Rodeo Boy - Susan Laurencot

 

The old man pushed the child to the ground, not hard enough to hurt him, but hard enough to knock him down and make him cry.

“What're you, a wuss?  Get up, boy!”  Joey, eight-years-old but already on to this man, stared into the dirt, trying to carve out a hole in the earth. He wasn’t  concerned that the hole he bore might take him straight to Hell.  Looking up through his too-long, too-thick little boy bangs, he could see the mountains,  imposing from his position in the shit speckled dust-- shit too fine to shovel, but not too fine to make his knees and hands stink. The sky, though he didn’t dare look up at it, was blue and clear.  This landscape framed the child, head down, on his hands and knees, like he was the subject in a Bierstadt landscape. A sinister light pushed towards him; the too-glaring sun illuminating him in the same way it would bleach the bones of dead cattle. His grandfather, large enough to block the mountains, stood in front of him; not even this towering physique could soften the sun.

“Come on, get up!” 

Joey barely teetered to his feet before his grandfather pushed him down again.

“Hah!  Can’t stand up, huh?  What?  Now you’re going to cry?  Why’re you crying?  Did I hurt you?  Your feelins' hurt?  What’re ya cryin’ about?  Come on, try again.  Get up!” the old man taunted.

“My wrist hurts.” Joey wanted this to come out stronger, but it sounded more like a whimper. He’d meant to sound angry, to let his grandfather know that someday he’d get even.  Instead, he just sounded like a baby.  He hated his baby voice.  His grandfather did, too.

“No, it don’t.  Your wrist don’t hurt.  Suck it up, boy!  Stop cryin’!”

“Stop it, Dad, you’re being too hard on him.  Come on, Joey.  Get up.”  His mother, Sunny, came to his rescue, but she didn’t rush over to him.  Didn’t want to baby him. She resisted the urge to pick him up and kiss him.  She avoided looking at him, or at her father.  This was between them, she thought.  “Go on.  Do as he says.  Get up.”  She said it nicely, but not like he was hurt or anything. She acted like he didn’t really need her. She went back to brushing her horse. The black Arabian was everything she once said she wanted.  It was a consolation prize from her husband when she gave up bull riding after she found out she was pregnant.   She assured everyone that this horse, along with her husband, and a healthy baby would be all she would ever need again.  

“And stop crying, for Chrissake.  Do you want to go inside? Do you want to go play hopscotch with the little girls?” His grandfather was on a roll.  There’d be no stopping him until Joey broke.

“No,” Joey croaked out.  He used his bangs as a shield.

“What’s that?”  His grandfather roughly pulled Joey’s hair back, forcing the boy to look him in the eyes, or if not in the eyes, at least to show his face.  “What'd ya say?”

“No!” Joey yelled.

“No?  What then?  What do you want to do?”

“I want to ride sheep.”

“What?  What’re you mumblin’?”

“I want to ride sheep!” 

“Sheep?!” His grandfather laughed. “You’re not a baby anymore!  Sheep!  Dammit, kid.  You say that like that’s somethin’ to be proud of. Crap.  Them big, fluffy mamas like you ridin' em.  It ain’t nothin’ when you win that.  It’s like ridin’ a friggin merry-go-round for cryin' out loud.   You like ridin’, right?  You like it?    We’re gettin' you on a bull soon.  Real soon, so get used to falling, kid.  Get used to landing in the dirt.  Get used to the taste of shit in your mouth.”

Joey walked away, throwing a handful of dust in his grandfather’s direction. 

“Thatta boy.  Good job.” He finally smiled.  Already deep lines deepened further around his eyes. Usually, Joey liked these lines because it meant approval, but today he didn’t even bother to look to see if they’d appeared.  He just walked away, kicking up clouds of stinking dirt, trying not to let on that it was getting into his eyes and bothering him.  The old man was proud to see Joey stick up for himself.  “You baby that kid too much,” he turned his criticism toward Sunny.

