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A Bad Place to Be-Fiction by Lamont A. Turner
If the World Never Knows Our Names-Fiction by Craig Fishbane
I'm Not Antonio-Fiction by Garr Parks
George's Personal Big Bang-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
When the Omen Follows You Home-Fiction by Alyson Tait
The Pie Room-Fiction by Dave Kunz
On the Matter of Hennessey-Fiction by Ed Nobody
Proud to Be a Pig-Fiction by Bob Ritchie
Marmalade and Mayhem-Fiction by Bruce Costello
Check Out-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Stanton Harbor Grocery Massacre-Flash Fiction by Roy Dorman
Seizing Power-Flash Fiction by Tim Frank
Frog Huntin'-Flash Fiction by Gary Clifton
Best Friend Forever-Flash Fiction by Serena Jayne
Bus Stop-Flash Fiction by Jonathan Woods
Doing Without-Poem by R. Gerry Fabian
Another Day-Poem by Ann Marie Rhiel
Don't Say You'll Play the Game If You Don't Know the Rules-Poem by David Centorbi
Why I Stopped Being Me-Poem by John Sweet
Something About Her-Poem by Meg Baird
Only the Good-Poem by James Lilley
Bill's Otherworldly Cafe Across from Cafe Bizarro-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Eating Catfish on the Bank of the Sankuru River-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Post Mortem-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Deer in the Headlights-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
I, Cartographer-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
I'll Paint You a Picture-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
beside wild roses-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
sitting quietly-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
lifetimes-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
All the Way Home-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
like a poem written-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
So There-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
Sugar Wolf-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

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Art by Sean O'Keefe © 2021

If the World Never Knows Our Names

 

By Craig Fishbane

 

 

  Everyone on the bus got busy when Carnival announced that we were crossing the state line. Snowball reached for the leather satchel in the adjacent seat and pulled out a set of pistols as the overhead lights dimmed. Ever Ready and Divinity were inspecting the fuses on the explosive devices cradled on their laps. Eight Ball and Consequence hovered in the back, unzipping the Kevlar cases on the luggage rack and reaching for the automatic rifles stacked beneath the false bottom. Carnival called out to remind me to check the spare batteries for the video equipment.

  I was Hopscotch.

None of us knew each other’s names, the names we had before becoming members of the Democratic Front. It was safer that way. Security in ignorance: that was the group philosophy. We were all dressed in identical sets of black hoodies, jeans and work boots. Once we had our masks on, there would be no way for a witness to tell us apart except for the crudest traits: height, bulk, flashes of skin tone. The only way to distinguish us would be by our actions, whether we did what we had been trained to do or whether one of us would fuck up.

 Now that we had crossed the border, I had fifteen minutes at most to decide if I wanted to admit that I was the traitor. I had no way to be sure that the Feds were tracking us but I had activated the GPS just as they had taught me to and there was no reason to believe anyone had suspected me of betrayal. As far as the rest of the team was concerned, our real worries involved random encounters in the shadows along the highway.

  Carnival was huddled in the front of the bus next to Chance, the driver. He was peering though the shaded windows, looking for the sudden emergence of headlights in the darkness. It was well past midnight and we had the only vehicle on the road. If state troopers had set up a speed trap in the grassy field adjacent to the road, there were no grounds for suspicion. Our bus had been legally purchased and the local plates were not likely to draw any attention. The police should not have known who we were or why we were coming. The team had been especially careful to keep team communications off the grid. Instructions delivered in person, by voice only. No email, no text messages. Certainly no Facebook. As far as the law was concerned, we should have been invisible.

  Which was a familiar condition for me. I had spent a lifetime inhabiting the various degrees of invisibility. The youngest of five children, I grew up the boy who couldn’t figure out how to catch a football or land a punch. Staying concealed in the corners of existence was always my preferred strategy of getting from one day to the next. My video work had been a logical outgrowth of my disposition, my way of interacting with the people who used to scare me. It would be a cliché to say I hid behind the camera. The more accurate way of putting it was that the camera allowed me to stare at things I ordinarily wouldn’t be able to look at without getting knocked on my ass.  

