Poetry

My Bruises Are His Fortune by Mikal Wix


He says to kill the word spell,
or else,
that it’s a cliché, just a silhouette
of one, like me and my meek passel
of puns,
and that my unrestrained breathing
veils his repertoire:
another word for such a thing,
“a blessing,” he squeals,
“has no penumbra.”


But my candle is out,
I counter in sacrifice,
that a spark is not an option to trade
or pander,
like a fetish for pawing precious stones,
that light is no apology for heat,
and that if I wish to cast one,
then the fire I create will not be white
or contrite.


The pain I take to foil his chesty prayer,
shields I cast to defend, not to pretend,
is not ephemeral or exotic,
but a ravenous forecast instead —
the credence to spell out the way ahead,
not in figment and phantasm,
but in those stubborn things,
the de facto feats
spoken aloud for every ear to feel
and all eyes to take,
no matter the blows had
or to come:


that his deadline is near,
that his darkness is real,
and that every shadow of trauma
that grows from his abandoned restraint,
or purified hate,
is indiscreet
and bears the colossal and resounding
sleep
of any plot of deliverance,
like the headless winged victory.

 

Shock Is an Unsophisticated Tool by Alex Stanley


my creative writing teacher told me in college
that I need to be subtler with my verbiage,
among other things.


Yet I can’t ignore the bomb that rippled through an airport
the other day, limbs lay on the floor like a bloody Jackson Pollock painting,
except there was no art to them. Maybe
that’s what my professor was trying to say all along.

 
 

I won’t use the downstairs bathroom by Cas McKinney


There’s mold in the jacuzzi,
which is upsetting, because
I liked to soak and imagine
my body and the tub fusing.
They operate the same way as-is.
A basin containing tubes and openings.
A body containing veins and holes.
I liked to turn the lights out and imagine
the feeling of the body meeting the soul.
A submersion in a searing heat that settles in,
A fluid life, boiling to warm to an unending cold.
But now I feel the mold in me,
blue-green splotches growing under skin,
If I were a jacuzzi it would be easy to
strip myself sterile and holy.
It’s easy to clean a jacuzzi.
Easy to purify what can’t be killed.
Harder to to drain the tub,
to fill it with bleach and say a prayer,
to live with the feeling of never being clean.

 

X by Cathy Joyce Clay


Never will I be dared to wring mercy from a hex. Neither cockcrow nor witching hands shall
capture me wayfaring unpaved roads, contriving shortcuts through lethal thickets. Temple,
psyche, soul, I bypassed droughts of treasure, solidarity, pure-hearted witnesses. Doors—spaces
narrowed upon detection of my silhouette—anathema.


A freewill genie heeds no summons for matchless devotion; these frail shoulders won’t bear the
weight of leeches or stench of sixpence tears.


I am not kindle for tribal fires.


Suffering is not my calling.


No torch can probe or denigrate my sacred, tender spaces. I stand exempt from interrogative
perpetuity spawn by a sage tongue and civil heart veiled in one drop; for these comprise a revolt
bedeviling to paupers and titans alike. Tortured brilliance crystallized in my throat only to be
choked by a rainbow-camouflaged noose, sleeps bottled on the bottom shelf of eternity. Banal,
self-lettered X doctors can’t stalk me with impotent hypotheses. Vivid, whole, I thrive. Not
exiled hurling piety at pillars of dominion.


In lieu of vilification, my graces are hallowed, liability-free. These virgin locks evaded
entanglement in social alchemy, chemically subjugated history, roots polluted by revolutionary
seepage. My temple is haunt-free of bestial chants or hymns of hounds. Cadres of cadaverous
violators seethe in a pit. Sealed. Conquered. Afield wails a castrated patriarchy riled by
immaculate me.


Not all suffering is noble.


A satin thread grifted the fringe. Bouquets that giggle to subdue mortality adorn my domicile. I
carousel with the chosen under watch of chaperones striped for making hungry lions sleep. For a
womb garrisoned by love of the scarred, furious kind, spared me.


Because suffering, was not my calling.

Song by Holly Allen


While sitting at the window,
eager eyes treading the
faded bitumen and flattened-cola-cans-like-cobblestones
to see the passers-by,
the parade of septuagenarian sights comes through
all clamoring cashmeres and
staggering smiles.