“And you’re too tough on him.” Sunny refused to look in his direction, focusing instead on the animal she was still grooming. She purposefully slowed down the brushing--head, back haunches.  One quick swipe over the top of a back leg.  

“Look, the kid’s talented.  He can ride.”

“Yep, he can.  He rides pretty good for an eight-year-old.”  Deliberate strokes--head, back, haunches, quick swipe.

“Sure does.  Reminds me of you in the day.”

Sunny kept brushing.  “Not really.”

“Whadd’ya mean, not really?  Yeah really,” her father began to walk over to her but thought better of it.  He had to shield his eyes to keep looking at her.  Damn mid-afternoon sun could be a killer. He stood apart from her.  It was awkward between them.  He was talking to her back, a view he’d gotten used to since her teens.  Always turning her back on him, that one.  She was quite the rider before she got pregnant with Joey.  Not great, but gutsy.  That girl hung on, and when she fell, she exploded with anger.  Broke her hand once, not from a fall, but from punching the gate afterward.  That’s the kind of competitor she was.  Gutsy and mad.  The worst combination of woman the rodeo guys used to tease.  She set out to beat everyone, though it was nearly impossible, and it almost never happened. Still, she loved everything about the rodeo--including the smell of the animals.  She loved how loud it was.  She loved being covered in a fine layer of dirt from the time they got there until she stood in the hot shower in some motel room, watching the muddy water whirl around her feet and into the drain.  She loved the trophies she won sometimes.  The wins were frequent at first but came less and less as she grew older and the boys got stronger. She still had all her helmets on a shelf in her closet.  Joey loved to put them on, too.  They were pink when she was younger, but by the time she was fourteen, she had traded in the bubblegum sweetie-pie look for a shiny black version.  At eighteen, she spent her winnings on a helmet that made her look like a knight.  It was still black, but she had paid an artist at the mall to airbrush orange and red flames that spread toward the cage around her face.  That helmet was her pride and joy.  By the time she got to competitions where the boys were as big as men, she stopped bringing home trophies altogether.  No one, not even her father,  could convince her to compete against other girls.  So the men lined up, smiling at each other, wincing in the glaring sunshine, sure of their conquest.  Except for Joe.  Joe beat her in the arena every time, but it was never an easy win.  The bull-riding against her was easy, sure.  Watching her lose, now that hurt him.  Didn’t stop him, though. 

“Hey!” her father called to her.  “When’s that husband of yours coming back?”

“After the tour,” she yelled back at him.

“That kid needs his father to show him the ropes.”

“He’s fine, Dad,” she stopped and turned to look at him. “He’s fine.  Leave him be.”

“Yeah.  Leave him be.  He’ll amount to nothin’ if I leave him be.  Up to you, he’d still be in diapers.”

Sunny ignored him, pretending that she didn’t hear a word he said.  She was tough enough on the kid.  He was eight.  He didn’t need to be any tougher than he already was.  It was she who needed to toughen up. She’d lost her edge when she got pregnant with him. Quit bull riding as soon as she found out.  Protecting him from the get-go. 

“Mom?”

“Hey, Jo-Jo.  What’s up, kiddo?” She also pulled his bangs out of his eyes, those eyes that were identical to his dad’s, though everyone else thought they saw her in them.

“My wrist really does hurt.”

“No, it doesn’t, Buddy.  It’s mind over matter.  Go put some ice on it, and do something else.  It’ll go away.  I promise.”  Her smile went right through him.  His mom’s smile.  He couldn’t get enough of it; he’d do anything it took to make her smile. “Go on, now.  Get outta here.” She’d look at his wrist tonight,  just to make sure nothing was broken.  She checked her irritation at him.  After all, maybe it did hurt him.  “Hey, Joey.  Love you, Bud.”  He ran and crashed into her, hugging her so hard she nearly fell over. “Come on, now. Not so hard!  Your mom is a weakling.” Her hand shaded her eyes from the afternoon sun.  At about 1:00, the Colorado ranch became as dry as the desert.  It was always at about this time that she would imagine the Wild West.  As a kid, she’d had those stiff, plastic dolls and horses, The Wests, from the Old West. The joints allowed the arms and legs to bend in unnatural positions, but Johnny and Jane West were her best companions.  Johnny was dressed all in brown from his hat to his boots, and Jane in fashionable robin’s egg blue. She’d saved them and had hoped that Joey would love them as much as she had, but he just left them outside.  She found Jane in a hay bale once and hid both dolls behind her helmets after that.  The plastic horses,  Joey treasured--both Thunderbolt and Flame.  The Wests’ Indian guide and friend, Chief Cherokee, had long been lost, left behind at some rodeo in Texas as best as Sunny could remember it.

