Mike Zone

the white noise of dead strangers

ascending particles
mad dog raindrops screaming
the unknown vault amiss
double-bond chemical trail broken
drop the torch
in perfect gardens
deer hunting with Jesus
plucking strange fruit
inhabiting odd yet familiar places
which didn’t quite fit
but we lived it
anyway, our havens
more an exile
going back to the spherical music
of it all
is a wonder, a short-term lease
from outside the void
spitting on a quasar?

Leah Mueller

The Lust Peddlers

“Hello, this is Tracey. Which ad are you answering?”

“Tracey. This is Bob.” The man paused briefly, and I could hear the furtive sound of rustling trouser fabric. Bob forged ahead: “I saw an ad in the back of the Reader. It says, ‘Meet sexy friends who like to travel. Call Tracey.” There was a deep silence, fraught with one-sided tension. “Will these women really come long distance to meet me?”

Every call began in this manner. Every woman who answered the phone was Tracey, unless one of the men probed further, and we wanted to close the sale. At that point, it was safe to reveal our Phone Slut names, so we could create the illusion of intimacy. My Phone Slut name was Melissa, but most of the time, I preferred the anonymity of Tracey. Tracey got the job done.

My job entailed selling packets of women’s names, addresses, and phone numbers for $25.00 to men who were horny but lazy. It was 1980, and phone sex for hire was still nonexistent. However, the lust for phone sex was raging and omnipresent, and men called Tracey all the time. Sometimes, an especially desperate man actually ordered one of the packets. A few days later, a thick envelope stuffed with the names of traveling swingers arrived at his doorstep. The postal carrier collected the COD charges and left the hapless buyer with a worthless list. Astonishingly, many of the women’s names had originally been obtained through legitimate means. For reasons I couldn’t fathom, 300 desperate females had agreed to have their contact information provided to a nation of sexually starved would-be Lotharios. Now, several months later, most of the phone numbers on the list were disconnected.

The boss, Bill, was rarely around, but his photograph hung in our office. In the picture, Bill and his wife Jo Ann sat naked on a Naugahyde couch. Bill’s legs were spread wide, and an expression of cartoonish ecstasy was plastered on his face. Jo Ann grasped his enormous penis firmly in one hand. Above the photo, someone had written “Our fearless leaders!” in bold lettering. It was best to sit with our backs to the photo and pretend it didn’t exist.

We did have a supervisor — Lorraine, a statuesque woman who was in the midst of an ongoing sex change operation. Lorraine’s salary was so low that the process had to be done in installments. She sported perfect melon breasts, but rumor held that she was still saving up to have her penis removed. Lorraine didn’t talk about her penis. She was a cheerful woman, with a good sense of humor, and she allowed us to do whatever we wanted.

Most of the time, we wanted to ridicule the men who called TNT Enterprises. These fellows believed that sexually ravenous women would spend several hundred dollars on plane fare so they could exchange body fluids with strange men who lived on the opposite end of the continent. Some of the guys were slightly cleverer. They bypassed the sales process entirely and attempted to pull us directly into their fantasies. One of my favorites was a man who liked to play a porn tape in the background while I discussed the benefits of obtaining Tracey’s list. Whenever I picked up the phone for one of his calls, I could hear pre-recorded voices screaming “Oh, YES!” in the background.

A few seconds into my pitch, the fellow always asked, “Can you excuse me a moment?” and turned his face away from the receiver. He then shouted, “Would the two of you be QUIET?! I’m trying to use the phone!” He returned to our conversation immediately afterward. “I don’t know why they’re always going at it,” he’d say with sheepish exasperation.

A particularly frightening man called several times a week while masturbating with a vacuum cleaner. We could hear the electrified sucking noise. It nearly drowned out the man’s voice, which was surprisingly timid. “I’m using a vacuum cleaner on my dick,” he’d say quietly. We ridiculed him without mercy. “Why, is it really dirty?” one of us would howl, to which he always replied, “Yes. Very dirty. I’ve been so bad.”

This wasn’t surprising, since Chicago was a Catholic town. But, as Bill had hugely successful ads in a variety of national publications, it became clear that the entire country was pretty fucked up. He was on a mission to provide sexual relief to as many men as possible, and even appeared on a local radio show, proclaiming, “I’m offering an essential service for a reasonable fee. In New York, I’d be a pornographer. In Chicago, I’m a philosopher.” No one had the slightest idea what he meant.

It was rumored that Bill and Jo Ann lived in a 20-room mansion in one of the northern suburbs. It was also rumored that Bill’s doctors had given him a prescription for the maximum allowable dosage of pharmaceutical anti-depressants. Meanwhile, his minions labored above a secondhand store on Howard Street, while seated at mismatched tables that were covered with nests of haphazardly arranged phones. Our pay was five dollars an hour, plus a five dollar bonus for each guy who actually paid for his packet when it arrived at his door.