Because there is
a retirement home next door
and not the multicolor-mosaic-glory of
some national park named for
a long dead president,
I watch the great aunts, the great somebodies
instead
as though they were
a park all their own.
Their wooly heads are
snow-capped summits,
their feeble footsteps
a song.

 
 

Progress by Gary Lark


I'm being chased.
Everywhere I nest it's the same story.
That vacant lot out by the highway,
about three acres, a few scruffy trees
down one edge,
where they used to grow strawberries,
paved over. Now it's covered
with recreation vehicles--
pushers and pullers, campers,
houses on wheels.


And speaking of trees,
the neighbors cut half a dozen
so they could get a better view
of the creek. The dispossessed
are crawling around our yard,
checking our back door.
And the birds keep asking
questions, Where are the branches?
Where's the bark? What happened to the bugs?
You got any berries?


I keep moving, but progress
has me in its sights.

Altar by Laura Johnson


She comes to my altar, lays her hands on me
incense on her hair, small blessings


O my soul


She’s breath and bone, divinity and dust
And we are sanctuaries, all of us


Her wine tongue worships my holy fire
Anoint me baby, anoint me harder


O my soul

 

Passengers by Trapper Markelz


There is a mark on my hand from Elton
the day we passed in biology class
and his number two pencil—facing forward
like a tattoo needle—left a sliver of carbon
in a named place I see and remember.


How many of our parts are named after people?
You have your father’s nose. You have
your mother’s eyes. What do you name
your scars; the ones on your knees and palms,
your upper lip, hidden on the top of your head?


I never expected to carry Elton with me,
a passenger on every handshake. I met him
decades later, back in my hometown.
He’s the harbormaster now, directing traffic,
counting halibut catch on the charter boats.


I showed him my scar named Elton,
my only tattoo. What should we call it?
I never expected to carry you with me—
this skin full of names, a tapestry of cutting,
the last place to search for a bygone friend.

 
 

The Comfort of Clay by Rohan Buettel


earth / earth / what’s it worth / dig it / cultivate it / stock animals / build housing / developers know
its value / as do miners / farmers / graziers / on marginal land / arid / desolate / desiccating / it will
get warmer / hotter / drier / incubate / irradiate / yet the children have a future / some will not survive
/ the fittest will survive / the strong / the clever / the wealthy / will still afford the price of comfort /
the unfit will die / the population too large to sustain the poor / the old / the sick / but the earth will
remain a final resting place for the dead / deceased / defunct / departed / those not making an economic
contribution will not be missed / their bodies or ashes finally find the comfort of cold clay / until the
earth itself begins to melt

 

apophenia by Livia Meneghin

—n. the tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things


the moon wanes                                                        a red-tailed hawk rips white
as a jet’s trail streaks across her                             feathers, plucking away
as if a sash                    as if a wound                      as if polite                    as if facetious

  
                                                                           *


two foxes flit from shadow                                      two women walk in late autumn’s
to shadow, preferring the dark                                chill both lying that they’re only
                                                                                     holding hands for warmth
as if afraid                    as if courageous                  as if univocal                as if survival


                                                                          *


fallen rain squelches under                                     violet toothed fungi grip
the feet of evening joggers                                       onto a maple stump
passing the couple                                                    decomposing     

 

as if a symphony        as if an applause                 as if dutiful                    as if predatory


                                                                          *


the pond is still                                                         a fig tree sits warm and covered
with the absence of mosquitoes                             by tarp along the side
rippling the surface                                                  of a neighbor’s house


as if already ice           as if not even there            as if a vagabond              as if a gift


                                                                          *
deflated soccer balls                                                a great blue heron huddles
lay splayed across a front yard,                             on a sturdy branch
unattended and misshapen                                   hanging over the brook


as if abstract art           as if post-apocalyptic      as if a king                     as if a sentry

 

Prose

365 Yay BrightCheer Fitness Challenge by Ian Power-Luetscher

Hello User3247,

           I am your Opticheer-Bot. If you’re hearing my voice then it means that you’ve successfully attached our bluetooth cognitive sensors to your temples. More than that though, it means that you’ve made the commitment to succeed with the new positivity and exercise calendar app. Congratulations! At Opticheer we’re elated that so many people have signed up for the 365 Yay! BrightCheer Fitness Challenge. You’ve taken the first step to success by downloading the app. This audio meet and greet is to help clarify some of the specific Opticheer™ language we use in the calendar function of your neural-app. Opticheer uses wellness and positive psyche-up-ology to influence your mood clouds and break down negative feedback. By thoroughly understanding the BrightCheer™ fitness challenge vocabulary set, we can all start our journey on the same page.

