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Poetry

Poetry to the Next Generation by Keith Gaboury
 

Over my journal
and a pen’s ink swell,
I spilled a sonnet
across a sanded oak welcome.


Once I wiped up
this iambic mess, the stressed
and unstressed syllables
stained my right palm.


Through a doorway, I pressed
fourteen lines
onto my daughter’s
left bedtime cheek.


Under a butter spread
of sunlight, she awoke
with poetry
singing inside her mind.

Keith

Bubble Suits by Bobby Parrott

"Save Water: Shower with a Friend"
– 60's bumper sticker

 

"Bubble suits," you say, and the code-word sinks
into my star-pricked spacer mind like a fish wriggling
itself into the welcome warmth of watery flight
to find my pleasure-response button. I light up, "Yes!"


And the dreamy jaunt begins with candles lit, peeled
bodies slip-giggling thru plastic flamingo curtains
unprotected into the showerhead's mind-scrambling
torrent of hot rain pelting our goose-flesh tingles,


our slippery dance, you a dolphin-skinned elf in my arms
turning, foam spangled, your tan and pink skin gliding
against mine as you twirl my big cake of patchouli soap
in your hands, churning us into a tide of thick froth,


the soap’s head-filling scent matching that of our candles,
their honeyed flame smearing our party into a soft-focus
cloudscape. Your head’s sudsy bouquet of shampoo blossoms
around my fingertips, and you fashion my bubble tux,


bowtie at my throat, ruffled shirt with dripping jacket tails.
We turn and sigh, and I begin to apply your bubble suit
of warm soapy lather, flowing down your French-curve body
in rivulets of bliss, our happy washing deeper than skin.


"Music," you say, and I get our plastic flutes from the ledge.
Our processional, Beethoven's Ode to Joy, warbles in the rain,
and our harmonies sound in the steamy, echoing bathroom
like a cathedral's calliope, not a dry eye in the place.

Bobby
Michael

A Winning Affair by Michael Bates

 

Mon cheri,
before the waiter shows up,
let us, a seating of lovers
at a window table, behave badly...


What’s wrong with stealing kisses,
playing name the shade of lipstick,
keeping score on a napkin?
Our café’s fondly called Cupid.


The wines are cheap, service slow,
and after a stroll along the Seine,
where we can sit side by side
so close an arrow couldn’t miss.


In good taste, I pick cherry red,
second guess wild strawberries...
The fun we have doing foreplay
lasts until, tongue in cheek,
you accuse me of cheating.

RS
Logan
Kevn

Prose

Troll by R.S. O'Toole

    When I wake up, I feel like the world is against me. On my social media, a lot of people dislike me. Sometimes I don’t feel like it’s such a bad thing. It feels freeing. I’m free from putting in the effort to be liked. People have already decided they don’t like me, so why try?

Sunlight reaches the foot of my bed and warms my covers like a small animal. I roll over and tap my phone awake. I post something like, this or that dictator is kind of hot, or something else just as brief, contrarian, and incendiary. It works every time. People get mad. Rightfully, I guess. I don’t really believe what I’m saying or care enough to believe it. But it doesn’t matter. People are replying back—furiously—and it’s not even 10am. I close the app.

    When I leave my bedroom and feel the warmth of the sun coming through the kitchen windows, I feel like the world loves me. Everything feels like it should. The city is alive, its soft din rising to my apartment. I make my coffee exactly how I like it. My bagel is warming in the toaster, also exactly how I want it to be. Everything feels so easy. For a few minutes, life feels so easy.

I’m on my phone, as I drink my coffee. I read my replies and laugh at how earnest they are, how crafted and thought-out they are: adults using teenaged slang in an attempt to “own me,” a millennial politician trying to cash in on my clout by saying that this is harmful rhetoric that should be taken seriously, and some of my followers telling me “this isn’t it” or “please delete this.”

     Then I respond to some texts from my friends. I see the message from X, my friend from college. They ask if we can meet an hour later than we had planned. Something came up and they’re going to be running late.

    Np! I type back. Excited to see u!

They immediately like both messages.

 

    I get ready slowly in my bedroom, listening to music from my speaker. I switch to watching videos on my laptop, while opening and closing different apps, and posting what I’m thinking to my account.

    Pining for a beautiful suicide. I delete it, though it already has likes.

    Thinking of new and beautiful ways to end it all. That’s a little better. The people who like me like this. The people who hate me hate it.

    I make another coffee in the kitchen and watch the street like it’s a video: the starting and stopping of cars, wind riffling the leaves on the trees. I love the city, but I get tired of it so easily. The constant thrum and movement are exhausting. I have thought about moving to the country and living like someone’s photo board.

