Damian Rucci

Y’all Were Just the Pregame 

Some say life is like a river
& we’re floating from the womb
to our caskets & you always try to hold on
but we all drift away from each other
so it’s best to sit on your hands &
watch the world pass you by-
watch the breeze greet grasses
you’ll never step on; watch the gulls
dance in cryptic seafoam winds

& some say life is like a race car
& nirvana can only be found with 
the wind on your face, with a stampede
beneath your sternum, gulps of breath
are milestones to completion
life can end in a second & any second
without the thunder of release is too long
that the devil will get his due 
once we get our hands on ours

but some say life is what you make of it,
that men should build monuments
out of their bones, to stack boulders
on their shoulders until they break the heavens
another obelisk smited by our limitations
& we all fall short & we all die 
just a little more alone 

I want the last taste on my tongue
to be the bitter lightning of adrenaline
to have the hair on my arms marching
to the drum of my screaming heart 
to feel the wind beat these hollow bones
like it was the chorus of cherub angels 

You’ll know y’all were just the pregame
& that life can end in any second 
& when that second takes me 
just know that I fucking deserved it 

PJ Grollet

supermodel in the neon meat locker

she wasn’t much to look at—short, 
wiry and shrill. a supermodel with 
curly brown hair who thought 
she was the hottest thing on the planet. 

during the shoots, the director posed her
into increasingly ridiculous scenes to which
she responded with glee. 

the first shoot was the library. 

a giant, mechanical, hairy arm extended from 
the ceiling; it went up, down and into 
the aisles and she was ordered to run around it
like a scene out of King Kong. 

the next photo shoot was the neon meat locker. 

the model wore mirrored aviator sunglasses, a 
sequined mini dress and a white fur coat. 

she posed pretty before the fresh slabs 
of meat as the photographer shot 
the photos and his assistant 
doused her with buckets of blood. 

they mercilessly mocked her (and
she still didn’t get it). 

the director of the shoot then ordered her to 
growl like an animal. 

“whelp like a whipped dog!” he said.  

boastingly, the model replied, “oh, I can 
do that! I did the same thing for the 
movie I was in last year!” 

they splashed her with another bucket of blood 
and then the director said, 
“what if I said your dad was 
in hell so you could have your 
modeling career?” 

“oh, come on!” she said, “that’s not fair!” 

Kristin Garth

Behind Their Eyes

Only one hole of her hides in a tuft 
of the black leather daybed.  Still the right
auricle echoes the gentle and rough
that is said.  Led by educated insights 
into disturbed college girls, he knows 
she believes this is free will —  striptease 
of cardigan, pearls, surname and fore. Bow 
bestowed from a drawer of his desk, knees 
familiar with floor like any good Christian 
girl redressed in humility.  It is not 
the first time someone made her question 
if she is who she should be.  Needless thoughts,
she is taught, dissipate — clouds to serene skies.
Good girls are only empty behind their eyes. 

Cooper Barrow

Leashed

During the first weekend that we met Lucia offered herself as my sex slave. We stayed in a hotel room in downstate New York and explored. That Sunday afternoon, before parting for the week, we went to a large department store with an extensive pet section. Lucia had been wearing a use collar that I had provided; this next one would be permanent. After spending several minutes viewing various collars, I approved a demure and glittery and frankly quite trashy collar – which she loved. She began wearing it that day.

Many people stared but no one commented directly. I think a few people understood the significance; at least, they seemed to have knowing looks on their faces. For the little bit of time left that day I began casually and quietly training Lucia to hand signals. I would point, raise a hand flat, or make a shushing gesture. She seemed very responsive to such direction.

The next weekend it was time for the leash. Behind closed doors, in the privacy of the hotel room, I told her to undress, which was to be standard. There were basic rules that I had enumerated. I reviewed: the bathroom door must be left open, she was to ask before acting, she was required to be extremely polite. 

Then it was time for her to kneel. Chin up, on her knees on the floor, and I snapped the leash to the collar. Now onto all fours, and I began using the riding crop to adjust positioning. Her knees needed to be further apart; I swept the crop between them. This served to spread her ass crack, opening it, keeping her displayed.

Starting at the small of her back, she needed to begin curving downward. A smooth touch and light pressure of the crop brought this about. Her torso would then begin curving upward again, but the level of shoulders and top of head had to be below the level of the still-spread ass cheeks. Face down, parallel to the floor, not looking up or side to side and follow the leash lead. I walked her around for several minutes until I was satisfied her performance was adequate. At first I led her, having her crawl behind me; later, I rotated the collar to the back of her neck and had her crawl in front. I gave directional commands while watching to ensure she maintained proper position.

Then I had her kneel back, and re-assume the crawling position on command. She practiced this until I was confident she could assume it on command. Then more crawling, to habituate her to the leash. And as she crawled, I told her, “Kiss my foot.”

