The Art of Healing - Julie Giurgis

 

While browsing a local store full of eclectic and artisan collectibles, I came across an intriguing print of one of my favorite artists, Frida Kahlo. The shop assistant approached me and we had a lengthy conversation about the artist. We discussed how she was a woman ahead of her time and spoke about the movie based on her life titled Frida, played by Salma Hayek. The assistant went on to say there was an exhibition in the coming months of Frida and her artist husband Diego Rivera at the Gallery of N.S.W. 

I was so excited about seeing Frida’s work. I chose my outfit carefully to match the occasion. Tan-colored fringed poncho accompanied a black leather pencil skirt. I wore bronze Aztec feather earrings with metallic brown eye shadow and black eyeliner. Sporting a gypsy-like outfit made me look like I fit in to the artsy culture. 

It was lunch time when I arrived so I made my way down to the gallery cafe. As I drew closer, the noise that came from there grew increasingly louder. I tried to dull out the noise and focus my energy internally, a skill I had mastered after dining alone many times, but the more I tried the worse it got. After I ordered my meal I surveyed the busy cafe for a vacant table. 

All I could hear was endless chatter, people engrossed in a myriad of conversations, cutlery scraping on plates and the clash of crockery on crockery. Normally when I was on my own I preferred a quiet spot to sit in a cafe, but this particular day available tables were scarce. After searching for a few minutes I finally found somewhere to eat. 

As I sat down with my overpriced pumpkin soup and sourdough bread, a confused bundle of feelings surged over me. The pang of loneliness had crept into my heart. I felt disconnected with everyone else like something was missing. There was emptiness in the space of my chest. The hunger in my soul was stronger than the hunger in my stomach.  

I imagined people whispering to one another and looking at me with pity saying ‘Poor girl has no friends.’ I was anxious about being alone and how other people viewed me being alone. Desperate for relief I tried to engage with a woman near me who appeared to be on her own, only to find her friend return to the table a few minutes later.

Usually I took pride in being a free-spirit but in that moment I felt alone in the crowd, an outsider. I felt lonelier around people then I could by myself because their presence reminded me of how isolated I was. It wasn’t a physical loneliness but a loneliness of the heart and mind.

I scanned the room once more and saw a woman contently sipping on her coffee, and another man sitting opposite me with his tray of food. Still we remained a minority. 

To escape this misery I quickly devoured my meal and headed towards the exhibition. As I entered the quiet room with vibrant colored paintings that hung on the white walls a strange calm came over me and my pain seemed to disappear. 

I thought about how art acts as a tool of connection with one another and helps us peacefully navigate our differences, support our self-worth, and enables us to process the deepest misfortunes. Art had become the catalyst for healing my wounded heart.

Frida also embraced this part of herself saying that she painted self-portraits because she ‘was so often alone.’ Self-discovery was a reoccurring theme throughout her work, and revealed feelings of vulnerability that most of us would be embarrassed to share. 

Yet, within the piercing gaze that marks her portraits and gracefully brutal depictions of loss, love and loneliness, strength emerges and sets Frida apart from all painters. She was described by her husband as, ‘the only example in the history of art as an artist who tore open her chest and heart to reveal the biological truth of her feelings.’

Loneliness can feel like a hollow emptiness of isolation and disconnection. Yet it isn’t a rare or curious experience that only some people experience but rather is familiar to the human condition. Once I embraced loneliness as a part of life, I could engage in a renewed awareness of myself, connecting with the vulnerable part of me.

 

 

 

 

 

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About the Author

JULIE GIURGIS is a freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. Her work has been published in several publications including Transition, Vibrant Life, Kaleidoscope, The Edge and Vita Bella. 

Sparks - Henry Hietala

 

They met in school, sparks flying like a John Woo fight scene. Then came restlessness, the bloodline unspooled. Divorced from themselves, not each other. A fire doused, no ash insight.

 

 

 

 

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About the Author

HENRY HIETALA grew up in Bozeman, Montana. His work has been featured in Inklette, Medusa's Laugh Press, and The Spark.

My Town is Bleeding Poverty - Warren Jones

 

I was due to meet my husband in our local café before work. That morning, I decided to arrive early, to have some thinking time for myself. I had so much going on in my head and needed that half-hour to get sorted, make sense of the situation. I looked down and realized that I had put on mismatching heels, and a ladder in my tights exposed my unshaven leg.

I took a seat next to the large bay window, which looks out onto the cobbled high street. The smell of a cooked English, mixed with the coffee breath of the waiter awoke my senses instantaneously. The disturbing view of the recent closed-down library, with its bolted windows and locked metal shutter door, was emotional. The century old building shared the same pain and destitute as the homeless man on the corner of Warwick Avenue. The town hall clock has been stuck at the nine o’ clock position for over a month. The town was bleeding poverty, the cries of pain being drowned out by the whistling of the angry kettle.

I ordered black coffee and my usual two slices of thick brown toasts with butter. The daily rag with its bullshit, not even good enough to wrap up the overcooked chips. The tea-stained collar on the waiter blended in with the stickiness of the grease-lit ceiling. The walls appeared to be closing in; the fearful eyes all around searching for an exit of hope. Leftover beans and pig fat are left abandoned on the table, the loneliness of the crumbs hiding the evidence of guilt.

