|Allen, R. A.
|Baker, J. D.
|Bartlett, Daniel C.
|Berriozabal, Luis Cuauhtemoc
|Burke, Wayne F.
|Campbell, J. J.
|Centorbi, David Calogero
|Crist, Kenneth James
|Davis, Michael D.
|De Neve, M. A.
|Dillon, John J.
|Dunham, T. Fox
|Fortier, M. L.
|Greenberg, KJ Hannah
|Larsen, Ted R.
|Le Due, Richard
|Lucas, Gregory E.
|Mannone, John C.
|Nielsen, Ayaz Daryl
|Owen, Deidre J.
|Reddick, Niles M.
|Slota, Richelle Lee
|Smith, Elena E.
|Snethen, Daniel G.
|Taylor, J. M.
|Traverso Jr., Dionisio "Don"
|Turner, Lamont A.
|Waldman, Dr. Mel
|Weil, Lester L.
|Williams, K. A.
With his head hunched over the sink,
Alistair could feel the sweat beading down his neck and making a home under his pits. He
splashed a handful of cold water on his face and exhaled. He could still taste the eggs
and bacon he had for breakfast on his breath. He leaned back and noticed himself in the
mirror and was immediately grateful to have the bathroom to himself. He was red hot and
dripping wet, the fluorescent lights only highlighted the look of worry on his face. At
265 and five-foot-eight Alistair was far from a thin man, he was big, too big for his own good as Dr. Sanger said with his own look of
worry. You’re old enough to hear it straight.
I’m giving you three years, tops. That was three months ago, and Alistair managed
to gain six pounds in that time. His stomach did hot somersaults. He put both hands on
his belly and rushed to the nearest stall.
Last week Alistair became the unlucky recipient of the
nickname when he had, without knowing, devoured
the boss’s birthday cake at the annual meet n’ greet picnic. He told Dr. Sanger
about the incident and so he had given him a generous amount of prescription pills and
a printed-out meal plan he was to follow to the
T, no deviations or supplementing. The more you fiddle with the diet the less effective
it becomes. He had dieted hard for the past four days and with no budge on the scale
he was frustrated. He bit down on his lip. Should I try him again? His hands
made a move for his phone. No, you’re fine, breathe. His throat burned and
his chest began to tighten so he gave it a hard thud with the palm of his hand.
“Don’t let em get to you big
guy” a voice echoed from the adjacent stall.
Alistair put his fist to his mouth and cleared his throat
“just heartburn is all.” Was he thinking out loud earlier? He suddenly
felt flush. Alistair craned his head forward, but it was no use, his enormous belly made
it impossible to look under the stall divider.
“No peeking big fella, keep your
eyes on your own surprise,” said the voice.
ahhhh” he stuttered, rubbing his neck in embarrassment.
“Relax my man, take a deep
breath, I’m on your side” the voice assured him.
Sides, he thought of his mother and the story he
told Dr. Sanger during one of their lay down and cry sessions. They were at his uncle’s
farm. There was a fence and pigs rolling in shit. His mother looked down and said to him
with soft eyes “pick a side or the world will pick for you.” She drew a finger
to the fence separating the pigs and his uncle. This was before she changed, before she
became the hollow thing. “At some point boy your gonna have to get off the fence
and pick a side. Not every side is right, some sides are dead wrong. Your poppa chose the
war, I chose you and someday you will choose yours.” Alistair shuddered at his mother’s
voice. The dead should stay dead and certainly not heard.
There was a pause. The echoing
sound of a dripping faucet made the silence seem long and drawn out: he thought about his
phone, Dr. Sanger, his mother and the incredible heat building in his head. Alistair was
almost relieved when the man spoke again, almost.
Dr. Sanger gasped
for air when he awoke, throat as dry as sandpaper. He had never had such a vivid dream
in his life. He reached around the room in the dark, total darkness, he became very
afraid. He held onto his blankets, my blankets, my room, he felt disconnected from
reality. He put his head in his hands, he felt the beginnings of a headache coming on.
