Casey Renee Kiser

I’ve Lost My Head and Gained Sight

he thought the head he gave 
would have me razzle-dazzled
like the others
he thought the head he gave
would make my mind frazzled
when he ghosted
he thought the head he gave
would be all he needed to kill
my spirit one day
let’s hope someone comes
and changes that bulb of his,
that dull, dull light

Dave Cullern

Homesick

there’s no kids left in the parking lot
no hidden porn in the woods
no stolen kisses beneath the wooden roof
of the playgrounds lonely slide

there’s no mistakes which need to be lived with
no gum to drown out old cigarettes
no pretend friends sleepovers
covering up for dangerous nights

there’s no circus to run away with
no vans waiting at the gates
no threats to the spaces of safety
where the playing is played for free

there’s no chance of getting lost here
no judgement, no curses,
no questions left to ask,
no unknown facts

there’s no fuck ups, no fights
nothing much left to hide
from past generations,
whose ugliness is seen through ironic eyes

there’s no dirty floors left on the high street
no art left on the walls
no home made bombs to wow whispering parents
from their easy chairs

there’s no sex
there’s no hate
there’s no fire
there’s no pain
there’s no need for excuses
when nothing’s left out
in the rain

Andy Seven

Skyscraper Soul

This boy is six feet tall
feelin’ like a runt
in front of the drug store
tall, thin pretty black girls
putting the touch
putting the bite on me
for their high school basketball team

I love statue chicks
so my heart 
nearly burst
out of my sunken chest

Pulled out pieces of eight
from my sunken chest
I’m just a pirate primate
for a tall, skinny girl
Statue of Libertines
they need to dribble
need to free throw

Beautiful ostrich ladies
you stole my heart
and my buried treasure
here’s five dollars
and they leaped like
Birds of Paradise
only twice as nice

Vapor Vespers: Valise

Film Noir and DADA Art Get an Audacious Audiophonic Spin…
Transcontinental music & spoken word duo Vapor Vespers drop another two-sided single,  Valise and Bent Omelette (DADA #1)

New York/Anchorage, January 14, 2022 – Acclaimed experimental music duo Vapor Vespers is kicking off 2022 with the release of another duo of quirky, noir- and funk-tinged singles, Valise and Bent Omelette (DADA #1). These music-powered spoken word offerings are a preview to what’s in store with the Spring release of their sophomore album, Giallo!, the follow-up to their critically-acclaimed 2020 debut, One Act Sonix.

The Vapor Vespers is the transcontinental brainchild of NYC and Hudson Valley based multi-instrumentalist/producer Sal Cataldi (also known as Spaghetti Eastern Music) and award-winning Alaska playwright, actor and slam poet Mark Muro. The pair, whose musical and personal relationship dates back to their teen years in Queens, NY, first bonded over their love of boundary-pushing musicians like Miles Davis, Sun Ra and Frank Zappa and the audio recordings of writers/poets/music-powered spoken word performers like William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, The Last Poets and John Cooper Clarke.

The duo’s newest singles up the ante on the cool grooves, guitar riffage, synth textures and the verbal hijinks/ narrative absurdity showcased on their debut disc, and with Sex and You Changed, another double-sided preview of their forthcoming album that was released in Fall 2021. Valise and Bent Omelette (DADA #1) will be available for download on Bandcamp and on streaming services including Spotify on January 14 and February 7 respectively.

Valise is the duo’s audio salute to film noir, a thriller-cum-mystery narrative driven by a funky flatted-5 bass groove, buzzing keys and bickering wah wah guitars. Here, Muro sounds like Raymond Chandler, narrating the tale of a mysterious suitcase with equally mysterious contents and the femme fatale who may or may not have made off with it. The tune is being released with a film noir textured video that can be viewed/shared here: https://youtu.be/QajzD76c5fY

For more, visit www.vaporvespers.bandcamp.comSpotify

Media Contact: vaporvespers@gmail tel/text 516.236.3817

Tony Dawson

Georgia On His Mind

Georgia simmers in the heat,
snakeskins swirling at her feet.
Georgia loves the desert sand,
listening to her favourite band.
Georgia, sultry as the sun
was not born to be a nun.
Georgia lies upon her back,
leering men admire her rack.
Georgia turns to one and smiles,
as she displays her female wiles,
opening her legs out wide,
an open invite for a ride.

