The airboat lurched downward, causing the decanter of McGilly’s Best Brandy to slide across the credenza and smash to the ground.
“Damnation,” muttered the engineer.
She glanced murderously upward. The bridge was situated directly above her quarters, and given the lateness of the hour and the sudden turbulence, it was likely that Captain Melham was at the wheel-- and deep in his cups. How the old drunk had managed to gain a commission was still a topic of rampant speculation among the aircrew. As she reached for a towel, the floor sloped violently to the side, sending the woman crashing face first into the wall.
The engineer swore again. As soon as the floor leveled out, she laced her stays, and snatched her discarded day dress from the back of the chair. She was still buttoning the bodice as she stomped out of her room, headed for the lift.
Up on the bridge, pandemonium reigned. The crewmen were shouting to one another and racing between the instruments. The Captain was nowhere to be seen. Recognizing the first mate, the engineer whistled, causing him to turn and regard her with a panic-stricken visage.
“What’s going on up here?” She demanded. “Where is Captain Melham?”
“He-He’s indisposed at the moment, ma’am,” the mate replied.
“Dead drunk, you mean,” she snapped. “I suppose he won’t wake.”
The first mate didn’t answer, but the way he pressed his lips into a thin, bloodless line, confirmed it for her.
“Well? What’s the hullabaloo then?” she waved her hand airily, indicating the other officers.
“Pirates, ma’am. They’ve been tailing us for the last few hours. We thought we could outrun them, but they’ve gained on us, and now they’re directly overhead.”
“But this is a passenger airboat, not a cargo vessel. We’re not carrying any dignitaries. What could they possibly want from us?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, ma’am.”
“What are they flying?”
“A dirigible, ma’am.”
“A dirigible? How in heaven’s name are we unable to outfly a dirigible?! It’s a damned balloon with a propeller!”
“Not this one ma’am. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen. They’ve taken out the portside stack, plugged it somehow—“
“Divert all fuel to the starboard engines, give it everything we’ve got—burn the damned floors if we must!” she ordered.
A loud banging rang throughout the bridge, stopping every crewman in his tracks. Slowly, the engineer raised her eyes to the roof. There was absolute silence for one second, and in that second she reached out and grabbed tightly to the railing.
The ceiling exploded, sending shrapnel flying, and then came the horrid winds-- papers and officer’s hats being sucked toward the gaping hole in the roof. Men were lying on the ground. Some were bleeding. Others, like herself, were holding tightly to anything bolted down. The suction wasn’t as strong as she had expected, and quickly dissipated, leaving only the ear-assaulting noise of the wind.
In the midst of the chaos, a rope dropped through the sharp-edged hole, and a man in black slid quickly down it. He dropped to his feet, and unsheathed his sabre. She noticed the strange brass gears around the hilt before she took in any details about the man himself.
The first mate tried to scramble to his feet, but the pirate was quicker. His blade was at the man’s throat in an instant.
“SURRENDER THE BLUEPRINTS!” the man in black yelled.
The engineer gasped, and then quickly covered her mouth with one hand. She had told no one-- only the Queen knew about the plans. Well, the Queen and this strange, wild-eyed pirate. He was grinning at the mate, one eyebrow quirked saucily upward. He had the appearance of one who was enjoying a good joke.
One of the crewmen had regained his feet and found his sword. He was moving slowly toward the pirate, whose attention was focused on the first mate.
Without even turning, the pirate pulled a short knife from his belt, with his free hand, and threw it. The point pierced the advancing crewman’s shoulder, causing him to drop his blade.
“THERE ARE NO BLUEPRINTS!” she yelled.
The pirate regarded her with the same amused expression he had shown the first mate.
“THEN SURRENDER THE ENGINEER!” he said, turning back to the first mate.
Other crewmen were getting to their feet, raising swords and inching toward the man. Realizing his situation, the pirate lunged at the woman, spinning her around to put his blade to her neck.
“ONE MORE STEP AND SHE GETS IT!” he threatened.
“CALM DOWN. EVERYONE BE CALM!” she ordered. “NO ONE ELSE NEEDS TO GET HURT. THERE’S BEEN A MISUNDERSTANDING!”
“THE ENGINEER!” he bellowed.
“You’ve got the engineer. I’m the engineer,” she said. He was close enough to hear her voice over the wind.
“You can’t be the engineer. You’re a woman!” he retorted.
“NEVERMIND. KILL HIM!” she yelled.
She thought she heard him chuckle, but in less than an instant, he had wrapped the rope around the both of them and yanked it hard. They were ripped upward, through the hole. The airboat seemed to drop away beneath them, and they were left together in the air, dangling from the end of the rope like a worm on the end of a fishing line.
She glanced upward, to see what kind of an aerostat had managed to outfly one of Her Majesty’s fastest airboats, and her mouth dropped open in shock.
“Surprised are you?” the pirate said in her ear. “Well, you haven’t seen ANYTHING yet…”
Ava can spin a story like “and he heard his lover’s heart like a bell ringing, again and again in his head, reverberating as if her chest was against his ear and he wished he could hear that bell so.” Ava’s stories are melancholy, and they remember when you were a little one, and Ava talks about a ship that can fly you through the wet, cloudy nights. Ava says the ship will go to all places- like Paris, Japan, or even all the way to you in Iraq.
Ava says the ship-plane has big smokestacks that puff out black, unfortunate air that we must not breathe because it is bad for our lungs but it will not harm you because you have no lungs anymore. Ava says you like the ship because you never got to fly except just once to the war, but you probably didn’t like that any. But this ship is nice, and it will carry you on home, except not our home, but your new home. And she says you will sleep well among the stars, and if we wish real hard, we might look up in the night sky and see your ship soaring on in the night.
I wish real hard. I wish real, real hard.
Days and nights passed. Weeks passed. Months passed. Years passed. He wasn’t sure quite how many of any. When he had first disappeared or been lost or whatever it was he had been, he had kept track. He used a knife and made a mark in a tree on the piece of land he was on. Eventually there were so many marks the bark just fell away.
He had been there at least a year when a few others showed up. A few years more and some others had arrived. Now there were 40. They arrived in different ways. He had arrived when the Navy plane he was flying landed there. He didn’t remember landing. He came to and there he was. In the middle of a field. Somewhere. His radio hadn’t worked. His instruments did nothing but spin. The engine wouldn’t crank back up. He didn’t think he’d be there for long, after all, he had an expensive government plane…they would come and find it.
Others arrived in other ways, private jets, ships, boats, small planes, heck one man showed up in a hot air balloon. He had been trying to fly around the world. How crazy was that? Not crazy at all considering here they were, 40 people from different places…heck…. from different times…on a piece of land they couldn't get off, surviving the best they could.
It had been about four years ago as best as he could figure when the engineer’s plane had showed up. Which meant it was 3 years and 364 days ago that the plan had been hatched. These engineers looked at all that was on the island, they got out some fancy gadget thing they had called a computer and went to tapping on the keys and soon, right there on that device was a picture of this odd contraption. They said it would take time to figure out how to get it built but from all they saw they could build it and it would save them all.
He had worked hard following the plan they had laid out for them. It helped to believe in something he guessed after all these years of just surviving. Giving everyone something to work on had helped with morale. He couldn’t say what made these engineers think that they could take apart machines that, by all rights, should run just fine but didn’t, put them together into a different configuration and have a running vehicle but it was something to do.
Today is the day. Launch day, lift off day… it is the oddest looking vessel. Sure doesn’t look like it would go anywhere at all. It looked like part plane, part massive ship and the front, hell the front looked like a pelican! They stoked the fires in the boilers first. Once things had heated up things started moving within the beast. Soon propellers turned. The ship began to lift. People held their breath. They were waiting, as he was, for it to just drop back down to earth. That didn’t happen. They were moving. It was going forward. He looked out a small portal window. They were high enough now he could see the whole of the island that had been home for years. He could see far off past it to mountains that were snow covered. Everyone was excited now. They had exhaled. They were cheering.
A voice boomed over a megaphone held by one of the engineers. “Well my friends! We have done it. We have saved ourselves from the desolate island!”
People began to look towards each other. Looks passed between them. It was as if the thought that he had been thinking for five years had just occurred to them. Had they saved themselves or doomed themselves? Where were they headed to? When were they headed to? What if this Bermuda Triangle wasn't a triangle after all but a large circle impossible to escape?
