Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction

A 100-Foot Rabbit with Black Eyes

By Sam Berman

A normal sized rabbit gave birth to a 100-foot rabbit off Palomino Avenue. The rabbit did not come out that size. It came out little, pink and soft like something out of a magic kit. It was later the rabbit grew ten feet a week for ten weeks and then stopped growing. Naturally, the German shepherds in the neighborhood were concerned. As were the pit bulls, the border collies, and the little dog that belonged to the cop’s girlfriend down the street, Chewy, who had lost a paw when the lady’s boyfriend before the cop backed his motorcycle down their long, turning driveway and ran it over.  

Your dog had recently passed so you didn’t mind the rabbit so much. 

Your wife and kids felt different.

“It could kill us,” your wife said while she scrolled on her phone.

“So could a killer,” you said, in that dickish way you tended to offer up. 

The rabbit, you thought, was cool. Was exciting. And your wife had slept with Jesse Fali, who she knew from doing A Raisin in the Sun at summer stock in the Berkshires, and Jesse wrote scripts for zombie show where the real monsters ended up being the humans all along––so, yes, in a way––in your little-bit-of-a-dickish way, you liked that your wife was scared of the 100-rabbit off Palomino Avenue. 

Your daughter though—the one you really understand–you hate that she hated the rabbit. Even though it really wasn’t the sight of the rabbit. No. It was…well, she couldn’t stand the extra noise. She hated extra noise, loud noise, any noise. And that summer was already so loud. 

With the wailing of the good and bad summer bugs.   

The motorcycles popping off Hudson Street. 

And the rabbit: with his deep breaths on those hot, cloudless days. Certainly, even you could admit that his sneezes were unpleasant. All those different types of 100-foot rabbit sneezes: the sneezes like a flood siren; the sneezes like the sudden of a bullwhip; and that sneeze, once, so loud, you feared the earth finally cracked and broke open, and you were too late to save your family from the ground widening below them. 

Before the rabbit you had a simple thing going. Once: a bumble bee landed on your daughter’s birthday cake. Always: your foot doctor had elegant handwriting. And from time-to-time: there was lightning you could smell through the screen window. Having once lived as badly as you once lived, you began to take such delight in your new and unspectacular life. Being boring felt so good to you; paying the hundred and twenty-nine dollars a month so that your kids could enjoy Menard’s effortless green grass; all the cable channels you never even clicked on; and DraftKings loaded onto your cellphone so you could bet college football with your brother every Saturday.   

In the early mornings–before you left for work and before your wife slept with Jesse Fali– she would kiss your forehead. “Come home rich or don’t come home at all,” she’d say with her soft, sleepy laugh. And you’d always hated that joke so much. You had. Because you never really did feel like quite enough. Or you felt like she felt like she deserved a good deal more than you. And it didn’t help that before the twins were born your wife had left you a letter in the bathroom that either a friend, or a lover, or her sister had insisted she write. The letter explained that you were a good man, but not a man of consequence in the ways that really mattered. And that you could not excite her in ways she really wanted to be excited. And that you could not look at her in the ways she dreamt of being looked at–you could not see her how she needed to be seen. 

But then you had the girls

And your wife didn’t leave. 

And you two never spoke about the letter.  

And so soon later the girls had turned ten: and you were watching them try on different styles of swimsuits in the basement in an attempt to create some type of water scene.

They told you they were making a mermaid movie. 

Having just seen a mermaid movie themselves the night prior. 

They offered: that mermaid movies were the future of movies, and you needed to watch them make their movie because you’d seen movies and understand how they were supposed to look. 

“Watch,” they kept telling you. “Watch us.” 

Their beach towels unfurled in separate corners of the basement. 

Their big pillows taped with magazine covers like shark fins.

“Ten more minutes,” you’d told them. “Then it’s sleep.” 

But the girls didn’t listen. Because no one ever listened; the shoe-worn carpet in the living room was proof of that. You would not un-often curse yourself for not having the big men that came in to refinish the fireplace remove their shoes before working. You’d asked them politely once or twice to remove their boots, and once or twice they had over the course of that week. But then they didn’t. They stopped. You didn’t ask again because you just wanted the men to go. So, there was a track, thinned like the path of well-used hiking trail. The worn nylon carpet proof like a boot against your throat, that you weren’t the kind of man that other men had interest in listening to. 

The building was only a half mile away so you and the girls would walk over. It was one of your grand, splendid plans: to teach them something about civil service. About the love of thy neighbor. On the walk you’d ask the girls questions about their friends and their school and their futures. And before long the three of you would be in front of the brick building with the gray sign and the almost-yellow letters that read: Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.


Because you understood the magic of an empty interstate: in the winter you’d take your breaks at Southland Oasis, a doughnut shop above the snowy highway. You would drink your coffee with Hari, whose chewed-up work pants made a funny sound as he talked about the president, about NATO forces and kill squads, and then bemoaned the immiseration of the middle class and explained that taxes–property and income–in other countries would be an act of war! A call to arms! The final treason of a failing democracy.

In truth, Hari had been your sponsor during the tough years. And he’d gotten you this job that wasn’t great but was still a job. And you had love for Hari, because even though he primarily only talked to you about his talk-radio insanities, that didn’t change the fact that the night you were in that parking garage off Lawrence, your kit fully loaded, your arm tied off and your main-vein purple and begging for some action, it was Hari you called. Hari. And it was Hari who came down and took you to the diner across from the post office. He told you the government was subsidizing the growth of Hormone imbalanced eggs. Which made you laugh right then so loud that you didn’t even notice he was crushing your kit with his boot under the table.


It was Hari who kept you laughing long enough to keep you alive.

“The end of Babylon,” Hari would say, a semitruck passing underfoot.   

“Maybe,” you’d say. “Maybe…But, then what is it we’re doing…working at the toll booths?” 

“Not work,” Hari would reply, thinking, blinking, gulping. “We’re in the first wave, buddy.” 


When the rabbit first grew tall, the news cameras came. As did the government scientists with their walkie talkies, their calipers, their shiny tranquilizer guns with exacting red dots that glowed on top of their barrels. They did not shoot the rabbit, electing to instead bring in a crane and build the scaffolding right there in the middle of the lawn.

They shined floodlights in the rabbit’s eyes. 

They shooed away chimney bats that had snuck in beneath the rabbit’s big ears. 

They found and then brought in a stethoscope the size of a dinnerplate and listened to the thrum of his big rabbit heart.   

Of course, some people came and prayed. 

It only made sense that the rabbit must be God. 

At the very least a godsend.

After a year or so, the rabbit no longer seemed to be a cool thing. At first, you liked that the rabbit struck fear in your wife–who’d slept with Jesse Fali, and who needed to be punished–but after a string of panic attacks for which you had to take her to the emergency room at Saint Joseph’s, you were past the retribution phase of her infidelity, now there was only the painful part; the part where maybe-it-was-a-little-bit-your-fault part.

The meaty part. 

Everything about the 100-foot rabbit became quite a nuisance: the sight of the rabbit, the thought of the rabbit, the rabbit’s sneezes that rattled the wine glasses. Everything. All of it. You

were over it. He was now just some big dumb thing that kept the girls awake. And–and! Another thing you hadn’t anticipated was how the 100-foot rabbit had invited the hopeful: arriving with their prayer beads and wax candles bearing the image of Saint Guadalupe. You hated how crowded the block had become, all with people all waiting for the rabbit to do something. To reveal some 100-foot rabbit revelation: a mass healing, or a mass punishment. With their wheelchairs leaving tracks across your lawn. And your garbage bin already full of used medical supplies––evidence that the sick that had begun squatting in your alleyway, your bushes––as you struggled to find a resting spot for your empty milk jug amongst the overfilled colostomy bags, needle plungers, and adult diapers side-spun into neat bushels. Up against a single trash bin you saw a prosthetic leg with the sock and sneaker still on the foot. There were faded stickers lining the thigh of the leg, mostly of breweries and alehouses from a town outside of Dallas. Whoever’s leg it was had come a long way; a long to see a rabbit. It went on this way for many more months, almost a year.

But in the end the rabbit did nothing.

No healing. No, he only blinked.   

Berkshire Hathaway bought the rabbit, okay. 

And no one was allowed to touch or look or speak to the rabbit. There was a sign. Motion lights. Security cameras just in case the high school kids came by with their spray-paint. 


Now, even though it’s forbidden to deviate from the planned route, when you and the girls volunteer to walk the blind, you will sometimes walk whatever student you are assigned to that day to the corner opposite the 100-foot rabbit. Young or old, you have the girls take them by the hand as you explain the rabbit’s eyes are black like river stones. Like whirlpools at midnight. And then you tell your student that the rabbit never really moves. You tell him he just stands like an uninterested goliath, the sun and wind and birds taking turns moving over him. You say, “You’re really not missing a single thing with this fucker. Not a thing.”  You explain that all he does is just stand, pretty much still unless he’s sneezing, and that all the people that come to watch him do the same thing: they stand, pretty much still behind the wire fence that Berkshire Hathaway has installed and watch him. You offer the insight that, “Maybe the rabbit is more a statue… a totem. Maybe one day he’ll just kill us all.” And then you go on to explain to your student about your wife–and how you still, unfortunately, love her. And how she wakes up crying from the middle of her dreams and tells you that in the dream, which is actually more of a nightmare, that the rabbit has turned on her, on you, on the kind and simple denizens of your town. 

Then you ask the blind student––while your daughters practice their somersaults on the lawn behind you––really, what kind of God would ultimately betray us? Not that you believe in God, but if there is one–what the heck? This is how he spends his time? Just asking the questions makes you wonder why you no longer get asked to play harmonica with Victor’s band at The Catbird on Fridays? Did you do something? 

Did you bother someone? You tell your student, “Shot glasses had been broken at The Catbird. Pool cues had been spun and snapped and guitar players’ girlfriends had stormed out raging and tearful. It was The Catbird. A rock-n-roll club, man. Antics were part of the job description!”

Your student holds his hands over his eyes and lets out a huffing noise. 

You continue: “Really, what had I done?” 

“I don’t know man,” says your student. “I wasn’t there.” 

“Am I that truly unlovable to this big fucking world?” 

You both stand in silence, the sun beating down on your bare necks. 

