PJ Grollet

Czech casting video

I watched the video with  
Marbela (4078) and they did

the “just the tip” thing and I
almost lost my mind and they

say those that can’t write the 
poem write the short story and

those that can’t do that write
the novel and by the end of the

video she said, “shove it all the
way in,” and wow what a show. 

Leah Mueller

Santa’s Helper

No one enjoys working on Christmas, but some jobs are more bearable than others. 

If you’re stuck with a holiday double shift at the roadside massage parlor, you should be philosophical. Believe it or not, there are worse gigs. Tips are way better than fast food wages. And Bob, the owner, is a supportive guy, ready to beam jerks with a 2X4 when they step out of line.

The customers are almost always polite. Vast majority are truckers who just need some quick fun before returning to their rigs. They see the interstate exit sign that says “Climax” and get all hot and bothered. Most of them want to know if I’m a WMU student. I tell them yes, so they ask what I’m studying. Like it isn’t obvious.

It’s all theatre. I’m really from outer space, sent to western Michigan to observe the natives. My honchos at the home office picked the Midwest because of its homespun Americana vibe. In a few days, I’ll be back on my planet, ready to share research with esteemed colleagues. 

The door pushes open and a guy steps in wearing a Santa suit. He looks unhappy. Maybe his favorite reindeer died. I hand him the sex menu, and he peruses it like a guy who knows that someone will screw up his order. I’m not sure if he annoys me or if I just feel sorry for him.

“Can I answer any questions?” This seems like an absurd query for a massage parlor, but Bob gets pissed off if I don’t ask.

Santa’s face rises from the price list. “I just want to talk. I mean, have a real discussion. How much for that?”

I sigh. “20 thousand. You can’t afford it. It’s only one thousand for a two-girl back rub with extras.”

Santa bristles, and his face becomes even more red than usual. “How do you know I can’t afford it?”

Taken aback, I stammer, “Well, it’s a lot. Like a new car or a down payment on a house. Conversation is pricey these days.”

“Money is no object.” Santa sinks into a chair and begins to unlace his boots. The shoelaces flop everywhere like black spaghetti. When Santa finally looks up, his expression is coy. “Whaddaya think, sweetheart? You up for it?”

Like most customers, Santa wants to pretend I’m his girlfriend. I’m always surprised these poor saps can’t tell I’m an extraterrestrial. Men don’t look closely at anything, including women. If females knew how easy it was to impress guys, they’d save a fortune on makeup and Botox.

Santa gives me his credit card, and I swipe it through the machine. 10 grand for the house and 10 for me. Not bad for a slow night. I might as well be civil.

Santa has finally succeeded in his mission of boot removal. His plump toes are like two rows of overripe strawberries. I look away and smile politely. “What would you like to talk about?”

I hope he doesn’t want me to sit in his lap. It would be just like an ersatz Santa to have a lap fixation. But this guy doesn’t seem to be interested in sex at all. He’s into conversation, which strikes me as the ultimate kink.

Santa fixes me with an earnest expression. “I’d like to know what you think about Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature. If you don’t mind.”

“Reason is slave to passion.” I watch as Santa unbuttons his shirt. “Ethics are based on sentiment, rather than rational behavior.”

Santa’s eyes meet mine, and I shiver involuntarily. “Who is your favorite existentialist philosopher?” he whispers.

“That’s hard to gauge. Those 20th century European thinkers were a rather dull lot.” I help Santa disengage one of his chubby arms from a sleeve. “I do have a strong fondness for Camus, however. Reading “The Stranger” had a profound impact on my adolescence.”

“Oh God, me too!” Santa’s face is ecstatic, enraptured. “I never could understand why Meursault killed that man. It seemed so random.” 

“He just wanted to feel something.” I glance at the clock. Twenty more minutes until the end of my shift. I’ll head home, input the evening’s session data to the home computer, and catch a few hours of well-earned rest.

Santa is now completely shirtless. His corpulent body shudders for a moment, then goes still. “This is the best conversation I’ve had in a long time. Thank you.” He rises from his chair and throws his arms around me. 

