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We the Jury; Fiction by Barbara Stanley
Emptying the Trash: Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Milepost 44: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Planetary Perpetrator: Fiction by James Flynn
A Thin Thread: Fiction by M. E. Proctor
What Is the Song the Children Sing?: Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
A Bottle of Sherry: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Junipers: Fiction by Liberty Price
Institution Inspector No. 23: Fiction by Michael Fowler
Nightmares of Nightmares: Fiction by John J. Dillon
When You're Dead, You're Done!: Fiction by Pamela Ebel
Family Business: Fiction by Donald Glass
Colors: Flash Fiction by Bernice Holtzman
Gladiators: Flash Fiction by John C. Mannone
Pigeons in the Park: Flash Fiction by Roy Dorman
Kitsy: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
the look of legs: Poem by Meg Baird
Mike's 80th Birthday: Poem by Elizabeth Zelvin
The Art of Flying: Poem by John C. Mannone
Magazine Sestina: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Been Down So Low, It Now Sounds Great: Poem by Bradford Middleton
the burnt globe and the pregnancy: Poem by Partha Sarkar
Evening Alone: Poem by Craig Kirchner
Larry, Moe, and Me: Poem by Craig Kirchner
I Live the Life I Chose: Poem by Richelle Slota
Death House: Poem by Richelle Slota
he died of cancer: Poem by Wayne F. Burke
Night: Poem by Wayne F. Burke
and they are prancing: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
full of thoughts and hopes: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
threading a needle: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Atlas Yearns for Retirement: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Frown: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Why is the Sky Cerulean?: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Awakening: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Swirling in the Chaos: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
The Moira: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Midnight Molt: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Moments Before Awakening: Poem by Michael Keshigian
The Messenger: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Strange Gardens
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Michael Fowler: Institution Inspector No. 23

Art by Michael D. Davis 2024

Institution Inspector No. 23

by Michael Fowler


Sam Zed here, government institution inspector no. 23. I pose as a resident in certain federally funded nursing homes, treatment centers, and halfway houses to verify service for accreditation and continuation of funds. Due to my age, mid-50s, and ability to appear non compos mentis, severely drug withdrawn, chemically poisoned and shellshocked, or any of these stress-outs in any combo, I am a plausible plant in most facilities from VA to homeless shelters with my concentration being the three types I mentioned. I record my notes on a secret device that if need be, I can stick in my mouth or shove up my ass.

 One recent evening I installed as a resident in Asbestos Manor Care Center, a skilled-level facility mainly Medicaid-funded with a bad rep for resident mistreatment by bullying, undereducated staff and medicos from the bottom fifths of their outsourced classes. I was wheeled into admission with my bad hair waving every which-way and a two-day’s beard by Agent B, a stunner from my department with long legs. B posed as my legal rep and signed over my alleged retirement stipend from a job hosing bottles at a soft drink company for thirty years. B told the facility brass that my mind was tabula rasa from years of Benzedrine inhalation but I was complacent as a stuffed toy. She added that I only had a single suitcase since my apartment on the river was recently flooded and the former landlord, who had changed my diapers and played simplified chess endgames with me, had drowned. All the bases were covered down to my fake ID.

 I did the Diogenes (crooked a little finger in parting) to Agent B after she and a nurse parked me in my single room on the third floor where I dwelt with other incorrigible veggies and halfwits. I made a few moronic noises and then was abandoned by everyone. I stood in the hall outside in my underwear and crapped to see how long it took before someone cleaned me up, a critical experiment. I made a point of sticking my bulging, oozing rump out so you couldn’t miss it if you cared to see it, but the elderly nurse aide who strolled by on her way somewhere didn’t bend an eyebrow. But from what I saw the other denizens were in just as bad shape and maybe she was tending to one such loser, so who was I to demand her sole attention? I might add that although I styled myself a whistleblower, I wasn’t out to get down on anyone unfairly and considered myself a straight shooter.

