Across The Wire Vol. 2

3 small thingz

By Zac Smith

The Plane

It was surprisingly easy to hijack the plane but I think it was mainly because I was the only passenger and all the flight attendants and pilots and guys had taken suicide pills during the flight. These pills were incredibly common at the time but I wasn’t sure how anyone got them. They were technically illegal. But everyone had a few and most people I knew took one after a while. It was an incredibly lonely and isolating experience, being the only person in my life who was still alive. And any time I met someone new, they took a suicide pill after a little while, so I stopped trying to meet people. Eventually I got so depressed I decided to take one, too, but no one would give me one. “These are illegal,” they would say, then secretly take one and die. It felt somehow intentional and directed at me, how everyone was taking the pills and not giving them to me. Maybe it was. I don’t know. Does that sound conceited?

The Song

The kids had improvised a song that went like this: “I want my blood to fall out / I want my lungs to fall out / I want my brain to go dead / I want my heart to be dead / I want my blood to bleed out / I want my brain to shut off / I want my head to explode / I want my heart to explode.” The parents there, at the playground, each, privately, acknowledged the song as catchy, and, shamefully, considered it relatable, comforting, even, and went on, each, to hum it to themselves thereafter, frequently, privately, some for many years, even, even decades, the song forever pulsing in the back of their heads, every day, every year — every new, terrible year, every horrible, unyielding year, each new year an avalanche of misery, on and on and on.

The Rain

Oh shit, hey, hey. It’s starting to rain. Shit. Hey. Can you help with this? What? No man, it’s raining. I don’t… no we shouldn’t let this stuff get wet. Yeah, hey. Is there anything you can do? What? Oh, okay. Yeah, no, sure. Okay, yeah. You can’t do anything. Alright, man. Okay. Of course. Not your responsibility. Can’t help with the rain. I got you. Yeah. Thanks, man. No, no, it’s okay. You can’t make the rain stop. For sure, man. I don’t know why I even asked. You can’t do anything about it, obviously. Not your job. Yeah, yeah, sure. Not anyone’s job, really, if you think about it. It’s rain, you know. The wet stuff, you know… No one can do anything about it. It just happens, you know. What are ya gonna do. Would be great if someone could, though. Not you, though, no, I’m not gonna ask you, you know, seeing as how you can’t do anything about it. We’ll just deal with it, I guess. No problem. We’ve dealt with worse. It’s just some rain. I don’t want you feeling put out, having to come up with any solutions or anything. Don’t want you getting off your chair. Yeah, no, it’s fine. We’re just a little wet. Just a little damp. But that’s fine. No wires or electronics or anything around here. It’s all good, man. It’ll be fine if it all gets a little wet. So yeah, no. You should just keep sitting there and hanging out. Hey, hey, you wanna borrow my umbrella? No? Oh, okay, yeah. Move your chair under the thing. That’ll work. That works. That’s cool, man. Good idea. Don’t want to get too wet out here. That’s a good idea, moving under the thing. Yeah, no, we’re good. What? What? Yeah, no. Don’t worry about it.

zac smith, baby

Across The Wire Vol. 2

From Behind the Closed Doors of Strategic Air Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, October 27, 1962 (Cuban Missile Crisis)

By Abigail Myers

The Air Force general in charge of the SAC [Strategic Air Command] underground command center in Nebraska gave the order to close the center from the outside world, apparently the only time this has ever happened. He told the targeting staff that the moment they had trained for all their lives had arrived. He expected a missile launch order momentarily and also expected they would all likely die from a Soviet response. Each individual was permitted a call to his family to say goodbye, but was not permitted to say why he was calling. The conversations were about scraped kids’ knees and sick dogs. It was a scene straight out of Dr. Strangelove. 

— Gilinsky, Victor (2016). “On Tickling the Dragon’s Tail.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 

Susan tried to walk again today?
Well, what do you know.
She’s in some kind of hurry, I guess.


Is Bingo still ralphing? Just grass now, you think?
Ah, that’s how they clean themselves out.
They know things we don’t. 


You’ve got a cold again? That’s too bad.
Anyway—oh, nothing, Mama. Sorry I woke you.
Tell Dad I’m doing all right.


Pick up some bananas on the way home?
I wouldn’t count on it.
Just that—it might be a late night.


We had some good times, didn’t we?
Couldn’t ask for a better roomie, could I?
I just—oh, never mind. Yeah. See you when I see you.


Your mother wants to stop by tomorrow?
Oh, that’s fine. No, now don’t worry yourself.
There’s less to do than you think.


You were so upset on that boat ride 
at Niagara Falls, how it spoiled your hairdo.
I didn’t care. Never did. Still don’t.


Aunt Mary taking good care of you?
Sure. Always. I miss you too.
Yeah, I still miss Mom sometimes too.

Abigail Myers writes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction on Long Island, New York. Her fiction has recently appeared in Milk Candy Review (Best Small Fictions 2024 nomination), Major 7th,Rejection Letters,Roi Fainéant, and Stanchion, and is forthcoming from Tangled Locks and Cowboy Jamboree Press’s MOTEL anthology. Her essays have recently appeared in Variant Literature (Best Spiritual Literature 2024 nomination), Phoebe, Pensive, Tiny Molecules, Willows Wept Review,The Dodge, and The Other Journal. Her poetry has appeared in Icebreakers Lit (Best of the Net 2024 nomination), Amethyst Review, Full Mood Mag, Sylvia, Hearth and Coffin, Resurrection Mag, and more. Keep up with her at and @abigailmyers on Twitter and Bluesky.

Across The Wire Vol. 2


By Jace Einfeldt

I pull off on the shoulder and aim and lock my high beams on a dead doe. I open my door and approach her on feet still waking up from an already long haul. Feet seemingly unaccustomed to solid ground. She isn’t fresh. Flies flit about her muzzle and maggots bore into a long, open wound along the left side of her ribcage. By the smell alone she’s likely been dead a few days, maybe more. Her eyes are grayed over and glassy. Tongue out licking the asphalt. Can’t imagine that being the last thing I taste before I give up the ghost. Oil and dirt and rubber and the particles of other poor creatures scraped off the interstate like the burnt curls of scrambled eggs on a hot skillet. I put out my cigarette under my boot and grab her by the hind legs and hoist her onto the bed of my truck. Before I bring the engine back to life, I kill the lights and let the darkness wash over the hood and seep in through the cracked passenger window. Stars shimmer their dead light and look down on our infant planet from a hundred million years ago. I’ll be fifty-seven in a few minutes’ time. I pull out my phone and watch the numbers tick over from one to the next. Lock screen of me, Mel, and Jazzy from when we were all still together staring back at me behind the digital clock.

I hold my breath as my life lumbers onto another year, and I tell myself happy birthday, champ, like my old man used to say. I turn the key, and the engine coughs back into existence. The road stretches before me in a tired stream that trickles all the way down to Mexico. Sun’s still hours away, and I have a feeling I’ve still got many more miles to go before the end of my journey. The doe sleeps cold and carefree in the bed, and part of me envies her and all the animals I have left to happen upon from here to Beaver. 