Half his mind felt detached while his other half was here in his room, my room,
and like a switch he was back to the present, safe in his bed. For a moment he had forgotten
all about the dream. He was awake sitting upright in bed completely confused. He drew his
hand to his throat. Jesus, was I screaming? He swung his feet out of bed and went
downstairs. He turned on the kitchen faucet, tilted his head for a sip and noticed the
blinking light of his answering machine. As a doctor who deals almost exclusively with
mental health, he was no stranger to missed calls in the night. Granted in his early years
he would have taken these calls by his bedside. His ex-wife put an end to that and when
she put an end to the marriage, he had simply gotten used to the idea of it’s
not life or death, get it in the morning, and so the phone stayed in the kitchen. A
giant red three pulsed on the machine. He hit the button and each message started and ended
Doc, It’s Alistair. Call me. I don’t feel right.”
He considered calling
back. His hand reached out then suddenly backed away. He thought better of it, after seventeen
years of toiling over patient files had he not earned a good night’s rest? Get
it in the morning. If he calls later today then he would pick up, it’s not
life or death, so let it rest as he should be doing. Dr. Sanger reached above the kitchen
stove, took two aspirin with a glass of water and went to bed. Then, the dream.
He was standing
with his feet in the grass and the sun on his face, he felt good. He was at a BBQ or maybe
a picnic, yeah it was a picnic. There were lots of people, was it a birthday? He
saw a cake full of candles on a picnic table, chocolate cake with sprinkles on a big
white plate, birthday, it was a birthday party. He didn’t know these people;
their faces were strange and muddy, and their voices buzzed like a swarm of bees. A boy
pulled at his shirt, his mouth moved up and down under his blurry face, his voice buzzed
in loud loops like a revving engine. The crowd swayed around them, their summer shirts
and long sundresses mixing to make a colorful image. A little girl with a pinwheel ran
across his feet, her mother gave chase in a snug yellow sundress that hugged tight in all
the right places. The boy hooked onto his arm. There were long folding tables topped with
various pies and cold salads. A man in bare feet with his hands in his pockets was leaning
over a plate of fried chicken, his shirt read WTF where’s the food? The boy
tugged again at his sleeve, his mouth moved up and down like a fish. He wanted something,
but what? The boy tugged again and pointed into the crowd. There was a spike in the
ground, like the ones on cartoons with the big flat top from being sledged in. Tied to
the spike was rope and tied to the rope was a pig. Was he the main course? Dr. Sanger
felt his stomach tighten. The pig growled like a wolf. Painted in red, on his side, was
the number 3. The rope pulled tight, and the pigs mouth bloomed into a wide snarl. The
little girl with the pinwheel stumbled into the crowd, her mother dipped below one of
the tables in search for her. The rope around the pig’s neck stretched and began
to tighten under its hulking shoulders. Shoestrings of snot and drool fell to the grass
as the pig bared his teeth and flexed his hind legs. The pinwheel spun and shot little
rays of light forcing Dr. Sanger to shield his eyes. The rope cracked like a whip and the
pig was loose. He screamed as the pig leapt into the crowd. There was blood and bodies
and clothes torn and thrown in every direction. The pinwheel spun in the little girl’s
hand as she hid under a nearby table. WTF’s shirt hung around his waist as he lay
motionless in the grass. The pig climbed the picnic table, he was covered in mud and guts.
The giant red 3 pulsed in the flaming sun. The pig punched a hole in the middle and laid
waste to the cake. The boy clawed at Sanger, his buzzing voice dive bombing his head. That
was when he woke up.
swooped down like a fighter jet and buzzed in his ear, “What the hell?”
Dr. Sanger swiped
at the air, the sun had cut through his bedroom blinds and sent him reeling. What time
is it? He glanced at the clock 1:26pm, that was some night but already the dream
was slipping away with most of the day. He got out of bed and made his way into the kitchen;
he was starving and a little shaken. His answering machine read zero messages and for that
he was thankful. He poured himself a large bowl of Wheaties and sat on the couch. It’s
a real cooker today, I wonder how hot it will get? The couch was sticky from the baking
afternoon sun and would only get hotter as the day went on. Heat like this made people
crazy, tempers rose right along with the thermometer and Dr. Sanger knew when people got
the heat in their head there was nothing you can do to stop them.
Alistair’s hands felt hot and swollen, the metal
on his watch stretched and bit into his fatty wrist, it read 1:30pm. Each slamming hand
of the watch felt like a long drawn-in breath building itself up to deliver bad news.