 

 

 

 

 

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About the Author

WARREN JONES studies creative writing at the University of Bolton. He is a published poet and scriptwriter, and has been published in various magazines. He is hoping to extend his portfolio by writing short fiction.

"When I write in all genres I try to get a sense of real life. This shines through in my work, with a powerful message being present." 

The Promise - Phillip DiGiacomo

 

I strolled about our flower beds, climbed our little terraces, came down again, my dazed thoughts drifting from one thing to another.  One insistent notion kept coming back around, stopping me at the top of the footpath that led down to our small stone house. I should rush down, burst through the door and stop Anna from ending her life.  Instead, I stood motionless and watched a small gray dove swaying at the top of our ancient fig tree, it’s head cocked, regarding me with a tiny round eye.

~

Months before, I had promised my wife that I would leave her alone when she decided to take the two injections that would stop her pain forever. Her life no longer held any pleasure and neither the doctors nor I could help her. The liquid morphine sipped from an old flask was no longer enough to mask her pain. Anna’s oncologist in Milano, Doctor Giovanni Mucci supplied me, at great personal and professional risk, with the fatal doses of sedative. Driving home that day through heavy fog near Ravenna with the package on the seat next to me, I nearly threw it out the window twice. Was I about to become a murderer? Could I keep the awful promise to my wife of forty years? The gear box in the old Maserati crunched as I shifted down for the final climb to our hillside home. I parked and sat listening to the engine ticking as it cooled, not wanting to touch the deadly package or even look at it.

~

But I had kept my part of the agreement and now waited, my eyes searching the tiny, round face of a mourning dove and prayed for Anna’s pain to melt away even though it meant losing her forever.  How much time had passed?  How much longer should I wait?  How would I know?  The fig leaves rustled, a branch dipped, wings flapped, the dove taking flight with a soft cooing, arcing down the path to circle our house once and disappear into the lower valley. As good an answer as any I thought. I began carefully descending the rough stone steps to bid my wife a last goodbye. 

 

 

 

 

 

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About the Author

PHILLIP DIGIACOMO’s work has appeared in “The Nervous Breakdown”, “1888 The Cost of Paper”, “Fiction on The Web” and “Halfway Down the Stairs.” He is a former painter and actor from New York. He is a student of Lou Mathews at UCLA. Twenty-seven years ago, Phillip moved to a bluff on Pacific Coast Highway, where he lives with his wife, Hilary Baker, a painter. There, he writes, reads, cooks, and sometimes races an old Porsche. You can also find him here: www.philipdigiacomo.com

War on Christmas - Tommy Grimly

 

Sally found me in the living room. 

I deftly hid the remaining wrapping paper under the sofa. “Sweetie, why are you up? You should be in bed.”

She crawled onto the sofa. “I have a very serious question.”

“Okay. Then you go back to bed. You have your jammies on, and that means Night Time Sleepy Time.”

“My question is, is Santa Claus real?”

Sally bundled her stubby legs to her chest, watching me expectantly. The question hung in the air. She looked at me with faint hope that I would demolish the doubts in her mind and perpetuate the last bit of magic left in her six-year-old life. 

Why is it a holiday tradition to lie to your kids for years only to shove it in their face? I suddenly realized how idiotic the whole thing was. I wrapped up presents and told her they came from a fat man sliding down the chimney. To perpetuate the lie, I put out cookies and milk and ate them myself. In addition, I showered her with hours of propaganda, like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. And all for what? To create some childhood innocence just to shatter it like a cinderblock to a glass wall? Should I have been upfront from the beginning, and raised her as a Santa atheist? Would she have been ostracized from her classmates for that? She probably would’ve still had her childhood innocence. It doesn’t require a spiderweb of lies to make kids cute.

There's no manual for this. You know that you’ve come to a line. Your relationship with your child will be defined by the moments before and after the conversation. 

I’ve never been good at this. I buckled.

“Santa is dead, Sally. He was shot down last night by a tactical supersonic missile.”

Her jaw fell ajar. “Who shot Santa?”

“The US government. They’ve had a war on Christmas since the ‘90s.”

“Why does the government hate Santa?”

“Well, you see, President Trump is a man who insults people, and Republican policies habitually take money and means from the poor, so Santa has been giving them all coal for years because they’ve been so bad.”

“Why won’t they be nice?”

“Republicans don’t like handouts. The idea of getting free presents goes against their ideology.”

“But how could they shoot down Santa? He’s too fast.”

“We have a robust military industrial complex, so-”

“What?” 

“The bombs were very quick and hit the sled.”

“Did the reindeer get away? What about Rudolph?”

“Two F-16 fighter jets strafed them and riddled them with bullets. Their bodies landed in Toledo, but they were so high up they were reduced to ash in re-entry.”

“But what about the elves and Mrs. Claus?”

“Mrs. Claus passed away from pancreatic cancer a decade ago. The elves have been apprehended by Seal Team Six. They’ll be sent to work camps in Indiana to help boost American manufacturing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About the Author

TOMMY GRIMLY earned a Creative Writing degree from The University of Wisconsin-Madison. His plays have been performed in DC and NY, while his short fiction has been previously published in The Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Illumination, and Turk's Head Review. In the autumn, he will begin pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at The University of British Columbia.

