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 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
By Margaret Kramar
“What was that?”
Lydia bolted up in bed, hearing the music again: tinny, distant, like Big Band music from the 1920s played in a darkened theatre. A radio maybe, but now it completely faded out. She strained to hear it. Nothing.
“Did you hear it?” Her husband didn’t answer, just breathed in measured cadences. He always seemed to be asleep when she heard it. But she knew that if Steve weren’t asleep, it wouldn’t have played. She sighed and nestled down into the covers, relaxing into his warmth, snuggling into the bedroom of the old farmhouse encircled by tall pines that reached way up into the heavens. Even in the darkness, the enchantment of these old green wizards was palpable.
Before they moved in, Lydia and Steve had rounded the curve of the road many times, hardly noticing the farmstead. It was only when Steve accepted the caretaker job for the summer camp on the grounds that they penetrated the interior. Following the path of the gravel driveway, a vast panorama opened up to them: verdant meadows, shining ponds, and tall gnarled oaks leaning together, whispering and murmuring their arcane secrets of old.
One building stood out alone from the others, silent in the moaning wind. The chicken house.
“We’re not getting chickens,” Steve read her mind. Continue reading
By Mi West
“Damn Santa circus!” I roar, balancing on my toes on the icy veranda railing, and I continue, “Decorative chains are the worn-out ball and chain of dads in December.” I’d rather be balancing on my skis in the Scandinavian mountains instead. I hiss four-letter words toward a snowdrift in the garden.
Once forced into place, the lights don’t work. That turns me off even worse. Enlightened technology has taken astronauts way to the Moon, but geegaws lasting at least as long as a big pack of Christmas ginger cookies are still sci-fi.
Same procedure as last year: I fetch a spare bulb and try some swaps at random. Finally, light conquers darkness, and I consequently suppress the rest of my traditional, four-letter, juicy highlights.
I hear a teen voice behind me, the son of our neighbor Vatnberg, nicked Watson, “What’s up? Need some help?”
The teen has the gift of a detective and mystery solver. I reply while climbing down, “Thanks for asking, Watson. No, just got this monster up and running again, sweatshop junk, you know, a present from my grandma-in-law… What about you? Any cool mysteries around?”
“Our home is haunted.” Continue reading
By Danny Thiemann
The photo showed a tall brunette. They’d broken up. He didn’t say why. Wasn’t hard to guess. For him, love came on stilts, awkward and out of reach. Abby was beautiful. Her eyes were not brown so much as wicker woven to carry her present moments into the past. He woke holding her photograph—his knuckles five backs bent in harvest of a world beneath his palm. He looked at her the way fire must watch the stars, or how the moon must watch the sea, seeing himself in a past he could not reach. Abraxas got dressed and lay face down on the bed. He traced the dirt on our sheets. Motel mattress-stains were a poor man’s atlas, even better perhaps, at mapping islands of others’ pasts.
Tell her you love her and that’s why you’re giving her the facts, I said.
That ain’t love.
It’s a start, was all I could say.
By Aholaah Arzah
It was a process of sufficient precision; the hair combed through and narrowly parted with a fine-toothed comb. The ribbons of hair that resulted were then separated into thinner swathes yet by the weaving motion of the rat tail of the comb. These slender strands were slathered in dye and folded into tidy foil packets. If even a single loathsome louse clung by the claw of one of its six legs to the shaft of one frizzled tri-colored hair, it would be seen. The resultant repugnance of such a discovery made in the refined realm of Salon Curlicue would be loudly indignant. So, Virginia could safely conclude that despite the innumerable potential opportunities for possible infection one was daily exposed to that today at least in this moment she did not have head lice. She needed the respite of these moments because regrettably the relief was only temporary.
Barely an hour later Virginia found herself scratching furiously at her scalp and examining the white flaky accumulation under her fingernails with the pocket sized 30 power magnifying glass she carried for this purpose. At this level of magnification it was still difficult to distinguish between the flakes of dry scalp now rolled into ovals by the drag of her nails over her skull and the pearlescent forms of the infamously “sesame seed” sized larva.
By Scott Brendel
Was it West Cedar? West Maple? They should have brought the paper with the address. But no; it sat in the clutter beside the phone at home.
“Hurry,” Amanda said. “We’re late.”
“How hard can it be to find?” Carl muttered.
Then she saw it, knew it by the prickle that crawled up her spine. “There,” she said, pointing.
By Jean Rover
Spring had come to the campus of Riley Institute, a small Lutheran college tucked safely in the blue foothills of the Pacific Northwest. Cream-colored spikes covered the huge chestnut trees that lined the sidewalk to the commons area and the gigantic rhododendron by the library was again ablaze in bright peach-colored blooms. The staid little campus bustled with the sounds of singing birds, humming insects, student chatter, and campaign speeches. Awkward election signs spouted alongside purple lilacs and white, fluffy trees; together they swayed in the fragrant air.
Mary, a junior, rehearsed a speech that she hoped would get her elected student body president. She’d taken a public speaking class her sophomore year and had gotten that part in a play last semester. After that, she headed a campus food drive, which set a collection record. These accomplishments surprised even her. Who’d of ever thought a quiet, small town girl, once so afraid to talk in class, could not only stand up before a group, but could also move it to action.
Once Mary learned the power of words and tasted success in the limelight, she could not step back into the shadows. Winning the presidential election, could open all kinds of doors. She saw herself working on some local politician’s campaign or maybe heading off to Washington D.C.
By Wendy Vardaman
As soon as the lights go down and the conductor lowers the baton, her tear ducts open. Boyfriend offers one Kleenex, then another. She soaks them with salt water like a soldier shot in the heart soaks torn shirtsleeves. After the first box, Boyfriend gives up. She leans on his shoulder, drenches his only suit coat, his tie. People nearby have to lift their feet into their seats by the sixth song, and toward the end of Act I, there’s a steady drip to the balcony underneath. The people below don’t notice the rain at first, because of the pain swelling in their own empty hearts, filling their own sad, sad eyes.
Her row wades out at break, and the ushers come through with wet vacs and rubber boots. Phone the house manager when it’s ok to start. Break out the emergency drainage system for Act II to prevent the whole hall’s collapse.
But Musical Girl’s no ordinary sobber, and when she returns, eyes swimming in tears, telltale ripples boiling near their beaches, any island child could tell you that the tsunami has already started, the walls of water pushed up from her bottomless depths unstoppable.
Wendy Vardaman is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press), co-editor/webmaster of Verse Wisconsin, and co-founder/co-editor of Cowfeather Press. She is one of Madison, Wisconsin’s two Poets Laureate (2012-2015) and co-editor of the 2013 Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar and a forthcoming anthology, Echolocations, Poets Map Madison. In addition to poetry, she writes essays and interviews, which have appeared in Poetry Daily, Women’s Review of Books, Poets.org, and other venues. She has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania. With husband, Thomas DuBois, she has three children and does not own a car.