“So, what now?” The man’s
Alistair felt his heart slam into his chest. He went for
the bottle of pills in his jacket pocket. “I don’t know what you’re talking
about” he replied to the muffled voice on the other side of the stall divider. Alistair
fumbled with the child safety lock. His hands were nervous. But he managed to pop the top
and dry swallow two pills.
know damn right what I’m talking about. Its time to slide your ass off the fence
post and pick a side. Like I said, what now?”
His ears began to burn up. He
suddenly felt so stupid, the butt of the joke all over again. Name calling had been nothing
new. Kids, just like adults, never grew out of it. A simple joke, harmless to so many and
hurt only the few. Those kids sang circles around young Alistair, fatty, fatty two by
four couldn’t fit through the kitchen door! They pushed him to the ground and
kicked dirt in his face. He always had dirt in his face. Even now sitting in this stall
hiding away covered in that same dirt. His mother would haul him by the arm and shove his
face into those dirty clothes. Look what you fucking did to your new jean’s piggy!
Piggy.... The nickname. Her eyes, they were coming back to him.
Those black eyes,
dark places she would lock him away in. Her eyes, as black as they were, had a sparkle.
Little white specks that seemed to shine bright at the height of her torment. My fat
little piggy, what do good boys do? she said, with a handful of his skin. The speckles
in her eyes danced back and forth with excitement. I said what do good little
boys do? Alistair nodded knowing the answer but unable to speak. Her light dimmed and
brightened with the rhythm of his heavy breath. That’s right piggy, they eat all
their food. And what happens when fat little piggies don’t eat their food?
She was so close to him now he could smell her breath and her skin, her Noxzema-soaked
hands burned his nose as she forced a spoon of hot mush towards his mouth. You’ll
die! The spoon connected hard with his teeth. You’ll die piggy, die! She
forced the spoon deep into his mouth, along with her fingers. Her eyes burned white. She
was now deep inside him, exploring his mouth like a tentacle, forcing mush down his throat.
He choked and gagged as she pulled back and forced another spoonful in. Her eyes glowed
like high beams on a truck while something inside manned the wheel. That something liked
to watch and now wore his mother like a shell. Mother, Alistair thought, she was
dead to him long before he stuck her in the ground.
Harsh memories were being pulled out of
some dark pit of his mind and brought to the front. His head began to boil and jackhammer
with pain. They pointed and laughed at him, they made him feel so worthless. His heart
went from a sweaty two-step to a cocaine-fueled Mambo that he could feel busting against
his chest-plate. The veins in his head pulsed with anger.
“Fuck em” Alistair whispered
under his breath.
a slight knock on the other side of the divider “What’s that big guy?”
said fuck em all!” Alistair snapped, slamming his fists against the dividing wall.
He was burning up, he felt nuclear and ready to blow. His nostrils began to burn, that
what do good little boys do?”
Alistair pressed his ear to the stall
divider, that voice. His head began to nod to the sound of metal sliding and locking into
right, they eat.”
Dr. Sanger glanced
over again at the answering machine; his mind tiptoed trying to remember just what his
dream was about, but it was too far away now. He turned on the television and began to
hunt down the news channel. Was it 13, or channel 6? He couldn’t seem to remember;
his head was still fuzzy. With nothing on channel 6 he tried 13, an aerial view of
green pastures fills the screen.
“Let’s face it” a low voice with southern
drawl said as the camera panned overtop of rolling green hills and fenced off farmlands.
“You could have the best or settle,” a long dramatic pause, “for the
rest. Here at Roger’s Sausage, we never settle, and neither should you.” Queue
the stereotypical farmers family with straw hats and wheat sticking out of the corner of
what he presumed was supposed to be Roger the farmer’s mouth. Pinwheels stuck to
the top of each fence post added a flair of color. “Our families expect the best
so why not feed them the best. Nothing says America like Roger’s Sausage.”
The young daughter and wife hung onto Roger’s arm in matching yellow sundresses,
fucking U.S. of A. baby.
was starting to come back to him like the rolling reels of a slot machine: sundresses,
pinwheels and oh god…. Jackpot.
