Benjamin Blake

Summer Rain

I lost track of the time
The days bleed into one
And the burning sidewalks
Are all I know now

Local liquor store smile
Some small excitement
Is better than none
And grows a little more
Each and every time

They venture out in the summer
With children and small dogs
Millefleur dresses
That leave you dreaming
Of the skin that hides beneath

A torrential downpour
Unexpected and sudden
Soaked passersby to the bone
And I laughed
From the beneath the cover
Of the bridge

Jon Bennet

Scaling Down

When you’re a fat man
every meal
is a sin

I walk past a restaurant
and someone is eating
chicken and waffles
or fettucine alfredo
and they’re thin!

How is it possible?
My knees are splitting
like old oak
I can’t breathe
without the aid
of pumps and hoses

I go to the doctor
and stand on the scale

“Doctor, Jesus, look!” I say
and I tear at my clothes
and rip at my hair
such is my grief

But my doctor is wise,
“Stay away from scales,”
he says,
“you’ll live longer.”

Rodney Gardner

Dummy

Duplication through submission
Numbers tallied through a gem between her legs
Fruition may come through your probing
Perverted penetration and perforation
Subverted and diverted
You, the present resident is bent
Tortured and incorrect

Greetings to you
Abundant redundant fuck
Today is your moment
The armless plastic monarch
Shares her gift with you
A dummy goddess in true beauty
We tolerate no disrespect

Monorchid plastic outside
The soft interior bestows transfiguration
Your essence drains through your toes
New version conclusive
No longer elusive
Repellant
Foul
Waste

David Boski

droughts & dry spells

usually the apologies
become meaningless—
I’ve said sorry so
many times now
even I have forgotten
what I’m apologizing for
but I guess
it’s for not feeling
normal enough
to sustain
a healthy relationship
for a prolonged
period of time—
for not adapting
and welcoming
another human being
with the love needed
to do so
and for always
thinking the grass
has to be greener
on the other side
only to realize
that a drought
is inevitable—
the dry spells
are what
make
us
thirsty.

A.R. Braun

Dark Web

You’re not a badass if you’re not on the black market.

That’s what I used to believe. Now I know you’re a damned fool if you go anywhere near the dark web. It goes beyond unsafe. It’ll destroy you.

I’ve always considered myself a tough guy. Being named Ajax didn’t hurt. I played football in high school and college, have always been in to the hippest-but-kickass music—gangsta rap and R&B—and I make good money. I started my “Buyer Beware” paid blog with over a million subscribers, for I travel the world to patronize ‘em all. That’s my tattoo, instead of kill ‘em all. I always ride the roller coaster at the fair, have jumped out of an airplane, as well as dove off some of the highest cliffs above water in the world. I never turn down a fight—and I’ve gotten really fucked-up a couple of times; you can’t win them all unless you’re Steven Seagal—and I’ve never backed down from asking a woman out, especially if my buddies dared me to. That was before I got married. I like to joke that she’s a ball and chain, but I love her. She’s as crazy as me and does many of the bucket-list activities alongside yours truly. Speaking of said list, I’m halfway through it. I’m not the type to brag, it’s not my style, but I’ve engaged in porn on skates. Therefore, the dark web was just another hoop to jump through.

Or so I thought.

You Tube videos showed me the way. I purchased a VPN, inexpensive and well worth it, to hide my IP address and make it bounce from IP to IP. When it was static, it said I was in Turkey, but I resided in Chicago. I used DuckDuckGo—the search engine that doesn’t spy on you—and brought up the Tor browser (an acronym for “the onion router” due to the multiple layers of encryption applied on routing data), which led me to Hidden Wiki, with a list of sites on the dark web, and I was ready to rock ‘n’ roll. Everything there is dot onion, and the Bitcoin is used for currency, though it’s falling out of favor. Bitcoin is useful for anonymously buying drugs, any kind of illegal arms, and other unlawful goods, but I can now use other alt’ coins. You can also use PayPal and real money at this moment, but that leaves a paper trail.

And what was the worst that could happen? I’d stay away from kiddy-porn sites and serial-killer sites and shop for drugs and illegal arms. A half hour went buy, and I’d bought some pot and speed from Silk Road Anonymous Market 3.0, now running on new servers—the FBI had taken down Silk Road 2.0 in 2013—and purchased a fully-automatic Uzi and a semi-automatic handgun. In fact, I felt very confident.

