Tuesday, August 30, 2011


For any of you that are interested: a while back I was named Fiction Editor of the online arts magazine, Feature Mag. Check it out here and send something in. If you've had you work published here, at (Short) Fiction Collective, or even if I somehow overlooked your abundant talent by declining a previous submission!, give it a try and submit any unpublished fiction of 2,500 words or less to patricktrotti@yahoo.com with "Feature Mag Submission" in the subject.

Monday, August 29, 2011

“Quitting Is Easy” by Nathaniel Tower

I took up smoking just to show the world how easy it was to quit. It’s been five months now, and my wife is wondering why I haven’t yet.

“It takes time baby. I have to develop the addiction first,” I tell her.

“Please stop,” she begs me. “It’s so gross I don’t even want to kiss you anymore.”

I can verify this statement. I’m not sure when the last time we shared a good passionate kiss, the kind where we slap our tongues around the other’s mouth.

“Look, I’ll quit soon. I just need to make sure that I’m addicted. Otherwise it’s too easy to quit and I won’t have proven my point.”

“And exactly who are you proving this point to again?” she asks with a roll of her beautiful green eyes. It looks like sea foam bouncing around on flawless shores. For a moment I think about quitting just so I can kiss her, but my willpower is too strong. I can’t give into temptation.

“Honey, this is our ticket to millions,” I plead with her as I reach for the carton of cigarettes on top of the fridge.

“And how is that exactly?”

I have to pause here. I don’t always think through exactly where I am headed with something, but I’m always convinced that I’ll get to where I want to go. Nothing comes to me, and I don’t want to seem like I’m racking my brain too much, so I just go with my gut.

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll see it when it happens. I can’t give away all my secrets.” I am tempted to go on a little longer, but any more than that and she will know for sure I’m stalling.

“You’re stalling,” she says.

I light my cigarette and take a deep drag.

“Hey, I told you not to do that in the house. Get the hell out of here with that. Do you want the walls and furniture to turn yellow?” She waves her arms frantically in the air as if to ward off some evil.

“Relax, I’ll put it out.” I put it out just to show her how easy it’s going to be for me to quit. My hand almost immediately begins to shake.

“I want you to stop by the end of the week. Stop or I’m leaving you.” The sea foam is gone from her eyes. They’re acidic now.

“Hey, look how easy it was for me to put that out.” I put my shaking hand behind my back. “Look, I think the addiction has just about fully kicked in.” I wrap my arms around her to show what a great husband I am. “I’ve never been addicted to anything after just one time.”

Oops. She immediately pulls out of my grip and shoots me a death stare. I can feel her eyes burn though me. The look is almost as bad as the need for a cigarette. I know what she wants me to say, but saying it now will only make her appear to be happy. It’s one of her many tricks. She makes me say something because she’s angry, then she pretends to be happy, but I can sense that she is even more upset because she thinks I only said it because she wanted me to say it, which is apparently worse than not saying it at all.

“I’m going shopping,” she says to interrupt my thoughts. I don’t bother to tell her what she wants to hear. I’m just thankful that she’s getting out of the house. My veins feel like they’ll collapse if I don’t get some nicotine in my system right away.

“Alrighty, babe. Need me to do anything while you’re gone?”

“Yeah. Just one thing. Don’t smoke.”

“Fine. I won’t smoke. I’ll just throw everything I’ve started away.”

“Good. Throw that damn carton away while you’re at it.” She turns on her heel and marches for the front door without bothering to tell me where she’s going or when she’ll return. I know I’m supposed to ask, but I know she won’t tell me when I do. Either way she’ll be mad, so I might as well just save face. I don’t want to look weak in front of the cigarettes.

I hear the door slam and my shaking hand immediately reaches for the carton. I have to be honest here. The cigarettes took their full affect about two months ago. It’s been like a disease ever since. If Amy knew how many cartons I was plowing through then she would at least take away my credit cards and kick me in the balls. Amy would never divorce me, for any reason. Her parents divorced when she was a teenager, and she despises divorce more than anything, even more than smoking. Still, I’m not going to tempt her too much, so I grab a pack out of the carton and head for the backyard. She’ll know I was smoking, but at least if I do it back here then she’ll pretend she doesn’t know. She won’t even act pissy or give the impression that she thinks I’m hiding something. As long as it doesn’t seem to affect her, she really doesn’t mind.

I light the cigarette before I even get outside. I wait until the door is halfway closed before I take my first puff. It’s an instant feeling of relief. I may have become addicted to sex a lot quicker, but the rush of smoke into my lungs and veins defeats any orgasm I’ve ever had. I always used to wonder why people smoked. Now I wonder how anyone can give it up.

