Dave Cullern

Modern Shelves

Base lives
Based on lies
Disguise
Tiny moves
Amongst the forests
Of old gods

The words of
Dead generations
Carved
Into the wood
Like sigils
Flashed behind
The lids of our eyes

The force of legs
Forced to walk
Into fires
Made of printed words,
Alight behind stop signs
And directed turns
Without touch
Without loss
Without flames

Witch trials
Tried on lies
Try to hide
The hidden hooves of Pan
In amongst fat tomes
Of underwhelming prose
Underneath cages of thick clothes
And the grey,
The thick, constricting grey,
Sitting atop of the
Sucking
Fucking
Laughing
Violent
Truth.

Zane Castillo

Tigress

Jeffrey felt the cool breeze coming through the window and tried not to think of Karen. It had been over three months since they broke up, but Jeffrey could not get over her. He let out a long sigh and got up from the chair where he had been sitting for over an hour reminiscing about Karen. The adjacent table had several empty beer cans and discarded cigarette butts. He needed to get out of the house, he thought to himself.

He rose quickly from the chair, grabbed his car keys, then exited his apartment. A couple of his neighbors were sitting outside enjoying the cooler temperature. He waved to them as he headed down the flight of stairs to his car. His dilapidated Honda Civic sat in the parking lot among other vehicles that were in various stages of decay. He got inside and sat for a minute trying to figure out where to go. The Strip would be a great place to drown out his problems and disappear into the hordes of tourists, but he wanted somewhere a little bit quieter. Fremont was the better alternative, he thought to himself. He stated the car, pulled out into the street, and headed to the freeway.

He saw a car swerving left and right as he tried to merge into the freeway. Over the years, Vegas had become overwhelmed with drunk drivers that were both locals and tourists. He had to admit to himself that there were many times he drove drunk on the roads. He moved cautiously past the wayward car.

He drove until he got to Fremont then headed to the Plaza Hotel and Casino. There were several people standing around with drinks in hand chatting near the entrance. He parked the car then walked towards the entrance where a group of tourists drank from a plastic guitar filled with liquor. One of the men in the group stumbled and leaned against the wall as his friends laughed at him.

He headed inside and went straight to the bar. The noise of the slot machines and people talking enveloped him and he felt his spirits rise. There were several elderly couples at the bar drinking and playing Keno. He noticed an Asian woman sitting at the end of the bar alone. She caught his eye and gave him a small smile. He smiled back and asked the bartender for a Budlight and a shot of Patron. He quickly drank the shot and looked at the TV screens above the bar where a variety of sports games were playing. There were a couple of people who were totally absorbed in a football game and would remark on each team’s past games.

“What do you mean? We just got here!” An old man sitting a barstool away from Jeffrey exclaimed to a woman next to him.

“I’m tired. We have been walking all day,” his wife replied.

“Come on, we have one more day here before we head back. I don’t want to spend it in the hotel room,” he replied as he took a drink from a glass.

“I’m not going to sit here and watch you drink. I can do that at home.” She retorted as she stood up.

“Fine, go. I’ll be in later,” The man said without looking at his wife. She gave him an angry look and then walked off.

“Goddamn bitch”, the man mumbled as he turned to look at the football game.

Jeffrey looked down at his drink in amusement. He ordered another drink and saw the pretty Asian girl still sitting alone at the end of the bar. She looked to be a Filipina with long brown hair, small nose and lips. She had a distinctive mole on the left side of her neck. She was wearing a black dress that fitted her slim physique perfectly.

He wondered if she was here alone or if she was waiting for someone. She looked up from her drink and caught him looking at her. He quickly averted his eyes and looked at the television for a few seconds then slowly glanced at her from the corner of his eyes. She was looking at him with a smile on her face. Jeffrey smiled back casually. She got up and headed towards him with her drink. Jeffrey instantly felt nervous. He had never had a woman approach him before.

“Hi,” she said as she sat down on the barstool next to him.

“Hi.”

“Are you by yourself?” she asked him.

“Yeah, you?”

She nodded in reply.

“I’m surprised. A pretty lady like you by yourself,” He said with a flirtatious smile.

“Thank you.”

“I’m Jeffrey.” He said as he extended his hand towards her.

“Mika,” she said as she shook his hand. “Are you from here?” she asked him.

“Yeah, born and raised. How about you?”

She shook her head. “I was born in Guam and came here about two years ago.”

“Have you been back to Guam?”

“Nope, I don’t think I will ever go back. There’s nothing there for me,” she said nonchalantly. “You live close to here?”

“North Vegas. How about you?”

“I live a few blocks away from here. You want to get out of here?” she asked him.

He was surprised. “Yeah, sure,” He stated then finished his beer. He paid his tab and they started walking to the front entrance. “Did you drive?” he asked her.

“No, I walked over. I enjoy walking at night.”

They exited the casino and walked into the lot. Jeffrey unlocked his car and got in.

“Where to?”

“I’ll direct you,” Mika said as she buckled her seatbelt.

“Ok cool,” Jeffrey said in excitement. He followed her directions and pulled up in front of an apartment complex. He pulled into an empty space and they got out of the car and headed up the stairs. She pulled out a key and opened a door on the third floor landing. She stepped inside and closed the door behind them.

Mika took off her shoes and headed into the kitchen. “You want a drink?” she asked him. “Sure,” he said as he looked around her apartment.

There were framed black and white photos of cities from around the world covering the living room wall. A tan couch and love seat were placed adjacent to each other with a glass coffee table between them. A large plasma sceen TV was mounted to the opposite wall.

Mika grabbed a bottle of wine and wineglasses from a cupboard, placing them on the marble countertop between them.

“Your place is very nice,” Jeffrey said as he walked into the kitchen. She poured the wine into the glasses and handed Jeffrey a glass.

