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Under The Midnight Sun
By Christian Fennell

     Oh fuck no.
     He lifts his head from a thick and darkening pool of his own blood and the pain rushes forward.
     He spits dirt and gravel from his mouth and he brushes away bits of it stuck to the side of his face and he sits up and rests his arms on his knees and leans forward and closes his eyes and exhales.
     He opens his eyes-RVs are driving by. A long line of em.
     He hangs his head and pukes, mostly blood. He lifts his head-there's a car, a dribble of spit and blood hangs from his lower lip.
     A man with dark hair is driving, a woman with long dark hair sitting next to him, and there's a young girl and a young boy in the back.
     The girl presses the flat of her hands to the glass. "Oh, Momma, look."
     The woman looks.
     And he can see the woman's beautiful blue eyes.
     "Don't look."
     "But, Momma, look."
     "Tell her, don't look."
     "I did. Don't look."
     "But, Momma, look."
     "Tell her-"
     "Don't look."
     He flicks away the spit and blood and hangs his head and pukes again.
     He looks up and takes his smokes from his shirt pocket and tips the box over his hand and half a joint falls out. He lights it up and smokes it down watching the RVs driving by.
     The pain is sharp and throbbing and another joint would help. He'd like to stand, but he's not sure if he can. He'd like the RVs to stop, but they won't.
     A pickup pulls off the road and stops and a thin kid with long dark hair walks to the back of the truck.
     "You got somethin' to smoke?"
     "You mean, like-"
     The kid reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a joint. "Right here and ready to go."  He fires it up and takes a pull. He holds the smoke. He exhales. "Dude, you look so totally fucked up."
     He reaches up.
     The kid steps forward and hands him the joint.
     He closes his eyes and inhales.
     The kid looks back at the distant outline of the big town lights. Poor fucker, I wonder what the deal is? He looks again at the man. "I'd take you back there, but I don't got the time."
     "You got anything to drink?"
     "I gotta couple beers in the truck. You want one?"
     He closes his eyes and takes another hit. He opens his eyes and the kid is there, standing before him with a cold can of beer.
     He reaches up and takes it. "Thanks." He tips back the beer and tries to swallow. It hurts like hell. He lowers the beer and takes a last hit on the joint and drops the thin stained nub of rolling paper to the ground and looks back up at the kid. "You need to be careful."
     "What the fuck are you talkin' about?"
     "A road like this can be dangerous."
     "Whatever, dude. Later."
     "I'm just sayin-" He watches the kid get back in the truck and wait to cut back into the long line of RVs.
     The beer and the joint have helped and the pain seems to have receded and his mind moved forward.
     Try and stand.
     His legs are unsteady and he widens his stance to brace himself against the rushing air of the passing RVs. The front of his white shirt ruffling in the moving air, the back of it soaked with blood. He lifts his head and closes his eyes to feel the wind against his face and his equilibrium drops out and he falls.
     He wakes and runs the back of his hand over his mouth.
     In the back pocket of his jeans his phone vibrates.
     He tries to sit, but he can't, and so he digs his hands into the dirt for a purchase by which to pull himself up, and he does. He drags his feet over the ground and he leans forward resting his arms on his knees. His breathing is slow and thin, his heart is racing. He desperately wants to stand again-and he tries, over and over, draining the last of his strength, increasing the pounding pain in his head.
     On his knees resting against the heels of his boots with his hands spread on his thighs he looks back towards the lights of the big town and farther south of that, back to where he once was among the slash and burn of so many sharp declines, the going heavy with the darkness there, always coming, and then the certainty of it coming, with little to do, he realized soon enough, but wait and keep walking.
     He closes his eyes and in his mind he can see the RVs stretching out on the road as far as his mind can see.
     He opens his eyes.
     A biker pulls off the road and stops. He is an older man with long gray hair tied in a ponytail. "Everythin' all right?"
     He doesn't answer.
     The biker turns the engine off and sets the kickstand. "Is there anythin' I can do?"
     His phone vibrates.
     "I think your phone is ringin'. Can you get it?"
     He looks at the biker. His eyes are almost closed.
     "You want some help?"
     He tries to speak, but he can't.
     The biker walks towards the man. "Where is it? In your pocket?" He hears it vibrate again and he walks around to the back of the man and before he reaches into the man's pocket he looks at the fresh blood trickling out of a small hole in the back of the man's head, just below his skull, to the right of his spine, pushing out past darkened blood mixed with bits of dirt and gravel. Fuck me, would you look at that. He sees a gun on the road. "You really fucked this up, didn't you?" He reaches into the man's pocket and pulls out the phone. It vibrates in his hand. "Do you want it?"

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To The Red, White,
and Blue We Belong
By Tom Ray

     The July sun was punishing. A lot of people had gone to the beach, but for a suburban Fourth of July there were still quite a few people along the parade route. There was an open space beside the guy, which was how Paul Martin and his ten-year-old son Josh happened to stand next to him. As they'd come up beside him he'd looked at them briefly, nodding at Paul and Joshua in turn.
     Paul had felt comfortable in the heat, in sandals, shorts, a faded Ocean City souvenir t-shirt, and an old Nationals baseball cap. As usual at the end of a long weekend, he was wearing three days of beard. Now he felt grubby, standing next to this man in his short-sleeved, oxford-blue, button-down shirt and khaki slacks. The shirt and slacks were pressed, and the light gray running shoes spotless. His arms were muscular, matching his broad shoulders and trim waist. He wore a straw fedora, and the hair on the sides and back of his head was neatly trimmed, with only hints of gray. He looked to be in his early forties, a little older than Paul. Aviator sunglasses on his tan, clean-shaven face gave him a mildly threatening look. He carried a wooden walking stick with a brass tip and a derby handle, the kind of handle that comes off of the shaft at right angles before forming a stylish curve. The cane seemed more of a fashion accessory than a prosthetic aid.
     They were about a mile from the parade's starting point, and those local parades always started late. Father and son had been chatting for forty-five minutes before they heard the first strains of music approaching. Josh was patient for his age, but his excitement showed how anxious he'd been for the parade to start.
     "Listen! Do you hear it? I can hear the band!"
     "Why, I think you're right." Paul had already heard it, but he wanted to make it seem like Josh had heard it first.
     The cheering of the crowd along the route grew as the band, and the American flag, drew near. It was a high school band, reduced in size due to vacation. The man had started tapping his cane against the sidewalk, then picked it up, grasping the middle of the shaft like a drum major's baton, and moving it up and down in time with the music. Paul saw Josh glance at the man and smile. They cheered as the flag went by, and the guy whistled with his pinky and index finger in his mouth. That was the manly way to whistle, which Paul had never mastered.
     After that first band came a float from the local 4H Club. It consisted of a flatbed trailer pulled by a tractor. Four teenagers sat on a few bales of hay on the trailer, the kids holding jars of canned food, sewing projects, and a rabbit and chicken, the only feasible livestock in this bedroom community. Next came a group of marchers from a children's dance studio, ranging in age from too small to perform comfortably on the hot asphalt, to too old to be impressed by a parade. The man had brought the tip of his cane back down to the sidewalk, holding the handle with both of his hands in front of him. Another high school marching band approached, and he stepped off the curb and marched along next to the curb a few steps, then turned and marched in the other direction, past his original spot, then turned again, pumping his cane like a drum major, and smiling. Paul was amused, and saw Josh smiling, as well as others in the crowd. After the band had gone by he returned to his spot next to Paul and Josh.
     When another band came by he marched in front of the crowd, but now holding the cane like a marching soldier carries a rifle, the handle resting upside down in his hand like the butt end of a rifle. As the man turned the stick didn't come close to anybody in the crowd, but Paul and several others flinched. Paul glanced at Josh, who was staring at the man now. People were glaring at the guy, whose pleasant smile had turned into a stern frown as he marched. A man in the crowd said, in a low voice, "What's he trying to prove? If he wants to march, he ought to join a marching band or drill team or something."
     Convertibles with VIPs waving at the crowd came by, then another float, this one from a barber shop quartet society. The base of the trailer bed and wheels were hidden by maroon crepe paper, with the name of the society spelled out in gold-colored foil glued to the crepe paper. Four men in red and white striped sport coats and straw boaters were belting out snappy tunes, barely audible above the band music and crowd noise. That was followed by marchers from a local civic club, all male in matching blazers, sweating profusely.
     The guy had resumed his observation spot next to Paul and Josh. The strains of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" could be heard coming down the street now. All of the bands had been playing Sousa, but this was the first to play "Stars and Stripes." He stepped off the curb and stood at attention briefly facing the parade. He rested the cane on the ground like a rifle, then placed it on his shoulder, turned and marched a few steps in parallel with the band, turned and marched the other way, reversed again and stopped in front of Paul and Josh, facing them. He began maneuvering the cane the way Paul had seen the soldiers handle their rifles at ceremonies in Washington, picking it up, placing it on one shoulder, then the other, resting it on the ground, spinning it in front of him.
     Paul had felt the movement of air against his face with the first spinning of the cane, and his nervousness peaked when the cane flew up into the air. He thought it had flown directly above him, and he was sure it was going to land on his head. Paul actually raised his hand to protect himself, but the guy caught the cane before Paul's hand went above his head. Finally the man set the stick on the ground, handle down.
     The stern expression gave way to a loud laugh. "Man, that song." He said that looking Paul directly in the eye, then looked down at Josh. "Doesn't that song make you want to go out and kill somebody, boy?" "The Stars and Stripes Forever" was just fading away.
     Paul felt like he should say something. A woman's voice, said, "Why don't you leave them alone?"
     But the guy kept staring at Josh, and said, "What's the matter, boy?"
     "Leave my son alone." Paul heard his voice sounding shrill.
     "What's the matter, dad? You've got to teach your boy to be a man. That's what this day is about, killing people. All that march music is to make you want to go out and kill for your country."
     The woman said, "That's not what this day is about. You're crazy. This is about love of country."