Lauded as the perfect utopian society, Newton fell just as the others did. I always thought the name was trite. “Really, Anna?” I remember asking my wife. “That was the vote? Newton?” She’d replied with only a smile and sparkling green eyes. She still had hope at that time. That was eighteen years and six days ago, the day heavily soaked in prominence for the generation saddled with the responsibility of carrying on, yet still wallowing in the guilt of what had failed.
Our history, our continents…all had been lost to either fire or toxicity. Six thousand of us watched as our own ravished country died then scratched its way out of its own ashes. But instead of Phoenix, like the long-ago capital of the Southwest Regiment, we named it Newton. Did any of our citizens even remember reading about him?
Nothing was left of Old America except the Chancellor’s Complex, situated deep in the earth. This housed all of the medical, military and documentation facilities. Next to it, but closer to the surface, were the only two remaining Underground factories. Above the impenetrable bunker, our makeshift living quarters dotted the landscape out in the open. We felt vulnerable in our huts constructed of salvaged debris, but it was that to which we had become accustomed.
On the Day of Rebuilding and Renaming, we’d been gathered and taken to the Complex for the Counting. This was done, we discovered later, under the guise of us becoming “a team of equals” that would “reclaim our beloved country.” Patriotism still ran strong in our veins, even after our recent defeat. The real purpose of the Counting was to determine the classes remaining in our small tribe.
The Educated outnumbered uneducated, true to the “only the strong survive” quote of centuries past. Those who could build, plan, and predict were given jobs in the Underground while those not so able to facilitate our rebirth were made to organize and gather. All remaining military were taken to be trained as Cleaners. The women young enough to reproduce were taken to a medical farm called The Lab. It was the last time I’d seen my beautiful Anna. All of us were so stunned we didn’t realize we’d been shackled. They carted us off to our designated areas.
“We must tear down to rebuild. Our purpose is singular. Reclaiming the land, sea and air is our goal,” the Chancellor’s recorded diatribe repeatedly bellowed from the grey hallway speakers. They’d taken out most of the power lines; removed telecommunications. The stark horror of Cleaners, in their armed trucks and black uniforms, crowded the dirt streets Above and clogged our hushed conversations Below. Day or night, they were up there, scraping up debris, loading charred memories and carrying them off to undisclosed locations. Down in the Complex, they scoured the tunnels and hauled away those deemed non-compliant.
Housed in the Underground, we were forced to build the Adventure. It was meant for the Chancellor and his ilk. We knew we were to be left behind. The only way out was up. Our plan was formulated, and when word spread about the possibility of Newton falling, we began to carry out our mission.
Two years ago, when the Chancellor disappeared and the Cleaners took over, no one expected the outcome of today. Knowledge is power, they say. It’s another centuries-old quote, but one that proved true.
One thing about the military is their timing. Predictable and reliable, that lot. As we finished the airship, we managed to simultaneously build a power grid.
Today, we systematically locked down parts of the Underground. The race was on to hold off our aggressors while we prepared for flight. As the Cleaners tracked us with heat-seeking glasses and scanners, we were loading our lives into a monster that would soon take flight.
We’d placed cores of Euridian in our rooms. Building one for each of us, knowing the Cleaners would count, was no small feat. Proving more difficult was getting the cores to mimic our body temperatures and movements. Our clothing and helmets were then covered in the military’s own coolant gel used to cloak their armed vehicles. It was the perfect solution, using their technology against them. We could move, albeit slowly, and still remain undetected.
Just now, explosions have rocked the hanger. They draw closer. Gate 1 has been blown. Three remain until they are upon us. Everyone is stifling screams, covering their mouths with dirty hands.
Concern weighs heavy on us and sweat pours into our eyes as we fire up the engines: Can our tiny society hold out, locked in an airship for who knows how long? They say our fuel is contaminated, and hope is slim. This, however, is more promising than the alternative.
The Adventure shakes, seemingly in anticipation. Perhaps it is channeling the fear we all feel. I am signing off, but I leave these words for the person who discovers my recording:
The people must govern themselves. There is no answer in monarchy. Value education over athletics. War is not the answer.
Re-reading my advice, I find it almost as trite as our society’s last moniker.
Perhaps the Adventure will make up for that. Godspeed to all of us.
Captain Jackson Holmes
Anthony Miller-- 5, Kristen Selleck--25, Jonathan Mogensen-- 5, Madison Bolen-- 10, Stephanie Kenific--5, Howard Bushart-- 10, Jill Fink--5, Julie Pierce Driver--15
Billy Bob Came from a Long Line of Squinters
Billy Bob came from a long line of squinters; At least to hear him tell it.
Oh, he knew well enough what OSHA advised and even what they required but, I mean, after all who can trust the feds anyway. Billy Bob always said, “Anybody who’ll lie to you about Area 51 and the tracking devices they hide in vaccination needles will lie to you about anything.”
“You want some safety glasses or a face shield, Billy Bob?” Gator asked. Gator was Billy Bob’s latest helper. He was a good enough hand if you wanted somebody to fetch welding rods or grinder blades and all that but to let him have a cutting torch or a power tool in his hand…well, Billy Bob said that was “invitin’ disaster” like breaking a mirror while walking under a ladder with a whole pack of black cats crossing your path. Billy Bob wouldn’t let him touch the grinder. That was probably a good idea.
Folks first hear he’s called Gator, some think it’s because he’s from Louisiana. Well, he is but that ain’t the point or the reason. Folks call him Gator because the sumbitch can bite through damned near anything and once he clamps down on something it’s all over. That and his skin is always flaking and lumpy; I think it’s a disease.
“Nah,” Billy Bob said. “Such things are just for them that ain’t payin’ attention. My daddy never wore no face shield or glasses when he was grinding. Ain’t never been a Pettimore needed to. Even when we’re squintin’ we see more than most folks with a telescope.”
“Yeah,” Gator said, “But federal regulations say—.”
“Now ain’t no point goin’ on about what the feds say. I’ve always said that anybody who’ll lie to you about Area 51 and tracking…Whoa! You boys see that?”
Billy Bob had suddenly jerked his head to his left and then back like he was a prizefighter dodging a punch. “That one almost got me,” he said, grinning at me. “You see that Jack?”
“I didn’t see nothin’” Gator said.
“I think so,” I said, though if I had to tell the truth and shame the devil I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.
“You think so? You think so? Why, that was a scrap of steel you coulda whittled a Buick outta. That’s what I’m talking about. That thing woulda left either one of you two dead and bleedin’ on the floor. Gotta have good instincts, boys. Good instincts and good reflexes. Pettimore reflexes.”
Billy Bob went back to grinding. The wheel dug into the bevel and smoothed the weld for Billy Bob’s next pass. I liked Billy Bob. He promised to teach me to weld and I admired him for that. Billy Bob had all sorts of other talents too, besides welding and good reflexes. For instance, I could name any country song—any of them, no matter how far back and Billy Bob could sing a dirty version of it. Like I’d sing out, “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” and Billy Bob would yodel from under his welding hood “I don’t want your goddamned mansion or a beer in ever room, all I want’s a little nooky and I’d really like it soon.” Or I’d holler “Stop the World and Let Me Off” and Billie Bob would sing a filthy version of “Stop the world and jack me off” that would make a hip-hop porn star blush. I don’t even want to tell you about what he did with some of the tunes my mama was partial to. I wouldn’t tell her either.
Man, I wish I could do that.
“Well, I was looking off over yonder,” I said, nodding out the shop doors to where a delivery truck was coming through the gates. I didn’t want to get on Billy Bob’s bad side. “I didn’t see anything but I thought I heard something hit the wall. Sounded awful big.”
“Well, I still ain’t seen shit,” Gator muttered. He was pouting a bit, likely because Billy Bob trusted me to grind but not him. “Ain’t heard nothin’ neither.”
“Anyway, it’s quittin’ time,” Billy Bob grinned big at me. “What say we go get us a beer?” He held his hand up like he was a deaf guy signing a “C”. “Looky here. My hand’s already got a Lone Star cramp in it.”
Billy Bob said the same thing every day at quitting time and every day I laughed. To tell the truth, I kinda wished I could be more like Billy Bob.
“Mine, too,” I said as I followed him out the door.