I’m nursing a Mountain Dew in my KB Oil mug and letting the caffeine pinch my nerves awake. My free foot jitters in tandem with my left thumb. I turn on the radio to AM static and fill the cabin with the sonic hiss of forgotten voices. I flick on the lights to guide my sojourn into the unknown. I check my phone again, but I’ve got no signal. A big, white SOS sits in the corner of the screen. I’m alone in this world, floating down this asphalt corridor. I grab the Black Ice air freshener and run my thumb down the ridges of the faux pine tree like a rosary.

I say the first prayer I’ve said in God knows how long and imagine my plea slipping out the window like a ghost. It ascends into the ether and rises and lands on whatever the hell planet God lives on. It’s short, sharp in tone, so I’ll understand it if it never makes it to the front desk.

If there is a God, I wouldn’t blame Him if He let this one fall through the cracks. I turn the dial on the radio and find a station playing classical music. It sounds like something Jazzy would’ve played in orchestra when she was younger. I try and focus on the different instruments. First the violins, then the violas, the cellos. Jazzy played the cello. Don’t know if she still plays it. When I asked her why she didn’t want to play the violin she said it was because the cello isn’t flashy. It’s subtle but one of the most important parts of the orchestra. Without it, all you get are a bunch of high-pitched screeches who think they run the place. I grab onto the cellos and let them lead me. For a moment, I’m back on the bleachers of the middle school gym, aching from the maroon and gold plastic punching my tailbone. I see Jazzy with the tip of her tongue hanging out as she pulls the bow back and forth across the strings like she’s trying to catch all the notes on her tongue like snowflakes. I’m sitting next to Mel. I can feel her warmth against my hip and smell the cotton candy lotion wafting from her hands. Our lives still entwined like the roots of a banyan tree.

Jace Einfeldt is a writer from Southern Utah. He currently lives in Northwest Arkansas with his wife and son. His recent work appears or is forthcoming in Southwest Review, Words & Sports, Gemini Sessions, Juked, and elsewhere.

Across The Wire Vol. 2

The owner of my favorite coffee shop died 

By Matt Starr

I didn’t want to believe it when I saw the sign sitting among the bags of wholesale beans like the portrait in an ofrenda: an easel-bound line art illustration captioned with “RIP. A celebration of Dave’s life will be held at Rey’s Restaurant.” Only the “will be” had been marked through with a sharpie and replaced with “was.” 

That last little edit was a kick in the head.

For a brief moment I allowed myself the suspension of logic. To convince myself it wasn’t him. But then, on another table positioned in one of the storefront windows, next to an actual photo of Dave, lay a memorial book. The kind you see at funeral homes.

“Goddammit,” I said to my wife, and she said something goddammit-adjacent, and then there was only the bustling coffee shop on a weekend afternoon. Orders taken. Portafilters pounding the counter. Beans roasting, the Probat mixing them with its mechanical arm, throwing off fumes of something burnt. Something so intoxicating you’d let it suffocate you.

Cup A Joe, for my money, is one of the greatest coffee shops – not just in North Carolina – but in the world. It’s no frills, the drinks are strong. There’s a dinginess, just enough, and a dated quality to the decor. Like the place let the world pass it by, and it didn’t give a fuck because all it cared about was serving you coffee so intense it’d make you want to run through bulletproof glass. On the wall is a picture doctored to make it look like Frank Zappa is shitting into a Starbucks bag.

Dave was an extension of this irreverent workman vibe. Not to mention, the owner, a fact I’m embarrassed to admit I never knew until after he was dead. I guess that’s because he didn’t fit the description I held in my head for such titles. He looked like a King of the Hill character. Tall and casually dressed. He wore glasses of a style that had gone in and out of fashion, and then back in again, and had a long, mousy ponytail that fell behind his receding hairline. His voice was flat, like he didn’t get excited for anything, but there was an undercurrent of kindness, too.

It was weird not seeing him behind the counter while the show was going on. But so it goes, and all that jazz. I was pacing back and forth between the memorial table and the racks of beans on the far wall, remembering. Dave, back there with the rest of the staff, clad in a college hoodie. 

“Café au lait?” he’d ask by the time I made it to the pastry case, remarkable considering the hundreds of people who cycled through on any given day.

“You shaved,” he’d say as he put my order together.

I had fairly close friends who wouldn’t have noticed.

Dave was in the background for eight years, selling me the good shit while I was younger, hungrier, working my way through school with a full-time job. Falling in love with my wife. Toiling away at my stupid writing. Applying to every “real” job under the sun. Trying to figure it all out. You can’t manufacture a presence like that.

I signed the memorial book. Drank an au lait in his honor, and it restored some of the wind that had been knocked out of me. Later that night, I put on a John Prine record and read the obituary from Dave’s hometown newspaper. Somewhere in Minnesota. Turned out he liked basketball, like I do. He liked Tom Waits, like I do. He made friends in spite of a desire to be alone, which is somewhat reflective of my MO.

Who would have known?

I would have, if I’d made half the effort Dave did. But you don’t get those opportunities once someone’s gone. All you can do is keep the good times warm on the hot plate of your mind. Because in the grand scheme of things we’re not even around for the time it takes to drink a fucking cup of coffee. 


Matt Starr is from North Carolina.

Across The Wire Vol. 2

The Dialectic of Rock Music

By Bill Whitten

Rock songs have their origin in the wound. 

Rock songs are born in the songwriter’s head and hands but then die. 

On stage or in a recording studio a rock band will bring them back to life like cut flowers in water.

Every guitar player is a historian.

Rock music is formed by a history that remains alive even in its decay.

Rock music is a territory that possesses no reality or connections other than those of a shared ecstasy.

The compulsion that drives the formation of any rock band is always the same: an impulsive, anarchic flight from society, propelled by something like romantic love.

A rock band is, of course, not like a family, but instead is like a religious order or a military unit or an urban guerilla.

Accordingly, the belief in something greater than itself is the glue that ties a band together. Instead of a god there is Keith Richards, the Beatles, Johnny Thunders, Lou Reed, Chuck Berry. Like divinities they can be worshipped or defied. 

Rock music is a military art; prepare for a performance or an album like a battle.

Refuse to choose between the beautiful and the unbeautiful.

In the recording studio the rock musician operates on himself and projects his suffering onto his songs. 

Contagion is both the lifeblood and the poison of rock music.

A rock musician is a being with no shell, open to pain, tormented by light, shaken by every sound.

Surrounded and controlled by machines, there is a compulsion to sing, talk and act like machines. It must be resisted.

Beethoven often played the piano with the lid closed.

Rock and roll when practiced correctly is never a reproduction of the past, but instead a present that is continually renewed. 

Devotion to rock music reinforces the worst traits of one’s character. 

The burning streets, the fuzzy horizon, the clouds, the river and fire, the cold, the suffering, the sadness, the vanished women. 

