Category Archives: Flash

The Collectors by Nathaniel Tower

All my friends have their own unique methods of tracking the chicks they’ve banged. This one guy, we call him “Pubes,” tapes a lock of each woman’s pubic hair to the wall behind his dresser. He’s got a whole color wheel of pubes back there. Red, black, blonde, brown, gray. If it’s a suitable color for pubic hair, he’s got it in his collection. Hell, he’s even got a rainbow pube lock that looks like he got it straight from one of those clown wigs. We’re not positive he didn’t.

“Pubes” usually trims their pubes right after sex, when the hair is a bit sticky and matted down. He says it helps with the preservation. Sometimes he tapes them up while the woman is still watching. “What are you doing?” she’ll ask. “Preserving,” he says.

If a chick’s got a shaved pussy, he tells her to come back when she’s hit puberty. Surprisingly, most of them come back. Actually, that’s the only time any of his women come back.

This other guy, we call him “Moist Mike,” takes panties from his girls. He keeps them in the top drawer of his dresser. He’s not picky about the type. Thongs, lacey things, bikini briefs, edible ones, split crotches. He even has a pair of XXL white cotton panties that look like they’d fit a bloated beluga whale.

“Moist Mike” says the key to panty collecting is getting them nice and wet before he pulls them off. He likes to rub a chick’s panties really hard before removing them. It traps in that horny vag scent, he says. Usually he gets up from his bed and puts the panties in the drawer before he even bothers to fuck the woman. That’s when they’re the most vulnerable and least likely to say no.

He’s really particular about how the panties are arranged, and he won’t let anyone else open the drawer. On lonely nights, “Moist Mike” opens the dresser, takes a big whiff, and jerks off into a napkin. I’m pretty sure he saves all his semen catchers in another drawer. It’s not like he has much else to put in that big ass dresser.

And me? I collect toenails. I keep them in a jar on my nightstand so I can stare at them while I bang a chick. It helps me get off faster. Every morning I reach inside and fondle the broken shards of toe. It’s the perfect antidote for my morning wood.

It’s a pretty kick ass collection. I keep them in an old pickle jar–slices, not gherkins or spears–that I didn’t really rinse out, which helps prevent fungus from spreading. I have all kinds of colors. A lot more than “Pubes” has taped to his wall or “Moist Mike” has arranged in his drawer, that’s for sure. The orange ones are my favorite. I keep a few extra bottles of nail polish lying around the room in case I don’t like the girl’s color. As soon as she orgasms, I dive under the sheets and start chewing on her toes. They always think I’m going to lick their crotch or some gross shit like that.

Most of the time, a few hard bites will yield something that’s jar-worthy. Other times, I chew until I get the whole nail off. Most of the girls don’t fuss about it too much. I almost always use a numbing agent before I start nibbling. Occasionally, a woman will kick me in the face, but it’s more reflex than anything else.

Last night this woman had magenta toes. That’s right. Fucking magenta. I thought for a minute I was in love. After chomping on her delicious tootsies, the damn jar is almost full. I don’t really want to start another one, so I might go through my collection and get rid of the ones I don’t like that much anymore. The crescent moon shaped nails sort of give me the creeps when I’m rubbing them on my body. It’s going to be hard to get rid of any though. They each have their own charm.

My dad kept dozens of pickle jars full of nails and screws and other shit in his garage. That’s where I got the idea. He loved building shit, but I never really had a knack for anything handy.

I think my old man would be proud if he could see my collection now.

Nathaniel Tower is a former English teacher who now spends his days at a computer. When not at work, he writes fiction and manages the online literary magazine Bartleby Snopes. If he’s not writing or editing, he’s either spending time with his wife and daughter, listening to records, or going for long runs while juggling. His short fiction has appeared in over 200 online and print magazines and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Million Writers Award. His first collection of short fiction, “Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands,” was released in 2014 by Martian Lit. Visit him at nathanieltower.wordpress.com

Eulogy By Andrew J. Hogan

We gather today to celebrate the life of Woodrow Jacklum, a brother, son, cousin, friend and neighbor, a man many of us thought God had not given any special endowments. Yesterday, the chairman of the North American Moose Conference faxed me his organization’s official regrets over Woody’s passing: “Please inform the family of Wildlife Biology Assistant Woodrow E. Jacklum of the Isle Royale National Park that he has been belatedly, and regretfully posthumously, inducted into the Order of Alces, notwithstanding his having attained only associate membership status during his lifetime due to the lack of an advanced science degree. The emerging field of bull moose fertility was molded almost exclusively by Woody’s innovative hands. Woody’s untimely passing came while saving Morris, Isle Royale’s alpha bull moose for the last decade, who had been injured following a confrontation with a Homeland Security vehicle on Angleworm Lake Road. Morris was Woody’s principal research subject, contributing more than 20 ejaculate samples. Woody’s heroic actions to save Morris from the jaws of the East Pack timber wolves resulted in his own death, partial dismemberment and closed casket ceremony. No other wildlife biologist, regardless of educational attainment, has even collected viable sperm samples from a free-range moose, or any other cervid, for that matter. Unscientific squeamishness over Woody’s research focus, combined the secrecy surrounding his specimen collection methods (“to protect the moose from abuse,” Woody would say), delayed well-deserved recognition of the significance of his achievements. Woody agreed to write about his specimen collection methods for Moose Call; such an article which would have almost certainly won him the Distinguished Moose Biologist Award at the next scientific meeting. Now ill fortune has deprived the North American Moose Conference, and posterity, of a full understanding of Woody’s field techniques.”

Before retirement, Andrew Hogan was a faculty member at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Since retiring, he has published twenty-four works of fiction in the OASIS Journal, Hobo Pancakes, Twisted Dreams, Thick Jam, Grim Corps, Long Story Short, Defenestration, Foliate Oak Literary Literary Magazine, The Blue Guitar Magazine, Fabula Argentea, Mobius, Thrice, The Lorelei Signal, SANDSCRIPT, and the Copperfield Review. He’s glad his mother isn’t alive to read the story he published in Paragraph Line, and, by the way, it’s the wolves that are in trouble on Isle Royale, not the moose.

