J.J. Campbell

and the older you get

all these remedies, potions 
and pills trying to let you 
escape the pain

all the while, i’m more 
interested in embracing 
it

i had a doctor tell me 
once pain is how you 
know you’re alive

so is love

and the older you get

the more you realize 
just how much both 
go hand in hand

the lucky ones will 
have some flowery 
retort to this

the rest of us have 
no choice but to 
live in reality

Damon Hubbs

The Viaduct Girls

in high waisted acid 
washed jeans & Def Leppard 
half shirts  

the viaduct girls 
give furious  
fleeting hand jobs 

as the D&H railroad 
shoots its load 
across the Susquehanna

later they teach us to skip rocks
ducks & drakes, they call it 
to further mystify 

in a few years 
they’re at Vassar or Bryn Mawr
or some other college we can’t pronounce

we stay or leave 
or leave & come back 
it’s all the same

drinking beer every night
at the Copper Fox
on Water St

nowadays nobody skips rocks 
& the train stopped unloading 
years ago 

David Estringel

Neon Gods

Sacred footsteps 
of pilgrims and 
street PrOphETS 
atop
piss-stained lottery tickets and 
dirty hypodermics—
like rose petals, strewn
under maidens’ tender feet—
pave the way
to playing card Meccas
beyond doors
to salvation/damnation,
below fiery eyes that cut
the night (and souls) in two
with gazes and blinks 
(but never sleep). 

Quite the price 
to pay
to cross these fickle streams
that run
sacrificial red 
with self-severings 
of thigh bone and fat,
savory-sweet 
and spiced with lotus wine—
offerings 
in want of burning
on conjured stages and 
electric alters
for Vanity’s spectacle.

How divine 
the honied stench
of auto vivisections (splayed out
for all to see),
making followers and 
the blue birds that tweet
forget 
appetites and tastes for
eyes (for eyes) and teeth (for teeth)— 
for the sake of ounces (of fame) 
for pounds (of flesh)—
like cold Lethe 
and her gentle lapping,
smooth, of jagged rocks
upon Hell’s bitter shores.

Let us pray 
(for emergence
from this opiate haze
and a quick flip of the switch).

Amen.

***

Originally published at Cephalopress

Noel Negele

Sade

Sade’s twenty two
and made of fire
with eyelashes 
long enough 
to blow wind on your face
if she blinks close to you

Born in the Bermudas 
but talks like a Jamaican 

I tell her
“You’re my black bitch”
and she slaps me
across the face

When I repeat
my playful insult
she slaps me harder

Am I a masochist?
No, I am not
I am a sadist

I lay Sade on my bed
each night
and she’s fire 
in a cold cold soul

I flip her over 
like chicken breasts
in the burning pan

I suck on her asshole
as if it’s the formula 
that was missing
from when I was a baby

Sade is lust
and mutual bullying,
there’s harmony
in our mutual abuse

Sometimes I don’t know
what she screams at me
her accent is so exotic
but I suckle 
on her chocolate nipples 
on those caramel-coloured breasts 

She says I can’t love 
a black girl,
I’m as white as her bed sheets

I tell her I’m a different kind of white
An Albanian white 

She says she’s Muslim

I tell her I grew up Muslim 
Bektashi Muslim,
I tell her

Allah will strike us both dead
if he happens to see
what I’m about to do to her
this fiery night

She lets me

She lets me 
make a sinner 
of us both 

Under a sky 
empty of anything 
religious 
or moral

As we make 
our lustful noise
in a darkness left
from thousands years
of silence from any God,
be it Allah
or Christ
or any other fairytale
people spew on this world
because they were too afraid 
to die
or had the luck of
ever meeting a Sade

Sade is a God killer
even if she believes in God

And she sleeps
in my arms
tonight

Rachel Simon

Hallowed

The prom queen in her skanky tight dress forgetting tonight she is a Catholic Girl
The steamy windows in the back, virginity escaping. Man conquering the Catholic Girl.

They watch her enter for confession; moldy Priests ready to judge what he longs for
Repent! Repent! On your knees! In five minutes, you can still go to heaven, little Catholic Girl.