True Hollywood Story: Miles the Golden Retriever - Adam Matson

 

Shimmering coat, strong bones and teeth- Miles the golden retriever had it all. Rocketing to fame as the face of Purina Dog Chow, Miles saw a promising commercial career derail in a shit-storm of betrayal and shame. In a few short years he went from man’s best friend to his own worst enemy.

Born on a farm in Santa Barbara, CA, Miles was adopted by Beverly Hills socialite and lip gloss aficionado Brittany van Vahlkershtott, who immediately recognized Miles’ irresistible cuteness and began taking him to auditions on the canine television commercial circuit. After appearing in the 2006 Adorable Puppies with Fuzzy Toys annual calendar series from Pet-Nauseum Publishing Co, Inc., Miles landed background work on the hit reality-TV series Dogs, 90210

His big break came in 2008 when he won the lead in the Purina Dog Chow Commercial where the healthy golden retriever proves himself an ideal pet, catching a Frisbee in the park and happily wagging his tail while his owner, a cardigan/MBA/aftershave-white-single-guy-type, tenderly strokes Miles’ coat. Miles followed up his smash hit with a second Purina commercial, this time an ensemble drama featuring a pug, a cocker spaniel, and a golden doodle named Phillipa. Life was good for Miles, with frequent trips to the groomer, long walks on Manhattan Beach, and all the Goodness Gracious-brand Hula Lula chicken-jerky he could eat.

But the rabid dog-eat-dog world of canine-commercial stardom soon bit Miles. Purina balked at his five-figure super-star salary requirement and instead cast the younger, cheaper, and beta-testedly cuter Phillipa the Golden Doodle (Phillipa’s own career was cut tragically short in 2010, after years of abusing barbiturates and dietary supplements, when she was diagnosed with renal failure and kidney cancer, and euthanized) in their next commercial. Miles retreated to his Beverly Hills mansion with his tail between his legs.

“We were all devastated,” said Miles’ agent, Barry Rothermel. “One minute Miles was leaping in the grass with an all-American TV family, the next minute he was cast to the curb in favor of some young hussy with puppy-dog eyes. It’s all political anyway.”

“Miles wouldn’t play with any of his squeaky toys,” said owner van Vahlkershtott. “For weeks he just moped around, listlessly nudging his water dish, waiting for the mailman to come by so he could snarl through the window from our divan.”

Miles’ depression soon turned to rage. He began sneaking out at night and stalking the neighborhood, ravaging female dogs (and some cats) up and down Doheny Drive. 

“You would never know he was neutered, the way he acted,” said rapper Jay Z, Miles’ neighbor and owner of a Pekingese Miles routinely wooed. “He seemed to have ninety-nine problems, but a bitch, apparently, wasn’t one.”

Van Vahlkershtott had no choice but to put him in therapy. For two years Miles visited Bel Air pet psychologist Dr. Chloe Johnstone-Gloss, DVM, four times a week, whereupon he was placed on Prozac for chronic depression and Ativan for depression-related anxiety disorder. During therapy it came to light that Miles felt inadequate as a pet, fearing he could never live up to his master’s obsessive walking regimens, nor earn enough money from his TV career to support her posh lifestyle. These dark days saw frequent incidents of vomit-inducing grass-eating, vicious cat-chasing, and one suicide attempt when Miles ran out across Sunset Blvd, ostensibly to capture a squirrel.

“I just couldn’t keep him after that,” said van Vahlkershtott, who abandoned Miles to a local animal shelter and went off in search of a dog which she felt would better understand her in spirit and soul.

Miles escaped from the shelter in 2011 after biting one of the handlers, thus beginning the nightmare of life on the street. He roamed from house to house in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, shitting on anybody’s lawn he felt like, sniffing random crotches in the park, scrounging food out of dumpsters in Little Osaka.

“That was a rough time in his life,” said Miles’ close friend, actor Corey Feldman. “We were out most nights chasing tail, hanging out behind nightclubs on the Strip, fritzed on Kibble and various pain-killers.”

Early 2012 saw more career set-backs for both Miles and Feldman, as financing for the duo’s attempted remake of Turner and Hooch fell through. Miles even tried to re-ingratiate himself with Purina, but reportedly showed up to commercial auditions grossly overweight, with his tongue constantly hanging out, his once-cheerful demeanor sullied by frequent and aggressive barking fits.

“He couldn’t even obey simple commands like ‘sit’ or ‘stay’,” said Mary Hollenbeck, Purina spokesperson. “His coat was scruffy, he had lost most of his teeth. He lifted his leg on everyone’s chairs. He was a bad dog.”

In October 2012 Miles was pulled over by Animal Control while running recklessly down the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu wearing nothing but his collar. After failing a breathalyzer test, Miles barked a series of slurred, disparaging comments about Samoyeds. Miles’ publicist was forced to deny that her client was an anti-Sam-ite.

