Category Archives: Prose

CLARIFYING LIES ABOUT THE INTERNET by John Wiswell

I need to the clear the air. The internet has not diminished attention spans. People were never able to take in more than four paragraphs of information unless it was formatted into The Top Ten Best Asses in Hollywood. There were never newspapers, magazines, novels, letters, or epic poems that entire tribes memorized verbatim. No one ever intended you to finish a short story in a single sitting. Man did not evolve to read the entire Nutrition Information on the side of a cereal box, and certainly not to figure out how much saturated fat he was actually consuming in four bowls of the stuff, unless someone first designed an app for doing so. Except man has never had the patience to design an app. They are found in the wild, caught, captured, domesticated and price-coded by Apple. Contrary to your memory, you could not spend all day reading for pleasure when you were a child. You sat by the window and dreamed, wished and prayed that someone would put videogames on a phone, and you sat there doing nothing more than this wishing until it went on sale. You should not feel badly for skimming Cracked to get to the next item, or for only reading the funny captions under their stock photos. Nor should you feel bad for having the same NYTimes article open in your browser for two weeks, perpetually intending to finish it. It cannot be finished. If you had the superhuman will to consume every sentence, you would find that the writer herself did not finish it, instead trailing off into a series of vowels and punctuation marks. This was the result of her bravely passing out from the effort of trying to sustain thought. This is hazardous and should not be attempted for so long as you can get Angry Birds at a discounted price. I’d go on, but then I wouldn’t have the mental stamina left to tweet about Twitter going down for half an hour tonight. Farewell.

JOHN WISWELL writes daily at http://johnwiswell.blogspot.com. His fiction has appeared at Weird Tales, Flash Fiction Online, 10Flash, Every Day Fiction and Untied Shoelaces of the Mind. He is working on his second novel.

THE TORNADO THAT DESTROYED EVERYTHING AND MADE EVERYONE HATE HIM BUT THEN THEY DIDN’T: A STORY ABOUT TORNADOES AND FORGIVENESS BUT MOSTLY TORNADOES by Nick Mohoric

There once was a beautiful tornado named Michael. He was known throughout all the land as Michael the Mangler after his penchant for mangling the crap out of a ton of dudes’ and dudettes’ faces when tearing across the open plains. This wasn’t his fault; in fact, Michael was the sweetest tornado one could ever know and he only wished to bring joy to all those he met along his journeys. Unluckily for him, and those he mangled, his crazy strong winds were known to rip the nails out of houses and throw them, along with any other heavy or razor-like objects, toward the quivering crowds of onlookers.

“Watch out below!” he would yell as he flung a house on top of some ladies sunbathing topless for to get as much tan on their boobs as possible. They never heard his warnings, never heard his sweet nothings, they would just hear the sound of his rushing winds swirling around them.

As a Category 1 tornado he fell in love with a young girl in a neighboring town named Rose. She was not like other girls her age. Her parents sheltered her and as a result her life was in her books. Michael was not used to this type of girl; all he knew were the girls that were outside chasing the boys while trying to impress them by watching them play sports, flipping their hair in the sun in hopes of catching themselves in that perfect light. He only saw Rose as she went from her home to school. He watched the way her skirt moved at the slightest updraft, the way her hair seemingly floated behind her, the slight upturn of her lips as she read her book while walking down the sidewalk, the inevitable way her body intertwined with some random passerby when she didn’t see them coming.

She was perfection.

Michael finally worked up the courage to speak to her at her home shortly after she arrived from school. There would be no one else there in case he were to embarrass himself. The second he got near her house he ripped the door off the hinges; his nerves were getting the better of him. Rose rushed into the room to see what was with all the commotion and was immediately sucked through the hole the door used to fill, straight through Michael’s whirling self, and slammed directly into a tree.

She lay there inert. Michael had killed his first love before he could even introduce himself.

This began a vicious cycle for our poor tornado. He flew into a downward spiral of depression (what people don’t realize is that tornadoes normally spin in an upward spiral of happiness). The realization that he could never have what he wanted most, a love in his life, only added to the winds raging within. With each passing day his wind speeds rose until he was a Category 5 ,wandering the city in a fury.