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By Andrew Lee-Hart

     Hiram S. Franklin, eighteenth leader of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (commonly known as The Mormons), prophet, seer and revelator, sits in his dark study awaiting death. His second wife, Marilyn, is in the kitchen angrily banging crockery and cursing the day that she ever met him.
     Marilyn is not very happy with me; she married one of the senior figures in the Mormon Church who soon became the new leader and prophet, but now finds herself locked away supposedly tending her husband who is ailing from some mysterious illness. Her brief period in the limelight; the formidable wife of the prophet, gone. No-one will blame her for my misdemeanours, well not to her face, but it must be pretty humiliating for her nonetheless.
     As for me, for the first time in my life, I have peace and rest. No longer having to stand in front of the adoring millions who regard me as following in the line of the likes of Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah. There is no retirement from being prophet, you carry on until you are dead even if you are senile and incontinent, as happened to some of my predecessors. The only way out it seems is to become an embarrassment, which I have succeeded in doing.
     We were both bereft when we met. My first wife Christina had died fifteen years ago from breast cancer, resigned to her fate. Marilyn's husband Donald died more spectacularly of a heart attack during General Conference in front of the hierarchy of the church and millions of television viewers. If he hadn't died it would probably be Donald who was head of the church as he was next in line and I am sure he would have made an excellent prophet; dignified, slightly pompous and not terribly bright.
     I was born in Salt Lake City, so the Church dominated my life as it does that city and the rest of Utah. Most of the people I knew whilst I was growing up were Mormons and many were senior officials in the church. My parents were both pillars of the Church, my dad spending the majority of his adult life working for them. I realise that for most people, if they have heard of us at all, Mormons are a rather odd Christian sect, but for me growing up in Utah Mormonism is The Church.
     It was only when I left Salt Lake, in 1960, to begin my mission that I began to meet non-Mormons in great numbers. Like all eighteen year old male Mormons it was expected that I serve a two year mission. I was excited to come to England and had heard of Nottingham, the place I was sent to, because of Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest. I half expected Nottingham to be submerged by a forest but in fact it was a big, bustling city full of life. There is a castle with a statue of Robin Hood outside and the outlaw who robbed from the rich to give to the poor (not something the Mormon Church would approve of) is ubiquitous in Nottingham.
     I had never really questioned Mormonism at that stage; there were things I had difficulty with such as the ban on people of colour not being allowed in the priesthood and many of the wackier beliefs, however as I assumed the religion was true, these criticisms were irrelevant and it was just a case of not understanding yet. The arguments we used were often pretty weak, but if you wanted to believe or did not really care, then it did not matter. People who got hung up on these things were missing the point; and once they were convinced of the truth of Mormonism then such worries would evaporate.
     I met Alice after three months in the mission, I was out with my mission partner Andrew, who was from Nebraska. We were having a miserable time; hardly anybody was interested and we were getting used to doors being slammed in our faces and people shouting insults. One cross old woman threatened to set her cat on us. We were knocking on doors close to Mansfield Road, a rather poor part of the city. A woman of about our age opened the door; thin, and blonde and seeming to be half asleep. It turned out the house was a shared one made up of bedsits and she had the ground floor room.
     She weighed us up and then let us in warily. It was raining and we were footsore and wet. We sat in her small room, perched next to each other on the sofa whilst she sat on the bed which was covered by a deep orange throw. She was beautiful, but in an unassuming way. As I discovered it did not matter what she wore, or whether she had any make up on, or her hair had been brushed, this radiance always shone through. Even now my heart feels as if it is melting as I think of her.
     She offered us tea and we refused, explaining why Mormons avoid tea and coffee. She did not seem bothered and we sat and drank orange squash and ate plain biscuits. The room smelt of joss sticks; one of which was burning on a desk behind us, and also of damp, something that seemed common to many of the homes that we visited and England as a whole.
     "Are you a student?" Andrew asked her.
     "No, I work in a bookshop, but I also write, articles, stories, that sort of thing."
     We chatted for an hour and then promised to come back later that week. I could not take my eyes off her, it wasn't just her beauty, although that was astounding but also her vivacity and she seemed to so full of life and laughter; and when she did laugh it was the loveliest sound that I had ever heard.
     Andrew and I did not talk about her between ourselves, ever, but that was for the best, because my feelings for her would surely have made themselves clear, and no doubt Andrew would have reported me to the Mission President. We got to know her well over the next few weeks and those beautiful green eyes which gazed intensely at us. I was in love with her; could not stop thinking about her; when out in the city I would gaze at anyone with blonde hair and her willowy figure in the hope that it was her. Perhaps Andrew felt something for her also because for the rest of our time together there was some reserve between us and we tried to outperform each other when teaching her the various mysteries of the Mormon faith.
     After our fifth visit she said to us.
     "Why do you bother with this? You must know it is rubbish, you are both clever but it is nonsense. "
     I was shocked, I thought we were doing so well and was mentally preparing her baptism.
     "But you are doing so well; you have accepted so much of it."
     She smiled. "I can see why people fall for it, but really it is rubbish….. I like you both very much, but I cannot base my life on this."

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Lloyd Kills a Pizza
By William Quincy Belle

     Wally finished cleaning up the slushie machine. If there wasn't anything interesting on the little portable TV kept by the cash register, he would occupy himself by doing various odd jobs around the store. It got boring after ten o'clock in the evening on a weeknight. By that time, the high school kids were usually at home and anybody coming in was doing shift-work.
     He looked at the clock. It was just after 11. Should he dump the pot of coffee? Why not wait until eleven thirty? You never can tell if a late night trucker may pass through on his way to who knows where and would need some caffeine to go along with a sugar fix, the sure-fire nighttime recipe for staying awake. Besides, Wally's shift was over at midnight and Burt would want coffee when he came in to take over. Of course, he'd want to make a fresh pot. Leave it up to him.
     Wally looked over at his schoolbooks. Doing algebra problems didn't seem appealing. He was in his last year of high school and was planning to head off to university next year but so far, his grade point average was good so he wasn't too worried about getting in. He walked over to the magazine rack and looked over the selection. National Enquirer? Nah, too dumb. Time? A tad too heavy for this late at night. People? Why not? That seemed mindless enough. He fished out a copy, went back to the counter, and idly thumbed through the pages. Maybe there were pics of hot chicks.
     Lloyd, felon, ne'er-do-well and drug dealer extraordinaire had taken half a tab of Ecstasy a few hours back and was a little stoned. However he had also smoked a joint and man, that shit was good. Unfortunately, he was now as hungry as hell and he noted that he was low, very low on funds. What to do? He was supposed to furnish two junior pinheads with goodies for an up-coming weekend party, but they weren't due to show up until after midnight. Maybe he could go out and score a snack to tide him over.
     He put on his jacket, stuffed a baggie of tabs into the inside pocket then as a safety measure, got out his gun from his duffel bag. He didn't always walk around with it, but he thought that if he was carrying product, he should also carry back up. A couple of years ago, some yahoos recognised him and stole his stash off him after beating him up. Ever since then, he decided that if he was going to continue in this line of work, he would be better off coming to the table with his own "muscle". The piece cost him but what's the price of peace of mind?
     He walked across the parking lot of the motel and started down the side of the main road. There had to be something along here. A couple of cars drove by. He looked away to avoid staring directly into the headlights. He crossed in front of a pizza outlet and thought that a pepperoni and mushroom would be nice. Unfortunately, he didn't have enough money. He would have to be content with something less expensive. Damn, it was always the money. If he had enough of that, all of his other problems would nicely fall into place. Isn't that always how things go?
     Down the road, he saw the word Convenience on a sign. How convenient was that? He started walking a little brisker now that his goal was in sight. He walked up to the front, pulled open the door and took a pace inside. He stopped sizing the place up. He realized the entire store was empty except for a high school kid behind the counter watching a miniature TV. This presented an idea. How much money would such a store have on site? It was toward the end of the evening, supposedly the end of the shift, so this would be the time when one would find the most amount of money in the till.
     Wally had glanced briefly in Lloyd's direction when he came in the door, but turned back to his mag engrossed by pics of the new up-coming starlets of Hollywood. He was so engrossed, he didn't get what the stranger at the counter said. Wally looked away from the hot babe and turned toward him. "May I help you?"
     Wally looked at the man who remained silent. He then realized the man was holding his hand out. He had a gun. What the hell?
     "Give me the money," said Lloyd.
     Wally stared at the gun.
     "Give me the money," said Lloyd. "Open the till and hand it over." Lloyd hadn't planned this, but seeing that the place was empty and there was only this punk high school kid to deal with, it seemed to be too easy to pass up. However, this kid didn't seem to be getting the message. I've got the gun; you do what I say; no questions asked.
     Wally was stunned. It seemed completely surreal. Don't people get held up in the movies and on television? What to do? Give up and hand over the cash? Fight this guy? But he had a gun. Brother, what a predicament. I'm not going to complain about a boring evening again.
     Wally's cell phone rang. It was at the end of the counter off to one side. Last week, he had played around with the various rings and found something which resembled a space age siren. It was bizarre and loud, but just the thing he needed when he left his phone somewhere and couldn't able to find it.
     The noise distracted Lloyd. His concentration was so focused on Wally; the ring caught him completely by surprise and startled him. He turned his head and sought out the source of the noise not even thinking that it was merely a cell phone. That seemed to be Wally's opening. He reached out and grabbed the gun trying to wrestle it out of Lloyd's hand. Even though the ring had taken Lloyd aback, he was still holding onto the gun tightly and his attention quickly came back to the matter at hand. Wally was twisting the gun to the right so Lloyd pulled back trying to get the end of it out of Wally's hand. This pulled Wally forward and over the counter. Lloyd then twisted the gun to the left and there was a loud bang. Lloyd froze. Wally froze. The entire struggle came to a dead halt as both of them grasped what had taken place.
     Lloyd looked down and could see a growing red stain on the lower part of Wally's shirt. Wally had let go of the gun. He groaned as he exhaled. He reached down to hold his hand over his stomach then brought it up to look at the blood on it. Stepping back, he looked directly at Lloyd. He put his hand back on his stomach and with his back flush up against the wall, he slowly slide down until he sat on the floor. "Oh," he said. He stared ahead glassy eyed.
     Lloyd came around the counter and looked at him. He then went to the till and punched the keys until he got the tray to open. He pocketed his gun and used both hands to gather up all of the bills and change. Stuffing everything into his pockets, Lloyd turned around and stepped over Wally. He took a last look at him and said, "Stupid fuck." He left the store and headed back down the street.

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Slices of Life
by Bob Smith
Enough already with the superheroes, superstars, and supernatural characters! Most of us are ordinary people, leading regular lives.  But we are all the heroes of our own existence and that isn't unexciting. In this collection of short stories, there is no one with X-ray vision, no Hollywood idol, no vampire.  Instead, there is a man who reluctantly attends a memorial service for an unremarkable colleague and discovers he wasn't so ordinary after all.  A girl whose mother recently died reconnects with her father who is lost in grief.  A woman discovers support from school friends who seem to have grown apart as adults. Positive and optimistic, these stories affirm the strength, creativity, and thoughtfulness we all have. It is available for order at ottbookstore.com  and as an ebook at many online stores.

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The Extraordinary Life of Shady Gray 
by Jason Tanamor
Shady Gray's family is dysfunctional to say the least. When his sister gets pregnant their father kicks her out of the house. When his mother takes her resentment into another man's arms, Shady's father starts a fight. When Shady's mother fights back, she kills his father out of self-defense. But is it really self-defense? Shady Gray wants nothing more than to fit into the world. He questions life, God and everything in between on a number of occasions. Everything in Shady's life is a disappointment. That is until he meets Jessica, a physically scarred girl who teaches Shady how to enjoy life. With Jessica's help, Shady realizes that instead of fitting into the world, he is destined to stand out. The Extraordinary Life of Shady Gray is a fictional young adult/coming of age story.