Restaurants reek with Lent specials on Friday for those who pretend all week they were good
With his family in tow, he stares at the ass of the young waitress Catholic Girl. 

She will bear all your children and bow to you, her purity belongs to you forever
She has no choice but “yes” never “no” to her drunkard husband.  Always his Catholic Girl.

The beads of the Rosary bust from wear and worry, trickling across the floor, piercing silence
The bride’s shaky hands expecting thunder and lightning. Until death dear Catholic Girl.

Robert Pettus

Meat Machines

The box crusher buzzed and shoved the collected cardboard forcefully to the bottom of the machine. Neil loved that. It would be the favorite part of his job if the rest of his work didn’t involve chopping, slicing, and grinding meat. Nothing beat that. He grinned sadistically at the box crusher as it completed its only task, wondering what would happen if you stuffed a person in there. 

“They might not even die,” he thought pessimistically, “I’m just getting my hopes up.”

The boxes totally smashed, he walked through the back-of-store hallway back into the meat department, his thick green tote-bin in hand. Pushing through the swinging doors, he noticed and savored that smell eternally present in the meat room—the scent of raw flesh. Neil never felt truly awake until he came to work and sniffed inside that concrete, neutral room –until he dirtied the white plastic cutting boards of its heavy rectangular tables with blood and fat. Everyone said working in the IGA meat department made him smell like shit. He loved that—both the smell and its manufactured repulsion of others. He liked to think of it as his de-deodorant.

His boss, Jimmy P—a grouchy old alcoholic—was sitting atop his wobbly wooden stool, which was cushioned with a cut up yellow foam mattress-pad, in the corner of the room, smoking his twentieth Pall Mall Orange of the day. 

“Start wrapping that shit up,” his raspy voice grumbled through perpetually gritted teeth.

Neil obeyed. He placed Styrofoam tray after Styrofoam tray of ground beef onto the wrapping scale, occasionally intentionally letting some meat fall onto the heated plate used for gluing shut the plastic. He drank in that sizzling scent. Jimmy P assumed that no one liked wrapping, but Neil found joy in it. Something about wrapping the plastic around the meat got him off—he fucking loved it. 

He finished up the cart of family-pack ground beef and rolled it out into the grocery store, placing each package carefully onto its place on the shelf. Some of it would sell, going on to be used to make a tasty burgers or spaghetti Bolognese, but some of it would rot and turn green—that was the circle of life in the meat house.

“Hey there, Neil!” came a voice from behind. It was Mrs. Cunningham. “You’re doing such a great job working here! I’m glad they gave you the job. Say, you think you can cut me up a couple of those boneless pork-chops when you get a chance? You cut them just right!”

“Sure, Mrs. Cunningham,” responded Neil. He hurried inside to slice up her chops. 

Neil despised Mrs. Cunningham—she was such a miserable bitch, always happy for no reason—but he loved slicing meat. He would cut pork chops for her all day, no problem. 

Pushing back through the swinging door, Neil was confronted by Jimmy P:

“What the hell are you doing?” Jimmy said, “I thought I told you to go stock the beef?”

“Mrs. Cunningham is here,” said Neil, “She wants me to slice her up some chops.”

“Get the fuck back out there. I’ll take care of the chops. You finish stocking the shelves.”

Neil walked back outside, into the meat-section aisle. He was so pissed—what was Jimmy P thinking? Stealing his meat slicing opportunity! Neil would have to deal with him eventually, he knew.

Neil stuffed the remaining packages onto the shelf. Typical grocery store music played around him. He hated all that noisy shit. It was I’m the Only One, by Melissa Etheridge. If he had to hear that song one more fucking time, Neil was going to kill someone. 

He finished stocking the ground beef and walked back into the meat house. Jimmy P, who stood limping crookedly—another Pall Mall Orange dangling from his mouth—handed Neil the wrapped package of thick, boneless pork-chops.

“Go give that shit to Mrs. Cunningham,” he said.

Neil took the package and walked back outside, sliding the it across the meat department counter to Mrs. Cunningham, who stood smiling toothily on the other side. 

“Thank you so much, Neil!” she said, “I just love these chops, but I prefer them a bit meatier than you keep them on the shelf. I like to taste some juice when I take a bite. Thanks!”

