Category Archives: Excerpts

“The Underworld is a Multiverse, and All Your Lovers Are Invited: Part 1 and 2” – Fiction by Laura Podolnick Dukhon

Haywain – Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1488

A woman discovers just how twisted Hell can be in “The Underworld is a Multiverse, and All Your Lovers Are Invited : Part 1 and 2,” Laura Podolnick Dukhon‘s demonically hilarious short story from our Spring 2018 issue.

{ X }

Part I: If You Break Hell It Only Gets Worse

I WANDERED INTO HELL BY MISTAKE, on a thunderstorm skulk while I cried and asked God questions. I paused for a moment and ducked into a warehouse, half-hoping to meet my doom and half-hoping to take a break from the rain. The ground split beneath me– smooth pavement separating to an obscene crack directly under my size three Converse high-tops, the crack then growing and sucking me in, enveloping me like a giant, jealous vagina.

Hell is a charade that takes place in a ballroom, and the cast comprises men who no longer love me and men who never did love me, dancing the tango, the foxtrot, the merengue, and a variety of other steps with nubile, big-eyed, dewy-limbed young women wearing slinky satin underthings and too much red lipstick.

Hell is round, so there are no corners in which to hide. My ex-paramours and not-quite-ever-paramours are dapper in tuxedoes and they are all sweet-smelling and cleanshaven. The one I’d taken to calling The Worst Person In The World waltzes by and gives me a wink. His hand, though still managing to hold an unfiltered cigarette, is conspicuously beneath the silky half-slip of his curly-haired dance-partner, who audibly hums a haunting tune that calls to mind requiems, ghosts, genocides.

P___ ignores my presence and is a poor dancer. At least there is that. The girl grasping onto his shoulders looks bored, as though she has been hired to be here. Y____ and I lock eyes for a horrible moment and tears well on both sides, but then he looks down and looks up, all while wiggling a violent tarantella. His partner appears nonplussed, so I want to punch her for her insolence. W___ does not remember who I am. His cha-cha could use work.

A__ comes over to talk. He first whispers to his partner, who crosses her arms and rolls her eyes. He runs over and asks if I am okay. “Considering this is Hell, I’m peachy,” I reply. He seems surprised to know that we are in Hell. I direct him to the sign over the refreshment table: Welcome to Hell, it reads in a fancy script. “I have to get back,” A__ says, pointing to his irritated partner across the room. I nod.

The walls are garish, baroque, pale orange and pink sherbet swirls and curlicues. The carpet is a periwinkle floral. The chandeliers make everything just a little too bright and a little too yellow.

I begin to dance awkwardly, alone, moving towards the center of the room. I feel the girls all staring at me, judging my inappropriate attire, my unkempt hair, my dripping mascara, my tired face. They all glower from stiletto-heeled heights, and their high, neat ponytails flick like whips upon every turn. I figure it is Hell, so there aren’t really any rules of etiquette to break, and it can’t get any worse, so I resolve to make a scene. Now in the middle of the floor, I slither out of my coat, my corduroys, my Henley, my shoes, my sweater, my socks, my unattractive underwear, until I am fully naked. I look to the mirrored ceiling and there I am, pink and shiny, raw, like a scar. The room has moved away from me and I am alone at the center, writhing, naked, arms out, looking up. I am in Hell, so it follows that the rules of physics do not apply, so I try to breathe fire from my mouth. It works. The girls who were laughing at me stop laughing. The gentlemen look less aghast now and more afraid. I shoot blasts of smoke from my nose and I fart tear gas from my very butt. Everyone is coughing and covering their faces, to protect themselves from my glare, my noxiousness. I make swords grow from my fingertips and scales and horns sprout from my back. I commission six tails, each with a dragon’s head, and my nipples are miniature machine guns, delicate, pink. Just when I start thinking that Hell is a lot nicer when I am not the only one having a bad time, the fire alarm goes off and all my exes file out, each holding another girl’s hand. I join the end of the line, but when I get to the double doors, I cannot fit all my new body parts. I try to undo them, but they don’t go. Hell, apparently, does not allow subtraction. The dragon heads on my tails bite each other, and it hurts. I stumble over to the refreshment table and pour myself a cup of coffee. There is no milk.

