Across The Wire

The Flood

By Denise S. Robbins

“The Singularity will doom us all.” Samuel says this at a moment of conversational pause. The dinner party goes quiet, for swiveling heads make no sound. Everyone waits for Sam to explain himself. But he’ll wait. He’ll wait until someone asks. The windows are open and someone, somewhere, is drumming. Cars bring their own accompaniment in quick swells. 

Polite little Ariana, in a quiet voice: “What does that mean?” 

Sam takes a deep breath, making his mustache quiver. His eyes are still and serious, fixed on Ariana’s, who flinches slightly but keeps his gaze. “When AI intelligence surpasses our own,” says Sam, “there will be no hope for the human race. Unless we’re lucky enough for our superintelligent robo-overlords to be gentle. Perhaps they’ll let us, as slaves, have dinner parties, like we’ll let our future children play House, as long as they don’t get out of line.” He rubs his belly as if he were the pregnant one. The others glance at his wife Carmela, standing on the other side of the room, whose flowery wrap dress expertly hides any stomach bulge. 

“Hey man, you shouldn’t say that,” says blue-haired Lennie. “The word slaves.”

“This may be my last chance for anything I say to mean anything at all,” says Sam. 

Carmela shoots her husband an angry look. Earlier she had explicitly asked Sam not to talk about Doomsday during his birthday Shabbat. He ignores her gaze. 

“Let’s start eating,” says Carmela, trying to remind herself how nice she felt ten minutes ago, when pockets of conversation hummed around the room, an underlying current of sound, like when you realize the fridge is churning, but it’s the way voices converge into a low, cheerful drone. When her guests poured their second drink and became flushed with happiness as they hovered around the fresh baked challah like it was a newborn baby. When she lit the Shabbat candles and the fire reflected in Sam’s eyes before he moved to hug her from behind and rub her newly pregnant belly. 

“But Elias isn’t here yet,” says Sam.

“He’s never here yet,” says Carmela. “Food time. Plates on laps, I’ll bring it around.” A nice big dining table is something that can always be put off, the lack of it ignorable until you have a dinner party, so they are sitting on couches around a coffee table. Carmela removes the noodle casserole from the oven and scoops a hefty portion onto each plate, along with one ripped handful of challah. She worked hard on this dish, and expects praise in equal measure to the effort she put into it, but no one seems to notice as she hands them a plate, everyone now in rapt attention as Sam explains calmly why every argument against the Singularity is wrong. 

Lennie says, “We’ll create a kill switch.” 

Sam shakes his head. “You think they won’t foresee that and reprogram themselves for it not to matter?” 

“There are four different cheeses in this,” Carmela announces, taking a plate for herself. “Mozzarella, pepperjack, gorgonzola, and bleu.” 

“Isn’t gorgonzola a type of blue?” says Lennie. 

“Bleu,” says Carmela, nasally, “like bluh.” 

“So is it a type of bluh?” asks Lennie.

“I’m not sure,” says Carmela. “You could Google it later. Now for the Motzi.” She leads the blessing of the bread and everyone takes a perfunctory bite of challah. “Leave room for cake!” 

“Cake?” asks Sam. “What flavor?” 

“It’s a surprise.” 

The AI conversation continues as if it never stopped. Ariana is unconcerned about the internet advertisements: in fact, she likes how the internet seems to know exactly what she wants to purchase next, and gives her good deals, too. Lennie jokes about a robot accidentally setting off a nuclear apocalypse. Carmela sits back and disengages. She’s scarcely hungry, after hours of taste testing, and it seems the others share her lack of appetite, except for Sam, who eats his dish in big bites between words. He goes back for seconds, peeking in the fridge on the way back. He sits next to Carmela on the loveseat and kisses her on the cheek. 

“Chocolate cake! You know me so well, honey. Thanks for the party.”

“Why, because it might be your last before the Singularity?” Carmela says half-sarcastically. 

Sam’s smile disappears. 

There’s a knock at the door. 

“Elias!” Carmela checks her watch. “Who had eight o’clock?” 

“I said 8:05,” says Ariana. 

“Cheers to Ariana.” Carmela pours herself another glass of sparkling apple juice. “Door’s unlocked,” she calls out. The knocking continues. “Okay, I’m coming.” She opens the door to see Elias, in a pea coat and baseball cap, dripping wet.

“There was a storm,” says Elias with a grave countenance. 

“We didn’t see it,” says Carmela. 

“It unleashed itself on me during my walk over.” 

“It must have missed us. Can I get you a beer?” 

“The strongest you’ve got.” 

Lennie hands Elias his recently opened bottle of 9.5 percent IPA. “I took one sip but I hate this,” he says. 

Elias drinks deeply, then removes his coat and hat, putting them on the floor in a corner. “Sorry I’m late. I fell into a deep depression after reading this week’s parsha.”

“The Torah portion one about Noah’s flood?” says Carmela. “Why should that worry you? Hashem said explicitly it would never happen again. The rainbow covenant and all that.” 

“Just look at me,” says Elias. “I fell into a flood of emotions, then became wet to my core. The Great Flood is upon us once more.” 

“Yes. It’s called the Singularity,” says Sam. “You’re right about the parsha. Doesn’t bode well for us! Hashem decided humanity wasn’t good enough and flooded the Earth except Noah. But Noah was a nobody.” 

“He had faith,” says Elias. 

“Sure. That was his only quality. He believed what he was told. He built the ark. He was like a robot himself. Is that what’ll happen to us? The only survivors will be mindless slaves. He knew he had no personhood. That’s why, after the flood receded, he became an embarrassing, naked drunk.” 

“Or maybe it’s because everyone he knew was dead,” whispers Ariana. 

“Drunk and naked?” says Lennie. “Noah sounds fun.” 

“No more talk of floods or singularities!” Carmela stands up and claps her hands. “We’re here to celebrate Shabbat and Sam. That means relax. Everybody, why do you love Sam? Let’s talk in turns.” 

The room is quiet. 

“Don’t everyone talk all at once,” says Carmela. 

“Come on, Carmela,” says Sam, “let’s just get back to food. How about the cake?” 

“Yes! The cake.” Carmela cuts the cake but no one touches it except Sam, who stares with beautifully greedy eyes as she gives him a large piece. The conversation picks back up, the discussion flowing into divots and streams, veering around how to win the robot war and landing on they all plan to live their final day alive. 