She walked off happily, pushing her cart into the cookies and crackers aisle, looking with curiosity at some pecan sandies that were on sale. 

Neil walked back into the meat house.

“You’re in college, right?” said Jimmy P, “Up there in Indiana?”

“Yeah,” responded Neil.

“Why you back here in Abry? I liked having you here, back when you were in high school—you’re a good worker—but why are you here again? Shouldn’t you be studying and whatnot?”

“I’m taking a semester off,” said Neil. “Thought I may as well make some money before I go back.”

“I guess that makes sense,” said Jimmy P. “What kind of classes you taking up there in Bloomington? Not Hoosier 101, hopefully? Not the red-striped pajamas seminar?” Jimmy P chuckled to himself at that, then hacking repeatedly, momentarily setting his lit cigarette into the ash tray with the horde of those already finished. Abry, Neil’s hometown, was in Central Kentucky. Most people there were huge Kentucky Wildcats basketball fans, and they all hated the Indiana Hoosiers—their natural rivals. Neil didn’t give a single shit about any of that. Basketball was stupid. Baseball was the real sport, where people used heavy bats to swing away and hit bombs. 

“Mostly just general education stuff.” Neil responded, “I’m not sure what I want to major in yet—that’s why I’m taking a semester off. I took psychology last semester. I liked that class.”

“You know, I took Psychology too, back when I went to Thomas Merton. It wasn’t called that back then—Thomas Merton the actual guy hadn’t been dead long enough to get colleges named after him; it was called St. Catherine—but I took psychology there. I liked that class; think I was good at it. It’s important, you know? Being able to read people; being able to understand them.”

“I liked it too,” said Neil. “Might major in it when I go back. Not much money in psychology though.”

“Ah, fuck the money,” said Jimmy P, “If you like psychology, study psychology.”

“I like meat, too,” said Neil, “and I’ve already got some experience with that. You seem to have made a good life for yourself cutting meat.”

“Cutting meat is fucking stupid,” said Jimmy P, “All I do is slice pork-chops, grind beef, salt and age hams. It’s pointless as hell. Sometimes I’ll order something off-the-wall, like a beef-tongue or some strange seafood item, but that’s about as exciting as it gets.”

Beef tongues indeed excited Neil. 

“It’s not pointless to me,” said Neil. “There’s something primal about it—something natural. It feels right.”

Jimmy P stared at Neil uncertainly, the aged wrinkles on his forehead rippling up and down, his bushy white eyebrows splintering as if alert. He ashed his finished cigarette and grabbed another from the chest-pocket of his white butcher’s coat, lighting up and immediately inhaling: “You’re a weird kid,” said Jimmy P, “You’re smart, but you’re fucking weird.”

Neil didn’t respond. He instead turned, wrenched open the freezer door, and stepped inside. 

Neil loved the freezer. It was the place where he kept all his secrets; his secrets he could never tell anyone about. The freezer was huge—four stories of rusted metal shelving stretched up to the frigid, fan-blasting ceiling. Jimmy P never checked back in the hidden corners under the shelving, not even when he allegedly cleaned the place out each spring. That’s where Neil kept his secrets. 

Neil shoved aside the box containing bricks of frozen green, expired meat, which Jimmy P liked to grind up and place back on the shelves as hamburger patties. Those things sold like crazy; people loved them, totally unaware that the burgers were composed of rotten mystery meat.

Neil squatted and stared into the blackness of the corner of the freezer. He couldn’t see much back there, only the geometrically perfect angles of boxes and room-corners, but he recognized what he was looking for—his most cherished box; the one he had saved. The one that had been sitting there untainted during his semesters in Bloomington.  

Neil got down onto the jiggly cushion of his potbelly and crawled below the shelving so he could grab his hidden box. His shirt lifted a little, causing his sensitive bellybutton to slide against the stone-cold metal flooring of the room. Neil couldn’t help but instinctively arch his back at that, which caused him to scrape it against the rusty grating of the ancient shelving. It hurt—Neil thought he was bleeding—but he didn’t care much about that. He at that moment had a one-track mind. 