High above the shambling oak trees, the rabbit looms like some wonderous bug from a prehistoric or alien world. He blinks and you can see a quiver between his eyes like the way the daughter you know best sometimes quivers between her eyes before she starts crying. Behind the rabbit there are still no clouds, but two gentle contrails where the Air Force pilots had been just a few minutes before. Your student sighs once more. Once more. Then Your daughters yell, “Look at these,” And then tumble forward into a small clearing, laying on their backs as their dizziness subsides. 

“Maybe the rabbit is here for blood,” says your student, wiping sweat from his chin. “To dwell is so pointless. But now I’m hot and I’m tired, man. I just want to get back. Walk me half-way, okay man? I’ll go the rest of the way on my own.”


Sam Berman is a short story writer who lives in Chicago and works at Lake Front Medical with Nancy & Andrew & Reuben. They are terrific coworkers. He has had his work published in Maudlin House, The Masters Review, D.F.L. Lit, Hobart, Illuminations, The Fourth River, Smokelong Quarterly, and recently won Forever Magazine’s Unconventional Love Stories competition. He was selected as runner-up in The Kenyon Review’s 2022 Non-Fiction Competition as well as short listed for the 2022 Halifax Ranch prize and the ILS Fiction Prize. He has forthcoming work in Expat Press, Craft Magazine and Rejection Letters, among others.

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction

An Average Jukebox in the Outskirts of the Biggest Little City in the World

By Aaron Burch, D.T. Robbins, and Kevin Maloney


I knew soon as I saw him this guy was going to give me trouble. Same as I knew soon as X told me about James at work they were going to have an affair; same as I knew my dad would be of no help when I called for advice but I did anyway, if only so I could feel mad at him instead of myself; same as I knew soon as the guy at REI started answering my questions about which tent was best I’d buy whichever one he recommended, same as I knew I’d never take that tent out of its box but I liked the idea of myself as a guy who threw a tent into his trunk and set out on an adventure and I was toying with the idea of becoming different ideas of myself; same as I knew it was a bad idea to go to that ATM back near the bathrooms and withdraw as much it would let me, same as I knew I would lose it all same as I’d lost everything I’d walked into the casino with but, fuck it, why give up on letting things go now; same as I knew soon as I saw this bar from the road that nothing good could come from stopping here, same I knew they’d have my heartsongs on the jukebox, and that was what I needed — not a new tent, not some emotional fatherly advice, not one more turn as shooter while everyone around the table cheered me on, but a little time in a dive bar in a town I’d never been in finding new ways to lose things I didn’t know I had.

I ordered a bourbon and coke, threw it back like it was a shot, set the glass down on the counter like placing a baby bird back in the nest it fell out of. Ordered another, carried it with me to the juke. 

He was already there, like waiting for me. And he was first, fine, whatever. It’s true. No big deal. I just wanted to queue up something next, before anyone else got in line or he loaded up a whole night’s worth. It’s happened before. Next thing you know, it’s last call and you never even got your songs, just threw away more money at problems that never went away. So, sure, I looked over his shoulder, but I wasn’t trying to monitor his choices or anything. I didn’t give a shit what he played, but I was curious. Couldn’t help myself. Curiosity killed the growing pile of bad ideas, I guess. 

This guy turned around, saw me spying.

“You have a problem, shithead?”

“I’ve got lots of problems,” I said. I wasn’t trying to be clever. It just came out. I think I’d been needing to hear myself say it out loud. For someone else to hear me say it. To make my confession.

“This will help you feel better,” the guy said, and gave me the most sincere, genuine smile I could remember being on the receiving end of. It broke my heart.

I looked at the juke, and at the very instant I saw that he’d cued up “Scar Tissue,” I heard him say, “People can say whatever they want, but John Frusciante is the heart and soul of the Chili Peppers.”

Jesus goddam fuckin’ shit. A Frusciante guy? 


I was sitting at the bar, drinking my third or fourth pint since the doctors pumped the Vicodin and Smirnoff out of my stomach. I’d just gotten out of the hospital. Technically, I wasn’t discharged. My right arm still had a plastic tube coming out of it. It was dribbling blood all over the counter. It didn’t matter. The patron to my left kept flicking a cigarette lighter under his knuckle hair, and the bartender, from what I’d overheard, had a warrant out for his arrest for armed robbery. This was the kind of establishment where a little blood on the counter was expected. 

I noticed a jukebox in the corner and recalled an article I’d read recently while doing a stint in Washoe County Penitentiary. It was about the healing power of music. A team of sadists masquerading as scientist had cut the arms and legs off a hundred innocent geckos, then measured their ability to regenerate limbs while listening to Mozart. Their conclusion was that Mozart helped. The scientists received an award. Not a word about the havoc they’d wreaked on those terrified amphibians.

I needed something like that. Not Mozart, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In particular, the song where Anthony Kiedis sings about living under a bridge shooting heroin all day, then gets an idea and puts a sock on his penis and becomes a millionaire with a house in Malibu and six model girlfriends. I wondered if something like that could happen to me.

I walked over to the jukebox and was fishing around in my hospital gown, hoping to find some money, when a guy in a Seattle Mariners cap walked up behind me and breathed down my exposed neck like he was going to goose me or jam a knife into my kidney.

I spun around and said, “You gotta problem, shithead?”

“I have a lot of problems,” he said, wiping his nose.

I laughed. He was clean-shaven and wearing Blundstones. He had all his teeth. The only problem he had was deciding whether to spend his ill-gotten tech money on cryptocurrency or at an all-inclusive eco-resort in Papua New Guinea.

“Well, this’ll make you feel better,” I said and queued up “Scar Tissue” on the Wurlitzer. I stood back triumphantly, but I hadn’t put any money in it. The machine only responded to capitalist contributions. 

I tried to explain my situation… about Mozart and geckos and John Frusciante, who spent a decade shooting heroin and talking to ghosts, then got sober and recorded the greatest album of all time. 

Seattle wasn’t listening. He pushed past me, dropped a quarter in the jukebox, and pressed a series of buttons that summoned “Say It Ain’t So” by Weezer. 

There have been many terrible songs written by many terrible bands since man first banged two stones together and called it music, but somehow this Bitcoin bro picked the worst one. 

Bad feelings seized me. I remembered the hospital giving me medicine that was supposed to make me sleepy, but I was seized by a tremendous energy. I grabbed an empty bottle off a nearby table and cracked it over Seattle’s head.

Instead of falling to the floor like a regular person, he just stood there staring at me, trying to fathom what had happened. He opened his mouth to say something as blood ran into his eye. 

“You cock-rock motherfucker,” he whispered and took a swing. 

It was the strangest thing. I dodged his punch, but the drugs I was on made it so that only my mind moved to the left, while my body remained in place. My face took the full force of the punch. I watched myself fall to the floor.

Seattle started dancing. He was completely insane. Maybe he had real problems after all.

III. Imprints of Others

After too much codeine, the original owner of the bar fell asleep at the wheel and barreled into a center divider. When his wife signed the bar over to me, she lamented he was unconscious as the flames ate him away. Some women want you to die twice. Some men deserve it. If you ask my ex, she’d concur I was one of them. Long story short, I steer clear of Jacksonville. 

These days, the bar is a mural of hopelessness. From the cigarette ash and spilt beer on the counter to the sawdust and dried blood on the floor, this pocket universe is a meat grinder. Yet, desperate souls flood this place every night aiming to untether themselves from fear and insecurity and other lower vibrations and touch something eternal. Not a church or a synagogue or the YMCA. Here. A bar that hasn’t changed the urinal cakes in…who knows how long.

Take these two incandescent assholes for example. 

I watched the redhead in the hospital gown spill bare-assed through the doors. He clambered up the barstool and asked for a craft beer. I said we have one IPA. He wanted a taster. It missed his mouth entirely, trickled down his chin like a child at a water fountain. He ordered two pints. He had no money, but I’m the patron saint of the downtrodden. For the next hour or so, he conversed solely with the demons in his mind. 

When Mr. Seattle walked through the doors, he looked both ways like he was crossing the fucking road. He ordered a bourbon and coke. No lime. I left two in a shot glass anyhow. When life loses its flavor, I guess it doesn’t matter, does it?

They waltzed around the jukebox, squaring one another up. Under the neon glow of the Bud Light sign, I guessed the redhead was either smiling or baring teeth. Mr. Seattle dropped a quarter in, and some song started playing. I don’t much hear the music anymore. Everything outside of Molina and Hank sounds like broken bottles and muffled sobbing. 

A bottle rained down over someone’s head and another person’s fist cracked across the other person’s face. The redhead crumbled like a paper man. Mr. Seattle stood triumphant until a shard of glass went into his calve. He watched blood seep through his khakis like it was happening to someone else. He slunk onto the redhead. They rolled around on the ground like two virgins fucking for the first time. 

Mr. Seattle screamed, “You ruined everything!” 

The redhead went, “I am the eater of worlds!” 

Mr. Seattle yanked what looked to be an IV tube out of the redhead’s arm. Blood sprayed like a geyser. The redhead laughed, maniacal and free. Mr. Seattle got blood in his eye, which accelerated his pure fucking rage. His arms became windmills, missing most of the shots but landing a few that made the redhead go cross-eyed. Still, the redhead seemed to be enjoying himself—ass hanging out, covered in blood and beer, shouting about doing heroin under a bridge. The rest of the bar, its beautiful spectators of brave men who put a single arm out in front of the women for a feigned sense of protection, nodded their heads from the fight to me, the fight to me, the fight to me. I can never have my own problems. Everyone else has to lump their fucking issues in too. 

I grabbed them by their clothes and met their eyes. The redhead was dazed. Mr. Seattle blubbered. 

“Take this shit outside,” I said, “and work it out. Or don’t fucking come back.” 

As I locked the front door at closing, they were sat on the curb outside, sharing a forty and a pack of smokes. 

A bar is least lonely when there’s no one in it but you. There are imprints of others who were there before. Memories. Good, evil, human. At some point these memories transmogrify into one being. One ghost. I’ve been riding with the ghost. I’ve been doing whatever he told me.


Aaron Burch, D.T. Robbins, and Kevin Maloney’s collective top three favorite books of the last year are (in alphabetical order) Birds Aren’t Real, The Red-Headed Pilgrim, and Year of the Buffalo.