Tonight, out of Central Montana
where there has been a mass shooting at a business complex. It happened in the town of
Ridge Port near the Lucan border. Police say several people were shot and there are reports
of multiple fatalities, but they also say the situation has been stabilized. What we don’t
know at this hour is how many people were shot and why.
The deceased gunman, Alistair
McKay, was in his 40’s and had mental health issues. The FBI and ATF investigators
are now combing the scene for clues.
the employees we talked to said “they didn’t know what was going on until at
least an hour after the shooting stopped. We just started running, everyone was.”
said “people were shouting, shooter shooter. We ran and ducked into a bathroom. I
mean, we didn’t know if people were dead or alive, there were people just laying
everywhere.” It took more then an hour for Hinks to find out what happened.
Some employees stayed in their cubicles,
others remained crouched behind tables and chairs, but no one understood why.
“I knew the shooter. I looked up
and saw Alistair coming at me with the gun raised, I thought it was a joke at first, then
I didn’t” Ralph said. “He was one of the nicest guys in the office, I
can’t imagine why he did this.” When asked what went through his mind, Ralph
replied “my family, the thought of not going home tonight to see them.”
Ralph also stated that he
learned something that day about Montana and its people. “There is still good in
this world, even when it’s at its most evil. People reached out to pull us to safety,
they risked their lives for mine and I am just really thankful.”
briefing Mayor Ronald Blair thanked the officer who took down the shooter. I first want
to say thank you, a deep thanks to the officer who was able to save lives. I know
there are many questions, and I will save them for when we know more at that time.
Flesh to bone and back again, death feeds life and with
every blemish on her face a new creature is born. We cannot conquer, master, or tame such
a beast. To overcome we must abandon our ways and walk and play by nature’s rules.
In this place no man has ever stood or cried out of fear, here we are the first.
I do pray
for sleep, like our path it eludes us. My compass has been set upon my hired hand to which
I heard he is the best, for that I have become unsure. The mangey hill that overlooks the
swampy land beyond disappears as we venture forth, only to return at days end. I have
gone as far as to count my strides and leave rocky formations, all of which are no longer
present the following day. As if matters could not be more dire, my companion has developed
the oddest of nightly habits. He chatters you see. I can hear his tongue and teeth clicking
away an awful sound. At times I swear I can hear him just outside my tent wandering the
night chattering away. Like a child, my hands grip blankets tight as the seconds tick away.
Dawn was near.
“Morning.” Simon greeted, his mouth full of
morning stew that made his words come out wet.
I returned a nod of agreement. The sun rose steady, its
creamy glow laid a soft blanket of warmth giving comfort against Simon’s beady eyes
and dark stubble. Sunken, he rocked in his seat looking more insect than man.
“Did you sleep
well?” Simon asked, his mouth now empty, voice sounding hoarse.
Hoarse indeed, perhaps
my companion’s throat has fallen victim to his own chatter. “Did you not hear
the commotion?” I asked, hoping to shed light on the situation.
Simon stirred his
stew a bit, keeping his eyes down. “Commotion? Can’t say I did. Slept right
through the night I’m afraid.” He broke eyes with his meal, “perhaps
With the sun hanging low in the sky, we thought
best to pack camp while the day air still cool. Civilization according to the map was seven
miles due north through thick brush, this news would have been welcomed if not for earlier
failed attempts. Simon revealed that ‘we should arrive at Ft. Jackson by midday.
Long before the night falls’ but this, like before, held little weight. The forest
thick, pressed our shoulders like the weight of the ocean, claustrophobic and exhausted
we ventured forth. Only feet away he would dart in and out of sight only to reappear to
my left then again to my right, he was all around me and yet nowhere to be found. Ancient
trees with their long branches tore holes and jagged scars in our clothes, their
wandering fingers felt purposeful as if to deter us from moving further, yet we pressed
forward, and I too pressed my question.
“Are you feeling well?” I could not see his
face, only his torn pants and shirt were visible.
“Well? I feel fine, why do you ask?” His shirt
rippled in the wind but there was hardly a breeze.
“Your throat this morning.”
