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The Dive
By Joseph Grant

     For all of his young adult life, anyone who ever met Diego Santiago told him he held the promise. Some guys he knew from the neighborhood used their heads and got degrees, while some used their street smarts to just get along and their gang ties to get ahead. Diego used his fists. He was lightning quick, like his old man who had been a boxer before him and as a result of that promising lineage, he followed in his father's gloves to become undisputed champ in the East Los Angeles middleweight division.
     Diego sparred at all of the legendary gyms along Broadway and East Los Angeles and even had a few amateur bouts in the old Olympic before they closed it down. He joined the ranks of the immortals who had fought there, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, Danny Lopez, Ernie Lopez, Mando Muniz, Enrique Bolanos, Manuel Ortiz, Bert Colima, Henry Armstrong, Speedy Dado and Oscar De La Hoya to name a few. Diego had even been there for one of his father's fights to actually see the legendary tuxedoed ring announcer, Jimmy Lennon, preside over the evening's bout. Lennon, although Irish, was a fan favorite among the Mexicans for his excellent pronunciations of Hispanic names that had left lesser announcers hitting the verbal canvas. The admiration ran both sides of the rope regarding the audience and the beloved announcer who prided himself on giving respect due to each local fighter. But as Diego rested on the table in the locker room after his latest triumphant bout, he wasn't feeling so promising. His girlfriend's brother and his punk friends had come along to watch him fight. Normally there was nothing wrong with such a scenario, except that his girlfriend's brother had a very important message for him.
     "Yo, wazzup?" Luis said in an over-glorification of his accent and lurching street swagger. He rolled in, ignoring everyone else in the room and before Diego could even answer, continued on with the real reason for his visit. "La Familia, they says they wants you to take a dive when you go up against Munoz, homes." Luis nodded confidently, licked his lips and wrung his hands.
     "And I say...get the hell outta here!" Diego's manager, the renowned Pappy O'Brien dropped the bandage scissors and shrilled into the sweaty locker room. "We've got no time for your middle school bullshit!"
     "Step off, hombre viejo." Luis patted his torso in gangsta fashion. He and his friends drew closer and puffed out their chests.
     "You little shits don't scare me." Pappy said and stood. He had been sitting at the champ's side until then but could take no more. He rose head and shoulders above his young adversaries. "I fought real men in my day, like Jack O'Laughlin, Nate Gunderson, Billy Young, Lucius Mathers and Brock Quarry. I sparred with Graziano, Frazier, Ali, Lyle and Marciano. Those were real men. Not like you little punks."
     "Ancient history." One of the thugs snickered.
     "Yeah, we ain't in'nerested in your resume." Luis stepped forward. "Homeboy here needs to take a drop in the fourth round with Munoz and if that ain't-"
     Was all the skinny cholo got out before Pappy slammed the kid into the wall, startling others in the locker room. "And I said get the hell outta here!"
     Luis recovered, brushed his wife-beater off and pushed away his shocked friends trying to help him to his feet. "Get off!"
     "Come on, guys!" Diego stood and outstretched his arms between the two. "Knock it off! Luis, you gotta go, man."
     "You got it, homes." Luis said, taking Diego's posture as his last chance and walked out of the locker room with his two buddies following behind. Outside in the hall Diego could hear them cursing and knocking over things that sounded like garbage cans. He shook his head as Pappy continued to remove the stained athletic tape from his hands.
     "Buncha little punks." Pappy griped as he labored.
     "He's just lost."
     "I don't care." Pappy exclaimed. "I don't give a rat's ass if he ever gets found, neither."
     "C'mon, he's a good kid. Marisol's mother threw him outta the house when he got Graciela knocked up."
     "Not my problem, kid."
     "C'mon, Luis just needs to find his way, Pappy." Diego said. "Like me when I met you." He smiled.
     "That kid ain't nothing like you, D." Pappy snarled. "You got something. He got nothing. You don't just come in here like you own the joint. Who does he think he is, trying to come in here like he's Pancho Villa?"
     "Ouch." Diego chuckled at the characterization."Well, you know what I mean. You're different. You're not like those punks out on the street."
     "I'm a good one, huh?"
     "Aw, knock it off." Pappy blurted. "I'm in no mood for games. You know what I mean."
     Diego smiled, closed his eyes and shrugged. He knew Pappy was old school and he was a little late in coming to try to change that generation. Back in the day, Pappy's generation would say something inappropriate and not have a care in the world and if someone was offended, to hell with them. When times began to change and it started to matter, it was always pushed off as a joke, but racism was no laughing matter to Diego. He had fought his share of fights in the schoolyard over someone saying something disparaging about him or his family. Racism was still as common as it ever was but it hid in dark corners now, put on suits instead of sheets and wasn't touted into the light as much as it once had been. He knew in the end that Pappy didn't mean it. It was the way of his generation as much as it was just Pappy being Pappy.

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The Lady from 103rd Street
By Travis Baker

     Devin Vogeland slept on a couch at the Williamsburg Art Nexus. He wasn't technically supposed to be sleeping there but the cost of the studio space eliminated the ability to pay rent on even the smallest part of an apartment so he pretended to work late into the night and fall asleep in the exhausted throes of artistic creation. Occasionally he would find himself snuggled against a warm body in a soft bed and, as often as not, it had been the embrace of the mattress he had desired as much as the girl.
     He could afford paint but not canvass so he painted on the chunks of wood and metal, glass and plastic he would find abandoned to the streets. Struck by longing, he once dragged a stained and moldy mattress back four blocks and up the three flights of stairs. He leaned it against the wall and began to visualize twisted figures writhing on the surface. Were they fucking or dying? Fighting or dreaming? He didn't know.
     "Dude," said one of the guys he shared the space with. "Nobody's gonna buy that stinky thing."
     "They'll buy the art on top of it," Devin had said.
     "No, seriously. There's health code violations."
     He dragged the mattress back down the stairs and dumped it on the sidewalk. His clothes smelled not well. He painted a pig on the back of a toilet seat cover. The mattress was gone the next morning.
****
     "Where are you off to today?" Marjorie Atkin's husband asked as he stuffed a bagel in his mouth and reached for the bag that carried his ipad, his paper, his notes, pens, the book he'd been trying to read and several forgotten cough drops going soft and sticky at the bottom.
     "The Met!" Marjorie called out. She was trying to stuff her two-year old Cameron into a pair of red overalls but he was having none of it.
     "I want monster trucks!" he kept saying.
     "Not for Play day." She snapped him in and stood back. His hair had finally come in, curly and red. People pointed to his curls on the street and in stores.
     "The Met again?" Her husband careened towards the door.
     "There's a new Italian Renaissance Exhibit!" The Arts Society, as the ladies called themselves, went to museums and galleries, matinees and lectures with the occasional stroll through a botanical garden or historical walk thrown in for good measures all under the guidance of Mr. Williams Scott with his ever present silk ascot and tales of artistic wonder. Marjorie occasionally tried her set of watercolors but these efforts most often resembled tears. She encouraged Cameron with finger paints and play-doh.
     The little tyke cried and fought with the snaps.
     "Have fun!" her husband said as he pulled the door closed behind him with his foot.
****
     "DAGBLATT!"
     Gregg Trout owned the Broadway Used Book Store knew about 10% of his employee's names. His daughter, Celia, after several trips to Europe, a degree at Sarah Lawrence and one failed marriage had recently returned to the fold and would take over ownership someday. She moved about the six miles of books stuffed into the five miles of shelves with a clipboard and a green pen.
     Mr. Trout waved him over. There were more books to go back to Lin to be priced and then more books to be shelved. On the top of the pile was a Lucien Freud catalogue. He gawked at the monstrously obese nude, how she spilled over the cushions, how the rough and gritty surfaces bespoke such a crumbling of aesthetic. Artists no longer painted the gods, he thought, we no longer paint the kings and queens or even the happy children running through water lilied streams. We paint fat blobs on stained couches. He was reminded of the girl he'd spent the night with a few months ago. Her bed had been large and she'd taken up most of it.
****
     Marjorie stood before the wide white steps leading up to the small door that gave entrance to the vaulted gallery, the great stair and all the little rooms and grand halls beyond. She no longer took notice of the hot dog cars or the caricature artists that lined the sidewalks or the tourists from near and far that loitered about taking pictures of themselves and all their surroundings. She had a lifetime membership and marched right in.    
****
     Devin leaned against the wall that faced 12th Street and rolled a cigarette. He hated rolled cigarettes but he could not afford to buy packs. He smoked and watched people scuttle by. Where were they all going, where were they always all going and when would they all get there? When did they ever stop and let their souls drift deeply away, he wondered? Was it when the coffee stains on their napkins reminded them of some summer night long ago? Heather came out to bum a smoke. She worked in Biography and lived in a hole above a door in Astoria. She'd come over to the studio a few times because he asked her to model for him and slept on his couch. She was thinner than he, flatter than he and didn't shave or wash as much. They'd snuck up to the roof one night and found a hammock which soon led to Devin finding himself inside of her as she swung back and forth, toward him and away as they watched the millions and millions of lights and fire fly lives flicker along the bridge spires and out over the water.

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Night and the Texas Sky 
by Travis G. Baker
A grunge rock gut punch. Dark things slither around in the heat under all the Night and the Texas Sky. Set in Houston just before Nirvana conquered the world, it is about a band and the four messed up young people who must negotiate the collective horrors that haunt them all.


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Summer of the Long Knives
by LS Bassen
What if Hitler had been stopped early on? Is history the story of what was or what could have been? Does art reflect the ideal or the real? Explore these thoughts in a page-turner set in Berlin in the 1930's. Beautifully written the text will transport you to that time -- in a parallel universe.

