Category Archives: Fiction

“Snapshot from the Revolution” – Fiction by Perry Lopez

Our Lady of El Cobre

Our Summer 2018 issue won’t rise from the deep until June 21, but should you care for a preview of what’s to come, here’s Perry Lopez‘s historical & horrific short story “Snapshot from the Revolution.”

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THE NIGHT WAVES WERE ROLLING TOWARD CUBA, beating their steady pulse against the hull of the yacht. A rhythmic skip and crash in perfect blackness, and all our bodies leaning together. A jump and plunge amidst the rattle of ammunition, the dishing of gasoline in drums that we had lashed to the handrails because the tank would not hold enough to get us there, the sky that was starless, pure blackout, and pressed down upon our heads. Petroleum and sulfur and potassium nitrate, human sweat and nervous breath, the various agents of conflagration—all inert for the moment, jostling together. My finger was on the shutter release. Across my chest there was a double-bandolier full of flashbulbs. Magnesium, the smell of magnesium powder, which burns with near the same quality as sunlight: 5500 Kelvin.

I try not to hear the Giant’s voice, but there it is anyway. Words which he never spoke but instead I gave to him and believed in absolutely, there in that moment of body-terror and doubt, seminal blindness across the Atlantic, which was the power he had over all of us. Have spirit, brother Gusano. We do not need the heavens to steer by, not when we have pinned fresh constellations to the roofs of our minds. Would the man himself have said that? I can see his face speaking the words clearly enough, but cannot say for sure. I have written far too many speeches for Fidel Castro in my thoughts, and now he is dead—idol dead, paper dead—heartbroken at the age of ninety and buried beneath a kernel of corn, as you already know.

So instead take my clearest picture, the only one I know for sure was captured with my own senses. Everything afterward will be lies: Graffiti on their monuments. I remember salt on my lips. Body salt, sea salt, and an accordion crush of lungs fighting for space to expand. The deck was not meant to hold so many bodies. A compression of moncadistas and stark-ribbed exiles on the pleasure boat that had seen happier voyages. Eighty-two men in total, all packed to the gunwales, hustled aboard the North American vessel with its engine that stalled and stuttered like my own flawed heart, sending up the first oily smoke of our revolution, some of them sitting upon the very edges and holding onto the shoulders of their comrades so that they would not fall into the sea. An orgiastic colony of sweaty limbs and whispered confidences—Sierra Maestra, José Martí, the Latifundia, Our Lady of El Cobre, Castro, Castro, Castro—the germ of a new country caught between two great slates of emptiness, the sea and the sky, and a few brave ones sitting atop the crates of grenades packed in straw. A man coughed up vomit to my right and another leaned over the side to dribble his empty stomach across the midnight rollers. From somewhere close to the bow a voice was singing out in a bold, solemn spinto: Cuba, oh Cuba, a bright red flower for Cuba / One which smells not so sweet / Nor which bears aught to eat / Yet will bloom on from Gitmo to Bauta, as his words were sucked away by the wind. Where in all this was Fidel? Where was Che? Which of these darkly groping forms were Raul and Camilo and Almeida? And whose voice was that singing? Never mind. It is wrong to ask. Let them be for an instant like what was promised. A hum of bodies and voices and futures converging.

But in this polyrhythm of heartbeats they had their guns and I had my camera. A 35mm Zeiss that would be the eye through which the world watched our revolution (Castro’s hopeful thinking) and the tool we would wield against Batista’s newspapers. It swung from its strap and knocked against my chest so I raised a hand to hold it still. Already a bruise had begun to form there, a distinct green and yellow impression of the metal case stamped upon my skin. Your press card, brother, said Raul the day before, giving the bruise a rap with his knuckles. Now they will know not to shoot you. A painful blemish that would only grow with time. But for the moment it was best not to take the camera from my neck, I had decided, because if it somehow got lost or broken they would give me a rifle to replace it. One of those old American Nazi-killers we had bought in bulk off the Mexican black market. Rusty barrels with warped wooden stocks—M1 Garands and weathered carbines, Springfields as likely to explode in your hands as kill anyone, a few German Mausers with their dull metal luster—weapons whose history I wanted no part of, yet I think the others were eager to see me burdened with.