I sit on the deck and puff my brains out, one cigarette after another, until the whole pack is gone. I don’t think about much while I inhale, just about how I might actually quit and if I really could become a millionaire based on my experience. I’m sure I could write a book about it. Or at least a blog. People would want to hear all about how I did it. Quitting really could make me millions.

But then again, what’s millions compared to this rush?

I bury the cigarettes in the backyard like a dog before my wife comes home. I know I’ll be looking for them tonight.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Truth About Miriam" by Chas Warren

Miriam’s sleepless nights are the fault of the dybbuk in my shampoo. He lives in my shampoo because I invited him. Why are you surprised? You are only surprised because you know nothing about Miriam.

Einstein couldn’t build an alarm clock as reliable as Miriam. Ten o’clock sharp, every night, she is washing her hair. I wash my hair at the same time. Why can’t she wait? Aviram would have understood. Sixteen years I lived in this apartment before she moved into the unit below. She had five daughters. Five daughters who all washed their hair! It drove Aviram crazy. That’s why he shot himself and is now denied entry into Sheol. All he wanted was a son. I would have given him a son. Gladly! But did he ask me to the 1972 Temple Beth Shalom Dinner Dance? No! He couldn’t ask me, because she asked him before he had the chance. He was an honorable man. Miriam is not honorable. She steals the man of my heart, and then she steals my shampoo. I see her steal it with my own eyes. We go shopping together and we share a cart. We buy many of the same things. The same shampoo? Yes! Why is that surprising? I put my bottle on the left, and she puts her bottle on the right. There is no mistake! I put mine next to the canned beets that I like and she hates. Aviram liked beets. When we leave, she puts my bottle in her bag! So on the next night that Aviram came to visit me, I asked him to haunt my shampoo. My shampoo sitting in Miriam’s apartment. You are surprised that Aviram continued to visit me? Why? Aviram was a faithful man. He visited me faithfully every Wednesday, while Miriam took their daughters bowling. I can feel him when he is in the room. I felt it when he agreed to honor my request. Why is that surprising? Aviram was an honorable man.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Bigfoot" by Jordan Castro

The night of the The Weakerthans concert, Larry King cried in the back seat of his father’s new Escalade. The crying was noiseless, but Oprah Winfrey, who sat next to Larry King, noticed and touched Larry King’s leg. “Hey,” she said. “You’ll be okay. There are other girls and you’re really young.” Larry King looked at Oprah Winfrey’s face. “Are you really that upset?” said Oprah Winfrey.

The singer of The Weakerthans walked on stage carrying a glass of wine. He spoke. He began the first song. “Oh my god,” said Larry King while grinning and looking at Oprah Winfrey’s face. “I can’t believe it.” Oprah Winfrey put her arm around Larry King. “Oh my god,” said Larry King, “I can’t believe they’re actually playing it.” Larry King and Oprah Winfrey sang while swaying to the music.

The morning of the night of the The Weakerthans concert, Larry King put on jean shorts and an Against Me! t-shirt. He rode his bike to Ellen DeGeneres’ parents’ house. “I’ll always love you,” said Ellen DeGeneres while looking at Larry King’s face. Larry King cried while making loud noises and looking at Ellen DeGeneres’ face.

During the The Weakerthans concert, Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno and Howard Stern sang loudly. Larry King looked at Oprah Winfrey’s face and grinned. The lead guitarist of The Weakerthans jumped off the stage and put his guitar around Howard Stern’s neck. Larry King looked at the lead guitarist of The Weakerthans and Howard Stern and yelled “Woo” while grinning uncontrollably and clapping.

The afternoon of the night of the The Weakerthans concert, Larry King and Oprah Winfrey played half of “Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious” by Against Me! in Larry King’s bedroom. “We’re both in bands,” said Oprah Winfrey, “but we can’t even remember how to play an entire song.” Oprah Winfrey laughed. “I know,” said Larry King while touching his hair. “What songs do you know? Do you know how to play this?” said Oprah Winfrey while playing chords. “No,” said Larry King. “Oh,” said Oprah Winfrey while grinning. “What about...” she said while playing chords. “No,” said Larry King. “Or, is that... wait, isn’t that The Lawrence Arms?” “No,” said Oprah Winfrey.

Larry King lay in the fetal position in grass on a small hill in Ellen DeGeneres’ parents’ neighborhood. “She has to come,” he thought. He moved a little then wiped his eyes. “I just... left there crying. If she loves me, she’ll come find me.” Larry King sat with his knees bent, looking at trees. A silver car passed. Larry King looked at his cell phone. It was 2:13 p.m.

Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno and Howard Stern got out of the car. They walked past an art gallery and an independently-owned music store, into the concert venue. “If they play ‘Bigfoot!’ tonight, I will completely forget about Ellen DeGeneres forever and I will die happy, I swear,” said Larry King. Larry King and Oprah Winfrey walked out of the concert venue and into the independently-owned music store. Oprah Winfrey ate a piece of pizza. Larry King thought “I’m vegan” while looking at Oprah Winfrey’s face.