Santa’s embrace feels warm, like I’m an old friend he’s not sure he’ll ever see again. I don’t understand why he’s so grateful, since our dialogue only lasted a few minutes. I am surprised by the authenticity of his gesture, and my own willingness to submit to it. For 20 grand, Santa has earned a hug. Perhaps I need one, as well.

Without another word, Santa pulls his arms back into his shirt and slides both feet inside his boots. He fumbles with the shoelaces until they come together. 

I can’t imagine why Santa wanted to converse while shirt-less and shoe-less. In my temporary line of work, it’s best not to ask too many personal questions. My role is to observe and take notes.

“I’ll be going now. Thanks again.” Santa strolls towards the door, then pauses to give me a final look. “You’re so SMART.” 

Santa wanders across the parking lot towards a 1998 Honda Accord. It’s a particularly hideous shade of slate-gray, half-covered in rust. Someone has painted a reindeer on it. He yanks the door open, gives me a cheery wave, and drives off in a cloud of exhaust.

The parking lot is now completely empty. A couple of stray snowflakes skitter across its surface. The absolute silence fills me with a strange sense of peace.

Well, I’ll have a hell of a story to share with the home office tomorrow morning. Hard to believe that a guy would be willing to pay so much money for conversation when sex would have been far cheaper. Especially someone with such a shitty car.

Perhaps sex is overrated. I have long suspected that might be the case. Rapport is much rarer, and therefore more valuable. Like the difference between a piece of costume jewelry and a black diamond. The costume piece might sparkle more, but that doesn’t really mean anything.

My mission on Earth is almost complete. I’ll be home in less than a week. And I’m ten grand richer. It hasn’t been such a bad Christmas after all.

Daniel S. Irwin

Roll Over

You sit and just tilt the head and think:
Damn, this shit’s fucked up.
Whatever happened to life’s rewards that
The teachers said you would get for hard work?
The ethereal bliss the preachers promised
For leading a gospel life?
You gotta steal the chicken to put in your pot.
The world’s too busy helpin’ themselves
To worry about you.  So you got lied to.
Ain’t nothin’ new, been goin’ on even
Before politicians made it legal.
Take your licks and like it.
Roll over, baby, more’s comin’.
When you get tired of it, kick some ass.

James Hippie

Welcome to the New World 

Matt and I are not the best candidates for drug smuggling. In our loose circle of acquaintances Matt is generally regarded as a fuck up; terminally unemployed and frequently homeless (unless you count living in a wheelless van in a friend’s driveway a residence, which most people do not). When he’s not running his mouth or in an alcohol-induced rage he’s generally comatose from some ungodly over the counter cheap high gone wrong. 

I’m Jack, Matt’s best friend, which means I am more or less just like him but slightly better looking. When you get down to the lower rungs of the caste system, distinctions like this become more important

Matt and I make the drive to Tijuana in a little over two hours. It’s a few minutes before 5:00 and just getting dark as we pass through the giant turnstiles at the border (“abandon all hope ye who enter here” flashes through my mind) and cross the piss river into TJ proper. It’s New Year’s Eve, and the streets are already filled with drunks and gringo suckers looking to get fucked up and ripped off.

From the bridge we cab up to the old jai alai palace, fending off the driver’s offers to find us girls and drugs.

“What you guys want? I can get you pussy. You want sucky-sucky, yeah? You like mota?”

“I like mota,” I say, looking at Matt.

“That sounds cool and everything, bro, but can you take us to a donkey show?” Matt says, lighting a cigarette. “That’s what I really want. I wanna see Mr. Ed getting some head.”

The driver looks annoyed and waves his hand dismissively, his English suddenly improving. “No. No good. No such thing as a fucking donkey show.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Just take us up the strip. We can find our own action, man.”

We find Jorge and his partner Lee near the corner in front of the jai alai stadium, as arranged. Matt and I have known Jorge since we were kids, back when we were juvenile delinquents in grade school and years before he moved out to the I.E. and got into the dope trade. I’d been bugging him for a few months to give us a shot helping him bring some goods over the border, sort of a tryout to see if we could work together and make a few bucks. Jorge had agreed to it and talked his partner into it, but I had the feeling he was doing it against his better judgment. Maybe he felt sorry for us because he’d known us for so long and we weren’t doing as well as he was. It wasn’t easy being a fuck up. You never knew if anyone really trusted you or not.

