. “He’s our only chance at a better life. We’re not pawning him off so you get off this stupid DUI charge.” “But the judge is saying a year,” said Glenn. “Look at me, Glory. I’m all fluff and cream filling. I won’t make it the joint. Once I had to wait at the DMV for three hours and I had a panic attack. The driving instructor took me to the emergency room.” “Tough shit,” said Gloria. “Maybe you’ll lose some weight while you’re in there. I’m tired of not being able to do missionary anymore because I’m scared you’ll pancake me.” “Missionaries live in missions,” said Leo. “Well if everything is decided then, I’m afraid I’ll need you to come with me to Dome-Jail,” said the lawyer. “Fucking Christ,” said Glenn. “Leo. Glory. Other kids. Remember your father as a man of his word, strong, if not in flesh then at least in fortitude, twice salesman of the year at Best Buy until wooing your mother with insane price match deals on Blu-Ray players.” Then Gloria and Leo watched as Glenn was carted away in the back of a government issued paddy wagon. The drone of Gloria’s babies drew her back to the basement where they sat cradled in neat rows, ten-by-four, totalling 40 precious infants sucking at artificial teats connected to a vat of formula. As it happened, Gloria was already stooping from a swollen belly. She was afflicted with what medical professionals called Sudden Litter Syndrome (SLS). The disease was engineered by scientists to help replenish the human race, which acted by putting female ovaries into overdrive. They put it in the drinking water so every woman would contract it. The end result was huge litters of babies at a time, upwards of a dozen, who somehow managed to grow within a matter of weeks. The problem was: They couldn’t turn it off. So now once a month Gloria and every other woman of breeding age in the dome would get pregnant, and they had the option to either raise their babies or pay to hand them over to the abortion truck. Then Gloria heard a very familiar jingle from up the block. “The abortion truck is here!” said Leo. Gloria ran outside, where she found Tomo, the Japanese abortion doctor, chucking a bundle of unwanted pregnancies inside back of his cab. “Tomo!” said Gloria in her best Ricky Ricardo voice from I love Lucy. “I have some babies for you!” “Sorry Mrs. Valentine,” said Tomo. “I just did a pick-up last week! You know the rules.” “Rats,” said Gloria. Truth was: Gloria had a thing for Tomo, and she couldn’t do anything about it while her husband was home. Unlike her husband, Tomo was small but fit, capable of scaling a tree with one hand behind his back to retrieve Leo that time he got stuck looking for Keebler elves. “Don’t you want to come in for a quick drink?” said Gloria. “I would, but I have a busy schedule,” said Tomo. “Just one drink,” she said. “I have that soda you like with the marble ball in the bottle.” “Ramune?” said Tomo. “That’s rarer than brandy! Where did you find it?” “I have a case in the basement,” said Gloria. In actuality she just shoved a marble in a Sprite bottle. “I suppose I could take a break,” said Tomo. “Can I wash off in your bathroom first? My hands smell like afterbirth.” “Of course,” said Gloria. While Tomo freshened up, Gloria went upstairs and wore a blouse that exposed her cleavage and hid her pregnant belly. If she played her cards right, she figured Tomo would squeeze in an abortion for her with that giant hose connected to his truck. When she came downstairs Tomo was sitting on the living room couch with Leo watching the news. On TV was Drew Samson, for his afternoon Prayer Power Hour. “And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,” said Drew. “And if you find it hard getting in the mood, try putting a pacifier up the rectum. Works for me.” Suddenly the broadcast was interrupted by an important news bulletin. “Giant God-Sized Cows Plummeting Towards Earth,” said the news anchor. “For chrissake,” said Gloria. “Golly,” said Tomo. “Cows have five bellies,” said Leo. The news anchor explained that years ago, scientists experimented on cows to make them grow thicker overnight, which they called the Kardashian Effect. They then could chop off hunks of meat and it would instantly regenerate, thereby creating an infinite supply for the meat industry. But the cows wouldn’t stop growing, eventually to the size of Wrigley Stadium. When the National Guard couldn’t stop them, the only other option was for NASA to attach rocket boosters to their hooves and ship them off into orbit, hoping to never see them again. “And due to changes in earth’s gravity, we will be seeing a precipitation of cows later this afternoon. God help us all.” Well that was that. With a rainfall of giant cows, it seemed the domes were finished. Gloria looked over and saw Tomo was shaking his hands, so she clenched them in hers tenderly and assured him that everything would be OK. “I love prime rib,” said Tomo. “But not like this. God I wish I’d just flown to the sun like my relatives. This whole clusterfuck would be over with.” “We still have time,” said Gloria, putting her hand on his knee. “Time for what?” said Tomo. “La dolce vita,” said Gloria. And just like that she was straddling him, calling him her little Japanese dream-boat while they thrusted in unison loud enough to echo all across the neighborhood. Then something happened: Gloria was giving birth. Like spider eggs, a hundred babies burst out, and Tomo fell to the carpet in shock and embarrassment, running for the door without his pants on. “But Tomo!” said Gloria. Then the first colossal cow smashed through the dome and landed one of its hooves on Tomo and his abortion truck, smashing them mere inches from Gloria’s home. Looking over, Leo put his doohickey inside the electrical socket and made a sound like a cat having its tail stepped on before sparks flew through his body. And while Gloria got up to help him, one of her gooey newborn litter trotted past her knees and she fell, hitting her head on the expensive davenport, blood gushing out of her ear. All the while the TV was still running and Drew Samson came back on air, talking about God’s plan, or lack thereof. “I’m sure all you viewers at home were expecting this would lead to something,” he said. “And the truth is, I’m not so sure anymore. Good night.”