By Brandon S. Hursell

     "Why don't you start from the beginning? Tell us about the Male Structure."
     I put my worthless hands to work. I put my filth to her. I am bleeding almost every day, white-hot and so much more and more. I am getting sick of the guilt trips and I want to walk and make my plans. I want special devours. I will walk to them. She is the girl of the death-leaking world. I hate her and am all for it.
     I am dizzy and filled with ripped apart. Inch by scattered edge and gnawed bones of the body's muscle, I will make it. I am here on the flat outstretched and I am coming now. My bones are back. Seven years in the birthing cycle and they have all been lost and forgotten and burned and mutated.
     And what is there of my mutations? I will tell you that I am male now. In my body that is increased outward by carcass and manufacture, I am in it. The room is breeding ground and dress-up time.
     There is the day that I become aware of myself. It is, in fact, every day. It happens and then compresses. Blurred marks are made on my name and life.
     But it all happens to one moment's becoming. It is lead to, joined, and burst.
     My name is Ambrose. I am twenty-six years old.
     I get up today and I am dreadful. I am in shock at my personality. I want to be because of her.
     I am she and I go to the telephone when I get up. All plots seek to destroy me as man and then we have rebirth. The estates of this mechanism are locked in, not the people, however. There is never an individual, not in these moments. I tell you so very much can happen at once and in all directions. This is the sight that plainly picks up the pieces, if rules can be made. I get up and go through the hall to the bathroom.
     I want to be a statue, a working gear. I am the beast of conflict, the devil himself. Thank you, very much. She said, don't go yet. I get to the bathroom and etch my words into the wall with a sly stare. My hair is oily and my skin is catastrophic, marked by the day's coming brutality. It forces a face desperate for age to come death. Powder goes to soap, to slimy stages, but nothing that finishes or sticks to make anything better. I am full of my doom and dancing violence. I am the womb of horrified young women.
     Days of my parade of wonderful blood happened. I start the march. Black linen was pulled tight to my stuck flex muscle and rigid command of bone. I am going out the door. I am searching.
     I penetrate the waking world and its islands. Everything is meant to be. Foot comes before next. Head is up on the faces that approach me. The sun is beating down with its burning-out chill on the back of my neck. My nipples grow erect and sharp. They are scraping me inside out. Stale cigarette is in my lip with its lingering hatred of my fury. I am every being in the world and no one knows me. Here is the slaughter that I am to choose from. Here is my divine right. I am on the street and moving quickly in thought, in muscular harmony. A face is pained in the frame of icon love. There are slender features with bulk to back them. There is a straight virginal nose of hard-curved, perfect bone. Tight muscular cheeks are cropping up over the bone. She is a full head of midnight curls and summer daydreams. The eyes are lost on me, jumping through the universe and the lips gone into another foul creature's breast. She is pale in an onslaught of steaming jewels, all ripe for the picking. Heels and healthy body and healthy clothing crack the earth for the playfulness of it. Flowers flow into the city's dredged and sucks its juices. They bare their palms to razor-sharp green and synthesis. This woman is a forever-flowing factory and a gorgeous dream and just inside my reach. Night falls to us in our midday and makes things more appropriate.
     And I know there will be more. Heat rises from the ground in deadly inhalations and carries meat for words that make traps. Slowly and with subtlety, she drives the entry phase into cooked-up plan and enters car frame, then comfort in seat, then cloth-stained fumes into comatose slumber. She is heavy like the sack of gears. I bring her to my home for work.
     The hysterical hordes of spirits at my female sight beg for death, but the proper preparations must be carried out before the great gift is placed at tomb.
     Beyond the decimal point and scattered noises that break concentration, there was the fragmented corridor, empty and serene with bullfrog chirps and growled moans of the beast.
     She stood there with a fistful of photographs, simple objects and treats, the organs smashed with expired make-up products. She was wearing a white t-shirt gripped to her flat chest and the fists of her ribs. Her hips were hanging. I was drool-running and sweating, getting down her frame with my eyes. Her black stockings were high into the strings of bondage that raced with drops of her arousal and excrement. She was painted with the aroma of wood shavings and ammonia and nocturnal flowers. She smelled of the chemical under the sink. Yesterday, I fucked her with her ass sweating on the granite top, her jeans around her ankles and her legs spread and she hadn't shaved in weeks. Tonight was different. She looked days younger and full of the panic of control over me. She didn't understand what it was doing to her. Her words came out in tight softness. She told me in echoes that she liked the taste of me and she wanted to know where I wanted to put it next. I pushed her wet into my mouth, grinding her closer and closing her ass with my hands. She was pulsing and feeling on the nectar of currents. Tall stones were making the light of photographic organisms. The images were in the corridor of night air and light of the glass window. I had a fear, she told me, of broken glass. She was going to beat that into me. More important than you, is the column that we are making, the life it breathes and sucks, and the ground it makes from our sludge.
     It was morning at the coffee table, "I woke up today really feeling like shit about our conversation. What we need is a plan."
     "We need a plan that reaches really deep."
     "The crop of your body is worth a fortune. It is with me in the final days of god's earth."
     Our bodies were alert in the tension of daily stress and they were dripping in the dropped energy of falling bites, eggs and failed and fractured bread. I am so sloppy to her. I am not the one that she wants around. I look at her and see excitement tingling up my legs. I see something out of the ordinary happening to the sex in my legs. I see sheets of plastic on her face and a wooden world of small fantasies. I get to calculate what that must mean about me. I think it is distracting me.
     "What does this little wooden box that you keep dreaming about have to do with our scheme? What actions does it lead to or are you just drifting off and avoiding the necessary? You are always like that. You are a procrastinator."

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Benny and Sylvia
By Larry Strattner

     Benny and Sylvia rolled apart, still laughing, caught up in the magic. They always laughed afterward and her cheeks were always dark red, apples ripe for picking. A little backwards he thought since her apples had already been picked. Even better, he had been the first to pick them and it didn't seem this time he would have to re-live the pain of loving, losing and having a lover go off, giving herself to someone else. Love was cruel, true; it wasn't just some rhyming words a songwriter set to music to make a few bucks off suckers who made the same mistake over and over. Though it seemed none of the songwriters were starving. This suggested a strong supply of suckers, lost loves and people shelling out the price of loneliness and despair. He was overcome with the weakness all men harbor, thinking, I should do all I can to stay with her.
     Her involuntary laughs subsided into quiet giggles. She might've been lost in contentment, as was he, but she early-on discovered it took her a lot longer after they finished to muster a coherent thought. I should stay with him. It isn't only this part either. He listens to me. No one else ever listened to me like he does. I have some things I want to do and see. I want some things to be a certain way. Part of why we do well at this love thing is because he works at finding out thngs I like and does them for me. A man I would stay with has to be a man who cares. Seldom do you meet anyone who cares. Benny seems to care. Her breasts were hard, not especially large, but hard, from the workout she got in her job as a lineman with the power company, what she told anyone who asked what she did, "I'm a lineman." Benny seemed to like her breasts, a lot.
     They met at one of those after-work slow-pitch softball league games. She pitched to him and he struck out. The factory team beat the power company by one run and they had laughed together for the first beer after the game. They were laughing still.
     She didn't want to hear what anyone had to say who made an overture like, "line girl" or "line chick" or even "line woman", taking a stab at political correctness.
     Sometimes, one of a group of men would yell at her when she was working atop a pole, "yo, line bitch, or once, "line pussy." To which she rejoined, "Fuck you, Roy," using a name she'd always associated with a sort of fey, phony, decked-out cowboy who probably played with himself because no woman worth her salt would play with him.
     Occasionally her ground-to-air exchanges with some red-necked horn-dog would escalate to aggression. Up in the bucket she always wore an elaborate leather tool belt. Several of the tools on the belt were wickedly sharp and, being in the shape she was in, she was confident she could make pork sandwiches out of several men simultaneously. Instead she called down, "the Sheriff is on his way over to help you with your problem," and they disappeared. So much for testosterone-fueled bravado.
     Benny liked her breasts. She had figured right. He often hung onto them like he was on some climbing wall. In fact, he had given her the notion she might try rock climbing as a pass-time. It seemed a nice mix of danger and conditioning to keep her the way Benny liked her, hard and agile. She gave up on this thought one day after Benny froze on an open stairway in a three-story mall. He was adventurous with her body, yes, but not at just any elevation. You can't have everything, particularly where a man is involved. She weighed him hanging onto her breasts and searching her body for sources of squeals, gasps and moans against making him climb some rock with more cracks than both of them had together, and she stayed with her original inclination.
     Benny grew up hard but he wasn't tough, he told himself, talk myself out of any squeaky spot. Leave the guy who thought about killing me, laughing.
     He had a touch with women but seemingly, not a lasting one. When he started to get comfortable with a new woman she always seemed to go back to some no-good guy who hurt her, body and soul. His old flames never regained the attraction he saw early on, after a predictable beat-down from the guys they couldn't stay away from. They were flowers cut too soon and left untended. They never kept their startling colors long enough to live again. They withered and dried, dying slowly in a vase turned brown, left to stand on their own without the energy to do it. More and more he thought about this when he thought about Sylvia. Lineman, he smiled, hanging on tight, she's a climber. He could make the climb worthwhile. She accepted no bullshit and had no use for any of its messengers. It seemed to him a winning combo.
      "Why don't we get married?" He said, one day, afterwards, into her wide open eyes, and hung onto her breasts in case she tried to kick him off at this, new, dizzying height he had attained.
     She went rigid. He imagined he could not even feel her heart. Not moving at all and lying perfectly took its toll on him, more than on her, until she said, "Really? When?"
     "Right now."
     "Will we last?"
     "Perhaps. It feels as if we might. Who can really know?"
     "Your grip on my boobs suggests a lengthy bond."
     Have I gone a step too far, a pace too fast? Wait, her responses are positive. She's not saying no. I was right. I felt right. I had not misunderstood. My head is pounding.
     "Let's get to it. See what happens. Go down to City Hall right now. I know the clerk there. We can pay a bit more and she'll do it right away. Get started."
      "Okay," she looked into his eyes and he didn't blink "if you let go of my boobs I'll try to stand up."
     I hope I'm right. Here we go. I'm sure not thinking with my Dick. He's passed out. I love her boobs. I can hardly let them go, even for a minute.
     The clerk Benny knew only as Millicent, delighted to be included in this outpouring of selfless love said, "No problemo, periquitos," He didn't know if Millicent spoke Spanish or just pretended she did. He knew her grammar sucked but recognized the word "perquito" as some kissing bird, or like that. He hauled out his wallet.
     Millicent held out her hand to him, palm perpendicular. The speed and marginal legality was not going to cost him. Startled, happy surprise and romantic intrigue was payment enough for Millicent. She nearly drooled on herself in daytime soap-opera excitement.
     The paperwork was complete in twenty minutes, all the required boxes stamped and technically signed, also with stamps. Then Millicent popped the question, "You gonna want the shot?
     "What shot," asked Benny?
     The county had been in the newspaper almost every recent issue, its elected officials moaning about the marriage situation. Buried under the paperwork for separations, divorces, restraining orders and the cost of chasing down alimony payment scofflaws through the roof. Their county being located a bit off in the hinterlands some Brainiac had come up with the idea to participate in a University field test of new vaccine aimed at improving family bonding and longevity. This was the shot to which Millicent was referring. "It helps with your relationship," said Millicent.
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The Nest: An Anthology of the Unreal
by Jade Miller (Editor), Julie DiNisio (Editor), Christine Stoddard (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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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.