When Ariana returns from the bathroom, Carmela rushes over to grab her before Ariana can re-immerse herself in AI talk. Carmela tries to think of any other other conversation topic, and finds herself telling Ariana about childhood home movies her mother recently sent her. “I haven’t seen myself with such clear eyes until this week,” she says. “I was deeply afraid of being left out. Yet I always seemed to be sitting on the sidelines by choice. The funny thing is I’ve watched these videos before. Years ago. I used to rewatch them all the time. But I never got that feeling out of them, the one I have right now, where I understand myself. How much of who I am was shaped by the way I interacted with my brothers as a kid? I wanted to be one of them but I was too small. Then I spent my whole life trying to fit in, without thinking about any sense of individuality. Only in recent years have I found that. I had to push back against my own nature. It’s just fascinating—and terrifying—to think about how much can shape a child’s life.” She rubs her stomach. “So much is out of our control. Some of it is in our control, or at least we think it is. Like, I get to decide how many years until our second child. But I have no idea how much that age gap will affect them. Sometimes siblings are better friends the further apart in age they are. Sorry, I’m going on and on.” 

“No, it’s interesting,” says Ariana. 

“So what traumatized you as a child?” 

Ariana thinks for a moment, then says, “A robot clown toy.” She shudders. “Horrifying.” 

“Here’s how we do it,” says Lennie on the other side of the room with an empty beer in his hand. “We convert everyone to Judaism. Even the robots. Then we require all technology to shut down once a week. Then we’ll have Saturdays to plan the rebellion.” 

“Not good enough,” says Sam. 

“And Friday nights, too,” says Lennie. 

“We’re not supposed to work on the Sabbath,” says Elias. “We’d lose our favor with Hashem.” 

“I think Hashem would understand in times of war,” says Lennie.

“Robots wouldn’t believe in Hashem,” says Sam. “They only believe in themselves.” 

“But we created them,” says Lennie. “What’s simpler than that? We are their creators. So they have to listen to what we say about Hashem. The idea of Hashem will be beyond AI comprehension. We know it doesn’t make logical sense. God. Robots are all ‘one plus one is two.’ That’s true when you’re talking about matter and particulars. But sometimes it’s more than that. We’ll know this. They won’t. Boom. We win.” 

“It’s time for the game!” calls out Carmela. “Who knows Sam best?” 

“Carmela,” pleads Sam, “can we play later? We’re kind of in the middle of something.” 

“I’d like to play,” Ariana says feebly. 

“What’s the point of playing when Carmela will automatically win?” says Lennie. “Obviously you know him best.” 

“I’m not playing,” she says. “I’m judging.” 

“Who died and made you judge?” says Lennie. 

“Just pick a side,” says Carmela. “Blue couch or green couch.” 

Lennie is sitting in the middle of the two couches, on the floor. Elias is on the blue, Ariana on the green. Lennie leans to the left towards the blue, collapsing on his elbow at Elias’s feet. “Dudes rock.” He holds up his hand for a fistbump with Elias. 

“Two groups fight for honor bestowed upon by the Birthday Boy,” says Sam in a booming voice, joining Carmela to stand by the door. “Which side will win? Which will fall into shameful decrepitude?” 

Elias’s phone rings. 

“Shame! Shame! Shame!” says Sam. “Your team loses one point for breaking the Sabbath.” 

“Oh, really?” says Elias. “Looks like your internet…box… thing is plugged in. Don’t you lose a point?”

“The Birthday Boy loses no points,” announces Sam. “He only grants them.” 

The storm comes suddenly. A burst of rain enters the open windows, splattering the plants in the windowsill. Carmela rushes over to close the windows. The rain leaves angry wet marks on the stomach of her dress.

“I told you it was storming,” says Elias. 

“No one doubted you,” says Carmela, flicking the water off her flowing dress, carefully, surrounding the spot where her future baby lives. 

“I should be going,” says Ariana. 

“What?” says Carmela. “The game hasn’t started yet. You’re going to walk in this?” 

“My Uber’s on its way. My dog is scared of storms.” 

“Okay, at least the teams will be even now. Elias versus Lennie.” 

“Right,” Lennie scoffs. “And we are absolutely excited about playing this dumb game.” 

“Hey, hey, HEY.” Sam stands up and puts his hands on his hips. “This is not a dumb game. This is the best game in the world. Once it gets going.” 

“Right,” says Lennie. “We’re definitely going to start playing it.” He gets up and slices a piece of cake. 

“We never sang the birthday song!” Carmela realizes with distress. “Don’t eat the cake! Don’t eat the cake! Turn out the lights!” Sam turns out the lights and hears drawers opening in the kitchen. “Sam, where are the candles? Turn the lights back on!” Carmela rummages through the kitchen drawers, then runs to the closet to search the boxes of knick-knacks. Old Halloween costumes and unused streamers fling to the ground, piling up at her feet. 

“How should I know?” 

Lennie’s already eating his cake. 

“Don’t eat the cake,” commands Sam. 

“Nothing in this house is organized!” Carmela cries, suddenly, bursting into tears. She’s never cried in front of anyone before, but now she can’t stop the angry sobs. She’ll blame the pregnancy hormones later. Hell, she’ll blame them now, and fight the urge to squeeze her stomach. The others grimace at one another, wondering if they should comfort her, leave, or pretend they don’t see what’s happening. They sit in silence as she continues to cry, turning boxes upside down, rifling through assortments of Tums and old journals. Sam directs his guests to their coats and offers his two spare umbrellas. Carmela hardly hears as the door opens and closes, wading deeply now into the suitcase closet. 

Sam walks calmly through the kitchen, peering into the top shelf of the pantry, the one too high for Carmela to reach. The box of birthday candles is hidden behind a bag of whole wheat flour. 

He brings it to his wife, now lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling with a blank look. Her cheeks are red and wet with tears. The windows in the bedroom are still open, bringing in small puddles from the storm. 

“Hey. Hey, hey.” Sam leans over her and strokes her hair back. “Look what I found.” He shows her the candles. 

“We need a real table,” Carmela says softly.

“We don’t need a real table.” 

“Yes, we do.” 

“Okay. We can buy one.” 

“Better plates, too, and wine glasses that match.” 

“Of course.” He begins massaging her temples.

She moans. “I’m sorry I ruined your birthday.” 

“I had a great time. And now I get to go to bed early, get a good night’s rest? Score!” 

Carmela moans again, but this time a smile emerges at the side of her lips. The modem beeps, complaining about a dying battery. “We’re terrible for not unplugging the modem,” says Carmela. “We’re the worst.” 

“So said the man who’s never earlier than two hours late.” Sam reaches down to Carmela’s dress, pulling it up over her belly, exposing old white underpants. 