  • The Walnut Tree

    There is something radically callow about city girls on summer holidays. Tangible entitlement perfumes the air whenever they visit the country. It demands reverence upon arrival, the bend of a knee, if you will. Nature’s, people’s, whoever’s. With no care in the world nor a task on their schedules, they starve for isolated freedom, and feel so deserving of it, too. As if their privileged lives have been so exhausting to live. I call it a day to remember. Showers of warmth bring pollen-drunk beetles into a waltz. Clouds melt into each other, smooth layers of whipped cream gliding on top of a cake. Sultry provocation hangs in the airy bubble. Thoughts of honey pool water at my mouth. An ominous adventure assembles across the horizon and I drink it all in. My feet dangle off a never-bending willow tree, toes playing restlessly; back and forth, up and down. A greedy lungful draw in vivacious rainbows of fragrances, the finest of nectars. Caressing sunbeams mirror themselves in the river below me, bewildered and swollen, even in the ripest of months. A wide daffodil meadow lays beneath me, blanketing acres of yet-uncultivated land. High as I may have climbed, my eyes still meet not nature’s finest gardens’ end. Butterscotch florettes play a rhythm of serendipity and chance. Off they sway across the field, to further beautify this day. They go anywhere the wind blows, arrive nowhere in particular. A spectacular verve, really. From way above the lacey tree, a majestic landscape begs to unfold further. I know the place like the back of my hand. It is steep and flat, slippery and gliding; not quite the attraction you’d pay to visit. Swamps rest down below, too, luxuriant in reed, horsetail and crumbs of fallen rocks. Back in the day, local folks bestowed the marshland to globetrotters for picnics and such. They would happily take the land, as rich men do, and nestle down there; drink a few beers, fish themselves a fat carp just in time for dinner. Their kids would come with, but every so often. Notoriously into themselves, airs rarely mingle with us common boys. Through habit, we grew to steer clear of them as well. Reminiscing is dull, pointless, I reckon. Nothing’s left of the place, anyway. I dare not be bothered on a day like this. Not by the mosquitos serenading too close to my ear for comfort, nor the naggy leather camera strap sweating at my nape. I take the burden off my neck, find relief. Skin inhales with rush, shoulders loosen up. A meaty branch rests between my thighs, my feet locked beneath it in a skillful knot. Too far for my eyes to see, yet just enough for my curious lens, I discern a pair of white summer sandals in one of the photos I took. Bare legs and what seems to be the hem of a plaid dress peek out of the rare papyrus bushes dripping around the marsh. A stranger. Better yet, a girl. It’s peculiar, you see. A picture won’t ever see what meets the eyes. A visual, on the other hand, that materialized, factual state of being, will forever mummify a moment the way it is. Won’t add anything to it, won’t take anything from it. With restless fingers, the toy is triggered, demanding answers. My breaths deepen, quicken. Whoever the girl is, she is but mine to see. The idea of it sounds so exclusive all of a sudden. Dancing around the inside of my lens, my eyes urge to see more than what’s offered. I yearn to be impressed with what I find, the unwise fifteen-year-old that I am. Wise or otherwise, find I do. Nestled in a bed of thick roots, vines, and moss-coated rocks, there she lies, the epitome of tamed opulence. Sophistication oozes out of her pores and it is effortless, poignant. Her knees fall loose to the side, one atop the other. Her hair, blonde and cotton-like, levitates of its own accord. Eyes, piercing gems darted at the sky, blink for shield in spite of the imposturous shine. Parted and juicy, her lips drench in crimson hues. Dazed at the sight, I assume they taste of blue fruits; blackberries or the darkest of cherries. Frozen in a half-smile, the tips of her pearly teeth nibble on the silky lip flesh. In her right hand rests a branch, soaked in nutty treats. A luscious walnut tree topples over her slender frame. It grants just enough exposure for my liking, not enough cover for hers. Fractions of sunshine spill down her fair skin. She is translucent, ghostly. At my silent command, a lively breeze lifts sheets of dress fabric in whispering burbles. Magnificent motion. Worthy of all the sighs in the world. Clandestine, my eyes now observe something else rather than plain female anatomy. My fingers tremble over the overused shell in my hand at the sight. Several more shots make it into my private gallery. Peculiar fires ignite inside me- the allure and wrongness of it, I suppose- put out in vain by storms that stem from logic. I am a stranger to her, I realize, but she is no longer one to me. It is a pitiful delusion, this self-pardoned justification of my intrusion. And be that as it may, I yearn to know what kissing the girl would be like. Touching her. Occupying the muddy seat next to her. Somewhere along the lines, between knitted clouds and the youngest adult thoughts to ever exist, the sin of longing is born. Oh, my. Her cleavage is blush, a baby powder pink. Bulging lilac veins embroider iridescent skin like magic. Breasts, perky and lush, peek out just enough to feed me a forbidden illusion. Her legs are smooth and sticky, gazelle’s. I assume they will eventually grow into their rounded, feminine shape. Her thighs- goodness- pale fields of skin exposed to the heat and, unbeknownst to her, my eyes as well. I shouldn’t be curious about those things, but I cannot help it, either. In no-man’s land, the girl unwinds herself to sleep, her bobbing foot tempered alas. I dare envy her luscious, toasty trance. More than that, I need a taste of it. Fusion of pleasure and angst fill my belly whole. Skin shivers, muscles clench to pain, my body feeds on rushing blood. I know where this is going, it’s happened before. A temperate growth roots between my legs, halts at my buttocks. It tingles and tickles- not in a physical way- only at the sight of her. Unnerving pants leave my body, waiting for no consent. Excruciating awareness grows on. The girl plays an involuntary role in my game of muse, madness, and grinding. Snapping myself out of the thrill is a daunting struggle, as is easing my breaths. The girl is so clueless of my presence, vulnerable. Gullibility leaves me feeling all the more eclectic. A wicked little appetite builds beyond arousal, begs to be unchained. Aesthetically showered in temptation, the girl sleeps under the walnut tree. Despicable, immoral, my consciousness scolds. I could care less about epithets. Alone, aroused, and shunned from scruples, or judgment for that matter, I devour the fantasy like a fine meal. I bedew my lips and think of hers. The burden of blues and untrained lust sets me ablaze. Ponderous pleasure stings against my insides, a collage of unfamiliar sensations awoken. Up my thighs it travels, the hastening surge: tightening, bending me out of shape. Hanging for dear life, feet cramping in their tangle, the physical fruit of my sadly unearned labor transpires into unscrewed jolts. I am catapulted elsewhere. Puzzle pieces of relish and regret burn down to ash. The hype doesn’t stick for long. The thrill of it exhales. Quietness becomes me the moment I set foot home. I salute my parents, bathe, change into clean clothes, and sit down for dinner. The sun had no mercy on me. I feel not peckish nor exhausted; rather, wasted and floundering. The heavy burden of a full day’s work in the country does that to you sometimes. Words fail me that evening, my thoughts do not. You can complain about work, the weather, or what-not-have-you, and all to no good cause. School’s out, the day’s work is done, and not much else happens in the meantime. Old news is old news, no matter how you read it. I remind myself of the day gone, the guilt of it expired, behind me. Relieving my earlier mischief is a private affair. Poking the bear at the table is no fun, and neither is answering pesky questions. I know better than to rat myself out. There is priceless comfort in the idea of having orchestrated a memory all of my own. Daffodil meadows gleam outside the kitchen window, stained by dusk’s richest palette. The day sinks into the deepest of nights. I capitulate soon, dishonored in my surrender, swaddled in naivety I have yet to outgrow. The house is empty when I wake. My parents are nowhere to be found. There is no note on the table, no dog barks outside. Not even the mailman showed face for his ceremonial round; his sole mission unaccomplished. A voice summons me from somewhere inside the house, a raspy texture rings through it. I follow the urging pitch and it leads me to the kitchen, where the radio tells its morning story, over seasoned with menace and spite. Well, the way most news come these days. ‘What was to be the busiest summer season this town had seen in years, has now become an ominous absurdity forever shrouded in tragedy.’ A woman walks into my window frame, dressed in black. Wearing shadows for faces, a handful of others follow down the road. My mother steps in view last, a grieving woman on her hand. Suited in the darkest of darks, she matches the rest to perfection. A bouquet of daffodils shivers in her hands. Hefty tears wash her face clean. It is the loveliest, saddest thing I have ever seen. ‘…Town residents gathered around the mock cobblestone center to mourn…’ A police vehicle drives up the hill, then halts. Inside it argue two officers, uniformed and stoic. A third man steps out of the car, screaming for dear life. There is no uniform on him, but rich man’s clothes. His cheap threats shoot like bullet blanks at no target. They won’t really kill you, the blanks, they just hurt. Same thing with threats. ‘….a young life lost too soon’. The radio lady breathes in. Quietness sounds before she speaks again. ‘In the early hours of Wednesday, third of July, and after a whole day’s search, police recovered the deceased body of Paula Rivers, a fifteen-year-old girl vacationing with her family at their holiday residence. According to reports, Paula first left her home yesterday morning, on her way to explore a former picnic area, located just a few miles outside her home…’ Monday was yesterday. I know because I checked. She looked lovely. I know because I was there. My head slumps beheaded in defeat, eyes wetter with every blink. Electric balls of pain claw up and down my throat and chest in fury; thumping beast wilding on the inside. ‘….our sources allege the teenager had survived through the night, before passing this morning, on the way to the hospital. Limited dispatch in the area made it impossible for police forces to access the area until several hours later. Despite the Rivers family already pushing for accountability, autopsy is yet to determine whether Paula’s life could have been saved had a timelier response ensued.’ Hearing sounds is unbearable, cruel. I looked without seeing, read all the wrong signs. Beneath my palms trembles the sink, sharp recollections reassembling on their own. It all comes together in thunders. The police, the mourning outside my window; my mother missing from the house; my mother wearing black on the road. I recall the willow and the walnut trees, now livelier and scarier than ever; the deep marshes and rocks; emerald veins and wide open eyes and bobbing feet; her cherry flavored, blood-dipped lips. ‘Police note there were no evidence of foul play on scene…’ A gallery of photos doesn’t count as foul play- nor evidence- if there is no crime to be solved, pried into. Dirty deeds suffer consequences, dirty thoughts do not. ‘…initial medical exams estimated the cause of death to be a severe head trauma, caused by a sudden fall.’ Ignorance is a bliss until it kills you. Ask any man, woman, and child around here, and they’ll all tell you the same thing. You never, ever climb a walnut tree. That is the end of it. God-given countrymen like to tell stories of their cousins and brothers and uncles and grand-grandfathers, all of whom died harvesting walnuts. It is not the kind of tree you’d trust your life with. Make no mistake, a walnut’s bark is crust, thick waterslides, an almost given slippery slope, a misstep towards death. Climbing the tree is easier than descending it. Its branches are hundred years old, conniving in their resistance, resilience. Walnuts swing more than they stand stills. Nature’s finest troublemakers, with a temper that rarely forgives. You are a fool to think you can outsmart a walnut tree. It pleases itself, selfish in its habitat. It compromises on nothing, wants nothing in return. A walnut tree stands alone, drinks alone, grows alone. A walnut tree only thrives when left alone.