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction


By Mike Wheaton

Today, as always, I passed the Walmart, Sam’s Club, Lowe’s, Chipotle, and Starbucks just before turning into the parking lot of my one-building community college campus. It’s in a part of Orlando called Lake Nona™. The trademark symbol is real. If I kept driving, I’d pass the high school next to a middle school next to an elementary school next to a Publix shopping center. Hitting a third straight red light, I stuck my hand out the window and wondered if writing a book about my inescapable consumer semi-reality might be my ticket to another school back up north with old buildings and historical plaques next to the doorways.

I’m taking a break from grading in my office on campus now. I made my first-year writing students take a position on the packet of questionable discourse I provided about how—or to what extent, if any—addictive social media use on smartphones plays a role in mental health. Most of their theses so far claim that, basically, the role is huge and the effect is bad. Even with sources to use, as their papers go on, the evidence is mostly anecdotal: it hurts when they share and don’t get many likes, or when others share something and do get hundreds of likes, or when they compare themselves to the curated surface life of the people in posts with hundreds of likes, or those whose numbers extend into the thousands. They feel worse still when they post more in attempt to make up for the disparity and get fewer likes than before in return.

My office on campus has a window. I used to be a substitute teacher, and somehow my much better job is still not enough for me. I sit in my swivel chair with this document on the screen and I’m looking outside at the Applebee’s—oh wait, that’s a Chili’s—and I’m remembering the time I took over a seventh-grade English class for three weeks twelve years ago. This was home in Jersey, before I moved again to Florida. Middle schoolers didn’t have social media accounts then. One day the lesson plan prompted me to teach a short story about kids during the Civil War who pretended to be older so they could fight for their side. They were seeking glory, the idea of which had been propagandized on both sides. The students had trouble understanding this. Why would they sign up to die like that

I said, Let’s do a poll. How many of you want to be famous one day? Every damn hand in the room shot up. Now keep your hand up if you believe you will become famous. The hands didn’t budge, fingers reaching to the ceiling. 

Out the window of my office, I can’t quite see the manmade lake from which this part of the city took its trademark. They’re building a fresh Holiday Inn in my sightline. Now I’m thinking about the class period earlier in the semester before the discourse packet, when I asked for how many students is their smartphone the last thing they see before they sleep and the first thing they see when they wake. Every damn hand in the room shot up. 

In this same class, when I asked the students to fill out a form about the credibility and usefulness of a source, a quarter of the students wrote down the number of views a video had on YouTube or the number of shares it received on Twitter. I didn’t even take off points. I get the confusion. I make my little note in the feedback. I know how students can be about their grades. The numbers, more than anything, matter. The numbers, they’re told, are revealing to people with powerful opinions. They don’t matter, except of course they do, because a while ago people decided they did, and it’s probably too late to change since it’s easier to try getting the right numbers or settle into whatever other people believe the numbers do reveal about you. 

My phone buzzes face-down on my desk. Little Apple logo shining at me. I flip it—a screen of notifications: missed FaceTime, Amazon receipt in my Gmail, new Bank of America offer, a few likes on Twitter, someone going live on Instagram, a prompt for food from Uber Eats, an episode of Filmspotting for download, a trade in my ESPN fantasy league. I’m struck for a moment by how much my phone screen looks like Lake Nona™, or how much Lake Nona™ looks like my phone screen. All the squares of logos. Disney World, after all, is only fifteen miles west. But I remember, too, years ago when Amy and I rented a room in the lower east side of Manhattan for three weeks. One night, a local told us that decades ago this part of the city was littered with needles on the streets and creeps walking in the shadows, and now cleaned up and sold off, it’s a tourist town. I mean, we were vacationing there. He kind of missed the needles. 

Years later, Amy and I bought a single-family pitch-roofed ranch in a part of Orlando with streets that wind through tunnels of live oaks. It predates Disney and affordable AC. When we first drove through, looking for a home, Amy said, I love it. It’s so Old Florida. Each neighborhood in the suburb looked as if preserved from the late 1950’s. The super-highways rumbled farther up the main roads. I liked the area too. It did seem more authentic, but in the context of this sprawl, it was just another brand to choose. 

Class in five. I’m not prepared. I can’t write a book about the inescapability of consumer semi-reality anyway without misplacing value on the number of people who, if they don’t buy it, at least know I did. And what to say about the fact really? Congrats, there is quite possibly no such thing as history except what sold. Go for the glory. Quantify me. Inflate my grade.


Michael Wheaton’s writing has appeared in Essay Daily, DIAGRAM, Bending Genres, Rejection Letters, HAD, and other online journals. He edits Autofocusand hosts its podcast, The Lives of Writers. Find links and more at

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction

Elpenor in Hades

By Adam Soldofsky

It was unpleasant, but I’d been in the military. The lines were incredible yet they moved  along towards intake. My neck was stiff. It was uncomfortable to look over my shoulder.  We exchanged glances. Few of us spoke. It was all fairly obvious. The sky above was a  boiling pixilation that exploded perpetually on the horizon.  

In the hangers they blasted our eyes with lights and waved little wands. They snapped our  photograph against an eggshell backdrop. There was some confusion with the names.  Trouble with certain accents. There was mumbling, mishearing. Embellishment.  Truncation. Poetry underwrote posterity once again. I fed my name to the manglers, then  waited with baffling hope to be issued identification, a card they printed on the spot. 
I sat in the chair across the desk from the caseworker in her cubicle. The walls were  pinned with the drawings of children. Her perfume lay claim to the air. She asked  questions, returning my answers as she marked in the file:
Parents: still living. 
Oldest son. 
Ran away from home to join the war.
I was handed a number of vouchers. We discussed my options for shelter, nearest relatives or a halfway house. 

The house was in a subdivision in the Western District. The Underworld was entirely  communities of this sort. Immaculate. The paint, tactful. The turf, orderly and green.  Picture windows. Sacred geometry. Little parks. Plaques beneath the statues. 
My room was cozy. The residents were men, old and young. Some were talkative.  Others kept to themselves. I was partial to the latter. The house rules were displayed in a  frame in the common area and read as follows: 
Clean up after yourself. 
Share in household chores. 
Attend all mandatory meetings and classes. 
Maintain employment or pursue an education. 
Keep all appointments with your case manager. 
Report any and all progress or adversity.
I went to the meetings. I attended the classes in the little room at the community center.  The topics were abstract or pragmatical. One of the first concerned the lack of Justice.  This was of much interest to me, as I had done some killing and wondered about the  moral implications. Some of us had suspicions back in life. But we did not gloat to the  others. People expected revelations. The rest of us tried to be sensitive. There was  unlimited access to counseling. 

I enjoyed the classes, thought less of the meetings. My case manager had enrolled me in  two support groups. One was for Veterans of the Trojan War. The other was Coping with  Your Unglamorous Death. 
In the veterans group, I felt out of place. I hadn’t died in combat. I was more than  a little ashamed of my death. There was some snickering when I told of it. I expected as  much. The group leader thanked me and I sat down. Later he found me and pressed my hand between his two. His sincerity was profuse but clearly authentic. He told me it was okay. 
What can you do, I said. 
My horse kicked me, he said. 
Excuse me? 
Not her fault. A wasp stung her flank.  
 Oh. Sorry.  
It happens. 

The group for Unglamorous Deaths was at first a sad affair. Later it became very funny. I  was obliged to tell about the drunkenness, the climbing atop Circe’s terrace to sleep nearer  the stars. The morning call to ship, my subsequent panic, tumble, broken neck. There  were worse deaths assembled here but I was still very close to mine. The group included  women. We did some socializing outside of the meetings. There was one woman I found  lovely and intelligent, the full details of whose death I’d rather not––t involved an ill-advised bet. 
That she could wrest such dignity from her disgrace was unsettling. Apotheosis is  a term I didn’t know then. My mouth was generally thrown out of rhythm by her  presence. I could speak to her but first I’d have to swallow something jagged. I was  astonished by her interest in me. I was never in love during my life.  You remind me of my grandmother, I told her on a date. 
Aren’t you a flatterer, she said. 
You’d be flattered if you knew her. 
Tell me something about her. 
Well, I said, she began her life a slave-girl. 
I see. 
Her former masters are here. She is not. 

I was not a brave soldier and this was obvious to my superiors. I was the youngest aboard  my captain’s vessel but that hardly explains anything. I did not enjoy the war. I had  enlisted to escape my father. 
It was a surprise to find myself excelling in the classroom. I scored highly on the  placement tests. I enrolled at the university on scholarship. By now my wife and I had a  little house in the quiet planned community known as Tanglewood. I worked construction  and went to school. There was a lot of development in the Underworld at that time. My  wife pursued her certification in counseling. Eventually she found work mentoring girls. 
I continued to visit the discussions at the community center. When we discussed  the Memory Question the room was always split. We must preserve the recollections  from our days of life, urged the Rememberers. For some this required heroic diligence.  The Forgetters supported oblivion for the purposes of comprehensive assimilation. They  were sometimes accused of taking this position simply to legitimize the eating of lotus.  The two camps got along for the most part, despite the difference of opinion. Though  they tended to vote opposite each other. 
I was not dogmatic myself, holding on to what was pleasant and burying the rest.  One Rememberer, enlivened by the debate, stood up and declared: 
Every soul in this room has one recollection that validates all that is disagreeable. You, she pointed at me. Give us yours! 
Sailing in black night, the algae blooming like a cosmos off the coast of Malea. 

My neighbor had been a prophet of doom when he was alive. Now he was a mechanic. A  nice man. We’d have conversations in our driveways, mornings when I went out to  collect the newspaper. I was now an academic. My dissertation—The Civic  Disadvantages of Memory in the Absence of Justice—had been published and I was  offered a post at the University. What would my father say? In all the years I lived under  his roof I never once saw him impressed.  