Some of the men had already urged as much. Their spirits took a vicious turn after four days at sea in the cramped vessel and several of them had cornered me in the back of the yacht. Open spaces are bad for revolutions, and in all that vacant water and cloudless atmosphere they had turned their eyes away from the horizon and found me there with my camera. Why should Gusano’s burden be so little, they asked. Why should he have to do none of the killing? Is he a coward? Their faces drew close as they took the Zeiss away from my neck, passing it from man to man and judging its heft against the weight of their weapons. I thought for a second they might throw it into the waves and that would be that; I would have to become a Guerilla too. But it was Fidel himself who came to my rescue. “Leave Gusano be,” the Giant said. In the noon scorch our Comandante stood high upon the flying bridge with his body like a stain against the sun and all of us squinting up at him, his wolfish nose and wolfish eyes directed down upon his militia, his arms held out cruciform and his fatigues snapping in the breeze, saying, “The purity of our Mexican must be preserved at all costs. A steady hand and a steady conscience. How else will he take good pictures of us?” This had quieted them and I was left in peace, or at least what passes for peace aboard a boat crowded with barbudos trained to kill their own countrymen. So I waited for the nighttime when we would all be blinded together again.

Continue reading “Snapshot from the Revolution” – Fiction by Perry Lopez

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“Forever” – Fiction by Michael Chin

Circus – August Macke, 1911

An unemployed young man meets a passionate and charismatic woman who literally makes his life a circus in “Forever,” Michael Chin‘s wild and haunting short story from our Spring 2018 issue.

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YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH A WOMAN ALL AT ONCE. You lose her in pieces.

The Ringmaster, before he was The Ringmaster, met a woman with hair the color of ripe peaches, and the whitest skin you’ve ever seen. The kind of woman you sensed you could bite right into and she’d dissolve like cotton candy.

His name was Verne in those days. He met her at a drugstore where she was shoplifting lipstick. The owner caught her, an Iranian man with a bald head and a handlebar moustache. “Thief! Thief!” he screamed, followed by a tantrum of curse words and guttural sounds. His six year-old son stopped taking inventory with the nub of a red crayon to look up. The Iranian’s wife, a white woman with a patch over her left eye, watched from the counter.

Verne pitied the family and loathed the Iranian, but his store was close by and he carried the frozen orange chicken Verne liked—the Americanized Chinese food his parents would never abide. He was third generation Chinese. The first in his family not to know Mandarin. The one who was supposed to fulfill all of the American dreams. A doctor, or a lawyer, or a physicist. Someone to be counted. Instead, Johnny Walker and orange chicken consumed his nights while he collected unemployment checks that would run dry exactly one week from that night.

“She was going to pay for it,” Verne said.

The Iranian held the woman by her wrist. Knuckles turning white. Verne thought he might take a cleaver to her hand like they did in the old country.

“You know her?”

The woman’s eyes grew glassy.

“I do,” Verne said

The Iranian waved the tube of lipstick in the air. The shiny black outside caught the light for a second. “Why’d she put it in her purse?”

Because she was stealing, of course, but that was the only answer Verne couldn’t give.

The woman kneed the Iranian in his balls. He doubled over and crumpled to the floor. She snatched the lipstick from him and took Verne’s hand.

Before he could think, they were outside and running. Verne clutched three cardboard boxes of orange chicken under his arm.

The Iranian came outside, still bent, clutching his crotch. “You never come back to my store! You come back and I’ll kill you!”

The woman laughed maniacally.

They wound up at Verne’s apartment, a studio cast in dull yellow by a single desk lamp. “Would you like some chicken?” He laughed as he said it, all that adrenaline and nervous energy and the absurdity of the moment overwhelming him.