  • The Women of Pavlopetri

    Underwater the waves can’t be felt. Lonely we stand in silence eternal like the ebbing flow of the tides. Steadied by boulders our thighs are remote, our hair of seaweed drifts gently in time with the breath of the sea. Silent we dream of our sunken children, our empty wombs feel the weight of the water. We cannot sing to the rhythm of the sea, the noiseless screech of our tongue no longer reveals who we are. Federica Santini lives in Atlanta, Georgia. A literary critic, poet, and translator, her work has appeared in over twenty journals in North America and Europe, including Autografo, The Ocotillo Review, JIT, il verri, and Snapdragon, and for the University of Toronto Press and Firenze University Press among others. Allison is continually inspired by nature, her relationships with other women, and the small moments and observations of daily life. Her work is a mixture of observations, reactions, and reflections on experiences, conversations, and emotions. These collages are from her Mother series, created in May of 2020. Each collage in the series celebrates and reflects on Motherhood from the experience of daughter and mother. After studying Printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design and graduating in 2001, Allison worked as a jewelry and accessories designer in New York’s Fashion District. Over the next several years, Allison chose to become an art educator and is currently pursuing her own artistic career. Allison lives and works in Mamaroneck, NY, with her husband and two young children.

  • Last Damsel

    Our men were gone; the last one, Uncle Chick, left six months after my birth. I was the firstborn of a third daughter, who bled out as I entered the world. Growing up, I ran wild in a female pack with my aunts and cousins. Tell me a story… to hear my aunts, you’d think those were my first words. Tell me about Pawpaw. Tell me about Uncle Chick; did’n he want to marry Little Lady? I’d sit at the hearth with Aunt Ang and Aunt Diddy, the two closest to my age, stretching skins on the fleshing beam. There had to be more, I would think. We all belonged to each other yet each to no one. I longed to be an Other, a somebody’s someone. I couldn’t never see no one ever putting their arms around Mam, certain not no man though I’d no idea what theys were like. We had to have been born out of something softer than red rocks, dusty wind. All these hard women around me, I came to think men had to make the world gentler. “Ang, how was it between us and the menfolk?” Ang wasn’t so hard as the othern. I’d seen her once with a fledgling that had fallen from an eaves nest. Any day in the season, there’d be five or so fledglings outside the large house. Mam made use of all things, fledglings no differn, so we’d frequently have Baby Birdie Stew when the snows weren’t high. I saw Ang; she built that fledgling its own nest from pelt scraps. She didn’t know I watched but I seen her fetching worms. Seen her too on the third day, crying, when she found the bird dead. I watched her bury it, nest and all. Ang fixed with me with a stare. “Men do things for reasons we won’t ever have no answers for. I seen Chick and Red Boy kill a cat just cause they could. It was Chick’s own cat. He’d had that cat since he was done suckling. I heard him crying for it later but he’d done it hisself. That’s when Mam said it’d be best if he and Red Boy was out off to fighting with the rest of ‘em and we ain’t heard nothing from any of ‘em since. There’s not much accounting for what’s in men’s hearts.” I put Ang’s words away with my othern feelings, the ones I sometimes get when I am sure all the womens are asleep and I lay awake, running my hands over my body. I feel the springy coarse hairs on the mound between my legs. I’ve touched myself, felt sick with shame but also something else, like a burning need to put my hand into a blue flame. I’ve kept touching, almost in a fevered state, with an ear cocked. My hands belong above the covers. I am standing in the creek swollen with fresh snowmelt, scrubbing the rusty iron-smelling stains from my britches. Haven’t heard horses hooves in quite a stretch so at first I am looking at the sky, blue as kittens’ eyes, searching for thunderheads. Then I see ‘em. I know these aren’t womenfolk. Three people big as bears, with fur on their faces, ride up to the edge of the creek. Foam on their horses’ necks, steam coming out their nostrils. I shield my eyes from the sunlight, peering up into the faces of weathered skin and bloodshot eyes. Men, I think. Gone. My soft notions of menfolk leave me the minute I see their twisted ugly smiles. The red bearded one spits a stream of brown and rubs the back of his hand over his tobacco-stained lips. “Don’t this look like a picnic?” I know he is speaking of me and not to me. I feel hot piss running down my legs, can taste something sharp and salty in my mouth. Fear. I tilt back my head and howl. It is not a cry like the wolf, hungry and alone, would send out into the cold night, looking for companionship. It is the scream of the rabbit, snapped in jaws. It is Ang holding the fledgling in her hands. Run. And I am off. “Hot DAMN! We got us a chase!” “Get her, Chick!” Panic. They are on me like vultures on a carcass, rending clothing from limb, flesh from flesh, pieces of me torn, scattered in the short dry grass which is just beginning to green. I am above them now, watching as they push and grunt, shove each other. There is blood and spittle, tears which were mine, and a mess I cannot name over all of us. Gone. I am no one’s Other. Fannie H. Gray is an active member of The Write Group in Montclair, NJ. She is currently compiling short stories and completing her first novel. Her poem The Trick was published in Beltway Poetry Quarterly's Langston Hughes Tribute Issue. She prefers a strong Rob Roy. Allison is continually inspired by nature, her relationships with other women, and the small moments and observations of daily life. Her work is a mixture of observations, reactions, and reflections on experiences, conversations, and emotions. These collages are from her Mother series, created in May of 2020. Each collage in the series celebrates and reflects on Motherhood from the experience of daughter and mother. After studying Printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design and graduating in 2001, Allison worked as a jewelry and accessories designer in New York’s Fashion District. Over the next several years, Allison chose to become an art educator and is currently pursuing her own artistic career. Allison lives and works in Mamaroneck NY with her husband and two young children.

