SD Short Story Contest Finalist: I’m Still Here – ZeinaA.G

Im_Still_Here_by_Zeina_Abi_Ghosn
Day 1

I’ve seen him around playing at the park. Glimpses of him kicking the ball keeps my heart beating. I stand behind the fence noticing his blonde hair bouncing with each movement. At least he is safe and looked after. If I approach, would he blame me for leaving?  A guilty sensation haunts me and I can’t understand why. Would anyone believe me if I told them I don’t remember leaving and the reason why? I could wait longer for my memory to come back but the more I linger on the subject the more I feel he is forgetting me. A sense of urgency rushes over me as a woman picks Noah up and I want to scream for someone to save him from her. Then the teacher helps him with his bag and it hits me that maybe my ex-husband has remarried. I stare numbly in their direction as I try to remember what kind of mother am I?  How could I leave my child unexpectedly?

I follow them to the movies and the woman meets my ex-husband in the parking lot. Thunder roars from a distance and I stare at the ragged clouds. The sky releases few drops of rain and the woman gestures for my son to run inside. I wonder if I should follow them inside and before I finish that thought I find myself inside hiding behind a gigantic movie poster. I despise that I have to hide but I don’t have a plan yet on how to approach them so for now I prefer to watch them. I can see them at the concession stand laughing as they order Noah’s popcorn. I retreat and leave for the day allowing the idea of Noah loving another mother figure to sink in. This is going to be rough on him if I show up out of nowhere with no explanation. I wonder if it’s selfish to ask to meet him when he has adjusted so well to his new life and I decide to drop it for today.

Day 2

Sometimes I think life is so fleeting and there’s this blinding light which I spot from time to time but it passes like a breeze, as if I’m passing near it in a car or it’s hiding behind a building. I’m not sure what it is, but as I get up this morning I know I have to try harder to get my son’s attention. I wake up with this sense of urgency that it has to be today, I need to talk to Noah today.

I get ready by noon, and head over to my ex-husband’s place but it’s too late they seem to be getting into the car and they go somewhere. I glare at his new wife enraged how they have kept me away from my child all these years. I’ve only seen the back of Noah’s head over the years; it’s as if they know I’m out there. As if they know, I’m desperate to steal one glance. I follow them to the park and wait for them to walk few feet away from me. I bend down on my knees and peer through the bushes my hand resting lightly on the wires. I stare at my little boy, my beautiful angel and I wonder if he still needs me. If he still remembers me, he turns around and I see his face. His baby features are all gone, and that frown on his face tells me he isn’t okay.

Dark clouds are growing ominous as I stand up fast whispering, “Do you still need me?” hoping he would hear and approach the sound. I have the courage to walk up to a clear space where everyone can see me. The moment I want to step closer I hesitate, the birthday balloons sway beneath my touch. My eyes water when I spot the huge banner I should have prepared and the birthday cake we could have baked together. I stare at Noah’s features again and I get a strange feeling that his sad, hazel brown eyes remember.

The day he was born flourishes into my memory as if had just happened. He clutched my fingers so hard as if he knew me, as if he was eager to meet me as much as I wanted to meet him. I spent hours, days and weeks counting these perfect little fingers and toes. I spent the nights dreaming of the day he’d run to me and drag me off my work so I could play catch with him. My idea of perfection was when he used to sneak into my bed each morning with his soft snuggly bear. He’d think I wasn’t awake but I was, I could feel his warmth against my cheek as he whispered, “Wake up, mommy!”

My memory is so groggy and I’ve felt sick for years that I have no idea if I have done anything wrong, could they have both moved on so fast? The step mum approaches Noah and she kneels down caressing his hair. I immediately feel myself float forward wanting to hear what she was telling him. I stare at the Spiderman birthday cake and the candle that says six. I look shamefully at myself knowing I shouldn’t have come without a present.

I’m practically behind them shoving my way to look and be present when the step mum whispers in his ear, “She’d be so proud of you.” She exchanges a pained glance with my ex and that is when it hits me. I stare at my hands which are turning transparent, and my feet that are no longer there. I watch myself wither before I get the chance to touch his soft cheek. It all comes back to me, the sick nights I was trapped in a fragile body. My husband comforted and lay near me. There was that one promise I begged him to keep, was to seek happiness, and search for stability.

The light gets stronger and I finally understand what it’s for. My son blows out his candles. I clap proudly and send him a kiss, which blows out his party hat. He giggles and picks it up. I notice the tears in my husband’s eyes. The emotion in the stepmom’s eyes freezes me; I bet she has been dedicated to my son’s happiness all these years because of the way he looks at her. I circle a ball of glow around the three of them which I know will protect them.

