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“LOAF” by Jeff Landon

LOAF

All the kids want the corn dogs and nobody wants the turkey loaf. Davey gazes down the line.

“I tried something new,” he says. “Put a little zing into it. Thought they might appreciate it.”

They appreciate nothing. Betty slides in a new tray of corn dogs, glistening from grease. Children huddle before the glass partition, grubby, stubby fingers, slobbering, dirty, dirty children.

“We want corn dogs, we want corn dog.”

“Anyone up for some turkey loaf?” asks Davey. He wears new glasses. Large frames, smudged lenses. He lost his contacts and his wife in the same week.

“It looks like doody,” say the children. “Doody, doody, doody, doody.”

Davey ambles up the line, stops at the desert section, palms a peanut butter cookie, breaking his diet. His ex-wife begged him to exercise, try a little harder.

We scrub dishes, prepare toast, broil burgers, fry almost everything. The children grow large and oily. We sneak in vegetables to help them stay alive. Tofu and zucchini. Chicken surprise flecked with spinach.

But: no. They want pie, burgers, pizza, chocolate milk. The children grow feral and they never go home.

“We want ponies,” they say. “Ponies for all of us.”

Our manager makes a call, arrangements are made, ponies arrive by mid-afternoon. The children mount the ponies. They wear old-fashioned hats with bands and wide brims. White shirts, pants, and loafers. They ride in circles around our school and mock our food-stained bibs, our failing hair, our bellies, our accents, our broccoli casseroles. Davey drinks a little more these days. He drinks white wine from the bottle. He sits in a fold-out chair and hoists a jousting lance–a prop from the drama department. We crowd around him. He says, “We can do this. We can conquer these terrible children.” We go, huzzah, huzzah, and lift plates of china filled with Davey’s turkey loaf. We gorge. Delicious, we tell him, Best thing you’ve ever made.

Davey’s joust catches the glare of sunlight, and we shied our eyes. The children trot by on ponies. Ponies bare their teeth. Children wave their pudgy arms.

We finish the turkey loaf and embrace furtively. We are sated, we tell Davey. We are gathered, we are kindred.

We are sated.

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“You’re a Winner!” by Courtney Gerboc

You’re a Winner!

Here it is. I thought it was just a rumor.

There’s been too much hype over some creepy pop-up ad people have been clicking on lately. Police say that it’s correlated to a number of disappearances all over the country, but they won’t explain why. Lots of people thought it was just a cover up for something bigger, but here it is, shaking on my computer screen. “Click now to receive three million dollars!” It read. The background was blue and had tiny pixellated dollar bills floating everywhere. There was a little elf or troll looking creature in the right hand corner pointing to the click now button. It looked exactly how they described it.

They’ve been flashing a number on the news lately that we’re supposed to call if we get involved with this pop-up ad. Something inside of me feels like that’s not the best idea. I’m not sure I believe this is connected to the disappearances, but I sure think it would give my computer a nasty virus if I clicked on it.

I looked around my room. My shades were pulled down; my door was locked. It was 6:42, not the best time to be kidnapping someone—especially someone of my size. I play football at Finchborough High School. I’m pretty sure at the off-chance someone did try to kidnap me I could take them. I’m not sure about the virus though. “Screw it,” I say. I need a new computer anyway. Reaching for my mouse I get a chill up my spine. What is this? Am I scared? Nervous? The thought repulses me and I forcefully click on the button. The little troll-elf jumps down from the corner and begins to dance in the falling money. “Congratulations! You’ve—” The high-pitched electronic voice was cut off and my whole computer screen went black. In the center appeared a white circle and the number 30 blinked into existence. Slowly, my computer started counting down.

“So, what? Is it gonna explode now or something?” I laughed. These idiots think they can freak me out. It’s just a hoax. T minus 20 seconds and my lights start to flicker just before they shut off, leaving me in complete darkness. “Holy shit!” I yell, scrambling toward my door. I feel up the wall for the doorknob and throw myself out of my room.

Not just my room was dark, the entire house. I was swimming in darkness. “What the hell is going on?” My heart was racing. I turn back to the computer screen and watch the numbers blink red as they count down from 10. I run back into my room and feel around for my lamp. I grab the long pole and start swinging it around my room. “Come at me!” I shout into the darkness whipping the lamp around as if it was a baseball bat. This way the lamp would whack into anyone before they got anywhere near me.

5

4

3

2

1

The screen turns black and I’m still alive. I didn’t hit anyone with my insane lamp swinging and I couldn’t hear anything except for my heavy breath and rapid heartbeat. If anyone from school had seen that–God, how embarrassing. You idiot. What did you think was going to happen? I back up and try to find my bed so I can lie down and clear my head.

Only, the more and more I back up, I don’t kick anything around on the floor. No laundry, no bed, I don’t even run into a wall. I just keep walking. I know it was dark and all, but my room seriously wasn’t this big. Where was I?

“Hey!” I yell, my voice echoing around me.