It all could have ended with the needle, but LA-based animal rights group Better Animal Treatment Solutions (B.A.T.S.) rallied to Miles’ defense and sent the aging canine to Pet Promises Animal Rehabilitation Ranch. There Miles stopped eating shoes, gave up begging for treats, and learned that the sidewalks and driveways of upper West side Los Angeles were not his personal shitting grounds. He learned to ‘heel’ and ‘leave it,’ (“It” = cocaine) and gradually came to understand there was more to life than flashy commercials, Tiffany collars, and limitless back-stage butt-sniffing. In spring 2013 Miles was adopted by the Pagliarulos, a Brentwood family who recognized the charms of the once-beloved TV commercial star and adopted him.

“Everyone deserves a second-chance,” says Brett Pagliarulo. “Miles may once have been a neurotic superstar, squatting on Rodeo Drive, raiding various cupboards to support his biscuit habit. But these days he’s as mellow as Old Yeller.”

Miles has even started giving back to the community, barking to puppies during obedience-training seminars at a local PetCo about the temptations of stardom and dangers of excess. 

“Give him an old tennis ball and he’s happy,” says Pagliarulo, while Miles lies quietly in the leafy shadows of his Brentwood yard, his nose whisker-deep in his own anus.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

ADAM MATSON's fiction has appeared internationally in several magazines, including Straylight Literary Magazine, Soundings East, The Bryant Literary Review, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Morpheus Tales, Infernal Ink Magazine, Crack the Spine, and The Indiana Voice Journal. He has also published a collection of short stories, Sometimes Things Go Horribly Wrong (Outskirts Press). 

X Marks the Spot - AJ Kirby

 

Dearest Reader

This is a personal email directed to you and I humbly request that it should be treated as such. Despite the fact that this medium (email) has been greatly abused, I choose to reach you through it because it remains the quickest method of communication. Though I do not know you, I hope you are the kind of person who judges each such message on its own merits. I trust you do not jump to the conclusion that because this email reaches you unbidden and because it promises you untold riches it is therefore hinky. And I pray you recognize this email for what it is: an old-fashioned X-marks-the-spot communiqué. 

I’d better get to the meat of this message before you dump it post-haste into your SPAM folder and forget all about it, unaware of its true value, duped by cynicism like Othello, like the “base Indian (who) threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe”.     

I have come into the possession of a great booty and I am contacting you so that we can agree on the legal transfer of US$85.2M which was left in a safety deposit box in the hotel I own by my late guest; a guest who bears same SURNAME/ Last Name with you, dear reader. This fortune remains unclaimed and I have desperately tried to keep it out of the grasping clutches of ‘the relevant authorities’ because I feel strongly it should be bequeathed to a relative of my late guest. 

Therefore I searched for your contact detail on ‘Foreign Information Network Online’ and – in order to steer under the radar of ‘the relevant authorities’ - I set up a brand new webmail account with which I am contacting you. All I require from you at this stage is your full name and address, your bank account number and sort-code, and I shall arrange for an IMMEDIATE MONETARY TRANSFER.

However, I am not fool enough to believe you will simply furnish me with said detail without further explanation from myself, and to that end, I shall tell you the full story of how I came to be in the possession of the treasure which could soon be yours. 

The entrance of a mysterious stranger is a common story trope. Said stranger is the ‘agent’ of the action I shall now describe but YOU, dear reader, are an agent also, for once you have read this message it is your duty to decide whether this stranger shall be your benefactor or your OPPORTUNITY MISSED.

Here is our stranger: The man was pallid as a corpse and so tired he had great bodybags under his eyes. He barely had the energy to ask for a room. If I hadn’t hurried – efficient service is the pride of the Gokova Heights Hotel - he might well have keeled right over in reception. 

But at the same time, he had little bursts of life – like when you take out the batteries of the remote control and rub them on your thigh and then they’re good for another couple channel changes. At the front door, he was reluctant to allow Mustapha to carry his overnight bag over the threshold. Nothing particularly new there: westerners are very wary of porters because they’re always worried about the etiquette of tipping. But the way the pallid man practically wrestled Mustapha for the prize of the case was just a little over-zealous. And then there was the argument about his signing the guest register. He grew angry at my insistence and almost hobbled straight back out the front door again. Only when I told him it was Turkish law did he relent and sign.

He signed ‘Billy Bones’, and that name snagged in my mind. I’d heard it before, but couldn’t for the life of me remember where. You, dear reader would know the name as you know the back of your hand. Do you wear a black spot there, like a birth-mark? For Bones did. Perhaps this is a familial trait? 

I digress. Bones handed me back my pen then looked at me as though waiting for me to challenge him. Then he played what he thought was his trump card. He slapped a passport down onto the counter so hard the little attention-bell jangled. The passport was American. I could see he wanted to use it to buy himself out of this transaction. 

But at the same time, I always tried to ensure there is no welcome like a welcome at the Gokova Heights Hotel. And so, I tried to engage Bones in conversation. I asked him whereabouts in the US he was from. I’d been to Denver once, did he know it? He was non-committal. So I asked something easier; whether he’d had a long flight. He simply shrugged. In desperation, I asked whether he needed a local guide to Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline.  I knew a very good one down in Bodrum. But Bones was like most westerners I knew. He thought there was a catch. He made a big show of checking his watch and then let loose with an Aslan’s roar of a yawn. When he’d finished he told me he was bushed and if I could I just hand him his room key.