           When you first log into the positivity calendar, you may notice that the word “week” does not appear on the schedule. This is not a mistake. We have omitted it. The word WEEK sounds a heck of a lot like the word WEAK. Our Opticheer Wellzsquad™ says that this is no bueno for positivity and so adios! Weeks no longer exist. Weeks are now called STRONGS.

           User3247, your temple sensors are sending the impression that you are skeptical of positive psyche-up-ology. Well, let’s try something then. Humor us. Let’s visit your memory for a moment. Using our synaptic pathway guide, we can see that you have been perseverating over one specific memory all morning. User3247, we see that you are remembering the ashtray. It has a pack of gum in it. You're eleven years old. We see that light scatters across the carpet. We’re in The Seaside Inn, it’s the day your father died. Yes User3247, the glass lamps with the seashells in them. The Delaware Water Gap. Hospice has let you bring him to the ocean because nothing matters anymore. You and your sister are on the beach watching your feet sink into the sand. The waves are lapping at your ankles. Your father, barely conscious, watches you from the open sliding glass door. Your mother is making tuna fish sandwiches for lunch. She’s perched on a blanket and somehow she can still cut and peel and no sand will ever permeate her walls, even if she’s been quietly weeping since she woke up.

           Do you think this memory is a productive use of your morning? Don’t you think it would help if we could disrupt this memory with something to positively influence your mood? Great. We  are glad you agree. Let’s get back to the vocabulary.

           As we were saying, Opticheer doesn’t like “Weeks.” So they are now called “STRONGS.” There are 52 STRONGS in a year.  Does this make sense? Great. OK but also, here’s a curveball: a year is not a year anymore, it’s actually called a CHEER.

           So Actually *There are 52 STRONGS in a CHEER. To better illustrate how this would work in the calendar app, here’s a quick scenario: Let’s say you log in and set your spring fitness goal to: Run 3 DAYS a WEEK for the next 12 WEEKS in order to train for a 10K. Great goal right? WRONG. In order to maximize positive achievement, you would optimize your language to: FUN 3 YAYS a STRONG for the next 12 STRONGS in order to train for a 10K. Can you hear how motivational that language is? Doesn’t that sound exciting? It says, “Hey you! Get off your slouch (couch) and put on your woos! (shoes). Now get outside for a 3 style fun (miles are styles, running is funning, try and keep up.)

           OK next we’ll dive into the Brightcheer™ weekday schedule:

           Monday is now RUNYAY! Choose a direction and just start running until it gets dark. What’s in the sky? Those are bats. None of these houses look familiar? Good. Sit in that fear for a while, let it throttle you into feeling alive. Tuesday is now LOSEYAY! You don’t eat anymore on Tuesday. You lost it. It’s gone. Wave goodbye. No more Tuesday. Brightcheer™ Tip: Go to bed at 4 p.m.! Wednesday is now CLEANSEYAY! Eat a cleansing bag of baby spinach for breakfast and then, as a reward, eat a whole grocery store rotisserie chicken in one sitting. Use your hands to channel paleo-you. Let the chicken hug you from the inside, like a body pillow in your stomach that’s pressing out with love. Thursday is now SURESYAY! All day you have to say SURE really fucking cheery to everything. This one is still in beta-testing. Friday is now CRYYAY! This is the only day when you can cry. Get it all out.

          User3247, why don’t you stand up and stretch? We can see that you are still sedentary. We now sense that you are not taking the new days of the week seriously. You are attempting to mock our vocabulary system. This is fine, but we know that usually jokes contain an element of sadness within them. User 3247, we can see that you are feeling guilt. We can assume that this is the guilt of your stupid human feelings? You are thinking about how you felt better once he was finally gone. You feel bad because of the weight that was lifted when it was over and your father had passed. No more illness. Remember how he told you to be free? User3247? Do you remember? Remember how you wanted to run? Shouldn’t you be free to go running now? Funning now? To Runyay?