He grabbed the flapping side of his prized box, hidden in the frozen blackness of the corner of the room, and yanked it out into the open. Looking inside, he saw that his collection was still there—a duck, a raccoon, an opossum—all bleach-white and petrified, their brittle, skeletal figures still holding on through months spent in the blasting wind of the freezer. 

Neil was happy. He grabbed the duck’s beak, for some reason thinking it might crumble within his hands. He wanted to break something. It didn’t, though. That angered Neil. He then squeezed as tightly as he could, finally snapping off the beak. He threw it against the wall in annoyance. He then grabbed the opossum’s snout, attempting to do the same. 

Neil’s mood had shifted instantaneously from elation at finding his box to unexplained psychotic fury over its contents not being to his imagined desire. 

He kept yanking at the snout of the frozen opossum, trying with both hands to snap it in half. It wouldn’t work – the bones were frozen. He looked at the lifeless mammal; it’s vantablack, empty eyes glaring into his putrid soul as if sarcastically. 

Neil hated that. He slung the brick-like body of the opossum against the wall of the freezer door, this time creating a much heavier THUD than that of the previously launched duck-beak.

Neil heard the latch to the large door click. He felt the light and warmth of the outside meat-house room as the door swung ajar. Neil was startled, but also pissed. Jimmy P looked at him in the opening. He was also pissed.  

Jimmy P waddled into the room, slouching, favoring his left side. His posture was terrible—he looked a bit like a hunchback. It was because he was getting old. He was an elderly, fragile, chain-smoking alcoholic. He was frail, and in terrible health. That didn’t stop him from bitching about everything, though. It also didn’t abate his natural tendency toward bossiness, or his illogical fearlessness. 

“The fuck is that goddamn ‘possum doing in here?” He said, “And is that a duck beak? I didn’t order any fucking ducks. What the hell is this shit? You go hunting and store your kills in here? Because that horse-shit ain’t allowed. And who hunts ‘possums, anyway? Shit has to taste nastier thank dog dick.”

“Shut up, you decrepit old fuck,” said Neil, stepping toward Jimmy P. 

Jimmy P wasn’t a strong man. Maybe he had been, at some point in his life, but at this point he was in no way capable of defending himself against much of anyone –especially not Neil’s hulking figure, hardened by endless summer days stripping tobacco out in his uncle’s field. Jimmy P could do nothing to prevent Neil from grabbing his throat and pushing him against the frigid metal wall of the freezer. He flailed around, but it was no use—it only bruised his old bones. Jimmy P couldn’t stop Neil from holding him in place while he reached to the ground and picked up the stone-frozen opossum. He most certainly couldn’t do anything about Neil beating him to death with it, either.

Neil, grabbing the opossum by its leathery, naked tail, lifted the frozen varmint and swung it down hard onto the droopy, wrinkled skin of Jimmy P’s skull. Jimmy P was out after that first swing—unconscious and likely on the fast-track to death—but that didn’t stop Neil from continuing to hammer away. Neil swung again and again, burying the face of the frozen animal into Jimmy P’s flabby red, booze-swollen cheeks. He shattered the butcher’s teeth, broke his nose—he even popped out one of his eyeballs, which hung like an unscrewed light from a wire out from within its wet, pink socket. 

Neil enjoyed beating him like that, but he wasn’t stupid. He couldn’t sit there swinging away all damn day. He needed to get the hell out of there. It wouldn’t hurt to hide Jimmy P’s body, either. Neil walked out into the hallway, waiting until absolutely no one was around, and then dragged Jimmy P by his feet to the box crusher, first laying his bloody head atop a cardboard box—which used to house frozen chicken breasts—to prevent streaking. Before slinging his limp body inside, he removed Jimmy P’s white butcher’s coat, putting it on proudly, briefly posing in his excitement. He then pressed the button, his hand shaking, his eyes wide with anticipation. He knew he should get out of there as quickly as possible, but he couldn’t help himself—he had to watch. One of his dreams was coming true; he was actually seeing someone get crushed by the box crusher—an actual person! This made Neil unexplainably joyous. 

Jimmy P’s dead bones cracked under the push of the box crusher, which shoved him down into his cardboard-surrounded, metal grave. When the machine had again lifted, Neil looked inside, gazing upon the butcher’s mangled, pathetic form. 

