Sunday, May 18, 2014

Donal Mahoney

The Bully, the Psychopath, Libby and Lorraine

Fred was a bully who always bothered Lenny on the way to school. Fred was four years older than Lenny. One day Lenny told him that when he grew up he would kill him. Fred laughed and probably didn't expect to see Lenny that night, twenty years later, when Lenny waited for him in the alley next to his garage.

As usual, Fred got home around midnight from his work on the second shift. He lived in a different neighborhood by then but Lenny kept track of him because he knew it was simply a matter of when for Fred.

When Fred got out of his car, Lenny said,

"Hey Fred, remember little Lenny, the kid from grammar school."

Fred said he didn't remember Lenny and that's when Lenny swung the machete his grandfather had brought home from the Pacific after World War II. Then he stood there and admired his work, smiled and watched Fred's head roll a few feet like a bowling ball.

In the morning a milkman found the head and the body and the story was in the papers for weeks as people wanted to know who did it but Lenny couldn't tell them. They wouldn't understand that it was simply a matter of a bully paying the price for what he had done years earlier to Lenny.

The only person Lenny ever told about the murder was a girl he had spent a lot of money on, Libby. It was their first date even though they had known each other for years. He didn't even get a kiss good night and that bothered him but he didn't say anything.

Libby really didn't think Lenny was telling the truth about killing some guy with a machete. He was always exaggerating about one thing or another and Libby thought this was just another one of his tall tales. He was probably just trying to act like a big shot.

Lenny knew that Libby had never enjoyed good health, living as she did with a congenital heart disease. But he was afraid that she might some day call the cops and tell them about Fred getting it with the machete. The cops keep good records about stuff like that.

Still concerned that Libby might tell the cops, Lenny asked her out for a second date and when she went to the powder room, he put a dose of strychnine in her coffee. When Libby complained about feeling sick, he took her right home and didn't even try this time to get a kiss good night.

Libby's mother found her dead in bed the following morning. The family was very upset but it was not an unexpected event what with Libby's history of poor health. The family buried her without much ceremony after the doctor signed the death certificate. The cause of death was listed as heart disease.

It was a year before Lenny dated anyone else. Then he met Lorraine, a waitress at a bowling alley. He liked her and asked her out and she said yes. After dinner and a movie and a few drinks at Lorraine's apartment, Lenny told her all about Fred and the machete and then about Libby and the strychnine. He loved the look in Lorraine's eyes as he rolled the stories out. Finally Lenny finished his fourth martini, leaned over and whispered to Lorraine,

"And now the question is, what should we do about you."

© Donal Mahoney 2014

Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis Missouri. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com/ and
some of his newer work at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.gpbT6XZy.dpbs

Monday, May 5, 2014

Neil Ellman

FOUR EKPHRASTIC POEMS


Ekphrasis or ecphrasis, from the Greek description of a work of art, possibly imaginary, produced as a rhetorical exercise, and is a graphic, often dramatic, description of a visual work of art. In ancient times, it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek ek and phrasis, 'out' and 'speak' respectively, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name. – Wikipedia

Exquisite Cadaver
(after the painting by Salvador Dali)

How exquisite your cadaver
how fine the space between your ribs
and emptiness within
how glorious the in-betweens
of your mind and skin
how perfect you seem in death
complete.

I love you now as then
when I loved you no less than more
and you were less than
than the sinews and bones
you have become—
how exquisite you seem in death
how perfect and sublime.

Blast I
(after the painting by Adolph Gottlieb)

Not a word
but a primal scream
not a syllable
but a particle of sound
echoing out across the void
it begins with an answer
and ends with the words
that question the reason
they ever were made
in a blast of infinity
from a fissure in the mind
comes the sound of infinity’s end
as inarticulate as the space
it is within.

Skull
(etching from The War by Otto Dix)

Nor memories
containing nothing
but its own disease
a patriot
condemned to die
without a cause.

glory comes to this
grey bone, dark animus
from convolutions
of the brain
the fire in its eyes
consumed by war.

Alas, poor warrior
we knew you well.
who died for the victory
that no side won

I Need Yellow
(after the lithograph by Helen Frankenthaler)

Yellow peonies
yellow earth
yellow suns released
like spreading spores
on ribbons of yellow wind
my life in yellow flame
the color of the end
then purity of death
in yellow waves of light
I mourn the yellowing
of my days
I crave the blush
of golden youth.

© Neil Ellman 2014

Neil Ellman, a poet from New Jersey, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and Rhysling Award. Many hundreds of his poems appear in print and online journals, anthologies and chapbooks throughout the world.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

M. Krockmalnik Grabois

Five Poems

MAYTAG

My car
the Marvelous Maytag
churns like a washer in an unending cycle
agitating clothes from coast to coast

My girlfriend sits beside me
flexing her muscles
and tracing the lines of her tattoos

I regret breaking her out of prison
It wasn’t a big deal—minimum security
the same thing I get from her
That’s all I want
I don’t even want that much

People magazines
and empty cans of Red Bull
litter the back seat

I’m taking the Marvelous Maytag
demo derby
That’s the only foreseeable way
out of this life

TANGLE

I had to extricate myself
from the tangle of pathologies
that held my brother Allen to his wife

Their toxicity was contagious
like second hand smoke
or influenza

But when my sister-in-law broke
a decorative ceramic squirrel over Allen’s head
and stabbed him with a sharp shard
I found myself back in the fray

