Amenities

By Adan Ramie

“Well, don’t you look pretty?”

Her words echoed in the dark, quiet room, bouncing off of decorated walls and high ceilings. She looked around her, suddenly spooked, as if some specter would jump out of the shadows at her at any moment. She shook her head, let out an uneasy laugh, and ran a hand through her damp hair.

“Jesus, Lee, you’ve got to pull yourself together,” she said aloud and tried to heed her own advice.

She glanced again at the young woman staring back at her from the full length mirror and grinned. She almost looked like a stranger after the much needed shower. Her skin still felt prickly and hot, scrubbed clean of all the filth of the world that poured over her on a daily basis, and she basked in the comfort of the apartment around her. The jeans she wore were already broken in, which was good because she always found it hard to run in stiff denim. The shirt was the closest she could find to a style that would suit her, but it fit, and the cold weather outside called for the long sleeves and the hood that she let hang down onto her back.

She walked across the room and pulled on a pair of socks that had individual pockets for each toe. She struggled to get each one in then laughed at herself as she wiggled her multicolored toes before sliding them into her old, dirty boots. They, along with her scarred leather jacket, were the only things she had on that spoke of her reality; for a moment, if she pretended, she almost felt like someone society would call normal. Continue reading

Factory

By Bret Nye

Imagine him there, his first few weeks on the job toiling at the cusp of adulthood, reckless and quick with the tires as he handles them, and then his later years, new bosses and new systems but old work, each day another notch in his skull. Under a film of smoke and a gray turret sky, he walks steel toe to pavement through the lot and into the mouth of the building. He passes through the turnstile and shines a badge to put a name to his face, crosses into the plant proper and immediately a flood of sick-smelling heat, a whir of machinery, metal terrorizing metal, sweaty bodies stationed among the clashing parts. He snakes through to the back of the plant, dodging forklifts as they whiz by, supervisor carts trailing behind, the recognition of the same 12-hour-shift look on everyone’s face.

Here they make tires. People standing in place applying strips of cured rubber to revolving spools to the molders and shapers of product to the treaders and finishers and finally to the warehouse where he puts in his time. He hops on his forklift and blurs through the hulking stacks, rowed to oblivion, chasing down competitor’s tires locked away in the cage upstairs to take over to testing. The competitive edge, he’s dangling right along it.

He drives up the beaten ramp and enters Warehouse 3. A profound silence greets him, emanating from musty rubber air and the near-dark created by dim overheads that haven’t been re-bulbed in twenty years. The constant worry that the tall, winding stacks of skids will come crashing down on him, or on any of the other warehousemen creeping among the rows like shades. He flies through the black and finally reaches Warehouse 4, loose tires spilled across the floor, empty and forgotten skids bent all ways, whole cities of cobwebs on the ceiling. He drives through to the deepest part of the room where it’s pitch black at six thirty in the morning and almost impossible to navigate without light. He parks his forklift and turns off the engine and waits for the rotten smell of exhaust to die.

Most people hate being up there in Warehouse 4. It’s hard to see and the place smells like must and rot. This is where all the broken tires go, the tires that were never made correctly to begin with. Most people hate being upstairs in Warehouse 4 because they swear they’ve seen ghosts roaming the stacks. They share tales of flashlights gone missing and cold air coming through in the middle of the summer when the rest of the factory is a hundred degrees. But he’s not afraid of phantoms; he likes the silence too much to worry. He settles into his seat and closes his eyes and thinks of her, working his mind until he conjures the softness of her scent, the sense of her body close. He gets up and walks around the tall dark columns, keeping his eyes closed and feeling the tires for the path. He thinks of a time when his oldest son was too young to know him. When he would whisper whiskey into his ear. His eyes pulse in thought but soon he feels a rush of cold from somewhere even deeper in the stacks and his gut tenses. He peers into the corners of the room, stalks the source of the cold air in the dark until his supervisor comes trundling by on his cart to tell him to get back on task. Continue reading

In Our Own Image

By David L. Nye

Journalists in cheap suits packed the room and tried to yell over each other. At the front of the aisles, large cameras glared from tripods. Flashes burst from around the room. They blinded Thompson, a Navy captain sitting at the thin table under the bright lights.