 With my nasty britches on and nothing else, I strode behind the aide until I saw what she was about. A new old man was moving in down the corridor from me, who as soon as he was left alone hobbled to his dresser and tried to change into pajamas. With the old aide gone, I slipped in, leaving the door wide open, and still in my poo pants knocked him cold with my favorite wrestling moves, the Coco-bop and the Sleeper, lifting his nifty cufflinks and shoe trees for good measure. I couldn’t help but wonder where was anyone to prevent my gross mistreatment of this unfortunate senior? Would no one stop my vile depredations? Still, I bore the staff no grudge. There were some twenty rooms on this floor alone, all of them occupied I understood, and an inadequate staff with barely a high school education and stuck in a dead-end job with lousy pay could hardly be expected to curb every errant miscreant. I didn’t even report the intrusion on my device, though I’d been known to report my own wrongdoings if it seemed helpful.

 I went the first night with my finger on the emergency light. No one ever came in to check on me. Oh well, par for the course. I slept the untroubled sleep of an infant.

 The next morning a mountain of flesh in an aide’s outfit strapped me into a highchair and abandoned me until my oatmeal was like ice. Then she returned, sat beside me, and spooned a few cold curds into my mouth. As I dribbled it out onto my hospital gown and made repulsive sputtering sounds, she painted her nails. Not everyone on the floor required hand-feeding, but those of us who did, did not get royal treatment. One scrawny oldster who flung her tray on the floor, dousing the aide trying to feed her with orange juice, got a wicked slap to the puss. Well I didn’t blame the aide in the least. That kind of behavior was inexcusable and anyway the cartilaginous old citizen absorbed the slap like a pro.  

 When my meds came after the meal–1,000 mg of powerful tranq instead of the 25 mg I was supposed to get–I put it down to a simple clerical error that I didn’t bother to report. I was amused when before I could palm the pills in my expert way, an aide had swiped them for her personal use or perhaps their street value.

After breakfast I stood nude in the corridor outside my room, wondering who was going to shave and shower me. A number of prissy female residents on the far side of senile clubbed together in a nearby atrium and pretended to be at a posh resort in fine company instead of a dump to finish decomposing and die. They muttered to each other that something needed to be done “about that disgraceful man” who was an unpleasant reminder of their true surroundings, but no one said a word to me. I felt quite free to pee also, and did so, careful not to become aroused while exposing myself since this might indicate a suspicious level of sentience.

 Finally a hip-hopping orderly in headphones came by, one of the few males I’d seen on staff, and stopped at the sight of me. He pulled a blade out of his pocket and held it to my throat, careful to avoid my stream. It was all I could do to keep from running dry.

 “Where yo pants, motherfucker?” he said. “I’ll carve yo nasty face to the bone if I see you like this again.” And then he left. My heart went out to him, since he certainly had one awful job to do. Frankly I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d slit my throat.    

 At the night shift starting at eleven, everyone went home and there clocked in a single lean, lanky nurse who remained at the nurses’s station with a radio tuned low and read her novel without moving. I studied her at a distance, then moved closer, but not close enough to make her look up at me. I saw a morose woman of indeterminate age, deliberate and maybe wise, her hair pinned back severely. Perhaps she resented being stuck in a prole career by a bigoted society when she had as much brains as any nursing home director, and had grown sour.

 Then I made a mistake. I played a little air guitar to the music she had on, and looking up just then she caught me. I saw in her deep eyes and firm chin that she drew a conclusion. But she did nothing. I too did nothing, only shuffled off toward my room. There I typed my report on my testicle-sized device before turning in. The sardonic night nurse did not bother to check on me once, though as a new admission I might have qualified for at least a peek. But maybe she did so as I slept. I gave her a high mark for diligence in my report.

 The next morning passed as usual, and before noon some staff announced a “picnic” for the residents. These staff showed very little pleasure in the plan, about as much as did the near-comatose dozen men and women residents affected, of whom I was one. We gaunt, ragged souls were shunted onto the freight elevator and taken out back to a shady grotto. There a huge frowning aide stripped us of our gowns and allowed us to disport ourselves freely in nature as created by the Man with the Plan. It was a perfect day and we oldsters made an impression, I’m sure, of Adamites a-frolic in the Garden of Eden, except at one point the rapping attendant came out for a breath of air and darted about punching a few of us in the stomach. Oh, not hard, not hard, and I gave him points for forbearance in my write-up. He did not even slam all of us, but only those who, like myself, had in his mind given him a hard time.