Overconfident, as it seems.

My buddies were always pressuring me. Don’t be a Nancy boy: avoid getting a pumpkin, smash others’; Don’t let them put blueberries in your pancakes; don’t wear a jacket no matter how cold it is; never cry; you get the idea. Therefore, when a buddy of mine named Barrett—a muscled and mustachioed man with long black hair—dared me to go further than where he’d gotten stuck after seven black boxes, I had to add it to the bucket list. When I asked if he knew what I was getting myself in to, he slapped my back and said, “Good times, you’ve gotta trust me, bro.” He double-dog-dared me to try, and I answered with a question, “Wanna make this interesting?” Barrett and I being the nouveau rich, I offered up a $100,000 bet. He bit, buying the bridge. I had the confidence to go further than him but didn’t know if I could. Yet he hadn’t chickened out. Therefore, I trusted him.

Big mistake. My friends, like I used to be—but not on such a large scale—are pseudo intellectuals. For we’re hackers, or at least I used to be. I was a cyber soldier when I was in the military. I saw myself as a pioneer, wanting to discover things about the web previously uncharted. I’d gotten pretty good at utilizing software, also. At twenty-five, I was one of the best of the best. I knew what processes to murder to improve Internet speed. After buying more RAM and a new computer, I was ready to jump off the precipice.

I got a case of the nerves, not paying attention to the precognitive warning.

Not one to cower with liquid courage, I decided I’d go into the bathroom and look myself in the eye, even egg myself on, if that’s what it took. My shaven head caught the lights and reflected them greasily. I wasn’t bald, I just wanted the badassest haircut around. My muscles threatened to rip out of my tattoo shirt, and my cleft jaw and dimpled chin helped me scowl menacingly. Yet I just looked like some dumb ape. Hearing thunder and lightning and needing company, I let Killer, my black lab, through the backdoor and into the house, the scents of wet fur and ozone dueling banjos. Killer barked and demanded rough play craven souls didn’t have the balls to engage in. That dog wanted to wrestle harder than ever, and a couple of times, I wondered if I’d get bitten. I told myself if I didn’t have the guts to go on the black market and do some hacking—anonymous online—I’d better go back to thumbwrestling.

I stormed back into my study.

I took it as a challenge from Barrett to get to seven black boxes before getting stuck before he triple-dog dared me. From parent directory to parent directory I went. Most were basic encryption, and the ones that weren’t were dead-ends, so I used new encryption and covered my ass, latching on to an existing IP address for thirty seconds before bouncing to another one, making it seem like I’d vanished. Like Barrett, I got stuck on the seventh black box. I backtracked from the dead-end and made my way to the main directory, following Barrett’s path. The seventh box’s encryption was strange. It took some time, but I made it. Many obsequious things to bust through, but I was taking some time off work. I couldn’t hover, for the encryption would kick me out of the box, making me reset. In another directory, the only one online, I finally broke through. My ghost kept me anonymous, or at least I thought it did. I’d entered a taboo backdoor.

It loaded, and slowly. The dark web ran like dial-up. Then a chat window appeared in the bottom right of my screen, saying, “Welcome to Club Ape, your haven that goes beyond anything you can imagine,” along with what sounded like a children’s nursery rhyme played at wrong speeds—slow, then too fast, then slower, then way quick—eerie as hell. “I’m Archer, your host for tonight. And although that’s not my real name, feel free to use it.” He asked if I knew my way around, and I straight-up fibbed, claiming I’d been invited by a friend.

I was in the dark web’s version of the Further.

“We’ve given guest vouchers for tonight’s event,” he added.

Event? What in the shit?

I typed, “I don’t know how to maneuver, and I don’t see any guide links.”

“You wouldn’t see that through a voucher. You need to be an official member. I don’t recognize your IP.”

He can see my IP? Oh, I am so fucked.

“You’re probably wondering how I can see your IP,” he mind-read. “You’re not running Tails OS.”

Damn! How can a hacker miss something like that? I suck!

Then I did what I could. I made my IP static, saying I’m from Turkey. I got an SD invitation from Archer, for HD was only for members. He logged my IP—which he must’ve written down before I hid it properly—and told me he’s not responsible for any trauma tonight’s event may cause. “Follow this link when you’re ready,” he added. “The event starts in a few minutes. One warning, then a ban, if you don’t chill. I don’t have to tell you this, right? There’re no judgements on the dark web.”