Thompson had been under these lights before, at this table. He first sat here after entering the astronaut program. Seven years later, he returned to explain the colony NASA planned to build on Mars. There were fewer reporters then.

“Dr. Tivoli,” a reporter said, “Given the track record of Capt. Jerry Thompson, why replace him so late in the game?”

The man at the podium, Dr. Tivoli, grinned. Thompson wondered if Tivoli planted the reporter. Probably not, he decided.

“That is the brilliance of the Avatar Program. Adam-1 is Capt. Thompson.” Continue reading

INTERVIEW: Tom Lucas

NSFW Warning: This interview has explicit content and may not be safe for work.

Tom Lucas is a college professor, author, blogger, poet, book reviewer, and spoken word performer. His most recent book, Pax Titanus, was published by Eraserhead Press in 2014 and is part of the New Bizarro Author Series. He has been published in many places including Writer’s Digest, Orbit, Anthropomorphic, Graffiti Rag, and Dark Fire Fiction, and he has shorts appearing in the upcoming anthologies: They Did It For The Money and Southern Haunts III. As a staunch supporter of spoken word he has performed on the Lollapalooza stage as well as guest spots on CIMX, WDET, and WJR.

He was born and raised in Detroit, and although currently enjoying the lack of snow and ice in Florida, remains a son of the post-industrial apocalypse. When not writing, Tom likes to drive fast and take chances. He can be found at readtomlucas.com and on Facebook, and if you sign up for his email list, he’ll send you a free story.

In this interview with Paper Tape editor Kristy Harding, we talk about bizarro, Pax Titanus’s epic creation story, and The Struggle.

Continue reading

Space Above the Cubes

By Christopher Krull

Lance composed a new message so he could read his own email signature: “Senior Account Executive,” his title read. The “Senior” part had been added yesterday.

“Congratulations!” Lance spun around in his cubicle’s chair and saw Jan, the office coordinator.

“Thanks, Jan.” Lance replied. White khakis hugged Jan’s wide hips. A colorful necklace ornamented with plastic tropical fruits she bought on a recent Caribbean cruise hung below her wide face.

“It’s all about the ship,” Jan had told the office who gathered in the break room to heat their lunches.  “The Admiral of the Seas – everything you need is on the ship. It’s like being on a different planet!” Lance removed his gaze from the plastic fruit adorning her sun-spotted cleavage as Jan spoke to him, “We’re going to have to circle-up later today so you can download me on your strategy for the Vydyne account.”

Lance sighed. His new title came with a 3.5 percent pay bump and new account responsibilities. Tight times meant even the office coordinator had to do revenue-generating account work. Lance nodded and returned to his blank message. The screen blurred and a brain zap came on. Brain zaps are most commonly associated with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) withdrawal syndrome. There’s no medical consensus regarding what causes brain zaps, which often are described as nausea-inducing electrical waves running through one’s head. WebMD informed Lance they were harmless when he first investigated the strange feeling that came on when he tried to wean himself from the antidepressant. Lance found the drug allowed him to accept what he did for a living and even perform better. Now off the once-a-day pill, he was unsure what coping mechanism might be needed to take its place.

Lance felt a pulse and stood from his computer. The cube farm was silent but active with other Account Executives glaring into their computer screens, most wearing ear buds. Their eyes occupied by the screen, their ears with the buds, Lance thought at some point in the near future they would have feeding tubes in their mouths, bed pans beneath their chairs.

A thud came from the drop ceiling above Lance’s head. Continue reading

Undead

By Gabriel Valjan

“May I help you?”

He had heard the question repeated numerous times while he sat there on the long bench with the others, their questions waiting to be answered. All kinds of people were with him there in that packed room in their various states of anxiety and impatience, slips of paper in their hands, but it was just the same: they either sat or stood like question marks.

“Next.”

The line moved and another person disappeared. He glanced down at his hand to revisit the letter of the alphabet and then the number. This could take time. He wanted to get up and stretch his legs, but if he forfeited his seat then he would have to stand and wait. He would blend in with any of the other men, hands in their pockets, no slips of paper visible, their call-number memorized, if that. They were all players in this grand line for an answer, still waiting, ready to ask, ready to march to either the next “May I help you?” or the next “Next.” He chose to remain seated; he slid over when a body vacated the bench and another one reloaded it at the far end. Monotony is the great weapon of state bureaucracy.

