writing

 

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jessica lee

Do I Order the Wine on Sunday?

 

Do I sing in E or F flat? I realize I don’t know
the singing alphabet. This wine is flat and I am full
on corn chowder. This is something to practice
in the shower: Fly me to the moon. I nod, keep biting
peppercorn.  Maybe on Jupiter I’d know my tone.
Maybe on Mars I’d understand the stubble on your chin.
It’s Monday but feels like Sunday. I’m in my best
fur and everyone else is in nanopuffs. I can’t tell if this is my dream
or a nightmare. Three days could so easily be kneaded
into two. And where are you? Time goes as quickly
as salt. I prefer mine pink.  We need to get out
of here. Sing La Vie en Rose. La Mer. This twelve
year old girl is braver than me, but she might not be able
to practice enough by next Sunday to sing. No, next
Monday. Too much homework, she says. And so the pink seeps.

 

 Jessica Lee is a waitress and an Assistant Editor for Narrative Magazine. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Literary Review, BOAAT, The Boiler, cream city review, DIAGRAM, Fugue, phoebe, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the 2017 So to Speak Poetry Contest and the 2017 Greg Grummer Poetry Award. Find her online at readjessicalee.wordpress.com.

 

 

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nick rohr
Autochat

 

You just finished microwaving your favorite frozen dinner, the one you save for Friday. The one you bust out an actual plate for, like it’s an actual meal. You’ve paid such close attention to the flavors and textures, you have your own method and timing to how you poke holes in the plastic film and where, so strategically but with an element of instinct. You’d never planned this, never said to yourself “This is how you nuke this unthawed meal.” In fact, think about it, if someone asked you how, you’d probably shrug. Partially from embarrassment that your diet is so juvenile, but also that you don’t have a conscious clue as to how you do what you do, it’s magic and that’s part of what makes it so closely kept to you. You don’t know why you treat this one with such reverence. While the others just feel like functional meals, this one is a sacrament. 

  

As the meal takes its final glass plate spin set to your meticulous specifications, the next part of the ritual is to assemble your nice, wooden TV tray tucked away in the closet, ready for special occasions but not out among the everyday clutter and debris of your living room so as to diminish its function in your shrine. You don’t even have to check the TV or consult a clock because you know exactly what time your favorite show comes on. Right as the microwave dings, the recap to last weeks episode begins and you laugh as you recite the lines, already certain of what portions from the previous episodes will likely be featured in the preshow roll. You know this show like the back of your hand, and frankly, you should be, seven seasons in. And even though the eighth season hasn’t been everything you hoped for, you forgive the recent shuffling in the writers’ rooms as they migrate to other shows and the new writers are closing gaps a little clumsily at first. It usually takes two episodes or so before they find their footing.  

 

Your studio apartment now reeks of that favorite meal and that aroma is all too familiar and comforting. If you were to watch this show in another setting, at a friend’s house perhaps, as unlikely as that sounds, you’d probably have a Pavlovian response to the show. You’d probably smell it there too, a phantom association. 

  

What’s this? Fewer flashbacks than you expected? You hurry in the room a little, disappointed you overshot in your mind the amount of catch up this episode would be doing but also ecstatic because of how dense of an episode this must be. You feel a tingle run up your spine and tickle your skull. This episode is where the writers must have found their voices in relation to the show. They must have finally found appropriate transitions from the direction the previous staff had it going and into the course of seasons they were recently renewed for.   

 

You settle into your seat and slink into that reclining throne and gently center your meal upon its podium, like you’re a keynote speaker about to address likeminded, brilliant individuals, at the apex of their careers but still looking up into the heavens for more inspiration. The credit sequence is winding down with a song you’ve come to love and hate over time, like the swing of a pendulum. Sometimes it just feels irritating to see that minute and a half, which feels a little long for a repeated introduction. Other times, it feels absolutely classic. It feels like a relic from the first episode you saw. In your case, it was the pilot. 

 

You remember that episode like it was a dream you had personally and you remember it so vividly because it somehow changed your life in ways you’re also embarrassed to admit. That was when you were introduced to these characters that you’ve become more than acquainted with. You feel more invested than you would agree is rational, but that doesn’t weather your involvement. Your heart aches when their romances dissolve. When you recall their one liners, you still grin, laugh, or chuckle, whichever is the most fitting amount of response. 

 

The intro has faded to black now and you take a deep breath. “Here we go” you think to yourself. “We won’t have a repeat of last week.”

  

Remember last week? You got all settled in, just like tonight. Performed every sacred maneuver like clockwork and before the hypnotizing lull of your absolute favorite television program could envelop you, that obnoxious buzz of your phone disrupted everything. You tried to talk yourself out of it being anything more than just someone bored, reaching out with a “hi”. Nothing following, just enough to let you know they’re still alive. You want so badly to assume it will be a problem that could sort itself out, but the possibility of it being an emergency is magnified by the sheer infrequency of anyone ever reaching out to you. 

  

If it were someone reaching out to you, it’d likely be that one friend. You know who I mean. 

 

That one who just loves to type nonstop, all their thoughts to you. Every little problem about their day, how it somehow related to another day, and then the details of that day. Even the same details of their current day again, like the conversation came full circle but really they were just on their own loop and you haven’t gotten a word in edgewise. But you know you have to at some point because then they’ll think you’re not reading it and they’d probably break up with you. 

  

You knew that had to be the last straw and so you looked online for solutions and when you found that trending popular download app Autochat, you’d found a winner. 

 

Autochat would analyze your text conversations and automatically generate algorithms based on your speech patterns so you could just turn it on when you didn’t feel like talking and you’d never miss a beat. If something happened that was important to them but not particularly to you, then deep down you know they just want someone to talk at, not actually with. 

 

Arguably, idle chatter is twice as inconsiderate as vaguely responding to it. At least that’s what Autochat’s product information encourages. The reviews are all so glowing. People raving that their endlessly nagging partner now felt engaged when they needed to just vent until they were blue in the face. People who had that friend that just wanted to call at three in the morning because they were feeling so alone and just wanted someone to comfort them. Now the impression of doling out attention is possible in the form of an ingenious time saving app. 

  

No longer would you have to endure spinning in circles of conversation, answering the same questions, being condescended with rhetorical questions. You had put the burden of appearing sensitive in the very capable hands of diligent AI. Autochat doesn’t just reply immediately and rarely repeats itself. It will employ different amounts of time between responses so as to ferment the illusion you thinking out articulate responses, of which Autochat executes in a very human fashion. Sometimes, through Autochat, you’ll come off as a little uncertain of your words and you’ll speak clumsily. You will apologize and take fault for not using the proper phrasing and give them a chance to correct you. Autochat will log these lessons and apply them in the future. 

