Jack Moody

With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 1

I step out of the car and recoil beneath the morning light. My eyes have difficulty adjusting through the hangover. I’m ten pounds lighter, retching from the stomach pains, and have allowed my beard to grow out for too long, giving me the appearance of a dope sick street kid. I am back to showing my discontentment on the outside for everyone to see. Forever a misery loves company kind of person. I’m not proud of it but it’s a reality. We all have weaknesses.

The bender has lasted a good ten days since she left me, and I have no intention of letting up. I’ve just started getting on a good roll here. I intend to walk into the office smelling of misery and pussy and six different kinds of liquor. This is me giving up. This is my I couldn’t care less if you fired me right now face. Look at that smile. 

Walking along the parking lot towards the door, I wave at the homeless woman screaming and banging her fists against the chain-link fence next to the sidewalk. She comes out mostly at night and screams about the government, her sweatpants dirtied from soiling herself, slapping herself in the face out of a frustration I won’t be able to understand, but today is one of those rare days when she’s out amongst the working class. Like a raccoon so sick with rabies that it’s unable or uncaring enough to return to hiding until the moon comes back.

I catch the eyes of my two bosses through the glass door. Their eyes are wide and frightened. They tear through the entrance before my hand touches the knob and line up side-by-side blocking me from coming in, as if were they not to do so, I would bust through with force. One is Kyle. He doesn’t like me and I don’t like him. He’s thirty, overweight, with a bald patch at the crown of his head that’s been eating away at the black hair but no one will tell him. It looks like a clearing in the middle of the forest. He hands me an envelope and I’m aware of what’s happening before either of them say anything. 

Tom speaks first. “You can’t come inside. Here, walk over this way with us.”

They don’t want me to be seen getting fired through the window. It would be bad for morale. Rebecca is in there working with her ex who has a micro penis, and I know this because she tells anyone who’s willing to listen. Norman is in there pinching Rebecca’s ass every time he gets into a room alone with her. Joseph is in there drinking pinot noir out of a can of La Croix. Alex is sitting at her desk eyeing Joseph in the hopes that she can catch him in the act and snitch her way up the corporate ladder. Harold is in there recovering from last night’s coke binge. Everybody hates everybody else but no one says it until someone leaves the room. But I’m bad for morale.

There’s a long pause. I hold the check in my hand. Two years wasted at this place. The best thing I got out of the experience was fucking two of my coworkers. They know this. They have no real reason to fire me, any more real than why they could fire Matt or Rebecca or Norman or Harold or Alex. They just don’t like me. I know this. They fire people when they don’t like them. They don’t like me because I don’t like them.

“Look,” Tom continues, “we all knew this was a long time coming. You haven’t been pulling your weight for months. You come in late and sulk around and you ruin the mood of the office.”

What else, Tom? What else? Tell me. Tell me you smell the pussy. Tell me you smell the liquor on my breath.

“And it’s time for you to move on. I don’t want you making a scene, and we need you off the property or we’ll call the police.”

Kyle hides behind Tom’s wide frame. Tom is one of those golden boys: Handsome, built, college-educated, played football on scholarship, got right out of school and started his own business. Fucks his girlfriend who looks like a Barbie doll until you get her face wet. I’ve suspected that he used to fuck Riley before me. We stopped getting along after he found out I was dating her. I’d fuck his girlfriend for the sake of equilibrium but she’s not my type.

“Is there anything you wanna tell us?” Kyle pipes up.

“No,” I say. “You made your decision already. I’m not begging for anything.”

I begin to turn around. 

“Oh wait,” Kyle says, “you need to sign this.” He hands me a clipboard and a pen. On the clipboard are some words about me. Underneath the words is a line for my signature. “It’s just to state that we lawfully terminated you and you got your last check.”

“Of course,” I say. I sign and hand it back with my signature: Fuck you. “Hope that works.” 

I spit on the ground—an unsatisfying dry glob of viscous white from the dehydration—and walk away back down the parking lot towards my car. I already know what I’m going to do. 

Chaos. I want chaos. Give me chaos.

“Henry, wait!” Rebecca’s voice stops me as I’m getting into the front seat. She comes running up and pauses before speaking again. “What happened?”

“Fired,” I say. “Got the boot. Terminated. Voted off the island.” The heat is getting to me. I begin to feel uncomfortable standing under the sun like this. My legs feel like soon they won’t be able to hold up my weight any longer.

“They can’t do this,” she says. She seems visibly hurt. “This is bullshit.”

“Fuck ‘em.”

“Please don’t go drink.”

“Of course I’m gonna go drink. I’ve been broken up with, blocked and fired all in the same flaming shit pile of a week and change, this is the prime example of when someone should go drink.”

“Henry, it’s ten in the morning.”

“Good, then I’m getting a head start.”

“This is just gonna make things even worse. Think about the morning.”