I told him I understood.

“Thanks for coming and I hope you get off.” The chat window disappeared.

Black curtains, the sound of the hushed chatter of a crowd, and sickening laughter, came through loud-and-clear. I could imagine the rictus grins.

I realized I needed to text my wife again, for she hadn’t checked in with me in a couple of hours as she promised she’d do. She was out of town at a seminar about her “work.” I’d tried to tell her she had the worst gig in the world as a writer, for she’d been at it for ten years and had only earned slim pickins. I hoped that seminar opened her eyes to how there are only twelve authors that can sell 100,000 copies of every print book. And eBook sales only spike if you’re already famous, one to bribe potential fans, or very lucky. Yes, I’ve researched it. But you know writers, they don’t know when to bow out. I texted her and got no response, so I texted her again, yelling with capital letters. Still nothing.

What the fuck?

My wife, Stacy—a blond, stacked babe with a raucous personality—was also a caring person and wouldn’t blow me off like that.

Time to worry.

The curtain parted. Tied to a gurney was a sexy babe wearing a white, feckless mask and nothing else. But I could see strands of hair sticking out, and I recognized the curly locks, as well as the mole below her right breast, the one she had waxed so it wouldn’t grow hairs.

It was Stacy.

The severity of the situation crashed down on me like lightning. My mind lurched; my heart climbed into my throat. Wasps buzzed in my stomach. My bladder clenched. I stared at the screen like a zombie.

And coming toward her was someone very tall—obviously male, like an NBA star— wearing a gorilla suit. And holding a . . . oh, no way. . . drill.

Since when did gorillas use drills? I insanely thought.

The chat window popped up again. “Enjoying the show?” the fiend asked.

I came to myself.

Do something!

“That’s my wife on that table,” I typed with shaking hands. “I can tell by the mole under her right breast and her hair.””

“Your wife?”he responded. “She’s the only woman in the world who has a mole in that spot?”

The driller killer stood, rubbing my wife’s legs as she keened, then revving up the tool. And the audience laughed.

I steeled myself. “Listen, I don’t know what kind of freakshow you’re running here, but you get her off that table and let her go or I’ll call the FBI.”

The window was stagnant for about a minute. Then: “That’s it. This is your warning. You’re breaking protocol.”

“Fuck your protocol, Archer, or whatever your name is!” I typed. “Let her go right now or I’m calling the feds!”

Again, the chat window was inert for a minute. Then: “All right, you’re banned. And let me tell you something, you nark bitch—this ain’t the regular Internet with troll cowards. You go to the law, and we’ll track you down. Maybe you’ll be star of our next show, heh.”

I gasped, then cried out when the murderer stuck the drill into my wife’s vagina . . . and made pulp out of it as she screamed, the guy in the ape suit stained with dark-red blood. It was that swinging dick’s world, and we were all just living in it. The crowd evilly applauded and whooped, the bastards and bitches. Then the site went away. Trembling so badly I thought I’d have a seizure, I stood and paced for a spell, then rushed to the phone and called the police. I got back on the computer, getting out of the dark web I’d never go on again, and reported the murder to the FBI’s website on the regular web.

#

Barrett called a few days later, asking if I was all right. My world had been shattered, and I passed the time at home either crying or being filled with rage. Fuck the macho rules; she was my soulmate! I had a pistol with me all the time. And I smoked like a crematorium and drank like a hobo.

“Bro, I’m coming over,” Barrett said. “You can’t be alone right now.”

“Whatever. Nothing will help. My life is over.” I’d drunk twenty-one margaritas last night, and tonight it was moonshine, 150 proof. Tomorrow—if I lived that long—it would be absinthe again, 138 proof. The small bottle I’d drunk last time had sent me to the moon. Don’t think wan absinthe bottles won’t get you. For shits and giggles, I found out the Green Fairy’s a myth, but that, like everything else, meant nothing. I was drinking myself to death.

When he knocked, I looked through the peephole, then opened the door. He threw his black hair out of his eyes, then touched my arm. “You all right, ‘Jax?”

I shrugged him off and walked into the living room, where fast-food wrappers and empty pizza boxes competed for space with an overloaded ashtray and liquor bottles.

Barrett sat down beside me. “I finally broke through to the seventh level and found Club Ape.”