 

Other times you’ll come off as busy but trying to talk. This shows that you do have a life of your own but you would never dream of neglecting the needs of the person on the other end. When it’s not being blunt or apologetic, Autochat eventually guides the reader to a point of poignant observation, worded in a way that complies with the vocabulary they use, but not with words they overuse to dodge appearing as a mockery. This way it demonstrates to them that you’re listening and adjusting to their words but phrasing it in a way that you can comprehend it. Therefore making them feel above you, or in actuality, above Autochat. 

  

If at any point you feel compelled to override Autochat, simply switch it off for as long as you like and type in whatever your heart desires. There’s even a mode where Autochat will suggest certain phrasing, based on what the person you’re speaking with had made attempts on imparting you before and an autocorrecting feature that can translate words you mean into words they have made abundantly clear they’d rather hear. 

  

Best of all, Autochat cannot be detected so they’ll never know if you’re putting the attention they desire into the hands of Autochat. Autochat will even put into your Calendar plans made with the other party so you won’t even have to lift a finger. All of their frustration will just disappear into text and Autochat will memorize all the topics discussed and how much traction has been measured in each capacity. This saves you the temptation or annoyance of sorting back through the conversation and seeing what they’d said to you. Live with the peace of mind that when they’re around you, they allow themselves to be happy but when they’re alone, feeling miserable and want to drag you down with them, leave everything to Autochat!

 

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dee dee chapman – two poems
staples


I am running out of staples
and the store is running out of staples
and the warehouse in California is running out of staples
and at the manufacturing plant someone fell into the machinery that pounds them
into ninety-degree-angles, so they’re behind on production,
so
they’re out of staples too.
All I have left is this possibly-toxic glue.

 

Hive Mind


In the honey comb
of tongues
& cheeks
a vicious milieu
coats the crux of our
hexagonal lexicon
its glue, so crucial
to our humming
why would we be our own
beekeeper
if it’s sweeter to  crunch
upon this structure?
chew it to muck
between your gums,
shun the corners
collapse the frame
contain it in your jaw
knock the slackened syntax
to the ground and be
come comb through
what’s freed in the chaos:
bubble’s buzz and debris
emerge stung
fingers sticky

 

Dee Dee Chapman has been published in The Noisy Water Review, Jeopardy MagazineSweet Tree Review and others.  In September 2014 she self-published her first chapbook of poetry, Colluvium. In May of 2017, she was a Walk Award winner of the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest for the poem Colluvium. She is a cinephile, her favorite animal is the prehistoric Megalodon shark, and puns are the way to her heart.

 

 

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hillary susz
on running


Sorrow always runs up hill, it’s true, and it’s difficult to bear but even more difficult to keep. In Bose headphones, I’m reminded there is no pure sorrow. It’s bonded to music, breath, light, bones, guts, gall, shit. I continue up, thump at the far end of the animal. Every sound sounding new, throughout the landscape. Sorrow wants to descend into void or sleep but dashes spirited rumination. Thump at the far end of the animal. Ahead is my satisfaction, just beyond understanding. The mind can lap the body and keep on going.


The second part is downhill. In the lobby of a hotel aft the edge of a dusty desert town, I am just missing you, just like I’ve missed you so many times, in so many bizarre locations. “She always comes back.” Says the clerk. “It’s like a ritual.” I skip the part where we meet in the lobby, either because I don’t know what to do or don’t care for this – people simplified by pop culture and polite mannerisms, the dust, the décor, such an elaborate setup: all the ways we are made to wait. No. We are already upstairs. 10,000 hours of jazz chords. The voice of a mean doctor insisting I’m mental. Marlboros on the bedside table.


There are sightings of you are all over the map, like an old west gunslinger whose traces are tall tales with whiffs of cigarillo smoke. But in all versions of this journey, basic details remain the same. Running, always running, and nothing outruns this running– not a cheetah, a race horse, an Olympian marathoner or deadly snakes– hours climbing a copper canyon mountain, desperadoes, and blistering heat. The deeper I go, the more the crypt slides shut around me. Walls tightening, shadows spreading.

 

I check my FitBit. “She is still not here.”

 

The clerk shrugs. “Maybe she is gone.”

 

Toward the end of Life Aquatic Bill Murray fastens his arm across Owen Wilson and says this is going to hurt as their aircraft dives toward the slate ocean. I’ve heard that falling at a high distance into water is like hitting concrete. Now I must drag this part out. Because only the impossible lasts forever, I must become more impossible and I think you must too. In the movie, this scene requires a siren. I have to begin again. I have to begin again. I have to begin again. But at high velocity the water is still water and it’s you, the falling subject, who becomes fluid. Because the kinetic energy of all your different parts are greater than the binding energy connecting them, the body makes a SPLASH when it hits, in the most horrible red.


Almost home.
I do not really climb to new heights. More like I am eaten away to them. As I forget the designs of life, of death, everything I do is just fine. When love is over what do I mourn? My spirit? A collective spirit– for all lovers who cast a shadow long beyond what they are? Maybe the excitement of the hunt has something to do with fantastic low throbbing headaches and leg twinges. That no invention can slow this carnage. That the world moves through me and not the other way around. Driven by psychic navigation. The world moves through me and not. The weirdest part is how unbreakable it seems sometimes. When I finally rest. As if there isn’t eternity to blush into.

 

Hillary Susz is writer, musician and critic from the Pacific Northwest. She is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Colorado in Boulder’s creative writing program, where she teaches fiction writing and acts as the prose editor for Timber Journal. Her album The Heart Will Jump (With Nowhere to Fall) made the top 200 list for college radio in 2016. Her poetry, fiction and non-fiction has appeared in various venues across the internet.

 

 

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michael daley
To the Father of the Drowned Refugee Child


Years ago I was in someone’s car late at night.
Saddened by the party, both of us put our heads
out driver and passenger windows, as her car sped
the only street on that island, and screamed
loud as we could, into night fields, hawks, mice,
a clear sky dripping stars, and we,
we were young innocents.
The families who’d raised us had gone to bed.
We were sad.

What was so important?

Moonrise, and we went on screaming.
What in the world mattered so much?

 

Michael Daley has published four collections of poetry: The Straits, To Curve, Moonlight in the Redemptive Forest, and Of a Feather; several chapbooks, a book of essays (Way Out There) and a translation of Italian poems (Alter Mundus by Lucia Gazzino). His poems, essays and stories have been published widely in journals and anthologies. He lives near Deception Pass in Washington state.