The Court Martial of John F. Kennedy
By T.R. Healy

     "Turn around," Russell Marney muttered to himself as he followed his son's midnight blue Mustang down another dark and narrow street. "Turn around, damn it!"
     He had been trailing Russ for nearly twenty minutes, from one end of town to another, always staying a couple of car lengths behind so he would not be spotted. All along, he hoped his son would stop at some place he was familiar with, at his last girlfriend's place or one of his friends from high school, but he just kept driving farther and farther into areas of town Russell had not been to in years. He just could not believe Russ was in this part of town, which was known as Torn Hills because of the barren hills that overlooked it, wished somehow he could will him to turn around and return home. Nothing good happened down here. Not years ago when he used to drive to Torn Hills to buy six packs of malt liquor as a high school kid, and definitely not these days.
     Driving past a burnt-out church, he suddenly heard a scream and looked in the rearview mirror and saw a woman in skintight jeans running across the street, her high heels in her hands. He didn't see anyone running after her so he assumed she must be wrestling with her own demons. People in Torn Hills had a lot to scream about, he reckoned, and nothing he could do for her tonight was likely to relieve her pain so he continued on, his eyes back on his son's Mustang.
     He was so worried he felt like screaming, too, sure his scream would be much louder than the woman's. But he couldn't, however much he wanted to, because Russ might hear him and he could not let him know he was following him.
     "Mind your own business," he remembered his son snarling at him a few nights ago when he confronted him again about some of the people he was hanging out with at the community college he attended, "not mine."
     "But you are part of my business."
     "Well, you're not part of mine. Not anymore."
     "Oh, son, how can you say that?"
     "Because it's the truth."
     Russ, who just turned nineteen, still lived at home though he had moved out of his bedroom to the spare room above the garage. He was not just his only son, but ever since his mother passed away five years ago, his best friend. They were as close as a father and son could be, he believed, certainly closer than he ever was with his father, Big Russ. They fished together and played tennis, attended concerts and basketball games, sought one another's advice on all sorts of matters. That closeness started to diminish some after Russ enrolled in college, as Russell expected it would, but it still was very strong. Or so he thought until a couple of months ago when Russ began spending more and more time with friends he made in school. Repeatedly he urged his son to introduce him to them, and he said he would but, so far, he had yet to meet a single one. And he became concerned, especially when his son began spending more and more time away from home, so one evening he called one of Russ' old high school friends, Tim Gargan, and asked if he had met any of these people.
     "Yeah, Russ introduced me to a couple of guys he met in college a few months ago."
     "What did you think of them?"
     Not sure what to say, he was silent.
     "Hello, Tim, are you there?"
     "Yeah, I'm here, Mr. Marney."
     "So what sort of guys are they?"
     Again, he hesitated. "Not the sort I expected to see Russ with, if you want my honest opinion."
     "In what way?"
     "They just seemed too eager to take risks, unnecessary risks really, and as you well know that's not Russ. He's not one ever to do something if he doesn't have a pretty good idea of what the outcome is going to be."
     Halfway through the next block, his son slowed down, and so did he, worried again that he may have been spotted. His heart thumped against his ribs and, instinctively, he pressed his right hand against his chest as if to silence it. Still it banged, loudly, emphatically. He was tempted to turn around and leave when, all of a sudden, his son pulled over to the curb, just a few feet from the corner, and turned off his engine and headlights. He pulled over, too, parking behind a wheelbarrow someone had left in the street.
     To his surprise, his son remained in his car as if waiting for someone, and, sure enough, a lanky guy in a knitted prayer hat appeared from behind a crumbling stone wall. Slowly he limped over to the car and leaned his head through the driver's window for a moment then leaned back and removed a small package from his back pocket and handed it to Russ who then handed him something that his father assumed was money.
     "Sons of bitches," he growled, realizing Tim was right about the people Russ was hanging out with at school. "Goddamn sons of bitches."
     For a long moment Russell stared at the rusted rim attached to the backboard above his garage door then, almost before he realized it, he shot the old Rawlings basketball and watched it fall straight through the center of the rim. A grin quickly appeared in the corners of his mouth. There was no longer a net hanging from the rim so he made a soft, swishing sound with his tongue as if one was still there.
     He inherited his love for the game from his father who for many years was a high school basketball coach. And though he was not a very good player, seldom getting off the bench when he played for his father in high school, he was an excellent outside shooter who could sink jump shots from just about any spot on the court. Even after he got married, he continued to shoot, either at some basket in a park or later at the one he put above his garage. Night after night, before dinner, he shot at least sixty shots, diligently moving from one side of the basket to the other side. Often, as he did as a boy, he imagined he took and made the final shot in some crucial game---a shot that would be remembered for years by those who saw it.
     Russ often shagged balls for him when he was shooting, the scarlet shorts he wore then so long they almost touched the tops of his hightops. Constantly he pestered him to show him how to shoot a jump shot but for a long time he refused, concerned if the youngster started too early he might develop some bad habits. Instead, he started him out shooting two-handed set shots a foot from the basket, figuring that was the surest way to develop the proper grip and release of a basketball.
     It was because of Russ' enthusiasm for the game that he mounted the hoop on his garage so the boy could practice at home as much as he liked. He always wished his father had put up a hoop at their house but he refused because he wanted him to take the initiative and go to some park or schoolground if he wanted to play ball.
     "You'll never improve if all you do is shoot by yourself," his father told him whenever he asked if he could have his own basket.

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The Thermostat is Not to be Touched
By Adam Kotlarczyk

14 January
To: Staff
From: Gerald Dawkins
Re: Thermostat
     It has come to my attention that early-arriving staff members have been turning up the thermostat from its usual setting early in the morning when they get here. This makes the office side of the building very warm, uncomfortably warm. By the time most of the rest of the staff arrives. Even more frustrating, when I have turned the thermostat back down to acceptable levels, I notice someone has been raising it back up to where it was. This is also a waste of the company's money. Heat isn't free.
     This is just a reminder that the thermostat is not to be touched. Thank you.
15 January
To: Staff
From: Mark Sanders
Re: Office Environment
     Because the office has been so cold this winter, many of us have agreed that the temperature needs to be set higher this year than it has been in years past. It's cold here in the mornings.
     Because the part of the staff that works up front gets here early when they do, they should be able to set the thermostat to a comfortable level appropriate for the early hour. A warm staff is a happy staff, and a happy staff is a productive one.
16 January
To: Staff
From: Gerald Dawkins
Re: Thermostat
     It is not up to the early arriving staff what the temperature in the office will be. What they fail to take into account is that while the temperature may be cool at the front counter, back in the offices it is quite warm. Since most of us back here are also wearing suits, it gets very uncomfortable. And if we have to entertain big clients or vendor reps, we can't have them sweating through their jackets can we.
17 January
To: Staff
From: Mark Sanders
Re: Office Temperature
     Where the work of this company is actually being done, it is actually quite cold. Not cool. Or at least it was with the old thermostat settings. This is an old building and the heat circulation is poor and it is drafty. That is why the thermostat has been adjusted to make it comfortable for all employees, not just the ones wearing suits sitting in the back offices.  Especially for those of us who work up front, and don't have corner offices with not-one-but-two walls of baseboard heat. And we have to get here early, since that's when our customers come, and as most of you who are up by then know, it gets cold in Chicago early in the morning in January.
     Okay, confession time: It is I. It is me who is adjusting the thermostat. But there's only four of us here early in the morning and we're always freezing, blowing in our hands and holding our faces over our coffee to get warm. Tim Stewart actually uses those chemical hand warmers. That's no way to work. We're not Bob Cratchitts here. So let's put some coal in the stove. So to speak. You know what I mean.
     Last week my fingertips were so cold I could barely work the computer. I was trying to sell a fuel solenoid and kept keying in the part number for an A/C touchpad. This doesn't help the company, me almost selling the wrong part.
     And let's be honest; this isn't about the heating bill. This company has bigger fish to fry than the heating bill. At least if the rumors about the Madison branch getting closed up this spring are true. I heard Gary Schaefer over there - good old Gary who's been with the company almost 25 years and who trained me - was told to start looking elsewhere. Twenty-five years. So if the company is really worried about the heating bill at a time like this, maybe they can pay it with the Christmas bonus money that we didn't get this year (again).
17 January
To: Staff
From: Gerald Dawkins
Re: Thermostat
     I again had to adjust the thermostat back to an acceptable level this morning when I arrived. I would like to remind the staff of two important points: 1.) The thermostat is not to be touched and 2.) It is not appropriate to discuss happenings at other branches in a public forum. Besides, Gary Schaefer had been planning on leaving for a while, which all staff members would know if they had come to the company picnic last summer.
17 January
To: Staff
From: Mark Sanders
Re: Office
     When you arrived "this morning." That's interesting. Do you still consider it morning by then? Most of us have been here for four hours by the time you stroll in. Then you lock yourself in your office for an hour, doing what exactly no one knows, then take a two hour lunch. Is it really killing you have the heat up during that one hour?
     And I'm not the one who started all this in the public forum. I'm not the one who started taping up memos on the refrigerator. I, along with most of the 21st century, prefer email. So don't get up in my face about it. I'm just trying to keep from freezing my ass off.
     And the company picnic? Really, Gerry. Nobody goes anymore because you turned it into a board meeting; all that bullshit optimism about the future of the company. I bet I know all the speeches without even going there: "Moving forward" and "growing the business" and "gotta spend money to make money." Spend money to make money. Ha. Unless it's on the heat.
     Back when this company was thriving and we had free medical and dental and the branches in Milwaukee and Springfield and Indianapolis were still open, back then the picnic was great and we'd go to Lake Springfield for the weekend and golf or play miniature golf with the wives and kids and the company sponsored a fishing tournament and we played softball and everyone got tee shirts and beer and the kids ate ice cream. People talked about retiring like they were looking forward to it, not like they were terrified of it. We talked about opening branches in Iowa City and even down in Kentucky, for a time. A couple years they even had rides for the kids.

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I Ate Tiong Bahru
by Stephen Black
I Ate Tiong Bahru is a cross-genre collection of stories about the  people, food and buildings of Tiong Bahru, a community in Singapore. "... I Ate Tiong Bahru, the exquisite 'lyrical documentary' on Tiong Bahru, gave me many hours of pure pleasure... I wish I'd read it before visiting the estate, and still in Singapore so I would be able to go there again.It's in Paris that I read it, where I followed all of its descriptions and encounters, street by street, on my detailed map of Singapore... I loved the book." M.Abreu

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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.

By Robert Klein Engler

     The damp grass under Wayne's stomach smells of life. He understands, now, why some animals eat it. Wayne waits prone, his head cocked. In the bright sunlight he must squint to see as far as the cinder alley behind Mrs. Wagner's Chicago bungalow. Sweating with excitement, Wayne pushes up his glasses that keep sliding down his nose.
     Like a spider in his trap, young Wayne Carter becomes aware of a world without human voices all around him--just the singing of birds, the rush of a car heading south on Oakley Street, and the hum of mosquitos. Then, Jane appears.
     Jane moves quickly and hunched over from the shadow of a catalpa tree to the stump of the old cottonwood that rots in the Thompson's backyard. When she stands up, Wayne has her in his sights. He raises the silver pistol and pulls the trigger. Snap! Snap! Snap!
     Jane throws up her hands, turns and falls into a heap behind the stump.
     "Got ya!" Wayne yells, springing from his ambush. "You owe me another roll of caps."
     "Not fair," Jane protests. "You're supposed to count to twenty-five." It's no fun if you don't wait."
     "Another roll of caps!"
     "Wadda ya gonna do, Wayne?" Tim asks. Tim asks again, teasing, and with a smile, "Wadda ya gonna do, Wayne?"
     "I don't know," Wane says. "Leave me alone. Have another slice of pizza. Just shut up."
     The Jolly Roger in Urbana, Illinois is crowded and noisy. It's Saturday night on campus, and neither Wayne nor Tim has a date, so they go out, eat pizza together and get on one another's nerves.
     Wayne's roommate Tim Harvey likes teasing Wayne. They both will be graduating in June, and although Tim has set his sights on law school, Wane doesn't know what he will do after graduation. Part of this indecision is because Wayne does not know yet who he is.
     "Come to law school with me," Tim says. "You're smart. You got the grades. Those glasses make you look like a bookish Perry Mason, anyway."
     "I got another idea," Wayne says.
     "Oh, secrets? You can't have a secret from your roommate."
     Wayne wishes that were true. If only he could tell Tim what goes through his mind when he watches him sleep or when Tim walks around their small dorm room in Townsend Hall with his shirt off.
     The secret Wayne will not tell is that he was recruited by "The Company" to work as an analyst. He saw their table one afternoon on the quad, and filled out an application. They said they needed people who could learn Vietnamese. Shit, I can do that, Wayne thought.
     He'd rather learn Korean, but Vietnamese was better than nothing, better than going back to the old bungalow in Chicago and listening to his mother wonder why he doesn't date Jane, who is a "nice girl."
     "You're up to something," Tim says looking squarely at Wayne. "I just know it."
     "Maybe I am. So what?"
     After graduation, Wayne spends six months in Langly, Virginia learning as much Vietnamese as he can. His friends from college wondered what happened to him. There was a rumor that he had decided to become a priest. Few heard from him, even when he is told he will go in country with four other men to work in Saigon. There Wayne will translate North Vietnamese radio reports and newspapers. Maybe, he would help in prisoner interrogations, too.
     Wayne imagines Saigon will be a magical city for a young man from the corn fields of Illinois or the flat grid of southwest side Chicago streets. It will be a city something like a blend of Paris and Bombay, with rock and roll music for a sound track.
     When he steps off the chartered Boeing 707 at Tan Son Nhut Airport, the heat and humidity is a slap in the face. Walking on the tarmac in a light rain with a suitcase clutched in each hand, Wayne realizes he packed too much baggage.
     "You like this place?" corporal Kelly asks Wayne while they sit on stools at the bamboo bar drinking beers.
     "Not so much," Wayne answers. He is happy Kelly talks to him. When Wayne saw a look in Kelly's eyes from across the room, he worked up his courage just to come over and sit next to him.
     Saigon's Continental Hotel bar is a place where reporters, company men and soldiers on leave go for a drink and to meet Vietnamese whores. Overlooking Lam Son Square, the hotel is a French island in an oriental sea.
     "So, pick up one of those Vietnam chicks and leave," Kelly suggests.
     "I'm not into rice," Wayne answers.
     "What are you into, then?" Kelly asks, turning to look at the bartender.
     "Not this place, that's for sure," Wayne says nervously. This is the first time Wayne ever talked to a guy this way.
     "Wanna come back to my place?" Kelly asks.
     "You gotta place? It's against the rules to have a place. How'd you get a place?"
     "So, do ya wanna come?" Kelly asks again, knowing Wayne will say yes.
     There is a slat screen over the window that separates Kelly's small room with its two cots from the sounds and smells of the street. Wayne is not sure where he is in Saigon, or if it is safe, but Kelly has his M16 propped against the wall so he figures it's OK. Kelly pops open a warm beer and hands it to Wayne. The beer tastes bitter, but also sweet.
     "Wanna smoke a joint?" Kelly asks.
     "Sure," Wayne answers hesitantly.
     After the pungent odor of smoke leaves the room, Kelly turns out the flashlight and moves his hand up Wayne's thigh as they sit together on a cot. Wayne isn't sure if Kelly's hand is fire or ice. He realizes Kelly's body is as warm as his. This is good for Wayne. This is what he came half way across the world to translate.
     "Take off your glasses," Kelly whispers. "I want to kiss you."
     Sometime, in the middle of the night, Wayne wakes up to the sound of shouting and the slap of boots on the street outside.
     He shakes Kelly. "Wake up. Somethings happening. Listen."
     They both hear the slap of boots followed by the click, click, click of more boots, and then the rapid fire of M16s.
     "It's OK," Kelly says. "Our guys got 'em."
     "How do you know?"
     "The boots," Kelly says. "Our boots got metal in the soles. You can hear 'em. They don't slap like Gook sandals.