I hear a voice asking if I’m ready and I follow it through an endless foggy path. My concern grows as I float away from them, but as soon I step into the light, my son’s future flashes in front of my eyes. His future birthdays and milestones flourish in front of my eyes along with his teen years and even though I’m away now I’m certain he will be okay. A sense of belonging and peace overcomes me as if nothing is chasing me anymore.

The voice explains that I have to stay here until we are reunited one day and I accept it. As I watch their life reel, I witness my family’s happiness and my eyes water at their tribulations. As I stare at this beautiful, complicated world below me I ask the voice for one last request. I hear a low hum and then he asks me what I want. I clear my throat and speak out, “Each time my son encounters an obstacle or questions his faith… I want to send a whisper with a gentle breeze saying, I’m still here.”


I’m from Lebanon. I’m a photographer and I manage my parents’ photography studio. My passion for writing began since school days but I never acted on it until two years ago when I began writing a novel. I also have a blog where I write about life’s hardship. Writing with an Open Heart

SD Short Story Contest Finalist: Anomalies – J.J. Fletcher

Anomolies 1

Articulated. That’s what Dr. White called the brand new skeleton that moved joint by joint and was now hanging prominently in his private office. Henry Webster’s eyes were wide as he took in the skeleton, reaching out to stroke the ulna, to flex the phalanges. Most doctors didn’t have a skeleton, but then most doctors didn’t have their own apothecary shop or office. Dr. White wasn’t most doctors, and that’s why Henry liked him so.

Originally hanging in the front window, Dr. White moved the skeleton to his examination room under intense community pressure. The good people of Gilmanton, New Hampshire, were fervent in their belief that the dead should be buried as soon as possible and most certainly not desecrated, and that this monstrosity was simply not for the eyes of God-fearing people. Interested less in educating the masses and more in maximizing his profits with best-sellers like “Dr. White’s Soothing Syrup for Babies and Toddlers, pat. pend. 1873,” the doctor acquiesced to his paying public.

When Henry had tired of hearing his mother prattle endlessly about yet another ailment he stared politely past the brass mortar and pestle, past the small brass pill maker, and at Doc White until he received a knowing nod. Then, through the open door across from the apothecary’s cabinet, Henry wandered toward the skeleton’s new place of residence. He let his fingers trace the length of the examination table on his way to the adjacent private office. It was here that Henry did what he normally did under these circumstances: looked in on the perfectly preserved specimens floating in liquid. There was an eyeball, a heart, a lower jaw, a malformed foot, and, Henry’s personal favorite, an infant who died at birth—and its parasitic twin—on full display.
Henry could hear his mother asking for more laudanum. She was going on and on, questioning how people could have a funeral when they hadn’t even found the body to know he’s dead.

He’s dead, mother. He’s been missing for three weeks.

“I just don’t understand, Doctor. How can they do that? How can they give up hope?” Mrs. Webster’s voice rose hysterically.

Because they know he’s too stupid to last this long on his own. Henry snorted, then felt a twinge of guilt. It’s true. The guilt disappeared.

“I’m just not sure how I’ll get through Olin’s funeral without more laudanum, Doctor. It sounds devilish of me, but I’m thankful it’s my nephew and not one of my children. But these children–first Austin Bunker, then little Georgie Foss, then my dear niece Mary, and now–” She sobbed.

Henry closed his eyes tightly and allowed his thoughts to drown out his mother’s voice. It didn’t take long, for Dr. White’s office was a place of respite for him. He enjoyed making himself at home while he perused the specimens. Dr. White had given him free reign of the office long ago after learning of the boy’s interests. When Henry’s nosy sister Ellen discovered he was dissecting animals and told their parents, they promptly consulted Dr. White. The doctor dismissed their concerns about his mental well-being. In fact, he told them to encourage Henry’s curiosity. He even suggested they allow the boy to come round so that the doctor could teach him all he knew. Henry’s first lesson was how to make the mercury and alcohol concoction used in the preservation of specimens.

“You have a brain built for the scientific method, Henry,” the doctor told him one warm afternoon. “You aren’t bothered by the sight of the unusual, nor do you let our religious underpinnings trap you into thinking this is wrong. Your mind is open enough to see that our old ideas about the body being made of humors is incongruous with what we know–and can see.”

Soon thereafter, Dr. White presented him with a book by Andreas Vesalius called De humani corporis fabrica: On the Fabric of the Human Body. Henry was just ten but was fascinated with Vesalius’ depictions of the dissected human body. Bones, cartilage, ligaments, muscles–it was all there, and it enthralled Henry. He knew with this knowledge, things would never be the same.