If that was all just a hoax then what the hell happened to the lights? It was probably a bunch of the guys pulling a prank on me. Great. Bet they got the reaction they wanted “I swear if you guys don’t come out right now, I’ll kill every one of you on Monday! Even the ones that claim to have had nothing to do with it!” Still nothing. Nobody spoke up. I was still alone in the darkness. “Alright, I’m getting pissed off. If somebody doesn’t turn on the lights right now—”

The second I spoke the work lights, my entire room was illuminated by a light source I couldn’t quite place. I looked around. Well, I shouldn’t have said room. I definitely wasn’t in my room anymore. It looked like I was inside a giant business-blue box that stretched on for miles. There was absolutely nothing around me. I bent my knees and crouched on the floor. The closer I looked, the more detail I could see. Tiny lights surged through the floor and shot out in different directions. I pressed my foot down. The harder I stepped, the lighter the floor glowed and the more lights shot out from beneath me. I heard a low-pitched electronic bong and raised my head. Before me stood the creepy elf-troll from the pop-up ad.

“Okay, who the hell are you? And where am I?” I asked.

The elf-troll looked at me with a blank expression, then smiled devilishly. “Congratulations,” he said. “You’ve won.”

“How to Bury Things” by Brandon Johnson

WARNING: Dark content.  May not be suitable for younger or more sensitive readers.

How to Bury Things

Things are meant to be buried. When your goldfish dies you know it’s wrong to flush him down the toilet so you bury him in a TV dinner casket. They say you’re weird. You say he was your best friend. When people die, you bury them. Don’t want the body to rot. Not natural.

When you’re the grave-digger’s daughter, you learn how to bury things. At five, you play with shovels in the sandbox. Don’t make sandcastles. Dig little graves like Daddy. Bury your hamster in one. They say you’re weird, but after your goldfish he was your best friend.

When you get older, you start helping Daddy dig graves. You like the graveyard. Always cool there. Always a mist. Lots of people buried there so it’s not lonely. After your goldfish and your hamster die, the graves become your friends.

Leaving is a part of life, like burying. People leave. Some get buried. Some leave in the middle of the night when it’s raining and they don’t hear you screaming for them to come back. You don’t cry after Mommy leaves, though. You bury it like the bodies.

You don’t know why Mommy left. Don’t care after a while because you buried it. When people ask you how to bury things, tell them, “With a shovel.” When people ask what you’re hiding, tell them you buried it so deep even you don’t know.

Your Daddy isn’t supposed to dig graves all the time. He should hug you. You don’t know why he’s afraid, why you feel so distant from life. Not natural. You bury those thoughts.

When you turn sixteen, Daddy gets really scared and strange and tries to hurt you. Says you made Mommy leave. Says she was afraid of you. He starts to cry because he didn’t get to bury Mommy and the feelings. But you did. And when he reaches for the butcher knife, you do to Daddy what you did to your goldfish, your hamster, and those people who called you weird. Then, you take Daddy and bury him with the feelings and you don’t even cry.

“My Crayola Box” by Jessica Fishburne

My Crayola Box

When you’re young, the world is a different pallet. It’s a mirror of colors we have yet to understand. Our tiny hands barely able to grasp another’s, but grasping this idea of pigment. Black is only black in a crayon box. Clearly labeled for our naked eyes to see. We picked up each brilliant wax art piece with precision, toying it with our fingertips until we decided our next movement. Gliding it over our unlined white printer paper, marking it, staining it. It was all we really needed. But we grew up, and realized black can be pressed lightly to make grey. And with this, we understood shadows, and forgot the virgin color. The original origin of purity. We played with our imagination through our fragile crayons; handing each finished piece out to anyone who would peer under their noses to see. Reaching our expressions upwards, begging to be gripped and glorified by another. And it was. And then the process outlined everything we drew. We found tracing. We found a perfect replication of beauty, and realized artwork is just a copy of a thought someone else had.

We pressed harder on our blacks until it tore our lined paper, and drew grey flowers on our homework folders. We asked our teachers in our miss-matching socks what color came first; our ears eager for knowledge that could define what we created. But all she taught us was how to blend. So we blended our pigments and made swirls with our creations. Giggled at the fallacy of our freedom. Ran with our picket fence protests of wax colored rainbows. And we outlined our names at the bottom right corner, so someone would see it from far away. But we forgot no one was reading anymore. The primary colors of principle forgotten, ceased existence suddenly like a milk carton kid. Our white tower of celebration had ended and the fridge was something that only children look forward to.

We soon opened our boxes until it was only black, only shades of the stagnate color. And it reeked on our skin, and streamed from under our eyes, and the corners of our mouths tasted of its misery. And we reverted back to the times when there were so many more colors in a Crayola box.

But I sit here now, no longer playing with wax objects. Remembering the first time I had held a candle under its undetermined texture. I was told not to, the voice still looming over me, but I struck the match anyways and watched it burn into a puddle. I wanted to lap its color under my tongue, feel the color the way I felt the air. But too soon did it harden, a little tighter than it had before. And the thick currents of imagination became inanimate. I sink down a little more in this narrow bed, try to forget why I feel the way I do. This unexplainable sadness, so unforgiving and detesting.  Remembering so clearly, my face when I had found colored pencils and how irrelevant my crayons became. I left them broken or unused in a tattered box in my left desk drawer. Until one day, I grew tired of my childhood remains and tossed them away until my whole room dripped of the punctuated colors.