The morning of the night of the The Weakerthans concert, Larry King looked at one thing, then another thing, then a lot of things, everything at once, before focusing on what felt like a soft ball of light inside him, gently expanding, growing until it was only himself he was aware of. He exited the bathroom. He called Ellen DeGeneres and said “Is it okay if I come over now?” “Yes,” said Ellen DeGeneres.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"If He Can't Fix It, I Don't Know Who Can" by Thomas Kearnes

Ellis wasn’t supposed to do this. Brent was no longer his concern. But when the desperate man called Ellis that morning, begging to go, declaring he was ready for help, Ellis knew he had no choice. He drained his coffee to the bottom of its cup, slapped on his woolen coat and drove across town to collect the man he once loved.

Brent waited in the parking lot of his ratty, beige-colored apartment building. These dispirited accommodations were the best he could afford with his salary from Wal-Mart. Ellis kept gazing out the side windows as he eased through the lot, looking for any black men who might pose danger. He eased into a space in front of Brent on the sidewalk. His ex-lover shivered in the crisp winter breeze. The weatherman had predicted a rare snowfall for later that afternoon. While the car idled, Ellis rolled down his window and called out to Brent. “Where’s your stuff? I thought this place made you live in-house at least a week.”

“Baby, I can’t do that,” Brent said, rubbing his hands together. “I can’t take the time off work. I had to beg Miranda just to get taken off morning shift.”

“Well, I guess that will have to do.”

The two men drove through commuter traffic to the rehab facility. Brent fiddled with the radio dial, never settling on a single station long enough for Ellis to tell what song played. After a few moments, Brent gave up the search and threw himself against the seat like a sulking child. Ellis glanced at him. He hadn’t bothered to fix his hair; the dyed blonde tufts angled in every direction. Stubble covered his face. Ellis remembered how slowly Brent’s facial hair grew. He must not have shaved for several days. Tossing his head against the headrest, he ground his teeth.

“Did you drink last night?” Ellis asked.

“Of course I did.”

“Are you still drunk?”

“No, I slept. I mean, probably not. Fuck it, I don’t fucking know.”

“Have you been doing anything else?”

Brent snapped his head around and glared at Ellis. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean, Brent.”

Perhaps losing his nerve, Brent shrugged and looked away. “I told you, baby, I quit all that shit. I promised you, didn’t I?”

Ellis risked taking his eyes off the rusted pickup cruising ahead in order to inspect Brent. Over the course of their two-year relationship, Ellis had learned the facial twitches, the jittery eyes that always gave away his lies. Brent curled into himself, head resting on his shoulder, as if he were snuggled under a warm quilt. Surely, he knew Ellis watched him.

“You have to be honest with these people, baby,” Ellis said. “It’s a wasted trip if you’re just going to lie.”

Brent surprised him with a quick reaction: wide eyes and slack mouth.

“What?” Ellis asked. “What is it?”

“I don’t remember the last time you called me baby.”

East Texas Rehabilitative Center sat like an angry toad among lush green shrubs and dead yellow grass. Ellis circled the driveway, came to a stop before the double glass doors. He sat motionless in the driver’s seat, the engine stuttering. Brent pressed himself against the passenger window, his breath fogging the glass. Ellis didn’t know how long he would have to wait. Frankly, he had doubted he would see this day. He simply imagined Brent downing wine coolers alone in his shitty one-bedroom apartment until…until what?

“What do I do now?” Brent asked, eyes fixed upon the rehab entrance.

“I suppose you go inside and tell them why you’re here.”

“Then what?”

Ellis dragged his hand over his face. He’d been looking forward to a sedate morning in front of morning chat shows. His shift didn’t begin until noon. He had nowhere to go. “I don’t know, Brent. This is all new to me.”

His ex-lover whipped around, eyes glassy and vacant. “Take me back home.”


“I changed my mind. I can’t be here. I’ll figure out something else. I don’t know, I’ll—please take me home!”

Ellis had not touched Brent since they embraced at his doorway the day Brent moved out. Without thinking he grasped Brent’s hand and squeezed it, the other man’s blood pulsing beneath his grip.

“You belong here, baby. Everything will be fine. Go inside and find out when I should pick you up.”

“Promise you’ll come back for me?”

“I’ll use my lunch break.”

Brent withdrew his hand from Ellis and returned his gaze to the rehab entrance. “Does shit like this really work?” he asked, not looking at Ellis.

“You can tell me about it when I come get you.” In that moment, watching the man with whom he once hoped to spend his remaining years, Ellis knew Brent would never truly leave his life. He shut off the engine and sat quietly while Brent gasped for breath, clutching the door handle. I can wait, Ellis told himself. We have the whole morning.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Submission Guidelines Change/Update

As we mentioned on Facebook, we've now made it so that only stories of 2,500 words or less will be considered for publication. Maybe we're getting lazy but this way we can give each story the full attention it deserves while also trying to provide an ever faster response, than our usual 72 hours, to you the writer. Keep them coming!