The rancher wakes up with a start
from his dream, with pounding heart.
He sits there feeling full of guilt.
Not just his spirits seem to wilt.
“What would the preacher have to say?
or my dear wife, sweet Lily May?
That cook’s too hot to have around
or my marriage will run aground
I’d best dismiss the temptress Georgia,
before I become another Borgia!”

Willie Smith

Darkness Light

Dad didn’t teach me shit.
Except how to wipe my ass, 
how to throw a rock, drive a nail 
and tell a Phillips from that other kind of screw. 
Dad prized his couple dozen LP’s of symphonies, 
symphonic poems, opera picks. 
On the leadup to his nightly soak, 
he would shake the house 
with – cranked – the New World Symphony, 
rattle the windows with the Ride of the Valkyries, 
clatter the crockery with Caruso arias. 
My earliest memory is: 
in the living room, fantasy sword fighting 
to the Romeo and Juliet Overture; 
then hiding in my bedroom closet 
when the music ceased, and Dad, 
through wolfing his pint, 
rampaged through the house slamming doors, 
punching holes in walls, kicking the dog, 
screaming obscenities, curses, damnations, 
threatening my mother with divorce, 
to see how she liked being penniless 
without his daytime breadwinning skills. 
Had Dad left the vodka alone, 
and done everything else about the same, 
I might have come to respect him as much 
as the music he so diligently, 
if accidentally, inspired me to love. 
The ogre, as it was, scared me nuts till age twelve; 
after which, when I began finding bottles 
all over the house, and I grew taller than him, 
I hated the son of a bitch’s bastard.
Ever since he croaked, 
over twenty years ago, 
and I put on the Brahms, the Vivaldi, the Bach, 
and I hear the mad old fuck’s rising anger sing, 
I thank him, from the bottom of my wretched heart, 
for all the light into my life he cast.   

Bogdan Dragos

dead and unfazed

217 days
without speaking
or seeing each other
and suddenly she shows up
knocks on his door and says,
“Hey, we’re still together, right?
Still a couple?”

He didn’t answer,
just ushered her in
through a curtain of smoke
and moldy smells.
His small apartment
looked more like a cave
than ever before.
The walls were dark and irregular
with buildup of grime.

The cockroaches were long dead,
poisoned with cigarette smoke
and ashes

26 years her senior,
he was a modern caveman
Still lived in a cold, dark,
and gross cave,
but he had a laptop
and internet connection.

The screen
was the only thing
alive in the cave.

It showed a compilation
of short videos
featuring brutal executions
from all around the world.

“So how have you been?”
she asked.

His reply was a grunt
as his gnarled hand
reached into his breast pocket
and fished out the pack
of cigarettes and a lighter.

He placed one between
his lips and lit it
and then offered her one.

She took it
and as she stretched
her hand for it
a neat row of self-inflicted scars
shone from her wrist to elbow

“I take it you still haven’t
managed to publish
your writings,” she said.

It drew another
grunt from him,
a louder one
this time.

“So nothing’s changed
in all this time,”
she continued.
“You didn’t make it,
I didn’t make it,
and the world made it
without us.”

Another grunt from him.

He sat down at the desk
and paused the gore videos
that ran with black metal music
playing in the background.
The image that froze onscreen
portrayed a naked man
on his knees, hands tied
behind his back,
while a chainsaw was about
to dig into his belly.

“I was thinking,” she continued,
“you know how people make
those silly promises
that sound something like,
‘if we don’t find partners
by the time we’re so and so years
old we marry each other’?
Well, I was thinking,
what if we make a promise
just like that?
Only, not about marrying
each other.
Rather, if in two years’ time
we don’t make it.
That is, if you don’t get published
as a writer and I still can’t
find a good man to marry…
we suicide together.
What do you say?”