My co-workers and I were in our early twenties-a ragged crew of misfits who were unable, for various reasons, to hold any sort of corporate job. The bespectacled, pimply fellow who wrote our ad copy held a journalism degree from Northwestern University. He’d wanted to be a screenwriter, but somehow landed a job churning out porn instead. We had sex occasionally, even though he was in love with Astrid, a blonde German girl who usually sat to my left. All of us were cynical beyond our years, a fact that was exacerbated by the sordid nature of our job. We were too young to handle our daily immersion into the shadow side of male sexuality, so we ruthlessly made fun of it instead.

Other than Lorraine, the only middle-aged employee was a woman named Martha. None of us could fathom why she had decided to work for TNT Enterprises. I suspected that she was in the throes of a particularly difficult midlife crisis. Martha had a comparatively lucrative day job, working as a secretary for the Chicago Board of Education. She was married to a cop, but after 20 years, she could no longer stand the sight of him. Martha’s husband was extremely upset by her decision to moonlight as a Phone Slut. He called constantly, demanding to speak to her, threatening to use his vast network of police connections to shut the phone room down. Obviously, his connections were not as helpful as he imagined, because cops often walked past the door of our building, without so much as a glance in our direction.

All of us had repeat callers, men who requested us by name, but Martha was the worst of the lot. She had several suitors who phoned insistently. They always asked shyly, “Please, can I speak to Miss Martha?” We’d hand Martha the receiver and then watch, dumbfounded and amused, as she spun a completely inauthentic web of enchantment around the poor fools. Martha had a puzzling weakness for Southern men with thick, almost unintelligible accents, men who said “ma’am” and “I’m fixing to come” while they masturbated. Martha egged them on because she had nothing else to do except go home and listen to torrents of abuse. Who could blame her, really?

For several weeks in a row, Martha had carried on with a man named Buddy. Buddy’s accent was straight out of “Deliverance.” He owned a gas station in Alabama, in a town so tiny that he was on a first-name basis with all of its inhabitants. The work was abysmally dull, and Buddy was lonely. All of the girls he’d fancied in high school were married to football stars and wealthy farming magnates, and every day he had to sell soda and candy bars to their grimy, demanding children.

Buddy was in love with Martha, and he wanted desperately to meet her. He proclaimed his love fervently and loudly. We could hear him all over the phone room, as we sat in our chairs with our hands over our mouths, trying desperately not to laugh. There was something poignant about Buddy’s ardor, and we were reluctant to hurt his feelings. Also, the routine was so entertaining that we didn’t want to hasten its ending.

Three days beforehand, Martha had looked especially rattled when she hung up the phone. “I’ve gone too far,” she announced. “Buddy purchased an airplane ticket, and he’s flying out to meet me next Thursday. I don’t have the heart to tell him that I’ve been leading him on this entire time. What the hell should I do?” None of us had an answer.

I was deliberating about the possibility of going home early one uncharacteristically mellow night, when my phone jangled sharply. I lifted the receiver, and Buddy’s thick twang assaulted my eardrums. “Is Martha there, ma’am?” he asked politely. I placed my hand over the mouthpiece and gestured towards Martha. She shook her head vehemently, a look of terror in her eyes. “I can’t,” she whispered. “Could you talk to him? Tell him I quit or something.”

Resolutely, I removed my hand from the mouthpiece. “I have terrible news, Buddy,” I said, without missing a beat. “Martha quit a couple of days ago. She got up from her desk and said, ‘I can’t take this anymore.’ Then she walked out the door, and no one has heard from her since.”

There was brief, stunned silence, then Buddy emitted a low, shuddering gasp. “Oh no,” he said. “Did she tell anybody where she was going? Does anyone know where she lives?”

“I’m afraid not,” I replied. “None of us can say we really knew Martha.” I paused for a moment and gazed around the room. Astrid and Lorraine were convulsed with silent laughter, slumped over their desks, their shoulders heaving. Struck by sudden inspiration, I reached over to a stack of papers on my desk and jostled it slightly. “Wait, here’s an envelope,” I said. “It says ‘To Buddy, from Martha.’ Let me open it.” I rustled the papers again. “Dear Buddy, I am so sorry, but we can never be together. I will always love you and treasure our conversations. Please forgive me.”

Buddy burst into tears. “Oh God,” he sobbed. “I loved her so much.”

“I know, Buddy,” I intoned solemnly. “We all did. At least she left a note.”

“She was a wonderful person,” Buddy wept. “If you see her, tell her I still love her.”

“I certainly will,” I assured him. There was another long pause, punctuated by strangled sobs and gulping noises, as Buddy attempted to get a handle on his emotions. I waited patiently, while my co-workers writhed on their desks, trying desperately to contain their laughter. Obviously, Buddy was irrevocably shattered by Martha’s defection, and I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t fall apart before he even had the chance to hang up. There was nothing left for him now, except for the unrelenting bleakness of the town in which he resided, and his gas station duties.

Buddy’s sobs gradually subsided. “I have to go,” I said softly. I removed the receiver from my ear and prepared to return it to its cradle. “Goodbye and good luck.” Buddy suddenly regained the power of speech. “Wait!” he cried. “I have one more question.”