Allen showed up at my door
needing a place to “hang”
and I couldn’t say no

His wife followed him, of course
furious that he’d called 911
and she’d been arrested

It was a matter of survival, he told her
as she stood outside the door
It was a matter of survival for me too, she replied
Her psychology was infantile
and this was how she invariably handled conflict
by turning around what was dished to her
and feeding it back

I asked: Your survival depended
on him bringing home a six-pack?
He promised, she answered

It was cold that night
below freezing
and now that I’d dared challenge her
she felt justified in pushing her way in

They began battling again
My wife, Amy, got angry
Before we met she’d been an MP in the army
Allen’s wife had either forgotten that
or never knew it
Amy threw them out

We watched them skulk down the sidewalk together
heads down
plotting revenge

UPSTAIRS WINDOW

The girl sits in the upstairs window
holding a green balloon
green as grass green as money

Earlier in the day
the girl’s father jumped out this same window
and killed himself

No one believed he could kill himself by jumping out
the second floor window of an English country cottage
but he was a ballet dancer in his youth
and learned body positioning and control

He was melancholy
because his daughter’s balloon was green as grass
green as money
but he couldn’t afford to send her to private school
and believed that if she attended the village school
she would become a dolt

and marry a dolt
who chewed like a cow
and whose father was a pastor
but who had an impressive dick
(he once chanced to see it)
which caused his stupid daughter
to lose herself in distasteful fantasies

The roof line of the cottage
is an inverted ‘L’
and he felt it accused him of being a Loser

Every inanimate and animate thing
accused him thus
and he couldn’t take the truth
that he was a bad father
and a bad husband
which is why his wife had died
and left his daughter half an orphan

The girl has her own delusions:
that her father has not killed himself at all
but only pretended

and will come back and play chess with her again
and put shaving cream on her green balloon
and shave it

GEESE

The security of Target’s card-swipe machine
was compromised
and seventy million people clog the corporate phone lines
terrified that Christmas will be followed by
Identity Theft

Meanwhile, a phalanx of geese
who live across the street
at Slone’s Lake Park
make their determined way through the
Target parking lot

causing consternation among drivers
who are mostly drunk
or at least buzzed
They don’t want the soul of a goose
against them
in this sacred season

The geese head for the front door
The electric eye finds them
and the doors swish open

The geese pass the Customer Service Desk
without a look in that direction

Their sliding steps on the polished linoleum
reminds them of sliding across the ice
of Sloan’s Lake

They don’t know why they’ve come
or what they’re looking for
but they’re confident they’ll find it

THE UnNIN

You cannot save people
you can only love them
--Anais Nin

Or you can hate them
for inflicting themselves on you
--Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

© M. Krockmalnik Grabois 2014

M. Krockmalnik Grabois’ poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad, including MUDJOB. He is a regular contributor to The Prague Revue, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, most recently for his story “Purple Heart” published in The Examined Life in 2012, and for his poem. “Birds,” published in The Blue Hour, 2013. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for 99 cents from Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

John Grey

Three Poems

THE STRUGGLE TO BE A LOVE POEM

Hold this thought... love...

is that a roach I see stepping out
for some clandestine relationship
with the grit beneath the stove

& have you seen this month's
electric bill
or the second gray hair in my head

&what about
the tiny missives the dog left
in the parlor
on the kitchen floor

yes Yorkies are adorable
but shit is historically
lacking in admirers

&from historic
to hysteric
over... what was it last time...
the air in the tire?

no, the visit from my mother
or was it your mother
or a stranger's mother
but who can tell the difference these days

&the roach is dancing and singing
a medley from "Top Hat" on the sideboard

&there's a crack in the wall
from one more failed picture hanging
&the picture we did hang right
we both hate anyway

are you still holding that thought?

& the meals
I undercook crap
you burn crap

& that may be your favorite song
but it's a dirge if you must know
&why can I never find the Zappa l.p.s
yes the scratchy ones I've owned for centuries

that's right centuries
you know what a century is?
it's a year living with somebody

& let's not forget the dirty laundry
with our nostrils
we don't have to

or the rumbled attempts at drunken sex
last night
or was it the night before

&the last time we ate out
lousy Italian
and sauce down my shirt

I hope you're holding that thought
because, if you're not...

anyway, if we ever recorded that roach
we could make a killing
if it doesn't spread enough disease
to kill us first

&what about morning breath
or the morning puffiness of eyes
or the morning pissed off about just about everything

but I have faith
faith that you can hold a thought
even if the roach
is doing the samba
on your toes

la cucaracha la cucaracha

in case you don't remember
the thought for today is love

BATTERED WOMAN

One day, you will know what men can do to women.
A female friend will call you, late at night,

pleading, "Come over. I need someone to talk to."
You'll sit with her in the kitchen, sipping coffee,

saying, for the fiftieth time, "Should I call an ambulance.
Should I call the cops." She'll say, "No. Please.

I don't want to make trouble. "Then what do you. do.
You're not a doctor. You're not the law. And you're

afraid your sympathies are not enough to soothe
one bruise, heal even the slightest of cuts.

And who says he won't do this to her again.
You're not a fortune teller. You don't even ask her

...if you should call one.