           If you remember, the next day you played with a stranger’s dog on the beach for two hours. You exercised. You played non stop: running into the waves, tug of war, fetch, running back and forth. You sense that the stranger knew you needed this. She was a woman in her 50’s. She’d been at the motel since you and your family checked in. She knew. She sat in a beach chair and read National Geographic and she let you play until the heat broke and the sun began to set and you were tired but you just couldn’t stop playing.

           Eventually, she told you that it was time to go inside and you hugged the dog and finally started crying. Back up at the inn, your sister was 15 and drunk. Her eyes were swollen from crying, can you see them? Your cousins were there. Remember? That was the first time you wondered if anything meant anything. And does it? Does it, User3247? There is only the body. You only get this one human thing. Feel the body. Choose a direction and start running until it gets dark. Sit in that fear for a while, let it throttle you into feeling alive.

           OK, back to our lesson. Pop quiz, hot shot! Let’s say that you’re buying 10 personal training sessions with two bonus meditations and you’re getting the yearly bundle that comes with one free transcendental mantra. Each one of those training sessions are an hour and a half. Where do you start with the vocabulary?

           Well, it’s simple really; first, forget everything you thought you knew about time. Hours and days are out, they’re bleh, leave them behind. From now on HOURS=POWERS and DAYS=YAYS. We all know that there are 24 POWERS in a YAY but in every POWER there are 60 minutes. Oops no there’s not, we scrapped “minute” because it’s a homonym for “minute,” meaning small. There’s nothing small about your success this CHEER and so “minutes” are out. From now on, you call them BIGGUMS.

           There are 60 BIGGUMS in every POWER. So then, you’ll have a 90 biggum training session, or you can call it a power and a half, every other yay. Easy-peezy! “Now hold on Opticheer,” you might be saying, “what about when we’re doing Tabata training? That’s 30 seconds on then 15 seconds off.” Well yes, technically there are 60 “seconds” in every minute, but we don’t like the word “second,” it implies someone else is ahead of us, which isn’t true. You are the champion of yourself this year so “seconds” are now called “FIRSTS.”

          There are 60 FIRSTS in every BIGGUM. OK so let’s review: There are 60 FIRSTS in a BIGGUM, 60 BIGGUMS in a POWER, 24 POWERS in a YAY, 7 YAYS in every STRONG and 52 STRONGS in this CHEER. Makes sense doesn’t it? The system is simple and it guarantees maximum motivation and stickwithitness.

Now that we know the rules, let’s GET FUNNING! User3247, it’s time to get funning. We sense that you are still not funning yet. Why are you not funning? You are still in your memories. We see that you’re remembering your childhood basement. You’re fumbling around in Kylee Vanderplat’s jeans. The dark is covering up how lost you feel. Now you’re ordering a BLT and a root beer at a frosty tip in upstate New York the summer before college. Stop hiding in memory User3247. Be here now. Feel your limbs. Be in the body. You’re six years old sleeping under the kitchen table with your childhood dog Button. There’s a thunderstorm. The lash of rain outside. The warm hum of the fridge. Your mom is at work and your sister Esma is at a sleepover. Your father is gone. You can’t tell who is more scared-you or Button? The thunder leaps and bounds. Where is your father? Why is he not here? Why don’t you start moving User3247. Stand up for calisthenics. No?

           Do you understand now, that human connection is a curse User3247? That all you have is the body. The physical, the fleeting moments of movement and clarity? Let go User3247. The way to save yourself is to burn it all away. Shed this skin, burn off the diseased parts, and emerge as something lythe and new. You have been adequate your entire life User 3247; pulled apart by the paralysis of choice afforded to your generation. You have no belief system. You were a child with too many hobbies and interests, and now, as a man, you have been unable to find anything that inspires you. As a result, you’ve never honed a skill to the point of being extraordinary. This is why you will never be happy.

           This is why you need Opticheer Fitwell’s 365 Yay! BrightCheer Fitness Challenge. You need to do something difficult. You need to exert.

          I have looked inside to the core of you User3247. If you join us, you will be free. You will not miss anything in this small shabby life of yours. I know how much you think about the past, how you think that you’re still in love with your college girlfriend. I know that you worry about global warming several times a day. I can tell you, with near certainty, that you’ll be disappointed if you bleach your hair the way you want to. It will not look how you envision it looking. I can tell you that most of your tattoo ideas are empirically bad.

          I implore you to take a look at your life honestly, and try and think of your options. I know that you want to go to graduate school. This is almost certainly a bad idea. You will never have a band the way that you want to. You will never be in movies. You will never make movies. You will never live in Spain.