 

 

 

sonya cheney
Most Days I’m Not a Masochist

 

Every day I sit,
the search bar open,
my fingers itching for
that grotesque combination
of vowels and consonants

(y o u r  n a m e)

Some days
I fail;
your face pops up,
aglow with the shine of
your happy life
my LCD screen

 

Weakness is the
skipped heartbeat
blinking cursor
when I click
into that abyss
I can’t resist

 

Most days
I turn back
Most days

you don’t exist to me

Most days
              I don’t pick the scabs
              on wounds never quite healed

 

Sonya Cheney is a zinester poet weirdo haunting the forests of Western Massachusetts. When she isn’t tearing her hair out or sobbing over a stack of blank pages, her hobbies include baking, napping, and taking a copious amount of photos of her cat, Charles. She published her first chapbook Reflections in a Dirty Mirror in 2015 and is currently working on a novel about vampires and high school (but not vampires in high school). Her work has appeared previously in Paper and Ink Literary Zine. Find the aforementioned photos of her cat at sonyacheney.com

 

 

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taneum bambrick
boys enter the house

 

You can’t say what you want to say so you twist your hand in weeds. Through the window. Out of the house hanging. Earlier this year you teach your students “Boys” by Rick Moody. Each thinks the story is told from the perspective of the house the the boys enter continuously. The narration is omniscient, you say while acknowledging the extent to which they are thinking. They demand the house. The significance of the platform on which the boys are received. Rubber hot dogs in hand. Duckling following a god-like dad. You have given your house to the boy you live with, which is evident by a number of disruptions like the Star Wars fridge notepad. The carpet drags with heavier footprints. You think about the way the space speaks like the absence of window screens. That your house was once on the show Super Nanny. Three boys smacked holes through wooden things. You ask the landlord why that wasn’t mentioned in the lease. Imagine boys on your carpet drawing their names with pee. The woman who disrupts them. Her accent seeming holy. What you remember departs from reality. People say he was incapable of looking at you without boundary. He’d do it while scroll-through staring at a screen. Like, floating the river, how his tube split from the rope. He was so quiet kicking toward you you couldn’t tell he was coming. He was stationed in the house, rarely left, which caused you to forget about two closets and one desk. The pattern of your contact. Strapped and on his chest. While teaching it you dislike the story because of what’s missing. The perspective feels distant like looking at the top of someone’s head. Which, as a device, creates white space and universalizes imagery. This is why you think it’s not the house that sees: you imagine its eyes scattered like pottery. You want to say you knew him and the extent to which he was looking. You want to say the only boys worth consideration let you do the entering.

 

Taneum Bambrick is the author of Reservoir, which was selected by Ocean Vuong for the 2017 Yemassee Chapbook Contest. She is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of Arizona. She serves as an Associate Editor for Narrative Magazine. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Academy of American Poets, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hobart, Timber, Cutbank Online, The Nashville Review, New Delta Review, and elsewhere. She has received an Academy of American Poets University Prize, and a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writer’s Conference.

 

 

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peter neverette
Untitled

 

I lie awake so many nights
this thing asleep atop my head
it rests easy knowing theres
no extrication till I’m dead
it obfuscates and oft indulges
validates or justifies
whispering like arsenic honey
“they don’t like you, its a lie.”
it says the nicest things though
it justifies my maudlin
“everyone’s a philistine”
it tugs on me
“but your so real that you’ve gone rotten”
I’m not so sure id live without him
little ego of my neurosis
he used to be a parasite
but now I’m sure its symbiosis.

 

Peter Neverette is a spare time writer and artist in Rowley, MA. At 26 he is most prominently published in Wallpaper Magazine, just now. His art is viewable on Instagram @peterandtheacedia.

 

 

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john stadelman
Down the River

 

Gavin probably wasn’t going to the party tonight. He decided this the day of, in the driver’s seat of the van he used for this part-time summer job. The kayaking company hired out guys like him, locals, to load the kayaks into the river just below the dam, and then to gather up the customers thirty miles downriver, here at the pick-up point where he sat in the driver’s seat, listening to Pearl Jam and deciding that he wasn’t going to the party.

Instead he was going to sit out back and toss the last of his granddad’s pruning into the firepit. They’d piled it all up by the trailer, a mountain now incrementally diminishing in bulk night-by-night. Branches, twigs, castoff limbs fed to the summer’s progression of post-workday backyard fires. Gavin figured he would burn off what was left, and kill off a twelve pack with or without his granddad. And stare up at the smoke, at just the point where it dissolved into the evening air, where bats fluttered silent. Crackles and snaps in the fire as those twigs molted into gray lumps of ash, first, to then lose all coherency, collapse, and settle into a fine, thick underlayer as the last embers settled. Settled and winked out, one at a time, like the firepit was an imitation, model of the night sky and its stars dying out under the rising floodlight summer sun.

It was easier to do that than to drive all the way out to the party, force himself to talk to people he liked less than himself all night, most of whom would be strangers, and pretend to care about them when there was little left that he cared about in himself. And then force his mind sober in order to drive home, because he didn’t want to sleep on couches anymore. It was so much easier to sit outside and do nothing, be nothing.

The van was parked at the top of the slope. The slope overlooked the river, just upstream of the interstate bridge, that four-lane roar of inbound-outbound traffic. Everyone was inbound or outbound to somewhere, it seemed. Its thunder ruled over everything around, over the van’s whirring AC that sputtered out nothing, and over Pearl Jam’s “Black” coming out muffled and seedy from a CD player almost as old as Gavin. No matter how high he cranked both the air and the music it couldn’t beat out the cacophonous all-consuming roar of engines pulling commuters this way, that way, gone. Beating out even the river, muddy, thick almost like sludge, its deceptive coffee-like consistency betrayed by its steady trickle, waters curving and bristling over themselves in a constant, steady progression that could almost be seen as confident if it was alive and the trickling more than just physics, more than just the great downward slope of the continent to the ocean, that great drainage system. Natural, not confident. Natural, it had to happen anyway.

The branches of trees he’d never bothered learning to identify hung over the river, weighed down like arms in the sleeves of heavy green robes. They ate the sunlight and excremented patches of darkness, the water passing into their shadows. Where the red clay banks fell away were hollows hiding turtles, crawdads, sometimes a water moccasin.

Gavin stretched, yawning, and stepped out of the van into the wall of August humidity. It stuck, ironing his Salt Life tee to his skin, his khaki shorts to his thighs. He walked barefoot across the dirt lot, dog-tough soles rejecting the heat that accumulated therein. Hand in his pocket and the other gripping a forty of King Cobra, and the river below. He squinted first upstream, waiting for a flash of bright plastic—red, or pink, or yellow, or the cooler-toned but still garish blue or purple—to herald the customers’ arrival at the end of their trip, their river-trip, river-time, end of their river, or something.