I told my neighbor about my wife wanting children. How I wasn’t sure. How I  worried about the Vanishing.  
Everybody worries about that, said my neighbor. 
Don’t you? I said. 
Oh sure––I have a group, he said. We meet Sundays before football. 
Death had not meant an end to mystery. Souls vanished routinely from the  Underworld. Those that returned after days, weeks or months had nothing to report.  No idea they’d been gone. Many did not return. Thus I worried about becoming a parent. Children are adaptable and resilient, said my neighbor. 
There was no end to the children entering the Underworld. 
It is our responsibility to open our home, said my wife. 
She tended to appeal to reason when she wanted something. It was convenient  how duty and desire coalesced so seamlessly in her. I hated to interfere with her  happiness. Her love was a dynamo beneath us.Compromised, it would lead to  destruction.  
We put our names on the waitlist.
When the child arrived my love ballooned dangerously. If I looked too long upon the  little girl, particularly when she rode on my wife’s hip, I would begin to tremble like a  rocket. This condition was somewhat alleviated when I held a camera. 
We went often to the park. We visited the sleek shopping mall. The floors  gleamed underfoot. The selection stole my breath. We went for drives. The hedges along  the roads, the rows of houses nearly identical and wheeling in all directions propelled me  toward ecstasy. I took far too many pictures. There were fountains in the public squares.  
Flowers in the beds. There were street fairs. Markets and bazaars. I enjoyed anything  which brought me into proximity with my compatriots. Our assembly seemed the proof of something important.

We hosted parties in the backyard. Invited our colleagues and they brought their  children. I built a swing set. The children chased each other about the yard and flitted at  our knees. The adults sat on the patio and discussed the newest speculation surrounding  the Emperor and Empress. Their role in government was now purely symbolic. Thus their  private affairs became the national pastime.  
She has no shame, said one. 
Neither does he. 
Well, I think she’s worse. Look how she dresses. 
Look how he flaunts his infidelity.  
She’s much worse, said another. She was nothing before they met. He plucked her  from obscurity and set her down in luxury and adoration. 
They both ought to have some shame, said another. 
What use is shame in the Underworld? said my wife. 
Just when I felt it impossible to fall any further in love she would say something  like that. 
I don’t know, said someone, but I feel they ought to have a little. 

Couldn’t we have another? 
Well. We certainly have the room. 
That’s hardly the point, my dear.  
I know. 
I want another one. I feel we’re ready. 
Me too. 
And we do have the room. 
We wrote back to the agency. Our application was approved and a second child, a boy,  was placed in our care. He was shy. He did not take to us so readily. He watched us carefully and we watched him. During this time I dreamed of Odysseus. Seldom did I  wake dry, without the tremendous outrage for which I could not account slamming in my  ribcage. A captive on a sinking ship. 

I took walks under the ever-rippling canopy worrying about the boy. He went long  periods without speaking. He’d cut large notches from his hair with kitchen shears. While  I lay in bed fear and love tore over the tracks of my nerves on a collision course. My wife  is an effortless sleeper. Immediately embroiled in a dream,she is what my mother would call an unbothered soul. Lying beside her, the children lost in  the dark of their rooms, the ruthless oceanic quiet of the street lapping against the window, I felt utterly removed from grace.
Though he took me on it was clear Odysseus was bothered by my presence. I was  roughly the age of the son he’d vanished from. Sometimes when he was giving orders he  could not bring himself to look at me. Then the desire to please him would incandesce  my bones. Now I was feeling this way about the boy. I would relive any horror to know  his thoughts. Preparing him for school was like dressing an idol. Meanwhile, the girl  thrived. She needed us for shelter. Transportation. The rest she could manage. I felt  childish in her presence. She tolerated my kissing her when I dropped them at school. The  boy followed along through the double doors, his steely hermetic aura wavering about his  little shoulders.  
I went on to the University. Gave lectures. Saw students in my office. Tried to appear composed. Drove home through the tessellating neighborhoods. Kissed my wife.  Inquired about the children. Performed my part in the meal. Afterwards loaded the  dishwasher. Read the paper. Put the children to bed. Spoke idly with my wife on the sofa. They’re enforcing the beard policy at the University, I told her. 
Are they really? 
Everybody has to grow one? 
Only the men. 
I’m sorry about that. 
Do you mind a beard? Not terribly. 
And if there were a lot of grey in it? 
You’d look distinguished. 
You wouldn’t leave me for a younger man? 
Not if he wore a beard.  
Young men grow the most disastrous beards. 
I’m glad you’re not a young man. I would probably have to leave you. 
Went upstairs to bed. Lay with my wife until she was asleep. Lay awake, the the  world above bearing down. Darkening. Day in and out.
I came home, set down my damp coat and briefcase. Dried my beard on my sleeve. The  girl was at the table with her homework. The boy sat on the floor. He would only wear  white during this period. He had on white coveralls atop a white t-shirt. White socks and  sneakers. He was drawing things on his arms with a red marker. 
Where’s your mother? 
The girl shrugged.  
I went upstairs. I came back down. 
Where’s mom? Her car’s in the driveway. 
The girl looked up from her assignment. 
Maybe she went for a walk. 
But it’s storming. 
We regarded each other. The boy started with the marker on his legs. I looked in the backyard and in the garage. 

What’s for dinner? 
I don’t know. 
I’m hungry.
I looked to a small gesture of agreement from the boy.

I fed the children. I bathed them and put them to bed. 
She’ll be back, said the girl.  
She was always right. 

I checked on the boy. He lay dreaming like a pharaoh with his arms folded over  his chest.  
I went downstairs. Sat on the sofa and faced the front door. Light entered from the  street shredded through the blinds and shuddered on the walls. I shook under the blanket.  The storm kept on. 

Days and weeks. The children were adaptable and resilient. I considered joining a group.  I lectured and graded papers enveloped in an unruly lavender fog. I saw to the children  though it felt like the reverse. 

Don’t worry, said the girl. It’ll be okay.
Where did she come by this riddle? 
The boy clothed himself in white. Each day he covered his body in red glyphs.  Each night I wiped them away in the bath. The weather was strange. The sky was  lowering around us. 
Don’t worry, Dad. 
Finish your breakfast.
The firmament fell to the land like a dark bridal gown. I needed to buy groceries. I’m going to the Superstore. 
No thanks, called the girl. 

The boy stood up from the floor covered in his own crimson language and took  my hand at the threshold.  
We drove through shattered element rebounding from the streets and hurried  through the parking lot under the umbrella. I’d made a list but found it soaked.  Incoherent. Chaos clapped me on the back. I began to weep. People stared. The boy took  my hand. Led me down the florescent aisles. I filled the cart.
Prism / Oaths 
We hustled to the car and unloaded the groceries. There was a great clamoring taking  place around us. I held up the visor of my hand and looked off towards the edge of the lot  where shoppers were descending and crying out. There the gale had twisted and upturned  the low sky and left it an aqueous vertical prism. We began to weave through the  vehicles, moving with the crowd towards the spectacle.  
The shoppers were swarming at a cleft in the low firmament where fires burned in  the body-cavities of two bovine corpses, behind which living men dressed in armor were  praying oaths over their bloody swords. Among them was Odysseus. A tremor swept over  me. Then another. The boy made a way through the hordes with me in tow. His eyes were  calm and his steps decisive. I felt my tongue begin to glow. 

Hot and Cold 
The crowd peeled away around our progress as from a blistering heat. At the fore the boy  halted and I approached Odysseus where he stood in the dark puddle of his sacrifice. He recognized me at once. He began to weep and clutch his chest while I stood  before him in my raincoat and penny loafers, the damp running off my beard, the groaning multitudes at my back. 
Elpenor, he said. How did you come to the world of darkness, faster than me in  my black ship? 
Indignation scudded through my extremities. I opened my mouth. Out burst my  story like a starved scavenger bird. 

Do not desert me! 
Burn me in full armor! 
Where was this coming from? 
Plant my oar upon my tomb! 
Or else my curse be god’s bounty on your head! 
Was I this soul? I shook with embarrassment.  
My captain placed his hand over his heart histrionically:  
All of this, my unlucky friend, I will do for you. 

He smiled like a miser, eyeing passed my shoulder for the soul he’d come in  search of. I went hot and cold. I would spit in his face. I would throttle him and claim his  shield. The boy reached for my hand.  
He stood in his white uniform beneath the umbrella. Little red lights sparked in  the soles of his shoes.


Adam Soldofsky is the author of Memory Foam (poems) and Telepaphone (a novella).

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction

Burger King

By Mike Andrelczyk

The phone rang. It was Donnie. He thanked me for dropping off the mail and wanted to know if I would bring him four Burger King cheeseburgers, two fries and two Dr. Peppers and said he’d pay me back. 

I agreed mostly because he had one leg and lived with a parrot named Mr. Whistler and his wife was dead and he just sat in a chair and watched the weather channel all day. 

I went into my room, got some money, packed my one-hitter and picked up my keys.

Grandma was still napping in front of the tv. BET was airing one of those daytime courtroom shows. I heard the tv judge say “guilty” as I walked out the door.

I took the long way to Burger King through the rich development and smoked and noticed how pretty much every cloud looked like a submarine. There were five big clouds and they all looked like submarines. Slowly gathering forces and moving to attack. I swerved to miss an SUV parked in the street, made a right and went down a street that took me out of the neighborhood. 

The weed made me hungry. Soon I was staring at a menu with pictures of hamburgers, onion rings and chicken tenders and telling someone I couldn’t see how many cheeseburgers, fries and sodas I wanted to buy. I bought some cheeseburgers for myself and one for Grandma too.

I paid for the food and took a handful of Donnie’s fries and ate them. They were so salty that I needed a sip of one of Donnie’s Dr. Peppers. I merged into the traffic.

I passed the outlet mall and I saw a woman walking down the shoulder of the highway holding a leash with an iguana on the end and pink umbrella above her head. It wasn’t raining. The iguana on a leash made me feel anxious and suddenly remembered that Sebald died of a heart attack while driving.  

I reached into the Burger King bag and unwrapped a cheeseburger and ate it in four bites. 


The weather channel was blasting. The screen displayed a satellite image of a hurricane swirling over the Bahamas. For a man that never left the house, Donnie was obsessed with the weather. It made sense I supposed. His parrot Mr. Whistler squawked and scrabbled around his cage when I walked in. Donnie smiled seeing the Burger King bag. 

“Delivery man!” he said. He pointed to a $5 bill on the table. It didn’t cover the cost of his food but I picked it up without saying anything. 

“How’s Grandma?”

“She’s good. Napping. Hi Mr. Whistler!” I said approaching the cage. 

The parrot took three quick side-hops along his perch and pressed himself against the cage bars. I stuck my finger near his beak and he sort of bit it a little. 

“Could you microwave those burgers for me? I do them for one-minute. But pause it at thirty seconds and open the door to let the hot air out. Can I have that soda?” 