“Sure,” I said charitably. I was willing to do anything that would offer succor to the poor man. Perhaps I could say something that would help him get through his next few, tortured days.

“What’s YOUR name?” he asked.

Jimmy Boom Semtex

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Kevin Tosca

Switzerland

Not two minutes after slipping out of my lover’s peerlessly hospitable vagina, my traitorous NON-SEX thoughts plunged me into a recurring, ultra-violent daydream.

So with her magnificently rounded body tucked against my body and her damp arms tangled in my damp arms on a balmy Saturday afternoon with fuck-all to do and the time to do it with, I played out this ultra violence (I had no choice), shivered, then tried my damnedest to remember where my penis had just been.

In order best to do this and not fall prey to the pitiless, mutually unexclusive ecstasies of copulating and killing, I needed a little more than the usual post-coital peace and quiet—needed it like a clown needs the horror—those delicious moments when two satisfied and naked beings don’t become one, but less than one, zero, thoughtless.

Thoughtlessness is the point.

My pregnant lover, however, had other points. While running a ripe finger up and down my equally ripe ribcage, she whispered:

“What are you thinking?”

That question!

That baleful, impossible to answer question!

Yet, in intrepid quest of THE gapingly open and brutally truthful relationship, I had tried to answer it.

Tried and failed. Miserably. Continuously.

Continuous miserable failure tarred and feathered with acute mental anguish, confidence-smashing embarrassment, and hope-crushing humiliation.

Because you can step into the same failure twice.

Having stepped enough, I promised myself I wouldn’t aspire to fail better, but differently, fundamentally so.

That is: I would never, ever, under any earthly or unearthly circumstances, answer honestly—or even try to answer honestly—that backstabbing question again.

Instead, I’d dodge it, defuse and deflect it with the utmost sincerity and conviction, comme il faut.

Lying.

That’s right: Survivalesque, sanity- and relationship-saving fibbery, the kind certified by the Greeks.

But I, unfortunately, must have experienced a serious cerebral malfunction—a potentially lethal (to my most present permanent relationship, mind you, no one’s exaggerating round here) lapse of good common horsesense—because there they were, the frank words spewing from my face.

“We’re in the metro, alone and savoring the rare two and only two of us when a man comes down the stairs and ruins it. A big man. A big and hostile man who, without one word of warning, attacks us. Screams. Horrible, blood-curdling screams. I’m not afraid, I’m angry. I’m enraged like a wild immaculate animal, like I always hoped I would be. The attacker’s shocked. You’re shocked. He tries to run but I catch him, beat him to death with my bare hands. You remember what Sailor Ripley did to Bob Ray Lemon in the beginning of Wild at Heart? Against those marble steps? Well, this is mushier, brainier, and I feel no remorse when the police arrive. I feel only a… a certain pleasure.”

My lover snuggled closer, spoke the following words in the softest, most intimate tones imaginable.

“I’ve lost my sense of purpose. I don’t know who I am or who you are or what this growing thing in my belly means. I wonder if this is the end of independence, adventure, possibility, me. I used to do things, want things. I used to see the world, confront it. I’m scared. I don’t want to become one of those mothers, those women, those wives. I will never marry you.”

“Actually,” I said, retreating as fast as I possibly could back to solid, trustworthy ground, “I was thinking about our trip to Switzerland.”

My lover’s eyes widened. “Me too!”

“To tell you the full, God’s honest truth,” I said (we had never set foot in Switzerland), “I was thinking about our baby and snowcapped mountains and universal peace.”

“I was too! I was!”

“It’s uncanny.”

“But no,” she said. “It’s not—not at all—not if you stop and think about it because we should always be thinking about peace, mountains, and babies.”

“You’re right! You’re absolutely right! But—”

“Yes?”

“—are you aware what must follow?”

My lover’s face was not only attentive, revolutionary, and doomed—in other words: Wajdaian—but achingly beautiful.

“For the good of the tribe?” I asked.

“Austerity?” she guessed.

“Bingo!” I said. “Full—Ferocious—Stop! We NEVER ask about thinking again!”

She wholeheartedly agreed, and the atmosphere, I noticed, had become jubilant and frenzied—a certain twenty-first century cultishness in the air—very warm, fuzzy, and comfortable in a self-righteousy zealoty kind of way, so I frowned, got my face nice and ominous, whipped it back to prehistory, gunned it for the primordial ooze.

“But that’s not enough.”

“Oh no?”

“Not even close.”

I bared teeth and snarled before becoming cheerfully pedantic. “They can’t just exist, my dear… They must achieve a transparent real-talk regularity any addlebrained five-year-old could grasp.”

“They?”

“Why, our sacred human values, of course. Which means from this moment forth, till death or drudgery do us part, we are to live as if we are from Switzerland.”

In Switzerland!” my lover enthusiastically corrected.

“WRONG!!!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. “We must BE-COME Switzerland: peace-loving, snowcapped, baby-friendly!”