“Please…”

“You are an animal. Animals don’t talk. Do as told.”

She still hesitated.

“Now!”

“Up on the bed.”

She hesitates, on the floor on all fours.

“Jump up, like an animal would.”

And she does, awkwardly, and is now on all fours in the middle of the bed. I use the crop to again adjust her posture, but she is getting it mostly correctly already. 

“Bark. Bark like a dog.”

Silence. She does not respond.

“Do as told. Bark like a dog.”

Still silence. I strike her twice on the left ass cheek. But she is still silent. I repeat my actions, the command and the crops. She is still silent and unresponsive.

“I have told you several times to bark. You disobey. So now I am going to beat you with the crop until you obey.”

One word, a single response, but I am already striking her.

“Wait.”

But I am striking her. Do as told. She starts to bark, and maintains it, and I keep hitting her. She keeps barking and I keep cropping; she defied me; she needs to learn discipline. Finally I stop and she keeps barking until I tell her she may stop. She seems to be learning.

“Good dog.”

“Lift a leg up, as if you are going to piss.”

“Roll over.”

“Sit.”

“Good dog.”

She quite respectfully informed me that she needed to urinate. Not a problem. I led her to the bathroom and sat her on the toilet. I told her she was to sit there and NOT urinate. Then I turned the tap on and went back into the main room and watched TV.

Eduardo Repsold

The Left Hand Of God

To the Parents of Penelope Peterson,

Hi. I don’t usually contact my victims nor their family members. I think about it. Taunting them must be a risky extra delicacy. And I hope you feel my tongue unwelcome on your tear ducts, for I have risked. I am contacting you because this time was not like most of the little ones I have mangled and snuffed out. Yourbundle of joy has transcended me. Usually in my path I leave violated fragments of children, discarded in places where they will never be bothered. But I have made your daughter into art! I want eyes dragged across what I have made out of her. I didn’t plan for this. I mean, I did for her kidnapping. Mama Peterson, you made it way too easy. Every day she waits for you to pick her up from school and every day this month from the moment she gets out at 2 O’clock every day she waited for you an average of 35 minutes-every day which she would spend at the playground by the cafeteria. Did you know her favorite toy was the jungle gym? I’m sure you did, she called for you a lot, you must have been real close like, I bet you’d know which teeth she lost to the tooth faerie and which I beat out of her.  After 30 days of Mama Petersons consistent tardiness, I made my move and it was an easy nab. Penny was playing all alonesome and the after-school teachers weren’t looking. I hit her on the head with my Nana’s femur. Did you know the human femur has the same hardness as concrete? I have never swung as hard at anything in my life. I needed to make sure she would be knocked out. I felt a crack and she fell right off the jungle gym. She slept quietly on her concussion until I woke her up with a bucket of water where she could scream freely. I tied her to a chair. I told her I would untie one of her arms so she could wipe her tears away and blow her nostrils if she needed but it was so I could get to her fingers. Driving to where little Penny’s journey would end I noticed her bedazzling fingernails. Little ladybugs manicured on the keratin tips of little digits. I wanted those cute little fingeys.  I pulled and clipped off each little piggy of her right hand with a pair of pliers.  When I reached her ring finger, I lingered. I daydreamed of a disfigured bride who couldn’t say “I do” because nubby little stubs had no perch for love’s metallic ring. The daydream’s anguish tasted delicious. I ran my fingers through Penny’s hair, complimenting her on the pseudovisuals I was getting from our playdate. Dawn broke on me in that tender moment that I was the only one having fun. Here my caress of Penny’s bushy golden hair tiptoed curiously to her face. I applied rouge on both of us, but she was the cat’s pajamas of the two. It was only skin deep I quickly discovered. Your whore rat spawn tried to bite me when I tried to smudge her lipstick with my muddied man fingers. Your little blond piranha almost bit off one of my ringed claspers. Your girl needed discipline. And trojaned within punishment, her role as muse would emerge. I hit her in the mouth with Nana. Many, many, many times aplenty. She couldn’t properly cry because every time she opened her mouth to caterwaul I socked her again. When I was done I looked at the snaggletooth train wreck enclosed in her swollen, redder than rouge, lips. The shards and jagged bits of teeth left Penny’s chompers looking vicious. It’s a good thing she had already lost most of her baby teeth, I would have hated for her to have hoped that her smile could be saved. I looked at the beartrap looking babe I made and thought to myself, “damn, she looks like she could chew up an arm now”. Right then and there I got a quick glimpse of what a masterpiece she would become. I knew then what I had to do. Your daughter went through a lot of pain, but I believe the most physical pain she endured on our play date was when I sawed her left forearm off. The bone, and nerve endings. It was like gnawing through guitar strings with a bread knife. Once all the fleshy sinewy bits were cut and the bone snapped off, I burned the wound. I’m not sure if that stops the blood loss or if it just closed up the outer damage, but the puddle stopped getting bigger. All her yummy screams paled in comparison to the shock in her little green eyes from what I did next.  Better than Picasso and Goya before me, I encompassed atrocity! I forced little Penny’s battered mouth open and began pushing her little arm down her throat. She was gagging, eyes wild and wetting themselves. A few times it seemed like it would not go further but we persevered, and I pushed through. I lodged it at a height where what protruded looked like a little palm tree, with ladybugs on the branch tips. She neither gasped or grasped anymore, she just gurgled. Stupefied I fell to my knees and watched as the darting of her eyes slowly stopped. I swear to you Peterson Family if I had molten bronze I would have coated her and sold her to the Louvre. I did attempt to paint it, represent visually how amazing my experience with her made me feel while showing the triumphant product of our encounter. The little left hand of innocence, reaching out of the maw of the pleasures of the flesh and their vile savagery? ABSOLUTE ZHEITGEIST! And she did die innocent. I was entranced by her suffocation that I only thought of fucking her after she was dead, but by then I didn’t want to reposition the art. I have decided to call the piece, “The Left Hand Of god”.  The illustration I will keep for myself, but the source material you may retrieve. You will find her in the basement of the last house of Honeyoak road. Go to her, before she rots, though even spotted in purple blotches, she would look very debonair as a center piece in any family room or den.