Continue reading “The Underworld is a Multiverse, and All Your Lovers Are Invited: Part 1 and 2” – Fiction by Laura Podolnick Dukhon

Advertisements

“The Virus Shaves Her Legs” – Poetry by Katie Longofono

Woman With Stole – Jean Dupas, 1929

“The Virus Shaves Her Legs” is one of four gritty & enthralling poems by Katie Longofono in our Spring 2018 issue.

{ X }

ITCHING FURIOUSLY TO BE SMOOTH
like every woman
on the subway, she soaks
for 3 hours and sands down
to the skin. The virus is shocked
at how much it bleeds,
like her shins are crying out.
Must take some nerve
to go naked after dressing
with such intention — she grew
a stole at first to repulse
desire, covering herself
in animal skins and furs
lusty for red paint, and kept them
for the luxurious feel. Slick
and wiry, a boar or a mink.
The virus was a crop
of cacti or dragonfruit,
whatever spike goes right
to your head, she was dying
to get under your skin. Now
she takes off the armor,
goes raw and rightfully
invites you, if you want to
come in.

{ X }

KATIE LONGOFONO received her MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, where she directed the 2014 SLC Poetry Festival. She is the co-founder and co-curator of WEIRDD, an inclusive monthly reading series that honors weird, rigorous poetry with loving kindness, as well as compensation for their art. She also co-produces AmpLit Fest in partnership with Lamprophonic and Summer on the Hudson. She previously co-founded and curated Dead Rabbits Reading Series 2014-17. Longofono is the author of three chapbooks:  Angeltits (Sundress Publications 2016), Honey and Bandages (co-authored with Mary Stone; Folded Word Press 2015), and The Angel of Sex (Dancing Girl Press, 2013). Her work has appeared in The Boiler JournalTinderbox Poetry JournalBOAATglitterMOB, South Dakota Review, Juked, Slipstream, and more. She lives in Brooklyn.

“If You Water a Horse” – Poetry by Abigail Welhouse

Corncob Horse in Outer Space – Maria Primachenko, 1978

“If You Water a Horse” is one of three exquisitely offbeat poems by Abigail Welhouse in our Spring 2018 issue.

{ X }

IF  YOU  WATER  A  HORSE,
flowers will grow from its spine.
They will die if you pick them. If they live, they will grow
into water lilies as large as goldfish aquariums,
then into beanstalks you will climb to giants.

If you dry off a horse, the desert will give you a message.
You will know when you find sand in your boots.
When you empty them, you will uncover a tree.
The tree is a gift from the giants.

{ X }

photo by Jason Koo

ABIGAIL WELHOUSE is the author of Bad Baby (dancing girl press), Too Many Humans of New York (Bottlecap Press), and Memento Mori (a poem/comic collaboration with Evan Johnston). Her poems have been published in The ToastYes PoetryGhost Ocean Magazine, and elsewhere. Subscribe to her Secret Poems at tinyletter.com/welhouse.

 

“The Golden Key” – Fiction by Carlea Holl-Jensen

illustration by Aubrey Beardsley, circa 1895

For a hint of all the fantastic treasures you can find in our Spring 2018 issue (coming March 20), here’s Carlea Holl-Jensen‘s mysterious & alluring flash fiction “The Golden Key.”

{ X }

IT’S LATE WINTER WHEN HE FINDS THE BOX, winter right on the cusp of spring, that restless stretch when the woods are no longer dark by midday but the frost hasn’t given up its grip on the air.

Of course, it isn’t the box he sees first. That’s still buried under a foot or more of snow.