Working his way toward the center of town, he watched the people run in horror. They couldn’t escape him, though; he was too fast as he pelted them with rocks, sticks, tires, hot dog carts, kittens, cats, beer bottles, bums, window shutters, car glass, newspapers balled up really fucking tight and soaked with some water and maybe pee (he couldn’t tell), apples, dirt clods, sex toys, regular toys, dirty clothes, farts, and ultimately their own limbs as he cried “Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself.”

In his heart he only wanted their love, but he had come to believe he was only capable of pain so he figured he would play the part. The self hatred and doubt that he grappled with consumed him as he stumbled from town to town. This blind rage that drove him was a blessing and a curse: the air was filled with screams of terror because of it, but it ultimately made sure that he wasn’t aware of his surroundings and on one fine day Michael stumbled upon a McDonald’s purely by chance. After ripping the roof off he was suddenly filled with thousands of freshly cooked hamburgers, fries, and shakes that were so awesomely packaged that the shake did not get sucked out of the cup. With this knowledge he probably would have chucked that food at all the people around but instead he continued on his rampage, finally tearing the walls and roof off of a nearby orphanage. This added debris forced the food to fly directly into the open mouths of all the starving orphans.

Michael was a hero! The town rejoiced!

But then they realized all the people he’d murdered and the millions of dollars of damage he’d caused and hated him again.

NICK MOHORIC makes a living organizing sex tips for women’s magazines. He lives in Brooklyn with his cat, Flapjack, and can be heard imbibing copious beers on the Literally Drunk podcast. Almost never, he reminds people to “readmyfrigg.in/blag“.

KNOWING ALWAYS COMES TOO LATE by Michael Radon

It was a bright sunny day, the day of Roxanne’s burial. From across the road I could hear children laughing, playing even. Just another slight I’d take the Creator to task for when I got a chance. The sight of that box going in that dirt hole was enough to wear me down. Knowing something is a lot different than seeing something, and the sight of that killed a big part of me.

I used to fawn over her and tell her how perfect she was, which certainly was not true. Every time she broke my heart without batting an eye, or made me cross with rage by some comment crafted just so to pierce right through my resolve, it was like I was plucking those flower petals to get to “she loves me not,” and when I got there I packed my things and left. I know that wasn’t the gentlemanly thing to do, especially considering that meant leaving her to keep raising Melinda on her own, but know that flower metaphor had an awful lot of petals.

Word came to me through one of her old friends, who I kept in touch with through the odd holiday letter. I’d ask about her, and Melinda, and didn’t feel like such a monster then, and for my diligence, I’d get some kind of report about Roxanne as a footnote. I guess the sickness came fast, because it had only been five months since the last letter, and there wasn’t any news of it in there.

She told me Roxanne had passed and I had to stop reading for the night. She asked me to attend the services, said it was the honorable thing to do by her, and to hell with what anybody might say to me. She assured me that it wasn’t a ploy to take Melinda on, she’d gone to stay with Roxanne’s mother, and even if I wanted to make an effort to get her from there, I doubt the respectful Mrs. Stevens would have even let me on the property without calling for my head. I spent a long time thinking about what to do with that. I wrote back and said I wouldn’t be able to make it, but I arranged to send some flowers for the thought.

That only made me feel worse.

Tried drinking it away, tried to forget it and just move on. Death just happens. No sense in making a fuss over it. But that made me feel more the asshole. Finally, I resolved to go in secret, pay my respects, and leave town again. That would just be a chapter in my life I’d finally have to turn my back on completely, and live out my days treating that history like a war – significant, but better not dwelt on daily. I owed her a lot more than an apology, but that was all I could focus on without blubbering.

It got me to thinking that I hoped that when you die, you get to take in the knowledge of everything. Everything people thought about you, and think about you, and what all transpires. You get to take it all in like a sudden eureka and process it without any of the fuss of having to be alive to deal with it. The thought of that gave me a little peace, that maybe she knew I was sorry for giving up and leaving.

All was said and done very quietly and somberly. I saw her friends, her family, I saw Mrs. Stevens crying, and I know she didn’t see me or she would have stopped to give me an earful at best. I lingered around in the shade of an oak tree a good ways off from Roxanne’s grave in the hopes that maybe I could get a few moments alone with her to put it all to rest. I sat against the tree, lit a cigarette, and smoked it in sighs.