I tried to tell him about the opening times of the restaurant and bar and about his half-price use of the pool in the hotel down the road, but I could see I was fighting a losing battle. I asked him, but sir; surely you need sustenance after your travels? He sneered, ordered me to send up a bourbon on the rocks. I told him Mustapha would be onto it quick-smart, just as soon as he’d shown him his room.

He told me he could find the room for himself thank you. After all, the place wasn’t exactly the Ritz-Carlton. We only had two storeys. He also informed me he didn’t want Mustapha to bring the drinks. I should bring them up instead. I didn’t like what was unspoken here: Bones wanted me to bring the drink because I was a white westerner and therefore trustworthy. But Bones is your relative and I cast no aspersions further than that brief wrinkle on your pond. Perhaps he had simply had a bad day.

I didn’t want to make it worse. But I almost did. I used to take great pride in how well-stocked our bar was, but since I converted to Islam lock, stock and two smoking barrels – I even changed my name; became Yusuf, like the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens – less so. I soon discovered we didn’t keep any bourbon, so I sent Mustapha down to our neighbouring hotel on the Vespa. The Istanbulspor had a pool so surely it had bourbon.  

Mustapha came back clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels. I took this booty and poured a glass and brought it up to Room 7. At the door, I paused. There were violent noises coming from within. The American might be in trouble. But following fast on the heels of that thought was another: if it was trouble, he was causing it all by himself. (Security and guest peace of mind is a guiding principle of the Gokova Heights: there was no way another agent could have entered his room).

Bones came to the door before I could decide whether to knock. Good, he snapped, I was on my way down anyway. I can’t get the internet to work. What kind of cockamamie place was this, huh? Calmly I handed him the consolation of the glass of bourbon and then I told him he needed our Wi-fi password. Believe me, dear reader, when I say I treated your relative with the utmost respect. Bones shook his head. Took the glass. Drained it. Then closed the door in my face.

Much later, the guest in the adjoining room to Bones called down to reception. This guest was a travelling salesman and he said it was imperative he got a good nights’ sleep in order that he could be on tip-top form to sell-sell-sell in the morning. The Tripadvisor write-up of the Gokova Heights Hotel had promised him exactly that. And yet, not five minutes ago, he’d heard yet another loud crash from the room next door. What the heck kind of people was I letting in this place? 

I told the travelling salesman I would sort it. I called Room 7, ready to remind Bones of the Wi-fi password if necessary, but the phone just rang out. I thought nothing more of it: the American must finally have succumbed to sleep: our beds here are all kinds of comfortable. But not ten minutes later, the travelling salesman was on the phone once again, spitting fury. He told me it now sounded as though a herd of migrating wildebeest was stampeding through next door and couldn’t I flaming well do something about it?

This time I didn’t call Room 7. I took the lift straight up there. For fear of making a mistake and waking Bones unnecessarily, I took the skeleton key. That way I could simply slip my head about the jamb, ascertain Bones’ log-like sleeping condition, and then inform the travelling salesman that he was wrong; he must have been imagining the bang-crash-wallop of Room 7.

But when I went to slip the skeleton key into the keyhole I saw the door was already open a crack and when I pushed it, it glided open (no haunted house creaks here, dear reader!) and revealed the scene of destruction within. My immediate thought was: crime scene. The place looked as though it had been ransacked: the bed had been dragged out away from the wall. An empire of spare sheets had been tugged out of the Ottoman. The wardrobe looked as though it had been attacked with an axe. Bones’ overnight bag had been gutted and the contents were strewn across the floor.

From the bathroom, there came the insistent sound of gushing water. I followed it, dread creeping up on me with every footstep. At the door, my feet squelched into the carpet as the water seeped through, and I imagined his death-bloated body causing waterfalls inside. I imagined the room, painted red. And the consequences of this distinct possibility hit me hard: for not only can blood stain bathroom suites it can also stain the reputation of an establishment such as mine.  

It took every gram of bravery I possessed for me to push through that door. But when I finally did so, I discovered Bones was not present in the bathroom. There was not a forensic trace of him. Not even a toothbrush. Quickly I shut off the taps and threw down some towels to soak up the overflow from the bath. Then I returned to the bedroom suite. I checked it more thoroughly this time. I looked under the bed and I looked inside the Ottoman. But it was as though the room had been de-Boned. 

Other than my memories – and his overnight bag and passport – there was no evidence he’d ever been here in the first place. Believe you-me, I considered calling in ‘the relevant authorities’. But already, alternative explanations for his ‘disappearance’ were striking at me. Perhaps he’d sleepwalked out of the room (and the mess had been caused by his blundering about in his somnambulant state). Or perhaps he’d had some kind of seizure. Or perhaps Bones had simply gone out for a long walk to clear his head. 

At worst, Bones might have been taken against his will. But no ransom note had been left and though I’d scoured the internet (another medium which has been greatly abused) I found no sign of any militant/ renegade groups taking ‘ownership’ of the kidnapping. In the absence of this, I decided it would be best to wait.