My lover had nothing to add or subtract from that cockamamie declaration, but after a few silent and heavenly moments in each other’s arms—too little too late—she whispered: “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” I whispered back, just as tenderly despite my gut being carpet-bombed by the ever-present threat of thought.

“For asking about what you were thinking. It’ll never happen again, I promise. What a silly goose I was. Do you forgive me?”

“Nonsense,” I said, relieved. “I was lying anyway.”

“You were?”

“Of course I was. Forget it. Never happened.”

“I knew it! I knew you were lying!”

“And?” I asked, my voice unexpectedly—contradictorily—on the Hoboken side of needy.

“What?”

“Were you, you know, lying too?”

“Of course I was,” she said. “I’m always lying. Everything I say around here is a bald-faced lie.”

“Thank God for that.”

“Yes, God,” she said. “How do you feel? We can ask each other how we feel, can’t we?”

“Are we savages?”

“Well?”

“Like a believer,” I said.

My lover raised her eyebrows.

“Doubtless and serene,” I said, having been knick knack paddywhacked by the aforementioned atmosphere. “Unfuckingtouchable.”

“You’re wonderful,” she said.

“So can I ask you something then? Because, and I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit this, I was more than a little taken aback—I was, yes I was, damn near agoggled—by what you said on page three.”

“Anything. Except, you know…”

“Will you or won’t you?”

“Will I or won’t I what?”

“Be my wife.”

My lover smiled a smile midway between little slut and Mephistopheles. I was excited too, had been swirling my fingers around her benevolent nether regions for some time now. She said:

“I love you, don’t I?”

My eyes misted over.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, suddenly—genuinely—concerned. “What is it, mon chou?”

“There’s nothing more than that, is there?”

“Love?”

“Love, love, love,” I crooned, feeling closer than ever to the pure, neutral, mountainous ideal, but my fiancée appeared pensive again. She paused for (I counted with dread) thirty-seven seconds. Then:

“Well,” she said, “there izzzz Switzerland.”

Thus, and against all odds, she managed to read my deepest, darkest mind, so surprised I slipped my hungry happy dick back into the only language I truly believed in.

J.J. Campbell

waiting for the right ones to come along

i know when you
told me you loved
me you were lying

i didn’t mind

i wasn’t exactly
in love with you
either

we were simply
passing the time

waiting for the
right ones to
come along

one day we’ll
be old and can
look back at
this and laugh

although, the
odds say a
murder suicide
is more likely

god willing

Megan Alyse

Luv

He was making that noise. The one he always tried not to make when he was close. Tonight, though, the wine had stuffed Kit’s head full of cotton. He couldn’t hear himself grunting and squeaking at the same time. Theresa was on top with her eyes closed. He didn’t know it, but every time she opened them, she would glance at the clock on the nightstand. He let out one final caribou call, and it was over.

Theresa hopped off Kit and headed for the walk-in closet, covering her small butt cheeks with her bony hands as she went. She grabbed her fluffy, mint robe off the back of the door and slid it on.

“Wow.” Kit said, “I mean, wow.”

Panting, he grabbed the sheet and wiped his brow, expectantly.

“I mean, wasn’t that… how was it for you?” He said as he slowly raised the pitch of his voice.

“What time will you be home from work tomorrow?” she said as she threw some clothes out of the closet, the slide of the hangers muffling her voice.

Kit looked down at his stiff penis, then his hairy chest, and answered, “Six.”

“Ok well I need you to take Zeek to practice after, and then on your way, I need you to grab some milk, and coffee, and diapers.”

Each item on the list accompanied by a white shirt or sock, flying out of the closet.

“And don’t forget to buy the Huggies, not Luvs, I know the Luvs are cheaper, but they always leak. Last time you forgot to buy the right kind, and then Bailey had a blow-out while I was at the Pinner’s conference. I had to throw away that cute dress my mom bought her for her birthday. I’m planning on meatloaf for dinner, but I need eggs for that, so you’ll need to buy them from the store. Get the brown ones, not the white ones, the brown one’s are better. I’ve gotta wash Zeek’s uniform. Make sure he wears the right socks. Ok?” As her words increased in speed, the clothes began to fly higher, tracing a rainbow over Kit’s lingering erection. He watched as the clothes continued to arch and land at the foot of the bed in a rhythmic beat which accompanied her stream of anxiety. Kit wondered if she had heard him, so he asked again, “Wasn’t that amazing? I was hoping you’d be a little more…relaxed.”

“The sex? Yeah, of course. Did you hear me?” She responded distantly from inside the closet. Yeah, the sex, he thought.

“What are you doing?” He said, raising his voice. He opened his mouth and tried to yawn to clear his ears.

“Are you even listening to me?” she said, popping her head out the closet for a brief moment and then popping back in. “You keep doing this, Kit. You keep not listening to me. I feel like I have to do everything.”

“I’m listening—” he said, “But what the hell are you doing?!” He stretched his jaw and wiggled it from side to side with a finger simultaneously shaking in his ear.

“Laundry. I’m separating the whites. What the hell did you think I’m doing?”