It was getting dark, and the last few cicadas of the season were stubbornly begging for more summer. There wasn’t much wind, and if the kids hadn’t gone home already, I wouldn’t have heard them playing over the tires kicking up gravel as all the cars were leaving. A few more minutes and I’d say my goodbyes.

“Annie told me you weren’t coming.”

Surprised, I turned my head quick and saw Melinda, her face looking a lot more composed and strong than mine. I guess after everything she’d been through, her mother dying was just another drop in the bucket for her. Then I noticed she was holding a sleeping toddler in her arms.

“Shit, Melinda. I’m a grand dad?”

“No, just a father of two.”

I flicked the cigarette away to the side. “Can’t say that provides me any more peace of mind.”

“You piece of shit.” Melinda whispered. “So what, you sneak in through the window to get your kicks with mom and not have to see me?” She looked ready to hit me.

“Don’t go makin’ it dramatic, Melinda. Show some respect for your mother.”

“Respect? Did you respect her by walking out and leaving her to raise me by herself? Did you respect her when you got her pregnant again without even being a big enough part of her life to know between now and then? Tell me, dad, when exactly did you respect any of us?”

“What do you want me to do? Take you both in, take care of you? ‘Be a dad?’”

“No.” Her voice started to shake. “Never.” She clenched her open fist and looked right in my eyes. “I just want you to go away.”

I stood up, brushing the dirt off the back of my pants and looking for the right thing to say, the fatherly thing to tell my daughter, but the words didn’t come and I don’t think she wanted to hear them. “Okay.” I took a last look at my young son and then walked away.

Melinda stood still. Didn’t run after me, didn’t want the last word, just wanted to make sure I was gone for good. I try not to entertain thoughts of her ever forgiving me, because that day may never come. I think about it a lot, though, the same way I saw Roxanne clearly when she fought with me; that’s the way I like to imagine Melinda as the years go by. Independent, fierce, her mother’s daughter.

Maybe when my card is pulled, I’ll know if she really hates me as much as she said.

MICHAEL RADON‘s lifelong obsession with digital media makes him an ideal addition to your local pub trivia team. His latest project is growing a beard in an attempt to make people believe him when he says he writes for a living. His irrelevant observations are recorded daily through his blog and twitter.

THE HAMMOCK by Amalia Dillin

“Faster!” “Harder!” “More!”

My cousins and I gripped the sturdy fabric with both hands, squealing with delight and laughter. Three of us in the hammock, two of us pushing.

“Higher!” my cousin called.

The birch tree swayed with the rhythm, calluses in the trunk where the hammock was tied and the bark had begun growing around it. It was young and strong, indestructible like we were.

“The hammock is not a swing!” my uncle shouted from the porch.

We ignored him. As long as he was still sitting at the table, we weren’t swinging fast, hard, or high enough. The hammock jumped when we reached the top of the arc and we all screamed.

“Keep pushing!”

My cousins and I jockeyed for the center seat, crawling over one another, climbing, twisting. The hammock twisted and one of them was hanging upside down on the outside, clinging like a monkey. We helped him back in, pulling him up like a sailors dragging a drowned man from the sea.

“Be careful!” my aunt called. “Don’t rough house!”

The hammock jumped and we all laughed, braced for it this time.

“It’s our turn!” our cousins said, the ones pushing us until we soared. From the top of the swing we could see over the trees as far as Albany, the mountains hovering behind.

“Just one more push!” my cousin said. The one who had nearly fallen.

She pushed, and we leaned forward. The hammock leapt, our stomachs dropping.

SNAP.

The rope on the birch tree gave and we landed hard on the ground with a shared cry of pain and dismay.

“Pop!” One of my cousins went running, before we had even shaken off the shock. “Pop! The hammock!”

“Is everyone all right?” my aunt asked.

But we were already climbing out of the wilted fabric. My tail bone felt bruised, but I didn’t dare even whisper it. If any of us got hurt, they’d never let us forget it. The hammock would be banned, and we’d be stuck playing catch and losing Frisbees in the leech field below the house. We’d already tried and failed to fly the kite three times, and we’d been forbidden from having another water fight. The hammock had been our last game that didn’t require shoes.

“Are you hurt?” my aunt called again, and we could see her silhouette behind the screen, standing and holding her hand up against the glare of the sun.