Henry gingerly touched the bones one by one, flexing the joints to make each dance its individual dance. He thought back to the time when he feared the doctor’s office, before he’d found the human body fascinating, before Dr. White became his friend. Only three years ago, it now seemed to Henry like a dream.

A group of his classmates had walked home from school just behind Henry. As the group dwindled down to three of his cousins–Olin Mudgett, Samuel Whitehouse, and Josiah Webster–their abuse of Henry began. At 9, Henry was in the same grade as Olin, though Olin was 12. The boys usually picked on Henry about his intelligence, but anything was fair game to them, from Henry’s appearance to his sister taking a job cleaning for Dr. White.

“Henry, are you ever going to grow, or will you always be scrawny and skinny?” Olin started. Olin always started. He was pulling a small strip of leather through his fingers absentmindedly, like a mother would stroke her daughter’s hair.

“He’ll always be scrawny and skinny. He doesn’t even look like a Mudgett,” Samuel said.

“He doesn’t look like a Webster either,” Josiah added. “Maybe someone left him on Uncle Levi’s doorstep and Aunt Theodora felt sorry for him.”
Olin snorted. “Aunt Theodora wouldn’t remember if she gave birth or not, what with all the laudanum she takes.”

Henry kept his head down and continued walking. He didn’t stop even when he felt the crack of the leather sting his neck.

“You know your father really made mine mad, Henry,” Olin said, slowly drawing the leather through his fingers. It was attached to a stick, making the ‘whip’ part of a whip-and-top toy. He’d stopped playing with the top long ago and instead used the whip to torment weaker living beings. “He made it sound like our family’s not as good as yours, but father reminded him that we’re the same family.”

Henry rolled his eyes. He felt the leather take another bite of his neck. He kept going.

“I told my father our family is better than yours.” Olin jumped in front of Henry, forcing him to stop. They were next to Dr. White’s. “I think you’re a chicken, just like your father.”

Henry glared at him.

“Want to prove you’re not?”

“No.”

“Too bad.” He flicked the whip at Henry’s face, but Henry jumped out of the way just in time.

Josiah added, “I heard he’s afraid of Doc White.”

“I am not,” Henry said, glancing sideways at the doctor’s office. The boys were right. He was afraid. His mother came home from there once and didn’t know who Henry was. And whenever she took spoonfuls of Dr. White’s syrupy liquid in the brown bottle, she often fell asleep so hard Henry couldn’t wake her up.

“You’re afraid of what goes on in there.” Olin pushed his finger into Henry’s chest. “So I think you should go in.”

“No.” In spite of his best attempt to slow it, Henry’s heart was racing.
“If you don’t go in, I’ll make you go in.”

“I heard Miss Oberhund after school saying that Doc White got called to Old Man Wissen’s farm to help deliver a calf. So guess who isn’t here?” Samuel taunted.
Henry grimaced, but his patience was extraordinary. The boys hadn’t laid hands on him up to this point, and he was used to their verbal abuse. He could wait anything out, just like his father’s punishments in the attic.

Suddenly, Henry felt several hands on him, pushing and pulling and forcing him to the door of the doctor’s office. The small leather whip bit into his face and neck. He saw the solid wood counter go by. The glass in the apothecary cabinet glinted in the sun. Before he knew it, the boys shoved him into the doctor’s private office and pulled the door shut. Henry’s eyes roved all over the room, looking for an exit, but something on a shelf arrested his eyes. He blinked and cocked his head. He gingerly took a few steps forward, shortening the distance between him and the oddity floating in liquid in a huge glass jar. He let out a gasp. He clenched his eyes shut, but they flew open in seconds.

Is that the devil? he thought. It looked like a baby, but it had part of another tinier baby growing out of it. Only part–two legs, an arm, and part of a head. Atop the head was a small tuft of hair and a single tooth. That’s not the devil, he told himself. It’s just not normal, that’s all.

It grew dark, but Henry didn’t notice, for all he could see were the parts and pieces of humans in the other jars, labeled and lined up beautifully.

“What are you doing in here, young man?”

The voice startled Henry back to reality. His stomach rumbled. What time is it? He turned to see Dr. White.

“I say, what are you doing in here?”

“I’m sorry, Doctor White. My cousins, they–” Henry hesitated. He didn’t want any more tricks from the boys if he told.

“Three of ‘em?” Doc White asked, his voice turning friendly. “Another Mudgett boy, a Webster, and a Whitehouse?”

Henry nodded.

“What’d they do, son?”

“They shoved me in here and shut the door on me.”