“I don’t see why he won’t let me do any of the cutting’ or grindin’. How’s a fella gonna learn?”
I scowled over at Gator.
“Well, you didn’t hear nothin’ Jack. No more than I saw somethin’. Suck-ass.”
I pretended not to hear him as I followed Billy Bob out the door. Billy Bob opened a can of snuff and dumped musta been a table spoon of it into his lower lip. None of that pansy-ass rough cut stuff either but the powdered kind so that when he said something again it puffed out like he was sending smoke signals.
“C’mon, Jackson, you’re burning daylight.”
I hurried to catch up.
“First round’s on you.”
I didn’t mind. Billy Bob could sit at table in a beer joint and talk, or dance, or shoot pool, any old kind of thing, and dip that snuff and never spit.
Man, I wish I could do that.
At the Factory
It was just another night shift; another 8 hours on the paycheck. Jester, as they called him at the shop, was just another regular guy in coveralls and sporting stubble.
His arms ached. His back screamed at him. The work at the factory was hard, but the physical demands of his hobby were even more taxing on his aging body.
Tonight, he took more pleasure in his work than usual. The bracket he was building would serve as the perfect way to secure his subjects while he experimented on them. They were medical studies in Jester’s mind, and he didn’t need some piece of paper from some fancy place to know the delicate lines of muscle, the fine line between exsanguination and blood loss. He was constantly reminded of how his younger brother had gone to medical school. “Joseph is so successful, James. Why can’t you do something to better your life?” his mother would whine at him in her old lady, spiderwebby voice.
He didn’t need school. He needed sharp instruments, secure tie-downs and privacy. What could someone learn from the dead? A cold cadaver, lying on a stainless steel table couldn’t tell you shit. But a live specimen, screaming in pain as he sliced slowly into their skin…now, that was real research. It was amazing, how much pain some could tolerate and how little others could.
Jester finished the bracket and threw it into his backpack. The cute redhead at the Circle K needed to have her pancreas removed.
Sitting at the kitchen table with photos splayed over the surface, Dan pulled one from under several others and just stared. He remembered the day he had taken the photo, about 20 years ago. The whipping he got for taking it was probably why it was so vivid in his mind. At 14 years old he would have thought himself past the age of a whipping. Thanks to his art teacher he was in the second semester of an advanced photography class. He had snapped the photo on a whim when he walked into the shop where his dad was working on something. The whipping came when his dad saw it on display at the college’s art fair. To him it wasn’t a great photograph. To him it was harsh. He thought his son was making fun of him. He hadn’t been. At least he had waited until they got home.
His dad had been one of the hardest working people he had ever known. Also one of the hardest. He knew his dad loved him. That was never a question. He just couldn’t show it. At least not to his children. Now that he was older he often wondered what his mother had seen in his father….how in the world did such a sweet, caring, demure woman end up with such a brash, withdrawn man. He didn’t know if he would ever know the answer to that question.
He had been so lost in thought he hadn’t heard his sister walk up behind him.
“Of all the photos you have taken all over the world, even up against the ones you have sold for thousands of dollars, this is my favorite.” Sylvia laid her hand on his shoulder. “I sure don’t understand why daddy hated this picture.”
“I think it’s what he saw in it.” Dan replied. ‘He saw old. He saw unkempt. He saw the nasty habit he fought to be rid of for I don’t even know how long. He saw a job that was back breaking. He saw the fact that he busted his ass 60 hours a week for barely enough to get by. He saw the job he did to care for us and it reminded him of what he put behind him, what he could have been.”
Sylvia pulled up a chair and sat next to him. She reached and took the photo from him. “Funny. I see so much more. I see a man that loved his family so much that he sacrificed his wants for our needs. I see a father that never missed a game or a school parent/teacher meeting. I see a loyal husband. I see an artist.” She glanced up at her brother “He was, you know, an artist. Those metal figurines on mom’s shelves, they’re amazing. You get your artistry from him you know? I see, in this picture, the man I hope my sons become. Strong. Respectable. Hardworking. Loyal.”
From behind them came the frail voice of their mother…. “I see my knight in shining armor.”
The Day the Magic Died
Once upon a time, there was a greedy king who ruled over great lands. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Could you be a little more specific? That’s not exactly rare,” you’re saying. That’s fine, you’re right, but hush up and listen and you’ll understand why I’m sharing this tale.
King Charles had the capability to be very clever, but first on his list of priorities was power. His forefathers had garnered much land, but it was not enough for Charles, who had his eye on the neighboring kingdoms. One by one, they were conquered until only the Kingdom of Magic, Altaria, remained.
Magic was something Charles despised, simply because it was a power he could not obtain. Magic was something one had to be born with, and the only thing Charles was born with was the throne. He hated magic to the core of his being and desired it all be destroyed. Fighting magic, however, is not simple, especially an entire kingdom filled with Altarians who reciprocated Charles’s malice. He needed a special tool to accomplish this feat, and according to his advisers, only one man had the potential to create this. The man, coming from a line of blacksmiths centuries long, was known to speak quietly against the crown, as his family was heavily taxed and starving; however, this was easy for Charles to manipulate. Threaten a man’s family and you have his word.
The blacksmith worked and worked until his hands were raw, and even with the advanced technology the King had provided him, the weapon was not a simple task. It was a neutralizer, and required blood, sweat, tears, and a little magic in and of itself to work. If the blacksmith understood why the tool did what it did, he did not share the knowledge with the King, and although it had only existed in oral tradition, it became clear that it did exist. As the neutralizer got closer and closer to completion, things around the blacksmith’s house began losing their beauty – their magic – in a growing radius. Flowers stopped growing. Birds would leave and not return to nest. The nearby river became stagnant.
Finally, the weapon was done. All magic would have been removed from Charles’s kingdom (due to the immense power of the neutralizer) if not for the special casing the blacksmith created that allowed it to be moved and to be contained. Charles wasted no time in assembling his army and using the shock of the Altarians at the failure of their magic to his advantage, and he quickly overpowered the crown.
I tell you this not to depress you or leave you hanging. I tell you this to make you understand the danger of having too much power, and I tell you this to explain why we no longer have an abundance of magic in our world. But if you look around, the flowers grow; the birds return every Spring; the rivers flow. Magic is still in the world. It happens every single day, though not as abundantly as it once was.
I also tell you this story to share a secret that very few know, and that I hope you will pass down to those you deem deserving: when Charles stormed the Palace of Altaria, the King and all of his family were nowhere to be found.
There is still hope.
The men in my family lose their sons. It’s like a curse, and it’s been happening for longer than I can remember.
My Grandpa died alone in a VA hospital when I was ten years old. I might have seen him twice in my whole life. My old man hated him. He used to tell me that his father took him behind the barn and whooped him with a leather strap a couple times a week. My Dad said he didn’t do nothing to earn those beatings either. Grandpa just thought he needed them to make him tough, so he wouldn’t flinch at anything. Grandpa said that being tough was everything. When my Dad turned 18, he went off to the war and swore that if he lived through it, he’d never go back to that house again.
Maybe my Dad thought he’d be a better father than his dad, and maybe he was, but I never gave him credit for nothing. The man worked two jobs, and he wasn’t around much. When he finally bought that mechanic shop, he was so proud. Course, he put me to work straightaway. First, I had to fetch tools and hold lights, and later, I worked on those old cars myself. I hated it. I hated that there was always dirt under my nails, and that I never seemed to get my hands clean enough. He’d always tell me he was doing it for me, that one day that filthy, little shop would be mine. He never asked me. I didn’t want it. I wanted to go to college and maybe find one of those hippy girls to drive around the country with. He never took the time to ask me. He never took the time to know me.
When I left, I left with his insults and curse words ringing in my ears. I wasn’t gonna go back either. I never did get to college. I got a good job welding at the Ford plant, and been there ever since.
