Monday, November 28, 2011

“It Was The Sound” by Ryan Singleton

It was the sound that stuck with me.

I was terrified to see Agnieszka’s face. She died in bed, her left leg bent, poking out from underneath the blanket, her little fingers clutching the frayed ends of the fabric. I knew she was dead the second I twisted the knob on her unlocked apartment and walked in alone.

“I ain’t seen Angie in three days,” Oscar said to me, with concern in his voice. “She was finna send me to the store last night, but she didn’t answer when I knocked.” She always answered her door—for him, at least.

I was both Agnieszka and Oscar’s case manager at the low-income housing project, an SRO. By no means was Oscar my favorite resident, but he was the one I identified with most. He wasn’t quite a man; he was more of a loser who happened to have male genitals—a complete doormat, the reason I saw myself in him whenever he dragged his bum leg and dopy smile into my office to talk.

To illustrate his character, one of the bullies in the building pulled down Oscar’s pants, exposing his bare, black butt cheeks for everyone in the TV room to see. Naturally, he was humiliated—I could see his emotions bright as day, when I reviewed the security camera the morning after the incident. Sheepishly Oscar pulled up his drawers and sat down to watch the football game with the rest of the guys, ignoring the gravity of what just happened. The aggressor laughed her ass off, pointing at Oscar; then she threatened to punch him in the nose. Oscar just looked around her, trying to see the score of the game. Nobody stood up for the victim because they were afraid their sweats would be around their ankles next.

“C’mon, Oscar,” I said, after I was done reviewing the cameras. “File a complaint. That was so embarrassing what she did to you. This is one of those times where you just need to grow a pair of balls and do what’s right—fill out the complaint form.”

But he didn’t.

And part of me was glad. Since he wasn’t following our building’s formal grievance policy, there wasn’t much I could do to rectify the situation. Rather than take action, I could sit comfortably in my office and let another bully go by without confrontation.

Oscar seemed to thrive in relationships with skewed power dynamics. Agnieszka, whom Oscar called Angie, had the personality to depants her neighbor in public, then taunt him to his face and threaten to punch his lights out, but she never did because her physical health was so poor. She gave guys like Oscar—especially Oscar—a harsh tongue lashing instead.

Do this! Get that! Come here! Stop slacking, you lazy crack monkey!

And Oscar would take it. He was Agnieszka’s slave, running errands for her nonstop because the Polish woman’s ancient body was broken from excessive exposure to war and alcohol. Feeble, she could barely move from her apartment, let alone maneuver the narrow aisles of a supermarket. That’s why she needed a loser grunt to purchase her groceries and schlep them up to her tiny studio, somebody she could yell at, boss around, and pay with shots of Vodka.

From the outside, it looked like a vicious, one-sided, give-take relationship, but Oscar was the only person Agnieszka trusted to enter her apartment. She didn’t even grant me, her case manager, access to her room, not even for bed-bug inspections or roach exterminations. She’d rather live with pests than deal with a human intruder.

That didn’t stop the old lady from cutting into me with her tongue as often as she could, jabbing me with malicious comments, calling me a pussy for not joining the military, and habitually reminding me that she should be my case manager, not the other way around. Agnieszka intimidated me, and I avoided her. Once she tried to dial a number on the community telephone in my office, but she kept pushing the wrong buttons, and somehow, it was my fault. She lambasted me for it, and I let her get her feelings out of her system without a rebuttal. She bullied me, and that’s why I was happy when I didn’t seen her for three days.

She looked like a witch alive, a ghostly pauper. Emaciated, her limbs draped off her body so frail, fragile, without any muscle, highlighting the skeleton beneath her flimsy, paper-thin skin. Just under her fiery hair was a chubby face, swollen from drinking—her only time-tested friend.

When Oscar told me Agnieszka wouldn’t answer his knocks—his special knocks, which only they knew—he surmised something was wrong. Similarly, I sensed that there was a problem and needed to do what all case managers have to do from time to time: perform a wellness check.

I pounded on Agnieszka’s door, and it rattled as if it were unlocked. It was, so I entered the forbidden space, giving me the creeps. From the doorway I could see the old lady tucked beneath her blanket. She looked dead; it was too eerie for anything but insects to be alive. Still, visions clouded my mind of her sitting up in bed, spraying me with fire from and AK-47 for breaking and entering.