Neil covered his body with a collection of flattened cardboard boxes. That way, no one would notice him until at least the following morning. Hell, they may not even notice him at all—stranger things had happened, Neil reckoned. 

He walked back into the meat house with a wide grin spread across his manic face. His new white, meat-stained coat was a little tight, but it fit well enough. Neil thought it looked fashionable with the dark red Indiana Hoosiers crewneck he was wearing underneath. He rubbed at his thin red moustache—he would be able to grow a full one, eventually. When he got a little older. He adjusted his glasses; his bloodshot eyeballs appearing twice their normal size from within the thick lenses. Neil felt good.

 Neil couldn’t stop here—this was too much fun! He was drunk with bloodlust. He grabbed a cleaver and a metal tenderizing mallet from the butcher’s table and walked out into the grocery store.

“I’ve officially filed my resignation,” he proclaimed loudly to no one as he stepped through IGA’s automatic front doors out into the Kentucky sunlight. The day was still bright, but dusk was approaching. The clouds hung heavy in the sky, ready to shield the small town of Abry like a blanket from the beating autumnal sun. It was hot for October—Neil appreciated that; it matched his mood. Neil was going to have one hell of a night. Nothing could stop him. The trick-or-treaters were in for one hell of a surprise.

*  *  *

Neil began walking down highway 555 toward downtown. Abry was a small town, but this would still be a hell of a walk—at least forty minutes. That was okay with Neil, he didn’t want to arrive until the sun had set, anyway—he intentionally chose to walk, leaving his green, 1993 Ford F150 in the IGA parking lot. He loved his truck, he thought she had a wonderful personality, but this side of his personality—what he was about to do tonight—she didn’t need to see all that… 

The sun was beginning to set. Bright rays flashed annoyingly into Neil’s squinting eyes, making him wince, causing a headache. He hated headaches; they made him crazy. He lost control of himself. He shielded himself from the glare, forgetting he was carrying a heavy mallet and accidentally knocking himself in the forehead with its handle, which only increased the now throbbing pain. 

“Fuck!” yelled Neil to no one in particular. The sun further descended into the edge of the horizon; the gloaming set in, a nightlight-like glow rippling over the distant bluegrass hillside as if to comfort the town while it settled into the uncertainty of Halloween night. Neil appreciated that—he liked a good, natural view. He was a man of nature.

A cop car drove past as he walked down the road, which he had feared. It didn’t stop though, not even upon noticing Neil’s ridiculous outfit—he was still wearing the bloody butcher’s coat and holding both the cleaver and the tenderizing mallet. That, combined with his thick-rimmed glasses and his scraggly, crazy red hair, made him look like a fucking psycho, he was sure.

“Dumb bastard thinks it’s a costume,” chuckled Neil, trudging down the road. He scraped his Red Wing boots against the chalky gravel of the shoulder, one time almost tripping on the growlers, the toe of his boot momentarily wedging into one of the treads. 

Neil made it to Main Street without issue. He took a left at the Hardee’s. He walked past the putrid-smelling cheese factory. He walked past the old reservoir, the heavy-flowing creek of its outpour morphing into a temporary waterfall due to heavy rain the previous week. He walked past the abandoned, decrepit old factory—he wasn’t what the hell that place had ever been. He walked past Thomas Merton Catholic School; he walked past the newly constructed public library and the fire department. He made it downtown, seeing the onion-domed cupola of the Robertson Building rise over the smalltown skyline as if the tower of an eastern European fantasy castle. That was his destination. The evening darkened further; night began setting in. 

*  *  *

Crowds of children littered Main Street, scavenging for whatever candy they could find like a colony of ants. Local small business owners—the few of whom remained on the deteriorating, classic American Main Street, sat on the stone front stoops and porches of their offices and gave candy to the passing kids. Neil noticed that they were actually giving out the good stuff this year—Reese’s, Snickers, Kit-Kat’s, etc. – not that off-brand bullshit. One lady—Carol, from Johnson’s Jeweler’s—was giving out handfuls of candy corn, however. What a fucking loser. The kids avoided that spot—hell, the parents didn’t even like it; they were visibly affronted watching Carol dig her long, purple-painted, likely dirty fingernails into that big box of candy corn, a witches hat atop her head, her face painted green. She was fucking creepy. The parents knew; even Neil knew it. He walked up and dug his thick hand—still stained and greasy with dried blood and meat fat—into her box of candy, glaring at her unintentionally psychotically. She recoiled, opening the glass door to her business and slamming it in his face, the bell on the front door jingling annoyingly, furthering Neil’s headache. She stared at him in terror from within the dark office.