Now, my boy… my boy was gonna have all the chances I never had. I worked hard for it, putting money away so he could go to college, and he went. He got himself a degree in engineering, but I wasn’t there to see him walk. He came home once, before he graduated, and he told me that I pushed him his whole life. He said that all he ever wanted was to play in his stupid, old band, with his stupid ass, stoner friends, but he felt like he had to live out my dreams for me. He said it was because he had always felt sorry for me, that I had wasted my whole life, and he felt like it was his job to validate my existence. He said he wasn’t gonna let guilt ruin his life anymore, and he wanted me out of it. And then I said some things, and I guess that even when I said ‘em, I knew I was gonna regret it.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and I worked something out. See, my Grandpa was in World War I. He never talked about it, but I did some research and he was in some of the worst fighting. If what I read was true, then he was trapped with his division behind enemy lines at Argonne, being fired on by their own men. I read about how they used the bodies of their friends for cover. My Aunt said he was different when he came home. He came home mean… and broken somehow. See, he tried to give my Dad what he thought was most important-- strength in the face of adversity, hardness. My Dad worked like a dog to scrape up enough to buy that garage, and maybe he thought that giving it to me would mean I wouldn’t have to work like that. And all these years later, I tried to give my son what I wanted most. Every one of us turned around and built a wall between ourselves and our fathers, and we never realized that in building it, we’d cut ourselves off from the next generation.
But that stops with me. My boy lost his job last month. They said he was a dreamer. They said he was impractical and that his project had been a waste of their investment in him. They said his plan would never work. Well, I got my hands on them blueprints of his. I won’t say how, but I got ‘em. Maybe I don’t have a fancy engineering degree, but I can read a blue print, and I can weld, and I believe this can work. I believe it so much I mortgaged the house and used up my savings. I’m gonna build it, and then they’ll see he was right all along. He’s got to be. I heard from my sister that I got a grandson on the way, and I’m gonna see him grow up with his shoulders straight. He’s not gonna have to carry that burden of all the other failed men before him, and that’s a promise. So, like I said, it’s gonna work.
NYTimes (Op-ed): The Genie Speaks- Robert Albright, in His Own Words
With an invention comes a patent. And with a patent comes publicity, which means reporters lurking under your apartment window in the seedy Brooklyn streets. And with publicity come the buyers, young people, mostly, hearts and eyes on fire, demanding to use your product. And truly, you can charge them anything, because the young and impulsive are the best customers.
The concept works well with them. They step into the cylinder, and it’s the last thing they ever do. The Genie (not a name without irony) puts them to sleep, and they are able to experience their three last, greatest wishes. And so do I, albeit on a screen just outside.
Is it amoral? Is profiting off feelings wrong?
Well, I am not without a conscience. Just the other week, my youngest employee, a lovely, spritely redhead named Alison decided to undergo the procedure. It would give her closure, she said, and that was what she needed more than anything. She was willing to pay the price.
The first experience was a woman clearly her mother: same red hair, same green eyes, but more robust. Alison confronted her. She was confident, she wanted her mother to know how years of neglect had ruined her life, made her question every relationship she would ever have. And her mother listened and she apologized. Alison found that she pitied her mother. They exchanged “I love you,” and the conversation was over.
The experience shifted. She was standing in front of a crowd. I was in front, and this struck me as odd. I was looking at her with rapt attention and definite admiration. Her family was there, even her mother. We applaud Alison for all the good she’s done. Some final recognition for her struggles.
And then Alison is in a darkly-lit room. I am the only other person there. I watch as I take her by the shoulders. “You’re beautiful. Exquisite,” I say words that have never left my lips. Tenderly, I kiss her and lay her down on the couch. I watch myself make love to her, watch as she opens herself like a book sincerely ready to be read.
“I love you forever,” she whispers to me. And the screen goes dark.
I stare at it for several long moments before I open the cylinder. Still lovely.
But I have a 5:00 appointment.
The world is her oyster! But who is she and where is she going?
Bring it, writers!
Benjamin Maltby, Adventurer at Large
Benjamin Maltby preferred to tell anyone curious enough to ask, that he did not recall much from his childhood. Truthfully, his recollection of that time was near perfect. He watched the 1950’s pass from his bedroom window. Inside his house, the Great Depression was still raging. His grandparents had raised him on maxims such as: ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child‘, ‘Hard work is its own reward’, ‘Early to bed and early to rise’, and several others that his grandmother had stitched, framed and hung on the wall. No one was surprised when he grew up to become an accountant.
What no one knew, was that deep inside of Benjamin, there lived an adventurer!
He was thirty-two years old when the first Indiana Jones movie hit theaters. From almost the start of the picture, Benjamin had felt a deep, almost spiritual connection to the character. He never told anyone, of course, but after his eleventh or twelfth trip to the theater his wife purchased a black fedora for him as a joke. It did not make him laugh. The hat sat on the shelf in the coat closet for the next thirty years.
And then, at the age of 65, something very peculiar happened. Benjamin was finally given his chance to become an adventurer.
Now there were no booby-trapped temples, or lost arcs in Detroit, but there were plenty of dangerous, abandoned buildings. And for some strange reason, people on the internet liked to see pictures of these places. It took someone courageous to do that-- buildings could collapse, floors could give way, asbestos could be disturbed, or workmen could discover you and chase you out. Ben had a camera, and at last, a reason to wear the black fedora.
Standing outside of the Michigan Central Station on that rainy, grey morning, Benjamin could hear the Indiana Jones theme music swelling in his head. Once the tallest depot in the world, it had proudly opened its massive, bronzed doors to the public in 1913, and closed them for the last time in 1988. What a beautiful decay she was! An 18-story tower of broken windows where the winds blew in and out of the gaps like God playing a harmonica… and for the moment, it was all his!
The building was circled by a tall chain link fence topped with razor wire, but Benjamin knew the way in. He circled round behind the building, to where the old platforms were, and found the cut in the fence that another explorer had made years ago. His heart racing, he pulled the chain linking apart and tried to squeeze through, but the cut was made for a much smaller person than himself, and the jagged edges of the cut links snagged at his shirt and camera strap. When he tried to wriggle his way through, a sharp bit ripped his shirt and scratched a deep gouge across his protruding stomach.
Benjamin yelped. His heart beat faster, unevenly it seemed. It thumped hard three times and then skipped a beat, thumped hard again and skipped another. He stood still and tried to take a deep breath, but he couldn’t seem to draw in enough air. It was only seconds before he felt sharp pains shooting down his arm all the way to his fingers. He clutched at his chest. This was a heart attack! He tried to scream, but immediately became dizzy.
And then… and then, he was on the other side of the fence.
He wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but there he was anyhow, and he felt fine. His fedora had fallen to the ground, and so he bent down, dusted it off and set it back atop his bald head.
Benjamin was most of the way across the rusted tracks when he noticed the woman on the deserted platform. As he approached, he saw that she was sitting on an old steamer trunk and clasping an umbrella, staring down the tracks as though waiting for a train. She was dressed-up to travel, the way women used to when he was a small boy.
“Hello!” he called.
She was young, perhaps twenty or so, and wore bright red lipstick. Her hair was curled and set beguilingly under her cap. She looked as though she had stepped off of a World War II era poster ad for Coca-Cola.
She smiled at him but didn’t return his greeting.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked.
“Waiting for a train,” she said.
“Well, I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re a bit late. The last one left about twenty years ago.”
“Oh, I’m not worried about it. The train I’m waiting for always runs right on schedule. Say, has anyone ever told you that you’ve got your father’s eyes?”
Benjamin wasn’t sure how to take that. What did she mean? His father had died in Korea before the girl was even a glint in someone’s eye.
“I think you have me mistaken for someone else,” he said.
“Ah. Seems you’ve also got your mother’s habit of correcting people!” She grinned even wider.
Benjamin stared at her. When he was nine years old, his mother had dropped him off at his grandparents’ house and told him to be a good fellow until she got back. She had never come back. This young woman’s odd manners were quickly draining his enthusiasm for adventure.
“Do you need to make a call, maybe? Does anyone know you’re out here… by yourself?” he asked.
“Oh no. I’ve been waiting here a long time, Benny Boy. A lot of trains have come and gone, but not mine. I made a promise to my boy, and I always keep my promises.”
Benjamin flinched at the words ‘Benny Boy’. He had been called that a great deal by someone once.
“Your boy?” he asked, clearing his throat nervously.
“I said I’d come back, didn’t I now? There was a car accident, Benny Boy, an awful bad one--”
Sirens wailed in the distance, snapping him out of the nightmarish spell her words were casting.
“I’m sorry. I’ve… I’ve… somewhere to be,“ he said, and turned around to hurry back the way he had come.