“All my cute undies are in the hamper. I didn’t want to ask you to do laundry today.”

“These ones are adorable,” Sam says, and puts his ear on her stomach, as if listening to the ocean. 

“Our son’s in there,” he says. 

“Yeah.” Carmela picks up a strand of Sam’s black hair. 

“Hey Mel?” Sam says into her stomach.


He squeezes her hand. “Let’s name him Noah.”

Denise S. Robbins is an author and teacher from Wisconsin. Her writing has appeared in Barcelona Review, Gulf Coast Journal, and more. She teaches a workshop about climate change fiction and has a novel and story collection in the works. Also a Substack. See more at

Issue 1 Issue 1 Fiction

J O H A N N  M U R K

By Bill Whitten

Bergamaschi, a furniture mover who wrote books that sold modestly in France and Germany, stood by the open rear door of his illegally parked Mercedes LP Truck outside the Carlton Arms Hotel on E. 25th Street.

Aged thirty-nine, six-foot-one, one hundred-eighty five pounds he looked at his watch and sneezed. It was May and his body was in revolt. A Linden Tree was in full flower above him. He sneezed again.

A tall man in his forties with brown hair, wearing a grey three-piece suit approached him. “Well, that should do it.” The man was carrying a black briefcase in his left hand and pulled a wheeled navy suitcase with his right. He stopped, lifted a hand – covered in smudges of blue ink – above his brow to shield his eyes from the sun. “Do I pay you now or upon completion of the job?”

Bergamaschi picked up the suitcase, threw it in the back of the truck and pulled down the roll-up door. More than a dozen legal file boxes were stacked and strapped against the truck’s back wall. Each box was stenciled in white letters: J.MURK CONFIDENTIAL. He placed a padlock over the handle. “When we’re done.”

“Can I ride with you? Or does that violate a law of some kind?”

“You can ride with me, Johann.” Bergamaschi smiled and pointed at Johann’s shoes: “Watch your step getting in. It might be tricky in those Bruno Magli’s…”

On Park Avenue South, as Bergamaschi navigated his truck among the yellow cabs and bike messengers, Johann began to weep.

“Should I pull over?”

Exhausted, dislocated, breath rattling in his throat: “No, no I’m fine. It’s just that today is my wedding anniversary and my wife served me divorce papers…” His baritone tremoloed, his chest heaved, “…only yesterday.” 

“I’m sorry to hear that…”

“My work, as my wife sees it – I’m a clinical psychiatrist – has destroyed not only my own life but hers as well. Columbia is currently attempting to fire me. I’m a tenured professor so lucky for me that will be nearly impossible. But they are discrediting me and she believes that due to the phenomenon known as guilt by association, her standing as a top-tier mathematician has been called into question.” He wiped tears from his cheeks with a monogrammed handkerchief. “It all has to do with a book I wrote – Interventions and Abductions – that has become a best-seller. ”

Bergamaschi slammed on the brakes as a UPS truck careened across the lanes in front of him. “What is the work you’re doing? What is the book about?”

Johann nodded his head as he pocketed the handkerchief. “I’ve spent the last decade interviewing and writing about the victims, or should I say, experiencers of alien abduction. This field of interest has possessed me. It feels as though I have no choice in the matter, as if I’ve been called to do this work.”

Bergamaschi looked past Murk at the side-view mirror on the passenger side of the truck as he attempted to change lanes. “You might think this is strange, but there is someone I know – an experiencer as you say – who might benefit from talking to you, if you’re interested and not too busy.” 

Murk closed his eyes, leaned back against the seat and took a deep breath. “I think it goes without saying that I’d be very interested.”


The two men sat at a table in Leshko’s on Avenue A. They stared out of its dirty windows as they waited for their coffees to arrive. A woman with tears streaming down her face, a nameless rapture in her eyes, paced back and forth on the sidewalk. She was followed by a man with a shaved head, dressed in black clasping a small white Chihuahua to his chest. There were dark circles beneath the man’s eyes and tearstains beneath the Chihuahua’s. Occasionally, the world revealed a strange, undeniable consonance. 

“The young man I’d like you to talk to is a painter. I met him through his girlfriend who lives in the apartment building next to mine.”

A waitress appeared. Young, blonde, Polish: “Your coffee gentlemen.”

Bergamaschi smiled: “Thank you Zuzanna.” He paused, lifted the cup, blew on the coffee. “He was scheduled to have a show at a gallery on West Broadway. Not a top gallery by any means, but his paintings would have received quite a bit of attention. At the last moment he backed out and then…like in some melodramatic movie from the 1950s…burnt all the paintings.”

Johann’s was a handsome, pockmarked, olive-skinned face. On some men, acne scars are almost a kind of decoration. Think of a statue pitted by time or disaster. Johann was one of these men. He stirred milk into his coffee, raised his eyebrows. “But why?”

“He claims that the subjects of his paintings were directly the result of…how do I put this…alien intervention. According to his girlfriend he claimed the aliens have been visiting him since his childhood. In the course of their interaction the aliens have shown him things; images from a vast archive that is essentially the history of human civilization. He’s seen the Crucifixion, the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, the construction of Ai Kanoun as well as the Great Pyramids, the Battle of Somme, the beheading of Robespierre…an endless list of events and occurrences that were, according to him, imprinted directly onto his mind. These events became the subjects of his paintings…Even the idea of painting itself was suggested to him by the…the…aliens.”

Johann could not take his eyes off the man with the Chihuahua: “Most of the experiencers that I encounter feel that an urgent message about the fate of humanity has been delivered to them and it must be communicated to the rest of the word…before it’s too late.”

Bergamaschi nodded, sipped his coffee. “Prior to moving to New York from Missouri, he was a landscaper, a housepainter. He was fired from a job after he painted an image of an extra-terrestrial on someone’s garage door. He hitchhiked here, met the young woman I mentioned who encouraged him to paint. His paintings are – or were – like a crazy combination of Basquiat and Henri Rousseau. One gets the impression that this young man is being propelled through life by a force outside of himself. His girlfriend fears that something terrible is going to happen.”

“More terrible than the burning of his paintings?”

“Yes. Perhaps I could bring you to meet him? He doesn’t like the City and has moved to a town called West Stovefield, about an hour north of here.”

Johann had shifted his gaze from the man with the Chihuahua to the woman with tears streaming down her face. “The apartment you just moved me into is almost completely empty. There is one coffee cup in the cupboard, one can of Budweiser in the refrigerator. My only plans are to read the Zibaldone alone on my futon at night. Arrange for me to meet your friend. The sooner I get back to work, the better.”