Beneath one of the jacaranda trees surrounding the stadium Jorge gives us a map with directions in English and Spanish to the pickup site, which is at a bar a short taxi ride outside of downtown. The plan is pretty straightforward: Jorge and Lee will spend the afternoon buying prescription narcotics from various pharmacies around the city, then pack and seal them inside of a pair of hollowed-out Virgin Mary statues Jorge uses to get contraband across the border. All Matt and I have to do is pick up the statues and look like a couple of inebriated gringos with an armload of tourist junk and walk it all across the bridge for him. 

This is obviously not a French Connection-level operation, but Jorge wants us to take it seriously.

“Don’t get too fucked up. Get a buzz, get loose, but don’t get stupid. And if something happens, try to have it happen on this side of the border. Keep some money in your sock to bribe the federales if anything comes up.”

“What if something happens on the US side?”

“Lose my number,” he says, smiling grimly. “You’ll be on your own.”

Jorge hands us a couple of twenties and disappears with Lee into the crowd.

Matt and I have several hours to kill before we meet with Jorge and Lee to pick up the statues. Our cut from the night will probably cover the cost of gas from driving down from Orange County and maybe keep us fucked up for a few days, but the money was not really the point. Like most things we did, there was usually no point or reasonable logic behind it. 

We walk along Avenida Revolucion for a while before going into a bar called the Isis. As soon as we clear the door a man runs up to us. 

“Feliz año nuevo,” he shouts. 

I head toward a table at the back of the bar, but the man grabs my arm and ushers us to a pair of seats next to the stage. A sad faced woman in a zebra skin patterned bikini is dancing to a Billy Idol song that was a hit years ago. She smiles at us and pulls down her bikini top, revealing blurry india ink tattoos on the tops of her breasts: a heart on one and a lightning bolt on the other.

The man whistles and the dancer, who is now on her hands and knees, slowly crawls backwards toward our table.  When her ass reaches the edge of the table she roughly pulls her ass cheeks apart, exposing her pussy for us to see. The man is eagerly watching us for some reaction or sign of approval.

“She is my sister. Go on, eat! You can eat her if you want.”

“No thanks, man,” Matt says, casually blowing a stream of smoke toward the woman’s ass. “Jack, do you want to eat out this man’s sister?”

The man looks at me and exaggeratedly licks his lips and makes a horrible guttural noise with his throat. After staring at him in confusion for a long moment, I finally realize that the noise he is making is supposed to signify “good” or possibly “yummy.” 

“I’m okay, but thank you.”

After a few rounds of drinks the outdated new wave hits and repeated invitations to go down on the doorman’s sister drive us out of the Isis. Foot traffic on the Avenida has picked up considerably, and the street is now overflowing with new year’s revelers. I’d always hated New Year’s Eve. The forced conviviality, the countdown, the fucking singing. Jorge thought it would be good cover for our trial run, a couple of white boys in TJ on New Year’s looking for some action wouldn’t draw a lot of attention. I would have never picked New Year’s to come to this hellhole on my own.

A mile up the street we find ourselves in the Bambi Club. The “walking around” money Jorge gave us to amuse ourselves is running low, but Matt has a pocketful of counterfeit singles he’s intent on trying out.  Actually, counterfeit is probably not accurate, since that implies that the bills were made with an effort to reasonably resemble an actual dollar bill. Matt’s bills were one-sided Xerox copies of dollar bills with his head crudely pasted in place of George Washington’s. It didn’t just look phony, it looked offensively fake. I figured they would nail him for it straight off, but when he slipped a few “Matt Bucks” into a stack of singles to pay for a round, the dim colored bar lights made them virtually indistinguishable from the real bills.