“Sounds delicious.”

He opened a box and perforated the plastic film, then put the first plastic tray in the microwave. When he turned back around the woman was there waiting for him. Taller than him. His eyes met her neck. She held the canister of lipstick in her fingers. “Since we’re sharing stolen goods, can I interest you in some ravishing red?”

He took the lipstick and smeared it over his lips, drunk on her.

He took the first tray of chicken out and put in the second. “Chopsticks or fork?”

“No thanks.” She picked up her first piece of chicken, still steaming, between thumb and forefinger.

He started in with his chopsticks. She asked him to show her how to use them.

“I don’t use them right,” he admitted. He was self-taught—annoyed when he was little and his older cousins made fun of him. His parents never taught him the proper technique.

“They wanted me to be an American. Leave Chinese things behind.” He held a piece of chicken up in front of them. His extended family still laughed at him for holding the chopsticks wrong. White people never noticed.

“It’s silly,” the woman said. “Our parents tell us what to be. Most people never realize they can be anything else.”

The woman had drawn close to him. He could smell the orange sauce on her breath and feel the steam from the plastic tray rise at his neck. A scrap of the fried chicken skin had affixed itself to her lower lip.

“What do you want to be?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

She kissed him.

“I don’t even know your name,” he said.

“Penelope.”

She kissed him again. This time, he expected it and clutched her. Wrestled her to the floor. Or maybe she wrestled him. First he was on top, then her. The floor felt rough against his back. Her hair tumbled down, surrounding him. Darkness with orange edges where the light peeked between strands.

“Tell me you’ll want me forever,” she said.

He touched her breasts and salivated. He couldn’t imagine a circumstance in which he wouldn’t want her. “I will.”

“You will what?”

“I will want you forever.”

They continued. He wasn’t sure how long they carried on, only that the first morning rays to shine through the window made the film of sweat on her skin shine.

He woke hours, minutes, maybe seconds later, to the sound of the microwave. The smell of hot orange chicken. Penelope perched herself on the counter, wearing Verne’s shirt from the night before, and feasted.

Movement meant agony. Verne stretched his arm up over his shoulder, and dipped his hand onto the tender flesh of his back. His skin had broken, bleeding over the bare hardwood.

Penelope watched him. “Hungry?”

Continue reading “Forever” – Fiction by Michael Chin

“Endling” – Fiction by Clio Velentza

Owl on Ginkgo Branch – Ohara Koson, 1915

“Endling” is Clio Velentza‘s tender and unsettling flash fiction from our Spring 2018 issue.

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I WAS THERE AT THE PARK, THE DAY THEY FOUND THE GIRL. That’s how I know she was real. The dark morning had the stillness of a window display. I stood behind a tree, steaming in my running clothes. I saw her ruffled wings, her little gnashing teeth. She bit a man’s finger right off, and fled under the broken bridge we fed the ducks from. I can’t get her toes out of my mind, how small and blue they were. There was the lonesome cry of a scops owl, the abrupt rush of feet in wet foliage. Her yelps grew wilder as the people closed in.

Two of them were holding back a frantic woman. She was in a faded parka thrown over a bathrobe and slippers. Not my sweetie, the woman cried. Not my baby. The baby wailed. The sound tore at my skin, it scratched the inside of my skull. They covered their ears, and someone vomited into the pond. The girl was aglow in the dimness, soft downy feathers rippling with every spasm. It’s alright, someone kept saying, it’s alright. Let’s get this done. And, no more than one dart, she’s so goddamn small.

They stepped back for the clear shot. She perked up, gathering bony limbs for one last sprint. My eyes met hers, two panicked, golden reflections like fallen stars. Hi, I mouthed. Baby.

There was the soft whistle of the gun. The stagger of the frail body, the dreamy linger at the edge of the water. The splash. The jingle of the cage door. The woman in the bathrobe hung limp between their arms. My baby, she kept calling. My angel.