Who invited you in here, you boney bastard!

I knew she was dead—she had to be. Still, I needed to pull back the blanket and see her face and confirm my hunch, but I was terrified, palms sweating. I didn’t want to see her eyes. What if they’re open? Glassy and hollow, she had seen so much: her mother and father murdered at Auschwitz, three tours of duty in Vietnam, as well as divorce and cancer, each twice. If her eyes were open, her life would play through them, I thought, and I would see her corpse every time I blinked or tried to sleep or closed my eyes to masturbate. I’d have to staple my eyelids to my forehead because the dreadfulness of her past would follow me everywhere.

I was scared.

I had to pull back the blanket, even though I saw two or three bedbugs scurry over it. There’s an unwritten rule that states: If you find a covered body, you have to roll the blanket back and visually confirm death. Never mind the blistering silence, the stillness beyond comparison. Those aren’t enough to state with confidence that a person has passed. Sight is king.

I grabbed the blanket, just north of Agnieszka’s own pasty, pale fingers, and I eased the sheet back, so as not to startle the deceased.

My senses heightened. Please don’t be open, please don’t be open, I chanted. I didn’t want to make eye contact with her. And for the life of me, I can’t remember if her eyes were open or closed.

All I remember is the sound.

Agnieszka’s tong was sticking out of her mouth, swollen and white with dried drool and foam. It pierced through her closed, tight lips and crusted to the blanket. When I pulled the cover back, I had to peal the threads of spun cotton off her tongue, creating a ripping sound that was furious—a fitting beginning to the woman’s death.

It sounded like a young maple leaf being torn slowly in half, like a bullet whizzing past Agnieszka’s head in ‘Nam, slamming into her comrade’s nose. He was standing two feet away from her, and she caught blood splatter on her face. She thought in horror, Why not me? Then two seconds later, Agnieszka was hit with shrapnel in her right femur. She cried, Why me? The ripping, tearing, gnashing sound of flesh and bone separating from each other created a wound that would label her as a cripple for the rest of her existence. The smell of napalm mixed with monsoon season had nothing on the microscopic sound of human skin shredding, cell by cell.

Some small threads of blanket were left on her tongue, but the deafening noise it created played in my ear on repeat.

Her tongue was so big. It looked like something that was cut out of a cow and packaged to sell for cheap at a market. One of those bristly, pinkish, whitish chunks of meat that appears soft and tender and gross. So big you can see the coarse hairs and taste buds that line the severed organ. I wanted to poke it through the cellophane wrapper, to play with it between my fingers, rolling it back and forth. Does it feel as spongy as it looks?

She was done bleeding, done hurting, done lambasting Oscar, but there were so many questions that sprang to life when I separated the blanket from her palate. Her life was a secret that surfaced only as a derisive query or bitchy comment—a mystery that was released by a sound that I alone received.

And now whenever I sit in silence or solitude, hers are the questions I ask. It’s her life I ponder, her stories that consume me. They’re all I hear. They nag at me and criticize me and never go away.

Why are you doing this with your life, breaking into old lady’s apartments and disrupting them in bed? Be a man for once and join the Marine Corps like I did. Maybe it’ll put some fuzz on your boyish chest.

And for the life of me, I can’t remember if her eyes were open or closed.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Dungeons and Degenerates" by Matthew Dexter

I opened the door to apartment 43 of the tenant who died, let his mother inside and bowed out into the courtyard by the swimming pool where rainbows were bouncing on the abandoned raft, spectrums of what used to be. The young man lived alone and if my husband, the maintenance man, had not visited to fix the disposal--the tenant would still be in there rotting; he had his rent paid for the next three months.

“Thank you,” said the woman hidden behind sunglasses, her breath reeking of scotch, onions, and eggs. “I’ll only be a few minutes.”

“Take as long as you need,” I said.