But Bones didn’t return. Not that night or the next. Nor did anyone report him missing. After a week, I decided the Gokova Heights could no longer stand to lose income on the room; Bones had paid for one night only. I enlisted Mustapha’s help in cleaning the place up and gathering up the ‘bones’ of Bones in order that we could store them in Lost Property for him to collect on some future occasion. 

Once Mustapha had taken care of the ‘deep cleaning’, I set about applying the finishing touches which make a stay at the Gokova Heights Hotel second to none in the comfort stakes. The last thing I did before I vacated the room was what I always do. I pressed ‘code-reset’ on the safety deposit box in order that the next guest who happened along could choose whatever number they liked. And it was then I discovered the box had been tampered with. For when I pressed ‘code-reset’, there was an audible click from inside the mechanisms of the box. And then the door yawned open and at once the treasure inside was revealed.

Have you seen The Hobbit, dear reader? Recall Smaug’s hoard. The box was dripping with jewels: I was bedazzled by the glittering array of rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, gold inside. 

There was also a note, scrawled hastily onto some Gokova Heights letterheaded paper. The signature at the foot of it matched Bones’ on my guest register. This is what it said:

DEAREST SIR

YOU HAVE DISCOVERED RICHES BEYOND YOUR WILDEST IMAGININGS. BUT AVAST(!) AFORE YOU ARE TOO HASTY! FOR THIS TROVE IS NOT AS IT SEEMS. IT COMES AT A PRICE AND THAT PRICE IS YOUR TRUST.

YOU MUST TRUST THAT IT HAS BEEN LEFT TO YOU ABOVE ALL OTHERS ON THE FACE OF THIS EARTH; THAT SHEER LUCK HAS GUIDED MY HAND TO PLACE THIS WONDROUS WEATH IN YOUR ‘INBOX’. 

YOU MUST TRUST THAT THIS SHIMMERING STOCKPILE COMES WITH NO CATCH. YOU MUST BELIEVE THIS TREASURE IS NOT A CURSE. YOU MUST TRUST IT DOES NOT STAIN; THAT IT DOES NOT LEAVE A BLACK SPOT ON YOUR HAND EVEN AS I LET IT GO. 

YOU MUST TRUST THIS TREASURE IS A BLESSING. I PASS THIS ON TO A BETTER MAN THAN ME IN THE HOPE YOU’LL DO BETTER THAN I. 

YOURS, 

BILLY BONES

 

There was a P.S. on Bones’ strange missive. Unfortunately the ink had been badly smudged so I couldn’t read the whole of it. From what I could make out, it said PLEASE PASS ON A PORTION OF THESE MONIES TO MY… But my what? His wife? His brother? His pet pooch? I had no idea, and there was nobody to ask. Hence my desperate trawl through the ‘Foreign Information Network Online’ in order to find a blood-relative of Bones. Hence my email to you. 

Dear reader, I understand my message will have appeared to you ‘out of the blue’. But so did Bones’ to me. We are alike, you and I, in that we both received these messages without ‘opting in’. I received mine from – dare I say it? - the rudest of messengers in Bones; he of the bang-crash-wallop in Room 7. He of the sneers and the door-closed-in-my-face behaviour. And down the line this email will rudely ping into your inbox, uninvited. And your fingers will hover over ‘DELETE’.

But bear with me. I promise you the ultimate treasure in all of this is not the jewels (though they help). The real booty is discovering you can be credulous, even in this world sick with cynicism. The real bounty is placing your trust in another human being, even a stranger, and not expecting the worst to happen. 

Bones threw himself upon my trust, hoping it was not rocks. Thus I throw myself upon your trust. I suppose I have an advantage over you in that regard. I’ve worked in the hospitality trade for a number of years and we are in the business of trusting strangers on a night-by-night basis. We trust that they will not soil the sheets too badly and they will not steal from the mini bar. They trust that we will provide a comfortable room for a good night’s sleep. It is a mutually satisfactory arrangement, just as I hope ours can be. 

For you, this is all shimmering-new. But I ask you to change your perspective. I ask you to believe me when I tell you there is no catch. What say you, dear reader? Would you make the next step, and thus gain one step closer to the discovery of a life-changing amount of money? Should you provide me with your salient information (including bank details) I will provide you with the detail regarding the next steps of our journey.

Yours in humble service,

Yusuf

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

AJ KIRBY's short fiction has been published in a variety of magazines, anthologies and literary journals, including three collections: Trickier & Treatier, The Art of Ventriloquism and Mix Tape. He lives in Leeds, UK with his partner Heidi and children, Leon and Peggy. 

You can also find him here: https://paintthistownred.wordpress.com

The Cosmobots / Peace on Earth - Gareth Vieira

 

The Cosmobots

The Cosmobots were spying in on Albert Reddy, from their satellite dish in deep space. They received some damning information from the main-frame computer, that said, Albert has gone ahead and made his flying saucer in his garage. Bought with items he purchased at Home Depot, on Main Street.  But then again, the year is 2302, so maybe it's not that unheard of to purchase space equipment at a local hardware store.

Albert sat at his desk, looking out his window at the stars, naming the constellations in his head, as his computer finalized the details of his journey. Rolls of printouts, circle the floor around him. Coordinates to where he was going, what he would see and who or what he might encounter. In truth, this is an improvisational adventure, dreamed up, as much as designed. He had his eyes on the sky and beyond.