  I shifted in my seat and watched the graduated shades of blackness and shadow pass by the window—silhouettes of trees and shrubbery, the narrow path of roadway. Carnival said that there wouldn’t be another town until we reached the destination. No settlements of any significance until we had gotten twenty miles in. Our choice of towns was strategic on both ends: no advanced warning when we came in, limited opportunity for a roadblock when we got out. We would have a complete tactical advantage in our operation, Carnival told me, as long as no one knew we were coming.

  I pulled a rumpled curtain over the window as Eight Ball and Consequence started down the aisle to hand off the rifles. The two men were an unlikely pair. Despite the rumors that they came from opposite sides of the world— one with family from Vietnam, the other from Guatemala—they could have passed as twins. They each had bronzed skin, thick flattened noses and cleanly shaven scalps. Eight Ball handed me an AK-47 with the same indifference that you might lend someone a pencil or pass the salt at dinner. I had no doubt he would have that precise look on his face if I confessed about my betrayal and he was assigned to kill me.

Carnival clambered into the seat in front of me, leaned over the headrest and asked me if I was locked and loaded. His face, as always, was a scar-ravaged blend of compassion and calculation, red tattoos of barbed wire emerging from the matted curls of soft blonde locks. He smiled when I inspected my rifle and told me to keep my weapon on safety unless we ran into some resistance. My job, he said, was to stay close to him and get as much video footage as I could before getting my ass back to the bus.

The video coverage would not be a problem. I had already earned a reputation as an online documentarian ever since I had dropped out of art school, filming everything from anarchist attacks at college campuses to KKK rallies on suburban streets. The more disturbing the situation, the more I wanted to be there. It was a way of overcoming my own tepid nature. Politics didn’t matter to me. All I cared about was witnessing the convulsions of history as they unfolded in front of my lens. Carnival was offering a chance to film the equivalent of the first shots fired at Lexington and Concorde. At least that’s the way he saw it.

  He stood in the front of the bus now, gesturing with his gloved hand as though he were pulling a visor down over his forehead. I reached into my pocket for the black nylon mask and fastened it over my face, adjusting the straps to make sure it was tightened properly. Carnival had told me at the first training session that there was nothing like operating behind a mask. You felt liberated, free to act on your most basic impulses without fear of either reprimand or reprisal. When you wore a mask, he told me, you discovered who you truly were.

As someone who had incorporated modes and methods of invisibility into the very essence of his daily life, I should have loved being behind that mask. As soon as I slipped that black fabric across my face I was gone, absorbed in the tightly stitched fibers. But instead of experiencing either the relief or the release that Carnival had promised, all I felt was a dull throbbing ache behind my exposed eyes. I was a ghost with a migraine, a haunted visage trapped behind the folds of a black façade, agonizing at his imminent demise.

The Feds seemed to understand my own fear of vanishing all too well. The two agents made that much clear to me when they hauled me into their office last month. The room was innocuous: wood paneled floors, hand crafted desks, plenty of potted plants. The chairs even had soft cushions. Both agents stood there smiling at me, a bald one with a mustache and a curly-haired one with glasses, each man dressed like a commuter late for work. It was the bald one who finally told me that I could either do a great service for my country or disappear behind bars.

The agent with the glasses asked me to picture what life would be like in prison as they showed me how they had linked me to over a hundred online videos showing acts of political violence. I was being accused of participating in a criminal conspiracy as well as being charged with incitement to imminent lawless action. The bald agent told me that they had enough to put me away for more years than I had been alive. They would bury me.

 My first thought was that they were bluffing. The agents were trying to scare me into giving them information about the people they were really after. I wanted to believe there was no legal risk in being a mere documentarian but so much had changed since the last election that I couldn’t be sure. When the state lawyer finally showed up, he encouraged me to make a deal and I agreed mostly just so that I could get the hell out of there. I can’t spend too much time being cooped up in the same place.

It’s like being forced to wear a mask.

As I adjusted the nylon over my face, the bus had become remarkably quiet. I hadn’t realized just how much ambient noise had been hovering in the background—cartridges being loaded, beats escaping from headphones, bodies shifting on the aching springs of plastic seats—until it had all stopped. All I could hear was the straining of suspension cables and the wheezing rumble of the engine as we made our final approach to the target.