At the Bambi there’s a mariachi band on stage, the girls are better looking, and between the “Matt Bucks” and some friendly Marines that buy a few rounds, we settle in to kill a few hours. A few drinks in I decide that I need to play drums with the mariachi band, so I bribe the drummer five bucks to take a break and let me fill in for a song or two. I was never a great drummer to begin with, and the alcohol isn’t helping. I bang along for a couple of numbers, trying to figure out the rhythm of the songs but not quite getting it. I try to show off with some fancy Keith Moon fills and fuck them up, so I reign it in and keep it to a simple 4/4 beat. I look up at one point and see Matt on the stage in front of me, dancing with one of the girls. He’s shuffling around, not dancing so much as miming corny Saturday Night Fever dance moves in slow motion, playing it up for the crowd. The girl reaches over and undoes Matt’s belt buckle. Matt is not wearing underwear, so when his jeans drop to the stage his erect cock springs free, bobbing in front of him like a dowsing rod as he grooves to the music. He steps out of his jeans and continues his palsied shuffle around the stage as everyone cheers. A fat Mexican man in a sailor cap jumps on stage and starts yelling at Matt to pull his pants back up, which causes everyone in the audience to start booing. The bass player and guitar player in the band are suddenly standing next to me and patting me on the back while shaking my hand, and I can’t hear what they’re saying over the noise of the crowd and one of them shouts what sounds like “Welcome to the new world!” in my ear and I look around and it seems like the whole bar has erupted into chaos and the sound is deafening and I realize that it’s midnight and we have entered a new year in a new decade.

***

When I wake up the next day I’m on the floor. I’m fully clothed and wearing my leather jacket, lying face down with my hands shoved deep in my jeans pockets, pinning my arms beneath me.  I have to roll onto my side and work my arms out, which are numb and sluggish from lack of circulation.

After a few minutes my eyes begin to focus and I realize we’re at Jorge’s father’s house in Riverside. The last thing I remember is being somewhere near the border at a firework kiosk and trying to talk Matt out of buying a stick of dynamite. I have no memory of crossing the border or the two hour drive to Riverside.

Matt is sitting at a small wooden table in the kitchen area, drinking from a fifth of tequila.  I check the fridge and help myself to a cold Milwaukee’s Best. Todd holds out the tequila bottle and I take a tentative swig, then puke it up immediately in the kitchen sink.  After that it goes down a little easier.

“Where’s Jorge?”

“Dunno. No one here when I got up.”

“Are the statues here?”

Matt looks at me blankly. A chill runs through me.

“We did pick up the statues, didn’t we?”

“Fuck man, I don’t remember.”

“Oh shit.”

I pace around the living room, wondering how badly we fucked up. Jorge is a friend, not some vicious drug lord, so it’s not like he’s going to take us out into the pasture and shoot us. At least I don’t think he would do that, not for a couple thousand dollars. But if we lost his shit we’re going to have to make it right, and that worries me. Making shit right is not my strong suit.

“What’s the last thing you remember? I remember being near the border at that fireworks stand, but I don’t remember if we had the statues or not. Fuck.”

“Last thing I remember is standing in front of the bar laughing at those college kids. They had all those guys in the back of the federale car and they were shitting it. The one kid tried to slip some cash to El Capitan and he gave him one of my fake dollars. I got the fuck out of there before they recognized my face on the bill.”

“But you don’t remember picking up the statues?”

“I think we fucked up,” is all he says.

I walk to the hall closet and start digging around, remembering from when we were kids that Jorge’s dad kept an old Winchester 30/30 in there. I find the rifle leaning against the wall in the back of the closet. I check to see if it’s loaded, then close the door. Matt turns and sees me with the rifle.

“You think it’s that serious?”

“I’m just going to go outside for a smoke,” I say, grabbing another beer from the refrigerator. “You never know what you’re going to run into out here in the boonies.”

Outside we’re greeted by Jorge’s dogs, two malnourished Dobermans. I can clearly see their ribs poking through their dirty, patchy coats.  Both dogs twitch spasmodically and bare their long yellowed teeth, their mouths contorting and then twisting back into a hideous rictus grin. The two dogs follow and circle us as we walk down a path leading from the house to a clearing overlooking their pasture, twitching and baring their teeth the entire way. The tequila isn’t cutting through the hangover and I feel disoriented out in the yard in the sunlight with these fucked up dogs following me. 

“What’s wrong with these goddamn dogs?”

“It has to be some kind of neurological shit…  Fucking look at that!”

“What kind of asshole would keep these mutants as pets…  It’s like animal abuse.”

“Totally,” Matt says.

“We should take them out to the field and put them out of their misery.”