The woman let the morning sun hit her face and lifted her palm into the warm raindrops as she lit her cigarette. Perhaps the man called to report the problem so that somebody would pick up the body. Nothing was wrong with anything in the kitchen. The man had a refrigerator full of Budweiser, removed all foods that might spoil and took out the trash. He left a handwritten note and obviously cared--went to great extent to make the incident clean and not mess up any of the carpets. He slit his wrists and castrated himself in the bathtub, with the shower curtain closed and the wall covered with plastic like a painter places to protect the floor.

“I lived in a basement, and the view of the pool is special,” he said when he paid his security deposit and inspected the shiny new key as if it were a diamond.

He was quiet, kept to himself, but smiled and waved when he came and went. Once he ordered an inflatable woman and had to pick it up in my office because the mailboxes are so small. I signed for it and opened the packaging to see what one of those things felt like, taped it shut and left a note on his door with a smiley face. He also ordered a fake vagina. The boxes were unmarked, but I open all the packages, especially those meant to conceal what’s inside. Once found five ounces of psychedelic mushrooms and a mannequin; not from this tenant of course; he was only interested in the sex toys.

The woman screamed from the apartment and the rainbow disappeared. The raft was being splashed around by the fat tenant of Apartment 76, who wrestled and struggled to get onboard, only to have his weight submerge the air-filled plastic so that only the ends folded upward at ninety degree angles, as if offering a supplication to the heavens. Not giving up, the man let the plastic rub against his groin, half-supporting his genitalia like a pair of plastic underpants as it sank. The bubbles rose to the surface and the edges submerged as the woman yelled again and stormed out of apartment 43.

“Is everything alright?” I asked.

The body had been removed, but apparently the tenant had neglected to clean out his bedroom closet.

“Thank you,” she said. “This is terrible--his father will return in a few days to remove his possessions.”

She nodded and convulsed as the gardener walked past with an erection and shears, the former inspired by the college girls sitting underneath the umbrella waiting for more sun and the latter for shaping the bushes.

“Anything else--just call,” I said.

The maintenance man catapulted a small bag of marijuana from the paint-chipped seesaw. The plastic soared across the pool toward the girls. It landed in the corner near the filter and one of the ladies did a cannonball to retrieve the green treasure from one of the evicted tenants. I shook my head at my pothead husband. One day he was going to get us in serious trouble. I walked into the open door of apartment 43 and noticed the rubber lady on the floor. The resemblance was uncanny: a painted replication of the woman who had just been inside. The facial details and body image where almost identical.

“What are you doing?” asked the fat man.

I tossed the rubber woman into the pool and waved at the college girls whose parents always pay their rent on time.

“Maybe you can use it,” I said to the fat man who had given up on the raft.

The man paddled over to the inflatable woman and dragged her by the leg out of the pool, leaving a trail of chlorine as he carried it up to his apartment. The poor ladies head slammed against the steps and I knew the man would burst it somehow.

Back in the apartment I headed to the bedroom. The closet was closed but a glass bong was sitting on the table beside the futon the loner used as a bed. There was still some weed in it so I sparked it and my eyeballs hurt as I stretched them downward to watch the smoke rising through the water, filling the chambers. My job as manager of this complex is a disaster waiting to happen, horrible, like living in a labyrinth of dungeons and degenerates. Why did I inherit this from my mother? I shuttered as the smoke filled the closet and all these perverse objects came into focus: dildos, fireworks, fake vaginas, crack pipes, child pornography, and unrecognizable paraphernalia. I noticed the images of children who lived in the complex: pictures of naked tenants who laughed on the playground in front of my office for years. They had grown serious in recent months and many had moved out without saying much about why, just that their children wanted a change.

“Lord help me,” I said.

In one instant, the perfect tenant had turned into the demon that filled little boys with appendages and semen. I ran from the bedroom. Tripped over another inflatable woman, this one shaped like me. The features painted on the face were so lifelike, down to the hairs on the moles and the constellation of freckles on my shoulders. He even drew little dots around my nose that indicated blackheads. How had he seen me so close?