WINTER FLOWERS

Winter flowers I have to myself,
in a room kept hot, with my nose bent
into all their selfish splendor.
The snow outside can't sniff my pink carnations.
Bitter wind is not to know the jewels
of red and white and sun-like yellow.
Nor the people who trudge down the street,
all rugged up in their jackets and long-Johns.
Not even the ones who knock at my door,
want to read the meter, take a survey,
or sell me something.
At best, I'll sit them in the kitchen
where nothing is alive.
But I will never show what I have growing
when all else in the world is dead and buried.
Family have tried to see. So have strange men
with nothing better to do but think that love exists
beyond the hoary age of sixty.
Love is just what people thought they could grow
in frozen soil in the last days of December.
But beauty, I know all about beauty.
It blooms. It blossoms. Just don't expect me to share it with you.


© John Grey 2014

John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in The Lyric, Stoneboat and US1 Worksheets with work upcoming in Bryant Literary Magazine, Natural Bridge, Southern California Review and Soundings East.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Donal Mahoney

A Disgusting Thing

It's a disgusting thing but Paddy Gilhooley, who knew better as a child, had begun farting in church very early in life. He started in grammar school, many decades ago, long before the nuns selected him in fourth grade to be an altar boy to serve Mass.

The Mass was then said in Latin with the altar boys' responses also said in Latin. The nuns picked Paddy because he was tall and was able to memorize things rapidly. By training him in fourth grade, the nuns believed Paddy would be able to serve Mass for the next four years till he graduated from grammar school.

Paddy was less than thrilled to be singled out for this honor. He had nothing against God or the Mass but he knew that fourth-grade altar boys were always assigned to serve the Mass at 6:30 a.m., way too early in the day for Paddy.

Being selected to be an altar boy, however, helped Paddy's grades even if more than once the nuns had to summon his father to the school about some aspect of his behavior that did not live up to the code at St. Nicholas of Tolentine School.

St. Nick's was a fine school whose mission was to educate the children of immigrants whose fathers had jobs good enough to buy small bungalows in the neighborhood known as Chicago Lawn. This was back in the 1940s when food was cheap, houses were cheap and salaries were commensurately low.

Most of the immigrants were from European countries--Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Italy and Ireland. Parents were interested in their children getting an education good enough for them to pass the entrance exam at one of the parochial high schools in Chicago. These high schools were renowned for offering college preparatory curricula. Tuition was around $250 a year. That was a big sum in those days but Paddy Gilhooley's father, an electrician, and a non-drinking Irishman, had already saved the $1,000 required for Paddy's four years of high school. Now Mr. Gilhooley was saving to send Paddy to college.

Paddy's father wanted the best for his son. Once he had enough money put aside for Paddy's college education, he planned to save more money to put him through law school. Mr. Gilhooley didn't emigrate from Ireland to have his son work with his hands. No sir, his son would go to law school and work with his mind. That much was settled.

Paddy, however, was a bit of a scamp when no one was looking. He discovered early on, for example, that one way to square the score with the nuns who required good behavior at all times was to fart in church, preferably in serial fashion, one missile after another, silent but, as his classmates aways said, deadly.

He started doing this in first grade when he had to sit with his classmates in one of the first three rows in church. These were the pews reserved for the first-graders at the Children's Mass. Right behind the first graders were three rows of second graders. And behind them, three rows of third graders--and so on. The procession continued, three rows at a time, all the way back to the eighth graders who occupied their own three rows in the rear.

The eighth graders were monitored carefully by the nuns. One false move and any miscreant child would be led by the ear out into the foyer of the church, where he--and it was always a boy--was dealt with summarily by the principal, usually the toughest nun in the convent at the time and always an immigrant from Ireland. In fact, the whole convent consisted of 16 nuns imported from Ireland to deal with these children of immigrants who were not, by any means, a refined group. Quite the contrary.

Paddy realized the nuns were only doing their job--trying to maintain order in God's House. But he enjoyed getting involved in devilment and looked forward to being in eighth grade when he'd be able to sit in the rear of the church where the nuns kept a close eye on boys like Paddy, most of them feisty to a fault, ready to do anything at times to create a little commotion.

In first grade Wally learned early on that farting in church was especially troublesome to his classmates, especially the girls who seldom if ever misbehaved. It took awhile for the nuns to identify which child was stinking up the first three pews at the Children's Mass. But when several little girls sitting behind Paddy began pointing at him, the jig, so to speak, was up. Sister Mary Lorraine led Paddy down the aisle by the ear and placed him in the custody of the principal, Sister Marie Patrick, a stout bullet of a woman who did not suffer misbehavior happily.

"Why did you do that, Paddy, at Mass, especially? Surely, you must know better. Your parents will not be happy when I tell them."

Paddy, though only seven years old, had learned to keep a straight face and deny anything he was accused of. But it didn't help that despite great efforts by his mother, there was no way to comb his hair since it featured seven cowlicks--the barber had counted them for his curious mother. She had tried gobs of the most popular hair tonic of the day, Wildroot Creme Oil, but the cowlicks always popped up, often in the middle of Mass and just about the time Paddy would let the first of several farts fly.

"Sister, I didn't do nothin' at all," Paddy finally said. "I think it must have been Stanley. He eats Polish sausage and sauerkraut. Ask him."

But Sister Marie Patrick knew better so she led Paddy into the little office in the back of the church until Mass was over. Then she waited by the doorway to see Paddy's parents after Mass so she could discuss the problem with them. She really didn't know what to say to them but she figured it out by the time Mass was over.

Upon hearing of the charge against Paddy, Mr. Gilhooley, in his best suit and tie, was outraged. How could anyone, especially a nun from Ireland, say a thing like that about Paddy, who was going to law school in a few years.