We follow a trail to the edge of the property and climb over a small barbed wire fence. I hold the rusted strands open, whistling and making sure the dogs follow us through. From the top of the hill we can see the pasture below and a small creek running through it. 

“You’re not really gonna shoot Jorge’s dogs, are you?” Matt asks.

I have no idea what is going to happen. I feel disoriented and weightless, like I’m watching the morning unfold from outside my body. I take my jacket off and open the beer. 

“I haven’t decided yet,” I say.

We reach the edge of the creek and the dogs run ahead of us to the waterline.  We stand and watch the dogs timidly walk forward and regard the water, which is brown and stagnant.

Standing there on the hilltop I suddenly remember a dog I had when I was a kid, a black and tan mutt a friend from the neighborhood had given to me.  It had jumped the fence around our yard one day and gotten run over in front of the house. By the time I got home from school the only thing left of my dog was an oily brown stain with traces of fur ground into the asphalt. I had cried for days over it, believing it was somehow my fault. I whistle and clap my hands, and Jorge’s dogs turn from the creek and run back up the hill to where we’re standing.

I take the rifle and aim it at one of the dog’s heads but I know I don’t have the courage to pull the trigger. The dog looks stupidly at me, uncomprehending, shaking and grimacing, and I can tell that he wants to die as badly as I do, that he just wants all of this to stop, but I am not strong enough to do what needs to be done. I feel like a coward. That’s what I realize standing there on that hilltop on new year’s morning: I am a coward and things will always be this way.

“Hey,” Matt says, and I turn and look in the direction he is pointing. On the horizon I can see Jorge’s truck driving along the dirt road that leads to the house. 

I put the rifle over my shoulder, ready to face the new year, and the dogs and I slowly start down the hill in the direction of the truck.

Martin D. Gibbs

Creep Feed

I am a crusty curmudgeon, a cranky,
cantankerous old fool; dead and bitter.
Short on temper, long on drivel and drool—
a Creep.

Feed me your lies, stoke my bitterness…
with collard greens and canker sores,
cram into my face your hatred, your vehemence—
feed me.

I am past zero, divided by nothing, emptied;
curled upon a couch floating in sewage,
legs expanded, bloated, flesh melting painfully—
a Creep.

There is nothing wanted more, hated more
than warm bowls of acrimony, battery acid,
served with cold cream of revenge and anger—
feed me.

I am a disaster, desolation and death,
destroyed, depleted, drunk on pain;
Pain of knowing others have pleasure—
a Creep.

Feed my gluttonous, distended stomach
Imbibe of me; deep within, without—render and pull,
I’m a skulking, creeping, crippled heathen, hater of fun—
feed me.

Creep.

Damon Hubbs

Kidchella

the bounce house smells like piss
they’re pissing themselves 
now, the kids 

hopping around 
after mainlining 
hot sunflat coke

snot helicoptering 
like the oversized greenery 
hung like vegetable chandeliers 
from the rent-a-tent

‘a bunny-theme,’ eyes roll
& members of the Rainforest Alliance 
tisk tisk the Mylar balloons
‘End up in the ocean.’

Cries, two teeth 
asphalted & blood, lots of it
cheese pizza vomit clogs 
the pool drain 

more kids, more piss
the bounce house wheezes 
like Baby Jane huffing menthols

after cake 
dads wheel out
Tundras packed w IPA

jackhammer moms 
Yeti butt like sorority girls 
& a game of pin-the-tail 
is underway

Lamont A. Turner

The Christmas Party

Her pen out of ink, Heather tossed it in the trash can next to the kitchen counter and dug through the junk drawer for a pencil. Finding one with somewhat of a point left, she returned to her list, making check marks next to the items that had already been acquired. She hadn’t bought any yams, but Aunt Tilly would take care of that. She always brought the yams. 

“Is Susan bringing that commie again this year?” Heather’s husband, Doug asked, reaching over Heather’s shoulder to snatch a star shaped cookie from a red and green tin. 

“Marty isn’t a commie,” Heather said, sliding the lid on the tin before Doug could do more damage to his waistline. “He’s just young. He hasn’t figured things out yet.”

“He’s a god damned libtard. Ten to one, the jerk off shows up wearing a mask.”