“Thank you,” he said.

“You’re very welcome,” she said with a smile.

“You live here by yourself?” he asked as he glanced around.

“Yup.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a masseuse. What about you?”

“I’m a security guard at a casino.”

“Really? You are so skinny for a security guard.”

He laughed. “Don’t be fooled by my appearance. I’m quite tough.”

She laughed and leaned into him. Jeffrey pulled her towards him and kissed her. She pressed against him and pulled his head down to hers, her tongue darting in and out of his mouth. She held his head in her hands. When she bit his lower lip, Jeffrey cried out in pain.

“I’m sorry,” she said as she pulled back.

“It’s ok,” he said with a laugh.

“Let me take a look at it,” she said. She bent his lip forward gently to which he winced.

“It’s bleeding a little. I’m sorry. Let me clean it up for you.” She licked the blood from his hurt lip. Jeffrey looked at her in surprise as she sucked on his lip.

“All better now?” she asked him with a sly grin.

“Yeah,” Jeffrey said. For some reason he felt himself getting aroused by what she’d just done.

“Come on,” she told him. She grabbed his hand and led him to her bedroom. There was a queen-sized bed placed near a window with red drapes. Clothes were scattered all over the floor and Jeffrey could see lots of lingerie and high heeled shoes tossed haphazardly in the room. She pushed him on the bed and started to take off his clothes. Jeffrey ran his hands up and down her body in anticipation. He pulled off her dress to reveal a slim tan body. She pulled off her bra and panties and mounted him. She started to kiss his chest and Jeffrey closed his eyes in pleasure.

“Ow!” he cried as she bit him just below his nipple.

“Sorry, I like to bite. Is it too much for you?” she asked him.

“It’s ok, but not too hard,” he said.

“Ok, I’ll be gentle,” she replied with that same sly smile on her face. She went back to kissing him and Jeffrey ran his hands through her hair. She bit him again on his abdomen but this time more gently. As they had sex, she bit him frequently and even drew blood many times to which she licked it up. Jeffrey found this quite arousing and started to relish the quick sharp pain from her teeth.

After they were both spent, Mika brought the wine and wineglasses into the room and they drank and talked before Jeffrey had to go to work. Mika gave him her number and told him that they can meet at her place the following night after 10pm when he was done with work. He excitedly told her he would be there.

When he got home and went into the bathroom to shower, Jeffrey saw the bite marks all over his body. He was surprised at how deep some of the bites appeared and how many there werre. He chuckled to himself in amusement before turning in for the night.

The following day, Jeffrey spent his entire shift thinking about Mika as he answered customer questions and watched drunks lose their money. As soon as he clocked out, he went quickly home and changed. He gave Mika a call to let her know he was on his way. When he arrived at her place, Mika answered the door wearing a short black skirt and wifebeater. There was a plate of sandwiches and a bottle of wine on the table.

“How was your day?” She asked him as they sat on the couch eating.

“It was good. Nothing ever exciting happens at work. How about you?” He asked her.

“It was fine. Not too busy.” She said. She took a drink from her wineglass then mounted him as he was eating. Jeffrey laughed in surprise.

“Wait, let me put this down.” He set the sandwich on the coffee table.

“Sorry, I’ve been waiting all day for this,” she said as she kissed his neck. Jeffrey grabbed her ass and started squeezing it. She started to nibble at his neck and then the familiar sharp pain hit Jeffrey. He did not cry out but moaned instead. They headed into the bedroom where they had sex, this time with her biting him more forcibly than before. The pain was sharper and more intense.

“Does it hurt too much?” she asked as she felt him tense up.

“No, its fine,” he said as he welcomed the pain.

They began to see each other every day for two weeks with Mika’s bites becoming more and more sharper and pronounced on Jeffrey’s skin. By this point, his body had become completely covered in bite marks. He enjoyed the pain and wanted to feel it as often as possible. He was very curious about what made her want to bite people and lick their blood, so he decided to ask her one night.

She was lying beside him with her head on his chest. “Whatever got you into biting people?” he asked.

“I had a boyfriend years ago who asked me to bite him, and at first I was turned off by it, but then I started to enjoy it as I saw how much he liked it.”

“Do you bite every guy that you have sex with?” he asked her.

“Yeah if they like it,” she said as she kissed his chest. “You seem to enjoy it. I love how your face gets as I bite you.”

“It does feel great, but man my body looks ravaged from all the bites.”

“Do you want to experience deeper bites? I promise you will feel so much pleasure that you will cum just from me biting you alone.”

Jeffrey laughed. “Really? That has happened before?”

“Yeah, one of my ex’s came for like a minute after I bit him. You wanna try it?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said cautiously.

“Don’t worry, it will hurt a lot, but I promise it is so worth the pleasure.”

She got up and went to a drawer near the bed.

“What are you getting?” he asked her as she rummaged around, coming out with a black square box.

“This,” she said as she pulled out a set of sharp metal teeth from the box. Jeffrey sat up in alarm as she fit them into her mouth.

“You are going to bite me with those?” Jeffrey practically shrieked.

“Yeah, I know it looks scary,” Mika said, her voice garbled through the teeth, “but they will make you feel so good…”

“Actually, I’m okay,” Jeffrey said with a laugh. “I don’t need any more bites for tonight.”

“Come on, don’t be scared,” she said. “It will be the best sensation you have ever experienced.”

“No thanks. I’m fine.” Jeffrey said with finality.

“Come on,” Mika said as she slid towards him.

“No,” Jeffrey said as he got up and out of her way.

Mika laughed. Jeffrey laughed nervously while watching her intently. She lurched towards him and grabbed his arm. He yanked his arm away and dashed out of the room. She chased after him, laughing and attempting to grab him.