“You don’t get it,” I say. “I’ve got nothing. I’m fucked. I’m sure in a few days I’ll have some clarity and see that things will be fine and I’ve got something to live for but right now I’ve got nothing. And maybe things won’t be fine. Maybe this is it. If I’m ruining my life then let me enjoy it for a minute. I don’t care anymore.”

“Don’t give me that shit,” she says. She’s getting angry. Her face grows narrow. “You’ve been enjoying this the whole time. You like destroying your life. You see that, right? You’re not as big of an asshole as you think you are, but for some reason you keep trying to live up to how you see yourself. Get better. Stop doing this.”

I step back into the car and turn the ignition. “You got a cigarette?”

Rebecca ignores me. “I’m gonna call you after work, okay? Be safe. I’m serious.”


Stupid piece of shit idiot you don’t deserve her you deserved to get broken up with you deserved to be fired you deserve to hurt yourself you’re broken you’re unlovable everyone hates you everyone should hate you do it do it do it hit the car hit that car faster you pussy do it no one will ever love you you’ll destroy everything you ever touch your brain is broken drink until you’re sick then people will see you’re sorry punish yourself until people know you’re in pain I hate you.

The beauty of dive bars is that they remain dark no matter what time of day it is. I sit down in the corner beside two older women. One recognizes me. She’s the mother of a girl I slept with. She doesn’t know that though; she thinks I’m gay. I can’t remember why she thinks that but I’m not interested enough to clear it up. Telling her I fucked her daughter might do it, but again, this doesn’t seem like the time.

“Hey, it’s you…Harry!” There are lipstick stains on her teeth. She drinks the same beer I always see her drink. She comes here every day.

“Henry,” I say. “Yes.”

“We’re celebrating!” She points to the bartender, a short, balding man with discolored teeth. “Get Harry whatever he wants. I’m not dying!”

The whiskey shot lands in front of me and I drink it before speaking. “We’re all dying. Don’t fool yourself.”

“No!” she shouts. “I got the blood results back, I’m not gonna die!”

The woman next to her coughs up something onto her sleeve, wipes it underneath the bar and slams her hand down. “Well, goddamn! Margaret you dumb slut, I told you it’d be alright!”

“I know, I know! I’m gonna be okay!” She smiles wide, revealing the receding gum line that’s turning black from age and cigarettes. “Today is gonna be a great day! Another one for Harry and Tammy!”

Hurt yourself. Drink until you hurt yourself.

Another one goes down. I order a third. The inside of my head begins to swim. I drink again and I’m reminded that I no longer have a source of income. I am unemployed. My thirty-one year-old with the fifty grand a year and the 401k and the fear of intimacy is gone. There is no rope to climb out of this.

I step outside and the contrast between the darkness of the bar and the light of the outside world strikes me behind the eyes, like looking at the reflection of the sun on a piece of metal. I sit down next to the soup can people use for an ashtray and look for her number. It stares at me for a long time before I dial *67 and call. Six rings come. They are long and painful and with each pause my breastplate dislodges itself farther away from my chest until all that exists is the heavy, fluttering heartbeat. It bounces against the inside of my body like a bullet in an empty steel room. Then the familiar robotic voice again. Leave a message after the beep.

“Hi, Riley. Yeah. It’s Henry. I know you hate me and you never wanna see me again but I just got fired and I need that money you owe me. So unblock me and call me back. Or don’t. Just send the money in some other way that doesn’t require communication. PayPal. Venmo—well I don’t have that one. Send a carrier pigeon with a check if you want. I don’t care. Anyway. I’m gonna stop talking now. Bye.”

Unsatisfied with the last message, I call once more to clear up any confusion that may get in the way of me getting my money. It doesn’t ring this time. The number you are trying to reach is unavailable, says the robot. A young couple walks past me with their child. She wears a pink dress and has a hairband with Minnie Mouse ears on it. She holds a balloon in her right hand and her father’s index finger in the other. The mother smiles at me when she sees me looking at them. I get up and go back inside the bar.

The only problem is that if I’m not going fast enough or I hit the tree at the wrong angle, I may survive and wake up as a quadriplegic. Or brain dead. Then what? You’re depressed and crippled. Or if you kill someone on accident while you’re on your way over the cliff. Then you wake up depressed, crippled, and handcuffed to a hospital bed. Then you’re really fucked. Can quadriplegics get prison time? Where do they go? Are they let loose into the general population like everyone else? Do vegetables get prison time? Or is that a free pass if you go into a coma after whatever crime you commit? Someone must know this shit.

“What’re you thinking about over there?” says Margaret.

“Nothing.” I drink down the next shot. I’ve lost count at this point. The world is blurry though. It’s easier to find the humor in dark things now. That’s always a sign. You get that warm fuzzy feeling when you think about punishing yourself. That’s another sign.

“What happened to you, man? You look too sad for someone your age. You’re not supposed to look like that for at least another…twenty years. You’ll give yourself wrinkles.”