"A Room Made of Windows" by Kate LaDew

HE’S STARTING TO WORRY NOW, just a little, that the people he loves the most, the ones he can’t remember not having, won’t be here forever. It isn’t a revelation, a brand new, packaged in plastic thought, but it’s the most afraid Billy’s ever been.

He calls his parents a lot, in class, at lunch, when he gets off work. In the middle of the night, he waits to hear his father’s voice on the answering machine, an old hunk of plastic from before Billy was born, a cassette recording everything he says that doesn’t matter, strips of his voice looping around themselves.

He writes things down now. He wishes he’d carried a tape recorder when he was little, strapped to his ankle, a wire under his shirt. There’s so much his parents have said. Most of what Billy’s parents told him dropped like liquid into his memory, colored the ground and were forgotten. Retracing his steps, Billy catches markings, footprints cool and vivid, but without their luster, like dried blood. His entire mind is a crime scene, clues and evidence, roped off with yellow, and he can’t find the little boy he once was to tell him what it means.

Billy asks his parents to call his voice mail and talk, just talk. He’s considered buying a machine like theirs, something that won’t beep after two minutes. He prompts, says, “Remember when” “What happened after” “Why did this.”

Billy knows there are things inside, deep, skimming along the surface of his muscles, put there by his parents. There are things he’s certain of, like the simple existence of God apart from what any book or men in expensive robes scare you into believing, the difference between driving lost and driving looking, and what arms feel like after you’ve climbed a tree. There are things he knows are true but can’t quite believe, fish dangling lanterns in the darkest dark, saints healing with their fingertips, a universe that hasn’t stopped expanding. His father picking him up, holding him like air, ‘the sky is a big mirror, reflecting oceans,’ and Billy still looks for sharks in the sky.

Billy supposes it was early on, before kindergarten and after he could write his name without tracing that he knew, without a doubt, he wanted these two people always. His mother washing dishes because his father wanted a country house. His father with his hands under Billy’s arms, spinning him like the cartoon whirlwind they’d just seen on TV. Billy is leaning his head back, his hair pressed against his father’s chest, the warm, earthy smell that would always make Billy think of him washing over his face like a blanket. Billy’s legs are almost parallel to the ground; velcroed shoes strapped soundly, such a kid that he needed a step stool to wash his hands.

His mother calls about a bird outside, bluer than Billy’s eyes, and his father looks up, stumbling. Billy’s mother’s voice, soft and pure, could always make him stumble. Billy’s feet veer towards the ground, ankles scraping the floor and his father’s hands drag across him, desperate, leaving bruises on his ribs he’d find days later. Billy is upended and righted in the same motion, his father’s knees hitting the floor, arms under his neck and thighs, cradled like the girls in fancy dresses in the black and white movies his mother watches, light and helpless. His father is shaking Billy, breathing his name and Billy rolls his head towards him, hair spiked across his eyes. His mother is beside them in an instant, a dishcloth in her hands. ‘What’s all the commotion?’ His father tells, in a voice more shaky than he wants, about their little boy and what almost was and his mother moves her hand to her head. ‘If Jesus came down from heaven,’ she laughed. ‘I’d be in the bathroom.’ Her smile is one of force, so truly meant, its very presence demanding all wrongs to be righted, all disasters avoided, a strength to save and make anything okay again. Billy watches them, the little tears in their mouths, the blinks of their lashes, telling him he was rescued, snatched from harm. He thinks without effort, ‘They loved me the moment I was alive.’

When he thinks about it now he wonders if he made it up, if he was capable of understanding any of it; a kid with carpet burns on his elbows, dinosaur sheets, spiders for pets, but his mother’s hands, still wet, firm and insistent under Billy’s chin, soap sliding down his collar, his father’s weight around him, holding him above the ground like something precious; he understood more then than now, he decides. He knew what he’s forgotten.

Billy’s still watching his parents, twenty years from when he figured them out. He comes home on weekends and plays the messages, looking for clues. “I remember this” “I never knew” “When did you tell me.” He’s found his own history project, one that started before he realized and one he won’t ever finish. His mother and father smile at him, smile like they always have. His mother is tilting her head back and laughing, soft and pure, and his father looks at Billy like he’s out of breath. He makes Billy remember jack-o-lanterns on Halloween, a light in the middle of his father, flickering in his eyes. Billy is happier now than worried but he knows what he’ll lose. What will have existed and disappeared when he can’t call and say, “Talk. Just talk.” He’ll wake up every day with a bright, empty place inside him, like a room made of windows.