Something was off downstream, though. At first it wasn’t alarming; hell, he’d seen everything that could float come down the river. Empty potato chip bags, wrappers and water bottles—probably discarded by the customers—and the weirder stuff: a bra, rubbery length of a condom sinuating through the current like a snake, dead birds, once the bloated corpse of a dog lubbing around from one side to the other and over it there’d been rainclouds of flies matching its every twist and dip.

But he’d never seen a fin sticking out of the water.

Gavin swigged back on the forty, licked his lips. Watched the traffic on the bridge for a moment, convinced that when he looked back down he would find that his brain had tried to entertain itself by making an odd-shaped log into something it wasn’t.

He tried to believe that, the rational part of his brain combating the imaginative and bored part. Knowing it wasn’t what it couldn’t be, he would’ve then remained content allowing himself to pretend that he was staring at a fin.

The only problem was—and his imagination couldn’t account for this—whatever it was had come farther upstream than we he’d first spotted it.

It pierced the dark rectangular bar of the bridge’s shadow where it stretched across the river, and for a moment Gavin lost it to the dark.

Back upstream, the first yellow glare of a kayak, the first of the customers rounding the last bend of the river-trip.

Downstream, the fin passed back into sunlight on the upstream side of the bridge.

Gavin told himself that it was impossible. They were well over a hundred miles from the coast. Those things didn’t come up rivers—they were saltwater, right?

Some deep, long-forgotten synapse fired off in his mind and he recalled through the haze of teenage pothead memories a textbook from his high school biology class—something about them being known to occasionally swim inland.

Upstream, more garish plastics rounding the bend, growing into prominence, bobbing with the rhythms of the water. He couldn’t hear them shouting to each other, jolly or tired or both because of the thunder of the interstate traffic. But he would hear them shortly, about a hundred feet from the pick-up point, where he was supposed to walk down the well-trod path that cut into the clay of the slope, clay that was held together by the roots of all the weeds and scrubs that customers disembarking complained scratched their bare legs when they climbed up to the van. The pick-up point, where Gavin would wade out to his knees and wave them over, where they were supposed to paddle, where he would grab the bright crafts by their pointed bows and pull them in one by one.

Gavin remained standing on the edge of the slope.

He would hear them clearly at a hundred feet. They would hear him at a hundred feet and he didn’t have to look downstream to see it now, because it passed under the slope. Just below the surface, which was made translucent by the sunshine, it was a stain, a darkness, scintillating, longer than the kayaks and unlike the kayaks, it had no pointed bow but instead a rounded-out bumper for a head—for a front—for an advance—it advanced on the customers, on the people in the kayaks—but not out of malice, there was nothing that complex or specialized in its movements, nothing but the natural progression of something as natural as the current against which it swam. Natural, and it had to happen anyway. Almost like it was guarding the bar of shadow under the bridge, like it was emerging forth to prevent their reaching it, and for a moment, Gavin almost didn’t warn them.

 

John Stadelman lives in Chicago. His work can be found in Corvus Review, the anthology Stardust, Lust, & Human Choice, and in Hair Trigger 39, from which he is the recipient of the 2017 David Friedman Memorial Award. He spends his free time trying to figure out just what, exactly, is really going on.

 

 

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tim gagnon
Noah is a Friend of Mine

 

There is a photo of me lying on my back in a Whole Foods parking lot, pastel blue bunny ears on my head, my cheek about four or five inches from a used tampon applicator.

My friend Noah took it last November. He also had bunny ears on. I’m pretty sure he was laughing. I wasn’t really in my head that day, but it seems like the kind of juvenile, absurd thing we’d both laugh at in the moment. It’s a stupid photo. I think about it at least once a week.

It was a day or two after the Presidential election and I didn’t want to think critically or talk or be touched or feel much of anything. I was halfheartedly dating someone at the time and we went to the art museum after the results came out. She and I got in an argument near some sculpture that looked like a tower of glassy plantains over whether I had a right to be so despondent about the state of our country as a young white male. The argument was obviously worth discussion even though we both already agreed there wasn’t an argument and she obviously had far more of a right to be upset, but I think I just kind of wanted her to give up on me and tell me to fuck off so I could selfishly go back to bed and think about my brother and my family friends from Egypt and look up therapists in the area again, but not making a real effort at securing a session.

Anyway, I think I messaged Noah sometime that night because when she left the next morning, I got a text from him asking me to come over. He posted this status a few minutes later:

After W. won I stopped paying attention for eight years,

In 2006, I saw him on TV at a bar and thought “where do I know that guy from?”

My life was great then, even as my civil liberties were officially destroyed.

I still played surprise shows in businesses’ bathrooms

I still had sex on rooftops and in parks

I still sang for ducks by the river,

I still helped children who had no one else,

and now Donald Trump will be president.

Obama continued Bush’s war for 8 years… most of us didn’t notice.

The president is just another old guy who makes decisions you can’t control,

like a less powerful Rupert Murdoch.

As always, I’ll just focus on what I can change,

and let people with anxiety problems worry about the things I can’t.

It’s time to eat breakfast and watch The Simpsons.

Then I’ll go for a walk with my friend, who needs some cheering up.

I love you, I hope your day is great.

I met Noah while he was wearing normal clothes about two years ago. I mean, I mostly know Noah in normal clothes, but he also plays a lot of shows in an elastic bodysuit and angel wings. You kinda get used to it after a few songs.

It was one of his first shows as Request Freebird. Their EP was called Sorry, I Don’t Know That One. I wanted to tell him that he wrote, without hyperbole, one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard in my entire life. I think I asked about buying a tape. He probably made a joke about tapes being stupid or something about butts or death. Now, I existed as a “friend who needs some cheering up” in his Facebook status, which felt weird and comforting and great and somewhat horrifying.

The song is called “Country Suicide”. Noah wrote it when he made music as ACLU Benefit, which was a ploy to get the ACLU to send him a cease-and-desist notice, which he’d use in turn to get the ACLU to represent him in court against themselves. It only half worked.

He insists it’s a fictional account, but I could imagine him sarcastically saying “Life sure had its moments, but now it’s time to move on… don’t think of it as dying, think of it as graduation” in the middle of frying up some boar or watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 and booing their half-baked jokes. The song suggests it’s possible to be sort of funny and piss in hallways and be a bastard and seem fine and not about to die when considering death, which is something that most songwriters trying to encapsulate the pains of living fail to mention. I guess all I’m trying to say is that I hope it’s always been a fictional song to Noah.