“Cut it out, Mika. This isn’t funny!” he shouted as he tried to avoid her, scurrying behind the couch.

“Don’t be scared,” she said with a sinister laugh. “It’ll be fun, I promise…”

She darted toward him, faster this time, but he pushed her out of the way and ran back into the bedroom to get his clothes. He grabbed his pants and shirt as Mika came running after him, laughing hysterically. They faced each other with Mika blocking the doorway.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Jeffrey yelled.

She started making tiger noises as she tiptoed toward him, making as if to pounce.

“Stop playing around Mika! That’s enough!” Jeffrey shouted.

That’s when she made her move.

“Get away from me, you crazy bitch!”

He flung her aside and heard a loud crash from behind him as he raced out of the room, fumbling with his pants as he ran for the door. The sound of Mika’s insane laughter followed him as he swiftly exited the apartment.

He flew down the stairs with his pants half on and jumped into his car. Peeling off into the night, he could’ve sworn that he still heard her laughing behind him.

Otto Burnwell

On-Call for Break-Up Sex

You’re the one she calls for break-up sex. If you knew who it was she keeps breaking up with, you’d buy him a drink, shake his hand, and say thank you. Whatever it is he’s doing means you get some of the angriest, most satisfying sex you’ve ever experienced. Maybe ever will experience. That’s worth a drink and a handshake.

Whatever bar you’re in, lingering over an after-work drink, she finds you. Summons you. You still don’t know her name. You just go.

The first time? You were catching that after-work drink. Something to smooth the way for the train ride home. That first time, she marched into the bar, didn’t bother taking off her coat. She looked familiar, despite the dim lights, like you knew her from somewhere. Maybe the bar here, though you had a twitchy feeling you’d seen her a number of times, but somewhere else. She didn’t bother asking if the stool next to you was taken. She yanked it out, wedged in close to the bar and pulled the stool under her. She took a moment to order. Like she wanted something nasty, so she didn’t lose the anger she felt. A single malt. Something burnt and smoky. The smokiest you got, she said. Bartender poured it up. Double it, she said. She took it, sniffed at it, then knocked it back. Given how pricey a drink like that is, you had to look over at her.

Scheisse, das ist gut, she said. Not like she spoke German, but like she’d learned that one phrase all by itself to pull out and use in places like this.

Then she turned to you. Do you fuck, she asked.

Only if money doesn’t work, you said. It’s all you could think to say. No one’s ever asked you that before.

What are you drinking, she asked. You were about to say gin in case she was going to buy you a round and turn this into a hookup. You didn’t want to deflate your pecker with anything too strong.

But she didn’t wait for you to say. She knocked back the rest of your drink, pulled two twenties from her wallet as she crunched the last of the ice, and set the empty glass on it. She gestured to the bartender so he noticed the cash, then said to you, come on.

She slid off the stool and headed for the door. She didn’t look back to see if you followed. Of course you followed. Do you fuck? Of course you do.

That first time, you walked behind her all the way to her apartment. She wouldn’t slow down enough to walk side-by-side. She would speed up if she felt you getting close. She made no small talk beyond telling you when to cross the street, where to watch your step for the broken concrete in the sidewalk, then to wait at the bottom of the steps up to the brownstone of her apartment—you guessed—while she unlocked the front door, then to come on, like you were dawdling. Which you did, like she was a schoolteacher and you were late handing in your homework. You didn’t want to seem overly anxious, like a kid looking forward to his first taste of pussy, or act too smug like you were some big shit lover—in case the alcohol or the nerves soft-boiled your hard-on. Which grew in your pants, of course, watching her power walking ahead of you the whole long way, knowing all that determination was for you.

Inside her apartment, you had no time to look around, check for any sign of a roommate. Or a boyfriend. Or a husband. Or whatever. She shucked her coat and dumped it on the floor just inside the doorway and headed for the living room, leaving you to close the door and put on the deadbolt. You left your own coat hanging on a doorknob. She was pulling off her top as she went, stopping just long enough to kick off her heels and step out of her skirt. She wasn’t wearing pantyhose or stockings. Just a black lace thong and a pale blue bra.

She grabbed the remote and turned on the television. While it powered up, she unhooked her bra and flung it at an easy chair where it landed cups upward. The thong followed, missing the chair and landing on the floor. If she planned to stream a little porn to get you going, you didn’t need it.

She punched the buttons on the remote, hard, and the channel changed to a couple of guys slugging and kicking and dancing around a ring. Ultimate fighting, it looked like. She stood a moment, as if making sure she was on the right channel.

You were confused. You didn’t think you’d been brought here to watch television. Nor were you invited to remove your own clothes. So you stood, waiting. Then she put down the remote and came to you. Again, no small talk, no foreplay, unless you counted her fumbling, furious fingers yanking at your belt and fly, stripping your clothes off, barely waiting for you to get your feet free of your trousers, then your underwear, before she was throwing them aside.

You were glad your pecker was at the ready. Not fully gorged but showing a keen interest in the proceedings. You hoped she took it as a compliment.

She placed one hand on your shoulder and with the other she grabbed your cock. She began tugging and twisting, like she knew a secret trick for unlocking your penis to get its whole length pulled free from your body. Which, kind of, she did, because now you were fully filled out, stiff, stretched. Her hands on you, a stranger’s hands, sent electric thrills down the shaft, the sizzle branching off down both legs all the way to your ankles.

She dragged a straight-backed chair from the dining table in the little alcove into the center of the room and spun it around so it faced away from the television. She moved you to the chair, leading you, almost like dancing as she watched your feet, guiding you sideways then pushing you back onto the chair.

She got down on her knees, and you knew she wouldn’t be down there long, since she didn’t have anything soft to save her kneecaps on that hard wood floor.