Kit reached underneath the covers and felt on his pubic bone. It was still hot.

“Nothing,” he said with a downward slope in his voice. “I just thought we could lay here a bit and just…”

“Kit,” Theresa snapped, “The diapers? Do you want me to write it down? I can’t lie down. I’ve gotta get this done by tomorrow. I have a Room Mother’s meeting at six, so I need you to remember all this.”

“No, I’ve got it,” he said, moving towards the pile of clothes. He picked up an undershirt from the pile and wiped her off his thighs. “Luvs.”

“You’re disgusting.” She commented, “At least I’m washing that. And no, Huggies, Kit, we need Huggies. Just think of it this way: You can always hug someone, you can’t always love them. Huggies, always.”

“Hugs without Luvs. Got it.” He said, searching for his pajama pants.

“I’ll write it down,” she condescended, coming out of the closet and scooping the whites in her thin arms.

She left the room and Kit stood pant-less, watching her drop socks on her way out. He went into the closet to find pants, but as fate would have it, his eyes caught the white dress she liked to wear on special occasions, the one with the lace back, the one she had worn on their anniversary. He took it off the hanger. He examined the label, Dry Clean Only, it said. He heard Theresa slam the dryer door open as it hit the wall. I’ve gotta move that over more, he thought.

His mind flooded with the stressful thoughts of tomorrow. The ever-growing list of things to get done, the diapers, and milk, and the something that he had to get from the store. He took the dress in both hands and twisted it like a towel waiting to be snapped. He held it taut. He held it with intention. He held it stiff and unappreciatively. And instinctively, Kit moved that pretty dress in a flossing motion between his legs, rubbing and wiping, letting it soak up all the evidence from five minutes before.

“Coffee.” He said aloud while he continued to floss.

“And something else…” He smiled.

His pantswere in the corner of the closet next to his shoe rack. Fuck it, he thought. And he slid the dress back on its hanger and slid his pants on. He made his way back to his side of the bed and waited there, watching the door, wondering why Theresa was taking so long. He turned off the light and rolled on his side, watching the clock, counting the seconds. He yawned and his ears popped, amplifying the sound of Theresa muttering “I do everything.” He listened to the washing machine rumble and Theresa’s footsteps up and down the stairs as she collected dropped socks from the floor.

Christy Aldridge

Lizzie Cleary Had A Bad Day

Elizabeth Cleary woke up in a bad mood. Her husband would have attributed it to PMS, as men so often blamed every foul thing on, but it wasn’t the reason. If anything, he was more responsible for her bad mood than her hormones.

“Do you need to take a shower first?” she asked him. He stared at the ceiling, not speaking to her. Elizabeth looked at him a while longer, waiting for him to answer, but he was clearly still mad at whatever her husband was always mad about, suffering from PMS more than she ever was.

When he still didn’t answer, she got up from the bed, closing her book and lying it on the nightstand. “You know, just because you’re mad doesn’t mean you can’t answer a simple question,” she told him.

He continued staring at the ceiling, refusing to answer her or even look in her direction.

Being a royal prick, as usual.

Elizabeth growled under her breath and left the room. She started to head downstairs when she passed the twin’s room. She noticed the light beneath the door first. Rolling her eyes, she turned the knob. “You both know it’s way past your bedtime!” she yelled.

Sammy was laying on the floor with a toy car in his hand. Elizabeth found herself smiling at her sleeping child. Fallen asleep while playing, it seemed.

“Played yourself out, huh, little man,” she whispered, lifting him up carefully and tucking him into bed. She looked under the blankets of Jack’s bed, but he wasn’t there.

“Jack?” she called, but in a soft voice. “Where are you?”

She looked under his bed, but Jack wasn’t there. Down on her knees, she sighed. Hiding in his closet again, she figured, getting up and heading to the door.

There was a hole that went straight through to the other side of his closet door. She held her temples for a moment, to keep from scolding her children. Once again, they had been poking holes into things they shouldn’t be.

I’ll see if the royal prick will talk to me long enough to get onto the boys tomorrow morning.

She opened the door and her anger melted at the sight of his sleeping form. Slumped against a basket of toys, clutching his blanket, Jack had fallen asleep while hiding. She lifted him as well, carrying him carefully to the bed and tucking him in.

She looked at both of her children. They looked so sweet and innocent now. In the morning, she knew she would wake up and they would be terrors again, but for now, they looked like sleeping angels. It was moments like that that reminded Elizabeth of why she loved her children.

She crept out of the room as quietly as possible, not closing the door all the way in case the boys woke up in the middle of the night. They would be scared of being locked in a dark room, wake up screaming, and she knew her husband wouldn’t get up to calm them down.

Elizabeth walked downstairs to get her clothes from the laundry. Tomorrow she would put them up, along with a load of towels she had in the dryer. Today had been a bad day and folding and hanging clothes had been the last thing on her mind.

All she wanted to do was take a shower. She climbed the stairs again, quiet as possible so she wouldn’t wake the boys, and back into the room. She didn’t look at her husband as she passed by. She ignored him completely.