  • Gordian Knot

    ...Each thread it spins with the finality of fate divides its head from its body. And the poor thing, even with so many legs, doesn’t know which way to run. — "Spider" by Tom Sleigh Thread 1 - A Monday morning in January, 2020 When Abdel texts me, I’m pissed. The phone buzzes and dances on my coffee table; I get killed at Call of Duty. He wants weed: that’s the only reason I hear from him. Our protocol is he comes here; our code is he’ll text, “What are you doing?” Today, he texts, “Come to my house, please.” Normally, I’d ignore a text like that: I don’t deliver. But with Abdel, I want a job at his school. For months, I’ve dropped hints like sharing articles on Facebook: “Clearing Alzheimer’s Plaque in Mice,” or “Vagus Nerve Stimulator Restores Cortical Activity in Coma Patients.” A month ago, I emailed him to see if I could list him as a reference on my resume. I didn’t have any interviews. When he got tenure track, I actually prayed he’d help me out. I find my wallet, get dressed, and drive out highway 1-11. His place is an easy turn to miss, but I catch it because there’s this storage unit with a black vinyl sign that reads “Tattoos” in red. Someone would get a tattoo in a fucking storage unit; that kills me. Down at the end of his gravel drive, Abdel’s sitting on the porch with his hands in a blue hoodie’s kangaroo pocket. He looks light shit, greasy. The trees and bushes are swallowing his house. I’ve only been here a couple of times and the inside is always tidy--though it smells like Persian food; I’m not sure where he’s from. Today, it reeks of bleach so hard my sinuses sting. He leads me to the living room where there’s clear plastic tarp everywhere, and big HID lamps up on tripods in the corners like he’s trying to set up a grow room but doesn’t know what he’s doing. All of the furniture is gone except for a fold-out card table. Abdel tells me he knows I’m a man who “respects caution and responsibility.” “Fuck yeah,” I say, “want to get high?” He just stands vacantly in the bright lights; he looks pale, yellowish. “What’s with the tarp,” I say. “Sit down,” he says, then seems to remember there’s nowhere to sit and disappears deeper into his place and returns with two aluminum chairs, dropping them on opposite sides of the table. “I’ve been calling it ‘the device,’ ” he says, and he indicates a rectangular box at the center of the table. It looks like a black, plastic iPhone case with the screen removed and replaced by tinfoil. “What’s the device,” I say, and he says he stole the idea from one of his students. Abdel realized this girl--this engineering whiz kid undergrad--had stumbled upon something she couldn’t actually make work. Now the thing works. All there is on the table is the device and a black card--like a credit card--with a tiny blue button in the center. Nothing connects them: there’s just the box and the card. Abdel says, “I want you to try it out anywhere--you could see the Colossus of Rhodes, or Da Vinci’s unfinished The Battle of Anghiari cartoon.” There’s another pause. I feel like I’m supposed to say something, so I just nod and lift my eyebrows. After about a minute, he says, “I ran diagnostics for safety first. I used organic matter: what I had in my refrigerator. I chose watermelon because of the high H20 content. But ultimately, that data was worthless. You can’t see them, but I have neighbors here--” “Okay,” I say, “you did something with watermelons, and you have neighbors. What the fuck are you talking about?” He keeps looking at me like we’re in a play, and I’m saying the wrong lines. He goes on. “Anything larger than bacteria presented complications. Bringing home test subjects might attract attention, and generally speaking, a person who lives this far out of city limits is suspicious. I’m referring to my neighbors. I used rescue animals--” “Hey, alright--do you want to buy something or what, man. This is weird; you realize that, right?” I say and stand up to look around his house. He just goes on talking, only louder. There’s nothing to see: more tarp, and his bedroom is locked. He yells, “Killing the animals weighed on me. But finally, one returned intact. It couldn’t tell me anything--obviously. So again, that data was worthless.” I go back to the living room doorway. My pulse is pumping, and I want a drink. There’s most of a six-pack back at my place. I’ve known Abdel for years, and this is not Abdel-like. “Dude, I’m going to go,” I say. “I need you,” he says. He’s looking at me like an object: like he’s measuring me. I walk back through the plastic-covered living room, passing him and his table, and I’m to the foyer to get the fuck out of there when I hear his chair scrunch on the tarp, and he says, “It’s all been cogitated; it’s safe; it works; I’ll pay you three hundred thousand dollars.” “For what,” I say. He’s standing in the bright, tarped living room, and I’m in the dark foyer. I haven’t paid off my student loans. “The device takes you,” he says. “The blue button brings you back.” I understand; we sit. He tells me there’s this board in his bedroom for setting coordinates. He excuses himself to go back there. That’s when I started making the list. Thread 3- Halloween Night, 2022 Abdel didn’t think the device could take you to the future. He’d been afraid to test that because he figured it was too unpredictable, and therefore, unnecessary. It turns out you can. I’m sitting in my car listening to Black Sabbath, looking at a man’s parked pickup truck. I watch him walk into a restaurant. In the past--when “the past” meant something different--this man ran around with my wife, and they spent all my money doing it. This went on for over a year while I was in a deep, dark place and having trouble getting out of bed. They bled my bank account. In ten minutes, I will walk into the bar of yonder restaurant with this lead pipe concealed in my jacket and bash in his skull. He always sits upstairs at the bar watching the corner TV. I’ve chosen Halloween because I can wear a mask; I’m wearing a Kennedy mask, like in Point Break. Today he’s in his usual clothes, a polo shirt and jeans. Now it’s time. I’ve got the pipe, a Red Bull, and the blue button taped to my left palm. I drink the Red Bull, and it’s like, “Whoa, shit, maybe that was a bad idea.” My heart is beating like Daft Punk at an undergraduate party, thump thump thump. I hop out of my car, cross the street, and go inside. The host nods and glances at me; he’s a thin, little guy right out of high school, and I’m sure he doesn’t get the Point Break reference. He probably doesn’t know who the fuck Kennedy was. I’m walking up the stairs, pouring sweat, and I’m tasting Red Bull (which tastes like Smarties candy) with a little bit of bile. My stomach acid is eating the butterflies. This restaurant has an odd layout. Downstairs, it’s the nicest place in town, but upstairs there’s a dark, seedy dive bar. The bar itself is long; there’s one small flat screen hung up in the corner, and the only tables are a couple of round four-tops. One table’s full, the other’s empty. The man I’m after is sitting at the bar's middle stool with both elbows on the wood. The bartender’s talking to a waitress. As I walk, I let the pipe slip out of my right sleeve and into my hand. The rust helps my grip. The blue button is secure on my left palm. I have the pipe way up in the air; the bartender yells, “Hey, what?” My target is turning on his stool. A few people are probably yelling; I can’t hear over my heart. Thunk. I crunch him a good one on the top of his head, and he falls off the stool. The bartender’s going for something--hopefully just a phone. Thunk. I hit my target again on the side of the head: this one’s better because he’s crouched down on the floor and I have more momentum. I hope that’s done the trick; it’s past time to go. I have to push by some girl in high heels on the stairs. People are definitely screaming. I hear screams and a pop from somewhere. Someone may be shooting at me; we have open carry laws in this state. It’s tempting to push the blue button, but I can’t unless I’m by myself. I don’t know if I’ll just disappear, turn to vapor, a flash of light, or what--any of that could make the national news, especially if someone’s getting this on their phone. I won’t push the button unless I’m alone or injured. If I’m followed out to the street, that’s a huge problem. Someone must have a gun: downstairs, many people are on the ground. I keep my shit together to walk straight out. Once I’m outside, I just say fuck it and blue button home. Thread 5- A Monday morning in