The two men exited the Taconic State Parkway in Bergamaschi’s beige D-100 pick-up and approached West Stovefield along the narrow two lane Harvey Door Road as it wended its way along a tunnel-like corridor of birch, pine and elm. Occasionally, on the left or the right, the men saw in the perpetual sylvan twilight a grim looking double-wide rising from the earth. As often as not, a pick-up truck was parked nearby. Perhaps, somewhere on the adjoining property, a satellite dish pointed at the sky.  

Mark Finger was staying in a rented farmhouse on the edge of West Stovefield near its northern border with Granville. Grey with white shutters, it rose above rutted, fallow fields, the only structure visible for miles. Finger’s blue Chevy pickup truck was parked beneath a towering Oak. From the tree’s silent, gray branches a frayed rope swung in the wind. Perhaps a tire once hung from the end of it.

Finger stood on the front porch as Bergamaschi steered the truck along the dirt driveway. He was in his mid-twenties. Dark hair swept back from his forehead. Beneath a black t-shirt, broad shoulders and a narrow waist were visible. Except for a discolored, cracked front tooth there was a symmetry to his face and body.

Through the open window of his truck Bergamaschi observed the rhapsodic blue of the sky, the vapor trail of a fighter jet, the rustle of leaves in the wind…

Finger ran down the steps, across the lawn and stood outside of the truck waiting for the men to get out. He was laughing. He pointed at Murk. “I know who you are. I have your book.”

Murk climbed out of the truck, shut the door to the pick-up, smiled and began to laugh as well.

Bergamaschi leaned against the door of his truck. “What’s so funny?”

Murk: “Certain essential aspects of the world are accessible only through laughter.”

Finger: “Sometimes fear is laughter.”

Murk: “To laughter you can only oppose laughter.”

Bergamaschi followed the two men as they walked toward the house. “My grandmother used to say: madmen are the salt of the earth.”


“I want them to leave me alone. I’ve had enough. I reject them.”

The three men sat at the kitchen table, drinking from cans of beer. 

Murk drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “Of all the experiencers I’ve encountered, more than half of them have expressed the desire to be left alone. It’s the same with mystics or visionaries: exposure to another reality can be unbearable.”

Bergamaschi stood up from the table and pointed toward the kitchen window. “Look.”

A woman, barefoot in a white linen suit crossed the lawn. Her hair was black and gleaming, her skin ivory, her eyes like bodies of water reflecting the sky.

In her left hand, held between thumb and index finger, a paperback copy of Interventions and Abductions. As she walked, plants broke through earth and rose to attention. Their flowering was violent, the colors jarred like wrong notes played on a piano. She continued to walk, grass sprouting at her feet, fog rising in front, behind her. 

She did not speak, but the three men heard her voice. “To survive you must transform the nature of all that exists and enter a completely new order of things. Debasement has been your fundamental principle of existence. The best painting, the best art is initiatory. It heralds a new world and helps bring it into being. We must guide you to a zone in which a new conception and a new birth can take place.” 

The woman continued walking until she was no longer visible. Bergamaschi once again sat down at the table. In the instant that followed the men were without memories, without plans. An interval of unknown duration passed as time rebuilt itself around them. 

Finally, Murk began to scribble in his notebook. He spoke in a hoarse voice: “There is a taxonomy of aliens; we know of the Greys, the Lizards, the Little Doctors and the ones like her called The Nordics. Sometimes they appear to our sensory organs as over seven feet tall.”

Finger was slumped in his chair. “They’re in the barn, they’re in the trees.” He gulped his beer.  “You hear noises at night. You might think it was crickets or toads or birds but it’s them. They won’t leave until I start painting again. They’ve made that clear.”  He stood and walked to the refrigerator, pulled open the door, retrieved another beer.  He pointed his chin toward the kitchen door. “If I drink myself to death or blow my head off or burn this place down they’ll be shit out of luck.” He gulped half the beer, then paused.  “But, that’s not what I want…I want to be…” He grimaced: “I want to be normal.”

Bergamaschi closed his dark eyes, rubbed a hand over the black stubble on his cheeks. “Why don’t you start painting again? I’d do anything to get rid of them…”

Johann closed his notebook. “Come with us when we go back to the City. I just moved into a large two-bedroom apartment that’s almost completely empty.”

Finger shrugged. He placed the empty can of beer on the table in front of him. “Let’s go shoot some guns. It’ll clear our heads, make us feel better.”


Murk put his right hand against the dashboard and braced himself as Finger jerked the wheel and steered his pick-up truck down a rutted dirt road.

They passed remnants of a shade tobacco field, then the charred skeleton of a tobacco-drying shed. 

Like a sullen teenager Murk frowned and stared straight ahead. “I always promised myself that I would never fire a gun.” 

“That’s pretty silly”. Finger turned and grinned. “Just a little farther now, Dr. Murk.”

The truck hit a rut and the three men’s heads nearly banged against its roof.

“Should we be firing guns after drinking alcohol?”

“It’s the best time to fire guns. The type of people I grew up with were always armed.” He lifted his hand from the steering wheel and tapped one of the rifles affixed to the gun rack. “These are tools; like a paintbrush or hammer.” He pulled up a pant leg. A derringer was visible in a boot holster.

Murk sighed. “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

Finger laughed. “Whatever.”

Wedged against the passenger-side door, Bergamaschi was bored. “Why is that the aliens are so intent that you in particular, should paint?” 

“You heard her. They want the world to know that our technology has enslaved us and compelled us to participate in our own destruction.” 

“But why you?” 

Finger turned toward Bergamaschi and shrugged. “No clue. I have a feeling it’s just their cover story. They’re after something else. Doc Murk might know what that is.” He patted Murk on the back. “Stop shaking, I’m about to put a loaded gun in your hands.” 

Up ahead, like a beaver’s dam, a small mountain of brush blocked the road. 

“Here we go, gentlemen.” 

Finger stepped out of the truck, shut the door, leaned against it and pulled a pack of cigarettes out of the pocket of his t-shirt. The sky was darkening. The holiday feel of an impending thunderstorm penetrated the air. He took off running. Thirty yards away from the truck he went about setting up a dozen empty, green Genesee Cream Ale cans. He jogged back to the truck, opened a door, removed the two rifles from the gun-rack and laid them on the hood of the truck. He pulled a gym-bag from behind the driver’s seat, removed a loaded magazine, popped it into an M-1 and handed it to Bergamaschi. 