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CLIO VELENTZA lives in Athens, Greece. She is a winner of “Best Small Fictions 2016” and a Pushcart nominee. Her work has appeared in several literary journals such as WigleafLost BalloonHypertrophic LiteraryNoble/Gas QtrlyThe Letters PageJellyfish Review and People Holdingalong with some anthologies in both English and Greek. She is currently working on a novel.

“Dead in the Eye” – Fiction by Melissa Mesku

Pond with Ducks (Girl Amusing Herself) – Paul Gaugin, 1881

From our Spring 2018 issueMelissa Mesku‘s “Dead in the Eye” is a short coming-of-age story about ducks and cigarettes and the strangeness of adolescence. [And if you’ll be in the NYC area on Wednesday, May 23, you can catch Melissa read among our stellar lineup of writers & performers at FLAPPERHOUSE Reading #22.]

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THE BOYS CAME BACK FEVERISH, YELLING OVER EACH OTHER. Aunt Grandma climbed down from the trailer to hush them. It was just after twilight but their eyes were wild, glowing. Bright impossibilities spilled out of their mouths.

Among them:

1/ Some witches had turned a boy into a duck and then murdered him

2/ Raven-haired sorceresses had buried a dead duck which came back to life

3/ A pair of girl Satanists had burned a duck alive and then drank its blood

Aunt Grandma’s twin came out of her trailer next door. The boys saw they had a new audience and ran to her, shouting. They crowded around her like dogs. She was a bit drunk from what we could tell – rum, no doubt – and we listened to her “Mmm hmm” and “You don’t say” while all four boys ran at the mouth. More details emerged.

1/ The witches were sisters

2/ They weren’t witches, but vampires

3/ Regardless, they were lesbians

The way they told it, the whole mountainside was abuzz with rumors. Apparently, the only fact they agreed upon was that the offenders – two females – had disappeared at sundown in a cloud of smoke.

Violet and I sat in our tent with the lights out, our sides heaving. We clutched our hands over our mouths and stayed silent, stone silent. We had nothing but contempt for the boys and their ridiculous stories, but for once we were enthralled. The cacophony was theirs, but the mischief that had unleashed it was ours.

That night, in the dark, Violet and I swore that tomorrow, we’d return to the scene. “If what those boys want is a witch, a witch is what they’re going to get,” she said ominously.

It’s just as well we made that promise under the cover of night. I had trouble looking her in the eye those days. Or maybe she had trouble looking at me. In my naïveté, I assumed it was because if our eyes did meet, we would have cracked up and blown our cover.
Continue reading “Dead in the Eye” – Fiction by Melissa Mesku

“Angels and Cowboys” – Fiction by Catfish McDaris

An Angel – Marc Chagall, 1960

A drifter makes a brief but unforgettable companionship in “Angels and Cowboys,” Catfish McDaris‘ flash fiction from our Spring 2018 issue.

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BEING NEW TO CALIFORNIA, PORTERHOUSE ADJUSTED TO THE SWAY of the Angelinas and palm trees. Surfboards, skateboards, smiles, and bikinis, what was not to like. Porterhouse’s pockets were flush, he’d been breaking horses in New Mexico. He learned how from the Apaches and his father, they took them into water and learned the horse’s language. When a wild animal is treated with respect, miracles often happen. Porterhouse got a room with a stove and a bathroom near the beach. The ocean was a new experience, he listened to the waves and tried to hear the fish singing. He stood on the beach and picked up a hand full of sand, smelling it slowly. It was like a desert, but full of salt water, full of many things to learn. Watching the golden buttery sunset, this seemed like a magnificent adventure. Porterhouse got thirsty and his stomach was growling. He stopped and bought two bottles of Archer Roose Carmenere Chilean wine and a corkscrew. At the market he bought green onions, flour tortillas, canned frijoles, and hamburger meat. From above he heard a whimper sob, he saw a few bloody feathers on the sidewalk. Half hidden in a tree was a winged lady. She was blonde and had a blue suit on and long white feathered wings. Except one wing was clearly injured.

