Photo Credit: Campfire and sparks in Anttoora by Kallerna

The Awakening

By Dave Dormer

It wasn’t until my early twenties had I realized just what I’d done.

We walked for what seemed like miles through overgrown and choked hiking trails. The odor of campfire smoke clung to everything we owned and my throat felt like it would collapse at any moment. There were little trails of blood on my shins from whipping branches that my brother, who walked ahead of me, would let loose when I wasn’t looking, ‘Sorry’ he’d reply with a grin. I can’t recall how many times I rolled my ankles on the rocky trail, but I had to keep up to my dad who’d always stride ten feet ahead of us hollering, ‘C’mon guys. Keep up!’

We finally reached the fen, my favorite part of the trail and a little easier to navigate. It was still early spring and not much moved other than whiskey jacks flitting about the trees. I kept my eyes trained on the tree line of the marsh’s border in hopes of seeing a moose on its way to drink or swim, but nothing moved.

As a chubby kid and not much for stamina, I eventually trailed behind the rest of my family and our dog. The rustle from the plastic bag in my short’s pocket was a reminder that I was on duty to clean up after him. When my gaze returned to the trail, that’s when I spotted it. A brown wooden box nestled among broken, decaying branches and roots of a dead-fall. I stopped. I looked at the box, and then to my family who were quickly disappearing around a crook in the trail.

‘What is it? Why is it here? I couldn’t take my eyes off it. My stomach twisted in knots at the sight of it. It was like looking at a Christmas present that I couldn’t have. I imagined my dad’s voice booming in my ear as if caught standing again, admiring his shotgun that hung on our wall, ‘Don’t you ever touch it!’ Continue reading

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The Gambler

By Alexander Drost

When I arrived in Sparks, Georgia it smelled of grit and dark pine. The air was so muggy that my shirt was its dampest shade of gray. A clan of children hopped on the bus just outside town.

“That was some hit, Peggy!” One of the boys said. “You really beat the devil out of it.” Peggy smiled.

The bus hissed, the children skipped off and disappeared into the hanging woods. I watched them retract from the road and fingered the poker chip in my pocket, gently edging the engraved 19 with my thumb nail.

“This is as far as we get to it,” the driver said. “The Inn is half mile up there—You’re the Thomson boy coming in, yeah?”

“Yesir.”

“Mmmhm—well stand straight Mr. Thomson. Folks in Sparks can spot a weak spine.”

I thanked the driver and sank off the bus into the clay. It became heavier with every stride I took, and it wasn’t long until my slacks were a violent weighty-amber.

STARKEEP INN

The sign was almost unreadable; its paint had eroded to the wood and the post from which it hung was cracked with sap. The Inn’s veranda railed along its face and its wooden sides were peeking through two trees, grotesquely twisted, and feeding off the lawn. I followed the stepping stones.

A screen door slap jolted my glance upward to face two women, most definitely twins. Both dressed in black gowns which in no way accented a lick of beauty.

“Mr. Thomson,” they said simultaneously. Continue reading

Photo Credit: My Half Ghost Side by Elizabeth Watson

From the Editor: Hauntings

By Kristy Harding

When I was a kid, my family went on vacation to Gettysburg. Most kids probably would have preferred to go to Disney World, but I was a budding Civil War buff, so I spent the weeks before the trip watching the movie Gettysburg over and over and reading everything I could about the battle. Like many sites of great suffering, Gettysburg is a magnet for paranormalists, so it was only a matter of time before I stumbled on a ghost story. The story I found claimed that the ghost of George Washington was seen riding around the battlefield on his horse by Union soldiers either before or during the battle.

The story captured my imagination, and when we finally arrived in Pennsylvania, I lay awake at night waiting for George Washington to ride through my spooky hotel room. While I waited, I gobbled up staple-bound collections of local ghost stories. In those pages, I was introduced to the classic ghost story tropes for the first time. I met the actors in a shadow play forced to repeat emotionally charged scenes from the past over and over without deviation like the mother in Tejashri Pradhan’s “Cliff Diving” (Feb. 5th) and the outsiders who are needed to hear a ghost’s story one last time and give the ghost permission to leave the old place behind like the spouse in Robert Earle’s “Visit Home” (Nov. 27th).

I never saw George Washington or his horse. At the time, I was disappointed, but I now know that a place doesn’t need to be visited by the spirits of the dead to be haunted. As I remember talking with reenactors immersed in their roles and ordering pheasant pot pie at a tavern from a waitress in hoop-skirts, I wonder if the monuments and tourist traps were just ways of dressing up the phantasmagoria of an entire town trapped in 1863, assigned parts, and forced to repeat scenes from the battle continually.

