Category Archives: Fiction

“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

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“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

“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.

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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

“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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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