By Jason L. Rowell
He woke up, the bright red message flashing “End of Reel.” Over and over, a hell of a way to start another day. He reached over, slapping blindly at the deck on the bedside table before clumsily finding the off button. As the Stimdeck wound down he removed the input electrodes tossing them on top of the small black deck and placed his bare feet on the cold floor. With his head heavy in his scarred hands he sighed trying to pull together the motivation to stand, to push himself out of the soft comforting bed and face the world and the cold reality that Molly wasn’t around. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the fuzzy glow of the deck’s status LEDs and in it the image of a glowing lotus half buried beneath the mounds of tapes and cases. He fumbled through the tapes, tossing most aside but picking out the one with the holographic blossom on it, he held it in his hands studying the petals as they shimmered across the smooth surface. He had this one specially made, just for him. Just for today, just for one final knock out. Continue reading
by Harmony Button
I got my first sunburn of the season while I was outside, in the back yard, tying sticks together with little pieces of twine to make an archway into the garden. It’s a yearly ritual based around the unruly growth of a neighbor’s tree, which is one of those reasonably attractive arboreal weeds that grows Hydra-like knots on the side of its trunk – there’s a big wad of living wood that continually shoots out pups and sprouts that I hack off, only to see two more branches spring up in the place of one. If I don’t stay vigilant, I look up one day to find the entire entrance to my garage has been blocked by awkwardly low-growing foliage. So I get out there with the clippers and snip off all the new limbs that spawned in the spring, leaving just enough coverage over the chain link fence to allow the boyfriend to wander around the back yard in his Jedi bathrobe, as he is wont to do, without being in the neighbor’s line of sight.
The last year’s kale is also plotting world domination, reaching never-before-seen heights of six or seven feet. It turned the herb garden into an edible hedgerow with tiny yellow flowers so thick that Jason occasionally removes the Jedi bathrobe behind the cover of dense foliage in order to enjoy a brisk outdoor shower from the spray head of the garden hose. There are certain things in life that bring us an overwhelming sense of wellbeing: my pathway to tranquility is to feel myself swing, weightless, in a sun-dappled hammock; Jason’s is through peaceful moments of outdoor nudity. Luckily, the back yard can satisfy both of these pursuits.
I’ve not always had the best of judgement when it comes to falling in love. Most of the time, they just were good, kind people who just weren’t that into me, and I was too young and dumb to see their polite disinterest as a sign of anything but a wonderfully slow beginning to what might be an incredibly romantic story. It shouldn’t be any surprise to me, then, that I started out my relationship with Jason in a similar way: love was something happened to me, that I found myself inside of, rather than something that I knew how to cultivate, to grow. I was the weed; he was the water. And I’m not sure Jason was much better, to be honest – he seemed like he was, all talking about what he was looking for, what he was working on personally, what he wanted from life, what he wanted from love. But from the safe and loving distance of ten years, I call bull shit on all that. He was as much of an ignorant, juvenile mess as I was. Continue reading
By A. R. Gwydeon
Lying on the ground, I gasped for air, fighting against the pain. The rhythm of my heartbeat started to slow and I was nearing my last breath. Eyes watering and jaw clenching, I stubbornly tried to hold on. I’m not ready to be food. The battlefield around me had gone quiet, littered with my fallen comrades. Just when I started accepting all hope was lost, a shadow approached from the side. A horrifying creature reached out to me, rotting flesh barely clinging to its rickety frame. It stopped only a few feet away from me, terrifying black eyes glaring as a hissing sound gurgled from its mouth. A gaping hole filled the space where its stomach should have been and a rat was nestled in a pile of intestine, loops spilling out and draping over its torn uniform. Another rat emerged from a hole in the creature’s neck and then a third escaped from a leg.
More rats exited the body and soon a group was racing towards me. Fear had a new name, as tiny, sharp teeth cut into my skin. Only minutes ago, death had been a horrifying prospect. Now I longed for it as the rats burrowed into me. First they feasted on my liver and kidneys, then moved passed the lungs to reach my heart, the sweetest treat. Finally, they attacked the soft tissue at the back of my neck and chewing through bone, tunneled to my brain. Consciousness slipped away with each nibble, peace would soon be mine. Then the lights went out in my eyes and my lips quivered as my final breath drifted over them. Then I was floating over my body, over the field; the clouds never felt so close! The feeling of absolute weightlessness washed over me and a soothing light called out to me ahead, but before I could reach it, an invisible force dragged me back to my half eaten mind.
My eyes fluttered open, awake to the world anew. Everything looked gray and the rats continued to feed inside me but this no longer mattered. A new hunger welled up inside me . A cry pierced the air and I rose to find the source. Clumsily, I trudged through the mud, my weak legs strengthening with each step. A sweet smell greeted my nose, enticing and promising to feed the new ache inside. More screams echoed and then I saw it, a warm body lying out, helpless. I knelt down, pushing aside the protests of swinging arms and bit deeply into the living flesh; it was intoxicating. Blood ran down the sides of my mouth as I continued to feed. Around me, a new army was rising from the dead, driven by hunger and not greed.
A. R. Gwydeon works in an old fashioned butcher shop and studies Celtic and Norse mythology. She lives a chaotic neutral life with her husband and two black cats in Portland, OR. This is her first published story.
Ira Joel Haber was born and lives in Brooklyn. He has had nine one man shows including several retrospectives of his sculpture. His work is in the collections of The Whitney Museum Of American Art, New York University, The Guggenheim Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum & The Albright-Knox Art Gallery. He has received three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, two Pollock-Krasner grants, and the Adolph Gottlieb Foundation grant. He currently teaches art to retired public school teachers at The United Federation of Teachers program in Brooklyn.
By John Christopher Nelson
I attended a residency in Dingle, Ireland, earlier this month. It was my first time outside of the country. Actually, I’d been to Mexico, but I grew up in San Diego and the journey to Rosarito didn’t require a passport. So I don’t count that. My official first time abroad included a visit with my peers to the Blasket Islands, located along the southwest coast of Ireland. They’re worth the effort for those who have never been and worth returning to for those who have. I haven’t seen anything as awe-inspiring in the States, and I’ve traveled around there a bit. The boat ride over, however, was harrowing. It’s not a long trip, but every moment counts for those given over to seasickness.
There is an abandoned village along the face of the largest island. Two of my peers and I ascended the hill beyond the village and discussed all number of things between our labored breaths. By then we had a few days of local pub use and were feeling easily winded. We discovered a crest fitting for a break where we laid in the grass, soaked in the sun, and looked into the Atlantic, endless in some directions, its waves sudsy against the edges of neighboring islands.
Off to the left, on a higher rise—the peak of the island—I spotted another structure and suggested we check it out. Continue reading
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
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
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
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.
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