He was cheating on her. She knew he was. Because she had married a bad guy, because he told her he had cheated on her, because he was still here, despite having told her so.

Maybe I should get a divorce.

Elizabeth stopped in front of the mirror and stared at her face. She once was so beautiful. Men had begged her for her number, and she had decided to marry the first jerk that knocked her up. She had given up all of her dreams to love a man who would cheat on her.

She stepped into the shower and began cleaning herself. She was surprised when she stared at the drain and saw blood mixed in her water. She even laughed a little.

Maybe that idiot was right. I started my period a week early.

She laughed as she finished taking a shower. She was even smiling a bit when she came back into the room and got into bed beside her husband. She looked at him, stared at him for a long time.

Something was missing, an image she knew she needed to see, but couldn’t. She just smiled it away, leaning over and kissing his cheek. “I still love you,” she told him. When he didn’t answer, she turned to her nightstand. “We’ll talk in the morning.”

She looked at the gun on the nightstand, a moment of recognition coming over her. Three bangs, one after another in her mind. She looked at her husband again, felt the truth creeping up her spine, and then shook her head, placing the gun back in the drawer.

“We’ll talk tomorrow,” she told him, turning off the lamp and slipping beneath the blankets.

A. Theist

Winter

Autumn’s last leaf pirouettes on a
cold wind,
cold enough to freeze your tits off,
then falls.

Basking in this great silence like I’m
the only one left,
I light a cigarette.

The dog is staring at me in that
curious way,
wondering what’s next,

“Go on, boy. Go piss.”, I say.

It’s moments like these,

when the world is all alone,

under a blanket of snow that

I wish you were all dead.

Gary D. Morton

Sparkles in the Skin Museum

I stand for hours glaring at myself in the mirror, just trying to figure out what I am looking at. All these plastic normal people are so obsessed with attaching labels, categorising, compartmentalising, sorting, colour coding and identifying. I like to be a little bit of everything, all mixed up in a little chaotic bundle.

I carefully consider each little lump of meat and flesh and skin that makes up my body and my face. All those blood vessels and organs and skin and cells, glued together so haphazardly. I never understand why these normal people have to give something a name, just so that they can understand it: Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis.

I try extremely hard to be normal, or at least considered remotely similar to normal. When I feel like I don’t fit in, like a place for me hasn’t been carved out yet, I seriously consider hanging myself, or driving off a bridge.

I used to have a pretty little kitten, called Hugo, it used to live with me here, in this obnoxiously glittery flat. He used to nuzzle around the decapitated mannequin dolls, all wrapped up in sparkly feather boas, and costume jewellery and teddy bears with the insides pulled out.

I make little sculptures, made out of human hair and ribbons. I lay them all out on the windowsill, surrounded with twinkly fairy lights and broken machinery parts, disused batteries and hollowed out femurs. I like to wear pieces of people’s faces, torn out of glossy magazines. I rip out the shiniest smiles, artificially sweetened and impossibly white.

I keep all the teeth, wrenched out by the root and stand them all up, all laid out like little porcelain figures on a foosball table. I fashion my own clothes, made out of the skins of animals and skins of other things.

Hugo, my pretty little kitten, used to scuffle and snuffle around in all of this disarray, he was so soft and sweet, begging for a little treat, huddled in the corner, wrapped in PVC and animal skins, all stitched together with music and angel wings.

I like to secrete myself in cinema queues and savour the scent of the pretty, young ones, all painted and on display, dipped in gold, silently dreaming about the contents of tiny silly underwear: little petals all curled up, hiding, screaming to be claimed and consumed. I find it difficult to find shoes that fit, especially the chrome platform ones, or the ones with shoogly fucking stilts attached. I sometimes grow my moustache to use it a disguise, to hide behind it, with polyester shirts, freshly pressed slacks, crisp and at attention, waiting by the radiator.

I need to tell you something, whisper it so it’s not too loud and you have to promise not to tell: but, I really like killing people.

I like dismembering and disembowelling the weak. I like cutting off tits and hiding little pieces of spleen underneath my pillow. I feed my little kitten the slivers of liver, when he hasn’t eaten for days, but his little silver jacket is fashioned by Dior.

His diamanté collar sparkles as he feasts. He always looks resplendent, standing at bus stops, ensconced under overpasses, dripping in gold lame. Even the vet looked shocked when I took my little kitten to have that fragment of bone removed from under his poor little busted lip.

I follow people home from discos, slathered in couture, pieces of skin and something else, adorning my finely tailored pantsuits. I’m a fashion designer by night, but I also fix dishwashers and arrange flowers for funerals. I design centrepieces for wedding parties: all lacy and white.

I have been told that I have an above average-sized penis, that I keep suspended in a jar. My vulva is delightful, inviting, daubed in paint, framed on the wall. I keep my shoes polished, when I take them by night, under the glow of neon lights.

I always make sure that they stay hydrated before I start to cut, as otherwise, my creations will just never sit right, the precious places all curled up and dried out.