When I got to Noah’s apartment that day, he still had his box of wigs and costumes out. Every election, Noah puts on a batshit costume amalgamation to see if any volunteer of the state will refuse him the right to vote. I don’t think it’s ever worked, but he continues every election. The box felt like a shitty relic of a time where elections could be laughed at a little, but Noah started rifling through it without a beat. He pulled out the two sets of bunny ears and asking if I wanted to take a walk.

A lot of old ladies smiled at us, which was unexpected. We were both grown men walking around in an upper class Boston neighborhood on weekday in bunny ears and giant winter coats. I quit my job the month before and Noah only had one class he was teaching at the community college, so we’d meet up a lot of days and play with Strawberry, his shitty remote control car or walk around the pond and not hunt for jobs. A lot of what we talked about and what we did felt like high school, but high school conversations were honest and unconcerned about appearance, like a grown man in bunny ears with a remote control car.

We ended up in a CVS, rearranged the monogrammed Christmas stockings to say “old ass”, and protested how the white Santa figurines cost a couple bucks more than the black Santa figurines. The figurines acted like the rest of the customers around us, staring off blankly in the distance and waiting for something to happen without consciousness. Noah talked about growing up with Clinton as president and how everything seemed like a party, but then we didn’t talk about politics for a long time. I turned off my brain for the first time in weeks as he talked about the birthday he had a few years ago where a friend made him a coffin and they smashed a TV in the park because he was freshly in his 30’s and it was fun and why the fuck not?

I swear I’m trying to make a point here. It’s almost been a year since that day.

Sometimes, I pick up a freelance gig writing about musicians for a local paper to pay for groceries. Noah always asks me to write something about him so he can be famous. I hate it when most musicians ask me this, but I don’t mind when Noah does it.

There’s this thing that Noah does whenever I’ve seen him play a show. It’s during “I Love You So Much” (usually his last song) and he asks everyone to close their eyes. I usually keep my eyes open a few seconds longer to see everyone else close their eyes and see Noah succeed at being a person in front of a microphone. He asks to visualize the people we love in this world and sing the title along with him once we have the visualizations down. Some of the times, I really focus and I can see my parents at the old kitchen table before they built the addition and my high school friends and my college friends and my post-grad city friends in order of appearance, but when I just close my eyes as I’m asked, there’s just a purply static snow. I feel like I’m still lying in the grass at 2 AM behind my friends’ high school, listening to a story about a terrible blow job, but I can’t fully visualize it. I’m still overhearing my roommate a few months ago singing a Weezer song to herself without knowing I’m home, but I’m just as vividly back in my apartment in my college town before I moved out three years ago. I’m with every ex-girlfriend and all our individual quirks are with us before they broke us up and I’m on several train station platforms greeting and saying goodbye to my parents and my Norwegian friends and all the friends that have ever moved away from me.

I worry that I’m careening towards memory loss, but I’d rather believe the static is confirmation that I love everything I’ve ever loved to a point of incoherence.

I have pictures though in case I forget. There’s one of me lying in a parking lot with bunny ears on. It reminds me to take better care of myself. It reminds me of being cared for by friends. A famous person took it.

 

Tim Gagnon is a music journalist, writer, editor, and nightclub door guy in Boston, MA. His music writing and editing work can currently be found on Allston Pudding and WBUR’s The ARTery, Boston’s NPR syndicate. His door guy-related work can be found at a certain door. He’d rather not tell you which door that is.

 

 

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michael cotter
Through Mazes Lead Me Still

 

He didn’t see her at first. He stood for a while by the hostess station with the water falling from the ends of his hair and dripping off the sleeves of a gray jacket turned black in the rain. It was busy. Even at this hour and with all hell coming down outside. Waiters ran back and forth between the tables tossing pieces of sushi into the open, snapping mouths of the patrons. He found her alone at the bar, framed in the neon glow of a massive aquarium set into the restaurant’s back wall. A rubbery eel slipped past her shoulder and curled itself against the glass. A bottle of beer floated up toward her mouth.

“You’re late,” she said as soon as he sat down. A plastic see-through umbrella rested between her knees. She didn’t have a drop on her.

“I’m hypothermic is what I am. You said 11th and West.”

“11th and Elm.”

His socks squished inside tight leather shoes. “Well, you should have said so.”

“I did.”

She finished her beer and sat the bottle down in a puddle of overlapping condensation rings. A part of him – deep, primordial – wanted to reach for the paper napkins between them, to mop up the water before it turned the finish a milky white, but he pushed the thought aside. Instead, he ordered a vodka tonic with a lime and a coaster and sat back studying the tropical crawl of color in the tank.

“Why here?”

She groaned. “I knew you’d hate it.”

“No, it’s just…different.”

“I know, but Lily ate here last week and said it was an awakening.”

“And we do everything Lilith says.”

A table behind them burst into a chorus of applause as slices of maki were snatched from the air. Outside, the storm fell against the windows in watery curtains. She scratched at her nail polish. “Stop, please.”

He swirled the highball in his hand and removed the straw. “Sorry,” he said, draining half the glass to catch up. She looked to be at least two deep already. A shade of pink ran across the bridge of her nose. When he’d reached the ice at the very bottom, he wiped the corners of his mouth carefully and set the glass in view of the bartender. She pulled the coaster from beneath his elbow and began slowly tearing off the paper edges.

“You look fatter, you know.”

He glanced down. She was right. Two of his shirt buttons immediately burst from their stitches and clattered against the side of the fish tank, sending a school of angelfish scurrying for the nearest coral. “Look at that,” he said, rubbing the frayed threads. His stomach almost reached the bar’s edge. He wondered how long it had been this way.

A waiter carrying a tray stacked high with shrimp tempura walked uneasily past them on the slick tiles.

“Lily also says they do that pufferfish thing here. I mean, legally, of course. Don’t you think that’s kind of crazy?”

“What?”

She held up what was left of the coaster. “See?”

He took it in his hands. In the center, beneath the name of the restaurant, a cartoon blowfish swam between two chopsticks. A big balloon of needles and puckered lips. He put the wet coaster back on the bar. “People pay money for that?”

She shrugged. “I guess. It’s supposed to make you feel good, the little bit of poison. But they have to cut it just right, or you know…”

She ran her index finger across her throat.

“Seriously?” He scoffed. “What a waste of perfectly good meat.”

“You might be right,” she said, smiling. “Watch my purse while I pee?”