“Patty Hearst’s favorite weapon, give it a try Mr. Bergamaschi.”

As Finger and Murk stepped aside Bergamaschi put it to his shoulder. Bergamaschi pulled the trigger. There was no evidence of the .30 caliber bullet striking anything near the row of cans. He lowered the weapon, rolled his shoulders and once again took aim. As he did he recited:

“Where there are no gods, the phantoms reign.”

He began firing. One after another, cans flew from the log as if pulled by a string.


An enormously tall, thin blonde-haired figure wearing a white tunic-like garment and fluorescent orange running shoes wandered in the distance, slightly to the right of where Finger had placed the targets.

Finger held a .44 Magnum at arms length. The gun discharged. Beer bottles exploded in the distance. “That’s Zaoos; he hardly ever shows his face.”

Bergamschi sat on the truck’s tailgate drinking a beer. “What happens if you shoot him?” 

“I’m pretty sure he dies.”

“Why don’t they intervene directly; cure disease, stop the aging process, disarm the nuclear bombs, clean up the polluted oceans etc etc etc.” 

Murk held a beer in each hand and drank first from one, then the other. “As Mark has said, they may in fact have other goals aside from our salvation. Some insist that their only interest is in maintaining themselves. Their true work is to use humans to propagate their own species with what have been called ‘hybrids’.”

Finger snorted and fired the Magnum.

Murk emptied a beer can, then crushed it in his fist. “When they first started visiting you did bright lights appear outside your window? Accompanied by a strange hum?”


“Did they de-materialize you?”

“Did they then transport you through walls or windows?”


“Did they take you to a mother-ship with gleaming modern appurtenances or a room that seemed like an ancient shrine or altar?” 

“Ancient shrine.”

“Did they perform medical interventions?”

“Harvest your sperm or take tissue samples?”


“Did their ship, as far as you understood, come from the stars or the oceans?”


Lightning flashed, claps of thunder quickly followed. A bit like a priest, a bit like a ballerina Zaoos wandered in the distance. His voice cleared a space in their brains: “What we seek is neither thick nor thin, neither short nor long, neither flame nor liquid, neither colored nor dark, neither wind nor ether, doesn’t stick, is without taste, without smell, without eyes, without ears, without breath, without mouth, without measure, without an inside, without an outside. It does not eat and is not eaten.”

Murk, holding his head in his hands, ran back to the truck. “We are not able to endure these creatures. Like Semele we’ll go up in a puff of smoke! I have a splitting headache! Let’s go! Back to the farmhouse and then the City. Please! My head!” 


Upon returning to Manhattan, both Bergamaschi and Murk were bedridden for a week with headaches and fevers. Finger, on the other hand, was afflicted by a kind of hyper-restlessness; he did not sleep and drank around the clock. He stayed with Murk for three weeks, then his girlfriend (who, after the burning of the paintings and the end of his art-career had become his ex-girlfriend) for two weeks, then with Bergamaschi for ten days. After that, he disappeared. For weeks following his departure, Bergamaschi dreamt of him. He thought often of Finger’s pathetic even poignant desire, which was both commonplace and exceptional in a city like New York: I want to be normal

The dreams usually ended with a vision of a vast conflagration. One morning upon waking Bergamaschi wrote down the details of his dream in the notebook he kept by his bed:

The house burnt, in the middle of all that empty space, like a torch. Windows popped, exploding outward, broken glass tinkling like ice-cubes on the frozen lawn. It seemed as if the house had been designed for only one purpose: to burn dramatically on a summer night beneath a sky full of stars. 

The old Oak went up along with the house. The rope acted as a wick and the tree, illumined by orange-red flames, bent in the wind as if it was dancing. 

A flaming branch fell on the hood of the truck. Then another. Soot rained down from the sky, plasma-like flame crawled upward from the windows, searching among the eaves…


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.

Issue 1 Issue 1 Fiction

The God’s Truth

By Max Hipp

At Uptown Cups, Elle explains I’m never there for her. I’m only interested in my imagination. I don’t know how to be present.

She works at the mayor’s office and I snuck into city hall the other night through the propped-open smoker’s door, on a hunch. I heard her throaty moans. Echoes of skin slapping bare skin.

“Also,” she says, “you never hear a word I say.”

This conversation makes me wish I could saddle up a palomino and kick a dust trail. I’m no cowboy, but I want to ride toward fierce horizons.

She says, “I’ve tried this every which way. I’ve really been trying. But I feel like you’re not trying at all.”

I imagine her in the apartment across town, resenting me for still being in the house we bought together. Every morning I journal about the anger, about her and the mayor. I’m trying to write a novel about it, which abates the anger not one bit.

“I think we’re in the end stage,” she says.

“Sounds like cancer,” I say.

“It sure does.”

I was raised by Southern Baptists to fake nice until death, but it feels like nothing should end until I tell her off. Just when I’m about to do it, a man flings open the coffee shop door beside our table. He’s in faded saggy jeans with a plaid button-down opened halfway to reveal a smooth chest in a haphazard, non-erotic way.

“My mama died,” he says, his voice a thick twang. “I haven’t eaten in three days.” A few fat tears plop into Elle’s purse. “To tell you the god’s truth, I was thinking about killing myself.”

I know about grief. If I can’t save my marriage, I can still do good, I think. Maybe prevent a suicide.

“Let’s go outside a minute,” I say.

Elle gasps. “We’re in the middle of something. This conversation needs closure.”

On the sidewalk, women glide by in yoga pants as the small man cries among the boutiques and law firms. His name is Ernest. He found his mother dead. Part of him wants to kill himself to be with her.

“That would create problems for people who love and need you,” I say, feeling wise, tending someone else’s life.

“I got kids,” he nods. Then he says, “What I need is a drank.”

He stinks like a brewery already, though I’m not judging.

I pluck a five-dollar bill from my wallet. “I’ve got my wife at the coffee shop or I’d join you.” I want a beer but remember Elle’s constant disappointment. Somehow my marital transgressions seem more problematic than hers. During fights, I used to blast off down country roads in a Chrysler LeBaron, my phone lighting up from the floorboard.

“You don’t understand.” He starts crying again. “Don’t nobody understand.”

I ask if he has family to call. He dials his sister. I back far enough off to eavesdrop while providing the illusion of privacy. He tells her about suicide and not eating for three days. He explains he’ll wait on a bench by the bank then hangs up, cries again.

I grab his shoulder.

He puts his arms around my neck. “Can I hold you a minute?”