Excerpts Taken from a Moleskine Journal Found on the Putrefied Corpse of Comedian Andy Spando By Mark Allen Berryhill

May 11th, 2014

The strangest thing happened today. I decided to perform another one of my impromptu sets for my fiance today. She wasn’t doing anything except for watching something boring on Netflix so I grabbed my mike, plugged into my home PA, cranked it to 11 (just joshing, it only goes up to 10) and stood in front of the television while I gifted her with comedy.

Just when I got to the punch line of one my favorite bits, you know the one where I end with “And get back to the kitchen! (Just kidding, I love women, I really do.)” She set the tv remote down and marched out of the room. I know what you’re thinking, how rude, I hadn’t even gotten to the end where I leave her feeling inspired with a positive message!

So she locks herself in the bedroom, puts My Last Resort on repeat and turns the volume up as loud as it can go–which is pretty loud. I politely knocked on the door, asking her if I was being too edgy, and apologized for offending her with my roguish wit. I listened really hard, and for awhile she was making a sound I could barely hear over that really great song. I couldn’t tell if she was crying, or laughing, or singing along. I got bored though and watched Space Ghost Coast to Coast on VHS until I fell asleep.

May 12th, 2014

She’s still in there, and the music is still playing. While Papa Roach is no Sentuamessage, I still love that song, you can only sing along so many times before even that gets boring. I’ve decided to give her some space. She’ll have to come out eventually to pee. She was always excusing herself to go to the bathroom as soon as I got to the best part of whatever story I was telling. It seems that every girlfriend I’ve ever had has either had IBS or the tiniest bladder. The world is a strange place.

May 13th, 2014

For once I am glad that all of the people in the adjoining apartments moved out soon after I moved in. It’s always been nice having most of this building to ourselves. I’m worried about my Facebook friends. My Macbook Air is in there with her, and so is my NES. This is the longest I’ve been away from FB since I joined. They’re probably missing me.

May 14th, 2014

I broke the TV. I tried practicing my set, but I really need an audience to bounce my ideas off of. My reflection in the television wasn’t clear enough to get that energy I need so I removed the mirror from the bathroom and tried to hang it on the television. The whole thing tipped over and broke and there’s no one to clean it up. I’ve stepped in glass twice so far today. I wish she’d get over her little episode.

 

May 15th, 2014

Okay, this is officially the longest she’s ever locked herself in the bedroom. I keep the mini fridge in there stocked with Pabst, but she must be getting hungry. Thankfully I’ve been able to eat at the Applebee’s down the street to keep up my strength. But she hasn’t come out. I put scotch tape on the door the first night this started, and she hasn’t broken the seal once. I would really like to get in there to play TMNT. I’m getting so bored.

May 16th, 2014

This boredom is killing me. I tried three times to pleasure myself, but without her here to watch me I can’t seem to, ahem, “achieve climax.” The glass in my foot is really irritating; I’ll try meditation to transcend the pain.

I can’t seem to reach nothingness alone either. I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

May 18th, 2014

This place is a mess. And there’s this awful smell coming from somewhere. There’s probably trash in the bedroom that needs to be changed. I bet she doesn’t even notice. They call that old factory fatigue because old factories used to smell really bad but you got used to it after awhile.

May 21st, 2014

I had a break down today. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried. Real men cry, you know. I violated her space by pounding on the door. I begged her to please come out. What am I going to do? I’m so hungry now and my foot hurts so much.

“Please, please come out,” I said. “One hundred thousand dollars a year doesn’t last very long in the big city and I need someone to cook for me!”

She is being such a bitch. Oh god, I didn’t mean it. Why did I write that in pen?

May 26th, 2014

The power went out, and it’s really starting to get hot in here. It’s funny that I actually miss the music now. Don’t get me started on the flies. My leg is so big and purple and powerful now, it’s the best leg I’ve ever seen.

May 27th, 2014

I had a dream last night that I saw her again. In my dream she begged me to forgive her. I do, I do forgive you for doing this to me. You can come out now.

May 28th, 2014

I almost understand what she was trying to tell me about me by choosing that song.

Cut my life into pieces – because there’s enough of me to go around.

This is my last resort – because I can’t wait forever for you to get me

Suffocation, no breathing – just like how I used to hold my breath to get what I wanted from her

Don’t give a fuck if I cut my arm bleeding – ????

May 29th, 2014

I started naming the maggots after my heroes. They crawl around inside of me. They are my friends now. Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce. I accidentally squished little Dane Cook–I never meant to ignore you. Sam Kinnison made a little home under my big toe–hey there little guy! Jeff Dunham pupated and turned into a beautiful fly now, he went into my ear and never came out. He’ll never leave me. They’ll never ever leave me. Not like she did, not like she did.

May 31th, 21014

I can’t tell if I’m awak or dream. She nose. I pee futon. I crump… So funny now so funny now this is all a joke

Joan Bth , 2202

<illegible>

June 3rd, 2014?

I’m actually feeling a lot better now. My leg has kind of become one with the futon, like all humanity is really one with each other and the cosmos, but I bet I could hobble out the door, down three flights of stairs, and into the Applebee’s for help. This plan is so crazy it might just work.

Jun 7th, 2014

My foot came off when I tried to leave.