Even Carnival was silent. Ordinarily, he was a man in constant motion, checking this and that, always offering a last-minute piece of advice or a good word. A control freak with manners, he liked to call himself. I would have expected him to be conferring with Chance until the very last minute but instead he had retreated into his seat cushion as the headlights extended across the empty road.

If it weren’t for Carnival, my decision would have been a lot easier. I don’t think I would have even considered walking to the front of the bus and announcing that I had compromised the mission. That our only chance for escape—and possibly survival—was to evacuate immediately, abandoning our equipment and heading off in separate directions through the forest. I knew if I opened my mouth, it would mean a bullet through my brain. For Carnival’s sake, I was willing to consider that possibility. I did not want him to suffer for my sins.

 From the first time we met, in a blackened basement beneath a downtown rave, Carnival seemed to know my mind better than I did, sizing me up like a lost little brother or a missing son. He had seen my work and told me that I had the heart of a revolutionary. I tried to explain that all I wanted to do was take pictures of things burning down. Carnival showed me that I needed to get closer to the flames.

The brakes squeaked slightly as the bus turned into the empty parking lot of a shuttered liquor store. I could hear the metallic clink of a bullet dropping onto the floor and then Eight Ball muttering a curse. Carnival stepped into the aisle and clicked off the safety on his rifle. He said that this was it. We were finally going to get a chance to serve our country, to show the reason we were here.

Those were the words he had used last night as we shared a final joint at the base camp. We were sitting on at the edge of the forest, watching Eight Ball and Consequence throwing knives at targets on the wooden wall of the shelter. He watched the men tossing their blades from twenty feet and took a long hit of the joint and told me that a lot of people would die tomorrow.

He said that it sounded much cleaner in our mission statement, much more antiseptic. He recited how the Democratic Front utilized dramatic methods to radically increase the stakes for parts of the country that failed to vote in their own best interests. Then he took another hit.

Dozens would be killed at the polling site if everything went according to plan, he said. Maybe more. And each one of those people would have done nothing more to deserve to die than either of us. He took one last hit and passed the joint to me.

On their own, he told me, these deaths would be nothing more than murder. But these killings would not be in isolation, without meaning. Enough strategic action by both ourselves and the other cells that were sure to follow in our wake would lead to a revolutionary realignment in the so-call swing states. On a county-by-county basis, elections were determined by incredibly small margins. Just the word of our actions this morning, just the threat of violence hovering over the polling booths for the rest of the day, would be enough to turn those margins in our favor. Overthrowing the entire system was a romantic fantasy. Bending the system in the right direction was not just possible but necessary, a requirement of history. 

The lives of a few thousand voters are insignificant, Carnival said, when you consider all that will happen if they’re allowed to vote again.

Carnival reached for a can of beer and watched another knife toss. It wasn’t clear whether he expected me to respond or simply to listen, to take it in as part of my own personal documentary. I stayed quiet as Consequence fired his knife at the wall and knocked Eight Ball’s blade to the ground.

I’m never going to be king, Carnival told me, and you’re never going to be a prince. In the end, the world may never even know who we were or what we were trying to do. But as long as what we do helps bring about the changes we need for ourselves and the country, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter if the world never knows our names.

I activated the GPS as soon as we got on the bus that night.

It had been planted in the same video equipment I was holding now as I got ready to step into the crowded aisle. The bald agent with the mustache had shown me how to set it off by clicking the power button three times and then holding it down for five seconds. He told me not to activate the tracking system until I knew there was going to be some action. When I asked why I needed to wait, the agent brushed the stray hairs above his lip and sighed. Partially, he told me, it was to make sure that no one would be tipped off that I was transmitting a signal. Mostly, he said, because the Feds wanted to catch us in the act.

I cradled the camera in my arms as Ever Ready walked past me down the aisle and then Divinity followed. If I ever saw them again, it would be from a witness chair in a Federal courthouse. Consequence stood just behind my seat and Eightball gave me a gesture with his chin, indicating that I should go ahead of them. I knew that they would never find themselves on trial. They were not the type to allow themselves to be taken alive. I would never see them again. My only concern was that sometime in the future on a poorly lit street, one of them might see me.