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The Purple Crackle
By William Matthew McCarter

     All of us were looking forward to a lively night of decadence and pleasure over on the Illinois side of the river. Ole Mark Twain painted the Illinois side of the Ole Muddy Water as being almost idyllic and in many ways it was. While The Purple Crackle was not the rustic utopia of Jackson's Island, it did have some qualities that old Tom and Huck could never have imagined - Free flowing liquor twenty three and a half hours per day and eighteen year old college girls trying to get someone to buy it for them.
     The black light magic of The Purple Crackle played tricks on my weary eyes. All of us looked like distorted figures in the funhouse mirror of a Saturday morning alcohol binge on the borderlands between fantasy and reality. I only hoped that the honeys in this fine establishment liked blue jeans faded on farm boys. After we got past the bar near the entrance, we found our crew from Annie Batiste's. John immediately started talking to Larry and Aaron and I began a kabuki dance on the razor's edge of fact and fiction, flirting with the Piankashaw girls sitting at an adjoining table.
     Helen bought Roscoe a shot of '43 and a cold bottle of Busch beer. Roscoe held it up into the air in a mock "cheers" and yelled, "To me, cause it's my fuckin' birthday." Roscoe downed the shot and chased it with a drink of his cold beer but didn't say anything. His eyes moved around menacingly eyeballing our little circle of faces. Roscoe was 38 years old and hadn't been counting since he got kicked out of high school. I looked at this little celebration as the twentieth anniversary of his eighteenth birthday.
     Helen was doing her best to ensure that Roscoe had a happy birthday by feeding him drinks and dancing with him whenever the band played a song that he liked. Roscoe loved to dance and wasn't half bad at it, but he often struggled with finding a partner because he needed about six beers in him to get his Mister Bojangles groove on and after about six beers, what little social skills he had went right in the fuckin' toilet.
     John was getting pretty loaded, which was very unusual for him, and I slowed down on my drinking, which was unusual for me. I had learned through the bitter classroom of experience that if you were out on the hunt, and I was pretty sure that I was, there was a fertile hour with us whiskey drinkers. Smart money said that you had to be alert. If you missed that fertile hour, you were no longer with that lascivious harlot who could, and for that matter, should star in a porno film, you were with an unidentified body that had been dredged up from the mighty Mississippi. When you're drunk off your ass, you are damn sure that the piece of ass you picked up looks just like Shania Twain when you are pounding her pee hole. But those drunken memories of Shania fade pretty damn fast when you wake up with a skank that looks a whole lot more like Mark Twain than she ever did Shania.
     Besides that, I could drive drunk but I couldn't drive wasted - at least not in Southern Illinois on a Friday night. Annie and Cindy, the two girls at the adjoining table, were paying an unusual amount of attention to me so, as a consequence, I slowed down my drinking even more, because I knew that I would need all my wits about me if the situation arose where I might be able to get in their pants. I didn't know it then, but that was about as lucky as I was going to get that Thursday night. Lady Luck had other commitments apparently.
     They were both way out of my league - at least by Piankashaw standards - they were both rich - at least by Piankashaw standards - they were both a part of the upper echelon of respectable families - at least by Piankashaw standards. Rich girls from Piankashaw's elite families have always married rich boys from other elite families but they have been known to go slumming every once in a while. I was having a hard time trying to figure them out. Sometimes their expressions read, "I'd like to take you out in the alley and blow you because I'm in college and feel like goin' out slumming" and sometimes, they looked more like, "I could do better than you in a homeless shelter." This confusion made me want to pace myself with the alcohol even more - at least until I figured out if they were slummin' or I was bummin'.
     Before any of the idle prattle with the Piankashaw girls could evolve into even the remote possibility of me going yodeling in one of their canyons, Helen rounded us all up and told us that we had to get out of there. Now Roscoe has been known, on occasion, to irritate people. It is a trait that has been with him for much of his star crossed life and this was one of the moments when Uranus was circling Mars or some of that astrological shit. According to Helen, Roscoe had gone to the bathroom and after some punk assed preppy fucker made a disparaging remark to him, Roscoe turned around and pissed all over the poor kid's Levi's. Since Roscoe was too scary to confront, the little chicken shit told the bouncer and they threw Roscoe out.
    
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Letters Written at Sea
By Robert Klein Engler

Editor's note: I found these letter in an old sea chest that I bought at an estate sale while I was visiting Hamsted University last year. Many random thoughts and reflections were in the letters and accompanying papers. I have arranged this material chronologically and edited it for readability. Readers should know also that the following comment, written in red ink, appears at the bottom of the last page of the papers: "Years have gone by now and I have not spoken to Frank since."
    
     The moon is behind my back and the black sky sparkles with stars. I am on the S.S. Confree, sailing the North Atlantic to Canada, and then down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal. Below deck, young lovers share the new flesh of their bodies. On deck above, a poet studies the glittering surface of the sea with the old chrome of his eyes, eyes pock marked like the moon. You know, Catherine, I am that poet. Who the lovers are I do not know. I am wondering now if I should have taken this cruise alone. There is so much romance revolving around me that I feel more single than ever.
****
     The poet in me thinks of his father. He was a man who died young and never left his own country. Pressed in the vise of his body, he longed to set down the burden of himself in some green place. Instead, he worked hard in a factory. Certainly, the aroma of youth fell from him the way it falls from the lovers below deck tonight. Sweet father, why did the world not bend when you pushed? I will tell you my love, if you will tell me yours. Who will hold me now when I am hurt, Catherine? Whom do I hold? Do you ever ask yourself that, especially now after your divorce? I know you still love Howard and he was awful to you. That is the reason why we are friends. We both feel in love with the wrong man. When we come close to the raw want of our heart, we see how much we are like one another. Those who hold the body of another, rocking on the old emerald sea, how do they know the truth of art? The wide audience of their arms enfolds a mutual breath and not the cold truth we look at. Read the record of father, mother, child. The gravestones dust away in sunlight, the green light of mold glows over the years like a bruise on the world's white thigh. Holy morning of tears, we suffer knowing and we suffer not knowing. What was the desire in the bones of those now held by the earth, or those the sea drank with relish? See how the sun rises above the ocean now. All the wonder of being alone is forgotten by lovers who sleep below. Such a mystery loneliness is to them, like Saint Elmo's fire to the Eskimos.
****
     The other night I had a dream about my editor's lover, Roger. You remember him from the barbecue we attended before I left? He was the one into bodybuilding. In my dream Roger was dressed in a tanktop, but didn't wear anything on the bottom. He lies on his back and puts his legs in the air to show me where he had shaved off his genitals. I don't know why he did it, but he said it was painless, and when I looked between his legs, I saw a red scab that looked to me like the sore that has been giving me trouble inside my nose. The doctor told me my nose was sore because of the dry air of winter. It itched so much I picked it constantly, but then picking it was also a source of pleasure. Funny, my nose doesn't bleed now that I am on the ship. Isn't the language of dreams odd? Is everything just a metaphor for something else? I can imagine a time when there will be no more poetry, just people reporting their psychological symptoms to one another. I can imagine a time when there will be no more critics, too, just analysts. We will give up books for couches! Then I think just the opposite. Authentic speech is both emotion and truth coupled with the pure music of a distinct personality. The damp sea air is doing me good.
     ****
     I called Frank when we docked in Newport. I didn't want to do it at first, but gave in to the temptation. I hunger for a familiar face, and I just want to succeed in a relationship with someone I already know. It is so hard to meet new people now. I told myself that when I see Frank, I am going to tell him I miss him very much. Love moves in degrees, and for this man I still have much love, but something that is neither time nor distance is between us. What has been lost is more of the spirit than it is of place or season. Does it have a name? I don't know yet. Still, it is related to honesty and choice and what could have been. Say you open a door. Light comes in. There are birds and a green view of lawns. Say you then close a door. The night with its thump and howl stays outside. Say you light a candle and open a drawer. Say you unfold a letter and read it again and again and then look long and hard into the dark heart of the candle's devouring flame. Wait a moment! I thought all the darkness was left outside.

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Cornbread Voodoo
by William Matthew McCarter
In this coming of age novel, William McCarter introduces Billy McCauley, who thinks his one challenge in life is to avoid the "cornbread voodoo" Gram uses to make sure he isn't getting into too much trouble. Growing up in Piankashaw County with his grandparents in rural Missouri means swimming holes, "scoring tongue" at the skating rink and baseball-until his "Big Daddy" gets sick and the easy going childhood seems to go by the wayside.

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Archeology 
by Linda Simone
What is love if not one continual dig into the shards and fragments, the moments and pieces we collect to make sense of our lives? In Archeology, I juxtapose poems based on real archeological finds with poems about a variety of modern-day experiences that serve to reconnect people, both dead and living, and renew family bonds. In the writing of these poems, I was amazed at what can be learned about love from the unearthing of side-by-side skeletons in an ancient Italian town.  Or how easy it is to feel the concern of a prehistoric gatherer when her mate hasn't returned from the hunt. I was equally surprised to discover that eating a plum or losing sight of a child in a busy store or the simple act of replicating a family recipe could be the way in to primal feelings and experiences…what I believe makes us human. The book is available at Amazon; or from the publisher Flutterpress.