“May I help you?” Continue reading

The Anchor

By Jennifer Cornet

The anchor looks less blue under the dismal, cloudy sky. I would call it hazy gray or ash white. It sits perched in its corner, surrounded by black metal bars and dusty brick walls. Behind it, a barren field of dirt and building debris and in front of it only half trampled bushes; a sad attempt at landscaping. Nothing about this says strength, or unity, or power. Even the vases full of yellow water and long dead flowers, strewn about on the ground at its feet bring a sadness to the marker. It is neglected and lonely and I can’t help but feel pity for the steel as I stand on sidewalk, just outside the gates.

The traffic flows smoothly into the Navy Yard. Even at the height of morning rush hour, there is little back up by foot or car. The guards work swiftly, bundled up in fluffy jackets and warm fleece gloves keeping the constant stream of workers flooding the base in motion. It only stops for the morning colors.

As the last note echoes through the biting November air, I have to remind myself to keep moving. I cannot waste the entire morning staring at the anchor although I feel like it wants me to. My finger tips are beginning to numb and I can no longer feel the warmth of my coffee seeping through the insulated layers of my thermos. I should get to my desk and enjoy it before I am forced to drink the swill in the mess instead. Continue reading

Cliff Diving

By Tejashri Pradhan

Every night, she stands at the edge of the cliff, her gaze on the sky rather than on the ocean below. The world stretches about her in every direction, but there’s only one direction for her. She feels the wind buffet her body and tangle her hair and chap her skin until she can’t handle the cold any longer. She doesn’t jump, but merely takes a step off the edge.

Every night, she spreads her arms out to the sides like skeletal wings. She imagines the air buoys her and lifts her up to the singing stars and jellyfish moon above. For a moment, she’s suspended in midair, and then the sea rises to claim her.

Every night, her body shatters against jagged rocks that slash the skin from her flesh. The current drapes its cold fingers around her ankles and tugs her down until she has no choice but to let the seawater pierce her lungs. She’s reminded in that instant of how fragile a human life is and how easily lost.

Every night, the frothy ocean swirls around her like mouthwash swishing around the slick rocks that are Earth’s teeth. It presses into her broken skin, cleansing in its sweet agony.

Every night, she feels his pain when he lost his footing and slipped, crying out for Mommy. She’d told him not to go to so close to the edge, but in that moment, it didn’t matter. She threw herself on the cliff on her stomach, groping wildly for his hand. Her fingers barely grazed his tiny wrist. For a frozen instant, his pulse fluttered against her fingers like a broken wing trying in vain to fly. She saw his development in reverse. He was shrinking back into a baby and from a baby into a fetus until he was encased by Earth’s womb. She had no choice but to watch helplessly as the ocean swallowed her heart.

Every night, she knows she should let herself feel his terror too, but that would mean sleeping instead of jumping. It would mean allowing her nightmares to crawl into her torn heart the way the salty waves of the ocean seep into her open wounds. She can bear the pain again and again, but she’s too cowardly to risk feeling his fear.

Every night, she dies and floats in nothingness—no thoughts, no existence. It could be nirvana or some higher state beyond consciousness, but it just feels like a void. Maybe it isn’t that she seeks out his pain. Maybe she seeks out an escape because it is only when she’s drowned that she can take comfort in oblivion. And yet, it’s so incredibly empty because she knows if there’s nothing, she’ll never see her baby again.

Every morning, the sunrise sweeps her back to the shore with all her pieces reassembled in just the physical sense. She returns to a life that has long since ceased to have any meaning—that seems like pale watercolors compared to the vibrant acrylics of the cliff at night.

And when night finally comes, she does it all over again.

Tejashri Pradhan has lived her whole life in California, making up stories even before she could write. This is her first published story. She can be found on Twitter @TejiSunflower.