I grabbed the rubber woman and began wrestling with my image on the floor. At one point I got my elbow stuck inside one of the orifices while struggling to puncture the bitch. Bashed my head against the carpet, cursing my doll, this replication more majestic than the skin I was trapped amid. There were no wrinkles; just lines. The doll wrapped itself around my waist and we ended up on the bed, naked; defacement the only option, struggling for air, possessed by the smell of a fresh rubber woman.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


We've changed our submissions guidelines...again! From now on we'll only be accepting stories of 1,500 words or less. We hope this will not only allow us to retain our quick submission responses but also allow us to give each and every story that much more attention. Another side note, we've got our stories already slotted for Nov. 21st and 28th. After that we'll be taking a break until the first of February. Rest easy, we're not gone for good we, by we I mean I being that this is a one man operation, just need a few months to relax and focus on some other things. So enjoy the holidays and remember to give us some good stories come February!

Monday, November 14, 2011

“Sailboats” by Rachel Bennett

The waves were relentless. Pounding down on her skull, filling every orifice. What is breathing? That was something of the past. They came again and again, thrashing her now limp body into the gritty sand. With a Herculean effort, her head breaks the surface. Hungry, needy breaths. Cold. Bone-chilling cold. Another wave. Pulled under, the current dragging her farther and farther away. Cold. So cold. Black.

* * * * *

The wind blew her hair and dress all around her in a very dramatic fashion a she stood at the edge of the cliff, and she liked it. She liked it so much, in fact, she stalled for five more minutes, listening to the winds howling in her ear. Telling her secrets. Telling her lies. No, no, she can’t wait any longer. The time has to be now.

* * * * *

She was out of breath, finally making it to the top. She scraped her knee, twice, and it stung. Tears also stung the corners of her eyes. She saw a sailboat, far, far out in the water, near the horizon. That’s where she wished herself to be.

* * * * *

She balanced precariously on the edge, barely daring to breathe. She was about to do it, about to go over, but the wind played with her hair and dress in such a delightful manner, she had to wait. Just five minutes. Time is up, she stepped over. Eyes locked on the setting sun, the cruel wind whistling.

* * * * *

Seconds before her feet broke the surface, she changed her mind.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Future Perfect" by Scott Carpenter

By the time you read this letter I will be dead.

Or as good as. I’m only fifteen years old, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Even though it’s your own damn fault.

You are thirty. And mostly I fear you will have disappointed me.

Tell me: What do you remember? For example, do you recall the name of the turtle that escaped from its tank and ended up with its head squished in the screen door?

What about playing freeze tag with Mick and Kelsey and Emily, that time up at the cabin?

How about all those tadpoles from the pond, the ones we kept in a tub in the garage until they turned into frogs and disappeared?

No? I didn’t think so.

Do you remember anything?

What about later? Like that boy at camp who wanted to share a sleeping bag, and then pressed himself against you that way? (I bet that rings a bell.) Do you remember lying in the grass at night at the base of the water tower with Jennifer M., placing your mouth on hers while your hand slipped under her shirt? (You should.) Do you have any recollection of the violence of my desires? (You probably wish you did.)

And do you remember your promises? How you would never betray anyone? How you would travel the world? How you would learn six languages? How you would never vote? How you would always be your own boss? How you would never, ever become like your father?

I have to ask you these questions because you and I are not the same person. Every year each of our atoms is replaced. So by the time you read this, you will be a copy of a copy of a copy. There may be some resemblance, but it won’t go very far. No more than I recognize myself in the one who bore my name and lived at my address half a lifetime ago, when that person, whose existence I barely recall, was seven or eight.

We are writing these letters in Mrs. Grant’s AP English class, and the school will have mailed this to you when fifteen years have gone by. In case you don’t recall, this is not the version I turned in for a grade, where I said what she wanted me to say. This one is for you. To remind you of what you have forgotten. Even though I know it’s too late.

I am afraid of what, at the time you read this, will already have taken place. I can feel the seeds of disappointment sprouting inside me even now.

I had hoped for better.

For what it’s worth, let me give you a bit of advice. An assignment, really. Sit down and write yourself a letter, to the you that you’ll have become when you’ve doubled your age yet again. Include this one with it, to remind our future self of what you will have used to want. Make him listen to both of us. Because, you see, you’re the only chance I have.

Do it now. I don’t trust you to wait. It doesn’t have to be long.

And don’t forget the proper postage. I’d suggest you use a Forever Stamp. Although I fear that
name may be overly optimistic.