Paddy himself, standing off to the side and watching the proceedings, enjoyed everything immensely but kept a stoic face. Even at this age, with his spectacles always slightly askew, he looked a little like a very young James Joyce or maybe George Bernard Shaw.

He never smiled or laughed when he was in the vicinity of people of authority, especially his father or the nuns. His mother had seen him smile several times and had told his father that Paddy was not as serious a child as his father thought a lawyer-to-be should be.

Finally, however, Sr. Marie Patrick, after mentioning to Mr. Gilhooley that she was from the same county in Ireland that he was, convinced him that indeed Paddy had been stinking up the front of the church during Mass.

"Where did he learn such behavior," Sister asked Mr. Gilhooley, who said he had no idea and looked at Mrs. Gilhooley, who knew full well that young Paddy had grown up in a home where his father not only farted with bravado but also used to sing, after each fart, an old ditty that was famous in the neighborhood:

"Beans, beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot."

Mr. Gilhooley was especially apt to fart and sing on Saturday afternoons while listening to the radio as Notre Dame stomped on some lesser foe in a football game. The more points Notre Dame would score, the more Mr. Gihooley would fart and sing.

And when Paddy's mother would complain that her husband was setting a bad example for Paddy, Mr. Gilhooley would explain once again how many farting matches he had won as a young man in Ireland. As the story would have it, Mr. Gilhooley would show up at the pub for the matches held late on a Saturday night. His presence was frowned upon because he didn't drink anything stronger than ginger ale.

Finally, Mr. Gilhooley decided to agree with Sr. Marie Patrick that young Paddy was guilty of what might not be a mortal sin but certainly qualified as a venial sin at the very least. He was also afraid his wife, an innocent woman if ever there was one, might pipe up and say Paddy had learned to fart from his father while they listened to Notre Dame games on the big console radio in the living room.

"Sister, I tell you this," Mr. Gihooley said. "If Paddy ever farts in church again, you smack him with that ruler of yours right across his keister and don't stop till the little bugger starts crying. Then you call me about it and when he gets home, I'll wallop him again. You and I will put a stop to this once and for all. Paddy is going to be a lawyer and no Irish lawyer farts in church."

Sr. Marie Patrick appeared mollified and released Paddy to his parents. His father led him out of the church by the ear for the long walk home. Paddy knew what he was in for once they got there. His father would take him to the attic door and open it and show him the big black belt that hung drooping from a hook. Mr. Gilhooley had even spliced the end of the belt so it would look like a serpent's tongue.

Whenever Paddy acted up around the house, Mr. Gilhooley would take the belt off the hook, wrap it around his fist and smack the tongue of the belt against his palm while telling Paddy if he ever did it again--whatever it was the boy had done on that occasion--the belt would be applied to his keister till he couldn't sit for a month. Paddy would immediately show sheer terror and say that he would never do whatever it was again.

Year later, Paddy, now a retired attorney, could laugh about all this as he told the story to his grandchildren. It was especially funny to Paddy because his father never hit him with the belt even though Sr. Marie Patrick had called his father several times to report that Paddy had continued to fart, albeit in the classroom and not in church.

Notre Dame in those years won several national football championships. As a result, Mr. Gilhooley continued to fart proudly and sing his heart out on many Saturday afternoons in autumn.

In eighth grade, Paddy was allowed to join in the farting himself but he would never join in the singing. His mother would never have allowed it. The poor woman couldn't tell one fart from another so she knew nothing about Paddy's participation at that level. But she always told neighbors that when you compared Paddy and his father, the apple didn't fall far from the tree.


© Donal Mahoney 2014

Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, Donal Mahoney has had poetry and fiction published in various publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com/

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Neil Ellman

Four Poems



The Ego and the I
(after the painting by Roberto Matta Echaurren)
I occupy the rift between
my ego and me
the one I know, the other I don’t
my ego is mine alone
the other I barely recognize
beyond the looking glass
of memories
or in my disconnected life
we are as inseparable
as opposites could be
while still like brothers
under the skin
the two of us are one—
we struggle for survival
in a war that will not end.

The Song of the Vowels
(after the painting by Joan Miró)
My vowels sing bubble songs
hover within my words and float
from consonant to consonant
from sound to consequence
then splatter on my tongue
becoming mine and yours.

Mask of Fear
(after the painting by Paul Klee)
At the Mascarade de Mort
recognize the face of fear
disguised as someone else
but as your own.

Recognize the eyes
behind the mask
like shadows
on the ballroom floor—
and still your own.

Know the stranger
holding, spinning
in an allemande of life
before you die.

The Playful Ogre
(after the painting by Joan Miró)
Even an ogre drifts off
from its hideous meal
to play with its food
like a child who won’t use
a knife, fork or spoon
but eats with its hands,
licks its lips , dribbles \
and spits out the marrow
It sucks from some bones

“This offal is awful ,” it jokes,
with a churlish grin,
then rips out the heart
of the man who was
his closest friend.

© Neil Ellman 2014

Neil Ellman has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Hundreds of his poems, many of which are ekphrastic and written in response to works of modern and contemporary art, appear in publications throughout the world.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

John Grey

The Sounds of January

The furnace starts churning,
radiators kick and snort.
It's that insistent winter soundtrack,
the one that doubts our bodies
have the strength, the will,
to get by without its warmth.