“And if he does you’ll leave him alone,” Heather said, turning to poke Doug in the chest with the eraser end of her pencil. 

“Did you see how he carried on at Chad’s wedding?” Doug asked, snatching the pencil from his wife’s hand and tossing it onto the counter. “He might as well have accused us of being murderers. If he was so scared of the virus, why’d he bother to show up?”

“For the same reason he’ll be here for Christmas.  Susan and I told him he had to,” Heather said folding her arms across her chest to remind Doug it worked the same way for him. The wife was the boss. “He doesn’t want to end up in divorce court, which is where you’ll be ending up if you don’t behave yourself.” Doug grunted and wandered off to the refrigerator for a beer. 

Like Doug, Heather wasn’t too concerned about the pandemic, but there was no point in antagonizing the people who bought into the hype. If Marty wanted to go about looking like a fool in that mask, that was Susan’s problem. All that mattered was that he showed up. She opened the refrigerator and counted the beers. Only two were missing. Doug would be alright as long as Marty and Susan didn’t stay too long after dinner. If they did, hopefully Doug would be in full Santa mode, and concentrate his efforts on passing out the gifts. Dressed as Santa, Doug always distributed all the gifts, no matter who they were from.  

Heather was about to check on the ham when she heard her daughter’s voice hailing her from the foyer. They met in the hallway with hug.

“I thought you were going to show up early to help me with the decorations,” Heather said, scooping up the chubby cheeked girl tugging on her apron.

“Doug put up a fight. I had to throw a fit to get him out the door.”

Heather shook off the frown that had started to mar her face, gave her granddaughter a peck on the cheek and set the child down so she was facing the tree.

“Is there a present under there for me?” 

“Why don’t you go have a look,” Heather said with a grin. “No peeking under the wrapping.”

As the girl scurried off, Heather put her arm around Susan and led her to the kitchen.

“Where’s Marty now?”

“In the car. I assume he’ll be in soon,” Susan said with a sigh. “He said he had some calls to make.”

“Well, I’m sure he wants to wish his parents Merry Christmas. It’s a shame they couldn’t fly in like they usually do.”

“Marty wouldn’t have let them. He thinks we should all put our lives on hold until this pandemic ends.”

“That’s silly. Life is for living,” Heather said, suddenly remembering the ham. “I wish your father hadn’t insisted on ham this year,” she said, peering into the oven. “They always come out too dry when I cook them.”

“I’m worried Marty isn’t going to come around,” Susan said, handing her mother the meat thermometer that was sitting by the sink.

“Of course he will. Just give him time.”

“But what if he finds out about dad? He’d never accept it.”

“We just won’t tell him.”

“How are we supposed to keep something like that from him? The whole family knows.”

Heather started to reassure her daughter, but the doorbell cut her off. 

“That’s probably Tilly,” Heather said. “Go let her in. She probably has an armful of presents.”

A moment later, Susan was leading Tilly and Marty to the tree in the living room.

“Marty was nice enough to rescue me,” Tilly said. “I was about to spill yams all over the porch,”

“Glad to be of service,” Marty said, adding his burden of brightly wrapped boxes onto the stack of similar packages beneath the tree. Heather was disappointed to see he was wearing a N95 mask. 

“It’s good to see you, Marty,” Heather said, giving him a hug. “You don’t come around often enough.”

“I’ve just been trying to limit my contact with the unvaccinated for now. Of course I’ve missed you all.”

“Well, I’m glad you made an exception for today. There’s beer in the fridge in the garage. Go help yourself before Doug drinks it all.” 

“I came prepared,” Marty said, pulling a straw out of his pocket. Christ, Heather thought, realizing he planned to drink with his mask on. She wondered how he planned to handle the ham and green bean casserole. 

Aside from a few hostile glances, Doug left Marty alone throughout the day as presents were opened, dinner was served, and people left to make room for new arrivals, popping in to sample the peach cobbler and share a hug. It wasn’t until Susan asked Heather if she had seen Marty, and she realized Doug was also missing, that Heather felt a tinge of panic. Susan noted her mother’s expression and bolted from the room, making for her father’s work shed in the backyard. Heather raced after her.

“Don’t go in there,” Heather said, catching her daughter and pulling her away from the door as she reached for the knob. “It’s too late.”