I handed him the Dr. Pepper and went into the kitchen.

“Could you wash my leg before you go?”

“Yeah, sure.” 

Every once in a while Donnie would ask me to clean his leg. He’d remove his prosthetic leg and then I’d take some disinfectant spray and wipe it down with a paper towel. Sometimes I had to help him out of his chair and into the bathroom if he was struggling to get up. 

I put a burger in the microwave and went over the kitchen table where he had a basket of various medicines. I looked through the pill bottles like I was perusing a magazine rack. There were a lot. I found the Percocet and carried the bottle over to the microwave. I waited for the microwave to beep then twisted the cap. I put another burger in and spilled about ten pills into a napkin when the microwave beeped again. I folded the napkin and put it in my pocket and placed the burgers on a paper plate along with some fries and served them to Donnie. He ate.

Then Donnie removed his leg. I cleaned off the prosthetic while we watched the weather channel. A radar image tracked the hurricane as it moved closer to the tip of Florida. I thought about what it must be like to lose a limb. To not be whole. To know a part of you is gone forever and to accept there would be things in life you couldn’t do anymore. It seemed like some sort of early death. Or another life. I thought about losses and gains. The front side of a coin is called the obverse. I didn’t think I’d deal with losing a limb very well. I wasn’t really a strong person. Some people seemed to adjust pretty well though. Acceptance was the key I supposed. 

I finished with the prosthetic leg and helped Donnie put it back on. 

“All set?” I asked.

“Yeah, thanks.”

That was it. Donnie was the one-legged burger king reigning from his throne. Watching the storms of the world destroy everything. 

I went outside. It was a beautiful day. A submarine was cruising through the sky. I crossed the street and went inside.


Mike Andrelczyk is the author of four collections of poetry including “!!!” coming out on Ghost City Press in May. He lives in Pennsylvania. On Twitter @MikeAndrelczyk and Instagram mike_andrelczyk.

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction

Fire Tower

By Dylan Smith

Heirs to an abandoned house in the mountains, my two bigger brothers and I came up from the city to confront our father, the town’s retired fire chief and an unhinged, binge-drinking dead-beat of a drunk, but he was gone. 

Great clouds of towering grief gathered above the gate. Our barn had burned down two winters before, and though its absence had abstracted into an empty haunting presence beyond the doors of the gate, not a lot was actually lost. A tractor, some chestnut boards; some old chains and a few chickens and some rope. It was more about the insurance money our father had collected. It was about what had not been done with it. 

Flowers of wrought-iron ornamented the family gate. Both my brothers are younger than me, but by then they had grown much bigger, and so they towered like these familiar trees, always swaying beyond and above me. 

In spite of their strength and their grace, my brothers failed to force the broken gate. Something about the sensor was gone—this was years ago, the family gate was always broken, and so it only shut—and that’s when we phoned the gate guy again. His work would remain a mystery to me, yet another hour’s heaving from behind those iron flowers, and he said the sensor was beyond him still. 

I imagined big flowers blooming between this gate guy and me. Maybe a mountain wind would part a maple limb, I imagined, laying it loudly along the gate. Then the gate guy might yell out, fall back, and we might have rolled around together out there in the gravel, laughing, or rolling beyond the gate and into town together, becoming one big cosmic rock together, maybe fucking even, our laughter like the rain. 

I would not have put it past our father to have sabotaged the family gate. 

“How else can you explain his always being gone and coming back, if the doors of the gate can only shut?”

Shrugging, the gate guy suggested almost anything was possible. As the newest volunteer at our father’s old department, he’d been first to arrive when our barn was burning. I admired the lean earnestness I found in his beardless features. His eyes were a sober blue, his working hands ungloved and noticeably clean, and now our breaths made shapes together, forming foggy blossoms of the winter air. 

“But it’s more likely something to do with the weather,” the gate guy said. “It’s been a long winter yet. Sometimes these sensors just freeze.”

That’s when the tallest and youngest and brightest of my brothers walked into the woods to piss. As a kid he’d suffered a serious injury to his left leg, and so he mirrored our father’s ruined gait as he went. But his head was always way up in the clouds, curious and wandering, and appreciating art, and in spite of his chronic pain, he is still sensitive to the most subtle of emotive signals and shifts. You can watch him read your changing face. Through the leafless trees you could see he was contemplating the problem with our gate. 

When he returned from the wood, which had really been rocked by the wind while he was in it, my youngest brother held up a sacred-looking stick. He said it had reminded him of the walking stick our father uses; that it had nearly beat him over his head as it fell from above. 

He suggested the gate guy try striking the sensor with it. 

To my surprise, this worked—and as the gate guy struck the broken sensor twice, holding up the miracle stick, our family gate opened to the first moments of spring, the clouds of winter parting briefly above my brothers, whose new shadows came together as one in a hug and stretched up that treacherous hill toward our house, where through the barn’s absence I saw the windows of our childhood home were glistening—or glittering in this new, glittery light—and I was reminded of how rainbows formed from sticky-notes had filled the windows once, the paper squares bleached by decades of exposure to the sun. 

The rainbows were to protect the birds from crashing in—our mother’s technique—robins coming home from wherever they winter.

But by then my brothers and I knew better than that. Our mother was dead, and her sticky-note rainbows were gone. So was the barn, and our father was a stinking drunk, and soon the gate guy would be gone with our miracle stick too. 

We knew the sky would shut. Soon it would be singular and threatening and near again. We knew the way the world worked. 

With an air of camaraderie and confidence in our newly formed crew—and because beyond the gate our family’s farm truck had four flat tires—the gate guy offered to take us from farm to farm in search of our father. 

When on a real tear our father sought refuge inside barns, or stables, and being as it was about midday, we agreed our first stop on the way into town should be Sissy’s. 

Most farmhouse wells up there stink of dead snakes and sulphur, but not Sissy’s. Sissy’s land had been graced by a spring—perfect crystal water pouring from a pipe—and so she’d crafted a covenant with the town, one allowing her water to flow for everyone, and forever, in perpetuity, like a fountain in a fable. 

All along the mountain road men outside trucks shoveled gravel into holes, and my youngest brother wondered why. 

“I think the holes are formed by ice heaves,” the gate guy said. 

My brothers had climbed into the back of his van and were laying among the gate guy’s tools and cords; his hinges and latches and spare iron parts. The gate guy’s fire pager was mounted to the dash. When I looked up into the rear-view mirror, my middle brother was there on his stomach, holding our miracle stick and smiling. 

The gate guy drove us down the mountain, past the old library building, then the place that sold beer and chips and gasoline, and past our father’s old firehouse, where all the red garage doors were shut, we came to a familiar clearing with a view of the reservoir. 

Above us the wind had brought about more towering clouds, and the reservoir reflected a single windswept tone of monotony and gray beyond us. The gate guy had been explaining ice heaves; how water gets into the pores of the asphalt, then freezes, forming little wedges that break up the road. 

“Do you know Sissy very well,” I asked. 

“Oh, sure. I lived without plumbing for a while. Came down to her spring for my water. Saw her standing out there all the time.”

“Is she still painting?” 

“I didn’t know she painted. I heard she’s getting old.”

My youngest brother told the gate guy how Sissy used to come to our school to teach us art. How we’d heard she kept dead birds in her freezer.

“Legend was that if a bird crashed into the schoolhouse window, she’d probably try to scoop it up and take it home and freeze it for her paintings of birds.”

My youngest brother loved this myth. He looked up at me in the rear-view mirror, and both of my brothers were laughing. 

“One of her out-sheds has a view of the reservoir,” I said. “We haven’t seen her stuff in a while, but she used to use the out-shed as a studio. Our mother and her were close.” 

The gate guy touched his fire pager in a nervous gesture that reminded me of my father, then gently turned on the van radio. A panel was discussing the previous summer’s drought. The consensus was that soon there would be no water. My youngest brother had started to ask an earnest question about our father’s replacement at the department, but before the gate guy could answer him, we’d turned onto Sissy’s road, and soon we’d arrived at her spring. 

People from all over came to Sissy’s to fill their plastic jugs with water from the roadside pipe. From spring to road, the pipe had been run underground, passing under her gate, so Sissy was not disturbed by the cars idling constantly across the way. 

By design you had to push open Sissy’s ancient gate. I got out of the van to do it, and through the bars I noticed Sissy’s famous maple trees were gone. There had once been a kind of grove of them protecting her old stone house from the wind and the road, and the syrup Sissy made was well known around the town. Hills of hay fields rolled up, then down to the right, and you could see her out-shed studio and the many stables, and her barn, and above the willow trees that lined her creek you could see a gray glimpse of the reservoir, and beyond the reservoir was the town. 

But now, without her maple trees, you could see directly into Sissy’s old stone house.

I got back into the van and told my brothers about the missing trees. They heaved a single mournful sigh. The gate guy touched his fire pager again. The presence of these pagers had always made me anxious. My memories of childhood are haunted by the inevitable threat of their sound.

All down Sissy’s gravel drive, wooden ladders leaned against squat apple trees. We found her atop the ladder closest to the house, preparing for an afternoon of pruning. Sissy stepped down slowly off the ladder to say hello, but right away I saw the way she’d aged. It was more in her eyes than anywhere else. They were blue but bloodshot, or dulled, and kind of sagging, their edges raw and red in the wind. As she wiped her hands on a cornflower apron, nodding hello, it was clear she wasn’t sure of who we were. 

“Sissy,” I said. “Our father—the fire chief—have you seen him? Our mother was April. Your old friend.” 

Sissy said hadn’t seen him, our father, and then started in about the history of her spring. Both my brothers stood over her, nodding and smiling. The willow trees by the creek went bending in the wind, and the gate guy was leaning against the miracle stick. 

We’d all heard the speech before, but I’d heard it a thousand times. As much a history of our mountain town as it was a history of her family and spring, her speech always started with the fact that one hundred years ago, the state had flooded her family’s farm in order to build the reservoir, moving them farther up the mountain. When the state transplanted Sissy’s family, no one knew of the spring. But Sissy’s grandfather found it, and he drilled an artesian well when Sissy was just a girl. When her parents died they left Sissy the land, and on and on, and later she’d marry an old hay farmer named Mick. Together they created a covenant with the town. Now when Sissy is gone, no matter who takes ownership of the property, the spring is to be protected. 