“I need help, I’ve been hurt by a drone helicopter.”

“How can I help?” Porterhouse asked.

“I have money, please rent a hotel room near a park with lots of birds. Also, I need a large trench coat to conceal my wings and a first aid kit. Will you help, please?” She dropped a large stack of hundred-dollar bills.

“Are you an angel?” She nodded yes. “Stay there and I’ll be back.” Porterhouse grabbed his bag, tossed his grub, got a nice big London Fog trench coat, got a first aid kit, and found a fancy hotel with room service. “Are you ready, Angel?”

“Don’t drop me, cowboy.” She floated down into his arms and smiled through a grimace. He helped her into her new coat and removed the tag. They passed a nice forested park on the way to their hotel. Porterhouse let her take a shower, then he doctored her wounded wing. They ordered surf and turf and ice cream sundaes. He opened a bottle of wine, but they were both soon asleep. Porterhouse slept on a couch. Angela took the bed.

Everyday Porterhouse went into the park and gathered feathers of all sorts from the wooded area. He left them in the bathroom and wasn’t sure what Angela did with them. This went on for two weeks. One quiet morning Porterhouse woke up, on the dresser were two tall stacks of hundreds. A note with a lipstick print kiss goodbye and what looked like a duck call. The note read: if you ever need me, blow the angel whistle. Porterhouse packed his rucksack, leaving the whistle, and money. He figured he was the one who saddled his horse and he’d ride it alone.

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Catfish In Milwaukee Doing a Pee Wee/Urkel Poetry Monologue

CATFISH McDARIS’ most infamous chapbook is Prying with Jack Micheline and Charles Bukowski. He’s from Albuquerque and Milwaukee.

“Let’s not pretend everything is going to be OK” – Fiction by William Squirrell

Canary – Tsuguharu Foujita

Some ships come down in the middle of the night, and a whole mess of bad news follows in “Let’s not pretend everything is going to be OK,” William Squirrell‘s hauntingly apocalyptic short fiction from our Spring 2018 issue.

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THE SHIPS CAME DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. They were huge. Gigantic. They stretched the sky, it bulged. They smeared the stars between their forefinger and their thumb. Have you ever seen water in a balloon? Have you ever felt the tender weight expressing? Pushing against the skin? Milk from a breast. Push! Push! Breathe! Have you felt it in the palm of your hand? That weight? Pressing, pressing, pressing down, impatient to be borne.

They stretched the sky so thin you could almost see through it, see the shapes on the other side, drifting in the bubbles and the scum. Is that God? Is that the singing angels? Fellow travelers through the void? Or just the bodies in the lye?

We never saw them coming. Too late we heard the creaking door, the creaking floor, too late.

What’s the use of radar? What’s the use of a radio telescope in a crater the size of New York City if it doesn’t give fair warning? What’s the use of Hubble? Of Elon Musk? What’s the use of a fictional marriage? Mutual funds? What’s the use of hope? Of love? What’s the use of a lockdown when they’re already in the building?

Oh, Emilia! Emilia! And Winston and John and Lauren, little Lauren, Oh Emilia! And Winston and John. They stole them all. Sucked them up through their rubber skins, through their prophylactic skins. Did they eat them up? Did they eat the children? Did they take them somewhere safe? All the human children? What are we now that they are gone?

There is no one left but us grownups; us old ones; us already dead ones.

When the ships came down in the middle of the night, so massive and catastrophic like heart attacks, we all groaned. Pain in our left arms. Shortness of breath. Nausea. Palpitations. We were squeezed. Massaged. We all felt it. We moaned simultaneous.

“What would you do if you could get your kid back?” said the man at the bus stop who used to always talk about the Government. “No other kids, just yours. Would you kill that old lady over there? The one in the green coat. Would you crush her skull with a hammer? If I gave you a knife would you cut her throat? Would you let me kill your wife? Would she let me? If I could guarantee it: your kid.”