“Is he looking at us,” said one of the Cosmobots, the older model.

“What? No, you idiot,” said the updated version. “The human is probably pondering space or something. They do that sometimes.”

“But he's looking right at us,” said the older model. “He's definitely, looking at us.”

“He's looking into space. He can't see us; we are two thousand light years away.”

“Seriously? You sure about that?”

In chapter two, the updated Cosmobot sells the older model for scrap parts. 

If there was a chapter two.


Peace on Earth

I awoke on that day to the usual sounds heard around our kitchen table. My sister Amanda is asking if she can she sleep at Janet's tonight, who's really Steve, but my parents don't need to know that. It's part of the same agreement that we have concerning a little B & E that I was a part of the other day.

Mother cooks a Sunday breakfast, on a Monday, like she does every day, when all I want is Captain Crunch and Dad is yelling, above us all, that he is going drinking with the boys after work, though he'd promised to stop that. Father was never good at keeping promises.  

The kitchen phone rings and with each ring it trembles off the receiver. I jump out of bed and zip down the stairs to pick it up, but Amanda already stretches her hand back and grabs it, as I round the corner, sliding across the tile flooring, like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, but not that cool. Not that cool at all. Amanda nods her head to the person speaking on the other end, then says, “Okay” and hangs up.

“Who's that,” Mom said, at the kitchen sink, weary of the boyfriends Amanda has been bringing home.  

“It's Aunty Judy, she said, placing the phone back on the receiver, sticking her tongue out at me. “She says something big is going on.”

“What? What's big?” says mom, as she turns off the faucet and starts wiping the dishes.  “It's all over the news,” and she says this inAunty Judy’s nasally voice, “the governments of the world signed a petition declaring world peace.”

Well, we got up and left the kitchen and went into the living room. The three of us sat down, while dad switched on the television, played with the antenna and slapped it on the side, until Bernie Shaw of CNN appeared on the screen. 

“Breaking news people of …. the world! Yes, it is the world” – said Bernie, looking around the newsroom, then back down at his notes and then back at the screen.  Clears his throat. “After centuries, perhaps millenniums, at least, since recorded time, right? Has anybody fact-checked this? …. what? …. oh yes, I'm on air. Today, April 30th, 1984, it has come to pass that humanity has taking a great leap forward, toward world peace!

Dad said, “What the”? Mom said “How nice” and sister twirled her hair, while I sat pondering the ramifications.

“Do we still have to go to school?” I said.

“I am not going to work” said Dad.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

"This is not a story, but a major piece evidence concerning the strange town of Hope County, on the shores of Southern Ontario. My situation has become precarious, but there are more important things than self-preservation. There's the truth. Spread the word." - GARETH VIEIRA

How to Love An Angel - Alyssa Murphy

 

When you first meet her, the girl with golden hair and blood-red lips, she is off limits. Someone else’s play-thing, or so it appears, but you learn quickly that she plays by different rules. She is no one’s prize to be won; no, she is her own volatile entity, reckless and controlled at the same time, passionate but well aware of what she means to do and where her actions will take her. In hindsight, it’s a wonder you didn’t rip your own heart out that night and save yourself the trouble of ever giving it to her.

What little you learn about her, you learn from whispers and rumors. Nothing is ever concrete, but from the details that repeat often enough, you begin to paint a picture of your downfall. Her name is Chloe, that much you establish; her surname varies depending on who you ask, but it’s more likely than not that there’s at least one ex-husband she’s no longer speaking to. She’s in her early twenties, a good few years younger than you but not young enough for your lust to be considered problematic, and looks it. She has expensive taste, wears artfully fitted dresses, looks like a scandal waiting to happen even at midday. No one has survived her, but you mean to be the first exception.

She corners you at a party some weeks later – you hate these events, but you know the right people and you go because drinking good alcohol on someone else’s dime is more convenient than drinking the cheap stuff on your own. As per usual, it’s two hours in and you’re hiding behind a potted plant, third glass of wine in hand and nearly finished, alone by your own choosing. And then, suddenly, you are not.

“Alec, wasn’t it?” Her voice is mid-pitched, breathy, hinting at a healthy smoking problem.

You nod, trying to stay calm. This will either end spectacularly or catastrophically, and you hold the damning balance in your hands. “You’re… Chloe, correct?”

“Cloe,” she corrects your pronunciation, and of course she has some ‘quirky’ name, women like her always do. “Marina Fisher tells me you’re a photographer.”

You shrug, trying to act modest. “If taking fawning shots of newly engaged couples can be considered such… yes, I am.”

“It’s a start,” she laughs. “Personally, I find engagements rather dull. No diamond is worth the effort of a wedding. Although, if you ever find one that is… call me.” With that, she turns and walks off, leaving you breathless in her wake. She’s really good at that, you soon learn.

The next time you see her – another party, behind another goddamn cactus – she doesn’t say anything, just steps forward and kisses you until her precious red lipstick is smudged all over your face. “No one will believe you if you tell them I did that,” she whispers, mouth half an inch from your ear. “So don’t. You’re not a play-thing to be flaunted, Alec. You’re an outsider, real… as long as you keep my secrets.”