I look at myself in the mirror. I hate you.

My phone starts vibrating inside my pocket, filling the space where a proper answer would have had to go. There you are. Right above the bottles, under the clock you can’t read any longer, all lit up in neon. Nothing’s changed. What’re you going to do about it?

“Hey! Are you gonna get that, Harry?”

Kill yourself or run away and do something with your life or go to rehab. Get another job. Do anything. As long as it’s not nothing. You can’t sit here and do nothing. You did nothing for three years and you got a book out of it and now you need to change. Nobody wants to read another book—

“It’s buzzing, man! Don’t you hear that?”

Nobody wants to read another book about a guy who never did anything with his life. You’re writing the same goddamn story over again—you see that, right? This isn’t an option any longer. You’ve lost all the ties that were keeping you here. Either kill yourself or—

“Hey, Harry!”


I answer the phone without looking at who’s calling. I don’t recognize her voice at first. Through the drunk and poor cell service her words come out garbled and masked in static. “Henry. Helloooo. Henry?”

“Yeah, Rebecca.”

“How are you?”

“I’m good. Margaret isn’t dying. We’re all good.”

“Where are you?”

“Say hi to Tom and Kyle for me.”

“Are you at a bar?”

“Tell them fuck you for me. Tell Tom I fucked Riley better. Make sure to tell him that.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Did you know that? Tom fucked Riley and so he doesn’t like me because of her. He thinks he can fire people for being Eskimo brothers but you can’t do that, Rebecca. We live in a society. We have laws. We have laws to maintain order, Rebecca.”

“Jesus, Henry. You’re drunk.”


“I’m coming to get you in an hour.”


“Yes I am. You’ve been getting drunk at the Sparrow for four hours. You’re gonna come with me and help me run errands.”

“Shit. Has it been that long?” I look up at the clock with one eye closed. The hands’ doppelgangers fall back into themselves and come back into focus. “Well, how ‘bout that? You’re right. I guess time flies when you’re having fun!” I hold up my hand over the bar until the bartender high-fives me. “Hear that? I’m making friends, Rebecca. Companionship. Don’t worry about me. I’m fuckin’ aces, baby.”

“I’m gonna be outside in one hour. Answer the phone when I call.”

“Yes ma’am.” I lean in towards Margaret, pointing at my phone with one hand over the speaker, and whisper: “She’s mad at me.”

“Bye, Henry.”

“See ya later, home-wrecker.”


I hang up and order another drink.

Could you even find a gun? You could ask James, I’m sure he’d love to help you out with that. His was nice too. But what about those stories you hear about the guys who aim a centimeter off and blow out a chunk of the brain but survive to be disfigured freaks. Or you miss entirely and your jaw explodes. Shelve that one for now. You have Ativan. How many Ativan does it take? There’s no way they gave you enough, they’re not stupid. But what if you drank enough with what you have? Like a lot. Like a fifth. That would have to do it. I’ve heard pills is the most painful way to go though. But that’s what you’re looking for, aren’t you? If you wanna be hurt so bad. Are you a pussy now too?

“During couples therapy?” says the bartender. “That’s heartless, man.”

I clap and throw my hands out by my sides. “I FUCKING KNOW, RIGHT? It’s not just me—she’s a bitch, am I not alone in this?”

Nods from the group.

“Tell me at least you didn’t have to pay for the session,” Tammy cuts in.

I look down at my drink and smile with my teeth, embarrassed. The room erupts. “AW MAN, C’MON.”

“I think I’m the only person in history that had to pay fifty bucks to get dumped.”

“Jeeeesus, Harry,” says Margaret. “Well, we know why she left you then…you got no spine!”

The room erupts again. 


Tammy reaches over Margaret to place her hand on my shoulder, knocking over an empty glass on the way. “Look at it this way, kid: You got plenty more years to mess up. Best to get ‘em all outta the way while you’re young.”

“Okay, okay, I’m not done though.” I shoot down the whiskey, click my tongue to diminish the burn. “And…and! Wait for it…I got fired today!”

The group emits a long collective groan.

I’m laughing now, struggling to get out the words. “And—hahaha—and! The girl who destroyed it all is coming to get me right now! I’m friends with the home-wrecker! Hahaha. The girl who tore apart my relationship still has her dirty home-wrecking claws in me! I can’t even come while I’m fucking her unless I think about Riley! Ha!…ha.”

The laughs slow down. The bartender’s eyes raise and he bares his teeth in an awkward grimace. Tammy pats my back. Margaret drinks from her beer until it empties.

Reality washes over me and I slump forward. “Shit,” I say. “There’s a real fine line between funny and depressing.”

There’s a quiet pause, then the bartender comes over with another full shot. Some of it spills over the glass when it touches the counter. “Hey man, you’re lucky. You know why? You’re free! You can do whatever the fuck you want! My girlfriend won’t let me do anything as long as she’s around. It’s a prison. I can’t smoke, I can’t drink, we can’t fuck unless the lights are off—and even that’s once a week at the most. She’s got my balls. But you know what? Right now we’re here! We’re off the hook. I come to work and I play country music—”

Margaret interrupts: “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, Bill.”