“In perpetuity,” Sissy famously said. 

But by the end of her speech, Sissy had all but forgotten we were there. This used to happen to my father when he was drinking. Sometimes he would catch a familiar rhythm, some deeply familial pattern of speech to sweep him away, or out of whatever barroom he’d trapped us in. As a teenager, I found it’s about breaking up this familiar rhythm. Once interrupted, my father could usually snap right back. 

I took off my gloves and clapped into the cold wind. 

“Sissy,” I said, clapping. “Sissy—what happened to your maple trees?” 

“My maples. Yes, you remember my maples. The tree guy said they meant a danger to the house. All this wind, he might have been right. It happened in the autumn. The tree guy came with a crew and took them.”

 “Will you show us the stumps? Will you walk us up there so we can see?”

And as our crew moved toward the old stone house, I took my middle brother by the arm of his winter coat. I told him to go looking for our father. 

“Just the usual spots,” I said. 

The gate guy turned, having heard me, and offered to go looking for him too. 

“Good. Then I’ll try to get Sissy to take us to the out-shed.” I gestured toward my youngest brother, who was helping Sissy up the hill with his limp. “We’ll buy you guys a little time, but also I think he’d like to see Sissy’s paintings.”

“Okay. And while we’re at it we’ll check her freezer for birds.”

“Wait—no,” I said. “Man, no. Please. Don’t go into the house. Just the usual spots. Stick to around the stables and the barn.”

But my middle brother had already gone, pretending not to hear me. 

Shrugging, the gate guy handed me the miracle stick. 

He turned toward the wind, and with his back to me he was laughing.

Sissy’s out-shed windows made up the whole south wall, accepting as much winter light as a structure could, and like all great studios, hers had become completely encased in the remnants of her work.  

I remember the last embers of a fire glowing red in a stove to the right, but everything else was blue. Three heavy tables at the center of the room held tin containers of thinners and brushes, pencils and paints, but because Sissy worked by easel, my eye was constantly brought back to her canvas at the center of the room. 

Sissy seemed to paint a single motif: an oval pool of shining water in the saddle of two blue mountains. Sissy’s studio sheltered hundreds of these works. Yet each of the paintings were distinct, each canvas alive with something refreshing and totally new. 

Beside the work in progress was a palette of varying blues, the paint applied so thickly that the picture had taken three-dimensions, with the mountain’s textures casting shadows down the work and falling into the shining oval shape, as if it were a carving or relief. 

Sissy entered the studio behind us. 

“Sissy,” my youngest brother said. “Sissy, these paintings.”

Sissy filled a glass of water in a slop sink beside the stove. Slowly she drank it, then went to a stool before the wall of windows. Black and blue clouds rolled in above the willow trees, and beyond the willow trees was the reservoir. A shining blue clarity had returned to Sissy’s eyes.

“When I was about your boys’ age, long before I met Mick, I used to hike that mountain to the fire tower with my paints. They kept the tower unlocked in those days. A few nights’ rations, a jug of water and a good bucket. All you’d ever need. And those windows. It’s where I painted best. Mick built me this studio. On good days I’m able to find my fire tower feeling in here too.”

Sissy stood, scanning a shelf of art books against the left wall. Then her eyes fell across the closest work table, where from the materials of her art she lifted a bottle-sized hourglass. 

The studio windows shook. The sand inside the hourglass was black. 

“Your mother gave me this hourglass as a gift after Mick. She said to imagine each grain of sand is a day passing, and the little pinch in the glass is my grief. All the sad days passing so swiftly through the pinch. It’s from a poem. I never understood it much until now, seeing you boys here and all alone.”

Sissy handed my brother the hourglass and my brother, the giant genius that he is, handed Sissy our miracle stick. 

“Sissy, it’s a magic stick. Maybe you can use it to hike to your tower.”

“Yes—wow. Magic. Thank you, son. It seems it.”

And that’s when the fire siren rose slowly out of the blue, slowly through the windows and rising high above the wind as it rose from the center of town, and soon the sound had filled the room. 

Outside Sissy’s studio, we found the gate guy’s van pulling down the long gravel drive. Blue lights flashing. We met my middle brother beside the maple stumps. The gate guy had already pulled open Sissy’s gate. 

“His pager said limbs down on wires,” my middle brother said, his voice rising over the siren and the wind. “His pager said, limbs down on wires with sparks and fire.”

The four of us watched him shut the gate against the wind, wave without ceremony, drive away.

The town’s fire siren stopped. 

Sissy stood beside me with the miracle stick. Over the storm, you could hear trucks and cars idling in wait for their water. 


Dylan Smith is a writer working in New York with stories in X-R-A-Y Lit, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere online. Also he tweets sometimes @dylan_a_smith

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction

Plastic Baby Jesus

By Michael McSweeney

I decided late on December 29th that I wanted some Christmas decorations for my apartment. Tim and I were drinking cheap beer because nobody in town could get the stuff I really wanted. The stuff I really needed. I was irritated, the beer too warm, stomach full of hot knots. I thought about decorations after Tim said that I had all this empty space in my apartment right after we’d talked about the nothing we’d each gotten up to for Christmas.

I’m gonna get some Christmas decorations, I said. 

It’s too late, Tim said. He slumped in my dad’s old sunken armchair and for a few quiet moments we decayed within my apartment’s bare walls. 

Like we had when I was a kid, I said. Mom had these big boxes of decorations. Took her days to set it all up. Stockings, little train, all that shit. 

Then Tim asked, Where are you gonna get decorations?

I felt my pants for my phone and didn’t find it, then asked, What time is it?

10:46. Nothing’s open.

What about that house next to Anne’s?

What about it?

They got that big inflatable Santa.


Set it up in the living room. Right here. Sit him on the couch.

Tim drained his beer can and squeezed his fingers. Made the metal croak.

Ho-ho-ho! I bellowed. 

Tim winced and shifted in the chair.

Those things are loud as hell, he said. The fans for them, I mean. To stay inflated.

I bet they cost a fortune. All that power.


How do people afford those?

No idea.

What do you call them, rich people but not from around here?




I finished my beer and nestled the can against its brothers and sisters on the living room table. I took my pack of cigarettes from the table and opened it. The only one left was the lucky, filter up, and I’d long held to the custom of smoking the lucky on the way to the gas station around the corner. Old dying into the new. Keep the gap of nicotine at bay. My call center job was a shit gig but it brought enough cash in to maintain a steady flow of smokes.

Let’s go to the store, I said.

It’s too fucking cold, man. 

I’ll drive. 

We opened new beers on the drive to the gas station and opened two more on the way back. I didn’t know how many I’d downed. My field of vision slipped a belt. Mixed and molten. Windows, streetlights, a fractal Christmas smash still hoary from predawn snow. Glowing fir trees winked as we passed. I told Tim about the time I, small and six years old, snuck down the stairs for water and found my parents drunk and laughing and shoving presents beneath the tree in the den. Told him how it was the lie to which my parents first confessed. How I always questioned whether they told me the truth, even if I really did believe them, just to press the nerve of that early mistake. 

I felt the gravity of an answer and hit the brakes. Shoved my door open.

Zack, Tim said.

This is it, I said. Tim. Tim, I said again. Come on.


Decorations, motherfucker.

My boots crunched across the snow-glazed lawn of the church, Unitarian I think. Days difficult to remember. A scrapwood stable framed a plastic nativity scene. Plastic Mary, plastic Joseph, plastic lambs, plastic baby Jesus. An angel hung from a nail. A small spotlight cradled them in a dim-white oval. 

Come on, I said to them.

Tim came up behind me as I stooped to scoop the lambs. 

Grab them, I said. C’mon.

I opened my trunk and placed the lambs inside, then turned to receive plastic baby Jesus from Tim. I cradled plastic baby Jesus. I didn’t want to hurt it. Him. I nestled plastic baby Jesus between the lambs.

Don’t want you to move, I told plastic baby Jesus. 

Tim came back with Joseph and Mary tucked beneath his arms. We laid them on top of the others and I lowered the trunk door carefully. Back in the car, I felt around for a beer but only found one so I handed it to Tim.

Lemme get a sip of that, I said as he opened the can. 

Tim drank some of his beer and then gave it to me.

Family, he said. Family drive. Whole family. 

That’s the spirit, I said.

Christmas spirit, said Tim, and he laughed. 

We recreated the nativity scene in my living room. Draped scarves around Mary and Joseph. Constructed a manger for plastic baby Jesus with an empty 30-rack and some old newspaper. I pulled some ratty ski hats over the ears of the lambs. I took the pile of old pizza boxes from the kitchen and assembled an unsteady stable. When it was done, we staggered back onto the couch and gazed in silence.

When was the last time you went to church? I asked.

Tim rubbed his lips with his fingers. Years, he said. When my cousin got married.

Catholic church?


I used to go. 

Oh yeah?

All through school. Something about it helped. Anxiety didn’t feel so bad. 

I stood and tottered into the kitchen. Searched the refrigerator until I found a can of beer. An old one with a taste I didn’t like. On my way back I stopped by the pizza box stable and adjusted Joseph’s scarf. He looked cold. Like my dad always did. 

Then I said, I really believed. Man. I really did. Then those fucking, those child fuckers. Right? I couldn’t like, couldn’t stomach that one. Just shitty answers to it all. All of them.

All of them, said Tim.

Child fuckers.

Child fuckers.

My mom really believed, I said. I used to go with her. Not every Sunday but a lot of Sundays. I had a good childhood. I guess I don’t remember a lot of it now. It feels good, from here. 

I cleared some of the debris on the table to make room for my beer. My childhood felt like a good thing as I shoved the empty cans and food cartons aside. 

I miss it. I miss her, I said.

I looked over at Tim. His head rested back against the couch and his mouth hung open. I thought of the lips of a whale.

Do you believe? I asked. 

I shook his arm and Tim opened his eyes.

Believe, I said. Do you?

Don’t know, he said. Tim scrunched his face and shifted his body. Goddamn back, he said. Goddamn.

Did you ever ask God for something? I asked.

Sure, said Tim. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and bits of lip skin clung to it as his hand fell away. I ask God for things all the time, he said. 

Like what?

God, let me wake up tomorrow.

Why do you ask that?

Uncle died in his sleep. Don’t ever want that. Not knowing. Goddamn way to go. Like, would you even know?