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The Spinnaker
By Michael McGrath

     It had been four hours and ten minutes since he had taken them. Old reliable Mousey was always a phone call away after a long day and a dark evening pushing the bright side out at work. The kitchen had been extra hot so that his balance wobbled under the steam when he opened the oven doors to remove the scorched trays from their stainless steel coffins and his stomach had heaved more than once to the starched scent of boiled potatoes.
     It had been four hours and twelve minutes since he had taken them and Mousey had been right to give him fair warning. 'I'm giving you fair warning now kid,' he had said, and 'mind that there's someone around for a few hours in case you take a turn.' Mousey had always been very good to him and though his gear could clear half a pay packet, it was nothing if it wasn't kosher.
     Dillon sat alone in the darkness of his room and listened to his mother's grandmother clock tick the inevitable seconds to an empty corridor which no one could perceive in that moment but himself. The bed was soft beneath him but he pressed his back against its head and the cold wall so as to avoid the horizontal horrors which he knew awaited him in the liminal spaces of sleep. Mousey had been very good to him.
     The walk home was misty and he had swallowed them over the bridge as the drizzle spat cool vapour in his face and the rushing water gargled over the old rocks and on towards the city. He felt nothing in the broadest sense until he made it through the front door and removed all items of clothing in the kitchen. The hot shower had stirred his blood and he fancied his red cells dissolving like oats into warm milk over a fiery hob. The kitchen window began to move a little to the east then, and becoming aware of his nakedness before the world, he switched out the lights and fled to the sanctity of his bedroom. Locking the door from the inside and frantically flinging clothes from his wardrobe, he pulled his nautically themed pyjama set from beneath a pile of freshly folded stockings. The newness of the soft fabric had been comforting against his skin and he felt every inch the seasick sailor clinging to the furniture in the swaying cabin of his room.
     The high seas were merciless and between the swells he had fallen and cut his head more than once but rallied to take control of the tiller and hold it steady through the groaning mountains of dark water. To the east, he could make out the familiar yellow glow of civilization and biting down on his bottom lip, he veered boldly toward it - fearing the rolling troughs would roll and swallow his vessel in a tumbling gorge. Yet the peaked crests dulled then died on his approach to the shore and he watched the silver sands sparkle beneath the white moonlight and marvelled at the expanse of the empty beach. Throwing his anchor through the window, he called out to the new world and declared his benevolent intentions. He had been still then, and awestruck he gazed in silence at the virgin land before him. Its beauty transcended modernity and he wept the warm tears of one confronted with the purity of innocence incarnate.
     Long hours he spent by the lonely beach and he thought of the boots of empires in shallow sands and the perils of Sir Francis Drake in the Caribbean. The inevitability of westward expansion married romance to tyranny and they danced merrily along the open shoreline under a canopy of navigational stars. Loose grains had begun to spin torrents of dust beneath their heels and they whirled up into soft twisting clouds of white tenderness, lulling and bobbing over tropical horizons.
     Presently, he began to feel weary by the lateness of the hour and so closed the curtains of his cabin window before retiring to the bare sheets of his stiffening bed. However sleep could find no welcome in its arms and pushed him once more into the frailty of his world and so with regret he sat up straight and placed his aching back against the cool certainty of his bed's wooden head.
     Here he could consider tight jaws and grinding teeth while shadows creeped deliberately about the walls in human spectres - crawling beneath the bed and re-emerging in macabre masks with sharp toothed grins and vicious eyeballs of the whitest winter ice. Together they masked and unmasked behind painted Chinese fans of splendorous gold sprinkled paper and beckoned malevolently to the unknown chasms in each corner of the dark and insidious space.
     The horror grew in pounding heartbeats and skipping breaths, whipping distorted shrieking faces to a spiralling vortex of white noise and the pleading souls of the damned. His skull compressed in groans beneath the crazed pressure of swirling air and placing his hands on his ears he screamed from the deepest wells of a churning stomach of rotating bile.
     And then it stopped. Dead.
     Silence unfolded into the chilled room and extinguished the bells ringing within his fragmented consciousness. The room was his room. The bed was his bed. He knew this now. But he was not alone.
     A low wind whistled through the window in the room's corner and his patterned curtains flitted and billowed to its chime - rolling in soft waves on jingling metal rings along the curtain rail. The company of long shadows remained bound in the corner and when he first noticed the silhouette, he tensed and dragged the blankets from the bottom of the bed up beneath his chin. The silhouette did not stir. But it was human in form and it was unmistakeable.
    
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Spin Out
By Kees Kapteyn

     The headlights of Derek's Toyota Tercel violate the cold late November darkness outside, illuminating a curving road and harvested shaven cornfields. The trees that we can see are skeletal, stripped of mystery with our tungsten bleach. Because of a recent icestorm, they all look like they are made of metal, gleaming with a thin gloss of ice for those minute moments when our lights hit them. I'm sitting in the backseat, searching for anonymous things beyond the reach of our light, though these things don't want disclosure. Guilty secrets, they retreat into deeper, safer sanctuaries of night. I hate November and I have every reason to. It's when daylight leaves and night comes to rule. Light, warmth and everything comforting and happy leaves with it. I fucking hate November.
****
     Marie came up with the idea of going to the site of a recent murder. A goth slum exercise. There is Dark Wave music coming off soundtrack from the car radio: Heathen (A Thousand Thoughts) by Android Lust. We aren't Goth. The contents of this car, Marie, Derek, Hab and I aren't Goth. There are no covens and foggy heaths, no wampyre jewellery, no pagan dabblings. We're real, normal with a touch of shoegazer and a smattering of art student or whatever. It's 11:53 pm. Derek is driving and Marie is steering verbally. Hab and I are in the backseat, asking Marie questions. Her blue moon face turns to us occasionally, lit up aquamarine by the dashboard lights. Her eyelashes are long and thick and there is a liquid gleam in her big eyes. Her nose is flattened slightly by a fracture when she was younger, and its diamond stud glistens once in a while when the light hits it just right. I can see Derek's fibrous goatee and sideburns; his loose longish hippie hair sticking out every which way as an extension for his tousled mind. In the rearview mirror, there's Hab's sculpted coif and my own shaven scalp, just silhouettes against a lesser black. The red star of Marie's joint glows as she takes a drag and exhales little wisps of ghost into the air. I've just finished mine, its pungent smoke lingers. I envision Marie's breath and mine stirring into each other like consummation.
****
     Marie explains the fresh legend as we go along. She's read up on this. It had just happened days ago, countable hours ago. Apparently it was a murder/suicide. The murder was a girl that had gone to school with Marie's older sister. The suicide was a male friend of the murder through their work with a courier company in the city. Mr. Suicide lived where the incident happened, in a house in the rural shorthills that had been converted into apartments.
     "Rural apartments?" interjects Hab.
     Marie stops talking for a few prolific seconds before she answers.
     "Just shut up and I can tell you- fuck, are you going to pick this story apart for bad grammar too or something? Yes, rural apartments! Fucking leave that Lit U. shit in your cranium for once! Fuck! Life is not fiction! Drop your fucking illusions! Jeezis!"
     There's something about Marie's way of swearing that makes me want to laugh in applause. She really does put the 'ing' articulately at the end of it. F stop. F with a sudden stop (burp excuse me). Her sweet female voice streams off her tongue at colloquial speed with the same rhythm as her poetry, like weather, like tidal surge, like planetary spin.
     "Okay, okay sorry! Go ahead."
     "You're such a dick sometimes, man!"
     Derek laughs on reflex at this (burp tee hee). He loves stuff like this.
     "I'm sorry, okay!? Fuck! Tell the story and I'll shut up!" says Hab.
     "Yeah, can we hear the rest of the story, please?" I say, though I feel as though my request is muddled in the heat of their exchange.
****
     Apparently, Mr. Suicide had made friends with Ms. Murder at work, though everything seemed entirely platonic. They just got along well in a crowd of employees that all got along. There was a social that night and they were going to go. No one knew of any plan that they were going together, nothing was ever known of any connection between the two through anything other than work. Neither ended up going to the social that night. This is what the other employees were saying to the papers.
     "I remember that." I say. "It happened last week, right?"
     Neither came to work the following day, nor any after that. The concerned were alerted and eventually the police were sent to Suicide's apartment. They had both been shot. There was no naked rape victim, but there was a suicide note saying that he had killed her and willed his own death, though the media is barred from the actual gist of the letter. There was an admission of guilt and that's all we know. We talk about our theories of what may have happened. Hab thinks they were having a relationship and were keeping it a secret from everyone else. Something had brought Ms. Murder to Mr.Suicide's house. She hadn't been forced as far as we know. There had to be a connection, she had died in his house to his hands. There had been emotion, there had been violence. Something had happened that was large enough to have death as a result. Marie imagined a rejection. Ms. Murder had gone to Mr. Suicide's house, considering maybe, then deciding not to carry through. Maybe there had been a collision of expectations. I wonder what the last minutes of Ms. Murder's life was like. Was there that piss-your-pants kind of fear, facing down the gun of someone she thought she could trust? Was there any moment of surrender or valiant defiance? For Suicide, was there an unrequited love happening? Was there a deep seated psychosis manifested in deluded connections to the victim?

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MrPerfect.com
by K.D. Bloodworth
Divorced and too much time on her hands, Dawn finds herself drawn into an online dating site. Her vacation trip to meet the smooth talking, handsome man, turns into a fight for her life. Her only hope to survive, is to escape the wilderness and the terror of the madman.