Dr. White nodded. “Ruffians. I know they’re your cousins, but they’re ruffians.” He walked over to the specimen jars. “Henry, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you find these interesting, Henry?” The doctor put his large paw-like hand on Henry’s shoulder.

“Yes, sir!”

“You don’t find them scary?”

“No, sir. Why should they be scary? They’re just, well, they’re–” His nine year old brain couldn’t find the right word. “Like me. Like my brain. Different.”

“Anomalies, Henry. Anomalies. Not usual, different. And you’re right. They should not be scary, yet many people find them so. There are worse monstrosities walking this earth than that poor baby there.”

From that point on, Henry respected Dr. White more than anyone else, and not solely because he understood Henry’s preoccupation with the human body or because he assured his family that boys dissecting animals was a sign of robustness. Medicine was on the cusp of changing. Phrenology was on its way out, and real medicine was on its way in. In England, Dr. Lister championed for cleanliness in surgery. Many doctors thought him a quack until post-surgery mortality decreased.

The feeling was mutual. Doc White looked at Henry as his potential protégé, a boy beyond his years in intelligence and maturity, a boy who was not surprised by medical findings, a boy who was not deterred by what others found gross or against God. Henry thrived under Dr. White’s tutelage.

“Henry,” Dr. White called, breaking the boy from his reminiscence. “Are you–there you are, son.” He smiled at the boy. “I think your mother is ready now.” Henry winced at the reminder.

“Did you give her more laudanum?” Henry asked. He’d told Dr. White about his mother’s attentiveness to the little brown bottle.

The doctor nodded. “But–” He put one finger to his lips. “It’s diluted.” He winked. Henry winked back. “Remember, Henry, your mother has many difficulties in her life. Few people are as rational as you. And now, with your cousin, Olin…”

“I understand, sir,” he said. “I’m an anomaly.”

Doc White patted him on the shoulder. “It’s not a bad thing, Henry. Say, Mrs. Oglesby’s sow should be giving birth in the next couple of days. Want to help?”
Henry’s eyes widened. “Really? I can?”

“I think you’re ready. Have you been studying up on Vesalius’ book?”

“Every day, sir. Every day.”

“I’ll send for you when I get the news.”

“Oh, thank you, Dr. White. Thank you.” Henry was beaming. He was on his way to becoming a doctor.

“Off you go, son.”

#

Henry had skipped all the way home, circling back when he strayed too far from his mother. He didn’t care who saw him. He didn’t care that he was supposed to be in mourning like his mother and the rest of his family. He was going to get to see the inner workings of a real, live pig. He was happy being an anomaly.
“Henry!” His father’s voice boomed up the stairs. “Change into your Sunday clothes. Olin’s funeral starts in forty minutes.”

Up in his attic bedroom, Henry sat on his floor and pulled out the small wooden box from under his bed. He opened it and smiled as he admired Austin’s favorite marble, Georgie’s sweater button, and Mary’s white leather glove. He carefully made space for the strip of leather from Olin’s whip. His collection was growing.


J.J. Fletcher is an English teacher, writer, and dog rescuer. “Anomalies” is part of a short story collection that re-imagines the childhood of Dr. H.H. Holmes–Chicago’s (allegedly) first serial killer. Fletcher is currently at work on a crime novel, The Devil Inside Me, in which a descendant of Holmes resurrects his duplicitous and murderous legacy in the Windy City. Learn more at www.jjfletcherbooks.com.

SD Short Story Contest Finalist: Las Luchadoras – Riley Mayes

Las Luchadoras 5

The last summer they were together, it was war time. Not in the battles that were fought overseas but in their chests and hearts and the bitterness of their mouths as they ate meals together in a taut line of silence. It was the intensity of bloodshed, and how they let themselves bleed. Sangre poured onto the dishes that went unwashed, the floor that went unswept, and the mirrors smudged with fingertips, until angry hands took it upon themselves to clean the messes they had made. But the blood still wept.

They were two strokes of fire in an unlit well. Flames rushing up either side and flickering towards the top, but never reaching open air; held tight to their little home of photographs all shuffled out of view and turned down on the cabinet tops. That girl, she wanted to hurl herself from the dark pitch of that well. Her anger was enough to seize the countryside and burn it to the ground. Trees, flowers, creatures, all she loved, down to the silt of the earth. Her anger was an unrelenting red that puckered and whined under the heat of her belly. She begged it, coaxed it, pleaded with it as her mother commanded, again and again: controla tu temperatura. With every pulse of her heart, she tried. You could see it in the half moons on her palm, where the nail bit. You could see it in the knuckles of her fists, that shone dark speckled bruises in the lamplight. But it was not a part of her she could maintain; it overcame and controlled her. Everything she was. The soft gentle aching was washed away with a steel wool sponge, little cuts and tears on her heart where the wound would never heal.