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Strings Together
By Damien Duggan

     Two strings together ok, four strings together a little bit trickier, more of an effort yes but a beautiful rhythm, as if all sections of my tiny eardrum are working as one to the beat. My fingers rubbing against the smooth brown spruce, erotic in a sense, as if tickling my soul with the very tip of a feather. Coins drop in my James Cagney type hat, my favourite and no accident that it resembles a young James Cagney's. I picked it up while absent mindedly strolling the local pier one bright sunny morning a few weeks ago. I came across a man in a fancy dinner suit asleep on one of the paint chipped benches, no doubt a casualty of alcohol the night before. His hat was strewn across his chest and a manicured palm holding it tight to his chest. As I walked past this delightful scene I gently and discreetly stooped down and took it from his sleeping grasp. It now collects my change on a daily basis, as I said no accident that it resembles James Cagney's. I could have chosen from hundreds of hats on my morning walks but this was the one for me.
     In my mind's eye im a talented guitar player, it's how I make a living I think, some people wouldn't call it living, but I'm alive so that's enough proof for me that it something is working. I would call myself artistic but not in a tortured self-loathing way. I'm happy enough, I have routine, I drink a bit much, but I don't do drugs, not for me, no way. Women admire me, but I think at times they look at me the way women look at kids in an orphanage, in an ooohh… those poor kids, I'd love to help but don't have the time sort of way, it's definitely pity, ive no doubt. Though im immature I live without responsibilities. I eat very little as I don't enjoy stealing, believe it or not ive a good heart though many including my family who ditched this old penny many decades before. I do drink and sometimes, well maybe more than sometimes I lose control, not in an aggressive way mind you, I become more melancholic when in the grip of the drink. I drift into sad times and look at life moments in a skewed sort of way, as if all of life is an ailment to be nursed. I sit on the same street every day, like I said, I like routine, and I like this street. It's beautiful in a gothic sort of way. It's a French town called Lyon, sort of eastwards or is it central im not sure, I didn't listen much in school, probably down to following my heart a bit much, but maybe that's just a romantic shiny way of looking at desolate circumstances. The evenings are truly something to behold in this town and don't think im being over the top when I say this. The shadows meet the street as if a free to the public pantomime takes place and im in the front row, did I mention im a dreamer, but in a good way trust me when I say this. I begin my drinking about lunch time every day, but of course without the lunch. The beginning is always mostly stimulating. It numbs me just enough to feel really good about myself, I suppose ridiculously good you could say, after that its really downhill. I remember nothing when I wake the next day. Tired and nursing a sore head ill make my way back to my favourite street, start on one string slowly and make my way back to four, on very good days I play the six string to its full capacity and back to my childish wanderings I go. Sometimes im in a rock band, other times I play intimate venues with a small crowd listening intently. On the cobbled street that supports my thighs and backside I sit and play with not a care in the world. Couples stroll past hand in hand; some couples elderly and some young, living their lives the way they choose to. I'm happy yes, but im no fool either I don't have a choice in what I do and I believe that deeply.

The End
In the Dark
By Angela Nishimoto

     Leonard Rent drives along Wilder Avenue in Honolulu, hits something. He continues piloting his car, figuring it must have been a dog, but when he reaches Punahou Street, he drives mauka, toward the mountains, and pulls over illegally on Nehoa Street to check the damage to his eight year old Mazda. Under the streetlight-he has no flashlight-he sees the fender and the area above it are crumpled. He gets back into his dark red car and circles back, angry, to make damned sure the dog was dead or maybe to run it over again for being so stupid, denting his car.
     Leonard had bought the car third-hand, had paid the guy with the bristly, unshaven face cash since he went sixty dollars lower on the price. Now he turns down Kewalo Street. Doesn't see anyone, only a late jogger-Crazy bitch, out so late-then turns back onto Wilder. He passes the park to the traffic light further on and sees nothing. He stops the car, leaving the door open, on the little side street-Makiki Street, before the freeway-by the public garden. In the dark.
     He steps on something and goes cold-it's a person. A woman. He looks around, goes back into the car, starts it up. Then turns off the engine. He gets out and closely checks his right front fender. Blood. He rubs at it with his thumb, looks around again. No one. He drags the body and heaves it into the back seat of his Mazda, some bones in it grinding. He drives around the block again, wondering where to dump the body. He heads up Makiki Heights Drive, to the park-he can leave it there.
     Leonard Rent is almost half-way up the mountain, turns on the radio to some gentle Jawaiian reggae to calm down. He hears something. A noise from the body. Breath explodes from Leonard - It's alive!
     He pulls over onto the overlook of Honolulu, lights bright from beneath-amazingly, no other cars there. No one could see in through the tinted-illegally-windows anyway. He pulls open the rear door with a shaking hand, gets in. Dark. He doesn't want to touch it. Blood. But he looks at it with recognition.
     She lives on the sixth floor in the high rise across from his studio on Kewalo Street. Sure, she's the underwear one. She'd sit in her living room, the TV light flickering over her in her bra and panties on the long summer nights. Lives alone. Never any visitors, except for a dried up prune of an old bitch who had to be her grandmother or something.
     Funny, now that he places her, he feels interest, running his eyes over what he can see of her body. Nice. Her face-forget that, half of it is scraped and one eye swollen shut-is barely recognizable, but the one running shoe she has on, shorts, tank-she'd been running.
     Now that he thinks about it, maybe he'd run the red light? - Can't remember, he'd been drawing on his pipe, thinking about money, how to get some to pay down his debts. That's why he'd been out, driving around so late-he'd wanted to get away from Lisa and her nagging voice, pestering him, irritating him…. And Costa, their deadbeat roommate, left for his job with the Department of Transportation without leaving his share of the rent money. Now Leonard feels another kind of irritation, and pulls down her shorts in a swift gesture. She groans. He notes distantly that her left hip is a bloody mess. He tests her with the two thrusting fingers of his right hand and reaches for his wallet. Rolling on the Trojan, he's hard and excited-he's never done anything like this before! And plunges his cock into her, hearing her bones crunch beneath him…
     She screams, once.
     With a grunt, he comes, making sure the Trojan is tight against the base of his cock, then pulls away and in the moonlight-the moon is a lopsided yellow searchlight-he sees the eye, the one that isn't swollen, open and looking at him.
     "Fuck!" He clouts her in that eye. He beats her in the face, hit her with his fists, shots to the head, feeling bones grinding. No sound from her. Just dull thuds from when he hits her.
     Now he's scared again. Bruised hands shaking, he throws the Trojan out the window. What to do? What to do? He drives down from the mountain and gets on the H1 Freeway, trying to figure a way out of this, this mess on the back seat of his car. He drives up and down the freeway, up and down. The bitch doesn't make another sound. Maybe she's dead now. He thinks of getting his tire iron and making dead sure, but then he has a better idea.
     Leonard Rent slows his car gradually, pulls over onto the shoulder of the H1. Cars and trucks pass, someone blows their horn at him. He gets out, opens the back door and drags the half-naked bloody mess out and rolls it into the center lane when there's a break in the traffic. Shaking, breathing hard, he gets back into his car and roars off, knowing that someone was sure to hit it and send its sorry ass into the next world.
     Traffic is very light so late at night and several cars veer to the left to keep from hitting the broken bundle in the road. Then here come two police cars, blue lights on, going five miles per hour with a truck between them. Costa drives the truck with the large, round bristle-brushes to clean the right lane of the freeway. The first police car brakes suddenly and Costa nearly hits it, but manages to veer the lumbering vehicle propelled by its own inertia to the left, with sure strength turning the clunky truck into the far lane. The two policemen get out of their cars, lights strobing. One policeman radios dispatch for an ambulance, after checking and finding the woman alive.

The End
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River of Skulls
by J.F.Langton
Emily Fairfield, a proper young woman from Connecticut, sails to San Francisco in 1850, expecting her husband to meet her for a second honeymoon. Instead, unmet, she disembarks into a wild and lawless gold-fever culture totally foreign to her. Feeling abandoned, then terrified by the violence around her, she undertakes a quest to find her attorney husband, now a miner. She summons the strength, ingenuity, and resolve to save their gold claim in the southern mines of the Sierra Nevada foothills,  defying the odds stacked against her very survival. Before setting out for the Mother Lode, Emily is chilled when an old man at the San Francisco waterfront tells her that where she is going to seek her husband, El Rio de las Calaveras, is Spanish for The River of Skulls.

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Little Sparrow, A Kiowa in Love
A Romantic Comedy with a bold Native American twist.
by RA Winter
Karen left home, leaving her family and dreams behind. She returns only to sleep with Richard, a man who could end her career. Enter Grandfather, who raised his granddaughters the Kiowa way. He needs his heritage to be passed on to the next generation. Grandfather takes one look at Richard, and decides to put him through the trials. No one courts his granddaughters unless they were worthy.

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Big War, Little Wars 
by Arlene Eisenbise
“Daddy said that nobody really wins a war. They only make it look that way.” Teenager Milla Jaeger questions the war and the rules that war triggers. She misses her family’s life in the Wisconsin countryside before the move to Tralmer’s Trailer Camp near Milwaukee. Milla resides with her parents and her kid sister in what their mother has labeled the “six-by-fourteen-foot-cracker-box-on-wheels.” While World War II—the Big War—rages overseas, war-weary civilians on the home front endure sacrifices as they experience their own conflicts, the Little Wars. Order from Amazon or visit Arlene Eisenbise's website.