A man can never really know a woman, he can only pursue her indefinitely. It is the same with rock music.

Each rock song creates an infinite space.

Before the mutation took place that allowed homo sapien to speak, archaic humans had a signature, recognizable cry like that of the blue jay, the horse or the wolf.

Rock music is the color of black hair.

Bill Whitten is a musician and writer.  He is the founding member of St. Johnny, Grand Mal and currently records under the nom de guerre William Carlos Whitten. His latest recording *The Third Interval* was released in February 2024. His book BRUTES, a collection of short fiction was released in January 2022.

Across The Wire Vol. 2

The Playground

By Matt Rowan

The guy was not a very sociable guy. He walked past a small playground every day. There was never anyone playing. No children. No adults. No dogs, even. In fact, a lot of parks and playgrounds expressly forbid the presence of animals, pets – wild animals could do as they pleased, no one would stop them. (You’d like to see them try!) But no pets, even though it was public property. That didn’t seem very fair. 

This day, while walking by the small playground, he decided he was done with his job. He was done with his old life. He climbed some plastic steps and sat on a slide. He wasn’t coming down. He was wearing his business suit. He had a tie on. 

Not too long after he’d positioned himself there, a little boy and a little girl emerged from a nearby house and walked over to the playground. They had a tiny dog with them. The dog wouldn’t stop barking at the guy. 

“Go home, kids. Places like these, they don’t allow dogs. They only allow people,” the guy said. “People like me. They’re for people like me.” 

The children stared at him in the way children will.

“I said go home. And take the dog. Don’t you know dogs aren’t allowed in places like these?” Raising his voice now. “This is a place for people whose lives are garbage and who’ve got nothing left to give.” 

“You’re in our backyard,” the little girl said. The little boy touched her arm, and he shook his head, no. They went inside. The dog followed after them. The guy stayed where he was. 

Here, all around him, was what his life had amounted to, so little. Friends of the guy had said he was melodramatic. That didn’t mean he wasn’t really and honestly suffering. And greatly. 

The next day, the guy still hadn’t moved. A few more adults were with the guy, sitting on different parts of the swingset and other equipment. The little girl and the little boy began playing in the front yard, deciding that was better than trying to get rid of the adults. 

This time it was the boy who lost his patience. “Get out of here, you people! This is private.” He ran and climbed up to a man in a business suit sprawled out but seated upright on top of the blue plastic tunnel that connected the two wooden structures of the playground apparatus. “Goooo, gooooo,” the boy said, shoving this man. The man moaned but did nothing else to indicate he was aware of the boy’s shoving. “Muuuuuuuh,” the man said. 

The boy kicked the man hard on the spine. The man, overcome by the pain of it, felt his back. He moaned again, this time to convey physical pain. And then, once he’d recovered, he slapped the boy hard on the face. 

The guy looked at the boy, and then looked back down at the woodchips beneath him. Sometimes, in this world, little boys get slapped by men.  

The boy’s eyes welled with tears and he began bawling, running from the man, and the little girl was shouting something incoherent as their dog barked obsessively. 

The guy dragged himself through the wood chips and the distance between that separated the playground apparatus from the swingset. He pulled himself up by the swing’s chains and hoisted his torso over the swing’s seat. He was still facing downward. He crouched back on his toes and pressed off to give himself a bit of forward momentum. It didn’t do much. He moved very slightly. He moved, though. The swing weakly rocked back and forth, but not for long because his feet still skidded against the ground. He kept his arms hovering over the ground for a while but they soon fell. All of his limbs created friction and slowed the swing down. He was back at a relative standstill, twisting the seat left and right and twisting its chains up sort of. He got back on his toes and repeated the process. His clothing was covered in wood chips. 

“I don’t care. Whoever you are. My life has been the worst by far,” the guy said, tugging at his shirt. 

“Are you talking to me?” said a woman wearing a red skirt and white blouse. 

“Sure I am. Why not? I am. You don’t have it like I do.” 

A man in a cowboy hat and a bolo tie interrupted them. “Whoa now, who had it worse than what? Let me tell you who has it worst: me. Yessir. There was a time a man could speak his thoughts out loud without being told not to after he spoke his thoughts out loud.” 

“What sorts of thoughts?” the guy said. 

“You know the sorts, but I’ll tell you — all sorts. And time was I could say them and no one would mind. Hell, people would clap and applaud and tell me I’m great. But then the second I spoke my thoughts to ‘more people’ everyone got all bent out of shape. It isn’t right and it isn’t fair. I blame the leaders of old who didn’t do their jobs. Them and the new leaders, who are terrible.” 

“It’s true. A lot of things are terrible,” the woman said. “Just think about poverty. Poverty could happen to anyone. You wake up and boom: poverty.”

“I tell you this, we ain’t talking about the same thing, girlie.” 

“Don’t call me girlie,” the woman said, and threw a handful of wood chips at the cowboy. The cowboy howled in exaggerated pain as a few of them winged his face. He then sobbed and wilted back into himself.

“I’d fight you for suggesting your life has been worse than mine, if I weren’t so miserable,” the guy said to the cowboy and rolled over on his back, staring up into the sky at nothing specifically. 

More people started filling up the space on the playground equipment. All of them had problems. They looked like birds, all huddled together in masses of humanity. 

The boy and girl’s mother was in the kitchen. She looked out the window that offered a view of their backyard. She was horrified, startled by the many people who’d filled every inch of the available play space. 

She went immediately to her children. “Have you been outside recently? Have either of you been outside in the backyard?” 

“We both have,” the girl said. The boy nodded but looked away from his mother. 

“Did you see all the people? Did you talk to any of them? They’re strangers, so don’t talk to them again, if you did. I’m calling the police and I want you both to stay inside.” She saw the boy now; she saw his face, the red mark. “What happened? What did they do, who did this?” The mark on his cheek seemed to be throbbing. She dialed 911 and, despite what the operator had warned her not to do, she hung up and went outside to confront the adults who had hijacked her children’s backyard playset. 

“Get out of here,” she said, moving briskly toward the adults, resembling a pod of walruses now more than birds. They stayed entirely still, unstirred by her sudden appearance. She raced around the various people in their various positions: supine, recumbent, seated with legs crossed, slumped over, and dangling from various objects and heights. “You all need to get off of my property.” 

They had no intention of leaving. She was beginning to think she could beat one to death and still the rest wouldn’t leave. She tried anyway, a ridiculous looking man in a trenchcoat and wearing the fake “nose, glasses and mustache” combination. He refused to fight back, as though he were in some kind of transitive state. She was furious, who were these people and what had they done to her child? The police might take her in, as well, but she was going to be sure someone answered for their crime. 

She clawed the man’s face. She bit him. She stomped on his neck. Eventually he began stuttering and gurgling up blood. But it was more like a damaged robot expelling some kind of fuel or propellant liquid. Not a man. No longer that, if it ever was. 

“You are not a child!” she shouted as though it were an expletive. “This is not a public playground and even if it were, there is no going back. You think you can just go back? Who are you to think that?” She spat on the man, having finished her attack.