Puffing on his cigarette,
he watched her,
studied her from head
to toe and back,
and after another grunt
and a much needed clearing
of his throat he said,
“Aren’t we already dead?
What’s the point of
suicide now?”

They were both silent
for a long while
and then she said,
“Did I tell you about
the time I aborted
your child?”

He shook his head.
“Pretty sure it wasn’t mine.”

“It was yours,” she said.

He dismissed her
with another grunt
and a slight shake of his head.

Then they smoked
in silence and finished
the whole pack,
letting the ashes fall
straight to the floor
where they joined a gray desert.

He resumed the gore videos
but turned down the volume.

“Some days ago
I slept with a guy
only so I could use his computer
to check out stories of yours
on the internet,”
she said eventually.
“Aside from three or four
very short ones
there was nothing new.
Why did you stop posting?”

“I stopped writing,” he said.

“Oh…”

She came behind him
and they both watched
some poor homeless man
being held down
by a gang of teenagers
as two of them used a brick
to hammer a long screwdriver
up one of his nostrils.

He turned the volume lower.

“Well, I haven’t stopped looking
for a good man,” she said.
“I just hadn’t found one yet.
I thought that maybe if we make
that two-year promise…
maybe it’ll motivate us both,
but I see you’ve already given up.
You are already dead,
aren’t you?
I’m speaking to a ghost.”

He grunted
and lit another cigarette
from a new pack
and offered her another.

They watched gore videos
for the rest of the night
and smoked.

At some point
she said that she
had a loose tooth
and fiddled with it until it
came out of the socket.
There was no blood
and no pain.

She placed it on the desk
and he silently
took it and put it
into his breast pocket
with the pack of cigarettes.

In the morning,
she was ready to leave.

She borrowed
fourteen dollars
and two cigarettes
and stopped by
the corner store
to buy razor blades.

The cashier wasn’t any
more alive than herself
and the modern caveman
she’d left behind
for the final time.

“Say, you wanna marry
in the near future?” she asked
from across the counter.

The cashier just replied
with a grunt.

Bruce Fisher

Gotta Get Back to LA

I gotta get back to LA
With my new old car,
Rusty of empty beer cans
And dentine wrappers
Stuck inside  paperback 
Shakespeare third acts of
Endless stabbings of villains 
And fatal flawed heroes,
Losing its whiskey soaked
Pages in the back seat under 
Dusty memories of what I 
Should have been,

Where I was drunk in sober life,
Longing for a buzz
At Bukowski’s San Pedro
Dream house, writing his mad
And beat poems till the end
Of no unglad post office pension 
And cat lover mysticism, in his
Punch drunk of barfly skid row
Flop house craziness, undone 
By death but never dying,

Where the clarity of smog
Induced sunset blvd call girl 
Lust sings sweetly of soft
Inner thigh promise, where
Miracle mile tattooed legs in 
Thought are cold in the youth
Of Echo Parks murky water,
Rowing chinatown boats to 
Groovy back lots at Paramount,
Before rushing to the next
Sexual conquest, trying to
Find the perfect end line for 
My new spy novel,

When purple evenings
And mid August moons 
Woke me to cobblestone 
Depression remedies with vodka
Inspired early morning shots
Of Silver Lake blue dawns
Before shooting scenes 
With the ghost of sad and stoic
Clara Bow, angel now of
No time silent film heaven
And my invisible love on
Nights when the streets
Were empty of women,

Where Chavez Ravine
Evictions and cries of no home
Latino heart of holy Mary
Became my drunken home
Team fan’s dodging of old
Sadness with ball park beer,
Cheering riot of blue until
Fernando came with his
Mythic screwball, throwing
No hitter pop ups, shutting out
All hate of gringo heart with 
His quiet ways, 
Seeing the lie of countries,
Like a vision suddenly widened,

Where I couldn’t be a hippie
And pet a stray dog’s lonesome 
Head without crying for eternity,
And tears of noble failings drifting
In high places, letting go
Of ancient hate, but
Haunting my own living body,
Seeking forgiveness from whores
And whiskey and penance
In hangover mornings not 
Knowing where I was or how
I got there.