“…I play COUNTRY MUSIC”—the bartender turns up the volume. Hank Williams fills out the corners of the room until his voice echoes—“I smoke as many cigarettes as I want, and I get to talk to people like you. While we’re here, there’s no worries in the world. What’s her name?”

“Riley,” I say.

“Fuck Riley!” he shouts. “Drink that and forget about it. It’s that easy.”

I take the shot. I sit in the burn and follow the pain as it slithers down the center of my body. I try to stay with the pain for as long as it exists. The bartender is wrong. We aren’t free. We’re more trapped than most people. It’s just easier for us than most to forget that fact.

My phone is vibrating again. It’s too soon to be Rebecca already. I take it out of my pocket and on the screen reads in big, capital letters: UNKNOWN CALLER. I stare at the screen. This should be sending a stabbing panic up through my stomach. My pupils should be dilating. My palms should be sweating. My face should be going pale. Unknown caller means someone found me. It means someone wants to kill me. It means there’s a death threat on the other side of this conversation. It means my life is about to be torn apart. My paranoia and delusions should be sending my body into shock. But it doesn’t. I don’t care anymore. Come kill me. Great timing. Bring it the fuck on.

I answer the phone. “What the fuck do you want?”

A long, uncomfortable pause drowns the space where my paranoia should go.

“Um. I—uh. This is Henry Gallagher…correct?” The voice lilts to a warm chirp to disarm my aggression, then back to a weathered growl like sand paper against rock, the way a man talks to another man in a professional setting.

“How do you know that?” I say. “Look, you know where I am: The motherfucking Guilty Sparrow like always, so come down and put one right between the eyes, big guy. I fuckin’ dare you. Give it to me, baby. One-way ticket to Dead Town, population: HENRY. Let’s do this.”

“What are you talking about?”

I look around and realize everyone is staring at me, so I get up and walk outside. When the sun hits I suppress the vomit at the back of my throat. “Alright…who is this?”

“Ahem…this is David West, editor for Lighthouse Publishing. You sent us a manuscript a few months back; we apologize for the delay in getting back to you. …You’re the author of The Skipping Record Waltz, correct?”

I stare out at the row of buildings in front of me. People go in and out with bags in their hands, children on their arms. Dogs are tied up and left at streetlights while their owners buy things they don’t need. I don’t understand what’s happening. Was Lost Weekend real? Can you drink yourself into insanity? Could I reach out and touch them if I wanted, or would this all fall away into the padded white wall of an institution? 

“Yes, I wrote that,” I say. “Who did you say you were?”

“David West, editor for Lighthouse Publishing. Look, Henry—can I call you Henry?”

“Sure, Dave.”

“Great. Henry, I’m gonna cut to the chase: We’ve read your manuscript, and have decided to offer you a publishing contract.”

“You’re fucking with me.”

“No, I’m not…joking with you. We’d like to publish your book. We’ll have The Skipping Record Waltz in major bookstores across the country, in libraries, military bases; audiobook is another option, along with the opportunity for book signings if that’s something you’re open to. We’ll print, market and sell your book. You’ll get a twenty-five percent royalty rate for all books sold, which will go up to thirty percent once…”

I begin to realize that this is an important phone call. I’m wasted for one of the most important phone calls of my life. The voice on the other line drifts away behind a shrill ringing in my ears, but the ringing doesn’t hurt. It’s not alarming. It’s like violins. Thousands of violins playing inside my head. I feel a smile rising up across my face. I feel like screaming, crying, laughing, dancing, singing—anything other than melancholy numbness. I feel present again. It’s like the blood in my body has remembered that at some point it stopped flowing, and with one burst of electric life, all at once every vein has erupted with vibrancy and returned to its forgotten purpose, like watching the power come back on in a major city after a blackout.

“Hello? Henry? Does that all sound good to you?”

“Yes, yeah,” I say. “That sounds fine.”

“Great,” David says. “I’ll send you over the contract by Wednesday and once you sign we’ll get started. What kind of work do you do?”

“Nothing,” I say.

“Oh. For how long?”

“A couple hours.”

“Well. I hope this turns that around for you. Congratulations, Henry. I’ll be in touch.”

“See ya, Dave. Sorry for the murder stuff.”

The call ends. I’m shaking. I sit in the sun for a while, my mouth hanging open. This is one of the best and worst days of my life. This calls for celebration.

I burst through the door and sit back down in the corner. The reflection in the mirror is grinning a big fat stupid grin. Everyone is looking at the reflection in the mirror grinning his big fat stupid grin.

“Well,” says Margaret, “who’s coming to kill you?”

“No one, Marge,” I tell her. “No one is. I’m getting published.”

“I don’t know what that means,” she says.