He had only reached the end of the platform when he saw the ambulance in the distance. It pulled off the road and into the vacant field beyond the fence. Against the fence, a man was slumped, and a few people were gathered around him.
Benjamin took a few more steps and stopped. It was the tiny, black hat on the ground next to the man that took his breath away. The same place where he had picked up his fedora and dusted it off.
Slowly, Benjamin removed his hat and stared at it.
“BENNY BOY!” called the woman.
He turned and saw her waving to him. Far down the track, a train was approaching.
Benjamin glanced between the ambulance and the train several times. Finally, he set his hat back on and swaggered down the platform to meet the train. He was Benjamin Maltby, adventurer at last.
Written by Kristen Selleck
Entry # 4:
Ursula Weber heard the train before she saw it. The chug of the engine, the warning blast as it passed through the small hamlet to the east. She saw the headlamp of the engine as it climbed the soft rise of land and made its way to where the station once stood. Ursula was not uncomfortable though the steady rain had not abated all afternoon. It was hardly cold, unusual this late in the waning days of winter, and the rain made the world smell fresh, as the world should smell in the Spring. It was pleasant sitting there really, at least during her wait. Now that she could see the train, the sadness settled over her again.
Heartbreak rides the western trains.
Ursula knew this. She had seen the heartbreak disgorged in bleeding throngs of moaning, brain-damaged, blind lumps of meat that had once been men. She knew from this observation. She knew from this experience. The westbound trains destroyed worlds. Perhaps a year or two in the past, she might have argued that direction had nothing to do with it but that was before 1942, before Ernst’s return.
She would not argue that today. She had after all seen him off, held him, promised to wait, and promised him a future where brave knights and their ladies were always young, strong, beautiful and complete. She had stood at the edge of a platform a lifetime ago, watching the train, waving until it disappeared into an abstract distance of steppes and rivers and places she could neither imagine nor pronounce, disappeared into the distant east. It had been raining that day, too.
But on that day, like all the days of her life that had come before, the future was a thing of promise, a thing to embrace, a thing to desire. That day was not this day. That day was certainly not the day when the future ceased to exist, when the world tumbled around her ears in the smoke and flame of American bombs, in the rubble of Berlin, in the choke of dust and smoke that was the death-rattle of the Fatherland in 1945.
The world ended seventeen months after Ernst had left her. The world ended on a foggy day, a silent day when wet mist wrapped the world tightly in a blanket of soft oblivious solitude. Ursula had stood upon another platform and waited with Frau Grotte and her husband. The Reichsbahn engine growled from the depths of the thick gray world and coughed to a hissing stop like a dragon from the Norse Sagas. That was frightening enough in itself—then the doors on the cars opened for the bleeding remains of the iron youth. No “happily ever after” fairy tale this. No, this fairy tale was the very essence of the German mind, the German soul which posited suffering and death and horror as the highest virtues. Where slaughter, even of the self—no, especially of the self—is expected and lauded.
Mein Ehre ist treue.
Ernst was entirely gone. A body remained, of course, but no Ernst. He looked beyond his parents, beyond his fiancé, beyond anything. Certainly beyond any hopes or dreams they shared before the body followed Ernst anticlimactically to the grave and left his mother marking time until she joined him.
Ursula waited. Perhaps she was marking time as well. Who could know? She would not go back to Berlin though the past certainly seemed a better place than the present. A future would have to be somewhere else, someone else.
A porter hopped down from the train with a step stool to help Ursula board with her luggage.
“And where are you heading this fine day, Fraulein?” the porter asked cordially.
“Saxony,” she said. “I have an older sister there. Dresden. It is a nice town.”
· Westliche Züge – Western trains
· Mein Ehre ist treue – My honor is loyalty.
Written by Howard Bushart
Entry # 2
Dying to Live
Bryan began, “I had a conversation today. With a girl. She reminded me of you. Long black hair, hat pulled down over big blue eyes, very feminine. I was on my way to get to you, and she was on her way out of town as fast as she could get there. Waiting for the train, I asked her, ‘Where you from?’
“She gave me a look, very measured like, and she said, ‘Well, I’ve been asked that many times thus far, and each time, I spun a different story for the asker. But likely, we will never cross paths again, so there is no need to fictionalize, is there?’ She had a low, attractive voice.
“‘No need at all,’ I mumbled.
“‘No need at all,’ she repeated. ‘Well, sir, well, I am dying.’
“‘ Dying?’ I said. ‘Of what?’
“‘Well, of a bad family,’ she said. ‘I’ve been running from them since I was ever able, but you know I’ll never get away.’
“‘They’re after you?’ I asked her, and she continued: ‘Yes, until my last breath, they will be close by. If I sip bourbon after a good day’s work, there will be Mother, and if I breathe in the smoke of a passerby’s cigarette, there will be my brother, Joseph. And when my lover of two years chokes me within an inch of my life, there will be Dad.’
“And she lifted her hat up to show me bruises on the sides of her face, and I saw the furious red marks on her little white neck.
“‘That’s what you’re running from now?’ I asked her.
“‘Well, yes,’ she said. ‘Adam, my lover- it is ironic. Adam in the Bible being the first man, but I wish he were the last. But it makes no difference, because I am dying. It’s my family that’ll be the death of me. I’m on my way to a fresh start that will be no different.’
“‘Well, miss,’ I said to her, ‘if you say it like that, then I’m dying, too. Aren’t we all dying, too?’
“And she looked me right in the eyes, and there was a moment like maybe some part of her had been broken that was right now fixed, like a broken pot getting put back together. The pot isn’t glued back up, but all the pieces are there if you want them to be, you know? And we exchanged names, hers being Adrien. And Adrien was on her way to two towns over, to move in with her sister for some time.
“And I got thinking, sitting next to Adrian on the train and then walking here to you, that maybe something good is on its way. That maybe I’m not going to come here so often, and that I could drop in on Adrian before going home. That maybe it’s time for her to feel better. And me, too. That’s it.”
Bryan laid the bundle of flowers at Sarah’s grave and walked on past the gates and dirt roads until he reached the place where trains pulled in.
Written by Stephanie Kenific
Entry # 1:
Seize the Day
Okay, seriously? Who decided who to hire at this place? I'm here to order my morning coffee, just like every other day, and Hal grimaces at me from across the counter. It’s nothing personal, that’s just how his face is. I go in and make the same order that I make every single day, gently correcting him as he spells my name wrong – again. He insists on calling me ‘Maxie’ instead of ‘Macey.’ I’m not sure why I expect any different. Isn’t that the definition of insanity or something?
My borderline insanity is only worsened by being jostled around on the tube. I’m usually very patient, but not today. Upon entering class, my professor hands me a paper with a stark, red ‘F’ on it. He waddles away immediately as the next victim enters the classroom, so I have to wait until the end of class to ask what on Earth compelled this little man to fail me on an assignment I spent weeks writing. His answer? I used the incorrect heading! My assignment was one of the best, but apparently that incorrect heading was just too overwhelming for anyone to bear.
So, I did what any insane person would’ve done. Screw stability. Screw familiarity. Screw ‘same old, same old.’ I went home, packed my bags, and headed to the train station. It began to rain while I was waiting, which was fine with me, because rain has always calmed me down in turbulent times, and this definitely constitutes a turbulent time. But I needed a change, so I made one. As reckless as it is, as shocked as my family was, and as scared I am that I will be back in a month, I am here, and I am going. I know that ninety percent of this confidence is the product of naiveté. But whatever. Life should be an adventure.
Written by Madison Bolen
Entry # 3
"Rain, rain go away. Come again another day."
"Pitter patter raindrops falling from the sky. Here is my umbrella to keep me safe and dry."
"Rain on the grass. Rain on the trees. Rain on the rooftops. But not on me."
Those forgotten childhood rhymes were keeping Olivia's mind off the here and now. She was grasping for anything to help her focus on something else. The sing-song chants helped her control just how much sorrow she let in.
It's funny how a broken heart can bring out the poet in even the most jaded cynic, but she wasn't going to give in and let herself wax nostalgic about the good times and missed what-ifs. No, she was going to embrace the violent beauty of a disappointing love. She was going to let the sadness wash over her like the not-so-metaphorical rain and try again. She was going to get the hell out of town and see what she could do to be proud of herself again.