<The last entry isn’t dated or written in pen, it is a crudely drawn picture depicting a bearded man on a box, rendered in feces. Overlaying the drawing, written in dried blood are the words, “U Welcum.”>

Mark Allen Berryhill is a terrible person who would spit on you as soon as look at you. He spends his days shepherding volunteers around the Springfield Botanical Center, where he grows vegetables, fruits, and ornamental grasses for the community. He has a wife, two turtles and a frog. You can be his friend at https://www.facebook.com/kingmab/

 

 

Killing Michael J. Fox by Fiona Helmsley

michaelstarIn 1996, my mother was engaged to be married. As an ingratiating gesture, her fiancé offered to pay for me to go into drug treatment. The facility wasn’t a rehab in the traditional, 30- day medical setting sense; it was a historical retreat within the AA community, the type of place program aficionados might go to recharge their spiritual batteries. It was expensive, but was less costly than a thousands of dollars a month traditional facility. There was no detox there, so my family doctor wrote me a prescription for clonidine and a benzo, and the pills were dispensed to me my first week there by a nurse on staff. The place was quaint, out in the woods and rustic; there was a little chapel on the grounds and a garden where the patients could tend to plants and flowers. I was not interested in either spiritual matters or botanical ones, and as was the case with all my rehab experiences up to this point, I was the youngest person there. It was awkward being a drug addict in treatment at ages 17, 18, 19—I was still a kid, but was always placed with the adults, which just added to my sense of alienation. It was like being in treatment with your parents.

I became friendly with a woman named Marci. She often treated me with a snobby sense of superiority, but because my outward appearance drew attention, and she liked attention, she decided to be my friend so we could share in the attention together. Instead of competing with me for it, we would divide and conquer. She was in her forties and wore cocktails dresses all the time, even when we went for walks in the woods, then she would swap her heels for sneakers. She had three children, and would dictate her letters to them to me and I would write them out for her. She would then take the letter to the administrative facility and photocopy it; ergo, each kid got the same letter.

On a regular, casual basis, I used to wear ripped fishnet stockings with shorts and skirts. One day, I wore the fishnets to morning mediation and they caused a considerable stir amongst the patients and staff. I wasn’t told not to wear them, but it was obvious it was a matter that we would be revisiting later. After the group, Marci begged me to take them off the stockings, and let her wear them, which I did, just to stop her pleading. Later that afternoon, we were both taken aside by the staff and told to retire the fishnets. Marci relished claiming that she was the reason the stockings had been banned, and recapping the incident for new patients. She seemed to think it implied something about her dangerous sexiness, as the stockings hadn’t been banned until she put them on.

There was a large lodge on the grounds were they would hold AA meetings that were open to the public. Since the facility was storied in AA lore, people would come from far and wide and these meeting would be filled with hundreds of people. It was an exciting event for the patients. It was also the only time during the week we got to drink caffeinated coffee.

I grew up watching “Family Ties” and adored Michael J. Fox, whose real middle initial is the prescient “A”, making his real name Michael A. Fox. “Back to the Future,” “Teen Wolf,”— the precociously conservative Alex P. Keaton is still one of my favorite television characters. Fox has been candid in interviews about his struggles with alcoholism, and donates money to many different causes connected with helping people get sober, so I don’t feel I am “outing” him by writing this. I was outside the meeting lodge smoking a cigarette when he walked past me; I had to do a double take. I couldn’t believe it. I was in the same immediate airspace as Marty fucking McFly. As awed as I was by this, I knew an A.A meeting was not the place to approach him; after all, the second A in AA stands for Anonymous, and that dictate applies to celebrities, too. Marci appeared besides me dressed to the nines. I was literally so excited to see Michael J. Fox, I thought I might throw up.

“Michael J. Fox is here!” I whispered to her.

“What was he in again?” Marci asked. His name was familiar to her, but she couldn’t recall any of his acting work; nonetheless she was clearly intrigued that there was a celebrity in our midst.

“We have to sit near him,” she said, reading my mind. I figured this was ok, we could sit near him. What could be wrong with that? I wouldn’t point, stare, or ogle him, but I would be close enough to note what kind of sneakers he had on, and this seemed like an important thing for me to know.

We settled into our seats a few rows behind him. I was content to just stare at the back of his head.

Marci suddenly jumped up.

“I’m going to say something to him,” she said.

“No, don’t!” I said, grabbing at the back of her dress, but it was too late. She went up to his chair in the next row and tapped him on his shoulder. He turned around to face her and she pointed in my direction.

“Will you say something to this girl?” she said confidently. “She’s obsessed with you.”

I wanted to die. I literally wanted to crawl under my chair and have the earth open and suck me inside of it. I could feel my face turning bright red, and when I saw the look on his face, I felt that I deserved to meet a painful end, too.

I spoke over Marci.

“No, no, it’s ok! It’s ok! I’m so sorry!”

Michael J. Fox glanced over in my direction. Then he gave Marci a look of pure poison, and turned back around. He never said a word, because he is a great actor, he didn’t need to. With his face and body language, he had communicated exactly how he felt about us.

Since Michael J. Fox did not try to flirt with her and she couldn’t engage him, all that was left for Marci to do was come back to her seat and sit down. “I tried!” she said loudly, as if to reinforce that I’d put her up to it.

A few minutes later, the meeting began. At the start of the discussion part, Michael J. Fox got up and left. I felt horrible. I felt like the biggest, tackiest, doucheiest loser in the world. Later, when I got back to my room and told my roommate what had happened she just made me feel worse: What if Michael J. Fox had been thinking about drinking, she said, and because we had made him feel so uncomfortable that he’d left the meeting, he went on a bender on his way back home?

In essence she was saying to me, what if you just killed Michael J. Fox?

I hated Marci for what she had done. I never wanted to talk to her ever again.

Thankfully, the next week, a man named Tyler checked himself into the program and rescued me from her clutches. He had a lazy eye and wore Hootie and The Blowfish t-shirts. It took about a week and a half, but I fell in rehab love.

Love.

Try as they might, it’s the one drug no rehab can keep off their grounds.

 

 

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor by David S. Atkinson

I walked back to the dry goods storage shelves in the back of the kitchen and started counting the boxes of napkins again. The restaurant was slow and Lance wanted me checking dry goods inventory when we were slow. He was sure someone was swiping. No one did. No one stole crap from employers since the Shrinkage Act of 2009 made it punishable by death.

Stupid recession. Stupid shit job.

Still, it could have been worse. Could have been no job. Or, I could have been checking patties in the walk in freezer like Fred. At least I wasn’t frost bit.