“I’m getting published,” I say again. The words inflate and barely fit out my mouth as I say them. They’re the best three words I’ve ever spoken. “I’m getting my book published.”

“Book?” says the bartender. “I didn’t know you wrote.”

“I’M GETTING…MY FUCKING BOOK PUBLISHED.” I can’t contain the weight and size of the words any longer. They crawl out of me like a great beast. “FUCK THAT JOB! FUCK RILEY! I’M A PUBLISHED FUCKING AUTHOR.”

“Wow, that’s something,” says Tammy. “Y’know, I just love that Stephen King fella. Now that’s a writer, I’ll tell ya.”

I ignore her. My body is on fire. This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m twenty-four and this is the happiest moment of my life.


We spend the next half hour drinking and laughing and slapping each other on the back because we’re drunk and I’m getting published and we’re friends now. Even Bill sneaks a Jell-O shot once he’s out of view of the camera.

Then it happens. Like a black wave of sewage water it strikes the back of my muddled head and pierces through the flash of contentment. The elated lightness floating up through my chest is pushed down, and cobwebs are rebuilt in the darkness that replaces it. The universe gave me thirty minutes. And now I am back. While the people around me laugh and spill their drinks, my attention is brought back to the face in the mirror. 

Look at you. This won’t work out. This won’t change a thing. You will still find something to hate yourself for. You are still you. No matter what you accomplish, no matter whom you trick into loving you, you know who are you. None of it changes who you are. You are still broken.

I am sinking further now—no—spinning, as if I’m attached to the end of a great big drill, and I’m relentlessly being ground into the hard earth until the sunlight is barely peaking behind the dirt and soil and worms, and there holding the drill, looming above me, is God, and at that moment I become completely submerged, until I can no longer draw breath, until it’s all I see. And I am left there, a corroded nail serving no purpose but to infect the roots of the plants above me with my rust.

The one thing that I have wanted my entire life, the single accomplishment that I had always told myself would save me from the pit I’ve nothing else but to dig deeper, what I told myself would finally make me happy, has happened. And I am still miserable. The greatest thing I have ever done in my entire life made me happy for thirty goddamn minutes.

My head sinks back into the drink in front of me. The smile fades. The world once more turns eight shades darker. I no longer have something to celebrate. I have yet another tragedy to drown in liquor.

My phone rings. Rebecca is here.

I close my tab, stumble out across the sun-glinted street and collapse into the passenger seat. Rebecca is there staring at me, trying to gauge at what level of inebriation I currently reside.

“You have fun?”

“Yes,” I say. “I made friends.”

“You told me.”

“Good, I’m glad. Let’s get a bottle.”

Rebecca turns off the corner, heading for the freeway. “No. Not until we go to the mall so I can return some clothes. Today you get to practice self-restraint.”

“Clothes?” I shout. “CLOTHES? This is no time to return CLOTHES!”

“It is for me,” she says. “And obviously I can’t leave you alone.”

“I’m not a child,” I mutter, picking at some lint stuck to the collar of my shirt. It’s not until this moment that I realize I’m still wearing my uniform.

“I didn’t say you were.” She slaps my shoulder. “Now put on your seatbelt.”


With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 1
With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 2
With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 3

James Diaz

The Way We Know Things

Your eyes adjust, little one
this cradle is a highway 

your mother knows 
the winding 
of these roads
and the soft kill 
of the fatherland

a poisoned heart

breaking bread
on the asphalt 
behind Pete’s 
abandoned Motel

Prairie Dallas prays for mercy 
in an empty bathtub
what feels like a dark redemption 
coursing through her veins

I don’t regret it
she says to the ceiling 

her boy is playing in the headlights
of a stranger’s car 
by the road to nowhere 

wind blows 
through a paper bag world
and the evening news says 
brighter days are ahead

most of us 
have to work a little harder 
for that kinda light.

damion snow

jack and his french gurl

whistle winds wash
over the meadow
the grass tall
and whipping

there are borage flowers
that sprout wild
in patches of blue
like little islands
in an ocean of green

her eyes are agile
and hazel

they remind me of dead leaves

naked and mounted
she pushes herself
into me, holding her breasts
the nipples a heathered pink
and her skin soft and

i eject
my seed
the milky
mass festering
in her

and the leaking blood
down her thighs
like a creek

the red stains as
we lay adjacent
on the earth

it becomes like
a tattoo, to remember
the pain and the shame

Paul Tanner


never got 
the psycho thing.

I get the thrill 
of control and domination 
in the bedroom, yeah

but not to the extent of 
nonconsenting sexual violence
and/or murder. 

truth be told,
I don’t see what the ego boost is:
the human 
is a stupid 
soft bag of organs.
not exactly hard prey.
we’ve been killing 
and repressing each other 
for centuries
because it’s easy.
we’re pretty low hanging fruit if you ask me. 

so no,
I don’t kill people 
because I think 
it makes me special. 