The two of them fought with silence, they fought with words. They fought like sisters. Dark like blood and wine, biting like salt and soil. Their voices were like the chapped underside of the lemon peels that curled beside the sink, sourness that burned white with age.

Even the house had turned against them. It came first in the broken bits. Door knobs falling from the handles, hitting the wood floor in the night like a porter tolling his midnight bell. Under the pressure of their wordlessness, the dishes cracked; and with their apologies, they broke. Crawling into the grout lines of their kitchen tiles and working their way in tidy westward lines, sugar ants invaded. The house groaned in the heat and the roof sagged with leaves that clustered there; the walls grew smaller all the time. Before them and between them, chair legs and arms seemed to shove every which way.

Just when it seemed like it could go no further, the summer broke its fever and breezes began to mourn in the windows at night. Quietly, their tempers dampened. Not extinguished, but not quite burning, either. The frosts were coming and soon mother and daughter would be leaving each other. Knowing this, their hands became soft on their plates. Their voices gingerly picked their way around the scattered pieces between them.

On the first day of September, when the daughter went to turn her key in the door for the last time, something caught her eye. It was in the crack in the front stairs, where the rain always fell through and warped the wood just so; no thicker than a horse hair, no taller than a blade of grass. Sweet and hopeful, shivering gently in the breeze. A tiny white flower, curled softly in the steps.


Having grown up in a family of librarians and book-lovers, I have always been a highly motivated writer. Whether this meant poetry, short stories, or critical essays, the written word has been my constant companion for as long as I can remember. I have received several awards for my writing, including first place in Maine’s statewide Merriconeag Poetry Festival, a Scholastic Gold Key, and second place in the 2017 Writing For Peace Competition sponsored by DoveTales, An International Journal of the Arts. Currently, I reside in Massachusetts as a student and research assistant, where I read, write, and create art as often as possible.