What he sees, instead, is a crop of new crocuses growing in amongst the trees. He isn’t looking for flowers, doesn’t much care for them. He isn’t sentimental; in fact, he’s about as unsentimental as they come. He once fought in a war and refuses to remember the last time he cried, but it was certainly not while remembering the death of an animal in a movie he watched often as a child. In short, he’s not the type to notice flowers, and he wouldn’t have noticed these flowers at all if the snow weren’t so deep. He’s surprised to see them, these flowers—after all, even late winter isn’t quite spring. The buds haven’t opened yet, and they look to him like the bulbous nipples of tiny baby bottles.

He crouches down to look at the flowers more closely and wonders how they aren’t frozen. He’s pretty cold himself, even though he has on an expensive jacket designed for extreme weather conditions. The flowers don’t seem to feel the cold at all.

Something must be warming them from below, he reasons. He’s extremely logical, this man. He appreciates marching orders and ranks and maps with little pins stuck in them. He keeps schedules, wears a watch set by a satellite, leaves no room for uncertainty or doubt. Faced with this improbable inflorescence, he thinks of hot springs and geothermal vents.

He brushes aside the snow that surrounds these little yellow nubs, and then brushes away some more. Not too deeply buried is a key, the kind that opens coin op lockers in bus stations and public swimming pools.

The flowers have grown up to mark the spot, he thinks, and his having had this thought surprises him even more than the flowers growing there. He feels queasy at the mere idea. He’s not, as I’ve said, a man over given to fancy.

More likely, he tells himself, this key fell from someone’s pocket as they walked along the trail. He feels better once he’s explained this to himself in plain terms.

But the man’s mind, now that it’s started rationalizing, has no intention of stopping. If there is a key, the man finds himself thinking, quite against his will, there must also be a lock.

Continue reading “The Golden Key” – Fiction by Carlea Holl-Jensen

“The Forbidden Book of Uziah Greiss” – Fiction by Abhishek Sengupta

Saraswati – Nandalal Bose, 1941

The grand finale of our Winter 2018 issue is Abhishek Sengupta‘s brilliantly Byzantine and Borgesian short story “The Forbidden Book of Uziah Greiss.”

{ X }

ABSTRACT

HAVING WORKED AS A LIBRARIAN in the Egyptian National Library and Archives (ENLA) for forty long years, visiting it for ten years as an ex-librarian subsequent to his retirement, and concentrating on reading each book housed there thrice, Uziah Greiss discovered that the 13013th word in each book is a number. Always. Without exception.

He also noted that although they appeared in different formats, each one of them was a different number (or a sign denoting a number, or terms we could map numerically). For example, in a book named A History of Martyrdom, the 13013th word is “gross”. It appears in the sentence ‘A gross misconduct on the part of the king announced the beginning of war.’ Numerically, the word “gross” stands for one dozen of dozens, or more simply, the number 144.

After years of studying, Greiss came to another startling conclusion: each number appearing as the 13013th word in a book was unique and appeared only once throughout all books ever written. Never repeated.

This synopsis attempts to uncover, as well as understand, the only (and yet, incomplete) text ever written by Uziah Greiss, which is as much of an enigma as it is a catalogue of his finding.

{ X }

INTRODUCTION

Let it be known that this is my final attempt at publishing the short synopsis of The Forbidden Book of Uziah Greiss (that is not the real name of his book, but then, his manuscript had no name – real or otherwise, and it remained incomplete for someone killed him before he could complete it). All my earlier attempts at writing and publishing the synopsis have met with failure in some mysterious circumstances, but I promise to stay true to the history of writing this synopsis by recording my failures as well. So, let me start by quoting the circumstances leading to each of those failures.

{ X }

Attempt # 1: I completed the synopsis in my first attempt. A publisher in town showed interest in it. I had been traveling on a bus with my completed manuscript when I suddenly started feeling drowsy. Although not in the habit of falling asleep on a bus, that day I did. On waking up, I found my bag, which sat on my lap and contained the manuscript, had been stolen.

{ X }

Attempt # 2: I stumbled half-way through the synopsis when the news broadcast confirmed reports of war breaking out. My wife claimed the city we stayed in was not safe anymore, which happened to be true. So, we moved to a different city, one supposed to be safer. When I unpacked my belongings, however, I could no longer find my half-finished synopsis.