I just do it
to shut them up,
like any other normal person.

Casey Renee Kiser

+ Applause +

I wanted to disappear, with him
I think he wanted that too, sometimes
But mostly, he just wanted my rent

We were starting to work together
on this stage of life…

I had the magic and he had the act
He had the hat of tricks
I had the white rabbit fix

When he sawed me in half, ha–
the audience roared for the illusion
but I will forever be reaching

for myself

Anthony Dirk Ray

Here’s to New Friends

Harold was planning on making homemade bread, which he loved to do, but was about a cup short of flour. He used a recipe that he found online with 298 reviews, with an average of 4.9 stars. The loaves had always turned out well for him, so there was no need to deviate from this tried, tested and true recipe.

Harold would normally ask his neighbor Molly, but he knew that she was out of town at her mother’s for the weekend. His only other option was the new neighbor Gary. Everyone in the neighborhood knew that Gary was on the sex offender’s list, because they were notified when he moved in, but no one knew exactly why he was on said list. 

Harold wasn’t one to judge, and believed that everyone needed a second chance. He wasn’t going to pass judgment on someone that made a mistake in the past. Harold thought to himself that it was more than likely a huge misunderstanding between an old girlfriend or something, with only their word of events taken into account. 

Harold locked the door behind him and walked over to Gary’s. As he approached the porch, he recognized the colorful day lilies and camellias in the front flower bed. Harold thought to himself that Gary had extremely good taste and was a master of color coordination. The swing on the porch, beside an elephant ear plant in a large pot, gave it a homey feel. Harold thought that Gary just might be his new friend. 

He opened the screen door and knocked. 

“Just a second. I’m coming,” Harold heard from inside. 

He then heard footsteps approaching, and the door opened. 

“Well, Hello. Can I help you?”

“Hi, I’m your neighbor Harold. I live in the blue ranch style house right next door.”

“Oh, yes. I’ve seen you out in your front yard weeding your flower beds. My name is Gary, but you probably already know that.”

“Nice to meet you Gary. I see you have some beautiful flowers yourself there.”

“Thank you very much. I have a young Latino man at the market that has been a total godsend. He has taught me so much.”

“Well, the way you have them arranged is just brilliant. I may get your assistance someday if that’s okay.”

“Of course. I’ll do what I can. Lord knows, I need all the friends I can get. It’s been really trying lately, but thankfully, all of that legal stuff is behind me.”

“Well, that’s good. I can’t imagine how hard it must be.”

“Believe me, you just don’t know. What brings you over?”

“Goodness, my apologies. I am about to make some bread, and unfortunately, I am a hair short on flour. Would you happen to have a little to spare?”

“Of course. I believe I can scrounge some up. Come on in.”

Harold followed Gary into his living room. It was so pristine and organized. The tidiness almost made Harold jealous. There was absolutely no clutter, with seemingly everything in its place.

“Wow, you keep a spotless home,” Harold said, as he marveled at the immaculate neatness that surrounded him. 

“Thanks. It’s mainly just me in here for the most part. I’ll have guests in here on occasion, but it’s extremely rare. Let me get that flour. Make yourself at home. Would you like something to drink?”

“That would be nice. What do you have?”

“I have water and a few sodas, but I also have some imported beer and a great wine selection.”

“Well, if you’ll have a glass too, I’d love some wine.”

“I couldn’t think of a better time to open a bottle than right now with my new friend. Which do you prefer, red or white? I have a luxurious Malbec from Argentina that’s a must if you like reds.”

“That sounds tremendous. I love reds.”

“Excellent. I’ll be right back. I keep the wine in my basement.”

Gary took out a set of keys and unlocked a padlock on a door near the hallway. Harold thought that it was a little strange to have the door locked with a padlock, but he just assumed that he had an expensive wine collection, and possibly other valuables down there. Harold just sat on the couch and looked around, still in awe of the uniformity of everything. 

Gary was gone for about 5 minutes when Harold stood and walked near the door. He thought he heard Gary talking, mixed with other muffled noises. He couldn’t make out the sounds clearly, but they closely resembled a rustling mixed with whispers. This sparked his curiosity.

Harold took a few steps down and called for Gary. There was no answer, and the mysterious sounds suddenly stopped. He descended a few more steps down and noticed what looked like cage material. Only the bottom portion of the cage-like structure could be seen, but Harold swore that he saw what appeared to be feet. 

“Gary. Are you okay?” Harold inquired in a slightly cracked tone.

“Yes, I’m here. I decided to grab two bottles instead. I have them right here.” Gary said, as he came around the corner and swiftly up the stairs, as if to usher Harold back up. 

Once both were out of the stairwell, Gary shut the door and went to the kitchen to open the wine. Harold could hear Gary opening the bottles and getting down glasses. He was confused, yet intrigued by the previous events. Harold wondered what the strange sounds were, why Gary was talking, and what exactly that was that he had seen. 