Photo Credit: “Tertiary limestone cliffs of Uluwatu” by PHGCOM

The Family Tree

By Jonathan Levy

Fifteen years after he last set foot in his boyhood home, David moved back. When he parked his car in the driveway, he noticed that everything looked the same—the browning grass, the hoop attached above the garage, even the chipped wood on the corner of the roof where lightning had struck years ago. The house itself was a one-story, nondescript thing. The only reason David was there was that he couldn’t afford to buy a place of his own.

Inside, David’s steps clicked against the wood until he reached the rug, which displayed a now-faded floral collage. The rug will have to go, thought David. He turned and faced the living room and saw dust particles floating in the block of light from the kitchen window across the hallway. He saw the same pictures of his family, the same couch, the same TV—but what mostly caught his attention was the ugly sofa chair. David stared at it, and though it was empty, he swore he heard it creak as it had whenever his father flopped into it after a long day of yard work. The chair will have to go, thought David.

He realized that while some light came into the living room, none illuminated the foyer where he stood. The shades to the back porch were shut. David opened them to a full assault of blinding rays. Only after his squinting eyes adjusted did the tree emerge. Continue reading

Rounding

By Carla Stern

“Ask him if he’s worried about his wife and children in Mexico.”

Looking at the patient, I saw the corners of his mouth trembling. The haunted look in his eyes keenly reflected the horror of what had happened to him. I averted my own eyes, not wanting to share his misery.

I repeated the question in Spanish, leaning into him so I could hear his answer. With a breathing tube he could only speak in a low rasp, making my job as medical interpreter precarious. I hated asking for repetition, especially when the patient was making such a supreme effort to get the words out. Then there was the problem of the question itself. Why did the nurse need to ask the obvious? She knew that the Mexican consulate had had no success in getting his wife a temporary visa to come here. He would be alone in the ICU, trying to make sense of his misfortune with no family to comfort him. Worse, he would no longer be able to send them money.

Sometimes the nurses’ questions veered into the land of the surreal. Once I was called into the ER for a patient who had been run over by a tractor on a farm several hours away. He had been life-flighted to the hospital and sent immediately to trauma. As he lay writhing in agony on the gurney, the nurse asked him, “On a scale of zero to ten, what is your pain level?” I fought the urge to leave out the patient, turn to her and shout, “Ten! It’s a ten!” However, I understood that the nurse was only following protocol, so I interpreted the question into Spanish for him, internally rolling my eyes.

¿Está preocupado por su esposa y sus hijos en México?” The man with the broken body nodded. I looked at the nurse and nodded reflexively, even though she could see the answer. Then the surgeon came in, a grim expression on his face, and stood there for a few seconds, perhaps assessing how he was going to say what he needed to say. “We tried very, very hard to save your leg. We performed multiple surgeries. Unfortunately, we had to amputate it. You might feel pain in the leg that isn’t there. We call that ‘phantom pain’.”

He stopped and again stood there silently before telling the patient that he would be back in the morning to check on his wound. After he left, the nurse said, “Do you have any questions?”

Agua” the patient croaked. “Quiero agua.

“Water” I repeated. “I want water.”

Interpreters are supposed to use the first person to lessen their own presence and make communication more direct. At first it felt bizarre, but I quickly got used to hearing other people’s voices in my own.

“I’m sorry. You can’t have water. You have a breathing tube and the water will go right to your lungs. As soon as the tube is taken out, we’ll give you water.”

I explained this and then stood quietly, looking down at the list of all the other patients I had to see that day.

“We know that your stay here has been difficult and we know that you’re having a hard time coming to grips with your accident. We’ll be starting you on an anti-depressant called Gabapentin. It will take a few weeks before it starts working.”

The patient looked from me to the nurse and back again to me, his mouth a rictus of despair. In my mind’s eye I saw him on the steamroller and then suddenly on the ground, flattened beneath it. At least the accident happened at work, I reasoned. That meant the medical bills would be paid by worker’s compensation. This might give him a measure of comfort, but I doubted it.

Carla Stern is a nationally certified Spanish and French medical interpreter. She has worked in this field for the past five years at a hospital in Boise, Idaho. She also works as a court interpreter in Spanish. Her story “Tilt Test” is forthcoming in Sinister Wisdom in 2016. She can be found on the web at carlastern.tumblr.com.

Photo Credit: West Hospital Emergency Room from “Historic VCU: A VCU Images Special Collection