Lance took the place so damn seriously since they made him shift manager. As if that meant he didn’t work at a Burger King like the rest of us. We all pretended to be gung ho; Lance was gullible enough to fall for it. And he was in charge, even if that was in charge of nothing.

The napkins were all there, except the ones we’d actually used. One napkin per purchase. Rationing. No free lunch; no free napkins. I would have to count again later.

I did see something weird as I was counting, though. It wasn’t the actual wall behind the dry goods shelf; it was a back tacked on to the metal rails that just made it look like the wall. I’d never noticed that before. Why would someone do that? The boxes couldn’t fall out through the wall. No need to brace them. What was behind it?

I pulled the shelf out a little ways and some dude sprung out from some hole carved in masonry back there like a trapdoor spider. One of the big ones. I almost screamed, but the guy grabbed me and put a sharpened spork to my throat before I could.

“Any sound and I end you,” he whispered angrily, spitting a little.

He was a little guy, but fast. Ragged, old looking. He had on a dirty, faded grey suit. The pant bottoms were flooded and he had on white athletic socks with scuffed black dress shoes. His head was shaved bald, nicked here and there like he’d been cutting it himself with the spork, and thick-rimmed glasses with big assed fish eye lenses covered most of his face. He was a nerd gone native.

Who was this guy?

Mind you, I was thinking all that and I wasn’t I’d about pissed myself when he jumped out and I wasn’t doing much better after that with the sharpened spork at my throat.

“Think you found me, dead man?” The freak kept talking. “They all want to find me. They all want the five grand and entry into the drawing for a million just for being in the restaurant when I’m found. Never had a burger here? Man…what do you think I’ve been eating back here all these years?”

What the hell was the guy babbling about? The spork point made it kind of hard to think straight.

“You didn’t find me; I found you. Nobody finds me. I kill them first. I’ll kill them all with my bare hands.”

That’s when it hit me. How could I have missed it? Dorky outfit? Five grand for finding him in the restaurant? Never at a Burger King burger? Drawing for a million if you’re there when he’s found? I knew this dude. Everyone did…or at least they used to.

“Herb?” I asked, trying not to move my neck enough to get stabbed. “That you?”

“You know it’s me,” he growled. “There’s probably a cardboard cutout of me standing in the lobby right now. You know my face.”

I couldn’t believe it. The guy really didn’t know. He’d crawled in that hole thirty some odd years ago and didn’t know the war was over. Never surrendered, never taken, never compromised. Dude was a hero, the last soldier still fighting.

“Herb,” I said gentler, respectfully, “that’s all gone now. It’s been gone for a long time. The Burger Wars are finished.”

He paused. I could feel him thinking, panicking. I didn’t move, not sure if he’d even listen. Maybe he’d gone crazy in there. I wouldn’t want to get a hero like him hurt over a misunderstanding. I didn’t want him to hurt me either, which seemed more likely.

Eventually, he let me go. He pushed me away quick, spinning me around so I faced him. The sharpened spork still brandished in my direction. Wary. His eyes darted paranoid around him and all around behind the kitchen, trying to take everything in at once.

“You feeding me a line? What’s the game here?”

“It’s over, Herb,” I reassured him. “You can relax.”

He blinked. He gritted his teeth and his grip on the spork tightened. “Who won?”

I shrugged. “Nobody, Herb. It turned into sort of a cold war. The two superpowers slammed away at each other, but nothing was going anywhere. No lasting victories. All the while, barbarians trickled in and chipped away at both of them.”

His eyes widened. Fear.

“Not literally! Deli sandwiches. Chicken. Chinese food. Burritos. Neither of the powers were strong enough to end the other and fighting left them open to the little guys. It was hopeless. President George Foreman finally got them to sit down and call truce, in the interests of the cheeseburger. It was better for everyone.”

He sagged, but it seemed like a mix of disappointment and relief. Maybe more relief than anything else. His grip on the sharpened spork lessened.

“Really? It’s done? I can come out from back there? No one is hunting me anymore?” His head tilted a little to the left. He looked that happy kind of stunned.

“Really, man. They declared amnesty for all soldiers. You’re safe now. There’s nothing more to worry about.”

It jazzed me to be the one to give him the good news, to see that smile start to creep across his face as the weight of thirty years lifted form his shoulders. War over or not, the dude was a bad ass. It was cool I could be the one to do that for him.

“Wow,” he muttered. “Wow.”

“Hard to process all at once?” I smiled.

“Yeah. I mean, I’ve been in there alone for…what? Years? Way too long. Then it’s all just done and the world is all sunshine and rainbows. How does a man even shift like that?”

“Just take things one moment at a time, man,” I replied. “Just take it as it comes. Think–what was the first thing you wanted to do when the war was over? What’s the first thing you’re going to do in the post war world?”

He grinned. Big. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to get me a Pepsi, would you? I’ve been dreaming about one all the time I’ve been stuck back in this kitchen. All I can think about is finally having one now.”

I, literally, felt my jaw clench as that son of a bit dared to say that. My throat burned with stomach acid boiling up my esophagus and I swear my vision actually went red. The fucker. He actually had the fucking gall to say that.

I snapped my wrist up and pressed the crown on my ‘polar bears drinking soda’ watch. I heard a TING! as the glass capsule inside shattered. Then a small compressed gas jet shot the prussic acid powder into that smug bastard’s face.

Herb gasped, sucking the powder right into his lungs. Stupid bastard. He gagged, his pale face going bluish. He clutched at his throat vainly. It wouldn’t do him any good. Neither would that damn spork. He fell.

“The cola wars are over too, Herb,” I told his corpse. Prussic acid worked fast. I spat on his body. “Maybe you should have thought to ask about that. It’s over and we make sure what we say is respectful toward the great master Coca-Cola. Asshole.”

Lucky Yu by William Lemon

The letter arrived in the afternoon mail, sandwiched between a fistful of flyers and bills. I hesitated opening it, certain I’d find another complaint about our fortune cookies. After all, the letter was written in hurried cursive with the return address blacked out. I’d seen this letter a hundred times before. The customer was upset they were dumped, even though the cookie promised a life full of happiness.