Outside, snow begins to fall
and stick this time.
Soon enough, the landscape
will be white, packed high,
and it'll be the plows that add
the loud, ungainly inference ...
we can't walk, can't drive a lick,
without their blessed blades.

So here we have it,
Christmas behind us,
we're nothing but the inherent uselessness
of all this flesh, these bones.
If nothing makes a sound,
we're doomed.
And then you hug close,
whisper, "I love you."
So tell me are you plow or furnace?

© John Grey 2013

John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in International Poetry Review, Vallum and the science fiction anthology, “The Kennedy Curse” with work upcoming in Bryant Literary Magazine, Pennsylvania English and the Oyez Review.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Nicole E. Hirschi

HOME

Memoir of CJT – Journalist (found)
There comes a time in every journalist’s career when you hope to have the chance of a lifetime—that one story that will change your fate. That’s why we do it, to make a world-renowned name for ourselves.
I’m no different from the rest.
Chances are funny things. They come and go at the whim of Karma—as if you deserve them. I’m not sure why I feel that way; it just is.
My chance, I think, came on a stormy night while my flight was delayed. With nothing better to do than wait out the tornadoes swirling around the Dallas area, my feet finally found a resting place at the airport cantina.
I ordered my usual Jack and Coke and glanced through my notes.
“Excuse me?” A craggily woman’s voice asked from next to me. I looked over at her. Her eyes, startlingly cloudy, held me to them.
“Oh, hey, um… hi.” I blurted out, realizing that I’d been staring.
“Is this seat open?” Her voice croaked above the music.
“Sure.” I offered her a hand which she ignored as she climbed into the chair. She set her gnarled cane down on the bar with a thud.
“You don’t know me.” She half whispered after taking my drink and finishing it off. I ordered two more.
“Well, my name’s CJ, if you tell me who you are, then I guess we’ll know each other.” I felt like a smartass.
“Just call me Karma,” she said, and I snorted Jack and Coke out my nose and blindly groped for a napkin.
“Ok, Karma, it’s nice to meet you.” I stretched out my hand, but slowly pulled it back when she didn’t take it.
“You don’t want me to touch you, I promise you that.” She let out a crackly laugh, “I’m a psychic, and have only one thing to share with you.”
Psychic, really? I’d only met one other psychic. Sure, I wrote her precious tear jerker story about a dead pioneer girl, but even that was followed up with research. Her fluff was just good talk for the tabloid I was writing for back then.
I rolled my eyes and took another sip of my drink.
“Don’t,” she harshly whispered thumping her cane on the bar again, “be skeptical. I’ve seen things you’ll never understand.”
“Um… okay.” I decided I’d play along for the moment.
“CJ, I know that’s not your real name, just as Karma’s not mine, but that’s neither here nor there.”
I cleared my throat, feeling uncomfortable. It was true, I had changed my name after getting divorced, but anyone could have guessed that.
“You want,” she hesitated, her milky eyes glancing at the ceiling, “no, need, your life changing story, yes?”
My God, was I such a fool? “Yes.” I spoke barely above a whisper and leaned towards her.
“I thought so. You’ll find your story, off the beaten path, across a bay by the beach in the East. Find the place, and you’ll find yourself.”
Before I could ask another word, she finished her drink and slid out of her chair.
Curious, I quickly paid the barkeep and turned in pursuit, but alas, she was already lost in the crowd.
The old woman’s words have stayed with me for years now. I’ve searched in earnest, looked up psychics, events by every bay, but never found a thing. That is, until last week.
I’ll admit that I’ve been at wit’s end for some time now. My publishers began telling me last year that my stories are outdated and no longer hold any interest for the younger crowd.
So, there I was, reading the paper last week when I came across an article about a series of mysterious deaths deemed suicides at an old house by the Chesapeake Bay. Within minutes, I found myself booking a flight and arranging a car. I stayed up through the night looking into the haunted house, intrigued about the people who’d died there. Each, like myself, was a forgotten writer. Fourteen deaths in all. I found a phone number for an agency who was advertising tours – I called to book a stay.
“I can’t let you stay in the house.” said a woman on the other end of the line.
“I’ll pay extra, my family and I are big into haunted places.” I lied.
Finally with enough cash, she acquiesced.
The GPS in my rental car buzzed with protest at trying to locate the address, and frustrated, I smacked the damn thing. The house eventually came into view, clearly neglected – they must have posted an old photo online. Weeds and vines were growing up the walls and the front porch was hanging. It almost looked like a haunted house. I entered through the front door and despite the dust and dead bugs, I instantly felt at home.
The old woman’s words came to mind again. Was this the place she spoke of?
I walked the beach two nights ago, feeling the sand between my toes, and I swore I could hear laughter in the wind.
I awoke yesterday morning to the smell of freshly made coffee, but found the pot empty. I spent all day searching the house from top to bottom, looking for signs of anything – anyone – and what they might have left behind. Fourteen people in ten years, after all, don’t just keel over without leaving some sort of trace behind.
I came across moth balls, creaky floors, a basement room filled with old furniture, miscellaneous clutter and old photos, one of which depicted a group on the beach at sunset. Each person was looking in a different direction than at the photographer. The date at the bottom was from almost twenty years ago. I found, carefully placed above a door, a set of cutout paper dolls, yellowed from age, ten in all, as if watching the people who may have come and gone over the years. I remember thinking ‘Did you watch over those who died?’
I sat on the musty couch last night in the living room with my notebook and heard the sound of thunder in the distance. When the lights flickered and went out, I imagined others like myself, maybe the group from the picture, writing by the mere light of the moon as rain poured just outside the French doors.
I slept in a different bed. There was sand in the sheets, but I didn’t care.
I dreamed of being a part of a group who called this place their “House of Writers” and saw myself amongst a variety of eclectic people writing as if their lives depended upon it – laughing, crying, amazed at each other’s creativity.
Today, I think I will swim in the bay, taste the salt in the water, drink in the sun, and pretend that last night’s dream was real.
-CJ
* * *