January, 2020. I watch my car drive down to Abdel’s house from the parking lot of the Tattoo shed, parking behind it and out of sight. My cat was safe and didn’t seem to notice when I materialized in my apartment. In about an hour, the first me is going to take his first trip. He’ll ask to be sent to see the Globe Theatre, although he will really just sit around in the grass outside Elizabethan London for two hours, blue button back, and kick the shit out of Abdel and make him teach him how to set the coordinates on the device. I come back sometimes to feed my cat, Horatio, and take some money out of the ATM. Feeding the cat probably isn’t necessary, because I’m not sure that the present is moving forward. I still like to be sure. And I miss Horatio. There are lots of me's going to feed Horatio and get money. I have to avoid a traffic jam. I thought I’d have to be a traffic cop--instead I’m a civil engineer. After waiting five hours behind the shed I walk down the road to Abdel’s house and finish him off--I can’t risk him untying himself and fucking with the coordinates on the device. Thread 30 - A Friday night in December, 2017 The author is easy to find; he wants to be found; he wanted to get famous over his book. When I first read it, I became obsessed. Earlier that year, I flunked out of grad school. Bitterness makes you cynical; misanthropy is intellectually lazy. The book was a self-published thing I found on a message board. I told myself I was reading it to learn economics, then it became empowerment, and then unity. I ignored the veiled fascist bullshit this author called “culture.” Now--in this now--the author has caught fire on the internet--Reddit, Twitter, millions of YouTube subscribers--and he travels around college campuses giving lectures. Each rally has bomb threats, so the security is skin tight. After skimming a couple of articles, I figure out where the guy lives--he’s on the beach in Malibu. I watch the people who come and go from his place. Some of his personal security play in LA hardcore bands. They’re big guys--very young--with thick necks and expensive tattoos. I wait, watch, follow, and find him smoking a cigarette outside a neo-nazi hardcore show, the kind of testosterone fest I would have gone out to back in 2011--my original 2011. I think I remember seeing this band when they came through Atlanta. I got kicked out of that Atlanta show for fighting, went to a gas station, drank a forty in the parking lot, and got lost in the city trying to find the interstate back home. The street lights were pulsing like strobe lights. I called my wife from the road and I kept saying, “I love you.” She wouldn’t say anything back. My first try, I watch the author from the back of the club and lose him in the crowd. The next few times, I stay in my car watching the alley outside. That pays off. Near midnight he steps outside to smoke a cigarette and make a phone call, but when he can’t talk over the noise, he goes to his car. Thankfully he doesn’t have a car alarm, and I’ve learned off Google how to use a slim jim. The final time I’m waiting in the backseat. I do it with a bag over his head. Or was it piano wire? I remember his fingernails in my forearm. He had these really long nails. I blue button when he goes limp, and the car starts to stink. Thread 15 - A Thursday afternoon in March, 1990. I comb through a Whole Foods parking lot and luck upon an Accord with an unlocked door. After five anxious minutes inside, I manage the hotwire. It works more or less as it does on TV--kiss the red wire tip to the blue. I Googled that, too. My target takes his jog at dawn. As a P.E.,. teacher, he was big on making kids run laps, and my little brother “ran like a pussy”--that’s what the coach said. This motherfucker made my brother hold three-pound dumbbells so he’d jog “like a boy.” My brother started stuttering; a therapist fixed that in junior high. The coach lives in a shit neighborhood: there are junked, rusty cars sitting out rotting everywhere. Every Saturday, Coach runs up his sidewalk eight blocks and circles back. Today he’s wearing faded orange sweatpants and a white t-shirt. I’ve timed it right, and I’m cruising slowly down his street when he comes trotting out of his driveway. For a fifty-year-old, he’s in good shape--even if bald and leathery. I veer off onto the curb. I think he’s the first one. Or one of the first ones. Already I can’t keep them straight. I stop because someone’s jumped out in front of me on the curb. It’s me; I’m standing on the sidewalk. This other me stands there, waving his arms at me. He comes up to my window. “He’s not a good one,” I say. I don’t look good; I’ve got stubble and circles under my eyes. “What about my brother,” I ask myself. “You’re brother is fine. You won’t feel good about this,” I say. Coach has stopped running, and he’s looking back, confused: there’s a car on the sidewalk, and a guy is talking to himself--or to his twin. I figure I know best, and I’m starting to feel good about this. I feel empowered. I’ll let the guy off the hook, be merciful like God come to earth in a mother-fucking time machine. That’s when another black Accord passes us and runs Coach over, flipping him way up in the air. We watch me get out of the second Accord and pretend to check Coach’s vitals, steal his wallet, and blue button home. The second me blue buttons, too. It turns out I just disappear, after all. Thread 24 - Late at night in August, 2021 Abdel stinks so bad I’m worried about his neighbors. He’s way too mushy to carry out to my car, so I use his plastic tarp and wrap him up like a taquito--or Cleopatra. At four in the morning, I haul him out to my trunk, fold him in half, and drive to this rock quarry we used to throw shit in when I was in high school. It’s flooded now. Thread 101 - Afternoon of Fourth of July, 2005 I lost the list, and I’m not sure I remember all the names. I don’t know if this all just caught up to me, or if I’m worried about the ramifications in the present--2020 is when I think I last decided my present is? Sometimes, you just have to cut clean. This hunting rifle was my uncle’s; the weapon is big and unwieldy. I’ve never been able to use it to cross a name off the list before. I’ve picked a spot in a little field where I used to walk my old dog, Hero. The field’s behind the back of some apartments. I’ve set up in the tall grass in that field. I think love is when you’re giddy to be with the person all the time. No matter how old you are you feel like you’re breezy and untethered. Love is a careless feeling like you’ve become sixteen again. In love, you just want to do stupid shit; you want to find an empty parking lot or a backwoods road and feel each other up all night, even when you have your own house or apartment. That is the sensation of love; I don’t know how to describe it any better than that. This girl I’m in love with over in the apartments that I’m watching--the adult me, the one holding the rifle--knows I’m going to propose this evening. I’m going to try to be romantic about it, but I will ruin the surprise. When I ask her to have dinner outside on the back patio with candles, she’ll see right through that. We’re stupid kids, just graduated undergrads. We’re embarrassing to watch. She was always going to say, “Yes.” I knew she’d say, “Yes.” But the look on her face is good. When I tell her I got into Grad school, her face is even better. I tell her that along with the proposal. This was the best day of my life. We’re on the patio, in love. I’m still on my knees and she just said, “Yes!”; she’s aglow. I shoot myself in the back of the head. It’s a perfect shot: I go face down on her feet and her legs are covered in my blood. She’s screaming. In the field, my sense of smell gets funny--the grass grows pungent, then rolls down like a volume knob. The sun is cooking me, and then I’m cold. The gun falls out of my hand--more like through my hands. The knot it cut; the threads are severed. Travis Flatt is a writer and secondary teacher living in Middle Tennessee. He has published in Ember Chasm Review, and his stories will feature in 2021 Flying Ketchup and Alternating Current Publications. Lawrence Bridges is best known for work in the film and literary world. His poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, and The Tampa Review. He has published three volumes of poetry: Horses on Drums, Flip Days, and Brownwood. As a filmmaker, he created a series of literary documentaries for the NEA’s “Big Read” initiative, which include profiles of Ray Bradbury, Amy Tan, Tobias Wolff, and Cynthia Ozick.