The police arrived, and they saw the mother standing over her victim. The police thought the scene was weird but aware of the only option available to them, they took the mother into custody. The children watched as their mother was escorted into the squad car, learned from this obvious injustice that the world is a complicated, terrible place. 

The guy knew that. He had already arrived at that point. That’s why he was laying where he was laying, blood pooling all around.

Matt Rowan lives in Los Angeles. He edits Untoward and is author of the collections, Big Venerable, Why God Why, and How the Moon Works (Cobalt Press, 2021). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine, Electric Literature, Gigantic Worlds Anthology, Booth Journal, TRNSFR, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, Moon City Review and Necessary Fiction, among others.

Across The Wire Vol. 2

Watch and Learn

By Jillian Luft

Every day, the knocks came. Katie, Bren and Sometimes Shandy.

Beads of sweat ran down their bodies, clung to the polycotton blend of their K-Mart dresses, squished between toes scrunched in shimmery plastic. Humid sighs of nothing, there’s nothing hung in the afternoon haze as they waited for someone to drive by and wave, for anything  to coast around the corner and take them by surprise.

There was only so much Katie, Bren and Sometimes Shandy could do in Verdant Village. They could roam the subdivision’s empty streets as if they were one sad backyard. They could buy Screwballs from the ice cream truck and throw the bubblegum stones at the warty red ducks that bit their hands far too often. They could creep toward the canal and wait for a gator to feast on their tender shins. And when they exhausted those options, they could look toward the road while the blacktop cooled, dull and quiet and wonder what lay beyond those rust-flecked walls. .

I was too new to the world then to grow tired of things but now I see why Katie, Bren and Sometimes Shandy slouched on the sidewalk, their day-glo jellies poking the pavement while they longed for anyone—even their mothers—to come outside and talk to them. After school, they appeared on my doorstep because I nodded and smiled and consented to anything they asked. I gave them what every girl wanted: I made them believe they were at the center of things. I was eight and glad to have a job to do.

When not at school, I spent my time staring slack-jawed at the TV screen, filling my head with a constant reel of music videos. Smoke and silk, fire and fantasy, neon and nasty. I couldn’t get enough.

But when those knocks came, I always answered.

Katie, Bren and Sometimes Shandy were older. Fifth and sixth graders with awkward teeth and budding breasts. They liked charm necklaces, WWF wrestling, scratch-n-sniff stickers. They loved, loved, loved Bon Jovi.

Katie, Bren and Sometimes Shandy spoke softly of Bon Jovi. How they would marry him, how his hair looked in the video premiere, how he sang and made them cry.  If you asked me—and no one ever did— Bon Jovi was a twerp with a horsey smile. Even his winks were wholesome. He was a goof, like someone’s dad wearing a wig. I liked the wild boys, the ones with the impish sneers and scandalous pouts. The ones that looked like they were up to something secret and special and I was dying to know what. 

How cute is he? Katie swooned. We were sprawled out on her living room floor and “Bad Medicine” was playing for the umpteenth time.

Sooooo cute, Bren and Shandy swooned right back.

My mom said I can go to the concert but only if we win the lottery. She’d better play a zillion times because there’s no way I’m missing my husband!

Katie clutched her heart and flung herself against her bean bag chair. We watched this performance and giggled like we were supposed to.

My dad’s always playing that dumb lottery, Shandy said, rolling her Disney animal eyes.

My dad tries to tell my mom it’s a waste of money but she doesn’t listen to him, Katie scoffed.

Bren said nothing because her dad didn’t live with her.

I said nothing because I didn’t know what the lottery was and I didn’t know much about what my dad thought about anything. He was always working. At night, a scrambling of keys in the door, a tired face in the cramped foyer. A man who put me to bed, tickled me and told me he loved me before leaving me in the dark.

In Verdant Village, none of us had money but we acted like we did. We had a community pool and our condos were basically houses with screened-in patios, modest dining rooms, vanity lighting. Maybe it wasn’t true suburbia, but it was the same sunshine warming our limbs. The same grass, only less of it. Even if we owned more square footage, we’d still be hyped-up on Kool-Aid, strung out on MTV. We told ourselves it was all the same.

Dads worked at power plants and pizza joints. The lucky ones pulled shifts at both. Moms stayed home and set the table. When their kids were watching, they danced in their living rooms. When no one was watching, they napped until dark. Their lives, fevered pink with blusher sets, lemonade, flamingo home decor. They baked and vacuumed and tied up the phone lines with stories of bill collectors, their husbands, other people’s husbands, the state of the neighborhood, the state of the world, department store sales, and how we drove them crazy. And then one day we heard them murmur a new word.

What’s a Peeping Tom anyway? Shandy asked.

Katie sipped her Capri Sun, let out a world-weary sigh. It’s like a pervert or a robber. It’s like a bad guy, okay? A really bad guy. 

I don’t get it, Shandy said.

I don’t either, I admitted.

He watches ladies through their windows and waits for them to take their clothes off. Do you get it now? Bren smirked.

Kinda, I guess.

But why is he called Tom? Shandy asked.

He just is! God, you guys can be such babies sometimes. Katie buried her upturned nose into Bren’s triple-pierced ear and snickered.

I tried to ignore them, return my focus to Bon Jovi and his lame antics. But it was no use. Their laughter won out.

Katie and Bren often teamed up, making it clear where their loyalties lay. I didn’t mind, really. I was just happy to be there. But Shandy, the 10-year-old in the group, wanted to be seen as their equal. Her dignity depended on it. Like so many times before, at this sign of alliance, she fled for Katie’s bathroom, slamming herself inside. I shuffled toward the door, waited for her in the hallway. Loud sniffles competed with the running faucet. I never knocked. I let her be.

When the sink went silent, Shandy exited with her sad movie stare, imploring me to take her side while she took my tiny hand. And I never knew how to say no to anyone so I let her lead me out Katie’s front door and across the street. I’m not sure Katie or Bren even noticed.


Shandy’s dad, Don, was home. Like usual. Wearing nothing but his tighty-whities. Hairy legs spread wide in his recliner. A jar of Miracle Whip in one hand. A butter knife in the other. Thick chest hair, thicker glasses. The stench of fried bologna glazing the air.

Hey honey, he greeted me, licking the knife’s edge clean, then dipping it back into the jar. And he smiled. Wide. Not like Bon Jovi’s grin, not like Billy Idol’s snarl. More like a circus clown on a smoke break. Relieved that the facade’s crumbling. Pleased that you’re confronted with his true nature.

Shandy, sweetie, grab your Daddy a soda before you go play, wouldya?

Shandy abandoned me for the fridge and I swayed in the sliver of light Shandy’s mother’s seashell lamp offered, the only light in that living room at all. Cars exploded on the television. Shotguns fired. The knife ran circles in the now empty Miracle Whip jar, scraping and screeching against the sides.