“But that’s my husband he has in there!” Susan shouted, brushing her mother’s hand off her shoulder and turning back to the door. Before Heather, who was still trying to catch her breath, could stop her, Susan yanked the door open.

Doug, still in his Santa suit, stood over the body on the floor with his pants around his ankles. His back was to them, but they could tell he was frantically masturbating on Marty, whose head had been pulverized with the heavy crescent wrench resting in a pool of blood next to him.

***

Susan would be fine, Heather thought as she left her daughter tucked in bed, full of sleeping pills. As she passed the pictures, hung in neat rows in the hallway, she stopped and scowled. She’d have to rearrange them all to make room for a picture of Marty. Foolish Marty! Imagine going on about possibly losing someone to some stupid germs! Every year at Christmas Doug chose a victim. Sometimes it was a family member. Sometimes he got too drunk, waited too long, and had to go out hunting after the party. Heather always hated it when that happened. She always worried he’d get caught. Better to make the annual sacrifice here at home among people who wouldn’t betray them.  Christmas must always go on, she thought. Traditions must be upheld no matter what the cost. 

Sitting down at the kitchen table, she smiled at Tilly, who had stayed to help clean up, as Tilly set a mug of hot cocoa before her.

“Susan took it pretty hard,” Tilly said between coughs. Sitting down across from Heather, she blew her nose in a paper towel and looked disapprovingly at the greenish glob that had come out of her nose.

“She’ll be fine,” Heather said, her voice cracking. She took a gulp of cocoa, hoping to relive the sudden scratchy feeling in her throat.

Preacher Allgood

Pandora awaits

bald rubber
frays on all four wheels
black smoke pours
from the tail pipe
and rusted out fenders flap
with the ruts in the road
but you jam
the old half ton ford
in granny low
and let her crawl up the road
while you hop out
unzip your jeans
and piss

what’s the point of living
if you can’t freak out the neighbors 

they built that big house
up on the hill and watch over everything
they call the sheriff
every time somebody sneezes
they host lavish parties
for the connected and the pompous
and they’re scheming to buy 
the property you rent

finish your pee
hop back in
shift to second
spin the tires
and pepper their mailbox
with gravel and mud

what were you put here to do
if not get under the skin of the pious

but it’s lunch time
enough with the petty subversions
Pandora O’Jesus awaits
in her usual booth by the juke box
and she’s already ordered 
your double cheeseburger and cold draft beer

Charles Rammelkamp

Porn Site Poem

I’m not an ordinary mom,
I’m a cool mom

I heard you like mature,
single and experienced women
Then contact me
Not wearing bra makes me happy 
I’m not an ordinary mom,
I’m a cool and strong mom in bed
Contact mom here

I’m an Amazing Mature Woman
I’m a different girl from other girls
I like to do something hot
Being braless makes me very happy

enjoyment beyond what your wife gives
I’m bored alone 
I love dirty talk and role play

I really like not wearing panties
just a fan

I am willing to be the pleasure
and extasis that you need
contact me immediately 

Jon Bennett

The West Is Dying And There’s Nowhere To Go But The Sea

After coffee the day stretched out before me, impossibly long, like a desert I’d die in trying to cross. I wished I didn’t have a month sober. If I didn’t have a month sober going down to pill corner would be fine, just another day, but I did so getting drugs would represent a major failure.

I pulled on my pants and put on my hat. 

As I walked a woman I thought I loved texted me from Illinois. She had moved and gotten sober. Now she was doing great all the time. She was on a handful of psych meds and going to 12 Step meetings. It was a race to see who would start dating first but I knew she’d win because she was much more attractive than me.

“How’re you doing?” that was her.

“Fine. Have you started dating again?” I knew not to ask how she was doing because it was always “Great!” 

“Yes!” she wrote, and stabbed in a picture of a bouquet.

I thought angry thoughts. I thought what’d you ever bring to the table besides that body, she never read anything or wrote anything and her paintings weren’t that good. I guessed I had loved her for years but I didn’t know, maybe she was only a reason for getting high, maybe I needed someone to forget and she happened to be that person.