One long dream.


I wish my mom died in her sleep.


She was awake. Looking right at me.

Tim looked at me, then said, I’m really sorry. 

He looked like he meant it.

I miss going to church with her, I said. I miss her. 

Tears stared back at me as I wiped my face on my sleeve. Still wearing my jacket. I pointed at plastic baby Jesus in the pizza box stable. 

We don’t know shit about him, I said. I mean, we got the Bible. But who knows what they cut out? Next to nothing about his childhood. Wonder if he went to church with his mom. Temple.

Temple, Tim said.

I hope he had a good one, I said. A good childhood. Here’s to you, I said to plastic baby Jesus.

Tim and I said nothing for a long time. Then he said, I gotta go, man. 

Tim rose from the couch. His knees crackled.

You good to drive? I asked.

Not really, he said.

Tim departed. Left the door ajar. I stared into the dark cavity of the hallway outside my apartment. Wondered what might emerge from it. Approach, consume, absolve me. I’ve done a lot of wrong things and there alone another crept up on me. Plastic baby Jesus. He deserved to be home, his real home, not the fake one I’d made. I thought about what my mom would say but couldn’t remember exactly how she spoke. Her vocal river bends. Memories buried too far, ignored too long to be unearthed when I needed them. I wept and gazed at the holy family across the room, frozen in time.

I stood and took plastic baby Jesus from the 30-rack manger. Pulled the scarves from Mary and Joseph and wrapped him. In me stirred a flickering purpose, something dim, something maybe enough. I don’t remember leaving home or locking up. But there was sweat and a hill and a wooden stable washed in pale floodlight. Miles walked and burnt into my ruined feet, my pebbled knees. I tightened the scarves as I laid plastic baby Jesus in his bed of straw.

Not enough, I said.

It was easy to break into the church. I found an unlocked window and lowered myself, plastic baby Jesus hugged against my chest, into a wide recreation room. Metal folding chairs stood in half-moon obedience. I found the chapel upstairs, stole a splash of holy water and took a pew near the back. Somewhere distant, maybe in my head, an alarm squealed. I didn’t care. Warmth swelled inside me. Plastic baby Jesus was safe. I remembered midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, white candles in paper-plate bouquets, being part of something greater. My mother’s singing. Mezzo-soprano, a breathing loving lullaby. I sang, too, not well, but it made her smile. No forgetting that. Her hand on me. Me.

A hand on me. Burned my shoulder. Let’s go, asshole, a man’s voice bled.  

On my feet again. Plastic baby Jesus banged against the floorboards, unraveled from his bed of scarves. Christ exposed, me exposed, now banished against a squad car’s glare. An anger red and blue. 

Has God arrived? I asked the hand on my shoulder. No answer. Just force, toward the end, the law’s own church. 

I hurled my body and escaped the hand. Chewed the dirt and snow. Wriggled like a legless dog, closer to my mom. I could see her through the church walls, past the priest who shivered by the door. Bathed by Christmas fire, wings sprouted from her lips, clutching plastic baby Jesus while she sang. Oh come let us adore him.


Michael McSweeney is a writer and editor from Massachusetts. His first novel, Heroman, is forthcoming from Expat Press.

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction


By Emily Costa

The boys were six and sitting on the trampoline. Jonah was explaining the rules of the trampoline to Bobby. Bobby was ripping up the little helicopter seeds that had fallen and chucking them into the long grass. 

Are you listening? Jonah asked Bobby.

Their moms sat in lawn chairs, drinking glasses of orange juice mixed with a little bit of vodka. Their moms were doing this playdate because of a natural escalation in school pick-up small-talk.

Lucy said, how’s Jonah doing in class? Bobby is really progressing in math. Multiplication, even.

Marie said, oh, Jonah’s reading chapter books now. Crazy how time flies.

Jonah and Bobby were jumping high, trying to hit the maple branch hanging over the trampoline. The cicadas were doing their long, wind-up buzz.

Lucy said, Bobby reads a chapter book a night.

Marie said, same with Jonah. We have to rotate the books. He gets bored. We’re thinking he might need to skip a grade.

Bobby tucked his arms in, landed heavy in a sit. Jonah bounced too high and hit the metal frame coming down. He landed on his arm.

Lucy said, oh, did Mrs. Cavallo talk to you about that? She mentioned it to me during parent-teacher night. Said maybe we needed to think about a special program, too.

A special program? Marie asked. Like an advanced program?

Bobby was calling Jonah a baby. Did you hurt your arm, little baby?

Yeah, like a talented and gifted program, Lucy said.

Marie cleared her throat. We—yeah, we had that in preschool, she said. Jonah started reading so early, we didn’t know what to do with him.

Jonah rubbed his arm. The boys climbed off the trampoline. I’m not a baby, Jonah said. He stood in front of Bobby, fist at his side.

Really? Lucy said. I didn’t know they even offered those classes that young. 

Yeah, Marie said. It’s a very rare thing.

You are a baby, baby, Bobby said. He threw a stick at Jonah’s head and missed.

Lucy got up.

Marie got up, too.

Jonah pulled a big rock out of the dirt with two hands, but Bobby moved close to block it, wrestled it from his grip.

Lucy and Marie looked at each other, turned away when their eyes met. They moved toward the boys. Lucy paused. Marie stopped, too.

Bobby pushed Jonah. Jonah lost his balance, regained it, and pushed Bobby.

Marie felt Lucy watching her. Felt a heat. Laser-vision. One of those evil powers Jonah always gave the villains he sketched. The power to melt. The power to destroy. She kept her eyes on Jonah and Bobby. She took a sip of her drink. She imagined she had skin of impenetrable metal. Some undiscovered element from some undiscovered planet.

Bobby was bigger than Jonah, stocky and strong. But Marie remembered the way Jonah had made her nipples bleed when she’d nursed him his first year, the way he sometimes killed small animals—frogs, butterflies. She remembered the time he hit the dog.

The boys locked up, fell onto the grass. Bobby on top. He yanked a clump of Jonah’s hair. Jonah made a high-pitched yodeling sound, but he didn’t cry. Marie dug her nails into her palms. Lucy crossed her arms. She’d left her drink on the grass near her seat. A helicopter seed twirled toward it but missed.

Jonah clawed at Bobby’s eyes. Bobby covered his face. Jonah got up and kicked Bobby in his soft stomach. Lucy made a sucking-in sound, bent down, hands on her thighs.

Jonah said, get up, fat boy. Marie bit her lip.

Bobby got up and socked Jonah in the gut. He doubled over. Bobby hit him in the face. Jonah fell.

Get up, Marie said through clenched teeth. C’mon. Get up get up get up.


Emily Costa is the author of Until It Feels Right (Autofocus Books). Her work can be found in X-R-A-Y, Hobart, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. You can follow her on Twitter @emilylauracosta.

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction

Chicharrones De Harina

By Steve Anwyll

On the platform an old woman sells churros and other fried foods from a cart. I eye them as we hurry. I’m hungry but not. A clear plastic sack of little wagon wheels intrigues me. Announced by the breeze our train comes roaring into the station.  We get on. 

Lindsey and I sit close. Black denim pant legs touch. Her head leans against my shoulder and I rest mine on hers. Perfect fit. Full colour ads of smiling idiots holding diplomas in the sky and dating apps promising a love halal compete for my attention. The noise of it hurts. So I eye the man across from me. 

Big and fat. Dark blue cargo pants covered in grey dust. The name of a building company screen printed over his heart. A reminder this is my last day in town. By midnight I’ll be on a bus headed away from all my friends and a woman who makes me feel like a man. By Monday I’ll be back at a machine printing on shirts for men like him to get dirty in.

Why can’t I be free?

Backpack between his wide open legs his gut hangs over his crotch. I stare as he stuffs his mouth full of the wagon wheels I saw the old woman peddling. Over the clamour of the train on the tracks I hear a crunch. Lindsey and I just came from a taqueria we’ve been to so often we call it our place. I ate carnitas and barbacoa and lengua to the point of discomfort. But still. 

Her and I chat as the train heads into Manhattan. It’s easy to forget where I am though. Subway or the Metro. Brooklyn or Montréal. People trying to get home. Back to the bed they woke up in. All of them thinking of hot showers and a reprieve from the din of being awake. Looking through a crowd and seeing we’re all going the same place in different ways I remember, I’m a part of the whole.

So I renounce my individuality as I put my hand on her thigh, squeeze. She lifts her head and smiles. I wink to hide the deep down dread I feel. Of going home. Me and my apartment and no one to call. The few friends I have remind me of a life I no longer belong to. If it wasn’t for an international border I’d stay. 

Call the landlord on Monday. 

The fat man across from me nudges his friend who’s equally as plump. Shakes the bag of wagon wheels at him. The eyes of his friend are laconic as he paws a few out. Like a pervert in the bushes I watch him incognito. I gain pleasure from seeing him chew. Same as the creep in the shadows caressing himself I wonder, how long can I control my urges?

Lindsey breaks my trance as she asks what time does your bus leave? I remind her it pulls out of the station at one past midnight. I watch her cute face cringe and my heart cracks in two. The last five days passed quicker than we thought. Playing around in a house she’s watching while the owners are away. There’s a fireplace and a yard and a fine old beagle with grey in his hair who barks at the letter carrier each day.

Small things make it harder to leave. 

I’ve lived in Montréal ten years now. Wandered its streets and rode its trains. But I’m a citizen only in address. I was married. A situation that breeds isolation. We often disagreed on what makes a good friend. She liked stability. I craved excitement.

I convinced myself that French was getting in the way.

So here, in a city where English is accepted everywhere, I raise my voice over the sound of so many others, excuse me…my man…what the hell are those things you’re eating?

He laughs. Crumbs blowing all over his shirt and his eyes sparkle blue like Caribbean waters. Shrugging his heavy shoulders innocently he smiles a big silly grin. His voice tinged by Spanish he tells me, I don’t know man…I bought ‘em one time…they delicious…now, you know, I see the woman selling ‘em and I buy another bag.

I smile, nod along as he speaks. Look him up and down. Like all the men I’ve ever known his back is bent. His clothes and boots are filthy. Evidence of long days passed doing something that’s hard on body and soul. I know what it’s like. I’ve been standing twenty years now.

A bag of fried garbage can be exactly what you need. 