So, what are you girls up to? Don scratched a furry thigh. I avoided his tortoiseshell frames but I felt his eyes leaning into every part of me, burrowing past my suntanned skin, my chubby-cheeked politeness and digging deep to reach somewhere I didn’t even know about.

I shrugged, looked down at my Easter yellow socks, my candy pink jellies. Tried to focus on the colors, the cheer they offered in brighter places than this. He was asking me something. But I didn’t understand what. He was asking more than what he was saying. He was asking me something else entirely.

You’re so shy, he laughed. Just like my Shandy.

My skin burned so hot I was convinced it smelled. My tongue wilted. My limbs froze. I decided that at least half of me was dead. Half of me had gone limp, watching Don ingest me without even opening his mouth.

Here ya go, Shandy mumbled. A soda can hissed. I heard a gulp, a belch. No thank you. Just the increased volume of brakes screeching, glass shattering.

Shandy took my hand again. She revived me. I fixated on the back of her strawberry print romper as she skipped down the hall, leading me to safety.  I tried not to think about Don’s hungry eyes bulging in the dark.

In Shandy’s room, we knelt on her bottom bunk, undressed Barbies in our fists. We smacked taut torsos together, bent legs into impressive splits, contorted smooth groins into straddle-friendly positions. Some of the dolls didn’t have heads. We’d managed to pluck their symmetrical faces clean from their necks, leaving that weird fleshy knob. We made their grotesque bodies wail and whimper Oh mys! and Oh nos! even though they didn’t have vocal cords, even though they didn’t have mouths.

It was a ridiculous game. A game fueled by our curiosity about how a woman’s body worked. What it did when it was alone and out of our sight. In this game, we agreed that to be a woman was to be naked and maimed. To be a woman was to be hysterical. I didn’t know where we got this from. Maybe TV. Or maybe it’s what our mothers implied when they rested silently on their loveseats. Their eyes, unfocused but fierce with knowing.

A flock of headlights flew across Shandy’s window, signaling the dads’ return home from work and dinner time. I dropped my dolls, said good night and made for the door.

Don was still pantless and parked in front of the tube when I re-entered the living room. At that moment, I was reminded of my mother’s advice when playing in the backyard, the canal flowing a few feet away. Don’t get eaten by those gators. Run like mad but scramble! Zigzag. If you zigzag, they’ll never catch you.

Hey, sweetie, Don called after me. Don’t be a stranger. You’re welcome here anytime.

Thank you. I-I-I won’t, I stammered, memorizing the same crap linoleum I had in my own entryway, hands trembling as I reached for the doorknob. I could feel his eyes roving in their glass cages. Somehow, I managed to stagger out into the streetlights and zigzag my way home.

When I walked in, I inhaled deeply. Exhaled finally, too. Taco night. Cumin and onions. Something sizzled, something bordered on burnt. TV on, not MTV. The evening news. But no one was watching.

Mom’s voice spiraled through her bedroom, following the length of her phone cord as she stretched it to its limit. Hovering in the teeny space between her bedroom doorway and the kitchen entrance, she monitored her ground chuck. Nothing was in flames, so she continued gabbing.

It’s probably that Christian kid…No, no his name is Christian. He’s definitely not Christian…The one that lives by Tammi. You know the one. He’s got that satanic music blaring out of his car at all hours of the night…Yeah, the dirtbaggy-looking one. It has to be him because Gary and I caught him and his punk friends on our roof throwing rocks up there, drinking beers and other dumb shit… Un-huh. Yep. And he was pressing his pimply face to our skylight, looking in at us watching HBO, yelling and laughing. Gary dealt with them, went out and told them to knock it off. We haven’t had trouble with him since. He doesn’t even make eye contact with us anymore, the twerp. But I could see him doing other creepy crap. I wouldn’t put it past him to be our neighborhood Peeping Tom…Hold on 007’s home… Heeeey, when’d you get here? Your dad’s out back. Go say hello.

She patted my head absently but I didn’t bother responding. I knew she wanted me out of the way so I kept on walking through the kitchen. I yanked open the sliding glass door, stepped onto the patio to find my dad beyond the screen, perched high on a ladder, installing the high-tech lights he’d blabbed about for weeks, the kind that clicked on when something moved. When someone moved. Someone. Somewhere out there.

Don’t come outside. Stay where you are, Dad barked. 

I won’t. I stood on my tiptoes and pressed my face to the screen. 

The mosquitoes are bad. Some huffing, some panting, some metallic clanging and then: What’d you do with your friends today, squirt?

Nothing really. Just played.

Sounds nice.

I waited for my father’s next question. Crickets chattered in the grass. My father’s feet rested on the rung in front of me, his dirty work boots level with my face. I peered up but could only detect the faint outline of his denimed torso. All I could see was his neck. The bugs were finding me through the screen and my father stopped speaking, so I wandered back into the faux warmth of our living room. Dusk filled the skylight above my head. I was getting hungry.

On the TV, an old man reported another girl missing. I immediately changed the channel to watch a pretty man sing.


It was Mom’s idea. Katie, Bren and Sometimes Shandy at our place for a sleepover. An excuse for her to invite their moms, and Tammi, over for some “grown-up fun.” Strawberry daiquiris and girl talk at the kitchen card table while their daughters huddled up in sleeping bags in the living room, slowly losing their innocence to cable TV. 

Katie and Bren didn’t want to be there but their moms refused to leave them home unsupervised. After all, there was a Peeping Tom on the loose. Plus, their dads were working overtime and wouldn’t be home until dawn. They were probably bribed with cheap jewelry and cassettes from the mall. It was fine to hang with me during the day but no babies were allowed in their presence past sundown. When they arrived, they talked only to each other, kept their distance from Shandy and me in case some cool stranger dropped by and they had to explain, Hey, we’re not with them. We swear.

Have fun, girls. Pretend like we’re not even here, Bren’s mom said before disappearing into the kitchen. We didn’t have to pretend. Once the blender started whirring, we rarely saw our mothers’ faces. We might as well have been alone.

I didn’t ask Katie or Bren to play Barbies or board games or Truth or Dare. I didn’t ask them anything at all. Instead, I decided to gossip. To reveal something. Something I’d overheard that might ingratiate me to them further. Something that might change the course of their lives—at least for one evening. And they’d have no choice but to be grateful.

We were watching that boring movie with Tom Cruise and the unicorn when I turned to my fickle friends and teased, Hey guys, I know something you don’t know.

What? Bren asked, eyes still on long-haired Tom.

Yeah, what? Katie asked, stuffing more popcorn into her mouth. 

Well, you have to promise you won’t tell anyone. 

God, we won’t. Now tell us.

Yeah, spit it out already.

Shandy grinned patiently, said nothing.

You know that older boy, Christian? 

Their eyes fixed hard on my little impish face. I knew I had them now.

Oh, he’s so cute! Katie exclaimed.

Yeah, he’s super dreamy. Dreamier than Bon Jovi maybe. What about him?