“Angela,” I croak, my voice barely a wisp anymore, “Angela, read this to me.” I shakily hold out a rough feeling newspaper, my cloudy eyes too blind to read any longer.
“Woman missing, known journalist, no leads.” I can feel her staring at me. I hear her ragged breath as she tries not to sob with the vision. She shares my gift, we’re mediums, or psychics as others call us.
“Angela, please take me for one last trip.”
“But Grandma!”
“No buts.” I hack into my hand, “Just do as I say.”
It’s a long drive across the bridge to the police department in Cape Charles, but a necessary one. I knew the woman, I told her my story of Anna Marie, and years later, told her where she’d find herself if she looked.
“How can I help you Ma’am?” A man’s voice asks loudly. I’m blind not deaf, idiot. I thump my cane.
“I’m here to tell you where to find the missing journalist.” I wheeze.
“I’m sorry,” even louder, “I didn’t hear you.”
“She said,” Angela’s voice becomes louder and more despair filled with each word next to me, “that she knows where you can find the missing woman, you know, that journalist gal.”
The police station becomes deadly silent and I can feel the weight of everyone’s stares upon us.
“Who are you?”
“Call me Karma.” My voice shakes with age.
“And the woman?” He questions.
“You’ll find her body washed up on the beach at the old haunted house just outside town.” I’m straining to get all the words out before my voice is completely gone.
“You sure?” I can feel his breath.
I grab his face with my arthritic hands, my cane falls to the ground with a clatter.
“Do you think these eyes would lie?”
Silence.
“I didn’t think so.”
I suddenly feel the urge to laugh and find myself doubled over hacking, tears in my eyes.
A voice fills the air around us, and I smile knowingly in response.
“I have finally found my story… my home… we all have.”


© Nicole E. Hirschi 2013

Nicole was our first guest writer back in April 2010 and has contributed other fiction and poetry to the site since then. She is currently involved in screenwriting and loves telling stories with a touch of the macabre. One of those paper dolls has her name on it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gita Smith

LUCK

The year I turned 14, a Black Hawk helicopter crashed into the Long Island Sound, no more than a bike ride from our house. A dark horse named Sideways Glance ran past all the favorites to win the Triple Crown. The unexpected was happening all around us. That was the year when Mother said our luck ran out.

In August, Auntie Gin showed a photo of a giant uncircumcised penis to a client at the Lady Grecian beauty salon and was shunned and fired from her job at Holiness Pentecostal Church. Then Howler, my younger brother (his real name is Howard, but we’ve called him Howler since he cut his baby teeth) suddenly took sick. He projectile-vomited all over the patrons in the waiting room of the Humane Society animal shelter and had to be rushed home before he got to choose his puppy.

In September, Father walked down the stairs to the Far Rockaway subway station while reading the financial Times and kept on walking straight onto the tracks. He was pulled back to safety before the train arrived, but the experience of having almost contacted the third rail exhilarated him unexpectedly.

He gibbered that day and for days after. When he regained his speech he repeated “I could have died. I could have DIED” to everyone he met. “What luck, eh? Everything happens for a reason, though. I must have been saved for some purpose.”

Mother believed that luck ran in families, like a gene for weak ankles or an overbite. It was something that could attach itself to a clan, lamprey-like, holding fast --- until it didn’t. On the one hand, she explained, luck could stick around for generations.

“Look at the Rockefellers,” she said.

Or, it could arrive and stay for only one day before fleeing. BUT, on that day you could win the lottery.

“You only need one day of really good luck to straighten out a whole family,” she reminded us.

After Auntie Gin revealed to the whole world that she had dementia and Howler shamed us at the animal shelter and Father walked into thin air, I began to question the solidity of my family life.

At age 14, I had come under the influence of rationalists like Carl Sagan and the difficult Noam Chomsky. I won’t pretend to you that I understood everything they wrote by any means, not by half. And Chomsky, not by a tenth. Yet I grasped the basic and important concept that we are not beset by a fickle, purposeful force called luck.

I believed that they were telling me, there is no “thing” that we have and lose, no external force that brings us joy one moment and sorrow the next with the draw of a card because luck – the entity my mother wanted so earnestly yet feared -- doesn’t exist. It was my view, because it seemed the rational view, that the universe and all events we can’t control are random. To my 14-year-old mind, we could not be unlucky or lucky any more than we could be Caesar’s ghost or in two places at one time.

My parents took turns debating me, sometimes with the cudgel of religion and sometimes with journalism.



MOTHER: Look at this story in the Herald. This family, the Borowitzes, all of them killed when a bus hit their car.

ME: The bus also hit a cement wall killing the driver and 14 passengers so it was not fate or luck singling out the Borowitzes. It was physics: the bus had bald tires, the asphalt was fresh and the road was wet.