You want to try ‘em, he asks. Of course. Spittle flies from my mouth. It’s been watering all along. I watch his fingers as he pulls two wagon wheels from the bag. His skin is cracked like mine. Do his knuckles hurt? Does he wonder if it’s all a waste of time?

This I don’t ask. Instead I politely take the wagon wheels from his hand as he offers them in silence. I remember the plague. Accepting food from a stranger was the same as asking to die. I was certain we’d lose our humanity. It’s nice to see I was wrong, that we can still go out and find a little love. 

For what else is sharing food?

In my palm the wagon wheels are lighter than air. Lindsey watches. Him as well. Pressure as I raise one to my lips, take a bite. It’s sweet but not. Crunchy and airy and reminds me of something I can’t place from when I was a kid and thought life would get easier. 

What do you think? he asks, the blue in his eyes sparkling again. I nod. Continue to chew. When I swallow I tell him he’s right. They are delicious. And I regret not grabbing a sack before the train came into the station. He shakes the bag at Lindsey. 

You want to try little lady?

She declines. I tell her she’s nuts and give her a small piece of mine. Reluctantly she nibbles. Her face shows enjoyment as she chews, nods her head like she’s listening to her favourite song and says yum. I get a rush of happiness watching her. I soak up the experience. In a few hours I’ll be by myself again.

After that the conversation dwindles. Lindsey opens her phone to look up what we just ate. Chicharrones de harina. Fried flour. I think of telling the man. Letting him in on what he’s been eating. But I don’t. No point. I leave him to his bliss. The truth doesn’t always make life better. 

When the train pulls into 14th Street-Union Square Lindsey and I get up. I hold her arm not wanting to lose her. The doors hesitate before opening. I tell the man stay out of trouble. I don’t hear him respond. The platform is filled with the noise of people trying to get home when all I want to do is stay.

I tighten my grip.


Steve Anwyll is the author of Welfare (Tyrant Books) and can be found online @oneloveasshole

Issue 0 Issue 0 Fiction

Johnny in the Black Perigord

By Bill Whitten

“I am a miserable fool…”

Blue, blue is the grass along the River Vézère. Above the sound of its rushing water I hear the mechanical cry of a Kestrel. I imagine something small and grey struggling in its claws.

“I have one-hundred-and-sixty pages of notes for a twelve hundred word article…”

I sit with Helen Dentritis – a twenty-five year old Greek with pink lips and black hair cut straight across her forehead – in a mustard Citroën DS in the parking lot of Lascaux II. We are surrounded by black, pine-covered mountains and loud German tourists.

Twenty feet from the Citroen, Johnny, in his butter-colored lounge suit, crunches back and forth across the pea-gravel of the parking lot. Henri-Paul, seemingly ready to be whipped aloft by the flaring tails of his cobalt overcoat, follows closely after him. 

How thin and short the men are. Like rats. Like beautiful, talented rats.

“I am an academic, a translator. Not a journalist…”

I rub the bridge of my nose between my index finger and thumb and theorize with absolute confidence that Johnny is the first person from Jamaica, Queens ever to set foot in the Black Perigord. 

“Self-pity is not charming, Rook. No one forced you to write about Johnny.”  

Of course, she’s right. I accepted the assignment to pen an article about a disreputable rock musician of my own free will. It is entirely due to a weakness of character. My well-meaning ex-girlfriend’s brother-in-law is the editor of the Soho Weekly News. ‘Since you are already in Paris’, he suggested during an all too brief phone-call, ‘I’ll pay you 250USD to meet up with Johnny, pal around with him for a few weeks and then jot down a feuilleton.’

And thus I follow after him like a dog, like a man put under a spell. 

Meanwhile, Johnny and Henri-Paul wait for a man named Swann to emerge from the replica caves where he’s been gazing upon aurochs, deer, horses, scenes of murder and other enigmatic, primordial images.  

The wind blows fragments of the their conversation through the open windows of the Citroen. 

Henri-Paul: My Uncle Auguste saw the original paintings – before Lascaux I was closed in 1963. To him, the reproductions in Lascaux II are no more than shadows of the originals…

Johnny (lighting a cigarette): It’s the destruction of our patrimony…it’s a theft of our…

Henri-Paul: He claimed that when modern men were confronted with the original cave paintings it caused them to lose faith in their way of life. Men would see the images and then abandon their wives, their children…

Johnny:  I knew it…It’s as I’ve been saying.

Henri-Paul: The government shut it down because it was too…uncanny….too destabilizing.

The man named Swann wears a backpack filled with stolen Japanese microchips. He will hand over the backpack to Johnny. When Johnny returns to Paris he will deliver the microchips to an editor at Tel Quel named Alain. Alain is a Soviet agent. The microchips are so new, so advanced, that not even the Americans have seen them. Upon delivery, the chips will be spirited off to the Angstrem factory in Zelenograd to be reverse-engineered. Johnny, for his troubles, will be paid 50,000 francs.

Johnny’s fame, as I have learned over the weeks that I have spent with him, touring France, Belgium and Germany, derives not only from his musical skills but also from his protracted self-immolation. When his fans buy their tickets they expect a human sacrifice, failing that, they will settle for a concert given by a cadaver animated by narcotics.

Nevertheless, under the watchful eye of his new manager and paraclete, Christopher, the guitar-player has quit drugs and begun the long process of putting his life and career back on track. The punters, of course, hope for a relapse. Johnny, exhibiting a fatalism typical of his Sicilian heritage, believes that crime and rock and roll are intertwined and accepts that he will always remain in close proximity to danger. 

His difficulties are endless; jealous band-mates, a hostile press, a vindictive ex-wife, a complement of children that he is forbidden to see, problems with the IRS. 

It all amounts to a shortage of money. One can never have enough money. 

I am not supposed to know about the microchips, but Henri-Paul, an Ecole Normale dropout who grew up in Montignac, tells me everything. 

Johnny’s neck is wrapped in a long violet scarf. He tugs at it as he turns and watches Swann walk toward him. Swann is dressed in a grey blazer, white shirt and blue jeans – the same clothes he wore while working as Alain Delon’s stuntman in the just-wrapped production of Pour la Peau d’un Flic. 

“I’ve seen better artwork on the stall walls of a truck-stop toilet in Texarkana.” 

When Johnny heard that Swann, in transit from Sardinia, wanted to meet somewhere between Paris and the Dordogne Department, Johnny insisted that Swann first see the paintings at Lascaux. Everyone on earth should see them. That Johnny is a connoisseur of the works of the cavemen of Lascaux is surprising, yet when I think of his performances and acknowledge that they are events more primitive ritual than concert, it makes sense. Aesthetic violence is always his goal. Be it in his brutal, minimalist guitar playing or in his impromptu scabrous, psycho-sexual monologues. The same theatre of cruelty that can be glimpsed in the galleries of Lascaux is also on offer whenever Johnny takes the stage at the Gibus Club or Max’s Kansas City.

Johnny smiles. His is the face of a thief. “If you weren’t so stupid, Swann, you’d notice that the painters used the cracks in the cave walls, the flaws of the material, as compositional tools. A lump of anthracite becomes a spot on a horse, a crack becomes an antler.” 

“You’ve been living in France too long, Johnny.” Even with a discolored, split front tooth Swann’s smile is pleasant. 

The men make their farewells and Johnny and Henri-Paul climb into the Citroen.

In the back seat, Helen sighs. Johnny met her on a snowy December morning in the Jardin du Sénat. An intellectual, she’s written for Libé, L’Infini and many others. This enchanted creature, this archetypically Mediterranean beauty displays, despite her enormous mental acuity, a great patience for Johnny’s lapses and idiosyncrasies. 

Johnny, like many rock musicians is a consummate sufferer; he cultivates the deepest level of suffering and has learned every possible way to exploit it. That fateful morning, as he wandered the garden, pale, grim, lost, wearing an expression of a man at sea, Helen hid behind a tree and watched him, unaware of his fame, his notoriety, his moral gluttony. 

Eventually, she left her hiding place and her swift, tiny steps roused him as he gazed upon the Fontaine es Quatre-Parties-du-Monde. It was something like love at first sight. 

Helen, of course, introduced Johnny to Alain.

Château d’Urfé, built in 1224 was once the possession of Cathar nobleman Bernard de Garrel. Albigensian crusader Alphonse de Monsoon took the castle and installed a garrison. When Garrel retook it, Monsoon was strangled in his bed. In later times the castle was periodically abandoned and reoccupied, until those enemies of every religion, the Jacobins, razed it to its foundations. A hotel now occupies the site. It is here we retrieve our belongings, check out and begin the trek back to Paris.

Helen wrote her dissertation on Simone Weil and naturally holds a deep interest in the Cathars. She ignites one of Johnny‘s Marlboro Lights: “Reactionaries like to say that the Paris Commune began here among the Cathars. They accuse Marxists of being crypto-Gnostics, crypto-Manicheans forever trying to beget Heaven on Earth. Of course, Marxists share with the Gnostics a belief that the world is fallen, depraved, obscene and that only a transmission of a kind of secret knowledge can allow for the realm of Satan to be overthrown.”

At the wheel I speak, perhaps only to myself: “We will need petrol very, very soon.”

Johnny pulls a wad of francs from his pocket and passes it to me over my right shoulder. “Here you go, Rook.”

Eventually, Helen continues: “Secretly, I agree with them. Marx, Engels, Lenin belong in the same tradition as Marcion, Valentinus, Mani. I feel a secret thrill whenever a fascist accuses me or one of my comrades of being a Gnostic. Yes, yes, I want to tell them. I am one of the Perfecti and I, unlike you, will receive the Consolamentum upon my death. But of course I can’t say a word.”

Henri-Paul pushes his index finger against the bridge of his sunglasses and sneers. “As Genet said; it is more beautiful to betray a cause than to be faithful to it.”

Johnny stares out the window, Swann’s backpack clasped to his chest in the fashion of a schoolgirl. His eyes are black, depthless. 

I edit my article in my head as I drive:

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

Johnny’s music is the color of black hair. It is the sound of machines being manipulated by addicts and criminals under conditions of destitution. All love is wretchedness. This music does not impart anything approaching truth but instead offers a profound sense of the morbid, the uncontrollable, the unwholesome….


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 album Ecstatic Laments was released in June 2022. His book BRUTES, a collection of short fiction was released in January 2022.