"The itsy, bitsy spider went up the water spout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. Up came the sun and dried up all the rain. And the isty bitsy spider went up the spout again."
Her luggage was soaked and the rain was a cool relief from the burn inside. She put away her umbrella and let the crying sky hide her tears for just a moment. It would be good again, but there's nothing wrong with letting melancholy take you for just a while, so long as you come back.
"When the rain is over the sun begins to glow. Little flowers start to bud and grow and grow and grow."
Written by Jonathan Mogensen
Entry # 5:
What Never Was
It was an exhilarating, confusing sort of ecstasy being with her. We bandied about the term “soulmates,” as sappy as that sounds, but it felt like it fit and we never expressed disdain of its sticky sweetness. We were together for decades as friends, then surprisingly, yet not surprisingly, melding liquidly into lovers with a swiftness that was breathtaking and violently passionate.
She destroyed it with deceit, as quickly as one could torch an old and battered book with a sturdy match. I despise the aching metaphor of it all; the words wasted and the large, charred part of me that acts as a cancer upon my every breath. I want so desperately for it to have been imagined, but I am still lucid enough to know it was not.
I don’t know what to make of it, the rush of heat being met with stark, chilling cold, but I know I can’t stay in this life as it is no more.
I have ten seconds to decide whether to step onto or in front of the oncoming train.
Written by Jill Fink
Entry # 7:
It’s Raining in Sandsbury
Today was his chance. He had kept notes. For months now he wrote down everything about the days he saw her. It took a few months for him to see the pattern. It had to be raining. It had to be raining and he had to be on the 3 pm run through Sandsbury. When those two things occurred at the same time she would be there.
Always there with the same trunk used as a bench. An old ratty hat box sitting in the rain. A black umbrella partially shielding her from the rain yet completely concealing her face. Just sitting there. Every rainy afternoon at 3. On the bricks where the old Sandsbury station used to stand. The station that the train hadn’t stopped at in forty years or more.
He needed answers. He wasn’t sure why he felt the need to seek her out. To find out her story. All he knew was that he had to.
It was about 2:45 when he heard the distinct click of heals on bricks. The sound of something large dragging and bumping, the slight muffled groan of a woman struggling with a cumbersome load. The sounds came from behind him. He didn’t move. He was suddenly overcome with fear. Unexpected fear. Taking several deep breaths he slowly turned.
She was beautiful. He had never seen her face before now. She was wearing a hat, some kind of beret looking thing, her hair was shoulder length and brown, and her eyes were a stunning blue. He wasn’t sure what he had expected up close, maybe to see right through her, but he didn’t. She seemed as solid as he was. She walked right past him. Struggling with the trunk and hat box, almost dropping the umbrella several times as she attempted to keep it over her. She stopped and sat down. She turned her head looking down the tracks for the train they both knew would be there in a few minutes. He knew the train would not stop. She expected it to.
He cleared his throat. She didn’t turn or show any sign that she had heard him so he just waited. Waited and watched. Shortly he heard tires on gravel and an engine cut off, he turned to see a woman get out of a newer model car. She looked at his car seeming a bit shocked to see him there, probably as shocked as he was to not only be seeing a ghostly figure up close but to see another living human in this desolate place.
She walked up and stood beside him. Neither of them spoke. The three p.m. train was coming. The train passed quickly, but there just behind it, almost imposed over the newer train, was an old train. That train slowed and stopped. The woman with the baggage stood, looking up and down the platform as if expecting someone. The train slowly started moving again. The woman slumped back to the trunk and slowly faded into nothing.
It was the woman beside him that spoke first. “Would you like to go for coffee in town? I can tell you her story…well what little I have pieced together.”
“Sure,” he replied “I need to know.”
As both cars pulled away from the old brick platform she appeared again. This time she had no trunk, no hat box and she was no longer looking down the tracks for her long lost love… she was looking toward the road where the two cars could be seen fading into the distance and she smiled. After all these years they had finally found each other again. She could rest now.
Written by Julie Pierce Driver
I don't always wear a box on my head, but when I do...??? And go!
They called him ‘monster’.
Unless they were doctors. Doctors had a larger vocabulary, and hence better and more official-sounding words to throw at him, like ‘Proteus Syndrome‘, and ‘cranial deformation’. They probably thought that knowing all these impressive words gave them license to stare. They always did. Sometimes they even called in other doctors, just to stand and look at him. They would nod at each other. Sometimes, one of the younger ones would say, “…isn’t that what the Elephant Man had?” Everyone would nod more.
But mostly, it was monster.
The tumors on his face had grown so large by the time he was twelve, that he could no longer see out of his right eye. This made him easy to sneak up on, and the other boys in the schoolyard soon began to make a game out of it. They called it, “blind-siding the monster”, and the object was to race up on him and shove him hard enough to make him fall down--extra points if the monster cried.
The game grew so popular, that he spent most of his time in the yard pressed against the brick wall of the school, while the other boys circled him, calling out taunts, and trying to get him to chase them. The game moved inside after awhile, and boys would try to knock him down in the hall or in the bathroom. It grew so popular that the headmaster took note, and deemed it a distraction from learning. The headmaster took him out of his morning lessons and told him that he would have to leave school, as he was the source of all the disruption.
His mother would be upset. At home, he was little more than a constant reminder that the one child she had managed to produce was a horribly disfigured monster. While away from home, she could brag about his high marks, and how many A levels he would probably receive in the future.
His other reason for wanting to stay, was Miss. Piney. She was the cook, and as such, was also the butt of many of the boys’ jokes and pranks. She was a large woman, with coarse skin and a crooked nose, but her kind heart had given her the most beautiful pair of twinkling blue eyes imaginable. She always had an extra cookie for him and a smile. She rarely spoke, but when she did, her words were always full of encouragement. After the headmaster had had his say, he went straight away to the kitchen. He liked to sit among the empty boxes near the walk-in cooler and watch Miss. Piney work. She never seemed to mind him.
It was here that he had his brilliant idea. Miss. Piney had the habit of plucking her eyebrows, and then drawing them in as high, rounded arches, giving her the air of someone who was constantly surprised. He had often thought that she might be better off using a dry erase marker. She would then be able to change her expression as the situation required. He wished his own face was a clean sheet of paper, where he could create upon it anything he liked!
The light bulb of inspiration clicked on above his head! Grabbing one of the empty boxes, he raced back to his room.
The next day, he was ready. In a folder, he had several sheets of paper, each sheet bearing a face with a different expression. He had included pensive, sad, angry and stoic. Perhaps a little bit optimistically, he had chosen to tack the ‘happy’ expression to the front of the box. He had even thought to include several blank sheets of paper in the folder, in case he might encounter an emotion he hadn’t thought of. He had cut a small hole to see from, but it helped very little, and so he had procured a cane from the theatrical department and had practiced walking with it during the night.
That morning, as he made his way across the schoolyard, it was strangely silent. Normally, the voices of hundreds of boys created a wild cacophony of sound, but as he walked all was quiet. He could not see well enough to know, but he had the feeling that they were all around him, and that they were watching him. He turned his head to the left and to the right, nodding.
He was halfway across the schoolyard before a voice rang out.
“Look at that, will ya?”
And another voice came quick behind the first.
“Monster in a box!”
“KILL THE MONSTER!”
In a split second, they were upon him. He struck out, wildly, with his cane, swinging it side to side. He felt it hit again and again. He heard grunts, shrieks, the sound of wood striking flesh. Someone grabbed at his ankles and he brought the cane down hard. Over and over he struck the lump of flesh by his feet. He heard squealing, crying, screams, and then silence. The entire yard was silent again.
He lifted the box slowly, squinting in the morning light. There was a boy on the ground. His eyes were closed, and blood ran from his nose and ear. Angry, red welts covered his face.
He turned and ran, not ran so much as stumbled. He passed the school, he passed the dormitories, he passed the gates and kept on going until he found himself alone in the woods and threw himself down on a log.
He sat there a long time. At last, he took out the folder and a blank sheet of paper, and drew a new face, tacking it over the first.
They called him monster… and maybe… they were right.