The front doors of the bus opened and we made our way down the aisle. There would be the sound of alarms soon. Sirens and flashing lights. The federal agents had shown me how to drop my weapon and fall to the ground, placing my hands behind my head. There was no guarantee that I would not be shot in the ensuing chaos but that was a risk I would have to take. Assuming I made it through the initial rounds of gunfire, I would be brought into custody with the other survivors until the agents came to secure my release.

As I got to the front of the bus, Ever Ready had gone ahead to scout a path to the main streets beyond a grove of oak trees and Divinity had taken up his position along the shaded metal overhang at the entrance to the liquor store. Carnival was standing on the asphalt just outside the door. He gestured towards the store with his rifle, asking if I was ready to go.

I listened to the agitated breathing of Chance and Eight Ball hovering just behind me as I lingered on the bottom step of the bus, staring at the crinkly lines forming at the corners of Carnival’s eyes. I thought I could see a smile forming under his mask. He watched me standing at the doorway and asked if I was having second thoughts. I told him I would let him know in a few minutes.   

Carnival just laughed and said I’d better get my shit together.

I adjusted the camera under the crook of my arm and twisted the lens cover. It was all I could do to stop myself from running my gloved fingers across his mask and feel for the scars hidden beneath the black fabric, the lurid marks that divided that brilliant and awful face. I wanted to thank him for inviting me to earn wounds of my own. If he had let me, I would have explained how after our conversation yesterday, I stayed up most of the night in a canvas lean-to and listened to insects chirping in the darkness as I considered his vision of a world that never knew who we were or what we were trying to accomplish.

As much as I tried to picture the new society that Carnival wanted to create, all I could actually see was myself disappearing. I would vanish—either from death in a fire fight or life in prison. One end, perhaps, would be more glorious than the other but either way I would amount to nothing. For the sin of being born, I had been condemned to be a watcher and now I would have nothing left to see.

There were only shadows and darkness ahead of me as I scanned the asphalt expanse of the parking lot and then turned back to Carnival. As it turned out, he would be only partially right about our place in posterity. After tonight’s raid, people would remember us. They would remember us because of me. My raw footage would keep the memory alive, the final hours of the Democratic Front appearing on high-definition screens during the trial. And I would be there to narrate the action. There was no way out: I had to agree to testify under oath as part of the terms of my deal. My face might remain hidden beneath a blur of pixels but my pseudonym would make headlines across the country. I would be the hero and villain all at once, the voice of a failed revolution.

And I would suffer for it, I would suffer for my betrayal. Perhaps not in the stark manner that Chance and Eight Ball could have arranged. Perhaps not even in a way that would satisfy Carnival. But I would suffer, nonetheless. No matter how well the government attempted to keep my identity hidden, word would get out about the freelance videographer whose only allegiances were to his equipment and his ass. One way or another, this would be my final documentary. If I dared show my face at another political event, I ran the risk that someone would see me and know exactly who I was.

One way or another, I’d have something new to look at.

        Carnival gave me a tug and told me to get the fuck off the bus. I clambered out the door, plodding across the parking lot towards my safe spot. Ever Ready and Divinity were locked and loaded, setting up a line of fire from behind a stone fence. Bracing the camera on my left shoulder, I crouched behind a dumpster and squinted through the glass for the first hint of vehicles approaching from the back roads, tiny flashes of red or blue light piercing the silhouette of forested hillside.


Craig Fishbane is the author of the short fiction collection, On the Proper Role of Desire. His work has also appeared in New World Writing, the MacGuffin, Lunch Ticket, Hobart, the New York Quarterly and The Nervous Breakdown.


Sean O’Keefe is an artist and writer living in Roselle Park, NJ. Sean attended Syracuse University where he earned his BFA in Illustration. After graduation, Sean moved to New York City where he spent time working in restaurants and galleries while pursuing various artistic opportunities. After the birth of his children, Sean and family move to Roselle Park in 2015. He actively participates in exhibitions and art fairs around  New Jersey, and is continuing to develop his voice as a writer. His work can be found online at www.justseanart.com and @justseanart on Instagram.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications © 2021