One of her fingers is enclosed as proof.

Delightedly,

Buck Jim

Wayne Turmel

The Voyeur

She kissed him like she wanted to suck the enamel off his teeth. Kyle smirked  and slid his hand down her back, tracing the zipper with his fingertip, but not undoing it. Yet. He knew enough to take his time. After all, eager older women were his specialty.

Connie gave a soft growl and pressed herself against him, her head nestling against his throat. This one knew what he was doing, which was a tad disappointing. Corrupting the truly innocent was much more fun. On the other hand, a young man already familiar with both the mechanics and geography of a woman’s body made for less work and better results.

He pulled away from her eager lips, wiping the small, waxy, crimson remnants from the corner of his mouth with his thumb. Her lipstick was mostly unsmeared, but then women like her only used the best. Like her perfume. He ran his nose against her collarbone, audibly inhaling her, knowing it would turn her on. “You smell amazing.”

She chuckled and ran her French tips through his hair. “You do too.” It was true. Young men never used decent cologne, and the healthy smell of his drugstore deodorant, sweat, and hormones beat that toxic, cheap body spray. 

They fumbled and groped and banged off walls all the way to her bedroom door. She pulled him in by the hand, kissed him again, then pulled away. With a knowing smile, she gestured around the room. “So. Here we are.”

There they were. Kyle looked around at a real woman’s room. No dorm room fumbling or roommate hushing tonight. Spotless. Classy. Expensive. Maybe the priciest room he’d seen outside a hotel room. And probably high maintenance. Like her. But that wasn’t his problem, was it? 

Surprisingly, all the lights were on. Most older women went for mood lighting that not only set a tone, but concealed imperfections and masked insecurity. Not that Connie-Bonnie? No, definitely Connie, had anything to be insecure about. A gym-toned, firm body wiggled under that satiny fabric. Between a personal trainer, expensive lingerie and good genes, she was probably ten years older than she looked. And she clearly wanted him to see everything she had. The way she danced and squeezed his junk right at the bar in front of everyone—the woman was definitely an exhibitionist. Kyle had no complaints.

He spun her around so he stood behind her, pressing himself against the muscled product of all that gym time. Big hands circled her waist and slid upward as he ran his lips along her flawless nape. Just as about to let his hands cup her breasts, he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. 

Up in the corner. He wasn’t seeing things. A tiny, single, red dot.

“Is that… is that a camera?”

Connie spun around, took his chin in her fingers and nodded. “A girl can’t have too much security. You never know who might find his way into her house.” She gave a naughty chuckle and playfully nipped at his lips.

“Yeah, but it’s on now? Like it can see us?” He gave the camera a mocking salute, and then stopped as the possible consequences occurred to him. His hands dropped to his side and every other part of him was perfectly still.

“Afraid you’re going to wind up on the internet or something? Don’t be, honey. It’s just for me. Kind of my thing.” The thought hadn’t occurred to him until that moment, but yeah. Getting splashed across the interwebs wouldn’t be great. Not a big deal. He was the guy, after all. But not something he wanted.

She pressed against him. “Don’t you think it’s kind of hot? You ever done it on camera before?” Connie reached up and toyed with the buttons of his polo shirt. “What? I’ll bet you’ve got what it takes to be my big, bad, porno stud, dontcha?” She punctuated the question by running the pink tip of her tongue along the V of his collarbone. 