    Afterwards, sitting on my bed, I try to listen to the episode of my friend’s podcast that I was a guest on. My friend introduces me as an “internet provocateur.” I turn it off when I start talking. I hate the sound of my voice: low and lifeless, like a zombie on antidepressants. I throw my phone to the other side of my bed and put my hand over my eyes. I sit like this for a minute, calming myself down, counting until I’ve reached the number that calms me down. If I feel like I did it wrong or if I’m not feeling better by the time I’ve reached my calming number, I do it again until it works. Sometimes I will sit and do this for minutes, whispering to myself. This time it works the first time.

    I get up and dress in something nice to meet X. I don’t want it to seem like I’m trying too hard to look nice. I look in the full-length mirror, deciding I look the right mix of nice and not-trying-too-hard.

 

    I accidentally show up early, and I wait twenty minutes at a table on the restaurant’s back patio for X to arrive, led by a waitress. X is smiling, looking down. I get up from the metal chair and we hug.

    We make small talk for few minutes, say that the other looks well, happy, healthy. We catch up. They’re up for a promotion, on the cusp of losing the “assistant” or “junior” in their job title. I ask if it comes with a raise. It does, a small one.

    We fall silent for a few seconds. I’m glad X has been doing so well.

    Then they pull out their phone and point its screen at me. “I’m not sure it’s my place to say this, but listen, I think you should delete this. I don’t think you understand how this might be offensive to some people.”

    I read my post off their screen. It has even more likes and replies than before. “That? It’s so obviously a joke,” I say, laughing.

    “I know it’s a joke, but it’s not funny.” They put their phone away. “I don’t think you should be posting stuff like that. It doesn’t reflect well on you.”

    Immediately, I think: I don’t care.

    Then I say, “I don’t really care if people can’t understand a joke.”

    Then I say, “Plus, it’s not even about that. It’s about disrupting the status quo.”

    “I think there are better ways to disrupt the status quo than saying a brutal dictator is attractive or trivializing suicide.”

    “Sure. But it’s a persona. You don’t get how the internet works.”

    “I guess not.”

    We are the only ones on the outdoor patio—thank God. Our waitress eventually wanders back to our table and refills our waters from a pitcher. A few rounded ice cubes drop into each glass.

    “Have you decided what you’d like to order?”

    “I think we need another minute,” X says.

    The sun peeks over the umbrella shading our table and light falls on my face. I put on my sunglasses and stare at the laminated menu, not really reading it.

    After a minute, X waves down the waitress and says, “I think I’ll have the BLT.”

    “Yeah, I’ll have that too,” I say, handing over the wobbling menu.

    After the waitress walks away, X leans back in their chair and says, “I swear, every year it gets harder to be your friend.” They always had a knack for cruelty. Something about their cold New England upbringing.

    “I know,” I say. I feel like crying.

    “Then why do you keep posting all this stuff? What happened to the person I knew who actually believed in things and wasn’t a nihilistic internet troll? I’m only saying this because I’m your friend and I care about you, and this doesn’t feel like you.”

    “I know.” I feel myself softening under X’s words.

    Their expression is impassioned, staring at me with large circumflexed eyes.

    “Then why?”

    Then I feel myself hardening. “It’s just the internet. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a vehicle to spark debate.”

    “You can’t be serious.” X leans back in the metal chair. “You can’t actually believe that.”

    “I do.” I sit up. “I think it’s important work, actually, and most people are too afraid to do it themselves. I’m like a clown. I reflect the world’s absurdity back at it.”

    “How noble,” X says, looking away.

    Neither of us says anything for a while. The waitress comes back, she takes our plates, and X and I pay separate checks. We push out of our chairs and walk to the street.

    The sky grows pink around the trees on the sidewalk. People sit at small tables in front of cafes and restaurants on waves of undulating red brick. People walk by with their heads down or with earbuds in. Above the street, some lights are turned on in people’s apartments, and you can just barely see inside. Silhouettes move, make early dinners, drink from beer bottles and wine glasses, laugh, talk.

    X twists their head up and down the street. “I should be getting home.”

    “I probably should too. Let me know if you want to get lunch again sometime, or maybe coffee next week?” I try to sound upbeat, as if our conversation before hadn’t happened.

    X looks at me. I try to smile. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” they say.

    I get it. I guess I saw it coming. “I get it. You’re probably right.”

    “It just wouldn’t be great for my career. People might think I believe what you do. I know that sounds cynical, but I don’t know how else to put it.”

    “I understand. You don’t have to keep talking.”

    “Okay.” X turns and walks away, disappearing into the current of people on the sidewalk.

    I take the long way home, stopping by the park, looking at the cemetery in the park. Why is there even a cemetery in the park?

    While I’m sitting on a bench, two teenagers in band shirts recognize me from online, walk up to me, and say they think I’m cool. I say, Thanks. They look slightly star struck. They give me a thumbs up and walk away. It feels eerily like an online interaction. I put my headphones on and walk the rest of the way home, repeating these words in my head like a new mantra: I don’t care about anything, I don’t care about anyone. The mantra works until it doesn’t, and I count to calm myself down.