SD Short Story Contest Finalist: All Caps, No Spaces – Wes Trexler

All Caps No spaces
You’re completely disoriented as you run down the steps of the courthouse in Downtown Manhattan. This isn’t exactly your neighborhood, and it’s hard to get your bearings straight at first, but you know you have to move fast and catch a train soon, any train headed Uptown, so you move as quick as you can in dress shoes minus the laces.
Within a couple blocks you spot the green globes of a Metro tunnel, and head for the station at Foley Square.
On the platform you grow anxious. You were just sprung from Central Booking about fifteen minutes ago, and you’re humming with pent-up energy. You repeat some details in your head, memorizing acronym-encrypted chunks of vital intel.
“ROR…released on recognizance…three misdemeanors. Franklin Seigel from the NLG…you were sprung by Frank Seigel, CUNY Law professor…no, respected CUNY Law professor.”
You didn’t sleep at all in holding, so now, in a quasi-hypnogogic state, your head spins, leaning back on the plastic seat of the subway. You’re worried about things at home, but you can’t call ahead because they confiscated your phone. To stay grounded, you keep at it with the details, cataloguing facts and codifying the official scene for future recall.
Things you know: It’s Saturday. You’ve been released after about twenty hours in various kinds of NYPD lockup. You were arrested on your birthday. Yesterday was 11-11-11. You turned 33 years old on 11-11-11, and you got arrested for organizing a prayer circle in Central Park.
Old enough to know better, you think.
Now it’s nine PM, and you’ve gotta make it back to Brooklyn to host a loft party—a little punk benefit show you put together to buy socks and gloves for the people at Zuccotti.
On the L train you daydream about the last few hours, try to remember your own words so you can repeat them verbatim later.
You see yourself in the cell, jumping up when your name is finally called, stepping through the sliding barred-door into the narrow hall between cages where they shackle you to a chain with about a dozen other dudes. This is your last chance.
Loud and steady, for everyone up and down the hall to hear, you say, “The global class struggle has begun. Don’t be on the wrong side of revolution, people. I urge each and every one of you, when you get back on the outside, do whatever you can to resist, resist, resist.”
You’re not being at all ironic, and no one thinks you are, so you get some positive grumbling, a lot of head nods, one power-fist and one heckler.
Good enough, you think.
The Corrections Officer leads you through the maze of bare tunnels toward arraignment. When you get to a spiral stairway he hollers to the other guards, “Got ten bodies comin’ up the stairs.” He yells it dull and sterile like someone working the mic at Burger King.
“You got ten human beings,” you yell, to no one, and to everyone.
The officer pretends to ignore you. You are officially someone else’s problem now.
Again, you run. As soon as the L train lets off at the Montrose stop you book it to the loft. It feels good to run in the night, to stretch your legs as you move down the street past the Projects. You’re worried about the loft party, hoping GI Dave or one of the Yankou brothers took charge when they heard you got locked up. Hopefully someone found a good PA to use. Hopefully you’ll have no problem getting in the front door with no keys and no phone.
After three blocks you turn the corner onto McKibbin, and you can see from here a small gaggle of Westchester White-guilt punks hovering by the front entrance.
You’re right on time.
Once you’re home, things move fast. There’s a mild hero’s welcome from everyone at hand, but you just wanna know if Gloria’s there. She’s not. Nobody can tell you where she is. This infuriates you to no end, but you don’t let it show. You try not to, at least.
Gloria. The real one. The one Van Morrison’s always croaking about. The girl everyone thinks of as your ex-wife. The firecracker everyone thinks of as your ex-wife.
She’s the singer in your band. Her flight leaves in the morning. She’s giving up on New York, or running away, or taking a break or something. Everything she owns is piled up unpacked under your plywood loft bed, and scattered all around on the dirty floor.
People start showing up—teenage musicians with gear, listless scenesters and unfamiliar kids in skinny-jeans—then, Gloria’s all-time favorite NYC noise/art band TURBO-SLEAZE—all caps, no spaces—load in a trailer-worth of speaker cabs and amps, sprawling a pile of mic-stands and XLR cables across the stage in the living-room. Competent people are doing necessary things so you retreat to your bedroom and try to prepare for the show.
There’s acid. There’s cocaine. No, there’s no cocaine, but you call Ghetto-J down the street and he delivers. You share with no one and brood, make up malicious scenarios about where she might be, what she’s doing and why she’s late while you tattoo your little mirror with a razor blade.
The loft fills up with commotion and body-heat ‘til you can’t hardly stand it.
Out of frustration you start cramming her suitcases and bags with stripper clothes, bras and homemade dresses, clearing a path from the door to your desk.
You are about to vacate, to run sweating down the stairs for some fresh filthy air, when Gloria suddenly rolls in smiling, overstuffed bags bulging in each hand. She plops them down in the middle of the floor and gives you a soul hug. Tells you how proud she is.
The doom evaporates with the sound of her bags touching down, and you are right back to fighting-weight in an instant.
You share some with her. Tell her things about the arrest and about the prayer circle. You both laugh and get excited.
The drummer shows up. Bands play.
Soon, too soon, you’re on stage, strapped into the Flying V. All the pedals and cables give you some trouble at first, but you pull it together just in time. And by the first hook of the first song it’s perfect. Even with the untested virgin replacement drummer the sound is huge in the tiny loft. Gloria’s singing her guts out, and you know it’s right.
A bold smile crawls across your face as you tilt your head way back, trying to keep the snot and blow from dripping onto your lips. You start laughing, but try hard not to lose it in the afterglow of pure comedy. Two weeks ago you were still employed, working nine-to-five, running a fashion blog and writing PR in Midtown. That wasn’t possibly real.
All around you are friends and friendly strangers. Your producer and his wife are here. The other two dudes you were arrested with walk in and get high-fives from your roommates. “The Central Park Three,” you think, mythologizing in real-time. Half of the SLEAZE stand gyrating front and center. Random suburban high-schoolers get drunk or stoned at their first ever Brooklyn loft party. Even Ghetto-J comes back to check out the show for a minute.
When you and Gloria sing together on the chorus, you feel it for sure. This is what you’re after, what you’ve always been after: Freedom—or something very much like it. There’s no going back. From now on, until you end, you’ll live in breathless pursuit of this sensation, stalking these proximations of unfettered liberty at whatever cost, bound by nothing—ever again—but the audacity of your own will.

Wes Trexler is an American writer and filmmaker based out of New York City. Recent stories have appeared in the Wisconsin Review, Willow Springs, Story|Houston and elsewhere. Several others have appeared in the Rag Literary Review, including one which was awarded their fiction prize in 2015. Mr. Trexler was born in West Virginia. He studied at Eastern Washington University and attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers workshop in 2005. He plays clarinet.

Baby, I’m So Cold – Kindra M. Austin

manny3

You don’t know what love is at noon o’clock on
Tuesday, when I tell you I’m so cold that I can’t even
fucking feel it
anymore, expect for
inside—just inside the doorway where
my walls still quake with a singular mind
not mine, but theirs.

And you can’t tell the difference,
like my stupid cunt
can’t tell the
difference—the
goddamned
difference ‘tween
pleasure and affection.