Written by Kristen Selleck
ALTERNATE NUMBER ONE:
Outside the Box
Remy sighed and walked through the forest, dragging the end of his flute on the ground. He’d gotten dismissed from class early again, for the same old punishment. He just wasn’t any good at being creative. The assignment was to compose a new song, but he just kept falling into the same old comfortable patterns. That was just how he was – neat, tidy, stable, orderly, mathematical. Being wired for math and science doesn’t matter, though, in this world. What matters is being out there and coming up with new things; can you paint? Can you sculpt? Can you draw, or compose? Remy would try, but for all his efforts, he got C’s in all his core classes. Electives like physics or calculus were A’s, of course, but no one takes those seriously. In fact, it was likely they would not even be offered at his school next year for lack of funding.
It was hard to see through the box on his head. This was the typical punishment for non-creative people. Why that was the punishment of choice, he had no idea. He guessed he was supposed to figure that out, but again, all he could think about were numbers and equations. Checking that he was alone, Remy sighed again and slipped the box off. I might as well practice for Painting III, he thought. He dipped the end of his flute into some mud and crudely drew a face on the box. Big, bushy eyebrows and a wide mouth, just like his own, two canines poking out from the lips for fun, and some crushed berries to add color to his eyes and nose. There. That’ll do. Now to get off the ground and see where he had wandered off to. Adorned with his new head, Remy scaled a tree, settling on a sturdy branch.
Remy began to tap his flute on the sole of his shoe. It’s just not fair, he thought. Why are artistic skills the only things that matter around here? He would never achieve a high-paying job like an artist or an author. Tap, tap, tap, went the flute. The best he could hope for was the slightly-better-than-medium-wage job of doctor, and even that was a stretch, because so few schools offered such a program. Most people were healed through art therapy, or, in dangerous cases, herbs. Illnesses of the mind were most feared, as the body is just a tool for our minds to utilize for creation. Doctors were for people outside of society, people who got rare sicknesses like the flu or an infection. Even then, it was highly frowned upon to resort to such nonsense – clearly, the treatments rarely worked, and if the person got better, it was due to a placebo effect rather than the actual medicine. Taptap, tap, taptaptap, the flute thudded as his frustration increased. How was he to make it in a world he just did not understand? He would never be out of this damned box.
Then an epiphany so powerful hit Remy that he could not help but exclaim aloud: “That’s it!” There was a way he could escape the box. I have to think outside of it. That’s what it all meant. That’s what they were trying to tell him! Remy removed the box and quickly took out his composition sheet, lightly scrawling numbers on each of the lines. Instead of letters, now each note was a number to him – they want a new song? A new song is what they will get! Pi would be his key to life – infinite and random. Remy counted off the digits of pi, putting music notes wherever a corresponding number was. “3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9, 2...”
Remy grinned, scurried back down the tree, and began his way back to class, music in hand.
Written by Madison Bolen
ALTERNATE NUMBER TWO:
Model in a Box:
“Jesus Dana! Hurry the hell up!” came the muffled voice from under the grumpy faced box. “I have a splinter or seven the size of toothpicks in my ass and God only knows what the hell is crawling up my leg!”
“Oh quit whining. You agreed to be my model for this project. And I’m the one down here with fire ants on my feet and mosquitoes the size of Volkswagen drinking so much blood I’ve probably become anemic!”
When Dana had asked for a volunteer from her circle of friends to model for her most recent assignment in her photography class she knew they all had some idea of an enticing setting, beautiful clothes, runway ready hair and makeup, the whole glamorous package that is imagined with the word “model”. This was about as far from that vision as a person could get. She had chosen her friend Grant out of her host of volunteers. She watched the shocked looks cover the faces of Dave and Brad because she had passed up their finely honed bodies. She saw the utter confusion on Sara’s face when her blonde hair and blue eyes were passed over for the gaunt frame of Grant. Grant, the self proclaimed nerd of the group. Grant who actually owned the tap shoes so she didn’t have to rent a pair. He was rather excited...until today.
“You know how to make a man feel great don’t you, Dana? I thought I was going to be some nerd super stud in a cosmic science lab or something and you have me dressed as a… a…. hell I don’t know what the hell I am dressed as…. but I know I’m in the middle of damn no where. I’m probably going to need major surgery to remove these limbs from my ass and no one is ever going to know it’s me because you had some kindergartner color a face on a damn box!”
“You brainiacs never get it. You have no concept of art.” Dana continued adjusting the lens, honing in the aperture, clicking shots from different angles, moving so the light would be adjusted.
“So, tell me. Tell me why I am dressed like an old time vaudeville act from the neck down with the face of a damn Wild Thing from Maurice Sendak's kid book?”
The squeal that erupted from Dana startled Grant so much he tumbled forward and landed face first in the dirt. He threw the box off his head and looked up at her “What the hell?” he questioned.
"You get it! You so totally get it!" Finally! Someone who understands.
Written by Julie Pierce Driver
Other entries in no particular order:
It’s occasionally tempting to go outside without wearing my brave face. It only takes a second for me to realize that doing so is just a wild notion better left in the corner of my mind where things seem brighter than they are in reality. My sensibility takes over and I know I can’t manage it. I can’t even fathom it.
Those who don’t know me should not have the right to see my emotions, worries, or cares. Those who do…well, most have no idea what to do with them. These faces of mine are like a box of random gears, wires, knobs, and odd tools found at a yard sale. I’ve seen how everyone reacts when I’ve dared to show them. I can read their thoughts: “What do I do with this? Do I build something with the collection, or treat each piece like separate entities and start from zero?” I hear their quips: “Cheer up!” “You okay?” and “You need to get out more.” How should I respond to the odd array of advice and inquiries? My knee-jerk reaction produces awkward answers and attempts at a fake smile, both of which only serve to make me feel worse. With good pre-planning and enough time, I can sometimes retaliate with humor-slash-sarcasm. If the stars are in alignment, I parry with stellar wit.
This is the face I wear when I can be myself. I’m diligently working on cosmetic improvements. I’m working on myself as well, sorting out the spate of thoughts inside my head. I make small victories here and there, so I know I’ll weather this storm. Until that time comes, I’ll just stay here until I’m forced to put on a different face or the real one improves; whichever comes first.
Written by R. Jill Fink
Tears of a Clown
All Barry ever wanted to do was make people laugh, but he flubbed all the punch lines, exotic animals had a natural aversion to him, he honked his horn at inappropriate times, hated small cars, and was deathly allergic to cosmetics. The cardboard box shtick had gotten him a bit of attention, but the money never started rolling in. Boxes get expensive, at least if you want ones that aren't stained, crushed, or covered in warnings and labels, they do.
Nope, enough was enough. He was going to take the handkerchief rope from his sleeve and end it all. He drew a sad face on his box, climbed up that tree and was about to fashion for himself the world's most colorful noose when he looked down. He was two feet off the ground. Barry was afraid of heights.
Written by Jonathan Mogensen
The Way of Nothing
The moss just grows and grows and maybe it dies. It just doesn't care. The moss is an asshole.
Who the heck is this guy and why is he on my couch? Or your couch? Or whomever's couch he is on? Good luck, writers!
They made good on their promise, which isn't something you can say about politicians very often. They said they were going to make the government smaller and they did. They knew that people probably wouldn't take too kindly to them just deleting entire departments and administrations, so they did the next best thing and just rolled them together into one small organization. Half the cost for twice the inefficiency – that's a deal in red states.
Gerald knew better than anyone just how damn dumb the new set-up was, but he was glad to still have a government job, so he kept his mouth shut and smiled like he liked his rebooted career. On Mondays and Thursdays he oversaw drug tests. Wednesdays and Fridays were spent inspecting refineries and plants for environmental disasters. Tuesdays were his favorite because he got to do what he actually went to school for – managing one of the few national parks that hadn't been clear-cut or wrecked by natural gas fracking.