You had a pretty good idea what she would do next but you kept still, knees together, letting her know she was in charge. And you were right. She forced your knees apart with her elbows, all business, no ceremony, and began taking you deep, tonguing you, working up a mouthful of spit so the thick wetness of her saliva ran down to your balls. You gripped the chair seat under you and leaned back. The head of your cock was so sensitive you could feel the uvula at the back of her throat. Professional safecrackers work a lifetime for fingertips as sensitive. She slid down, wagging her head, like she had to work past her own gag reflex. Then on the last deep plunge you were convinced you’d reached her lungs and could feel her heart beating against the tip of your cock. Her esophagus constricted on you, and you knew for sure this is what it would feel like to be swallowed by a python, dick first.

She sat back on her heels, looked at your cock, then worked up a bit more spit and leaned over you, drizzling it on the tip of your pecker, a Sundae topping.

She got to her feet, straddled you, and guided you inside until she settled her butt onto the tops of your thighs. She leaned in, wrapping one arm around your shoulders, her head next to yours, in what you thought was a hug. You tilted your head slightly, touching ear-to-ear, and she jerked her head aside. She got back to working herself down on your pecker, like it didn’t fit right, so you put your hands on her hips, but she knocked your hands away, grunting something like, unh-unh. She went back to hugging you around the shoulders. She started again working it up and down, doing her best to keep your pecker inside her, without letting her ass touch the tops of your thighs. Her long legs helped. She was fierce, like she was trying to saw your pecker off, or pinch it off if she could squeeze hard enough. You realized she didn’t want her ass touching your thighs. You are the cock. You are the rescuer, saving her from drowning. She’s holding tight as you make for the shore. Your dick is not part of you. It’s a flotation device. It lives, and maybe she imagines it ripped from your body, like she would rip it from the body of the guy who made her so angry, but she can’t because there are laws against it, so she takes you, a stranger, and imagines it severed from your body.

That’s what it felt like.

You tried to say something friendly, to show appreciation for her as a person, thank her for her service, remind her there was an entire guy attached to the penis, in case this could lead to something more. But she growled, “shut up, shut up!” slamming her pelvis into yours with each syllable.

Then she reached for the television remote and raised the volume of the fight she was watching over your shoulder, drowning you out.

This was so not about you. All you could do was lean back and enjoy the ride, enjoy your job as the amorous salve on a wounded ego, the stiff syringe used to inject her with reassurance. Affirmation that she could still summon a penis from anywhere out of the darkness to simplify and satisfy the complexities of a busted relationship.

You knew you were close to bursting. You could twist aside on the upstroke, spew into the air, or you could go on being the disembodied dick and let fly. Instead, you started with a long, low guttural moan building to a pulsing grunt as the trembling nerves resonated with the alerts of impending ejaculation that rose from your ankles, shot up the insides of your legs, zipping to your cocktop.

She got the message, popped off, and reached between her legs to grab your cock. She thumbed you, making you shoot hard and long. Oh, sweet mother of Mercury rising, did you shoot, the contractions jerking your groin, rippling your belly.

You turned to glance at her, to smile, to look grateful, but she was still focused on the fight. Then; she twisted your cock, her hand dripping with your semen and exclaimed. Not at you, not at some orgasm of her own, but some disaster unfolding in the bout she was watching.

He punched him in the balls, she cried, pointing at the screen, he punched him in the balls!

Seeing the mess still on her outstretched hand, she scurried to the kitchen, holding out her hands, her fingers spread. She came back with wads of paper towels. She wiped off her hands while you wiped yourself down, your cock red and raw. You held the gooey toweling for a moment, in case she offered to take it from you and get rid of it someplace special. She didn’t so you left it in a dish on the end table.

She gathered up your clothes and handed them to you. She went into the bathroom, closing and locking the door. Then the shower started.

Maybe this was her way of giving you time to get dressed and get lost.

You pulled on your underwear, smearing spots of the jizz you had missed with the paper towel.

The shower was still running when you left. You’d paused before going out, and you could see that she wasn’t in the shower. She had the bathroom door opened a crack to make sure you were leaving the apartment. You pretended not to see, patting yourself down, checking to be sure you had everything you came in with. Then you left.

It was about a week later you saw her in the lobby of the building where you worked. That’s where you’d seen her so many other times before. You didn’t try to make eye contact, but you were sure she saw you. You pretended not to notice, dropped your backpack on the floor and rustled around in it to give her time to get on the elevator so you could take the next one.

For the next few weeks you would see her occasionally, coming in, going out, getting something at the newsstand in the lobby. Each time, you’d find an excuse to avoid eye contact, waiting on her to go first, call out, maybe sidle up to you and give you a shoulder bump, just to connect. But she never did. Even sneaking a peek over at her, she didn’t seem to have noticed you. You were a dick without a face. Unless you took it out and waved it around, she probably wouldn’t recognize you.

Then a few weeks before Christmas, she tracked you down at another bar, near where you both worked.

This time she didn’t even ask. She knocked back your drink and put two twenties under the empty glass, with that same signal to the bartender to notice you were both leaving.

Back to her place. Still no small talk, no how you been, how’s the family, any plans for the holidays? Just swing the chair into the center of the room, turn on the Ultimate Fighting Championship matches, shuck your clothes, and get down to the serious business of fucking away her dismay at her latest breakup.

This time she set the chair facing the television. She got you good and wet, but this time she straddled you facing away so you both could see the screen. Maybe she thought you’d like to watch, too. Maybe she found it in a manual for good hostesses somewhere. Then you realized it was a lot more calculated. Watching two near-naked guys beat on each other was distracting and took a lot longer for you to shoot your load. You didn’t much care to watch the fight, preferring instead to watch the calves of her legs go wire-tight, the muscles in sharp definition as she worked to use the whole of your length while keeping her butt from touching down any more than necessary. You’d watch yourself sliding in and out of her, a small mouth working a big lollipop. It wouldn’t last and her muscles would give out. She’d let go when she got closer to her own orgasm, and would land in your lap, down hard on you, wet from her own juice and perspiration.