I’ve never held a crying man. I worry how we’ll look from a passing car. And how will it look? A man in need held by a man who hears his every word.

I embrace Ernest while he bawls on my shoulder. His knees buckle and I hold him tighter. If only Elle could see me—present with this stranger. I glance at the coffee shop window but her face and hair are a blond blur. She always says crying is weakness. I don’t mean to talk bad about her, but she’s obsessed with heated leather car seats and alpha males and will retreat to her bedroom to vibrate herself on the highest setting.

He asks, “Could you hold me up?” Before I answer, he pretzels his legs around my waist and hangs like a child, heavy and cumbersome. His scalp smells like earwax, but I can take it.

Delighted shoppers carry bags out of Miss Behavin’.

Ernest climbs down, straightens his shirt. “I need me a drank. That’ll help.” He asks for my number, but his phone screen is dark. He swipes up anyway. “It was on three percent,” he says. “Must’ve died.”

It crosses my mind he’s faked the conversation with his sister to ditch me after getting drink money. I don’t want to believe it. Don’t want to be so skeptical of humanity.

He dredges a pen from his back pocket. I duck into the Blind Pig for a copy of the local rag, write my number and circle it.

“It’s going to get better. You just need family right now.”

He thanks me. Small and frail, he shuffles into the bar.

From the sidewalk outside the coffee shop, Elle’s profile is in the window. She sits up straighter when I’m not around. There’s a pleasant curve in the small of her back. Whenever I approach she hunches her shoulders. She scowls creases into her forehead.

As I descend the Blind Pig stairs into cool AC, I feel some creature leap off my chest and flap away. My lungs breathe a hundred years younger.

Ernest grips a High Life at the bar like it’s giving him heat. He spots me. “There he is!”

Here I am. A good man who once loved Jesus, Elvis, Reagan, and John Wayne. But what you love rides off. It fords technicolor rivers without you.

“This is my pal,” Ernest explains to the bartender.

I grab a stool, order a PBR tallboy. “How long until your sister gets here?”

“Who?” he asks.

Max Hipp lives in North MS and has a short story collection forthcoming from Cool Dog Sound. @maxissippi on IG & bluesky. @maximumevil on whatever twitter is now.

Issue 1 Issue 1 Fiction

Exorcism@the dog park

By Adelaide Faith

I told her last session, if you look at a group of humans, and they’re smiling, it’s either fake, or they’re out of their heads, on something. I told her to picture a pack of dogs. When I could tell she was doing it, I said, now how do they look? Are they happy? What’s happening with their tails? Can you see?

You can buy sleeping bags for dogs now, and I’m deep down inside my dog’s sleeping bag in the back of the car. My dog is back here too, she’s in the sleeping bag for humans. We’re parked at the side of the road right next to the dog park, and it’s five minutes short of midnight. There’s take out Chinese Chicken to share, but we both have our own water. It’s 2018, the Year of the Dog.

It’s quiet, and I take my phone out of my pocket and open YouTube. I type in: Exorcism of the Bridge@Eastham Rake. It’s mutated audio dialogue, it’s Mark Leckey. I take the lid off the tray, I take one piece of chicken for myself, I give one to my dog. I press play, turn the volume down, make like it’s a background track, some kind of karaoke. And then I start to chant.

In the name of Panhu and Wiro ku, and Goofy the anthropomorphic dog. In the name of Cerberus, Anubis and Fenrir… I invoke all these names. I call upon their powers to start a transformation, to cast out the appendix! Out, non-functioning Jacobson’s organ, out! Out, cone-dominated retina, out! Out, inability to see UV light, out! Out, disappearing of the tail at 8 weeks, out! Out, verbal communication… you’re no great loss. Supernumerary phantom limb, don’t cling to me, golden worm in the ear, come into my mind… this is a bad species, after all.

Everything in the back of the car gets clear, though it’s midnight, and I stop chanting. I sit on my phone to mute it. I see there’s rice everywhere. It’s going to have to be cleaned up, with something, maybe with my mouth. My dog takes the phone from under me and opens YouTube. She searches for something else, the sound of an ice-cream van. She’s always seemed to like that sound. She selects the Mr. Whippy Greensleeves tune. I like it too. I feel like going home.

Adelaide Faith is a veterinary nurse/dog walker from Hastings, UK. Adelaide’s short fiction has recently appeared online at Forever Magazine, Hobart, Maudlin House, ExPat Press and Stone of Madness Press. She is currently writing a novel about obsession, half told through therapy sessions.

Issue 1 Issue 1 Fiction

New Brother

By Addison Zeller

This is your new brother, said Mom. 

We adopted him. 

He needs help, we can help him. 

So here he is: Brandon. 

I looked up at fucking Brandon. 

He was an old kid, probably thirty: I was nine. 

Brandon will sleep on your floor till Thursday, when his bed gets here.   

There were deep circles under Brandon’s eyes. 

Do I have to share my room with Brandon? I asked at bedtime. 

Brandon was in the bathroom, brushing his teeth and shaving, I believe, his pubes. 

He’s your brother, said Mom. 

Brandon got up to pee six or seven times that night.  

He’d come back and wiggle into his sleeping bag and pop open the beer he brought with him. 

The very next day was Brandon’s birthday. 

Mom was crying. 

Mom, what is it? 

Oh, it’s just—you know—been a hard two years. 

And while you and Brandon have brought me joy, it’s sobering to look at a kid of yours and realize he’s hitting thirty-one. 

Eventually you’ll have kids of your own. 

Then you’ll know.   

She went downstairs to bake the cake. 

A peach-colored cake, orange-flavored. 

Brandon spent the morning enrolling at school. 

The enrollment process was counterintuitive. 

The directions on the website confused him.  

He said bad words the entire time. 

Brandon, said Mom. 

Sorry, Mom, said Brandon. 

Remember you aren’t my only child. 

Mom nodded at the kitchen table, where I was cutting my Eggo so each square was intact. 

I know, Mom, jeez, said Brandon. 

What IS the matter? asked Mom. 


C’mon, partner, tell me.  

Well, said Brandon, the bedroom situation. 

Just cause he’s youngest it’s like he gets everything. 

You’ll always be my oldest, Mom said, which means you have responsibilities to your younger brother. 

You have to concede—know that word?—you gotta understand your brother needs more attention, being younger. 

Which doesn’t make anyone my favorite or least favorite, but it does mean I trust you to make more sacrifices and be more mature, even if it feels unfair. 

Your little brother is learning stuff you already internalized. 

He has a lot more growing to do. 