The Ghosts of Lambert's Dairy
By Bradley LeBlanc

     Strong winds overpowering wild grasses in the Great Plains can be as vigorous as currents moving the waters of the great Mississippi during a hurricane. Nestled among former wheat fields and wild prairie grasses, which now wave to tourists driving along the old country highway, the once prosperous farm and dairy has been abandoned for over three decades. Memories of the old Lambert Dairy are kept alive in the minds of a few elderly townspeople and even fewer aging baby boomers.
      Tourists passing by usually do nothing more than give the once prosperous farm and dairy a quick look. The more adventurous travelers sometimes stop to take pictures of the acreage to show their city friends the "quaintness" of America's heartland. On any given day, a handful of elderly locals, most of whom are widowers, spend the long daytime hours sitting in chairs and benches outside businesses along Rushview's main street. When not solving the world's problems on a daily basis, occasionally they meet interested travelers who take the time to listen to their stories of how the ghosts of Irvin and Mae Lambert still occupy their once prosperous homestead and chase away any interested buyers.
     After Steve Lambert moved to Chicago to attend college, his parents realized they could not work the old homestead much longer. Irvin and Mae shut down their dairy and bought a much smaller house in town. Irvin was able to get a job at Daigle Industries as a truck driver, and Mae was able to get a job as a bank teller at Rushview National Bank. They just could not bring themselves to sell the family farm because they always hoped that Steve, their only child, would one day want to return to his roots and reopen the dairy.
     After graduating from college, Steve accepted a position with an architectural firm in Chicago. Three weeks after starting his new job, Steve was getting dressed for work when he received a phone call, which totally caught him off guard. His Aunt Peggy called and told Steve that his mom had a major stroke, and he better come home immediately. He flew home and was in Rushview early that afternoon. Mae woke up briefly and smiled at her son. They spoke for a few minutes; she went back to sleep and never woke up again. Mae, who was sixty-seven-years old, died two days later.
     Shortly after returning home from the funeral, a coworker introduced Steve to Nancy Sullivan, a nurse practitioner and daughter from a prominent family from St. Louis. They married six months later. Irvin flew to Chicago to attend his son's wedding, his first time ever flying in a commercial airplane. Four months later, the newlyweds would drive up to Rushview so Nancy could see Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, and the hometown where her husband grew up.
      Two years later, Irvin Michael Lambert II (Mike), named for his grandfather, was born. Three years later, twin daughters, Renee and Tina, would join the family. Six months after the twins' birth, the family of five would drive to Rushview to attend Irvin's funeral. He would be rejoining Mae, the love of his life, on the fifth anniversary of her death.
      High school classmate and realtor, Janice Leach, was hired to sell the family farm and the home in town where Irvin and Mae had been living in for over a decade. Janice told Steve she expected to sell the house quickly since it was in the center of town and in walking distance of the grocery store, post office, bank, and church. It really surprised Janice when the first couple that looked at the house asked her to write up a buyer's agreement. She had just put a For Sale sign in the yard the day before.
     Selling the farm would not be that easy. After eight months with no success, Steve accepted Janice's offer to lease the land to Ed and Mayme Barlow. Steve hoped that Ed and Mayme, who had been neighbors and friends of his parents for many years, would buy the farm since the two farms were located next to each other.
     Rushview and Gaines County residents heard the first Lambert Dairy ghost story soon after this real estate transaction took place. Ed and Mayme decided to add a chicken coop to the Lambert property and gain an additional income selling eggs to several local markets and restaurants. On a warmer than average September morning, Mayme walked across the acreage to gather up the day's eggs. Her curiosity, which was well known to Rushview, Gaines County, and probably half the citizens of South Dakota, got the best of her. She decided to go inside the old farmhouse to see if anything valuable was left there by mistake.
     When Mayme walked inside the house, she claimed that she suddenly felt very cold, which was unusual since the temperature that day was already near 100 degrees. She was shivering and her teeth were chattering as she walked into the living room, where she and Ed had spent many evenings visiting Irvin and Mae.
     "Hello, is anyone here?" Mayme then claimed a closed window suddenly flew open and papers appearing out of nowhere were now flying throughout the house. A few seconds' later coffee cups and glass plates started soaring across the room shattering in unusually small pieces as they hit the walls in the living room, dining room, and kitchen. She suddenly heard loud noises as if someone was dragging chairs across the wooden floors in the abandoned house. Shocked and feeling like she was about to faint, Mayme let out a high-pitched scream, which of course, no one heard. Dropping the basket of eggs, she dashed out of the house at record speed screaming, "Ed, Ed."
      Rushview, with a population of 423 people, heard of Mayme's bizarre encounter about twelve seconds after Ed called the police station to speak to Warren Green, the highly respected sheriff of Gaines County. Warren went to the farm to investigate Mayme's claim but did not discover anything unusual. The house was totally empty, and all the windows were tightly sealed making them very difficult to open. He was dripping in sweat and sneezing from the musky smell from the house being unoccupied ever since Irvin and Mae moved to their house in town. He walked throughout the house, walked around the barn and shed outside, and didn't notice anything unusual. Going back to his air conditioned patrol car, he mumbled, "Shivering and teeth chattering in 100 degree weather; the lady's nuts."
     When Ed and Mayme asked the sheriff if he noticed the slippery floor made from dropping almost five-dozen eggs or if he had picked up Mayme's wire basket, Warren said that the wooden floors were dusty but there were no eggs on the floor or a wire basket there. Locals, upon hearing of the sheriff's observations, agreed it was probably Mayme's vivid imagination working overtime so she'd be the center of attention during her Tuesday night card club and her usual 1:30 Friday afternoon beauty parlor appointment at Gert's Hair and Flair.
     Other stories of hauntings were said to take place from high school students, who were bored from having nothing to do in an isolated farming community. Somehow groups of underage teenagers would buy beer and cigarettes and go to the Lambert farm on Saturday nights. There, they would spend many hours drinking, telling stories, and partying. Cigarette butts and empty beer bottles were usually cleaned up so that parents would not find out about these escapades.

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Extra Innings
By Mark Piper

     Remember those Mr. Coffee commercials featuring Joe DiMaggio? Sure you do. In fact, if you mention Joe DiMaggio to most people, the first response from many of them would be, "Oh yeah, Mr. Coffee." The thing is, he wouldn't ever have been Mr. Coffee if he hadn't first been Joltin' Joe, The Yankee Clipper … Joe DiMaggio, one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. I mean the man was once married to Marilyn Monroe, for Christ's sake.
     The sad thing for me, though, wasn't that Joe chose to let them capitalize on his name and reputation in order to sell a plastic and glass contraption that makes the universal drug we call coffee. No, the real tragedy was that, for too many people, he wasn't actually the Joe DiMaggio who roamed center field for the Yankees, who set the one baseball record that's never likely to be broken when he hit safely in fifty-six straight games. He was only a guy who used to be that Joe DiMaggio.
     Part of my angst about all this comes from the fact that he was only able to be Joe DiMaggio, the extraordinary baseball player, for such a short, short time. Because nobody really cares about what he became after he was no longer able to be The Yankee Clipper-except for a few coffee drinkers who liked those Mr. Coffee commercials.
     See, in most cases, no matter what an ex-ballplayer does with his life, he's only remembered because he used to be something else-something more important. And no matter what how he feels about it, other people will always think of him as someone who "used to be" and-by implication-someone who isn't anymore.
     An unfortunate fact of life for pro athletes is that, by the time most of your contemporaries are just getting started in careers, yours will be over. No matter how sweet the fame and glory, the celebrity and the accolades die too damn soon. You may have once been a hero … but, in the end, you've become just regular person, like the rest of us. And that feels a lot like failure.
     I played baseball with Rip Bailey in high school. Yeah, that Rip Bailey-the same guy who spent five years in the big leagues a while back. His real name was "Richard" and he went by "Rick." He was one hell of a hitter, even in high school. When he stepped up to the plate, the coach used to yell out, "Rip one Rick!" It didn't take long for the rest of us to begin calling him "Rip," all the time. That's the name he went by when he signed with the Mariners for a huge bonus right out of high school. He's the only guy I ever knew personally who actually became a baseball card. Sadly, I've long ago gotten rid of my card collection, but I've picked up a couple of Rip Baileys in the years since.
     It's one of the highlights of my life that I was scouted by the New York Yankees, back in high school. My name, my physical characteristics, my failings, my weaknesses, and maybe even my strengths (I hustled) were all dutifully written down in a small notebook by a grizzled old baseball scout. He did that for a few of us on the team. Of course, the scout was there to see high school sensation Rip Bailey, and he only included notes about me because, well, the Yankees are very thorough.
     Rip was the shortstop. I played second. And even though Rip earned his share of awards in the minors as a shortstop, including being selected the Most Valuable Player in the Texas League, he was mostly an outfielder his whole career in the big leagues.
     I never got to see Rip play in person when he was with the Mariners. I caught his games on TV when I could. After a stint in the Army, I was off to college and graduate school in small towns too far away from any big league city. But I did see him play when he was on his downhill slide and back in the minors. I was finishing my doctorate in History. Rip was in the Astros minor league system then, and he was in town to play against our local Phillies farm team. I arrived early so I might have a chance to say hello to Rip before the game.
     I was nervous when I made my way down to the front row next to the visitors' dugout, though I wasn't entirely sure why. I guess I figured he might not remember me. Maybe we weren't really as close as high school teammates as I remembered it. Besides, since then I'd grown my hair longer, and I had a mustache.
     Rip recognized me right away, though, and he seemed genuinely happy to see me. I wanted to hug him, but, of course, I couldn't. We were both grown men. "You're looking good," I told him. I knew about his bum knee, and that it was the main reason the Mariners released him. But he still looked like an athlete.
     We agreed to go out for a beer after the game, and I made my way back to my seat. I'm not sure why I was nervous watching Rip play. Maybe it was because I knew he wasn't the dominant hitter he'd been years ago. He struck out a couple of times, but I was thrilled to see him club a long double in his last at bat. He wasn't dead yet.
     We met at a local tavern near Rip's hotel. We did our best not to notice how awkward it was to try to act as if nothing really significant had changed since we'd last been together. We made a valiant attempt to discover if either of us had kept up with any of our friends from high school, but that proved to be a dead end. He was impressed that I was earning my Ph.D., even though I played it down. I was a little embarrassed by the whole thing. At the time we were both in our mid-thirties, but the truth was, he was an "old pro" and I was something like a "rising star" in my profession. So why did I feel like the loser? He told me he wasn't planning on playing ball much longer. Rip had been offered a car dealership back home, and he was interested. We both knew that the whole thing was an attempt to capitalize on his name and local celebrity. But we didn't talk about that part of it.
     After a couple of beers and a burger he let me know he had to get back to the hotel. The team bus was heading out for the next small town first thing in the morning, and he needed to get to some sleep. I told him I had some studying to do. We were getting better at tossing lies back and forth as if we were playing a casual game of catch. We exchanged phone numbers on the pretense that either of us would ever likely call. Rip insisted on paying.
     When the barmaid brought the bill, she seemed a little nervous. "I'm sorry," she said, "but would you do me a favor?"
     "Sure," Rip grinned. I think he was assuming she was just another autograph seeker.
     "See those two guys at the bar?" She nodded toward them.
     We looked over but neither of them made eye contact.
     "They have a bet going that you can settle."
     "Sure, what's the bet?" Rip asked.
     "Did you used to be Rip Bailey?"
     I stepped into the breech. "Let me tell you a little secret, Miss. The guy they're wondering about not only used to be Rip Bailey … he still is."
     Rip laughed.
     When she was gone, he turned to me. "Hey, buddy, it's no big deal. They didn't mean anything. It happens sometimes these days."

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Twelve Women in a Country Called America: Stories
by Kelly Cherry
Kelly Cherry’s tenth work of fiction delivers twelve compelling stories about women of the American South. These are women struggling to find their way through the everyday workings of life while also navigating the maze of self. From a young woman’s nightmare piano lesson to an elderly woman’s luminous last breath, Twelve Women in a Country Called America takes readers on a journey sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always enlightening.