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To the Heart: A poetry collection 
by Gina McKnight
"To the Heart" is a collection of love poems that will stir your emotions while exposing vulnerability. Written to intrigue, resonate and inspire. Each line will slide down the passageways and straight to the heart. From Ohio USA, Gina is an Author, Freelancer, Equestrian and Poet. gmcknight.com

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Truths to Lie For
By Theron Couch

     "For the good of the state you will comply with instructions. For the good of the state you will confess your crimes. For the good of the state you will say you were wrong."
     Over and over it played. Somehow tangible despite only being words. All around me. In the dark. Restrained in a chair, alone in the center of an empty room, I listened and endured.
     "For the good of the state you will comply…"
     It droned on like that, booming in volume but not in tone. Every time I was alone. I'd try to think but lose my thoughts. I'd try to sleep but wake in fits and starts. Too overt to brainwash yet too insistent to be forgotten; even when it wasn't playing it was in my thoughts. It became as much a part of me as a limb.
     The recording cut off. A high pitched squeak preceded the almost blinding shaft of light that stretched in from the opening door. I flinched and blinked repeatedly in the face of the bright intrusion into my darkness.
     My visitor-my only companion in that place-entered through the open door, at first nothing more than a backlit shadow of a person.
     "Good morning," said the visitor as he entered. He always said "good morning." I never recognized what was so good about it. Nor did I believe every visit corresponded to the morning.
     The light brightened the room on either side of the doorway; the visitor stepped easily to a desk at the door's right, a desk that faced me. He reached to the front corner of the desk, to a small curved light, and switched it on.
     "Good morning," the visitor said again.
     "Hello," I relented. He would repeat his greeting over and over until I replied-something I'd learned when, during one visit, I refused to answer him. How long he'd been in that room with me I couldn't know, but I listened to him say "good morning" one time after another, continuing long after I'd lost count. The repetition of it-the same two words spoken with such perfect equanimity over and over again-had been a strange kind of torture all on its own. In that room-that sleepless solitude-the strangest things would worm into my brain and start eating it out. I maintained defiance where I could, though; I never conceded the time of day.
     The man stepped away from the desk, leaving through the open door and disappearing into that shaft of light. His absence lasted only a moment, and when he returned he carried a briefcase. There was always some delay-some contrivance that led the man to keep the door open long enough for my eyes to adjust from blackest dark to blinding light. This time it was the forgotten briefcase, and once he'd retrieved it, he closed the door behind him and forced my eyes to adjust again, back to a dimmer light.
     "Do you know what your problem is?" He sat down behind his desk; the interrogation session had begun. "You're the part of the machine that thinks itself the whole. The one who values himself over the many."
     The interrogator reached to a control on his desk, illuminating a spotlight above me. The light wasn't so bright that I couldn't still make out details beyond the halo-the desk and the interrogator's face. The interrogator kept me always shifting between the darkness and the light, and I learned quickly that one wasn't preferable to the other.
     "So much pain and anger." The interrogator shook his head in slight before offering a sad, lackluster smile. "To say nothing of all the aggravation and paperwork. All because you think you know best."
     I locked on the interrogator's words, untrustworthy though they were. Some days-some sessions-I was better able to will away the physical and mental fatigue that nagged at me.
     "You act like no one agreed with me. Like what I did I did alone and for my own benefit."
     As time passed and restful sleep-to say nothing of non-intravenous nutrition-became a more distant memory, I couldn't manage as tight a control over my outbursts. Engaging the interrogator wasn't my first choice-it wasn't any kind of a good choice. He set the agenda, and his thoughts were more nimble than mine. But, if only to maintain my sanity, I conceded that I had to talk to someone.
     "Wasn't it?" asked the interrogator. "I'm sure you'd like to believe that your eloquence swayed people. Your ideas. But people aren't swayed by ideas or by words. They care about celebrity and personality."
     "That's a lie."
     The interrogator leaned forward, arms resting on his desk. His face, a landscape of banality, contorted into a disappointed frown.
     "Four times you've accused me of that," the interrogator said. "I've never lied to you. I told you in the beginning that I wouldn't and I haven't."
     "I have only your word for that."
     The bland man behind the desk offered the barest of nods.
     "I'm the one ally you will ever have in this room," the interrogator said. "I'm not going to ask for your trust. But perhaps indulgence?"
     Even in the dim light the interrogator's face didn't take on sinister shadows. I wanted to hate him as part of what I stood in opposition to-as part of the entity that imprisoned me. It would have helped if he looked like someone worth hating.
     "This might actually be just the opportunity you and I need. To broach a difficult subject." The interrogator stood. He stepped out from behind the desk and came to lean against it. The spotlight above my head threw just enough light on his face that I could still make out his expression. "The day that we met you asked why you were here-why you weren't shot."
I offered a tentative nod, unsure where the interrogator was going; he'd never brought up that question I'd asked in our first encounter.
    "The people in charge-the government that you turned your back on-spent a great deal of time and money to turn you into a hero. Think about how unpopular that war became and how difficult it must have been to make anyone who came out of it into a hero."
    "It didn't happen like that."
    "You were already a hero before their efforts?"
    I shook my head. In my mind I knew what I wanted to say, but I could never seem to get the words to match my thoughts.
    "I was never a hero," I answered, angry despite myself. "I was a man in the right place to do the right thing. That wasn't being a hero. That was…doing my job."
    "Modesty." The interrogator favored me with one of those halfhearted smiles one aims at well-intentioned fools. "Another reason why they made the choice that they did. The public loves celebrating people who act like they don't deserve to be celebrated. Whether what you did was heroic or not is immaterial. The government said it was; they treated you like a hero. You objected of course. But in the way that all modest men object when they don't actually disagree with what's being said about them."

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The Birth of a Legend
By Alexei Edwards

     People only know him as the judge. His name is uttered so scarcely, his name has been near-enough forgotten. He has obtained this rather impressive nickname on account of his incredible and incomparable judgment on those he meets. I mean, we all know that most people automatically pass judgment on everyone we meet. I do it and I have no doubt you do too. This man however does it with such astonishing accuracy, he has become something of a legend. There is something almost mythical or magical about his ability to stare into someone and with the accuracy of a sniper, he can capture everything they are. It is almost as if he feels everything that makes them up - not in a creepy way. Well, it probably is a little creepy but to be more accurate, he doesn't make any kind of physical content, he just knows. The reason I am telling you this is that I want his name to continue as at this very moment, he is but a matter of metres away from me on a wooden platform and ready to meet his death. He has been punished for passing judgment and spreading his opinion on a man he should not have trifled with. Alas, it is done and there is nothing he can do but stare into the darkness of his inevitable demise.
     The man he wronged is a man called Zapato. The name Zapato to an English speaker sounds rather exotic and mysterious but if we are to translate his name, it just means Shoe. For the purposes for this story, I will not refer to this man as Zapato as he does not deserve any reader to think upon him as anything but a scoundrel. I will therefore merely refer to him as Shoe. Decidedly less romantic I hope. So, Shoe was a local criminal. His criminal activities weren't focused on anything particular, he had his dirty hands in many different enterprises. He was known to have trafficked children, women, drugs as well as starting up various businesses in order to funnel his dirty money through. In short, he was a nasty piece of work. Not the kind of man you'd like to see down a dark alley. Shoe was also not blessed in the looks department. He was of average height, only had three teeth in his whole head and had a thick beard to cover scarring located across his lip. No one knows how this scarring occurred and no one had the temerity to ask. He spends most of time sat outside of his house, located on the main drag. He would sit on his chair, watching people walk passed. He didn't need to say a word to intimidate those who walked passed him. Most people knew exactly who he was and exactly what he was capable of. There was once an outsider who came into town and didn't like to see so many people intimidated by this man. This naïve do-gooder stepped in and tried to ask him what his problem was. I say tried because he wasn't even allowed to finish his sentence before Shoe had pulled out his gun and shot him right in between the eyes. Shoe was a mightily quick shot you see. That was one of the reasons people were terrified of him. He basically had the running of town. Anyway, do excuse my over willingness to describe Shoe but I do feel it necessary as I want to paint a picture of the man who now has my friend in a rather compromising position.
     Rather like the unfortunate do-gooder who crossed Shoe's path, The Judge was also unfortunate in his desire to label this man so fervently when he is usually so cool. You see, The Judge is a man who is so incredibly unflustered and insouciant. He would save his judgment for his friends and confidants. He would share his judgments with those closest to him and then you would very quickly see that he was completely right in his assumptions. I feel now would be a moment to provide an example of this because I fear I may have oversold him to you without qualifying his character. I used to spend quite a lot of time in the circle of people The Judge moved around with. Naturally I would hear everything he had to say. I remember the moment when I realized he was the real deal. A woman walked into the bar. I mean, this woman was absolutely stunning. You would give up all that is good just to spend a night with this woman. No, scratch that, you would give up everything that is good just to watch someone else spend a night with this woman. She was that sexy. Anyway, she walked in and instantly locked eyes on me. She then turned away and walked to the bar to join the group of friends she entered the bar with. The thing that struck me about her was her natural beauty. She did not attract the attention of everyone in the bar. She had a subtle, quiet beauty. One that most wouldn't notice. Now don't get me wrong, if she really went to town and wore a revealing dress, every man would be transfixed but as she was clad this night, no man took too much notice. Anyway, I ramble. So she returns to the bar and I cannot keep my eyes off her. There was something in the look that we shared that felt important somehow. I needed to speak to her and see whether there was a reason for my reaction. I then motioned to get up and was then held back by the voice of The Judge addressing me from across the table. He told me not to do it. I asked him what he was talking about. I knew he knew. He also knew that I knew but I still decided to play this little charade. He didn't. He replied by saying 'You know what I'm talking about'.
     I then moved towards him and asked him to tell me what was going through his mind. He then spoke. 'You like her. And she likes you. True?' 'Yes, it's true', I said. 'But she is not a good person. On the surface she may seem good for you. You may feel some sort of gravitational pull toward her, but you must not become rapt by its allure. She will ruin your life. She has an inner chaos within her that will destroy anything that comes within her proximity. At the moment, she is not even aware of the rage that is eating away at her.' 'But don't you think that she can change?' 'She can, of course. But she won't. It has become too powerful. Something happened when she was young which has twisted her. If you are to take my advice my old friend, I would steer clear. Sexual attraction is a funny old thing. And it isn't always on your side if you understand what I mean.' When The Judge speaks, you listen and in that moment I did. He was right, sexual attraction is a powerful thing but I resisted. I watched another man from the town approach her and well the rest is history. Her rage drove him mad. He couldn't manage her and eventually in a fit of drunken madness, he strangled her to death. When this news came to me, I knew The Judge was the real deal. I mean I knew before which was why I listened to him, but when you are a part of his divination, there is no turning back. I am now a part of another legend that will be told long after my death. A story that paints the picture of The Judge. This brings us nicely to the rather concerning situation at hand. I am staring at him and he is up on the platform, looking calmer than I have ever seen him. He is honestly the picture of serenity. He is usually incredibly relaxed but this is beyond anything I have witnessed from him before. He looks like a man who has accepted his death. Shoe is standing next to him in an attempt to goad him. He wants to see fear in the eyes of The Judge but he refuses to show it. Either because he doesn't feel fear or because he has become very good at hiding it. I know I would be terrified in his situation. Shoe has realized that his attempts are in vain. He holds his gun to The Judge's head. BANG. He even falls to the floor with grace. There is an almighty gasp from everyone around me. There is an overwhelming feeling that the Gods are enraged because of this. Something has changed in the air. We have all witnessed the death of a man and the birth of a Legend.