I gotta get back to LA
To remember the song of the
Prophets who sang to me
During all lost years of drunken
Fucking in the cheap hotels
Of Santa Monica boulevard doom
Washing ashore on the fancy
Beaches of Marina del Rey 
Where angels kept me warm,
Wrapped in wings of love,
Whispering softly that I was
An angel too, fallen but not
Forgotten, for LA is the city of
Angels in truth and only angels
Are there living, breathing, walking
The streets, making movies
And playing baseball,
Selling tacos downtown,
The best you can eat
This side of heaven.

Julian Grant

Victim

> U get it?
> Yep U still good for half?
> How much?
> $500 total. $250 U
> …
> I know its $$$. We All Access.
> …
> Don’t be a little bitch, U know you want it.

Kyle sat back, looking at the message stream while he did the math on the two-hundred and fifty bucks he now owed Ryan. It was twice as much as he’d spent on Cyberpunk, hell, it was almost triple what he spent on Witcher 3 even with all the DLC downloadable content – but he figured it was worth it. Plus, he could use his VR surround goggles and really get into it big time.

> Transferring…
> It better be worth it.
> Dude, it’s fuckin sick. I’m in.

Kyle Venmo’d the cash to Ryan and waited for their new shared password to pop up. They’d both VPN in, of course – making sure their real names, web identities and even where they were in the world remained anonymous as they went. Nobody in their right mind would want to publicly admit to being part of this underground MMORPG. Even if it was make-believe. It was still one sick fuck of a game and just the hint that you were playing it could result in major trolling and flaming online by all the snowflakes and Libtards who took offense. He couldn’t see the problem all these sensitive assholes were taking a fit over it. It wasn’t like they’d be doing it in real life, right?

The message window on Kyle’s computer popped up with a long multi letter and number combo password that he immediately saved. He rapid-fired back a message to Ryan, as he flipped open the Reddit board dedicated to Victim. It was time to brag about getting in.

> Okay, Got it.
> Signing off at 0000. U got it until 1200
> Yeah, yeah. Whatevs
> Jelly much?

Kyle sighed, knowing that he’d lost Ryan until midnight and until then he’d be jonesing to jump back on with the same ID. There was no way they’d be able to afford a month membership each and they’d figured they’d piggy-back on the same sign-in code. The guys running Victim wouldn’t care. They already got the cash. So, what if their account stayed up for twenty-four hours? It wasn’t like they could prove they were scamming them. Plus, five hundred bucks for a month was rich. Really rich and Kyle barely had his share. He had no idea where Ryan was IRL or if that was even his real name.

They’d met on Reddit, the front page of the web that hosts bulletin boards for like-minded gamers, fans and nerds and bonded over the bullshit rush-to-street date on the Polish developer’s CD Projekt Red and their futuristic open-world game, Cyberpunk 2077. Billed as the most realistic in-world simulation, it was supposed to be everything that Ready Player One’s worldscape, The Oasis promised. Of course, it wasn’t. Huge bugs, corrupt files and millions of noobs clogging bandwidth had crashed the game multiple times in the first month – and now sixteen months down the line, the place was still a mess of patches and fast fixes that sucked balls. Ryan and Kyle had bonded over trash talking the developers of the game and ended up bouncing from Warcraft to Elder Scrolls looking for new gamers and even established clans they could fuck with once they both got banned for life for flaming the Polish creative team with ‘racist behavior not suitable for the platform’ according to the tersely worded letter they got from the lawyers. Whatevs.

Kyle was fifteen, going on thirty living not-so-large in his Dad’s trailer here in Mobile. He’d grown up with his older brother Duncan, before he shipped off to Raghead land, popping his cherry online back in the day with him. He’d learned everything he needed to know about sex thanks to Pornhub, watched the old Bumfights wino vs. wino street fight videos even his Pop’s enjoyed and he had no love lost for anyone not white or American once they sent Duncan back home in a small box because they couldn’t find all of his bits.