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Bright Red Devil 
by Ralph Bland
Set in 2010 Nashville, Tennessee, Bright Red Devil chronicles eight months in the life of Jake Maynor. Once the city's foremost radio disc jockey, he has in a decade descended to the depths of occupational ruin and moral decay. Jake now searches for peace while confronting his personal demons and finding his way to a world without drama and turbulence. Along this path he deals with floods, lust, disgust with himself and the world around him, death, and a reoccurring case of unrequited love. Wandering through his existence while trying to right the wrongs of his colorful past, Jake watches his beloved Music City USA change and turn into something as strange and mysterious as himself. Growing older and weirder at all stops, he is forced to attempt to grow up at long last, one of those frightening things he never thought he'd have to do. Available through Mirador Press and Amazon.com. Visit my website ralphbland.com

Memory is Desire
By Casey Mensing

     For two years Paul and Tania had been moving in and out of each other's lives. In that time, she was more a person of stories, than someone he knew. Their first one on one interaction occurred as they sat on the floor in the middle room of a shotgun house their mutual friend Brigitte had just moved into. Paul and Tania were seated across from one another, eye to eye, wondering if the stories they had heard about the other were true. They passed a small glass pipe packed with mid-grade weed back and forth. After the second hit, they began to talk about Baudelaire and Bukowski. They saw themselves as romantic outsiders and read authors that spoke to those feelings. Paul had come to the conclusion that he wanted to sleep with Tania. It wasn't something he'd given much thought to before. Mostly because their previous interactions had been wordless. The first time they'd met, he'd noticed her in a sexual way. Tania was with someone, as was Paul. But he was now single, and whether she was or not was really not a concern of his. He could be a bastard like that.
     As Tania sat with her back to the wall she spoke in vague phrases about the fragments of a dream she'd had the other night. Paul thought about crawling across the floor and kissing her. He knew things about her as a lover, he was curious what she knew about him. Girls do talk. But he had to leave her there, sitting on the floor, glassy eyed and high. He had things to do, even though he wanted to spend the day in bed with the strange girl, making sweet, stoned, love. Then dosing, dosing away.
     It was two years later that Paul and Tania first kissed. Butterflies of anticipation danced between them as they walked down the street from Brigitte's house to Paul's apartment. There would be a predetermined outcome they both desired. In the back of their minds was the notion that even as this new sexual relationship was about to begin, the end of it was already foreseen.
     Paul was surprised that the kiss still held within in it possibility. A possibility that couldn't, nor wouldn't ever exist. That sense of the unreal still held true as they found themselves naked together for the first time. But in the very moment he penetrated her the veil was lifted, and the reality of their situation was once again present, standing in the corner of his bedroom like an unwelcome specter. Tania and Paul could hear its shallow breathing. They tried to ignore it, tried to let go and connect in the act. But without any conviction, they carried on until he came, hopelessly and devoid of pleasure.
     "Was that really awkward?" Tania asked.
     "Yeah, it definitely was." Paul replied, relieved.
     Paul felt close to Tania and it frightened him. She honestly stirred something in Paul. Despite the awkwardness and how unsatisfying their first encounter had been, there was part of him that fell for her. Instinctively, Paul wanted to withdraw, to just end this now before it went any further.
     "So why was it so weird for you?" Tania asked.
     "You're pregnant. I don't think I've wrapped my head around that."
     "There's nothing to get your head around. It is what it is. There's no reason to feel weird about it."
     Straight to it, no bullshit. Paul was reminded what it was he liked about this girl. Tania was right in a sense. He was sure that morally there was something wrong with this situation, but that's not what bothered him.
     "Yeah, you're right, I shouldn't get hung up on it," Paul replied.
     Tania smiled and curled herself around him as they talked about completely surface level ideas and listened to the things that stirred in the night. All the while Paul held back from telling her the whole truth. The child she was carrying was a big deal. He felt no guilt or awkwardness about having sex with her because of her pregnancy. Paul didn't care that Tania was a couple months along and that growing inside of her was the child of her estranged husband. What he was experiencing was something closer to a profound sadness because this relationship had nowhere to go. Even if they continued to pretend that the end wasn't already visible, they would both be removed from one another on any level deeper than the physical. As Paul held her, he knew they could never be together, that he could never allow himself to fall in love with her.
     Morning. They stirred together unsure of what to say or do. The sheet was pulled up across their lower backs. Both laying on their stomachs, gazing at one another, they were trapped in uncertainty. Paul turned onto his side, facing Tania, then drew patterns onto her skin with a delicate touch. Tania moved closer, pressed against him until she felt him grow against her hip. Tania turned her back to Paul, opened herself to him. Paul entered her slow and pleasingly. Tania rolled her hips, moving back onto her stomach with Paul on top. He began kissing her shoulders and the back of her neck, as he pushed in as far as he could. The passion, rhythm, they couldn't find last night, turned into a sustained intensity in the morning. As they came, a perfect wordless understanding grew between them.
     Touch and hold. The natural wonder of her wetness and his hardness as romantic expression. As he kissed her neck sweetly, ran his fingertips along her spine in the aftermath, he wished to exist forever in the moment they submitted to each other and became connected. They looked into each other's eyes and for a time everything outside of themselves became non-existent. Even death became an illusion.
     When Paul was inside of Tania, their bodies moving in a perfect rhythm, he was no longer lonely, no longer lost in the sadness of knowing this could never last. He was the very particles that compose the entire universe-pure, immortal energy. When they were together in that lover's embrace, the connection was not only to each other but to everything. Even after the orgasms, there was still that sense of oneness until he slipped out of her. Then things would return to a normal state of linear movement. The slow train of life and death. They could both sense it, which left them unsure of how to react to one another. Paul's desire was to hold her, kiss her, quietly, passionately whisper in her ear, I'm in love with you.
     On the nights she wasn't with him Tania would lie in bed and play two fantasies out in her head. The first and by far her favorite involved love and a relationship blooming between her and Paul. The second was that of her and Sam working things out and what her life as wife and mother might be like. It was the first time in her life she had begun giving any thought to the idea of parallel universes.
     Tania had never given any thought to being a housewife. Until she had learned of her pregnancy her life had been dominated by her quest for pleasure and experience. Beginning in her late teens she had always been attracted to a bohemian way of life that involved drug use and taking new and interesting lovers. She loved sex and sought to find lovers that not only provided a physical attraction but that intrigued her mentality as well.

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The Chi-Square Doorway
By Clifford Hui

     Lieutenant John Puztai's voice came over the intercom. "Mr. Bell, we are at checkpoint alpha. Altitude is one thousand feet. Changing heading to three four four magnetic."
     "Roger. Thank you. Let me know if you see anything." Carl Bell slid open the cargo door and sat down on the edge, his legs hanging out of the right side of the Sikorsky H3 helicopter. His gunner's belt, the long strap connecting Bell to a tie-down ring on the floor, ensured that he didn't fall out. He looked at the Pacific Ocean laid out below him, dull indigo directly beneath and shifting to a sparkling azure satin near the northern horizon. With Puztai's change of course, that scene was now shifting to his left. Bell started watching for whales and dolphins, his notebook clutched in his hand sheathed in a snug-fitting glove.
     Bell's ongoing project was to conduct a survey of dolphins and whales in the waters off southern California. He had been riding Navy helicopters four or five times a month for the last six months to execute it. Today, however, his experienced eyes were needed for another project. Today he was looking specifically for pilot whales.
     The pilot whale project was one of the Navy's few research projects with a goal of learning more about the general ocean biology. It focused on animals that were the length of a torpedo and used sonar like modern torpedoes. Bell's mission today was to fly from San Diego to the leeward side of Santa Catalina Island, twenty-six miles west of Los Angeles, and find pilot whales for the two research boats operating below. No one knew exactly where the pilot whales would be, but they were known to visit this general area.
     Lieutenant Puztai chatted with the copilot, Lieutenant Arthur Carlson, about the merits of Elvis Presley and the rock-'n'-roll culture. The pilots had primacy on the intercom, so Bell never got to chat with the crew chief, Chief Petty Officer Ernesto Cruz, during flights. Many of Bell's survey flights had been with Cruz, and he had managed to earn Cruz's respect through his careful planning, briefing presentations, and proficiency, even though he was "only" a civilian.
     It took over an hour to fly from San Diego to Catalina and he had a lot of water to look at along the way. They rarely saw anything on the early part of their flights, and this day was no different. Sparkling in the sunlight, the water looked empty and endlessly the same.
     Bell's headphones crackled to life. It was Lieutenant Carlson. "Mr. Bell, we have a big bunch of dolphins coming up on the starboard side."
     Bell leaned out of the doorway and looked forward. The prop wash buffeted his helmet, and blew down some of the jet exhaust, warming his neck. "I see them. Thanks. Can I get a position fix and a heading for the dolphins?" He leaned back into the chopper.
     "Stand by."
     The ocean turned white. A huge herd of common dolphins was swimming toward their flight path. They were leaping and churning the water as though celebrants in a traveling festival. Bell methodically went through the process to estimate their number. He selected a small area and took a quick estimate of the bodies he actually saw there in an instant. This was the tricky part. Each leaping dolphin created two splashes -- one when it emerged from the water and one when it returned. Bell had to concentrate on seeing the bodies, not the splashes. Carlson interrupted him.
     "We are at twenty-nine nautical at four two magnetic from S C I. Dolphins are heading two one zero magnetic," Carlson said, providing distance in nautical miles, and direction in degrees on a magnetic compass from the navigation beacon on San Clemente Island. He also gave the direction the dolphins were going using degrees on a magnetic compass.
     "Got it. Thanks."
     Bell scribbled down the information and started his count over again. He counted three areas of the same size, determined the average, and multiplied for the area covered by the whole herd. To compensate for the animals that were underwater where he couldn't see them, he multiplied that number by ten for a total of 8,000 animals. When he got it all written down, he gave a thumbs-up to Cruz. Even if they never found any pilot whales, at least he had some data for his ongoing survey project.
     Bell's situation contrasted sharply with the refreshing image below. His tall frame was covered head-to-toe in fire-retardant flight coveralls and gloves, steel-toed flight boots, and a helmet with enough ear protection to keep the screams of the twin jet turbines from getting to his head. He'd flown with poor ear protection once. At the end of that three-hour flight, his head felt like there was someone inside trying to chop his way out with an axe. Since then he'd been very conscientious about ear protection.
     They passed over the dolphins, and the once-foaming water became a solid blue, sparkling but empty. Bell raised his eyes to look at the coastline. Because of the recent fall rains, the air over southern California was invisibly clear. The foam of the breaking waves looked like interrupted lines of pure white cotton sliding sideways to the shore. Beyond the surf, he could see Interstate-5 that paralleled the coast northward from San Diego. On it were tiny-looking cars, like colorful bugs on a shoelace. Beyond it lay the coastal hills, whose pattern of lumps and folds were reminiscent of a blanket on an unmade bed. Their brown color from the arid summer showed hints of green, the beginnings of their response to the rains.
    Bell had driven I-5 regularly during his first year as a student at San Diego State, heading home to visit his family and high school friends in Los Angeles. He usually took his dirty laundry with him. On his first trip home, his mother showed him how to operate the clothes washer.
     His trips home became less frequent once he got the job as a student part-time employee with the Navy dolphin research program. The program had just moved to San Diego from Point Mugu when they hired Bell to help feed dolphins. Bell loved working with the animals. But more than that, after two years of careful observation, he became enamored of the research aspect of the program. The research issues fascinated him. And he loved the attention to detail that was required for a successful execution. He wanted to be more than a technician or assistant on someone else's projects. He wanted to be a Project Leader, to run his own projects.
     There was no particular training to be a Project Leader, so Bell trained himself to be a better biologist. Once, another student employee asked him why he was taking courses on botany, parasitology, and statistics if he wanted to do dolphin research. Bell looked up from the bucket of fish he was weighing and responded, "I don't know what opportunity is out there, but when it knocks on my door, I want to be able to say 'I am ready.'"

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The Secrets Of Yashire: Emerging From The Shadows  
by Diamante Lavendar
The Secrets Of Yashire:  Emerging From The Shadows is a young adult fantasy adventure that occurs within the framework of a young girl's subconscious mind. Against her will, the main character, Brianna,  finds herself thrown into the land known as Yashire and is forced to deal with circumstances that are threatening Yashire's existence. Only after she helps the creatures in Yashire will she awaken to the truth of her situation.