    When I get home, I go to my room and disappear into my phone, so as not to think about X. I lie in my bed and read my replies. More of the same stuff, but most people have already moved on to something else, some other thing to be mad at. I read some posts and scroll through random videos. I click off my phone.

    My bedroom is completely dark except for the yellow hallway light under the door and the grid of apartments in my window, shuddering between the blue tones of movies. For a while I watch the lights, the yellow blooms of streetlamps, and the few cars hushing by on the asphalt below.

    Fuck everything, I think. I roll over and tap my phone awake. I open the app.

    Fuck everything.

    I drag my thumb to refresh the page, and people are already replying to me, liking me.

Cap and Gown by Kevin Broccoli

They are very excited to graduate.

When the diplomas have been distributed, they will step out onto the sidewalk that stretches far enough to accommodate the audiences that typically pour out of the downtown theater where, once a year, Joseph Silberman High School has their graduation. The sidewalk has seen the
tuxedo crowd turn into the shorts-and-a-t-shirt crowd after tours headlined by stars from Broadway became non-equity three-show stays. The sidewalk had opinions about theater, but we have no need to interrogate a sidewalk.


We have a graduation to review.


This was the class of 2002. A class made up of a hundred and thirty-eight students. When they started as freshman, this class had over a hundred and fifty students in it. The expectation was that some would not make it to their senior year, and this assumption was--and always is--
correct. Some were expelled for various infractions. A few moved and went to other schools in other districts. None died, and that was a wonderful thing. The teachers at the graduation remembered other years when students were in car accidents or drowned in the ocean over
summer break or went to sleep and didn’t wake up because even young people sometimes go to sleep and don’t wake up.


That didn’t happen with this class, and for that, the teachers were grateful. It was always difficult at graduation when names had to be read of young people who never got to stand onstage and shake the hand of a principal. Wave to their parents. Move the tassel on their cap from one side
to the other. A graduation is a solemn occasion, but it must avoid being somber at all costs. Much like any ceremony, it carries with it a kind of grief no matter what. Death can easily dip it into a kind of overwhelming breathlessness. Parents have passed out during graduations. Grandparents have had heart attacks. An uncle once had an existential crisis as the valedictorian was comparing college to a warren of rabbits. A bad analogy can create an inner spiral, this is true. When mortality must be addressed at graduation, the graduation can deflate like a souffle.
There was no death needing to be addressed this time.


This was lucky.


A year later, the first member of the class of 2002 from Silberman High would die after going on a ski trip in northern Vermont. They would not die of skiing, but rather, of getting drunk and wandering out of the beautiful cabin they were renting with their girlfriend. The girlfriend made
a comment about the man working at the ski rental place, and an argument ensued. The graduate from Silberman High stormed out wearing nothing but basketball shorts, a Red Sox jersey, and a 
pair of red sneakers. When a hunter found his body the next day, the only thing he had left on were his sneakers. Sometimes when people are freezing to death, they think they’re burning up and they take off all their clothes. The body and the mind go to war against each other. A year is a long time. A year is nothing. People graduate and they get a year to enjoy being a graduate of something. They go camping over the summer. Then, they go to college. They decide they don’t like it. They drop out. They go skiing. They never come back.


One graduate was in the top one percent of the class. They could have possibly come in first, second, or third, if not for the fact that the top three students in the class were all trying to get into Harvard and Harvard won’t take more than one student from a school no matter how much
smarter those students are than other students at other schools all over the country. Harvard takes one. The number one student is doing fine. She got into Harvard. She’s a lawyer. No surprise there. She’s happily married, but she’s never having kids, and that’s fine. The number two went
to Columbia and now they’re a weatherman, which is respectable, but we’re not sure how that happened. That wasn’t the trajectory. The number three we never kept up with, but we’re sure he’s fine. Then there’s the graduate who was in the top one percent, but drank too much at their
very first college party, wound up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, and was not allowed to come back to school. Their parents installed them at their empty house in Jefferson while they were living at their new place in Florida, and the graduate sat in a house that wasn’t theirs
anymore, but would be until someone bought it, and they drank and went on dating apps, and invited people over, and tried to get them to spend the night, but only one or two did.

 

One got married and then divorced and married to the same person and then divorced again all before they were twenty-six, but they were also named one of Vogue’s Hottest Young Designers and so they were content with their life--love shambles and all. They never talked about high
school or where they were from, and in all the profiles done on them (and there were many) they would simply say that they grew up in New England and their childhood was happy and there wasn’t much to talk about beyond that. None of it was a lie, but one time, in high school, they
got the solo in the school chorus and it was the first time people looked at them with any kind of admiration, and it set the course for the rest of their life, but they didn’t want to tell anyone that, let alone have it documented in print, because it sounds crazy to say that you became a famous
fashion designer, because a chorus teacher let you sing a verse of “Make Our Garden Grow” all by yourself.