Neil inhaled a handful of candy corn, crunching sloppily as ejected bits fell to the sidewalk. Giving her one more amused grin, he then turned and continued down Main Street. He needed to be more careful. Though scaring Carol was undoubtedly hilarious, it wasn’t his goal.

Reaching the corner of Main Street and Lincoln Hill—Cross Main, as local Abrian citizens called it—Neil looked across the street to the dark green, circular street-clock on the opposite corner. It read 7:15. Neil still had time, but not enough to be fooling around. The haunted house in the Robertson Building closed at 9:00. If he wanted to accomplish his goal, he needed to get there soon and settle in. He looked away from the clock across the other street—he was still on the corner—to the towering statue of Abraham Lincoln standing slouching with poor posture outside the county courthouse. Abe was wearing a vest, a thick coat, and a bowtie, as if he were about to go out for a night on the town. Maybe this sculpture was based on the night he got blasted, thought Neil—but no, that couldn’t be true. He looked too young. Across from Abe sat a World War I memorial, featuring ghostly twin statues of faceless army and navy soldiers. Realizing his temporary distraction, Neil shook his head and began to cross the street before remembering that he didn’t need to—he had already arrived at his destination. The haunted house, put on by the local Lion’s Club in The Robertson Building, stood right in front of him. It was still going strong—there was a line running out of the building and down the street, the arms of its participants flailing wildly in excited conversation like the limbs of a human centipede.  Neil chuckled at that thought, then walked around the corner. He needed to enter the building from the backside. Hopefully it would be unlocked; he was pretty sure it would be—small town folks were never cautious enough; they didn’t sense any danger anywhere. They were wrong for that, though, the truth of which made Neil grin widely. He tried, but he couldn’t stop—he walked around the backside of the building like an elated maniac, his facial muscles tensing up and cramping from his unstoppable, intense, quivering smile. 

*  *  *

The building was locked, which really pissed Neil off.

“They’re not supposed to be ready for anything,” he said aloud to no one, “They’re supposed to be clueless, like those fuckers in Whoville! Celebrating, eating roast-beast and shit. Not ready for the Grinch.”

The lock wasn’t difficult to remove—it was an old, rusted thing easily busted apart with the metal tenderizing mallet—but that’s not what angered Neil; it was the principle of the thing. The fact that someone locked their doors—that they, however subconsciously, prepared for the worst, however unlikely they imagined it to be, really grated at Neil’s nerves. It cracked whatever fragile, stable pieces of a coherent psyche he had left. 

He threw the lock to the asphalt parking lot, noticing a kid—probably twelve years old—standing in the parking lot watching him. The kid was standing atop his skateboard; he had been trying to ollie a six-stair at the dance studio across the alley. Neil glared at him, his fury building: 

“Get the fuck out of here, you stupid little shit,” he said, then making to approach the kid. This scared the kid enough. He pressed his foot to the pavement and kicked off, skating quickly away.

  Neil wrenched open the old door and stepped into the dark basement of the place. It was pitch-black. 

“Why the hell didn’t they use this dusty basement for the haunted house?” whispered Neil, “This place is creepy as hell.”

Neil trudged through the darkness, seeing in the shadowy, geometrical shapes comprising the totality of his vision a distant right-angular staircase. Pressing his heavy Red Wing boot on the first creaking step, he accidentally kicked a sleeping cat, who squealed at him, swiping with no success at his thick denim jeans before darting into the blackness of the room.

“Fucking cats,” said Neil, “Wonder what they taste like?” Neil chuckled again, which almost evolved into a cackling belly-laugh, but he successfully suppressed it and continued up the stairs, fingering his beloved cleaver.