The End
 
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Glamour, Gidgets, and the Girl Next Door:
Television's Iconic Women from the 50s, 60s, and 70s 
by Herbie J Pilato
GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR: TELEVISION'S ICONIC WOMEN OF THE 50's, 60's and 70's profiles Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman), Sally Field (Gidget), Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie), Mary Tyler Moore (The Dick Van Dyke Show/The Mary Tyler Moore Show), and over 70 more legendary female TV legends.  According to author Herbie J Pilato (Twitch Upon A Star, The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery), "There are so many charismatic women who have made their 'beauty-mark' in television. I wanted to celebrate their contributions, not only with regard to aesthetic appeal but to honor the intelligence, individual wit, and unique talent and style that each of them have contributed to television-and how that great medium in particular was utilized to introduce and showcase so many amazing and wonderful women to the world."   For exclusive and key information on TV's top leading ladies who shattered expectations and paved the way for successive generations, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is the number one resource and go-to guide.

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Breaking The Silence
by Diamante Lavendar
Breaking The Silence, a women's fiction book, journeys with the main character, Joan, as she comes to terms with her past trials and tribulations of abuse and addiction.  She finds herself pregnant and on bed rest, so she writes in her journal to pass the time and to come to terms with the many losses that she has experienced. As she writes, she becomes aware of a spiritual presence that guides her and gives her understanding in how to heal.

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Another Fish Story
By Mitchell Waldman

     A thunderstorm woke me last night. The storm was right on top of us. It sounded like the house was inside this huge kettle drum and each time, moments before the boom, the whole sky lit up like ten million flash bulbs all set off at once.
     I was terrified. I don't know why. It was just a storm. I'm older now, an old man, too old to be afraid of storms. But this storm brought to mind another storm, one I'd forgotten about until then.
****
     We had taken a trip over a Fourth of July weekend. It was to be a fishing trip for the men and boys and a rest for my mother and the two other women, who stayed home, from cooking, cleaning and other motherly chores. We stayed in a cabin by a lake in the wilds of Wisconsin. They weren't really wilds. The lakeshore was dotted with small groups of cabins that called themselves fishing resorts. Ours called itself U-NEED-A-REST.
     This resort consisted of six or seven broken down cabins and a boat dock. The first thing we saw after driving past the tiny sign announcing U-NEED-A-REST was a cat throwing up in the grass. As if that weren't enough, the cat was black and had, I was sure, crossed our path. Being twelve years old I was old enough to recognize the significance of this event.
     Our cabin was tiny, smelled of mildew and creaked with any type of breeze. Swarms of mosquitoes feasted on our warm suburban blood.
     But the fishing was great.
     The fish I and my stepbrother Rick caught were mostly young Northern Pike, below the legal limit. Be we kept them. What were a couple of inches, anyway?
     I liked fishing then. There was an instant thrill the moment the fish hit your line. A sudden pinch in your stomach and you'd get tense all over and your eyes would swell. This is what you'd been waiting for, sometimes for hours, this jerking, electric tension on your line. There was an element of danger, of risk involved. Thinking back I'm not sure what the danger was. A green, finned creature weighing not more than just a few pounds, being dragged around by a strong monofilament line with a hook stuck in its lip could hardly offer much of a threat or, for that matter, resistance.
     But Rick and I had seen the pictures. It was their scales, their razor sharp teeth. I wouldn't even touch one if it landed in the boat. He called me "Sissy," though he wouldn't touch them either. They were so slippery I figured I might just catch a tooth or fin when I reached for the hook.
     So I would pull throw him into the boat where he'd flap on the aluminum boat floor like a tossed pancake on a hot griddle. If he were there I'd wait for my stepfather to unhook him. Or, if only Rick and I were in the boat -- every morning before the adults woke up -- we'd take a towel and wrap it around our catch so we wouldn't have to touch the skin. If we'd forgotten the towel our fishing would be over and we'd head for the dock.
     More than once the fish would twitch convulsively while I had hold of him. Then I'd get nervous and yank the hook out, pulling out of his lip, tongue or guts out with it (all the while, Rick standing there arms crossed, like the boss he would become in later life, telling me what to do). And the fish would keep staring at me. His eyes would get duller. He'd lay quietly on the boat floor, waiting to be strung, to be hung on a line. Once in a while he'd panic and jump in the air madly. Then he'd rest quietly on the floor again. It was as if he was conserving every ounce of energy for the next leap. We'd thread him through gill and mouth, tie one end of the stringer to the boat and toss him over the side, where he'd hang, dragging along with the boat. Then we'd straighten our lines and hurry to cast again. We knew that where there was one there were more to be had.
     We caught underage fish. Scaled them, chopped off their heads, fins and tails, ripped out their guts. Then, watching the men swilling their Budweisers (except for my stepdad, a nondrinker, standing there in his emaciated frame, shorts pulled up past his navel) frying the fish in oil in an aluminum pan over the open fire. Rick by his side, under his arm with the other boys. Stepdad smiling at Rick, tousling his hair, and the other boys-Sam and Bobby, by their dads, while I sat back under a tree, sipping my cream soda, reading one of my sci fi books. And then, joining them, eating the fresh fried fish off paper plates.
     I gave up fishing some time ago. Thinking of Rick and my stepdad, I gave up a lot of things long ago.
     Then there was that cat. He was not to be taken lightly. While Rick and I were getting up before dawn and rowing out on the misty lake, something was brewing in the eyes of fate.
     It came in the guise of a storm that developed the night of the Fourth. Just before the sun went out. In a matter of minutes the sky went from bright blue to a peculiar day-glo shade of yellow-orange. The winds gusted suddenly. The trees around us were snapping like rubber bands. The sky turned black to the west and to the north, but was bright orange in between. The darkness spread quickly and closed in on us. We stood in the doorway of our cabin, watching, then, when the winds whipped up, retreated). The radio said tornadoes surrounded the whole lakeside area.
     We were in a tiny cabin. It wasn't much. You couldn't even get the door to shut all the way. My stepdad put a chair in front of it to keep it closed. We felt naked. No big house to protect us, no big buildings or communities nearby, no false securities to grab onto. I nearly hid under the table. I imagined our deaths, which would seem somehow heroic happening on the Fourth. I imagined the headlines back home describing the tragedy. I remembered the cat.
     As the sun set the sky became even blacker. My stepdad kept the radio on for information. The winds howled around us. The old cabin creaked. The radio crackled with each flash of light in the sky. And there was no rain. There should have been, but there wasn't.
     My stepdad ordered Rick and me to bed. Everything would be fine, he said. I crawled onto an old damp mattress next to Rick and pulled the covers over my head.
     "Whatssamatter, David, are you a scaredy cat? Awww, poor Davey."
     "Shut up, Rick," I said. I didn't slug him then, but it was only a matter of time. But that's another story.
      The sounds of the storm and the radio alone filled the night. I shut my eyes as tight as I could under the blanket but the light still flashed through my eyelids. I clung to the blanket.
     Finally the rains came. The friendly rains. Patting softly on the roof, at first. Then the winds died. The rain came down harder, thrashing the cabin and soothing my young mind. It was as if I was being bathed in the cool flood of water that protected me, that protected all of us from the black skies overhead.
****
     Last night I pulled the shade up to keep an eye on the storm. It was early morning, actually. About 6:30. The sky was greenish-orange. It reminded me of that other storm. I don't know why, but I imagined the lightning would come right through my window, that it would reach out and choose me. There was no escape. Once again I was that little boy grasping the covers tightly in a world of storms, and fish guts, and of stepfathers and stepbrothers and mothers who didn't seem to notice. The thunder and lightning eventually gave way to the tapping, then pouring rain and only then could I sleep again.
     When I closed my eyes I fell into a new world. I was swimming under water, breathing under water. Free. In this world, there was a different kind of storm that I saw only on occasion, when I came to the surface. It was high and bright and blue with white patches. It spelled danger. I stayed away from the blue and white storm and tried not to think about it, spending my day playing, propelling myself, flying through the water, darting through it, doing turns and flips, like an acrobat, with ease. Then there was a voice behind me. "What are you, a fraidy cat?" It propelled me upward, but not just because of the words, but also due to my own natural curiosity and hunger. There was an emptiness in my belly (and in my chest) that led me there, to be sure, but there was also an electric tension inside of me, the feeling of lurking danger, the excitement of the unknown, that pulled me upwards, as well. And then, then I saw the juicy squirming, worm waiting, just waiting for me.