I was reminded of that trip to Gettysburg while reading Hauntings by the James Hollis, a book that inspired the theme of this issue. Hollis is a Jungian analyst, and his Hauntings is about hearing the voice of the soul over the stories and legacies of the past. An unconscious life, he says, defaults to repetition. Some of these repetitions, such as following a parent onto the factory floor have big consequences (Bret Nye, “Factory” (April 2nd)). Others, such as putting up holiday decorations year after year, are mostly harmless (Dawn Wilson, “Extraordinary Neighbors” (Dec. 11th)), but, eventually, it is hoped, something like the visitor in Christopher Krull’s “Space Above the Cubes” (Mar. 5th) interrupts and gets in the way of the ability to mindlessly follow the script, freeing us to make choices.

Appropriately for an issue about ghosts, everything in “Hauntings” is, in some way, a ghost story. Though not everyone who appears in “Hauntings” is able to break free of the pasts and patterns and ghosts that haunt them–and not everyone wants to–most of the characters who appear in this issue are forced to deal with some kind of interruption. This is one of the functions of all stories: to interrupt, to illuminate deadwood, to inspire (or scare) us into living.

And so, I will bring this interruption of “Hauntings” to an end and leave you to the ghosts.

A version of this appeared on kristyharding.com in April 2014.

Photo Credit: My Half Ghost Side by Elizabeth Watson

If You Ask Me: Late Great Bi Trouble

By Matt Galletta 

Question:

I’m bi and in the closet. I’m pretty sure that most of my friends and family would be alright with me not being straight, but I was in my 30s and in a great straight relationship when I realized the truth about myself. There’s no good way to slip “I’m bi” into a conversation, so I’ve only come out to my girlfriend and a couple close friends. Mostly, I’ve accepted the way things are, even though it’s awkward when people assume I’m straight, but I have this one gay friend who makes passes at me constantly. He’s joking and doesn’t know I’m bi, so I tried my best to brush it off. A few weeks ago, though, I snapped and asked him to cut it out, and he accused me of being homophobic. I consider him to be one of my closest friends, so there’s a part of me that thinks I should tell him the truth, but I’m worried that coming out after all this time–it’s been years–will just make things worse.

-Late Great Bi Trouble

First off, I’m no expert in LGBT culture, but I think this is a universal rule: If someone is hitting on you, you have the right to tell him/her to stop. Even if you’ve laughed it off in the past.

Let’s look at a more stereotypical situation here instead: Imagine some guy who is constantly hitting on his female friends. He’s “just joking,” but one of his friends gets tired of it and tells him to cut it out. He gets mad and calls her some not-so-great name. Is it now the friend’s responsibility to reach out and try to make amends with the guy?

Well, no. This guy needs to step up and apologize. And switching around genders and orientations from this hypothetical situation to match what happened with your friend should make no difference. While it’s understandable that he got mad at you in the moment–nobody likes being told they’re acting like an ass, even if it’s true–he should have cooled off and then apologized for the homophobe comment, and also for constantly hitting on you.

You claim that this guy is one of your closest friends, but is that just misplaced guilt talking? I notice that he’s not among the “couple close friends” you’ve already told. For one reason or another, he didn’t make the cut when you first started telling people you’re bi. (Maybe because he’s an ass who hits on you constantly, who knows.) The only reason you seem to have for coming out to him now is to fix what happened during this argument you two had, and that doesn’t feel like the best reason to divulge something that you’re keeping, for the most part, private.

Besides, I don’t think disclosing your bisexuality is such a great counter to the homophobe accusation anyway. There are plenty of folks some flavor of LGBT who are also homophobic. If you don’t believe me, just ask the next Republican senator you meet lurking in a public bathroom.

If your friend apologizes for being an ass, great. If you want to broach the subject with something like, “I don’t appreciate being called a homophobe just because I don’t want you hitting on me constantly,” and he’s willing to talk about it, great. But until then, whether or not you’re bi, and whether or not he knows about it, is beside the point.

Have a question for Matt? E-mail advice@papertapemag.com.

Matt Galletta lives in upstate New York with his wife and daughter. His work has appeared in Paper Tape, Falling Star, Up the River, and the anthology A Six Pack of Stories: Short Stories To Read With a Beer in Hand. His poetry collection The Ship is Sinking was published by Epic Rites Press in 2014. Find him at mattgalletta.com.

New Staff Contributor and Advice Column

Paper Tape is pleased to welcome our new staff contributor, Matt Galletta.

You may remember Matt from “Still Warm from Satan” (August 2013) and “Flooding” (July 2014). He’s agreed to come back starting tomorrow with “If You Ask Me” a semi-regular advice column.

Have a question for Matt? E-mail advice@papertapemag.com.

Matt Galletta lives in upstate New York with his wife and daughter. His work has appeared in Paper Tape, Falling Star, Up the River, and the anthology A Six Pack of Stories: Short Stories To Read With a Beer in Hand. His poetry collection The Ship is Sinking was published by Epic Rites Press in 2014. Find him at mattgalletta.com.