Inside the envelope, I didn’t find a complaint, but rather a 100,000 dollar check with my name on it. I strained my eyes, checking, then rechecking for some catch buried within the fine print.

 

Sean Yu,

Well, you did it. You got all seven numbers. I had a hell of a time tracking you down, but felt it was my obligation. Your company, Lucky Yu, told me that you wrote this particular fortune, even the lotto numbers below. I thought I should give you part of the winnings, since you made this dream come true for me.

Best of luck,

Jerry Arbuckle

Aunt Janice didn’t see anything wrong with the letter. She read the note out loud, in her high pitch voice, emphasizing all the positives I’d missed.

“I’m so proud of you,” Aunt Janice said, hands on top of my own.

“But?”

“Well, have you told your cousins about the check?” she replied.

“This is my company, too, Aunt Janice.”

She lifted her head upward, smirking, about to burst into laughter. I snatched the letter before she could start, nearly ripping the paper in the process. She pouted until I gave it back.

“You know, everyone would flip if you got a food truck,” she said.

“And what would I sell?” I asked.

“Fortune cookies, of course.”

“That’s not a real idea.”

“You know, Sean” she replied, “why do you think we’re here?”

“Like, on earth?”

“No, I mean in this crappy trailer, adjacent to the real office building? There’s a reason you know.”

 

I sighed with my hand rummaging through a pile of fortune cookies. Maybe deep inside the mound there was something to prove her right, an omen to confirm the letter she kept reading out loud.

After the fifth cookie, I told her she didn’t need to read the letter once more; in fact, she could burn it for all I cared.

The cookie spoke to me.

 

Lucky Yu says: “Success will come once your options are exercised.”

 

The night before our grand opening, I blindfolded Aunt Janice, then lead her toward the parking lot where the food truck was located. To my surprise, the truck was filled with rats, hundreds of them pouring out the windows, clawing at the sides to remain inside. The rats now scurried through the parking lot, nipping at anything that moved. I quickly turned around, pushing her toward the office-trailer, praying she didn’t get bit by one.

Aunt Janice kept screaming my name, blindfold now resting around her neck just like an old timey bandit. I stayed silent, pacing around the lobby, racking my brain for some explanation. I’d scrubbed the entire truck from bumper to bumper, every nook and cranny accounted for. The company, which sold me the vehicle, even included one of those cherry scented trees that hung from the rearview mirror. Certainly that would’ve stopped some of the rats dead in their stupid tracks. Rats hated cherries.

“What was all that about?” Aunt Janice said. “Where’d they come from?”

“It’s nothing,” I said. “Just give me a minute, then I’ll figure it out.”

“Nothing?” she yelled, face red with panic. “We’ve got an army of rats running around our truck and a grand opening tomorrow.”

“Shhh,” I replied, hand over her mouth. “Will you quiet down?”

I let go of her mouth, wiping the saliva onto my pant leg. She did have a point, though, even if it was slightly exaggerated. The whole project was now at a standstill. I resumed my pacing, scanning the room for any insight into the rat infestation.

On the bulletin board, next to the Luck Yu newsletter, I noticed several sample fortunes I posted this morning. As I read each of them, everything began making sense, even the rats scrounging around the parking lot. The fortunes had come true. Not just for Mr. Arbuckle, but the rats, too. I plucked one fortune off the board, then read it silently, mouthing each word.

 

Lucky Yu says: “Your family will multiply, covering the earth with your glory.”

 

Granted, that did seem a little incriminating, especially the part about someone’s kids covering the earth. I wondered how many more I wrote like that one. For all I knew, one rat wondered into the food truck, had a nibble of a cookie, then magically sprouted kids. I began fantasizing about a quick fix, some death fortune cookie that would solve this problem instantly.

 

Lucky Yu says: “Your family will die a short, but painful death. Your intestines will explode out of your butt, then tie into a noose, which will hang you until you are deader than a doornail.”

I began laughing while typing them up, which caused Aunt Janice to erupt.

“This isn’t a joke,” she said. “The party is less than twelve hours away, Sean.”

“Just a minute,” I replied, “and I’ll have this all taken care of.”

“What are you going to do? Spam them to death with your boring emails?”

“Huh? I thought you liked those links?” I said, head now cocked to the side. “Well, anyway, we’re going to reverse their fortune.”

She rolled her eyes before walking to the parking lot window.

 

In less than an hour, we’d assembled a batch of death fortunes, some even designed specifically for rats. Those were my favorite. I pictured the rats keeling over, writhing in pain just before death. We tossed the cookies into the swarming mass, making sure to spread them out evenly, so every rat would at least get a taste.

The rats began dying in waves. Some of them poofed into thin air, while others spazzed out on the concrete, blood pouring out of every orifice. A couple even smelt like burnt popcorn. Yet no mater how they died, I could hear them screaming, praying for absolution. It sounded human, if only for a moment.

I scoured the parking lot after they were gone, using a trash bag to collect the dead rats. The whole scenario, while new, felt some what familiar. Unlike my cousins, I was enrolled in fat camp as a kid, while they got to stay at the YMCA. It was my job to collect the garbage each morning, then dump the bags out back, in the bin that we shared with the YMCA. All of my cousins thought this was hilarious. They not only made fun of me, but pinched my nipples until they were purple. Just like back then, I kept filling the trash bags, attempting to block it all out. We had a whole garbage bin of dead rats at that point. I tried washing off the blood once were done, but, just my luck, it had stained both my hands. They were bright red, even in the moonlight.

 

Lucky Yu says: “You will be forgiven by the rats, because deep down, you are a good person.”

 

The rats put a damper on the festivities. I’d originally planned this big party for the launch of the food trunk, yet canceled most of the activities after the whole killing spree happened. Still, there were some things I couldn’t get rid off, no matter how much I tried. The face painter, clown, and juggler all required 24 hours notice. I didn’t want to loose my whole deposit, so I had them perform for the crowd, despite my initial hesitation.