Two of the graduates married each other even though their parents demanded that they go to different colleges. They stayed in touch, and when both graduated from separate universities, they reconnected on the West Coast and immediately became engaged. They take photos of their
vacations. They go on vacation endlessly. One always wishes they could just stay home and the other would give anything to never go home. It’s not about liking home or not liking home. It’s 
about a kind of restlessness that lives within some and not in others. One of them was the editor
of the school newspaper, and that was the last time they felt important.


It’s all right to spend some time in the future, but the graduates are spilling out onto the elongated sidewalk in their caps and gowns. It dawns on them as they hug their family members and each other that this is the last goodbye in what has been a series of goodbyes. Yearbook parties, prom, an honors society dinner, a dinner for athletics, an arts soiree, a spring production of Our Town, and a senior trip to Six Flags.


They have cried and made promises destined to break and laughed and reminisced and confessed crushes and apologized for unkind words and rumors. Now, they have nothing left to say and not much time even if they had another word or two worth sharing. They tried to memorize each
other’s faces. There were reminders about graduation parties over the summer. Graduates scheduled to attend the same colleges were already forming deeper connections by virtue of their next chapters coinciding. Those who were not going to be at the same parties or arriving at the
same institutions of higher learning in the fall or set to meet again somewhere down the path tried to find a way to honor this ending. Two had lockers side-by-side for all four years of high school, and now they’d never see each other again. Actually, in ten years, they’ll be in the same
aisle at the supermarket (cereal and rice) and they won’t recognize each other. That might sound sad, but it’s not. It’s just a story.


And there are so many stories.


At midnight, the sidewalk is deserted. Most of the graduates are still out at parties, or even, in some cases, downtown bars. Caps have been left in backseats of beaten-up cars that suit first- time drivers. Gowns are already hung up in closets or hung on hooks on the back of bedroom
doors leading into bedrooms that will soon be vacated. The mother of one graduate can’t sleep. Her daughter is out at a bowling party, and the lane has agreed to stay open late in honor of that night’s graduation. The daughter won’t be home until close to one, but that’s still thirty or forty
minutes away.


The mother takes the gown off the hook on the back of the bedroom door and lays it down on the bed. Then, she lays down next to the gown and brings it to her chest. When her daughter had her wisdom teeth out in the tenth grade, there would be moments throughout the following two days where her daughter would wake up, her pain medication worn off, and she’d cry until she could swallow another pill to dull the ache. When that happened, her mother would get into bed with her and cradle her and try with all her might to absorb her daughter’s pain. On this night, she
simply wanted to absorb her daughter’s potential. Not to steal it from her, but to spur it on. To expand it. To turn the tassel.


She is very excited for her daughter. 


After all, who wouldn’t be?

The Hare and the Hunter by Logan Anthony

 