Kyle groaned. He’d seen himself on video before—grainy cell phone shots meant only for himself and his partner. It was the twenty-twenties after all. And if she enjoyed performing for the camera, this could be a lot of fun. “Just for us, right?”

Connie nodded. “Just for us. ‘Kay?”

The evening was getting wilder and weirder, which was just fine with him. Life is about the stories you can tell, and he’d swapped more than a few war stories with his cronies at the car lot. Kyle let out a playful growl and dropped his head to her chest, eliciting a squeal from the woman. 

There was another sound as well and froze. It was almost inaudible, just slightly lower in tone. Barely detectable above the AC.

“What?” Connie squinted, studying him. The unexpected appearance of microscopic crow’s feet showing her exasperation.

“Did you hear that?” Kyle stood and looked around for the source of the noise. If might be just his overactive imagination. There were certainly enough wicked ideas bouncing around in his skull at that moment to confound his senses.

She took his chin and turned it to her, those eyes burning into him. “No. Come on, let’s…”

That time, he was sure he heard it. A low, deep moan, muffled and unrecognizable. Kyle couldn’t place it, maybe a sick animal, maybe not, but the sound oozed through the walls. Whatever it was made the hair on his arms tingle and stand up. He pushed off her, holding her at arm’s length, and looked around, trying to home in on the source. “Shush.”

“Don’t shush me.” Connie hissed. She halted a moment, then clearly reached a conclusion. “Okay fine. You want to know the truth? I think you’ll like it. You seem like the type.” 

She bunched his shirtfront in her small fists and dragged him to the bed. He landed on his back, legs dangling over the edge of the mattress. Then she straddled his legs and looked down at him, a cat smugly studying her mouse. She raised her blond head up to look directly at the camera, gave a smug smile and a finger-waggling wave, then turned those eyes back on him.

“Since you like to ruin surprises, you naughty boy. My husband likes to watch. Me. With other men.”

Kyle scrambled out from under her, rising to his feet, tucking his shirt into his pants. “Your husband?”

Disappointment crossed Connie’s pretty face and she blew a raspberry at him. “Don’t BS me. You knew I was married.” The married woman displayed her fingers to him, bright light catching the huge sparkling stones in her ring. “You sure didn’t mind a minute ago Or when I was buying your drinks and letting you shoot tequila off my tits.”

Kyle ran a hand through his perfect black hair. “Yeah, I know but… I thought you were divorced. Or at least he was out of town—” His eyes whipped one way, then the other. “Is he here? Like, he won’t come and axe murder me or anything, will he?”

Chuckling, Connie took Kyle’s shirt and ripped it out of his pants, then ran a chilly hand under it and across his firm, young abs. “No, Tiger. He’s somewhere he can’t do anything about this but watch. Just like we like it. Now stop wasting my time.” The icy fingers dropped from his stomach inside his pants, gripping the part of him in charge of his decision making..

He groaned, and any opposition vanished. “You are a freak, aren’t you?”

“No argument. Think you can keep up, Junior?” Connie pulled her hand out enough to unsnap his tight jeans, then reclaimed him in her grip. She shuffled to her left a tad, knowing that when the kid did what she knew he’d do, the camera would capture it perfectly.

Young men seldom disappointed. He unzipped her dress and yanked it down, then undid her bra and dropped it to the floor, exposing her breasts; real and close to perfect. As his mouth dropped to her chest, her left hand stroked his head. The other offered a playful hello to the camera, and she blew her audience a kiss.

Kyle moaned at the sheer decadence of the moment. He’d never felt like such a stud, and his determination to prove his worth swelled. Aggressively, his lips captured a hard nipple, and he heard another moan. Louder but no less muffled and indistinct.

But this sound wasn’t from either of the room’s occupants. It was unlike their panting or gasping. This wasn’t pleasure. It was soul-deep pain. Kyle stepped back, shaken.

“That didn’t sound like he’s enjoying this at all. Is he okay?”

“He’s fine, goddammit.” 

She reached for him, eager to distract her playmate, but Kyle pulled away and took tentative steps towards the closet. “Is he in there? I mean, I know this is all a game with you guys. He’s really okay with it?”

Connie’s lips curled in a sneer. “What do you want, a fucking permission slip?” Her voice was becoming more harpy than siren..

The young man, thinking about how this might ruin the evening, was about to concede when another plaintive sound wafted into the room. 

“Noooooooo. Stop it.” No level of denial could pretend someone wasn’t begging for help.

“That doesn’t sound like he’s digging this at all. Is he in there? Whaddya have him tied up in the closet?” Moving faster than her, Kyle threw the sliding closet door open and ducked inside. He pushed aside a rack of designer dresses and almost tripped over the dozens of shoes scattered across the floor.

 In the back corner, a razor-thin line of light extended from floor to ceiling. He pressed his hand to the sheetrock, and it gave a bit. He froze with his hand on the wall, undecided whether to continue.