Noon-thirty,
you gotta get home cos she is waiting cos
your home is her home,
too—
I got no type of home worth
mentioning.

I don’t know what love is at midnight o’clock on
Wednesday, when I answer your call—
I’m so fucking cold that I can’t feel it
anymore.


Kindra M. Austin is a very sweary indie author and editor from mid-Michigan (you can find her books here). She’s also the co-founder of Blank Paper Press, a founding member of Indie Blu(e) Publishing, founder of publishing imprint, One for Sorrow, and a writer/managing editor at Blood into Ink, and Whisper and the Roar. Austin cut her poetry teeth in April, 2016, and joined the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective in 2017. You can find more of her foul mouth at poems and paragraphs.

Sudden Denouement Welcomes New Collective Member R. S. Williams – These Broken Gods II

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We and us, as gods of ink,
with stars snatched in fists made of paper and power,
shall sin.

Then, almost dutifully, we will eat the smoke
from worlds on fire with theories
of who we should’ve been.

And all the while, we will watch
as our names are pressed into
thick, gilded, holy pages,
like old flowers meant for sacrifice–
as if those frozen, broken stories
could possibly smother our own.

Later, our lungs will grow heavy
with the sort of magic that creeps through dirt
in shades of red, and we’ll carry it all
like a curse.
It’s sure to rot through our pens in much
the same way that tar tears into teeth.

But still, we are gods, and our magic,
though rough and violent and shot through with poison,
is still magic.

In the end, every word our voices crash into
will rupture and erupt into gold,
no matter how monstrous we may have been
while they were still ticking in our throats.

Even our worlds, dressed as they are in war and steel
and kept spinning by virtue of the aches in our blood
will seem beautiful to those
listening beyond what they were taught to believe
about us broken things in the first place.

For it’s the cracks in our bones
they always seek when in need of places
to hide.

And what are gods for,
if not to answer prayers?


R.S. Williams writes strange and provocative things, usually from multiple perspectives—human and otherwise. She has an increasingly codependent relationship with words and started writing them down as a way to get even closer to them. She loves them, they tolerate her—and they happily use each other like porn stars. You can read more of R.S.’ writing on Instagram and Facebook

The Crime of Understanding – David Lohrey

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He tells me Fashion has a purpose.
“You’re not against anything,” I say.
This is part of the problem. People
defend the end of the world, explain
it, like they don’t care. Like if they
understand it, they can control it.

I say denounce it. Call a spade a spade.
Bring back the capacity to object: tell
those boys to keep it down. Tell the
little ones to get dressed. We are losing
our will to power; we’ve given up.
That’s what Voltaire has done.

We’re not born free. We confuse ourselves
with lions. We are born with little.
They put us into cages. Tell your mother
to stick that rattler up her ass. Sucking
on plastic won’t get you anywhere. Get
dressed and stop wearing underwear.

Cry out. Protest your decapitation.
Life is a luxury. Stop playing it cool.
Renounce your throne. Cross the border.
Get yourself declared persona non grata.
Join the Klu Klux Klan. Drop acid.
Drink your own piss. Denounce Elvis.

I’m saying mushroom picking beats all.
Surfing the web is for sissies. Join the Army.
Relive Normandy. America’s falling apart.
They let Columbia crash to save a quarter.
This time around more will perish. The Report
On the End of the Human Race will be in braille.

You know the drill: pounce on these delightful
gifts. And know they will not pounce on you.
Look but don’t touch. They reserve the right
to deny service to anyone. Don’t forget your shoes.
Wear a shirt. Take out the trash. Sharpen your pencils.
One last thing: If you break it, you’ll get to keep it.


David Lohrey’s plays have been produced in Switzerland, Croatia, and Lithuania. In the US, his poems can be found at the RavensPerch, New Orleans Review, Nice Cage, and The Drunken Llama. Internationally, his work appears in journals located in the UK, the Netherlands, India, Malawi, and Hungary. His fiction can be seen at Dodging the Rain, Terror House Magazine, and Literally Stories. David’s collection of poetry, MACHIAVELLI’S BACKYARD, was published by Sudden Denouement Publishers. He lives in Tokyo. You can read more of his writing at Writing, Musing, Poetry

Bernard – Lois E. Linkens

Bernard

The basement of Harry’s
With damp in the walls,
Grey chairs, digestives
And no outward calls.

The biscuits were homely.
Rik’s mother had kept
A Stash for the British
Beneath the back step.

She had soft eyes. When
The bad news came,
A line like a needle
Appeared at each name.

Three days, playing
Silent strip poker; ‘Let’s die all hot.’
Lurid, she whispered
To deafen the rot.