So, when Ryan pinged him way late just as he was going to crash about this new MMORPG out of Romania, he figured that is was going to be for another fire-run at trash talking the ex-Commie assholes or messing with their IP’s. Kyle was blown away with Ryan’s IT chops, he ate code all day and night – and he’d taken Kyle under his wing as a student. Kyle didn’t know how to chop it up anywhere near as tight as Ryan did so he just did the coding grunt work as Ryan planned their major commissioned hacks and attacks.

> U hear about Victim?
> Wassup?
> Fucking tight. I’ll send U some screen grabs. DW snags

The pictures Ryan sent over to Kyle were like nothing he’d ever seen before. Choice.

Whoever was behind Victim was a genius, a deep web covert artist clearly coloring outside the lines. Kyle slugged back the last of his warm hi-test cola as he stared at the assortment of pictures Ryan had nabbed.

> Subs Crypto only. Deep Web grabs.

Ryan had snagged an assortment of shots of a room that looked almost like the garage bay where his Pop’s worked. Industrial car lifts in the back, oil smears and shit everywhere with a ratty old desk chair next to a steel table full of cutting tools. Except these tools were coated in sticky black goo staining the pitted aluminum surface. Blood.

The next few images showed a before-and-after shots of some hippie-looking guy, just some joe, tied to the chair with a Mortal Kombat 8-bit graphics overlay asking something in Cyrillic text. Kyle didn’t have a clue what it said, but it didn’t look good for the guy.

As Kyle flipped through the shots, he realized that whoever these guys were that built this game, they’d done it up right. Projekt Red had gone too big, too soon – promising the world to everyone – and got caught by the sheer size of their space and the ravenous demand of the online players. Here, the guy in the chair looked real – really real – with the latest Unreal metahuman models working overtime. They’d spent all their time on the actor model, every pore of his battered face clean and clear. None of the janky video mannequins that were still the norm in real-time game play. The cut scenes always looked good – but the in-engine playable stuff was usually stiff and fake. These guys were smart. They spent their money where it mattered. The whole world just seemed to be a one-room shithole. Not a ton of processing needed for that.

And the dude in the chair was like he was really there. 

> This shit looks real real.
> IK, right?
> I ran Google translate on the text OS. Sending.

Onscreen, even with the crap quality of the screengrabs, clearly designed to look like some old-school found footage movie, the hippie guy was shit scared. And really hurting. There were closeups of his bloody eyeballs and smashed teeth once the pliers started tearing his face apart. Someone had rearranged his face drastically and a clock onscreen and a hit counter tabbed up the damage. Not a hard interface to work out.

Kyle felt his Cola kick back in his throat, the hard acid reflux gagging him as he scanned the final photos and found out that you could pull someone’s eyes out and leave them dangling on their cheeks as you started to mutilate their genitals. Very fucking cool.

Onscreen, in another window, Ryan’s decrypted text unspooled for Kyle.

> How long can you go? Pick a player and your tools. Longest life onscreen wins. Use avatar and design your Victim. In-Engine purchases apply. Rape module now available. Upgrade now?

The indicators to the left of the guy showed time elapsed and the variety of tools used on the guy. Upgrades to hammers, knives and even chainsaws were available for keeping the person in the chair alive the longest. Looked like the dead guy has stuck it out for four hours and seventeen minutes. A red AMATEUR badge was overlaid onscreen. No rape.

> Can U pick the Victim you want?
> Yep. Costs more though. VIP only.
> Sweet.

And like that, Ryan and Kyle were in. It didn’t take long for the rest of the web to catch on once the developers moved the prototype out of the deep web and into the mainstream with ads on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Discord before they all got shut down for community violations. Hell, even Colbert talked about the game late night along with that fat baby out of LA right after him. All of them looked shocked and disgusted and freaked out about the idea of torturing an avatar online for points. But Kyle could bet that they all probably signed up – especially the LA guy. He looked like he’d enjoy torturing someone for points. Victim went mainstream, like porn, and everyone wanted in. Of course, there was a large majority of overly-sensitive folkx who complained about the fact that the number of women being tortured and raped was disproportionally more than men and that coloreds were also much more likely to be bound and beaten and killed than white males. But how would they know that if they hadn’t signed up and played?