The End
Silent Witness
By Barbara Brown

     There was a ghost of a smile on Sam's face, it was a smile without mirth beneath eyes cold and grey as a granite tombstone. He was nervous and it showed. He flexed his fingers stretching them inside his pockets. The soles of his shoes felt frozen to the ground and he stamped his feet lifting first one then the other flinching as the ice cracked underfoot. It was bitterly cold and he was finding it difficult to concentrate: he was waiting for the sound of an engine in the distance, a car coming up from the valley.
     This was his last mission.  Tomorrow would be Pay Day; the golden handshake. His mouth stretched in a humourless rictus as his fingers curved round the metal in his pocket his nails tracing the outline of a gun against his warm thigh. He would keep the gun he thought although his instinct told him to "get rid".  Drop it in the river with the others where the tide and its flotsam would cover all evidence of Sam and his dirty little secrets. But this gun, this little black beauty was his friend. Sam's little helper and it had never let him down.
     It was past midnight and the moon hung in the sky like a child's yellow balloon. She was late and he was numb with cold. He pulled his cap down over his forehead and his scarf up to his nose. This mission was definitely the last he thought as he eased his shoulders against the trunk of a sturdy tree.  The leaves were long gone, there was nothing to shelter him and he felt chilled through to every bone in his body. Each pair of headlights rising the hill quickened his pulse. He wondered what in God's name had made her buy this property.
     The house was in darkness fifty yards away. He had planned to lay in wait inside: empty a few drawers and make a mess as if in a burglary but at the last moment everything changed. His task now was to dissemble the outside security cameras and wait until her key was in the lock. There were no close neighbours and his gun had a silencer. He'd twice timed his escape along the path through the woods opposite to where he'd be picked up by an unmarked van en route to Heathrow. A change of clothes would be in the van and his luggage, laptop and passport would be waiting. This is definitely the last time, he thought, after today every day would be another day in paradise.
     There was the sound of an engine close by and his head jerked forward but it was just a lone car cruising the road. Christ, he thought. He was losing it. The cold was making him jumpy and he'd got heartburn.  He eased a large white tablet from its foil covering and crunched it between his teeth careful to replace the packet in his pocket. He must leave no clues.  Yes, it was time to move on he told himself if his limbs weren't to end up folded into a suitcase or his corpse weighted down in the mud at the bottom of the Thames.
     His thoughts turned to the girl. His target. What a waste. She was beautiful, blonde hair with a long fringe and legs to match. He remembered her from a few years back when she'd started out in television: first as a runner, then a researcher and how she'd worked her way up to become a television presenter. She was now an investigative journalist digging the dirt and going where others feared to tread. She went after the untouchables; the powerful, the politicians and not least the royals. Sam shivered, his job was dangerous he knew that well enough but a young woman like that… she could bring down the government and like a house of cards so would all the others come tumbling down too.
     A mound of compost leaves and old grass cuttings was massed on the lawn behind him and a whiff of decay reached his nostrils. His years of training made him objectify targets and he tried not to think of them as human beings but the taking out of this girl made him feel sick. So sick that he felt that the stench of death clung to him like an invisible cloak.
     He looked upwards sniffing the air. The stars stood out like fairy lights in the dark sky. Tomorrow and the day after and the day after that he'd be in Rio. The sky would be blue and there would be no more pressure from that bloody white building by the Thames. No more subterfuge. He'd put all this behind him.
     Sam turned his head, listening, a soft whooshing noise along the main road but it was only a bicycle the one rear light flickering on and off as it disappeared towards the village. He could taste something sour in his mouth and he slowly chewed another antacid tablet. He wondered if he were getting an ulcer.
     When he was younger he'd thought of himself as a kind of hero, the sheriff riding into town.  Even in the SAS he had felt himself to be on the right side.  His side was the squeaky clean one -- wasn't it?  How had he come this far?   What had happened to turn him into this cold- blooded killer?
     Sam shrugged his shoulders. After tonight there would be no more missions. South America here I come. He was leaving everything behind. They would take care of all his assets, his flat and deposit accounts.  The money would follow him to Rio in a month or two. His lips mouthed the words Je n'regrette pas. But he couldn't help the nervous smile again. He did have some regrets.  Any contact with his family would cost them their lives. Everything would unravel. His eyes watered with the cold. He would be glad to leave this weather behind.
     The girl was late. She should have been here by now. The show ended over an hour ago. What was keeping her? He wanted it over. He couldn't wait to send the signal Mission Accomplished.
     Sam stretched himself and walked a few steps outside the gate careful to keep in the shadows. Here high up above the Home County valley it seemed as desolate as the tundra. The sky had clouded over while he was waiting and flakes of snow drifted towards him on the breeze settling on his eyelashes. If he'd stayed in the desk job he'd have been looking forward to early retirement now, a little place low down in the valley and membership of the golf club.  Huh! That made him smile.
     Hurry up woman, he whispered between his chattering teeth. Then he heard the distinctive sound of an expensive engine climbing the hill.  She was on her way. Sam turned and traced his steps backwards slipping and sliding in and out of the shadows lining the drive. He gasped and swallowed as the cold air hit his open mouth. His left hand fumbled for the small emergency flask tucked inside his top. The whisky warmed him and gave him courage but its rawness hit his chest making him cough as he gulped it down.
     The car turned into the drive crunching the pebbles as it swung past him. Sam froze as she gathered her bag and laptop from the passenger seat. She stepped out swinging the car door shut behind her and hesitated for a minute waiting as if for the security lights to come on. Then head down against the falling snow and with her keys dangling from her hand she hurried up the steps to the front door.
     Sam stepped forward and raised the gun. Adrenaline pumped through every vein and he felt sweat trickle under his arms. She was fumbling with the key in the lock and time seemed to stand still. He took careful aim then without warning bile rose in his throat and filled his mouth. Pain shot through his chest and along his left arm and he was falling, falling -
     Her front door slammed shut and it was too late for Sam; the paymasters were asleep in their beds and there was no one there to hear him, rescue him as he lay dying in his victim's desolate driveway.  He would not see the sun rise and in a few hours there would be others, the guilty ones, hiding their faces and fearful of the morning light in the knowledge that they were about to pay the ultimate price for their sins.

The End
 
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Peeling Oranges
by James Lawless
Peeling Oranges tells the story of how Derek Foley, while sifting through his late father's diaries and his mother's correspondence with an IRA man, discovers that Patrick Foley, a diplomat in Franco's Spain, was not really his father. Derek's mother, who is ailing, is unwilling to discuss the past, forcing her son on a quest that will plunge him into the early history of Irish diplomacy, taking him to Spain and later to Northern Ireland, until he discovers who his real father was—with tragic consequences. Peeling Oranges is a novel full of personal and political intrigue, fraught with ideology, as it intersects the histories of two emergent nations—Ireland and Spain. It is also a beautiful and lyrically written love story of childhood sweethearts—the apolitical Derek and the passionate nationalist, Sinéad Ní Shúilleabháin.

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Phoenix Element: Normality Twisted
by Jennifer "Next Jen" Kibble
Normality Twisted is the first book in the young adult adventure series, Phoenix Element. In this first installment, our soon-to-be-hero discovers that she has superpowers, and can teleport. On top of that discovery, Anya learns that she is on her second reincarnation and has an alien entity inside of her.

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The Disease He Gives To Himself
By Joseph J. Wood

     Everything that could be sold is. What was there the whole time was not even hidden. Just ignored.
     The endpoint. This endpoint.
     The bottom of the spiral. Existential realities flushed away end up sludge here ankle-deep. Cans and bottles floating in it. Trudge inept and aching through it all. To the jagged onyx beach where ropes hang from the dark above slick with grease adorned with shards of glass.
     Jump. Clasp your/my/our hands around one. The broken glass will cut deep. Do not let go. Pressing teeth together slowly descend. New wounds being opened. Existing wounds opening further.
     Until feet touch the ground.
     Two palms red. Two thumbs wet. Eight fingers warm.
     Wander through the filthy streets despondent. Sour alleys, walls the aluminium and iron of car crashes, train wrecks, aeroplane disasters. Mottled rusted corroding. Peer through a hole slowly devouring. Peer into pink darkness, brown light, a man in the road legs, arms and tie twisted pointing, head cracked open spilling toenail clippings and cigarette ends onto the tarmac.
     Lacerations drawn across your/my/our forearm. Thin milk curd blossom between the slits of skin. Warm wet artificial snow coming up through the sewer grates.
     Eyes dry.
     Mouth dry.
     Spitting brown flecks, tongue caressing broken molar, tongue caressing sore gum where the sharp remains scratch like gravel on a toddler's soft knee, like glass that lingers in the window frame, scraping a woman's soft thighs as she leaps from an inferno her bedroom, blue sheets on fire blue carpet on fire white wallpaper curling smoke embracing the furniture, caressing the ceiling. Her wings just strings of thin skin her hand out to break the fall does nothing. Her wrist snaps. Her face hits the ground. Eye contact with her one remaining eye, vowel-only words her teeth dust rising.
     Turn away. Kidneys starting to kick and they're not going to stop.
     Think this is pain?
     In half an hour you won't even remember these twinges.
     In half an hour you'll be dragging yourself by your bleeding fingernails through empty hospital corridors, sticking your face into every yellow medical waste bin, licking hoping someone threw some diazepam solution in and it splashed up onto the sides. Tasting plastic and chemical residue stench.
     But until then,
     walk.
     Past the reinforced shutter windows of all those shops that sell soap and all those shops that sell lingerie and all those shops that sell greetings cards. Noises from behind them a cacophony of groans wailing songs out of key like a foul smelling breeze. To the shore where soap and lace and greetings cards float disintegrating in the shallow surf and dead grey fish. Where the tide twists, where the ignominious come to wash their browneds sucking bricks noises in the back of their hundred throats a shrug.
     Hands reach out for something but there's nothing there to touch.
     There are no boats on this horizon and there never will be. There are no warships with their guns erect, there are no oil tankers on fire, no cruise liners half submerged. Just empty black waves, cold and tired.
     Mouth dry.
     Feet hot. Throbbing hot.
     Shoes falling apart. Of the right there is no heel, of the left no toe. Shoelaces snapped and frayed.
     A girl singing collects dead fish from the shore. Her lank hair bejewelled with crystals of salt. Her smile curling like cigarette smoke. Her blue eyes bulletproof glass. Her arms cradling two hundred dead stares. Her footsteps are soft on the sharp ground. Her skin is wet paper.
     Low hummed discords.
     Pale hand reaches to touch cold cheek. Strokes down to chin. Fingers creep into mouth. Over teeth. Rest on tongue taste of petrol.
     Other hand reaches beneath belt traces substance of arousal. Grabs hard and twists. Lets go weeps and stands presses her hands to her face crushes her nose reaches into her coat pockets stands.
     Kiss her.
     Her mouth tastes of sour white.
     Her teeth are shards of bone in a soft gum tomb.
     Deft hands entice orgasm inside.
     Favourite colour hidden behind a new varnish laquer of white.
     In the distance a forest crumbles. A soft noise sent on the hurrying gales. The bruised clouds ready to shed their loads. Her laughter like tiny wooden pins. Escape together. Steady paranomes from somewhere above, the old wooden ceiling straining, brown water dripping from the gaps spread open. Sex that isn't quick enough then two naked dry people in the darkness. Dull thuds, rasped argument, dull thuds again. Lying beneath a thin sheet. Snow stroking gently the black window. The radiator chokes and kicks. Mould on the wall. Coughing dizzy coughing out phlegm and flecks of tooth.
     In the desert they dream of disease. In the desert they bury their feet in the ground and stand like trees shedding their sunburnt skin. In the desert where there is no weather they draw shapes in the dust with their fingers. They pull salt from the flowers with their tongues.
     In Cambodia they start every fight with their fingers broken.
     In Liverpool the rain is screaming and the streets are empty.
     She throws her shoes to the side of the road and strips her flesh. A languid corpse falling away from her as she runs. Curling fluttering on the ground tinged with the dampness of lust. Gets in the back of the throat. Coats the tongue.
     A shrill of wind and it becomes a kite.
     Ejaculation still inside. Leaking out down one of the empty thighs
     and clinging to it hanging in the air a viscous liquid string
     then catches in twisted pylons.
     In the grey wash at the shore driftwood and dead batteries a hermit crab dying in the green acid spilt. A decision is taken; to reach inwards remove a rib from your/my/our cage and use it to carve into the wall:
         All people are hermit crabs,
         All people are shells.
     Stand turn and see that it is already written there, carved into the wall:
         All people are hermit crabs.
              