A shriek assaulted his ears. Connie’s voice echoed in the small space, “Don’t you fucking dare.”

The other voice persuaded him. It was guttural, obviously male, and knotted his guts to hear it. He ignored Connie’s pleas and leaned forward. The hair on his arms stood at attention, his mouth dry as sand. 

“Help. Me. God, help me.”

Kyle pushed and nearly fell into another room tucked behind the enormous closet. His forward momentum drew him forward, just out of Connie’s reach. A single fingernail scratched down Kyle’s back, and somehow it registered in his mind he was bleeding.

Scrambling to avoid the woman’s talons, he scooted on his knees into a small, dark room. Raising his head, he blinked to help take in what he thought, but couldn’t believe he saw.

The only light in the space came from four thirty-inch screens, one per wall. No matter which way one looked, there was no missing the high-resolution, garishly lit, color view of Connie’s now-empty bedroom. 

Kyle didn’t have time to think about the walls. On the floor in the center of the room, taking up most of the space, was a ring of white crystals, several inches deep. In the center of the circle  was a faint figure, not lit by lamplight but by an inner phosphorescent glow. Kyle was sure it was a man.

 Only it wasn’t. At least not a live one.

The figure hovered motionless in the air. Its lower body fading to nothingness the closer it got to the floor. It didn’t even appear to have feet. The body simply faded to nothing the closer it got to the floor. The upper body was more solid, but still opaque. It wore colorless khakis and a golf shirt. Then Kyle saw the figure’s face. The left half appeared to be a handsome man, about fifty years old, although the face was droopy and lined, as if deprived of sleep for years. Where the right side of the face should be was a dark, mangled, scabbed over mess, unrecognizable as anything human. No one could mistake the agony behind the clouded, damaged eye.

“HI honey, I’m home.” Connie put her hand on Kyle’s shoulder and moved alongside him, her attention on the spectral vision. Was it a fucking ghost? He couldn’t believe it but that had to be what it was, right? “Kyle, this is Bert. Bert likes to watch, don’t you, babe?”

 The spirit’s head tilted to the ceiling and a pitiful roar vomited up from somewhere inside it.

She continued, her voice artificially calm, like oil over shards of glass. “Bert, honey. This is Kyle. Isn’t he pretty? We’re going to have so much fun. And you get to watch. Again.” She pursed her lips in a mock kiss to what was left of the man she married. Icy fingertips stroked the younger man’s cheek for a microsecond before he jerked away, almost slamming into the wall  to avoid her touch. 

The question croaked out of Kyle’s throat. “What the fuck is this?”

“He’s what’s left of my dear husband. Maybe you’re not as smart as you look.”

He had to know. “What happened to him?”

The smile never left the woman’s painted lips. “A little gardening accident. He keeps all kinds of equipment in the garage. Some of it is really dangerous, apparently. Like that hoe. Sharper than it looked, huh Babe?”

The figure pointed to its mangled face and screamed its fury at her. Kyle cowered against the wall, his tan complexion turned ashy grey. Connie stood with her hands on her hips, talking to her guest but keeping one satisfied eye on the specter. 

“Since he likes to watch so much, I figured I’d let him. He can watch me. Just like he made me watch him with that little slut.” She turned to Kyle, trying to regain her composure. It didn’t really work. The madness in her eyes belied the perfect makeup and clothes.

“I found a video on his phone. The bastard wasn’t even sorry. He laughed and told me he was leaving me for a hotter piece of ass. Then held me down and made me watch it. Didn’t you, you limp-dick bastard?” 

She continued explaining to Kyle in a freakishly calm voice, “She was even younger than you, sugar. I didn’t want to see it, but he sat on top of me and made me watch. Every minute of it. Then again. Holding the phone up to my face. Told me he was going to divorce me and marry her. Thought it was hysterical. Said his lawyers would make sure I got nothing. Can you believe that shit?”

Kyle wasn’t sure if it was a question, or if she directed it at him, but he was incapable of responding. His eyes were wide with terror, and his throat dry and constricted— equally appalled by the woman at his side and the horrible figure floating in the circle.

He raised a finger and pointed at the apparition. “How did you…?”

“It’s called a Devil’s Trap. It’s just rock salt, but spirits can’t cross an unbroken line. There’s enough there he’s not going anywhere. Ever. Are you sweetheart? Even his shit-hot attorneys can’t get him out of this. We won’t be disturbed.”

The figure’s mouth formed a circle, and the voice struggled to form clearer words. “Let me go.”

Connie chuckled. “Don’t think so. It’s your turn to watch.” She reached out to take Kyle’s trembling hand. “Come on, kid. Let’s go.”

He ripped his hand away from her; the nails leaving bloody tracks down the back of his hand. “You’re frickin’ nuts. I’m not going with you.”