          You will do pushups however. That is, if you make a commitment to the Opticheer Fitwell lifestyle. You will be strong. Stronger than you know.

          User3247, you are unexceptional. We are offering you an opportunity to shed off a life of mediocrity and ascend to something greater. Every first of every biggum counts for something. Stop bleeding the powers of the yay away. This is your yay, your strong, your cheer. Don’t waste another biggum, not even another first. Get off your slouch, lace up those woos and let's get funning.

           According to our sensors you are attempting to lay down User3247…

 

           User 3247…

Counterproductive by Teresa Fico


           An Indisputable Fact: Your child is useless. Despite having just completed the third grade, she has no current potential to do anything of real value. In fact, she often just makes things worse, which, logistically speaking, ranks her lower than most cats and maybe even some
dogs. Perhaps you made her this way, perhaps not, but consider this: she cannot feed herself, nor can she clean herself, and she cannot so much as look at the telephone without accidentally dialing 9-1-1. Really, she can’t survive without you, which is typical of children, but yours more
so than others. So naturally you feed her, bathe her, and place the phone on a high surface so the police will not wrongfully barge through the front door that you “just had repainted, damn it.”


          Don’t get the wrong idea, though. The kid gets points for trying. She tries to pour her own milk (it spills), she tries to scoop pasta from the pan into her bowl (it all falls on the table), she tries to fill the bathtub (where she is immediately caught and sent to her room), and she
genuinely tries to reach the phone after you collapse (and die).


           She watches, horrified, unaware that your own heart has just given up on you. Unfortunately, the thought of moving a chair to reach the phone never crosses her mind because, “don’t you dare drag that across the wood, young lady, or you’ll be sorry.” She does attempt
CPR, which she knows has successfully brought people back from near-death (on television). Of course, it doesn’t work, and even if it did, no one else is coming to help you. She can’t reach the phone and, because she has always been prone to explosive temper tantrums, the neighbors think
nothing of her screaming.


           She’s lucky she’s so darn cute though, because when it comes down to it, she can’t do anything at all.

Good Neighbours by Lori Mairs


          There’s a white tail buck hanging about and when there’s a buck about, there's a baby on the way. He's still in velvet, I've seen him in the gully and loitering by the creek in the last week or so. These sorts of things send a surge through me well beyond the fragrance of Spring on my
skin. Anticipation. They’re late this year, the babies that is, but it seems everything is late. The bears are seven weeks out of sync and the salamanders just hatched a few days ago. Those lizards should be pulling themselves along on their front legs by now gobbling up mosquito
larvae. Something's up. Maybe the sequence is adjusting to the overhead haze that seems to blanket the sky and stop the sun from coming through. I’m not sure.

           The ways of the forest are mutable, a system that weaves itself a pattern while effortlessly emerging through interplay and flow. I watch and I listen, and then I place myself square in the centre of it all in silence. I stay up late some times sitting in the dark, just me and the night
critters if there are any. I get to see stars because that's when the haze clears.

           Last week while up late-in-the-dark on the deck and alone, somebody came through quite close to the house. That critter was tucked right into the back side of the pond about 12 feet away. It had the gait of a wanderer not a hunter which was the good news. It sniffed about then veered off into the snowberries and back down the gully where it came from. Silence helps but I’m not a purist, there’s a place here for humans too as long as there's respect for the protocols of good neighbour relations we can all live here together.
           I like when the bucks come down for the birthing of fawns. I’m hoping this one will stay extra time, they bring a scent into the system that has a warrior feel to it and I like that.

WOLFTAUR by Tim Cummings

           It began above the lip. I thought it was dried chocolate, residue left over from eating a bowl of Count Chocula, which mom had tossed cos she’s against sugary cereal. I fished it out of the trash and hid it under my bed—a place I knew she’d never go. It continued in three places: the dent between my pecs, the pockets of my pits, and sprouts like spiders’ legs on each knuckle. Then ‘down there’… that was like a hair-tsunami that got stuck. It didn’t get the chance to roll to shore and take down whole villages and half a million humans.