“No!” we shouted.

The screen door slapped against the frame and my uncle appeared, fresh ropes in hand. We held our breath as he looked over the damage, hoping against hope it was just the ropes. Don’t let it be the hammock. Don’t let it be the hammock!

He loosened the ropes from the trunk of the birch tree and looped new ones in their place.

“No more swinging,” he said, as he drew the ropes taut and the hammock rose back to life.

The two girls who had been pushing us were already climbing in, and my uncle tightened the ropes so the hammock rose another few inches above the ground, then knotted it. He glanced at the three of us, and we stopped rubbing our bruised arms and bottoms. “If I see you swinging again, I’ll take it down. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” we mumbled, not meeting his eyes. The girls in the hammock glared at us.

We waited until he had gone back inside, hands behind our backs. The girls reached down, grabbing clumps of grass to pull the hammock back and forth in a gentle swaying motion.

“Push us faster!” my cousin whispered. “Harder!” the other said. “More!”

AMALIA DILLIN obsesses over old gods and older heroes, but sometimes she breaks out and writes contemporary fiction, too. Her work has appeared in Birdville Magazine. You can find her on her blog and on Twitter.

AS THIN AS TWO LEAVES by Jeremy Ohlback

When Arnold brought his tablet to work on the day of the Christmas
party, people talked. They talked about how he’d been leaving later,
with emails from his work computer sent after midnight. They talked
about how he had lost weight, and the way that his navy trousers
barely stayed up over his hips. They talked about his relationship,
and how he’d taken down the picture of himself and his wife squinting
and smiling atop Macchu Picchu. They laughed and all looked at him
from their huddled group. Arnold finished the rice cracker he was
eating and went back to his desk.

The image on his computer screen, as always, was a leaf. It wasn’t
a picture or a drawing, but a three dimensional model; he hunched
himself over with his stylus pressed against the tablet to watch it,
rotating it to see the light green underside and the veins which laced
the surface. Towards its tip there was a blank space, where the dull
grey of exposed model replaced the intricate floral texture. He
brought this segment to the fore, zooming in and then out again,
squinting and tilting his head.

– You know we ship the week after New Year’s. What are you doing?
Here, just fill that and we’ll get it in before release. Relax. We’re
done. Arnold?
– Yeah. Sorry? Do you think the Botanic Gardens are open on public
holidays?
– Huh?
– The gardens. If the office is closed over Christmas, I might
spend some time there.
– I don’t think so, Arnold. Just get it done, or we’ll roll it
back to the last revision.
– But the last revision – the last revision was completely wrong,
it would look absurd.
– Arnold. It’s a leaf. Fill the damn model, email it to me and go
home. If you’re really still concerned go to the gardens over
Christmas and start thinking about the sequel. Alright?
Arnold looked back at the screen.
– How about I-, he said. I think I need to go for a walk.

The only birch tree in the area was between the carpark and the
highway, a scrawny and bent specimen that looked like it might have
been run over by a delivery truck and then propped carefully back up.
Its white and naked branches spiked up at the grey sky like bones.
Arnold kicked at the grass and flat dirt under it. There were a few
old leaves, but all were imperfect – soggy, dead, they had been torn
by footsteps and beaten by rain. He could only find one worth taking
back. Shaped like a heart, he held it to the sun to examine the slight
blush along its innermost cheek. He slipped it in his shirt pocket,
looked again at the tall tree and then trudged back through the
carpark with arms crossed high against his chest.

– You alright there, Arnold? I’m heading off. There’s some cake left
in the fridge and, ah. I guess I’ll see you next year.
– Oh, sorry Shelley. Yeah, I’ll see you next year.
– Have a good Christmas, okay? Arnold?
He peered up over his cubicle. Shelley was standing by the doorway
with a backpack slung over her shoulder.
– Oh. Merry Christmas.
– Will you remember to turn off the lights? I’m not sure when the
cleaners will be in. Goodbye, Arnold.

At nine o’clock Arnold remembered the leaf in his pocket. He slipped
it out carefully and placed it on the tablet. He traced around it idly
with his finger, then lifted it again and held it against the light of
the display. It was thin enough to see right through – its dessicated
veins thrusting out from the central stem in parallel. He noticed
something about the way the ragged edges merged at the tip; the way
the lines angled inwards until they met in a single spike. When he
went back to his stylus and tablet, he began to gently manipulate the
nodes of the model and brush on new textures.