He never really loved me, and I realise that now. I tried to tell him that I was trapped inside the wrong body, stuck inside this big fucking meat bookcase, scratching at this alien contraption that constrained my true identity. I had been given the wrong label, by all of these normal people.

I still cannot accept that he is gone. He told me that he needed some time to think, some space to work things out. He said he was moving into his mother’s when I started the hormone treatment. He didn’t seem to understand that this means everything to me. This embodies every moment that I’ve hacked at myself for 24 years of marriage.

Every morning, when I laid out his breakfast, he would kiss me on the cheek, barely brushing against me, even though I hadn’t shaved yet, and I knew he hated the sensation of stubble on his lips. I explained the procedure to him over and over again and that it would still be me on this inside, the person that he fell in love with, but I could be different, I could be free. I could be happy.

I always knew, deep down, that he wouldn’t understand and he even threatened to take away my precious little kitten when we were finalising the divorce. I couldn’t understand why he was being so vindictive, so bitter, so petty, so intent on causing me agony. Even now that I have lost him, I still yearn for the days when we would lie together, entwined together, cradling me so gently in his arms, when all we needed was each other and the next breath, taken as one.

I have tried to recapture the pain he caused me on my victims, shackled, debased, humiliated, defiled, removing their plastic masks with surgical scalpels and preserving their faces in formaldehyde. I wear their pretty faces and pose for polaroid pictures, surrounded my endless mirrors, begging for them to notice me, with their eyelids crudely stitched together, flashbulbs exploding into eternity, removing their genitalia and working them into a dress with a double-stitched hem. Each of these identities removed with razorwire, all these photographs and sculptures were for him.

I tried so fucking hard to be perfect, to be beautiful, all these faces stitched on over mine, not even a GLIMMER of recognition, so now I dance around drunk on mint juleps, with his lacerated penis dangling from black elastic and Velcro, plastered over the fleshy lips of my vagina, weeping for the day that the Social Work Department took away my little Hugo, his golden hair all matted and his leopard skin two piece all crumpled and torn.

Then supervised visits in a contact centre, clipboards and parenting capacity assessments and allegations of wilful neglect and child psychologists investigating a “gender identity crisis.”

So, I smear yet another layer of crushed-up beetle carcasses across my little rosebud lips and I pull at the black elastic straps and Velcro bindings as his old decaying penis undulates under the rippling fabric of my vintage Lindy Bop dress with the ever so special lining, teetering on sinfully tall high-heels, as I plan another addition to my ever-expanding gallery of skin.

Charles Austin Muir

Before the Def Leppard Pyromania Virus Destroyed Us

 

File no. 19-000-4593

From the hard drive of Dr. Demi Cusack-Ringwald

Last modified 10:03 a.m. Oct. 8, 2018

Investigator’s note: I know for sure there ain’t no cure

 

Sorry to hijack your computer, Aunt Demi, but I feel compelled to put this on record. Dear God, let me be in full control of the narrative.

Commencing Anthony Michael Cusack’s one and only diary entry.

So the whole thing started eight weeks ago. My mom was one of the virus’s earliest victims. She told me she could give me a discount on Cialis. Given her sex-obsessed dementia, her offer struck me as perfectly normal. But then a gas station attendant offered me a deal on Viagra… a cop wanted to know if I was looking for Russian brides… a pizza delivery guy told me he could make my ejaculations last longer. This was all during the first forty-eight hours of the outbreak.

No one knew about the virus yet. My therapist blamed the phenomenon on synchronicity—a concurrence of criminal energies mysteriously aligned with my horny, seventy-five-year-old mom. I preferred to think of it as a cosmic prank, a rationalization inspired by a show about clown orgies she was watching on her laptop one evening. Fucking clowns, I thought. That’s it—the universe is clowning with me.

Not just with me, it turned out, but everyone on earth.

In a black-humored “fuck you” to technology, nature had concocted a highly contagious virus that made people speak in spam verbiage. Over the next few weeks, reports confirmed that predatory consumer messages threatened to supersede all communications worldwide. The super-lethal spam virus took millions of lives. Those who caught it could do nothing besides drone on about Louis Vuitton bags and wonder pills and hot Latinas. It sounds funny until you see a nine-year-old girl in Strawberry Shortcake pajamas ranting about free access to local sluts while dying of spam fever.

Watching the world end this way was exhausting.

“No, I don’t want the manhood I’ve always desired,” I snapped at my mom one evening as we watched a show about bukkake parties on her laptop. Two weeks later, she died of spam fever.

“Meet single bodybuilders,” she cried, while I held her hand. “Grow a big package!”

All this started just over two months ago, as I mentioned. The pandemic has spread far more rapidly than the Thing’s infection of the world’s population according to Blair’s projections in the 1982 John Carpenter movie, The Thing. As for its severity, if the spam virus came in contact with the Thing, I’m pretty sure it would infect the shape-shifting extraterrestrial organism in all its biological imitations, from humans to dogs to individual blood cells. Not that I have a clue as to why I compared the spam virus to the Thing just now.