“Darkness” by Alicia Tropper

Darkness

I’m frozen as I watch my him pack. Pack away the belongings I never considered a part of him until now. He sloppily folds his clothes and throws them into bags while his eyes avoid mine. The evening light that sneaks between the blinds cast a halo around his tanned skin. He’s a God who gave me the air I breathe and is now taking and locking it away in a black worn leather suitcase. The walls are too blindingly bright for this moment, this moment that I can’t escape, forever burned into my mind. The dusty alarm clock on the dresser with the ominous red numbers is frozen in time along with my body that refuses to budge from beneath the white trim doorway. Yet my mind is racing, trying to find things to say to convince him to stay as I subconsciously lock away the memory of him packing his belongings while he wears the clothes I’ve seen him wear a thousand times; blue jeans, a white shirt, and his old work boots. I memorize the frown lines and eye crinkles that have been over looked, the tension he carries in his shoulders as he sharply zips the suitcase close, forever taking a piece of me I’ll never get back. He brushes past me in a hazy blur and heads down the tan carpeted stairs of the house I’ll come to hate. My body follows as my hand grips the wooden stair rail that shakes when gripped and head down the stairs. There’s only silence as I round the corner adorned with family photos and into the yellow kitchen where my mother grips her chipped coffee cup with white knuckles as my father pulls his grease stained navy jacket out of the closet. Without a word he walks out into the orange evening light and I never see him again. In a matter of minutes the house grows dark as the moon takes the sun’s place and I along with it.

“Purple Rain” by Ashley Wilda

Purple Rain

“It’s going to rain today,” Casper said. “Purple rain, to be precise.”

I snorted. “Purple rain? Don’t be stupid, Cas.” We were lounging on the beat up couch in the garage, watching the storm clouds drift across the horizon through the open door.

“Why can’t it rain purple? Tell me that.”

I shrugged, pulling at the stuffing leaking from the split seams in the rough brown fabric. It was the best kind of couch—squishy enough that you sank when you sit down, but hard enough to keep your back straight. “Well, because water ain’t purple. And the sky’s never done it before, so why should it happen now?”

Casper tensed. I could feel the couch shift as he squeezed his muscles tight. “Cas?”

He catapulted up off the couch, facing me with his fists clenched at his sides, silhouetted by the grey sky moving swiftly behind him. “Adults say anything can happen, right? They tell us we can be anything we want to be,” he spat out.

“What are you talking about? What does this have to do with purple rain?”

“Shut up, Ray.”

I jerked back. Quiet, soft spoken Cas had just told me to shut my trap.

He continued on, a fire inside lighting up his eyes in an unnerving way I had never seen before. “It has everything do with it. They always say we can do anything, be whoever we want to, and then when we tell them what we want, they pat us on the heads, tell us it’s impossible.”

I nod my head slowly, watching the warm, moist breeze flutter through Casper’s mop of brown hair. “I guess. It’s never bothered me before though. That’s what they all say.”

Casper clenched his jaw and turned toward the building storm. His next words came so quiet I couldn’t hear them. “What’s that, Cas? Speak up, buddy.”

He glanced back at me. “Your father has never picked you up by your shirt collar and thrown you across the room when you tell him.” He almost yelled it, a coiling anger bursting through his words. I sank deeper into the sofa. How had I failed to miss it, this silently bubbling anger, its quiet making it even more dangerous? Cas was about to explode.

Cas turned back to the storm. The pale light glanced over one cheek, leaving the other side in darkness. He looked bigger than usual, even when compared to the huge storm brewing outside, much bigger than me, although we were both eleven. He stood in stony silence, his fists still clenched, his gaze so intense I thought it would bore a hole straight through those storm clouds. “I’m tired of hiding who I am,” he said finally.

“What did you say you want to be?” I whispered. “Who are you, Cas?”

He seemed to ignore me, drinking up the essence of the storm, seeming to swell with the energy of it. Lightning crackled along the distant mountain ridgeline, and he drew in a sharp, exulting breath. He glanced back at me once more, his eyes sparking, literally sparking, with veins of gold.

“A magician.”

He raised his hands high, spreading his fingers wide, and a buzzing energy gathered in his palms, only visible as a wavering, a shaking of the air. “Al Menoth, Cristo!” The words burst from his mouth with an awful power behind them, making me shudder and impulsively hide my face behind a cushion. A gentle pattering, a splattering filled my ears. I peeked over the cushion to see…

Purple rain. Yes, purple rain, dripping from the sky, sprinkling the driveway, dancing on the tree leaves, purple on gray and black and green. And in the midst of it was Casper, standing in the whirling color, arms stretched out wide and high, laughing with pure relief.

Haiku by Peter Baik

Canned Ham

Salty scent drifts out

Gushing air pockets burst away

Served hot on a plate

 

Parking Lot

Steaming asphalt stripped white

Cars are still and quiet for hours

Thieves lurk and close in

 

Bowling Alley

Stale and overpriced

War of noises near and far

Bathrooms that aren’t clean