By five A.M. on Christmas eve, the leaf was finished. It glowed
perfectly at the centre of a white canvas, angled slightly so the tip
was at the fore. Arnold rubbed his eyes. In structure it was a replica
of the one sitting on his tablet, but the digital version was alive.
Once dead and wet, it had been summoned up behind the tiny pixels of
the monitor and rejuvinated with green blood. The leaf would make it
to release. It would be multiplied countless times on a forest of
polygon branches, viewed from all angles and illuminated by the
coloured light of a hundred different sources. And each time, it would
be perfect.

He left his tablet and the leaf behind. He turned out the lights. On
the way home, he stopped at the convenience store to get ham and eggs
for Christmas breakfast.

As Arnold slept soundly in his silent apartment, and the bells of
strange magic tinkled outside the windows of children around the city,
the dead leaf on Arnold’s tablet rose up in the dark. His monitor
buzzed as it clicked on and the white light it created washed the leaf
and Arnold’s empty chair. The leaf began to spin and, in tandem, its
on-screen copy spun, too. It lasted for a long time – unwatched at the
end of an empty office hall. When the dance ended and the leaf finally
fell back down to the tablet it was green and real, as alive as when
it had first sprung from a curled bud. And looking over it from the
screen, behind a wall of tiny pixels, was its brown, soggy replica,
angled so its broken tip pointed to the fore.

JEREMY OHLBACK is the editor and administrator of birdville mag, and his first novel, Squire Nation, was shortlisted for the 2009 Vogel/Australian award. He’s currently getting involved with the Sydney Story Factory, working on a second book, and working himself up over the ice hockey playoffs.

WRITER’S BLOCK by Jack Bristow

Dallas Grady, thirty-eight, good looking in spite of a life of hard drinking, pill eating, and two divorces, lay on the motel room bed, cigarette in right hand, fumbling through The Yellow Pages with the other. He was working on his magnum opus, his novel, his written testament to counter the notion that his life had been a waste.

He had told the voice on the other end to bring him over a date with blonde hair and brown eyes—she had to have brown eyes, he instructed, more than once. The voice on the other end had been very accommodating. Dallas swore the man was from the east coast originally—something about the voice. He hung up the phone after giving directions to the room and took a swig from the Southern Comfort bottle, walked over to the typewriter and unwound.

The story was only twenty-five pages so far. It was about a war hero whose wife kicked him out after him having returned home from the war. The woman had blamed the man’s drinking on their divorce but the man had known better. His father had always told him, “Dall. You can’t change the past—so don’t you ever try.” The woman he had married—the naive, brown-eyed cheerleader from Detroit—no longer existed when he returned home from Iraq. In her place was this well-read and independent woman, who had gone to too many political rallies, anti-war, and met a lot of people. A lot of men.

Dallas cringed at the thought. Another veteran. Another goddamn veteran of the same goddamn war who had thrown all his decorations over the fence and onto the White House lawn. And Debbie thought that was just great. Wonderful.

And when he got home she’d wanted him to do the same thing. Bullshit. For what? For who? He had earned his medals—they were the only thank-you the man would probably ever receive for putting his life on the line. Why get rid of them—why throw them out on some silly, unfounded whim?

“Shit.” He yanked page thirty-six from out of the Selectric, red-faced huffing and puffing. That was the thing about us Irish, Dallas had thought miserably. We can’t ever hide anything.

He has having tremendous difficulty merging reality with art. But, goddamn it, he would finish the novel. He just needed some human contact. Some intimacy.

He smirked as he looked into the mirrored wall. His face was so different. No longer rosey and filled with life. Sallow. Rings under his pale grey eyes so dark it had almost looked like he was wearing mascara.

The man in the story had made a lot of friends. Chuck McAnderson. Sergeant Darren Thomas and Curtis de Wade. He had wanted to call them, to really tell another human being something but they, too, were in the past. The brave men he had served with no longer existed. Other men bearing those names were with their families now….

He’d hoped to God they’d at least had families who would miss them, that would be able to tell they weren’t the same people they’d left as. That was the thing about war—not wars, because all wars were the same—but war would keep you more in the past than anything.