FATHER: EXACTLY! It was the Borowitzes’ bad luck to be on that road at that exact moment when the bus swerved, not three seconds later!”

Frequently, Mother would be ready with the Powerball lottery report when I came home from school, a newspaper clipping laid out on the kitchen table beside some fruit and cookies.

“One hundred million dollars to a single woman!!” she keened triumphantly.

“Your point?” I said, separating an Oreo.

“Are you going to tell me that woman isn’t lucky?”

I examined the photo of a beaming Dorothy (Dot) Kilby, K-Mart cashier from Steubenville, Ohio, and her giant check. Apparently Miss Kilby had felt a sudden impulse to buy her first-ever ticket just 90 minutes before the drawing.

“Unh-hunh, Miss Atheist,” my mother said. “How do you explain that?”

“How I explain that, Mother, is it’s a lottery. Sooner or later someone will win. That is the nature of lotteries. Random numbers pop up in a tube. If enough people buy tickets, sooner or later six numbers will match the ones in the tube.”

In December, Auntie Gin drank some peach schnapps, fell in her bathtub and died. Mother and Father were called downtown to a lawyer’s office and came home happier than we had ever seen them. Christmas that year was an absolute blast. For the first time ever, we had real live tree, a Scotch Pine. Heaped under it were wrapped and beribboned boxes – multiple presents for everyone!

My father seemed to be lighted from the inside – not by a warm glow, but by a tractor beam shooting from his eyes. He talked fast and constantly with a forcefulness like the words had been backed up for years and only now allowed to spill out. Howler noticed it, too, and hid his presents out of fear that Father would snatch them back. I helped him shove an air hockey set behind a chest of drawers.

“Do you think it was the fall on the train tracks?” he asked.

“I don’t know, Howl. I think it’s the money.”

Howler went quiet. He looked too sad for Christmas. He said, “Remember that other time when Father was so excited and talked really fast, and we said it was scary, almost like he was dad but not really dad?”

I was surprised that Howler had noticed. He had been a little kid in a goofy Shrek t-shirt at the time. If we ever spoke about Father’s “bad” time, we spoke in secret.

Father barely slept from Xmas to New Year’s. He talked about everything and nothing, but mostly about his plans for an empire of video arcades. He told Mother she was in for a glorious new tomorrow. He rubbed his hands together when he spoke, like a man trying to start a fire by friction.

On the second of January, when the bank opened, Father took two thirds of Auntie Gin’s life insurance money and bought a video arcade in a shopping center that had seen better days.

“We got lucky to find a store at such a good price,” he said, oblivious to the fact that, one by one, the stores around him were shutting down and moving elsewhere. Nor did he know enough about video machines to know that most of the games in the arcade were outdated or broken.

Still, he plunged himself into the investment and the idea of earning enough from his first – his “seed” – store to build his empire. He loved the arcade’s flashing lights, the sounds of gunfire and bells, pinging and humming.

Father took Howler there one night to treat him to free games. Poor Howler wandered from game to game, overwhelmed by the hurdy-gurdy of the machinery and certain that Father had no clue how to run the store.

“Father can’t tell one game from another,” he said. “I heard this guy ask him if we have Star Vendetta 2, and Father didn’t know.” My smart, perceptive little brother began to worry about our father. He surfed the internet and read a business story about video arcades, so popular in the 1980s, now being dinosaurs.

“People don’t go places to play games,” he told me, his small forehead creased by adult worries. “They don’t have to. Everyone has X-Box or tablets. Father was gypped! It’s not FAIRRRR!” And with that he began to howl, his high, patented banshee curdling sound ripped from a winter wind.

I hugged Howler tightly, letting the noise die down, letting his thin shaking shoulders subside. “Don’t worry,” I murmured, only the hundred thousandth older sister to say it.

Eventually, all the stores in the Eastmont Shopping Center closed and Father’s with them. He found a collector who bought three of his 50 machines, and the rest he sold for scrap metal.

Mother did the math. In his mania to become a video emperor, Father had cost us the equivalent of a college education for Howler who, she believed, was destined for greatness.

Father plunged into a black mood, the same as he had done on previous occasions when a business scheme went south. He stayed under the bedcovers for weeks. We ate dinners without him. Father’s green days – the ones where the world seems new and all things are possible – were over, at least for a while.

Mother was quieter than usual. She stopped trying to bait me with newspaper stories. She left the laundry wet in the machine until it turned rank. I don’t know if Mother saw how his cycles had crept into her consciousness and how her highs and lows were driven by his.

Looking back, I wish that Mother could have seen that luck is the bipolar’s religion, both being based on up and down cycles. Plot them; both are sine waves.

We would have that conversation later. Now was the time for normal things – for pork chops and shoveling the driveway and Tuesday night Bingo at Sacred Heart. We kept it together, me and Howler: shopping for groceries and paying the gas bill and arranging the Ladies’ Home Journals in a fan shape on the coffee table.

We knew Mother had come around one evening when she fixed us chicken pot pies with extra peas and carrots. Howler set the table and tuned the radio to an all-music station. Mother’s chestnut brown hair was styled and she took an interest in our days at school.

“I have a chance to win an essay contest,” I told her, “We have to write a thousand words about our favorite period in history!”

“A thousand words, my, my,” Mother said. “What period did you choose?”

“I know! I know,” said Howler. “I bet it’s the Age of Reason.”

“My, my,” said Mother again. “How did I get such smart children? I’m just so lucky.”