On the Clearing
By Edward Wells II

     "No, Donna. Why are you always trying to make me dream?"
     "I'm not trying to make you dream Daniel. But, it gets old watching you like this."
     "Donna, you're too sharp."
     "You might as well enjoy life."
     Daniel stepped out away from the tree. He looked up at the sky. The stars were twinkling. It was a light effect that he couldn't see when he was in town. Though Washington was a small town with no buildings over three stories, the light in town was enough to wash out the dramatic twinkling that held his gaze.
     "It was fun when I'd come up here and fly 'em though." Daniel turned back to Donna who was still sitting on the thick, low limb where he'd been moments earlier.
     "I know that. And you'd be able to do that. You'd have to do that. It would be like part of your job."
     "I'll think about it, Donna. You really should try to make somebody else live a dream."
     "Danny, I liked to see those things, too. Whether they were in the air or just sitting there, I always thought they were amazing."
     "Yeah, they just aren't big enough." Danny threw his arm in the air and spun, watching his hand sail up higher like an RC airplane.
     "Ya came back again, huh?"
     "What else would I be doing, Wayne?"
     "Ya hate this shit. Surely you could find something." Wayne smiled and winked. The smile was little more than the opening of his lips and stretching them back toward his ear on one side of his face. He had actually watched himself in the mirror many times. He'd refined the practice of only moving half of his mouth and of pushing the corner back as far as he could.
     "Well, they say I gotta have money for rent." Daniel pushed the mop left.
     "And don't ferget about food neither." Wayne looked down the hall both ways. "Let's take a quick break. We've been at it fifteen minutes." Wayne chuckled.
     The two pushed their mops and buckets into a nearby closet and walked toward the ICU waiting room. It was nearly always empty at this hour. But if anyone had been there, the two could walk around the corner to the staff break room. They always checked the ICU waiting room first. The chairs were more comfortable, and there were two televisions.
     The room was empty, so they went in and positioned themselves in chairs side-by-side facing in opposite directions. Daniel held out his flask to Wayne who shook his head. Wayne never drank, but that didn't stop Daniel from offering. It wasn't a courtesy so much as an affirmation that what he did, he alone was doing, and he was really doing it. Daniel raised the flask and then pulled a third of the contents into his mouth and down into his empty insides.
     Wayne slowly and deliberately took out his silver pill case. He opened it with a click and a slow raising of the lid. He smiled and chuckled a bit. The small round circles lay there, some on their sides, some flat. He quickly looked over them, taking inventory. Then he picked one up and placed it on the end of his tongue. With that he clicked the case shut and returned it to his pocket.
     "Why ya keep drinking that brain drano?" Wayne laughed.
     "Because every time I put down a third layer of wax on a floor, I think to myself this has to be the dumbest fucking thing I could be doing."
     "Oh, but ya 'gotta have money for rent.'" Wayne was staring at the television.
     "Yeah. I mean what do you think about?"
     "Well, if ya must know, I sometimes think about Sartre and that scene he describes in 'Bein' and Nothin'ness' where ya waiting for someone to arrive at the cafe." Wayne laughed. "I'm just fuckin' with ya man."
     "Yeah." Daniel felt a little more solid than usual. Many times when Wayne said something like that and laughed, it rattled him. Tonight though Daniel felt like stone, and Wayne's words were nothing but breath.
     "We should get back at it kid." Wayne got up. "We gotta finish that whole hallway before morning."
      Daniel followed him. "Yeah. That's a lot of third strokes."
     "Yep, I reckon so."
      "Marcy why ain't we still together?" Daniel pushed against her gently.
     "Danny, the way you smell right now, is part of the problem."
     "I been working." Danny began to unbotton the shirt of his uniform. "Ya'll ain't even grateful. I clean the only hospital we got in this town."
     Marcy helped him with the last buttons of his shirt. "Danny, you do the floors. That ain't really cleaning. You're a technician, really."
     "Yeah. I mop the fucking floors. We're both right." He fell back on her day-bed and the light aluminum creaked.
     She looked down at him. "Danny you never was the smartest of us. But being a technician ain't bad; not here."
     He let his head fall back. The full flask had been in him before he clocked out. And as he walked over to Marcy's house, as he sometimes did, seemingly without thinking, he'd refilled it from a bottle in his back-pack, only to start working on it again.
     "Why ya doing this to yourself?" She helped him turn his body lengthwise with the bed and began to pull off his work boots.
     "Why ya datin' him?" Daniel was talking straight up to the ceiling with his eyes closed.
     "You even know his name right now?"
     "Jay-Jer-his fuckin' name starts with a 'J'."
     "Yeah. And he's going to Tech." She put Daniel's shoes by her rack of shoes. She thought about when they were together. He would come over and undress himself. He loved to put his boots on the rack beside her tennis shoes and pumps. He'd say something like 'God girl, you got the tiniest little feet' then slide into bed with her. She'd felt safe and good.
     Today she pulled out the small mattress from under the day-bed and turned down the sheets. She told Daniel to rest well, kissed his forehead, and climbed into bed across the room.

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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.

Eleventh Summer
By Ty Spencer Vossler

     Life is short but it's wide.
     We were eleven, going on twelve. Twelve-the golden ticket-an age when dreams and fantasies high-five with the hope that they will become reality. How could I-Andrew Johnson-have guessed that, sequestered within the magic of twelve was a dark reality waiting to pounce like a feral river cat?
     My best friends were Rodney Rooster Martin, Arnulfo Goofus Rodriguez and Joey Reece. Stick was my nickname. Our epithets were cruelly accurate.
     We attended Woodland Elementary School. Rodney and I lived on family farms. Arnulfo's father labored for a large corporate farm and they lived in low-rent housing on one of the properties. Joey lived in Woodland and didn't have to ride the bus to school with the rest of us. Joey didn't have a nickname either and I can't recall why. His ears stuck out from his head like dollar pancakes-we could have come up with something. We gave each other nicknames before enemies had the chance to tag us with one. Kids like Stinky Sandoval, Pork Edwards and Fishface Turman had waited too long.
     We gambled on the ancient rickety school bus dubbed the Cracker Box. Wherever it squealed a stop, dogs gathered to race us to the end of their territory. We bet pennies as to which dog would stay in the lead longest. The ancient bus shuddered as it ground through its gears. In between shifts it popped a smoky fart. Sometimes the dogs were lazy-especially if they were trying to impress a female-nothing we could lay odds on.
     The big kids-seventh and eighth-graders-sat in the back seats firing lentils through straws or flicking pennies-which we collected for gambling. The morning bus driver was Mr. Hernandez-a timid old man. His plea for peace were ignored and he patiently continued driving as though he were cruising in the family mini-van.
     Big kids lowered windows to spit on stop signs and talked nasty to the girls. Mr. Hernandez crinkled his forehead and tapped the steering wheel in time with the Mexican tunes he listened to on the radio. Probably he counted the days to retirement-laid groundwork for a return to Mexico where he would be accorded with respect.
     Floyd-polar opposite of Mr. Hernandez-piloted the afternoon bus. Floyd was an entertainer. The afternoon bus was equipped with a long-armed microphone that swung in front of him for announcements. Floyd sang while he drove. He crooned songs about bowlegged women, impersonated Frank Sinatra and took a stab at hip-hop once in a while. Sometimes he let us talk on the mic before we got off the bus.
     Once when I was out with the flu, Floyd's rich voice drifted lazily over the farm as he cruised by.
     "It never rains in California but girl don't they warn yuh-"
     As I remember it was raining cats and dogs.
     Every Friday I asked Floyd about his weekend plans and his standard reply was, "I'm gonna go out and chase wild women."
     It was fun to imagine what a wild woman would look like. When he wasn't driving bus, a list of never-ending custodial responsibilities usurped the rest of his time. Floyd could fix just about anything, kept the classrooms clean and refereed our school sports competitions.
     "I'm a maintenance engineer," he jived. "I studied at the Harvard Institute for the Custodial Arts."
     He still found the time to teach how to shoot a jump shot, scoop grounders, throw a spiral - important stuff.
     Many of the Woodland teachers used our tiny school as a stepping-stone to get to Pottersville-where they paid more. Instructors came and went every year. We were all pleased when Ms. Lupe Payán arrived. She was my sixth-grade teacher. After lunch she read us poetry in her soft, lilting voice-leaving the boys with cobwebs and throbbing protrusions. She had long, shiny black hair and sleepy brown eyes. Her curves were barely secreted beneath brightly colored Mexican skirts and blouses she usually wore. When she walked by our desks the breeze created by her skirt floated the scent of her perfume.
     Ms. Payán had a twin sister that taught at Pottersville High School-adding further fuel to our fantasies.
     The gang took turns approaching Ms. Payán's desk to ask dumb questions. Strategically, the questioner positioned himself and let a pencil slip from his fingers. Stooping to retrieve it, the rest of us counted off seconds as he examine her smooth, dark legs.
     I held the record-7 seconds. I gawked at her satiny calves-the contour of her thighs beneath the thin fabric of her skirt-while the class bubbled in answers on a grammar worksheet.
     One morning, as we were taking a Civil War quiz, Rodney Martin passed me a note. It said, I'm going for the record.
     I signaled the others the the game was about to begin. They looked up from their papers-grateful for a temporary reprieve from the war. Rodney gripped his pencil and walked up to Ms. Payán's desk.
     Rodney had a rooster-tail lock of hair sticking straight out from the back of his head-hence the nickname. Patty Rodriguez sat behind him and sometimes I saw her staring angrily at it-as though any second she'd spit in her hand to slap it down. With hair like that, Rodney was doomed to failure in his quest for immortality.
     Sure enough-as he bent to retrieve the pencil, Patty got Ms. Payán's attention with hand signals and ratted him. Rod was sent to the principal's office and my record was intact.
     Recess and lunchtime chatter usually focused on Lupe Payán. She filled us with desire, curiosity and butterflies. I still remember comments she wrote on my final report card that year: Andrew is a bright young man and he will do well in seventh grade if he keeps his mind on work.
     Nelda Morales sometimes shared top billing with Ms. Payán because she had the biggest tits of any girl in our class. Yet Payán remained the star attraction.
     The following year she didn't return. Woodland provided the springboard for a job in Pottersville. In most ways her replacement was more noteworthy than our lovely Lupe Payán. Her name was Ms. Crooninghill.
     Sandwiched between sixth and seventh grade was an unforgettable summer-I'll get to that in a moment. First I want to say something about the incredible Ms. Crooninghill.
     Ms. Crooninghill was in her sixties-a tiny woman-ramrod straight with sunken cheeks that ceaselessly flexed. Her hair was a mass of fine gray wire ordered into in a tight bun. She had a prominent wart on her cheek-her voice was shrill and grating like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard. Yet, her eyes were mysteriously beautiful-deep blue searchlights on a moonless night.

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There have been many requests to
ring back WritingRaw's cult classic

"really BAD Shakespeare"

So, without further ado, let's start at the beginning...
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Many Fish to Fry
by Abha Iyengar
Reena Rajan leads a busy life as a part-time businesswoman and full-time housewife, when a fish and a private detective arrive, unannounced, on her Delhi doorstep. Over many cups of tea Reena and her unlikely accomplice Harinmoy Banerjee grapple to find answers to big city problems, to discover their place in the changing mix of old India and modern India, and to uncover the fishy goings-on next door in Flat No. 69, Seaside View Apartments. Can be ordered from Amazon.com or Lulu.
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The Rise of Nazil: Secret of the Seven
Aaron-Michael Hall
It was the 75th year of Alberoth when the AsZar summoned the Guardians. There was an imbalance in the lands of Faélondul. The Zaxson, Draizeyn Vereux covered the lands in a pall of darkness. There was a plan to exterminate the infestation in Nazil and beyond, a plan to eradicate the humans.

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Guarding Shakespeare
Quintin Peterson
Nobody alive knows the Folger Shakespeare Library better than Special Police Officer Lt. Norman Blalock. That's why he is the perfect candidate to pull off an inside job and heist a priceless artifact that can rock the foundation of English Literature…