And I bought a new Renault
With the winnings.
She mouthed, from the pavement:
‘New, red beginnings.’


Lois is a poet and student from England. She is studying the literature of the Romantics and hopes their values and innovations will filter through into her own work. She is working on longer projects at present, with a hope to publish poetry collections and novels in the years to come. She is a feminist, an nostalgic optimist, and a quiet voice in the shadows of Joanne Baillie and Charlotte Smith. It is a pleasure to present her work, and you can find more of it at Lois E. Linkens.

Foundations – Jimmi Campkin

Foundations

I salute the trees.  I am not magnificent but I can see everything grow.  I hear the grass chattering and laughing.  I stare at the oaks as they stretch like old hungover drunks after a binge.

Kicking my way through an old memory, I sit down on a bench and watch a young mother playing with her child – she lets go of the kid’s shoulders and this little fat bundle of limbs wobbles and trundles into a loving pair of arms.  I light a cigarette and look over their heads towards a crumbling brick wall where I came in thirty seven seconds – a gloriously brief but exhilarating moment of savagery that left me needing three stitches in my shoulder thanks to the razor sharp teeth of an utterly destructive angel.  For five nights afterwards, I would lift my head from my pillow and find one of her brunette hairs lying next to me, either tangled up in my own or left as some kind of spiritual offering.  I didn’t wash until my sheets left an imprint of my twisting torso.

In the cold the hot ash lights up my eyebrows, and I feel the smoke rumble down inside me.  I am just a stranger now, in a place where we left so many imprints that we wrote in a language too complex for future generations to understand; or too simple.  Perhaps everything just moves on from our messages, our little totems to what a future could be – liberal, relentless in our pursuit of sensations, dogmatic in our chasing of the wind and of love, emphatic in our use of drugs and alcohol but sensitive in our presentation.  I remember walking a five block diversion to avoid following a nervous young lad, who kept looking over his shoulder at the wasted behemoth shambling and crashing behind him as our paths continued.  It only took a bottle of whiskey to give me a night so intense I could drink the stars, and yet leave an impression on this youth that I was somehow a danger to him rather than a revelation… or more probably a self-indulgent indifference.

When I close my eyes the world turns black and white and I see, like a filter, what was once and is no more.  I recognise footprints in grass that has since been cut and mown a thousand times, because I can still lay down and hear the echoes in the soil and the worms gossiping about the underwear we flung high into the canopy of the trees – bras, panties and boxers like flags on the backs of warships.  I remember warming my hands inside your cunt and you gripped my stiff cock like a hot chip as our breath mingled under a trillion years of entropy.  Under the Milky Way you promised that we would remember this moment for the rest of our lives.

I wonder.  I remember this moment but I don’t know where you are now.  I don’t know what you think or what you feel.  I don’t know whether you sit on this bench, look at that wall and remember sinking your teeth deep into my shoulder enough to dribble my blood down your chin.  I don’t know if you remember my cold fingers deep inside you or whether you see the footprints through the filter.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter.  Perhaps you are focused instead on better things, more important things.  Perhaps you are this mother, focused so intently on her little baby as it shuffles through the grass desperately trying to maintain its balance long enough to be embraced tight.  Maybe you look to the light in someone else’s eyes rather than to the light above us, as it shines down on our best and worst crimes.


Jimmi Campkin is a “Writer, photographer, creator of SANCTUARY. 16bit child, INFP with clinical nostalgia and red wine for blood.” You can enjoy more of his work at jimmi campkin.com

Sliced – Aurora Phoenix

Slash

you took my shame and sliced it
lengthwise and lethal
with a viscous crunch through
the sheltered skin of a hothouse tomato.

no hesitation marks here

you cleaved me not crosswise
in that superficial scarring that screams
here I am, a suffering seeded gash
staining citric your surround.

you slashed my history

left me gasping for a tourniquet
or oblivion’s sweet relief
while the blood of shame in my eyes
obscured my vision for an eternity.

you want it that way

as it keeps me neatly in my place
that place where I may not
disrupt ill-balanced status quo
or wreak maladroit mayhem

with the power in your head.

the dripping blood of an act engaged in
is pulsing exsanguination here
four score and gore on the floor
daring you to do better.

am I to be judged

by the stertorous impulse
of my worst nightmare
or the cucumber constancy
of my day to day?

I am relegated

a crumpled and ill-used relic
ne’er dusted in the cobwebbed corner

until I decide
that I AM human
and deserving of continued respect


Aurora Phoenix is a wordsmithing oxymoron. Staid suburbanite cloaks a badass warrior wielding weapon grade phrases. Read more of her confabulations at Insights from “Inside.”