From this direction you could see how she would ride you to the ebb and flow of whichever fighter she’d chosen for her champion. She’d ride slowly, conserving her strength when her favorite took a beating, struggling to defend himself. She’d speed up as he fought back, drawing blood, getting the best of the other fighter. You had to play mind games with yourself if you wanted to last. You focused on the sweat trickling from under her short hair tied in a stubby ponytail at the back of her neck as she grunted with the kicks and the blows her favorite landed on his opponent. She worked at herself, first with her left hand, then with her right, then her left again. She wouldn’t let you touch her. Maybe you touching her would distract her from losing herself in a fantasy moment where she rode her favorite, solid muscle mass, ripped, with a buzz cut, tattooed arms and back, and it was her juice running down his crank, wetting his thighs, and spilling onto the chair seat under him.

Maybe that’s why guys broke up with her.

It didn’t matter to you. The slick tunnel was delicious.

Her moans got louder and louder, a car struggling up a steep hill, until she climaxed, barking sharply with each spasm of exertion. You hoped the neighbors would think it was all for the love of the sport, not a fresh murder being committed on the other side of their walls.

Again, you did her the courtesy of vocalizing your approaching climax, like, oh shit, oh shit, or, oh yeah oh yeah, or that’s it, that’s it, and she hopped up, took hold of you and thumbed your pecker until you shot your load. It was a thoughtful thing to do and you appreciated it. Her small, delicate hands were a sweet relief to your effort of holding it in until her favorite managed to bash his opponent to a standstill.

She would dismount and disappear into the bathroom, running the shower until you left. She never offered you a drink or a snack or a thank you. You were best used to purge herself and her body of whoever came before, as if she were trying to reset her muscle memory for a new cock to be named later and you were the software package used to roll her back to her factory settings.

You would like to know what she does for work, why she moved to the city, why, out of the blue, she chooses you for break-up sex while watching two guys beat each other up as she rides you. Is there a reason she doesn’t consider you sufficient for something that might last? Maybe nothing would last with her, and you would be discarded for break-up sex with someone else.

Maybe.

Still. Weeknights, you linger over that second drink after work to give her time to walk in, take your drink, and leave two twenties on the bar.

Joseph Fulkerson

You Got Moxy, Kid!

As a writer, or as in any noble pursuit,
from time to time you find yourself
at a point of desperation.
Which is not a bad place to be,
creatively speaking.

On the contrary, being within
these confines seem to activate
a whole new skillset for the individual.

It will make you think differently.
It will make you do abnormal things.
You’ll do what you need to do,
say what would normally go unspoken.
You’ll say what you feel.

For the stark reality is
desperation doesn’t give a shit.

Desperation is the divorced child
of opportunity and talent.

The bastard child of restlessness
and hopelessness.

If desperation was a house,
it would be a single-story ranch
on the corner of Impossible Way
and No Choice Loop.

Desperation finds a way
because there’s no other choice.

It does not care what it looks like,
sounds like,
tastes or smells like.

It prefers to work alone, but at times,
you will find it amongst its friends
chance and luck.

It don’t care about anything
but doing the deed.

Desperation rolls up its sleeves,
pushes talent aside
and does it his damn self.

It seeks out the how and where
and says fuck the why.

It cares very little about your
inconvenience, or your opinion
for that matter.

It pinches its nose, grabs a shovel
and scoops up the steaming pile.

If there isn’t a shovel, he’ll pick up
great big handfuls of it and hurl it
in everyone’s smug little faces.

It doesn’t care.
It doesn’t give a flying fuck.

It takes to the streets and demands
to be heard.

It will march all the way
down main street
to the steps of city hall
to get it done,
Grassroots style.

It will kick in the door
snatch you out of bed
and drag you by the ankles
kicking and screaming into the night.

It’s relentless.

Desperation will either make a fool
or a hero out of you-
your choice.

There’s a razor’s edge
of a difference anyway.

It will either get down on one knee
to propose
or leave you bruised
and bleeding in the gutter,
wrists bound with electrical tape.

Any given day of the week,
in every city of the world
you can watch it play out.

Desperation is the single mom
working three jobs to keep the lights on.

It’s what sends the unemployed dad
out of state looking for work.

It’s what makes the quiet kid
stand up to the bully-
fists clenched; knuckles scraped.

It’s in the eyes of the wrongly accused
or wrongly incarcerated.

It’s on the lips and faces of those
who can’t stand another 12-hour shift

another soulless, bone-
grinding week of menial work
affording only a meager existence.

It fills the bars on Saturday night
and the church pews on Sunday morning,
and sometimes
it is hard to tell the difference
between the two.

It is easier for a man
to stomach failure
than to die with regret.

Pay attention to the man
who has a limp in his walk
and a tremble in his talk,

for that man has wrestled with
success and failure
and his body bears the
scars to prove it.

He has searched
the alleyways and bars,
roamed the midnight streets
howling to the muse for inspiration,
cursing the night
for giving in to the sunrise
of a meaningless new day.