The thing that had once been Bert inched closer to the salt line but couldn’t get any closer. It spoke to Kyle.

“Break the Circle. Let me go.” 

“Don’t you dare, you little shit. He has this coming.” She turned to the spectre. It’s my turn to put on a show isn’t it darling.. My. Turn.”

The voice on the other side of the line pleaded. “Do it. For the love of God.” The sound echoed in Kyle’s chest, painfully churning his guts.

Connie shrieked. “Don’t!”

Desperate to take some kind of action, Kyle shouted incoherently and stepped forward, taking a kick at the salt line. The first kicked merely left a smeared but intact barrier. Connie leapt at him, tugging at him, trying to pull him back. The second time, his shoe left a bare spot on the floor. As the woman screamed her outrage, the spirit collapsed into a dense fog and drifted through the opening. It reformed on the other side, its mangled face inches from Connie’s . Her face was a mask of fury and horror. The gaping hole that was once Bert’s mouth opened. The odor of rotted meat filled the room, and the walls shook with the figure’s horrible scream. 

Then it was gone.

Kyle stood immobile for a second, panting and looking around, uncomprehending. There was no misunderstanding the hatred in the woman’s eyes though. She lunged at him, talons first. He’d never hit a woman before, but he shoved as hard as he could. Her head hit the wall with a sickening thud, and he ducked through the entry to the closet.

Connie yelled after him, “You don’t know what you’ve done! Get back here!”

Kyle banged his head on the door frame in his rush to escape and he stumbled into her bedroom. Connie’s voice trailed after him. He thought he heard her footsteps behind him, but all he could think of was escape. He tripped over a pair of Manolo Blahniks, yet scrambled away, making a break for the door with Connie screaming like a harpy behind him.

He almost made the stairs when cold fingers grabbed his ankle and he felt gravity betray him.

Two weeks later, the door opened and a drunken couple stumbled into the foyer. The young man — twenty-first birthday shots scenting his breath, pushed the woman against the door and kissed her hard.

“You sure we’re alone?”

In response, Connie wrapped her arms around his neck and stuck her tongue down his throat. When she needed air, she pulled back to smile into his baby blue eyes.

“My boyfriend’s home.”

The kid’s eyes widened. She put a finger to his lips.

“Shh. It’s cool. He likes to watch.”

Robert Lewis

See No Longer

His name is Curtis. His eyes are green. He’s almost gone; I see it. Sometimes Curtis and I work graveyard shifts together in the airport restaurants, or else trade off solitary shifts in the dishpit. The dishpit is underground and smells like hot mold.

The dishpit has a pair of commercial dishwashing machines shaking and churning on the far side of the room. For each machine there is an industrial sink. Conveyor belts jut through the wall in several places and feed filthy dishes onto their warm awaiting surfaces.

Today, as I am trying to sweep the lunch rush sludge off the sink tops, a pristine white coffee cup tumbles out of the chute. Inside, there is a bright-blue sticky note. I’m curious and bored, so I carefully unfold the soaking wet paper.

The ink is runny but I know Curtis’ handwriting, all loops and no space. The note reads: “Where were you last night?” 

Usually I don’t think about anything as I work. Today, I cannot think of anything else. Until recently, this was not like him. Passive-aggressive notes delivered strangely. We were friends. But he has not been thinking clearly lately. Neither have I. 

I once met his daughter, Jenny, and his wife, whose name I forget. Another time Jenny looked at me and didn’t know. She was looking at somebody else. 

And then later I remember looking down at his wife, her jet-black hair gathered on the white sheets beneath her, dark eyes half-closed as our naked bodies pressed together. This was a strange thing – Iwould never have fucked her. Yet I had seen skin, felt hipbones and heard somebody’s laughter. I liked it. No one knew, not even her.

Each time the faces of Curtis’ family look at me, I feel whole. Often, I go back again to see these things, at night and in the day. I go back at work. I reach inside myself and go to him all the time.

Until about a month ago, after our night shifts, Curtis and I met for a drink at the bar on Terminal C. I would drink several lite beers and he would sip a single shot of whiskey with remarkable temperance, staring over at me with those exhausted eyes that never lost their understated confidence. The kind that see down into everything. I wanted to see like that, and often did.

The last time Curtis met me there, a couple weeks before today, he arrived late. He always came early to get back to his family as soon as possible without slighting me. On this particular Friday, instead of taking his customary stool, he remained standing and shifted from foot to hip to foot. When I asked him what was wrong, he glanced up and down the bar, behind us. Leered suspiciously at the bartender, a tolerant college kid we both knew well. Then Curtis leaned in and whispered:

There was another member of the staff, a new guy I’d never met or even seen. He was specific about that fact. I could never have met him. This guy, he said, was moving things around inside his locker. He believed that the new guy was stalking him. Claimed to have seen a figure out front of his house. Curtis said that he often heard the new guy behind him when they worked together, whispering strange comments, and he was always gone before Curtis turned around. And the new guy whispered things in Curtis’ ear that no stranger could have known. Things about Jenny, about his favorite drinks. What it meant when Curtis narrowed one eye and smiled at a person. I loved that.