 The purpose of the “picnic” soon became clear when the rotund aide grabbed a garden hose and began spraying us residents down with the cold water on full. I personally found it refreshing, the day being warm, and didn’t mind the water pressure in my ears and eyes and on my flapping genitalia as some did who screamed as if fire were shooting from the nozzle instead of cold water. This, I surmised, was my bath, though I still required a shave, or rather I had already taken it in my head to grow a beard. So I noticed had the other males, beards being popular and even de rigueur here in the land of no shaves. We wandered around in the sun until dry, then re-gowned and stumbled back on the elevator to upstairs. All in all a pleasant outing, and I said so in my write-up.  

 That night and the next one I retired to my room precisely at eleven, but not at the same minute each night to avoid arousing suspicion. There I slept or pretended to. In that way I avoided a confrontation with the night nurse, whose name I learned was Carmela. But one morning, as the day staff arrived and she prepared to go, Carmela took me by surprise. Five minutes after she should have departed, she entered my chamber as I sat naked in my chair, where I managed to deposit myself each morning before breakfast and meds, and stood beside me. A chair next to mine was unoccupied, but she knew better than to sit in a resident’s got-to-be filthy seat. I did the Schiavo (gazed ahead blankly) as the dark eyes behind her glasses watched me and her grin challenged.

 “I know you faking, darling,” she said. “What you up to?” She threw a towel into my lap. “I don’t want to see your stuff hanging out, neither, if you ain’t got Alzheimer’s.”

 It was a good bluff. I had given myself away only a few times in my career, and had been forced to cover with elaborate performances designed to indicate flickering mentality in an otherwise incoherent persona. Caught making a phone call once, I wandered about a ward picking up receivers and dialing numbers at random and chattering nonsense for the better part of a week, perhaps never convincingly. But I had another method that I thought to try.

“This is the house that Jack built…this is the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built,” I began to recite that long, dull ditty that my grandfather Walter, b. 1898 d.1970, told me as a child and which I had recited to my own daughter until she no longer allowed it, probably around age six. “This is the cat that ate the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built,” I droned. Carmela chuckled in a mirthless way after I paused to feign memory loss.

 “That’s fine,” she said. “Tonight I’m going to come and see you for the rest of that poem, and you can also tell me what a man who don’t have to be here is doing here. Who you think you fooling, dear?”

 When I made no response, and even looked away from her, she gave another low chuckle and then left. I sent a text message to Agent B to come pick me up, and soon, no later than that afternoon. She was to use the angle that a sister of mine in Mississippi had agreed to care for me. My cover may have been blown, but my job here was done.

I packed my single bag and dressed myself, leaving the staff to wonder which of them clothed me. Before I went, I managed to wander over to the nurses’ station during a smoke break to see if Carmela had recorded anything about me in the night. My chart was blank for that time. She was a player for sure. I considered pegging her for verbal abuse in my final report, but didn’t want to spoil the Manor’s perfect record. What a terrific place, like a vacation resort, and I gave Carmela the highest marks of anyone. Already my thoughts turned to my next assignment where anthrax and microwaves had rendered me soft-spoken and modest and every previous assignment had been mentally erased.       


Michael Fowler writes humor and horror in Ohio.

If Charles Addams, Edgar Allan Poe, and Willy Wonka sired a bastard child it would be the fat asthmatic by the name of Michael D. Davis. He has been called warped by dear friends and a freak by passing strangers. Michael started drawing cartoons when he was ten, and his skill has improved with his humor, which isn’t saying much. He is for the most part self-taught, only ever crediting the help of one great high school art teacher. His art has been shown at his local library for multiple years only during October due to its macabre nature. If you want to see more of Michael’s strange, odd, weird, cartoons you can follow him on Instagram at mad_hatters_mania.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2024