I kept my tone casual but glowed with pride. He’s been on my roof before. Him and his high school friends go up there to party and drink beer. And one night he was looking in on my parents. Maybe he’ll do it again tonight and we can wave or something.

Oh my god, no way!

All three girls screamed. With anticipation. With fear. With desire. I tried to shush them in case the moms heard but it didn’t matter. The moms were cackling too loudly. The moms were drunk. 

We should scare him by sticking our tongues out!

Ew, no. Funny faces are lame, Katie. We should just look up at him like, “What are you doing, you freakin’ weirdo?” Like we don’t give a crap.

Yeah, you’re right. I was being totally lame. Let’s just do what you said.

I gotta put some mascara on. Bren rummaged through her purse.

I don’t know, guys. Maybe he’s the Peeping Tom. Shandy laughed nervously; her Disney eyes panicked.

But we ignored her concern. This was the night’s new plan.

For what felt like hours, we craned our necks toward the glass-plated night and waited for Christian to see us. Eventually, our necks ached and our stomachs rumbled and mom had baked a batch of Toll House she was willing to share and we were getting tired even though we swore we’d remain awake to see Freddy Kreuger invade teenage dreams, to see a startled Christian beaten at his own game. The prospect of his arrival had been enough to satisfy us. So, we turned away from the skylight and filled our mouths with chocolate before giving ourselves over to sleep. 

I was faking though. I took advantage of any opportunity to stay up late. The moms were still in the kitchen, pairing their cookies with Kahlua and milk, discussing what they would do if they were the Peeping Tom’s next target. Who they would call (their husbands at work, the cops, each other), what they would shout (curse word, curse word, curse word), who they would blame (pornography, society, unemployment).

Then I heard the squeak of nylon and opened my eyes to see Shandy slipping out of her sleeping bag and ambling into the kitchen. I didn’t hear what she said but suddenly she was leaving and ruining her mother’s good time.

This was my one night off in forever, Shandy, her mom grumbled while stepping over our still bodies.

I didn’t ask her but I think Shandy was afraid Christian would show up and haunt us in our slumber. I stared up at the skylight again and held my breath. I saw only black but I couldn’t help but think of Shandy’s dad’s face. 

At some point, I fell asleep to the TV and the moms’ tipsy excitement about when and where the Peeping Tom would strike next. My own dreams remained undisturbed. 


A few weeks after the sleepover, Katie, Bren and me were down at the pool, splashing around. Shandy stayed home with a stomach bug. We were showing off our handstands and holding our breath in the deep end when we spotted Christian, up-close and shirtless, washing his car in front of the pool’s gates.

Katie and Bren scrambled out of the water like excitable dogs, shaking their bodies dry in an embarrassing hurry. A boy was better than handstand contests. A boy was better than me, better than ice cream or anything. They elbowed each other in their scrawny sides and dashed toward the gate, leaving me and their towels behind. I hung back because I knew my place. I knew I didn’t belong in this scene. Still, I entered it anyway.

After collecting our towels. I dragged my feet across the scorching cement to the pool’s entrance. Once outside the gates, I dawdled under a tree a few yards away and tried my best not to gawk, to make my presence known. There he was. Flaxen rattail pasted to the damp of his neck, silver cross earring sparkling in the sun. Axl Rose whistling through his stereo speakers. An open beer next to a bucket of suds. Christian, dirtbag teen and possible Peeping Tom, on full display.

Katie and Bren squatted on a nearby parking curb, squinting up at danger. They talked loudly about nothing. They used bad words and acted stupid. They didn’t acknowledge me once even though I stood directly behind them.

Christian sponged his windshield, humming along to the radio like we weren’t right there ogling him with open mouths. We watched his muscles crest like waves across his back as he lunged over the gleaming black of his Pontiac Fiero, as he hosed down his hubcaps, waxed his back bumper, polished his taillights. And then he turned his attention, along with the full force of his nozzle, to Katie and Bren. He doused their just-dried bodies, aiming directly at their bare browned skin. They squealed and bolted across the parking lot, giving themselves away as the children they were.

Eventually, the water stopped rushing and the girls stopped shrieking. But Axl was still singing when Christian moved toward Katie and Bren. He lit a cigarette, looked on as they shivered with delight.

I’m headed up the street to the Gas-n-Go. You two wanna go for a ride?

I mean sure yeah cool. That’d be awesome. Katie and Bren were beaming, giddy. Then, emboldened by his invitation, Katie asked: Would you mind buying us some Garbage Pail Kids?

Christian laughed. Yeah, I can get you some of those. You’ll owe me one though. Then he turned his bright eyes on me. What about her? Does she want to come, too?

She’s not allowed, they said while I stayed in the shade. He took their word for it, tossed his bucket in the back, and revved the engine. In their soggy two pieces, Katie and Bren clambered into Christian’s passenger seat. All goosepimpled flesh and giggles. Katie squirming on Bren’s lap. Don’t you dare tell on us, they smirked. Fingers to lips curled in satisfaction. It’s a secret, okay?

The shiny Fiero sped off, left me choking on a cloud of burnt tire and cigarette smoke. I wanted to know Christian’s secrets. Not if he was the Peeping Tom or not. I knew he couldn’t be the one stalking our windows. Getting loaded with his friends on our roof was for fun. What the Peeping Tom did was for something else.

I wanted to know other things about him. Like his favorite Slurpee flavor, his favorite song, what he wanted to be when he turned 18. I wish I’d blackmailed Katie and Bren, asked for a pack of Garbage Pail Kids or Dr. Pepper Gum in exchange for my silence. Asked for anything at all.

That night, I curled into my covers and imagined Christian lurking outside my window, surveilling from the front seat of his Fiero, aiming his eyes and high beams into my bedroom, hoping for a light to flicker on, for a mere glimpse of my beauty. He wasn’t a Peeping Tom, just a lovesick boy. In my mind, there was a difference. 

I fantasized I was older. Older than Bren or Katie but not as old as our mothers. I had teased hair, bleached blonde, like the girls on Club MTV. I wore ripped jeans and bustier tops. To sleep, I slipped on satin negligee. My room wasn’t crowded with toys or stuffed animals. Everything smelled fruity-sweet and party-ready. Everything was cool. I was cool. 

And Christian knew it and longed to be inside. He ached to hold my hand while I slept. He ached to make me stand in the middle of my moonlit room, his arms around my waist as he looked deep into my eyes to find that I knew much more than Katie and Bren. About life. About rock music. About all the things that mattered to him. That I was ready to ride shotgun in his Fiero far past the Verdant Village walls and the Gas-n-Go. That no one would have to know he kidnapped me. That no one would care if I went missing.



Not long after Katie and Bren’s Gas-n-Go escapade, the knocks stopped. The pair became a rare sight, sometimes glimpsed in Christian’s driveway where he and his scummy pals loitered past dark, blasting metal from their cars’ tinny speakers. 

Katie and Bren still looked bored but less alone and more important. I guess that’s what Mom meant when she said there was a way something called puberty could change you. I wondered if they still loved Bon Jovi. I wondered if they thought of him—or me—at all. 