You’re a young man now. 

I don’t know why I was angry, but by then I was angry.  

I barely sang for Brandon when the cake was lit. 

I ate a piece but not for his sake. 

When we went to bed I didn’t say goodnight to him. 

I didn’t even look up when he went out real late to talk to a guy in our driveway. 

He came in smelling like a skunk and all I said was, There’s a skunk outside, Brandon. 

It sucked even more at school. 

I’d struggle with everything and look over and he’d be done. 

The hardest problem for me didn’t seem like a problem for him. 

A breeze maybe, not a problem. 

He answered the teacher’s questions almost always. 

The teacher smoked with him at recess. 

The whole class was about him and what a genius he was. 

He went drinking with the janitor after school. 

He’d come back for bedtime dead drunk and hollow-eyed. 

He’d smoke in the doorway and chuckle meaninglessly. 

He’d be incapable of taking his boots off without tripping. 

He’d crash onto his new bed and hum to himself and scream bad words. 

Sometimes he’d look at me and call me a little shit-custard. 

I don’t know what that means now and I didn’t then and I’m older now than he was. 

He turned, like all teenagers, into a real bastard at forty. 

A real lazy bastard with bad health issues. 

Now I have to work hard to support them both. 

I have to drive Mom to the grocery store and Brandon to the proctologist. 

There are bumps up and down the road and he goes Ah ah ah oh god oh god.  

There are bumps up and down something else, if you follow.  

Things didn’t work out for us, that’s the problem. 

Addison Zeller’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in 3:AM, Ligeia, trampset, Epiphany, ergot., Hex, Sleepingfish, minor literature[s], and elsewhere. He lives in Wooster, Ohio.

Issue 1 Issue 1 Fiction

A Found Thing

By David Williamson

The floor under the trampolines was mud and ooze. All gas and suction and smelling like vomit. Caleb gagged, slid across the slickness on all fours, shook his head, and recovered his sense of balance, orientation.

It was Todd’s birthday and Caleb had been invited to celebrate at the indoor trampoline park. Just moments before he was chasing a rogue dodgeball that went sailing over his head and cleared the trampoline’s parapet. He knew the word parapet because he misspelled it on a vocabulary test just last week. He ran halfway up the slanted wall, which was also a trampoline, leapt, grabbed the top edge, and hoisted himself over. It was something he couldn’t do last year when he was only nine, but pride rushed out of him when he cleared the top edge, and his body fell for entire seconds (seconds!) before hitting the mud floor.

Now, he could only see by what light seeped through the tiny breathable holes of the woven trampoline material several yards above his head. The indentations of feet from jumping bodies stretched down to him like nightmares trying to break through. 

Caleb shook the excess globs of whatever from his hands, his forearms, elbows. Dodgeballs, partially submerged in the mud, looked like swollen eggs, something alien, and – another vocab word – secreting.

In all directions was just mud and balls and horrible feet coming down at him and support beams holding up the trampolines above him. No walls. No ladder back to the top. No way out.

He called up through the trampolines, but his voice was drowned out by the joyous screams and laughter.

Then a horrible gripping fear tightened in his chest

I can’t get out. Are they looking for me? Do they know I’m gone? How long have I been down here? Has Mom given up and gone back home?

He waited for a response. The descending feet answered with a stretchy distressed yawn, coming down impossibly close to his head. He tried to smack them, to get their attention, but they retracted too quickly.

He couldn’t remember if you could see beneath the trampolines, not even when you were down on the concrete floor of the trampoline park. He started not remembering other things too, but he forgot what they were. Something was stealing things from his brain. It was like a vacuum hose pressed against the crown of his head, and every few seconds a clot of some memory would dislodge and fly out of his mind like…like something.

Do they notice my goneness? Am I missing a something? A search party? My search party I’m missing? 

His feet suctioned in the muddy stuff when he walked. 

“Do you know the way?” It was a girl smaller than him. She wasn’t there before. “I can’t find the way.” 

“No,” he said.

“I’ve been here so long. They’ve left. They can’t find me. Gave up.”

“No,” he said. “They’ll come. What’s your name?”

The girl rubbed her face. She looked like she was from a different time. There was fresh muddy stuff on her too, slicked-over layers that had crusted over, dried and cracked. 

He was about to tell her his name to encourage her, but it didn’t come to him right away, so he reached out his hand instead. He felt like a big brother. Someone who had to be brave. “Do you have a name?”

The girl shrugged.

“You don’t know?”

“I think I do, but I forget.”

“Here,” he said, careful not to let his voice quiver. “We’ll find the way together.”

They walked a few steps, and then he stopped. “I don’t think we should go much further. We should stay where we are. When you’re lost, you should stay where you are until someone finds you.”

“I’m too far already, I think.”

The boy lifted one foot out of the muddy suck, then the other. He tried to think of questions to ask, but none came. What good was he?

They waited.

She stopped crying but looked as if she’d start again. 

“Maybe we could sing a song,” Caleb said.

“Do you know one?”

The boy started to sing but lost the tune. It was right there, but he couldn’t grab it.

“Do you know a song?” he asked.

The girl pulled something small out of her pocket, put it back. “What?”

“I don’t know.”

A hole ripped open above them and light poured in. The boy and the girl squinted at the brilliance. When his eyes adjusted, he said, “Look.” 

Men descended on ropes. “Caleb,” they hollered. 

The boy looked at the girl who just shrugged. “You?” he asked.

“I don’t think so?” she said. 

“CALEB. CAAALEB! Where are you? Take my hand!”

“Here?” he said. “Here?” Then, with more confidence. “Here. I’m here. I am here!”

The boy smiled to the girl. “They’re here.”

“Those aren’t mine,” she said. Sadness fixed on her face like the mud that dried in shells around her knees, the slope of her chin.

Maybe she had strayed too far. She had wandered so long, from another trampoline park, maybe from another town, another world. Maybe not a trampoline park at all. The boy could see that something had once lit up her face but was now gone forever. So, what could he do?

The boy reached up and felt a strong grip on his forearm. He was lifted out of the mud. He clung to the man’s arm and ascended into blinding white light above his head. The chill slipped from his skin, and the boy was glad when he could make out the faces of his rescuers in the warm buzzing light.

He couldn’t tell how he knew, but he felt as if he were about to go somewhere he wanted to go. There was something pulling him toward something he wanted to see. Maybe someone. His brain felt heavy and gray as he strained toward an electric, exciting new thing. Some kind of relief. He didn’t know for sure, but it didn’t matter. From here on out, he was a found thing, and he carried this knowledge with him, indelible on his heart. 