All Kyle and Ryan could bitch about was that the cost of playing was so high. And that now that Victim was semi-legit, they’d put a locked and secured paywall and ID verification that required all of their players be at least eighteen or whatever passed for being an adult in their country of origin. Anonymous leaderboard stats were published online on Reddit and on the official Victim homepage (which you had to be a member for only $500 a month) with video feeds and downloadable pix but nobody knew what to expect unless they were legit signed up. Even the pictures Ryan had got from the deep web had gone. Nobody knew anything. Unless they paid.

Victim went public within the first year of being online with an IPO. NASDAQ shit the bed.

E-Sport leagues, the corporate dickwads that played Fortnight and League of Legends all complained once Victim petitioned to be included in their championship events. With the amount of money kicking around the torture MMORPG, it was only a matter of time and beaucoup bucks before they made the cut. No pun intended. A special black site was created for Victim participants to compete in and both Musk and Branson plus a few other rich techno dweebs had promised huge cash prizes for the new leaders every month.

It was Ryan’s brilliant idea to mod up a false adult ID that he and Kyle could use to get on. It took most of that first-year backtracking and establishing banking and false ID credentials that he swapped for IT work to create a proper footprint. He farmed the repetitive code stuff out to Kyle as they established their digital grownup to join up.

And now they were in.

When Ryan logged off at 0000, Kyle almost texted him just to get an idea of what it was like. After all, they both knew what they’d signed up for – a chance to torture a digital human being for the longest time possible. Victim guarded their own private feed seriously with banishment the price for revealing any of the secrets as to the length of time ‘in-game’ and the actual number of attacks or implements used. Video and screen grabs were an instant fail.  The folks that posted on Reddit that claimed to have been actual past subscribers turned out to be mostly bullshit artists, Kyle figured. A woman in Jersey said she’d kept an ex-husband avatar alive for forty-two days with a combination of slow razor cuts you-know-where and limited dirty water rations – but she was quickly shouted out as a liar once web detectives found out she’d never been married or even had an active account with the service. There were rumors out of China of super-extreme torture and interrogation techniques from Red Army veterans who’d done this stuff but it was unofficial. Only top-ranked AOPs – artists of pain as they were known knew the real truth. And they weren’t saying anything here on the open web. At $500 a pop per month, it was a high-price to pay for messing someone fake up – but people paid because it looked so real and they could make up anyone they wanted if they paid extra. Of course, people paid extra in game. Who wouldn’t?

Kyle signed in via his VPN and used the code he shared with Kyle to log in. He flipped on his VR headset to connect as a staccato flashing light surrounded him. He was online.

Lights, hard white lights shone in his face as he shook his head, his tongue thick in his mouth. Kyle couldn’t move his arms or legs. The room stank of blood, thick and meaty as he squinted against the harsh brilliance surrounding him. Sitting across from him was an old-school video monitor, smeared and dirty but still readable in the vivid kill room.

To his left, the tray thick with the hooks and the cruel tools of the Victim artist. He tore at the bonds strapping him to the chair he had recognized from the pictures Ryan had sent him and the other images he had heard about. He was in-game. Locked down. Stuck.

Onscreen, the rapid typing of an incoming text message cascaded down the monitor.

> Hey, K. U made it in.
> I’m sorry U had to wait…
> But U be happy to know Ur part of the next DLC. Had to keep things fresh

Kyle screamed as the video feed changed to a wide shot of himself strapped to the chair. Onscreen his health counter winked on as a stopwatch ticker started. Two floating hands, an operator’s control rig selected a scalpel from the tray lying on the table and moved slowly towards him.

> Ur Phase II
> Kids.
> …
> I think this is gonna be MEGA. Subs have been asking 4EVR
> Thx. For playing. R. xoxo