I looked at Howler, who, miraculously had been paying attention all this time to my rants, who knew the topic of my yet-unwritten essay. He looked back at me mouthing, “There’s-no-such-thing-as-luck.”

I nodded, mouthing back, “I know.”


© Gita M. Smith 2013

Gita Smith is a career journalist, whose work has appeared on The Sphere, Fictionaut, Not From Here Are You (The NOT), and her reporting on the South appears at LiketheDew.com, a news site. Luck was read by the author at HoW4.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Paul de Denus

I Suspect...

Colonel Mustard
He is quite the confident one, the tall gentleman in uniform, preening like a rare exotic bird in front of the vestibule mirror. A white linen glove brushes lint from the left breast pocket, glides lightly over gold and silver medals. They sparkle flat dead weight on his chest. He’s appears to be reminiscing in an old memory - of the Academy perhaps - playing to the young cadets hovering about, listening to a sharp wit.
Sharp… yes.
I see how he pulls and twirls the right side of his thin mustache, shapes it into a fine black stiletto point, a dagger’s point… perhaps like the one concealed in the right breast pocket, right next to a cold-blooded heart. This isn’t a game, Colonel Mustard. You act as if nothing has happened to your dear friend Mr. Boddy in the other room who lies helpless to the neat and precise insert that has severed the top of his spine.

Mrs. Peacock
Mrs. Peacock, the woman in the living room, reminds me of the Singer Sargent painting, Madame X, a thin woman with alabaster skin set in a sleek black dress. The dress moves in a flowing rhythm on her wiry dancer’s body. She doesn’t appear particularly weak by any means.
Two young officers bob about and two-step around her, cough up irrelevant questions. There’s a seductive crinkle around her eyes when she smiles; it’s both charming and irresistible. Her eyes focus on the mouths of the young detectives when she speaks, leaving them flustered and tongue-tied.
Tied… yes, that’s the issue here, isn’t it?
Mr. Boddy was found with a thin rope encircling his mottled blue neck. Mrs. Peacock is from old money - New Hampshire, if I’m not mistaken. I’ve come to learn her investment portfolio is tied up with the victim’s investments and all of Mr. Boddy’s investments have mysteriously disappeared.

Professor Plum
The dimly lit library reveals Professor Plum. His name underscores the short round silhouette that shadows against a large stained glass window. I understand he and Mr. Boddy attended high school together, stayed in touch over the years. The guise of melancholy cloaks the professor; his distant gaze betrays something perhaps deeper than disbelief over the death of a friend. I observe his movements about the room, the gentle trace of fingertips over the books lining the shelves, his hand caressing a decorative artifact, an exotic pipe of some sort. As I pass, he draws his hand quickly away. A blow to the head most certainly influenced the demise of Mr. Boddy though a specific weapon has yet to be determined. Be careful Professor. You might just give yourself away.

Mr. Green
Hmm… the chauffeur did it; it was Mr. Green. The chauffeur is always the guilty one in the movies. Easy if it were true but it’s not that simple.
I’ve noticed he has a slight twitch. It’s a triple blink of his eyes and accentuates when asked if the garage can be examined. The blow to Mr. Boddy’s head was made with a blunt instrument - a wrench perhaps… or a pipe. Mr. Green said the garage was broken into last week; equipment is missing, several expensive tools taken. Strangely, no police report was taken. Mr. Green didn’t think it was worth causing a stir. Wouldn’t want Mr. Boddy finding out now would we… or did he find out? I know money is an issue for Mr. Green with back alimony payments and a knack for slow-footed ponies. It’s best to keep an eye on Mr. Green.

Miss Scarlet
Miss Scarlet, Mr. Boddy’s personal assistant, is at her writing desk drawing on a cigarette. She appears to be cool and calm, hiding her emotions behind a veil of smoke but she is rather transparent and I can see why; all her assets sit upfront, on full display. I’m sure Mr. Boddy took full advantage, fooled her with false intentions, and then shot down any hope for a future by cruelly and publicly taking up with Mrs. Peacock.
There’s a small hole below Mr. Boddy’s left armpit, a bullet hole from a small caliber pistol, a direct hit to the heart to match a broken one I’d say.

Mrs. White
The police mill about and try to keep everyone separated so as not to contaminate the crime scene. There are too many suspects, too many wounds; they haven’t a clue. I’ve been eavesdropping on the various conversations. A policeman told the detective in charge something about the guests: not one has asked how Mr. Boddy died.
Only I know that.
Jerome Boddy was a vicious and uncaring man. He destroyed many people on his way to his ill-earned success – hurt many of those here at the dinner party with that devouring nature and sad to say, I believe he enjoyed it.
It appears some of those he hurt stumbled upon him in the billiard room, and each - in their own way - took the opportunity to privately express their contempt. I mean, what was the harm; Jerome Boddy was already dead.

I am the only one here who is not a suspect. My name is Harriet White. I was Mr. Boddy’s housekeeper several years back. After rejecting his advances, he decided to hurt me too, and in the worst way. I suppose it was too much for his cold heart to take, to see me again standing there in the billiard room, in the very room where he murdered me.

© Paul de Denus 2013

Paul de Denus is a graphic artist by day, writer by night. He has been published at Six Sentences (The Love Book, Word of Mouth, and 6S Vol 3), Smith Magazine, Fictionaut, and Espresso Stories.
Paul's writings and self published books appear at his blog: Me, the Other Twin.