    The day was greeted by a gap-toothed grin. The sparrow flitted overhead, above her nest, sprinkling song in snippets small enough to sail like a spoor on the wind.
    The fox slunk low among the ferns and mosses as if on a precipice, juggling possibilities, muscle, bone—all in a jumble inside the taut body of cordage she levied across the land. The fox slithered soundlessly in her approach, an unrecognized and unwitnessed assailant. The prey goes
without flinch.
    The fox with her bloodstained maw enters the clearing like a flag rolled-up on the ground. Red flag. Forest floor. The hunter in his perch fingers the cock into position. Bird’s eye is his advantage. The red flag spread out like an invitation. A fox ain’t got much meat to give, but think of the story. One silent predator vanquished from above by another, an unrecognized and unwitnessed assailant.
    The bullet dives. The hunter waits. The bullet dives slowly, and in that time, the fox smells it. Gunmetal and glory. The coming of an end. That hot-spark-glint of metal. Split-second take off on its way.
    The bite of the bullet lands. The red flag unfurls over a rug of patchwork greenery, flickering in the wind. The fox laughs. This is it? The fox laughs some more, but the air is screaming out of her lungs. Blood slicks her pointed teeth, and still, she laughs. A bullet isn’t the end she was taught. She felt nothing! She had lived his life in fear for no reason. None at all.
    The thought of Mother, the organs of her strewn out in the street months before that wildlife underpass was built. She should have taken a bullet. She would have lived, thought fox, thinking of her own survival. The fox rose and turned to leave, but the red flag of her pelt remained there, spilling in the foliage. What now? the fox thought—could not think, but implored the world with disbelief. She had not felt a thing.
    Just then, the hunter stepped out from behind a tall, wavering hickory. A spindly ladder twined around its trunk. The hunter approached, and what remained of the fox ducked behind a stout, shrubby honeysuckle bush, alarmed that she could not smell it anymore. The fox watched
silently.
    The hunter knelt in the soft earth and took a thin black box from his pants, pointing it at the red flag. He photographed the body from many angles, even leaning in to take some with his own squinted eyes and round, pudgy cheeks pinned up by that taut but prideful gap-toothed grin.
    After many minutes of this, the fox had grown cold in her watching. This is why she had lost her body? Her life? To make someone’s feed? A great tearing sensation gripped the fox’s center and interrupted this rage. She sank to the grass and clutched her ribs. The pain grew. The fox dug her claws into the earth, peeling back the grass like fur, and let out a low whine. The pain rose away from her like the heat of life trickling away from prey. She turned her attention back to the hunter who knelt over her crumpled, spent shell of a body. The hunter took the fox’s four paws into his hands and flipped the body over roughly. The thump of flesh to earth jolted through the fox—in body and spirit. Great waves of pain and
confusion rolled over and through her. When she next opened her eyes, she blinked profusely through the blurry vision to peer up at the hunter’s red, red eyes. The acrid smell of the morning’s eggs and fried flesh on the human’s breath engulfed her like a cloud. Coffee-stained teeth gleamed inches from her own jawful, but her spine had been damaged by the bullet. She could not move, even to get away.
    The fox tried to shift her airway to take in a measly breath. Her mouth opened like a funnel down which poured crushed glass and twisted pieces of shrapnel that dug into the meat of 
her throat and chest like burrowing parasites. The gradient of color through which the fox perceived the world inverted and the sky became the most brilliant shade of fiery orange. Her eyes pulsed in and out of focus. The world around her lost meaning. She thought once more of her mother.
    The hunter recoiled at the sudden flashing of life in the eyes of the body before him. He dimly recalled not having checked the animal’s pulse—something he had been taught to do immediately after inflicting harm. Something he had neglected to understand or carry the full weight of and so never truly learned. The only lesson his grandmother had hoped would stick after the summer of bloodthirsty dawns they’d shared in his youth. A lesson he’d been young enough to dismiss the weight of, to gloss over. Many years had come between the hunter and that summer, enough for the man the hunter became to lose concern for his lack of responsibility for what death and suffering he caused.
    A choked gurgling sound burst from the throat of the fox. The phone slipped from the hunter’s grip and landed in the mud between his knees.
    “Shit.”
    The hunter scrambled for the device, flicking mud from its screen, and slid it into his pocket. The hunter’s knees began to ache. A strange sense of dread swirled inside him. He stared ahead, realized he must check his prey’s pulse, even now, so late. So he did. The meager thump of the heart in his hands dismayed him. Then outraged him. How dare life still cling to this shell when he had sat and condoned such suffering? Shame pooled in his stomach and boiled to rage.
    The hunter could not face his deed and sought a scapegoat for the blame. He unsheathed his knife from his belt at boiling point and plunged hilt-deep into the fox’s chest cavity, and again in the neck, stomach, ribcage, and skull. The hunter was aware of the overkill but allowed
himself the outlet. It was, after all, only an animal. The crunch and crush of the bones beneath his hands satisfied him. Why shouldn’t it? He was man. The bones of the fox belonged to the forest—nature, man’s plaything. A toy. Does the child’s toy demand respect? What does a man
have to fear of the forest? Was it not once his home?
    The hunter felt these thoughts in a hot, prideful rush. His breath crashed in his pumping lungs. He was famished. The blood coating his forearms was sticky and matted the hair, itching.
    He rose, sheathed his knife, retrieved his gun, and stalked off to another part of the forest with a hunger for more chaos to cause. He left the fox to empty in the clearing. The body was of no use to him now, even the pelt. He checked his watch—an hour left before Jenny would get his boys
up. One more, he thought, reloading the gun as he walked off.
    As the hunter disappeared behind the aspen grove at the other end of the clearing, a gangly two-headed hare crawled out of the shadows beside the tree the fox spirit had hid behind in observation of the hunter. The hare’s white fur was a shock in the dark dusk of the morning. Fur that was tinged in gray, appearing to unfurl into soft tendrils of smoke, dispersing with the
wind.
    The hare turned their heads in opposite directions and worked both noses about the air as they surveyed the clearing, cocking their heads to listen with all four pointed, reaching ears. The hare approached the mutilated corpse of the fox and collapsed at its side in the bloodied buffalo
grass. The hare’s eyes shone as the being began to vocalize a haunting melody. With their song started, the hare set to work.
    The hare moved their paws over the torn and leaking hide that shimmered like fire beneath its coat of blood and viscera. The hare pressed bloody handprints to their own fur—over their four eyes, lungs, one on their stomach. The hare chanted their melody louder, deeper, and 
dug claws into the chest wound of the fox. Through the ribs and shredded flesh, the hare dug for the heart. They found it and encased the muscle in one paw. The hare massaged and manipulated the heart, humming rhythmically all the while. Slowly, a white, milky substance frothed out of
the mouth of the fox, running down the curved jaw and pooling in the grass. The hare continued until the puddle tripled in size.
    The hare left the heart in its cage. They coated their paws in blood, spitted in them, rubbed them together, then picked up the white milky puddle. The liquid behaved strangely, coming together in a thick coagulated mass. The hare rubbed the stuff between their palms, pulled them apart, then blew a bubble like a child playing with soap. Only it was a fox-shaped bubble, not a circle, that floated away from the hare’s paw.
    The fox-bubble sat in the air for a moment. The hare’s vocalizations grew in volume, bursting from the canopy above to spill into the waking sky. There was a flash and a loud pop, and the fox-shaped bubble became a fox-shaped ghost. The hare bowed to the spirit of the fox and lowered to one knee.
    “You may roam the forest freely. You are safe now,” said the hare.
    “Thank you, my god,” the spirit of the fox replied.
    A booming crash to the southeast interrupted the spirit of the fox before she could ask her questions. The ripping sound of the air, even at a distance, sounded eerily familiar. The fox pushed the thought away. The hare turned one head to the air and stiffened its ears. The other
remained faced toward the fox as the tiny god spoke once more:

    “I must go avenge you now. Silly humans forget to respect this forest and its deaths like they have forgotten the eternal pact I made with their ancestors eons ago. Perhaps they have forgotten. Their ancestors must not have been fervent enough in their warnings.”
    The fox spirit nodded, understanding everything and nothing all at once, like a child. The hare had spoken in a voice that reminded the fox of thunder. Now, the fox understood an exit was due. She turned and floated off into the trees.
    The hare returned both sets of eyes to the corpse that lay so brokenly ahead. They remained still for many moments, staring at the body in its puddle of blood and suffering, bearing the marks of such cruelty in a death that could have been fast instead of slow and painless instead of full. The hare was outraged. The pact would live on, if they had to kill every last human just so they would understand the true gravity of the world they’d claimed to have conquered. A cackle rose up in the hare’s throat, jagged and bloodthirsty.
    The forest god knew better.
    The hare found the hunter’s trail in less than half an hour, and ten minutes later, the hunter himself. The hare’s cold laughter bubbled up once more, drawn out by the sight before them: a great, powerful human felled at his own ignorance. The hare was delighted and abandoned their pursuit in the shadows, instead coming full-force into the growing light of the early morning.
    Ahead, it seemed to the hare, the scene was indicative of a lack of patience, or more likely, attention, as it so often was with such a species. The hare approached the hunter where he lay in a tangle of body limbs, bleeding from a bullet hole blown through his side. The earth bore a sheet of his blood in which he remained tangled. One of the man’s feet had wrenched the wrong way. It looked like someone, the hare smiled at the thought, forgot how to walk around felled trees while reloading his gun. The weapon lay askew several feet away.
    The man was not yet dead. The hare remained close to the body, waiting for many hours. They observed the human through his cycle of grief and endured the man’s sputtering curses, 
pleading, pathetic sobbing, bargaining with a god—the hare was amused to hear—that had not
existed once in the centuries of its worship. The hare waited through the hunter’s struggles to pull himself closer to his shotgun and at the end, breathless gasping, choking on prayers and blood that still in its horror failed to draw the slightest sympathy from the being. The hunter
suffered for many hours—thirteen—before the stubbornness his whole life he mistook for fortitude at last spilled with what remained of his crusty black blood onto the earth. The end had come. His heart ceased to beat.

    At last, the hare could set to work. They rushed forward and repeated the ritual. The hare pressed handprints of black human blood—regrettably—to their fur and chanted their song aggressively. They clawed their way through the chest cavity and held the human heart between
their paws. The hare ground the muscle between their digits, manipulating what essence remained. The spirit of the man bubbled and spit out of his cracked lips, hissing over the soil in a sizzling yellow mess of bubbles. The hare opened the vine-woven basket that hung on their back
and drew out a small loaf of sun-baked bread.
    The hare knelt beside the human corpse, shaking their head in disgust.
    “You fool.”
    The hare broke the bread into bite-sized pieces. They dipped the bread into the yellow puddle of the hunter. The hare ate slowly with both mouths, savoring it seemed, each soak of the bread in what looked so like bile. The hare sucked their claws clean after the last morsels had
been swallowed down and spoke once more in a voice that shuddered the surrounding foliage:
    “The last of your soul has been swallowed. You are no more. You have been banished
from this realm of life forevermore.”
    The hare rose from their knees and burped loudly, wetly. They stalked off toward the river in the light of the moon, craving a nice evening swim to wash away the day’s crusted layer of grime and start another night anew.