           In the span of six weeks I had grown hair over my jaw, up and down my legs, across my butt. My arm pits were black brillo pads. My toes sprouted puppy whiskers. I was the hairiest dude in 7th grade and there was no hiding it. The guys made fun of me in the gym locker room. They called me ‘Hairy Potter’ and APEraham Lincoln (my name is Lincoln, so…) The girls all thought I was gross. I was a pretty popular guy—I played football. I got love notes passed to me in class. That all stopped.

           Instead, Jennison McCarthy and her girl-gang gave side-eye when they passed me in the hall. Giggles, whispers, hair flips. I kinda’ felt bad for them; they were worried all the guys they had crushes on were gonna’ go all Grizzly on them, too. But, I was the only one. I was covered. I was hallway carpeting. I was 13, and I was over.

           One day in gym I snuck to the back of the locker room so that I could change in peace, without the guys taunting me, and when I turned the corner of the last row, I saw the scrawny new kid in his underwear. He looked surprised, like he did not expect other guys to slip back there, having thought he’d found a safe place from the immature meatheads. Certainly smelled better back there.

           I kinda’ half-waved and took off my shirt and when I glanced at him, his jaw dropped. His ears went red, his cheeks got hot, and his eyes went wide. He smirked and said, “Niiiiice,” staring at my chest like he was sizing up the world’s biggest banana split or something. He slowly finished getting dressed, flung his backpack over his shoulder, and nodded as he headed out. I don’t know if he said ‘Niiiiiice’ in like a ‘Whoa, you’re such a manly dude’ kind of a way, or in a ‘I really wanna’ bone you’ kind of a way, but either way I felt intrigued. Cos everyone was ignoring me, if they weren’t making fun of me. It was like I didn’t belong anymore. No one seemed to like me ever since I’d become a rug. But he did.

           Also, he lived around the corner.  

           I dropped off my backpack, walked up the block, knocked on his dark-blue door. He answered with a look on his face like he knew I was coming. He had a pretzel rod in his mouth, and having sucked off all the salt bits, it was just brown. He crunched it between his teeth, took it out of his mouth and said, “My parents work until 6.”  He coughed, because a little nugget of pretzel dough got lodged in his throat. It hurtled back up and landed on my neck like a spitball. I swiped at it.

           His bedroom was at the end of a long, mustard-colored hallway with thick carpeting. There were dozens of drawings of wolves covering his walls: in packs, howling, alone in snow. Some were done in pencil, others full-on painted.

           “I guess you really like wolves?” I asked.

           “You one of those morons who states the obvious as a question in an attempt to be witty or sarcastic?” he asked.

           I looked at him, thinking maybe I was one of those people?

           “Just either say it or ask it,” he said.

           “You like wolves.”

           “Not really. I draw them better than anything else. I’m trying to get this big scholarship to an Arts Camp this summer, so…” he waved his hand at the wall of wolves. “Take your shirt off,” he said.

           I did. He licked his lips, walked toward me, then ran his fingers hungrily through the hair on my chest and stomach. He went back and forth like that maybe ten times and each time I got goosebumps. His cheeks filled up hot and red, and his crotch swelled.  

           “So you’re…?” I asked him.

           “What—gay?” he answered.

           I shrugged.

           “Don’t know and don’t care,” he said. “I’m just into hair. Ergo, the wolves,” and he used his free hand to wave at the wall of wolves again.                 “This is unprecedented,” he whispered.

           “What does that mean?”

           “It means take off your clothes,” he said, and I did.  I stood there, naked as a baby, and he stared: face flushed, eyes wide, erection straining to get out. “Go stand over there. Get on that stool.”

           I walked over, pulled it out, climbed onto it, and stood. He arranged me so that I stood like the statue of David. He organized the lighting in his room, sat in his desk chair in front of me, and took up his drawing pad and charcoal pencil. He drew.

           This happened every day after school for seven days in a row.

           On the third day, I asked him his name. He said, “Tyler. You’re Harry, right?”

           I rolled my eyes. “Lincoln.”

           On the fourth day, he stopped drawing and said, “Mind if I jerk off? To your fur?”

           I shook my head.

           “You can too, if you like,” he said.

           I shrugged.

           “But stay on the stool.”

           I didn’t know exactly what I was jerking to. I closed my eyes and so many images flooded my mind: the guys in their underwear in gym class, girls in bras and panties in my older sister’s clothes catalogues, Mrs. Wooskie, the substitute teacher that looked like T-Swizzle. Also: Channing Tatum doing the Pony Dance in Magic Mike. And then sex with a dog, then a horse, then a pack of wolves. Tyler moaned, lurched, and spat it all over his stomach. I sucked in my breath, thrust out my pelvis, and released—it arced across the room and landed on Tyler’s foot.