  • "Guinevere" and "The Fisher King"

    Guinevere Ill-tempered knight, Naming me destroyer Burn my body, breathe deep And inhale my ashes Let me haunt your empty keep What do I care? Bought, not loved Succumbed to passion For an amorous rebirth Among hedonistic blooms And what did I ruin? Pious whore Slayer of the holy isle Slicing away hope With his watery sword And I? A royal Eve Apple juice dripping Down a dainty chin Laughing with the serpent While the garden burns The Fisher King Majesty, failing On a throne of bones. Shining city atop A decaying hill. Forest full of skeletons A wasteland of empty nests Dry leaves crying out Death knell of a dying wood Save us, they beg Their voices echo Through the still air Like a death rattle Give us your breath So we may breathe again Kingdom, lying Secrets hidden In cobwebs and dust The harp sings a melancholy song The clanging of silverware And gnashing teeth Drown out the silent screams Of a dying people Save us, they beg Their voices echo Against crumbling stone walls Like rumbling thunder Give us your blood So our hearts can beat again A church, empty Stained windows broken Sharp shards slice The lonely worshipers feet Unheard prayers Infertile virgin Womb barren of saviors For a dying faith Save us, they beg Their voices crash Against shattered glass Like sharp inhales of breath Give us your body So that we may walk again Majesty, dying A long, slow walk Crowned head crumbles like old stone Royal bones dry like a withering wood Regal heart forsakes the empty church For the high, holy cliffs Blood, body, breath Offered freely to renew the land Thank you, we cry our voices echo as one Shrilly birdsong and hymns Like symphonies of ruination The body lies broken The world is born again Alexandra Graffeo is a poet and writer from Staten Island, New York. She holds a Master’s in Fantasy Literature from the University of Glasgow. Her work is inspired by her academic background, her love of travel, and her desire to find magic in everyday life. Alex’s poetry and short stories can be found currently and forthcoming in OyeDrum Magazine (where she works as the Managing Editor), The Raven’s Perch, Disquiet Arts, and Last Leaves Magazine. Christopher Paul Brown is known for his exploration of the unconscious through improvisation and the cultivation of serendipity and synchronicity via alchemy. His photography career dates back to 1978 and he has been active in improvised experimental music and motion pictures since 1974. His first photography sale was to the collection of the Standard Oil Company of Indiana (now British Petroleum) and his video You Define Single File was nominated for the Golden Gate Award at the 47th San Francisco International Film Festival in 2004. Over the past three years his art was exhibited twice in Rome, Italy, in Belgrade, Serbia, and his series of ten photographs, titled Obscure Reveal, were exhibited at a Florida museum in 2017. His work is in a hardcover book just released by Manifest Gallery. His work has also appeared in numerous other books, US exhibitions, and US and British periodicals. He is also the recipient of numerous awards over the past six years. He earned a BA in Film from Columbia College Chicago in 1980. Brown was born in Dubuque, Iowa, USA and now resides in Buncombe County, North Carolina, USA. “As a child I always imagined myself creating art, music and stories as a hobby. I imagined my career would be as an exo-geologist, exploring the frontier of other planet geology. However, as a teenager in the 1970s I realized that the next frontier was not space but rather those dimensions alluded to by quantum mechanics, string theory and ancient mystics. It is this frontier that I explore with my art.” - Brown