David Williamson is a writer living and working in Richmond, VA with with his family and a whole bunch of animals. Williamson’s stories have been published in X-R-A-Y, BULL, Maudlin House, HAD, and others.

Issue 1 Issue 1 Fiction

5 Stories

By Leila Register

Guest Room 

I hate this chair and this awful room. Nothing is where it should be. I’m having a hard time. People talk all day about pets and jewelry and lunch. Everywhere an ugly crisis. Dead birds under the highway. Gray kitchens. Computer screens. A man chasing ducks in the snow refuses to see me. Life goes on people say. What does that have to do with anything?


Paint by Numbers 

All these plans and outfits for what. Tedious dramas. Drinks before drinks. Red wine gone bad. Lent my favorite book to a man in love. Bought new shoes from a teenager. Everything disgusts me. I’m at the bar again. Paul Simon plays over an invisible speaker and I agree. I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore. I think wearing blush and waiting for someone are two of life’s greatest indignities. I think I should stop calling everything a crisis of personhood. I’m trying too hard always. I make a list of everything fun. Can barely read my own handwriting: food with too much salt, men I’ve never met. I leave the bar drunk drunk drunk. Go home. Watch Painting with John. His drone crashes into a tree at the opening credits. TV buffers before the show really starts. I hear “Bob Ross was wrong!” then nothing at all. 



I bought you a book at the bookstore. Inside of it are paintings of wild colors. The man who made the paintings was born in New York City. He fought in World War Two. He paints landscapes. He makes the sea bright purple. He makes mountains neon. He lives in Santa Cruz, California and has learned to surf. He teaches children about his wild colors. He has an easy life. The bookseller was kind enough to wrap the book for me. Even tied a bow around it. On the way to your house I practice telling you about the man. I realize I don’t know his name. Or the name of the book. I only remember the purple sea, the neon mountains, the new easy life. 


Postal Service 

In the movie there’s a drug that helps with awe. I am not feeling good or articulate. I’m distracted after three drinks. Am forced to confront my ordinary haircut. There’s nothing exciting on my face. I’m not spectacular in that way or wild enough. When did my life become this. You have to laugh everyone tells me. I’m trying. Glenn says the mail hasn’t come in a month, says he had to drive over to Ralph McGill and talk to the guy in charge. Recommended I do the same which no thank you. I have trouble putting my foot down. Always feel wrong. Have never successfully negotiated the price of furniture. I keep saying yes for some reason. I’m far from home. My dad is worried. I tell him the weather isn’t so bad over here. Big giant red blob coming he says. Ok I say back. I’m drunk. Pass out on the floor again. Wake up next to a postcard from a gas station in Delaware: a man lies dead in the sand, seagulls pecking at his eyes.



Marjorie’s been drunk for three days straight. Falls asleep everyday around 3PM while Frank does the crossword and makes up stories to tell her. It helps his brain, doing two things at once. Today the story was about a man named Peter the Mortician and 42 across what’s a three letter word for mimic. Marjorie’s been sneaking sips of vodka from the freezer in the laundry room. It’s easy to sneak from because it’s in the back of the house. Frank only goes in there to get the drill or wrench every time something breaks which is rarely. Frank’s tools live in the cabinet above the washing machine. Marjorie doesn’t like using the word live about tools but she once heard a home organization expert say it in a video on YouTube and now it’s stuck in her head. The expert was teaching a couple in Tulsa about clutter-free life. Asked the wife where she wanted her crafts to live. Explained how using human verbs for objects would help the wife treat her crafts more respectfully instead of shoving them every which way into a drawer. Marjorie doesn’t remember the end of the video, but she does remember the wife’s shirt was so ugly it made her laugh. Turquoise and white stripes with a bedazzled flower where a chest pocket might go. After the video Marjorie thought it’s sad how helpless some people can be. She practices using the word live for objects. Frank’s tools live in the cabinet. The cabinet lives in the laundry room. The laundry room lives in the house, and the house lives thirty miles away from the closest bus station. To tell the truth Marjorie’s been sneaking more than sips from the laundry room freezer. It started as sips but now it’s more like gulps. Sometimes the gulps last ten seconds, sometimes up to fifteen.

Leila Register is a designer based in New York. On her desk is a framed print of a speech bubble that says “As If I Wasn’t Embarrassed Enough.” Her writing has appeared in Hobart, Rejection Letters, and Maudlin House

Across The Wire

No Junk

By Leila Register

There’s a lot of pressure on this thing to be no junk. That’s why I called it No Junk. That’s how life works. You name something the ideal name and it just happens that way for you. I feel terrible. I feel in trouble. I keep saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Keep messing up facts in public. Last night I was at a table with strangers. One man wore a suit. I told him he looked like the movie The Graduate. He said his mom recently died and then I felt bad about what I said about the suit. There we all were. His mom and the suit and The Graduate. I asked him questions about his life. He said he wants to write but can’t. I said what happens when you try. He said I just get stuck. Today was supposed to be scattered storms but I look up and see the tree in front of my window and above it the blue sky and below that some leaves that look more yellow than green because of how the sun works. I read a lot of things everyday. I don’t mean books. I mean the internet where people share their ideas and worldview and images and sounds and terrible events. I also read stories but I have trouble finishing those. Sometimes the stories are on a website that is so ugly and depressing. Sometimes the lines are arranged in a way that makes the whole thing feel cheap and bad. Sometimes the words are broken up by a square advertisement on the right side of the screen. Sometimes the square advertisement is flashing. Sometimes whoever made the website decided to get creative with fonts. Sometimes all of this is happening at once and it makes me sink into an awful sadness. It makes me ask why am I doing this. Sometimes I read a story and I get to sentence three or four or five and I have to stop because things aren’t moving in a way I like. It’s hard to describe what it means for things to move in a way I like. It’s easier to describe what I don’t like. I don’t like when someone in a story does something “exasperatedly.” I don’t like when someone in a story tucks their hair behind their ear or giggles or “smiles sheepishly.” I don’t like the phrase “nothing special, really.” I know these are things people say and do in life and in the world but when someone does them in a story or essay it sounds fake and embarrassing. What does sheepish mean? Why would someone smile that way? I can’t imagine it. I don’t like anything I can’t picture or imagine.


Leila Register is a designer based in New York. On her desk is a framed print of a speech bubble that says “As If I Wasn’t Embarrassed Enough.” Her writing has appeared in Hobart, Rejection Letters, and Maudlin House.