We’d already discussed this over the phone a couple of days ago. I’d told him he could keep his hundred-thou. It wouldn’t do me any good now.

“There’s a message saying the FBI has seized the site,” Barrett added.

I lit two cigarettes and smoked them both. “They’ll be here to kill me pretty soon then, which’ll be a relief. I wanna be with my wife.” I turned my head his way. “You’d better make yourself scarce before they murder you, too.” I broke down, weeping.

He rubbed my back. “I’m so sorry, bro. But I’m not leaving you.”

Then why had he blanched with wide eyes?

#

Barrett’s paranoia—or was that good thinking—got the best of him, and he left a day later. It wasn’t long before I found Killer dead in the backyard. His throat had been slit. Fat load of good police protection was doing. Sitting outside in their cruiser eating donuts and drinking coffee and falling asleep, that’s what caffeine’s worth. I refused to be spirited away by a U. S. Marshall in the Witness Protection Program. I clung to the chance that maybe my wife survived the attack and would be coming home. I do that, lying to myself. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps me from putting the pistol in my mouth. Because the po-po was outside, I couldn’t do any of the drugs I’d bought from Silk Road. Therefore, I’d make up for it by drinking a fifth of whiskey a day, like Lemme Kilmister, may he rest in peace, after I finished the absinthe.

After a week of abject horror, a black shape rose up from the corner of the dark living room where I smoked Black Death cigarettes. With shaky hands, I held the pistol on whomever that was. Yet he fired, his gun equipped with a silencer, knocking my gun from my hand. Soon, I was cuffed with zip ties, my wrists chafing. Whoever this guy was—and I could tell he was male from his frame, though he was covered in black clothes from head-to-toe—he was strong as Samson, his scowl a missing link’s, his eyes black and abysmal. Then I was stuffed into the trunk of a black Chevy and driven away from my house. On the way out to his vehicle, I’d seen the cops sitting bloody-necked in the squad car.

My survival instinct kicking in, I reached into my shoe and pulled out my ceramic razorblade and freed my wrists. Then I reached up to that glowing latch and opened the trunk gingerly, then waited for the car to stop so I could creep out, barely making a sound. Being in one of their sick, insidious shows, that wasn’t happening. I wasn’t going out like that.

They got me again a few days later when I was drunk on Everclear and Jack. This time, they used handcuffs, giving me a chance to use my handcuff key I kept in my shoe with the razorblade. And no glowing latch this time—this was an older model, before 2008—so I had to stick my hand inside the space and dig to find the latch. I clicked it and crept out, yet they had a car trailing us, and beefy guys rushed over to me with pistols and threw me back into the trunk. Determined to be the ace survivalist, I—somehow quietly—dug through the flimsy barrier between the backseat and the trunk and sneaked up and cut the driver’s throat with the razorblade when he stopped for a light. It helped that he had the radio on. The men behind us were there in seconds, however. I tried the pistol disarming techniques I’d learned from survivalist Websites but got shot in the knee for my trouble. You can’t take a gun from someone; it’s a myth, too risky. And, oh, did that hurt like shit. It brought tears to my eyes.

Again, I longed to die.

#

Maybe what I’ve told you has inspired you to get on the dark web. You may be one of those people that argues that if you stay away from kiddy-porn and bind-torture-kill sites, you’ll be fine. But if you come across what’s now called Gorilla Group, getting through seven black boxes like Satan snatching hell’s seven keys, and you see me tied to a gurney with that stupid, white mask on, hopefully you’ll do the right thing and not be a coward. I hope you contact the FBI and the cops and have their site taken down. You need to strike them a blow where it hurts, no matter how small the victory, for they’ll be back.

Thing is, the person in the gorilla suit this time, as I lay masked and strapped to the gurney, sounds just like my wife.

And, unsexily, she’s cackling.

They’d broken her, after they’d obviously cauterized the wound.

The only thing worse than death: becoming deformed and morphing in to the monster.

I wonder whose vagina I’ll drill after I’ve become a eunuch, having gone insane from the pain.

Colin James

Renovations in Mauve

The woman had
arranged her men
so she could walk
on their erections
like ladders.
She fixed the cracks
in the ceiling
and briefly considered
changing the color
of the trim.
One young skylight
dripped condensation.
She solved this by
adding an interior
storm window.
Her men are still
emphatically holding
their stomachs in.