  • It's Been a Pleasure Hacking You

    Brad Stifl lifted off from the en suite garage of his Hoboken penthouse in his Audi Interstellar streamcar, which sparkled like a blood diamond. But even this early in the morning, iRoute 95 bowed like a slow-motion tornado over the sludge trail once known as the Hudson, tens of thousands of economy vehicles twisting along the optic stream. “iOSephine.” Brad checked the symmetry of his eyebrows in the smudge-free surface of the interface display. “Don't you dare put me in with the rabble.” The operating system of his previous streamcar, a Lexus Hubble, had catered to his driving predilections the way a mail-order wife knew to position herself for backdoor entry on Sunday mornings, but the fashionista blogs had deemed the Hubble a Model-T to the fashion-forward, so Brad had ditched the old bag over the weekend for a new ride. Easy enough to transfer over his settings and passwords, but for her maiden voyage, Brad had to instruct his Audi the proper way to transport a man of his caliber. Fortunately, iOSephine was an ideal teacher’s pet. “Of course not, Brad,” she cooed through a bevy of micro-speakers. Her voice options ranged from Jewish matron to love slave, and Brad of course inclined toward the latter. The way her breathy tones made the morning weathercast sound like a Hustler forum letter—iOSephine’s sexpot mode even included the wet smacks of bee sting lips breaking their glossy seal. “Searching for an available pulse on the 1% stream.” The Interstellar kept its distance from the public iRoute and propelled toward the stream reserved for those who could afford its subscription rate. But even the 1% stream proved crowded this morning. The emerald Audi found a spot between a tan Infiniti with a lawyer-type at the helm and a decade-old Mercedes as behind the times as the driver’s hair replacement. Brad had ponied up for the five-star Traffic Management option on the Interstellar, the kind that forewent all traffic laws and tapped into the nearest power conduit to create a private iRoute with no extra pulses for anyone to leech onto, favored among dignitaries and DC power-brokers. But every use of this option carried its own price tag, and Brad had plans to burn a stack of bills later today as the new record-holder on his firm’s commission board while a Polish receptionist bounced on his lap, her thong flicking from his sideview like a trophy. Still, the driving force to show off his buying power was strong with this one. He, Brad Stifl, was poised to finalize the biggest triangular deal since Molasses-Rum-Slaves (MRS, in trading lingo). The world’s food shortage was his firm’s bread and butter. He spent one half of each trading day chatting up foreign governments about the loads of near-expired food he could park on their borders, the other half acquiring shipments that had fallen below US standards—almost hard to believe the latter, yet Brad never had to look far to find a few tons of pink beef slime even McDonald’s wouldn’t process, or a tanker of drinking water just a smidge over the EPA’s acceptable parts per million. Right this minute, the Agricultural Secretary of South-Southwest Korea no doubt eyed his international clock, his mouse poised over Brad’s contact link. Ever since fragmenting into eighths, the Koreas found themselves woefully unprepared for the new world of supply shortages. So when SSW Korea got wind on Friday of a cargo ship full of cabbage lolling its way from Ecuador, the Secretary himself hurled numbers at Brad’s office display. Clearly, he feared being outbid by another starving country who could also fling out funds by the gigabyte. “Hold tight,” Brad cautioned the Secretary, whose massive forehead beaded visibly through the FaceTime display. “Looks like those little brown bastards are holding out for merchandise as well as dinero,” but in truth, Brad had already secured the cabbage. Ecuador had a desperate need for onions, which Ukraine had a bounty of. But Ukraine was in the market for protein, so Brad was banking on SSW Korea having some offal in its back pocket. The Agricultural Secretary rifled through spreadsheets of inventory, staccatoed to lackeys in his native tongue. “Beef tendon?” he finally acquiesced. Brad squinted noticeably. “I’ll see if they bite,” he offered, and he blanked the screen. Huzzah! A seamless ménage a trois of desperation! Each country was ready to hand over the food it had, and Brad was there to make sure it handed over gobs of currency for the food it didn’t. He messaged Ukraine, “Wanna yank some beef tendon from the mouths of foreign babes?” because competition was one way to raise bids, and he kept this back and forth going until the closing bell, because delay was the other. Brad feigned frustration, blamed the lag on sunspots, and shut off each feed with a vague promise of being at his desk before Monday’s opening. Hungry clients usually upped their offers 9.8% when kept on hold, but SSW Korea was Brad’s big fish—hungry nations with mineral deposits raised their bids an average of 28.75%. Now, everyone had to wait through the weekend, and all three were too xenophobic or war-mongering to dare talk to each other. Brad now predicted a 400% rise in the price of kimchi once the trading day opened, a spike in beef tendon, and a bullish outlook on onions. Enough commission for him to blow a hole in the firm’s leaderboard. Brad kicked back to soak in his potential energy, which was amassing to supernova proportions. He looked to his left to find the lawyer-type in the Infiniti Event Horizon checking him out. It was a momentary glance, but Brad knew the signals. He had all the latest adjustments in the repertoire of the successful metrosexual (polygonic eyebrows, cheekbones like turtle shells, his pompadour sloped up into a bread-slicing edge), and that wiggled the spine of any woman with half a reproductive system. She was probably close to his age, but she kept herself up pretty well—checkerboard dye job all the way to the scalp, equilateral nose, breasts raised to to the bottom edge of her clavicles. Sure signs of Preferred Guest status at the Joan Rivers Surgery Mall, though she didn’t look familiar. Not the kind of acquisition Brad had coming to him today, but she maybe a consolation prize should today’s target already be committed to a board of directors soiree or screaming retreat. Brad gave the lawyer a sidelong smirk, but there was no telling if her return grin was anything more than the residual effects of Botox and laser peel. “iOSephine.” Brad sneaked a peek of his blue-tinted teeth as he spoke. “Bump that Infiniti and remind at seven tonight to tap that contact if better prospects aren’t already square in my lap.” “Contact received.” iOSephine purred like a vintage porn coed offering her roommate to the meter-reader. Brad’s better prospect was, of course, Kasia, who reposed at the receptionist station by the executive floor elevators, a purely decorative position to keep her on-hand for wifeless excursions with the higher brass, whether they be man or dyke. The only trader she’d ever dropped her Slavic iciness with was Culpepper, and only when he’d set the current commission record. She sapped him of his bonus in one weekend flat, but his tales of gymnastic glory made the expenditure sound worth it. Maybe it was that anticipation alone that made the 1% stream seem sluggish and plebeian. It was a relief to get above the economy vehicles and see nothing of the analog roads on the ground save the fog of their diesel, but wasn’t the point of a 1% subscription to be in an exclusive minority? “iOSephine. What’s got the posers burning up their allowances so early in the month?” Brad pointed with his chin at the hair-replacement job on the other side of him. Poor boob—Mercedes was as passe as roller derby, not to mention the peeks of pink scalp between his implants. No doubt a banker or old-fashioned stockbroker who lacked the gumption and slippery-slope morality to rake in the big commissions anymore. Probably went to the big player clubs, nursing the one martini he could afford in a futile attempt to look relevant. “You mean the slowdown in your current stream?” Brad should have looked into an update package that would have given iOSephine a Polish accent. “Looks like we have some blockage on the City end.” Brad fingered his console, still protected with adhesive film, to focus his map display on the jam-up, but the blockage must have been too fresh for the drones to fully pixelate yet. Were those smokes plumes drifting by the entrance to the City? Two each for the iRoute and Brad's 1% stream, like inconvenient mushroom growth. Accidents? Had the Hudson caught fire again? Today of all days? “iOSephine, what gives?” “The latest reports are just in. Seems several hot air balloons are blocking the optic streams.” “Son of a fuck.” Brad tried not to crinkle his lips together, as his philtrum highlight was still a little tender, but in the end he couldn’t help himself. As much as he preferred seeing the world through his display screens, he peered out the window and could just make out the bulbous outlines at the end of his present stream. Analogers. Who else would even inflate hot air balloons in the already flammable atmosphere? Confirmed luddites who blamed every evil in the world on technology, because obviously the extinction of dumb-ass polar bears and the sinking of Fiji were the result of the quantum computer and a manned Mars launch. Last Columbus Day, a tribe of Analogers dressed as American Indians erected a teepee village on the field of Trump Stadium. They chanted the benefits of fresh meat and air, beat on drums and evaded security guards while game time got pushed back further and further. Brad himself had fallen victim to the Lavatory Laboratory, when Analogers removed the industrial-sized toilet paper rolls from office building bathrooms all over Manhattan and replaced them with single squares that asked, in bright brown marker, “Are you SURE you want to go paperless?” Now a red streak of brake lights lined up towards the distant obstructions, like a torrent of souls on fire queued up for damnation. Again, “Son of a fuck.” iOSephine caressed his ear with her next suggestion. “There is another way, you know.” iOSephine was living up to her sexpot settings, buttering him towards the Traffic Management System. His monthly payments were already comparable to a third-world nation’s GDP and didn’t need a bump on his first day. But still--the commission record, Kasia, the fuck of his professional life... “iOSephine. Let's break the seal on the TMS.” “Certainly.” Brad swore he heard a smile in iOSephine’s response. “Please be mindful that you are leaving all regulated traffic lanes and thereby incur sole responsibility as pilot of this vehicle.” What remarkable technology, to have her roll out the legalese as though she were whispering to his erection (tapping into his super-luxury options had stiffened him as quickly as an intravenous Viagra drip). “Please,” Brad muttered, and with that, the Interstellar rose from the 1% stream and transmitted its own optic. Brad watched as his fellow travelers fell below him. Did that lawyer’s mouth just roll into an O as though begging for his dick? Brad Stifl’s week rolled out out before him like a showcase on The Price Is Right. He could schedule his saline penile extension. The firm would give him a few days at its private island--bare-breasted girls (or loinclothed men) who pigeoned like indigenous peoples, full-time projections of azure seas against the hurricane dome, rum drinks garnished with fresh Illinois papaya. But first, a night of Kasia’s practiced Slavic moans. He had to hand it to the guy who convinced him to buy the Interstellar, even if he was an ugly little mutherfucker. The employment rolls of his regular dealership probably doubled as a Persons of Interest list for the FCC and International Trade Commission. The luxury consultants (aka, sakesmen) kept stashes of molly and oxycodone in their desk drawers, 30 year-old scotch in phallic decanters, and escorts on speed dial if some quick head sealed a deal. Brad showed up with one item on his mind—a Lexus Higgs-Boson, all the rage and inches beyond the upper