The End
White Light
By Jack Coey

     Lights out was at ten o'clock. He lay in the dark for an hour or so listening to the heavy breathing, and sometimes snores of his roommates before he slipped out of bed, and with an occasional squeak of a floorboard, snuck out of the room, and down the creaky stairs to the second floor. The second floor was classrooms, and was somewhat lit by the moon coming through a window. In one of the rooms he had a knapsack with clothing, a flashlight, and some snacks. With his knapsack, he came out of the building, and saw stars, and heard crickets. It was May, and he hadn't got into the college he wanted. He walked the school road until he got to Route 20 which went over the mountain. He guessed it to be around midnight. To the east was Pittsfield; to the west Albany. His plan was to hitchhike to New York. Once in Manhattan, he figured he'd get a job as a busboy, and figure out what to do next.
     He felt exhilarated standing by the side of Route 20; he could make his own decisions; he was an adult as of right now. His name was Eugene Carter Endicott, IV, and he was seventeen years old. He looked at the stars and listened to the silence. After a time, he heard a far off noise. He stuck out his thumb as a truck barreled by him, and felt the tail wind in his face. He looked up at the stars: They're far away, he thought. It was silent again, then, he heard a noise from the woods. He looked around and saw the moon-lit darkness. He became anxious and realized he had no way to protect himself. I should've stole a steak knife from the dining room, he thought. He pictured Lester drunk in his apartment; he laughed when he saw how he mixed his martinis in a saucepan on the stove; brilliant and eccentric that was Lester. They wouldn't know he was gone until breakfast, and by then, he hoped to be half-way to Manhattan. What if I don't get a ride? he panicked, I could never go back and admit I failed. He thought about naked women, and promised himself the first thing he'd do in Manhattan was be with a woman. He jerked himself off plenty, but now he told himself, it was time for him to be with a woman for real. Manhattan is white light around the clock with barrooms and brothels up and down the block with a few businesses thrown in. Women are half-dressed; well, maybe in winter they wear a coat, and you can make a lot of money from tips from rich men for serving them their dinner or shinning their shoes. The women are all over the place: I could have a morning girlfriend, and an afternoon girlfriend, and a night-time girlfriend, or maybe all at once if I wanted. Instead of getting up at seven in the morning, and going out into the freezing cold to walk to chapel I'm going to be laying in bed with some babe who I'll replace with another the second she bores me. And all those boarding schools chumps who go to Columbia and work on Wall Street, I'll be the King of Eighth Avenue who has more fun than they could even conceive of. There was a noise. He quickly looked behind him. He listened and watched: quiet and dark. Manhattan is still a hundred and fifty miles away, he thought. He found a log to sit on and thought about how his father had changed since his re-marriage. Seems like the only place he wants to shop now is Fifth Avenue, and before it didn't matter. It is true my mother drank too much, and she made some scenes in public that were embarrassing, but she was a frustrated talent. She could paint, but my father never encouraged her. Mr. Coombs bought one of her landscapes and was friendly and supportive of my mother where my father wasn't. Come to think on it, and she spent a lot of time at Mr. Coombs's house which father didn't like. He heard a noise in the dark. He listened and got up and went to the side of the road. It was a car. He saw the red lights flash, and ran to catch up. He looked in the window and hesitated. It was a youngish man with orange hair and tattoos on his arms. Gene froze.
     "Ya wanna ride or not?"
     Not thinking, Gene got in the car. He smelt incense or maybe it was pot.
     "It's obvious you have some sort of terrible story to tell so I'll only ask you where you're going?"
     "New York City."
     "This car wouldn't make it to New York. How about I drop you at the Taconic Parkway?"
     "Okay."
     They were silent. Heavy Metal music was coming from the speaker. Gene was anxious; he was accustomed to men in polo shirts and Bermuda shorts. After a few miles, the driver turned down the music and said,
     "Hey, I got some weed if you want?"
     Gene thought about that. He'd heard about it but never tried it. Yeah, but I don't know this guy at all, he thought.
     "No, no thanks," he answered.
     "You haven't run away from the Army have you? I think I'm entitled to know that before I get mixed up with you."
     "Don't worry there's no one looking for me."
     "How sad is that?" said the driver as he turned the music back up. Gene watched the dark woods go by.
     "I'm Felix, by the way."
     "Hi Felix. I'm Gene."
     Ugly name, Gene thought. This guy's got to be a fuck up. Who in the world would dress like that for one, and second what's with the hair? What if he tries something? No girl I know would be attracted to this joker. Maybe I should pretend to be car sick and get him to drop me off.
     "You like Black Sabbath?"
     Gene shook his head, and Felix smiled.
     "Probably too far out for you."
     "Frank Sinatra is more my style," facetiously said Gene.
     "Frank's my man when I can't go to sleep."
     "Yes, I see."
     "Do be, do be, do be, do," mocked Felix.
     Who's sold more records? thought Gene.
     Felix pulled the car over to the side of the road.
     "I gotta pee," he said. He got out of the car and peed. He got back in the car with his penis exposed.
     "I can make it bigger," he offered. Gene opened the door and ran across Route 20 into the woods. He got behind a tree and watched Felix's car. It sat for a moment until he slowly drove off.
     Jesus, he thought. I haven't gone twenty miles and I got some freak waving his cock at me. He cautiously walked out of the woods to Route 20.
     Next time talk to the driver before you get in, he told himself, and if it don't feel right, don't get in. I mean it's not like you're going to see that person again. He figured it was the middle of the night. Maybe he could go to sleep.

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Airborne: An Anthology of the Real
by Christine Stoddard (Editor), Julie Dinisio (Editor)
Imaginary. Nostalgic. Otherworldly. These are the words that inspire the creators of Quail Bell Magazine every day. Since 2010, The Quail Bell Crew has explored the arts, history, folklore, and other oddities through a variety of fiction and non-fiction forms. This anthology represents a sampling of their favorite essays and articles from 2010-2012.


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Postcards from the Line of Demarcation  
by Branch Isole
At various times in our lives we arrive at precipice points whether by choice or requirement and we look over the edge of our existence. When this Line of Demarcation becomes self evident, we are faced with our mortality, morality and soul filling humanity. How we respond in that moment of decision determines not only who we are, but who we will become in the next moment, and in all those to follow. All Branch Isole books and ebooks available at www.branchisole.com
Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, others