“You are going to absolutely love this Malbec,” Gary said, as he entered the room and handed Harold a glass.

Harold swirled, sniffed, and sipped the red.

“Wow, you weren’t kidding. This is spectacular.”

Gary put on some light jazz, and the two sat enjoying their drinks. They made small talk about the neighbors that lived close by, the local farmer’s market, and the different cafes in town. Both realized that each were vegans, and the conversation flowed effortlessly between the two. 

Halfway through the second bottle, Harold got up the nerve to ask about what he had heard and seen earlier. 

“Gary, what were those sounds that I heard from your basement? I swore that I saw what looked to be feet behind cages. What was that?”

Gary shrugged, shook his head from side to side, grinned, and in a nonchalant tone said,

“Oh, don’t mind them. That’s just my suffering suckboy stash.”

Harold took a long pull from his wine glass, placed it on the table, and casually made his way down the stairs to the basement. 

J.J. Campbell

a little hole in the carpet

it’s the sound of coltrane
on a rainy evening
a glass of wine spilled
on the floor
yet another bent spoon
burning a little hole
in the carpet
you don’t think of 
yourself as a junkie
you are a hip cat
from another planet
with a bit of soul
and still a little class
a top hat given to 
you from the last 
homeless man you 
stole cigarettes from
you like to tell that 
story as a game of 
poker among old 
even aliens believe in
honor among thieves
but as the sound builds
on that old record player
the thirst arrives yet again
you still believe in redemption,
love and whatever it takes to 
get a piece of ass these days
and you’ll gladly get back to 
that discussion as soon as you 
find a decent looking needle

J.J. Campbell

my sphere of thinking these days

i can’t remember the 
last time i looked into 
the eyes of a woman
i can’t remember what
true love, real love
fuck, even fake love
feels like anymore
and they tell me i still
have plenty to live for
that suicide should be
nowhere in my sphere 
of thinking these days
a fucking pandemic
a presidential election
a country fading into
a totalitarian state
all the circumstances
that say isn’t this
just fucking grand
what a life
all my heroes tasted 
at least one barrel
in their lives
my patience only
has so much thread
left on the tires

J.J. Campbell

a major accomplishment

another day 
avoiding death
some people think
of such a day as a 
major accomplishment
i applaud those people
i’m not one of them
death has been at the
front of my mind for
over thirty-five years
countless people have
tried to help
therapists, friends,
lovers, family,
jack daniels,
jim beam,
even a few fine 
fellows from mexico 
tried their hardest 
a few years ago
not everyone gets
the  picket fence
and trophy wife
my father always told
me there would always
be a need for people to
dig ditches and graves
he always claimed
he knew something
I didn’t

Otto Burnwell

Accidentally Shot for a Deer

You stare at your fiancé kneeling between your legs. She looks up at you, your crank in her hand, her lips wet, her lipstick not quite rubbed away.

You’d asked her a question you meant for a compliment. The kind of nonsense question you might blurt out when a woman has you so close to a climax that unruly words fly out of your mouth.

Now you wish you hadn’t. You were not prepared for her answer that would make you an accessory-after-the-fact to murder.

You were tense. She asked if it was pre-wedding jitters. You let her think that was it. So, she led you to the bathroom, sat you on her mom’s vanity stool, and went to work making magic with her mouth.

It didn’t take long to melt the tension, because she is spectacular. Her head bobbing, coming down left, lifting, coming down right, taking you all the way in. Her nose brushes against the skin of your belly. It’s somehow more intimate and immediate than her tongue on your balls. She had you breathing harder, making that long, elastic moan that let her know how fine a time you were having, and what a great job she was doing.

Loosened up like that, the question popped out of you.

“How did you get to be so good at this?”

It was unintended, but it was not a totally random question. You did mean it to be a compliment. For as long as you two have been together, you often wondered how she acquired such a delightful skill.

But last night you had all the more reason to wonder how she achieved such oral artistry.

Some guys from her graduating class got together and hauled you off to the Horseman out on Division Road for a pre-wedding boozer. It didn’t take many drinks before they got around to celebrating your fiancé’s magnificent mouth. They all had opinions on what you could expect if you lived long enough to reach your honeymoon, but they denied any personal experience to back it up.

You played the good sport, went along with the joking. She’s allowed to have a past. As long as it stays in the past.

But one thing you did notice was the way they denied any first-hand knowledge of her talent seemed less about saving your feelings and more about convincing each other.

The question remained at the forefront of your mind this morning. It kept you keyed up, which you tried passing off as those pre-wedding jitters. Which led your fiancé to prevent you getting cold feet by hauling you aside and sucking you off. The question, percolating in your head, popped free when your brain was otherwise engaged.

You didn’t really want an answer. You figured she would hum an appreciative “mm-hmm” that would buzz you through her lips.

But she didn’t. She sat back on her heels, still holding your pecker, rubbing her thumb over the tip.