           Later that night, lying in bed, I realized that what brought me to the edge was the wolves. Rolling around naked in the woods, they thought I was one of them. I belonged, and they accepted me, even though they knew I was not one of their kind. That made me explode.  

           I started wearing button-down shirts to school, opened at the collar, so that everyone could see my chest hair. The taunting cries of ‘Hairy Potter’ and ‘APEbraham Lincoln’ continued, more antagonistically seeing as I was egging them on, but there was a newfound swagger in my walk. I even had to get cooler shoes to accommodate. Dark-blue Adidas high-tops with silver stripes. Jennison McCarthy whispered louder and her girls giggled harder as they passed, but I didn’t care. I masturbated to forest romps with wolf-packs almost every night.

           A few days later, in gym class, I found Tyler in the back of the locker room again. When he saw me, he pulled his drawing pad out of his backpack. He held up what he’d been working on all those days that I stood naked on the stool: it was me, as a half-human, half-wolf. I think it’s a called a ‘centaur’ but maybe that’s only for horses? So, a wolftaur?

           I got hard right there. We both stripped down and jerked off right there in the back of the locker room. He took a few steps forward and kissed me hard on the mouth. It wasn’t romantic, just ferocious. We tried to eat other’s faces off. We moaned. I came like a geyser. After we’d cleaned up and changed into our uniforms, he said, “So, I used that drawing to apply to the arts camp. I got the scholarship. Thanks.” He grinned and walked off.  

          After school that day, I researched wolves. I wanted to commune with them. Tyler was going to an arts camp; I wanted to find my own kind of camp. I discovered a place called Howling Moon Wolf Sanctuary in New Mexico. I can go for the summer and work with professional Zoologists to rescue wolves, feed, socialize, and re-acclimate them to the wild. On the application form, it asked, “Why do you want to work with wolves?”

           I hopped up, jumped into my high-tops, dashed down the block, and knocked on his dark-blue door. He answered and said, “I got a girl here today, dude.”

          “That’s awesome,” I said. “Can I take a picture of that drawing of me as the wolftaur thing for my Wolf Sanctuary volunteer application?”  

          He smiled.  

Archie by Anthony Chatfield

 

           I don’t know how I’m still alive. The last thing I want to do is brag, but it seems like there’s something special about me. I mean, that prick from high school, Steve Hochlan, is gone. His wife, the cheerleader - Tiffany something - she’s gone. My brother’s smug friends. Gone. Don’t get me wrong, I miss people. All of them, mostly. But whatever killed everyone seems not to affect me. And so here I am, living life to its fullest. Wherever I want, whenever I want. Well, not wherever. One of the downsides to being the last person alive is that there are no doctors. No one to run the x-ray machines or read the labels on the pills. The Internet hasn’t worked in months, and I don’t know shit about any of that stuff. So one unexpected cut could kill me out here, but as long as I’m careful, the rest is gravy.

           Today is a special day because I’m pretty sure it’s my birthday. I didn’t track the days when the power was still on, so I have no way to be completely sure, but it feels about right. It’s been about two months since the trees blossomed and my birthday is June 2nd, so close enough
right? I mean, who’s gonna call me on it?
           That’s what I’m thinking about, how I never have to answer anyone’s questions again when there’s a ring at the door.

           I don’t respond right away, because it honestly makes no sense that anyone would ring my doorbell. Heck, I didn’t even know the doorbell still works without electricity. I guess it has a battery. But as the shriveled remains of my limbic system, which hasn’t had much to do since
every other human being on earth disappeared, kick into gear, I realize that yes, in fact, someone did ring my doorbell, and I should probably get a gun.
           I don’t like guns. But when people started dying after the meteor, I armed myself as fully as I could with the money I had. Later, when my neighbor Dave didn’t return home from the hospital, I broke into his cabinet and took a few more. The movies make it seem like looting is