Mark J. Mitchell

Ozone

The wind tickles leaves without moving them and
Your clothes cling cool and damp to your skin and
You’re still too warm for comfort and
All the trees on this block seem unfamiliar and
Your shoes scrape rough against smooth concrete and
You’re sure you’re not on the right block and
You scan the clouds to see if the moon bleeds through and
You try to glimpse lightning rods on deserted roofs and
That song you don’t know just won’t leave your ear alone and
Someone disappears around that corner just ahead and
You’re sure you know her but she never wore that dress and
A week old newspaper clutches at your ankles and
The air smells like a lake you remember but have never seen and
A bus hisses by red and orange in the darkness and
You only want to reach your home safely and
Fall to your knees to pray for rain to pray for an end

Craig Podmore

Colonoscopy of God

Oh, my lover,
Vertical cosmos of salacious flesh!
Foetal Adam writhing in
The curves of your thighs,
Chants of distaste;
Fragments of apple
Dressed in maggot vein.
The heart of your desire unchaste!
The seeds that you’ve planted
In our mother I despise,
Vermin gnawing at the thesis of faith
But despite the deafening cries
And the butchery of Cain
We can all pray in this
Wound of fallacy.
We’re the colonoscopy of God –
The anatomy of a bad idea.

Donna Dallas

Breathers and Breakers

Can we just stop talking about trade tariffs
sex scandals
diseases and typhoons?

the world will repair itself
one plastic water bottle at a time
we are a species (I think)
a clan
that sat under the moon a billion years ago
in mad wonder
now we pack pistols and blades

I saw a woman lying
on the ground
in the subway staircase
she wore a hospital ID bracelet
she had grey sweatpants
with blood caked and muddied at her crotch
I knelt down to touch her
to see if she was alive

I wanted to ask the wretch what happened to her
how did she ever get
here

she felt my hand
and lifted one glazed eye
she drooled in anger
snarled
and mouthed fuck off

I stepped back
and thought
this was once someone’s child
that was carried in a belly
maybe she was loved dearly
or not at all

all the gray whales are dying
their carcasses wash up on the shores
of Oregon and California
scientists huddle together on the beaches
to autopsy their plethoric bodies
to understand
find a way
to save
preserve….

the human body is an uncanny mystery
I can barely roll out of bed in the morning
half a dead whale inside this skin
a lazy eye
dead mind

this wretch got out of a hospital bed
blood oozing from the sacred place
of her once ripe body
to lay full out on a dirty subway
cement ground
people scurried about
not one person gave a shit

all I want to understand is
where all the recycled garbage goes
and if that
is what’s killing our gray whales
these days

Hank Kirton

Mussels

No, that’s not quite what happened. I’m going to tell this story again and again until I get it right. It doesn’t deserve to be recorded but it needs to be honest even if it isn’t true.

We made it to the restaurant way late. I was used to eating dinner and indulging in my first cocktail at five o’clock, an hour after work released me and here we were entering the restaurant at eight o’clock like a couple of dodgy aristocrats. The name of the place was Mussels but I was warned by Sheila not to get the mussels. I hadn’t intended to order the mussels but now I wanted them just to spite her in a you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do-anymore kinda way. I felt resentful. We sat in a booth across from each other. Low lighting changed her face. I was used to seeing her under bright sterile fluorescence. Sheila was my manager at Rosewell Tech. Maybe that’s why I wanted the mussels, because all day every day she bossed me around. I didn’t mind being a subservient toady for pay but this was “me” time now. My slavish devotion couldn’t be bought anymore. I felt firm.

“I just love this place,” Sheila said.

“It’s nice.” My lie was a reflex. It wasn’t nice. There was a framed portrait of Doodles Weaver or some shit hovering above our table.

Back to Sheila’s face. At work she looked fierce and confident and difficult to approach. But now, in this dimly casual atmosphere she seemed challenging and vituperative. A woman came up to our table and gave us menus and asked us if we wanted drinks. I went ahead and ordered a Rob Roy with extra Angostura bitters.

Sheila ordered a Sprite.

A Sprite. What was she doing? Was I not supposed to drink? Maybe she was battling a drinking problem. Maybe I was. Was she testing me? Using this dinner to size me up? I was confused, scared and glad I didn’t smoke. Sheila ordering a drink, a real drink would have relaxed me. Now I felt like a lone degenerate.

“So, I suppose you’re wondering why I asked you out to dinner,” she said.

I knew. It was about the Williams account. I had ordered $500,000 worth of equipment that had been technically invented but did not yet exist. It was a blunder on my part and a lot of people spent a lot of time straightening things out. I heard a guy from Accounts Payable got the ax for cutting the outlandish back-breaking checks.

But I played dumb. “Well, yes, actually.”

“Well, don’t worry. Your job is safe.” She smiled for the first time in my life.

I hadn’t thought my job was in jeopardy. Now I was worried. I nodded. The waitress arrived with our drinks. I was afraid to touch mine. I didn’t want to look like a boozer. The waitress with a nametag that said MADGE asked us if we were ready to order. We hadn’t even looked at the menus. I looked at mine and was transfixed by a nervous fly flicking and shifting.

Then Sheila announced, “I’ll start with the mussels.”

This woman was spraying torment straight into my brain. I picked up the menu, flipping the fly into the air. It swooped down and landed on Sheila’s head. I pretended not to notice and said, “I’ll have the garlic bread,” and then immediately regretted it.

Sheila smiled. “I heard you were interested in satanic silent films. I am too. I thought we could discuss them. Have you ever seen Seven Footprints to Satan (1929)?”

So that’s what we talked about.

No. That’s not quite what happened.

She said, “I’ll have the mussels.”

I took out my penis and said, “How about this muscle?”

No. Wrong.

She said, “I’ll have the mussels.”

And I ordered the escargot and we lived happily ever after.

“I’ll have the mussels…”

“You bet you will!” said the waitress, Maude or Mona or whatever and Sheila announced I was getting a promotion and a raise and my own brown-nosing little suck-up to assist me.

And when the check came Sheila paid it.