There was still Sometimes Shandy, skittish and lonely at my front door. Big eyes pleading for me to not turn her away like everyone else. And I never did. Only lied now and then when she asked me to play at her house.

Sorry, my mom says I’m not allowed anymore. She wants to keep an eye on me. 

Mom was one of the last to encounter the Verdant Village Peeping Tom. Dad was working overtime the night he visited, which meant I was staying up later than usual lounging on the sofa like a lazy empress, gnawing on cold slices of leftover pizza. Adam Curry was counting down the top videos of the week. 

Over Bret Michaels’ broken heart, I heard my mom on the phone.

Holy shit, Tammi. He was here…You know who, the creeper, the peeper!…No, I couldn’t tell. It’s too dark and those stupid lights Gary installed don’t catch crap. But someone was out there, standing and facing my bedroom. I got out of the shower with my boobs out and everything else before I even noticed! Jesus Christ.….Yeah. it’s kinda my fault though. I left the blinds open by accident like a dum dum…Yeah, I’ll be fine. Gary gets home soon. Hope that asshole got a good show…Hey, you might be next! (laughter)…Okay, g’night.

I waited for the clack of the receiver. Her door was ajar. I knocked gently.

Why are you knocking, kiddo? Get your butt on in here!

Mom was in bed, freshly showered and smiling. She pulled back her bedspread, patted the empty side of the mattress.

Come on in. The water’s warm.

I dove in between the sheets and snuggled into the soft of her terry cloth robe, her loose curls spilling wet onto my cheeks. I hoped she’d spill her secrets, too. I wanted to stay there, nestled against her. Warm and safe. I wanted to be her baby still, for her to watch over me and never let me go.

We cuddled in silence for a while, our bodies facing one another. I kept my eyes on the vertical blinds, their vinyl slats jammed shut. Protectors from the night. 

I swallowed hard and looked deep into my mother’s eyes before asking, Mom, did you see the Peeping Tom just now? 

Were you listening to my phone calls again, 007? You’re too smart for your own good. She ran her fingers through my tangled hair. I didn’t see who he was but I saw someone man-shaped for sure.

I swallowed hard again. Do you think it was Don?

Don? She jolted upright, her spine kissing the headboard. Why would you ask about him? Kiddo, what’s going on?

Nothing. But I don’t think it’s that Christian.

Jesus, 007! When did you hear me say that?

I don’t know…one day when you were on the phone.

Dear lord, you truly are a spy. Listen, I’m not sure who he was, she sighed. And I don’t want you to worry, okay? He’s not going to hurt me. And he’s not going to hurt you. Whoever he is. She reached for my hand, crushing it against her sun-damaged chest. Her eyes boring into my brain. There are people out there that are searching for something. Some excitement, I don’t know. We feel more sorry for people like that than anything.

I nodded although I didn’t understand. Mom vibrated with a nervous energy, but it wasn’t fear. 

You know sometimes I think you know more than we think and it’s terrifying. She bent down and kissed my forehead, gave my tummy a playful poke. Let Mommy get dressed, sweet pea. Daddy will be home soon.

She rose from the bed, freeing herself easily from my embrace, opening and shutting dresser drawers, retrieving her clothes and then her cosmetics. I lay there and thought about how mere minutes before a mystery man took in the sight of my mother’s naked body. But more than that, he’d entered a place he didn’t belong without ever having to step inside. 

I watched my mother watch herself in her bureau mirror, pursing her lips together like a promise and admiring the results. Her eyes, aflame and haloed in kohl, she reminded me of the women on MTV—the way they arranged their faces to fit the mood of the man’s song, the way they pretended they weren’t seducing and surrendering to danger. But they knew they were and they liked it. My mother’s reflection met my eyes. I wasn’t sure which one of us had been caught.

She turned around and bared her normal face, flushed and sheepish. Shoo, shoo! she squealed, chasing me out of her room before quickly closing her door. I lingered, hoping to be reinvited, but the blow dryer began its pretty drone.

I let my mother be, plopping myself down again in front of the television. I let the men in the music videos tend to me, let them teach me. Those men that sung about being hungry beasts, bringing me to my knees, watching every breath I take and wanting more, more, more. I brought my face so close to the screen, I could taste the technicolor of their feigned desire. I didn’t dare look anywhere else.

Jillian Luft recently returned to her home state of Florida. Her work has appeared in Hobart, XRAY, Rejection Letters, Expat, Vlad Mag, and other publications. She’s currently seeking publication for her novel about toxic Florida romance. You can find her on X @JillianLuft and read more of her writing at

Across The Wire Vol. 2


By Jesse Hilson

I was at a library and talking with a middle-aged woman and made a pass at her. I was telling her movies to watch and books to read. I touched her throat, then said I’m sorry, and are you married? She seemed alarmed but not like she was going to call the cops or anything. I think she gave serious thought to being unfaithful to her husband with me, like she wasn’t hostile to the idea but it made her feel very sad because she felt trapped. Only one other person lingered in the library with us, the librarian, another even older woman who sort of represented the middle-aged woman’s life and sense of propriety. She was pretending to read a book and waiting for us to be done with our conversation and leave.

I’m very attracted to you, I said, as if this fact should knock over everybody else’s needs and upend lives. Vronsky and Anna didn’t wait for the world to cohere around their wants. I didn’t say that at the time but I’m saying that now. This really happened and it’s still happening.

Then I drove her somewhere. It was a cross between LA and the town where I grew up. She ended up disappearing.

I’m the Son of Sam but instead of a dog, it’s a black mold pattern glyph on the wall at the head of my bed, behind the headboard that gets onto my pillows and seeps into my mind while I sleep, gives me hyperdreams. Grand Theft Auto Sadness. Antisocial fantasies in isometric pixel animations. And I don’t even like games.

I couldn’t give my wife a back massage because her back was covered with ink. Less a tattoo than a glossy book cover, like a catalog. For Xmas shopping. I said she had a lot of knots and tried to remember the parallel runways of muscles up both sides of her spine but the printed back ink was confusing me. I felt her big breasts. She kicked me out of the house. I tried to talk her out of it. A baby was walking around the room. It was such a bitter argument. It was forever. A typical theatrical event was happening elsewhere and I drove there listening to delusion-reinforcing music with cryptic lyrics as I used to do in that part of the city. At the theatre thing, which was full of kids because a lot of schools went there, an adult pulled a gun. They talked him into leaving and he was tackled by a tank of a security guard on the front lawn. I went to a concession stand inside which seemed familiar: and I bought three cannabis-infused bananas from the rip-off artist. Right away they got jumbled with normal bananas so I lost track of which ones had the drugs in them. So I ate three and went outside and there was a rock concert with people dancing and the band was playing the hit single from that year “(I Was) Standing In Heaven.” 