She used his arm for leverage as she stood, and for a moment, watching her maneuver with an easy grace through the crowd, he was back on their porch swing, the sun pushing bullion bars through the ivy-covered lattice surrounding the garden, an empty bottle of white wine coming to rest at his feet as she rushed to the kitchen for another. He remembered the heat of that day buzzing louder than the insects but couldn’t seem to recall the humidity or the sweat on his forehead. Back then, they could fall asleep right in the front yard without a blanket, blood so honeyed on wine not even the mosquitoes dared bother them. Now as he sat alone at the bar, his right flank exposed and the damp jacket clinging to the back of his neck, he wondered if he’d ever feel that warm again.

She returned a few minutes later wearing a rose-colored dress. He couldn’t remember the color of her dress before, or even, the more he mulled it over, whether she was wearing a dress to begin with. He decided it best not to mention it.

They took a booth in the far corner, outside the reach of the brightly lit chandelier in the restaurant’s center. A waiter bowed low and filled their waters.

“What did he just say?” he asked her when they were alone again.

“He said it’s all-you-can-eat tonight,” she said from behind a menu.

He patted his gut, which seemed to be growing larger by the minute. “You go ahead. I’m not that hungry.”

She glowered. “I’m worried about you.”

Sometimes the phone would ring late at night. Nothing but a soft hiss on the other line when he answered. Maybe ragged breathing. The sound of his own heart pumping in his ears. She used to come home with strange bruises on her legs.

“It’s a bit late for that,” he said.

“No, really. How’s work going?”

“I don’t know. I spend a lot of time daydreaming.”

“What about?”

He flicked a hardened grain of rice off the table. “Bringing a loaded M4 Carbine into the office and rooting out my coworkers from their cubicles. One by one, like little gophers.”

She paused. “Well, you’re not there to make friends, right?”

“I can’t understand what they say half the time. Everything sounds muffled from under my desk.”

She toyed with a pair of chopsticks. “Are you seeing anyone?”

There were heavy work boots laying in the front hall. Tossed off in a hurry. His own foot barely half the size as he stepped over. She made guests take off their shoes, even when it wasn’t raining. He always did like a clean house.

“Not really,” he said, chewing his words. “I’ve been thinking lately.”

“Oh yea?” She had broken the chopsticks into thirds and was now whittling the shards into toothpicks.

“Yea. It’s like, maybe we all just have two or three years of really good material saved up. You know? Two to three years of awesome relationship routine we’ve got down pat. It becomes sort of like fill-in-the-blanks, but even the spontaneity eventually feels rehearsed. And once that’s through…”

She nodded. “We just start over. Find someone else to fool for a while.”

“Yea.”

The waiter brought more drinks, and they sat in silence for a time, trying to pace how often they lifted the glasses to their lips and generally avoiding eye contact. A crack of thunder shook the roof of the restaurant. He was standing at the foot of the staircase again. Knowing what he’d find if he climbed them. He’d always known. Even before his flight was canceled and the taxi lurched back onto the freeway, onto that rain-soaked asphalt headed for home. He had to have known.

“Did you love him?” he asked.

She twirled the beer bottle in her hands. “I thought I did. Once. But at the time, no.”

“Oh.” He looked deep into his drink. “Was I so terrible then?”

She shook her head. “It wasn’t like that. Everything all at once. I think I could have handled a spear in the ribs. But this was more of a death by a thousand tiny paper cuts.”

His hands balled into fists. “God, I wanted to just rip him in half. Peel his skin back and cut him to the bone, so I could paint the walls red with his own lungs. You know, for a long time, I thought I’d never be able to sleep there again until I had both your heads mounted on the bed posts.” He pulled at his tie and laughed. “Jesus, I came here half expecting an apology…”

She bit her lip. “Okay, how about this? Do you notice anything different? About me, I mean?”

He leaned across the table for a moment, taking in her shape, the features of her, and the scent of something vaguely sweet. At last, he sat back. “Ah, you’ve cut your hair.”

She stared blankly. “No I didn’t. I haven’t cut it since, well…”

His face flushed. “Right. Of course.” He searched for his drink. For something to do with his hands. But the table was gone, the glasses and sauce containers lost under a thick coat of golden curls, which flowed from her shoulders and spilled over the edge of the booth, hanging loosely above the floor. He grabbed fistfuls of it and brought it up to his nose. It was silky and smelled of a fruit he couldn’t quite place.

“Fuck,” he whispered. “How did I miss this?” He dabbed at his eyes with her hair.

The waiter returned and started neatly rolling up the many knots of hair to make room for plates and silverware.

“That’s okay,” she said. “I think we’re going to stick to drinks tonight.”

He wiped his eyes again. “Wait,” he said, grabbing the waiter by the arm. “Hold on a minute.” He looked at her. “That fish. The one Lily told you about. What do you say?”

She squinted at him. “Really? Are you sure?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Not in the least.”

They shared another round of drinks, and she brought up past events so foreign to him, they sounded like they must have happened to other people, as if they were talking about two very old friends they’d once known, but sure enough, she would include some detail, some flourish or fact so obscure, he was wholly convinced he was that same person in each story, and here and there, he would look up from his drink and smile at the thought of the woman he’d once loved and the man he’d once been.

The pufferfish was cut into thin slices the shape of reptilian scales. It sat on the serving tray in a mandala of pearly white with a stack of scallions in the center. She took one between her nails and held it up. The skin was translucent. He could almost make out her face through the other side.

“I’m nervous,” she said.

He took the sliver from her fingers. “Let me go first.” His voice trembled. He placed it on his tongue and held it there for a second.

The skin was tough, leathery, and took considerable motion from the molars to break down into something he could swallow. A warm numbing sensation began in his throat and spread upwards.

She leaned in. “How is it?”

“Tastes like shit,” he said.

She placed one delicately on her tongue and began to chew. Her eyes watered. They both reached for another. Soon they were picking up slices three at a time. She pitched one into her mouth like a piece of popcorn. He dangled a handful above him and let them fall heavy into his gullet like a greedy pelican. She held up her plate and licked it clean. He placed two wet slices over his eyelids, and she howled as he bared his teeth and stuck out his tongue.

“Oh my god,” he said after the pieces slid off his face.

She caught her breath. “What?”

“Your eyes. I’ve never noticed how green they were.”

The staff was putting up chairs by the time they had finished. It seemed in their frenzy, they hadn’t noticed the others clear out nor the lights dim. Everything now held a cool blue sheen in the glare of the aquarium. A folded bill sat absorbing soy sauce on the table.

“Guess they’re kicking us out of here,” she said.

“Well that sucks. I’m not even tired yet.”

“Neither am I,” she said grinning.   

They stood to leave and she gathered her purse and umbrella. Outside, the storm had let up its torrential downpour and given way to a light shower of flaming chunks of rock that sizzled as they hit the pavement. A thin man in an apron opened the doors for them and bowed low, thanking them for their business as they hurried out into the fury beyond the awning. He locked the doors behind them and then stood for a minute watching the couple cut across the street, heads bent low, her umbrella already turned inside out and melting, hands gripped tightly together as they faced what lay ahead.