Jack Moody

A Series of Poor Decisions, Part 4

The unfamiliar bitter drip—well, rather what has now become familiar in recent times—slides down the back of your throat and you gag as you pace outside a stranger’s apartment at four in the morning. The amount of cocaine you’ve ingested is too much, and you know this not as any veteran of taking illicit substances but because your body is screaming. You are aware of and have no other choice but to accept the fact that this may be how you die: standing alone outside the apartment of a man whom you met at a bar, waiting for an Uber to get you home, feeling your heart vibrate like a hummingbird’s then stop completely, then continue again after the excruciating silence fills the inside of your chest—over and over.

The fear that would normally begin washing over you at a time like this is dulled by the alcohol, and with this boost in morale given to you, you take a moment to understand that if this stranger’s coke was laced with rat poison or fentanyl your heart would have stopped by now and your breathing narrowed to asphyxiation. You have not keeled over and so this is good news.

The headlights of the car cut through the night and burn the insides of your eyes. It pulls up and you disregard any notion of social awareness, leaping into the front passenger seat. You are visibly trembling, fidgeting with the zipper on your torn and stained bomber jacket.

His name is Eric. He is a young, handsome African-American with long dreads and a soft face. He appears feminine and speaks with a low rasp as if trying to lull you into docility with his voice. You appreciate this and decide to trust Eric. With nothing else to do but expel word vomit to quell the effects of the narcotics, you begin to tell him everything that is on your mind without stopping, with surprising eloquence. You trust the words you are saying because they are said clearly and with certainty. This is what you tell him:

“Sometimes I want to be an alcoholic. I want the darkness to encompass me. I want to feel the tight constriction of dependence. I want to put holes in my body with each stinging swallow. There is a naïve power in taking control of your own mortality, commandeering the wheel and deciding your own death in the face of its inevitability. In a way it’s a form of revolt, of dissent. An avenue to express your anger and desperation that comes with the knowledge of your impending end. Sometimes you just want to give the middle finger to the stardust that birthed you into this explosion of chaos without your consent. You want to retain some semblance of authority over your own fate and wellbeing. It feels cheap to be drained of yourself by the very force that made you endure it all without ever asking if you wanted any of it in the first place. Like the Vietnamese monks lighting themselves on fire. With each extra shot you know shouldn’t be consumed, you are in protest of the entirety of the universe. And during the whole process, in the back of your head, you are thinking, what an asshole you are for thinking this way.

“I am so terrified of death. And yet I do everything in my power to ensure an early witness to it. I can’t explain it. I am a biological freak. My brain has been unspared by the gods or the fates but I am doomed to be a monster, to fuck up and destroy all that’s beautiful around me, to roam through darkness until my legs give out and I die at the feet of the villagers and their pitchforks. No matter how goddamn hard I try I can’t fucking fix myself. I don’t know why I do this. I don’t have any answers.”

You take a deep breath and turn to see that somehow Eric is still listening. “Do you ever feel like that?” you say.

“I think I do,” he says and smiles at you, boring his eyes into the spot below your nose.

“Can I light a cigarette in here?”

“Sure.” He rolls down the window. “You can keep talking if you like.”

You realize that the car is stopped and is idling in front of your apartment.

“I can turn off the meter, you won’t be charged,” he says. “You could just come over if you want. I’ve got drinks and everything.”

The dim orange glow of the sun is rising over the trees. You can hear the first morning’s birdcalls chiming back and forth around you. The damage to your body is beginning to emerge in the sharp pains dancing and pulsing around your temples. How long has it been?

You want badly for Eric to say something soothing enough to match his voice, some wisdom to impart that will dissolve your need to remove yourself from your own skin, but instead this is what you get.

When you fail to answer his suggestion, Eric confronts the core of what he’s trying to communicate: “Are you gay?”

“No,” you reply.

“Are you sure? I keep catching you looking at me.”

“I’ve been taught to maintain eye contact when having a conversation. I’m polite.”

“Have you ever tried though?”

Eric describes gay sexual encounters as if it’s a type of ethnic food. This does little to assuage you but you make an effort to study the details of his face. The male form does nothing for you but there are feminine features common in some men’s faces that can be focused on and found attractive enough to blossom across throughout the entire person.

“You’re really, really sexy,” he says. “You deserve all the attention. I can give that to you. Have you ever kissed a man?”

***

You have kissed a man once and only once. It was years ago, funnily enough while trading lines of coke with an old friend inside his car, parked outside the ruins of a closed down high school. He was a fellow artist, volatile and insane, but made his instability work to his advantage through his pieces. You had a habit of drinking to excess together and cruising down highways and downtown streets at suicidal speeds. He owned a handgun, the first one you’d ever seen, and would routinely pull it out amongst company, pointing it at his head or at others, explaining the fragility of life and how quickly it could be snuffed out with one adjustment of his index finger against metal.

That night in the car was the night he introduced you to cocaine. He drove across town in the middle of the night while you sat in the passenger seat, chain-smoking his Marlboro Lights and taking swigs from a fifth of Jim Beam.

“The guy we are going to see is a crazy man, Henry,” he told you. “Don’t look him in the eyes, and I’ll do the talking. He once fucked a severed goat head.”

There were many follow-up questions you had to this statement but kept your mouth shut and watched as he parked and stepped across the street into a waiting vehicle. The man in the car was blanketed in the shadows of the back alley and you couldn’t make out his face. You didn’t feel the need to anyway.

When he returned he opened up the little bag of white powder, dipped in his car key and held it up to your face. “Now close one nostril with your finger and snort hard.”

“Is this shit safe?” you said.

“As safe as it’s gonna be.”

You remember very little about your first reaction to taking the drug. It was underwhelming. It was nothing compared to the elation that came from alcohol, and you immediately understood that you would never have an issue with cocaine like you did with booze.

Thirty minutes later you were in front of the foreclosed campus, trading lines cut up with an expired J.C Penney card.

“Have you ever watched gay porn?” he asked, tilting his head back and vigorously rubbing his nose.