Simon returned silence; his shirt continued
to dance in the breezeless forest air. Something lay hidden, almost visible through the
gashes in his shirt. Things with far too many legs and eyes crawled on his skin I am sure
of it. I could almost see them scurry in and out of his torn flaps. There for a moment
but gone before I could catch sight. His body had become an upturned log, a hiding place
for the forest floor. I feared his presence, yet I needed him. Simon’s head bowed
from side to side before craning up towards the falling sun. His body creaked like old
boards as his bones became too big for his skin, it was a horrible sight. Then it began,
his teeth clicked away a dreadful tattoo that stirred the nature of the forest. A spider
spun strange geometry above my head as if to catch the very sounds radiating from Simon’s
mouth. Two birds fought mid flight as something large in the distance called our attention
with outreached hands. I felt faint, my eyes rolled back, I staggered and clung to the
nearest tree. Simon turned on his heels, his eyes now colorful flowers blinking with every
exhale of his sunken chest.
I reached out a hand “Stop, please stop.”
Pointless my pleads became as Simon picked up pace in my direction, the pedals on his face
blinked rapidly. I fell to one knee with outreached hands, “No!” my screams
echoed as the pounding of feet in soft dirt closed in. I shielded my eyes as darkness took
I awoke in night; the day had passed without me. Simon sat on a rock toying with
small branches, his face sullen and wandering. A dream is all, I took comfort here and
simply fell asleep. “Simon? Where are we?” my voice soft and confused.
He pointed to a
path of moonlit darkness. I squinted trying to shake my hazy mind. Just through the break
in trees the hill appeared. Its wide shoulders and deep crevices displayed a ghastly face
with little emotion.
We were back to where we started, there was
at this point no where left to run, another day walking in circles with no hope of salvation.
I gathered to my feet and dusted myself off, “Now what?” I feared his answer.
“We make camp.” Simon replied with an empty tone. His now relaxed shirt
brought no comfort.
The thought of another night in the shadow of the hill brought gooseflesh and cold
waves of anxiety. My mind, like Simon, had begun to spin towards madness. The moon bloomed
with howling dogs that rattled my tent or were they cries of children? Night transformed
simple things into unfamiliar creatures. I peered at my companion’s tent, it flexed
and released like a lung echoing sounds of grinding teeth. His dreadful words were
incoherent, I either could not understand or choose not to.
I cried out “Simon!” The air became
electric, the hairs on my arms and neck stood tall. I turned my gaze to the sky and cried
out again, “Please God Simon!” My words lost on the moonlight highway.
Large, serrated clouds pregnant with lightning now loomed
eerily atop the hill. The horrors I saw brought new fear to this place. Twisted shadows
caught starlight and gave shape, savages danced on the ridge to the workings of Simon’s
tongue and teeth. Man is the only animal to hide its nudity, yet these beasts danced as
bare as the moonlight on their skin. I reverted my eyes to a flash of lightning that set
the hill ablaze. Flames roared. An orgy of hands reached the heavens. Golden hair gave
birth from flaming tips, its body now faces swallowing the hill and night sky. Tilted they
did, turned and fed on each other’s mouths in a long kiss.
Simon appeared at my side, his eyes
sparkled silver in the night, breath hot as he chattered in my ear. I tried to pull away
but like the clashing clouds and thunderous sky I drew near. He spoke of the world as if
it were sentient. “We come from it and not it from us,” his hand pointed to
the masquerade of creatures “we are no less natural than those who dance in the shadows.
Flesh to bone and back again, God will hold your soul within the seed of life and from
it a forest will grow.” Simon beckoned to the hill “the fire will cleanse this
land and bring us back to the beginning, and so the cycle will continue.”
My jaw grew tense and tongue new form. Simon’s
starry eyes washed over me and so my teeth began to chatter as his did those dreadful days
ago. My mind began to bend leading me to thoughts of a great oasis and words never possible
and so I spoke with ease in this strange fashion “lead the way.”
Michael Stevens’s stories
have been published in Yellow Mama and Black Petals. Suffering
from chronic anxiety and night terrors, Michael has found comfort in writing. It
was through telling stories he was able to unburden himself of the fears that
plague his sleep. What had started as a sort of therapeutic release has now been
a 3-year journey of telling stories. With a nightmare journal bursting at the seams, he
sees no end in sight.
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