Everything was going fine until Jerry from accounting showed up. He dug his sweaty hand into the bowl of cookies, scraping the edges, attempting to find the perfect cookie. When he went in for seconds, I almost slapped him across the hand, yet didn’t have the chance. He fell into my arms, grabbing his throat, as if he were choking. The Heimlich didn’t work, no matter how hard I squeezed. It just made him cough up blood, then spill his intestines onto the pavement. He died before the paramedics arrived.

I couldn’t watch the aftermath. The crowd got bigger, especially when the coroner showed up with his body bag. People poured out of the main office, gathering around the bloodstain, taking pictures with their cellphones, then posting them on Instagram. I sat in my office, peering out the blinds, fixated on Jerry’s closed eyes. It was amazing how that simple detail made the situation seem better. His face was peaceful now, unlike the rats, who were tossed in a trash bag, with no concern over their appearance.

I closed my blinds once Aunt Janice arrived.

“Oh, my God,” she said. “What in the hell just happened out there?”

“I dunno. One minute he was just eating a cookie, and the next thing you know, he was dead.”

“Wait. Did you say he ate a cookie?” Aunt Janice asked. “Like one of ours?”

“Yeah.”

“What did you do with the death fortunes?”

“Ah, well, I’m not too sure,” I replied. “I think they were destroyed.”

Aunt Janice straddled the chair, then grabbed my jaw, lifting it upward. She had that look in her eye, where the vessels in her retinas seemed to pop out a bit, bulging with anger.

“Think?” she yelled. “Holy shit, Sean. You just killed someone.”

“Just keep your voice down. There’s no way the coroner will rule this a fortune cookie death,” I replied. “That’s not a real thing, okay?”

“Real thing? What about the lotto guy? The rats? Now poor Jerry?”

“I dunno, Aunt Janice. I just don’t know.”

“Typical,” she replied. “How typical of you.”

Aunt Janice made me throw away all of the death fortunes, but I managed to swipe one when she wasn’t looking. Then, after she left, I said my amends under my breath, preparing for that bight white light. I chewed slowly, waiting, hoping my death would be painless, unlike Jerry and the rats. Heaven seemed close at that moment. It was as if each family member came back, circling around my body, pushing me toward the afterlife. I focused on them, determined to follow, no matter where they led me.

 

Lucky Yu says: “Your life will gain meaning in death. A shrine will be created inside the main office, near your cousins’ boardroom.”

 

Unfortunately, I woke up unaffected by the cookie, bleary-eyed, head swimming with questions. Instead of being back at home, I found myself in Jerry’s driveway, sleeping near his back door. Claw marks were ripped into the wood and my hands were bloody. It seemed as if I pawed all night, begging to be let inside. I stumbled forward toward the other entrance, which, ironically, was ajar.

When I opened the door, Hermes, Jerry’s overweight beagle, appeared in the doorway. I bent down wearing a smile, but, sure enough, he darted toward the living room, settling behind the oversized leather couch. I prayed Hermes didn’t smell the death that lingered on me. If he felt hung up on my scent, what chance would I have with the rest of the world? With future women in my life?

I searched through my pocket, attempting to find a treat, and, of course, I only had were blank fortune cookies from yesterday.

I sat there a moment. The dog looking at me, then me looking at the dog. The cookie began calling my name, begging for me to toss it underneath the couch. It would be so easy. Hermes would finish the cookie in one bite, instantly forgiving me for everything I did. Then we’d ride off into the sunset afterward, two friends, with unlimited possibilities now on the horizon. I quickly wrote a forgiveness fortune, then tossed it toward him.

He ate it in one bite.

In Pursuit of Art: Drinking NyQuil at Pharmacies by David S. Atkinson

You can look down me as elitist if you like, but I really am a purist. Art does not have room for compromise. Compromise dilutes art, cheapens it. Cheapened art is garbage, worth nothing. My art? I’m a NyQuil swilling wino.

Sure, guzzling un-purchased NyQuil at random store pharmacies may not be as respected as oil painting or mime, but this isn’t the renaissance. Michelangelo was of another time. Contemporary society is synthesized in the display put on by hoboes snatching cough medicine and drinking whatever possible before being thrown out. That symbolizes the degeneracy of western civilization, everything in a nutshell.

We show you yourselves.

The basic elements of the form are pleasingly simple in their minimalism. Bums sneak in and snatch NyQuil from the store shelves. Then they drink it as they rowdily misbehave until tossed. But…that’s just the framework. The art is in the improvisation, the individual interpretation that each artist brings to the display. No two should be the same, even by the same artist.

Granted, performances aren’t required to be unique. The form is technically satisfied if cough medicine, not having been paid for, is chugged and ejection results. That’s all that has to happen…but that alone isn’t art.

As I said, I’m a purist. I have standards.

Though I steadfastly maintain that there is nothing for which to blame me in this, you really can’t blame me anyway. I studied under the legendary Zelkin, perhaps the greatest syrup-swiller of all time. Who else could get a Safeway quarantined by the CDC? After that sort of beginning, you really can’t expect that I wouldn’t be exacting.

Though, the art isn’t what it once was. These are not the days of Zelkin either. I work with Chuck these days, and I’ve fallen into a rut.

Mind you, Chuck is of the old school too. An artist. However, we just aren’t performing to the level we once did. Our work used to be a thing to behold, faxed warnings and legends detailed in poor quality faxes transmitted between pharmacies across the country. Awe.

These days, unfortunately, our routines look disturbingly similar. Chuck gets naked and I blow chunks.

As I said, this worked. Following this formula, Chuck and I have gotten hammered and thrown out of respectable pharmaceutical sections all over this great land. Dallas. Reno. Council Bluffs. Humptulips. We’re among the elect few, preserving a dying breed of cutting edge performance art.

However, was it even art anymore? We seemed more like a commentary on our own decline as opposed to anyone else’s.

