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A Bottle of Tequila and $2,000 in Cash-Fiction by Charlie Cancel
Heated Awakening-Fiction by Michael Steven
The Waitress-Fiction by Zachary Wilhide
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Midnight Munchies-Fiction by Amy Grech
Dead Men Don't Text-Flash Fiction by Pamela Ebel
Stunned-Flash Fiction by Brad Rose
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Love Hurts-Flash Fiction by M. E. De Neve
The Curse-Flash Fiction by Ted R. Larsen
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Wat You Want-Poem by Joe Balaz
The Champagne of Beers-Poem by John Tustin
A Not-So Brilliant Poem-Poem by Richard LeDue
Something Bigger-Poem by Richard LeDue
Imminent Mortality-Poem by Robert Beveridge
unspoken passions-Poem by Robert Beveridge
My Brooklyn View of a Starry Night During Lockdown-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Starry Night in Ogunquit the Beautiful Place by the Sea-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Van Gogh's View of the Starry Night Through the Iron-Barred Window in the Asylum-by Dr. Mel Waldman
The Lamp Filament-Poem by John C. Mannone
Like Sherlock Holmes-Poem by John C. Mannone
A Glint of Steel-Poem by John C. Mannone
Writer-Poem by Michael Keshigian
Panda Bear-Poem by Michael Keshigian
The Silent Poet-Poem by Michael Keshigian
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

Michael Steven: Heated Awakening

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Art by Sean O'Keefe 2022

Heated Awakening

 

Michael Steven

 

    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.

“I..I..I.. 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 the same.

“Hey 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.

A mosquito 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 voice asked.

    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.

“You 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.

There was a slight knock on the other side of the divider “What’s that big guy?”

“I 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 smell.

“Now, 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 place.

“That’s 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.

The dream was starting to come back to him like the rolling reels of a slot machine: sundresses, pinwheels and oh god…. Jackpot.

Breaking news

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.

Some of 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.”

Kristy Hinks 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.”

At tonight’s 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.




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.


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 2022