“No, you’re not.  You’re strong as a bull!”  His voice startled her back to adulthood.

She snorted at him, huffed some loud, mean breaths, scraped the ground with her boots, then roared at him, tickling him at the same time. “Go!  Go away!”  She laughed and patted his bottom, pretending to spank him.

“I’m going, Mom! I’m going! I’ll make you some iced-tea. You want some?”

“Sure,” she hollered back.  “Make sure you clean up the mess you make, though!” Sometimes when she spoke with her son she felt a little like she was babysitting; like she was having this conversation with a neighbor’s child.  Even after eight years, she sometimes had to remind herself that she was the mom and the wife.  She was the little lady in charge.

“Two scoops?”

“One for each glass!”  

“Got it!”  He did seem to be favoring his right arm.  

“You need to use that wrist!  Don’t baby it!”  she yelled to him.  She watched him wince as he shook it out.  Maybe her father was right.  He was kind of delicate.  Not like her at all.  Or his dad.  “Where’d you come from?”  she yelled to him.

“What?”

“Nothing, Baby. We’re going to get you up on a bull soon!  A calf!  They’re MEAN!  The meanest calf we can find!”  He waved at her with his right arm, as if to let her know that he was as brave as she was.  She threw him another smile, and he ran off.  She checked herself again.  Sunny was annoyed lately more and more at her boy.  She loved him.  No question about that.  And her father was right; he rode better than any kid she’d ever seen ride.  He’ll be better than Joe, Sr., she thought.  Last she’d heard from Joe, he had won big in Houston and was heading to Oklahoma.  He was a shoe-in there, too.  The money wasn’t bad.  Especially with them living with her father.  He’d be in Colorado by mid-month, and they’d get to be a family then.  She was considering following him to Wyoming and maybe even Reno.  She’d have to have a meeting with the school again if she did.  Or leave Joey behind with her father.    They talked about homeschooling him so he could ride the winter circuit.  If he was really going to do this, it was inevitable.   

Sunny watched Joey through the kitchen window standing on a chair, scooping out instant tea into two tall, plastic cups.  He’s gonna make a mess, she thought. And my father is going to have a fit.  She took a deep breath and shook her head.  She kicked the dirt to stir it up, put her hands into her pockets, looked up at the sky for just a second.  She exhaled long enough to feel oxygen deprived and crave a breath in. Better go save him, she thought to herself. That boy needs saving.

“Hey, Joe.  Let’s clean this mess up, ok?  Granddad isn’t going to like this.” Poor kid was smiling ear to ear until she walked in.

“How come he gets so mad at me, Ma?”

“I don’t know.  He’s like a mean old hornet sometimes.  That’s all.  It’s him, Dude.  Not you.”

“Uh uh.  It’s me.  He gets really, really mad at me. Do you get mad at me like that?”

“You know sometimes I get mad, Joey.  What kind of a question is that?”

“I mean, do you get hateful mad at me?”

“No, Joey.  I never hate you.  Neither does Granddad.”

“Neither does Granddad what?” Her father came into the kitchen. “Hope you’re cleaning this mess up,” he said.

“That’s just what we’re doing, right, Joe-Joe?”

“I asked my mom if she ever hates me like you do,” his honesty cut right through Sunny.

Her father didn’t respond.  He just looked at the two of them and left the kitchen.

“See?  He does hate me.”

Sunny heard the tv go on in the living room.