Perhaps the change began when NyQuil brought out cherry. It was never regarded as a flavor, it just had a flavor. Black liquorish. It was just NyQuil.

But then there was cherry, and then there was no pseudoephedrine. Sure, you could still get premium behind the counter in some places…but how were you supposed to get that without paying first? Anyway, not enough places carried it. It didn’t work, and almost shut down the whole artistic community. We just had to make do with unleaded, altered as it was, that still sat on main shelves.

Of course, there’s still enough intoxicants in there to trip balls. Dextromethorphan hydrobromide and more booze than some fortified wines. Pseudoephedrine isn’t much to give up, particularly since I never have a cold.

But still…things aren’t what they were. Attitudes have changed as well. People didn’t look on us as artists anymore, more nuisances. No one appreciated a truly inspired performance.; they called the cops instead. It was as if they weren’t really seeing us, didn’t remember why we were there.

It’s hard to be inspired when no one is paying attention. Performers become lax, fall into a formula. Soon, they’re just going through the motions.

That’s where Chuck and I were, two guys drinking someone else’s cough syrup and getting naked or puking.

Speaking of that, Chuck runs by. I see him duck behind the Band-Aid and analgesics aisle. Predictably, he’s naked. His ragged clothes are clutched in his hand and his front is coated with red and green dribblings of the NyQuil he’s already drunk.

Oh, we’re in a Target pharmacy section right now. Somewhere in the greater Duluth area, I believe. We’re in the middle of a performance; I probably should have mentioned that earlier. I’m stained with NyQuil that didn’t quite make it down my throat too.

Seeing Chuck, even though he is just naked again, I’m reminded that this denigration of our art might be more me than him. I talk about purity of form a lot, but I fell into just vomiting all the time easier than Chuck started just going starkers. It was always naked and something else, brilliant things. He pared back after I’d pared back, and even still sometimes he works in flair like he’s trying to wake me up to old glories.

So far, it hasn’t worked.

Sure enough, just as I think that, Chuck rounds the corner. Or, rather, an elderly pharmacist rounds the corner. A nude Chuck is atop his shoulders, bare crotch pressed into the back of the suburbanite’s balding grey head. Chuck is chugging NyQuil and driving the little man like a tame pony.

“Jesus is lord!” Chuck screams, red and green-flecked spittle flying everywhere. “Jesus is lord!”

Chuck’s pharmacist mount cries out in panicked pain, but there’s no mistaking the force in Chuck’s eyes as he locks gaze with me. He’s delivering a mandate, urging me.

Come on! His eyes shout. It doesn’t have to be this way. Act! We remake the world in our image. There is still art if we can but remember it.

And, for the first time in however long it’s been, Chuck reaches my core. I feel the essence in the way I used to, the art. I charge, chasing after.

Well, actually, I duck around the other way. I’m chasing, but I’m heading the pharmacist off at the pass. As he runs down the feminine hygiene aisle, I barrel down at him from the other end. His eyes go even wider as we almost collide, stopping being beyond his control.

“The power of Christ compels you!” I scream just before unleashing my Technicolor spew. My momentum and the force of the gusher blast the old man like a fire hose. Splatter city, even Chuck gets drenched.

It’s a funny time to think about this, but red and green NyQuil don’t seem to quite mix for some reason. You’d think they would, but it always looks still red and green when it comes back up…particularly on a nice white pharmaceutical coat.

You’d also probably think that I wouldn’t get fucked up off the NyQuil since I just hurl it all, but you’d be wrong about that as well. Chuck and I are both flying high by the time we’re sitting in the back of the patrol car.

Yup…arrested instead of thrown out. Nobody appreciates true art anymore; no one can recognize a real artist.

Fucking philistines.

Oh well, this isn’t just for them anyway.

Planted In Potting Mix by Iron Chef Gein

The last time I saw Mickey Rooney his skin was the color of water-logged duct tape and he was disgorging huge clumps of blood-flecked dirt. We were waiting for an ambulance to arrive at the Scotts Miracle-Gro Museum in downtown Marysville, Ohio, which had hosted this insane Organic Choice Potting Mix eating competition between Mick and Adam Richman. “That has to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” Rooney muttered as the EMTs strapped him to a gurney and called ahead to Union County Memorial Hospital. “No, dude,” I replied. “The stupidest thing you did was getting involved in this damn Mangbetu aardvark fighting scene. I told you those Congo maniacs weren’t fucking around when they sold your markers to the Travel Channel. How the hell could you be so desperate as to start gambling on aardvark fights?! Any idiot knows the Mangbetu rig the matches with driver ants!” Then he starts in on the same old song and dance– pathological gambling consistent with manic phase of bipolar, exacerbated by massive doses of ground up Smith Kline and French Benzedrine inhaler strips rectally administered by Max Reinhardt during the filming of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “And by the time World War II rolls around, Garland and I are making secret scat porn loops for Goebbels in exchange for crates of Pervitin tabs. God only knows how much crystal meth I pumped out of my nuts into Ava Gardner!” Luckily for me, the Mickster’s litany of self-pity came to an abrupt halt when he aspirated a massive knob of manure and then it was lights out.

That was three days ago. The doctors at Union County told me Rooney was brain-dead so we opted to ship him back to his family in North Hollywood. I have no idea what Scotts is going to do with the footage of Mickey and Richman trying to scarf down a 16 quart sack of Miracle-Gro. All I know is Adam swears he’ll never eat dirt again and I was the final person on earth who spoke to Mickey Rooney. And the little cocksucker still owes me 100 large.

Clarence's First by Timothy Gager and Teisha Twomey

Clarence hated that his professor made him go to the tutoring lab for the first time, as he would much rather eat. Yet, there he was sitting across from the tutor licking his lips with anticipation, his eyes on Amelia, trying to look inside them. She pulled the first of four pages between her pointer and thumb with one hand, while twirling her blond hair with the other. She knew that some of the students could be tricky customers, mentally unstable, or overbearing, so she wondered how to say what she needed about his ridiculous opening sentence on the subject of pan fried brains. She always tried to be open-minded and generous in her counsel.