“No,” you said. “No, I haven’t.”

“Then how do you know if you’re not gay? How do you know you wouldn’t enjoy it?”

“To tell you the truth I couldn’t give a fuck either way. But I sure like pussy, so I figured that was the end of the road in the sexual spectrum department.”

“But what if you’re missing out on a whole other side of yourself, man? You could be walking around, living a half-life for the rest of your existence.”

“Look, if this is your way of coming out to me, my dude, you don’t need to spin a whole philosophical yarn to do it.”

“Damnit, man, that’s not what I’m saying. Here—I’m gonna kiss you now, and you’re gonna tell me what you feel. Got it?”

You snorted up another thin, pretty line, sucked at the cigarette in your hand. “This is ridiculous.”

“Is it? Is it ridiculous to question things? To want to know more about yourself?”

“Shit, that coke is short-circuiting your brain cells.”

He leaned in, the white debris crusted around the rims of his nostrils. “Just fuckin’ don’t be a pussy and kiss me.”

You let it happen. All at once, his dried lips were upon you and you felt the rough, sandpaper-like stubble scrape against the sides of your mouth. It was quick and impassionate. Purely scientific. You detached.

“So what do you feel?” he asked.

“Nothing,” you told him. “I feel nothing.”

He grinned. “Well, there you go! We disproved my theory! We gained insight.”

He leaned back into his seat, picked up the 36 Chambers CD off the center console, and began cutting up more lines.

***

“So, have you?” Eric repeats.

“No, I haven’t.”

He leans in close enough that you can smell the delicate cologne beneath his collarbone. “Why don’t you try? You are so handsome. I just wanna kiss you.”

You balk. The inescapable truth is that you are alone and painfully in need of human touch and affection. You can’t help but be flattered that someone, regardless of gender, finds you attractive. And so you want to give this to him. Maybe any sort of intimate human contact will satiate the lonesomeness. You need someone to show you that you are enough.

“I’m not gay,” you reiterate.

“I know,” he says. “I’m not saying you are, man. Relax. You’re up for new things. I respect that. I totally get it.”

All that you can hear is the arrhythmic pulse of your heart. “Okay then.”

The kiss that follows is an empty ghost. It is nothing more than a vague physical sensation. Nothing has been cured and no void has been filled, even for a brief moment. You are no more loved, nor accepted, nor whole. As Eric stares at you expecting some reaction, you wish only to throw your head into a solid wall so you may punish yourself before falling unconscious, and for however long that lasts, you will no longer have to deal with this putrid rot feeling that’s begun to climb out of you like a parasite.

This thing is inside you. This thing that breaks your soul and poisons your mind. It is not you, but something that has taken root somewhere within you. You know this. You have to believe this. You have not always been this despicable, miserable monster. You were once a child. You smiled. You were happy—you can’t recall any examples of this but know still that it is true. What has happened to you?

You are struck with the terrifying, drug-induced notion that the only way to feel normal again is to take a knife, plunge it into your abdomen, and dig around your insides with it until you find the invading creature, remove it and kill it.

“What about head?”

The words pull you back out from your own mind. You are not sure if you heard him right. “What?”

Eric’s hand slides down and begins rubbing his cock through his jeans. “How ‘bout you go down on me?”

You are suddenly much more sober. “Nah, man.”

Only bitter anger resonates throughout you. Any lonesomeness and depression is gone. You don’t know where the anger came from, but acknowledge that you would rather feel this rage and self-hate than what you felt before. You’d like to hurt something, set something on fire. There are holes in the ozone layer, islands of plastic trash the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean, rhinos bleeding to death from the stump where their stolen horn used to be, children dying from exhaustion in prison camps at the border. This is the world and you feel every iota of the pain and anger it screams out into the empty universe. All of it has settled and hardened into a coal-black stone at the center of your stomach, and you recognize that you are no longer in control.

Eric takes your hand with the one not busy unzipping his pants, pulling it towards his lap. “C’mon. Just do it. I come fast.”

You rip your hand away from him, the rage causing your breath to quicken. As you go to pull open the car door, you hear a click. Eric has locked the doors.

“Just do it,” he says. “Then I’ll let you out.”

“You’re making a mistake,” you say. “You need to unlock this fucking door.” You are not frightened. You feel nothing but the stone in your stomach.

“Look, man. Don’t make this weird. Just suck my dick.” Eric’s cock is out. His hand reaches around your neck to grab the back of your head. “I won’t tell anyone.”

The first punch lands in the pocket between his right eye and nose. You feel the bridge cave in against your middle knuckle and blood spurts out both nostrils onto his shirt. You’ve forgotten how punching a man in the face feels like punching a brick wall. Human bone is strong, but the nasal bone takes only about seven pounds of force to break. This is why many boxers have noses like a jutting cliff face. The second collides with his jaw, snapping his neck sideways and his head slams into the driver’s side window. Blood begins pooling out of his mouth like an overflowing sink. He spits out a tooth. You grab him by the hair and bash his forehead into the steering wheel. The horn goes off.

“Let me the fuck out,” you tell him.

Eric sits cowering in the corner with his hands up over his face, spitting blood into his lap. He reaches over and unlocks the doors. He says nothing.

You open the car door and step out into the morning air. Before the door can be closed, the car swerves into the street and is soon gone. You look down at your aching left hand and see his blood smeared across your knuckles. You wipe the blood against your shirtsleeve and walk into your apartment. You realize at this moment that you are very tired.

A few days later you describe the event to Donahue.

“If you’re gonna put this in the book,” he tells you, “make him some guy who picked you up hitchhiking or something. No one’s gonna believe that this shit happened to you on two different Uber rides.”

“Yeah, maybe,” you say. “Fuckin’ Uber though, man. They really need to vet their fucking drivers.”