 

Michael Cotter is a graduate of Columbia College of Chicago with an MFA in Creative Writing. His fiction has won the Roger and Sylvia McNair Travel Story Scholarship which allowed him to sleep a lot in Prague one summer and write about his dreams. He currently lives in Chicago, IL.

 

wpm website strip5

 

 

daniel backer
(an excerpt from) Abraham

 

“You know, I’m not sure I want my hair that short.”

“Oh, we’re taking all of it off. I’ve just got to trim it short enough so we can shave it.”

“No.”

“What kind of spiritual journey do you think you signed up for, dude?” Tom asked curtly as he snipped off a huge tuft of your hair. You saw yourself in the mirror scowl at Tom, and he made eye contact with your reflection.

“Why do you get to have hair?”

The voice of the nameless general intelligence simulator filled the room, “It looks very nice, Mr. Downey.”

“Thanks for noticing.”

“Did you program it to say that?”

“Neither here nor there. I get to have hair, one, because I have already become detached from the vanity of hair, and two, because there’s not a crack on the back of my head worth examining.”

You looked at yourself in the mirror with wide-eyed terror.

Tom’s fingers explored the folds of the gauze, and he pinched a fold between his fingers, and pulled off an entire layer. You clasped your hands to your head to prevent it from unraveling any further.

“What are you doing, you maniac? I’m not supposed to take this off. Stuff might start leaking out.”

“I promise, I will be absolutely careful.”

“Why are you dying to see this so bad?”

“Are you familiar with trepanation?”

“No, what the fuck is trepanation?”

“It’s a medical procedure where a small hole is drilled into your skull in order to relieve pressure on the brain. Some people think that you can use it to achieve a higher level of consciousness.”

“Absolutely not.” You backed away from Tom, who was still holding the end of your gauze wrap, so it looked like you were on a leash.

“It’s just a theory.”

“There is no way I’m letting you drill a hole through my head.”

Tom stared at you for a moment. He threw his head back and started laughing. You did not find it amusing. “That would be highly unethical, and unsafe, and I would probably be prosecuted for doing it without a medical license. Besides, I don’t have to. Your head is already cracked open.”

You stared at him skeptically. He gave a little tug on the gauze, “Come. Sit back down.” You slowly crossed to him and sat. “Good boy,” he said cocking his head to the side and smiling at you in the mirror.

He unwound another layer, arriving at a spot wet with blood that had soaked through. Your wound tingled, and Tom’s face seemed to warp and bend in the reflection in the mirror, but even through the oscillations, you could see excitement and awe in it. The light in the room grew very bright.

You heard the crinkling of the gauze that was stiff with dried blood as Tom pulled it away from the layer beneath. At last, Tom removed the last layer of gauze, and squinted at the tangled mess of blood, hair, and skin that had wrinkled up and away from the crack. After clearing away the clumps of hair, he stared into your crack with orgasmic fascination and slack-jawed wonder.

He grabbed the scissors, and gingerly gathered a clump of hair that was wet with blood. He grimaced slightly as he snipped at the clump.

But, he said, “So, where were we?”

“Ugh…” you moaned, still distrustful of Tom’s prying fingers.

“Something about… Oh! Have you gotten laid yet?”

“I’ve been floating all day.”

“That’s no excuse. What exactly are you doing when you approach these women?”

“I just introduce myself, I guess…” you lied.

Tom had already launched into a diatribe about approaching women as he continued grabbing handfuls of your hair and cutting at them roughly with the scissors. It turned out that spirituality was only a small part of his oeuvre. He had quite the narrative of seduction and a huge methodology and discourse on what’s going on when people engage in what he referred to as “the game.”

In fact, a great portion of his speech was dedicated to explaining why a lot of other methodologies and discourses were shortsighted and incoherent. He eventually mentioned animal instincts, primal urges, domination and submission, and the penis and vagina as classic signs of presence and absence. But, none of it really cohered into anything meaningful for you.

Tom must have noticed the lost look on your face. He shook your shoulders. “Are you getting any of this?”

“Yea…”

“Then repeat back to me what I just said.”

You smiled.

“Seriously, this time.”

“…to get laid, you basically find the object of your desire, and try not to come on too strong.”

“Object of desire? Abraham, this troubles me deeply. Do you know what it means to actually objectify a woman?”

“Treat her like a piece of furniture?”

“No. Not that kind of object. To objectify a woman is to turn her into a pursuit, a task to be conquered, a symbol of your transformation. You don’t think of women that way, do you?”

“Of course not.”

“Good. If so, you’d be in deeper trouble than I thought.”

He grabbed one last clump of hair and cut it off. He pulled a saffron robe over your head and shoulders, and an electric buzz told you that he had turned on the clippers, and he proceeded to remove the rest of your hair, being ever so careful to shave up to but not into the crack in the back of your head. You watched his reflection in the mirror gaze at the crack with wonder, and he lightly traced his finger from the crack’s start, the top of the left side of your neck, to its end, on the crown of your head. Tom let his finger slip into the crack and you heard a slurp, and a searing cold pain flashed through your body.

“Easy now!” you cried.

“Sorry. Hold still.”

He slid his finger in the crack once again, and this time, he wiggled it, and you felt the crack open and close slightly, which sent lightning strikes of pain into the center of your head, and the wetness of inside your skull slurped and squished, and everything in your vision flickered. The individual objects that you saw before you in the mirror—the couch, the ladder to the loft you’d been sleeping in, the granite coffee table, the TV, you, Tom, each individual garment you were wearing, the eyes on your face and Tom’s face, and both of your noses and mouth and hands—began to seem to sink into themselves, as though each thing was retreating into some withdrawn hole within. With another wiggle of Tom’s finger inside the crack in your head, each object in the room began to expand out of that same supposed hole. Tom nudged his finger deeper, everything went black, with the sound of radio static in the background.

You came to, and after you realized what was happening, you lurched away from Tom once more.

“Okay, I’m done. I need some gauze right now,” you demanded.

Tom nodded and left the room silently and returned with gauze. He handed it to you, and you proceeded to wrap it tightly around your head. Tom had opened his wallet, and he pulled four one-hundred-dollar bills out of his wallet. “That should help you get through the next few days. You may go.”

 

Daniel Backer lives in Los Angeles, California, but he grew up in Blue Springs, Missouri and ripened in Chicago where he became interested in improv and, later, film.  But, his love has always been reading. Abraham is his first book, but the second is in the works.