SUDSVILLE CEMETERY by Dick Daniels


Sean MacGuire should have been a peaceful third-generation tenant farmer on a small plot in County Kildare, but the Irish Potato Famine forced his family off the land and into the city by 1852. His father worked irregularly on the Dublin docks while Sean was growing up. On days when he found a good-paying job, a bucket of beer was carried home to celebrate. When there was no work, money was borrowed for a bucketful to commiserate. Those were the days when Sean’s mother was likely to feel the back of his hand, sometimes a fist, for failing to provide him
a timely or suitable meal.


There was hardly any work for a lad Sean’s age, but he supplemented the family’s provisions with petty thievery. He and a friend would hit a market stall simultaneously, each fleeing in the opposite direction so the owner had to decide which to pursue—one sure to escape with the
goods. If a chaser was gaining ground on young MacGuire, he dropped parts of the booty along the way, hoping the merchant would abandon the pursuit and cut his losses by stopping to gather the discarded items. Sean had learned early how to play the percentages.


As Sean matured, though never to be a large man, he began to defend his mother from the frequent beatings. At first, the elder MacGuire enjoyed using his son as the punching bag and didn’t mind “marking him up” a little. But the boy eventually was winning the fights, though not enjoying the victories. From then on, Mr. MacGuire stopped hitting his wife—and stopped going to work. He carried the mark of shame and didn’t want anyone to see it.


It was now up to Sean to be the man of the house. There was an organized theft ring operating along the docks, and he joined their ranks. Stolen goods could be fenced at 25 percent of value, and Sean received 10 percent of that as his cut. One day he calculated selling the merchandise
back to the original owner at 5 percent would double his income. Everyone was satisfied with the transaction, but there were too many wagging tongues on the docks. The ring leaders hauled Sean in and took 10 percent of his fingers as their cut.


A crew was stealing supplies off a departing ship one day, and Sean had to hide to avoid detection by a team making a final inspection of the cargo hold. Before he could come out, the vessel was underway. The night watch spotted him when he eventually went topside to escape the stale air below. His accommodations would be the ship’s brig for the remainder of the trip to New York City in America.


When they docked, the first mate marched him down the ramp and handed him to a policeman patrolling the wharves. Averse to the complicated paperwork that would be waiting at the precinct, the cop escorted his prisoner instead to a military enlistment station where the Irishman was instantly made an American citizen, then duly sworn into the U.S. Army preparing to fight the Confederate States.


Private MacGuire was a good soldier; the missing pinkie proved to be of no consequence. When detailing his Dublin exploits, Sean removed the bayonet from his rifle and demonstrated his ability to deftly strike with the blade, earning the nickname “Sean the Snake.” His unit was in
some of the deadliest fighting, and he never shrank from the battle. Corporal stripes were earned at Antietam, and he was promoted to Sergeant after Gettysburg—when his bayonet ended the day for many a gallant lad from the South.

Since his enlistment ended with the war’s conclusion, MacGuire had a choice. He considered looking for work in New York or Boston, but word had circulated that Irish need not apply for most jobs. The easiest decision was to stay in the Army; the Indian Wars were still being fought
on the western frontier, and Sergeant MacGuire was soon on his way.


Fort Larned was the destination, a small outpost in the middle of Kansas providing protection to settlers traveling west on the Santa Fe Trail. The colorless grass and flat, barren landscape stood in stark contrast to Sean’s memory of The Emerald Isle and its deep shades of green. Although
he had fond memories of his homeland, the Irish heritage was a source of ridicule from many of the other soldiers. Sean had acquired one of the popular Bowie knives, equipped with a rawhide grip, and was quick to use it when provoked. Several enlisted men wore souvenirs of its path
across their skin.


His sergeant stripes were used to bully lower-ranking troops, and Sean was more than eager to belittle two ethnic groups in the vicinity ranking below the Irish socially—Indians and the freed slaves who had been formed into all-black cavalry units. The latter, who came to be called
Buffalo Soldiers, were enjoying newfound freedom and were highly resistant to any intimidation or physical harassment reminding them of past treatment. Sean seemed to think they should be grateful to him since he had risked his neck to save them from their Southern masters.


Another source of irritation to Sergeant MacGuire was the military laundress tradition. Two dollars a month was deducted from the pay of each man who elected to use their services. Each laundress, of which there were eight on the post, was assigned twenty men; their total pay actually amounted to twice that of the average enlisted soldier. The women also received food and housing. The Snake resented the pay disparity; it didn’t matter how hard they had to work for it.


