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Christmas with Stanley-Fiction by Robert Kokan
Gravedigger Sunrise-Fiction by Zach Wilhide
Billy at One O'clock-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Christine's Tune-Fiction by Andrew J. Kolarik
Paid in Full-Fiction by Bill Baber
Is Today the Day?-Fiction by Thomas X. Cross
Dead Bodies Everywhere-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Murphy's Law-Fiction by Edward Ahern
The Ghost in the Factory-Fiction by Jeremiah Minihan
Communication Breakdown-Fiction by Joe Surkiewicz
So Long, and Thanks for All the Texts-Fiction by Jay Adair
Time-Share-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
It's Xmas and Maureen Feels Like Death Warmed Over-Flash Fiction by Gay Degani
Uncle Andrew-Flash Fiction by K. A. Williams
In a Nearby Church-Flash Fiction by Bethany Cody
What Happened after His Head Oozed-Flash Fiction by Michael Dioguardi
Prospero's Last Party-Flash Fiction by Jacqueline Doyle
Slick-Poem by David Spicer
Word Cruncher-Poem by David Spicer
The Life that Lives on Man-Poem by John Short
Pet Shop Story-Poem by John Short
dear tom-Poem by Meg Baird
the canvas-Poem by Meg Baird
A Killing-Poem by Ian C. Smith
Green Grass-Poem by Ian C. Smith
No Joke-Poem by Ian C. Smith
a soft landing-Poem by JJ Campbell
going through the motions-Poem by JJ Campbell
the shotgun still rests in the corner-Poem by JJ Campbell
an earthy affair-Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
death loves the deep-space pirate-Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
robotic mistress-Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
A November Morning-Poem by John D. Robinson
Hard & Heavy-Poem by John D. Robinson
The Storm-Poem by John D. Robinson
The Earth Keeps Sabbath-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
Obituary-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
Rock Whisperings-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
Longing-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Keith Coates Walker 2020

Communication Breakdown


Joe Surkiewicz



          Roland ripped the wrapper off the Payday and gnawed.

Monday morning, the drug store parking lot on the edge of town nearly empty at just after nine.

          Ten minutes late. Roland was cold. It was January, 1969.

The putt-putt of a 50cc moped. Tiny pulled up, grinning like an idiot behind the helmet’s visor. “Let’s do this thing!” he said, or something close to that, muffled by the helmet.

          The candy bar was like sawdust. Roland spat it out and turned to Tiny, standing next to his scooter, helmet under his arm.

          Be calm. Keep it under control. Be a leader.

          “The first rule is that we all pull together in unison,” Roland said, trying to make eye contact.

          Tiny nodded. Eager to please.

          “That includes showing up at the appointed hour.”

          “Traffic on Route One was a bitch,” Tiny said. “All these tractor trailers lined up to turn left on Cherry Lane. Took forever.”

          “Meanwhile, the world turns,” Roland said, arms raised, expansive. “But we’re not a part of it. Just me standing at the ass-end of this parking lot scratching my balls.”

          “I brought the piece.”

Tiny lifted his shirt to reveal the .32-caliber revolver stuck in his waistband. “Dad’ll never miss it.”

          Roland brushed away the tendril of brown hair that dangled from his Mohawk, hitched his jeans over the considerable bulk of his stomach, and stuck his hand out.


          He hefted the gun in his hand and spun the cylinder.

“Two rounds?”

          Tiny shrugged. “I forgot to check. But we’re not really going to use it, right?”

          Of course, you moron, the plan isn’t to use it,” Roland said. “It’s the threat. In its capacity as the threat, the weapon needs to be fully armed, locked and loaded.”

          “Nobody else knows it’s only got two bullets.”

          We know,” Roland said.

          A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind horse, Roland decided, and moved on to the matter at hand. He pushed back the sleeve of his oversized leather motorcycle jacket and checked his watch.

          “She should be emerging any minute,” he said, more to himself than Tiny, now playing miniature hockey with his foot and a pebble.

          Darla Jean Maples, part-time bookkeeper at the Sassafras, Maryland Drug Fair, dependably flounced out the front door every weekday morning at 9:30, the previous night’s receipts in a zipped and locked cloth pouch clutched under her arm.

          “Let’s go over it again.”

          “When she’s half-way across the lot to her car, I pull up next to her,” Tiny recited from memory.

          “And then?”

          “Yeah, got it,” Tiny said, reaching inside his jacket. “Led Zeppelin, hot off the press.”

          During Tiny’s brief tenure as the assistant dishwasher and busboy at Drug Fair’s lunch counter, he and Darla Jean had hit it off over a shared passion for hard rock.

It was with Darla Jean in mind that Roland had made the trip to D.C. and stood in line for four hours to snag a copy of what would become 1969’s biggest hit album.

           “What do you do with it?” Roland said. Like to a three-year-old.

          “I show her the album, but don’t let her touch it,” Tiny said. “Play a little cat-and-mouse. The goal being to distract her…”

          “…while I come up on my bike and relieve her of the deposit money,” Roland said.

He shot a glance over his shoulder to make sure that his machine, a 650cc Triumph, was secure on its stand at the back of the lot.

          “Tell me again,” Tiny said, squinting with the pain of thinking, “why you don’t just ride up and take the money?”

          Roland sighed.

“She knows you. She’s a sucker for Led Zeppelin. You’re the distraction.”

          Darla Jean emerged through the big automatic doors at the front of the store.

          “Hit it!”

          Tiny jumped on his machine and fumbled with his helmet. Darla Jean started toward her car in the employee parking area at the back of the lot.

Roland yanked the helmet out of Tiny’s hands.

          Tiny jumped on the kick starter. It didn’t catch.

And again.

“Shit, it won’t start!”

          Roland pulled out the piece and shot Tiny between the eyes. He pitched over, the album falling to the pavement next to him.

          Darla Jean had her keys out, only a few steps from her car. Roland jumped on the moped, gave it a kick, vroom vroom, and made a beeline.

          As Darla Jean was about to insert the key, Roland pulled up on the sputtering moped.

“Tiny from the lunch counter says hi,” he said and fired the last round into her third eye. He grabbed the deposit bag as Darla Jean crumbled to the pavement.

          Roland circled back to his parked bike, dismounted the moped and pushed it off into the tall weeds beyond the edge of the parking lot.

          The Triumph caught on the first kick. He circled back to Tiny and scooped up the album on his way out.

          Four fucking hours. Roland had to hear this album.

 Joe Surkiewicz is a reporter and writer living in Northern Vermont. His fiction has appeared in Horror Sleaze Trash and in Shotgun Honey (in September 2020). He is the author of several Unofficial Guide travel books and has written for the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, Outside Online, and many university alumni magazines.     

Keith C. Walker was born in Leeds in 1939. He studied Ceramics at Leeds College of Art and the Royal College of Art. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, he was Personal Assistant to Eduardo Paolozzi. Keith taught at Hull College of Art and Leicester Polytechnic, which is now De Montfort University. In 994 he retired from Academia.

Keith says, “Digital technology has made and continues to make big changes to all of our lives: the way we communicate, the way we are monitored, the way we entertain ourselves, and much, much more. 


We now leave a digital footprint wherever we go, and with whatever we do. 

Do we already have one foot in an Orwellian world?


 My collages are an investigation, with a small “I,” on the impact of digital technology and its possibilities.”     


In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2020