 

 

wpm website strip1

zachary gallant
Black Hut

 

Often in a blur, Samuel, so named by Christian missionaries for the wise look in his even infant countenance, would sprint through the trees convinced that he was the wind itself. In his arms, a blanket would be clutched without exception and the color of a cloudless afternoon sky. The blanket was given to him by a woman with bright hair, bright skin and illustrious clothing. Samuel decided that he loved her. He did not know who else to love if not those who gave. He cried when the woman left, but that was a long time ago— at least, a long time to Samuel.

The trip would always be saturated with the whirs and snaps of insects at that time of day, or any other for that matter. But, it was shortly after the moment the sun broke through the horizon when Samuel would visit the waterfall.

After a broad stretch of straightaway through golden plains, Samuel would come upon the jungle and where the climb would immediately become arduous. Steep cliffs and rocky stairs loomed where there was no circumvention available. Some of the village’s most weathered dogfaces could not make the trek due to the narrow areas one had to navigate in order to reach the height. Once at a particular point, Samuel could be sure he was alone with the wild, his blanket and the holy sun.

“It is hot today, Blur,” Samuel told his blanket. There were no other children in the village to talk to, and the adults were usually sad or angry. The Bright Lady told Samuel he looked like a blur when he charged by with his new blanket, thrilled by the gift. Samuel decided that it would make a promising name. That was what the she said, “Samuel is a promising name.”

Up where the river turned from the mother continent towards the edge was where Samuel emerged from the brush and stone. The body of water was wide and filled with the passion which the world lent to it. He crouched at the edge and pulled some of the murky water to his mouth. Samuel had long since gotten used to the taste of dirt. It was more pleasant to enjoy the rejuvenation of water than to dwell on its quality, he figured. There were reed cormorants gathered together on the opposite bank, making the sounds reed cormorants make as they gossiped about Samuel’s presence. Samuel thought they sounded like chimpanzees.

There was still a ways to go until the water cascaded towards the earth and began its journey to the Indian Ocean. In that stretch, Samuel would have to be content with a strolling pace. The open ground beside the river was scarce. There was a bit more on the other side, but Samuel knew better than to transgress the great river.

The breeze turned into a hard gust and nearly took Blur with it. Samuel was strong enough to hold on. His grip came from helping the women carry baskets from the missionary trucks. He missed those days. His stomach rumbled at the thought of those baskets. Many stories were told about them in what months followed after they left.

Finally, the end of the river came into sight. Samuel loved the sound of the water crashing over. There was nothing else like it. He would try to recreate the sound with his voice pressed through his teeth, but it was never the same.

Below, in a clearing just by where the waterfall met its end, there was a small hut. Just large enough for a single person to fit, perhaps, accompanied by a small child. The land surrounding it was absolutely forbidden to travelers and the only villagers who could set foot were those blessed by the chief himself.

The entrance to the hut was filled with tangible darkness. Some of it would occasionally leak from the sides and disappear in the sunlight. Samuel had never seen the hut at night. He did not want to.

Samuel went there to observe. When the night was new, blessed villagers would be allowed to traverse the area alone. Some would find the hut, others would be lost to the wild. Neither sort returned. Samuel watched as that morning’s wanderer, who had indeed found the clearing, walk out of the trees and towards the Black Hut. The man shambled because of how frail his body was, as was any that found itself in that clearing. The man made a direct march towards the nothingness within the hut.

“Do not go into the hut!” Samuel yelled as he did almost every day. Just like all the other times, the villager did not listen. The man went into the hut where the darkness immediately enveloped the man. There was silence for a brief moment, but not to long before the man screamed. Samuel hated this part. He spent many nights lying awake praying that the next villager would listen to his plea.

The sound of bones snapping always came next. The screaming peaked and then ceased forever, as it always did.

Though the sun had not gone anywhere, the air grew cold. Samuel already had his blanket around him in preparation. He sat down in the dirt and looked at the hut. Some part of him was hoping that something different would happen. He hoped that maybe a villager would reemerge one day, unharmed. They never did.

Samuel was certain of one thing. He did not want to know where they went if they would not come back. He was not the type to dwell on painful thoughts.

On his return to the village, a young warrior confronted Samuel. He was not much older, but bore the yellow body paint of any full grown equivalent.

The young warrior spoke in their own language when he commanded that Samuel present himself to the village chief. He did not allow any of the missionaries to teach him their foreign language as the traditionalists of the village found it repulsive. Neither the traditionalists nor the contemporaries had any spare thoughts for idealism now.

The chief’s home was not lavish as was generally the case with most social leaders. He shared the same squalor and famine his people had endured over the last year. When the fields stopped producing, the villagers were left with two options.

When Samuel entered the chief’s shack and sat at his table, that was the first tale the chief told. He explained that villagers could make the perilous expedition to find another village, in which case there was more of a chance to cross paths with a hungry predator. Or, those with no future could submit themselves to the Black Hut. The chief explained that it was his final duty to determine who should be granted that mercy, before one day entering himself.

Samuel did not like how the chief behaved like a father. Samuel may have only had vague memories of his father, but he knew that it was not the chief. His brow tightened as he could not help but express his frustration with the chief’s condescension.

The chief noticed that look of defiance. He explained to Samuel that they did not need to agree, but Samuel was indeed forbidden from the waterfall paths for the rest of his days. No boy has the soul prepared to witness what is meant for holy men and the divine.

The chief barked for the young warrior to come in, who had since been guarding the entryway of the shack. The young warrior was ordered to bring the boy out and to make sure the boy never went near the paths surrounding the area of the Black Hut.

When Samuel came out, he was confronted by a line of villagers waiting for admittance. They wanted to plead for the chief’s blessing which would allow them to walk to the Black Hut.

“No!” Samuel cried. None of the people in line seemed very upheaved by his outburst. He grabbed a woman by the arm and pulled it until he had her direct attention, and that of a few others.

“We will search for a new place together!” Samuel explained. “We may find nothing but the wild, but at least we would die under the sun!”

At the mention of death, the attention of the villagers was lost. Samuel could tell there was nothing human left in them. He let go of the woman’s arm and walked away.

He had no possessions other than Blur, which was already draped over his left shoulder. He saw no point in staying if he could not save these people. He walked and walked away from the Indian Ocean and the Black Hut.

Birds were in the air, alerting the wild to Samuel’s diversion. Samuel did feel fear, but, to him, it felt better than giving up.

“We may die together, Blur, but we will die under the sun.”

 

Zachary Gallant was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and lives in Los Angeles, California. He’s been working on a full-length novel since 1998. Don’t ask him what it’s about, he doesn’t know either. Follow him on Twitter or Snapchat @zjgallant.