Unlike most of his fellow patriots, it was the weekend that Gerald hated the most. As an on-call astronaut, he had to stay suited up just in case he got the call. He wouldn't. The last shuttle had been parted out before the new president had officially been handed the keys to the castle. But, Gerald had to wear the itchy goddamn suit all weekend anyway. Of course, the worst was when he had to pee. A spacesuit is a bitch to get off in an apartment bathroom. Such is life when you're the SSA of the FDAEPANASANPS.
by Jonathan Mogensen
Houston, the Eagle has …
What? Landed? Perched? Crashed despondently back on the sofa cushions amid the clutter of a world that had slipped away unnoticed sans even the brief brightness of a falling star. One small step for man notwithstanding what’s left once one has stood on the moon, gone boldly and all that, dared to leave the capsule, floated in “most peculiar ways”? Popcorn and flatulence in an Extravehicular Mobility Unit seems a lousy way to end a day much less a career, a vision, a commitment, a life. It seems—it should—it—I want my MTV.
by Howard Bushart
“Come to Mars!” they said. “It’ll be fun!” they said. I’m gonna be real honest with you: after a while, Mars gets pretty boring. They sell the idea to you, hype it up, you know? There’s water here! There are (maybe) some Martians! There are craters and stuff. We all get a house on a Martian lake (red water! Amazing!), there’s cutting-edge technology, all the works. You can bring your immediate family, and they give us ten postcards to send per year. I guess the purpose of that is so we can brag to people and make them want to come, too. Does the Constitution apply to Mars? Was that in the contract? I’m calling on my freedom of speech here. MARS SUCKS. You have to wear this big clunky suit until they work out the oxygen machines. I don’t even remember what I look like. There’s not even wi-fi, okay? I actually miss wasting my life away on Facebook, pretending to care about other people's lives. I’m going insane. We tried to play baseball one day, and well, let’s just say that due to the lack of gravity, there’s now a baseball floating around the planet. There are TVs, though! And we have popcorn and a nice couch! So you go to watch a movie, right? SURPRISE! There are only three channels on Mars, people. THREE. One is a news network; one is a children’s network; and then there is a Spanish channel.
I’LL NEVER FIND OUT HOW HE MET THEIR MOTHER.
by Madison Bolen
“Fucking Jeannie!” muttered Major Tony Nelson.
One might assume, upon finding a magical bottle containing an all powerful, unlimited-wish-granting genie, that one’s troubles might be over. One might further assume, if one were a red-blooded, all American male, that discovering said genie was a skimpily-clad, blonde bombshell who lived only to serve, and referred to one as ‘master’, that one’s first wish was granted without even asking!
One would be wrong… on both counts.
Upon first meeting the genie, whose name fortuitously enough also happened to be Jeannie, he had thought her somewhat vapid in nature. What with her bubbly personality, desire for flattery, general naivete about life, and obsessive jealousy, he had written her off as a typical female-- excepting, of course, the whole ’more-powerful-than-any-force-of-nature’ thing.
In retrospect, this might have been a mistake.
It wasn’t as though Tony Nelson was the sort of man who wanted the moon. He hadn’t asked for much. He had wished himself promoted, and gone from Captain Nelson, to Major Nelson with the blink of her eye. He had wished for a slightly larger house, and she had accomplished this with just as much ease. He had wished super herpes into existence and then wished that Captain Roger Healey would be afflicted with them. He felt justified in doing so. Healey was supposedly his best friend, but he was always trying to cut in on Tony’s action where women were concerned. However, Tony wasn’t the sort of fellow that couldn’t forgive a fault. He had even wished a cure to super herpes into existence… after a few gratifying weeks of listening to Healey cry every time he stood in front of a urinal.
Things had only gone south when he wished for a bevy of women dressed as Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders to cover him in ranch dip and then lick it off. Jeannie had granted this, though for weeks afterwards, her displeasure manifested itself in constant nagging and malevolent little tricks whenever he made a wish.
Hot piece of harem ass that she was, he had still grown tired of her. So he hatched a plan. He wanted himself rid of her once and for all, but he had learned that he had to be very careful what he wished for. Making wishes had turned into a double-edged sword with her. If he simply wished her to be gone, she might go and take everything he had wished for with her, and now that he had a life-sized statue of himself made entirely of beef jerky surrounded by a fountain of beer, he didn’t know how he would be able to live without it.
So, after thinking on it for awhile, he had called Jeannie into the living room and made his final wish.
“Jeannie,” he began, “I’m sick of your jealousy and your nagging and so… I wish that you would get out and leave myself, my house and everything in it, ALONE!”
With a blink of her eyes, she had granted his final wish, leaving himself, his house, and everything in it, quite alone… on the moon.
At least she had blinked him into a space suit, though he wasn’t sure where the oxygen was coming from or how much of it there might be, and HEY- he thought hitting the ‘on’ button of the remote control--at least the TV still worked!
His happiness was short-lived. As he tried to change the channel, he found that only one station came in… Lifetime.
“Fucking Jeannie,” he muttered again.
by Kristen Selleck
Oh, fuck. Not again.
by Anthony Miller
“Oh, I’ve known about the portal behind the cushion in the sofa for years,” I said confidently. “All women know.”
The sound that came out of the phone was a muffled sort of ‘huh--whaaaaa…..?’
I had the NASA guy on speaker phone. I didn’t want Star Man to think I was alone. I was though—utterly alone. I also didn’t necessarily want Star Man to know that my reason for shutting myself away in the closet was fear. I was plenty scared though. What was I going to do if he found me in here? Spear him with my umbrella? Of course, with my luck, I would end up getting a man on the other end of the line. Doesn’t NASA employ females at all? Men are such naysayers!
“Of course.” I went on, “How do you think all that loose change gets in there? Not to mention pizza bones and random French fries. Pretty sure there’s a modulator in there. Or some other kind of mechanical wizardry. I always suspected that it led to some other dimension.”
“Ma’am?” Nasa guy asked. “Are you trying to tell me that there’s a device in your sofa that somehow manifests American currency?”
“No, no!” Sheesh! How the heck did a slow-witted guy like this get a job with Nasa? “American coins are made in American mints. I would think you’d know that. And it doesn’t manifest them. It sucks them down in. It sucks the change out of your pockets and--”
Was that a sigh? Did he just sigh at me?
“Ma’am.” He sounded firm now. The dim-wit was getting firm—with me! “I could refer you to the Psychiatric hotline if you’d like. Perhaps there’s a prescription you’d like refilled?”
“Oh yeah, Mr. Smarty-Pants?” I could feel the pitch of my voice rising. This always happens right before I melt down. He was skating on thin ice here, and too much of a numbskull to realize it. “Well where do you think the other sock goes, eh? The one that’s always missing from the pair? Do you think the dryer just swallows it?” Honestly! I’m beginning to imagine him, wrists and ankles tied, stretched out on a rack and me with a heated cattle prod…
“Lady,” he went on. He was calm. Of course, it’s easy to be calm when a star man has not somehow reverse modulated into your living room—the same living room that you recently painted sage green and beige because you were told those colors would make the place feel Zen-like. Well, Zen flew out the window when the star man flew in, didn’t it? I could use some Zen right now, but No! In my hour of need, Zen was elsewhere, just like that cheating husband of mine. “I don’t think NASA is the agency you need, Ma’am. We don’t know anything about missing socks. Maybe you should call the CIA. They might be able to handle that.”
Did he just snigger? He actually giggled there, didn’t he? The self-righteous prig! And now! Oh, dear God in heaven, now I am beginning to hear strange blips and gurgles coming from the area I know my portal-ridden, old couch lives in. I had wondered if Star Man was dead. He wasn’t really moving when I first spotted him, but now it seems he’s coming back to life! Why did I choose the closet, damnit? The closet doesn’t lock. I should have gone into the bathroom!
“Can I talk to your supervisor?” I plead. I’m running out of time.
“Oh, he’s no longer here, Ma’am. Yanno… governmental cuts and all. There are only two of us left in the entire program now, though I’m not supposed to tell you that.”
The bleeps and blips are getting closer now.
“Well, lemme talk to him!” I shriek.
And here is where he clears his throat and his voice gets all quiet-like. I can almost feel him leaning in as if to tell me a secret!
“It’s not a ‘him’,” he says. “I mean, he’s a ‘she’. But just between the two of us, I don’t think she can help you. She’s kind of a token NASA guy. She wouldn’t know much about modulators. On the other hand, she might have some helpful tips regarding those missing socks.”
And thank God! A woman on board! If I die here, at the hands of random Star Man, because this nincompoop did not take my phone call seriously, at least I’ll go knowing there is hope for the space program after all…
Detective Hanover stood in the entrance to the living room surveying the scene in front of him. He could honestly say it was the damndest thing he had ever seen in his life. Most of the time when you entered the scene of a death you had an idea immediately how your report would look. Suicide. Accident. Murder. But the scene in front of him now… there were no words.