The interview they give to welcome new schizophrenics is called the IRIS (Ideas of Reference Interview Scale), and a high score on item 14 indicates that some message of significance has been sent to the interviewee through the media. In the Before Time, usually while driving, awake and not dreaming this time, I did perceive that — Kurt Cobain singing “Yeah” on the car radio meaning whatever random thought I was thinking at the moment I heard that verse of the song was true, song lyrics teased information about hidden Cotard arrangements, death marbled into life — but now it’s as if TV shows and movies and pop radio were daily rushes slipped quietly over the transom of my heavy-lidded eyes in REM aquarium depths. Dreams are safe psychoses (sike-oh-sees), rehearsals of virtual unreality. Wandering around fairgrounds honeycombed with tents and corrals no one wanted you to be in, populated with crooked firefighters, rapists, angry ghosts, disabled childhood friends, all in constant frenetic video game motion.

I am led by spectacle through dream-malls. Stage massive dynamic group-races that absorb me and take me along. Blood trips, voyages that always have some dramatic turning or betrayal among passengers, often family members. Shopping spaces, markets both indoors and outdoors, carve up group attention. An audience waits and peers into my dream-world. Mass media pilgrimages staged for someone, not me, not the dreamer displaced by the spectator’s passive ego. Everything is given a new portentousness, a signal within the dream transmission.

Setting up social media accounts, dating apps, work emails at my house, I had to come up with wifi superstitions to combat the ghosts that prevented multi-factor authentication from getting through. Everything’s combat. And the authentication code only arrives when it’s too late and you are no longer near the device. This is the shield of the poltergeist.

Frustration happened impacting the mood, paralyzed the mood-feeler beyond the actual obstruction causing the frustration. Can’t eat can’t sleep can’t perform simple tasks. The crazy man is a robot with one square task-peg stuck in his round queue-hole blocking a whole string of other later tasks, of all more amenable shapes. I don’t appreciate you setting the extroverted tempo. I have not intersected enough with all of you. Very well. I will take my chances. A noon whistle blotted out all repetitions of your name.

Jesse Hilson lives in the Catskills in New York State. His work has appeared in Maudlin House, Rejection Letters, Expat Press, Hobart, Exacting Clam, Don’t Submit!, Bruiser, Apocalypse Confidential, and elsewhere. He has published two novels, Blood Trip and The Tattletales, and a poetry collection Handcuffing the Venus De Milo. He is the founding editor of Prism Thread Books. He can be found on X and Instagram at @platelet60.

Across The Wire Vol. 2


By Ed Komenda

Lou opened the door with a heavy blanket over his head.  I hadn’t seen my best friend in over a year, and it was a relief to see him standing there, cloaked like the South Side’s Obi Wan Kenobi. It was January.  A few days after Christmas.  A dull gray Chicago.  Lou welcomed me into the house:  A rented three-bedroom on 67th, where the temperature was a few degrees warmer inside than outside. Comforters covered the picture window. A blue couch sat at the center of the living room.  On the cluttered coffee table sat a TV remote, a Tambourine, a stack of X-Men comics, an old Ziploc of weed, an empty bag of Lays, a pickle jar half-filled with garlic chunks suspended in juice, a peanut butter jar with a protruding spoon, a two-liter of Coke with one pull left at the bottom, an ashtray with Camel cigarette butts, six or seven nubs of days-old blunts and a tattered copy of Road-side Dog.  The reason blankets covered everything is winter gas bills got too high.  One weekend of heating the place and you were bankrupt.  Lou zipped his body in a sleeping bag and breathed through a fabric air hole he fashioned in the shape of his mouth.  We walked through the living room and into the hallway, where another set of  blankets obscured a doorway.  Lou parted the blankets like a beaded curtain, and we stepped into the kitchen.  It was warm.  All four burners on the gas stove were going.  Lou sat at the table. In front of him sat a bottle of Jim Beam.  Next to the bottle was a tiny puddle of spilled whiskey – an erroneous pour left to evaporate.   Lou poured a shot for himself and took it. He slid the shot glass to me, and I took one, too.  We said little. We traded the shot glass until we felt brave enough to exit.  Lou said he needed five minutes to shower. He left the kitchen and entered the bathroom.  Shower sounds and steam leaked under the door. I rubbed my hands together and jammed them into my coat pockets.  I could see my breath.  The spot reminded me of the country house where I’d been living the past three years. I stapled Walmart blankets over the windows. I kept a space heater next to the bed.  I slept fully-clothed – pants, sweatshirt, socks – with a hood drawn tight around my head.  A heavy blanket on top. On the dead heating vent, I kept a bottle of Wild Turkey.  It was nice to have someone to drink whiskey with.  In the country, that someone was Otis, the fifth man on our four-man lease. He looked like a descendent of Andre The Giant if Andre The Giant grew up roping steer and using Keystone beer to fluff up his scrambled eggs. He stayed in the basement. Tucked in a corner room cramped with warped, musty vinyl, a king-sized bed and computer desk, he chain-smoked Winstons and played World of Warcraft, wrapped in a nest of secondhand blankets. We had a fireplace in the living room and no money for wood. But we worked in the library, and one day Otis returned with stacks and stacks of discarded books. He grabbed a thick history text and tore it in half.  Split it right down the spine.  He grabbed a geography edition next  and tore that in half, too.  I could tell he was well-versed in the art of book disposal.  We stacked the pieces like cords of wood. I crumpled pages into kindling balls, and Otis dropped his own in the ash. He flicked his Bic under the yellow pages, and soon there was fire.  We spent the next week watching Kubrick on couches we salvaged from curbs around town. I was working a library shift when Otis fell asleep during a Cheers marathon. A few embers popped past the metal mesh and landed on the carpet. Smoke filled the living room. A house party regular named Cody showed up and found Otis snoring. “Yo, wake your ass up!” He slapped Otis awake and stomped the smoldering rug. Otis rubbed the crust out of his eyes and peered through the haze. “Shit,” Otis said, “that was a close one.” He cracked a window, shut off the TV and went back to sleep.  Lou came out of the bathroom, slicking his hair back with a brush.  Steam followed him like a fog.  We drove to Chinatown for five-dollar soups. We cruised. Marquee Moon played from the car stereo.  We glided through the dirty slush with no plan, no discussion about what we’d been up to, no talk of what came next. We were full of broth. And we were warm. 

Ed Komenda is a writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow him on Instagram @ejkomenda

Across The Wire Vol. 2

Leaky Boat

By Dylan Smith

They put a perfect

Cathedral in my phone 

an endless Barn

gets Spiritual inside 

Wordy Mountain 

Brand New Bible

for every War 

and all its Trees

like an Ark 

Take that apocalypse

out of your pocket  

Google the Word 


why not, Put an-

other Endless War

in it, Put all of 

Moby Dick 

in it and

every Name 

of every Tree 

and all that Math 

My phone is a

leak in the Alphabet 

Proof of Space 

I loved your name 

absorbing Light

and Water and

this is the Way

we’ll be told 

our Mothers

are dead

Dylan Smith is serializing a novella-length fiction thing called Crayon Barn Chris and plants flowers for money in Brooklyn, NY.