Then he leaned in closer, and I could smell vodka on his breath — not his drink. 

He said, “I know it’s you.”

When I asked him how it could be possible, a shadow passed across his face. He froze. The TV from behind the bar lit up the whites of his eyes, spread so wide that you could see strips of white along the bottom. He dashed out of the bar. So you see why I prefer to look out from his eyes, and not from mine.

Since that day he won’t meet or speak with me. I peered around the corner of the break room last week and spotted him at my locker, jiggling the combination lock. When I replay our conversation in the bar and think about the note, I wonder what might be happening to my friend. 

All I do is dream my dreams – it’s pure fantasy. Nobody could know where my mind goes when it’s dark. I am safe and innocent.

I work six more hours in the pit, and next to my station a millipede lurks above the trash. I am not authorized to take it to the dumpster, or even leave through any door except the elevator I entered from. Security purposes, of course, you understand. The room is windowless and the vents, although powerful, are clogged with grease. After a first hour of blistering hot water, and the steam generated by droplets against half-eaten shrimp cocktail and empty cups of ice water, all the walls begin to sweat. 

My palms get slippery. I drop a cup. The shattering sound is what a person does after an injury, before they realize there will be pain. A sharp-edge inhale. I think of Curtis’ face. I hear the glass this way and am blaming him for my mind and hating him for his fucking note.

Where was I last night? I was here. He sawme here. I am always down here and I do not admit to leaving.

Usually somebody comes through the elevator to cover me for lunch. The person always used to be Curtis. His face was the first thing I understood on any day. Since the bar, he changed shifts. We don’t see each other anymore. Now I don’t see anyone I can understand. I crave the feeling of a shared glance between friends.

And today, of all days, the coffee cup note day, nobody comes at all. Why won’t somebody come? My break comes and goes, and my eyes begin to float over my hands, their work. I must eat. 

I claw back to the surface of the airport and take my 30 minute lunch alone. I sit over a wet ham sandwich: rye bread with a swirl and a tepid lettuce leaf dangling from the side.

And beyond the plate glass windows of terminal C, I watch the planes glow neon beneath the false dawn cast by downtown Denver. Although I want to give up, I look around for a new employee that could be the one Curtis mentioned. Of course, there is nobody like that. Curtis is working the greasiest breakfast rush in the airport, at Fiesta Taqueria, so I cannot ask him about the note until later. I buy and slam a half pint of vodka, return to the dishpit, and finish my shift submerged in a throbbing liquid silence.

***

When the work is done, I find Curtis in the locker room. My hands are shaking. He’s at the far end, changing out of his black uniform polo.

He turns around and greets me. “Hey, my dishpit friend!” I am shocked by his friendliness, and I am relieved we have seen each other’s faces and not looked away.

I ask him how life is, how his wife is doing, where does that shitty neighbor live again? And we talk. I mention it: “I got a note earlier,” I say.

“Oh, from Jenny? A note from Jenny, eh?” he asks gleefully, with a strange high-pitched cackle that I’ve never heard from him. An uncharacteristic joke, too, both because Jenny is his daughter’s name and we both know Curtis wrote the note. Or is Jenny his wife’s name? This happens when I panic; I forget the details I want to know the most.

“No,” I got a note from us. I got a note from you. You got a note from me. You got a note from me. I got a note. “I got a note,” I manage.

He asks, “What do you mean? What kind of note?” even though he knows the answer already. Narrows one eye. Smiles crookedly. The expression does not mean what it used to.

My head thrums, it is speechless, jaw locked in place until he walks. Away. 

When he is gone I, myself, walk toward the escalator, pursued by the buzzing and the shouting of the world. Each footfall is an accusation, and every mumbled comment a shout directed at me. I run through the crowded terminal, bouncing off families with their baggage, pinballing out into the parking garage. I slam my car door and with a last furious thump, my door muffles all the rage and anxiety of the world, and it pounds down ceaselessly.

As I drive home, the sicknesses of the world begin to fizzle back in through the gaps. The wind gusts, an assault. There is only one way to escape. I go away from my mind, reaching out with thin blue tendrils from the bottom of nothing, the jellyfish tentacles which flail in the void like I am drowning in air. Then relief: the gauzy sound of Curtis singing in the car, “Bad company, and I won’t deny.” I found him. He is driving 90 miles per hour, going the wrong way on Highway 36 South. I pull in closer.

“Bad Company, until the day I die.” I feel the dial as he turns the music up. I smell the coke in his cigarette – I taste the smoke bitter, like a corroded penny. 