Laundresses were responsible for chopping their own firewood to heat the water, which had to be hauled every morning from Pawnee Creek outside the walls. They made their own lye soap and suffered its irritating effect on their hands and arms. Lifting the saturated wool uniforms out of the water all day was backbreaking work—a wool blanket could weigh eight pounds dripping wet! Regardless of the weather, all this heavy labor was done outside, and those winds sweeping unimpeded across the Kansas prairies made the chore even more challenging.


Six laundresses were married to post soldiers and lived with them in the crude adobe buildings in the portion of the fort called Sudsville. An Indian woman and a former slave from Arkansas completed the washing work force and occupied the other two units. No one knew the Indian’s
name, and she seldom spoke—unlike the large black woman who loudly referred to herself as “Big Mama.” Military records listed her as Flora Lincoln and noted a distinguishing mark on her left shoulder, a branded “T.” One of her masters was a Mr. Turley who didn’t tolerate runaway
attempts. She took the name Lincoln from the man who finally freed her.


Flora would have tipped the scales at two hundred pounds, but there was little fat on her frame. Turley had tried to take advantage of her physique and breed her with some husky men, hoping to produce impressive sons who would command premium prices at the slave auctions. But Big Mama did not intend to be his “breeding sow” and ferociously fought off the males sent her way. Eventually, she ran to escape the assaults—and acquired her body art. She and The Snake, who she outweighed by fifty pounds, were sworn enemies from the moment of their introduction.

    When Flora was assigned to handle his laundry, MacGuire had immediately insulted her with a vile, racist comment; he hated her on two counts, her color and her job. She couldn’t respond openly but vowed to patiently wait for a chance to get even. Because he was so hard on his
uniforms, he caused her three times the work of other soldiers. Whenever there was physical conflict with the Indians, MacGuire was in the thick of it, with rips and busted buttons to show.

 

    Flora, and all the laundresses, were expert seamstresses. They were required by Army regulations to make repairs for any damages they caused—and provide restitution if clothing needed to be replaced. Sergeant MacGuire had argued successfully on a number of occasions Flora should pay for new uniforms. The net result was that she spent more time on his laundry and kept less money. Just thinking about him could get her boiling like the water in her wash pots.


    He was also a regular in saloon brawls when the men were allowed to visit the small town of Pawnee Rock. Sean seemed to think one of the working girls was there for his exclusive pleasure and fought anyone who was unaware. The other women tried to avoid him; he had become the
monster his father was. It was easier to create fear in a woman’s eyes than affection or respect, and in the end, it was the sight and smell of fear he came to crave.


    One night, he came by her quarters late to pick up his laundry. The sergeant had been drinking heavily and weaved as he carried the load out of her room. She listened briefly to feel safe he was gone but heard him bang on the Indian’s room next door. From her own experience in slavery, Flora soon recognized the sounds of resistance against sexual assault. As she burst into the neighboring room, Flora saw MacGuire trying to rape the girl from behind while holding his Bowie knife against her ear. She heard him threaten to cut it off if the Indian kept struggling.
 

    Without thinking, Big Mama launched herself against the diminutive Irishman, knocking him stunned to the dirt floor. Holding the dangling ear against her scalp, the Indian girl grabbed his huge knife with her other hand and plunged it into the sergeant’s gut. As she searched for his
heart with the tip, she twisted the blade to inflict damage to other organs along the route. Within seconds, his struggles were over. When the consequences of their actions descended on the room, Flora calmed the hysterical girl, “Don’t worry, Sister. Big Mama’s gonna take care of
this!”


    First, Flora found her sewing kit and reattached the ear as best she could and warned the girl to keep it covered with her long hair. Then, the two of them stripped the sergeant and dumped his body into the biggest wash pot in the yard; they filled it with water and lit a fire before anyone
awoke the next morning. His clothes and boots—and the Bowie knife—were thrown down the outhouse sitting next to their lodgings.

 

    The fort had a back gate that was lightly guarded. Flora knew the sentries were usually asleep. She asked the Indian to saddle the sergeant’s mount from the corral while she made sure no one was stirring. When they had quietly eased the horse outside the walls, Flora lifted his tail and
applied a small dose of lye to a tender spot. It would be far from the fort before the animal stopped running to escape the burning torment.

 

    Sergeant MacGuire’s pot had extra firewood that day, and for several days. As the flesh slowly fell off his bones, it was skimmed and deposited in the outhouse seat opening. The other laundresses had to know something was amiss, but no one said anything about it to Big Mama. However, when the sergeant was reported missing, the women helped spread a rumor he had
gone AWOL to see the saloon girl in Pawnee Rock.

 

    A week later, his horse was found butchered, presumably by one of the starving Indian tribes loitering around the post waiting on the periodic distributions of cash and supplies due from government treaties. No remains of MacGuire were found; Army reports charitably listed him as
“killed in action.” The bottom of the latrine would be the final resting place for his parched
bones when Big Mama was finished with him.

Dick

Music

Music

The Billionaire by Benjamin Fairfield

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