*  *  *

Upon opening the door from the basement into the main floor of the Robertson Building, Neil stepped into an only slightly more lighted area. Manufactured fog flowed across the hardwood flooring so thickly that Neil couldn’t see his shit-kicker boots at all. A dull, wavering green light flashed on and off, becoming totally black and then flashing back into a swampy dimness. Neil heard screams coming from the other room, strobe lights from that direction momentarily better lighting the room where he stood. The place smelled like chemical bullshit—nothing like the natural, heavy, welcoming scent of the meat house. 

Neil saw in the corner of the room a table covered with a white cloth. An electronic candelabra sat flickering atop it.

“What a stupid prop,” thought Neil, raising the tablecloth and sliding into the interior. This would be a perfect place to wait out the rest of the night. 

Neil sat in silence for a half hour, his only communication with the outside world being the shaking, vibrational rumble against the wooden floor as—placing his palm to the ground—he felt children running in horror throughout the haunted attraction. 

Eventually, the lights came on; the evening’s entertainment was finished. Neil waited for the kids to leave. Once the building closed, he heard voices:

“Good work, team,” said one, “We raised a hell of a lot of money this evening! I think we’ll be able to reach our charity goal this Halloween.” 

It was a man Neil recognized as Mr. Cunningham, the husband of Mrs. Cunningham. Neil wondered whether they had enjoyed Jimmy P’s porkchops. Probably not—Neil cut chops much better than Jimmy P ever did, that rotting old bastard. Neil wasn’t completely sure it would be the Cunningham’s who would be here this evening. He had a good hunch—he knew they organized the Lion’s Club haunted house—but he wasn’t totally sure. They were his preferred prey, but he would’ve accepted just about anyone. He simply needed to quench his thirst. The fact that it was indeed the Cunningham’s, though, made it all the better. He wanted to confront someone he knew.

“Pretentious little bitches,” thought Neil. 

“Who said that?” said Mrs. Cunningham.

“Fuck,” thought Neil. He was thinking aloud again. He couldn’t always control that—he often didn’t know whether he was merely thinking or also speaking. He was a crazy bastard, he knew that. 

“Now or never, I reckon,” said Neil, lifting the tablecloth and crawling like a goblin out from beneath. He hit his back on the firm wood while exiting, grunting in pain as the candelabra wobbled and fell from the flat surface. Its bulb cracked – its dim light went out. 

“Neil?” said Mrs. Cunningham, squinting at his shadowy figure, “What are you doing here?”

Neil said nothing, he stood tall, brandishing his cleaver and mallet. Mr. Cunningham, who had been ushering his volunteer workers out the front door, now turned to look at Neil.

“What the hell are you doing, son?” he said. 

Neil said nothing, he only pressed the head of the mallet firmly on the surface of the table, leaning against it as the brittle wood splintered and groaned. 

“What are you doing here?”  repeated Mrs. Cunningham, “We’re closed now, Neil—you need to go on home!”

Neil looked at her and grinned sadistically. “Mallet or cleaver?” he said. 

“Whaa… what?” sputtered Mrs. Cunningham, spittle spewing from her mouth, snot rolling like a polluted river from her cavernous nostrils.

“You heard me,” smiled Neil. He was in control of the situation—he was so happy. 

Mr. Cunningham stepped in front of his wife: “Now you get the hell out of here, boy! I won’t let you harm me or my wife. Don’t make me hurt you!”

Though his words were confident, his voice was cracked and shaky. He didn’t fool Neil.

You don’t get a choice,” said Neil, “I know what I’m using on you.”

Neil stepped forward and lifted the mallet. Mr. Cunningham, not ready for the rapidity of Neil’s onslaught, could only raise his forearms in protective self-defense of his face. That didn’t work out too well for him. 

Neil slung the mallet down into the shield of Mr. Cunningham’s uplifted arms, crushing both into wobbly uselessness. Mr. Cunningham shrieked and fell backward but didn’t have time to do much else. Neil continued his attack, swinging the mallet again and again onto the relatively fragile shell of Mr. Cunningham’s skull. He was out cold after that second blow. He was dead by the third. Neil didn’t care about that, though—he kept swinging away, not even paying attention to whether he made contact. He didn’t care about that, he knew some of his shots would connect, and those that did would be absolute bombs. He had learned that from his favorite baseball player, Jay Bruce. He swung again and again, busting up the wooden floor—its splinters flying skyward—bashing Mr. Cunningham’s skull into slimy goop. 