“Do you really want to know?” she asked, and you said, “what?” because your brain wasn’t taking messages at the time as you savored how your entire nervous system melted into a hot, liquid state.

“Do you really want to know?” she repeated, and now you floated up through the fog of fellatio to focus on what she was saying.

“How I got to be so good,” she said. “At this,” she added, waggling your pecker like a sock.

“Sure,” you said. Because you did. Even before the guys last night, you would let yourself drift into fantasies about how she mastered the mechanics of oral sex. You would imagine her studying the geography of the penis in a Biology class full of girls. Or practicing on toys and vegetables with her girlfriends at slumber parties. Or fumbling with the real thing on one or more of those guys from last night.

“Did somebody say something?”


“Last night?”

“Last night? No. Nothing special.”

“What did they say?”

“They talked about a lot of things.” You told her you couldn’t recall all that much, there was so much to drink, but you were deflating in her grip, an inverse Pinocchio, shrinking the more you lied.

She leaned forward, mouthing you a little bit more, as you tried to conjure some great distractor to put her back on track.

“All I meant,” you said, “was how good you are. Like you studied.” You don’t know when to shut up when you’re nervous, or embarrassed, or lying. With your dick between the teeth of a woman you know can get really angry. Whose years of orthodontia would ensure a clean bite-through if she decides to take your balls off.

“I’ll tell you,” she says, “since you asked. But you promise not to freak out?”

“Freak out?”

“I just don’t want you freaking out.”

So you prepared yourself to hear her tell you it was every one of those guys. Like a lending library of dicks checked out to take home and practice.


You held your breath.


Instead, she starts off by telling you her nickname from back then. Two-by-four. It made her insecure having a younger sister already wearing a full bra, and herself still flatter than a baloney sandwich. It frustrated her, making her feel insecure. She mentioned it to Doc who lived next door. A friend of the family. Not a doctor doctor, but an assistant professor at the community college. A teacher tutoring her in math. He was way older, not someone she thought twice about. She felt safe mentioning it to him, treating it like a joke. After a few times, he told her a trick he knew that was guaranteed to help girls fill out. Very scientific, he said. Kind of like a jump-start to wake up the reproductive system. Guaranteed safe, he told her. One hundred percent natural ingredients. You might not like the taste at first, he told her, but it only works if you swallow.

Of course, she wanted to believe him. He taught college. Read books and stuff. He was way smart. It made a kind of sense. She thought it worth a try.

“You can learn a lot, she said, from a horny guy who lives alone.”

“Shit.” The thought of your fiancé’s mouth wrapped around some old guy’s donk was creepy. That seemed worse than a bunch of kids her own age experimenting on each other.

“Yes.” She flicked you with her fingernail, but it was siesta time for Mr. Pony.


“Is he going to be at the wedding,” you asked, because you already hate the smirk on his face as you two face each other in the receiving line after the ceremony.

“No,” she said.


“He’s dead.”


“Out hunting with Daddy and Uncle Peck. Accidentally shot for a deer.”

You were relieved. You won’t have to look the guy in the eye and see a merry little twinkle of mischief, seeing himself as some kind of old stud, in her mouth long before you were. You said out loud, “Sorry to hear,” but not really. Then it registered.

“Shot? Hunting with your Dad and your uncle?”


“An accident?”

“Everybody says so. I wasn’t the first one he ‘helped,’” she air-quotes with her free hand.


“You should count yourself lucky,” she says.


“I couldn’t get near anyone else after that.” She gives you a long lick.

“But an accident?” you repeat, like you may have to get out a dictionary and read the definition to her to be certain you both mean the same thing.

“Says it on the coroner’s report. Accidentally shot for a deer. You can go look it up if you want. Just—”


“Don’t mention it to Mom. And do not go hunting with Daddy and Uncle Peck until after we’re married.”

You tense up all over again, because her father’s mentioned to you how it might be a good time to get some shooting in.

You’ve gone soft. You’re worse than soft. A penis made of cotton. If a negative erection is possible that’s what you’ve got. You may never be hard ever again. She keeps thumbing your dick like there might yet be life in it. She nips at you with her lips tucked over her teeth, sucking as she pulls it out, making that popping sound.

She stretches your pecker like a chew toy. “You know I’m kidding, right?”

You push out a chuff that you hope passes for a chuckle. You try to focus on your fiancé, the way she’s swallowing you, and massaging the taut cords of your thighs as you spread to give her room.

You tense up again and lift your head to look her in the eye. “Which part were you kidding about?”

She doesn’t say, her mouth full. She just gives a shrug and a throaty chirp dismissing your question.

Then, just as you’re hoping to ease back into a world-class blow job to take your mind off your future father- and uncle-in-law maybe killing the guy who taught your fiancé such stellar tricks with that tongue of hers, she adds—

“Hey? You think when they got Doc out there, it was like that scene? From that movie? You know? Like in Deliverance?”