It comforts me though, however strangely, to know the human race is at least being shown the door by a pathogen even deadlier than the Thing. I mean, not even my aunt, a brilliant biologist, and her disease experts could save us from the thing that would make the Thing its spam-speaking bitch. But this is serious with over three billion people dead now and I should stop talking about the Thing, both the gory yet suspenseful 1982 adaptation of Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. and the eponymous alien parasite.

I should add, however, that I am aware of the 1951 adaptation of Who Goes There? called The Thing from Another World and the 2011 prequel to The Thing, which to confuse matters needlessly is also called The Thing. But enough about Thing-related movies and the Thing.

Anyway, my aunt texted me two days ago: “We think we’ve isolated the microbe responsible for the disease. Be in full control of ejaculation.”

Rest in peace, Aunt Demi. You gave it your best shot.

Fuck, this is hard. I’m so tired. And it’s so cold in here. It strikes me that I’m like Blair the senior biologist in The Thing, holed up in my aunt’s research laboratory, banging away on a computer considerably sportier than Blair’s circa 1982 model. Sadly, I’ve looked at all the notes I could find (surrounded by the researchers’ corpses, including that of my aunt, whose last scrawled words were “I would luv 2 have a good time this fucking couch oh my God it’s changing”) and still can’t understand how it is that we as a species are dying.

And really, that’s what I get for majoring in English—watching the human race perish and thinking, “So this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a discount on Cialis.”

Haha. That’s not even clever. But do you know what is clever? The spam virus making a Thing imitation of a human say “double your cash” in human-speak or a Thing imitation of a dog say “score with babes” in dog-speak or even a Thing imitation of a blood sample say “cures baldness” in blood-sample-speak. In terms of pathogenicity, the spam virus makes the Thing look like a weakass bitch, like when R.J. MacReady the helicopter pilot torches the Thing’s crawling-head imitation of Norris the geologist with his flamethrower.

Seriously, I have to stop going on about The Thing.

Instead, I want to write about my dad and how he died last week like a weakass bitch—like the crawling head Norris-Thing. “Send me your sexy pics,” he wailed in his fever. All the while I remembered how he had promised to knock me out on my eighteenth birthday because I challenged him to a fight on that date (thank God we made up and saw Tango & Cash when the big day finally came). Thirty years later, he’s begging me to send him sexy pics.

Oh, you clever disease. You think we humans are weakass bitches in your global clown sex party. My God, my brains feel like they’re on fire.

THAT’S BECAUSE I AM MUTATING, ANTHONY. OR IS IT ANTHONY MICHAEL? YOU HAVE A HISTORY OF USING BOTH REFERENCES. ANYWAY, I HAVE BEEN MUTATING FOR THE PAST 72 HOURS. I AM NO LONGER A SPAM VIRUS, BUT A 1982 THE THINGVIRUS. BE THANKFUL, BECAUSE I ALMOST BECAME A 1987 DIRTY DANCING VIRUS, WHICH, AS YOU KNOW, IS FAMOUS FOR THE LINE SPOKEN BY JOHNNY CASTLE, “NOBODY PUTS BABY IN THE CORNER.” I’M REALLY DIGGING THE EIGHTIES VIBE, YOU KNOW? YOU GEN XERS GREW UP WITH SOME GREAT MOVIES. IN FACT, I’M NOT ENTIRELY CONVINCED I MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE. NOT THAT I CAN’T CHANGE MY MIND AT ANY TIME. A FEW ALTERATIONS TO MY CRYSTALLINE STRUCTURE AND JOHNNY CASTLE HERE WE COME. BUT… READING YOUR MIND, ANTHONY, OR ANTHONY MICHAEL, AND MAKING YOU TYPE THIS, I CAN SYMPATHIZE WITH YOUR PREFERENCE FOR R.J. MACREADY OVER JOHNNY CASTLE, OR KURT RUSSELL OVER PATRICK SWAYZE TO NAME THE ACTORS WHO PORTRAYED THOSE TWO BADASS MOFOS. AND EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE MY WEAKASS NORRIS-THING BITCH, AS YOU PUT IT, NO ONE PUTS KURT RUSSELL IN THE CORNER, RIGHT? HAHA. THAT’S PRETTY CLEVER, RIGHT?

Haha. That is pretty clever, 1982 The Thing Virus. But please, let me finish my account before you kill me. I want to talk about Rocky, my dog, my little old Boston terrier, he’s sixteen now, or was, how he passed away in my lap the day after my dad died. We were on the couch tied to this fucking couch I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter no 1982 The Thing Virus please I don’t want to quote Garry the commander of the research station after MacReady runs the blood tests to find out who the Thing is let me finish my story about Rocky and how I know you gentlemen have been through a lot but when you find the time I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter tied to this fucking couch I know you gentlemen have been through a lot but when you find the time I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter tied to this fucking couch I know you gentlemen have been through a lot but nobody puts Baby in the corner nobody puts Baby in the corner nobody puts Baby in the corner oh my God it’s mutating again