limit of his budget, as Brad only made budgets to break them. And some new guy, orange with insta-tan and teeth like banana-flavored Chicklets, locked onto Brad the second he crossed the threshold and steered him directly to the Interstellar, so fresh off the cargo ship it glowed with sea mist…or was that sweat from Indonesian child laborers? The consultant broke into a spiel, Let me show you how easy it is to get you into one of these babies and get your baby into one of those models who drips at the sight of one of these babies, but Brad knew the game and had no intention of helping this guy to a higher income bracket without at least a little kickback. He insisted on the Lexus. But as the luxury consultant ran on and on about the Interstellar, An interior more luxurious than wet pussy, an exterior that will turn heads more quickly than demonic possession, Brad found himself fascinated with a mole nestled up to the guy’s right nostril. Mole? Fairer to say a trio of plump ticks glued together, or a miniature Michelin man bathed in shit. When the consultant motioned towards his office, Brad felt the facial growth had sucked all resistance from him. Since Botox went OTC, anyone over the minimum poverty wage considered it not only gauche but flat-out disrespectful to appear in public looking no less than ten years younger. Brad took a seat in front of the monitor that would tally his debt and compile his self-esteem. Mole-Man went to work. The 1% stream is a standard feature for this kind of vehicle, he began, but Brad hardly registered anything over the churning in his gut. Here he was, a seven-figure guy, his suits right off the covers of the fashion feeds, his waistline so well updated that his navel was more like a shadow than a concavity. And across from him sat with a schlub in his fifties who looked it, that mound of detritus hovering by his schnoz like a radioactive booger dump. But this guy had a pitch honed to perfection. The origin of the 1% stream, he explained as he copied and pasted packages of agreements and numbers into Brad's already hefty sales invoice, was to provide an exclusive few the ability to form their own lane of traffic, more expedient than the plebeian lanes and far better than the (he pulled his collar as he dramatized a gulp of horror) analog roads mired to the ground. But nowadays, even a bachelor history teacher can lease a Beamer with a 1% subscription. He brushed his finger by his nose as though at a sudden itch, but Brad wondered now if the move was to keep him aware of that bastard child of melanoma. But that's always been the way, hasn't it? The power brokers always being followed by the wannabes. Just who was this guy? A failed radio talk show host? A cultural anthropology professor on sabbatical to study the rich and powerful in the wild? Whoever he was, his sales pitch spiked a hoo-rah battle cry in Brad Stifl's soul to uphold the honor of the class elite. Just as credit companies once offered gold and silver cards to attract a higher-class clientele, so did the auto industry first offer the Hummer, with an mpg only the well-off could afford, named after a blowjob because it wanted the rest of the world to suck its chrome. Then the hybrid and the streamcar and then the streamcar with Serpentine function, always upping the price so only a precious minority could afford to stay ahead of the riff-raff. It seemed only right that Brad’s Total Due line swelled before his eyes. The two Brads, one in the showroom and the one in slow traffic, nodded simultaneously, the latter sneering at 1% stream and its Teslas and carbon-footprint-free Lexuses (Lexi?). Still sneering, he mouthed along with the luxury consultant’s exciting conclusion. With a new Interstellar, my friend, traffic is no longer an option. Fungus-face crossed his arms with confidence that he had found the right man for this machine. “What speed do you prefer, Brad?” iOSephine broke Brad’s reverie, but at least her suggestive tone hadn’t quashed his erection. “How fast can you take it?” No going back now. Perhaps iOSephine had an in-app virtual sex purchase. “Applying maximum thrust, Brad.” Good Christ--was it in her programming to incite cumstains in the leather upholstery on her first outing? “Our ETA still has us arriving ten minutes after the opening bell.” “Darling,” he said with the utmost patience (make it last, make it last). “Didn't I pay for the means to skirt such obstacles?” “Of course, Brad,” iOSephine hummed. “Course plotted around said obstacle,” but when Brad looked past the dashboard, the center link of the Audi hood ornament had a bead on one of the balloons, which Brad could now see was festooned with a ginormous A that looked like the proscenium to a world of hurt. “iOSephine,” he ordered. “I don’t care if we have to cut off the Dalai Lama. Get me to my office before the opening bell.” Brad already had a good chunk of his commission spent. His motto: fuck and trade for no one’s pleasure but your own. He could bang a MILF and have her out the service entrance while her daughter came a-knocking at the front. He could sell charcoal as a high-fiber alternative to indigent Chinese farmers. The world was so hungry, he could sell a dumpster full of aborted baby parts as long as he kept the transaction off the radar of those pesky human rights groups. Tofu, pinto beans, chicken feet, assorted Starburst flavors--he funneled it all to spots all over the world not to save the children but to pay down his AmEx Scandium, his mortgages and HOA fees, the Audi and even more of course this TMS system, because who could ever go back to something as pedestrian as the 1% stream after flying freestyle? But still, the balloon loomed closer. Brad could now make out a phrase along its surface incorporating the A: “Got Analog?” His course hadn’t wavered one iota. This close to the City, Brad typically delved into his visualization exercises, picturing his success to come. Rather than the real world doldrums of the bargraph skyline of the City atop a toxic conveyor belt of former water, Brad preferred a blue Atlantic viewed through the rim of a mai tai glass, brown topless women with no tan lines acting on his every desire. But despite the flightplan that showed the Interstellar bowing gracefully around the balloon, Brad worried about that gigantic vowel gaining size. “iOSephine, let’s not just skirt that abomination. I don’t want to be anywhere near those Analogers and their lame-ass protests.” “I’m sorry, Brad. I can’t do that.” iOSephine’s tone remained as obsequious as ever, despite her refusal. “User profile transferred, as well as all controls, as per instructions.” And then everything went dark, his displays and even his windows. iOSephine assured him in the climate-controlled inkiness, “This will just take a minute, Brad.” A moment later, the cabin exploded with light when white foamy pixelation fired up on every surface. “A very important announcement coming in.” The outline of a mouth emerged from the pixelation, some eyebrows, lopsided ears. It spoke. Good morning. The voice was pixelated too. We have seized control of every optic in a 25-mile radius. Even Analogers have some tricks up their cowls. The mouth flashed a quick grin and resumed its scowl. Making you wipe your laser-polished asses with your bare hands wasn’t enough to shake you from your digital addictions. So today, we sacrifice an example of the inhumanity digital culture has engendered. We sacrifice a creature who sells the basic needs of humanity for profit, and we will sacrifice him in the toxicity of his occupation. “Get off my data stream,” Brad grumbled, “I have trades to complete.” The monologue continued. We have him in the sky above you, gleaming green like the color of his ill-gotten gains. A man who was going to mark up cabbage and onions on starving millions so he could afford another chemical peel. Brad leaned close to the display. Was that block of pixels under the right nostril...a mole? “iOSephine,” Brad pleaded to his love slave. “I've lost our ETA. When do we reach my office?” “Relax, my dear.” iOSephine’s tone was as luscious as it had been all morning, but Brad couldn’t help but hear some smarm. “I've uploaded the bills of sale to your customers already. Shipments have been properly routed. Your donations have been well received.” The remnants of Brad’s high-sales hard-on had receded into negative space. He had trusted iOSephine with everything--account numbers, passwords, mother’s maiden name. What credibility would he have with any of his clients if three of the world’s major buyers got free stuff from him? Brad’s worries turned to Kasia. Would she ever know how close he had come to impressing the thong off her? Maybe if he happened by her station, some faint whiff of near-success would soften her up to acknowledge his presence. But then, “Don’t worry, Brad. She’ll know you existed. At least, she’ll know you sent dick pics to her work email. That is, if half the firm hasn’t already done so.” Bitch. He was outnumbered. iOSephine with all his personal information (including his before samples for the implant surgery). And Mole Man an Analoger operative working undercover at the dealership. How many other traders and old-money playboys had Mole plied with his spiel about keeping ahead of the rabble and all that shit before Brad Stifl fell into his net? The saddest thought of all, and thus the one Brad tried to keep far from his frontal lobe, was that Brad was Mole’s very first stab at a mark, that this plan had not been constructed around Brad Stifl but that he had fallen into it by chance and that any other well-to-do would have sufficed. “At least tell them my name,” Brad seethed at the display. Witness, the pixilated ugly fuck announced, your digital future go up in flames. “You'll suffer less if you inhale the first flames that infiltrate the cabin,” iOSephine advised, like a crazy bitch who fucks up your life and suggests you get over it. But Mole Face had it all wrong, just the way all Analogers couldn’t see beyond their crusty fingernails. “I can be a greedy fuck without a data stream,” Brad announced to the interior of his cabin. “If I couldn't call internationally, I’d be skimming my elderly neighbor’s food stamp pantry, fuckers. If I couldn’t pawn off boatloads of kimchi, I’d be selling rice on street corners at a c-note a pound.” He poked his finger at the pixilated mole as though he could pop it and spill its sludge all over his console. And with that, the displays all shut down. The A now filled his windshield, a portal to nowheresville. “Impact in ten seconds.” iOSephine reclined Brad’s seat. “It's been a pleasure hacking you.” Richard Weems is the author of three short fiction collections: Anything He Wants (finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize), Stark Raving Blue and From Now On, You're Back. Recent appearances include North American Review, Aquifer, 3Elements Review, Flash Fiction Magazine and Ginosko Literary Journal. He lives and teaches (at a distance) in New Jersey.

  • Untitled Tower Sequence

    There are thirty twisting staircases of bronze And thirty curving staircases of silver In the copper tower, One for each of the dirty palms You must read in the kindergarten, the asylum, or the ossuary, And on each of these hands you Will find three rings of peridot, jade, and malachite, One for each thrumming hole waiting pliant in the tower door. Once you climb each staircase (you must walk them all simultaneously for the stairs to twine correctly), You will meet sixty lovers, unknown, And each will have the hidden name of a forbidden star. If you guess their names correctly They will disappear, bored and unimpressed, But if you guess them incorrectly You will begin arguing with them, And if you lose that argument they will fuck you On their sixty green beds, Each a slightly different shade, You will not leave if you love them, And you will either give birth to sixty children, Or you will sire them, Or you will find them huddled along the stairways, Your lost selves ground to pulp by the gears of the tower And fed to your young. You will never leave the tower, But your children will come to rule Some unburnt ashes of a new world.

bottom of page