You don’t need to be told twice. As if you’re the sort of man to brag about your conquests, and as if Cloe is the sort of woman who can be so easily demeaned. Truth be told, you value your life too much to risk her ire.

Another few weeks and you’re straddling her in a bathroom, hoping no one will venture into the surrounding area because they will hear such unholy sounds if they do. Cloe is nothing if not vocal and demanding, and what she wants, she gets. In return, you hear the sweetest curses from her lips as you press into her, sounds you memorize because you doubt you’ll ever hear them again. There’s that nagging voice in your mind – women like her don’t fuck men like you, not more than once, and you’ll be lucky if you get so much of a sideways glance from her the next time your paths cross.

In the aftermath, as she smoothes down her green satin dress, she laughs. Her hair is loose around her shoulders and she is a true Aphrodite, but you dare not say that. No, you just watch her, worshipping her every move as so many before you have no doubt done. You know you’re not the first, nor will you be the last, but right now you don’t care.

“You’re beautiful,” you whisper, not a compliment so much as blinding truth.

She laughs again, lips curved in a devilish smile. “And we had fun, Alec. But truth be told… I don’t play games with people like you. You’re too… incorruptible.”

You never thought that word would sound like such a high honor, but you decide to embrace it and move forward. “So what now, Cloe?”

“Now?” she laughs. “There is no now. I move on to better prey. You think of me late at night with your hand tight around your cock. We both find lovers more suited for our purposes. It’s a vicious cycle, but hell, so is life in general.”

She is a vision as she saunters off, thoughtlessly swaying her hips, and you wonder if she’s right. Maybe you will find someone more suitable, a quiet girl who works in a shop and takes her cat for walks. Until then, at least you have the first part of the angel’s prophecy.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

ALYSSA MURPHY is a shopgirl, writer, and general creative type. Her work has previously been published in The Storyteller, The Tower Journal, and This Zine Will Change Your Life. She is currently based in Southeast Indiana.

You can also find her here: thelittlestlioness.wordpress.com

Pivot

 

One day a man died and the world erupted into a single chorus of grief. The world heaved with sorrow as tweets, memorial memes, statements and laments emerged to the pulse of sadness that moved the world.

A man in Santiago overwhelmed with grief decided to soak himself with gasoline and with a flick of his wrist set himself ablaze. He was last seen stumbling through streets, half-shrieking lines of a poem that no one could decipher. An elderly woman in Manila was seen donning a likeness of the man who had died and was performing monologues from his movies for anyone who would stop to listen. Movie marathons were scheduled that featured his entire repertoire and people in the cinema watched and wept in grief and exhaustion, stumbling out of the theatre in daylight; flinching at the glare of the sun like vampires. Others had conversations over water coolers, discussing the manner of death and dissecting the coroner’s report. 

“Did you hear about the cuts on his wrist?

“Yeah, he tried to slit his wrists before hanging himself”

“Bleeding to death would be pretty painful”

“I wonder why he didn’t consider pills”

“It’s an inexact science”

And as people dealt with their distress, someone decided to organize a vigil outside the man’s house. Groups of people arrived after work and the crowd soon swelled with candles punctuating the darkness with flickers and winks. A red-haired man wearing a keffiyeh began a sad chant and everyone followed suit, moving mournfully and swaying. The lament reached a lugubrious crescendo as the meaning of words sank deep in the hearts of mourners and the comfort of ritual allowed heady freedom as they raised their voices in collective tribute. One boy collapsed in a paroxysm of grief and others swiftly encircled him proffering comfort through flavored mineral water and pats on the shoulder. A girl was seen passing pamphlets for an organization advocating greater government expenditure on mental health awareness and another was selling lurid remembrance bands emblazoned with the man’s face as he smiled blankly. A group of teenagers - half in hysterics and the other half live-tweeting the event from their phones - were attempting to unravel the minutiae of an online memorial page and a weekly support group, for those traumatized by the man’s death. 

Amidst the sadness and clamor, a heavily pregnant woman let out a scream, “My water just broke” and the group of teenagers immediately shifted their focus to more pressing matters. They began to upload images tinted with pleasing filters and appropriate frames that heralded the arrival of the baby with great buoyancy. A middle-aged woman in a green skirt declared that she was a paramedic and assumed control of the situation till the time that an ambulance would arrive. A towel was accepted while a priest pink with expectation was turned away. As news of the impending birth spread, many cast aside their candles, posters, pictures and stuffed toys; gravitating towards the site of birth. More and more gathered, trampling on things that bore the face of the man who had died and he continued to smile blankly while covered in mud and footprints. 

People flung sentences, questions, prospective baby names, profanities and a chorus of words formed around the woman. The hum of anticipation helped coax the baby out of the anxious clutch of her vaginal canal and with one final profanity-laden push, out tumbled the girl: slick, ruddy and rambunctious. 

And then the world heaved once more, turned to its side, and smiled. 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Palvashay Sethi is from Pakistan and received a degree from the University of Edinburgh. On most days, she is content to exist. On others, she gets assailed with fears of ceasing to be and starts scribbling. 

You can also find her here: https://twitter.com/Palvashits