“No, he doesn’t.  He just doesn’t know any other way.”

“Was he like this with you, when you were a little girl?”

“Nope.  He’s gotten all sour, Joey.  I don’t know why.” But she did know why.  It was the moment she and Joe announced they had eloped.  Her parents sat at the kitchen table looking at their hands; then her father had simply gotten up and left the room. Her mother, Diana,  had cried.

“I would have liked to have been there,” she’d said.  Sunny could practically see her broken heart. “I’ve always thought I’d see you get married.”

“I’m pregnant, Mom.” Sunny blurted it out to distract her mother from her ache.

“A baby!” Her mother clapped her hands and cried even harder. “A baby! Frank!  Frank!  You’re gonna be a grandpa!” she yelled.

They all heard the front door slam.

“Don’t worry, kids.  Dad will come around! Where will you live?”  Joe and Sunny shot each other quick looks. Diana caught on immediately. “Here?!  Oh, of course, here!  Where else would you go?  You can have the guest house in the back.  It will be cozy, but with Joe gone most of the time, you’ll be just fine alone there, Sunny.”  They laughed.

“Thanks, Mom.  That’s one way of looking at it.”

“Oh, you’ll be fine, both of you.  You’ll be off the circuit now, right?”  She directed her question to her daughter.

“Yes, Mom.  I’m done with riding.”  She saw her father out in the ring with the horses.  He’d be disappointed in her decision not to ride anymore, but he must have seen the writing on the wall.  She wasn’t that good.  Not good enough. Even he must have already seen that.

“So when did he get so mean?” Joey once again intruded on her thoughts.

“I don’t know, maybe after Grandma died.  He took it hard.” This was a much cleaner explanation.  Sunny’s mother must have known she was sick, but never let on.  Just before Joey’s first birthday, she finally let her family know.  She had died before he turned two. It would be reasonable that this is what turned her father into such an angry man.  But Sunny knew better.  She knew it in her heart.  She felt it, maybe as strongly as he did. 

“Whatta think about ridin’ a calf soon?” she thought it was time to change the subject.

Joey stirred the drink a little harder, spilling some in the process.

“No opinion?” she teased him, nudging him, perhaps a little too hard, nearly knocking him off the chair he was standing on.  He handed her the iced tea.

“Seriously, Joe.  What do you think?” She tried to hide her irritation at him, but her voice was strained.

“I dunno,” was all he could say.

“You don’t know?  Honestly, Joey?  You don’t know whether or not you want to ride anymore?” 

“No, Mom!  I don’t know!  I don’t think so; I don’t know!” Joey rarely yelled at Sunny.  He wasn’t like other kids in that way.  He did what he was told when he was told and always seemed happy to do it.  He took her completely off guard.

“What?  Are you kidding me?  No?  You said no,” Sunny stepped back a little bit.  “You said no.  So that’s it.  You’re done riding.”  She said it like it was his punishment like he should be ashamed of himself like he could find no redemption, ever, from this decision, this decision made at eight years old.

“No, I didn’t, Ma.  I didn’t mean no.  I just meant I don’t know.”  He was quieter but desperate to win back her approval.

Sunny put her hands over her face.  “You tell him,” she said quietly.

“Grandpa?”

“Yes.  It’s your decision, so you tell him.”

Joey jumped off the chair and ran outside.  Good, Sunny thought. God damn it!  Let him go! But then she felt a sickly guilt.  She knew she’d regret this.  She knew she’d wish later that she’d run after him and kissed him to make it all better.  She knew this, but still, she just stood in the kitchen, cleaning up the mess, putting the chair back, feeling the shame of so many failures creep up from the kitchen tiles, through her boots, up her legs and settle, for a lifetime, in her heart.

 

 

 

 

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About the Author

SUSAN LAURENCOT is a writing teacher, a co-editor of a state-wide student writing magazine, and an organizer for open mic poetry evenings at an art space in New London, Ct. She lives in a farmhouse by the Sound with her husband, her dog, and her fierce little cat. 

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