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The Will
By Niles Reddick


     The last thing I said to my brother-in-law before I threw the phone across the living room, busting it into pieces against the bookcase, was, "It's not a damned wheel. It's a WILL." My frustration at his country accent that makes one syllable words into two is only a symptom of my frustration for him in general. I understood stupidity when it comes to attempting to manage the estate of a deceased parent because it's something we normally only do once or twice in a lifetime, and there's bound to be a great deal of emotions in doing so. The gamut of emotions is difficult to explain for a son-in-law who never quite fit the mold, though I believe I came to be more accepted after twenty years of marriage. I wasn't the good-old-boy sports and hunting-loving Baptist Southerner they had hoped for. I was the smoking-drinking-cursing-educated artist-dreamer who lived mostly in the moment, and while I enjoyed a good college football game, I had only played the game in elementary school, where I quickly learned that my mind-body coordination didn't lend itself to success in sports. I hadn't hunted either. I had been fishing many times and enjoyed it, except for the bugs, but I didn't own a gun for fear I'd shoot myself or someone else in one of my alcohol-induced states. I had, in fact, drank and smoked so much one night that when a co-worker's daughter called me at midnight and told me she had a dream that the man her mother was on a date with was going to kill her, I jumped in the car, borrowed a gun from my roommate, and convinced him to go with me to rescue her. I banged on the doors and windows with the barrel of the gun until they came to the door wrapped in blankets. They were furious with me for having interrupted their intimate evening.
     After a few years of marriage, I straightened up---quit smoking and drinking, went to church. I don't know if that helped or not because my teaching position didn't provide the lifestyle my father-in-law expected for his daughter, but we paid our debts, and I think he enjoyed my frugality---dumpster pulls refurbished, antique garage sale items, or flea market finds were our furnishings. There were three things that really sealed his perceptual shift of me. The first story I had published had him in it, and he was my largest promoter, taking it to his daily lunch table to share with his political friends, his old college buddies, his business partners. The second thing that really shifted his perception of me was my wife and I finally having a child after about ten years of marriage. He was proud to finally be a grandfather, and we made him a grandfather again with the birth of our son two years later. Too, I became even more serious about life, about writing, and about work, moving from teaching to administration and finally bringing home a salary that in lean years must have been higher than his own.
     Five years later, he was dying of a cancer he had had for at least a year that his doctors hadn't caught and should have, and I stood by and watched. I tried to help with research about the cancer and talked with him, but he didn't open up and talk about a lot. Within a month, he declined and before we knew it, he was gone. I thought the news, the fight, the dying process, and the funeral were bad, but those didn't compare to the cancers of the living who gather in self-interest to take.
     The insight about humanity after a death about what is left behind can only be compared to vultures hovering on the edge of a highway or in a tree in the median waiting for cars to pass, so they can swoop down and get a pick. For them, it's about survival. For humans, however, it's not; it's a "me" game, like a tug-of-war between two children over a toy.
     "What in the world?" my wife asks, having come into the room after hearing the phone crash.
     "Sorry about the phone," I say. "It was time for a new one anyway."
     "I agree, but what made you so mad?"
     "Your brother."
     "Oh, what is it now?"
     "First of all, he wants to ask my opinion, my advice, but then he doesn't want to take any of it. He just wants someone to agree with his position, and I'm not going to. Not now. Not ever. He's trying to rationalize his interpretations about how your dad wanted something when it wasn't clearly spelled out. I'm telling you that this is just a mess. First, your step mother takes him to a lawyer two weeks before he died. He could barely walk. The will gets changed. Prest-o- change-o, she gets a lump sum and his military retirement, which in their prenuptial clearly notes your sister should get it given she's disabled. Then, he gives the step-children a lump sum each. Of course, the one who is taking over his business and owes the estate for the business still got his lump sum up front and isn't paying the estate what he owes, except over time, which is interesting because I'll bet if you could find the original agreement they had instead of the one he had your dad sign two weeks before he died, you'd find it worded differently. Even when your step-great grandmother died, and you all inherited that little bit of money, he deducted what we owed him from it before we got our little share. But the latest, and what tops it all the most, is that he found another insurance policy for $400,000, and guess what?"
     "What?"
     "Half of it goes to his second wife. They've been divorced thirty years and he never had it changed, and the damned investor never bothered to do it in the 'annual review' with him. So, there's another $70,000 loss, which would probably pay both kids' tuition in college. What do you think of that?"
     "I don't know. I don't want to think about it. I don't understand why he did what he did. I'm mad at him and I'm also extremely sad. But he didn't intend for her to get that money. He just didn't get all his affairs in order."
     "I know. I always thought he had it together, and he talked about things every once in a while, too, but I guess legally it doesn't matter what you say. It matters what is in that will."
     "That's right. Now, we can go to court and contest it."
     "True, but then lawyers get most of the money and you still don't end up with it. It's really a no win situation."
     I can see my father-in-law in my imagination, shaking his head back and forth, cigar in his mouth, looking far-off in the distance and commenting, "I should have had it changed." I can hear him telling his fourth wife, "Now, you know that's not the way I wanted it." I can hear him telling his son, "You ought to know I wouldn't have done it this way. I did this thinking you might finally grow up."
     My knowing what he would say, that he would do things differently, doesn't ease my anger, my sadness. And my knowing this doesn't erase the facts because legal and what should be are often not congruent. What I do know is that the anger and hurt are displaced toward the living, and while the wounds might heal over time, no amount of plastic surgery can erase the scars. I think he knew that because he believed in doing what was right, in standing behind his word, even if it meant it wasn't beneficial to him. He wasn't self-centered and greedy. He was fair and honest. What may have killed him finally was the cancer of disappointment, the cancer that none of his four wives, most of his children, all of the step-children ever quite lived up to his standards. I hope he knows I certainly tried. I'd gladly give it all up to have him back for my wife and children.

The End
Between the Lines
By Niles Reddick

     When our seventeen-year-old dog Harper died, it was sad, especially for my wife Michelle because this had been her baby for almost ten years before we had our first child Audrey. She didn't die from natural causes, but she was close and we simply couldn't bear to see her suffer any longer. Day and night, she would bark, turning her head this way and that. Her eyesight had begun to fail and no amount of yelling at her to stop worked because she had lost most of her hearing. Years before, when she could hear me, I could tap on the window and yell, "No," and her tail went between her legs and she parked herself in her house. I believe she lived to be seventeen because she was in shape, would go jogging almost daily with my wife.
      In Harper's last year, we bought a Brittany spaniel we named Anna. We wanted to transition the kids when Harper died. The last few months of Harper's life, Michelle would go walk or jog, Harper would go with her, but she couldn't make the one mile journey through our neighborhood, and Michelle would carry her home. There were days when I'd look outside and the poor dog was dragging her back end her arthritis was so bad and causing so much pain. Finally, we agreed to put her to sleep. I told the kids, and they both teared up until I put the positive spin on it: "Just think," I said. "Now, we can give Anna Harper's house. She wants Anna to have it because she won't need it in heaven." They cheered that Anna was getting a dog house. It wasn't that they were happy Harper was "going to heaven," but honestly, I just don't think the bond was ever quite established between the kids and Harper.
      Michelle was upset and stayed with Harper while they put her to sleep, and she called me crying. I, too, was sad, and for a few nights, I dreamed of her, mainly the good times, not the bad ones like when she ate the roof off her doghouse and my painting it with jalapeño Tabasco sauce hadn't helped one bit, or when she dug holes in the yard, one so big, I wrecked the riding mower having not seen it for the height of the grass. Now, I either tend to forget or romanticize what a good dog Harper was compared to the two hellions I have now. Yes, two. Anna wasn't enough of a dog for my daughter and son to share. So we got a rescued Springer spaniel for my son, who we named Jack.
      We'd already had Anna "fixed" and after about two weeks of watching Jack hump everything, we had him "fixed," too. We had hoped "fixing" him would have a calming effect, but no. He is still as hyper. We thought after a year or so, he would grow and become less hyper. Not so. He barks at every squirrel, cat, and one day when he was going crazy barking and jumping up on the side of the fence, I went to see, assuming it might be a snake. No, it was a turtle, and it took a long time for the turtle to get out of his range. In fact, I picked up the turtle, moved him to the other side of the yard. A couple of hours later, Jack was barking again, and the turtle had returned. I didn't understand why. Anna, on the other hand, isn't a barker. If she barks, we do have a realistic issue to deal with. Jack barks constantly. No amount of training him has helped. We had an anti-barking device installed, and he continued to bark. I bought a shocker collar, and it does work, and I must admit I take some level of pleasure in shocking him given the countless nights he wakes me. Mostly, it's because of an armadillo that seems to enjoy digging in our yard. If I could get away with shooting him, I would, but we are in the city limits, and guns aren't allowed.
      Lately, aside from digging up the yard and chewing everything that can be chewed, including the plastic dryer vent fastened on the side of the house, he ran right through the screen on the porch, knocking it out, after I had just had it repaired from being punched out by a ball. For whatever reason, I can't move beyond it. I'm constantly on guard and do not trust him and have taken to calling him "you stupid son-of a bitch," which the stupid son-of-a-bitch responds to with just as much enthusiasm if I had called him by his real name and was handing him a Milk bone dog biscuit.
      I threaten to kill him and her or give one or both of them away at least once a week and wish I had a calmer dog, one who would do what I want and when. One who would be therapeutic to me instead of raising my blood pressure and stimulating me to show my dark side to the entire neighborhood. Last night, I got angry about them gnawing the legs on the rocking chairs on the front porch, and I chased them around the yard with a shovel, hoping to knock their damned teeth out, screaming you "sons of bitches." My neighbors who attend church with us were probably horrified and probably will avoid contact with me now.
      Maybe it's just time for me to get a stuffed animal, an i-Dog (one of these new mechanical dogs), or a Chia pet. Maybe I should just take Yoga, go see a therapist, or just get my doctor to give me some medication to keep me even. Life is complicated and I feel like a drunk driver weaving from one side of the road to other, having a tough time keeping it between the lines.

The End
    

 
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Bad Blood
by Lorne Patterson
The man his fellow patients call 'The Professor'  has been kept locked away in the high security unit of a mental hospital for a long time. Insane or not - it is hard to tell after all his years of incarceration - The Professor believes a psychiatric hospital should serve the best interests of its constituents. However, he has grown increasingly disturbed by what he sees: shock therapies, psycho-surgery, toxic and addictive medicines, an ever-shifting line on what is 'illness' and what is 'treatment'. Seriously disturbed. Something needs to be done and The Professor is just the lunatic to try…

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I was never Cool
by Joseph Musso
In this charming journey through a life filled with weirdness as well as wisdom, a man is caught between letting in and pushing away the people he needs most. Odd roommates, old girlfriends, family relationships, a trumpet, a mystery, and friends both disturbingly sane and profoundly crazed crowd a crooked but coherent path from, and back to, the heart. This book is easy to read and hard to put down. Read it and join the rest of us who care more about being ourselves than being cool.