Continue reading “Let’s not pretend everything is going to be OK” – Fiction by William Squirrell

“Prolific: The Obituary of Jack O’Brien” – Fiction by Andrew Davie

Papio cynocephalus – Gelber Babuin, 1927

From our Spring 2018 issue, Andrew Davie‘s “Prolific: The Obituary of Jack O’Brien” recounts the adventurous & litigious life of an unorthodox TV producer.

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JACK O’BRIEN, CREATOR OF SOME OF THE MOST PROVOCATIVE SHOWS ON TELEVISION from 1974-1983, died Friday. He was 87. The cause is reported to be complications from diabetes.

Born Hyman Lipshitz, O’Brien started out as a page for Warner Bros. He transitioned to the mailroom before becoming a staff writer and eventually a supervising producer for the hit show Knuckle Sandwich. Former middleweight champion Dwight Franklin played “Slip-Slap” Jenkins, a boxer who moonlights as a short order cook for an orphanage who uses his purse money to provide better meals for the children. (O’Brien later unsuccessfully sued the producers of Nacho Libre, but lost during Writer’s Guild Arbitration — see “Lipshitz v. Hess/Black&White Productions.”)  The show’s theme song “Slip-Slapping Away” broke the top ten on the charts in 1975. (O’Brien was successfully sued by Paul Simon, who claimed the theme song plagiarized “Slip Sliding Away.” O’Brien was unable to argue parody as a defense — see “Slip-Slap-Slide-Same; judge votes in favor of Simon.”)

O’Brien helped develop Marlboro Jones starring T.J. Burnell about a private investigator in an iron lung who solves crimes from his apartment. Former Oakland Raider John “Killer” Katoogan played Marlboro’s partner Dan “Slade” Anderson. A fundamental reworking of Nero Wolfe, Anderson would do field work and report back to Jones who would figure out the culprit while incapacitated from battling the effects of botulism. The episode entitled “Just the Tip of the Spear” would win O’Brien the coveted EGAG that year (an Emmy, Golden Globe, AVN award, and Grammy).

This was followed by a show O’Brien developed, The Shankbone Redemption, about an incarcerated Orthodox Jewish prisoner who must remain observant while trying to negotiate the pitfalls of prison life. A memorable episode involved everybody’s favorite inmate Moshe Horowitz digging a tunnel but being unable to use it until sundown. Another fan favorite included the episode where Moshe made kosher “Pruno” in his toilet. T-shirts with Moshe giving the throat slashing gesture and depicting the words “Give ‘em a Hebrew haircut” were a best-selling item in 1981.

A spinoff of Shankbone followed: A Spoonful of Pruno Makes the Heroin Go Down, a musical about the heroin trade in a maximum security prison. This generated the hit songs “Balloons & Mules,” “Cavity Searches (No Fun for Anyone),” and “ABC, Easy as GED.”

Toward the end of his career, O’Brien found a resurgence with a remake of the British show Spousal Privilege, about hitman Llewelyn Headstrong-Jones who tries to marry a witness who saw him carry out a murder.

In 1982, after suffering from exhaustion and a possible drug addiction – see “O’Brien and O’Caine; substantiated reports of Hollywood drug addiction” — O’Brien joined the French Foreign Legion under the nom de guerre “Ironbar Bassey.” He was later sued for defamation by Gary “Angry” Anderson who played said character in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and for licensing rights by George Miller — see “Anderson/Kennedy Miller Productions v. Lipshitz.”

During this period, O’Brien participated in the Chadian-Libyan conflict for two years before disappearing into the Democratic Republic of Congo. There he released a memoir, Dread Medicine, in which he purported to carry out covert military operations for the CIA; he was later sued by Chuck Barris and settled out of court — see “Chuck Barris Enterprises v. Lipshitz.”  Continue reading “Prolific: The Obituary of Jack O’Brien” – Fiction by Andrew Davie