{ X }

Attempt # 3: A letter arrived when I was about to complete the synopsis. My wife opened it. A clear warning surfaced, attempting to prevent me from trying to publish my synopsis. It told grave consequences awaited my family and me if I tried. The sender’s name didn’t figure anywhere. I didn’t want to pay much heed to an anonymous warning, but my wife was reluctant. She said she was afraid for our son’s life. She tore up the pages on which I had been writing the synopsis.

{ X }

Attempt # 4: I started writing the synopsis in extreme secrecy this time. I didn’t mention it to anyone, not even my wife. One day, when my wife and son went to the market, I received a phone call. The voice on the other end claimed my wife and son had been in an accident and were admitted to the nearest hospital. By the time I reached the hospital, it was too late. Both were declared dead. When I returned home a broken man, I found someone had broken into my home. The synopsis I was working on was gone.

Continue reading “The Forbidden Book of Uziah Greiss” – Fiction by Abhishek Sengupta

“Disclaimer” – Poetry by Hussain Ahmed

Whispers of Desert – Nicholas Roerich, 1925

“Disclaimer” is Hussain Ahmed‘s shadowy, whispery, profoundly meta poem from our Winter 2018 issue.

{ X }

THIS POEM BEGAN AT NIGHT

it should be read in whispers

this poem is black and not dying

it is not meant to nurse a bullet wound

this poem is not brown

it did not scale through barbwire fences

only to be reminded of how burnt pasta smells

this poem has no voice

it’s the wind blowing over the face of desert

don’t look it in the eyes when it tries to speak

this poem is a collection of pixels

not enough to light up a grieving heart

this poem sings in many unknown voices

it has hacked through your system

this poem should not have an end

this poem follows no rule, you become aware of its meters

when it stings like anopheles

this poem was born amongst the click of empty bottles

it survived avowal sobriety of savvy imageries

this poem needs home; it’s been fed but it wants to stay out cold

this poem wants to live on bread and alcohol alone

but it does not mean it is yellow, this poem is colorless

this poem wants to be written on a rocket going to space

this poem needs space to grow

this poem should have no sexual preference; it has nothing to do  with God.

{ X }

Continue reading “Disclaimer” – Poetry by Hussain Ahmed

excerpts from “in her own words” – Poetry by Valerie Hsiung

Fate, Life, Truth, Beauty – Georg Pauli, 1905

From our Winter 2018 issue, here are four tantalizingly poetic excerpts from Valerie Hsiung‘s in her own words.

{ X }

TAKE THOSE HANDCUFFS OFF OF ME. All I hear. I am a penniless billionaire. I am the granddaughter to a squandered fortune. What would she say? She would say to not be so lazy today, tomorrow you can be lazy. She would say to walk clear into the burning fields.

{ X }

AND THEN. IT CHANGED… Became too quiet between us, what was left for us to trace went unfulfilled. The need to not speak too soon is the need to survive as prey. Cursed us all but not on purpose. Those are nice shoes! Oh no make no mistake, I was definitely flirting with you. So we’re both too old for this. At least me. All purpose flower. Black tea on an empty stomach kind of seasick.

Make believe. And later,       ropes them in.

{ X }

DECIDED NOT TO CHUCK IT ALL AWAY AFTER ALL. But, the offer
may still stand… And…sometimes, it’s good to let yourself be bad… She smiles.
Paper sails mean paper moon.
Can you picture it? She sits at a desk, and then
she gets up from it, the desk, smiling, identifying the source
inside her, both old and violent or nostalgic and haunting inside as a river or jukebox or when pharmacies still sold ice cream, yet on the outside, all you see
is something timeless. She cannot see this. She feels she is vanishing
before them, before herself.

{ X }

WHEN I LIE, EVERYONE BELIEVES ME. Because that’s what they want to hear,that’s what they’ve always. wanted. to hear.

But when I tell the truth?

everyone begins to call me a liar. Their liar.

That’s when the poison begins to take hold.

{ X } Continue reading excerpts from “in her own words” – Poetry by Valerie Hsiung