Ravenous, Neil looked up, glaring wild-eyed with his slimy, brain-covered face up to Mrs. Cunningham.

AHHHHHHHHH!” she wailed, turning to scramble out the door. 

AHHHHHHHH!!” Neil yelled ecstatically in return.

She wouldn’t have time, Neil knew that. He grabbed the cleaver from the table, rushing with brisk purpose toward her. She was nearing the glass of the front door, reaching forward to pull it ajar. It was no use—Neil knew that. He raised the cleaver and began laughing in manic, psychotic ecstasy. 

Pop, pop… pop.

Craaaaaaash.

Glass shattered and fell all over Mrs. Cunningham. She was cut up a bit, but unharmed, relatively speaking. Whimpering loudly, she looked behind herself. Neil’s corpse lay sprawled out, lifeless on the ground. He was still grinning, even twitching spasmodically—but he was dead. She then looked to the unrecognizable stain that used to be her husband. She fell to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably. 

The police rushed in: “Come on, ma’am,” they said, “We have to get out of here. We need to get you to a hospital. Let’s go.”

Mrs. Cunningham screamed. There was so much pain, so much confusion in that cracked, multi-pitched, haunted wail.

The sirens blared; the lights flashed. It was Halloween night. 

Kristin Garth

His Music Box Courtesan Is A Corpse

Shuts you off whenever he is away
to pine in a pearlescent box in the dark. 
Closes the cover.  No arias play.
Leaves nothing but his scent and the marks 
on your naked prone torso, the limbs beneath 
whose ache recedes more each undisturbed day
though a sea aggregates of dripping grief 
beneath that threatens to drown if he delays.
Opens you up one day too late to find 
his music box courtesan is a corpse. 
Immobile blue body he can no longer wind 
to satisfy lust or even remorse.
You start to die when you cease to be hurt.  
How gently he places your box in the dirt. 

Damian Rucci

You Never Realize You’re Dancing Alone Until the Music Stops 

and you’ve been living in some kind of mirage
playing dominoes with the devil 
you owe the sonofabitch about three fifty
but you both know neither of you are 
good at paying debts, the machinery of night
is the only music you need, the demons are on
now dropping from your shoulder to circle 
the room taking bets and hollering 
you don’t even think to leave the table 
all your angels must be on vacation or worse
have left your side to stay up all night 
with better company, who’re you to judge?
You’re on, you’re here now, the fire in your belly 
is out but you have lightning in your veins
sinister breeze on your scalp and a cock that could 
cut diamonds, but your girl is tired of your shit
too, asleep in the next room, your mama 
always told you no good man is awake at 3 am,
so what does that make you? Flipping tiles 
chain smoking cigarettes and haunting the house
even ghosts have an ambition to scare, you’re
a shell and the devil will leave you too as the sunbeams
wake the goodhearted from their sleeps
you’ll be walking to that same gas station
to get the same pack of smokes watching the same mothers
send the same kids to school and you will walk back
alone to sleep while the world is awake again

Lee Allen

Give ’em what they want

No one wants
highfalutin poetry
anymore

They also don’t
give a damn about
how long you might
have spent on some
navel-gazing bullshit

They want the truth,
not some deep down
in the darkness truth,
but the kind of truth
that fits in the toilet

Not deep but true,
like the no nonsense
of a morning dump,
and what it might
mean — or not

Yes, that kind of truth,
or what you might learn
from a crow gouging out
the eyes of a pigeon
it killed just for fun

That kind of
black raven truth,
or the truth of why 
relationships end, and
please don’t bore us 
with some deep 
psychological 
reasoning

No, just say it as it is,
the sex got goddamn
boring, not because
of daddy issues
or mommy hang-ups, 
but because it just
gets fucking stale,
or because your partner
reminds you of someone
that you hate

Not the one you married,
not the one you would
have climbed the sky
to steal the moon for,
no, that person isn’t
around anymore

Yeah, that kind of truth,
ugly, stinking truth
is what the asshole
readers want

No, not what they want,
what they demand