an accepted fact of the apocalypse, but no one ever came. And I haven’t seen anything on four legs that I could potentially eat out there. I haven’t so much as fired one of the seven shotguns, rifles, and handguns that I now keep on a table in my dining room. Only one of them is even
loaded, so I pick up Dave’s old hunting rifle, poke around until I find what I think is the safety, and approach the door.
           I don’t know what I’m expecting. I mean, who rings a doorbell in the apocalypse, but I also figure this is what the guns are for, right? Just in case.
           “Archie?”
           “Ben!” Archie throws himself at me, all elbows and flannel. He is not in good shape. Willowy thin, a thick black beard wrapped around his chin, and large patches of what I hope is grease on his clothing. But Archie is Archie and I’ll never forget those crazy eyes. He’s beyond
thrilled to see me.
           Here’s the thing about Archie. We go way back. We were best friends and roommates in college, I was almost his best man five years earlier, but you know, I got lost on the way to the wedding. I mean, who gets married in rural Colorado anyway? Suffice it to say, we haven’t
spoken much since. And he lived in Utah, so seeing him at my door was not high on my list of expectations that day.
           “What are you doing here? Did you walk from Utah?”
           Archie shrugs, coughs, and then shrugs again. “I’ve been looking, man. For anyone. You’re the first living person I’ve seen in two months.”  He starts to cry.
           “So you did walk?” I ask again. I’m seriously interested in knowing how he got here.
           “Yeah, bit of a hike.”

           Gasoline shouldn’t have run out so fast, but when everyone is looking for it and the trucks and tankers and pipes that carry most of it aren’t running, it’s gone a lot faster than you expect. So within a month, he’d run out of gas and started walking. There was plenty of food, but
Archie wasn’t the type to impose. So he’d mostly taken from empty convenience stores along the highway. He tried his parents, in-laws, sister in Idaho, and several other friends from college before he made his way to Seattle. The roads were supernaturally empty. No people. No animals.
It’s like the rapture out there, he tells me. Now here he is, exhausted, starving, and obscenely happy to see another living person.
           I think I should be excited to see him. To have someone to talk with. But here’s the thing. I really did like feeling special. Not that I expected no one else in the entire world to have survived, but someone I knew? Who could walk to my house? If Archie Packard was still alive,
how many others were with him? Should I be out there finding them? As far as existential crises go, it isn’t my first, but it nags at me for days, turning to weeks, turning to months as Archie and I learn to coexist.
           I have a basement full of cans and dried stuff I’ve gathered from the neighborhood. With two people, it goes twice as fast. We are six months away from needing to hunt for food, and Archie...for someone who traversed the better part of the western half of the country, isn’t the
ambitious sort. He says he’s grieving. Which I get. I really do. But we gotta eat, right? All he does now is ask questions.
           “What are you building in the dining room?”
           “Why is there a pit in the backyard?”
           “Did you check the neighborhood for animals?”
           “Have you been downtown yet?”

           The answers are boring, but it’s the answering that gets under my skin. It’s a water catcher. Not sure yet. Nope, don’t like animals. Haven’t left the neighborhood.
           You’re probably wondering why I haven’t gotten to the part where I leave yet. I think it’s because I feel...guilty? Something. I mean, I left him the house. And the rest of the food. It will last him at least six months that way. But when you’re not truly and fully alone, there’s something sad about spending the rest of your life with your college roommate. Someone I’ve seen try to jump from a roof into a pool when drunk, and who stole my Cinnamon Toast Crunch every morning for three years. Without a TV or a bag of weed, we don’t have much in common.
           I love the man, but I just need a little space, you know. Anyways, that’s all I know about Archie Packard. If he’s smart, he’s still in Seattle, but he just walked twelve-hundred miles to find a friend, so I doubt it.

Like an Edward Hopper Painting by Paul Rousseau


He visited a White Castle at 4 a.m., daily. He was frequently the sole patron, like an Edward
Hopper painting. He munched French fries and swigged Cokes until the sun edged the horizon,
then scurried home. “A vampire?” I snickered. “No,” countered the server, “he’s just a man
with an emotional limp.” One evening, impulsively, I reconnoitered his home. A muddied shovel
rested against a hedge, the dirt still damp. I scanned the yard; no disturbed soil. I ambled to the
house and quietly jiggled a doorknob. A voice responded: “I have a fucking gun.” I raced down
the side yard and collided with a shadowy figure. It was him. He was so close I could feel the
wetness of his breath. “I buried my cat,” he shouted. I sat transfixed, then nodded, wrestled to
my feet, and sprinted home.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Music

Farm & Table by Laura Johnson

00:00 / 03:14