But then I loved her again, I loved my princess and now she was dating and since she was sober chances were this boyfriend would be permanent, because that’s what happens when 40 year old women who are still pretty get a boyfriend, they marry him. It had happened enough that I knew.

I let the text thread die.

At pill corner no one had anything.

“You got anything small?” I said. They never knew what I meant.

“What?”

“Any Vicodins, Percocets, like 5 mgs?”

“I got heroin.”

“I have Xanax.” 

“All I got are 80s.”

An 80 mg oxycodone is a pill they give people with terminal disease who have already been on painkillers for a long time. It’s a hospice drug. An 80 mg for a normal person is suicide, like taking 16 Percocets at once. If you don’t puke it up you’ll stop breathing.

“How much?”

“100.”

“Fuck!”

“Want it?”

“OK.”

Or maybe Illinois girl was my muse. A muse is somewhere for a lonely person to put all their emotions, like a UPS guy filling up a truck. I take all those pent up feelings that need to go somewhere and put them in the truck, I write them down and the truck drives away. Plenty of metaphors there about sore backs, flat tires, packages I can’t lift. Stupid shit.

As he gave me the pill we coughed Covid in each other’s faces. Maybe. The air was smoky.  It was fire season. Down in Las Vegas the lie of ample water was crushing the South West and in San Francisco the fog was burning off. And every time I did drugs I knew there wasn’t much brain left either, that it too would soon be a cinder.

“Take care, bro.”

Yeah, right.

Since I was on foot I could go to a bar. I wouldn’t drink and drive anymore because I’d nearly killed some DoorDash motherfucker on an electric scooter, and anyhow driving around the Tenderloin was dangerous, people walked in front of traffic as a way to end their addiction to fentanyl, at least that’s how it seemed.

I decided on the old merchant marine bar. They didn’t open until 4 but it took a while to get there, a couple bus rides. My fingers found the switchblade I carry and as I rode I opened and closed it inside my pocket, and my fingers found the round green pill, the size of a gem, a topaz, and I thought about it sitting there waiting for me.

At the bar I looked at the Jewish bartender. She was obviously Jewish to me as I am also Jewish. She was pretty and her shirt revealed her midriff which was pale and flat and reminded me of the low-hanging paunch beneath my layers of clothes that I hate so much. I drank 2 shots of tequila too fast and then I wanted something better and went to the bathroom.

You’d think 80 milligrams would be a big pill but it was the size of an aspirin. I decided I’d have to cut it into 8 slivers. There was also a 50/50 chance it was actually fake, fentanyl instead of oxycodone, which would make me extremely sick.

I wasn’t drunk enough to try the operation on the toilet paper holder. So I held off and went back to the bar and tried not to look at the bartender’s naval.

In my life I had good friends I didn’t see that often and one very good friend I used to see a lot, but her life had gotten busier and so I didn’t see her much anymore either. She was another woman on a short list of ex-girlfriends I could’ve married. I was grateful I still had her as a friend but I missed hanging out with her and when I got drunk sometimes I got angry about it. I was always angry at myself but when drunk it turned into being angry at other people. I drank two tequila sunrises for the sugar and the 80 milligram started heating up like a little sun in my pocket. But I still held off.  Instead I texted my good friend even though I knew she was busy.

“Will you come get me? I took a fentanyl,” I lied.  “I think I’m going to be sick.”

She got back to me pretty fast.

“I’m working on my thesis.”

“?” I said.

“Fine.” 

I told her where and she came and got me in her fucked up Prius with the Bernie Sanders sticker. She didn’t know how wholesome she was.

“Hi,” I said.

“Do we need to go to the ER?!”

“I’m not really sick.”

“How much did you take?”

“I didn’t take anything,” I said. “Are you hungry?”

“John!”

“You aren’t hungry?”

“Do you realize how much work I have to do?”

“You should get a medal,” I said.

She knew I wasn’t doing well. Lying was as close as I could come to asking her for help.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Golden Boy Pizza. Thanks.”

We went and got cheese slices and sat in Washington Park because she was afraid of Covid. The sun had gone down already and it was cold. The pizza was cold too.  And I was not a golden boy, not to her, not to anyone. I was almost old. But at least the 80 mg oxycodone stopped yelling at me. It was just one more thing with potential that would probably never happen.