David Boski

bedside manner

after we finished, I rolled over
and she asked me to
pour her another drink,
and give her a cigarette.
“listen, it’s 4AM, no more whiskey
and cigarettes, let’s just go to bed.”
“I just let you come all over my tits;
you’re going to give me another cigarette”
she replied firmly.
I laughed and then I
reached for the
lighter.

A. Theist

Arthur the Queer?

“God-damn this steak is good, Joe!”

The two men sat opposite at the table. Neal seeming ecstatic, as he zealously saws and chews his cut of meat like a man that’d just been released from prison, all the while only ceasing in conversation long enough to take another bite. But Joe was more at ease, like he’d been confined to a rocking chair for life,  just biding his time, pushing his fork round and round, taking the occasional bite, and chewing long, slow chews, while glancing at the window, as if he were somewhere else.

And Joe asks,

“You remember that feller by the name of Arthur Graham; runs that porno magazine, Horror Sleaze and Trash, or whatever?”

Neal lifts his head, revealing the flesh being ground behind dissolving teeth,

“You mean the one that’s seeing that India girl?”

Joes face half rises, and nods towards Neal’s plate.

“Yeah, that’s him.”

“Boy that India’s a fine motherfucker, now. I’d like to LaPlace it right up her ass! Heh heh heh. Know what I mean?”

Nodding,

“Oh, she’s purdy now, fur shore.”

“I heard it somewhere or another that, she “aspires” to be Queen of the Underworld one day, hah! You think she’ll manage?”

“I don’t doubt it.”

Neal shovels another forkful,

“I might just be high; wool hail, you know I’m high as a motherfucker, but I swear this is the best god-damned steak I ever ate…Where’d you learn to cook like this?”

Joe turns from the window, and looks down at his plate,

“Oh, it ain’t the cooking, it’s the quality of the meat that makes the difference.”

“Is zat right?”

Joe nods.

“Shiiiiittt.

A man could get used to eating like this.”

Joe stares off like he didn’t hear.

“Now, what was it you was saying ’bout ol’ Arthur; Arthur the queer?”

Neal flashes a devil’s grin, before returning his attention to his meal.

“Oh……just that I’d killed him.”

Neal freezes midchew,

“You what!?”

“You killed him!?”

Looking at the window,

Joe replies, “Mm-hm.”

He drops his arm, and stares,

“Well god-damn Joe! The way you say it makes me think you being for real!”

Taking another forkful,

he resumes chewing,

“You ain’t is ya?”

Joe nods.

Out the corner of his mouth, he says,

“Fed his innards to the hogs out yonder.”

Neal  looks at Joe sideways,

“No the hell you didn’t.”

And grins,

“Come on now, Joe…you fucking with me?”

With both hands resting on the table, Joe looks at his plate,

“Naw”.

“I killed him”.

“He’s dead.”

Neal takes another bite,

“You shore you ain’t just been up too damn long, ya damn tweeker? Lord knows you prone to seeing shit.”

“Aww, fuck ‘at bull-shit!”

“Ha!”

Neal grins,

“Shooting at a damn empty hammock? I don’t reckon I’ll ever forget that shit. You had the damn po-lice swarming all over the place, with Phil, and all them damn guns of his…and, and ol’ Mark passed out drunk in the back of the Jag.”

“Momma’s still pissed about that shit. I don’t think she’ll ever let me have your ass over again.”

Neal takes another forkful,

“Killed Arthur-fucking-Graham. God-damn, Joe. You so full of shit, your eyes turning brown.”

Joe slams a fist down, rattling the table, and looks at him square,

“Well you shore don’t seem to mind the god-damned taste of him!”

The sound of silverware colliding with ceramic pierce’s the air as he bolts upright, grabbing his throat, his body flexing in contortion to expel his disgust,

“BLLLUUUHHHPPP!”

Joes chair skids back, and lands with a crash,

“God-damn you Neal!”

J.J. Campbell

as bitter as the life you have slaved away for

it was the kind of
night where you
take the bottle to
bed with you as
nina simone plays
in the distance

you were always
comfortable in the
shadows but now
the shadows are
punching back

god seems as
likely as zeus

suicide is always
an option

even the least likely
hands can find a gun
and the courage

the words don’t come
as easy these nights

where the liquor tastes
as bitter as the life you
have slaved away for

and there’s always
a woman involved

some soulful siren
dancing in the neon

so damn close but
always unattainable