“Couldn’t it be ground beef?” she asked.

“You don’t know what I’m getting at.”

“Well it appears to read like an odd cooking piece.”

Clarence snickered at her, “What does someone like you do all day?”

“I kick the world’s ass and kill zombies,” Amelia countered, aware of his put down and raising her guard. “Here,” she said. “Nonfiction describes information understood to be fact. Implicit in this, however, are the varying degrees to which the writer’s subjective interpretation of facts, and/or selective presentation of facts, end up making a “factual” work less true. Clarence shifted uneasily, as he was unguarded by her cleverness. “Um, yeah,” he told her. Clarence stared blankly past her, the wall being very white.

“An interesting way to delineate nonfiction forms is to look at them in terms of how accurately they reflect the writer’s experience, beliefs, and emotions in real life.”

“So,” Clarence said, “you kick the world’s ass and…ha, well you can’t kill a zombie, technically speaking, we… ehhh, I mean…they are already dead.” His nostrils flared as he sucked in the essence of her beautiful gray matter.

“I don’t really believe in Zombies anyway. Anywho, back to the paper. Why does the girl offer herself up to you? Doesn’t really make sense for her to do that does it?”

“She does if she knows what’s best for her…” Clarence hissed. Amelia splayed her pens on the table and tapped them for a moment, as if making every effort to drum his creepiness away, before balling her fist into her palm and cracking each knuckle self-consciously, a life-long habit.

Little did Amelia know, this was akin to Zombie foreplay, when she made the fateful choice to twist in her chair, releasing an earth-shattering symphony of snaps and pops from her spine, an undead requiem, which resonated through Clarence’s soulless body, rocking his world so hard he felt his still heart flicker for a moment.

He had never wanted something so badly in his life and envisaged cradling Amelia’s fair head in his sallow arms, bringing it near his sunken chest, before snapping her fragile neck with one swift twist. He wanted to eat every part of her, that way she could remain inside him forever and always help him with his papers. He quivered as he prepared to lunge.

Clarence had never actually tasted a human being, but had always known he was a Zombie. He remembers when he first watched Night of the Living Dead and looked in the mirror wondering why his parents never told him. When he confronted them, they waved him away, blaming his pale skin and dead eyes with anemia and a severe stigmatism. Now, Clarence knew the truth. Amelia would be his first.

He grabbed her in his arms, swinging her like a lasso then sweeping her to the floor the way one dips their partner during a waltz. Amelia’s eyes were wide and wet as he pulled at her turtleneck and tasted her at the collar. She let out a giggle as he sampled behind her ear.

“Yuck, you are disgusting!” Clarence shrieked, pulling away, recoiling in horror. The first time should have been special; he sulked, leaving her where she lay, a pitiful heap of need.

“Wait! Where are you going?” She cried out, “I love you Clarence! Don’t go! Wait! You forgot your paper…”

Clarence didn’t even bother to reach for it as he ran away, closing the Tutoring Center door behind him. “You keep it Amelia… I am going to have to rewrite the whole thing anyway.”

Ma Joad Pays a Visit to Charlie Manson by Larry Pinck

Visitor’s room, California State Prison at Corcoran.

Ma and Charlie are seated. Glass separates them. They speak on handsets.

CHARLIE: What’s up man?

MA: Howdy do Charlie. Call me Ma. Everyone calls me Ma. Even my Ma called me Ma.

CHARLIE: I dig ya Ma. What you’re sayin’ is: “This is my show, man. I plate the appetizers. I sniff the cork. And if you can’t deal with it, then, zip, no gravy; zow, no cranberry sauce.”

MA: I’ll tell ya Charlie, visitin’s a funny thing, A woman, well, she’s suited for visitin’, but men folks just ain’t got the temperament for it.

CHARLIE: The man puts you in a hallway, and most people only see a corridor. But me, Ma, I see a foyer.

MA: Tell me son, has they hurt ya? Has they made ya mean mad?

CHARLIE: I don’t snivel. I sweep out the charnel house. When he calls, I bring the cutlery.

MA: I’ve never know’d ya to be mean spirited Charlie. But sometimes they take a good boy and hurts him and makes him hard.

CHARLIE: Hardness is a parasite, Ma. It’s the absence of softness. See what I’m sayin’?

MA: You’re so much like my Tommy. He saw things clear too.

CHARLIE: And the big piggie said: “Beware of dog. He’s a bite case, a fornicator. Ain’t on the prison bowling team.”
MA: When we was on the land, there was an order to things. Old folks got killed off, and little fellers grow’d up and done their own killin’.

CHARLIE: A crippled man walked, until he fell over. You dig?

MA: I wished ya hadn’t a done it, Charlie, but ya done what ya had to do. Ya done it for the family and there ain’t no fault in that.

CHARLIE: I done it cause I’m aligned with the desert. I done it cause I’m Spin and Marty. I done it cause I let sodomy sing songs of rejoicing in my heart.

MA: Without the land, folks is lost. Ain’t got no purpose no more. Just like tops spinnin’ outa control, all helter skelter.

CHARLIE: Last night, man, I dreamed things that never were and said “what the fuck is this?”

MA: There ain’t no family no more. We cracked up. Pa lit out for Jersey and Tommy, he ain’t no help; frettin’ about cops beatin’ up guys. Rosasharon, she’s laid up with the clap, and Al got conked on the head by a crate ‘a peaches. Been teeched ever since.

CHARLIE: Teeched?

MA: That’s right, teeched. And there ain’t nothin’ nobody can do about it.

CHARLIE: That really sucks, Ma.

MA: It don’t matter, Charlie. We’re the people, and we ain’t never gonna get licked.

Larry Pinck was recently paroled after a 30-year stretch as a New Jersey attorney. By the grace of god, he emerged with the light of lunacy still alive in his eyes. He loves word play almost as much as foreplay. His work has appeared on The Big Jewel and The Yellow Ham.