Behind us, blue-red-white-blue-red-white light leaps onto the highway and Curtis panics, I feel his panic like a rapidly expanding balloon in the throat, popping, shredding, and he kicks in the gas. The back end of our car slips left to right, he overcorrects, we are losing control and the wheel tears out of the other hand. Inertia is spinning them into the concrete barrier, slamming into it. A tearing sensation. We are separate. I float into dark, all abuzz with colorless white noise. The nothingness behind eyelids.

***

I wake up in my own bed. Dull morning light filters weakly through the blinds. The apartment stinks. Take-out containers, trash, two cardboard boxes that have stayed taped for five years. 

First thing I feel is alone and I try to find the other presence. Curtis is not there, not beside me, perhaps not anywhere at all.

Why should he be? What a fucked up dream. That was not me; I was not there.

The sheets press on my arms. I must rise. Get down the hall. Twist on the shower. The water stings my forearms, speckled purple and red with bruises under the skin, like a grotesque new tattoo. Stumble out of the shower and look in the mirror. My chest is purple. A flat, diagonal, impossible bruise runs from my left shoulder to my right hip. Seatbelt. I was not there. It happened to him, not me. It didn’t even happen!

I want to wake up, wake up again, so I get back under my sheets. They stick to my raw forearms. Stand up. White sheets have streaks of blood. I look down at my arms and they are seeping, bleeding without cuts. Dizzying darkness presses me down onto the bed again. I sleep the static.

***

When I wake up, sweating face-down in the hot afternoon, light is filtering through my fifth-floor window. My sheets are crisp with blood, and my right collarbone sticks at the pillow. I have to know what we did the night before: the man with green eyes, Curtis, and myself.

I drive up Route 36 North from my house for fifteen minutes and back down Route 36 South, but I don’t see any signs of a crash. I turn around to drive North again. I am late for work. Five minutes away from my exit, I am pulled to a stop.

A plastic shard glitters on the pavement just a few yards ahead of the car. Looking closer, I see a shard of reflector from inside a headlight. To the right, down the steep embankment, a youngish tree stands ahead of the rest with a massive gash in its side. The fresh sap bleeds.

And further beyond, hidden in the shadows that gather in forest dusk, there is a low moaning. My first thought: roadkill. A dying deer or dog, maybe, hit so hard that its haunches tore apart the impacting headlight and sent shattered pieces flying along with the carcass down into the trees below.

But then there is the gash in the tree. Too deep a cut for bone-flesh impact. I walk down the hill, drag my fingers through the sap of the tree’s cut as I pass by. A smell cloying, like honey. Not at all pine sap. Something else is wrong, too, first felt. Then the moaning I heard grows quieter. Stops.

I begin to run, my feet crackling along the pine needles. The sound of the highway disappears in the irreconcilable stench of honeyed sap that now permeates the forest. I see another shattered piece of reflector, a splinter of plastic buried in the ground, and a dark tear through the pine needles that cover the rest of the forest floor. Tucked beneath a cluster of trees, I see the still-smoking remnants of the car that Curtis wrecked last night. With me.

Curtis is draped over the warped front bumper, hanging aloft the wreck like so much dripping wet laundry. His eyes are green and pure and dead. I know he was in the driver’s seat because the steering column bent back over itself and extends from the crumpled windshield beneath his body, like another broken limb.

Curtis’s forearms hang down over the bumper, bloodied like mine, scabbing over in almost the exact same places. I take his hand and I look into his face. I saw it all happening. I had been with Curtis as he drove. And I had been there before, behind him as he worked, slept with his wife, loved his child. I was his new guy, standing not behind but beside his mind, a passenger. And now I am whispering to his body about Jenny and his wife and the drinks at the bar and all the beautiful ways that only his face could move.

I only wanted to know every angle of you.

Carefully, leading with my fingertips, I lift Curtis down from the bumper and lay him in the pine needles. His head rolls left.

Down here, among this wreckage, there is nothing for me. I have it all inside. Back to the highway. Listen to the traffic scream past. Wash the dishes, scrub the floors. I will hide myself in the sub-basement, surrounded by the rhythm of airport byproducts. I won’t promise not to do this again.

Daniel S. Irwin

Juan de Guano

Juan de Guano is the man.
He’s more macho than his Harley.
Juan speaks three languages that
No-one can ever understand.
Juan mumbles even when sober.
Everyone say “What?” & “Que?”
Only the priest knows what he say.
Juan’s Latin is excellent though slurred.
When down South, Immigration
On both sides of the border
Locks him up not knowing what he is.
His woman kicks his ass on a regular basis.
She never knows what he say to other women.
Other women wonder, too, what he say.
So he flirt with the eyes…sometimes 
Two black eyes.  I said he had a woman.
Life is hard for Juan de Guano but
He’s more macho than his Harley.
That’s all that counts.
Harley people understand.