He had been gone only two years. One tour. But it had seemed like a lifetime.

Knock knock knock on the door. Dallas hobbled off the chair and unlatched the four-chain locks and deadbolt. A grinning man stood in the doorway with a blonde dressed in cheap ivory colored spandex and fake fur. He had recognized the man’s voice from the telephone.

“Hi there. I am Clayton and this is Luicna. Your date.” And then he had told Dallas the rules. “You can do anything with her you like. I don’t care. She don’t care, neither. Back-door. Missionary. Go downtown. It don’t matter. Just no hitting, no punching. Absolutely no cutting and/or strangulation.”

Dallas nodded solmenly, as if this fine, upstanding gentleman were her father, and Dallas some acne-faced geek escorting her to the prom.

“Another thing. And this is mandantory,” the pimp explained. “I’ll be waiting out here for forty-minutes, but I’ll need some collateral first—something to know who you are, just in case you breach our agreement.”

“No problem.” Dallas handed the man his driver’s license. Expired. The face inside it had seemed a little more colorful and vibrant. But this man standing in front of him was Dallas Grady. There was no mistaking that.

***

Dallas looked into those eyes as he went to work on her. Brown. His body kept going up and down coolly, confidently until there was that unmistakable intense feeling, and then it was all over with.

Brother, he thought. Twenty-nine years old and you still make it like you were seventeen.

Luicna looked at her Mickey Mouse wristwatch— the only thing she was wearing. “That was only twenty minutes. You still have another twenty. You paid for it. Just wait and regroup. Most guys your age, it only takes ‘em what? Five, ten minutes? That’ll give us another ten minutes.”

Dallas grinned evilly. A considerate whore. Now he had seen it all. But he knew when she had grabbed his tricep consideration had had nothing to do with it. She had liked him. And only one of them had gotten their cookies.

“No thanks. Sweetheart. Busy night.”

He saw a mild sadness in the whore’s face. This had made him feel important. Wanted.

“Don’t worry, precious. We’ll have other dates.” He pinched her cheek.

***

At the Selectric now, pounding the keys furiously. His fingers barely able to keep pace with his mind. This was the way to do it—the only way you could write about Debbie without going crazy.

JACK BRISTOW has written for several zines, including Inwood Indiana, The New Flesh, Hobopancakes, and Indigio Rising.

IMAGINE by Zachary Tringali

I am running through a field, pink with irises.

After the surgery, I won’t be able to do this anymore.

The grass is damp under my toes, the sun is warm. When I get tired, I keep running anyway. When I crest the hill I jump, and the world falls away so that it’s a marble, glossy and small.

The surgery is four hours; new advances have made it an outpatient procedure. It’s practically painless after the gas. I still can’t make my heart calm down.

I’ll spend my last hours here, a hundred thousand miles above the earth. I float among the stars, touching them in order, forming a picture, connecting the dots. When I step back I see it as tall as a tower, my name in shining lights. I like to think it will stay even after I’m gone.

It’s not that I’m lonely, it happens to everyone. I checked the records, there will be a dozen others there with me at the hospital, all there for the same thing. Solidarity is a word I can’t wrap my head around.

I leave the stars and touch down on earth. The snow is falling; the smell of my favorite bread is in the air. I’m home, before we’d moved, when the rafters of the house were still too tall to touch. I spend the last of my time baking cookies with my mother, hands sticky with dough, lips sweet with chocolate.

“The doctor is ready to see you, now.” The woman says, but it’s not my mother, and I’m not home.

The doctor’s office. Clean, clinical, crisp. Nothing has changed.

Today is the day I get the third quadrant cut out of my brain. Clinical terms replace the messier ones; my dreams are gone. For a while, I thought about running, but skinned knees and broken fingers proved the wall was too high.

Today is the day I become an adult. It’s only now that I realize how much I hate phrenology. Or maybe I just hate myself; my body got older before I was ready. Change is inevitable, systemic; I thought I’d have more time.

I get to my room.

I look out the window and search for my stars.

As a student in Gainesville, Florida, ZACHARY TRINGALI has only one option: ditch the heat and the textbooks for a keyboard and air conditioning. He writes novels and short stories about gods, witches, and old magic.